“And When it Rains You’re Shining Down for Me”

“And I just can’t get enough. And I just can’t get enough” – Depeche Mode

(L-R) Andy Fletcher, Vince Clarke, Martin Gore, and Dave Gahan in 1981.

When I heard Depeche Mode’s Andy Fletcher passed away it reminded me that I went through a Depeche Mode phase in college. Granted, it was a short phase, but for a time in the early 90’s I had their popular “101” double live cd on constant rotation. I wasn’t dressing in all black or wearing eyeliner, or in a constant state of youthful brooding bemoaning “why doesn’t anyone understand me!” No, I was just enjoying the effervescent, melodic, synth-pop melodies of a foursome hailing from the UK.

For others, bands like Depeche Mode and The Cure resonated to their very core during the 80’s and into the early 90’s. I was never much of a Cure fan (I’ve since somewhat begrudgingly come around to their music). I always preferred the music of their dark, synth-pop danceable cousins an hour and half north of where The Cure formed. Unlike The Cure though (whose only constant through the years has been lead singer Robert Smith), three of the four original members of DM have remained together all of these years later – Dave Gahan, Martin Gore, and Andy Fletcher. Only original member Vince Clarke left the group about a year after their debut album, “Speak & Spell” was released in 1981.

If you didn’t enjoy synthesizers, repetitive sounds, dark and/or kinky repetitive lyrics, then you probably didn’t think much of Depeche Mode. Like I mentioned, I was just a casual fan going through a “101” phase. In fact, if you had asked me to name any member of the group, I wouldn’t have been able to give you a correct answer then or even as recent as a few days ago. So when I heard founding member Andy Fletcher passed away at the age of 60 from natural causes, I had to Google: “Which member of Depeche Mode was Andy Fletcher?” When Google returned a picture of the red head during the height of his fam in the 80’s, I said to myself “oh, that one.”

Fletcher (or “Fletch” as he was referred to) was the only member of Depeche Mode that did not sing, but was viewed as the backbone and businessman of the group. He also apparently acted as mediator between the moody Gahan and the more flamboyant Gore. Fletcher even clarified the band’s roles in the two-hour “Depeche Mode 101” film by D.A. Pennebaker that you can watch on Youtube: “Martin’s the songwriter. Alan’s the good musician (Alan left the band in 1995). Dave’s the vocalist, and I bum around.”

Released in March of 1989, the album and film’s title “101” references the band’s 101st and final tour date in 1988 at The Rose Bowl in Pasadena from their “Music For the Masses” tour. The film features a lot of live performance from Depeche Mode combined with video of a group of kids that won a contest to be in a film following the band from city to city on their own bus.

Perhaps “Rolling Stone” writer Rob Sheffield captured Andrew Fletcher the best saying “As Depeche Mode kept getting kinkier and gothier, Fletch kept giving the vibe of an affable accountant who wandered into the industrial sex club by mistake. He always seemed to have the same haircut, the same glasses, the same dry smirk. The closest he came to the others’ theatrical decadence was lip-synching the screams in the “Master and Servant” video.

“Just like a rainbow
You know you set me free
And I just can’t get enough
And I just can’t get enough”

I’m not posting the “Master and Servant” video, but instead the band’s first single released in the U.S. in 1981. The single peaked at #8 in the UK and made the top 30 dance track hits in the U.S.

The video has to be the most uncomfortable look Fletch every put forth in a music video, because the “affable accountant” looks totally out of place in his leather vest and biker hat. He looks much more in his element wearing a suit and tie later on this video and maybe that’s what made him so right for Depeche Mode.

Here is the video for “Just Can’t Get Enough”…

Thanks for bumming around and R.I.P. Andy Fletcher.

sincerely,

the 80’s

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“With One Foot in the Past, Now Just How Long Will it Last?”

“Now, now, now, have you no ambitions?” – Tears for Fears

Roland Orzabal (l) and Curt Smith (r), better known as Tears for Fears

Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith met as teenagers in England in the 1970’s and have been connected ever since with their band Tears for Fears. They have been through the ups and downs afforded any duo that has a longevity like they do – excitement, passion, stardom, superstardom, complacency, struggles, boredom, separation, reconciliation, reunion, and a different cycle begins anew. Both now in their early 60’s, I wonder if they hear the aforementioned line from their very simple love song “Head Over Heels,” and the words wash over them differently and with a whole new perspective and meaning than they did when they were written and sung by them back in their mid 20’s. I’m sure it has to.

Sometimes I write and edit and read these posts that marry “one foot in the past” with the present, and I just think to myself “you’re just, just, just wasting time.” Quit looking back so much to your youthful musical passions. Look ahead! Be in the present! Forget about 1985 Tears for Fears! Focus on 2022 Tears for Fears instead!

But how can we focus or learn anything about 2022 TFF without knowing who 1985 TFF was? I’ve read that people who have above average nostalgic tendencies are thought to be more aware of who they once were, and are able to compare it to who they are today thus understanding themselves better than most others. Maybe that’s what this post is all about. Sometimes I don’t even know where these words will lead me other than ultimately to some great music. There are certain Enneagram numbers and Meyers-Briggs personality abbreviations for those of us that enjoy a hearty helping of past times, but I do wonder sometimes if too much of the past is a hindrance for living in the present.

“I made a fire, and watching it burn
Thought of your future”

In reading all-things Tears for Fears over the past several days, I’ve realized that if Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith didn’t look back at who they once were, then they may have never felt the need for TFF to have a legacy that now stretches into 2022. Orzabal lost his wife in 2017 (more on that below), and he was quoted recently with the following revelation:

I thought that was it, because Caroline had gone, Alan Griffiths” (– a long-time Tears for Fears collaborator) – “was gone, and immediately my mind went to Curt. That’s when I thought: This guy’s really important. It was obvious – it’s really obvious to a lot of people – but then all of a sudden you think, Oh no, this partnership is right, we’ve done great things. And the story’s not over – thank God!

Thank God, indeed. And speaking of Curt, he had spent the better part of the last 20 years being a stay-at-home dad to his two daughters whom didn’t even realize was a famous musician in their younger years, but was instead just a dad that “went to the gym.” Smith did some acting and has a handful of solo albums, but his artistic legacy lay with a band who hadn’t produced any meaningful work in 17 years, hadn’t had any minor hits since the early 90’s and no major hit since 1986’s “Sowing the Seeds of Love.”

The acting part was interesting though and led me down this rabbit hole: Did you know Curt Smith was a guest star on the old comedy-drama detective show “Psych”? My wife and I watched this show on the regular between 2006-2014, and I have absolutely no memory of Smith appearing on the show, but he did in episodes from seasons five, seven, and eight. He even sang at show’s final wrap party in 2013 with the stars of the show (James Roday, Dule’ Hill, and Timothy Omundson) providing backing vocals onstage. (By the way, check out Dule’ Hill’s dance moves that are straight from the actual 1985 TFF video that begin at the 3:46 mark).

At some point I’m going to have to find the “Psych” episodes Curt appeared in and watch them.

“In my mind’s eye
One little boy, one little man
Funny how time flies”

I saw Tears for Fears in concert along with Hall and Oates in Tulsa in May 2017, and one of the reasons I wanted to feature this duo is because they just released their seventh studio album and first one since 2004’s “Everyone Loves a Happy Ending,” (which I’ll admit I’ve never listened to). Seventeen years since their last album speaks to the complexities of musical relationships for sure. Smith and Orzabal have had a musical marriage of sorts where I’m sure they’ve occasionally thought of themselves as a couple “married with a lack of vision.” I think what the 17 year hiatus ultimately showed Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith is that they each will forever be intertwined into the other’s life, but also with the knowledge that there is an incredible legacy that still has some blank pages with words waiting to fill them.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we all have relationships like that. And the words are waiting.

“And this is my four leaf clover
I’m on the line, one open mind
This is my four leaf clover.”

Before we get to their new album, let’s put one foot in the past with a look back to that simple love song from 1985. The song only reached #12 in their homeland, but peaked at #3 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. It was the fourth single from their massively successful “Songs From the Big Chair” album. With Roland on lead vocals, here is Tears for Fears with their attempt to put together a comical video featuring a monkey wearing a Red Sox jersey, keyboardist Ian Stanley’s creepy “you-don’t-want-to-know-what-I-did-last-night” stare, and their drummer, Manny Elias, dressed like an Amish man. This is “Head Over Heels”

I mentioned above that Roland Orzabal’s wife of 35 years passed away. It was in July of 2017 after years of battling alcohol-related problems that resulted in both physical and mental conditions. They had two grown children at the time, and I think about how difficult it must have been for Roland to be thousands of miles away opening up a tour in Tulsa, Oklahoma. By this time it had been 13 years since the band had released any new material, so I can imagine the passion and the ambition were both low at a time when his wife was just weeks away from passing. Why would he even be touring at this time he now refers to part of his “five years of Hell”? Well, the lead single from their 2022 album by the same name, “The Tipping Point,” is about that time of grief and loss and a look into his mindset during that time.

Orzabal commented that the lyrics “came at a time when my (late) wife was very ill. I was watching her become a ghost of her former self. So the song’s narrator is in a hospital ward looking at people about to cross the threshold that we call death….The line in the song says, ‘Will you ever know when it’s the Tipping Point?’ meaning, will you ever know when a person has crossed that threshold from life to death when you cannot even perceive that ‘vague and distant void’ as it’s described in the lyric.

He went onto say: “I have to admit that even in March 2016 when I was read the riot act by doctors about Caroline possibly not making it through the weekend, I was still in denial. I think that when you’ve been close to someone for decades, they are living within you as well as without. And consciously I did not believe she would die, though subconsciously I was, without doubt, preparing for the inevitable, arming myself against the future shock.”

Out of years of pain and grief and obstinance, new life has spawned from the band, and I for one am happy for it. I’ve always liked their sound and even their distinctive looks – Roland with his great 80’s mullet and Curt with his slicked back Pat Riley-like hair. Roland is now remarried rocking the cool long gray hair and beard, and Curt’s children now know that their father is not just a dad who goes to the gym.

Their first single in 17 years – “The Tipping Point,” has a very classic TFF sound. If you liked this duo back in the 80’s, I really think you’ll like this particular single (“No Small Thing” another favorite of mine from this album has a very Lumineers-like sound). You may even give the full album a spin while you’re at it – I have a few times already. The musical landscape and the Tears for Fears universe is certainly better for it. Plus, you get to see Orzabal and Smith age 35+ years from the previous video. Still very cool and distinctive looking, check out the video (sorry no monkey in this one) from one of my favorite singles of 2022 so far – “The Tipping Point…”

Thanks for reading, and after 17 years, welcome back Curt, Roland, and Tears for Fears You’ve been away much too long.

sincerely,

the 80’s

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“I’ve Got No Time for Talking”

“I’m gonna keep on a-walkin’.” – Buckwheat Zydeco

Inside the Caesars Superdome prior to the 2022 NCAA men’s basketball Final Four

I spent a few days in New Orleans recently for the Men’s College Basketball Final Four. My friend Chris had purchased two tickets when his name was selected in the annual lottery held for prospective buyers to the annual event. His friend that he just refers to as “Jones” was originally scheduled to attend with him, but Jones had to cancel shortly before the event so Chris called me and asked if I was interested.

Well it didn’t take much convincing. My wife told me I must go. It was New Orleans! You see, my father passed away in August of last year, but for a time in the early 60’s he was a larger-than-life figure in The Big Easy with a basketball in his hand. So I considered the kind gesture from Chris to fall somewhere between destiny and ordained.

“I’m walkin’ (driving) to New Orleans. I’m walkin’ to New Orleans.”

So Chris and myself made the 9+ hour drive to a city I hadn’t been in since 1987 with plans of basketball, gators, golf, and to explore a city where we would surely meet up with thousands of other college basketball fans alike, and ultimately a meeting with the spirit and memory of my father lay ahead as well.

Even before we left for New Orleans, longtime family friend Coach Brad Underwood (already in New Orleans for the annual Coaches Conference that is held the week of the Final Four) texted me this photo with the caption “Eating oysters thinking of your dad. Had some good times here.

As we arrived in the Crescent City shortly before dinner, we headed downtown in Chris’ car. One of the very first persons I saw from the vehicle was Coach Geoff Alexander. He is currently (the aforementioned) Brad Underwood’s assistant coach at the University of Illinois, but was also a two-year player that my father enjoyed coaching at Western Illinois University. He also spent two seasons as a graduate assistant on the WIU bench. He was crossing the street about four cars ahead of us so he didn’t see me, and I didn’t get out of the car to yell at him. Instead I texted him later on that evening, and told Chris who he was while we were sitting in the car at that stoplight on Poydras Street. And then I thought to myself how fitting that I saw him out of the thousands of people walking the streets just minutes after pulling into downtown New Orleans.

Chris and I attended the Final Four “Fanfest” the next morning. All of the sponsors put on their best sales game to attract the thousands who roamed the spacious New Orleans Convention Center that Saturday morning. Buick, Pizza Hut, Powerade – everywhere you turned was another basketball hoop or court and a game to play. There were also athletes and coaches in attendance. In fact, the two coaches I saw signing autographs that morning while we were there were Kentucky’s John Calipari and Texas’ Chris Beard. As a former college coach, my father had personal stories about each, and he reminded me of those stories as I walked by the long lines of fans waiting their turn to get an autograph or a picture with one of them. I watched for a few minutes and thought that someday when a better opportunity presents itself I will ask them both about those very stories from my father.

My father was a two-time All-American basketball player for the Tulane Green Wave in the early 60’s (still the only two-time All-American to play for the Green Wave). His name can still be found peppered throughout the Tulane record book. He is #10 on the all-time scoring chart (in three seasons with no three-point line) and still holds the record for a career scoring average at just over 22 ppg as well as the single-game scoring record of 45 points (20 fgs and 5 fts) vs. Southeastern Louisiana in 1961.

My dad featured on the cover of the 1963 Collegiate Basketball Record Book

His passing was about eight months ago and his memory is still very fresh and relevant on a daily basis, but in New Orleans it seemed inordinately strong. He seemed to hover, to follow, and even lead me as I walked the campus where he once roamed, and through the streets of the French Quarter where he frequented as well.

On that trip in ’87, my father was inducted into the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame. Created in 1971, plaques of 245 (through 2021) athletes and coaches hang on the wall of the club level located inside the Superdome where the Final Four games were played this year. I really don’t remember much of the induction ceremony from 1987. There are a few photos of us together from that night and that weekend, but I do recall at the dinner/induction ceremony then-LSU basketball coach Dale Brown proceeded to talk with his neighbor at the table during nearly all of my father’s entire acceptance speech that night. He was seated at the head table just three or four chairs down from the podium where my father was speaking. It was rude and distracting, and I never cheered for a Dale Brown-led LSU team again.

As Chris and I walked along St. Peter’s Street following a New Orleans jazz funeral, I cast my eyes upon Pat O’Brien’s, a one-time speakeasy established by Mr. O’Brien during the prohibition days of the 1930’s. A proud and full-bloodied Irishman, I could feel my father’s footsteps next to me and his soft voice reminding me of his time during the early 60’s when he would enter the famous establishment upon which the local host would then loudly exclaim: “Ladies and gentlemen! Joining us in Pat O’Brien’s, our very own Tulane University Green Wave All-American, Jim Kerwin!” as a loud round of applause surely followed cascading into the next tune on the dueling pianos and into the next round of drinks for the patrons.

As we traversed the French Quarter amongst the throngs of college students drinking and swearing allegiance to one of the teams set to play at the Superdome later that day, I happened upon 500 Bourbon Street, the longtime home of Chris Owens’ Night Club. A solitary figure sat at the bar as I walked in and asked the bartender about any upcoming shows from the famous Owens, who had been a fixture in the French Quarter since 1956. He assured me Chris would be presiding on a float per usual at her 37th Annual Chris Owens’ Easter Day Parade just weeks away. I explained to him my Uncle Billy (my father’s brother and one-time Tulane track athlete now deceased) had befriended her and spent much time with her through the years, and how my father and mother had known and frequented Chris’ shows even taking me to one on that aforementioned trip in 1987.

Not overly impressed, the bartender was still kind enough to grab a business card and give it to me providing me with the contact information for her publicist and he thanked me for stopping in. I emailed her publicist later that night. I never received a reply (as of yet), but was surprised and saddened when I later found out that Chris passed away from a heart attack the same Tuesday we left New Orleans to head back home. Chris Owens, “The Queen of Bourbon Street,” and friend to many a Kerwin was 89.

How many times had he walked down Canal or Bourbon Street? How many times had he and his brother Billy walked through the hallowed doors of Chris Owens’ Night Club or sauntered into Pat O’Brien’s for a beer? How many plates of oysters had he consumed at Felix’s through the years? What about all of the famous musicians that had played for his ears and been seen through his eyes along the line of clubs in New Orleans? All of these questions peppered my brain for answers that it could not provide.

Tulane was also the “host school” for the Final Four this particular weekend so most of their staff and maintenance were appropriately busy I suppose. The old Tulane gym (renovated with name changes a few times since the 60’s and now known as Avron Fogelman Arena in Devlin Fieldhouse) was where my father scored all of those points so many years ago. Every door Chris and I tried was locked, and all of our phone calls went to voicemail save a lonely compliance officer who offered no help. But, as I peered through the glass front doors I could see a basketball goal and part of the basketball floor. I could see my father practicing… one dribble, two dribble, 15 foot pull-up jumper, swish. Hook shots in the lane… right-handed, then left-handed. Over and over and over again. I remembered the names – Dale Gott, Jack Ardon, Wayne Pearl, and Bob Davidson who had all played alongside my dad on some very average (if I’m being honest) Green Wave teams for Coach Cliff Wells. I still imagined the excitement of the crowd, the dads bringing their sons to the game, and the students packing in to see Jim Kerwin drop 41 on Ole Miss one night or 37 against an Adolph Rupp Kentucky team.

Everywhere I went his presence preceded me and his voice resonated within me. His footsteps kept pace with mine sometimes slowing down to follow me, at other times speeding up to race ahead of me eager to show me something else. It felt important that I was there. I could sense a purpose and a meaning for my time being there. It all felt a bit ordered and planned by something bigger than us all.

It felt like after 35 years of being away that I was there for a reason and for a time to do nothing more but to listen to his voice, and once again follow in my father’s footsteps.

“New Orleans is my home. New Orleans is where I’m going.”

I’d be remiss and the post would feel incomplete if I didn’t feature an appropriate song to end this post. My dad loved music, and I can still hear him singing the chorus to this song in his off-key Jersey accent. Written by Bobby Charles in 1960 and recorded originally by Fats Domino, here is a remake of Fats’ classic hit song. From his 1985 album, “Waiting For My Ya Ya,” this is legendary Louisiana native Stanley Dural Jr., better known as “Buckwheat Zydeco” with a 2011 live version of “Walking to New Orleans”…

Thanks for reading.

sincerely,

the 80’s

And, if you’re wondering about the gators – well, I didn’t really feel my father with Chris and I on the airboat down in the Bayou. All I really felt was an appreciation for nature and learned from Captain Lane that you “don gonna worry bout dem gators too much… its dem crocs that you gots to worry bout.” But here’s your complimentary gator pics for making it this far…

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“Another Night in Any Town”


“You can hear the thunder of their cry.” – Journey

Journey circa 1983

“Ahead of their time. They wonder why.”

The “thunder of their cry,” and “they wonder why.” Oh, the agonizing yearning of restless youth! Do you remember it? Was that you in the 80’s? Steve Perry, Neil Schon, and Jonathan Cain sure had a pulse on it as they were on point penning an anthem of the anxiousness and apprehensiveness of a generation growing up without cell phones or computers. How did we ever survive!?

“Another night in any town” ended up being Oklahoma City for my wife and I, which doesn’t really make a lot sense because it’s a city, not a town, but I digress. We were in OKC on March 17th amongst the many green-laden, pub-crawling groups of people milling about as well as hundreds lining an entrance across the street from our hotel hoping to try out for the long-running “Price is Right” game show. An odd sight I’ll admit.

As we checked into our hotel, we also noticed that the Indiana University softball team was staying there. They were one of six teams in the city for the Oklahoma Hall of Fame Classic tournament hosted by the perennial powerhouse and #1 ranked Oklahoma Sooners team located some 20 minutes down I-35 in Norman. March 17th, 2022 was not just another night in any town.

None of this is why we were there. Instead, it was for the concert featuring the guys in the picture above. Well, two of those five I guess. The top two on the left to be exact – keyboardist Jonathan Cain and original member and arguably one of the most underrated guitar players of our generation – Neil Schon continue to anchor the legendary band Journey. Not only did we get to see and hear Journey, but their opening act was a little band named Toto. Originally I had been really excited because Billy Idol had been tabbed as the tour opener, but surgery needed for his chronic sinus infection forced him to pull out of the tour. So, Toto is was, and they were very solid. I will say lead singer Joseph Williams hit some nice notes and still has a nice tone to his voice even at the age of 61.

Toto 2022

“Shadows of a golden age. A generation waits for dawn. Brave carry on. Bold and the strong”

My wife and I had floor seats to the concert and we were reminded of a golden age because when you’re at a concert featuring popular acts from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s there is a certain portion of the audience that may not feel like standing during a concert. I can relate and I don’t fault them, but I think you have to go in with an expectation that you may have to stand even when you don’t feel like it. It’s a rock concert, people. I don’t care how old the band may be.

There was a couple probably in their late 20’s or early 30’s standing a few rows in front of us during a portion of the Toto concert, and a row or two behind us there were a few people yelling at them to sit down at one point during Toto’s set. Not sure, but I think there’s an unwritten rule that if you’ve paid your money for a concert and you want to stand the whole time, you should be able to without fear of being scolded in public. It’s kind of like trying to get a base hit with a bunt in the ninth inning against a guy pitching a no-hitter. Yes, it’s within the rules of the game, but don’t be surprised if a 95 mile an hour fastball comes hurling at your body the next time the batter and hitter square off.

There was a lot more standing in the Journey portion of the concert as you would expect with their catalog of hits, and it proceeded without any further incidents involving the young couple and the people sitting behind us.

Today, I completed another trip around the sun. It’s been 51 trips now, so to speak, and the more trips I make, the more and more I realize how much faster the trips are. But don’t worry young couples, it won’t be me yelling at you to sit down. I’m going to rock until I can’t rock anymore and then I’ll actually rock in a chair on porch somewhere thinking about what a journey it has been and thinking about what only the young can say. So technically even then, I’ll still be rocking.

“They’re seein’ through the promises. And all the lies they dare to tell. Ahead of their time. They wonder why.”

At 15 years and counting, lead singer Arnel Pineda has now been with the band longer than any of their previous lead singers including Perry. If you get a chance, and haven’t already, the documentary about Pineda’s journey (pun intended) to become the lead singer of one of the most popular bands of all-time is worth a watch.

Current day Journey

“Only the young can say. They’re free to fly away
Sharing the same desire Burnin’ like wildfire”

If you’re like me, this song invokes the memories of an 80’s movie starring Matthew Modine – “Vision Quest.” Modine plays high school senior Louden Swain, who goes on a quest to drop two weight classes on his wrestling team to challenge the area’s toughest opponent, Brian Shute. Shute, played by an unknown athletic trainer at Eastern Washington University named Frank Jasper, plays an intimidating three-time 168 pound state champion from nearby rival Hoover High School, who has never been defeated in his high school career. If you’ve ever seen the movie then you know Jasper was not 168 pounds. He was actually closer to 189 pounds while filming the movie. Mix in a love story between Modine and actress Linda Fiorentino, a good soundtrack, and a brief song and cameo by Madonna, and you have yourself a very solid 80’s movie.

A lyrical theme most of us could relate to upon its release in 1985 as part of the “Vision Quest Soundtrack,” the song would peak at #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 in March. An official video was never shot for this song, but here is one that was put together with footage from the movie. Of course, the famous ladder climb that Modine completes was done with John Waite’s “Change” playing in the back ground. Still, you get the picture with this song, which was originally written for the band Scandal. Here is Journey with Steve Perry on lead vocals and “Only the Young”…

Now, here is 2022 Journey with Pineda on lead vocals opening their set in OKC singing the song that no one can cleanly decipher the lyrics without the help of the internet.

Thanks for reading.

sincerely,

the 80’s

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“Take Me Now, We Can Spin Around the Sun”

“And the stars will all come out.” – Foo Fighters

I’ve seen the Foo Fighters in concert three times. I didn’t think much of them in the late 90’s when they first came upon the scene. I just thought – oh that’s nice, it’s Nirvana’s former drummer and he has a little band now. I really started listening to them about seven or eight years ago thanks to a few friends that are much bigger fans (shout out Joe Moe and Trey).

The first Foos concert I went to was all about seeing Dave Grohl and the seemingly sophisticated and cool former part-time Nirvana bandmate to his left, Pat Smear. After that first concert though, drummer Taylor Hawkins was quickly added to one of the many reasons to see the Foo Fighters again.

Born in Ft. Worth, but raised in Laguna Beach, Hawkins looked every bit the part of someone who just wrapped up a set of swells with his buddies in the Pacific, threw on a tank top, and hopped off of his board and immediately into the drummer’s seat directly behind Dave ready to go.

You or I might not have known Taylor personally, but just watching his infectious smile and his limbs flail away at the drums like a human Animal from the Muppets, you couldn’t help but think if you ever ran into him on the streets he’d turn out to be one of the coolest people ever, and end up being your friend for life. And that’s seemingly what happened when Dave Grohl met the then Alanis Moressette drummer back in the mid 90’s and invited him to join the band. Eight studio albums later and an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2021, Foo Fighters with Taylor Hawkins on drums reached the pinnacle of music success.

And what a ride it was.

“You believe there’s something else
To relieve your emptiness”

Like any band, the members have/had their favorite songs to play. Taylor was once quoted saying that “Aurora” was one of his most favorite Foo songs saying: “That was the first drum track that I ever did for the Foo Fighters that I was really, really proud of… .”

I can see why especially at about the six minute mark when it just becomes two “spirit animals” and “best friends” jamming with each other – one on guitar and one on drums oblivious to everyone else around them. My sympathies and condolences to the family and friends of Taylor Hawkins. He was just 50 years old.

And it’s on and on
And on and on and on

Hell yeah, they’ll remember you too Taylor.

RIP

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“Music and Passion”

“Were always the fashion” – Barry Manilow

Where was music and passion always in fashion? You know it!

Yes, I love music and I love this Barry Manilow hit from 1978, and I’ll tell you what else was “in fashion” and what else I had a “passion” for in 1978 – trading cards. If you like trading cards AND Barry Manilow, then this post is for you! “Cards and The Copa” – I challenge you to find any other blog post combining both.

A few months ago, I bought my first pack of football cards since I stopped buying football cards sometime in the early 80’s. The Panini Contenders “value” pack of 18 cards was $4.99 at a local Barnes & Noble. Value? Eighteen for $4.99 – that’s almost 28 cents per card! I remember my dad buying me a whole pack of Topps football cards for 25 cents back in 1978. Fourteen cards and a stick of “gum” for less than two cents per card. Well now I just sound old and disgruntled. Hmpf.

Look! You can still buy an unopened pack on Ebay for $199! I guess I did get a “value.”

Although I love baseball cards more and have way more baseball cards than football, my first love and venture into the world of tradings cards was the 1978 Topps football set. I actually wrote a piece that I published on here a few years ago I titled “Missing Roger Staubach.”

I didn’t actually open the “value” pack I purchased right away though. I put it up in the closet. I had grand thoughts of hanging onto it unopened for 30 years and selling it like the one above. I eventually gave in and opened it, but only after opening my first official pack since the early 90’s – a pack of 2021 Topps Update baseball.

I have a friend and co-worker who is an avid collector/buyer/seller in the trading cards industry (shoutout Kerry!) so we talk about cards a lot. I’ve learned a ton just from asking him questions and attending a few card shows where he has a table. And yes, there are still card shows probably like you remember them in the 80’s or 90’s if you ever attended one.

And, in case you didn’t realize it, the card industry is exploding once again. It’s very reminiscent of the mid to late 80’s when I was a young collector stocking up on Gregg Jeffries and Mike Greenwell rookie cards that were going to fund my retirement one day! I remember dad always commenting about how many thousands of dollars worth of cards I must have and how valuable they’ll be one day! Uhhh… sorry dad.

The holy grail of baseball cards in 1984 – my “Donny Baseball” (Don Mattingly) rookie card!

Well, that ’84 Donruss Don Mattingly rookie I have that was going to be worth thousands can now be picked up for about $40 – maybe closer to a hundred bucks if it’s an officially highly graded card by one of the grading companies. So, if you’ve been out of the trading card game like I have since the late 80’s/early 90’s then you’re in for quite a shock if you step back in. I’ve spent the better part of the last few months figuring out what’s what. I feel like a transfer student who just completed the equivalent of basic 9th grade math stepping onto the campus of Harvard and enrolling in their “Math 55” course.

Baseball card collecting in 1984 consisted of three baseball card companies – Fleer, Donruss and big brother, Topps)
A few boxes of my baseball cards

Chrome cards, purple parallels, gold parallels, rainbow parallels, short prints, super short prints, oh my! Autos, inserts, relics, patch cards, die-cuts, and the new vocabulary list and combinations seem endless. Add in graded vs. non-graded, various grading companies, slabs, sleeves, breaks, etc., and you have yourself quite the mountain to climb if you’re going to understand the world of trading cards today.

I’ve seen cards of Nascar drivers called “Race Day Relics” that include a piece of the sheetmetal or of a tire from their car in the card! There are baseball cards with pieces of the bat or their jersey included in the card. And apparently, Pokemon cards are big business as well. And things are not cheap. You can still pick up “commons” (cards that are not considered important for any reason) around 50 cents to a few dollars each, but rookie cards, autographed cards, relics, and the like can command hundreds and thousands (if not millions) of dollars.

“His name was Rico. He wore a diamond.”

A rare Kobe Bryant basketball card sold for over two million dollars recently, but Lebron James still holds the hoops record with his 2003-04 Upper Deck Exquisite Collection RPA parallel card selling for $5.2 million in April 2021. See? If you’re not into cards, how much of that description did you understand? The year and maybe the brand – Upper Deck. The Upper Deck collection is the “Exquisite Collection,” and “RPA” stands for Rookie-Patch-Auto, so it is his rookie year card with an autograph and a patch of his jersey.

Of course the most famous card of all-time is the T206 1911 American Tobacco Company card of baseball hall of famer, Honus Wagner. His best (non-altered; a whole other story) conditioned card sold for over $6.6 million last August after being the first card sale to surpass the one million dollar mark in a sale in 2000.

I’m amazed at the world of cards in 2022, and the business it has grown into. For me, I will always be a collector first, investor second. The 2 1/2 by 3 1/2 pieces of cardboard are more than an alternative stock market. They are pieces of history, statistics that tell a story from a different year or different era. They are faces frozen in time – some young and eager to begin a journey full of possibilities and others winding down an injury-riddled, unfulfilling career, while others may be capping off a hall of fame career.

And oh yeah, these pieces of cardboard occasionally take me back to 1978.

“Her name was Lola, she was a showgirl. With yellow feathers in her hair and a dress cut down to there.”

Brooklyn-born Barry Alan Pincus is now 78, and we know time seems to accelerate the later we get in life. So instead of waiting for a dedication post to the one-time “next Sinatra,” after he passes, I’m taking the time now to honor the great Barry Manilow.

A model of consistency, this guy didn’t take a break. Since his debut in 1973 (approximately 49 years ago), he has put out 31 studio albums, 6 live albums, and 13 compilation albums! The man is a machine and that type of consistency must be recognized and respected!

I loved Barry Manilow before it was not cool to love the man. My pre-pubescent 70’s self would hear “I Write the Songs,” “Mandy,” or “I Made It Through the Rain,” and sing right along. My interests drifted to top 40 and country and hair metal and rap and grunge as we moved into the 80’s and 90’s, but through all of that, it (wait for it)… looks like he/we made it (hold that last note)!

“Tony sailed across the bar. And then the punches flew and chairs were smashed in two. There was blood and a single gun shot. But just who shot who?”

Today’s song was one of my favorite songs from 1978, and my favorite Barry Manilow song ever. I didn’t know where Havana was or that the Copacabana was actually a real place, and I didn’t care. All I cared about was the funky beat and the story Barry weaved for my seven year old ears. The single was released in 1978 with the remix and subsequent video being released in 1993 for an average of 1985-86. Math! Barry also turned the song into a 1985 made for tv movie musical starring Manilow. The movie, which I don’t ever recall watching, won an Emmy later that year.

The actual Copacabana club is probably worth a separate post all on its’ own, but it opened in 1940 and closed in 2020. Many stars passed through the storied club including the likes of Sammy Davis Jr., Sam Cooke, The Temptations, The Supremes, and Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were regular performers there as well including their final act together in 1956. The club also garnered some notoriety when in 1957 a fight broke out involving New York Yankees’ Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Hank Bauer, Yogi Berra, Johnny Kucks, and Billy Martin when a group of drunk bowlers started hurling racial slurs at Sammy Davis during his act. The club later became a discotheque in the 70’s and inspired today’s classic. It moved a few times and closed during the pandemic yet to reopen.

Well, let’s go back for a few minutes and enjoy a Grammy winner and seller of over 85 million records, Mr. Barry Manilow singing about “the hottest spot north of Havana”… at the Copa…. Copacabaaaaannnnaaaa…

Thanks for reading and be wary if you know anyone named Rico. And thank you, Mr. Manilow!

sincerely,

the 80’s

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“Word, Gettin’ A Girl is Hard, It Ain’t Funny”


“Kangol don’t know if she want me or my money” – U.T.F.O.

In 1987, I gave a blank Memorex cassette tape to a high school basketball teammate and asked if he would make me a copy of that album he was listening to and bragging about at the time. He agreed, and brought me back a copy a few days later. The album was the third album by a Brooklyn quartet I had never heard of before called U.T.F.O., and the album’s name was “Lethal.”

The group was made up of “Kangol Kid” (Shiller Shaun Fequiere), “Educated Rapper” (Jeffrey Campbell), “Doctor Ice” (Fred Reeves), and “Mix Master Ice” (Maurice Bailey). The group’s name which stands for UnTouchable Force Organization had originally begun as U.F.O. until they were informed that there was already an English rock band with that name. They added the “T” (much to Kangol’s dismay who was quoted once saying “‘un’ is not a word”).

Before he was part of the group U.T.F.O., Kangol and Doc Ice were just “Shaun and Freddy” and then as a dance duo known as “The Keystone Dancers.” As The Keystone Dancers, they won first place in a dance competition at the Spring of 1983 Radio City Music Hall talent contest when he and Freddy were only 16 and 17 years of age, respectively. They were invited onto numerous morning shows to demonstrate that ability as you’ll see from this video.

It sure is painfully awkward watching these middle-aged white men who obviously know very little about dancing and have very little in common with two teenagers from Brooklyn try to be engaging and funny with Shaun and Freddy. But the dancing even some almost 40 years later is still very impressive.

After catching the eye of hip-hop and R&B group Full Force member Brian “B-Fine” George at a local dance competition, they were invited to be backup dancers for Full Force. In actuality, George was only at the competition to rough up Shaun (unbeknownst to Shaun at the time) for apparently flirting with his girlfriend, but instead was so impressed by their dance routine, he invited the duo to be backup dancers instead. That stint then led to the duo in becoming backup dancers behind the rap group Whodini, who had released their debut album in 1982 and were making waves on the rap scene by this time. Whodini also contained Doc Ice’s older brother Jalil Hutchins.

Soon after, Kangol Kid and Doctor Ice formed the group U.T.F.O. after recruiting Bailey (Educated) and Campbell (Mix Master), and proceeded to record their first album on Select Records. Their debut album was produced by the group Full Force and their first single was a smooth, uptempo jam called “Hanging Out.” But it was the B-side that caught the ear of a then-local (now world-famous) DJ named Kool DJ Red Alert. That particular B-side song was the rap classic “Roxanne, Roxanne.”

As I’ve said before in earlier posts, my earliest memories of listening to rap music was really during my 15-16 year old sophomore year in high school in 1986-87. That was when my earlier mentioned teammate had me listening on his headphones in our school library to a song called “Girls Ain’t Nothin’ But Trouble” by a little-known duo called DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince. I was hooked, and that song led me to Run-DMC’s “Raising Hell” album (and earlier albums), and the Beastie Boys and Salt-N-Pepa, and BDP, and then LL Cool J’s “Bigger and Deffer” and Kool Moe Dee’s “How Ya Like Me Now?” album and then ultimately to the quartet known as U.T.F.O.

“Kangol Kid” passed away in December of complications from colon cancer (PSA: get screened). He was 55 and hip-hop’s first endorsed artist. Before Run-DMC blew sales of Adidas through the roof, Kangol Kid was helping to prop up Kangol hat sales in every city where he performed. One of his hats is enshrined in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. He had 35+ year relationship with the company at the time of his death.

Kangol produced and managed the group Whistle. After the breakup of U.T.F.O., Kangol continued producing and songwriting, ran his own company, and was an advocate for the American Cancer Society in later years. A true pioneer and legend in the genre, and just one of the greats to do it all back in the day.

“So I’m bein’ picky, cause I ain’t sure. And I’m livin’ a life you might call insecure.”

U.T.F.O. released five albums, four of which were in the 80’s, so I narrowed my favorite U.T.F.O. songs from those four albums… U.T.F.O.(1985), Skeezer Pleezer (1986), Lethal (1987) and “Doin’ It” (1989). By the time 1991’s “Bag It and Bone It” album came out, Doc Ice was officially out, and I had little to no interest in that particular U.T.F.O. album. So, in honor of Kangol Kid, here is…

Sincerely the 80’s Top 10 U.T.F.O. Songs from the 80’s:

#10 “Leader of the Pack” – The Shangri-Las version, this is not. It’s just a solid shoutout off of their debut album from the three distinct MC’s to the man in the back, the man in black – Mix Master Ice, aka “The Leader of the Pack”

#9 “Master of the Mix” – This is another shoutout record to Mix Master Ice and comes from the “Doin’ It” album. The song samples from The Doobie Brothers’ intro to “Long Train Runnin’,” and I love the dope bass in this song that features Mix Master Ice doing more outstanding work again on the tables. I appreciated the few Public Enemy samples as well.

#8 “Get Down” – One of my personal favorites from the “Lethal” album. The song samples from one of my favorites – Kool & The Gang, and their song “Jungle Boogie.” Was this a date night song? Depends upon what kind of “date” you were on I suppose, but not in my world.

#7 “Split Personality” – Doc Ice is at his finest on this lone track from the “Skeezer Pleezer” album in 1986. Unfortunate album cover aside, this album is almost solely Kangol, Ice, and Mix Master as the Educated Rapper was receiving help for a drug problem during this time, and probably the main reason (well that and the unfortunate album cover) why I never dug into this album much. But on this particular track Doc Ice absolutely slays the first verse.

Sorry, but who thought this was a dope album cover?

#6 “Wanna Rock” From the “Doin’ It” album, this song sampled 1973’s “Love Is the Message” by MFSB and is the only song here that doesn’t feature Doc Ice as Kangol and Educated Rapper take their turns on the mic while Doc Ice had left to pursue a solo career (1989’s “The Mic Stalker”). Mix Master working the tables at the end of the song sampling from Rob Base and DJ Eazy Rock’s “It Takes Two” is a highlight for me on this song.

#5 “Beats and Rhymes” – “Fly girls feel the groove. Homeboys bust a move.” Just remember it’s not beans and rice. With Full Force providing a catchy hook, the three MC’s take turns completing each other’s lines in the first verse followed by verses that each perform individually on this danceable track from their debut album.

#4 “Fairytale Lover” – If you’re a fan of the slow rap jams (think LL’s “I Need Love”), then you might enjoy this one. Also from their debut album, I’ll go ahead and issue a “corny lyrics warning” right here, but pay attention to the lyrics anyway because DJ Run sure did, and it was these lyrics that inspired Run DMC’s “Peter Piper.”

#3 “Roxanne, Roxanne” So go ahead and beef with me if you think this should be #1. I acknowledge that this is UTFO’s most famous song which led to the “The Roxanne Wars” for years to come after this song was released. Rolling Stone listed it as one of the greatest 100 rap songs of all-time (#84). Maybe it’s because I really didn’t hear this song first. I mean, I don’t know or can’t recollect for sure if I heard this song before their “Lethal” album or not, but I do concede the importance of the song in rap lore.

#2 “Hanging Out” – I don’t mean to offend you, but that’s just the way I am (I guess). I’m not going to argue with Kool DJ Red Alert at all, but I’m here to say this A-side still sits ahead (for me anyway) of the B-side’s “Roxanne, Roxanne.” Rap blasphemy I know, but I just love the beat and rhythm to this song. You get a verse featuring candy bars and another verse of indecipherable slang lyrics made popular in the early 80’s by funk musician Frankie Smith and later on in the early 90’s by Snoop Dogg. Without a doubt it’s all about hanging out. Five out of the 10 songs are from their debut album, but not my favorite…

And my #1 UTFO song that will always hold a special place in my heart – probably from all of the times I played it over and over in my Sony Walkman (many times on a big yellow school bus heading to or from a basketball game) – it’s the highlight of the “Lethal” album – “Ya Cold Wanna Be With Me”…

R.I.P. Kangol Kid (and Educated Rapper for that matter who passed away from cancer in 2017).

Days before his passing, Kangol posted this picture of he and hip-hop’s “other” Kangol-wearing legend, LL Cool J.

Take care of yourself, and thanks for reading.

sincerely,

the 80’s

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“Come They Told Me”

“Pa rum pum pum pum.” – Various artists (written by Katherine Kennicott Davis)

for King & Country

Ah yes, it is the beautiful musical story of the little boy who had nothing to bring the newborn king, but instead carried his drum and played his gift for him. If you don’t like this song, or maybe you just dislike drummers in general for some peculiar reason, then you might want to check out of this post, but I’d encourage you not to because the story reminds me of something else – miracles.

Many of us are looking for miracles this season… something to lift the spirit… something to give us hope and joy and even a purpose during those dark times that so often crash down around and upon us during times that are supposed to be the most joyous of occasions.

This is the first Christmas without my dad who passed away in August, and it’s been difficult. I find myself tearing up over the silliest and most mundane things this season. I see something Irish (my dad was full blood Irish) – I tear up. I watch one of our family friends coaching basketball on tv (there are a few at prominent universities and on tv frequently) – I tear up. I watch a video of a rendition of my dad’s favorite Righteous Brothers’ song at a friend’s house that they had randomly selected, and you guessed it – watery eyes. Is there a cat in here? Is someone slicing onions? It’s my pine tree allergies!

Honestly, it’s almost like a new calendar has been created. It’s 1 A.D. (After Dad), and there will be many more firsts over the next several months. I read a book recently by the musician Richard Marx called “Stories to Tell” (thank you 2Loud2Old for the recommendation). In a book full of many outstanding stories, I found some of the more poignant moments that connected with me were when Richard spoke about his dad. Richard says that it took him nearly a year to fully process the passing of his father whom he loved and respected very much. I believe him. My wife is in 2 A.D. since my father-in-law passed in March of 2020 and she says she is thinking about him a lot at this time of year as well.

It’s natural to think about our closest loved ones this time of year, and I’ve thought about my dad a lot this Christmas season. One of the few highlights the past few years has been when my wife and I would take he and mom to Christmas Eve Mass.

A lifelong Catholic, my dad attended Mass almost every Sunday and as far as I know never missed a Christmas Eve Mass either. Since they moved here in 2017, neither he nor my mom could drive anymore nor could they really keep up with the correct day and time, so every year my wife and I would pick them up and take them to Christmas Eve Mass. It brought me great pride and joy to be able to provide something so important to he and mom, but especially him. I sat there next to him at Christmas Eve Mass these past few years tearing up a little bit each time knowing that it might be the last one with him. Christmas Eve this year will be very different without him.

“Little baby
Pa rum pum pum pum
I am a poor boy too
Pa rum pum pum pum”

This is one of my favorite Christmas songs and it reminds me of the Christmas miracle known as the virgin birth of Jesus. It reminds me of humble beginnings and of having very little to offer. Beginning a life in a lowly stable most likely in a field or within a cave-like dwelling doesn’t exactly conjure up images of greatness or significance. Yet, that’s just what occurred some 2000+ years ago – significance in the form of a miracle that changed the course of history. And this song portrays so vividly the little boy who played his drum in honor of that miracle. And he didn’t just play it. He played his best for him.

This is my friend Annie. She sits in the same row as my wife and I just about every Sunday at church. Annie is in her mid 20’s, lives with her mother and father, has a flair for fashion (obviously!), and she has Down Syndrome. Annie can read and she can speak, but her language (or sometimes referred to as expressive language) is not of this world. When she speaks, it is a string of unintelligible words. But Annie also sings, and when she sings, she sings every word clearly and articulately. Is it always in tune? No, but it is still oh so beautiful. I have been around it so much now that I just take it for granted, but it is truly something special.

I’ve seen video and television shows where those with Down’s may be able to speak well and a few that actually sing very well too (an anomaly apparently in the Down’s community). But, I’ve never seen anyone who is unintelligible (expressive language) like Annie when speaking, yet has the receptive language skills to read every word and sing songs every Sunday. There may be some sort of science that explains this phenomenon. I’m not sure. I know very little of this condition, but I am sure if you look hard enough you can find a scientific reasoning for most anything.

I don’t really care if someone has labeled this already. I believe I’m actually a better person not understanding why or how this happens. What I do know is that if ever there were a time to believe in something… to be searching for something to hold onto during a difficult time… to just believe in miracles again… it is this time of year. Maybe you need something to lift your spirit. I do, and I realize that if you’re not looking very hard, then those miracles may be nothing more than stories from long ago that happened so very far away.

But if you’re looking, sometimes those miracles can actually just be a few seats away from you.

“The ox and lamb kept time. Pa rum pum pum pum.”

There are hundreds of different recordings of “The Little Drummer Boy” when you search for it in Spotify. So much that you could listen to the song for hours if you wanted. There is even a version called “The Little Drummer Girl” by Alicia Keys. I’ve listened to versions by The Jackson Five, Kenny Rogers, Johnny Cash, Bob Seger, and Josh Groban who all take a stab at the Christmas classic written by American composer Katherine Kennicott Davis in 1941, and originally called “Carol of the Drum.”

It was first recorded in 1951 by the Trapp Family, and popularized by a 1958 recording by the Harry Simeone Chorale. There is the famous 1977 duet by Bing Crosby and David Bowie from Bing’s final Christmas television special – “Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas.” I remember seeing that video numerous times around Christmas time in the 80’s on MTV. Honestly, I’ve never cared for it very much.

I checked out funky versions of the song by The Temptations and Destiny’s Child from 1980 & 2001 respectively. I tried the Lincoln Brewster/KJ-52 version and classic versions by Andy Williams and Johnny Mathis. New Kids on the Block, country superstar Faith Hill and the sisters Jessica and Ashlee Simpson cover it, and vocal powerhous Mandisa does a nice job with a drum line sounding version on her 2008 Christmas album. There’s even a ridiculously bad danceable version by Justin Bieber which features multiple raps by both the Biebs and Busta Rhymes throughout the song from Bieber’s 2011 Christmas album. I told you – I’ve listened to dozens of versions!

As this is predominantly an 80’s blog, I believe I have an 80’s version of the song that I like the best: it is the Joan Jett & The Blackhearts rock version from the early 80’s. The song was actually featured in a very average 1983 movie called “Class” starring Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy, Jacqueline Bisset and also featured John Cusack and Alan Ruck. The cast was the best thing about the movie, and I did enjoy Joan’s version of “Little Drummer Boy” popping up briefly during the movie.

You can check out her version right here or scroll on down for the cutest version of this song and finally my favorite version of the song…

With apologies to the late Whitney and Bobbi Christina Houston, the cutest version of the song goes to Carrie Underwood and her son Isaiah from Carrie’s 2020 Christmas album “My Gift”…

But my favorite version of the song is a contemporary version by the Australian-born brothers Joel and Luke Smallbone known as the band for King & Country. Ever since I saw this live version performed in 2017, it has easily topped the list for me. So if you want to check it out, here are the two younger brothers to Christian pop singer and songwriter Rebecca St. James, known as the band for King & Country with “Little Drummer Boy”…

Merry Christmas!

Pa rum pum pum pum,

the 80’s

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“Christmas Is the Time to Say I Love You”

“Share the joys of laughter and good cheer.” – Billy Squier

Christmas is the time when we do things or say things we may only do once a year or maybe once in a lifetime. It’s a season that brings out the best and the crazy in people. My wife and I watched a documentary on Apple TV+ a few nights ago called “Twas the Fight Before Christmas.” If you want to watch a documentary about a fight over a Christmas display that is still in dispute to this day and will make you shake your head in disbelief and occasionally go “whaaaaatttt?”, then you could do worse than this selection. I won’t give you any spoilers but the main character in question is an attorney and it’s about his right to put on a Christmas display at his house in a neighborhood where the H.O.A. is opposed. There’s more layers to it than just that, but it’s a funny, fascinating, contentious, and at times cringe-worthy documentary.

“Memories of the year that lays behind us
Wishes for the year that’s yet to come
And it stands to reason that good friends in season
Make you feel that life has just begun.”

Speaking of crazy people… Not really, but I was a senior at Norman High School in Norman, Oklahoma during Christmas break of 1988-89. My best friend Barry and I had time on our hands and a video camera so we set out to entertain ourselves. We drove by houses decorated in Christmas lights and proceeded to review or “grade” these houses based solely on our own juvenile standards. We thought we were hilarious… and we were! Ok, comedy is highly subjective, but man we did think we were pretty funny at the time degrading the light colors and/or displays at houses throughout Norman. Houses with all red lights were of the devil and representative of hell! See? That’s just an example of how funny we were.

We also made a stop at a local 7-Eleven convenience store, and (in my opinion) it was probably the highlight of the video. I’m glad 7-Eleven is still around. Founded in Dallas in 1927 and originally called “Tote’m Stores,” they changed their name to 7-Eleven in 1946 to match their store hours seven days a week. They were the first convenience store to stay open 24 hours and also first to offer ATM services. I also didn’t have any clue, but there are apparently over 71,000 7-Elevens in 17 countries currently. Kudos to you 7-Eleven! You’ll always have a special place in my youthful heart for your delicious Cherry-flavored Slurpee.

Maybe next year I will post a few of our Christmas light reviews from the same night, but for your immediate Christmastime enjoyment, here is my buddy Barry in his Santa hat taking us all on a little 90 second tour of what a 7-Eleven was like during Christmastime in 1988…

Ninety-nine cent video rentals! Video games! And tell me that’s not Brad Hamilton from Fast Times at Ridgemont High working the register!

“So when spirits grow lighter
And hopes are shinin’ brighter
Then you know that Christmas time is here”

I feel like this song deserved at least 30 more seconds to it, and I feel like it deserves a 2021 remake with as much of the original cast as possible. Why has no one pulled this off? Nonetheless, let us travel back to 1981 just months after the launch of the little cable channel known as MTV on August 1, 1981.

This is truly an 80’s Christmas classic. Written by Billy, it was the B-side to his hit “My Kinda Lover,” here is Squier, the MTV VJ’s (RIP J.J.), and the rest of the MTV crew with “Christmas is the Time to Say I Love You”…

Thanks for reading, and oh how I love you, dear reader.

Feel the love and Merry Christmas!

sincerely,

the 80’s

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“I’m a Loc’d Out Gangsta, Set Trippin’ Banger”


“And my homies is down, so don’t arouse my anger” – Coolio

Coolio 1995

If ever any lyrics mirrored my early life, it is … not these. Mind you, I always thought myself to be a bad man when simultaneously spitting the verses from this song in unison with our peculiar-haired author. But in reality, I was nervous in my youth just driving in an unfamiliar suburban neighborhood during the daytime. And I sure wasn’t going anywhere near any hood, wherever the hood was.

This is also a post I’ll subtitle as “Misheard Lyrics Volume 1.” And the reason for that is that I always thought (maybe sub-consciously) Coolio was saying “I’m a loc’d out gangsta, set trippin’ banker.” It made sense to me that he was bragging that he had so much money that he was like a bank. Alas, it’s “banger,” which I guess makes more sense than banker, but I still prefer my version. And why wouldn’t I? As some of you regular readers know, I’ve been in banking for 20+ years, so of course I wanted it to be a “set trippin’ banker!”

There are a few more things I want to unpack with this #1 hit by Coolio from 1995. First of all, you can’t mention this song without its’ almost as equally entertaining parody from Weird Al Yankovich – “Amish Paradise.” Weird Al’s song actually cracked the Billboard Hot 100 peaking at #53. Coolio did not appreciate the parody and apparently did not want Al making the song. Al tells the story that Coolio’s record company gave permission, so he proceeded to do so. To his credit, Coolio long ago became ok with Weird Al’s version saying his reasoning for not wanting the parody of his song “one of the least smart things I’ve done over the years.”

“I’m 23 now but will I live to see 24? The way things is going I don’t know.”

This song was released in August of 1995 and I had actually made it to 24 in March of the same year. During this time I was working for a small market top 40 radio station in Macomb, Illinois called K-100. The town of Macomb was mostly comprised of a farming community of about 10,000 people and double that amount during the school year when the Western Illinois University campus was open for business. As a DJ during the midday and on weekends, I had very little choice in the songs that were played. Our program manager still recorded the songs from cds onto giant reels, and we had three reel-to-reel machines in the studio. One reel always had the current top 40 songs. The second reel had “recent hits” that were hits within the last year and then the third reel may have had hits from 1-5 years earlier. We had a cd player in the studio also for random things like pre-recorded shows such as “Backtrax U.S.A. with Kid Kelly,” or the top 40 countdown or movie trivia contests and such.

These are similar to what we had in our studio at K-100.

We had cd’s that came in the mail every week with current hit songs and cds that had songs that were “on the rise.” But, we rarely played songs directly from the cds because our program director cut the ones we were to play onto the reels. At least every third song had to be played from our current hits reel, and so it was that my ears bled with every Hootie song that came up (and Hootie was HUGE during this time) sandwiched in between Dave Matthews’ “What Would You Say?” and Del Amitri’s “Roll to Me.” The pop hits of 1994-95 will forever be time-stamped into my memory.

“Power and the money, money and the power. Minute after minute, hour after hour”

My final shift at the radio station occurred on a Saturday in late August of ’95. I had the 3pm to midnight shift at which time the station would go on auto-pilot until the Sunday morning programming began. By this time, I had heard Coolio’s new song and was hooked. Unfortunately, our middle-aged white program director at the time had nothing like this in the rotation yet. To be fair, it wasn’t in the top 40 yet (it was barely a blip on top 40 radio), but in the year I had worked at the station we had never played a rap song of any kind. It all changed that Saturday night.

I’d like to spin some awesome tale about how the powers-that-be had to come down to the radio station and escort me out after I had played not one, but TWO rap songs between 11 pm and midnight! It didn’t happen, but what were they going to do? Fire me? I had played the friendlier, more radio-ready (and still one of my all-time favorite 90’s rap songs) “I Wish” by Skee-Lo sometime after 11, and then finished my shift by playing “Gangsta’s Paradise” just before midnight. I do remember the phone in the station rang during the song, and I remember thinking that it was going to be the program director or maybe even the station owner calling to chew me out. So I went gangsta mode again, and instead of boldly answering, I just let it ring. Phone? What phone? I don’t hear it. Nobody here to answer it anyway. Nope. Everyone is gone.

And so my short stint in top 40 radio came to an end that night. There were no repercussions, no angry phone calls the next day, no blurb in the local newspaper about my daring song selection. Heck, it went totally unnoticed as far as I know. But I’d like to think that there were people surprisingly pleased around midnight that Saturday when Coolio hit the airwaves for the first time in the small town.

“As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I take a look at my life and realize there’s nothin’ left.”

I find it interesting that Coolio quotes from the Bible with his first line – a nod to Psalm 23, which apparently just came out as Coolio heard the beat from Stevie Wonder’s “Pastime Paradise” and just started writing.

It became Billboards Hot 100’s top song of 1995 – a first for a rap song. It also topped the charts in 16 countries. It earned Coolio a Grammy for best rap performance as well. Here is “Gangsta’s Paradise”…

And of course, what would this post be without Weird Al’s parody, “Amish Paradise”…

Thanks for reading.

sincerely,

your set trippin’ banker

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