Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Tuesday Tuneage
The Gap Band - "Oops Upside Your Head"

(EDITOR'S NOTE: In this blog post I discuss an episode of The White Shadow. If interested, you can watch this episode in its entirety on YouTube.)

The other night, in honor of Minnesota playing UCLA in the opening round of the NCAA basketball tournament, I kicked back and watched "Wanna Bet?", a first-season episode of The White Shadow. Why this episode? Michael Warren, who played hoops at UCLA under John Wooden, is the actor who has a major guest role as Bobby Magnum, a streetwise baskeball hustler who coach Ken Reeves hopes to bring to Carver and hence compete for the city championship.

Although I've seen it prior (including when it originally aired in 1979) "Wanna Bet?" has been stuck in my mind the past few days for a variety of reasons. To wit:

- Bobby Magnum carries a can of spray-on deodorant in his gym page. After he works up a sweat taking the local hoops-playing rubes out of their dough at a local playground, he proceeds to towel off and apply the Right Guard. Classy.

- As my brother loves to point out, the Magnum character is seventeen years old, while Warren was thirty-two at the time. This tops Nathan Cook, who portrayed Carver regular Milton Reese, who was twenty-eight during season one.

- Warren is compelling as Magnum, you can see why he went on to be part of the Hill Street Blues ensemble. His role helps make up for the total lack of lines from cast faves Morris Thorpe, Warren Coolidge, and Salami.

- This was the first "Kid transfers to Carver, plays on basketball team, but is only on show once" episode. This streetwise hustler kid was later followed by gay kid, autistic kid, illiterate kid, deaf kid, etc.

- I love that Reeves beats Magnum one-on-one after sporting him three easy baskets. And while wearing jeans.

- Hey Reeves: Telling your date that her looking better with makeup on is a "miracle" isn't too smooth.

- Reeves does better in his bantering with Sybil Buchanan. In my mind, there is an episode of The White Shadow where Reeves campaigns for a practice facility and the sexual tension between him and Buchanan reaches an all-time high.

- Although Reeves' talk (SPOILER ALERT) with a local bookmaker big shot gets Magnum out of trouble with another bookmaker's goons, there is never a scene where Reeves relates to Magnum that he did this. Yet Magnum thanks Reeves profusely in the closing scene. Odd.

- But the oddest thing of all in this episode, the thing that keeps me up at night in bafflement is this: There is a scene where the team is running laps and they chant "Bop upside the head, we're gonna bop upside the head!" (Check out the chant starting at 27:33 into the episode.) This sounds a lot like The Gap Band's chant from their hit "Oops Upside Your Head". But my Internet research indicates that The White Shadow episode aired in January of 1979, but The Gap Band single didn't come out until later that year … meaning that the Carver team's use of the chant predated The Gap Band's use of it by months!

I googled the heck out of this mystery and got nowhere. I suppose it's possible that members of The Gap Band were watching Shadow, and said: "That chant is genius, let's get to the studio and put it on wax!" My working theory is that the "upside your head" chant must have been a popular thing for urban youth in the late seventies. Ken Reeves would have referred to it as being "ghetto", but we'll let that slide.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Tuesday Tuneage
Wilco - "Box Full Of Letters"

One day shortly after New Year's, I took the 18 Large to the post office, opened the PO box with the key, and there was no mail. The mail apparently had been forwarded by this point. I stopped at Office Max for some supplies, I went to Subway for my customary sandwich. And the walk home just wasn't the same. It was cold, it was windy, it was the last time I'd be taking that walk for that purpose. The liquor cabinet called, it was two in the afternoon.

It didn't start out as something I looked forward to. It was just a job. A client was travelling the country and they asked me check their mail in their absence. It was being forwarded to this PO box at the post office near my neighborhood. When I had a car it was a pit stop. Once I was without a car, it became a little more involved. In late summer and early fall I'd bike there. A nice little jaunt, something to break up the day, an excuse to stop by the nearby Subway.

It was later in the fall that these runs actually got to be fun. Being someone who is adverse to biking when it gets below fifty degrees, I found I could take the 18 Large from my front door to the front door of the post office. iPod blasting, the music tended to be Golden Smog who just seemed like an autumn band to me for some reason ("the leaves listen to what I say"). I also blasted Big Star, Semisonic, Wilco - all music I found/adored/obsessed over in the mid-nineties when I went through my first phase of bus commuting, when I doing temp jobs downtown, when I first set out to become a writer.

I wouldn't catch a return bus home. The 18 Large would have been a long wait and the 18 Normal wouldn’t save that that much walking and was always crowded. Instead, I kept the iPod blasting and trekked it home. Past the old folks high rises (Where I'll live someday??), past the community garden that reminded me that My Hell would involve some sort of gardening, past the Liberal Catholic church (I'm not sure exactly what this denomination believes in, but this parish's website promotes somebody named "Swami Ken"), past the convenience store with way overpriced 3.2 beer, and milk a week past its expiration date, and a decent frozen pizza selection for those no-plan weekend nights.

Later that day I would email the client with what I had found, a day or two after that I would take any checks to their bank up on Hennepin for deposit. That was a bus ride full of UM girls who had ponytails and wore what seemed to be fitted sweats. The bank always had a line but the black security guard was always there for a friendly hello and help with the door. At the joint next door I could get French toast and read the sports page. Soon after I would contemplate tanking the day away down 26th street at a fave local bar. I would see myself ordering a Scotch and soda and reading the sports page while keeping an eye on the cable news on TV. Sadly, I always ended up walking by the bar to catch the 4 home, where I poured myself some coffee and got back to work.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Tuesday Tuneage
Babes In Toyland - "We Are Family"

1914 - The Great War (renamed "World War I" after the sequel came about) starts. Three of the combatants - England, Russia (Allies) and Germany (Central Powers) have monarchs who are first cousins. Yep, England's King George V, Russia's Czar Nicholas II, and Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm II are grandchildren of Queen Victoria.

Almost 2014 - Three of the most prominent submarine sandwich chains - Jimmy John's, Milio's, and Erbert & Gerbert's are owned by first cousins. I bring this up because the centennial of the start of The Great War will soon be upon us. This causes me to worry about the state of our sandwiches, as some of these competing shops are too damn close to each other. Case in point: Jimmy John's opens on/near Augsburg College (genius move, near UM also!) and Milio's ups the ante by setting up shop in the same neighborhood pretty much in Zipp's Liquors (big ol' sandwich to go with that 9:45 pm beer run? Sure!) Will the sandwich chains continue to exist in peace? Or will some crazy Serb set off a chain of events that results in an extended war (also involving submarines!?) With whom will Subway and Quiznos align? More importantly: What about Cousins? 

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Tuesday Tuneage
The Original Caste - "One Tin Soldier"

Editor's Note: This is an excerpt from my kinda-started, never-completed, now-abandoned novel Heaven Is In Your Mind:

"When I was little, quiet little," she says, "I think maybe first grade or even before elementary school, there was a popular song they played a lot on the radio. It was called 'One Tin Soldier' and was done by a band called Coven who had a weirdo black mass satanist past, though the version I first heard may have been done by some Canadian one-hit wonders called The Original Caste. This confused me for a few days as an adult as when I heard The Original Caste's version on the AM oldies station, I thought they said 'the original cast' and I thought they meant the original cast of the Billy Jack movie, when I knew that Coven were the ones who were credited for the Billy Jack version. Then it dawned on me that Billy Jack wasn't a musical - I have never seen it but I know it is some low-budget revenge fantasy that does not involve singing - so the original soundtrack wouldn't feature any original cast. I think what helped cause this confusion was that in those days there was a spate of hippie musicals: Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar, Hair that spawned songs that ended up in Top 40 radio and invariably these songs were creepy and sometimes the version you heard was the cast of the movie or the Broadway musical but sometimes what you heard was a pop singer or group doing a cover of the musical's songs.

"So this tune, 'One Tin Soldier,' which I first heard as a young girl, creeped me out for decades. In fact, I would turn it off whenever it came on the oldies station. It probably didn't matter that I turned it off though, once I heard those opening notes I could recite the song word-for-word. As a girl I couldn't avoid it as I would hear it while riding with my mom in the car on errands or while playing with my older sister, who would constantly play the forty-five on a portable record player in her room. Anyway, this song, I'm sure you heard it, is a simple morality tale: The valley people want the mountain people's treasure chest, the mountain people offer to share it, the valley people get angry and kill the mountain people. They open the treasure chest - and I think a Ray Bradbury story once ended on a similar note - only to find a note that says 'peace on earth.' And this sound freaked me out, scared me silly, I mean an entire people - genocide - being killed over a simple treasure chest. I knew the song taught a lesson but I thought it did it in a cruel, cruel way. The older I got, the more pissed off I got about it. The song didn't quantify how many mountain people there were - ten? a hundred? ten thousand? - not that a lower number justified their murders in any way. I hated The Original Caste and Coven for singing this song. Like I said, hearing those opening notes, so hopeful and pleasant on their own, filled me with dread and I would immediately change the station.

"What I never told anybody, was that this song filled an hour of my Sunday mornings with dread also. Given that the lyrics of 'One Tin Soldier' feature words like 'peace,' 'Judgment Day,' and 'kingdom,' and that the first line of the song addresses children, for some reason I thought it was a Bible story put in song form for children. Year after year in Sunday School, I figured at some point the teacher would tell the Bible story of the mountain people and the valley people. And then because invariably - as my elementary-age education seemed to involve large amounts of singing, along with art projects - we would have to sing 'One Tin Soldier.' And that was my big fear, to have to sing that song with all my Sunday School classmates. You know how creepy little children sound when they sing in groups, and then throw genocide lyrics on top of that? Have you ever heard that Canadian elementary school choir album from the seventies where they sing pop songs? Creepy. But the story never came up. Of course, it turned out that while the Old Testament has bloodbaths galore, the story is not in the Bible at all, I found this out when I brought the mountain and valley peoples up at a dinner party during a discussion over Israel and the Palestinians, imagine the looks I got with that one ... By sixth grade my parents had stopped going to church, by seventh grade they had split up and neither of them would drop me off at Sunday School at all."