Friday, May 31, 2013

#678: First Girl I Loved

Her name was Connie Elliott. It was the Fall of 1974. I was 15, hanging out in Boise with my lawbreaking half-brother Jay, stealing small change, grabbing gas cans out of people's garages & generally being stupid. Connie was a friend of our friends -- cute, short & quiet, with long curly brown hair. She hardly ever said a word unless you asked her a direct question.
On Friday nights we used to fill Jay's huge red van with the entire gang & hang out at the Meridian Drive-In. We hardly ever saw the movie -- there was too much other drama going on. The first time Connie was left alone in the van with me, she started grilling me with questions: Who was with who? What does Jay think of Debbie (Connie's older sister)? Is he in love with her? Oh, & why wasn't I With anyone?
This of course grabbed my attention.
Next time I saw her was at her home, where she & I & Jay & Debbie & the half-dozen others in our gang sprawled across the family-room floor, gabbing & eating & relaxing.
At some point I heard a voice come from over my shoulder: "Could I maybe sneak through here...?" & I said "Sure, come through if you can GET through...." & moving past me was Connie's uncle, who tipped the scales at maybe 300 pounds.
& I looked at Connie & she was already laughing, & I said "Oh, I didn't mean it like THAT," & then she REALLY started laughing, until she was crying & she leaned over onto the floor, gasping 4 breath. Everybody else got quiet wondering what they'd missed.
& a friendship was born.
I thought she was great -- mainly because she actually TALKED to me, she didn't think I was too dorky to bother with. & this was a shock, because I was scared to death of girls, didn't know how to approach, didn't know what to say, was still way too nervous.
Connie tried. We liked talking with each other, spent HOURS on the phone, always had some laughs no matter how weird things got or how much drama was going on in The Gang. She always wanted to know what I THOUGHT about things. She tried to teach me how to dance -- but she gave up when she learned how unbelievably clutzy I was.
That's all that happened, because I wasn't sure what else to do. She was two years younger than me, but had already been through a LOT more.
We continued to hang-out at the drive-in. One cold night I screwed-up all my courage & wrapped an arm around Connie's shoulders -- she was out in December without a coat. She seemed to snuggle in closer & said: "You know, you can move your arm down LOWER, if you want to...." & I wanted to. But I was scared to death. & I stayed where I was. Because I was an idiot.
We never kissed, we never even held hands.
A couple months later, after LOTS more drama in our bunch, I finally told Connie how I felt -- I thought maybe she'd be open to putting up with a geek like me. I said the words "I love you." I said I'd never met anyone like her, that it still shocked me how easily we could talk with each other.
& she waved me off. "I'll just hurt you," she said. I said I didn't see how she could. But Connie did. Soon after she took up with my brother....
After that she tried to set me up with her sister, & though Debbie was nice, we both knew we weren't with who we wanted to be with.... Connie & Jay didn't last. After much more drama, we all drifted apart.
The J. Geils Band's "Must of Got Lost" became the theme song for the relationship Connie & I didn't quite have -- & we both knew it.
I visited her house once, a few months after. Connie & Debbie were both running around in shorts & summer tops, & I was struck again by what a knockout she was. But Connie sort of kept her distance....
A year or so later, as an April Fool's joke, Connie called me out of the blue & claimed to be pregnant. There was a LONG silence at my end of the phone. "But, I, uh, we never even...." Then Connie started laughing & we talked for an hour for the first time in ages. It was almost like old times. But there were no sequels.
At one point my folks moved into a house a mile down the road from Connie's. & though I always wondered what she was doing, I never checked in on her. I had long ago received the clear message that she was way ahead of me, maturity-wise....
Then, looking through the newspaper one day, I saw that Connie'd had a baby. Then she got a marriage license. She was married with a child, at age 16. ...& her husband was a guy I'd had a class with in highschool.
Years went by. I read quite awhile back that Connie's husband had died young, in his early 30s. That was over 20 years ago. But I've got no idea what ever happened to Connie, the first girl I ever said "I love you" to.
Connie, if you're Out There somewhere, drop me a line. The Geek still remembers you. I'm way better at Talking, these days. I can even dance, a little. Sort of. Slow dance, at least. I was dancing at work just last night....

Thursday, May 30, 2013

#677: Summer 1978

It's the Summer of 1978 & I am moved-out of my parents' house for the first time ever, living in a 2-story townhouse-style apartment in Boise's "Sergeant City" with my best friend in the world, Don Vincent.
We pulled together the little money we had, found a place cheap, & within a couple days we are moved in. Immediately we start making the place over into something that's "ours." The rock&roll & fantasy posters immediately go up on the walls. We start "fumigating" with incense & scented candles in almost every room. & as soon as the stereo gets set-up in the cave-like living room downstairs, we start playing Strange Music at every opportunity.
For Don it could be anything from Aphrodite's Child to Keith Jarrett to Chick Corea to Chuck Mangione(?). He leans toward some pretty-out-there jazz. I'm just discovering that King Crimson might be Good. Mostly I fall back on some old favorites -- middle-period Genesis, Gryphon, Providence, Renaissance, Kansas, Queen, Boston.
Boston's DON'T LOOK BACK comes out & we argue about its qualities -- we agree the good stuff is really good, but the album's only half-finished.... Journey's INFINITY is a subject of some debate: At first I think it's bland Stadium Rock; then I'm caught by "Feelin' That Way/Anytime," & another sale gets made. Genesis's AND THEN THERE WERE THREE is released & I read reviews that compare it negatively to The Moody Blues ... & that's all I need to hear; the good stuff is good -- the try at a hit single sucks. Gentle Giant's GIANT FOR A DAY is issued, & Don & I wonder if it's The Worst Album Of All Time....
Other buys: Gryphon's RAINDANCE, TREASON and MIDNIGHT MUSHRUMPS, 1st U.K. album, Happy the Man's CRAFTY HANDS, Camel's BREATHLESS, Caravan's BLIND DOG AT ST. DUNSTAN'S, Renaissance's A SONG FOR ALL SEASONS, Gentle Giant's FREE HAND and GIANT STEPS, Todd Rundgren's SOMETHING/ANYTHING?, Incredible String Band's THE HANGMAN'S BEAUTIFUL DAUGHTER, THE GREATER ANTILLES SAMPLER (the first place I hear Nick Drake), & probably dozens more I've forgotten....
Out of all this music, the fantasy posters on the wall, & the optimistic atmosphere of the place, I start writing a long, winding heroic Middle Ages fantasy -- 40+ pages, something to fill-up my spare time -- which turns out to be Nothing Special, just a standard LORD OF THE RINGS-style Other World with some pretty lightshows along the way. It never really gets finished.
Just around the corner from the apartment is The Musicworks, Boise's friendliest record store, where I end up working a year or so down the road. Whenever I'm bored, & especially on Laundry Day, I haunt the store for HOURS, listening to the funny, hip, cool, with-it clerks trade rock&roll stories -- who they've seen in concert, who they helped haul gear into a gig for, which huge-hyped albums bombed the biggest.... These guys are hilarious -- I can listen to them talk for hours. & then go back home without buying a thing....
Don is Attached at this time, but he introduces me to his old girlfriend Tina, who I've heard of but never met. & at the end of our first meeting she kisses me briefly on the lips & I about fall over. It's been MONTHS since I've been close to anyone. We start spending a lot of time on the phone, & then a lot of time together. She will eventually, briefly, move into the apartment with us.
A few months later, our old buddy Jeff Mann will move in, & things will get even crazier. At one point every sleeping surface in the apartment is filled, & stereos begin duelling to try to cover-up the sounds of sensual delight leaking out of the bedrooms. At one point our friends Melissa & Thom briefly move into the closet-sized third bedroom, hang around for meals & camp-out on the living-room couch. Melissa is heading back to college, & we try to talk Thom into moving in -- but he wonders if the neighbors will mind him practicing violin eight hours a day ... & finally he drifts away.
Now & then my old girlfriend Allison & her new guy Richard arrive unexpectedly for a visit -- it gets to be a pretty crowded apartment at times. There's a lotta nostalgia in the air.
When Jeff arrives the music gets louder, though I don't remember him ever entertaining any dates overnight. I DO remember hearing him throwing up in the bathroom night after night, after coming home from his new party-hearty lifestyle. He introduces us to AC/DC, Ted Nugent, REO, LOTS of Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, & much more. He calls the sometimes-twisted stuff I listen to "mindfuck music," & that starts a lot more marathon musical arguments....
Tina adopts some of my music & starts wearing headphones almost constantly while listening to a mix tape of some of the best of Renaissance, Genesis, Camel, Boston, Journey, Barclay James Harvest, Mike Oldfield....
I get fed-up with my job & stupidly give my 2 weeks' notice. I end up unemployed for the next 6 months.... I hang on for a couple more months in the apartment, & out of the stress of unpaid bills & strained friendships I write my first published short-story. & then move back into my parents' house before Christmas -- where I'll be trapped for the next 14 months.
Don & Jeff keep it going for another year -- then Jeff moves back to Texas, where his parents have moved after his highschool graduation. Don loses his girlfriend in a car wreck, goes through two VERY bad years, then finds a new love.
1979 turns out to be the worst year of our lives, up 'til then. But even in the middle of my worst year ever, The Musicworks hires me part-time & suddenly I have my Dream Job, & even offer to work for free.... I find my way back out of my folks' house early in 1980, & move with Tina into the world's smallest mobile home -- so tiny that there's no spare room on the walls & the rock&roll posters have to be stapled to the ceiling....

Monday, May 27, 2013

#676: Sick as a dog....

...What's your story?

Latest playlist:
Spirit -- I Got a Line on You, Nature's Way, 1984, Fresh Garbage, Dark-Eyed Woman, Prelude/Nothing to Hide, Aren't You Glad?
Fairport Convention -- Crazy Man Michael, Farewell Farewell, Stranger to Himself.
Weather Report -- Badia/Boogie Woogie Waltz medley, Thanks for the Memories, A Remark You Made, Slang, In a Silent Way (all live from 8:30).
Procol Harum -- Shine On Brightly, A Salty Dog, A Whiter Shade of Pale, Homburg, In the Wee Small Hours of Sixpence, Repent Walpurgis.
King Crimson -- The Power to Believe I: A Capella, Level Five, Eyes Wide Open, Elektrik, Happy With What You Have to be Happy With, The Power to Believe III, The Power to Believe IV: Coda.
Can -- Uphill, Mother Upduff, Moonshake, Future Days, I Want More, Don't Say No, Spoon, Outside My Door, Halleluwah.
Hawkwind -- Urban Guerrilla, Sonic Attack, Psychedelic Warlords (Disappear in Smoke), Assault and Battery (Part 1).
Jefferson Airplane -- Mexico, Good Shepherd, Wooden Ships, Eskimo Blue Day.
Barclay James Harvest -- Vanessa Simmons, Happy Old World, Ball and Chain, Medicine Man, Ursula (The Swansea Song), Someone There You Know, The Poet/After the Day, I'm Over You, Child of Man, Breathless, While the City Sleeps.

Some sort of ugly 36-hour bug grabbed me & made working the past couple of days a real pain in the ass, head, stomach & just about everywhere else. Did get some more music listened to, however....
Felt a little better as soon as I put Spirit on -- the guitar rush of "I Got a Line on You" works every time. "Nature's Way" is still perfect. But some of their stuff I just Don't Get, so I tried a couple of those: "Fresh Garbage" is certainly off-beat enough, but it never gets any better than when Jay Ferguson comes breezing in at the start singing the title phrase.... "Dark-Eyed Woman" has a nice dark sultry mood to it. "1984" is still spooky, & seems even more relevant in our current semi-police-state atmosphere.
"Stranger to Himself" is still a moving funeral march -- one of the best things Sandy Denny did later in her career.
"Boogie Woogie Waltz" is still a killer -- but I'm not sure about some of the others. "Thanks for the Memories" is a nice Wayne Shorter sax-solo spotlight, but there were folks in the audience who only went nuts when Wayne hit those long high notes.... "In a Silent Way" hardly sounds anything like Miles Davis's original (& chief Weather-man Joe Zawinul wrote it). Bassist Jaco Pastorius's "Slang" has more energy than most of these.
Ah, the Procols. Talk about pretensious. But they had talent to burn. Still, I Don't Get why A&M couldn't have tossed 15 more minutes of music onto their GREATEST HITS -- how 'bout "Wreck of the Hesperus" & "Long Gone Geek," or maybe the live "In Held T'was in I"?
Course, there IS some Good Stuff on there. My pick is "Shine On Brightly," which has some screaming Robin Trower guitar on the choruses, & Keith Reid's lyrics are cute -- it should've been a hit. "A Salty Dog" still seems a little sludgy & limp to me, but Gary Brooker's singing is pretty amazing, especially at the end, & the lyrics paint a clear picture. Almost cinematically vivid. "Repent, Walpurgis" is a keyboard&guitar-led instrumental, OK but not stunning.
KC's "Level Five" is better live, but "Eyes Wide Open" is another solid ballad from Adrian Belew. "Happy" is still the best & funniest of KC's recent "comedy" songs. As for the "Power to Believe" segments ... well, they helped pull an album together....
Can is all about THE RHYTHM. "Uphill" has a great ominous ongoing riff. "Mother Upduff" is a comedy classic ("Mother Upduff hadn't been out of Dusseldorf in EIGHTY YEARS...."), & even behind that there's still some loopy music goin' on. Later on, Can got smoother & less abrasive -- closer to a sorta twisted dance-rock. It doesn't really matter what guitarist Michael Karoli is murmuring in "Moonshake." "Don't Say No" is even closer to dance music. "Outside My Door" could've been a hit. "Spoon" was -- in Germany.
I still think Hawkwind's "Urban Guerrilla" is funny, but it's probably not the most politically correct choice in our current bombing&violence-plagued society. "Sonic Attack"'s good comedy, too. & "Psychedelic Warlords" works on chant power alone.
The Airplane's angry "Mexico" is great, though I wish the vocals were clearer. "Good Shepherd" is an Olde Favorite. "Wooden Ships" is much rougher than the CSNY version I heard years before this one -- the Airplane's version doesn't lack for drama or mood or ferocity, however....
The Barclays? Well, they got better. Sometime around their second album ONCE AGAIN, they seem to have grown up a little & their songwriting got noticeably stronger. There are still some problems, though.... "Vanessa Simmons" is almost good, a way-of-life-issues-poser. "Happy Old World" is a misnomer, because the narrator doesn't think the world's a happy place at all -- more melodrama, though not as overwrought as previously. I couldn't get through "Ball and Chain," which is a life-is-hard blooze. "Medicine Man" is a Western -- with an orchestra. These guys really seemed to have no particular inspiration, other than to be a rock band with an orchestra....
Just when I was wondering if I could get through all of BJH's HARVEST YEARS best-of, up pops "Ursula (The Swansea Song)," which is simple & low-key & nicely reflective & bouncy enough that it could have been a hit. & it works better than any of their Big Statements so far. I wonder if they knew that? Some artists weren't meant to make Big Statements.... They should've done more "pop" stuff like this.
"Someone There You Know" is above BJH's average. "The Poet/After the Day" is more overwrought end-of-the-world melodrama, though not as overdone or as bad as "Dark Now My Sky" or "She Said." "I'm Over You" is no big deal -- though the title phrase is repeated about 84 times; who's he trying to convince? -- but the vocal harmonies on the choruses made me smile.
I remembered the choruses from "Child of Man" from those imported BEST OF BJH vinyl albums I briefly owned 35 years ago -- the spoken-word choruses are annoying enough & memorable enough that this could have been a hit. "Breathless" is a decent guitar-led instrumental. "While the City Sleeps" is keyboardist Wooly Wolstenholme talking about his insomnia.
So far I hear about 6 songs from THE HARVEST YEARS worth putting on a best-of -- out of 30 tracks. I'll try to finish this off next time....

Saturday, May 25, 2013

#675: The Prog Guy?

Well, I thought I was a big-time Prog Guy 'til I started doing this blogging stuff. These days I have little patience for wanking around & showing off, for taking the more difficult path to musical satisfaction when what's really needed is just A Good Tune.
But most of the Mostly-Unheard New Stuff I have around the house is prog-oriented -- though not all of it. So here we go....

Joni Mitchell -- Raised On Robbery, Free Man in Paris, The Circle Game, Chelsea Morning.
Fairport Convention -- Chelsea Morning, Mr. Lacey, Book Song.
Squeeze -- Hourglass, Trust Me to Open My Mouth.
Nektar -- Fidgety Queen.
David Sancious and Tone -- TRUE STORIES: Sound of Love, Move On, Prelude #3, On the Inside, Fade Away, Ever the Same, Interlude, Matter of Time.
King Crimson -- ProzaKc Blues, The World is My Oyster Soup Kitchen Floor Wax Museum, One Time, Radio II, Inner Garden II.
Wigwam -- Do or Die, Losing Hold, Grass for Blades.
Barclay James Harvest -- She Said, Song for Dying.
Be-Bop Deluxe -- Between the Worlds, Music in Dreamland.
Can -- Father Cannot Yell, Soup, Mother Sky.

OK so, "Raised on Robbery" to get me going -- great sax solo by Tom Scott in the middle, great funny sly lyrics from Joni. Liked the airy "Free Man in Paris" even before I learned it was supposed to be about David Geffen. "Circle Game" is so sweet&adorable it's almost hard to take -- would love to hear a rocked-up version, think somebody did one a few years back, but don't know who.
"Chelsea Morning" is very nice -- this woman might have a future, except for the screeches at the upper end of her vocal register. Just one question: Why isn't "Coyote" on Joni's HITS? It's not on MISSES, either. & Reprise could've thrown-in another 15 minutes of music on HITS -- why get stingy at this late date...?
Fairport rocks-up "Chelsea Morning" -- Judy Dyble is a good match for Joni, though she doesn't phrase her vocals quite so ... uniquely. The band unfortunately buries the song's most compelling verse. But they make up for it on the sly & funny blues "Mr. Lacey." From the MEET ON THE LEDGE best-of.
If everything Squeeze did was as catchy as "Hourglass," they'd be in the Rock&Roll Hall of Fame. Adding a sax on this song made a big difference -- they should've done it more often. Plus there's the rushed choruses, which you'll be singing along with in no time, even though the lyrics are a mouthful. The following "Trust Me to Open My Mouth" is a good case in point -- it's solid, competent, mildly enjoyable, but not magic. From GREATEST HITS.
"Fidgety Queen" is a classic overlooked rocker with great guitar-choruses. Could've been a hit, & should have been. Play it LOUD! From THE DREAM NEBULA best-of.
After mentioning it recently, I took TRUE STORIES to work, where it actually worked pretty well. At home it's just not cosmic enough compared to Sancious' earlier stuff -- it seemed way too conventional. But at work it seems to breathe & gain some life -- pretty decent jazz-rock background music. The keyboards always sound like Sancious, with his abrupt changes & sudden endings. & I can even take Alex Ligertwood's vocals -- because he's usually in a chorale-like blend with really excellent singers Brenda Madison & Gail Boggs.
"Move On" gets something good going before it suddenly cuts off. There are also 3 instrumentals on the album, but they're mostly ignorable -- one's a brief, quiet solo-piano piece, & one's a watery, short New-Age-ish thing.
So, not quite the disappointment I thought a couple of years ago, 3 stars at least. & you can still have my copy for $500....
KC's heavy comedies like "ProzaKc Blues" & "Oyster Soup Kitchen" are amusing for awhile -- especially Adrian Belew's lyrics. Then they're just loud & grating. But "One Time" is a really excellent KC ballad. From THE CONSTRUCKTION OF LIGHT and THRAK.
"Losing Hold" is a really excellent organ-led rocker with minimal vocals. "Grass for Blades" is intriguing, but I understand a better, expanded version is available on Wigwam's LIVE FROM THE TWILIGHT ZONE album. "Do or Die" is an excellent low-key rocker -- all are from Wigwam's HIGHLIGHTS best-of, which is ... not bad overall, though I think some of their Very Best stuff ain't on it....
Ah, the Barclays. "She Said" isn't quite as extreme or as fake-operatic as "Dark Now My Sky" (see last post), & it is at least half as long. But there's lots more melodrama & lots more anguished, screaming guitar. BJH leader John Lees clearly had a grump on about someone. "Song for Dying" isn't terrible, but it's still pretty morose. A lot of stuff on BJH's HARVEST YEARS best-of is fairly depressing. Lots of signs of Harvest/EMI's money going right down the drain....
Be-Bop picks it up a bit at the end of their RAIDING THE DIVINE ARCHIVE best-of: "Between the Worlds" is almost good, but it's too short. "Music in Dreamland" returns to some of the old drama & has a nice guitar&keyboards mix. But "Sleep That Burns" & "Maid in Heaven" still stand above everything else on the disc. Disappointing that I bought this hoping to hear more great stuff, only to learn that except 4 "Maid in Heaven," I'd already heard all their best....
Used Can to wash most of this other stuff out of my head. "Soup" is just grating noise, but "Father Cannot Yell" & "Mother Sky" are some of the best upbeat trance music I know of....
More Strange Stuff Coming Soon....

Friday, May 24, 2013

#674: More New Stuff!

Music-listening was limited Thursday night because I spent most of the evening glued to the radio after part of a bridge along I-5 in northern Washington collapsed & fell into the Skagit River. Amazingly, only 3 people were injured, no one was killed -- but it'll take months to replace the bridge, if not years. & all this just in time for massive traffic over the Memorial Day Weekend....

Barclay James Harvest -- The Iron Maiden, Dark Now My Sky.
Be-Bop Deluxe -- Forbidden Lovers, Electrical Language, Between the Worlds.

STILL in the running for the title of Worst Prog Band Ever: Barclay James Harvest!
"Iron Maiden" is a depressed downbeat portrait of an emotionally-distant woman, definitely not hit-single material.
But "Dark Now My Sky" is something Very Different -- a kind of musical theater piece, all over-the-top Melodrama. If you're into Gothic Overkill, this one should Do It for you: There's a silly recitation at the start, there's a melodramatic self-involved lead vocal, there are overly-dramatic guitar solos, the huge orchestra thrashes around all over the place -- & it drags on for 12 MINUTES! & they don't seem to be joking, either. This is NOT rock&roll. Closer to opera. Or maybe Edgar Allen Poe.
There was a time I could've appreciated this stuff -- if only for its perversity -- but that was 35 years ago. Probably the weirdest thing I've inflicted on my customers at work since Cromagnon's CAVE ROCK. These guys are making getting through their HARVEST YEARS best-of a real chore. Nevertheless, more of this stuff will be coming soon....
Be-Bop's guitarist Bill Nelson & bassist Charlie Tumahai sound like they're laughing all through the choruses of "Forbidden Lovers," possibly because they both know the song's a joke. But at least they're having a good time. "Electrical Language" isn't bad, & it features more of Nelson's impressive guitar-playing. But it repeats the same verse over&over. It never really goes anywhere.
Can't help thinking the compilers left the best stuff off of Be-Bop's RAIDING THE DIVINE ARCHIVES best-of. Where is "Shine" or "Sound Track," not to mention the whole 1st-side-plus of SUNBURST FINISH? All this stuff is I'm sure contained in Be-Bop's 4-CD best-of ... which I won't be buying. Lot of potential here, but they don't live up to it often enough....
More New Stuff Coming Soon....

Thursday, May 23, 2013

#673: Dream 3 + more

I've been having parts of this same dream over&over for the last year or so:
I'm inside some huge old dust-covered antiquated radio station. There's ancient equipment scattered everywhere. It looks like the inside of someone's old workshop, now abandoned & cobwebby from disuse. Or like the inside of a giant warehouse I once saw in Wyoming -- full of old record albums & LOTS of other stuff accumulated over the years....
But the equipment still works. Throw a switch & the dials light up, talk into an old dusty mike & the meters move. Throw a master switch & suddenly YOU'RE ON THE AIR.
I don't know if anyone's Out There listening. But now that I know the equipment works, I can't just babble. At least not yet. So I look around....
There are records here. Walk across the dirty old hardwood floor & climb up a rickety old ladder/stairway into another room and there's a beat-up wooden desk/shelf-unit piled high with old 45's. Most of them aren't in paper sleeves -- they're dusty, lightly scratched and a little beat-up, but they're playable. & I have no choice.
They say you don't see colors in dreams, but there's red & blue & rainbow-colored record-labels here, stuff from the '50s & '60s I'm guessing, & I can see names & titles, but I can't remember what they were. Most of it is stuff I've never heard of -- or if I know the artists I've never heard the songs. Doesn't matter, they'll have to do.
I pile up the 20 or 30 least-scratched-up-looking 45's & head back to the main console, where a dusty turntable & a dusty, cobweb-wrapped mike wait for me. I throw a switch, the dials & meters light-up, the turntable actually starts turning, & the big red light/sign over my head goes on: ON THE AIR.
5 watts of pure power, blasting out into the Washington wilderness. Ghod knows if anyone can hear me. Doesn't matter.
"This is KSUM, broadcasting from Summit View, Washington...."

Latest playlist:
New Order -- Regret, True Faith.
Yes -- Leave It, It Can Happen, Rhythm of Love, Lift Me Up, Open Your Eyes, The Calling, Homeworld (The Ladder), Magnification.
Barclay James Harvest -- When the World Was Woken, Good Love Child.
Uriah Heep -- Easy Livin', Stealin', Sweet Lorraine.
Be-Bop Deluxe -- Modern Music, Japan, Panic in the World, Bring Back the Spark, Forbidden Lovers.

...Hope to get more into New Order, no luck yet. "Regret" & "True Faith" both still sound great, but I have yet to get through another song on their BEST OF....
The Yes tracks are from their DEFINITIVE COLLECTION, & those I heard for the first time Wednesday night sound pretty good, with just enough Steve Howe guitar & just enough Jon Anderson/Trevor Rabin vocals to make them worth hearing. "It Can Happen" still sounds marvelous, not sure why I underrated it for years; & I'm still a sucker for "Leave It." Sure would be nice to have "Changes" included here....
"Lift Me Up" has a rather good group-vocal chorus that they should've kept repeating.... Not sure why they felt compelled to add an orchestra on "Magnification," not sure it adds much, & this band always could make plenty of noise all by themselves; my favorite part is when it goes All Noisy at the end.
Speaking of orchestras, BJH's "When the World Was Woken" sounds vaguely Procol Harum-ish -- not bad, but not real memorable. "Good Love Child" is a rather dated-sounding simple rocker, with lyrics that veer toward the smutty, as these guys sometimes did. It's OK, though not as great a rocker as their "Taking Some Time On." (From THE HARVEST YEARS best-of.)
Have decided that Uriah Heep's great atmospheric backing vocals are about all that saves "Stealin'," a song I loved back in late '73 -- but I was too young to be able to catch the lyrics, & didn't even notice David Byron's kinda lame, overdone singing. It may be the lyrics, but he really Doesn't sound like A Nice Guy. As always, Ken Hensley's organ fills sound pretty great.
"Easy Livin'"'s still a classic, & it sure don't wear out its welcome. "Sweet Lorraine" was new to me -- it's OK, though I'm not sure about the howling WHO-OOOO keyboards -- but it must work as a hook, because by the end I didn't mind so much, was almost looking forward to it.... (From 20TH CENTURY MASTERS/BEST OF.)
Be-Bop's move toward something maybe a little more commercial (with their MODERN MUSIC album & definitely by the time of DRASTIC PLASTIC) didn't do them any favors. "Japan" is mechanical & boring, with an obvious herky-jerky New Wave influence. The rest are OK, & almost all feature Bill Nelson's almost-always beautiful guitar-playing. But it's not quite enough. (From RAIDING THE DIVINE ARCHIVE best-of.)
Will be continuing with the Mostly New-To-Me Stuff, stay tuned....

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

#672: I'm all about Value

Prices for books & music -- I Don't Get them.
Because I'm a low-budget guy, I'm constantly looking to expand my musical & reading horizons on the cheap. & I can't TELL you how much GREAT stuff I've found at (this is not a commercial) for A PENNY plus shipping. You probably wouldn't believe me anyway.
The abundance of this Cheap Stuff convinces me that Billy Joel was right when he sang in "The Entertainer" that "If I go cold I won't get sold, I'll get put in the back in the discount rack, like another can of beans." When it comes to music & books, goodness & price have nothing to do with each other. You know how many 5-star books & CD's you can now get for a penny? More than you'll EVER read or listen to....
Of course your mileage may vary, but the more expensive stuff often makes no sense to me, the massive amount of money people ask for stuff & expect that Some Fanatic Out There will pay. I'm not that fanatic.
For instance:
David Sancious and Tone's 1976 jazz-rock/prog classic TRANSFORMATION: THE SPEED OF LOVE. Excellent album in places, with cosmic musical themes & synthesizer riffs that are GUARANTEED to mess up your body-rhythms -- plus one gorgeous solo piano piece. Got my vinyl copy back in 1979 for $5.99. Awhile back someone was selling a used copy on Amazon & asking $250! Yes, this album will Change Your Life -- but not THAT much.
SOME sanity has obviously dawned on sellers out there: You can now buy a used vinyl copy of TRANSFORMATION for a totally reasonable $4. But if you want it on CD, the price starts at $80. No.
But that's just the start of the insanity. Sancious' previous album, the not-as-startling or life-changing FOREST OF FEELINGS, is available on vinyl for a fairly reasonable $8. But if you want the CD, it's gonna cost you $455. & it ain't worth it, folks.
More weirdness? Sancious' follow-up to TRANSFORMATION, 1979's disappointingly average jazz-rock-pop TRUE STORIES, is $516.80 for the CD. THAT'S INSANE. I got my copy 4 $5 a couple years ago & was disappointed with it THEN. The released version of the album was messed-with by Arista Records, who pleaded with Sancious to come up with something reasonably commercial rather than the four 9-to-15-minute instrumental suites he'd originally planned. If I could hear the album he'd ORIGINALLY intended, I MIGHT pay $500 4 THAT....
(By the way, if you'd be willing to buy a copy of TRUE STORIES for $500, PLEASE drop me your e-mail address or phone number in the comments below. I've probably got some other high-priced stuff around the house you might like as well....)
Another example: Cromagnon's 1969 brain-damage "classic" CAVE ROCK. My blogging buddy Crabby sent me a copy of this last year when I was musically bored, & it shocked & disturbed me to the point that I'll never play it again. But a few months ago, folks were asking $50 for the CD. You can have MINE for $50 right now!
Here again, some sanity has prevailed: Currently you can get a copy of CAVE ROCK for $5. But if you want it on vinyl, it's gonna cost you $26. Ghod knows why you would want it at ALL, but again, if you're interested, drop me a note below, etc.
I understand Rareness. I'm OK with that. If sellers want to ask from $190 to $400 for a copy of Dan Matovina's WITHOUT YOU: THE TRAGIC STORY OF BADFINGER, there's nothing I can do. I know the story, but I'd love to learn more, & reviews indicate Matovina got all the ugly legal (& other) details down brilliantly & with a lot of sensitivity. Copies of the book also come with a CD of music, outtakes, interviews, etc. I'd love to read/hear it. But not for $190....
Ken Sharp's OVERNIGHT SENSATION: THE STORY OF THE RASPBERRIES used to be pretty high-priced, too. Now it's a mere $40. & there's not even any gut-wrenching tragedies in that story.
Ten-plus years ago, when I was a lot stupider about this Internet ordering stuff than I am now, I once paid $140 for an original Warner Books paperback copy of Jack Ketchum's horror novel THE GIRL NEXT DOOR -- supposedly The Ultimate Horror Novel, & very rare at the time. (Verdict: Four stars, but it won't Change Your Life.)
& of course, Ghod got me back, because 3 or 4 years later, Leisure Books reissued the novel for $3.95. & it's gone through a couple more printings since then. Lots of Ketchum's books tend to grab high used prices because they appeared only briefly as paperback originals. Out on bookstore shelves & newsstands for a month & then Gone Forever....
Not so long ago, I paid $95 for a copy of Sid Smith's excellent IN THE COURT OF KING CRIMSON, & I was more than satisfied with it. I think it's the best, most detailed book we'll get about that band until Rockin' Bobby Fripp writes his memoirs. Prices for it have gotten a little better -- you can now score a used copy for $59. But a new, updated version is reportedly Coming Soon....
Again, I understand Rareness & how that might boost prices. Grobschnitt's Krautrock classic ROCKPOMMEL'S LAND -- which features one charming 3-minute popsong called "Anywhere" & a 20-minute title track, & which I've been looking for another copy of since 1978 -- is now available on vinyl for a mere $26. But if you want the CD you're gonna have to pay $90 to $117. Why?
Deep-voiced & whimsical British prog-rocker Kevin Ayers' rare import-only outtakes collection ODD DITTIES will run you $40 on vinyl, but from $18 to $103 on CD. But he also has a best-of with most of the ODD DITTIES songs you Need To Hear -- & it's only $3.
A copy of John Coltrane's ASCENSION on vinyl is $120. I saw a copy awhile back in a used record store for $75. But you can still get GIANT STEPS and A LOVE SUPREME for less than $5 on CD. & they're worth it.
Gentle Giant's rare imported GIANT STEPS best-of -- featuring a couple songs you can hardly find anywhere else -- is $13 to $26 on CD, $15 to $52 on vinyl. The Giant's equally rare & import-only PRETENSIOUS best-of -- a better selection -- is $45 on vinyl.
Probably none of this stuff will ever make sense to me. The seller's motto is Whatever The Traffic Will Bear. I still Don't Get why people (and Capitol/EMI) ask such outrageous prices for Beatles albums that have never gone out of print....
But tonight while browsing for outrageous prices I found a vinyl copy of Space Art's A TRIP IN THE CENTER HEAD -- the best, most memorable synthesizer album I've ever heard, & I haven't heard a note of it since 1982 -- for only $9.98, & I am gonna GRAB that sucker.
Happy hunting....

Monday, May 20, 2013

#671: Not quite the same old same-old

Still not much New going on around here. Took my usual bagfull of rock&roll motivational CD's to work this past week, then got bored & added some Country Women (Mary-Chapin Carpenter, Pam Tillis, Trisha Yearwood, Wynonna, Carlene Carter, Suzy Bogguss) thinking they'd motivate me -- then got bored with them & added some New Stuff. Here's how it turned out....

Moody Blues -- The Story in Your Eyes, Question, It's Up to You, One More Time to Live, You Can Never Go Home, I'm Just a Singer in a Rock and Roll Band.
Boston -- Used to Bad News, It's Easy, Hitch a Ride.
Kansas -- Miracles Out of Nowhere, Questions of My Childhood, What's on My Mind, Cheyenne Anthem.
Bangles -- Let it Go, September Gurls, Angels Don't Fall in Love.
Beatles -- Eight Days a Week, Ticket to Ride, Help!, Paperback Writer.
Mary-Chapin Carpenter -- Passionate Kisses, The Hard Way, This Shirt, You Win Again, Middle Ground, Downtown Train.
Pam Tillis -- Homeward Looking Angel, Whenever You Walk in the Room, I Was Blown Away, Melancholy Child.
Wynonna -- Tell Me Why.
When in Rome -- The Promise.
Be-Bop Deluxe -- RAIDING THE DIVINE ARCHIVE best-of: Jet Silver and the Dolls of Venus, Adventures in a Yorkshire Landscape, Maid in Heaven, Ships in the Night, Life in the Air Age, Kiss of Light, Sister Seagull, Modern Music, Fair Exchange, Sleep That Burns.
Barclay James Harvest -- THE HARVEST YEARS best-of: Early Morning, Mr. Sunshine, Pools of Blue, I Can't Go On Without You, Eden Unobtainable, Brother Thrush, Poor Wages, Taking Some Time On, Galadriel, Mocking Bird.
New Order -- Regret, True Faith.

My Usual Collection of upbeat rock&roll CD's for work does keep me moving & motivated, but I'm BORED. I'm bored with all the old familiar motivational stuff, & I'm bored with most of the new stuff I've recently tried unsuccessfully to break-in. & with the Really Bad new stuff, all movement & motivation grinds to a complete halt.
A couple nights this past week I got so bored musically that I even took to LISTENING TO THE RADIO. The music stations, I mean. & it didn't sound half bad....
Anyway.... "Passionate Kisses" is still a freakin' classic -- the version that's on MCC's COME ON COME ON, I mean. The later remixed version on her ESSENTIAL seems to bring her voice more out-front & she doesn't sound too excited -- & that's not good. I'm also a sucker for "The Hard Way," "You Win Again," "This Shirt," "Downtown Train".... MCC had a great run, but she needs a better best-of.
MCC wishes she had a band as great as Pam Tillis did. The best of Pam's stuff is classic, especially the old Jackie DeShannon/Searchers number "Whenever You Walk in the Room," a bittersweet lovesong that should've been a huge hit. "Homeward Looking Angel"'s a great twangy heart-puller as well, & I've grown to love "I Was Blown Away," which along with its great lovestory lyric features a wonderful though brief twangy-reel midsection. "Melancholy Child" is also 5-star stuff -- all these should've been huge hits. Whatever happened to this woman...?
Be-Bop? Well, SUNBURST FINISH is half of a great prog-rock album. Too bad most of the best stuff from it wasn't included on their single-disc best-of. Bill Nelson always did flashy, melodic, dramatic guitar work, & some of it's just plain gorgeous. Even if the songs don't work, the guitar usually does. But his Bowie/Ferry-style voice puts me off a bit, like he's not entirely serious or he's implying more than what's in the lyrics.
Among what's here, "Maid in Heaven" is too brief but just about perfect. "Life in the Air Age" gets better with repeated listenings, the lyrics are cool, & I love the tired, resigned electronic squiggles at the end. "Jet Silver and the Dolls of Venus" sounds very much like a Ziggy-era Bowie piece -- & I assume was so intended. "Kiss of Light" was intended as a single, & continues the direct approach of "Maid in Heaven." "Sister Seagull" has some more really nice guitar, not sure about the lyrics.
My pick for Be-Bop's best is still the hugely dramatic "Sleep That Burns," with more great soaring guitar & a nice nightmarish lyric. Best thing about the mechanical chugga-chugga "Ships in the Night" is the sax solo by Bill's brother Ian. Both these are from SUNBURST FINISH, as is the mean-spirited "Fair Exchange." Why isn't "Crying to the Sky" here? It has some of Bill's most gorgeous guitar work. Even "Heavenly Homes" would be more representative, & it has more stratospheric guitar. & the driving "Blazing Apostles" would be a nice addition.
I'll get back to these guys -- they have just enough talent & flashy pyrotechnics to keep me listening. Haven't figured out why their best stuff seems to have a Latin-like lilt to it...?
For me, Barclay James Harvest is still in the running for Worst Prog Band Ever. I'd love to love them -- they're from the right period & they've got all the right parts. But they're SO inconsistent, & they have whole ALBUMS that never get anywhere near Good -- try out OCTOBERON or XII & see what I mean.... ROLLING STONE once described them as "morose progressive rock," & there's a lot of truth to that....
Their best work is still 1977's GONE TO EARTH, where they rise above Average exactly 3 times: On the gorgeous, moody "Spirit on the Water," the soaring "Hymn," & the crashingly melodramatic "Poor Man's Moody Blues." You might also want to check-out their later "Ring of Changes" (their best ever!), "Play to the World" & "The Song They Love to Sing"....
But none of that stuff's up for consideration on THE HARVEST YEARS, which compiles "highlights" of BJH's first four early-'70s albums for EMI's progressive Harvest label. The earliest of this stuff is very lightweight, pastel psychedelic pop, utterly harmless, though they do know how to write a hook, & there are some darker undercurrents ("Mister Sunshine's not for me...."). On some of this, they sound like Syd Barrett's nervously straight younger brother.
"Brother Thrush" is the strongest, prettiest, catchiest of their early attempts at singalongs (even though it's set after the end of mankind), & "Poor Wages" starts their moodier, more dramatic streak. "Taking Some Time On" is a solid fuzz-guitar rocker in much the same vein as Badfinger's "Rock of All Ages" -- they should've done more stuff like this. But some of this early material is just unsuccessful -- though it was OK background music for mopping the floor at work.
"Galadriel" is a lighter-than-air portrait of an etheriel young woman, though I'm not sure about the LORD OF THE RINGS reference. "Mocking Bird" is rather good -- until the huge orchestra starts thrashing around & swamps it. Completely overdone -- BJH never did know when to quit.
I'll be listening to more of this -- including the slightly-later orchestrated stuff, still hoping to find more hidden greats....

Hope you've all been catching SOUND OPINIONS, rock critics Jim DeRogatis & Greg Kot's syndicated weekly music-news-reviews&interviews show (aired here every Sunday night at 10 p.m. on the University of Washington's KUOW-FM). In recent weeks they've had interviews with producer Joe Boyd looking back at the work of Nick Drake, & with former New Order bassist Peter Hooke talking about Joy Division & Ian Curtis. The Hooke interview included some tracks that reminded me just how great New Order's "Regret" & "True Faith" are -- I should try to hear the rest of their best-of someday soon. The only Joy Division tracks I've ever heard were the pieces played during this interview.... Jim & Greg also reviewed the Savages' SILENCE YOURSELF, & it sounds pretty intense, might have to check it out....

I still have a pretty-good-sized pile of mostly-unheard stuff here & will be going through it in bits & pieces as I've done lately with the Strawbs, Be-Bop & BJH. In the meantime, if you know of some music that'll light up my life & relieve the musical boredom, feel free to drop it in the comments section below.
More soon....

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

#670: Fall 1973

It's the Fall of 1973 in Boise, Idaho, & Life Is Good.
I'm in 9th grade at North Boise Junior High, just starting to figure out what I'm good at & what's ahead of me. I'm on the school newspaper staff, writing silly comedy columns for my mostly-silly classmates. I know I want to be a writer when I grow up.
I'm living in the basement of my parents' house on Bannock Street in the North End, just off of 23rd St., in a two-tone brown stucco house from the early '50s -- & for the first time ever I don't have to close my bedroom door to get some privacy, because except for calling me to dinner, nobody ever comes downstairs!
I'm writing in that basement -- short stories for English class & newspaper assignments mainly, & I'm playing the radio, & I'm reading constantly. Sometimes all three at once.
My Cousin Dave has joined the Navy, & somehow I've inherited several boxes full of his old science-fiction novels & short story collections, & old mid-'60s issues of GALAXY and WORLDS OF IF magazines, with stuff like Larry Niven's first stories, & classic old Harlan Ellison stories, Robert Silverberg, parts of Roger Zelazny's great CREATURES OF LIGHT AND DARKNESS, & LOTS more. I'd give anything to get those old magazines back now.
Among the books are Terry Carr's great BEST SCIENCE FICTION OF THE YEAR anthologies (with Graeme Leman's hilarious "Conversational Mode" & Joe Haldeman's gritty "Hero"), & tons of novels, & story collections from the mid-'60s that I'll never see anywhere ever again -- Tom Boardman's ABC'S OF SCIENCE FICTION, CONISSEUR'S SCIENCE FICTION, & probably even Harlan Ellison's OFFBEAT CLASSICS OF SF. All this stuff is rare & priceless now, & it's all long gone.
I trade-off almost all of it at The Used Bookstore that's a 2-minute bike ride from my house. I spend DAYS there, picking up newer SF magazines & stuff that I'm more interested in. This starts a lifelong addiction to SF, kicked-off by discovering ANALOG magazine & reading George R.R. Martin's amazing & surprisingly erotic "A Song for Lya." & the thousands of paperbacks in the store are available for a 2-books-for-1 trade, or for 25 cents each.
Back home the radio is going through a golden autumn. KFXD is kicking butt among pop stations in the Boise Valley, as it always did. They're playing stuff like Steely Dan's "My Old School," 10 C.C.'s "Rubber Bullets," Emerson, Lake and Palmer's "Still ... You Turn Me On," Pratt and MacClain's "When My Ship Comes In," Cozy Powell's "Dance With the Devil," Austin Roberts' "One Word," The Sutherland Brothers and Quiver's "You've Got Me Anyway," Elton John's "Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding," "Grey Seal" & "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting," Matthew Fisher's "Interlude," Mike Oldfield's "Tubular Bells"....
Over on the FM dial there's signs of life, as KBBK uses their brand-new no-static-at-all computer-automated format to blast out Yes's "Starship Trooper," which I've never heard before -- though I soon obtain a copy of Yes's YESSONGS & start playing it over&over on my tape-player....
On the radio at night I can pick up Art Finley's talk-radio show from San Francisco, L.A. Kings hockey games from Los Angeles, oldies rock&roll from Vancouver B.C. Canada & Oklahoma City & El Paso, Texas, & all-news from Omaha. From right in town I get CBS's Radio Mystery Theater.
& if there's nothing good on the radio I've got dozens of cassettes filled with hits from the past few years & other silliness -- some of the hits go back to early 1971: The Wackers' "I Hardly Know Her Name," Kracker's "Because of You," Johnathan King's "A Tall Order for a Short Guy," Billy Lee Riley's "I've Got a Thing About You Baby," Manfred Mann's Earth Band's "Living Without You," Joni Mitchell's "Raised on Robbery" & loads more, stuff it takes me YEARS to find again after the tapes fall apart -- The Royal Guardsmen's "Snoopy's Christmas," The English Congregation's "Softly Whispering I Love You," Five Man Electrical Band's "Absolutely Right." Some I never find again -- like Heaven Bound's "Five Hundred Miles" & The Road Home's "Keep it in the Family."
My record collection at this point is Nothing Much -- lots of singles, but on albums only Neil Diamond, Bread, Lobo, The Carpenters, Three Dog Night, The Osmonds, Mike Oldfield. But when we visit my Cousin Jim's house, he's got a ton of albums left to him by Cousin Dave, & he puts on DAYS OF FUTURE PASSED and SGT. PEPPER and BEATLES '65 and The Monkees' HEADQUARTERS and The Turtles' HAPPY TOGETHER and Count Five's PSYCHOTIC REACTION and Tommy James & the Shondells' CRIMSON AND CLOVER, & tons more.
M*A*S*H and THE WALTONS are all I care about on TV -- MASH because it's so freakin' funny. & John-Boy Walton is my hero & role-model.
With Cousin Jim I ride my bike all over the city & never crash or get hit by cars. I somehow ride the bike all the way to the top of Highland View Drive -- halfway up the Boise Front, it seems like -- then turn & coast all the way back downhill, really picking up speed, & roll halfway across town through the North End, somehow avoiding cars & signal lights & stop signs & traffic cops.
I've just turned 14 years old, & I'm likely never going to have this much totally innocent fun ever again....

Monday, May 13, 2013

#669: The torture never stops

(No, this is not going to be a post about Frank Zappa, but thanks for playing....)
In these recent newspaper-reminiscences I've posted, I've left out one of the main reasons I don't do that kind of work anymore.
Because it's a high-stress job, & as a reporter it's VERY easy to get people angry at you without even trying.
You usually don't see it coming, but folks can go off about the craziest things.
I had one angry woman call me up after a domestic dispute she was involved in made the front page of the weekly paper I was working at. Her husband got charged with assault with a deadly weapon -- a kitchen knife.
She wasn't mad about the story -- which quoted her kids telling police that Daddy said he was "going to cut Mommy's head off." That didn't bother her.
What she was upset about was the HEADLINE, which covered all the cases that got into court that week -- which included some meth-possession cases -- & which she said made her sound like a meth freak.
"All my neighbors and friends think I'm methed out of my head now," she said.
I explained that the story didn't say that.... That wasn't good enough for her. She hadn't actually READ the story. So I READ THE STORY TO HER OVER THE PHONE, to make it clearer. She was still pissed about the headline. Finally I said I couldn't teach her friends & neighbors how to read....
After a downtown house fire on a Saturday evening destroyed an apartment building & set-off some ammunition somebody had stored there, when I got into work on Monday I called the Fire Chief for more details about what happened. He didn't have 5 minutes to talk to me -- he said he was too busy running water lines for the new Fire Hall. He didn't want any of the other firefighters to talk to me about it either, said I'd have to wait 'til he was available -- then hung up.
I called him back at 10 p.m. that night, & he STILL didn't have time to talk to me.
But we were a daily paper (published Tuesday through Saturday mornings). So I got what details I could from the Sheriff's Office & went ahead & wrote the story without the Fire Chief -- but left in quotes from him about how & why he avoided me.
& naturally, the next day when I got to work, the Fire Chief was in my Publisher's office, yelling at my Editor & my Publisher about what a backstabbing scumbag I was.
"I've lived here for 35 years and I don't have to take this kind of shit from you!" he yelled.
"I just want to know two things," I said. "Did I get any of the details wrong?"
"Did I quote you accurately?"
"Well, yeah, but...."
"I'm outta here," I said, & left my bosses to argue with the Fire Chief -- who wanted to get me fired for not waiting to talk to him.
This kind of stuff happened ALL THE TIME. It was so stressful, the Publisher & I used to have closed-door meetings once a month so we could yell at each other & get all the stress out....
When we printed a photo on the front page of a fisherman's body that was fished out of the river after he'd been missing for a month, people called & yelled at us about that -- even though all you could see was a big gray bag being carried by four guys.
When a prominent local lawyer ran for Mayor -- then got arrested on a meth-possession charge, I wrote the story. & then the Editor & I sat on it for 3 days because we just weren't sure. This was a story that could ruin someone's life. Then our Publisher ordered us to get off the pot & print the story. We ran it on Page 2.
& the next day the Mayoral candidate called up crying. How could I DO this to her, she asked. I'd interviewed her, I'd been IN HER HOUSE! Her husband, also a lawyer, who was listening in on the phonecall, asked if they could've had a little advance warning about the story. I suggested that if they'd had any warning, they probably would've tried to stop the story from being printed.
He laughed & said I was probably right.
I apologized to his wife, who I thought was a good person, & said I was sorry for how things had gone, & that I hoped it would all work out in the end.
She lost the election & never spoke to me again. I'm not sure what happened with the meth charge.
When I was in the Air Force, I got used to defending my writing against people who didn't understand what I did -- but who outranked me, so what they wanted was what went. I got pretty good at it anyway, even convincing some that I was right.
But in the Real World, everybody outranked me. No amount of Good Work I did (& I think I did a LOT) ever made it any easier. No doors opened more easily just because I was good at my job. There was never any big payoff or reward. There were never any "better" jobs offered other than in-the-trenches reporter or small-town editor.
& I can't remember how many times people called at midnight or 4 a.m., spilled their guts to me for two hours, & then said "This is all off-the-record, you can't use any of this, I never called you" ... even AFTER I told them at the start of the phonecall that I'd be taking notes.... But I always tried to be A Good Guy....
When I was in the AF, my old buddy & fellow editor Phil Guerrero had a joke about the kind of long, involved stories I used to write: "Keep typing 'til it makes sense!" For years, that was my motto.
But I got to the point where no amount of explaining made any difference, where everything was just too complicated, & I could no longer even find the main reason I was writing some things. For much of the last four years of my "career," I'd go into work on Monday morning, down a pot of coffee, write the entire front page of the paper, & go home that night not remembering anything I'd written.
Journalism is a career for a young person with lots of time & lots of energy & no social life. It's the kiss of death for marriages & families. You wouldn't believe how many divorced, alcoholic, unhappy reporters I met over the years....
& when I got to the point where I couldn't remember the basics, couldn't keep the facts straight, was making stupid mistakes, couldn't make any sense out of anything I was writing, no matter how much I tried to explain -- I knew it was time to retire.
That was 11 years ago, & I don't miss much of it.

#668: Now listening to....

Nothing much new going on here....

The List:
Strawbs -- Will Ye Go?, Part of the Union, Lay Down, The River, Down by the Sea, Tell Me What You See in Me.
Boston -- Used to Bad News, Don't Be Afraid, It's Easy, Hitch a Ride, Something About You.
Rolling Stones -- Happy, Tumbling Dice.
Modern English -- I Melt With You, Someone's Calling.
Jethro Tull -- Skating Away on the Thin Ice of the New Day, Life's a Long Song, Living in the Past, A Christmas Song.
Pete Townshend -- Give Blood, Jools and Jim, My Baby Gives it Away, Misunderstood, Sheraton Gibson, Slit Skirts, Empty Glass.
Outkast -- Hey Ya.
Elvis -- Promised Land.
Steely Dan -- My Old School, Dirty Work.
Deep Purple -- Highway Star.
Camel -- Never Let Go, Unevensong.

I've given up on The Strawbs, for now. At their best they are VERY good, if you're into their British-folk/rock/prog approach (somewhere in the neighborhood of Fairport Convention, Renaissance, Illusion, Jethro Tull -- like that). But their very best work happens only occasionally -- the rest of the time they're very Average. They have enough great stuff in their Middle "Big Sound" Period to fill one solid CD. I'd suggest their best stuff, most worthy of tracking down, would include:
The Man Who Called Himself Jesus (live)/Where is This Dream of Your Youth? (live)/Down by the Sea/Hero and Heroine/Part of the Union/Lay Down/I'll Carry On Beside You/Keep the Devil Outside/Backside (Ciggy Barlust)/Ghosts/Grace Darling/New World/Ah Me, Ah My/Wherefore and Why.
In the latest batch above, "Will Ye Go?" sounds like the old folk-traditional/Byrds number "Wild Mountain Thyme," only rocked-up a little; it's not bad. "Part of the Union" (especially) & "Lay Down" are nice folk-poppy singalongs; "Union" has some funny lyrics. "The River" is another overwrought, melodramatic, metaphor-filled lost-love ballad. "Down by the Sea" is still pretty freaking brilliant, even with the rather awkward & melodramatic anti-climax near the end -- but check out the HUGE start & finish!
I'm sorry, I wish I could get more out of these guys; I'm sorry I'm so picky. They should be right up my street. Maybe if I'd heard more of their work 30 years earlier....

Coming Soon: More Great Lost Singles -- FOUND! Starring Randy Edelman, Johnathan King, Billy Lee Riley, & possibly even more....

Sunday, May 12, 2013

#667: The biggest missile base in the world

After three years in the Air Force spent coloring forms with yellow & purple markers at the Army and Air Force Hometown News Service in San Antonio, I begged to get out so I could get a real AF base-newspaper job -- & in June of 1986 I was sent to Francis E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming -- at that time the biggest missile base in the world.
I was thrilled to be at a base where there was actually Something Happening. But as with several of my AF assignments, I couldn't really Talk about what was going on. Though the base controlled 200 ICBMs spread out over a 12,600-square-mile area covering southeastern Wyoming, northeastern Colorado & western Nebraska, we could neither confirm nor deny the presence of nuclear weapons in any particular location.
But everybody assumed those weren't just chewing-gum-warhead missiles sitting out there under the rolling hills of the Great Plains.
It took me awhile to find my footing. But soon I was writing & shooting photos for base-newspaper stories about security police patrolling isolated missile sites in the dead of winter as the gusty winds blew -60 degree wind-chill temps at them. We on the base newspaper (usually two staffers, rarely three) tried our best to write "mission feature" stories showing how each job on the base contributed to supporting the mission -- but it wasn't easy. There was so much we weren't allowed to talk about....
I finally got the chance to interview & hang-out with a missile launch crew while they were on-duty -- but it took a couple years of work & begging to do it, & I was only allowed to proceed after a reporter from the OMAHA WORLD-HERALD newspaper beat me to it. I tried to do a John McPhee/NEW YORKER-style atmosphere-piece on the crew & their surroundings....
...& naturally, after all that work & all that begging, I couldn't take all that I'd learned & turn it into a story of a reasonable size for a base newspaper. I was always too ambitious for my own good, back then. The story never got printed -- it was too freaking LONG, there was too much neat atmosphere & too many great quotes I wanted to cram in.
Months went by ... & finally I was told it would be better if I just gave up. I still have my 35 pages of notes. Not the last time I cracked under pressure....
One story I was proud of was when I got to be on the site when the last of the support crews "switched-on" the tenth Peacekeeper/MX missile, to reach what the AF called "initial operational capability" at the end of 1986. That story DID get printed, & helped win me an award. & eventually 50 of the 10-warhead Peacekeepers were deployed across the Wyoming plains.
But usually we on the base newspaper didn't get quite so up-close & personal with The Mission. We wrote about stuff that grabbed our attention -- folks from the base doing good & interesting volunteer work in the local community, interesting personalities, big base events, retirements, etc. I started reviewing strange music, movies & books.
After LOTS of encouragement, I started writing sports stories -- about a couple guys who ran in marathons, one AF doctor who competed in stair-climbing competitions & briefly got into the GUINNESS BOOK OF WORLD RECORDS (that story also made the front page of the local daily paper), the hilarious comedy of Youth T-Ball, & even the base's Chess Club.
& I found that writing sports gave me a freedom I usually didn't have in the rest of the paper -- the rest of the time we had to play it pretty straight.
But all the time I was looking for "light" stuff, more humor, because working at the world's biggest missile base was a serious business.
I wrote comedy pieces on Air Force Medals You Don't Want To Win, Fictional Air Force Bases You Wouldn't Want To Be Assigned To, & the comedy possibilities of Air Force jargon.
I even snuck through a piece about whether some of the older homes in Base Housing were haunted: Some of the houses dated back to the late 1890's when the base was a U.S. Army cavalry post. But it was a touchy subject, because the base commander wanted it known in no uncertain terms that he'd tolerate NO GHOSTS on base....
I tried to take stuff lightly, use the paper as a sort of escape from everyday AF grinds & demands.
& I had a great role-model to learn from -- an Air Force Technical Sergeant named Gary Pomeroy, who'd been Strategic Air Command's Journalist of the Year for three years in a row. Gary could write stuff that would make me cry from laughing so hard. But he was tough, he'd been around. Brutally realistic, he thought my laughing fits were silly & juvenile -- but he was a great writing coach ... if you could survive his critiques.
When I wasn't working on the base paper, I was writing at home. I still had dreams of being Stephen King when I grew up. The first draft of "On Tour With the Little Green Men" (which I posted here awhile back) came out during my three years at FEW. A 40-page science-fiction/music piece called "The Landscape Player" (probably too long to post here, though I think it's my best, most vivid piece of fiction ever) also came out while in Wyoming. Neither of them ever got published anywhere.
The wife & I loved Wyoming, & for the first time in years we weren't homesick for Idaho -- even when the snowdrifts piled up over the front door of our mobile home. I made the mistake of telling people I'd stay at FEW permanently, since few AF folks seemed to want to visit Wyoming -- they thought it was as brutal & boring as, say, North Dakota or Montana. Or South Korea. Or the Aleutian Islands. & they were wrong.
But saying I'd volunteer to stay was probably the kiss of death. At the end of 1989, the news came that I was "The Number One non-volunteer" in the AF's public affairs career field to be sent overseas. & there was a job waiting for me in Ankara, Turkey.
So in December 1989, that's where we went. At least I got to take my wife & my 2-year-old son. We were actually kind of excited about going. But it turned out to be two of the worst years of our lives....

Saturday, May 11, 2013

#665: Wyoming will be your new home....

After taking 10 years of the Air Force's BS as a public affairs specialist & base-newspaper guy, I jumped at the chance to Get Out & put-up with some Real World BS -- & took a job as managing editor of possibly the world's smallest daily newspaper: The Northern Wyoming Daily News in Worland.
I thought I could handle it -- I could work hard, I could handle stress, & I was charming & modest enough to win over anybody.
But I didn't really know what stress was. In Wyoming, I found out.
There was an immediate culture shock. In September 1992 we moved from the San Francisco Bay area (home of the world's smallest Air Force base) to the geographical Middle Of Nowhere -- a charming, quiet little farm town surrounded by rolling hills & mountains, about two hours southeast of Yellowstone National Park. But there were no natural wonders in Worland -- just miles of empty countryside, cattle farms & sugar-beet fields & hop fields & oil derricks. & the area's "local time" was somewhere around 1956.
We found a comfy old mid-'50s house with plenty of space for me, the wife & the two kids, with a huge basement "music room," & a heater good enough to keep us warm even when it was -40 outside. & it was only two blocks from the school.
I dived into editing the paper, which proved to be a bigger challenge than I thought. Turned out the editor's job was to layout more than half the paper, slap in stories off the Associated Press wire, proofread all the local news, & write when/IF there was time. As a result, I didn't write much. So I wasn't very happy.
Plus I kept running into longtime local residents who wondered -- & who asked very directly -- if The New Kid was going to be able to "fix" the paper: cut down on the misspellings & get the facts right & stop treating local law-enforcement with kid gloves & tell people what's REALLY going on....
That was the first part of my education. My REAL education didn't start until two years later, when I gave up editing & volunteered to write full-time. Then I was MUCH happier. & even busier & more stressed-out.
I learned lots of things. I learned that the Air Force had no IDEA what stress & overwork was. I learned that local residents had a WAY better idea of what national political policies were going do to them than I did -- because they lived with the impacts on their bottom-line every single day. When local farmers & ranchers were alarmed about NAFTA & claimed that it was going to export millions of U.S. jobs overseas & ruin them financially, I laughed at first. But they were absolutely right.
After that I kept my head down & wrote my ass off. I hardly ever talked politics with folks -- because even if I disagreed with them politically (or thought I did), most of my neighbors were really great people, absolutely salt of the earth: hard-working, dedicated, devoted to their families & their community. Just because I couldn't see their small-town Republican outlooks reflected in national Republican policies didn't mean we had to argue.
Besides, I didn't have TIME for that. Even in a town as small as Worland (4,500 people), there was always something going on -- car wrecks & house fires, & school board meetings & city council meetings & county commissioners' sessions. High school graduations, sports events, community events to publicize & then photograph.
In my "down" time I found lots of funny stuff to write about -- the computer glitch that delivered three-dozen Thanksgiving turkeys to a local woman's door (she donated them to the local senior center); the old couple who replaced their dying front lawn with multi-colored old carpets after giving up trying to grow grass (this caused car wrecks in front of their house); the town council that called a pot-bellied pig to a meeting in a debate about the town's livestock ordinance; how a packet of Holly Sugar got a five-second close-up in an episode of THE X-FILES (there was a Holly Sugar plant in town, & the investigation into how their product got on the show was worthy of an episode all by itself).
There were also plusses I never saw coming. Local politics could be a grind, but I got to interview the Governor, U.S. Senators & Representatives -- names that made the national news regularly. & most of 'em were great people, way easier to talk with than I ever expected. The biggest shock of all came when I got a standing ovation at the Worland GOP's Lincoln Day Dinner my last year there -- the idea that all these staunch local Republicans could give me (then a hard-core Democrat, I thought) a standing-O just put me on the floor. To me it said I'd kept my balance & done a solid job & not disappointed my readers.
I also got my musical horizons expanded in Wyoming: I became a bit of a country music fan, grabbing great albums by Mary-Chapin Carpenter, Pam Tillis, Carlene Carter, Wynonna, Travis Tritt, Dwight Yoakam, & more. Wyoming was also where I first heard Rush's great "Time Stand Still." & where I FINALLY decided that maybe Led Zeppelin had some talent, after repeated playings of "The Battle of Evermore" & "When the Levee Breaks" & *GASP* "Stairway to Heaven"....
It wasn't all fun&games. People froze to death during the bitter-cold winters. People got hit by trains. One beloved local pastor died tragically during a hunting trip. One guy shot a friend by accident during another hunting trip. One local highschool sports star raped & murdered a woman & then dumped her body in the river. One woman & her hideous parents ended up in court in an incest case that made 60 MINUTES. One local guy walked into a bar, shot three people execution-style, then took the $126 in the cash register. It was never clear if the money was to pay for his child-support or to fix the engine in his truck.
After the last of these -- & the death-sentence trial that ate-up my every waking moment for a month -- my Publisher told me that he couldn't afford to give me any vacation time, & that he couldn't afford to hire anyone else to help me report the news.
So, after six years in Wyoming, I started looking for a new job. My wife & kids had been all over the state, to Yellowstone, & up into Montana -- but I never got there, because I was almost always working.
After a couple months of sending out resumes, I got a phonecall from a small weekly newspaper on the Washington coast. The area was beautiful, & the paper looked like it could use some help -- I'd be writing full-time again. So I gave my Publisher 3 DAYS NOTICE, & left for Washington at the very end of May 1998.
My Publisher warned me that as weird & stressful as the Daily News had been, the new paper I was heading to might be even weirder, even more stressful -- with even fewer people to do the work. I told him I couldn't see how that was POSSIBLE.
But he was absolutely right....

Friday, May 10, 2013

#664: Currently listening to....

Five Man Electrical Band -- Absolutely Right, Money-Back Guarantee, We Play Rock and Roll.
Rascals -- See, Carry Me Back.
Mary-Chapin Carpenter -- Passionate Kisses.
Rush -- Time Stand Still, Force 10.
Albert Hammond -- Free Electric Band.
Chicago -- Questions 67 & 68.
Tracey Ullman -- The B-Side.
Strawbs -- Shine On Silver Sun, Down by the Sea, Part of the Union, Lay Down, We'll Meet Again Sometime, Martin Luther King's Dream (live), Why and Wherefore, Floating in the Wind, Absent Friend.

...Am moving into another musical-boredom phase -- have a big bag of half-unheard CD's I've been taking to work with me, stuff for further investigation, & I'm getting bored with THAT, too. But I still stumble over some interesting things now&then....
Along with their two Top 20 hits, the Five Man Electrical Band's BEST OF also includes a handful of minor hits & some halfway decent off-the-wall stuff -- "Money-Back Guarantee" is silly & catchy & has some good choruses that stick in your head. & they try like hell to sell it. It was a minor hit. "We Play Rock and Roll" is all new to me -- a funny piece recalling a show the band played where there was allegedly no one in the audience under age 45, & the crowd kept calling for polkas & foxtrots.... 5MEB also try hard on this one -- a few more extra musical touches & it coulda been a hit....
The version of "Passionate Kisses" included on MCC's ESSENTIAL seems to punch-up her vocal & mute the instrumental accompaniment -- & this is not a good thing, because in this version, MCC doesn't sound as excited as her band & backup singers. It's supposed to be a ROCKER....
ESSENTIAL isn't a bad cross-section -- it DOES include the excellent "The Long Way Home," but I miss "Downtown Train," "A Lot Like Me," "This Shirt," "Middle Ground," "You Win Again," "Come On, Come On"....
For me, "Time Stand Still" is enough all by itself to get Rush into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. & "Force Ten" is pretty freakin' great, too....
Continuing to explore the Strawbs' HALCYON DAYS best-of (British version), & continue to be mildly disappointed. The end-of-the-world "Down by the Sea" is easily the best thing here, along with the over-the-top "Hero and Heroine" -- but EVERY great Strawbs song is pretty melodramatic.
But then you get to "Absent Friend," which has GOT to be a JOKE -- it's SO melodramatic, so overdone, even keeping in mind its low-key 3 a.m. jazzy-bluesy lounge-lizard setting. Could've almost fit-in on mid-'70s adult-contemporary radio. But I couldn't listen to it without laughing, & most of their stuff is meant to be Taken Seriously. Maybe by this point they were in on the joke?
Example: "Martin Luther King's Dream" is pleasant enough -- though certainly not stunning, & has a grand enough subject -- but they didn't include the great, angry live "Where is This Dream of Your Youth?" or the noisy live "Man Who Called Himself Jesus"? Why would they ignore their best work? Were they wary of giving Rick Wakeman too much space? Who compiled this?
*AHEM* Sorry. Meanwhile, "Part of the Union" is an excellent, hilarious pro-union singalong that could've been a hit in the U.S. "Why and Wherefore" is an excellent fiery rocker that -- according to the liner notes -- is made up of two British B-sides glued back-together. "Lay Down" is an above-average singalong.
Have also started noticing how often leader/main songwriter Dave Cousins' subject-matter mostly comes down to the inhumanity of Man & shattered love affairs as contrasted against the gorgeous pastoralness of Nature. The good stuff is Really Good -- but will it be enough to make me buy the American best-of ... or listen to any more of their original albums...?
More soon....

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

#663: Good days

Well, the heat & sun didn't stay around here & I don't care. We needed a break. Today it's overcast & in the 50s & my feet are cold & I don't even mind much. Plus I'm a little sick -- something I ate didn't like me, so I'm mostly sprawled out on the bed with a stack of books I've put off reading for too long. Some of them are even music-related.....
* Marc Fisher's SOMETHING IN THE AIR is an at-times beautifully written history of American radio -- & the best parts recap some of the pioneers in the field -- people like Jean Shepherd (the guy who wrote the movie A CHRISTMAS STORY, among other things) telling long, winding late-night stories over the air in Cincinnati & New York ... Long John Nebel, who carried on the late-night-weirdness tradition at WBAI in New York ... Tom Donahue, who invented "underground" free-form FM radio in the San Francisco Bay area in the mid-'60s ... & others who messed-with the AM/Top 40/DJ format & in some cases are STILL doing it -- though nowhere near where I live....
It's not all nostalgia: Howard Stern, Tom Leykis, Don Imus, Rush Limbaugh, & other current stars are also profiled here. The portraits & interviews are beautifully handled -- Fisher has a great eye for detail. Clearly he loves the format, the history, & the people who made it happen. This book's available cheap -- if you're a fan of radio or Top 40, you need to track it down.
* Ben Fong-Torres's AND THE HITS JUST KEEP ON COMING is an affectionate history of Top 40 radio disc jockeys -- people like Wolfman Jack & Dick Clark & Murray the K & Cousin Brucie Morrow & dozens more. & it touches on the changes that have hit radio over the last 35 years, & why it's now a boring ghost of its former self. This will take me awhile longer to digest, but it looks worth it. The period photos are cool, & the book closes with a long list of chart-toppers from THE GAVIN REPORT that indicates the most-played songs at Top 40 radio stations across the country over the years weren't always the biggest sellers. Could've used more info on the Wolfman, but interesting & worth a look....
* Paul Stump's UNKNOWN PLEASURES is an amusingly cranky history of the British glam-rockers Roxy Music, & I'm getting more out of it in my second read-through. Stump is solid on the band's formation & the recording of their first album -- & the marketing that went on around it. I think he's a little harsh on their late-'70s/early-'80s comeback, but to compensate there are long looks at the solo careers of leader Bryan Ferry, Brian Eno, & guitarist Phil Manzanera....
* Hunter S. Thompson's THE PROUD HIGHWAY is his first collection of letters, from the late 1950s to the mid-'60s, & I've just gotten into it. If it's half as good as his later letters collection FEAR AND LOATHING IN AMERICA (reviewed below under "Scrambling for $$$"), I'm sure it'll be worth the trip. I just hope it's only half as EXHAUSTING....
* John McPhee's UNCOMMON CARRIERS is about the various ways freight gets moved around the U.S., & about the people who move it. A section on long-distance truckers opens the book, & as always McPhee has found some great characters to help tell the story. As good an eye for detail & as funny as any of McPhee's recent books.
* Janet Malcolm's THE SILENT WOMAN is about poet Sylvia Plath, her husband British Poet Laureate Ted Hughes, & how Hughes's family handled Plath's tragic, angry legacy. It's one of my favorite non-fiction books ever.
* Malcolm's THE JOURNALIST AND THE MURDERER is about writer Joe McGinness, & how he was sued for libel by convicted murderer Jeffrey MacDonald after profiling him in the bestselling book FATAL VISION. MacDonald thought McGinness was his FRIEND, that McG believed MacDonald's story about how the murder of his family happened -- & sued McG because he felt betrayed. This is an amazing book that shows all the ways a journalistic "relationship" can go wrong. Having been sued herself by the subject of a profile she wrote, Malcolm knows how ugly this stuff can get, & she writes unflinchingly about it.... Worth a look for anybody who's ever considered a career as a reporter.
Just a little light reading....

Monday, May 6, 2013

#662: Living in the past

Has there ever been a better title for a blog post here? Can't think of one. I almost called THE WHOLE BLOG "Living in the past." Might change the name yet....

Suddenly it's in the mid-80s & gorgeous in Western Washington. (While the Midwest gets buried in snow.) Not complaining -- this is what we were longing for back in February. What's gonna suck is if it cools back down into the 50s & 60s & starts raining again. That's what it did last year. Last year it rained through the 4th of July....

The playlist:
Kirsty MacColl -- Free World.
Rascals -- See.
Strawbs -- The Hangman and the Papist, Benedictus, Golden Salamander, Tokyo Rosie, Hero and Heroine,  Backside (Ciggy Barlust), Out in the Cold, Round and Round, Oh How She Changed, The Battle, Grace Darling, Blue Angel, Here it Comes, The Shepherd's Song, We'll Meet Again Sometime.
Kinks -- Victoria, Days, Apeman, Dead-End Street, 'Til the End of the Day, Dedicated Follower of Fashion, Sunny Afternoon, Better Things, Come Dancing, I Need You, Where Have All the Good Times Gone?, A Well Respected Man, Shangri-La.
Stylistics -- You are Everything, Betcha By Golly Wow, People Make the World Go Round, You Make Me Feel Brand New, Rockin' Roll Baby.
Spinners -- I'll Be Around, I'm Coming Home, Rubberband Man.
Nick Drake -- Cello Song, Hazey Jane I, Things Behind the Sun, From the Morning, One of These Things First, Northern Sky, Which Will, Hazey Jane II, Pink Moon.
Sandy Denny -- The Quiet Joys of Brotherhood, Listen Listen.
Rush -- Time Stand Still, Force Ten, Marathon.
Yes -- South Side of the Sky, Tempus Fugit, Leave It, It Can Happen.
Five Man Electrical Band -- Absolutely Right, Signs, Julianna.
Weather Report -- Badia/Boogie Woogie Waltz medley (live).
Jethro Tull -- A Christmas Song, Teacher, Life's a Long Song, Skating Away on the Thin Ice of the New Day, The Whistler, Dun Ringill, Living in the Past.

NOTES: Again I urge you to track down Kirsty MacColl's "Free World" -- it's worth it all for the great driving guitars & the angry lyrics. & then there's her VOICE....
Ditto the Rascals' great "See," which has some hilarious psychedelic poetry & excellent late-'60s heavy-organ sounds. These guys should've done more stuff like this.
The Strawbs -- hmmm. I SHOULD love these guys, because they're right up my folk/rock/progressive alley. & at times I DO love them -- the apocalyptic "Down by the Sea," the angry "Where is This Dream of Your Youth?," the WAY-over-the-top "Hero and Heroine," etc. But a lot of the time they're just kind of average. Their lovesongs are kinda syrupy & smarmy. & leader/main songwriter Dave Cousins' whiny voice can wear on you.
Their best-of's are kinda confused: The American HALCYON DAYS has a dozen different songs from the British version, & it's in chronological order -- the British version is all over the place, & the song choices don't seem as strong. The 2-record CLASSIC STRAWBS has one GREAT side -- but the rest is kind of spotty. & of the original albums, JUST A COLLECTION OF ANTIQUES AND CURIOS is a bore except for "Dream of Your Youth." GRAVE NEW WORLD has two listenable tracks (including the shockingly bitter "New World"), & the rest is pretty awful. I haven't been brave enough to go much farther, although (judging by the tracks recycled on the best-of's) GHOSTS, BURSTING AT THE SEAMS and HERO AND HEROINE all seem pretty strong.
In the above batch, "Hangman and the Papist" is highlighted by Rick Wakeman doodling all over the opening. The story is a bit overly dramatic, but Cousins is often best when pushed to the emotional edge. "Benedictus" is a morning prayer. "Golden Salamander" is silly. "Tokyo Rosie" is more relaxed, the guys letting their hair down a bit -- which they should've done more often. "Hero and Heroine" is practically the definition of ELP-like bombastic, lots of pushy keyboards & hysteria -- & Cousins correctly guessed that this "big sound" is what got them an audience in the U.S.
"Backside" is a sort-of David Bowie/Spiders From Mars satire, funny on first listening, above-average after that. "Out in the Cold" is a downbeat lost-love piece, a bit smarmy. "Round and Round" returns to the big, dramatic sound -- & has some disturbing lyrics at the end. "Oh How She Changed" is early stuff, but features the nice contrasting voice of Tony Hooper. "The Battle" is more tortured imagery as in "Hangman and the Papist."
Nick Drake accompanist Robert Kirby's guys'-church-choir is the best thing about the wedding march "Grace Darling," which overall is pretty pleasant. "Here it Comes" is a laughably obvious attempt at a hit -- which didn't work, & I couldn't get through it. Also couldn't get through the overwrought 9-minute "Blue Angel." I'll have more on these guys as I finish their British HALCYON DAYS best-of....
The Kinks -- ahhh, what a relief. I used to think the live "Victoria" beat the studio original to death -- I was wrong. It's a hoot to hear Brother Dave whoop it up in the background, & those one-word choruses are great. "Days" is very pleasant, though I think the huge hit version of this song is still waiting to happen. Ray's lyrics are sweet & moving, & very revealing -- & the guys' version is at least better than Kirsty MacColl's. But I still think this forgotten classic could be rescued by someone....
All those other Kinks Klassiks Up There still sound great, especially "Apeman" & "Dead-End Street" & "Sunny Afternoon" & "Shangri-La" -- an amazing song which sums-up most of Ray's Class Issues in 5 quick minutes. "Dedicated Follower" & "Well Respected Man" are both pretty hilarious. (Are these from that album about "manners and things" that Ray was once going to write?)
...& "I Need You" is the Silliest Heavy Song I've heard since Spooky Tooth's "Evil Woman." Those lyrics are really INTENSE, Ray. We MEAN it, man....
The Stylistics were so sweet they could rot your teeth right out. "You are Everything" is still glorious, but "Betcha By Golly Wow" is so sweet it's almost embarrassing -- no wonder Radio won't play it anymore. "People Make the World Go Round" even sounded pretty good, & I hadn't heard it in years. It's no Marvin Gaye '70s-social-commentary-insight piece when it comes to the lyrics, though....
Shouldn't have to push the Spinners on you. They still sound great -- & they shared a producer with the Stylistics, the great Thom Bell. Lot going on in "I'll Be Around." Linda Creed wrote some great lyrics for both groups. & "Rubberband Man" is a comedy classic that deserved to go to #1.
Nick Drake depressing? Well, only the over-produced stuff. There is also a kind of joy-in-spite-of-it-all that bubbles up in his music, in "Northern Sky" & "Fly" & "One of These Things First" & "At the Chime of a City Clock" & "Hazey Jane II," & even on "From the Morning," the gorgeous last song on his last album, PINK MOON. If his WAY TO BLUE best-of had "Fly" & "At the Chime of a City Clock" on it, it really would be Essential....
It's a short jump from Nick Drake to Sandy Denny. She's well worth hearing solo if only for the stark, dramatic, almost-acapella "The Quiet Joys of Brotherhood" & the incandescent, glorious "Listen, Listen." She did have an amazing voice....
Don't know how I missed Yes's "It Can Happen" -- knew the choruses, but it's like I missed the whole rest of the song, or thought it was something off of DRAMA ("Tempus Fugit" still sounds pretty great, too). Though "Owner of a Lonely Heart" died for me a long time ago, the other stuff from that period still holds up pretty well -- "Leave It"'s still pretty-much a knockout for me. Too bad "Changes" from 90125 isn't included on their DEFINITIVE COLLECTION -- it's also pretty punchy, still.
I also urge you to check-out Weather Report's live "Boogie Woogie Waltz" -- which I'm starting to think may not quite be the 4-star raver I previously blathered about, but turn it up LOUD & it will Do The Job on you anyway.... For me, the only place the WeatherMen woke up was when they were performing live....
Ah, the Tulls. Talk about a band that needs a GOOD best-of. All the current best-of's frustrate me. & the loud, ugly, noisy shit is inescapable. However, "Christmas Song," "Teacher," "Skating Away," "The Whistler" & etc. all still sound great. But why isn't "Baker Street Muse" on their best-of box?
Suggestions for further reviews can be submitted below....

Saturday, May 4, 2013

#661: Dating After 50 (Part 2)

OK, to recap....
The Fast One was a REALLY great kisser. But she was Crazy -- & Not in a Good Way. & the main reasons she seemed to want a guy around were for money & emotional support.
The Slow One was a nice person, but there was a lot of Mystery workin' there. One Winter night she actually called ME at work, which she NEVER did, & said -- out of the blue -- that she'd "really love to have a warm body to cuddle up with on these cold nights."
Bing-bing-BING! I gently offered to come right over after I closed the store ... but she said she didn't want that. I never really figured out what she DID want....
The 28-year-old disappeared after she came into the store one busy night & I wasn't absolutely overjoyed to see her. Besides, she had guys Her Own Age to chase after. Before that, she'd started showing me pictures of them that they'd sent to her cellphone....
Somewhere in the middle of this, an old friend kept popping up unexpectedly. She was also Just My Type, & a little closer to My Age, just passing 40. I thought she was gorgeous, & a lot of fun to talk with.
& even though her daughter's birthday inspired from me the first piece of comedy-fiction I'd written in YEARS as a birthday present -- they read it & laughed 'til they cried -- even that wasn't enough to win her over.
She finally told me very gently that -- even though she liked me -- I was WAY down her list of eligible men.
After these failures, I backed off for a bit. Like, 2 years. I started wondering if there was something wrong with me, if I expected too much, if I was misreading women. I'm famous for over-reacting, getting things wrong, making Something out of Nothing.
So I cooled off for awhile, gave up, kept to myself -- read & listened to music & wrote on this blog, & felt fairly happy. I thought I was doing OK. Maybe I was a little lonely sometimes, but I got to the point where I didn't obsess about it. In fact, I tried not to think about it at all. I thought My Life Was Good.
Maybe I was wrong. My roommate -- who had to put up with me through this -- told me at one point that I was being "insufferable." & that's a big word for him.
So I got brave, looked at my bank account, & took the plunge. I joined
It was a fun experience, & a real eye-opener. I was only on Match for 2 months -- long enough to get WAY cynical about it. Even got a blog post out of it -- look up "2 months on!", it's worth the trouble, lotsa laughs.
I was on long enough that my Match profile/bio turned into a satire of all the women's bios I'd been reading -- poking fun at the laundry-list of requirements they had for a guy. Sure, I wanted a financially-secure, romantic, emotionally-stable, passionate mate who enjoyed long romantic walks on a moonlit beach -- who wouldn't want THAT? But the Reality was....
I was in my last couple weeks on Match when a woman walked into my work & introduced herself -- as I'd urged brave women to do in my bio, because I thought I came across better in person than in a photo.
Problem was, I didn't know who she was. Match had sent my bio to her, but I hadn't seen her profile.
She got all embarrassed -- but I told her not to be, that it was All Good & maybe we'd talk more....
I went home that night & checked Match & there she was. We e-mailed each other, & agreed to meet for coffee & talk. We met again for coffee a couple nights later, then agreed to have a picnic on my next day off -- pretty brave planning for Western Washington in the Spring.
& we've been together pretty-much ever since. That's been over a year, now.
At first it was nice just having someone new to talk with. Then it became obvious that we were very much alike in our interests & temperaments & OCD-ness. ...& then we started finishing each other's sentences. & calling each other at the same time. & making each other laugh 'til we cry. & all that other gooshy stuff that happens when you start Falling for someone.
We're very comfortable with each other, & at my age that means a lot. It hasn't been perfect, exactly. We've both got weird work schedules, & we're both a bit of a challenge to live with. There have been a couple bumpy spots along the way, but not as many as I'd expected, & nothing really Major. Mainly, I think, because the new girlfriend is a grown-up. She's very steady. That makes a big difference.
This could happen to you, too. Don't give up.
But watch out for the Crazies....

Friday, May 3, 2013

#660: Dating After 50 (Part 1)

It's a jungle out there.
After the end of my last long-term Relationship (10 years), I was actually kind of excited about meeting somebody new. But I didn't realize how weird things had gotten since the last time I went out on a date.
I went through 5 years of scaring women off, meeting & going out with women who were Obviously Wrong for me, even joining a dating website before I finally met someone who was Right for me -- by accident. & so far we've been together for over a year.
Once I became Available again, I made two obvious mistakes: I was a little too obvious & desperate. & I asked out just about any woman who seemed even mildly interested.
This led to 3 women in a row saying yes, they'd go out with me -- & then they vanished, never to be seen or heard from again. I got the message. I didn't like scaring women off, so I then became perhaps overly cautious.
Which led to me going on dates with one woman who was way too SLOW for me ... & another who was way too FAST. WAY too fast.
The Fast One was an impulse, A Date Of Opportunity, because I realized it had been too long since I'd actually said the words "Do you want to go out?" & she'd just broken up with her boyfriend, so she was easy pickins. But I paid for it....
"So, what's up?" I asked. "Oh," she said, "I just got done kickin' my old boyfriend to the curb." "Well, you need to go out with ME, then!" DONE!
We went out a couple times for a midnight snack, & she always left abruptly, as if she was scared of being followed. Nothing happened. Wasn't sure I WANTED anything to. She seemed a little crazy. Maybe more than a little. So I wrote her off.
Months later, she showed up at my job just as I was closing up. As I locked the front door, she ran up and kissed me on the cheek. "I want to go out with you RIGHT NOW," she said in a breathless rush. "I want you to drive MY car -- & you're gonna Get Lucky tonight 'cos I'm not wearing ANY PANTIES!"
Uh ... Oh ... Kay....
Survived that. But I learned what the game was pretty quick, because she'd only show up out of the blue, without any warning, whenever she needed emotional support or gas money to go see her son in Seattle. Eventually she just drifted away. Thank Ghod.
The Slow One was a couple years older than me, had been alone for 5 years, & said she'd gotten used to men not noticing her. She told me up-front she wanted me "to do all the work" -- call her, figure out things for us to do together, do all the driving, etc. We agreed to get together to check-out second-hand stores, have coffee, maybe go to a movie now & then. We agreed we'd be friends, not rush.
We went out a few times, had some laughs, were pretty relaxed with each other -- but after 3 months of seeing each other every couple weeks we had maybe gently pressed our lips together twice. Things were moving very slowly. We weren't learning much about each other. The conversation dragged. There was a LOT that wasn't being said.
& she wouldn't return phonecalls. After 9 p.m. she wouldn't even ANSWER her phone.
The End came when she got us movie matinee passes & I asked if she wanted me to put my arm around her in case the movie got scary.
"You just keep your arm to yourself," she said. Boom.
Then she COMPLETELY stopped answering her phone.
Too bad. She was a nice person, even if she was a little ... slow ....
There was a 28-year-old I met at work & went out with a couple times. She was My Type -- long dark hair, a few extra pounds in the right places, & she went on&ON about how she LOVED to come into the store when I was working. So I asked her out. I figured she was being pretty obvious.
I didn't realize how young she was until we were out drinking coffee & trying to cover the basics. Then I learned she was almost young enough to be my daughter.
I was uneasy, but kind of flattered because I thought she was HOT -- & very open in her conversation, which was also attractive.
But I noticed that as we sat there talking in the cafe, she looked at EVERY GUY who walked by, & that's when it hit me:
She was just Passing Time with The Old Guy until The Right Guy came along. Once that was clear to me, she wasn't so hot anymore.

(To Be Continued....)