Rich Wilhelm

Posts Tagged ‘music’

Time Stand Still (Notes on Neil)

In 1980s, music, prog rock on January 11, 2020 at 5:08 am

Neil Peart was known to drink The Macallan now and again.

“I’m not looking back, but I want to look around me now.” — “Time Stand Still”, Rush. Lyrics by Neil Peart

But tonight, I am looking back. Looking back to games of Risk, played downstairs in the family room at my house. Four or five or six friends gathered around the game board, planning conquests of Kamchatka and Irkutsk and, more importantly — at least to me — deciding which record to play next.

If it were up to me, we’d have been listening to Blondie or the B-52’s all night long, but then again, if it were up to me, we may have been playing Monopoly instead of Risk. But not all my friends were new wavers like me. One guy liked the Who, except for that time when he was in love, during which he liked Air Supply. One guy didn’t care much about music, as long as he captured Kamchatka. One guy loved Rush, but also loved the Police — he was the guy most adept at bridging the prog rock/new wave gap. But the common band all the other guys shared was Rush. And that’s how I learned to accept, and eventually like, Rush. Through osmosis.

Rush had already released their seminal album, Moving Pictures, and toured behind it, by the time these Risk games were happening. In fact, the latest Rush album around the time we were rolling those bones onto that Risk board, was Exit…Stage Left, the live document of the Moving Pictures tour. I did not see that tour, but for some of the guys hunched over that Risk board — and, yes, it was all guys at that moment — Rush’s Moving Pictures tour was the first concert they’d ever seen.

If you were in high school during the early 1980s, it wasn’t easy to declare yourself a fan of both prog rock and new wave. Inevitably, I picked new wave. But Rush crept up on me over time. I might have been a new waver, but I had a bit of “New World Man” in me as well.


I once noted to somebody that untold numbers of people around my age had their sensibilities molded by Douglas Adams, Carl Sagan, and Neil Peart. I stand by that claim.


“See more of the people/and the places that surround me now.”

I only saw Rush once, for the Power Windows tour in the mid-’80s. A guy I just barely knew offered me his other ticket if I paid for his ride on the Broad Street subway to get to the Spectrum. This particular guy was African-American. In my naïveté, I might have thought it odd that he was a Rush fan, Rush seemingly being the province of the suburban white males living in the subdivisions that I knew. However, I know now that Vernon Reid, lead guitarist for Living Colour, would have strong words for me for thinking that, and he would be correct.

In any event, we got to the Spectrum late, and were stuck in a mass of fans waiting to enter. We missed Blue Oyster Cult play their opening set. Decades later, I made a new friend and eventually learned that he was in that exact mass of people that night.

I bought the guy who gave me the ticket a Rush pin, and knocked on his dorm room door sometime later that night to give it to him. I am not certain we ever spoke again.

It would have been cool to see Rush one more time, but it didn’t happen.


I was probably 15 years old when I first became familiar with Rush. Neal Peart would have been around 28. I can tell you now that the gap between those ages 40 years ago would have felt much wider than the gap between 54 and 67 feels now.


I have liked Rush just fine, for years now. Decades, in fact. The new waver and the prog rocker in me made their peace a long time ago. Still though, I don’t intimately know every Rush album. And it’s true that “Time Stand Still”, one of the band’s more simplistic pop hits, still moves me more that any of their more complex works. Thing is, I won’t listen to Rush or “Time Stands Still” for months at a time, but whenever I do hear, it feels like I need to hear it.

I wasn’t planning on listening to “Time Stands Still” tonight. I figured I’d give that classic Billy Squier album another listen. But this afternoon’s announcement of Neil Peart’s death at 67 earlier this week changed my evening’s playlist and I find myself now, close to midnight, nearly 40 years after those Risk games, and 35 years since my sole Rush concert, with sons approaching college and high school graduations, and hearing Geddy Lee sing Peart’s lyrics, “Children growing up/old friends growing older.” Tonight, I’m feeling those lyrics a little harder than maybe I’ve ever felt them before.

“Freeze this moment a little bit longer/Make each sensation a little bit stronger.” Indeed.

Thanks, Neil.



MonkNotes #3

In Monk Mondays, MonkDays, music, Philosophy/Creativity, piano, Thelonious Monk on October 28, 2019 at 12:23 am



Despite the fact that I didn’t post anything about my Monk project on social media last week, I am still immersed in it, as I intend to be for the rest of my life.

As it happened, when I hit last Sunday morning to generate my weekly Monk album, I hit on It’s Monk’s Time, the exact same album I had the week before. So, it was instant decision time: do I hit up a different random number for another album or do I take on It’s Monk’s Time for a second week?

I decided that has to be the final arbiter on these matters, so I spent another week with It’s Monk’s Time. I am glad I did. It’s a good immersive album. It’s enjoyable, but it has substance. Just as good in the background as in the foreground.

That doesn’t mean I have any specific musical  insights on It’s Monk’s Time at the moment. I will note that it contains three Monk originals: “Stuffy Turkey,” “Brake’s Sake,” and “Shuffle Boil.” Monk also does a solo take on “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” which must have been a favorite of his. Not sure how many times he recorded it, but it seems to pop up often on the albums.

Listening to the album for a second week in a row got me thinking about immersive listening as well. It seems more likely that people binge, rather than immerse these days. By which I mean, they take on the entirety of some artistic entity — usually a television series — at one time, as opposed to watching a specific episode over and over again. I suppose if I continue this project, it’ll be a lifelong Monk binge, but when I listen to a certain week’s randomly selected album more than usual, those will be my immersive weeks.

Monk’s got me thinking quite a bit about mental acuity, which is something I feel like I have a decent enough amount of, but sometimes I wonder about how the aging process — I am now 54 — will affect that. For example, when I’m not listening to Thelonious Monk, I can sometimes be found at Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery, where I am a tour guide. During a tour, I typically tell the stories behind 15-20 gravesites. I have recently noticed that it occasionally takes me an extra couple of nanoseconds to locate information during a tour than it previously did.

I also recently lost a gravesite! I was headed from one stop to the next, a straight shot, but couldn’t find the gravestone and decided to just move on with tour, rather than slow it down while I searched. It was an odd experience, but I think I might have been thrown off by the fact that some fallen gravestones along the way from point A to point B have recently been uprighted, just slightly changing the terrain. Maybe that’s what threw me off. It’s nothing I’m overly concerned about, but still…

But as I have mentioned, that’s what attracts me to Monk’s music. It has a stimulating effect on my brain, which I find to be quite pleasing.

Also, you often hear that doing word puzzles can help you maintain mental acuity. Whether that is true or not, I think that might be why I enjoy writing. After all, writing a coherent news release or review or essay or really just the ultimate word puzzle, don’t you think? Which reminds me: here is my latest PopMatters review for Danish keyboard/bass duo Bremer/McCoy’s new album, Utopia.



MonkNotes, week #2: Beer, LuLu, Steven, etc.

In jazz, Monk Mondays, MonkDays, Thelonious Monk on October 20, 2019 at 12:41 pm


Welcome to Week #2 of what I am now calling “MonkNotes,” but who knows? Next week I may be calling it something else. I haven’t quite figured this out yet.

What I have figured out is this: I am in the midst of returning to a tradition that I started a few years ago, in which I randomly select a Thelonious Monk album to listen to each Monday. I then listen to that album on a loop that Monday and whenever I feel like it again throughout the week. Theoretically, I’m taking a few notes on the way and then compiling those notes into this mini-essay at the end of each week, more than likely very early on a Sunday morning, after I have fulfilled my dog Jolie’s request for her first walk of the day.

So, why Monk? This is the request I often ask myself. As I noted in last week’s entry, I find that Monk’s music seems to turn a light on in my brain. When I listen to Monk, it is almost as if I can feel the neurons lighting up and connecting with each other. A neuroscientist would probably debunk that notion, and to some extent I do as well.

Back when my boys — who are now 21 and 17 — were babies, the notion that playing Mozart for your children will make them smarter was all the rage. I might have briefly subscribed to that idea, but not for long. My feeling was, play Mozart for your kids because Mozart wrote some great tunes, not because playing Mozart for your kids will get them into that exclusive pre-K.

To be clear, then: while I am serious when I say that listening to Thelonious Monk’s piano playing does appear to tickle my neurons, I am not listening to his work because I think it will make me smarter. At the same time, I feel like I’ve reached an age when a certain slippage of mental acuity is a distinct possibility. I have in fact seen it happen once in awhile. For example, I have noticed recently that I have had to reach a little hard for certain facts on the tours I give at Laurel Hill Cemetery. The facts arrive, but maybe it has occasionally a few extra nanoseconds to get there. If listening to music that I happen to love anyway will engage my brain and give it a bit of a workout, I’m all for it.

I have this theory about immersing oneself in any give Monk album: during such an immersion, threads will begin to emerge. Themes, both musical and nonmusical. I think there could be vast potential in following those threads, and allowing the threads to intersect over time, particularly I introduce a new Monk album into this program each week.

Of course, anybody could do this with any artist they love, at least if that artist has a decent-sized discography. One could just as easily immerse oneself in Beatles albums, or Willie Nelson albums, or Taylor Swift albums, or James Brown albums.

But I choose Monk. And last week, I randomly chose Monk’s 1964 album, It’s Monk’s TimeReleased at around the same time Monk made the cover of Time magazine, probably the height of his fame. As the Allmusic review linked above suggests, purists who had been following Monk’s work throughout the 1950’s sometimes derided the albums he recorded for Columbia in the ’60s, but isn’t that always just the way? Hang around with R.E.M. fans for awhile, and you’re sure to meet someone who gave up on them after that first Hib-Tone single.

But, to these ears, the Columbia albums are just fine. Monk might not have been blazing trails like he had been in his earlier years, but he is continuing to explore his own compositions and those of others. I suppose if you listened to his records in strictly chronological order, you might discern a leveling off of surprise or excitement once he signs that Columbia contract, but I’m not going to the chronological route, now am I? And anyway, I am only supposing that this leveling off exists.

It’s Monk’s Time is a perfect example of the threads that mentioned above. Listening to the album set a series of thoughts and ideas in motion. For example: opening track, “Lulu’s Back in Town,” was written in 1935 by Al Dubin and Harry Warren, but the moment I saw the title I was reminded of the Ben Folds Five’s hilarious “Steven’s Last Night in Town” from their 1997 album, Forever and Ever, Amen. Lulu is back in time just in time to catch Steven, that is, if Steven would ever actually decide to leave.

“Lulu’s Back in Town” opens with Monk playing solo for three minutes before the rest of his quartet kicks in. It is a jaunty tune, which is how I’d describe It’s Monk’s Time as a whole: jaunty. Fun. Like Monk’s Dream, my random Monk pick from last week, I think It’s Monk’s Time is a good introductory album for the uninitiated.

Further threads developed as I continued my occasional listens throughout the week. I discovered the Monk has a beer named in his honor, Brother Thelonious, by the North Coast Brewing Company. This led me on a lunchtime field trip to obtain one of the few four packs of Brother Thelonious in the Philadelphia area.

Brother Thelonious is a Belgian style abbey ale (hence, the “Monk” connection), and though I am not an expert on beer, it seems like a tasty beer to me.

I also discovered that there are monks who brew coffee. Though not directly connected to Thelonious, I will eventually follow up on those monkish brews.

It is, perhaps, time to move on with my day, and to go find out what the coming week’s Monk album will be. This entry feels a bitter scattered, but over time maybe I’ll begin to rein in what it is I’m trying to say each week here. Then again, maybe I won’t. For now, I am just banking on the idea that this is all going to eventually make sense.

Finally, lest you think I have been listening to nothing but Monk over the past week, here is proof that I listened to other music: my PopMatters reviews of brand new albums by the Harlem Gospel Travelers, La Santa Cecilia and Hannah Williams and the Affirmations.




Coltrane in the Nor’easter

In jazz, John Coltrane, music, North Philadelphia, Philadelphia, poem on April 4, 2018 at 7:14 pm

29th and Diamond, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, March 2, 2018

Coltrane in the Nor’easter

gazes over the old neighborhood

from his vantage point at 29th and Diamond.


Coltrane in the Nor’easter

recalls struggle and triumph in his house on 33rd,

now with a sign noting his long-ago presence.


Coltrane in the Nor’easter

is poised to play his saxophone,

but his lips never touch the instrument.


Coltrane in the Nor’easter

remembers the nearby, long-lost jazz clubs

where he honed his craft:

820 Club

Café Society

Crystal Ball

Web Bar

Sun Ray

Blue Note.


Coltrane in the Nor’easter

meditates on afterhours sessions at the Woodbine

with Tyner, Pope, Ali, Smith, Morgan, Golson, and Philly Joe Jones.


Coltrane in the Nor’easter

knows his sheets of sound would rage

wild and free amid these sheets of snow

and yet, his lips never touch the instrument.


Coltrane in the Nor’easter

has never heard of Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, or Trump,

and even if he had, his mind would be elsewhere.


Coltrane in the Nor’easter

might wonder why everyone from Bono

to Sheryl Crow

to some guy in Phoenixville

feels the need to invoke his name.


Coltrane in the Nor’easter

could impart great wisdom

to the father and son talking Kanye and Kendrick

in the car below him.


Coltrane in the Nor’easter

is one of my favorite things.


Coltrane in the Nor’easter

prays that each of us will someday encounter

a Love Supreme.

Cassingles Going Steady (52 at 52, #14)

In cassingles, cassette singles, Really Cool Notebooks, Uncategorized on September 10, 2017 at 1:26 pm





Many years ago, cassette singles — aka, “cassingles” — played an oddly important role in my life.

Maybe you remember cassingles. Or, maybe you don’t, as you really need to be of a certain age to have experienced the wonder of the cassingle. If not, an article in the New York Times, published 30 years ago this week, will get you up to speed.

Essentially, the cassingle was the record industry’s attempt to find an alternative to the 45 r.p.m. single at a time — the late 1980s/early ’90s — when the death of vinyl as a means for music delivery seemed imminent. The Walkman had made cassette versions of long-playing records quite popular, and compact discs were rapidly claiming an ever-bigger market share. The future of the single was in the balance and it was decided that the cassingle was preferred over the possibility of the CD single, which was apparently more expensive to produce than the cassette single.

While the 1987 Times story details how cassette singles were becoming increasingly popular, it also notes that IRS records had released a one-off cassette single for “Vacation” by the Go-Go’s way back in 1982. In fact, according to the story, IRS invented the word “cassingle,” as if giving us R.E.M. wasn’t enough.

As it happens, the rise of the cassingle aligned perfectly with my late college/post graduation job at a chain music store, Record Bar, in Granite Run Mall near Media, Pennsylvania. Don’t look for that mall anymore. It’s gone now, but many memories, including those involving cassingles, remain.

I don’t remember ever having a managerial position at Record Bar, but I was good at the job. So good, in fact, that I found out just this week that co-workers called me “the human Phonolog,” for my apparent ability to know something about every song/artist/album/cassingle that customers requested. I do not remember the nickname, but, even today, I would take that as a compliment.

Eventually, my Record Bar responsibilities included ordering a weekly shipment of singles. At first, this order was primarily vinyl singles, but as time passed, I found myself increasing the cassingle numbers to meet consumer demand for the latest Bon Jovi, Milli Vanilli, and Paula Abdul songs in the handy cassingle format. Once the singles arrived, I’d display them in a way that would hopefully attract hungry pop music fans to purchase them.

I had a more-than-passing interest in the cassingle phenomena, because I wasn’t just ordering singles for Record Bar. The week I graduated college, in May 1988, I went to Record Bar and bought every single that was in the Top 40 of Billboard magazine’s Hot 100 chart. The plan was that each week, I’d pick up the newly-added single to the chart.

Unfortunately, I launched this endeavor during what is perhaps the cheesiest period ever in popular music. If you don’t believe me, take a peek at that very first Top 40 chart I bought. (Actually, as I scan that chart, I’m realizing that it is not quite as cheesy as it would get over the next few years.) But my own personal taste in pop music did not figure in this project; it was all about building an archive of the hit music from the era.

I was undeterred. Collecting the Top 40 suited the cultural archivist in me.

I collected the complete Top 40 for a little more than a year before the inevitable happened. A song that was not released in the vinyl format hit the chart. The first of these might have been De La Soul’s “Me, Myself, and I,” or it may have been Sweet Sensation’s “Hooked On You.” In either case, I was aggravated that my attempt to own every record in the Top 40 was being thwarted.

Here’s the thing: while I had no problem ordering the cassingles for others to buy at Record Bar, I was just enough of a music snob to know that I would certainly never buy a cassingle. Quite simply, I was appalled at the utter disposability of cassingles. There was nothing even remotely archival about cassingles: the damned things were essentially designed to be played in car tape decks until precisely the moment when the purchaser got sick of the song, at which point he or she would toss the cassette, with or without its protective cardboard sleeve, into the back seat of the car, where it would languish until, well, until forever, I guess.

No way I was ever going to buy a cassingle.

I handled this problem in my collection by creating seven-inch by seven-inch “certificates of shame” that noted that such-and-such a song hit the Top 40 but was never released on 45.

Thankfully, my life moved on and I got over the idea of collecting the Top 40. Within a few years, I would imagine none of the charting songs were issued on vinyl, but I was done with my Top 40 mission by then. Cassette singles continued to thrive for several years in the 1990s, but iTunes put the final nail in the cassingle coffin.

Strangely, cassette singles again play a minor but important role in my life. Several years ago, I started Really Cool Notebooks, an Etsy site on which I began to sell notebooks made from the front and back covers of castoff record albums. Several months into this side gig of mine, I was down at my Mom’s house, where she and my sister Lisa were having a garage sale. Lisa was attempting to sell her fine collection of cassingles, but wasn’t getting any bites. Suddenly Lisa and I looked at the cassette singles, looked at each other, and exclaimed “Mini notebooks!”

This epiphany did indeed lead me to expand my business to include tiny notebooks made from cassingle sleeves, and, before long, to making notebooks out of VHS tapes. Since I started with Lisa’s cassingles, I began to donate the proceeds from the mini-notebooks to Savage Walkers, our family’s Relay for Life team, and generally speaking, I’ve continued to do this.

While I sell the mini notebooks in a special subsection of my Etsy site, the best place for me to show them and sell them is when I’m vending at a craft show. For whatever reason, people often become giddy as they sort through the mini-notebooks, especially when they encounter a notebook made from the sleeve of a cassette single they once owned, and tossed into the back seat of their car, back when cassingles ruled the world.

To sum up: if making people smile by reminding them of the cassingle is part of my purpose in life, I’m good with that.

For more on cassingles, check out this article in The Onion. And here’s what cassingle sleeves look like when they become the covers for mini notebooks:


Cassingle sleeves, transformed into tiny notebooks!








16 Posts from 2016

In Uncategorized on December 29, 2016 at 7:03 am


A late December evening, 2016. I add a little stronger peppermint to my peppermint mocha, listen to the most recent works of Wilco, Bob Dylan, and the late great Leonard Cohen, and contemplate my year by strolling through the last 12 months worth of entries in this blog.

Earlier today, the editor of the magazine for which I write (ASTM International’s Standardization News), created a list of the Top 16 stories in this year’s issues. This has given me the idea to do the same with my 2016 blog entries.

As it happens, I sat down at my laptop nearly 40 times this year to say something via Dichotomy of the Dog, so I had to stop and consider which 16 entries might be my favorites, the ones that sum up the year. But the 16 that I link to below–in Casey Kasem countdown format–tie my 2016 together about as well as anything else could.

There is a fair amount of introspection going on in many of these entries and I’ll be the first to note that I am not, of course, the first to note these sentiments. But getting all this down in writing seemed to take on extra importance for me this year, and I’m glad I did it.

If you happened to read some of these entries as I posted them this year, thank you! I truly appreciate your time!

Finally, a warning: a few of these entries are silly. But now more than ever, maybe we need silly.

16. Knee Deep in Knee Deep in the Hoopla. The first entry in a ridiculous and abandoned series of entries written while listening to Starship’s infamous Knee Deep in the Hoopla album. Just because I abandoned this idea does not mean I won’t return to it someday.

15.There Is No Way In Hell I Will Ever Vote for Donald Trump. My political statement of the year. I stand by it, and always will.

14. MonkDay 002. My first blast of post-election weirdness.  More weirdness lies ahead, I’m sure.

13. raspberry strawberry lemon and lime what do I care (Happy Birthday Bob Dylan)  Just a quick few lines, dashed off on Bob Dylan’s birthday. I was happy to be writing about a living musician for a change.

12. Too Much Thyme on My Hands. Originally written years ago, this resonated enough with me this year that I wanted to revive it.

11. I Dream of Hall and Oates. I may have offended John Oates.

10. Sunday Morning Beury/Sunday Morning Lorraine. Chris and I visit cool old buildings, take photos.

9. Shiny Happy People Revisited. Or, “Why I’ll Never Hate ‘Shiny, Happy People’ the Way Some Hardcore Fans Hate ‘Shiny, Happy People.'”

8. Row.And.Stop. Memories of my ninth grade typing class, one of the most useful classes I ever took.

7. Bono at WaWa. Self-explanatory.

6. Laurel Hill Tales #002: Augustus Goodyear Heaton. Some thoughts on one of my favorite “permanent residents” at Laurel Hill Cemetery. Author of “The Amorous Numismatist.” If you like this entry, try William Duane, an early American journalist whose story is relevant to our current sorry state of affairs.

5. Oh What A Week That Was. The week Jimmy graduated high school and Chris was promoted from middle school to high school. A big week.

4. The Somewhat Better. Trying to figure things out and learning to live with a life that might not be the “best” it can be, but is better than it was.

3. Kids Take You Places. In which Chris and I visit abandoned spots and I think about other places he and Jimmy have taken me.

2. The Moments. A song by my friend Cliff and the removal of an ancient tree remind me to “hang on to the moment.”

1. Dear Eighteen-Year-Old at the David Bowie Concert. Of all the celebrity deaths this year, Bowie’s hit me hardest. Though Bowie was so much more than a “celebrity,” of course. Writing this just after Bowie’s January death paved the way for everything else worthwhile that I wrote this year. Also, devastating to think that I needed to write this way about both Prince and Merle Haggard this year as well. Don’t let anyone convince you that the death of an admired artist of any sort won’t have an effect on you.

MonkDay 001

In MonkDays, Thelonious Monk on November 15, 2016 at 12:34 am

MonkDay 001, 11/14/16

I am a fan of the brilliant jazz pianist Thelonious Monk. There is something about his music that gets deep into my soul, as great music will do. Oddly though, Monk’s work burrows deep into my brain as well. It’s hard to explain, but I can practically feel the neurons firing up when I listen to Monk.

I often listen to Monk albums on Mondays, or as I like to call them, MonkDays. Again, I don’t quite understand the logic or science behind this, if there is any, but Monk’s languid ballads and twisty-turny upbeat numbers are the perfect soundtrack for me to reset my brain for the week ahead.

After all the tumult of last week–and I will not be naming names and events here–a solid blast of Thelonious seemed to be exactly what I needed to move forward. In fact, I’m thinking that a weekly Monday evening “MonkDay” blog entry might be just what I need, for at least the next four years. But again, I don’t necessarily plan to get all political here. Philosophical, yeah. Political, probably not. At least not directly.

One unusual result of the Event from Last Week, is that many people seem to be doing some soul-searching. I’m thinking my MonkDays will be a vehicle for my soul searching. You’re welcome to join me if you like.

On that note, I will close for now, but not before noting the Thelonious albums I listened to today:

Genius of Modern Music Vol 1, Blue Note, 1956

Genius of Modern Music Vol 2, Blue Note, 1956

Monk’s Dream, Columbia, 1963

And, finally, here’s “Epistrophy,” from Genius of Modern Music Vol 1:




HooplaThon Day Three: “A Curious Study in Failure”

In 1985, music, Music/Memory, Music/Opinion on September 14, 2016 at 2:15 am

HooplaThon Day 3 HooplaMeter: Check it out, I am officially knee deep in the hoopla.

Sitting in a staff meeting at work this morning, my friend Chris Davis noted that a certain situation was “a curious study in failure.” My hand dropped to the table with more force than I meant it to and I stared at Chris in wonder. Without meaning to, Chris had perfectly described Starship’s  Knee Deep in the Hoopla album, in which I’ve been immersing myself.

Before I get to that phrase, “curious study in failure,” I’d like to suggest that, if you’re tired of me yammering on about Starship, you should check out Chris’ Vault of Thoughts blog. Chris has indeed filled his blog with many intriguing thoughts and ideas, none of which have anything to do with Starship.

Knee Deep in the Hoopla was certainly not a commercial failure. Propelled by “We Built This City” and “Sara,” the album was a big hit and went a long way toward establishing the new Starship brand. Critically though, it was a different story.

At least, I think it was. Retroactively, everyone has been dissing “We Built This City,” and, by extension the album that spawned it, for decades. But I haven’t delved deep enough into the original reviews to determine if critics and the listening public hated it then as much as critics and the listening public seem to hate it now.

As I mentioned in my last entry, I do not remember having a visceral reaction, pro or con, to the first time I heard “We Built This City.” I don’t even explicitly remember the first time I heard the song. It just seems to have shown up one day and I sort of accepted it for what it was and moved with my life.

There is more to say, other Knee Deep threads to eventually tie together as my HooplaThon continues for now. But for now, I’ll just leave you this photo of the original picture sleeve for “We Built This City.” This will prove conclusively that I was a member of Starship, at least until Grace Slick kicked me out:


The original picture sleeve for “We Built This City.” I was indeed a member of the band, and played a theremin solo on this song. But then, Grace Slick got mad at me when I asked her to remind me what dormouse said. She threw me out of the band and wiped my theremin solo.

Don’t forget: the HooplaThon is sponsored by Rich’s Really Cool Notebooks!




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

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!






HooplaThon Day 1: Just the FAQs

In Uncategorized on September 12, 2016 at 12:51 am

HooplaThon Day 1: Just dipping one set of toes in the Hoopla.

Welcome to the HooplaThon. You probably have questions. I have answers.

For reasons that I will attempt to delineate, I have decided that for the next bunch of days, I am going to attempt to write a journal entry while listening to side 1 of the 1985 Starship album, Knee Deep in the Hoopla. Then, while playing side 2, I will craft the journal entry into a casual essay on this blog.

Why, oh why, do I want to take on this ridiculous task? Glad you asked.

I have my reasons, the first being as a way to confront a statement that I often hear, but don’t really believe: “Life is too short for bad music/bad movies/bad books/bad art/bad sports/etc.” I feel like this Hoopla experiment is a way to test that theory with a daily dose of Knee Deep in the Hoopla, an album that contains the song “We Built This City,” which often tops polls as the worst song ever recorded.

So my thought was, why not spend some time with this musical product (the use of the word “product” is quite deliberate) that is often deemed “bad” and see what results from my nightly listening experience. Will I find that life really is too short for bad music?

But that leads to another question: Is Knee Deep in the Hoopla truly bad music and is “We Built This City” really the worst song ever recorded? Or do the album and song simply have bad reps?

The fact of the matter is I could be listening to Coltrane’s A Love Supreme every night. Maybe that would inspire some glorious damn prose to come flowing out of my mind. But that’s not the point. The point is: where will prolonged exposure to Knee Deep in the Hoopla lead me?

Also a question: what exactly is “hoopla” and can it really be quantified? How does one get knee deep into it and does one in fact know that they are precisely knee deep in it?

Some readers might wonder: is there some kind of political agenda going on here? The answer is a unequivocal, “Well, yeah, now that you mention it, maybe there is.” After all, has any American year been more filled with political hoopla than 2016? Actually, I am thinking about hooey here. Clearly no year in American history has been filled with as much political hooey as this year. But hoopla is happening too, and we’re all knee deep in it at the very least, whether we want to admit it or not.

Trump is the king of hoopla and the king of hooey as well. Contemplating a Trump presidency awhile back, I realized that I’d rather be compelled to listen to “We Built This City” every single morning for the next four years than to wake up knowing the Donald Trump was president. So there’s that.

What else is this about? It could be about anything really, as long as the tangents wind their way back to Knee Deep in the Hoopla. It’s about spurring me to write every night and its about figuring out a way to avoid the early evening naps that end up wrecking my sound sleep hours later. Maybe writing these entries will be a way to “rock myself to sleep,” as Grace Slick sings, with the help of Quiet Riot’s Kevin DuBrow, on Knee Deep in the Hoopla.

So, finally, how will this work? As I stated at the beginning, each evening, I’ll scribble thoughts in my specially designed Knee Deep in the Hoopla notebook, provided to me by my sponsor for this blog series, Rich’s Really Cool Notebooks. Then, while listening to side 2, I’ll type up the journal entry I just wrote, hopefully crafting it into something semi-coherent.

If there is a point or points to this project, perhaps, it or they, will emerge as I compile the entries. To quantify the project, I’ll add a new Hoopla to the official HooplaMeter (see photo above) with each new entry.

So, join me if you’d like. I hear Marconi is about to play the mamba.


Patrick F. O'Donnell

Children's book author, ghostwriter, content creator, editor.

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