Sunday, December 29, 2013

A splendid time is guaranteed for...some, anyway!

Sometime in the middle of the summer of 1980, when Dad was home, this came on one of the cable channels. I had no idea what this was...
I recognized these guys from a couple of albums in the collection, but they were now a group together? And singing Beatles songs? What could this be???

It was the movie version of the Sgt. Pepper album, which had apparently laid a mighty egg in the theaters a couple of years beforehand, but that was not known to me at the moment. I was immediately taken by this, it being similar to Tommy, where there was virtually no talking in it, save for some narration bits by George Burns, whom I equated with being a Mr. Hooper sort of figure in this. No talking, just Beatle songs the whole way through?...I'm in!

Something about the movie just felt right on that bright, sunny afternoon. Just a perfect setting for what I was seeing. I imagined that the town's gazebo would fit just perfectly over at the McCarver schoolyard. As it went on, the more bizarre it got (Mr. Mustard's female robots, Lucy & The Diamonds, etc.), but was still enjoyable. There was that "wild and crazy guy" I recognized from The Muppet Movie, singing "Maxwell's Silver Hammer", and then Alice Cooper serenading a room full of Hitler Youth Scouts with his rendition of "Because".

Of course, I didn't like the part where Strawberry Fields (Sandy Farina) gets killed just after the guys beat up Aerosmith and save the day (and, apparently, the world!), and the ultra-depressing sequence with her funeral. (My God, I was depressed about that part for a couple of days afterwards, even though I knew it was "just a movie", but that was just too sad to see.)

But then, the magical weathervane comes alive and makes everything alright again. Yayyyy! All is well!

The soundtrack album to it turned up at the house, and was being played with regularity around the house (and we didn't even have a copy of Abbey Road !). It even followed us to the next house we lived in, with a few more viewings (including one last viewing for a while on KCPQ-13), and Red Fred won a copy of an exploito "soundalike version" of the soundtrack album (on the Springboard label) in a ring-toss game at the Seattle Fair.

After the last time I saw it in 1981, it pretty much vanished from cable TV, and I got to tape it from the USA Network in late summer of 1989, but it wasn't until 1996 that it started showing up on cable again, perhaps as a tribute to the late George Burns, who'd left us earlier that year. This time, it was being seen uncut and uninterrupted. It felt great watching it again, just like being back at the Red House, and seeing it again for the first time.

Much later on in 2004, I scored a DVD copy of it, and once lent it to a friend who hadn't seen it in some years, and when he told me what he thought of it after a period of years, he summed it up thusly: "The only thing missing were a couple of singing Muppets, or a talking dog!". Indeed, you could easily imagine Scooby-Doo joining the Heartland gang in Mr. Mustard's van!
As the years went on, it was both a guilty-pleasure, and a reminder of happy times back at the old house, as the sun began setting on that magical summer of 1980, and it would be one of the last things we all enjoyed together immensely as a family then. I showed it to Geoffrey in May of 2013; he was familiar with both Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road, and he was intrigued by what he was seeing. He recognized most of the songs, loved Strawberry Fields, and slinks from the room when Alice Cooper comes on to sing "Because". It's now one of his most-requested movies, somewhere between Monsters, Inc. and the Toy Story trilogy.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving: 30 years and onward

November 24, 1983.

Very heavy wind and rain going on outside that dark Thanksgiving morning. The trees were blowing at some scary angles, and it was a sure bet that the power would be going out at any given moment. Not the best time to do that, as Dad was just starting up Thanksgiving dinner in the kitchen. This day was going to be a little different, as this was the first major holiday since the divorce in the family had occurred some eight months before; my mom and sister weren't there, and weren't going to be. I was just sitting in the living room, listening to the radio, waiting for "Alice's Restaurant Massacree" to be played when the next thing we know....POFF! The power went out. Completely. And it wasn't going to come back on anytime soon.

A couple of neighbors came by to see if ours had gone out as well (and were at the ready to ask if they could cook their stuff in our oven if it was working). Grandma was supposed to come over that day for Thanksgiving, but we ended up having to box up everything and take it over there to finish cooking.

Oh, and did I mention that I was sick that morning? Something I'd eaten for lunch the day before at school did not agree with me, I woke up with a mild case of food poisoning, and I was busy spewing out of both ends, ever since I'd woken up. I didn't eat much that day for dinner, and everyone else probably thought that I was just being a pain in the ass.

Later on that afternoon, after it was all over and we finally got home, I went upstairs to my room and snapped on Sesame Street, just for something to watch as I lay there in not such a great shape. This was the now-legendary episode where Mr. Hooper had died, and the gang is trying to explain the concept of death to Big Bird. Very, very depressing, and not quite the way to end an already trying day.

Thanksgiving seemed to be under a sort of unspoken curse for us after that, with each one worst than the last one. In 1985, we had a major snowstorm that threatened to knock out the power again, but (mercifully) nothing happened. The year after that, our little dog Pepper got out of the backyard, dashed into traffic onto J Street, got hit by a car, and that was the end of her. And then, the following year in 1987, two weeks before the holiday itself, my uncle Pat committed suicide by jumping off of the 34th Street bridge.

Well, after that happened, Thanksgiving was just another go-through-the-motions sort of holiday that we merely tolerated until it was out of sight and out of mind. Dad once said as much one year, and I was glad that it wasn't just me who felt that way about it. He was tired of turkey, after years of cooking them on a daily basis at such restaurants as the Hob-Nob and Knapp's, and so we'd have roast beef, ham, or chicken for dinner.

For the longest time, nothing bad had happened until the day was over and done with for another year. But then on November 22nd of 2010, four days before Thanksgiving came, Dad went into cardiac arrythmia, and had to be rushed to the hospital. It had snowed that day, making things that little more difficult, and also reminding me of that long-ago Thanksgiving with the snow on the ground. Despite some initial hope that he would pull through, he never did, and he left this world 15 days later.

But, it's not really all that bad. I remember throughout the 1980s, KSTW-11 used to show The Muppet Movie on Thanksgiving Day, and the day never felt complete without watching it. It held a special place for me, as it was the first movie I ever saw on the big screen in 1979 at the Roxy Theater (later to be the Pantages Theater), something I remember with fondness. So, by putting this on, all the other stuff gets forgotten about, and the day seems so much brighter.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Rod Stewart

Dad had this one out one summer morning, and it was quite a sight to see...a glass-shaped album with gigantic ice cubes, and some guy grinning whilst behind them. Very interesting! What was this going to sound like? I got to hear "Maggie May", and I thought the song was great! He also did a version of "Pinball Wizard" as well, but the accompanying music (at the time) reminded me out of something from Damien: Omen II, which I had just recently seen.
The song was also on this one as well, but the other songs on it such as "Hot Legs" and "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?" didn't have the same effect on me. Still, I liked Rod's voice, although it would be a few years before I dug a little deeper into his earlier works, this was a starting point for me, and where I still remember him fron.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Ramones

Rock & Roll High School. This was another movie that happened to be on, and I saw it one afternoon while Angie was at school, and my mom was in another part of the house doing something. I had no idea who the Ramones were, and for the longest time, I thought that they were some fictional--but very cool--band that only existed in the movie, since no-one around us seemed to be into them, or had any of their albums (though there was one cut by them on the K-Tel compilation Rock 80). In fact, I only ever saw it just that once, and it disappeared for the longest time, not to be seen anywhere. I wondered if it was a one-time-only "After School Special", or if maybe I dreamed it. Flash forward to fall of 2001 on Turner Classic Movies, and they showed it on there after Joey Ramone's passing, and I saw the movie again for the first time in over twenty years. It was great to see again, and I became a Ramones fan for a few years to come.

The Who (ii)

One great thing about having cable back then was being able to watch movies all the way through with no commercial interruptions. I didn't read TV Guide or anything like that, so I never really knew what was going to be on, and it was always kind of a surprise as to what was going to be watched at any given evening. It could be a comedy-drama like Foul Play, or something scary, like The Amityville Horror, something funny, like High Anxiety, or even a kids' movie, like Dot And The Kangaroo. Something that turned up was the 1975 film of The Who's Tommy, which I got to see a number of times. The original album was not in the house, although I was familiar with "Pinball Wizard", and I was delighted to see Elton John in his outlandish boots, singing the song while on the pinball machine with the wee keyboard mounted on the front. For some reason, he reminded me of Paul Williams in his cameo appearance in The Muppet Movie...
The rest of the movie was quite an adventure. I didn't know who Tina Turner was just then, but her role as The Acid Queen was pretty frightening. I had seen The Wizard Of Oz sometime that past Halloween, but the Wicked Witch had nothing on her...all I knew was that I did not want to be in that room with her!
I remember after the movie was over, and with a little time to fill before the next one, HBO would show the promotional film for the Who song "Who Are You" from The Kids Are Alright, which was not only a great song, but also a lot of fun to watch...the sight of Keith Moon cracking up the other guys while doing overdubs was a joy, and they looked like they were having a good time recording. But it was also a bit sad, because I knew that Keith was gone, and there was no-one else like him.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The J. Geils Band

Although I'd heard these guys at the White house, this is where we started spinning their albums with some regularity, what with all of the partying and fun times going on. The Bloodshot album drew me in right away, with it being pressed on red that was something to see! Dad played "Give It To Me", and I was hooked right away...great organ solo in there. Looking at the cover, seeing these guys with their long hair, beards and 'fros, I thought they looked so cool. Now, I look at the cover pics, and think to myself that they had the whole "pimp" and "bling-bling" thing down years before any rappers ever thought of it; just check out Peter Wolf's dollar-sign necklace. This was another powerhouse album, with some killer bluesy jams, and the baddest harmonica-driven tune in the world, "Whammer Jammer". They were still going strong at this point, although the music was very different to what I'd just been hearing. It still sort of sounded like them, but way more in the pop vein than ever before. We began to see the video for "Love Stinks" on PopClips and occasionally on Showtime, and we thought it was on of the funniest things we'd ever seen. In the first grade, when the Freeze-Frame album was all the rage, Dad got this jersey for me, most likely through the Columbia House catalog. Unlike other T-shirts he had gotten me through them, this one didn't shrink or lose its designs after a couple of washings. I wore this for a few years, until I eventually grew out of it, but I always kept it, and I still have it to this day. I can't wait for the day that Geoffrey will be able to wear it.

Black Sabbath

Oddly enough, the first time I heard Black Sabbath anywhere was back at the Blue House, when Dad played "Paranoid" off of a Ronco compilation album called Power Rock. It was hard, fast and loud, and I thought it was pretty interesting, but that was all I heard by them....until this point. Red Fred was a huge fan; indeed, one of his very first tattoos on his arm was the band's name, which I thought was the coolest thing I'd ever seen. With his influence, some of the Black Sabbath albums in the house were beginning to get played with some regularity. The first one I'd heard almost all the way through was Paranoid. All I can say is that, standing almost in front of the stereo while the album was playing, that was quite an experience that hot summer day. Some of the music was downright frightening, let alone some of the lyrics that were going into my fragile little mind...not quite the kind of stuff for a four-year-old...but I was fascinated by it. This was the next one I'd heard. The cover was pretty scary to look at, but I found the music within to be just as interesting as what I'd heard before. This one was more complex, with synthesizers going on in some of the songs, and an instrumental ("Fluff") that sounded unlike anything they'd done before. This one really did it. Dad played it one gloomy afternoon, and I had no idea who it was at first. As the rain and tolling bells were going on, I suddenly recognized that cover with the witch on it. I saw it back at the White house, and thought it was pretty scary-looking, and couldn't imagine what something like that would sound like. Soon, the crashing riff came down, and it almost felt like I was in the presence of Satan himself...pretty unnerving. The vocalizing was pretty ominous, and when Ozzy wailed "Oh, no-o-o-o-o-!", that was it--I ran into the kitchen. I stayed there for the rest of the song, but I couldn't take my ears off of what I was listening to. I would be a couple of years before I could listen to this one without being frightened by it, but it was on hell of an introduction.

The Charlie Daniels Band

Although Dad was never really into country music, this was about the closest he ever got. During the summer of 1980, I heard Million Mile Reflections quite a lot, and it was an excellent album, with a lot of interesting variety of styles on it. It wasn't straight country, but also had elements of rock, jazz and blues happening. Of course, there would always be "The Devil Went Down To Georgia", but I also liked "Passing Lane", "Blue Star" and "Blind Man". Full Moon came out around that same time, so I heard "The Legend Of The Wooley Swamp", which also became a favorite. "In America" became a favorite of mom's, as it tied in with her sense of values rather well. I remember she memorized the lyrics and would sing the whole thing along with it, especially after she'd had a few, which was becoming increasingly common.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Doors

I was watching Sesame Street one cloudy morning, and Dad had the day off. He was firing up the stereo, and before long he was playing something I hadn't heard before that made me take notice. Something with fuzz-toned guitar, combo organ, and a guy singing something about "let me jump in your game", whatever that meant. I wandered over to the stereo and looked at the beige-toned cover head shot of a guy who looked like a Roman statue, and three other guys on the back. "People Are Strange" came on next, and it transfixed me. It was raining outside, I noticed, and all of a sudden, I heard the sound of thunder and rain on the stereo as "Riders On The Storm" began. Needless to say, I'd forgotten about Sesame Street and stayed listening to the rest of this album. Two years later, Dad played the entire first album, and that was quite an experience. This was when I could tell that they were no ordinary pop band...this was some pretty dark stuff. And on it went, and on it continues. As the years went on, I continued to listen to The Doors and be transfixed by their sound, their music, their words. As I began playing the keyboards, I began using Ray Manzarek's left-hand keyboard technique as a template for my own technique. We got the Dance On Fire video compilation when it came out, and A Tribute To Jim Morrison was quite revealing. I read No One Here Gets Out Alive in middle school, and any other book about them that I could find in the library. I found that I was one of the very few who were really into them; to most other people, they were just a boring acid-trip band who only did one decent song (which would be "Roadhouse Blues"). They didn't get it, but I didn't let it bother me. In late May of 2013, I was shocked to hear of the passing of Ray Manzarek, as were many scores of fans. Another piece of the band had broken off and passed into legend.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

There's a Red House over yonder

2126 S. L Street. Sometime in the early part of 1980, the red house next to us was lived in by a guy who was in the Army, but had gone AWOL, and was looking for someone to take it over while he was off doing his thing. Since the rent was only something like $100 a month, we not only jumped on that, but spent no time at all moving all of our stuff across the vacant lot that was between this house, and ours. We lived there for about a year or so before we were found out about, and had to move elsewhere, but during the year that we lived there, an entire lifetime of events happened there; some good, some not so good, and some golden ones permanently etched into the walls of my mind. Not only did the fun and adventures continue here, they were enhanced by the befriending of a guy we knew as "Red Fred", a tall, sort of Ted Nugent-looking guy with long red hair and homemade tattoos on his arms. He knew about music as much as Dad did, if not more so, and he helped introduce me to some things pretty early on. He was around a lot, and as soon as Dad was home, the beer was flowing freely, the clouds of pot lingering around, and the stereo rolling out endless streams of tunes...some old favorites, and plenty of new and "new" stuff behold. This was an interesting time. Disco music was in its death-throes, and while that was being slowly phased out, a new phase of stuff was coming in that included power-pop, straight-ahead rockers, and full-out Heavy Metal. Here's a good example of what life was like living in that house: Red Fred lived out in Roy, and one day he came to the house with a friend of his who had just bought a new battery for his tractor. God only knows how they came up with this, but when the guy mentioned that he had the old, dead battery out in the trunk of his car, someone decided that they should give it a proper burial. That they did with Dad, digging a hole in the ground for it in a vacant lot across the alley, and erecting a little marker that said "John Deere was buried here!". Then Dad, Mom, Red Fred, his friend, and whoever else was there that afternoon, all climbed up to the top of the carport in the back yard and held a wake for the dead battery: drinking beer, smoking grass and singing all the sing-along songs that they could think of, including "Yellow Submarine", "Cover Of The Rolling Stone", "Happy Together", "I Feel Like I'm Fixin' To Die", "Born To Be Wild" and whatever else they could think of. Things like this could never be bettered or duplicated, and still reside happily in my memory. And yet, I turned out fairly normal...whatever that word means!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Alice Cooper

Halloween of 1979. I remember going out trick-or-treating with Angie and some friends on the block, and we came home for a bit to check in, and to take a break for a little bit before going back out again to score some more candy. Dad, meanwhile, was playing something on the stereo by someone or something called Alice Cooper. I didn't see any type of female figure on any of the covers, but a guy with strange black blotches on his eyes. Dad pulled one out with an intriguing cover that looked like a big, green snakeskin wallet, and played a song about eating too much Halloween candy and having to go to the dentist as a result. All of a sudden, this got really interesting. I took a liking to it. In fact, I don't think I rejoined the others in collecting anymore sugary items...I wanted to hear some more Alice Cooper! Bob Ezrin tells the story about mishearing the song "I'm Eighteen" as "I'm Edgy"...for me, it was the song "Elected"; I thought Alice was saying, "I wanna be electric!". Sounded alright to me, if the music was any indication! I remember this one being played a lot around the house for a while afterwards...actually, my three favorites were this one, Elton John and the Beatles. Some thrilling rock-and-roll with great lyrics...what else could you ask for? In fact, I had gotten so into it, that for some reason, I found some of mom's mascara or something in the bathroom, poured in into my hands, and blotched it around my eyes. I ran into the living room to show everyone what I had done, and while Angie my Dad were in total hysterics, mom had frog-marched me right back in the bathroom, thrust my head into the sink under the cold running water, and began scrubbing my face, shouting something about what kind of lunatic I was.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Steve Miller Band

If anything, I think that this was the first music I remember hearing, all the way back to the Blue House, and maybe even before that. I remember being lulled to sleep with "Fly Like An Eagle" more than a few times, but enjoyed the stuttery Hammond organ breaks going on during the song. As I began exploring through the vinyl collection, I remember seeing some of his earlier works, clad in some pretty lysergically-colored album covers with titles such as Children Of The Future and Brave New World, and being knocked out by them. Oddly enough, I didn't hear these until much later, as Fly Like An Eagle and Book Of Dreams were still spun with regularity around the house. These had their moments, but as time went on, I grew an intense admiration for the earlier stuff, which still stands to this day; believe me, I could never warm up to "Abracadabra". Years later, Dad and I saw the Steve Miller Band at the UPS Fieldhouse in 1997, which was great fun. When they did "Rock 'N Me", and whenever they mentioned Tacoma during the song, the place all but erupted in a full-scale riot. What a night!