“Ask Run-DMSteve” returns, after a refreshing intermission of five years, thanks to fascinating questions from two of my three readers. This week we hear from Dr. D, another working stiff with a Ph.D. Next week we’ll “get down” with my mentor, Accused of Lurking.

Dear Run-DMSteve,

The other day I was listening to Alt Nation (as in alt-rock, not the other alt) which I often do when [redacted] is not in the car. The DJs on it don’t talk much (good!). But the guy who was on said the following: “Next up is a new release by Car Seat Headrest. Gosh, I hate that name. That is the worst name for a band. The best band name? It has got to be U2.”

OK, so what are the best and worst band names in your CD land?

–Sincerely, Dr. D

Dear Dr. D,

I agree with your DJ.

The one official rule in naming your band is that your name has to be a name that people remember. Bonus points if your name scares adults. When the teenaged Paul Hewson, David Evans, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen Jr. chose U2, they fulfilled the one official rule. Their name wasn’t scary, but it implied that the fans could do what the musicians do or that the fans and the musicians were part of a movement (à la The Who and the Mods), and they did all that with TWO CHARACTERS. No band will ever beat this name.

(The Who fulfills the one official rule because you have to think about it. The Guess Who is a game you play with your tiny clients at pre-school.)

Car Seat Headrest might as well be Car Seat Stuffing. It’s just three words on the side of a box. The Portland band Nu Shooz used two words everyone says, but they changed the spelling and ended up in a nu place.

Bands with memorable names that also scare adults usually evolve from the punk neighborhoods: The Fuck-Ups, The Dead Boys, The Dead Kennedys, The Butthole Surfers. Add a feminist perspective and you hit a lot harder: Hole, The Slits, The Coathangers. (Politer versions: The Breeders, Bikini Kill.)

Hole is my nominee for the second-best band name.

Third place is AC/DC.

Fourth is Herman’s Hermits because it’s alliterative and because a gang of actual hermits would never put a band together. They’re too busy being hermits.

Fifth is probably And And And.

A special shoutout to Big Head Todd and The Monsters, because our dogs Emma and Sailor were known as Big Butt Emma and The Monster.

As for names as bad as Car Seat Stuffing, there is no shortage. How about The Dentists? An OK band, sort of a more fanciful version of the Hoodoo Gurus. Bands that go with the formula “The” + “plural noun” often run intro trouble. No disrespect to dentists – some of the finest people on earth – but their profession doesn’t lend itself to rock ’n’ roll glory.

There was a Seattle band called Seafood Mama that signed with a major label that changed the band’s name to Quarterflash. What was wrong with Seafood Mama? Quarterfuckingwhat? Another Seattle band, The Dynamic Logs, immediately changed their name to Quarterlog.

This is all a matter of taste, of course. I like the name Bananarama, so why not the name Kajagoogoo? However, by any objective standard, U2 is u-nanimous. It’s the best. As for the worst name ever, here it is:

Portugal. The Man.

Thanks for writing. For those about to rock while listening to their alt-rock station in the car, we salute you.

–RDMS

(Editor’s note: Dr. D was the first physicist to drive a motorcycle lengthwise through a superconducting supercollider.)

 

This week I fired my wife. And my dog. I voted three times to do things I didn’t want to do and that my neighbors begged me not to do in the first place. I took away people’s rights. Why are people always whining about their rights? I’m white, I’m male, I’m straight, and I’m good. What else did I do? Oh right. I harvested enough secondhand CDs to build a wall around Mexico. Mexico will pay for it!

As we move deeper into the Digitazoic Era, people are abandoning physical forms of music like Republicans abandoning Trump in 2018. Over the next few weeks I’ll present some of my findings from a recent selection of Portland yard sales. I’ll also testify about my meeting with those nice Russians I met at my chess club.

When an entire neighborhood puts on a sale, I am there
Even if you love the music of the 1980s – even if you know so much about synth pop that people turn the hose on you when you show up at their parties – you may be forgiven for not knowing the British band Level 42.

I only know them because of one song, and I didn’t hear that one until the ’90s. I liked it a lot, so when I found two of their CDs, World Machine (1985) and Level Best (1989), at a yard sale in the middle of a heat wave, where I had several competitive shoppers and a rapidly wilting wife to consider, I grabbed ’em (the CDs).

The gentlemen in Level 42 started out in life playing smooth jazz. They dropped the jazz, kept their synthesizers, and added ordinary singing, melodies less memorable than Spandau Ballet’s, and a glaze of funk, as in Stevie-Wonder-WomaninRed, Chaka-Khan-is-sleeping-in-this-morning funk.

Level 42’s commercial breaththrough was World Machine, which included their only U.S. Top 10 hit, “Something About You.” It’s a pop diamond, the only time all of Level 42’s strengths came together: their excellent playing skills (I particularly admire the drummer), their ability to follow a musical theme without wandering into a cul de sac, their generally upbeat approach to life even when love goes awry, and the way their songs all seem to tell a story. “Something About You” is far and away their best hook, too.

World Machine has some sweet moments, and you can find a few more on their greatest hits, Level Best. I really want to love Level 42. Sadly, though they aspired to be Tears For Fears, they were instead an underpowered Steely Dan.

Hard-core CD buyers are like the defensive line in a hockey game
At the same sale, and despite having been illegally cross-checked and fouled twice, I spotted P.M. Dawn’s Of the Heart, of the Soul, and of the Cross: The Utopian Experience (1991). The only thing I knew about P.M. Dawn is that they contributed the most fun track to the Jimi Hendrix tribute album Stone Free (1993). Given how cheap these things were on that scorching early-summer day, that one data point was sufficient to close the deal.

As I eased my way into traffic Monday morning I fired up the first track, which was a minute of electronic doodling with a few thoughts directed at God. I decided that if the next song was more of the same, I’d hit Eject.

But the next song was one I remembered, and it was awesome: “Reality Used to Be a Friend of Mine,” one of the greatest titles in the history of everything. It’s a meditation on discovering that we humans could blow up the world at any moment. Or maybe it’s about a break-up with a girl named Sandy. Springsteen had problems with her, too. “Reality and life are not the same,” P.M. Dawn informs us, and if there are seven words that explain the presidency of Donald Trump, those are them.

I was expecting a rap album and I got one, but not the one I expected. This is a rap, rock, dance, and R&B album WITH SYNTHESIZERS, as you can hear on the album’s No. 1 hit, “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss,” a song that samples “True” by…Spandau Ballet! And you were wondering how I was going to tie all this together.

Princess Internet tells me that P.M. Dawn was two brothers from New Jersey. The Utopian Experience contains plenty of teenage philosophizing (our heroes were about 20 in 1991), and song titles such as “To Serenade a Rainbow” belong in the My Little Pony musical, but guess what you won’t find here: gangsters, pimps, whores, guns, body counts, or any song that proceeds from the theory that women are subhuman breeding stock.

There’s scratching, but only on one track. They name-check themselves three times, ask Prince what he’s up to, and quote The Beatles twice. The rhyme scheme follows the standard rap aabb, but they can work cleverly within this restriction: “The breeze, the wind…/It fluctuates my adrenaline.”

Prince could do just about anything, but he couldn’t rap. He would’ve been proud to have recorded The Utopian Experience. He would’ve kicked the guitars up a notch, too.

Next yard sale: Classic rock!

 

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.