Posts Tagged ‘Born to Run’

Last month’s delivery of the junk my Dad brought home from his voyages with Columbus made me think about flashlights. I have never lacked for flashlights in my adult life because my father was a faithful subscriber to the Flashlight of the Month Club.

Dad’s all-purpose emergency plan was to equip every room in his house with a flashlight. This is a plan that could only have been cooked up by the Flashlight of the Month Club. As soon as I owned a house, Dad had a place to send his surplus. Of course you have to ask how equipping every room in your house with a flashlight will help you in an emergency. For example, if you’re in a room that lacks flashability and the power goes out, you could always fumble your way to a more helpful room. This process is even easier if the power goes out during the daytime.

If Donald Trump becomes president, flashlights won’t help.

A day or so after unpacking the latest round of flashlights, I spotted this display from the 1960s at a local antiques shop:


This made me consider the evolution of this handy tool. (The British invented it, so I should call it a “torch,” but it says “flashlight” on the Flashlight of the Month Club tote bag so I won’t.)

Today, most flashlights are made from plastic, not metal. The barrels are no longer ribbed for your pleasure (they’re knurled). LEDs are replacing incandescent bulbs. The push-button on-and-off switch has replaced the slide switch. One thing remains the same: A flashlight powered by batteries can’t operate when the batteries are dead.

Years ago, while hiking, Special D and I stayed too long on a ridge and had to hike down in the dark. I fished the flashlight out of my pack and switched it on. It stayed off. I tried the flashlight in Special D’s pack. Nothing. Fortunately, we had with us our first and most resourceful corgi, Emma. She understood immediately that Run-DMIrving’s son had brought disgrace on the family name. She expertly led us down the mountain. All we had to do was follow her fluffy white stern.

(There was a bright moon, the trail was well-blazed, and we were in little danger of going astray. Emma still deserved all the acclaim she received.)

Emma on TV

Dad was also a faithful subscriber to the Pocketknife of the Month Club. I could tell you this all-purpose emergency plan, but you can probably guess.

Random Pick of the Day
Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run (1975)
After two inconsistent records, Springsteen takes command of this disc and our lives from the first note. There are few opening tracks in rock like “Born to Run.” It’s the musical equivalent of “Call me Ishmael” or “In a hole in a ground there lived a hobbit” or “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” This record rips the bones off your back. You don’t own it? Why are you being so mean?

Random Pan of the Day
The Grateful Dead, Anthem of the Sun (1968)
There’s plenty of disorganization to go around on this disc. You either revel in it or you end up hating hippies. As I listened to Anthem of the Sun this evening, I decided that Greg and Duane Allman must’ve loved this record. You don’t get “Whipping Post” without “New Potato Caboose” as a model. And I have to admit, “New Potato Caboose” is a groovy name for a song.


True Stories
Talking Heads

Every album Talking Heads released after Stop Making Sense (1984) was a disappointment. How could it have been otherwise? How do you top or even equal a record like that? Only The Beatles created a pop cultural icon and then came back to create a second: Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road.

(The only Beatles competitors I can think of are Bruce Springsteen for Born to Run and Born in the U.S.A. and Pink Floyd for Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall. Doubt me on that last one? Even Special D, who would rather go bird-watching in the Mines of Moria than listen to Pink Floyd, just had “Leave those kids alone!” pop into her head.)

True Stories is the music from the film of the same name, directed by David Byrne. It appeared two years after Prince tried to pull off the same trick with Purple Rain. I haven’t seen either of these movies even though my TV remote has a Netflix button. However, I’ve heard all the music. On True Stories, Byrne’s vocals seem cold and detached, but his original plan was to have his actors sing the songs so I won’t subtract points here. But the various ballads and songs of love on this disc turn me off, which is kind of a problem if you’re writing ballads and songs of love, and the closer, “City of Dreams,” drags on like a really boring dream you want to finish so you can get out of bed already and get some breakfast.

On the plus side, I mostly like “Love for Sale” and I would’ve loved “Puzzlin’ Evidence” if it had been an instrumental. I get tired of hearing “puzzlin’ evidence” over and over. And over and over. The one track that broke into the Top 40, “Wild Wild Life” (which shot all the way to #2 in New Zealand), is infectious but might’ve worked out better for Wang Chung.

True Stories is not a bad record – I give it a solid B – but it suffers because of what went before it. That’s not fair but I get paid to be unfair. OK, I’m only pretending that I get paid, but I’m definitely unfair.

As for Purple Rain, for all its faults, it’s more exciting than True Stories and light years sexier. True Stories doesn’t have a Darling Nikki, who enjoys a good grind.

Random 1986 Could Go Either Way of the Day
The Mission U.K., God’s Own Medicine
They were called The Mission in the U.K. and The Mission U.K. in the U.S. I don’t know what they were called in the U.S.S.R. Their music was perfect if you were a moody teenager who came home from school and locked yourself in your room so you could be all moody.

Rhapsody calls them “goth’s answer to The Monkees.” describes them as “pompous, melodramatic, and bombastic.” Why are they being so mean? The answer is right at the beginning of this record, when singer/guitarist Wayne Hussey intones, “I still believe in God, but God no longer believes in me.”

If you like The Cure and The Cult, two moody English bands that hit it big, you might like their younger, less-talented but moderately OK brethren, The Mission.

Random 1986 Pan of the Day
The Dead Milkmen, Eat Your Paisley
This album’s a snore, but the Milkmen had a knack for titles, from the name of their band to “The Thing That Only Eats Hippies.” R.E.M. could only dream of being so witty.

Sparkle and Fade

Sparkle and Fade was the album that made Everclear a success and Art Alexakis the voice of his generation, just as Born to Run did for Bruce Springsteen exactly 20 years earlier. The two albums are similar, with working-class characters and an outside-the-mainstream point of view. Their characters are trying to run away from the straight world and themselves. Springsteen, however, writes fiction. He’s an observer; he stands back and lets it all be. With Alexakis, it’s memoir. He’s a participant. Also, in Alexakis’ world they’ve gone way beyond drinking a few warm beers in the soft summer rain.

Sparkle and Fade (and its sequel, So Much for the Afterglow) underline just one of the many difficulties I would face as a contemporary rock star. Memoir? What would I write about, teaching chess? My life looks like Mr. Run-DMSteve’s Neighborhood compared with this joker. For example, it would be instructive to compare the women Alexakis has been involved with with the women I’ve been involved with. Instructive, but dangerous. Instead, I’ll compare and contrast all of his women with Special D.

Composite Everclear Woman: Enjoys heroin.
Special D: Enjoys a nice Chardonnay with dinner.

Composite: Walks around in monster boots.
Special D: Never underestimate the importance of comfortable shoes to a woman.

Composite: Sleeps with the lights on due to fear of what the dark might bring.
Special D: Don’t try that at this house!

Composite: Makes questionable life choices.
Special D: Married me.

Composite: Mysterious, unknowable past.
Special D: At this point, I am her past.

Composite: Leaves without warning.
Special D: Reserves the right to divorce my ass.

Although the comparison is close in a couple of areas, it’s obvious that I won’t be writing songs like “You Make Me Feel Like a Whore,” “Chemical Smile,” or “Electra Made Me Blind” anytime soon. I’ll leave this sort of thing to the experts. Though my life has followed a different plot, Sparkle and Fade is one of my favorite albums of the ’90s – it’s Screaming Trees with intelligible lyrics. I think of it as Born to Run +20.

I want to hear what the next generation has to say, which, if they keep to this schedule, will be right around the corner in 2015. It probably won’t be about chess.

Rock journalism of the ’90s

The Promise Keepers came into being two years ago, after mutating from an equally tumultuous local combo, Slappy White. “[Slappy White] were bad back then,” Perini confesses. “It was noisy and funny, but it was really chaotic. We’re trying to control our chaos more, make it a little heavier.”

“Yeah, it’s not so much like get up there and play drunk as you possibly can, make a bunch of noise and insult people,” explains Pineschi. “It’s more like, ‘Well, maybe we should try to like still insult people and drink a lot, but kind of make it more focused.’ ”

(The Rocket, Seattle, 1998)

Tomorrow on ’90s Week: Thank God I’m a country boy!