Are you offended by bad language? Inappropriate sex? How about working all day in an office? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you’re going to love the story I just published in Across the Margin, “a webzine dedicated to culture, truth, and madness”!

Here I was, getting ready to report to you on all the life-affirming and life-deadening music I’ve been finding at yard sales this summer, and what happens? A breathless editor called to say Yes!

Oops, I did it again
Normally, I only publish one story per decade. With only three years left on the shot clock, how did I kick a second story into the goal? Are editors finally catching up with me, or am I finally getting better?

If you worked with me on one of my 452 jobs and you spot a disguised version of you in this piece – it’s not you.

Run-DMSteve! You’re my favorite writer. How can I make you look good in one easy step?
If you enjoy this story, please like it, share it, print it and leave it at the hair salon, or talk it up with family, friends, and that special someone with whom you have hate sex. Help me follow in the wanderin’ boot heels of Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan.

Thank you, and happy reading!

 


Somewhere on the way to the South Pole.

Karen Marlene Dunning was Karrie to everyone she knew. And she knew everyone. Karrie moved easily within and between so many subcultures that she must’ve been at least one degree hotter than Kevin Bacon.

When I met Karrie, I was new to Seattle and deeply involved in science fiction fandom. I only dimly understand sci-fi fandom today, but in the early 1980s there was a sharp division between people who watched the stuff and dressed up like the stuff vs. people who read the stuff and published fanzines that were at least sometimes about the stuff. I, being a snob, was of course firmly in the literary camp. Karrie recognized these divisions but saw past them. I never met a person who had anything negative to say about her.

Karrie was my girlfriend in 1981 and 1982. I left her for another girlfriend. I wanted to leave our relationship, but this wasnt the way to do it. The next girlfriend was a hair-raising mistake. Karrie took me back. (It didn’t last, but she did it.) Karrie had no room in her heart for hate. I was one more man who had wronged her, but she had little time for feeling wronged. She had too much to do. Prince, for example (“Ooh baby!”). Unfortunately, she never had that chance.

Even though Karrie predicted, late one spring, “It’s going to be a bean bag summer,” she packed more into her life than I will in my life even if I live two lives. She was born already knowing how to practice mindfulness, a concept I’m still stumbling over. I don’t believe there was an hour in the day that escaped her full attention, and I mean the full eight days a week. (Karrie was a lifelong Beatles fan. She and her sister saw them twice in Seattle and spent hours practicing their Scouse accents.)

Things I will always remember about Karrie:

Dancing with her at Norwescon to Manhattan Transfer’s “Twilight Zone.”

Putting on a satirical version of the con, Invisible Norwescon, complete with unhealthy snacks and a ridiculous slate of programming, in my hotel room.

Going to the 1982  rerelease of A Hard Day’s Night at the Cinerama in  downtown Seattle and staying to watch it three times.

Karrie visiting the hotel where I was playing in a chess tournament and providing the kind of motivation between rounds that sent me into the next game without a clue to which opening I had studied.

Karrie bravely volunteering to take my parents sight-seeing when they came to Seattle in 1987 for my wedding. My parents are not easy. After she dropped them off (at their hotel, not in Elliott Bay), she had to go home and soak in a hot bath.

This appreciation is difficult for me to write because Karrie and I have had no contact in more than 25 years. When Special D and I put on our first formal seder, Karrie and her boyfriend at the time, Frank, were two of our guests. But that was in 1989. We gradually moved into other orbits.

I always thought, someday, someday I’ll call her, but there are no more somedays. Karrie has died. I urge you to read her obituary, because the extent of her adventures has left me in awe. You will rarely read about a life like Karen Marlene Dunning’s. Rest in peace. Your friends were a big help to you at the end, but overall I’d say we got by with a little help from you.

 

The Very Best of The Righteous Brothers: Unchained Melody
The Righteous Brothers
1990

For all of you who read my title and are now trying to drag me out of the seat I paid for: Hear me, my people!

I’m not disputing the angelic status of Bobby Hatfield and Bill Medley. They sang with the power of 10 Grinches, plus 2. I’d rather listen to the two of them than to The Three Tenors, The Three Tenors and a Soprano, The Three Sopranos, Three Mo’ Tenors, or the four second basemen the Red Sox had in 1978. (Nothing got through that infield.)

But after hand-to-hand combat with the dozen songs on this disc, I came to some unexpected conclusions.

1) This is an outstanding example of a record where everything is either timeless or timed to expire.

Unchained Melody offers three icons of the 1960s: the title track, “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin’,” and “(You’re My) Soul and Inspiration.” There’s also one pretty good song, “Little Latin Lupe Lu,” the only time The Righteous Brothers ever got any cardio.

The remaining eight songs are wedges of frozen tundra. Four out of 12 is a fantastic success rate for a baseball player, but Unchained Melody is the equivalent of hitting three grand slams and a single while grounding into eight triple plays.

2) The message of “Just Once in My Life” –

Once in my life, let me get what I want
Girl, don’t let me down!
Just once in my life, let me hold on to one good thing I found!

– was echoed 20 years later by The Smiths’ “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want,” with a postmodern twist:

So for once in my life
Let me get what I want
Lord knows, it would be the first time

3) Medley and Hatfield were like so emo. If they were starting out today, they’d wash that Brylcream right out of their hair and let it fall in uneven bangs across their field of vision. These sad boys are always being pushed out the emergency exit. Even on “(You’re My) Soul and Inspiration,” they’re trying too hard – no woman could be all of that for one man. She’d feel trapped. Look in her eyes, kid, she’s packing her bags.

4) Excuse me for taking forever to figure this out. When The Walker Brothers recorded “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore,” they were imitating The Righteous Brothers. “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” even has that fake Phil Spector production – something Bill Medley pulled off when he gave “(You’re My) Soul and Inspiration” that fake Phil Spector production.

The Righteous Brothers vs. The Walker Brothers: An analysis

The Righteous Brothers:
– Two guys who weren’t brothers
– Weren’t named Righteous
– Formed in California

The Walker Brothers:
– Three guys who weren’t brothers
– Weren’t named Walker, but they all changed their names to Walker
– Formed in California, pretended to be English

DJs today have a concept called “deep cuts,” which means playing songs that don’t get played much. No DJ is going to look to this disc for deep cuts, not even “Ebb Tide,” which in 1965 was a super explosive smash-hit explosion but today smells like everything the sea leaves behind.

Sadly, the good songs on Unchained Melody are also term-limited. Per order of the National Popular Music Safety Board, “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin’ ” and its equals can only be played at weddings.

Rock on Brother Medley, and rest in peace Brother Hatfield.

Random Pick of the Day
A Tribe Called Quest, We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service (2016)
This is the band that gave us Q-Tip. I can’t believe that I’ve been fighting all my life for a good nickname and this gentleman renames himself after something you stick in your ear and everybody thinks it’s totally cool! I should’ve called myself Magic Wand years ago.

We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service is the Tribe’s first record since 1998. The title is a tribute to their bandmate Phife Dawg, who died earlier in 2016.

When We Got It is good, which it is about half the time, it cuts you with a scalpel, then turns around and hands you a suture. This is jazz- and hard-rock inflected rap that takes turns having fun and having a meltdown over how fucked up this country is. “Space Program” is angry, “Dis Generation” is about cultural milestones, most of which I don’t understand, and “The Killing Season,” once it gets going, is just plain killing.

Random Pan of the Day
United Airlines

United. Meet United.
They’re the modern fascist family
With their
Cops and goon squads
They’re rewriting hospitality.

Someday, when I’m training for a fight
I’ll book me a United Airlines flight

When you’re
with United
You’ll have a yabba dabba doo time
A dabba doo time
You’ll have a – Hey! Don’t break my guitar! Don’t Tase me, bro!
Wiiiiilllllllllllllllma!

 

Time for some three-months-overdue housekeeping. Return with me now to the long-ago Year of Our Lord 2016, and thanks as always for sending me money*:

Goodbyes

Maurice White

David Bowie

Prince

Bands

The Alarm

Astounding songs on atrocious albums: The Zombies, Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood, The American Breed

Classical music showdown

The Cult

David + David, Wall of Voodoo, The Nails

David Bowie

Rick James

Every Motown single ever made

Birthday musings, including The Rolling Stones

The Trashcan Sinatras

Richard Wagner

Animals

Junior, my father-in-law’s last pet

Xena, part 1

Xena, part 2

All the rest

Email haters

More crap from Dad, part 1

More crap from Dad, part 2: Flashlight of the Month Club

More crap from Dad, part 3: The house it all came from

The white feather boa finds a new Bearer

My favorite holiday

Things I have lived long enough to see, part 1

Things I have lived long enough to see, part 2: Hillary Clinton explained

I have one job on this lousy ship

The unrelenting awfulness of Star Trek: Beyond

Checkers

My loyal readers

The election

Random Pick of the Day
The Secret Sisters, Put Your Needle Down (2014)

The sweet, tight harmonies of Laura and Lydia Rogers, the not-exactly-a-secret sisters, will immediately make you think of The Everly Brothers. Like Phil and Don, Laura and Lydia have a country background and cross-over appeal. The girls venture farther into honky-tonk; the boys go deeper into gospel. Are there any songs on Put Your Needle Down that could chart as high “Bye-Bye Love,” “Wake Up Little Susie,” or “Cathy’s Clown”? Yes, there are several candidates – if this album had been released in 1960. The musical world is too fragmented today for the Rogers or the Everlys to dominate the pop charts.

The Sisters’ lyrics are far more literate than any pop star could’ve pulled off in the 1950s (or been allowed to pull off). I like this album, their second, a lot. Their first, Secret Sisters (2010), is too country for me.

Random Pan of the Day
Iggy Pop, Blah Blah Blah (1986)
On this album, Iggy sings like David Bowie and looks like Buster Keaton. Bowie co-wrote and co-produced; Steve Jones of The Sex Pistols plays guitar.

This is a very ’80s album, by which I mean there are deep sedimentary layers of synthesizers and drum machines. At several points it could slide into songs or at least moods by The Psychedelic Furs, Echo & The Bunnymen, and even Erasure.

“Real Wild Child” was on the radio a lot that year. It still holds up. “Winners and Losers,” for all the overproduction, is a serious rocker, though it goes on a long time for Iggy (6 minutes). “Hideaway” is also good, plus the guitar sounds like mid-’80s Springsteen.

This is an interesting combination of musicians that makes you wish the parts added up to something better.

* You do know you’re supposed to do that, don’t you? Everyone else does!

My mother and I have battled over my clothes, my career choices, my hair, why I don’t put on a hat when it rains, whom I married and whom I didn’t, but I love my mother and I think of her as the light that warms the room on a bright morning in May. Alzheimer’s has not changed her sunny personality.

Following a series of unfortunate events, we had to place Mom in a nursing home. She’s within eight miles of the house she lived in for 59 years, but she’ll never see that house again. This has been traumatic for everyone except Mom, who has a limited ability to form new memories.

Surprise! A few weeks in the dementia unit did wonders for her physically. She’s been transferred into the general population. Mom now has people she can talk with (she can hold up her end of a conversation, if you don’t mind that she forgets everything). She’s not surrounded by unfortunate souls who have lost the power of speech or who can only converse in disjointed sounds or who aren’t aware of their surroundings. Though she asks every day if today is the day she’s going home, she also says about her current circumstances, “I can’t complain.”

Meanwhile, my Dad’s health and morale have also improved. He can sleep through the night because there are no more emergencies. For the first time in years, he has a schedule: Eat breakfast, play with the cat, get dressed and go spend the day with Mom. They play bingo and word games, drink coffee and talk to people. If they’re sitting together and the nurses put a blanket on Mom, they put one on Dad, too. “I look like one of the inmates,” he says. He’s almost 90 – he’s older than most of the inmates.

A couple of weeks before Chuck Berry died, Dad gave me a clue to help me understand Berry’s legacy. A rotating cast of musicians give concerts at the nursing home, including a guitar player who, according to Dad, “plays all the old songs.” He and Mom love them. That includes “Roll Over, Beethoven.” Berry’s obituaries and appreciations have all mentioned how his songs have been “stitched into our DNA.” I thought this was only true for people born after the war. No, it includes everyone, even Dad, who was born a few months after Berry. Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll.

If Alzheimer’s ever sneaks into my head and the doc recommends I be packed off to a dementia unit, please euthanize me in front of a wall of boom boxes all playing U2’s “Gloria” with the volume at 11.

Random Pick of the Day
Hoodoo Gurus, Stoneage Romeos (1984), Mars Needs Guitars! (1985), Blow Your Cool! (1987)
A friend of a friend died recently. Her nickname was Boz. I never knew her real name, and in fact I only met her three or four times in 30 years. But through our mutual friends I heard about her often. I felt she was part of my life, though occupying a distant orbit.

The only time I was ever alone with Boz, we talked about her favorite band, The Hoodoo Gurus. I like them, too. They’re an Australian band with a dark sense of humor, maybe too hard-edged for pop but definitely too good to miss. These are their three best records. They’re uneven – if I had my choice, I’d siphon the best tracks onto one disc and call it Cool Stoneage Guitars. Give them a listen in Boz’s memory, or at least try their one almost-hit, “Bittersweet.”

Random Pan of the Day
Donald Trump
It’s too easy to make fun of Donald Trump and his rants, lies, delusions, wet dreams, and fourth-grade mental fitness. He’s lived in this country all his life and yet he doesn’t understand our history, culture, language, or even the government he’s now in charge of.

It’s also too easy to point out that he’s stocked his administration with fuckwads, dipshits, shitburgers, hairballs, ass kissers, racists, ninnies, and swimming-pool goicks.

The real tragedy of Donald Trump is not the lives he’s going to wreck or the money his family will strip-mine from the Treasury or the planet he’ll pollute. The tragedy is how he’s teaching our children – excuse me, he’s teaching our male children – that you can spend your life lying and cheating and treating women like serfs and never reading a book, not even your own, and 60 million people will happily vote for you to be their leader. You can merit nothing and win everything.

This shit just got real.

 

(Dear Readers: You’re in trouble now. I figured out how to republish my old posts! This unsparing survey of holiday music originally appeared on 22 December 2011. To quote the sign that hangs in the window of the Blue Moon Tavern in Seattle, “Sorry, we’re open.”) 

One night this week I powered up the radio in the Run-DMStevemobile and there was Perry Como singing “(There’s No Place Like) Home for the Holidays.” I punched Scan and immediately got Quiet Riot’s “Metal Health”: “Bang! Your! HEAD!” I stuck with it. When I walked in the door here at the Bureau, Special D was celebrating a surf Christmas courtesy of Los Straitjackets and their perspective on “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” Later in the evening I heard Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” which as far as I’m concerned was the last straw in the manger.

Yes, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” when Quiet Riot, the poor man’s Judas Priest, provides an island of serenity in a sea of Christmas music, most of it written by my fellow Jews. (I haven’t mentioned one Christmas song yet that wasn’t.) This is why I’ve decided to have a few words with you today about the black hole that is Hanukkah music. Why, you may ask, have the Jews written “White Christmas” for the Christians but no equivalent blockbuster for their own people? Why are we stuck with Adam Sandler rhyming “Hanukkah” with “gin and tonica” and a pre-schooler’s tune about a spinning top made out of clay?

“O Come All Ye Schnorrers”
I know this question has been keeping you awake at night. Fortunately, there’s a simple answer: When it comes to Hanukkah, there’s not much to hang your muse on. The “Festival of Lights” is of so little Judaic significance that it doesn’t even appear in the Bible. (Note to my pagan readers: The Bible is what you charmingly call the “Old Testament.”) In Israel, Hanukkah is celebrated as a military holiday something like our Memorial Day, which probably means they take that opportunity to sell mattresses at a steep discount. Here in the USA, Hanukkah appears at approximately the same time as Christmas, and so has absorbed some of that glory without actually earning it.

About the only Hanukkah activity of my childhood was lighting candles, but my parents often fell asleep in front of the TV before we could get to the ceremony. We always ended up missing nights. You need 44 candles for one Festival of Lights. What are you going to do with the 13 you didn’t use last year? There are Hanukkah candles in colors they don’t make anymore quietly fossilizing in closets all over my parents’ house.

I don’t want to imply that my old man was overly concerned with workplace safety, but he did view a menorah with all nine candles in action as possessing about the same thermonuclear potential as a Saturn V rocket. Only when our cast iron menorah had been set within an aluminum pie plate and positioned atop the steel oven, in the wide nonflammable space between the four burners, would Dad ignite the Hanukkah candles. If he was awake. He might’ve nodded off in the middle of Gunsmoke.

“I’m Dreaming of a Fine Purim”
Jewish kids today expect a present every night. Stupid Jewish kids today! Things were very different when I was a boy and the Southern states were threatening to leave the Union. Wait, that’s still happening. My siblings and I were generally issued small mesh bags of chocolate coins in gold foil. They weren’t as good as Oreos. One year, through a mistake no one could explain, I received a model of the battleship North Carolina (“The Showboat”). On weekends my mother made latkes (potato pancakes) and everyone had heartburn.

As for playing the dreidel game, even when my friends and I were old enough to responsibly enjoy recreational drugs, spinning a dreidel was still insufficient to hold the attention of a teenager. Though I can see that adults willing to take a walk on the wild side might make a whole different game out of it.

“God Rest Ye Feisty Deli Men”
I’ve established that Hanukkah is basically boring. To further illustrate the difficulty of making music out of this odd little festival, consider Christmas music. What are Christmas songs about, and how do these subjects compare with Hanukkah? I’ve divided popular Yuletide tunes into three thematic areas:

1) Jesus. Christmas powers the American economy, but it also stars Jesus, and that’s kinda sacred for you guys with the cross there. What’s sacred in Hanukkah? Sure, the oil in the menorah in the liberated temple in Jerusalem burned for eight nights instead of the one night the rebel alliance thought they were entitled to. But remember, the first Hanukkah took place in the 2nd century B.C. There was no Food & Drug Administration back then, meaning no government inspectors checking for impurities. My theory is that when the Jews liberated the Temple from their Greek oppressors, what they found in the oil room was some really good shit.

2) Santas, saints, snowmen, drummer boys, reindeer, elves, orcs, and other RPG characters. There’s none of that noise at Hanukkah. All we have are the Maccabees (Hebrew for “Hammer”), who led the revolt against the Greeks. The Maccabees are the perfect example of having the right people in the right place at the right time, though most times you’d rather have the Gypsy Jokers as neighbors than these violence-loving religious enthusiasts.

3) Home. I agree that there’s no place like it, but you don’t go home for Hanukkah, you go home for Passover! Passover – now that’s a holiday. You can get something done on a holiday like that. The only thing you’re doing at Hanukkah is burning up a box of 44 candles so you don’t end up sticking orphan candles in birthday cakes years later.

It’s easy to see why there are so few songs about Hanukkah. What is not so clear is why I don’t get more gifts. Hanukkah is in fact such a simple affair that our dogs mastered it on the first try. We haven’t had a dog yet who didn’t know to report to the menorah as soon as it was fired up to receive my blessing and an Alpo Snap.

“It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Succos”
I leave you now with good wishes for a happy holiday, whichever one you downloaded the app for, and this link to one of the few Christmas songs not penned by one of my co-religionists. I tackled Handel and his Messiah last year, but I have to bow to these awesome kids in Alaska. Hallelujah, and don’t forget, tonight is the third night of Hanukkah so you’ll need four candles. Dad says to check that your fire extinguisher is fully charged.

(Headline and subheads this evening come from a fake SCTV commercial for “Jewish holiday hits.” I’ll be back in January with still more musical snobbery. Happy New Year, everybody!)

The Best of Richard Wagner
Various artists
1994

Masters of Classical Music, Vol. 5: Richard Wagner
Various artists
1988

Richard Wagner believed his greatest talent was for comedy. Friends recalled his laugh as “a steadily increasing rumble, as from Krakatoa” [citation needed]. He loved tall tales, double entendres, put-downs, smack downs, non sequiturs, slapstick, sarcasm, and knock-knock jokes. What that man couldn’t do with five flights of stairs and a runaway piano!

If Wagner and his best friend, Franz Kafka, weren’t up to something, you can be sure they were up to something else. Wagner dared Kafka to write a story about a man who transforms into a bug; Kafka bet Wagner he couldn’t steal Alsace-Lorraine without waking up the French. They had fun fun fun until Otto von Bismarck took their T-bird away.

Scholars believe that Kafka was an uncredited writer on Wagner’s 1867 musical-comedy smash, Die Meistersinger of Nurnberg. You can easily spot Kafka’s influence in this recounting of the plot:

  1. A group of men compete in a singing tournament.
  2. First prize is a female virgin.
  3. Somebody wins.

Wagner’s biggest joke of all was Der Ring des Nibelungen. One night when he and Kafka were stoned and waiting for the pizza to arrive, Wagner said, “My operas are just as histrionic as Italian and French operas. Why am I not famous? What am I missing?”

Kafka released all the smoke from his lungs and said, “Norse gods, Richie.”

The next morning Kafka couldn’t remember anything, but was he surprised 25 years later when Wagner sent him a truck full of manuscript!

Purists will call The Best of Richard Wagner blasphemy for compacting Der Ring des Nibelungen into 60 hair-raising minutes when it normally takes eight and a half weeks to perform everything from the opening roll call through the incest and the attack by American helicopters until the final annihilation of the Valhalla Metropolitan Statistical Area. But this Reader’s Digest version keeps Wagner’s love of practical jokes alive long after Wagner faked his own death in a kiln explosion just to scare Kafka but while he was sneaking away he stepped on the tines of a rake, the handle hit him in the head, and he fell into a hole and died.

If you liked The Best of Richard Wagner, you might also like Masters of Classical Music, Vol. 5: Richard Wagner, which includes highlights from Der Ring plus hits that were never collected on Wagner’s studio albums, including “Tannhäuser,” “O Tannenbaum,” “Bob & Carol & Tristan & Isolde,” and “My Way.”

By our standards, Wagner’s music is about as subtle as a brick soufflé, but his sense of humor lives on. And of course we can rejoice in the 20,000 letters he and Kafka exchanged, including the fantasy animal drawings.

Richard Wagner loved to laugh, but even he had his limits. If he were alive today he’d totally beat the crap out of Coldplay.

Random Pick of the Day
Sonny Clark, Cool Struttin’ (1958)
The only music I listen to from the 1950s is jazz. I don’t know why that is. While the ’50s were actually going on, I didn’t know much beyond Mickey Mouse vs. Mighty Mouse.

But in the ’50s, jazz wasn’t what they hid on an obscure college radio station. Jazz wasn’t something that had an annual festival where the headliner was always somebody like Crosby, Stills & Nash because when a jazz festival wants to make money, the first thing they do is get rid of the jazz.

Jazz in the ’50s was still the soundtrack for movies and television. My parents danced to jazz. There was even a button on our radio that said “Jazz.” When you pressed it, a pleasing red color popped up behind a tiny plastic window. I don’t remember what pressing the Jazz button did if you were listening to Mozart or the Red Sox, but I still think of jazz as something that’s red.

Maybe I came to associate jazz with the unreachable world of grown-ups. The music has an allure, a sophistication, and a mystery only grown-ups possess. Wait a second, I am one. Oh shoot.

I suspect that in 1958 and for many years after, Cool Struttin’ was the smooth platter you placed on the turntable when you threw a party for all your jazz cat friends. You’d let it spin while you all stood around drinking cheap red wine and pretending to understand Ulysses. If you like jazz but you can’t approach hard bop without first waving a white flag, give Cool Struttin’ a try.