Twenty years ago, Half.com was the place you went to buy books, CDs, VHS tapes, and games at half the original price. That was a most excellent arrangement. But then eBay bought Half and prices were set free, and that was even better! Salvagers who bought unwanted books, CDs, and etc. by the pound began selling them for 75 cents each (a common price for books) and even a penny (uncommon, but I found some).

Half’s home page hasn’t moved a millimeter past 2005. The categories never changed: Books, Textbooks, Music, Movies, Games. Special D handled Half for the two of us early on. She did well there in the years before eBay’s takeover, clearing our shelves of excess books and fattening the pile of gold coins in the basement. I may not be remembering this exactly.

I’m going to miss all the reading and music I found so inexpensively on Half. When you’re a writer – when both of you are writers – inexpensive counts for a lot!

Last album bought on Half: Elvis Costello, Get Happy

Last book: Gail Caldwell, Let’s Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship

Last words: At least there’s still the library. And Bookmooch!

 

The solar eclipse invaded the mainland United States through Oregon, where cracks and fissures appeared in the earth and the simple folks panicked, setting fire to civilization….Excuse me, this is approximately what happened in Isaac Asimov’s short story “Nightfall,” in which a planet with six suns experiences darkness for the first time in a thousand years.

Ralph Waldo Emerson gets an assist for dreaming up this idea. The 21-year-old Asimov lacked the skills to write it but his editor, John W. Campbell, made him write it anyway. I’m sure this was a worthwhile learning experience for Asimov, but his story sucks. How did this 1941 doorstop get voted the greatest science fiction story of all time in 1964? Civilization is a puzzling thing. No wonder the Klan and the Nazis are always trying to burn it.

The solar eclipse was a welcome break from our current national pastimes of refighting the Civil War and World War II. I can’t even discuss this with my 90-year-old father. Dad and his two brothers (and my late father-in-law) spent the best years of their lives pulverizing Hitler. Now Hitler’s fan club is back and we’ve got them. I wish we could return to an earlier time when all of our arguments were about chess.

Dateline Normandy, 6 June 1944: Anti-fascists storm ashore to confront white supremacists! Both sides to blame for violence on Omaha Beach? Alt-left U.S. Army “very, very violent”!

But we’re not here today to talk about Nazis or the Confederates who didn’t surrender at Appomattox but didn’t tell anybody. We’re here to answer a letter from Accused of Lurking, my brother…my captain…my king.

Dear Run-DMSteve,

We all have artists we return to, over and over, in our listening lives. For me, these would include Bruce Springsteen, The Beatles, The Who, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Jackson Browne, and Melissa Etheridge. (Obviously, I am a man of a certain age.)

But there are also albums we return to, usually by lesser artists, that somehow have a particular resonance. These albums can intensify, alleviate, or complement our mood of the moment. It’s like that trash movie you watch again and again over the years because it hits your sweet spot.

For some reason, for me, these five albums return to my playlist on a pretty regular basis:

Patti Scialfa, Rumble Doll
Gin Blossoms, New Miserable Experience
Indigo Girls, Rites of Passage
Mary Chapin Carpenter, Come On Come On
Del Amitri, Change Everything

Given your extensive listening experience, my question to you is simply this: Have you ever listened to any of these albums? (My expectation of your answer is “No.”)

With warmest personal regards,

–Accused of Lurking

Dear Accused of Lurking,

You are indeed a man of a certain age, who enjoyed an intense teenage rebellion in the 1970s. However, judging by the five albums on your list, you had a rebirth in 1992. I believe this was about the time you met your trophy wife, [redacted].

To answer the question you asked: Yes. I’ve listened to four of the five, though I listened to them so long ago that my imperfect memory can’t reproduce much. I shall immediately catch up.

To answer the question you didn’t ask: What are the albums I go to when I want to intensify, alleviate, or complement my mood of the moment? Or when I want to create one? You’ve made me realize that in those cases, I don’t usually turn to albums, I turn to songs. And I do this most at work.

For example, I’m a guy who likes to feel sorry for myself. There’s no better way to do that than to start another day at the office with a dark, endless, ponderous meditation on existence worthy of German opera wunderkind Honus Wagner. What better song for that task than The Doors’ “The End”? It’s 11 minutes and 43 seconds of 1960s nihilism.

Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski: Nihilists! Fuck me. I mean, say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos.

“The End” is perfect in every way. If I’m tired of “The End,” one of my fallbacks is Mother Love Bone’s “Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns.” The lyrics don’t make the grade as coherent English:

Like a crown of thorns
It’s all who you know, yeah
So don’t burn your bridges, woman
’cause someday – yeah.

Heroin will do that to you. But the lyrics are not what I’m here for.

What if I want to start the day with a short, sharp shock? For something that resembles these slabs of gloom but moves like somebody means it, there’s Stevie Ray Vaughan’s cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing.”

Run-DMSteve Fun Fact: I once held a stressful job whose chief characteristics were creativity and interruptions. I used the 6 minute 47 second “Little Wing” as a test. Could I get through the entire thing without an interruption? The answer was usually no. I learned to write fast.

If I need a quick punch because I have a meeting in 10 minutes, the William Tell Overture makes me stand on my back legs and roar. If it’s the middle of the afternoon and I have a deadline looming in three hours, the words I’m typing don’t make sense, and all I want to do is enter REM sleep without having to listen to R.E.M., I have many choices. Here are three:

  • 1000 Homo DJs, “Supernaut.” This Black Sabbath cover makes Black Sabbath sound like English country dancing in a Jane Austen movie.
  • Rob Zombie, “More Human Than Human.” Not only will this song electrocute the sleepiest copy writer, the video is one of the funniest ever made.
  • Screaming Trees, Sweet Oblivion (the entire album).

I could continue – I could way continue – but after all, you didn’t even ask. You always inspire me, Lurk. Rock on!

–Run-DMSteve

“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!