SotD: Television, “See No Evil”

Guitarist Tom Verlaine passed away earlier today. I’m in no position to do a survey of his life and career–there are plenty of others who can and will do that task justice. Still, Verlaine’s magnum opus is definitely part of the music of my life, so I’ll take time to briefly describe how that came to be.

The August 27, 1987 issue of Rolling Stone was part of the magazine’s celebration of its twentieth anniversary, its attempt to identify the 100 Best Rock Albums of its lifetime. It’s not a shock to hear I’ve always been attracted to that sort of thing, and as you might imagine, I spent quite a few hours poring over their rankings after a copy arrived at the apartment I was sharing with John and Jim. Gratified when I saw an LP from my collection mentioned, mystified frequently when a title was unfamiliar. By this point I probably knew of the album at #38, sandwiched between Innervisions and Purple Rain, but had never heard anything off it.

(Noel Coppage’s brief, color-me-very-unimpressed blurb in Dad’s copy of the May 1977 issue of Stereo Review must have passed under my eyes a decade earlier without registering.)

My interest was piqued enough at the time to file Marquee Moon under “must seek out someday” in my brain; it would be well over a decade, though, before anything of the sort happened. As it turns out, my father was responsible for getting it into my hands.

I’ve noted before that Dad was a collector of various things, music (both rock and classical) being one of his primary avenues of expression. When he latched onto CDs in the 90s, he no doubt took advice from any number of articles identifying Essential Disks Everyone Should Own (TM), which is how I expect that a copy of Marquee Moon ended up in a box underneath the bed in my folks’ townhouse basement bedroom. When I came across it on a weekend visit around 2003 or so, he gladly allowed me to take it home.

I’d guess that Dad never played it, but I didn’t waste time. My recollection is that I slipped it into the CD player in our kitchen one Sunday morning soon afterward. I was immediately captivated by the searing riffs on the opening track.

The album turned out to be a treat from start to finish and became a regular listen over the ensuing years; it’s near the top of my list of disks to recommend to friends who don’t know it. While I doubt I would have appreciated MM that much when it was released in 1977, I do regret not checking it out immediately after the RS write-up in 1987.

I’m also regretting today that I haven’t yet sought out Mr. Verlaine’s other output. That will likely take place in the coming days, but tonight it’ll be “See No Evil,” “Venus,” “Friction,” and the rest from MM. I hope he rests in peace.

Forever Kept, A Memory Made

Five years ago this morning, this blog went live with a few brief pieces. You’re reading post #841 right now, which means that in the intervening time I’ve blathered on and on and on. As I’ve noted previously, this site sprung from a conversation over lunch at a Mexican restaurant and then ice cream at Dairy Queen with my college friend Judy. What to call the endeavor came quickly to mind, though perhaps I’ve sometimes focused too much on the “my life” side of things as opposed to “the music” portion. Part of that is to get some things in writing for (ultimately) Ben’s benefit; part of it is to get things down for my benefit. The funny thing about the latter is that there’s a decent chance that what’s now canon about various events I’ve written up isn’t always how I remembered things before trying to describe them in words (and who’s to say the memories were correct to begin with?).

Writing hasn’t exactly become less fun the last couple of years, but it has proven more difficult. Maybe a good chunk of the lower-hanging fruit has been picked; maybe I’ve gotten more self-conscious and feel like I need to publish stuff worth someone else’s time; maybe I’m mildly depressed from the pandemic and other national/world events. Regardless, I do still have the fire to continue, ideas for future posts, etc. I’m not going away quite yet.

Part of the impetus for The Music of My Life was a desire for an outlet to help process the deaths of my parents (Dad in December 2013, Mom in March 2015). Loss and regret are recurrent themes here. In some ways I waited too long to start this project, as I’ve got plenty of questions I’d love to ask my folks. And of course, loss hasn’t stopped: a retired departmental colleague and friend, my college roommate and his wife, a beloved pet. You hope that in response you fight through the pain, you remember, you try to do better with friends and loved ones, you work on living your best life—for yourself and for others.

Discovery and gratitude also appear over and again. In recent years, I’ve learned so much about early 70s R&B from listening to old AT40s, about “songs Casey never played” from the later 70s to later 80s, about early 90s modern rock tracks that slipped below my radar at the time. I’m thrilled almost beyond words to have gotten a slot at my campus’s radio station this past year—the show is probably informed from time to time by what I’ve done here. But the best part of the experience has been interacting with fellow travelers on the music blogging highway. Apologies to anyone I’m overlooking, but it’s been a pleasure to “meet” Jeff Ash, Kurt Blumenau, Jeff Gemmill, HERC, Charlie Ricci, and Jeffrey Thames. My long-time friend Warren “ProfMondo” Moore has been both an inspiration and a guide plenty of times. Special thanks go to Erik Mattox and Mark Seaman, both of whom have individually met with me on Zoom several times over the past eighteen months to chat about songs we adore (or don’t). Except for Warren, I believe these connections all arose directly or indirectly from Jim Bartlett plugging my site on his blog back when I was getting started; it (waves hands all around) is much appreciated, Jim.

Since I’m being reflective, here are a few of my favorite “Music” posts from the past five years:

Pretending to be a disk jockey when I was in seventh grade;
Analyzing four-week moving averages of # of debuts on AT40 over a twelve-year period;
Ranking the songs on Silk Degrees;
Memories sparked while eating a chicken finger salad at Zaxby’s;
Remembering albums that a record store donated to our college radio station.

And from the “My Life” side of things:

My paternal grandparents’ years as itinerant teachers in 1920s Kentucky;
The man who helped introduce me to my wife;
Christmas memories across the years, centered around the lyrics of a Nilsson song.

In late December 2017, a former student offered up a series of posts on Facebook highlighting some of his favorite songs from the year about to end. His tastes run mostly in the indie vein, and not surprisingly many of his choices were by artists new to me. One song that stood out was “June,” by Scranton band Tigers Jaw. It’d been released in the spring, with a video bowing in early June, mere weeks before this enterprise began. I loved the clip, shot at the shuttered Penn Hills Resort in the Poconos. There’s something oddly touching in comparing what Penn Hills had been, as seen in the interspersed scenes from old TV ads, with its then-current state. I’m sure the place was plenty kitschy in its day (heart-shaped bathtubs and all), but it was also the center of a number of peoples’ lives. Not that I need another reminder that time marches on…

As it turns out, Penn Hills was located about 30 miles south of the timeshare resort (which I think still exists) where Martha and I spent part of our honeymoon.

(I know it would have been more appropriate to find a song called “July”…)

Thanks to friends (both long-time and more recent) for regularly dropping by to read what I have to say, to the other folks who’ve chosen to follow this blog over the years, and to everyone who’s stumbled across one or more of my posts from doing a web search. I’m grateful for your support and interest. My family is heading out this morning on our first real getaway vacation in, as fate would have it, five years; maybe there’ll be a short post pop up while we’re gone, maybe not. Either way, see you again soon.

I Hardly Know What To Say

Buddy, just a couple of months after we took him in.

There have been a few times these last few months when I’ve wanted to write but just haven’t found the necessary motivation. Now that the school year is over, I’m hopeful that my muse will return, at least partially. In an attempt to clear the decks, here are abbreviated versions of three posts that have been tossing around my head for a while. The month and title I intended for each are included; only on the third one had I made some meaningful progress earlier. You might detect a recurring theme.

February: I’ll Be Your Sister If You’ll Be My Brother

For my 27th birthday in 1991, Greg and Katie gave me a guinea pig. I’d been hanging out in their apartment regularly for about a year by this point (unrelated but almost interesting fact: their landlord was Alison Krauss’s father), and Pig—their guinea pig—had caught my attention from the get-go. This was the year I had an apartment to myself, so I guess they figured I could stand the company.

She was adorable, with a cute crest of white fur on the top of her head spraying out in all directions. As I hustled her and her carrier into the back seat of my car, I looked down and told her, “It’s just you and me now.” That was approximately the title of a song from Kirsty MacColl’s Kite, and so my new, nervous companion was immediately christened Kirsty.

Taken in my apartment in Lexington, so most likely 1993.

Guinea pigs frequently don’t live all that long; I had Kirsty for just over four years, a little more than half of which was after I’d moved back to KY. On a Friday in March of 1995, I came home from work to find her lying awkwardly toward the front of her cage. She was still alive, but something catastrophic—likely a stroke—had clearly happened. Alarmed, I opened the door, she (as was typical) tried to scramble away from me, I picked her up, and then held her as she died. (Guinea pigs aren’t loving pets, but I’ve always wondered if she’d somehow purposely held on until I returned.) I’d been dating Martha for only a few weeks at this point; I don’t think we’d made plans to get together that night, but I soon called her, and she offered what comfort she could over the phone. I wrapped Kirsty up, placed her in a shoebox, and buried her at the end of my driveway (there was no garage at that house). I wasn’t without a pet for long, though, as a stray cat and her kittens entered my life that summer.

March: There’ll Be (More Than) One Child Born

Chris Leverenz, a retired colleague, passed away at the end of February. While we didn’t socialize together outside of work, over the years we became good friends and confidants. She was my department chair from 1999-2010; many was the time I’d wander down to her office toward the end of the day to seek advice on how to handle some issue that’d arisen in one of my classes. We traveled together to several national conferences, usually when our department was hiring—driving to New Orleans in 2006 and DC in 2009, flying to San Francisco in 2010 and Boston in 2012. Some of our best conversations occurred on those trips. I miss her terribly.

Chris retired in 2017, not long after she discovered that the breast cancer she’d suffered more than a decade earlier (and thought she’d beaten) had returned and gone metastatic. We held a reception for her one Friday afternoon that April; I coordinated with the Alumni Office to get invitations out to alums, particularly those who’d majored in math, computer science, or elementary education, the main points of contact with students over her 35 years of service. It was a glorious event, one of the very best, most memorable occasions in my time at Georgetown.

The day Chris died, I learned that a good friend from church had become a grandmother again just the day before. Not long after, that line from Laura Nyro’s “And When I Die” popped into my head. The theology in the song didn’t match Chris’s remotely, but the thought of others carrying on one’s work has long been a powerful one for me. Touching, heartfelt tributes were many on Georgetown’s Alumni Facebook page after the news broke. It was abundantly clear from them (as it was in the appreciative notes I’d gotten via email four years earlier from alums who weren’t able to attend the retirement reception) that Chris had left a rich legacy, especially in elementary, middle, and high school classrooms scattered across Kentucky.

But there’s one other thing. Earlier in the day of her passing (a Thursday), a tenure-track offer went out to the first-choice candidate for a math position in our department—Chris’s position, one that we’d largely bridged in the intervening four years with a visitor. That offer was accepted on Friday afternoon.

April: American Top 40 PastBlast, 4/24/76: Henry Gross, “Shannon”

Our dog Buddy has really slowed down over the last year. His hind legs have gotten steadily weaker, so much so that negotiating stairs has become almost impossible. Falls are increasingly frequent, and he can’t always get himself up after he’s been lying down for a while. In recent months, walks around our neighborhood have gotten shorter and shorter; he’s now pretty much limited to our yard. There are signs of doggie dementia or some neurological disorder—he’ll sometimes wander around in a restless, almost manic state, unable to settle, and when he’s not sacked out from exhaustion, he doesn’t seem to know what to do with himself. His appetite is still strong, though he occasionally changes his mind abruptly about what he’s willing to eat.

When I was 8 or 9, my sister and I begged for a dog. Frisky came into our lives one summer (Amy thinks it was 1973, but I still wonder if it was ’74).

The date on the back says June 1978.
No date, but I’d guess 1974 or 1975; note the milk box on the porch.

She was a beagle mix, about a year old. At first, we kept her outside, chained overnight to a tree with a doghouse to shelter her as needed. (She was often loose during the day, which occasionally led to trouble, including once digging up a portion of our next-door neighbor’s garden.) Eventually, she moved indoors, but Dad wasn’t about to let her have the run of the house. So, she lived in our basement, confined to the larger, unfinished half. Without the opportunity to run up and down the street as in her younger days, Frisky gained a lot of weight. I’m saddened and rather ashamed looking back now at how little attention I gave her through my high school years—she plays virtually no role in my memories from that time. My mother wound up being the one who mostly took care of her.

When my parents moved to Florence in September of 1983, Frisky was relegated to the garage. I was living my best life as a sophomore in college then, and my sister had just left the nest herself. It may be a mercy that Frisky soon developed kidney issues serious enough to warrant putting her down. I was certainly sad when Mom and Dad told me about her demise, but it took time to realize how much I’d ignored her, how miserable I suspect she was.

The #18 song on 4/24/76 was “Shannon,” a song Henry Gross wrote about Carl Wilson’s then-recently deceased Irish Setter; it’d been killed after being hit by a car (that story had been relayed by Casey on the previous week’s show—by coincidence, Gross also had an Irish Setter named Shannon). The song climbed as high as #6, which is where it was the week I began my charting odyssey. It’s one of many tunes that transports me back to the spring I fell in love with AT40.

On the 9/14/85 show, Walt in Cincinnati wrote in with a Long Distance Dedication request for his two daughters, who were struggling over the recent loss of their dog Snuggles. Of course, Walt asked Casey to play “Shannon.” It would be a couple of years before news (as well as audio evidence) leaked about the profanity-laced tirade Kasem went on the first time he tried to read Walt’s letter—he was most unhappy having to transition to it from the bouncy Pointer Sisters’ song “Dare Me.” Casey makes it sound like this wasn’t the first time his staff had scripted the show in such a fashion. It’s out there on YouTube for the curious.

We don’t know how old Buddy is. Come August, we’ll have had him for eight years, and he was at least five or six when he arrived on our scene. There are lots of things he used to do that I miss: rolling over on his back for tummy rubs, playing ‘sock’ in the basement or backyard (he’d chase and semi-retrieve it for a treat), howling when sirens rang out while he was laying on the deck (his hearing is fairly shot now). He’s never been one to cuddle, but after a few years with us, we gained enough trust from him that he would climb the stairs in the middle of the night to lay on the floor in our bedroom—that happens no more, either.

We know the day is coming when he won’t be able to support himself well enough to get up, even with help, or walk around on his own. Until then, he’s getting special add-ins with his meals, extra treats on occasion, and lots of patience and love.

You’ve Seen The Difference

Last September I reminisced about some of the LPs my college radio station had gotten gratis from the record store where we purchased 45s to play on the air. Not surprisingly, my list wasn’t exhaustive, and an omission or two has surfaced in my head since then. Here’s a bit about one of them.

…in a chamber (that’s how it was stylized on the cover) was the first album released by Bay Area band Wire Train. It came out on 415 Records, which had just signed a distribution agreement with Columbia, and was produced by then-415 A & R guy David Kahne (Translator was a label-mate, and Kahne produced their early stuff, too). “Chamber of Hellos” was the putative single, and I do hear it every so often these days on SiriusXM’s 1st Wave. But that’s not the song that caught my ear when I threw a chamber on one of WTLX’s turntables one late Fall 1983 weekend when it was off the air.

Take a listen to “I Forget It All (When I See You),” and see if you agree that it’s, er, how to put this?–strongly reminiscent–of a tune I happen to adore that got lots of notice, if not chart action, earlier in the year?

I’ve listened to …in a chamber a couple of times in the last 24 hours, and it’s fair to say my reaction is not nearly so enthusiastic as that of Allmusic Reviewer Tim Sendra (“…unspools like a greatest hits collection…’Chamber of Hellos‘ is the big hit, an almost insanely catchy modern pop rocker that has the kind of chorus that’s instantly recognizable after many decades.”). Overall I had trouble differentiating one track from another, and while they don’t have an unpleasant sound, I don’t currently feel the need to go back to this album all that often. It probably says something that the copy-cattish “I Forget It All (When I See You)” manages to stand out to me as a relative highlight. (Sendra does note the similarity I hear, for what that’s worth, and thinks it compares not unfavorably with the ‘original.’)

Wire Train stayed together in one form or another for almost a decade, releasing another four albums. …in a chamber turned out to be the only one that ever charted (peaking at #143), though I did see some of the others in record stores over the years.

(This is an expansion on a point I made in passing three years ago.)

I’m So Tired Of Not Being Right

While this post’s title might well apply to life over the last year in various and sundry ways, I’ll forego any complaints today and simply spin a beloved track co-written and sung by the recently-deceased heartland rocker/disk jockey/Cleveland-area legend Michael Stanley. “Falling in Love Again” was a single released from 1981’s North Coast, and fell between MSB’s two Top 40 hits, “He Can’t Love You” and “My Town,” peaking at #64 in the early weeks of my senior year of high school. I like to regale/bore you with tales of how I first encountered songs, but I honestly don’t know about this one–it doesn’t feel like something of that era to me. I did buy the 45 a few years later and stuck it on a tape soon after.

I know our narrator’s focused on picking up a woman he just met in a bar, but man, does this song sound good. Wishing peace to Mr. Stanley’s family.

You’ve Got To Pick Up Every Stitch

It’s Halloween, so here’s a vaguely appropriate song. No story, just a scene.

I’d guess it’s February 1985, plus or minus a month. James and Stacey have been seeing each other for a little while now, and the three of us are hanging out in 402 Clay Hall one weekday evening, ostensibly paying attention to classwork but who really knows. There’s music playing, of course–maybe one of James’s recent purchases, like the Kinks’ Word of Mouth. That choice could easily have led to the turn of conversation, in which Stacey winds up mentioning (okay, railing against) a couple of her least favorite songs from the 60s. Being much more a student of singles rather than album cuts, I’m not familiar with either of them. One is the Beatles’ cover of “Mr. Moonlight” (I can say now this is not an unjustified take). The other is by Donovan, and Stacey doesn’t hold back, over-singing “season of the WI-I-ITCH” in an overly nasal voice, maybe even tossing in one of her most Stacey-like gestures, arms waving in front of her.

The things you remember.

It would be many, many years before I actually heard “Season of the Witch” in its entirety. I won’t disagree that it’s got some pretty silly lyrics, but it sure feels like there was a whole lot of zeitgeist being captured in the studio. I imagine I’ll be belting out that title phrase, thinking of Stacey, throughout the day.

There’ll be more from Mr. Leitch sometime in the next few months.

I’ll Meet You On The Vast Plains

As I write this, I’ve got one class and a department meeting to go before the second week of the semester is done. It’s fair to say that I’m worn down (and not exactly pumped for that weekly 4pm meeting). Some of it’s normal–being “on” in the classroom takes its toll on an introvert–but I imagine a good bit of it is the stress of being in a room with folks for 75 minutes at a time, one or more of whom might be an asymptomatic COVID carrier. I might feel a little more at ease if a few students wore their masks just a little more carefully.

Four days a week, my routine has often been something like this: 1) arrive and do final prep for first class; 2) teach first class; 3) close myself up in the office for three hours (eat the lunch I’ve brought, final prep for second class, grade/advance prep, look at Twitter feed a bit); 4) teach second class; 5) Zoom with a couple of students, a little more prep; 6) go home, maybe grade/prep some more after dinner. Due to the alternative schedule we’ve implemented, Wednesday gets to be a bit of a catch-up day for me. But I’m missing that ability to go down the hall to talk with a colleague, help a student out in the lobby, actually see people.

I do understand I’ve got it better than so many, and there are plenty of people who’d be happy to do what I’m doing. Still, I’m likely not functioning at full capacity. If I feel this tired now, after just two weeks, I’m wondering how it’ll be after six.

A couple of nights ago I was in need of a musical pick-me-up, a happy song from happier times. Scanning my CD shelves, I landed on a disk with a minor AOR hit from my second year in grad school. A little research revealed that the song ascended to a #23 peak on Billboard‘s Album Rock Tracks chart dated 11/21/87. Before we get to it, though, there was enough interesting stuff in that chart’s top 10 to stop along the way and note most of them…

#1: Bruce Springsteen, “Tunnel of Love”
#2: John Cougar Mellencamp, “Cherry Bomb”
#3: Robbie Robertson, “Showdown at Big Sky”
#4: George Harrison, “Got My Mind Set on You”

The Mellencamp was a song that played a role one time I was an on-air contestant, written up here. There are three more songs from Cloud Nine and two others from the Boss on this chart, too.

#6: Yes, “Rhythm of Love”
#9: Yes, “Love Will Find a Way”

A third song from Big Generator is farther down the list. This album was overall a Big Disappointment after the delightful 90125. While I’ve always liked the sound of “Love Will Find a Way” in spite of its dopey lyrics (“I eat at chez nous” is terrible grammar, besides), “Rhythm of Love” just never did anything for me.

#7: Rush, “Time Stand Still”
I’d definitely read an article telling the story of how Aimee Mann got to join in on this.

#10. Bourgeois Tagg, “I Don’t Mind at All”
Completely underrated Beatles-flavored tune. Made it to just #38 on the Hot 100.

The other songs in the Top 10 are tracks from Floyd and Tull that I don’t remember. There are multiple cuts from Document, Kick, …Nothing Like the Sun, and Permanent Vacation to be found on the chart, too.

But back to the reason for the post. The Radiators were a New Orleans bar/club band that worked their way up to a major-label deal in the late 80s. None of their three albums for Epic exactly broke through, but back in that fall of 1987, WPGU played “Like Dreamers Do,” from Law of the Fish, often enough for me to realize it was quite the mood-brightener. After hearing it again this week for the first time in a good while, I’ll be sure to add “mad molecule” to my repertoire of offbeat terms of endearment.

Like everyone else, I’m ready to be out and about, doing some honest, face-to-face interaction with folks. With extended family, friends from high school, college, grad school, work, church, and fellow bloggers I’ve never met in real life. A big party, somewhere out on a vast plain.

A guy can dream, right?

Both Sides, Together At Last

One of the things we’ve done for family time over the last four months is working on jigsaw puzzles, preferably of the 1000+ piece variety. We have a couple of tables set up in the basement; the smaller of the two often winds up being a base for one of us to work on a specific section of the puzzle after collecting pieces likely to comprise it. You might be able to guess who’s been (self-)appointed to assemble the playlist each time we gather.

Earlier this week I pulled out Kirsty MacColl’s 1991 album Electric Landlady (yes, I know). Kite, her previous release, was my favorite album of 1990 (I still have plans to write about it someday), so any follow-up was bound to be somewhat of a letdown. Consequently, I probably haven’t given Electric Landlady the attention over the years it merits.

Landlady‘s best-known song (deservedly so) is the opening “Walking Down Madison,” but it wasn’t long after I brought the disk home that my attention wandered to the writing credit for the disk’s second track, “All I Ever Wanted.”

Here it is; the single mix is somewhat different from that on the album.

I’ve wondered off and on over the years how Kirsty and Marshall got together to trade thoughts about a tune. Years ago, I found an interview online with Crenshaw that mentioned the collaboration, and yesterday I went looking again. I couldn’t relocate what I’d seen before, but I did come across something from 2008, one of those articles that papers do when an artist is soon to make a local appearance, usually including bits from a phone interview (this one was in The Morning Call, a Lehigh Valley affair). The thrust of the piece concerns Crenshaw’s recent success writing the title song for the movie Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (it nabbed a Golden Globe nomination). But Marshall goes on about a missed opportunity:

Crenshaw’s diligence was motivated partly by the regret he still feels at not trying harder when asked to contribute a song to the winsome 1996 Tom Hanks-directed cult fave “That Thing You Do!”

“I pulled something I had written with Kirsty MacColl off the shelf and sent it in…(t)he song, ‘All I Ever Wanted,’ was a single in England [in 1991]. I wrote the music, she wrote the lyrics. Later, when the film [about an Erie band that scores a hit in 1964] came out and I saw how good it was, I thought, “I could have gotten a song in this movie.”‘

Len Righi (& Marshall Crenshaw), The Morning Call, 1/17/08

I was not surprised at all to learn that Crenshaw’s contribution to “All I Ever Wanted” was the music, but the notion that he hadn’t tried to use the tune himself until That Thing You Do! didn’t sound right to me.

“(We’re Gonna) Shake Up Their Minds” is track 7 on Downtown, Crenshaw’s stellar 1985 album. I’ve been holding back on you, as I’ve actually long been hoping to unearth confirmation for a connection between it and “All I Ever Wanted,” something I sensed almost immediately way back in the summer of 1991.

Hear me out: Steve Lillywhite was married to Kirsty for about a decade beginning in 1984, and he produced Crenshaw’s 1983 album Field Day. It’s not a huge stretch to imagine MacColl hanging around during the Field Day sessions. (I also ran into a message board post yesterday claiming Lillywhite had introduced the two.) KM and MC talk shop some nights, maybe after he’s finished laying down tracks for “Monday Morning Rock” or “All I Know Right Now,” they work on a song together…a couple years later, he fashions some new lyrics for that tune as he sorts out material for his third album.

It’s not that implausible, right? Can you hear what I do?

Portable Music

Yesterday was our anniversary (#24), and we elected to celebrate by getting takeout from our favorite Indian restaurant in Lexington. As I headed out to get it, I tuned the car stereo to 1st Wave on SiriusXM; much of the trip passed listening to Richard Blade’s Monday 6pm Eastern feature, The Magnificent Seven, in which he features seven New Wave songs that were charting in Britain on the current date in one year from the 80s. This week’s trip back in time was to 7/13/81, and Blade played tunes by (in order) Kraftwerk, Visage, Ultravox, Depeche Mode, Spandau Ballet, the Tom Tom Club, and the Specials. The only one of these I really knew was “Wordy Rappinghood,” from the sixth of those bands–I was chiming in with, “What are words worth?” from the opening clicks of the typewriter. Hearing it again for the first time in a while got me thinking about the projects the various members of Talking Heads pursued in the two-plus year break between Remain in Light and Speaking in Tongues. Which in turn reminded me of a cassette James toted around with him during our last year of college.

While Chris and Tina were doing their dance/funk/rap thing with the Tom Tom Club, Jerry released a solo album, The Red and the Black, and David scored Twyla Tharp’s The Catherine Wheel. In addition, a two-disk live album, The Name of This Band is Talking Heads, came out (as well as the fascinating Byrne/Brian Eno collaboration My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, though it had mostly been recorded prior to Remain in Light). By the spring of 1986, James and I had been snarfing up the Heads’ albums for about two years, but at the time none of those 1981/82 releases had yet wound up in our hands. That’s when James came across a sampler cassette: Portable Music (Eight Songs from the Latest Albums by David Byrne, Jerry Harrison, Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club). One thing that was cool about it was that both sides of the tape included all eight cuts–no need to get up and flip it over after twenty minutes. I never picked up a copy for myself, but that doesn’t stop me today from checking out some of what it had to offer.

Last month’s Stereo Review in Review post noted that SR was not impressed by The Catherine Wheel, but there are several songs on it I enjoy (my Illinois office-mate Will ripped a cassette with The Catherine Wheel and My Life in the Bush of Ghosts for me in 1987). One of those is “My Big Hands (Fall Through the Cracks).”

The cassette version (but not the LP) of Tom Tom Club had a cover of “Under the Boardwalk” that may go on just a little long.

From The Name of This Band… came this tight live version of Remain in Light‘s “Houses in Motion.”

The most fun discovery for us was “Slink,” off The Red and the Black. We may have been known to occasionally bust out, “Have you ever been in a traffic jam? Have you ever needed a gram? Well, I have. But I got over it. Uh-huh, I got over it.” Harrison’s almost maniacal laughter as he ‘sings’ these lines won me over more than it should have.

No Byrne/Eno made it onto Portable Music, alas. I’m thinking I may need to fish out that tape from Will, though, and give it another listen this afternoon.

When It’s Good It’s Wicked At The Same Time

Somewhere along the line during my college years, a stack of The Kentucky Kernel, UK’s student newspaper, began being delivered to Transy on weekdays. James was usually good for picking a copy up and bringing it back to the room. One evening in the fall of 1985, he threw that day’s issue my way, pointing to the Letters to the Editor section. It contained a call to action of sorts, from an undergraduate with a memorable name: Kakie Urch. Entitled “Radio Free Lexington,” the letter noted the absence of a student-run radio station at UK, and asked, “why not us?” We soon discovered that Urch had struck a nerve. My recollection is that over the next few months, she penned several editorials appearing in the Kernel, laying out her case and a vision.

At this point, I wandered north and west to Illinois, but James stayed in Lexington to work on a master’s degree in computer science at UK, and he would give me periodic updates on Urch and company’s quest. In March 1988, WRFL (get it?) went on the air, frequency all the way over to the left at 88.1. Their first song, the result of a poll: “C’mon Every Beatbox,” by Big Audio Dynamite. Over their first four years of existence, I would tune in on those few occasions when I was in town. Eclectic was one word for their ethos, pretty much as you’d expect for any university radio station.

When I moved back in August of 1992, I leased an apartment on the southeastern side of Lexington, about a thirty-minute drive from my office at Georgetown. For the next year-plus, WRFL was a regular companion for both portions of my commute. Even though a decent percentage of what they played was not exactly my thing, there was enough of interest to keep me coming back. Let’s take a look at a few songs that RFL threw my way back then.

Mudhoney, “Suck You Dry”
Here’s a band of ground-zero grungers, straight out of the Sub Pop/Seattle scene. This was the first single from Piece of Cake, their first major-label release. Did I mention that a decent percentage of what RFL played was not exactly my thing?

Ween, “The Stallion Pt. 3”
These guys went on to become cult favorites, but I think they were a little too out there for me. Nonetheless, I was taken in by this distinctly oddball semi-running gag (Parts 1 and 2 appeared on their previous album, while parts 4 and 5 came several years later). Also heard Pure Guava‘s single “Push Th’ Little Daisies” a few times which, come to think of it, may explain why I didn’t pursue Ween any further.

Giving due credit: you’re reading this piece now because of a tweet last night by friend-of-the-blog Kurt Blumenau. Got me thinking about the old days…

Fuzzbox, “Pink Sunshine”
Hearing something so poppy, even if was three years old, was a welcome contrast to much of RFL’s playlist. Known in their native England as We’ve Got a Fuzzbox and We’re Gonna Use It, these four women started off much more punkish. For their second (and final) album Big Bang!, they enlisted the aid of Liam Sternberg on three tunes, including “Pink Sunshine.” It and two other songs on Big Bang! went Top 20 in the UK, but only “Self!” scratched the Modern Rock Tracks chart here (alas, I overlooked it in last October’s MRT post). At least as of a few years ago, vocalist Vickie Perks was still in the biz, fronting an Americana all-female band called ViX and her MsChiefs (who had their own take on “Pink Sunshine”).

Shonen Knife, “Twist Barbie”
My fave discovery from this era, a rockin’ trio of women from Japan. “Twist Barbie” is all kinds of awesome, although the song of theirs you’re most likely to have heard is an earnest cover of “Top of the World” on the Carpenters tribute album If I Were a Carpenter.

A couple of other notable cuts I learned about through RFL: “She Don’t Use Jelly,” by the Flaming Lips, and that tune from King Missile about a detachable, well, you know.

I moved to Georgetown at Christmas break in 1993; without those sorta-extended trips in the car, listening to RFL became a much less frequent pastime. But Radio Free Lexington is still very much a thing in my neck of the woods, thirty-two years old now and counting. And Kakie Urch? She’s an associate professor at UK, in, you guessed it, their School of Journalism and Media.