Thursday, February 22, 2007

Basement Songs: "Golden Gates" by John Cougar Mellencamp


I’m not sure when my brother, Budd, bought his copy of John (then) Cougar Mellencamp’s “Uh Huh”. The cassette just showed up in the basement on summer, years after its release. Like most of America, I was a big fan of “Pink Houses”, and I was thrilled that now had copies of his other big hits from that album, “Crumblin’ Down” and “The Authority Song.” At this point in his career, Mellencamp was ready to establish himself as a legitimate artist, hence the use of his real name (the record label wouldn’t allow him to ditch the “Cougar” until years later for fear record buyers may get confused….huh?) In addition, there was the radio staple (at least in Cleveland), “Play Guitar”, on side 2, which borrowed heavily from Them’s “Gloria” (Mellencamp often slipped the “G-L-O-R-I-A”’s into his concerts during that number). The rest of “Uh Huh” is filled with more of the same 60’s garage band type of rock that Mellencamp champions, as well as one of Budd’s favorite tunes, the John Prine co-penned, “Jackie-O”. As a drummer, listening to the great Kenny Aronoff wail on this album was one of the greatest pleasures of my adolescence. I guess you have to be a drummer to understand how exhilarating it is to hear someone play so damn well. Aronoff is truly one of rock’s best drummers and helped define Mellencamp’s sound. Another thrill was hearing one of the band members mutter, “Hey, what the fuck” at the very beginning of the second to last song on the LP, “Lovin’ Mother For Ya.” That song, with its obscenity, driving beat and, yes, timbales (you gotta love the timbales) gave me good reason to listen and jam to the song each and every time it came on. And having wailed on my own drums to that song, I would often be spent and unwind to what would become one of my favorite basement songs, the last track on “Uh Huh”, “Golden Gates”.

Here are the lyrics:

Ain't no golden gates gonna swing open
Ain't no streets paved in natural pearl
Ain't no angel with a harp come singin'
Leastways not that I know of in this world
In these days of uncertain futures
Who knows what the masters might do
They got their big deals goin' on, goin' on
Got nothing to do with me and you
If I could I'd get us a big suite
Overlooking the Park
Only promise I know to be true
Are the promises made from the heart
I don't need to see the whole thing go down
I don't need to see another lonely man
I don't need to see a woman crying for the savior
Holding on to some moneyman's hand
Who can I call to make my reservations
Forever thrown in the dark
The only promises I know to be true
Are the promises made from the heart
I don't believe in the authorities
They ain't gonna take care of me and you
I don't have all the strength that I need
To love the way that I want to
The only promises I know to be true
Are the promises made from the heart

The song comes off as an afterthought after all of the bluster that preceded it. It’s almost shocking to hear the gentle guitars that lead you into it, but what this song does is really set you up for everything Mellencamp would be writing about in the years to come. When I was a young man, I latched on to the chorus. “The only promises I know are the promises made from the heart.” Friendship. Loyalty. Idealistic love. That's me. And those promises made from the heart weren’t necessarily to the girl you loved. They were promises you made to your family and your best friends. I truly believed in all of that stuff. So much so that to this day, I can’t turn my back on Steve or my family. No mater how irritated I may get with them, I love them dearly. I would never betray them. Back then, those were the promises made from the heart.

Look, I was a drummer, man. I didn’t listen to the damn lyrics. What the hell did I know? Then I discovered Springsteen and took Denman’s class and I suddenly realized there was something more to those songs. Duh?

When I met Julie in my early 20’s. I realized what true love is all about. I finally understood how to be in a relationship and “Golden Gates” took on a very different meaning. The lyrics seemed hopeful to me. I saw the song as if it was sung by a driven young man who wants to have it all with his wife. I saw it as defiant. The two of us, together, can take on the world. And those promises from the heart were between a wife and husband, that no matter how hard times got, we had each other and that’s all we needed.

I listened to he song several times this past week and once again, the song has new meaning. I think I finally understand it. And the picture isn’t so rosy. There is no defiance. This song is about acceptance. Our lives didn’t turn out the way we wanted. We don’t have a lot of money. And if I could, I would buy a swing. But we can’t afford no damn swing. And I don’t believe in the authorities (the government?) because they aren’t taking care of us. We’re on our own.

Incredible how I’ve found three different meanings… profound meanings to a song that feels like a throwaway. Yet, one theme remains: Loyalty. Whether it’s friendship, true love, or family, the only promises are the ones made from the heart. You only open your heart to those you would lay down your life for. I don’t make false promises, and I only make promises I can keep to my family and loved ones.

The best songs are capable of not only standing the test of time, but taking on new life as they age and the listener ages. Simple pop pleasures have an important place in the music spectrum. Look no further than the very album I’m writing about to find some examples of pointless rock and roll. But the great songs, the best basement songs, are able to transcend.

And hey, if you don’t like it, check in next week and maybe I’ll write about The Knack.

Aloha

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

CF article you should check out

A former employee of Karyn's, Tedra Bonner, runs a My Gym in Minnesota. A local paper there ran this article about one of her employees who has CF. I read this yesterday and felt inspired.

At home last night, Jake told Julie that when he told his friends he had to get x-rays tomorrow, they told him he has a "bad body". Even writing that gets me choked up. I'm sure they meant no harm. I hope they were just being kids and not making fun of him. Jake is already resisting some of his treatments because (I think) he's starting to feel different. I hope I can be a strong parent like the ones in this article and tell him the right things. I worry. I worry a lot. At some point he'll be on his own. At some point he'll make his own decisions. We know another family in Santa Clarita who have a daughter with CF and, in one of her parent's own words "she doesn't take care of herself". That must be agonizing. What do you do? May I once again reiterate that I fucking hate cystic fibrosis?

Here's the article.
Aloha


STILL KICKING
Jake Erling wasn't supposed to live past age 13 after being diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. Thanks largely to tae kwon do, he's got plenty of fight in him.

By Pam Schmid, Star Tribune

Nine boys and girls in bare feet and crisp, white karate uniforms line up between the slide and the parallel bars at My Gym in Eden Prairie, waiting for their chance to practice the round kick.
Jake Erling, their black-belted karate teacher, known as "Mr. Jake," brandishes a red pad as a young sandy-haired boy raises his knee, turns and lands a blow with his foot. "KEEE-AAH!" the boy yells.

"Nice, Ben," Erling says. "That was a good, hard kick. You're awesome!"

Ben scampers to the back of the line, beaming.

When Erling was Ben's age, compliments like those stuck with him forever. Because he has cystic fibrosis, a life-threatening genetic disease, people said he wouldn't live long. But simple words of praise in karate class made him believe he could be whatever he wanted to be.

"Come on, Will. Blast it. Nice kick, Will!"

Erling, 30, is so fit that he can spar with other black-belt fighters for two hours, and he often does. It seems almost inconceivable that at age 5, he wasn't expected to live past 13.

Although medical advances have contributed to his health, Erling says he owes his life to tae kwon do. He credits the discipline with keeping his lungs and body strong, and with giving him mental and spiritual fortitude, even after he developed insulin-dependent diabetes and chronic pancreatitis in his teens. Most recently, he has developed a cataract in his right eye.

"The way of martial arts is believing in yourself," he said. "It's all confidence. That determination and discipline is really what makes you. You can be as strong as you want physically, but if your mentals are weak, there's no chance for you."

Susan Martinez remembers the day she learned her 5-year-old son, Jake, had cystic fibrosis (CF).

"It was devastating," she said, "and doubly so because five weeks before that, we had a stillborn son. This could not be happening. I had my first moment of, 'Oh, my God. I can't do this.' Then I thought, 'To hell with it. I know we can do this.' "

Because of a defective gene, children with CF develop thick, sticky mucus and digestive juices that can plug up tubes and passageways, especially in the lungs and pancreas. Respiratory infections are common. Fifty years ago, children with CF usually didn't survive beyond elementary school. By the mid-'80s, the life expectancy was still only 15.

Erling remembers that doctors wanted to treat him as if he were fragile. They told his parents, Martinez and Rich Erling, to set up their house like a hospital and treat him like a patient. But Martinez was confused when they also said that the way Jake felt about himself would determine how long he lived.

"I said, 'He can't do both,' " Martinez recalled.

Instead of isolating Jake, his parents told him he would live like a normal kid. They kept him away from sick people, but enrolled him in school and put him in charge of his pills, dozens a day, to encourage him to take responsibility for his health.

When kids at school would tell him they heard he wouldn't live past 7, or 11, his parents would tell him he would live as long as he wanted to.

Soon after Jake's diagnosis, his mother enrolled him in a tae kwon do class at Har-Mar Mall in Roseville. He was one of the few children in the class and was treated no differently than anybody else.

Tae kwon do taught Erling discipline, determination, dedication. He could feel his lungs and body growing stronger. He still took the medication and made frequent hospital visits to clean out his lungs, but he could forget all that when he practiced his kicks and punches.

At age 14, Erling spent 17 days in the hospital with bronchitis, a potentially deadly ailment for CF kids. A month later, he tested for and received his black belt, with his family and doctor looking on.

"He was the youngest and smallest person performing," said Dr. Stephen Kurachek, a pediatric pulmonary specialist at Children's Hospital in Minneapolis who has treated Erling since he was 12. "I'll tell you, it still brings chills to my spine."

Piling on

Soon after receiving his black belt, Erling's real challenges began. He learned that he had CF-related diabetes and made constant trips to the hospital with elevated blood-sugar levels. Then chronic pancreatitis, which causes painful bouts of pancreas inflammation, set in. The combination knocked him to his knees, forcing him out of the martial arts for nearly five years.

During one of his hospital stays in his late teens, Erling took a hard look at his life. He remembered how strong and confident he had been and wanted that back. The day he was discharged, he returned to USA Karate in Brooklyn Park, where he had trained for his black belt. He has gone there nearly every Friday night since, sparring with other black belts for the better part of two hours.

Erling's CF can sometimes affect his breathing, but diabetes slows him even more. If he feels his blood sugar drop during the middle of a fight, he'll bow out and find something to eat or drink.

"It's frustrating, because I love it so much," he said. "I'm upset, sitting on the sidelines, but there's always next week."

Opponents have been shocked when they learn his story; some are reluctant to continue fighting him. "Then I just fight them harder," Erling said. "I say, 'Don't baby me.' "

Today, the median life expectancy for people with CF is 37. Erling is blessed with a milder form of the disease, according to Kurachek, who figures the aerobic component of tae kwon do is a primary reason why Erling doesn't have to undergo the daily grind of bronchial drainage.

While most cystics must undergo the procedure one to four times daily, "for Jake, we have not thrust it upon him," Kurachek said. "We know how hard he works."

Teaching is Erling's way of giving back. He began leading classes at My Gym, where most of his students have white or yellow belts, about a year ago. Erling also teaches karate to adults in St. Paul, along with working full-time as a clothing store stock manager in Brooklyn Park. Wedding bells are in his future this summer.

The kids at My Gym seem unintimidated by his appearance -- beard, shaved head, earrings, tattoos up and down his arms. He figures that a kid can tell a good soul when they see one.

"He's such a good role model," said Tedra Bonner, co-owner of the gym. "He's very strict and stern, there's no wiggle room, yet he has fun at the same time. I've seen some big changes in some of the kids. They're getting more confident."

Said Erling: "We have kids with physical challenges here. Some have autism. It might slow you down, but it can't stop you. I'm living proof."

Adventures in TV Land 2.21.06


For anyone who is not watching NBC's "Friday Night Lights", you are missing one of the best series on television. It's not a show about doctors or lawmen. There is no supernatural element involved. You won't hear a cheesy laugh track and there is nothing ironic about the show. It wear its heart on its sleeve in its portrayal of a small town in Texas in which football is the one thing in all of these peoples' lives that gives them meaning. Except that it isn't. Football is actual a minor part of this examination of the lives of the citizens in the Texas town. The people are poor or middle class. There aren't any rich people. This isn't Texas 90210. The characters are relatable and are not perfect. It's been a long time since I've seen a reflection or real life portrayed in a dramatic series like this one. And ultimately, it is a show about hope. Each and every person is looking for that light that will provide him or her with some salvation. And they all believe that light is out there. Please, if you are one of the infrequent readers of this blog, check out the show and give it a chance. You won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Basement Song 2.14.07: "Wrapped Around Your Finger" by The Police


During the summer of 1986, Matt and I discovered The Police. For me, the discovery of their music occurred in part because I was in some garage band and we played “Message In A Bottle”, and in part because Matt and I had stumbled upon a documentary of the band shot in the early 80’s, “Police Around the World”. That VHS tape (long out of print) was rented four or five times over the course of the summer and the two of us came to love Sting (the cool one), Andy (the sardonic one) and Stewart (the obnoxious one). Unlike other artists of that time period, we didn’t have a group of friends latching on to them at the same time. This was just three years after the peak of their career (“Synchronicity”), so the band wasn’t classic rock yet. The two of us weren’t unearthing long lost music (like we all did with Zeppelin, the Who, Cream and the Kinks). The music of The Police became a shared obsession between Matt and me, and whenever I hear their songs, I think of Matt and that summer.

It’s not just the popular songs. I’d say that my favorite tracks by the band are “It’s Alright For You,” “Born in the 50’s” and “Voices In My Head, “. tracks that never received any airplay. Also, as a drummer, I really loved Stewart Copeland’s style with that band. His playing was very stylized; yet, it was rough and somewhat improvisational. Unlike Sting the perfectionist, and Andy the consummate musician, I got the feeling that Stewart NEVER played the songs the same way each night (which, I’m sure, led to a lot of the tension that drove the band apart). I also learned a great deal from Copeland about choosing your moments to beat the shit out of the drums and when to really hold back. The one song I thing best exemplified this for me was “Wrapped Around Your Finger”. from “Syncronicity”. Most of the song is very simple. Bass and rim shot during the verses, then a driving beat introducing the snare during the choruses. And finally, at the end, he does one of my favorite fills of all time. Just before they go into the course for the last time, Copeland begins a fill on the offbeat that is merely snare, high hat and a bass drum.

“Daka tss tss, daka tss tss, boom GAT!” and then the chorus.

It’s not just the drumming. Sting sings in one of his most sinister voices, which is offset by the harmonies of the chorus, which are very heartfelt. Meanwhile, Andy Summers’ subtle guitar playing adds a layer mystery to the song (is it a love song? Is it really some kind of medieval story? I’m still not sure). However, all of these wonderful elements are not what makes “Wrapped Around Your Finger” a basement song. It’s not even the endless number of times I played along with the song, either. No, it is Matt who made this a basement song. Like I said, there may be other songs that I would list as my favorite Police song, but “Wrapped Around Your Finger” has a special place in my heart because of him and one classic night back in the summer of ’86.

That year, because I was in a band, I somehow had leverage to miss out on the yearly summer vacation with my parents. We had a couple “gigs” during the two weeks my folks wanted to leave town. And being a “professional”, I wasn’t going to let my band mates down. Remarkably, my parents bought it. What this meant is that I would be staying home with just my older brother (about to enter his senior year of college) as the adult in the house. What THAT meant is that I would essentially have the house to myself because Budd was either working or out with his friends. And what this meant to Matt was he, too, would have a place to hang out, parent free, for two weeks.

Thus, we began two weeks of living like slobs, experimenting stupid ideas (beer on Cheerios? Hey, it worked for Tommy Tutone), and just being idiots. At that time, I was dating a girl named…. we’ll call her “Sandy”. I really had the hots for Sandy and I thought an empty house would be the ideal location to make my “move.” The night I decided to make that “move” was a Wednesday, I believe. Budd was gone somewhere. I had the house to myself. Well, not really. See, Matt wanted to hang out that night, in the house. Being the good friend that I was, I saw no problem with this. As long as he stayed in the basement and kept it down, I could still get it on with Sandy.

Let me set the mood.

It’s about 10:00 pm. Sandy and I have just watched some movie. What it was, I have no clue because the movie was the farthest thing from my mind. The lights were already out, so, I didn’t have to be coy. That said, I did convince Sandy that it would be much more comfortable if I pulled out the futon couch. She agreed. That night I was wearing some tight, OP shorts and cheesy Spiccoli Vans. Sandy was wearing similar OP shorts and a Polo shirt. She also had on one of those shell bracelets around her ankle (of course). I was going to score.

Oh, did I forget to say that for the duration of the movie, Matt had been sitting silently in the basement pounding a six-pack of Genesee?

Sandy and I begin making out. Typical kissing. It’s getting late, so I decide I’m going to forego getting in her shirt. There isn’t time. Immediately, I begin moving my hand up the back of her thigh. Mind you, these were short shorts she was wearing, so to reach the hem of them would mean I was practically home free to getting up her shorts. My fingers crept closer and closer when suddenly… we hear The Police blaring from the basement.

“You consider me a young apprentice…”

Sandy giggles a little. But we soon begin kissing again. Sadly, lacking in confidence and unsure of what the edicate was, I thought I should start all over again, working my way up the back of her thigh, in hopes of getting up the back of her shorts and then working my way around front. Slowly, but surely, I crept my hand back up. Was I even kissing her? I guess. My mind was elsewhere. TRIUMPH! I got my fingers up the back of her shorts and brushed the seam of her cotton underwear. Just as I was about to begin my next move… we hear Matt attempting to play the drums.

Boom. Gat. Crash. Crashcrash. Bommboom. Gat crash.

There is nothing worse than a drunk person who doesn’t know how to play the drums trying to play the drums.

Sandy laughs out loud. “What is he doing? Should we go check?’

“NO! I mean, I’ll go see what’s up.”

I jump up, open the basement door and walk down the 24 steps to the basement where Matt is playing along with the Police. We speak in hushed tones.

“Dude!” “Dude, what are you doing down here? Where’s Sandy?” “She’s upstairs. What are YOU doing down here, Dude? Did you drink that whole six pack?” “Nope. Only four.” A roll of the eyes. “Keep it down, dude. Sandy and I are… I’m trying to…” “Oh. OH! Right. Sorry.” He gives me a thumbs up and I run back up those 24 steps.

Sandy is still lying there. She smiles. I smile. And… we start all over. Why? Because I don’t want to offend her. Some kind of midwestern guilt keeps telling me that I have to work for the good stuff. I can’t just jump right back in and assume she’ll let me go right to feeling her ass.

We kiss. I move my hand up her thigh. I get up the back of her shorts. I’m actually sliding my pinky under her underwear and I can feel her butt. I. Am. Going. To. Score. And… we hear the off-key, warbled singing of a drunk Matt coming from the basement.

“Ah’ll beee wrappedt around yooor fihhinger!”

Once again, Sandy bursts out in laughter. In my head I’m screaming! Once again, I jump up, run down the 24 steps. This time, Matt is on the couch, a new beer in hand.

“Dude!” “What? Oh, shit. Did you hear me? Sorry.” He puts his fingers to his lips, as if to say, “Shhh.” I smile and nod and RUN back up the steps, two at a time.

Sandy is still lying there. She’s now glancing through the TV Guide. I practically jump back down. We kiss. I move my hand. Get it up the back of her shorts. Under the seam of the underwear. I’m going to burst.

Matt CRASHES in the basement, bringing down a cymbal.

Meekly we hear, “ouch”.

Slowly, I walk over to the basement door and calmly open it. I’m praying that he’s decapitated himself with the cymbal. I walk down the 24 steps and find him sprawled out on the floor, a crashed cymbal next to him.

“I fell.”

From the stairwell, Sandy calls out, “I think I should go home.” I force a smile. And the Police continue to play in the background.

“Daka tss tss, daka tss tss, boom GAT!” “I’ll be wrapped around your finger.”

As the song begins to fade, I trudge up those damn 24 steps and lead Sandy out to the car. By the time I return to the house, some twenty minutes later, Matt is passed out. He looked so innocent, sleeping like a baby. And as much as I was mad at him twenty minutes earlier, I couldn’t help but laugh.

Girlfriends came and went in those days. But the friendship I had with Matt was more important. I’d give him hell, but what else could I do. He was my best friend. He was my brother.

Twenty years later, whenever I hear “Wrapped Around Your Finger”, I am thrust in a time machine back to Ohio in the middle of July. It isn’t Sandy and my failed attempts at getting lucky that I recall, it is Matt, and my memories of him that I treasure.

February 3rd marked the 2nd anniversary of Matt dying. And with the Police recently announcing that they were back, it just seemed appropriate to write about one of my most beloved basement songs.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Prince at the Super Bowl


I normally don't write about his purpleness. My lasting memories of Prince stem from a Prom I went to in 1986. My behavior that night was not so respectable. We don't need to get into it.

But last night, at the Super Bowl, Prince tore it up, man. With the rain coming down in sheets, he was the consummate entertainer, giving 100% in what looked like miserable conditions. The best moment came when he RIPPED through the Foo Fighters "Best of Me" (with a brief intro from "All Along The Watchtower"). I've always loved the song the way the Foos did it, but Prince brought chills. There was such passion in his voice and his guitar playing was AWESOME.

Finally, with the rain still pouring, he went through an inspired version of "Purple Rain" that, I feel, was the best of any of these bloated half time shows at the Super Bowl. Better than Sir Paul last year (which was routine, in my opinion), better than Justin, Janet and Janet's nipple, and WAY better than Aerosmith and the junky teen pop stars they threw out there with the boys from Boston.

Short of Springsteen, I don't think anyone will be able to top this half time performance. When he cut the music off and had the entire stadium singing the final vocalizations from "Purple Rain", he really united everyone there. And with the skies opened up with the downpour from the heavens, it was a majestic moment.

Aloha.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Rainbow response

Hey there. Amy, the wife of my old friend, Phil, sent me an email in response to yesterday's Basement Song posting. We had a couple of exchanges and I thought they were really nice. So here's what we had to say:

Aloha...


To: Scott
From: Amy

Scott,

I read your blog and felt compelled to respond since we are 2 of the "ten". I love Rainbow Connection. I love it so much that when we were doing our son Connor's nursery we had a mural painted with children's song lyrics and the phrase "someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection" was the first to go up. This song also brings a tear to me eye everytime Connor is listening to his Kids Stuff radio station and that song comes on. Right now he is too young to fully understand what that song means, and I think that is the genius of the song. It means different things when you are 5, or 12, or 21 or 36! All I know is when I hear that song, I am overwhelmed with a multitude of emotions. From sadness to hope, from calm to regret. The writer of this song knew what he was doing. I think this is a great basement song.

Another great basement song..."Change" by John Waite. LOVE that song! Thoughts?

********

To: Amy
From: Scott

Amy,

I also LOVE "Change" by John Waite. I think the song got totally overshadowed by his next hit (something about missing somebody). It's funny, "Change" was one of those songs that I learned through my brother's garage bands. I always dug the drum part to it and that opening line "People talking..." Then, whenever it was when the movie "Visionquest" came out(remember that movie? Man, Matthew Modine was so cool. Best wrestling movie, ever. Wait, are there any more wrestling movies out there?). Anyway, I borrowed the soundtrack from the library. It was then that I first paid attention to all of the lyrics and discovered what a really awesome song "Change" is. Talk about a song taking you back and stirring up emotions, "Change" makes me feel like I'm back in the North Olmsted High School Cafeteria, worrying about some ridiculous Algebra test.

Thanks so much for writing. What is it about "Change" that makes the song so meaningful to you?

*******

To: Scott
From: Amy

Scott,

This song gets to me because for one thing 15 is an awful age! I really don't think there is a harder year than that one. I completely wanted to be someone different that year. I dyed my hair, wore lots of blue eyeshadow, and would strut around in neon pumps and pegged jeans. Ahh the 80's! I felt like an idiot. But I was getting a lot of compliments so kept at it. Then I saw the video to Change. That one part where the blond is also singing "we always wished for money"etc made my heart freeze. She looked so sad and trance-like. It scared the shit out of me. It was probably the first time in my young life where I had the revelation that you are who you are. And I was a fake. I know this sounds straight out of a Growing Pains episode but it is true!

Plus 1985-86 was such crazy time. MTV and guys in eyeliner, crazy fashion fads and Russia. Trivial things seemed SO important. Quite frankly I would love to be there again. I think it was probably the last really innocent year for people our age. SAT's and College decisions were right around the corner. But in that year nothing made me happier than sitting in my living room at night, slightly in pain from the sunburn I got at the pool earlier, munching on some Planter's Cheese Curls, watching Friday Night Videos and hoping to see Change...or anything Duran Duran. Or Michael Jackson. Or Thompson Twins. Or Huey Lewis.

By the way, the Vision Quest soundtrack is a CLASSIC! One of Journey's best teen angst song is Only the Young...Steve Perry's voice would break your heart! And a great use of Lunatic Fringe.

*******

To: Amy
From: Scott

Amy,

I had never thought about the age of 15 like you just described it. My only concern in high school was getting girls to like me. College was never an issue because I knew I wanted to write and I would wind up wherever I wound up. But I hear what you're saying about it being the last innocent time before all of the major decisions are thrown on you. It's hard to believe that at that young of an age, you're expected to make a decision that is supposed to give you direction for the rest of your life. No wonder so many people change their majors, suffer breakdowns, or just drop out of college. It's just too damn much to have to deal with in high school (on top of the cliques and grades and sex and all the other crap). Thanks for the great insight. The image of neon pumps and pegged jeans is cracking me up. I'm so glad you mentioned Friday Night Videos. We didn't have cable when I was growing up (back then you could actually tune in your television using an antenna) so my only source of music videos was FNV. My sister and I would record all of our favorite videos using my parents flip top behemoth VCR. The first time I ever heard of U2 was when FNV did a special night dedicated to them and showed a couple of the videos from War. My initial thoughts of Bono and co. were: Cool songs. Big hair.

I couldn't agree with you more about the Vision Quest soundtrack. One of my favorite Sammy Hagar songs graces it, as well as Madonna's classic ballad. The Journey song is still one of my all time favorite songs by them (and I'm a Journey fanatic). True story about the song "Only the Young." A dying teenager in Cleveland's Rainbow Children's Hospital was able to meet three members of the band thorough the Make A Wish Foundation. This was around 1984. Perry, Jon Cain and Neal Schon brought a cassette of their next single for the boy to hear. It was "Only The Young." I've always held that story close to my heart because a) This story happened in Cleveland and b) I love Journey's music and I love that song. About 6 months ago I was doing some research on the band and I came across more details of that story. The boy who passed away died from the effects of cystic fibrosis. How weird is that? This song that could essentially be one of my favorite songs is now tied to my life in another way I never would have thought imaginable. Now when I hear that song, I don't think of Matthew Modine racing down the street trying to sweat off pounds, I think of the children suffering from CF and the race to find a cure.

******

PS- I edited out a couple of sentences that weren't important to the context of our exchange. Have a great weekend.
S

Friday, February 02, 2007

Basement Song 2.2.07


Welcome to the first installment of The Basement Songs, a weekly feature I’m going to have on the blog. What is a basement song? It has nothing to do with the Basement Tapes. I can only think of a couple Dylan and /or Band songs that may qualify as a basement song. A basement song is purely personal. Quality of song isn’t important (not that the bootlegs of Dylan and he Band were all masterpieces). It’s how a song makes you feel and how it can take you to a place… a moment in your life or and event. Songs that can make you relive every emotion, good or bad. As I do not know all ten of you who read my blog, I can only write from my own experiences. Of course, there are some songs I may never write about… particularly Bruce Springsteen’s “Valentine’s Day.”

So why “basement songs”? I grew up in a Cleveland suburb and my parents owned a large four story house. As you may have figured out, the house had a basement. The room was essentially a dumping ground for toys. My dad’s workbench occupied a corner… which was essentially a dumping ground for his tools. When my brother reached adolescence, he began playing drums and decided to clean up the hole. He decorated a corner with some ugly green shag carpet he’d found somewhere and hung some posters (mostly beer posters. How my folks didn’t figure he was drinking down there all of the time is beyond me). His drumset, our old toy boxes, and my dad’s tool bench (which was still a dumping ground for his tools) occupied the other corners. The corner with the carpet began to resemble something of college dorm room. A couple of old couches, some grungy yellow rocking chairs, and a cheap, JC Penny stereo with four speakers mounted to the cinderblock walls. My brother hung out there and jammed, but he was never one to stay in the house. He always had to be doing something, someplace to go. The basement was essentially a hangout for him and his friends to drink when they didn’t have anywhere else to drink. That room became something else for me.

By the time I was 10 or 11, I started to get interested in rock music. My parents had never been into rock and roll. My dad listened to classical and my mom preferred show tunes or standards (what was then called elevator music). My discovery of rock came from hanging with my brother. He listened to the first Boston album religiously and Bob Seger’s “Stranger in Town”. He had a copy of Clapton’s “Slowhand” that floated around, as well. And, of course, he was in a number garage bands. When I was 11, I was given a cheap cassette recorder for Christmas. Not sure why I was given it, but I used the thing to death, placing it next to stereo speakers and taping songs off the radio. I guess you could say this was the beginning of the basement songs. I would collect tapes of my favorite songs and then head to the basement where I could listen in private and try to decipher what the singers were saying and figure out what the drummers were playing (I, too, became a drummer). At the same time, I had friends in grade school that had older brothers and sisters, too. All of us would compare music and loan LP’s to one another. It was a new world opening up. And the one place I went to listen to the music and explore this world was our basement. It became my fortress of solitude.

I spent hours and hours just LISTENING. I wouldn’t read. I didn’t talk to anyone. Occasionally I would scan the album cover. But for the most part, I absorbed the music. This is something that I rarely get to do anymore. I’m married, have two adoring kids, I have a mortgage, bills… who has time to listen to music. That leads to another point about basement songs… they endure. A basement song isn’t some pop ditty that you listened to a thousand times as a kid and then go back to and nearly vomit. A basement song is something that has a place in your heart and you can listen to whenever. Years can pass… decades… and you’ll hear that song again and you’ll remember why you loved it then and you still love it.

Okay, I think you know where I’m coming from with the whole basement setup. Maybe it wasn’t a basement for you. Maybe it was your bedroom. Your car (like I do now). Maybe it was when you went running and you had headphones on. Who knows? It’s not about where you heard the songs; it’s about the songs themselves.

That’s what I’m going to write about: The songs that mean something to me and why they’re meaningful to me. And hey, if one of the ten of you decides you want to write something about one of your own songs, then I’ll post it. Sadly, I do not have the money or the capabilities to actually post the songs themselves. But, if you email me, I’ll send the song to you (provided I have an MP3 of it).

So let’s get started with what I consider my very first basement song. And guess what, it’s not even a rock song. The song is attributed to being sung by a green frog hand puppet, no less. It is “The Rainbow Connection”, from THE MUPPET MOVIE.

Anyone who does not like THE MUPPET MOVIE does not have a soul. It is just a wonderful movie on so many levels. Despite its hip cast and the slew of one liners and cameos, it’s a movie about hope. Pure and simple. And this is laid out in the opening number sung by Jim Henson, aka Kermit the Frog. “Why are there so many songs about rainbows, and what’s on the other side?” That opening phrase is sung with such melancholy that you’d think this was going to be a sad movie. But it isn’t. And the song isn’t sad, either. In fact, it ends very upbeat, save for the way it’s sung and the maudlin strings that accompany it. The soundtrack to this movie was the first LP I was ever given as a gift. It was essentially my very first record (save for the Winnie the Pooh record I listened to when I was younger). This LP scarred me for life. There is so much sadness and despair on the record. Since this was the days before VCR’s, I couldn’t go and watch the movie every night to remind myself that everything ends happily. I only had the music. Weeks were spent listening to “The Rainbow Connection” over and over. It wasn’t the lyrics. It wasn’t the music. It was the way Henson sung the song. I felt his sadness. I connected with the fear and doubt. It is the same fear and doubt I experience o this day. I am a member of the lovers and dreamers club, that’s for sure. But at that age, I didn’t know that. That is the remarkable thing about that song for me. It touched a part of my soul that wasn’t even awakened yet. It would be years before I figured out what I wanted o do with my life. But here I was, 1979, already lost and unsure of myself.

Today, the opening banjo notes are played; I’m a child again. The worries of the day are forgotten for a brief time as I reexperience the simple joys of a nice song. I recall what it’s like to be some optimistic. I recall what it’s like to feel free and not worried all of the time. This is the type of song I hope Sophie and Jake latch on to and make one of their own. I want them to always be full of the hope the song expresses. I pray they don’t experience the melancholy that I went through and still do. That is a part of my personality I’ll never be able to shed. Maybe it’s that melancholy that keeps me feeling optimistic. Because whenever I’m feeling down and lonely and feeling as if nothing is ever going to turn around, I know that there will be a light at the end of the tunnel. I know that there is some kind of treasure waiting for me at the end of the rainbow. It may not be gold or money. It may just be reassurance that things will work out. I have to keep that hope alive. I have to.

As easy as it would be to just cave in when the world is coming down, I have to show the kids that you don’t give up. Especially Jake. He has to be a fighter.

This song holds such a special place in my heart that I’ve never been able to buy a cd with it on it. I need to hear the crackling of my original LP before Kermit begins singing. The crackles bring me almost as much comfort as the banjo. Once upon a time, I dreamed big. I was going to be a huge star in Hollywood. Now, I’m content to be a huge star to Sophie and Jake. And even if I’m not the same lover or dreamer that I was as a child, it’s okay. I am happy. And that’s all you can ask for in life, isn’t it.