Still not my (trick-or-treat) bag

At the Green Bay Record Convention on Saturday, one of the record diggers asked whether I had any spooky or eerie music. No, sorry. But I did have a suggestion. So here, adapted from a blog post written 10 years ago, is my take on Halloween and my recommendation for that gent.

Halloween is not my thing.

We always went trick-or-treating when we were kids, but we never had the cool costumes. Our parents raised three boys on a rather modest income, so we would get a mask — usually a popular cartoon character — and that would be about it. Just the way it was.

Masks meant a choice of the lesser of two evils: Wear my glasses under the mask and have the mask not fit properly, or go without my glasses and not see anything clearly. I remember going as Superman because it was easy enough to scare up a cape, and you didn’t need a mask. (And you could take the glasses on and off as needed.)

On Halloween 1970, we were visiting my grandmother, so we had to go trick-or-treating in her town that Saturday night. Grandma lived in an old rental house in a rundown neighborhood hard by the railroad tracks in a small central Wisconsin town. We were kids, so we never really noticed. It was just Grandma’s neighborhood.

My brothers and I — we were 13, 11 and 6 — had covered a couple of blocks when we walked up to a low-slung one-story house with a flat roof and a bunch of junk in the yard. It faced the tracks. We rang the doorbell and shouted “Trick or treat!”

After a short while, the door creaked open and a disheveled middle-aged woman peered out. Startled, it took her a couple of moments to comprehend what we were doing there. I was only 13, but somehow, I knew what was going on. She wasn’t expecting anyone.

The woman didn’t say much — maybe “Oh, my” — and then walked away from the door. Through the screen door, we saw her rummaging around a table. She came back to the door and dropped a couple of pennies into each of our bags.

The woman who wasn’t expecting anyone didn’t have anything to give anyone, either. I suppose we kept on trick-or treating that night, but that was it for me. Done forever.

I’ve always wondered whether the kids in that little town just knew — or were told — not to go down to that house. We were visitors, and kids, and didn’t know any better.

Ever since, Halloween has not been my thing.

However, in the spirit of the season, I will confess …

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— I greatly prefer “The Addams Family” over “The Munsters.” Make of that what you will.

— Horror movies? Also not my thing, though I watched enough of them late at night in the mid-’70s. I had a girlfriend who liked them more than she liked me. The ones I enjoyed most had Vincent Price in them. He was cool, as my friend Andrew explained long ago in one of his lovingly crafted Halloween countdown posts over at Armagideon Time.

— I like “The Cask of Amontillado,” an Edgar Allan Poe story in which a man is plied with wine, then sealed behind a brick wall and left to die. I discovered it in high school. Some 20 years later, in 1995, I also dug the “Homicide: Life on the Streets” episode partly based on that story.

“The Cask of Amontillado” also is one of the cuts on the only album I associate with Halloween. It is, of course, “Tales of Mystery and Imagination,” the first album by the Alan Parsons Project. It’s a prog rock concept album based on Poe’s stories.

By the mid-’70s, Parsons was highly regarded for his work as an engineer on albums by the Beatles, Paul McCartney, the Hollies and Pink Floyd. He then became a producer, then created “Tales of Mystery and Imagination” with Eric Woolfson, who pitched him the idea.

More than 200 musicians played on that 1976 album, which was arranged by Andrew Powell.

You know “The Raven” from that album. It wasn’t the single — that was “(The System of) Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether” — but it became more widely played, and rightly so.

So, for your Halloween listening pleasure … two treats only. No tricks.

“The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Tell-Tale Heart,” the Alan Parsons Project, from “Tales of Mystery and Imagination,” 1976.

(Arthur Brown does the wild vocals on the latter.)

My copy is the original vinyl. I haven’t heard the late ’80s CD version, to which Parsons added readings by Orson Welles and extra synthesizers.

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Filed under October 2017, Sounds

Remembering Muddy Wilbury

Everyone takes something different away from the music they hear.

Sometimes an obscure lyric or chord or melody is seared into your head forever. Sometimes something everyone else digs barely registers with you.

There you have the sum of my experience with Tom Petty.

When he died earlier this month, there I was, standing off to the side again. As the parade of deeply felt and richly deserved tributes streamed past, there I was, holding up a tiny sign that read “I liked the Traveling Wilburys.”

“Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3” came out 27 years ago next week, in late October 1990. It’s one of my favorite records from a time when I wasn’t exactly sure what I liked. That was a time when many of my favorite artists had either lost their way or fallen off the map. It also came out at a time when CDs were overtaking vinyl, and I was still sorting all that out. I have the CD. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Roy Orbison — old Lefty Wilbury — was gone, so this incarnation of the Wilburys consisted of Spike, Muddy, Clayton and Boo Wilbury. You know, George Harrison, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and Bob Dylan. Still a good group. I’d listen to any group with Spike and Clayton, then and now.

Muddy sang lead on two of the 10 cuts on the record. This one, with Clayton singing the bridge, has long been one of my favorites.

“You Took My Breath Away,” the Traveling Wilburys, from “Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 3,” 1990. It’s still available.

Still a good way to remember Tom Petty.

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Filed under October 2017, Sounds

Missed that scene

Upon my arrival in Madison, Wisconsin, in the summer of 1982, WORT expanded my horizons every weekday afternoon. There was something new and mind-blowing seemingly every day on the indie radio station at 89.9 FM.

Though my sweet spot was the emerging Americana music genre, I also was exposed to something harder-edged, something distant even from the trippy sounds I’d heard on free-form FM radio just a decade earlier.

The WORT DJs loved these new groups: the Replacements, Black Flag, the Meat Puppets, X, the Minutemen and then fIREHOSE, almost anything from the mighty SST and Twin Tone labels.

And, yeah, Hüsker Dü.

Writing this evening in the wake of Hüsker Dü drummer Grant Hart’s death, my friend Larry Grogan said:

“It’s entirely likely that if you are of a certain age or taste Hüsker Dü might have either been off your radar completely or not your cup of tea.”

I must plead guilty. I heard all those groups on WORT, but I am of a certain age. I’m just a little older than Grant Hart and just a little older than my many friends who dug Hüsker Dü and who keenly feel the loss of Hart today.

It just wasn’t my scene. But by all accounts, what a scene it was.

Again, my friend Larry:

“How exciting it was to do zines, and play in bands, and go to basement/loft shows of all kinds and discover that there was an entire underground world of people just like you that felt the same way about things, and creating/connecting in a pre-internet world where in-person and snail-mail were the order of the day. Grant Hart and Hüsker Dü were a big part of that world. … It was truly a different time, and unless you were there, you’ll never really know how amazing it all was.”

Turns out, a good half-dozen friends were part of that amazing scene. Norb’s band opened for Hüsker Dü at a venue that was more or less in my Madison neighborhood, then had a memorable encounter with Hart years later. Paul hung out with the band and also had a memorable encounter with Hart. Tom worked one of their last shows. Dave has good memories of Hart opening for Patti Smith with a most unexpected cover.

I respect their passion for Hart and for Hüsker Dü, one expressed so well by my friend Vince, another member of the Clan Grogan of New Jersey:

“No band hit me out of the gate or has stayed with me so potently as Hüsker Dü. They inspired me to play the way I do and were so beyond so many of their contemporaries. Their music is always close at hand. They were the perfect combination of smarts, emotion, hooks, and pure unadulterated fury.”

Reflect that passion. Go play some Hüsker Dü records.

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Filed under September 2017, Sounds

What I did on my summer vacation

Wait, I didn’t have a summer vacation. We moved our son to grad school in Ohio earlier this month. I saw a record store as we returned the U-Haul to Hamilton, Ohio, but we didn’t stop.

That said, I did manage to make a couple of record-digging excursions. We were in the Twin Cities on Fourth of July weekend, and a couple of weeks later, I made a swing through northern Illinois.

They turned out to be bittersweet trips.

My favorite record store in the Twin Cities was disappointing. Lots of records to look through, but it’s one of those places that’s increasingly mixing new vinyl with the used vinyl in the bins. Worst of all, the place smelled. Not that musty old record smell. No, it smelled of the pets that have the run of the place.

The good news is that I discovered a new favorite record store in the Twin Cities. My friend Todd, who runs one of our local indie record stores, tipped me to Mill City Sound in west suburban Hopkins. We’ve been going to the Twin Cities for almost 40 years, but had never been in this part of the area. Highly recommended, both for the record digging and for the small-town vibe of downtown Hopkins.

My $30 record-digging haul at Mill City Sound included the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” (yeah, a reissue, but you don’t see it often) and Sonny Curtis’ “Beatle Hits Flamenco Guitar Style” (which I’d never seen). I was so stoked to find those among the new arrivals that I forgot to circle back to grab another one I’d seen. So we returned two days later to get “Manufacturers of Soul” by Jackie Wilson and Count Basie, which was one of the records left behind on another record-digging trip two years ago.

My favorite record store in Rockford, Illinois, also was disappointing. Lots of records to look through, but one of those places that’s diversifying into new vinyl, used equipment and comic books. Worst of all, they seem to be mailing it in on the used vinyl. Bins jammed so full you couldn’t flip through them. No room in the bins? Just throw new arrivals on top, loose. Come on. Make an effort.

The good news is that I discovered a new favorite record store in Rockford. A decade ago, Culture Shock started out as a punk shop. It’s since matured into a place billed rather accurately as “half rock ‘n roll boutique and half record store.” Recommended on both counts, even if I didn’t find anything that day.

When I go record digging, whether on the road or here at home, I don’t have a wish list. But I do keep an eye out for early Bob Seger records, even though I have most of them.

Bob Seger was playing across town while I wrote this tonight. Zero interest in going because I know he never plays any of the great stuff from before the Silver Bullet days. So here’s one from the Bob Seger record I’ve never seen. Neither has my friend Dave, from whom I’ve been buying records since the ’80s.

“Noah,” from “Noah,” the Bob Seger System, 1969. It’s out of print.

More on this and some of Bob Seger’s other greatest hits in this post from 2011.

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Filed under August 2017, Sounds

Sundays at 8: Goodbye, Glen

My memories of Glen Campbell, who died yesterday at 81, come almost entirely from television. I think back to the earliest ’70s, and I see our family sitting together around the TV.

There was something for everyone on “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour.” Comedy skits for Dad, country music for Grandma, folk and rock groups for me. That, in the fall of 1970, was our life. I pinpoint 1970 because that’s where the facts confirm the memory.

In the 1970-71 TV season, Glen Campbell’s show followed “The Ed Sullivan Show” on CBS on Sunday nights. That was appointment television. My grandfather died as that TV season began, so I’m certain we spent a few Sunday nights watching TV with Grandma, most likely during the holidays, when Sunday wasn’t a school night for a 13-year-old.

Here’s about 18 minutes that may give some idea of what that was like. His guests, ever so briefly, include the Smothers Brothers, John Hartford, Nancy Sinatra, Stevie Wonder, Tom Jones, and Sonny and Cher.

However, television eventually gave way to the radio for me. Glen Campbell faded from my radio until the mid-’70s. His new songs? Too much corn.

Along the way, Glen Campbell became a train wreck. He’s almost unwatchable in a “Tonight Show” clip with Don Rickles and Dom DeLuise from September 1973. He’s jacked up on something, and even Johnny Carson acknowledges it. Then along came Tanya Tucker, and more drugs and alcohol, and Glen Campbell became tabloid fodder. Didn’t really think much about him for a long time.

Fast forward to the last decade. Fellow music bloggers have pointed the way to gems from Glen Campbell’s long career, helping me rediscover his greatness.

Then, in June 2011, came his Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Our family knows all too well what that means. You lose a loved one long before they go. We bought tickets for “The Glen Campbell Goodbye Tour” stop in Wausau, Wisconsin, in December 2011, but the show we’d hoped to see was postponed. He had laryngitis, it was said. We couldn’t make the rescheduled date.

Shortly thereafter, we had a second chance. The Goodbye Tour came back around, this time in Green Bay in June 2012. We passed. No regrets. We chose to remember a vibrant Glen Campbell instead of a 76-year-old man who was a year into an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

You’ve heard all the hits again this week. So please enjoy these tunes, proof again of Glen Campbell’s gift for interpreting other people’s songs.

“Grow Old With Me,” Glen Campbell, from “Meet Glen Campbell,” 2008. A cover of one of John Lennon’s last songs. (Also available digitally.)

“Times Like These,” Glen Campbell, also from “Meet Glen Campbell,” 2008. The Foo Fighters never sounded so elegant.

“Wichita Lineman/By The Time I Get To Phoenix” the Dells, from “Love Is Blue,” 1969. The great Chicago soul group acknowledges Glen Campbell’s greatness at his peak. Only Glen Campbell can make the Dells sound rough by comparison.

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Filed under August 2017, Sounds

Paul and John and Andy and Jeff

On Twitter today, a reminder of the power of a random meeting.

On this day 60 years ago, at a church picnic in Woolton, a suburb of Liverpool, 15-year-old Paul McCartney met 16-year-old John Lennon for the first time. They changed the world.

Who had that kind of impact on your life? For me, it was the kid across the alley.

Late in the summer of 1966, my family had moved from a rental flat on the south side of Sheboygan, Wisconsin, to a rental home on the north side of town. We went from a neighborhood with few kids to a neighborhood that was full of them.

I’d just turned 9 that summer. The kid who lived across the alley, the kid who became my best friend for three glorious years in the late ’60s, was a year younger. Andy turned me on to sports.

We played baseball and football in our long back yards and basketball on the hoops in the alley between our houses. We were kids, so of course we also played baseball with a Superball, which was equal parts insane and tremendous. But we went down to the diamond with the high fence for that.

We collected baseball cards, then football cards as one season gave way to another. We’d stay home to watch the Packers with our dads in the early game on Sunday afternoons. Then we’d meet in the back yard to play our own game, then plop down in Andy’s living room to watch the late-afternoon AFL game.

By the time my family moved to another rental house on the south side of Sheboygan in the late summer of 1969, I was way deep into sports. Years later, another friend from that time said I was the most sports-crazy kid he knew. Guilty as charged, and no apologies.

Andy turned me on to sports, and it changed my world. So many of the good things that have happened in my life have happened because of sports.

When we moved back to the other side of town, I was 12 and Andy was 11. We did not see each other again for more than 45 years. We reconnected on Facebook, then in real life. We’re still in touch, Andy in Milwaukee and me in Green Bay.

Our paths have been remarkably similar. Both of us have had long careers in the media, Andy in broadcast, me in print. Both of us got into those careers through sports. Both of us are married with one child, and our kids are the same age. We look at the world in much the same way. We dig a bunch of the same things.

Which brings us back to the Beatles.

That is Richard Avedon’s portrait of John Lennon on the Jan. 9, 1968, cover of Look magazine. I bought it two years ago when my friend Jim threw open his garage for one of his record sales.

I posted my find on Facebook. Andy saw it that night.

“I have that same issue with Lennon on the cover,” Andy told me.

Whoa. Cue the final chord of “A Day in the Life.”

And say hi to my friend Andy, won’t you?

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Filed under July 2017

The State of the Blog

This has not been a good week for writing on digital platforms.

First Fox Sports announced it was dropping writers in favor of video.

Then MTV News did pretty much the same thing.

Closer to home, the blogosphere continues to evolve. Those of us who’ve been doing this for a long while continue to see page views decline.

Yet I remain bullish on the blog, and on this blog.

I am encouraged and energized that my friends JB, Whiteray, DJ Pres, Casey, Andrew, Gunther and Soul Brotha Dave, all among my regular reads, keep on keepin’ on.

I am most encouraged and energized by the evolution over at the mighty Funky 16 Corners, where my friend Larry is taking the logical next steps. He is writing less but sharing more by hosting three regular live broadcasts: “Testify!” on Wednesday nights on WFMU, the Funky 16 Corners Radio Show on Thursday nights on Mixlr and now the Iron Leg Radio Show once a month on Cruising Radio. These shows, also available as podcasts after they air live, are highly recommended.

The content here hasn’t been much to write home about over the past year or so. Life intrudes. But there are still lots of tunes here at AM, Then FM World Headquarters to be explored.

More to come.

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Filed under June 2017