Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Tuesday Tuneage
U2 - "Gloria"

Summer is overrated. All those folks with their exhortations to get outside and enjoy the weather are bores: As if the act of being outside is some sort of magical event or that it will solve anything except to keep Coppertone in business. What about those books to read*, TV shows to stream, and LPs to spin? Now that summer is gladly in the rearview mirror, it has dawned on me that October is my favorite month, hands-down. Let me list the reasons:

- Any lingering oppressive heat and humidity goes away. You can shut the windows and not be woken up by your busybody home-owning neighbors who are mowing, blowing leaves, and making general homeowner noise. I like hunkering down inside while it's chilly outside. The landlord (or more likely, my building's thermostat) turns the heat on at some point in October and then my apartment will be 79 degrees until April. I sit inside wearing shorts, a teeshirt, and keep a living room window partially open so that it doesn't creep above 80. Bud Light Lime-A-Rita anyone?

- While the weather is nice enough to still go for long walks, the street fairs and festivals that tend to populate summer have mostly gone away. What this means is that street vendors who invent their own little currency of paper tickets (X amount of tickets for Y dollars, a beer costs Z amount of tickets) aren’t lurking, screwing up the value of straight cash. October: When the good ol’ U.S. dollar stands less of a chance of being dissed and diminished.

 - Hockey starts up. UND and the other NCHC teams generally play Friday and Saturday night series so I can have plans for the weekend. Plus I can double my pleasure: I automatically have an excuse to not meet people for social activities on Friday and Saturday. "Sorry, gotta support my team." Not that I get invited out much these days, but it's nice to have a ready-made alibi. But it's not only the weekends where I can indulge in hockey. The NHL starts and it's a fast-paced, highly-skilled wonder. And it's not just hockey. October is a rich smorgasbord of sports on TV. There's college football, NFL, and THAT PLAYOFF BASEBALL GAME YOU FORGOT ABOUT ON IN THE MIDDLE OF THE AFTERNOON!

- Nostalgia. It was in an October that I started my self-employment. At the end of September of 1999, I finished a temp job assignment. During my time off in October I worked a few hours a week doing books for the sole client I had who I worked directly for and waited for the agency to line up my next steady assignment with an outside client. One night during this time, I met my friend Jeff for beers at the CC Club. Jeff was someone I had known for ten years, the brother of one of my college friends. We had never hung out, but having the same interests we would run into each other once or twice a year at shows or movies. During a pitcher of Summit, he mentioned that he was dreading going to his design studio the next day as he had to do client invoicing. I said hey that is what I do for work! Barely-blinking, hops-infused lightbulbs went off over our heads and this led to my securing Jeff's company as that valued second client that I needed to kick temp work to the curb and head into self-employment. Another pitcher of Summit was summoned and we spent the rest of our evening talking about movies, music, TV, etc. Guns n’ Roses was mentioned during the conversation. I got home fired up, abuzz in excitement and pop culture and possibilities. I made a pot of coffee and stayed up until four a.m. writing into my notebook everything I could think of that I wanted to say about Guns n’ Roses. Over the next couple of weeks, this became Exiled on Main Street #21, which was listed in Best of November 1999 in the St. Paul Pioneer Press and also led some fans of alternative rock my age to (gasp) say that they sometimes too liked metal. Me, I was on a path where I no longer had to wear khakis and a collared shirt to some downtown office and could stay out late at shows any night of the week. A captain of industry? No, more like a lieutenant of leisure.

*Don't yap at me about summer reading. I do my book reading on my phone and the sun's glare makes this difficult.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Tuesday Tuneage
David Lee Roth - "Yankee Rose"


I'm sure I wasn't alone in thinking when David Lee Roth split from Van Halen in the mid-eighties that things were never going to be the same with that band. The goofy theatrics of Roth vs. the rock 'n' roll chops of the other guys was too valuable a dynamic too be recreated or equalled. Even as a teen I knew this.

Buzz started among many hard rock fans when Sammy Hagar was rumored to be the new VH lead singer. I was skeptical, but nobody seemed to agree with me. Sammy Hagar? He was a journeyman, a servicable dude who churned out some decent hard rock earlier in the decade with the likes of "There's Only One Way To Rock" and "Three Lock Box" before veering into meathead territory with "I Can't Drive 55". Seriously, c'mon: The Red Rocker? (I had a college friend who would never call him "Sammy Hagar", it was always "The Red Rocker." Like he knew Hagar well and felt comfortable with the familiar.) Being the only remotely interesting guy in something called HSAS does not lead's one resume in an interview to front the greatest band in mid-eighties America. But the rumor became reality and Hagar was in.

The first Van Hagar album, 5150, had Atlas on the cover, signifying its hope to be a slick mythic product. Rolling Stone (by now the house organ of The Rock Establishment, its publisher Jann Wenner would soon lend a huge hand in codifying all that rock 'n' roll rebellion into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) praised it to the heavens because of its tunefulness and slick sound and that Eddie Van Halen's musical abilities obviously outweighed that showy punk Roth's lack of solemnness and how instead Hagar was a nice fit as collaborator. (Rolling Stone's Tim Holmes: On 5150, you taste the clean air of the ozone, see the radiant sunbeams shooting through storm clouds, while the fire burns down below.) (Not mentioned: This album's leadoff single had these lyrics: Only time will tell if we stand the test of time.) Those of us destined to become back-in-my-day VH curmudgeons were already grumbling: "it's just not the same …" while a whole generation of Van Hagar fans was born.

I remember running into a friend on the UND campus in the first half of 1986 and he was telling me how fresh 5150 sounded and how much Hagar added to the band and I was smiling and he thought I was looking forward to hearing the album, but over his shoulder I saw this girl Trish who was petite, hot, and flirty and once made it a point to say stop and say hi to me when she was wearing only a towel wrapped around her as she left her shower … she picked that exact moment to say hi, such are the dangers of stopping by a girls dorm to get some class notes, and somehow my brain stayed engaged on this nonsensical Van Hagar stuff JUST enough to pass on getting a taped copy of 5150. Sure, I could have been a nice guy and taken it, but what if it fell into the wrong hands? What if I then loaned it to somebody in the dorm and it became a soundtrack to our intense post-dinner backgammon games? The horrors.


David Lee Roth's "Yankee Rose" single emerged a few months later in the summer of '86. Roth declared "a REAL STATE of INDEPENDENCE" in case you were wondering what was up behind all the harmless double entendres. The rolling bass into riffing guitars and the ending cries of "bright lights, city lights" toward the end signified that somebody left from the still-remembered, already-long-lamented good ol' Van Halen of two summers prior still gave a damn about rock 'n' roll and making interesting noises and style being character. Rumors that it was a tribute to the Statue of Liberty made the whole thing noble somehow. Roth put together an ace band and recorded a solid album where he appeared on the cover in not-blackface, a native, not a mythic character. Weirder, he also went and cut the full Eat 'Em and Smile album in Spanish. But in the end it all made sense, of course: Because both gringo and amigo editions were PRODUCED BY TED TEMPLEMAN.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Tuesday Tuneage
The Eagles - "Those Shoes"

"I hate the fuckin' Eagles man."
 - The Dude, The Big Lebowski

"Go Eagles! E-A-G-L-E-S! (chuckles loudly)"
 - Mike Tice, December 2005

On a Friday last July, KEXP out of Seattle set about to play every song that was sampled on The Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique. It was a ridiculously fun project, lasting 12 hours. I heard a few hours while it was on at an accounting client and certain songs would bring interjections from us of "no way!" and "they sampled THIS?" One of the songs played was "Those Shoes" by The Eagles and ever since that afternoon I have tended to go through a phase once a week where I play "Those Shoes" three times in a row and then force myself to do something else in fear that I will keep listening  to it on a loop until bedtime. Strangely, I listen to no other Eagles songs. And this has led me to grab off my bookshelf Headliners: Eagles, a paperback by John Swenson I bought and read back in high school in the early eighties. I'm in a sudden and thankful backlogs of books to read, so I only occasionally peek and page through the book, but I recall it being pretty good as fan bios go. Swenson is a fine writer, and much of the book sneakily doubles as a biography of Joe Walsh and his James Gang*. Walsh is the man who turned The Eagles from a pleasant country-rock outfit into a kinda-hard rock band, and his weirdo persona gave the band a glint of a personality.

So while Walsh didn't have a hand in writing "Those Shoes", his fingerprints/fretboard is all over it. It's got that Midwestern funk thing down like he did in The James Gang  ("Funk #50"?) and more importantly he does croaky guitar like on "Rocky Mountain Way". And let's be honest, Joe should put out an EP of his just playing guitar with that sound. I'd buy three. (One on vinyl, on in mp3, and one for the car I don't have.) But it was a longer-term Eagle who came up with the lyrics, and some of them are doozies.

"You're so smooth and the world's so rough" is lyrical gold, it's like a PG-rated Gene Simmons line. "They give you tablets of love" - is this a pill? And I think "handy with a shovel" means cocaine? I'm drug naive unless it involves antihistamines, caffeine, or pour-your-own depressants. "Jerkoffs in their fancy cars" is a universal lyric … HELL YEAH! "You can't believe your reviews" is probably an aside about the Eagles and rock critics. ("With nary a hint of responsibility in their voices, they sing of Los Angeles' decadent culture, and in the end personify the smugly detached professionalism of much of that city's music." - John Milward, The Rolling Stone Record Guide, first red edition.) Put Cameron Crowe on retainer!

That "Those Shoes" was used heavily in The Beastie Boys' "High Plains Drifter" on Paul's Boutique is huge, but that Beasties ditty pales in comparison to Van Halen's earlier Eastwood-lifting "Hang 'Em High" so I say HAIL CALIFORNIA HARD ROCK/KINDA-HARD-ROCK-WHEN-IT-INCLUDES-JOE-WALSH. DO NOT LOOK BACK. THE EIGHTIES AND BEYOND ARE YOURS. SEE YOU AT US FESTIVAL 3.

*I gotta read this book again cover-to-cover and maybe I'll report back on it here. (Or in typical fashion, I'll instead go crack open Swenson's Headliners: The Who and forget to write about the Eagles book.) A couple of things I do need to bring up though: 1) Swenson signs off with a fan-friendly: "Altogether it seems like the 80s will hear quite a lot from the Eagles", but the book instead appropriately reads as a nice short biography of The Eagles if you don't care about any of their comebacks. 2) In classic fan bio form, the book contains uncaptioned photos. Here's one of Glenn Frey and John Belushi, who is wearing a Minnesota Vikings windbreaker. Why is Chicago guy Belushi wearing a Vikings jacket? Was it the drugs? Did he steal it from Al Franken?