Sunday, August 30, 2015

Cowboy Junkies' "Sweet Jane"



Here's the excellent 1988 remake by the Cowboy Junkies of the classic 1970 Velvet Underground song "Sweet Jane."  This is just exquisite Rock music, from a time when Rock still had soul. Sit back and listen.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Repost: Does Anybody Remember Laughter? *

This is a repost of a post originally appearing in 2012.  I'm in a particularly nostalgic mood, and this seemed appropriate. 



"Everybody's talkin' about the new sound,
Funny, but its still rock n' roll to me."
-Billy Joel

One thing that makes me feel good, blessed even, about growing up when I did, was the music culture that existed when I was growing up. I was an ‘80s teen, but its not just the ‘80s that I’m talking about. I’m talking about this wonderful thing that came out of the 1950s, and evolved and grew during the 1960s. This wonderful thing called Rock Music, which by the end of the ‘60s had become the anthem and rallying cry of nonconformist youth, and continued strongly throughout the 1970s and 1980s.


I’m not sure how I would have gotten through my teen years without rock music.  Before the age of 12, I really was a rather unhip child, fairly unaware of popular music, rock or otherwise. But once I discovered rock, I grew to love it… all of it, not just the ‘80s, but wonderful stuff from the ‘70s and ‘60s and ‘50s as well.  By the time I was a teen in the ‘80s, it was something that had already been handed down by prior generations. And it was a world all its own… one that nurtured generations of nonconformists . . . rebels of all sorts . . . hippies, freaks, glam rockers, punkers, New Wavers, and others . . . music with a message . . . or with an attitude . . . with a difference . . . a music that told many an odd, strange, misfit kid (like me) that it was okay – even cool – to be odd, strange, and misfit.


I remember spending a lot of time by myself, solitary, in my room, some great record (yes, records, on a turntable, remember those?) on the stereo… it could be something great from the ‘80s.. or from earlier decades… maybe U2, maybe the Police, maybe the Beatles, or the Stones, or some Led Zep, or some Talking Heads . . . maybe something mellow, or psychedelic, or hard… but whatever it was, it had the same effect on me of immersing me into a different world - - perhaps one that was more heroic, or magical, or full of greater possibilities that encouraged an odd, freaky kid to imagine great things.



I didn’t go to my school senior prom. It fell on the same date that Pink Floyd (that’s the ‘80s Momentary Lapse of Reason version, say what you will), was having a concert in a local arena. I had wanted to see Pink Floyd in concert (even a Roger Water-less, David Gilmour dominated Pink Floyd) for ages, and when it came time to choose between going to a rock event from a seminal rock band, and going to some social event that celebrated fitting in to a place I never fit in . . . well, I chose to rock.


I remember the line for the tickets. I and a good, fellow freak friend of mine, agreed to show up at the Specs music store early on the morning of the ticket sale to get ourselves Pink Floyd tickets. I showed up early enough, I thought, but to my surprise there was an enormous line of people who had camped out and waited in line to get tickets. I thought for sure that I had messed up, and that by the time I even got inside to get my ticket, they would be sold out. I looked around for my friend, and to my surprise, there he was, almost at the front of the line, looking disheveled after having camped out there all night. He was hungry, and when a nearby Eckerd Drugs opened, I went to get him a candy bar. We stood in line and chatted with some of the other people there, fellow freaks, as if we were all old friends, or some extended freaky family.  Soon enough, Specs opened, and my friend got me a ticket.. and we rejoiced that were both going to see Pink Floyd.


On the night of the concert, I arrived at the arena and took my place among the packed crowd, but I could not find my friend. I actually was a bit concerned that he didn't make it for some reason. The concert started and there I was, enjoying a Pink Floyd concert. At one point, it started to rain, and this being an outdoor concert, we got a bit drenched. But that didn't matter, we stood there enjoying the music, all united together withstanding the elements in the name of rock n roll. The rain didn't last long, and when it stopped, the water glistening over everything, on came the song "Wish You Were Here." It just seemed poignant, and meaningful... and I thought of my friend. The concert ended, and indeed, it seemed shorter that night than I would have liked... I guess I would have wanted it to go on longer . . . but off I went with a mind full of memories. 

My friend, incidentally, did actually make the concert, and had staked out a place close to the stage to groove to Pink Floyd. I found that out when we next saw each other, both at school, and both wearing Pink Floyd concert shirts.

To me, at least, the true era of rock ended in the around the early to mid '90s. Rock continued, of course, and there were and are many good new rock bands.... but no longer would rock dominate as the voice of quirky, rebellious youth . . . and an era, and a culture, would recede into the past. How, indeed, do today's youth even manage to grow up without Rock?




*The title of my post comes from Led Zeppelin's classic 1976 concert film (of a 1973 concert) The Song Remains The Same, where during a performance of "Stairway to Heaven" Robert Plant comes to the line about "the forest will echo with laughter," and he ad libs "Does anybody remember laughter?"



Thursday, August 13, 2015

Repost: Culture Club



This is my repost of the post originally appearing June 8, 2011.

The 1980s were an era of colorful, quirky music qroups. Early in the decade, MTV went on the air, initiating the era of music videos, and exposing American culture to the quirky musical subculture called New Wave. New Wave dated to the late 1970s, with the emergence, in the wake of punk, of arty, quirky musical acts like the Talking Heads, Devo, Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, and Blondie. But its comibation with the new media of MTV in the early '80s exposed it on a large scale to the American public, and turned it from a oddball subculture, into mainstream culture. And America ate it up.

A large number of the groups given exposure by MTV came from Britain, and thus, in 1982-83, was initiated what was called the Second British Invasion... the first being the 1964-65 invasion of British musical groups like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Animals, Hermans Hermits, and the like. The Second British invasion of 1982-83 was similarly a cultural and musical invasion and included the likes of very popular multi-hit acts like Duran Duran, the Police, Culture Club, Eurythmics, and the Human League and lesser lights such as ska revivalist Madness, catchy celtic tinged popsters Dexys Midnight Runners, and synth virtuoso Thomas Dolby.

Culture club was one of the more memorable groups to come out of this invasion. Emerging out of the Bowie-inspired theatrical New Romantic subculture, Culture Club was an easily recgnizable presence during the early '80s, due in large part to their gender bending lead signer, Boy George.




The very first big hit for Culure Club in the U.S. was 1982's "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me," which really hit big the following year. I still remember vividly watching this video, and just being amazed at this andogynous character singing this remarkably catchy tune. This was also around the time I started getting into music videos, itself still a new medium, and it was also when I really started getting into music in a big way. It was my early teens, and my sense of being an adolescent was growing strong. This new, shiny quirky catchy music just captured my imagination.

Culture Club would have many more hits in the '80s, all this catchy soulful pop punctuated by Boy George's rather rather appealing smooth voice. Among them, "Karma Chamelion," below, which is another wondeful example of the music video medium, and the optimistic catchy popishness of the New Romantic/New Wave era.


Thursday, August 6, 2015

Bye Bye Ms American Pie

A few days ago, the singer Don McClean revealed the meaning behind his enigmatic 1971 song, "American Pie."  He said, "Basically, in American Pie, things are heading in the wrong direction."  

About today's America, he has said "[i]t is becoming less idyllic. I don't know whether you consider that wrong or right but it is a morality song in a sense."

"I was around in 1970 and I am around in 2015," he continued, "[t]here is no poetry and very little romance in anything anymore, so it is really like the last phase of American Pie."



As if to prove this point, the latest saga of the Muppets supposedly has Kermit and Miss Piggy, the longtime love interests of Jim Henson's fictional brood, break up in acrimony.

OK.. lest anyone think I've totally lost my mind: Yes, I know the Muppets are fictional characters. They are the equivalent to cartoon characters and comics. They only exist due to the creativity of human beings, who are responsible for "bringing to life" the lovable puppets.

I also know that real life (the real life we all live in as real human beings) has a lot of hard and difficult and sad things that happen. Relationships break up, people suffer poverty and disease, good people struggle through all sorts of negative things.  Moreover, there are even some comics and cartoons which are, by intention, realistic, and deal with such serious issues.

But what utterly bothers me about the latest twist in the Muppets saga is that the Muppets were never like that. They were always lighthearted, and the stories surrounding the Muppets (like the hopeful story in 1979's The Muppet Movie) are ususally delightful and positive. That's what Jim Henson created when he made The Muppets. 

What exactly do the artists and creative people, no doubt good people, think they are doing by inserting such a cynical and negative plot twist into the story.  Yes, breakups happen in real life. They are happening a lot lately, in fact. 

But have we become so cynical that we are unwilling to let our fantasy life, the very thing Jim Henson contributed to when he created his delightful Muppets, take on a more positive tone?  Do we really need to have everything (as it seems to be lately) devolve into cynicism and negativity?  Are we so beyond the wonder and sweetness that existed when we first saw the Muppets so long ago, that we need them to be every bit as sad as a reality TV series?

What would Jim Henson think?


Here's the wonderful wedding scene from 1985's The Muppets Take Manhattan.

Have we lost this in our society? The capacity to hope, and dream big dreams?

UPDATE:



Since I'm referencing this great song, here's Don McClean's 1971 epic "American Pie," with a video that came out in 1989.






Saturday, August 1, 2015

Revisiting '80s Nerds


One of the things I remember most fondly about the '80s were the trend of nerd films: films like Revenge of the NerdsWeird Science, and my fave, Real Genius where oddball, brainy outsiders were the heroes.  This set the stage for the growth of Nerd and Geek culture, and the changes which made being intelligent and quirky a cool thing.

As noted in this 1998 article in the online magazine Slate:


                  But the popular understanding of nerdiness--that a nerd 
                  is an uncool person--doesn't stand the test of time. In particular, 
                  it doesn't survive the 1980s, an era the New York Times 
                  deemed was characterized by "nerd chic." By the middle of 
                  the go-go decade, fashion magazines touted the popularity 
                  of nerd couture--plaid plants, horn rims, and oxford shirts 
                  buttoned all the way to the top. Further, witness the 
                  proliferation of '80s teen movies valorizing nerds: Revenge of 
                  the Nerds, Weird Science, and Real Genius, to name a few.
                 Underlying this transformation of the nerd's image was a                                transformation of the nerd's economic status. With their 
                  entry into new high-tech industries, many nerds suddenly 
                  became millionerds.





The end sequence of Revenge of the Nerds, culminating in an inspiring speech, is a classic. Its really about misfits and oddballs and people who just don't fit in finding their place in society and standing up for who they are.  Its a message which should resonate with anyone who has ever felt different, regardless  of whether one considers oneself a "nerd" or "geek" or "freak" or any other category.





Another memorable scene was the very '80s-esque performance of the nerds during the college talent show competition. This performance is very, very '80s. Its got new wavish syth music, Devo-ish hair styles, and Michael Jackson imitators doing the Moonwalk. Admittedly, the Lamar character (in the Michael Jackson jacket doing the "rap") is a bit much, but check out the computer toting nerd dudes sporting the '80s styles!!  


This post includes revised portions of two prior posts, along with new material.


Friday, July 24, 2015

Head of The Class


In 1986, a sitcom premiered about a class of gifted, high IQ students, and their inquisitive teacher: Head of the Class.  The show lasted from '86 to 1991.


Here's the peppy, hopeful opening theme... very '80s in every way.

I've heard this show referred to as Welcome Back Kotter with nerds, making reference and comparison to a similar '70s era show about students and teachers.  Kotter, by contrast, was about under-performing students. 



Howard Hessman played the teacher Charlie Moore at the beginning of the series, and through most of the show's run. 


 To be honest, I have a bit of a selective memory about the students. There were so many of them that I seem to recall only the ones that made the strongest impression on me. I do remember how each student was a unique personality, creating a class where each one's quirks and oddness was brought out. I recall there was a sensitive, an artsy girl, and a leather jacket wearing rebel guy. 


Dennis Blunden, played by Dan Schneider, was probably most memorable to me. He was a heavyset and somewhat sloppy kid, kind of like myself at that age. He was also a computer whiz, which I was not.

It turns out that in the years after Head of the Class, Schneider has become quite successful as a producer of family oriented shows on Nickelodeon.


Arvid Engen, played by Dan Frischman, was also memorable as the stereo-typically skinny and bespectacled science nerd of the group. 

I've had friends who resembled Arvid (who, I suppose, would play nerdy teen versions of Laurel in contrast to my Hardy). 



Robin Givens played the rich girl Darlene Merriman.


Tony O'Dell portrayed Alan Pinkard, a politically conservative student who dressed in yuppie attire.

I remember an episode where the class visited the Moscow, which back in the '80s was still in the Soviet Union during the waning days of the Cold War. I recall that they had a scene where the staunchly pro-American Alan got into a debate with an equally adamant pro-Commie Soviet student. I remember thinking it was a pretty unfair comparison, as if the less conservative students wouldn't have reason to oppose Soviet totalitarianism.  In any case, just a few years later Communism would fall, which I guess showed you who really won that debate.



In 1990, toward the end of the show's run, Billy Connolly replaced Hessman, playing teacher Billy MacGregor.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Recalling Live Aid



This past week included the anniversary of the gigantic, two stadium Live Aid concert, which was held on July 13, 1985 in Philadelphia and London.

It was one of the most momentous events of the 1980s, and one that I remember vividly and quite fondly. Being the music nut that I was at the time (and still am), I listened intently to the coverage of the concerts which was being played over the radio.  At night, television coverage kicked in, and I saw that too.

Above is U2 at Live Aid, giving a the classic performance of "Bad." 
I love the atmospheric sound of this song. 



Here is the first part of a documentary I previously posted, which gives a good account of the run up to the big event. As noted in the documentary, Live Aid was part of a big effort to aid victims of a devastating famine in Ethiopia.  

One of the documentary's most satisfying parts for me is the account of Bob Geldolf, musician with the Boomtown Rats and one of the main organizers of the event, telling off the brutal dictator of Ethiopia to his face.  




Here's part 2 of the documentary.


Unfortunately, there was some controversy over whether sufficient amounts of the aid had gotten to the victims, and whether the organizers and supporters of Live Aid had acted sufficiently to end some of the brutal practices of Ethiopia's communist government.  A 1986 article in Spin magazine gives that point of view.