Posts Tagged ‘Paul Simon’

Graceland
Paul Simon
1986

I sold all my records. In 2011 I realized that I hadn’t played one since 2005. Did this cause me to drop a record on my turntable? No, because by then all I had left was a turntable. I’d already sold the rest of my stereo components. I’d never felt the need to replace them.

After turning this over in my mind for another year, I packed up everything (only a dozen LPs but about 250 45s, now called “sevens”) and took it all to a local store, Music Millennium. I hate having anything around that I never use, but many of these discs I bought when they were released, and this was an emotional moment. The store clerk was very kind. You’d think she’d been through this before with other men my age.

I sold the turntable on Craigslist. That left a portable phonograph we occasionally deployed at backyard parties. I sold that on Craigslist, too, to a guy named Adam, who was celebrating the start of his first real job after college. (At Music Millennium, they told me that people 35 and younger were the ones who were keeping vinyl culture alive.) Adam was all smiles when he saw what was waiting for him. He’d brought an album along to test the unit’s sound quality. When he slipped it out of the paper bag and I saw the starkly lit faces of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, both of them dressed in black, I yelled to Special D, “Get in here!”

Bookends,” she breathed.

Bookends

We put Adam’s record on and pulled the trigger. Special D and I were transported back to teenhood by the half-minute of lonely guitar, the Bookends theme, that preceeds “Save the Life of My Child.” At that point we were ready to either adopt Adam or just give him the damn thing, but common sense won out and Adam went home with his new phonograph and I put his money in my wallet.

This brings me to what I consider the best album of 1986, Paul Simon’s Graceland. (The critics at Rolling Stone agree with me, but the readers go with Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band Live/1975-85. Stupid readers.)

Graceland is remarkable in so many ways that I’m just going to mention four: That the guy who wrote Bookends was still writing like a fiend 20 years later; that it revitalized a career that was already pretty damn vitalized; that the first two cuts, “The Boy in the Bubble” and “Graceland,” as awesome as they are, are just the beginning of the record; and that Graceland is filled with as many quotable lines as a Star Trek episode, as well as lines you can misquote, including the title of this post and a gem thought up by Special D as she walked through the Florida surf at sunrise: “I’ve got diatoms on the soles of my shoes!”

Paul Simon is not on my Top 10 list of favorite artists, but even I can appreciate the achievement that is Graceland.

So what did I do with the money from the sale of my records? What do you think? I bought CDs!

Random 1986 Sexually Ambiguous Danceable Doofuses of the Day
Book of Love, Book of Love
LA might’ve been Ground Zero for big fluffy danceable-and-forgettable faux-New Wave zero-calorie pop confections. Exhibit A: Book of Love, a group that scored in 1986 with three songs off their debut: “I Touch Roses,” “Modigliani (Lost in Your Eyes”), and “Boy” (where the crucial lyric reads, “Boy, uh huh, boy, uh huh/Boy, uh huh, boy, uh huh”). Actually I kinda like that one.

I can only describe them by comparing them with their big fluffy contemporaries. Book of Love is a poor man’s Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark, or a funky version of The Spoons. They pick up where Missing Persons left off, though I can’t say what they found that Missing Persons was missing. They borrowed Erasure’s grooves but dropped the histrionics. Bonus: When all three of the women in Book of Love sing together, they come close to Joan Jett!

Random 1986 Pan of the Day
Depeche Mode, Black Celebration (1986)
Yes, I enjoy these guys, but come on. Every song on this disc could’ve been done better by someone else. Depeche Mode bounced back in 1987 with Music for the Masses (featuring “Behind the Wheel” and “Strangelove”).

“I am what I am. Thank God.” – Jimi Hendrix, “Message to Love”

A co-worker entered my humble cubicle one day late in 2012 and said, “Flashback!” He was looking at the two shelves above my desk, which held a row of CDs, a display of old postcards, and the Pets.com Sock Puppet Spokesthing. While he gushed about these ancient cultural artifacts, I saw my possessions through his eyes. I realized that I could’ve decorated my space the same way at the job I had in 2000. In fact, I know I did.

I’m stuck in time!

In an email later that morning to this co-worker, after stating that I didn’t care what he thought of me, I wrote without even thinking “I’m through being cool!” and hit Send. Then I thought, Oh no, it’s Devo! I’m really stuck in time.

Rather than consider what all this says about me, let’s use it as an excuse to go back to the future. Welcome to 1986 Week, commemorating that stellar year when, as Paul Simon sang on Graceland, “I was single/and life was great!”*

Most of the artists I loved in the ’80s released nothing new in 1986. Echo & The Bunnymen, The Psychedelic Furs, The Cure, U2, Prince, and Bruce Springsteen held off until 1987 (when Prince gave us Sign ’O’ the Times, his equivalent of The White Album, and U2 gave us their masterpiece, The Unforgettable Fire**).

The B-52s didn’t record again until 1989, but in 1986 The Rolling Stones dressed up just like them.

Dirty Work

By 1986 Romeo Void had broken up. David Bowie and Michael Jackson had left the bulk of their best work behind. Gary Numan had left all of his best work behind. Robert Cray debuted with Strong Persuader, though I prefer what he did later. Duran Duran released Notorious, which was notorious for being awful. I refuse to listen to Madonna’s True Blue or Boston’s Third Stage. I can’t decide which is funnier, The Beastie Boys’ Licensed to Ill or Metallica’s Master of Puppets. I’ll get to Depeche Mode, The Pretenders, Paul Simon, Talking Heads, and Siouxsie & The Banshees as 1986 Week progresses.

What was the best song of 1986? Yo, pretty ladies around the world: Put your hands in the air like you just don’t care for Cameo’s “Word Up!”

Don’t expect 1986 Week to last all week. Don’t expect a comprehensive survey. Don’t get all army-foldy on me, either.

As we used to say in the peculiar slang we employed back in 1986: See you tomorrow!

* Special D is fond of quoting that line to me. Hey doll: “I sure do love you/let’s get that straight.”
** A tip of the critic’s pointy hat to my friend and fellow softball player Donald Keller, who put “mantlepiece” in my head whenever I want to say “masterpiece.” 

Random 1986 Pick of the Day
The Chills, Kaleidoscope World
1986 gave us albums from The Chills, The Cramps, and The Creeps. This reminds me of an evening I spent at Fenway Park in 1979 when we had three pitchers on hand named Clear, Frost, and Rainey.

I don’t know a thing about Kaleidoscope World; I just needed a Chills album from 1986 to fit my theme. The album I have heard is Submarine Bells (1990), which has two lovely pop songs, “Singing in My Sleep” and “Heavenly Pop Hit” (nice try, boys).

Random 1986 Pan of the Day
Stan Ridgway, The Big Heat
I must honor this man for rhyming “Tijuana” with “barbecued iguana” in Wall of Voodoo’s “Mexican Radio.” Sadly, on his solo debut he sounds like The B-52s’ Fred Schneider with really bad hair.

Merriam-Webster defines ethnomusicology as “the study of music in a sociocultural context.” To pry into the social and cultural context of a musician’s life, students of ethnomusicology require a laboratory of specialized electronic equipment. This is why most ethnomusicologists are employees of the Department of Homeland Security. Notable ethnomusicologists to date include Charlemagne, Miley Cyrus, John Carter of Mars, the Dewey who invented decimals, the Dewey who beat Truman, the Dewey who beat the Spanish, Milli (but not, as is usually assumed, Vanilli), and Laurel Sercombe.

Here at Run-DMSteve we proudly support the sciences, however intrusive, which is why I am devoting today’s post to my sociocultural field notes on a peculiar tribe of male pop stars. Like me, they are known around the world by one name. Who are they and how did they get so mono? Let’s check the record.

Fear not, I burned all my notebooks (what good are notebooks?) after interviewing Zamfir, Master of the Pan Flute.

Liberace
Real name: Wladziu Valentino Liberace
Country of origin: USA
Superpowers: Piano, costumes
Gemstone: All of them

Mr. Showmanship loved the simple things: a solid-gold candelabra, a fur-lined cape studded with diamonds, a piano built to look like a Cadillac. He gave Barbra Streisand an early boost, which is bad, but he also served as an inspiration to Elton John, which is worse. For decades you never knew when this smiling terror was going to pop up on TV and race across the keys like the Pony Express.

But if you pay attention to Liberace’s music rather than the cheap theatrics, you’ll find that the man could flat out play. He usually played inoffensive crap (“You Made Me Love You,” “Somewhere My Love,” “Born Free”), but when he turned to the classics, particularly Chopin, you got a glimpse of the little boy who was hailed as a piano prodigy.

While I’m not going to buy the Liberace boxed set (if such a thing existed, it would be too heavy to lift), I must conclude that Liberace was better than his reputation. He was certainly a lot more honest than his tuxedo-wearing, piano-playing contemporaries Ferrante & Teicher, who peddled a lite-beer version of classical music as if it were the real thing.

Verdict: When I was a kid, every grandmother I knew loved Liberace. That’s not a bad epitaph. Reluctant thumbs up.

Donovan
Real name: Donovan Philips Leitch
Country of origin: Scotland
Superpowers: Voice, beads, scarves, bells
Gemstone: A pyramid

If Donovan had been a one-hit wonder and if “Season of the Witch” had been his one hit, I would revere his name. The song is a pioneering, mind-blowing merger of folk, psychedelia, and the blues. If you’re looking for the place where metal began, “Season of the Witch” is an excellent candidate.

Unfortunately, Donovan was not a one-hit wonder. Amid the hippie bell-bottom antics and the odes to Atlantis and the girl he named for a shrub, we had to contend with “Wear Your Love Like Heaven,” which was also the theme from a 1960s perfume commercial, and “Mellow Yellow,” which was a rip-off of Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.”

However, I must admit that there are two reasons besides “Season of the Witch” to listen to Donovan:

1)      “Sunshine Superman” is somewhat funky. There are bongos in there somewhere. True, Donovan sings about women having “little minds,” but that fits right in with today’s War on Women.

2)      “Hurdy Gurdy Man” is one of the funniest songs ever recorded. It sounds like a parody of the entire Psychedelic Sixties. It’s closest musical kin is Tommy James & The Shondells’ “Crimson and Clover” – you could easily trade vocals.

Verdict: Donovan couldn’t rock if he was strapped into a rocking chair that was sliding downhill on an avalanche of ball bearings, but “Donovan” is a great name. And then there’s “Season of the Witch.” Embarrassed thumbs up.

Yanni
Real name: Yiànnis Hrysomàllis
Country of origin: Greece
Superpowers: Classified
Gemstone: Moon rock

In 1988 I went to work at a newspaper where one of our senior writers was in lust with Yanni. Roger didn’t care about Yanni’s music. He didn’t even know if Yanni played an instrument. When a Yanni record came in for review, Roger threw away the LP and kept the album cover (like the Joe Morton character in The Brother From Another Planet). He was particularly taken with Chameleon Days, on the cover of which our prodigiously mustached hero, dressed in synthetic fibers, is hugging a white rock.

Then Yanni took up with Dynasty actress Linda Evans. Roger was disgusted. “I’m throwing him out of the nest,” he told me after he banished all images of Yanni from the office.

Verdict: I tried listening to Chameleon Days. The cover really is the best part. Thumbs down, if not broken.

Sting
Real name: Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner
Country of origin: England
Superpower: Unknown
Gemstone: Pb (atomic number 82)

In the late 1960s the Red Sox had a relief ace named Lee Stange. The press nicknamed him “The Stinger.” Once, during a rain delay, while the Red Sox radio announcers were stalling for time by reading their fan mail, they had to reassure an aggrieved lady that they were not calling her favorite pitcher “The Stinker.”

This brings us to Sting and his best-known album: …Nothing Like the Sun (1987). I’m listening to this thing from Sting as I type and it sounds like his old band, The Police, with a dash of Paul Simon, but with nowhere near the quality of either. All is calm on most of this record, as if the speakers only go to 4. The easy-listening hit for old people was “Be Still My Beating Heart.” The bright, bouncy hit for young people was “We’ll Be Together.” The song you fell asleep to was “They Dance Alone.” The thing from Sting that for me didn’t swing was his cover of “Little Wing.” The album I should’ve listened to was Simon’s Graceland (1986).

Verdict: If you’re going to call yourself Sting, you’d better sting something. Otherwise people might think they’re hearing the wrong word. Also, never pose nude in the desert. Even Morrissey never tried that. Two thumbs down.

Beck
Real name: As befits a titan, he has two: Bek David Campbell and Beck Hansen
Country of origin: USA
Superpower: Can remember every song he’s ever heard
Gemstone: Vinyl

I’ve written about Beck before. If I have any gods, two of them are Beck and John Updike. And what do you know – my favorite Updike character is Henry Bech. Is this a coincidence, or further proof that Oswald did not act alone? Neither – it simply proves that gods are not infallible. As a stage name, “Beck” is a loser, baby, so why don’t you kill me. Besides confusing him with Updike’s monumentally lazy character, the name Beck makes me think of chickens, Glenn Beck, Jeff Beck, Jeff Beck’s album Beck-Ola, and bending it like Beck(ham).

Bek/Beck had the right idea – a solid Anglo-Saxon syllable that begins and ends with a strong consonant. It’s just the wrong syllable. One of his other names, “Hansen,” would’ve been an improvement, plus it might’ve stopped the three-brother teen menace that appeared later in the ’90s.

Verdict: Two thumbs up for his music, two down for his name.

Eminem
Real name: Marshall Bruce Mathers III
Country of origin: USA
Superpower: Surviving his childhood, teenhood, young adulthood, and his upcoming middle-agehood
Gemstone: Empty can of Red Bull

Eminem and I come from different historical eras. His first job was rapping. My first job was working 15 years on the Erie Canal. If I liked his music, he’d be in trouble. But I can appreciate him for his sneaky vocabulary, his ability to rap out a song while arguing with his back-up rappers about his raps, and the humor in his first full-length, The Slim Shady LP (1999).

My problem with Eminem is that I can’t take the Minnie Mouse quality of his voice. The man sounds as if he’s resting between tanks of helium, which is ironic for the star of the mega-gritty 8 Mile. There may be a rapper out there for me, but Eminem isn’t the guy. Nice name, though.

Verdict: The only thing I can think of that would be worse than an Eminem concert would be a Beach Boys concert. Two thumbs making gangsta gestures. Yo bring it on down.

Run-DMSteve
Real name: Steve
Country of origin: Massachusetts
Superpower: Can be wicked annoying
Gemstone: Bauxite

(All ethnomusicology research needs a control group. The control group for this study is Run-DMSteve. To guarantee our objectivity, I’m turning over this section to my dog, Storm Small.)

Steve has had a difficult time holding onto a nickname. I’m not counting the stuff his parents still call him.

When he worked at a restaurant in Harvard Square in the late ’70s, where he washed dishes and had a psychedelic experience at midnight in front of the griddle, they called him “Animal” and “Jaws” because he ate everything that wasn’t bacon. But he let his comrades down when they entered him in a muffin-eating contest and he couldn’t even break into double digits.

“Wolverine” stuck for about 2 minutes before Special D changed it to “Tangerine.”

Accused of Lurking dubbed him “Blue Pencil” for his skills as an editor who fights crime, but that name only works when Steve is actually employed.

In the late 1990s, Shawn, another co-worker, suggested “Run-DMSteve.” Though Shawn was employing a technique called “satire,” the nickname Run-DMSteve has turned out to be a winner in the electrifying world of blogging. Someone from Japan looked at this blog last week, and someone from Finland dropped by last month. Not bad for a guy who used to go to concerts in what he termed his “tough guy” sweater.

Verdict: Job or not, he keeps those kibbles coming. Four paws up!

“867-5309/Jenny”
Tommy Tutone
1982

In 1969, Sheraton Hotels forced television viewers to memorize their new toll-free reservation number. The fact that after 40 years I can still recall their campaign of flashing numerals and insanely cheerful female voices singing Eight-oh-oh. Three-two-five. Three-five, three-five proves that advertising works. And the fact that in 40 years I have never called 800-325-3535 proves that advertising doesn’t work.

In 1982, history repeated itself, as Tommy Tutone had a hit with “867-5309/Jenny.” (Tommy was the name of the singer; there was no one in the band named Tutone.) The song rose to #4 on the charts and the phone number imprinted itself on our psyches.

“867-5309/Jenny” is about working up the courage to dial a number you found on a bathroom wall. Let’s not think about that again. In the ’80s, Special D and I danced many times to “867-5309/Jenny,” which we heard in bars, clubs, and the midnight dances at science fiction conventions. It’s 3 minutes and 46 seconds of irresistible. It’s perfect for dancing, drinking, and making out. If you’re an air guitarist like me, you know the instrumental break is easy to mimic and short enough not to wear out its welcome.

Run-DMSteve’s Old Technology Shop
“867-5309/Jenny” has joined a class of songs that have become obsolete as the years have flown by. Tommy plans to contact Jenny on a pay phone. A call costs a dime. The same fate has befallen Jim Croce’s “Operator (That’s Not the Way It Feels),” in which it’s still possible to receive extended assistance from a human representative of the phone company:

Thank you for your time
Oh you’ve been so much more than kind
You can keep the dime

Gary Brooker’s “Switchboard Susan” is also about customer service. It may seem as old-fashioned as “Operator,” and it’s not as sophisticated, but it’s fun to listen to if only because Gary Brooker was once the leader of pretentious twits Procul Harum:

Now when I look at you girl I get an extension
And I don’t mean on Alexander Graham Bell’s invention
Switchboard Susan can we be friends
After six and at weekends

Kodak has stopped making Paul Simon’s Kodachrome. Life before the invention of Amtrak is a central theme in The Monkees’ “Last Train to Clarkesville” as well as in “The Letter,” in which The Box Tops sing, “Gimme a ticket for an aeroplane/Ain’t got time to take a fast train.” R.B. Greaves dictates a letter to his secretary in “Take a Letter, Maria.” Today of course he would’ve texted her. And sent a crotch shot.

Tommy, Tommy, who can I turn to?
Tommy Tutone, you’ve given us something that we can hold on to. Despite its message of empowerment through anonymous hookups and communication through devices that no longer exist, “867-5309/Jenny” is a killer song that will live forever. Just like Eight-oh-oh. Three-two-five. Three-five, three-five. Except you can dance to it.