Rich Wilhelm

Archive for the ‘1980s’ Category

HooplaThon Day 2: Starship and the “Art of Listening Ironically”

In 1980s, 1985, music, Music/Memory, pop music on September 13, 2016 at 2:56 am
img_1605

HooplaThon HooplaMeter Day 2: Ankle Deep in Starship’s Knee Deep in the Hoopla.

Program Note: In yesterday’s initial HooplaThon entry, I noted that I’d be listening to Knee Deep in the Hoopla and writing about it for 31 days in a row. Clearly, I was delusional. After a good night’s sleep, I have realized the insanity. I’m now not going to promise any number of entries so you can clear those early October evenings you were reserving to read HooplaThon entries. We’ll just play this all by ear.

————–

Starship’s Knee Deep in the Hoopla was released on September 10, 1985. It was the first album by just plain Starship after longtime Jefferson Airplane/Jefferson Starship member Paul Kanter jumped ship and took the Jefferson with him.

Starship took the opportunity of a name change to reevaluate and update their sound for the mid-1980s. With a modern-minded producer named Peter Wolf–very clearly not the J.Geils Band singer–at the producer’s desk, Starship ceded most of the heavy songwriting work to outsiders and relied on Wolf to overlay the resulting songs with a slick synthesized veneer that was clearly meant to appeal to ’80s kids with a yen for technopop. Like me.

Of course, by the time September 1985 rolled around, a lot of us new wavers had passed through our initial synthpop rush and moved onto other things. Things that were a little more organic (R.E.M.) or rocked in a more traditional, if shambolic way (Replacements) or were less concerned with the state of their hair than the guys in A Flock of Seagulls. Though, of course, everyone was concerned with the state of their hair in the 1980s.

Don’t get me wrong though. Even in ’85, I continued to like artists who creatively incorporated electronics into their music. But artists like Eurythmics and Thomas Dolby had a knack for using synthesizers in intriguing ways, as something more than aural window dressing. Knee Deep in the Hoopla, on the other hand, is all about the electronic window dressing. Even when Marconi is playing the mamba, it’s an electronic mamba.

Anyway, for whatever reason, the initial release of Knee Deep in the Hoopla had absolutely no effect on me at all. I do not remember having any reaction at all to the huge breakout hit, “We Built This City” or the equally popular follow-up, “Sara.” What’s weird about this, is that Knee Deep in the Hoopla was released at the perfect time for me, as I was just about to fully submit to the fine art of listening to music ironically. Or, more appropriately, “listening ironically,” because when you’re going ironic, you do everything in quotation marks. Or more, appropriately “do everything.” But you get the point. Actually, you “get the point,” right?

Knee Deep in the Hoopla was released just days after I moved into the second floor of Johnson Hall for my third year of college at Temple University. As record store workers worldwide were stocking copies of Starship’s new album, I was getting to know Rick and Greg, two of my new floor mates, and good friends of mine to this day.

Knee Deep in the Hoopla could have been a huge talking point for the three of us, as we bonded early over music. Once we located each others’ senses of humor, we particularly bonded over the idea of listening to music ironically. That is, picking out a band or album that we might not actually be all that into and TOTALLY EFFIN’ ROCKIN’ OUT to said band or album.

In other words, “totally effin’ rockin’ out” in quotation marks.

We never explicitly said to each other, “Hey, let’s listen to music ironically.” It just happened.

Knee Deep in the Hoopla would have been a perfect “ironic listen” for us. And yet it wasn’t to be, because another band, a band whose name I am not going to reveal in this entry, loomed large, very large, in our ironic listening.

More on ironic rocking as I sink ever deeper into the Hoopla tomorrow night.

This HooplaThon is being sponsored by Rich’s Really Cool Notebooks!

 

 

 

 

 

A Tale of Two Rock Shows

In 1980s, 1982, 1983, concerts, high school, memoir, Music/Memory, R.E.M., Uncategorized on August 21, 2016 at 12:46 pm
IMG_1496

Blondie, JFK Stadium, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, August 21, 1982

This is a tale of two rock shows that happened almost exactly one year apart, back in the days when every kid in the Philadelphia area knew that the words “JFK Jam” were an invitation to a rockin’ good time. The anniversary of each of these shows is this weekend, so I thought I’d take a moment now to remember them. Starting with…

August 21, 1982

This was the line-up for the first of five shows I attended at the crumbling JFK Stadium during the 1980’s:

  • Robert Hazard and the Heroes
  • A Flock of Seagulls
  • Blondie
  • Elvis Costello and the Attractions
  • Genesis

I don’t remember when I first heard about this show. It was, however, exactly from that moment that I knew I would be there, no matter what. The third act on the bill was my motivation. I was going to see Blondie, my favorite band at the time, at any cost. It had to happen.

Making this crazy rock’n’roll dream of mine a reality wasn’t as easy as it sounds, but it turned out to not be that hard either. I don’t remember my parents putting up much resistance, even though this was the first big rock show I was planning on attending. I rounded up a posse of five and tickets were purchased, though I don’t remember where or how. I wasn’t driving yet, but one of the five was, so I felt safe in the all-important question of How Will We Get There?

The thing is, back then, you could never really feel safe in the all-important question of How Will We Get There?, at least not until you’re there. At some point, our driver informed me that he wasn’t going to the show. There may have been extenuating circumstances, but the way I remember it, he had decided that he just didn’t feel like going. In any event, the whole venture was now in peril.

The fix was easy enough: one of the other of the five of us had an older brother who could go to the concert and drive us. In the end, this worked, though it turned out to be a drama-inducing solution that ended with us having to leave before Genesis was through with their awesome light show/concert, as well as with our driver tossing his brother out of the car after we arrived at our meeting place ten minutes late.

But this isn’t a story of my steely determination and Machiavellian machinations to be in the presence of Deborah Harry. Well, now that I think of it, it is kind of that story, but we’re going to move along with the show itself.

We arrived at JFK to a scene of general depravity the likes of which I had only witnessed once when I stood outside a Yes concert after leaving a Phillies game. It was only around 2:00 in the afternoon, but clearly some of  concertgoers that we encountered immediately upon entering the stadium had already partied way too much. I remember suddenly wondering if coming out to this huge rock show was such a good idea after all.

We missed the opening set by local legends Robert Hazard and the Heroes, thereby missing our chance to see the band perform the epic, “Escalator of Life” in front of a festival crowd. Years later, I met Hazard and told him that “Escalator of Life” loomed large in my high school musical memories. He often heard that, he replied. He seemed pleased with this knowledge, but I didn’t get to hear him play “Escalator of Life” that night either.

We hit the stands just as A Flock of Seagulls were wrapping up a short set. Even as that ghostly final guitar chord of the Seagulls’ hit, “I Ran (So Far Away)” echoed throughout JFK and floating away into the South Philly sky, I was anticipating the upcoming appearance of Blondie.

My patience was eventually rewarded and I am sure I greeted Blondie with rapturous applause. I don’t remember if the rest of the audience matched my enthusiasm, seeing as the crowd was baking in the late August afternoon sun, but I was there, my favorite band was there, and all was right in my world at that moment.

Blondie did not disappoint, delivering a performance that Philadelphia Inquirer music critic Ken Tucker described as “peppy,” despite that fact that the band was touring behind its tepid album The Hunter, which had long since flopped by the time the band hit the JFK stage. I certainly enjoyed the show, maybe even more than the band itself: at some point after their JFK performance, Blondie canceled the rest of their tour, essentially fell apart, and never played again in their classic line-up.

Elvis Costello and the Attractions were up next and, wow, did they ever perform that day. It was Ken Tucker’s opinion that Costello and company won the day with their set and, Blondie bias aside, I can’t disagree. I remember being compelled by Costello, even when he and the band weren’t playing a song that was immediately familiar to me.

Decades later, I discovered that someone had videotaped the Attractions’ show that day. At least 17 videos from the performance (along with a few from Genesis’ show later that evening) are now in YouTube. Here is one of them, Elvis & the Attractions opening their show with “Accidents Will Happen.”

 

As for Genesis, well, Genesis was Genesis. I’ve never loved Genesis, and Genesis was not my reason for being at JFK that day. At the same time, I’ve also never hated Genesis and this was just before that period in the ’80s when you couldn’t trip over a radio without hearing a Genesis/Phil Collins song. In short it was a good time to see Genesis. It was the new wavishly Abacab period of Genesis and I could easily get behind that. If you’ve ever heard the band’s Three Side Live album, you’ve heard exactly how Genesis sounded at JFK on August 21, 1982. All you’re missing is the wicked awesome light show.

Oh, also “Supper’s Ready.” You’re missing “Supper’s Ready,” the early, lengthy epic that Phil and the boys played at JFK that night. The thrilled exclamations among hardcore Genesis fans when the band launched in “Supper’s Ready” were a joy to hear, let me tell you.

Finally, a post script on the photo of Blondie that appears at the top of this entry. I did not take this photo. I took the “no cameras” policy of ’80s rock concerts very seriously! It was years later, when I was working as a media services guy at a local college, when I found this picture in a stack of photos from past student events. It was the only photo from the JFK show in the stack, but I recognized the event immediately and snatched up the photo.

August 20, 1983

So there you have it. A JFK jam, circa August 1982. I started my senior year of high school, Blondie and Costello songs still rattling around in my brain, soon thereafter. Nearly one year later, on August 20, 1983, I reentered JFK and this is who I found:

  • R.E.M.
  • Madness
  • Joan Jett and the Blackhearts
  • Police

This show was much different for me than the one just a year before. For one thing, there was no drama, aside from the fact that, again, one of the guys who was going to go, suddenly could not. That was certainly not cool, but my other friend and I did go. We found ourselves at a show that seemed much more organized, and much less decadent, than the previous year’s JFK Jam. But maybe I just just slightly more used to the big rock concert scene by then.

This was one efficient rock show. Started at noon, ended by 6:00. Everyone was home long before sunset. I am not sure if it was the Police’s Sting who demanded such efficiency, but if so, he got it.

Speaking of Sting, he remarked about the weather that day, “It is 98 degrees. That is the temperature of blood.” Could he have possible said something more Stinglike? I think not.

All of the performances rocked that day. Madness was all kinds of good fun; Joan Jett rocked hard, just as she continues to do; and the Police were riding high on Synchronicity. But, for me, the day turned out to be all about the “breakfast act,” R.E.M.

R.E.M. had released their debut album, Murmur, earlier that year; in fact, it was released–to much eventual critical acclaim–the exact week of my senior prom. I wasn’t fully clued into the band at the moment Berry Buck Mills and Stipe hit the JFK stage that afternoon. I don’t even remember if I owned Murmur at the point. I think I did, but still hadn’t full delved into it. But R.E.M. at JFK won me over, utterly and completely. When I entered college two weeks later, I was the archetypal–to use a word the Jung-loving Sting would appreciate–college kid R.E.M. fan. And I suppose I have been ever since.

But that was then, and this is now, the present. The present is all about my son Jimmy, just days away from starting college; and my son Chris, who is headed into high school, but who right at this moment, mostly just wishes I’d go grab him some breakfast. Therefore, now is about a quick trip to the supermarket for donuts, as well as dog food for Jolie, who also wishes I’d grab her breakfast. Now is about now, and not about the long-since-demolished JFK, back when it was just crumbling in ’82 or ’83. But don’t be surprised to find me humming some tunes from those long ago JFK Jams as I negotiate my way through now. Because, generally speaking, they’re still damn good tunes.

 

 

 

“The Night Juice Newton Waved to Me” and Other Juice Newton Stories

In 1980s, 1983, Cheap Red Wine, country music, family, Juice Newton, memoir, Music/Memory on July 30, 2016 at 11:41 am

I was reminded early this morning that I have several Juice Newton stories. Everybody knows that I once walked Debbie Harry to her car, but did you know that Juice Newton once waved to me?

Way back in 2009, I recorded the video shown above. It was the first official episode of my now-dormant “Cheap Red Wine” video series, and it was about the night Juice Newton waved to me. Not to my dad. To me.

Here is the basic story, though you are welcome to watch the video. It was a September night in 1983. Our family had gone to see country music superstars Alabama at Philadelphia’s Spectrum. Juice was one of the opening acts. At one point during the show, I screamed “JUICE!!!!” and she looked up in our general direction. She waved, presumably to me, though in subsequent years, Dad would humorously note that it was actually him to whom Juice Newton waved.

Later that evening I happily purchased a “Juice on the Loose!” t-shirt.

So, that’s one Juice Newton story. But there are several more.

Like the time I was in church more than 30 years ago and the priest brought Juice Newton into his sermon, citing Brenda Lee’s “Break It To Me Gently,” but noting that Juice Newton’s more recent version was pretty darn good and we ought to check it out. I think the point of the sermon was that Jesus never broke anything to anybody gently, but my  takeaway was that there was at least one priest in the world who listened to Juice Newton, and that had to be a good thing.

Then there was that time in college. I was sitting with friends in the dorm cafeteria when another friend, Ed Masley, bounded in, as only Ed can bound. He was wearing a Juice Newton t-shirt (the “Juice on the Loose” edition? I don’t think so.) and extolling the virtues of a Juice Newtown show he had just seen, I think at the now-long-gone Valley Forge Music Fair.

Years later, Juice played a show at a water park, right here in Phoenixville. I strongly considered going, but it was 2003, the summer Dad was sick and ultimately, my heart wasn’t into going to a concert, especially since Dad wouldn’t be able to go. But if you watch the video, you’ll see that I invited Juice to come back to Phoenixville anytime. I promised Juice that I’d personally attract big crowds to the Colonial Theater, should she want to perform there. That offer stands, as long as the Colonial is OK with it.

As for the “Cheap Red Wine” video, my late friend Tommy loved it, and told me so. He particularly liked how I demonstrated the way I yelled “JUICE!!!!” at the Spectrum that night so long ago.

A few months before Tommy died of cancer, I sent him some of my Really Cool Notebooks, which are made from old record album covers. One of the notebooks was made from a Juice Newton album cover, and he told me in a thank you note that when he opened it and saw a “JUICE!!!!” notebook, he smiled and actually laughed, for the first time in months. Imagining the moment Tommy — who I never met in real life — opened that package, found the Juice Newton notebook, and smiled and laughed is something that has always made me glad I got to know Tommy to the extent that I did. We touched each other’s lives, if only for a few years, and Juice Newton played a part in that.

So those are my Juice Newton stories. Do you have any?

 

 

Going Down to Alphabet Street: A Few Princely Thoughts

In 1980s, concerts, music, Music/Memory, Prince on April 24, 2016 at 12:42 pm

IMG_1137

My 18-year-old son, Jimmy, is an ’80’s skeptic. He simply doesn’t believe that the 1980s could have possibly been as great as many of us who lived through it say it was. In short, Jim doesn’t feel that the ’80s were “all that.”

I encourage this kind of thinking, probably because I remember what it was like, in the ’80s, to hear boomers endlessly crow about how the ’60s were so much better than the ’80s. Plus, it’s nice to have warm fuzzy memories of one’s youth, but nostalgia-mongering can close you down to whatever could be going on in your life right now.

So, when Jim disses the decade of Phil Collins, Alf and Hands Across America, I give him a pass to do so. But I will be adamant about one thing:

From a musical/cultural/wow-he’s-just-mindblowing standpoint, Prince was the greatest thing to come out of the ’80s. Or pretty much any decade you care to mention.

It’s hard for me to remember when I was first aware of Prince, though I’m thinking it was during the chart run of his breakthrough album, 1999 — though during the years 1980-1988, practically every album Prince made qualified as some kind of breakthrough. I do remember walking down Market Street in Center City Philadelphia, as a senior in high school. It was one of my first solo trips into the city and I heard Prince’s “Delirious”– has a song every so thoroughly lived up to the promise of its title? — spilling out of one of the downtown record stores I’d come to frequent in college. Hearing it at that moment wasn’t necessarily a huge moment in my life, but it’s also a moment that I never forgot, because it felt like walking by that store at that moment, hearing that song, was the absolute coolest thing I could be doing that day. And it was.

Of course, Purple Rain exploded all over the place in 1984. As far as I can remember, I’ve only ever seen the complete movie once, but it was a memorable experience  — at a drive-in just over the border in Delaware, with three or four friends. Purple Rain was shown that night along with Clint Eastwood’s Sudden Impact. A double feature for the ages.

I was very fortunate to be sitting in the mega-nosebleed seats at Philadelphia’s Spectrum on a Friday night when Prince and the Revolution, with opening act Sheila E, brought the Purple Rain tour to town. I am pretty certain that I was about as far away from the man and his band as I could possibly be but the concert was electrifying, as I noted in the November 29, 1984 edition of the Temple University News:

IMG_1140

Here’s what I wrote about the Purple Rain album in the review:

The Purple Rain album, which defies simple classifications like “rock” and “soul,” will probably become one of the most influential albums of the last 20 years.

20? Try 40. 60. Oh, hell college-age Rich, just call Purple Rain one of the most influential albums ever. It’ll sound like a huge overstatement, but you’ll be proven right.

What is truly amazing is that I saw Prince again in 1988, touring behind his infamous, and unreleased, Black Album, as well as the officially released Lovesexy album. The Purple Rain hype had long passed, but the ’88 concert was even better than the ’84 show, with Prince in full command of his immense musical powers that night. From a purely musical standpoint, it was probably the best concert I’ve ever seen.

I’ve tried to keep up with Prince’s musical journey but since the mid-’90s, the man has made it easy, releasing floods of new music and daring you to follow along with him. The albums weren’t always great but the genius would show up when you’d least expect it, if you were patient. A well-informed box set covering the best of Prince’s post-1995 work would be a really good thing. But then, with hundreds of hours of music locked away in the vaults of Prince’s Paisley Park, we all need to accept the fact that there’s always going to be Prince music that we will never hear.

A final note. I saw a meme floating around Facebook the other day. It read “151,600 people die each day and no one bats an eye. Prince dies and everyone freakin’ loses their minds.”

I think this is a flawed meme. First of all,  I’m fairly certain that the friends and family of many of those 151,600 people were certainly affected by the passing of their loved one. Second, I’m not sure everyone was freakin’ losing their minds, though maybe some fans were going a little crazy, trying to get through this thing called Prince’s death. Finally, the text of the meme was accompanied by a photo of Heath Ledger’s Joker. Ledger’s tragic passing was certainly greeted with much public mourning as well, so I’m not sure if that photo choice was meant to be ironic or not.

As it happens, of the 151,600 people who died on April 21, 2016, the one whose name I knew was Prince. If marking Prince’s passing and acknowledging how his work touched me means I’m freakin’ losing my mind, so be it.

 

“Don’t Go To The Malls!!” A Record Store Day Tribute to Sounds of Market

In 1980s, Friendship, memoir, Music/Memory, record collecting, Record Store Day, record stores, records on April 16, 2016 at 11:16 am

42657_320

Today is Record Store Day 2016. To celebrate, I may stop by Deep Groove Records, here in Phoenixville, to say hi to my friend Frank, who owns the store. But I thought I’d also reach back and republish the following entry from my old blog site. It is about Sounds of Market, one of the classic record stores in my life. Sounds of Market closed for good a few years ago, but this is how I felt about it after I visited in February 2008.

When Rick, Greg and I first met, it was all about the music. They were freshmen at college and I was going into my third year when we all wound up on the same dorm floor. Listening to music, talking about music, acquiring music and talking about acquiring music were the first bonds we shared as friends. As time went on other common interests would reveal themselves for the three of us, as well as various things that Rick and Greg would be into, or me and Greg or me and Rick, but at first, music was the driver of our early friendships.

Of course, back in the mid-1980s, the compact disc had just been introduced and no one yet connected the letters “M” and “P” and the number “3” to music. If you wanted to find music, you actually had to go to a record store and the record stores of center city Philadelphia played a great role in all of this music bonding that Rick, Greg and I shared. I had been acquianted with these stores since starting at Temple University and even a little bit earlier than that.

I remember one Saturday afternoon when I was a senior in high school, participating in a radio internship program at KYW, the leading newsradio station in the city. I walked down Market Street from KYW to the Penn Center train station that day and I was completely beguiled by the stores I passed along the way, stores with names like Funk-O-Mart. Exotic music, then often referred to as “urban,” spilled out of the doorways of these stores, but I’m not sure I was ready at that point to walk in and find out what was inside. This was music that sounded very intriguing to me, but I wasn’t yet certain if I was “allowed” to like it.

By the time I met Rick and Greg though, I had been visiting the center city record stores for awhile and I was quite happy to now have a couple of guys who were usually just as ready for a trip downtown as I was.

These trips would often take place on Friday afternoons, but also on Tuesdays, the day when new albums were released. The journey on the Broad Street subway line would usually take place after classes, though it may have occasionally happened that classes would be skipped if something particularly hot, like say Prince’s Parade album or the Rolling Stones’ Dirty Work (which I believe Greg, a big Stones fan, bought on his birthday) or even Yes’ Big Generator or Heart’s Bad Animals albums, were set for release that day.

Our first stop once we hit the City Hall area would usually be the Sounds of Market store at 13th and Chestnut Street. Sounds of Market was a chain of three stores, another being at 11th and Ludlow and the third being…well, I can’t remember where the third one was, but I know it exisited. All of the Sounds of Market stores were run by people with vaguely Middle Eastern accents, though I don’t think I ever accurately determined the ethnicity of the folks running the stores. I do remember that at the 13th and Chestnut store, one of the managers would exhort all of us shoppers to buy more music and would warn us, “Don’t go to the malls” for our music buying needs.

He was right about that, of course. Sounds of Market had it all over Listening Booth or Sam Goody in terms of selection and (especially) price. Records were typically a few dollars cheaper and the promos that they sold (on the sly, I would guess) were even cheaper than that. I remember one day I went in and bought a new album that I didn’t even know was coming out, for $3.99. I didn’t know much about it, but I knew the artist so I figured for four bucks I’d give the album a shot. It was Graceland by Paul Simon.

With the price and selection, Sounds of Market encouraged adventurous listening. Rick and I once went downtown vowing to each buy five new albums by artists that we were only vaguely familiar with. I remember that we both bought The Sound of Music by the dBs (largely, in my case, at the instigation of my friend Ed’s stellar review of it). I bought a Fetchin’ Bones album and Rick bought Game Theory’s Lolita Nation that day as well.

Another time, on some kind of ridiculous whim that was fairly common to all of us in those days, Greg bought two huge hit albums of the era–Phil Collins’ No Jacket Required and Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA–simply because he disliked both artists and wanted to make fun of their ubiquity by buying into it. Or something like that. Somewhere around here I have a photo of Greg, sporting a Phil Collins album (the cover of which eventually became a scratch board for his and his wife Kim’s cat) and a smug expression on his face. Sure, the logic behind his purchases that day was twisted but the whole thing became an event and I’ll bet even today Greg might listen to “Sussudio” now and then, had he not given me his record collection on my 40th birthday. Speaking of which, here is the Phil Collins album cover in question (note the scratch marks; clearly it was Collins and not Mr. Ted Nugent who gave Greg and Kim’s cat “Cat Scratch Fever”):

This is the building that used to be Sounds of Market at 13th and Chestnut. It’s currently vacant [at least it was in February 2008]:

Once we were done shopping at 13th and Chestnut, we’d head up to the 11th and Ludlow location. At that time, audio equipment was sold in the front with the records in the back. The staff here was just as entertaining as at the other store. Once, while the very brilliant Prince b-side “Shockadelica” was playing, one of the regular clerks played an air guitar solo that eventually had the guy sliding across the floor on his knees. I wonder if that guy has discovered Guitar Hero; he’d be a natural at it. Incidentally, Prince b-sides, in all their flaming weirdness and glory, were the perfect soundtrack to the Sounds of Market experience.

And, of course, Doug E. Fresh’s “The Show” would always sound just right at Sounds of Market.

The 11th and Ludlow Sounds of Market still exists and here it is, just this week [Note: that is to say in February 2008. And of course, in April 2016 SoM no longer exists.]:

The exterior looks pretty much the same way it did 20 years ago, but inside it’s a different story. The audio equipment is still upfront on the first floor, but the back section that used to house the music is now empty. You need to go up to the second floor to check out the hip-hop and rhythm and blues and world music sections, while the rock, folk, jazz and blues sections are all the way up on the third floor.

Obviously there is no vinyl to be found, but that’s not the only big difference. Everything now seems just a bit more sedate and sterile than it did when I was frequenting Sounds of Market. The music isn’t playing quite as loud as it did back then, the salesmen don’t exhort you to spend your cash and clearly no one on staff needs to wear kneepads in the event they are moved to slide across the floor while air-jamming to a Prince b-side. The selection is predictably fabulous and the prices are still cheaper than the malls (if there are indeed music stores at malls anymore), but only marginally so.

So, the store is still there, but for me anyway, the adventure is gone. I’m still looking for new interesting music and sometimes I even find it, but stores like Sounds of Market don’t have any role in that quest.

That’s OK though. I still have the music I picked up “back in the day” at Sounds of Market and, more importantly, I still have the friendships. Which is really what the Sounds of Market experience was all about anyway.

Plus I still have Greg’s copy of No Jacket Required, which will come in handy if we ever get a cat.

Nerdism

In 1980s, high school, nerdism, nerds on February 14, 2016 at 1:12 pm

 

IMG_0835

I woke up thinking about nerds on this very cold Valentine’s Day in Pennsylvania. This has nothing to do with my romantic life per se. I just woke up thinking about nerds.

It all started late one evening last week. I caught the end of the 1984 movie, Revenge of the Nerds. I first saw this cinematic masterwork in a theater, with a couple of my nerdish friends, within a week or so of its original release. Hell, we may have seen it opening night.

I suppose we thought that the [SPOILER ALERT!] ultimate triumph of the goodhearted nerds over the mindless, evil, social-climbing prep jocks was a validation of our nerdish existence, and maybe we were right about that. In many ways though, Revenge of the Nerds is not an easy movie to watch in 2016. It is awash in ethnic, racial and sexual stereotypes. Not only that, the scene in which the main nerd uses the mask he is wearing to trick the main jock’s girlfriend to have sex with him in a moon bounce is seriously uncool, even if it all works out OK in the end.

Of course, all of that is looking at a 1984 movie through the lens of 2016 sensibilities and I am not really interested in a debate about whether current standards should be applied to any sort of art (including Revenge of the Nerds) from the past. Besides, I betcha the whole plot and cast of characters from the movie was stolen from Shakespeare anyway.

The movie did get me thinking about my high school friends–who shall remain nameless here, but should they happen to stumble upon this, they know who they are. We clearly were living on the fringes of high school society, or so we thought. This, despite the fact that we were all Caucasian, straight (as far as I knew) males. But this is not really surprising: while nerds comprise all races, ethnicities and orientations today, a certain strain of straight while males were clearly the nerdiest of the nerds in early 1980s teen culture, despite the more diverse (but stereotyped) cast in Revenge of the Nerds.

I realize that I am basing this on my very limited experience. Clearly there were black nerds, Asian nerds, girl nerds, gay nerds and all other manner of nerds populating high schools in 1982. It’s just that I knew what I knew at the time and, in retrospect, what I knew was pretty damned limited.

As for my friends and me: we played Risk while listening to Rush. The epic Moving Pictures and its new wave-influenced follow-up Signals were the big Rush studio albums of my high school days, but it was the live album, Exit…Stage Left, that seemed to be the most common Risk soundtrack. Because it rocked.

Of course, there was that sleep-over that happened not long after one of my nerd friends had fallen in love. He thus made us listen to the three hit songs–“Lost in Love,” “All Out of Love,” and “Every Woman In the World”–from Air Supply’s first big album over and over again. But he wouldn’t listen to the rest of the album, which is why I am still not conversant on what the best Air Supply deep album tracks are.

We played Dungeons and Dragons as well, or at least some of us did. There was another fantasy game that took hold of as well. I think it might have been called Ysgarth, or something like that, and it was one step beyond D&D.

I was never fully enmeshed in the fantasy game scene–even as a teenager, I found actual reality surreal enough, thank you very much–but I was there sometimes when the games were being played. I was not a huge Rush fan–the new waver in my kept the prog rocker in me at bay–but I was there when we were listening to the Rush records.

But it wasn’t as if I was simply a nerd-by-association. I could recite the names of all the U.S. presidents by the time I was seven years old. The graveyard obsession that has ultimately led me to become a cemetery tour guide followed shortly thereafter.

So yes, I was a nerd. Or a geek, or a dork. I know there are subtle differences among those three words, but it’s all just semantics. My friends were nerds too, though looking back, we each approached nerdism in our own specific way. Just like every single kid, before and since, has approached the development of their own personalities in the sometimes harsh world of high school society. My friends and I were fortunate in that we were able to work through the nerdishness–which, let’s face it, is really just code for “being true to oneself”–and emerge unscathed. Sadly, we all know that is not always the case, which is perhaps a topic for another time.

 

Two of a Kind? R.E.M. Meets Talking Heads!

In 1980s, 1985, music, Music/Memory on June 10, 2015 at 9:32 pm

Can’t get there from here? That’s because you’re on a road to nowhere!

Thirty years ago today–June 10, 1985–I walked into a record store. I am not absolutely certain, but I think it was the Sounds of Market near 13th and Chestnut, in Center City Philadelphia. Don’t look for it now; it’s long gone.

I walked out of that store with two albums, both just released that day: Little Creatures by Talking Heads and Fables of the Reconstruction by R.E.M. I caught the train and bus home and soon after that, I taped the albums back to back on a cassette tape. I proceeded to spend the summer of 1985 riding buses and trains from deep in Delaware County to the heart of North Philadelphia, listening to that tape on a constant loop.

Little Creatures and Fables of the Reconstruction–or if you prefer, Reconstruction of the Fables (which I don’t)–did not change my life in any major way. But, as the primary soundtrack to the summer of my 20th birthday, both records certainly secured a place in my heart, brain and soul. Three decades later, R.E.M.’s third full-length studio album and Talking Heads’ sixth continue to inspire and beguile me.

Here is what I wrote in my journal on 6/17/85, after I’d had a week to listen to both albums:

The brand new albums by Talking Heads and R.E.M. are both fantastic records. The Heads album seems like a culmination of everything the band has ever done. It has the minimalist new wave approach of the early albums, but many of the songs have retained the funk elements of Speaking in Tongues.

The name of the LP is Little Creatures, an excellent title since at least two of the songs are about children. One of them, “Creatures of Love,” is a country song, which is a real departure for the band.

Fables of the Reconstruction, R.E.M.’s follow-up to Reckoning, is a stunning moody album. It’s similar to the Murmur album in that the sound of the music and the mood it generates is more important than song titles or the lyrics. Fables sounds like it contains a lot of desperation and loneliness.

R.E.M and Talking Heads were already among my musical favorites the day of their dual release, but these two records solidified my love of both bands. I remember how much I loved sinking into the dark and murky atmosphere on Fables–five years later, I’d have the same experience watching the first episode of Twin Peaks. Some fans and critics might have considered it a “grower”–an album you gradually appreciate over many listens–but I completely surrendered to the sound and feel of the album almost immediately. Seeing R.E.M. live later that summer, performing a concert as moody and dark as the album itself, was all I needed: after that, R.E.M. ascended to #1 on my favorite band list and has yet to relinquish that spot, even though the band has retired.

As for Little Creatures, it proved to be more a grower for me than Fables, but perhaps only because the deceptively simple pop songs with rootsy influences threw me for a loop after the funk-influenced sound of their previous two Talking Heads albums. But I grew to love Little Creatures. No other artist captured the way I was starting to look at life as David Byrne did on this record. The simple but odd storytelling, matched with Byrne’s detached irony, seemed like a great way to describe the world as I was seeing it. I still think so, though I gave up irony as a lifestyle choice many years ago.

It’s no wonder that I named my college newspaper column, “Road to Nowhere,” after the final track on Little Creatures. At least one friend asked me why I’d name my column after a song that was so obviously about death. I replied at the time that to me the song, and thus my column, was all about the journey without a destination, etc. Thirty years down the line, I’m thinking that, yeah, “Road to Nowhere” is pretty clearly about death. Of course, since I am now a cemetery tour guide, I guess I’m OK with however the song is interpreted.

I am not into nostalgia for the sake of nostalgia, though this column may indicate otherwise. However, I think we all have cultural moments–albums, movies, books, etc.–that stay fresh for us. We return to these when we need to, maybe sometimes as a form of spiritual renewal. I have spent much of today listening to Fables and Little Creatures, but I have also been very much in the moment of my life right now and both albums were a snug fit for that right now. In fact, I even had a new audio/visual juxtaposition: driving down 15th Street from Girard Avenue in Philadelphia this afternoon, I caught a glimpse of one of my favorite buildings, the magnificent Divine Lorraine Hotel on North Broad Street, as I was hearing “Can’t Get There From Here” from Fables. This was a new combination and I very much enjoyed it. It got some neurons fired up in my brain and that’s a good thing.

So, thanks Chris, Tina, Jerry and David for Little Creatures. And thanks BerryBuckMillsStipe for Fables of the Reconstruction. You created the music for my summer of 1985. And every season since.

“If I Leave Here Tomorrow”

In 1980s, 1983, Free Bird, Free Bird memories, high school, Lynryd Skynyrd on March 7, 2014 at 3:40 pm

During a Toastmasters meeting yesterday, the topic of memories connected to certain songs was introduced. Several stories swirled around Lynryd Skynyrd’s epic “Free Bird.” Here’s my “Free Bird” story. I originally wrote it for my blog back in 2009 but in light of yesterday’s conversation, I thought I’d repost.

This is the story of my first kiss, so naturally, Washington D.C., my old friend Roman, two weather-obsessed guys from Georgia, national and international politics, a famed new wave boutique, a girl named Gayle, Chuck E. Cheese and a pinch—just a pinch!–of dinner theater were all involved.

And, I’d be remiss if I left Lynyrd Skynyrd off that list.

On a Friday evening in January 1983, I was dancing with Gayle in a hotel banquet room near the Pentagon. We were dancing to the live version of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s damn-near existential breakup anthem “Free Bird,” which clocks in at nearly 15 minutes long. If my memory is serving me correctly, the disc jockey at our closing dinner dance had set aside the last quarter hour of the event so that we could all hear the entire song.

According to my journal, I had danced with Gayle to every slow song that night but “Free Bird” is the only one I remember 31 years later. It was clearly an appropriate “last dance,” especially with its opening lyrical couplet, “If I leave here tomorrow/will you still remember me?”

During the early slow section of “Free Bird,” I probably had a chance to review the week, especially since the adult chaperones who hovered around might have frowned upon any first kissing action happening right on the dance floor. My mental playback might have gone something like this:

I had gone down to D.C. with a group from my high school for Close Up, a weeklong government studies program that involved schools from both Pennsylvania and Georgia. My pal Roman and I were rooming with two guys from the Atlanta area named John and Ty. At least one of them had some kind of weather obsession and frequently listened to a small, boxy radio that transmitted nothing but weather reports. Despite this, I felt like our Atlanta roomies were much cooler, better-looking and sophisticated than Roman and me.

Over the course of the week, we had visited historic sites and museums, toured the Pentagon and heard presentations from legislators and other various and sundry mid-to-low level government officials of the Reagan Administration. We dropped in on the Supreme Court, checked out the important documents at the National Archives and had, in fact, sat down for a night of rubber chicken and Kern/Hammerstein Jr.’s Showboat (I believe this is the only time I’ve ever attended dinner theater. Do people still do dinner theater?).

We even did Chuck E. Cheese one night, which seemed pretty juvenile to me at the time but, hey, I guess you just can’t afford classy dinner theater every night, right?

At some point during the week, Gayle and I noticed each other, but the exact moment has been lost to history.

Friday afternoon was free time so Roman and I took a Metro ride to Georgetown, which we had visited earlier in the week. We wanted to do some more shopping at Commander Salamander, a semi-legendary punk rock/new wave emporium, where all manner of t-shirts and pins proclaiming one’s allegiance to the various bands of the day could be purchased.

At Commander Salamander, Roman bought a t-shirt that plainly stated, “If It Ain’t Stiff It Ain’t Worth a F&$k.” I picked up a standard issue shirt bearing the store’s name and logo, along with a great big handful of small metal pins honoring bands like Stray Cats, the Clash, A Flock of Seagulls, the Fixx, the Go Go’s, Elvis Costello and more. History had yet to decide at that juncture which of these artists would eventually be inducted into the then-nonexistent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and which would be consigned to 1980s nostalgia hell.

Hurrying back to the hotel, Roman and I immediately planned to put our purchases to use for the dinner dance that night. I wore a suit jacket festooned with new wave pins on each lapel and a necktie thrown over my Commander Salamander t-shirt. We were feeling pretty damn cool, Roman and me. Still though, even at this point our Atlantan roommates seemed cooler and, as we were all getting dressed for the dinner, Ty upped the coolness ante considerably by cautioning us to stay away from the room during the dance as a girl he had met from Pennsylvania had asked him to “show it” to her that evening. In the parlance of today’s youth, I believe this would have been called “hooking up.” But maybe she just wanted to see the weather radio.

With all of this tumbling through my brain during the early stages of “Free Bird,” I barely had time to ponder how Gayle and I would dance once Skynyrd began to rock. I needn’t have worried about that though, as we continued to dance slow and close even when the triple guitar climax duel began in earnest. In fact, the more the guitars wailed, the slower and closer Gayle and I danced. But still, our lips did not meet.

The last notes of “Free Bird” and the roar of the Skynyrd audience signaled the end of our dinner dance. We gathered ourselves up and tumbled into elevators to head back up to our rooms for the night.

As the elevator door opened for the boys’ floor, Gayle got out with me and, before I knew what was happening we were kissing good night. The kiss probably wasn’t as long or as passionate as I’d like to remember it, but it worked for me anyway. Gayle turned, without a word, and got back on the elevator. I walked down to my room; along the way, friends who had apparently witnessed what had just transpired gave me high fives.

Back in my room, John, Ty and Roman were noisily burning off whatever energy they had left, but I called Gayle in her room and we talked until it was time to go to sleep. I never did find out whether Ty had hooked up with the Pennsylvania girl or not.

The next morning, Gayle and I may have kissed one final, less memorable, time before climbing onto our buses to go home. We exchanged a few letters in the months that followed that and in an obligatory mopey prom post-mortem journal entry I lamented the fact that Gayle couldn’t have gone to the prom with me because she lived “three million miles away.” But by the end of the school year, Gayle and I had exchanged our last letters.

All these years later, I’ve never much pondered that first kiss, but now I realize that what Gayle gave me that night was a tiny bit of insight into what another, even more important kiss would be like for me, eight years later, when I first kissed my future wife, Donna. I don’t know what, if anything, I gave Gayle that night, other than a (hopefully) fun memory. If nothing else, we’ll always have “Free Bird,” which is cool with Donna. She’s not a huge Skynyrd fan anyway.

Patrick F. O'Donnell

writer, editor, general wordsmith and scribe

A. Panda's Tiki Lounge

A resource for all things Polynesian and Tiki

Sons of Saxer

"For Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Championships"

WeBetterThanThat

Talkin' Shit, Bein Dope and Keepin it Real

talking points

Started as a political blog. Added sports. Now it's just what I feel like writing about.

Yeah, Another Blogger

An Arts-Filled And Tasty Jaunt Through Life

Good Music Speaks

A music blog written by Rich Brown

RetroRoadmap.com

Vintage, Retro & Cool Old Places worth visiting!

The Immortal Jukebox

A Blog about Music and Popular Culture

45spins

A creative guy, looking for a few good records

Reading & Writing With Teacher Corey.

Philadelphia Teaching Adventures.

Hiking Photography

Beautiful photos of hiking and other outdoor adventures.

Retro Roadmap

Rich Wilhelm's Weekly Journal

504ever.net

a writer with a camera, living in new orleans

Listen Up!

Listen Up! airs live on G-Town Radio (www.gtownradio.com) every Wednesday from 2pm to 4pm EST

1 Picture, 217 Words

This WordPress.com site is the cat’s pajamas

Music for the Hard of Hearing

Trust me. It's good for you.