The freakiest thing that happened to me at middle school orientation (Hannah’s going to sixth next year) was the realization, at first dubious and then almost certain, but only confirmable once I was home and able to look in my high school yearbook, that my daughter’s middle-school principal was once, long long ago, a teacher at my high school. I never had her, so I was only about 90% sure, but then I got home and looked her up and sure enough: Miss Towle, English. Annoyingly, she’s aged less than I have, or at least I wouldn’t have guessed her to be any older than I am. I wanted to go up and ask her if she had ever taught at Scotia, but then decided that if she hadn’t, that might come off strange, so I let it go. After I told Lee, she said she was going to play the Scotia card, but I protest — not her card to play. She’s not a true Tartan (yeah, like I was). Hey, there were some people who got to go to the England Dan and John Ford Coley free concert in the Scotia gym, and there were many, many who didn’t. If you weren’t there, you don’t get to play the Scotia card. (Okay, so exactly one reader will have any idea what I’m talking about. She knows who she is.)
Yes, it is supposed to be both warm and sunny. We’ve had warm and rainy, we’ve had cold and sunny, and we’ve had bodacious amounts of wind, but until now (well, one day when I was away, too), warm and sunny have eluded us. It’s about damn time, too, because this year I’m being a wimp about riding/running/anything in the cold rainy mornings. I’m just not doing it, which leads to my overall lack of endorphins and and increasingly negative attitude, so that at work these days I’m sounding more like a dockworker than an executive, and really, that’s got to stop. But when I got home last night Bekah showed me our trillium clump, more of them than ever before and in full, beautiful, hidden flower. Leaves are coming soon to the maples. Our cherry has more blossoms than ever and is gorgeous. It’s time to get out there for a few minutes every morning and smell the goddamn flowers, people. Life is too short for this stress nonsense (though the very shortness of life is, in fact, one of the causes of my stress. I can’t get the mortality monkey off my back these days).
Almost deleted that last post, but I didn’t. So, bear with me, one little rant every now and again. After not having slept right for several weeks, I got a good night’s sleep on Monday night, and then last night (tonight) (now) slept just about not at all. When I regain some equilibrium I’ll give you the next list of embarrassing songs, I promise!
One of the joys of public service is that you regularly get to see people rip your work to shreds for reasons or malice, political advantage, or just because they can get away with it because the reporters are idiots who believe every negative thing they hear and will never be convinced otherwise. A year ago we announced we were embarking on a major public policy initiative, one that put us at the forefront of progressive thought on a complex and controversial issue, that required that we buck most of our political brethren and flash a bit of a finger in the face of the feds. Lots has been done since then, including bringing a wide array of disparate viewpoints to the table to hammer out the framework of an agreement on this issue. People are talking about how to solve this problem, rather than denying the problem exists. Wherever I travel, people want to touch me just because I have even tangential involvement in this thing. We’re kicking ass.
And so the other night, after the laziest Sunday I can remember (shopping, followed by watching the Yanks lose, followed by watching Liege-Bastogne-Liege, peaceful evening, and Kill Bill), I happened to hit the local cable news channel for three seconds and found footage of 5 idiot protesters who had managed to drag a stupid reporter and a cameraman out to the Capitol on a Sunday to say that a year later, we haven’t done anything. The reporter intoned that “People are saying nothing has been done,” which I guess is true in a general sense if the only people you listen to are these 5 idiots, none of whom we’ve even heard of before.
So, my only possible response, being both highly agitated and a huge “South Park” fan, was one I don’t exactly want to repeat here, but let’s just say it involved the words “suck,” “my,” and “balls.” In that order. Patient spouse, also a fan, helpfully suggested, “Shouldn’t you add ‘salty’?” She was right, it did sound better that way.
From now on, the only movies I’m watching will be by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. Pretty much everything else is a waste of my time. I say this having finally seen “Kill Bill Vol. 1.” Yes, Vol. 1 — do you have any idea how hard a movie night is to arrange when you’ve got kids? Not to mention the cost. Believe me, I could buy the DVD three times. Not that I don’t love going to the theater, but still. Anyway, never got to see it, and now I really desperately needed to just in case I get to see Vol. II in a theater. And all I can say is, Genius. F’ing Genius. I want to watch it again tomorrow just to see half the things I missed. A seamless tapestry, a comic book actually brought to film, and the best music, both score and songs, of any movie since the ’60s. Man!
Now, if only he would do something with Joan Cusack in it . . . .
We live in a wonderful and bewildering world where it is possible to learn things 25 years later about a band from the early ’80s that the entire world has forgotten about (well, really, it never even knew about them.) Been playing some minidiscs I put together a few years ago before CD burning for the masses became affordable, including some great ’80s singles that I haven’t gotten back onto the turntable since. And among those songs (including the really good Bangles, the Bangles who did “I’m In Line For You,” before entertainment demons took over Susanna Hoffs’s eye movements) was a little treasure called “Lightning,” by a band called The Humans, on the legendary IRS Records. A line in it about Manhattan thumped me upside the head: “Suddenly it hit me, this whole island is open to attack.” That seemed threatening enough in the pre-perestroika early ’80s; now it’s just scary. Not the point. The point would be that I wondered if it was possible that the lyrics were available on one of the lyric services. No luck. Tried searching their “hit,” “Get You Tonight” along with “The Humans.” Hopeless. Then tried “IRS Records ‘The Humans.'” Jackpot. And lightning: In the early eighties, IRS Records signed one of the best bands to ever come out of Santa Cruz. They were new to the new wave world at large, but not to Santa Cruz or surf music. Their roots went back decades. Three members of the Humans, John Anderson, Sterling Storm, and Eric Gies had been band mates in Eddie and the Showmen, and John had been at the helm of his own Baymen before that. They moved to Santa Cruz together in 1970, and almost immediately formed the Humans. That name stuck until the late eighties, when they evolved (without Sterling) into Ed Hatch, then Ed, and finally the Ninja Nomads.
Wait a minute! “The Humans,” a bleak, hard-edged new wave band from the early ’80s, had 18 years earlier been one of the seminal surf bands? That’s like telling me the Beach Boys morphed into The Cars — it doesn’t even make sense. Everyone knows that new wave bands were all young turks, not seasoned veterans. More importantly, how could this have escaped my notice? Me, who just weeks ago was able to remember, apropos of nothing, that the completely forgotten Plugz had morphed into the barely remembered Cruzados? (Me, who really has to consult a calendar to remember birthdays and anniversaries.)
I’m too stunned by this information to continue. (But I’m a little disappointed my true musical confessions didn’t spark more vitriol . . . I know the comments function has been iffy this weekend, but I expected at least some digital vomiting over my selections. Part 2 to come, I assure you.)
Okay, if I’m going to weigh in on the worst songs of all time (pop division), I’m going to have to confess that there are some truly awful songs that I just desperately love, and that you’ll pull these 45s from my cold, dead fingers. Go ahead, slag me if you must, but these are true classics that I’d play right now if I could (and don’t push me, or I will):
- “Billy Don’t Be a Hero” by Bo Donaldson & The Heywoods. Actually, my favorite of theirs was “Who Do You Think You Are,” which had a neat kind of groove to it, as well as something funky going on in the 45 pressing that made it just a little out of round and sounding slightly off. But this one was guaranteed to send my then-future-wife completely off the edge if I so much as threatened to play it, which made it a very useful tool in my arsenal.
- “Clap for the Wolfman” by The Guess Who. I didn’t understand how the ring tone industry could be worth billions until just now, when I learned that this deliciously awful, lame and somehow intriguing tribute to Wolfman Jack could be my ringtone. I actually wasn’t a Wolfman Jack fan when this song came out, and it has little to do with him other than offering his voice in the breaks, but years later his syndicated show was the only thing that kept me from using the pasteup knife to slit my wrists on lonely Sunday afternoons waxing newspaper dummies (don’t ask), and I thought he did a stunning turn in “American Graffiti,” so I’ll admit this song even shows up on my iPod.
- “Run Joey Run” by David Geddes. Everything about this song about teenage pregnancy and murder is creepy. Once I found the album in a thrift store and bought it as a goof, but the album was even creepier than the song, which hit number 4 on the Billboard charts in 1975. Number 4. The singer was a standard ’70s issue long-haired babyfaced teenager, and the back cover featured liner notes by the songwriter, who gushed about having found his singer in a way that was, again, creepy. This kid also charted something called “The Last Game of the Season (Blind Man in the Bleachers)”, a big steaming pile of ’70s crap — the kind of song that was very common then but that we’ve completely forgotten about now. Time doesn’t wash away all sins, but it does tend to get rid of things like this. And yet, I’d play this awful thing right now if I had it still . . . like a scab I have to pick at.
- “MacArthur Park” by Richard Harris, or, frankly, by anyone except Donna Summer. God, what a squeezed-out gob of nonsense. Is it a drug song by someone who’s never done drugs? But god help me, I love to listen to Harris taking this giant hunk of cheese and throttling it to death. (It also always puts me in mind of Dave Thomas’s SCTV spoof on Harris in “A Man Called Horse”)
- “Get Dancin'” by Disco Tex and the Sex-O-Lettes (aka Monty Rock III). “My chiffon is wet, darling, my chiffon is wet.” Need I say more?
Well, apparently Blender has put out a 50 Worst Songs Ever list. Although their website only gives the bottom 10, the top 10 worst are out in the media now. And while rock ‘n’ roll lists are just incredibly subjective, I’ve gotta say that this list may have nailed it. Number 1 (with a bullet!): Starship’s execrable “We Built This City (On Rock ‘n’ Roll)”, which brings a once-great band that produced some of the all-time best rock songs to a low that most bands die before reaching. Still, it’s not all that catchy, which I consider a key criterion for badness — it really should be a song that, once in your head, you cannot get out, and “City” isn’t like that. In fact, despite thinking of it all day, I can’t even really get it into my head. But make no mistake, it sucks, deeply and importantly.
The others in the top 10? “Achy Breaky Heart,” “Everybody Have Fun Tonight,” “Ice Ice Baby,” “Don’t Worry Be Happy,” “Party All the Time,” “Ebony and Ivory” — yes, deep suckage there. Limpbizkit’s “Rollin'” I’ve never even heard, nor did I hear Madonna’s “American Life.” In at Number 6 is one I might easily have put up in the top 5, the unbelievably successful “The Heart of Rock & Roll,” by Huey Lewis, an artist whose popularity was as mystifying as that of Hootie and the Blowfish. I just didn’t f’ing get it.
Can’t wait to see the whole list. How could there be 41 songs that are worse than Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire”? Or 50 worse than Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” — a song that was almost totally redeemed, with tongue in cheek, by Los Straitjackets in a murderously funny, spot-on Ventures surf-rock version that is, to my thinking, one of the best songs in all of rock ‘n’ roll.
While we’re on the musical theme, this week I did something I haven’t done in about 24 years — I bought a copy of Rolling Stone. When I was hip, RS was never nearly hip enough for me, and they weren’t covering bands I cared about at all (had to turn to Trouser Press and other lesser-known rags for that). But I was stuck with a lot of air time this week, Uma Thurman (that well-known musical act) (well, she’s a siren, anyway) was on the cover, there was a story on Chris Rock, and my normal info-porn, Entertainment Weekly, seemed particularly thin. Know what? It didn’t suck. That’s how un-hip I am now.
I mean, really. Four days out of town, followed by my forgetting what used to be called Secretaries Day (and my secretary is the best in the world, so I don’t like to forget), followed by Take Your Female Progeny (Or Male Progeny If You Feel Like It) To Work Day, followed by a likely yo-yo to New York tomorrow. Enough! I’m exhausted.
Answers to random comment questions: 147 degrees or so. Pictures are appearing at my flog. I, too, as a boy believed the purpose of dolls was to pop their heads off — except for superhero dolls, which, as we all know, are not “dolls” at all, but “action figures,” which is a completely different thing.
Tonight, I really must talk about the Worst Songs of All Time List . . . .