Archive for September, 2008

Another album that mattered to me– #3

September 18, 2008

Today, I’m taking this one far out in left field. I’m also going to my absolute first musical favorite. Before Springsteen, before Dylan, before Beatles, there was one artist, one legend who shone brighter than all the rest. I’m referring of course to…

Yes, Weird Al.

My father was somehow responsible for this. We visited a record store in Pikeville that was closing. He found a 45 of the original massive Weird Al hit “Eat It” and decided I might enjoy it. And I did. Over. And over. And over. And over.

The album above soon followed. Parodies of Michael Jackson, the Police, whoever it was who sang “Eye of the Tiger”, and even more found its way onto my record player. I’ll spare you my usual rambling about the intrinsic musical genius of one of my favorites. I have no idea why I liked Weird Al. But I liked him SO much that I was Weird Al for Halloween when I was five years old. I don’t have the picture or the scanner, but I’ll leave you with the mental image of a five year old me with a curly black wig and eyeglasses. My costume rocked. Of course, it may have just gone over so well because that was the year that I broke my arm and when Halloween rolled around I still had a huge cast on it. But mostly I think it was Weird Al.

Joe

More albums that mattered to me– #2

September 17, 2008

I’m staying well back in the archives for a second installment of this series. Ironically, this album isn’t really an album, but a series in itself.

I’ve heard speculation that everyone should grow up to be the one thing they initially want to be. I can see the appeal. Children are rarely considering things like work stress, college debt, or finances. Instead, they focus on what seems meritorious for them. For me there was no question. I wanted to be a disc jockey. The “Cruisin'” series were pretty instrumental in bring that about.

The series was marketed as being radio broadcasts from various cities, one from each year 1955-1970, inclusive. Those are Peg and Eddie, our cartoon character heroes who are bizarrely on every cover with a timely comment. 1959, the one pictured, was dedicated to DJ Hunter Hancock, who was on some station in Los Angeles. I can recall (and bear in mind, it’s been 20 years since I heard or even saw this album) that Hunter’s broadcast included “Alley Oop” by the Hollywood Argyles and “There is Something on Your Mind” by Big Jay McNeely. I remember this, and 1959 wasn’t even one of my favorites.

Anyway, the albums were good old radio recreations, down to cheezy DJ bits and localized advertisements. I remember that B. Mitchell Reed, the New York DJ (1963, I think) talked about a mile a second. Art Carney, from St. Louis (1957) sounded kind of like somebody’s kindly uncle. These guys played great records and at least pretended to have a great time doing so. This whole concept blew my mind. You could talk and play records and people loved you, tuned it to your show, came out to meet you at promotional appearances, and generally felt like you were one of them.

I didn’t play a lot of kid games. I didn’t have many close neighbors, and was an only child until I was a month shy of 9. But when I was four and five, I carted a tape recorder next to a turntable, hit record, and ran the Joey Cox show until the tape ran out. At which point, you flip the tape and continue. Even to the point of recording over the tape you just finished. I wore out tape recorders like some kids wore out sneakers.

I don’t know that the DJ dream really died, as much as faded away. I still intended to major in broadcasting in college, but by then spinning records had given way to calling sports. Maybe it was the incredibly scripted schedule I’d have to pursue in college. Maybe it was the knowledge that there’d be years upon years of paying your dues before you could specialize. Maybe it was about money.

But some days, I do admit to thinking that little Joey Cox would wonder what the Hell this imposter was doing behind a desk. I know he’d much rather be in some slightly oversized closet, spinning songs and dispensing his (however limited) hipster knowledge. I guess I hope he would understand. Bills to pay, $4 a gallon gas to buy, it’s not so easy out here in the real world. I suspect he would understand, or at least try. And he’d play another record. A good one, nice and loud.

Joe

A new series– albums that matter to me– #1

September 16, 2008

“If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry'”- John Lennon.

I enjoyed the restaurant series, so I’m going to persecute my reader(s) with another set, this time albums (or CDs, whatever) that matter to me. For my first entry, I’m going way back. Back before lawyering or law schooling or college or high school or any school to a trailer in Jenkins, Kentucky, where I heard the gospel of rock and roll through an old-time prophet by the name of Chuck Berry.

I taught myself to read off of album lyric sheets, and I spent hour upon hour pondering the mysteries of music. The Chuck Berry album in question “Johnny B Goode” probably was first noticed by me due to its semi-hallucinogenic cover. See below:

Yeah!

But when I listened to what was within the day-glo three-dimensional sleeve, I was really stunned. I didn’t know anything about Chuck Berry’s world. A young black man in the 1950s had about as much in common with my life as I did with Frankenstein’s.

But that guitar! The piano! And most of all, the rhythm and the words. “I was a motorvatin’ over the hill, I saw Maybelle in a coup-de-ville”. I had no idea what the Hell this guy was talking about. But the enthusiasm was contagious, more palpable than another person in the room. Whatever Chuck Berry was singing about, he was having a good time doing it. Maybe they really were rocking in Boston. And he didn’t have no kick against modern jazz. Whatever. Just sing it again. And play those crazy guitar breaks with that thumping piano moving you along.

I noticed that other people played Chuck Berry’s songs too, whether they were the Rolling Stones or Tommy Roe. But nobody had the same spark in the music. I bought more Chuck Berry records, my own that sat along side my Dad’s. “No Particular Place to Go”, “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man”, even “My Ding-A-Ling”. This stuff was FUN!

It still is. So much of what is cliche in rock and roll is because of how well Chuck Berry did it and imprinted it on everyone’s consciousness. You don’t have George Harrison much less Jimmy Page without Chuck. You don’t have Bruce Springsteen singing about cars. Maybe, as John Lennon tried to tell us, you don’t even have rock and roll.

Joe

Birthdays

September 14, 2008

I turn 28 tomorrow. That’s not (WOO-HOO) I TURN 28 TOMORROW! Or (oh no) I turn 28 tomorrow? Just a fact. The reaper creeps closer, invited or otherwise. Might as well make him comfortable.

What I’m wondering is when your birthday ceases to be a big deal. I don’t mean when it ceases to involve parties with Bobo the clown making balloon animals, I just mean when does it cease to be noticed? I think my last birthday party was when I turned 12, although I’m not 110% sure about the year. Any ideas or consensus here? I’m just curious to know other people’s experiences or lack thereof?

Joe

My first pair of glasses and the Toronto Blue Jays

September 14, 2008

I was cleaning out a drawer the other day and found my first pair of glasses. While I’m generally a very non-vanity centered person, I could not bring myself to allow a picture of me in the glasses, so instead, I’m going to just tell you about them. These glasses have gigantic rims complete with the double wire on top, presumably to protect them from the ravages of late elementary and middle school. They’re the kind of glasses you couldn’t break if you tried. The main information I can impart is that my wife burst into laughter when I put them on, saying that they made me look like a 50 year old man.

I considered it a little more thoroughly and realized that they made me look like Tom Henke. If you weren’t a Toronto Blue Jays fan in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the name probably doesn’t mean much to you. Here’s an accompanying visual aid.

Despite looking vaguely like a mentally retarded McDonald’s worker, Henke spent several years blowing 90+ mile per hour fastballs past opposing hitters. He was known as “The Terminator”.

So basically when it put my glasses on, I look so mentally slow that I might not be able to find a pitcher’s mound, much less see from it, but I still think I project the ability to throw that speed ball right by you.

Incidentally, on looking up Henke’s biography, I learned that he is now, you guessed it, 50 years old. So maybe both my wife and I were right.

Joe

The cost of moral certainty

September 14, 2008

I’ve been reading Shelby Foote’s three volume Civil War history lately. It’s wonderfully well written, and does a nice job of bringing out the personalities of the War. Something that has really made an impression on me is the characteristic– I’m calling it moral certainty– that pretty much everyone with any involvement in the Civil War had in excess. Maybe it’s just a prerequisite of a civil war, but everyone involved seemed certain of the moral goodness of their respective causes, and were very excited about the prospect of fighting this war.

I thought about this sort of attitude in comparison to the public attitude toward our more modern-day fiascos in Vietnam and Iraq. I would assume that the people fighting and dying still had some moral certainty, but I hear stories and see things that cause me doubt Of course now that the government is known to essentially co-opt our military for their own private pissing contests, it’s no wonder that people aren’t morally certain about our ongoing military pursuits.

Is this a bad thing? Or am I sorry that moral certainty has faded? I don’t know. Of course, the bad thing about the decline of moral certainty is that if America becomes involved in another “necessary” war (if you subscribe to that idea- I’m thinking WWII sort here), our own people and military are probably second guessing it before it begins. On the other hand, isn’t that what we as Americans are supposed to do– endlessly second-guess everything our government does? We exist in a system of checks and balances and public opinion may be just another unseen check.

I’d like to pull out an old trick of mine and blame popular media, but I don’t know if that’s legitimate. There have probably been anti-war journalists since there has been written history. Another thought I had is that perhaps the speed and tactical sophistication of war has in some level changed the picture. I don’t know. Does anybody?

Joe