Monthly Archives: October 2010

friday night it was late i was walking you home

10/12/10

A few more words about the AM radio hits of roughly 1975-81… the advent of sulfuric-powered irony had already made many of those songs cliché by the time Judd Apatow put them in every movie (Afternoon Delight in particular), especially since the Yacht Rock videos had given the genre a brilliant name. Before that, in 1994-95, the brilliant-before-his-time Sam Pratt had a whole issue of his zine Ersatz dedicated to the topic. Go back farther, however, and you get to 1992, when Jon “Noj” Gray, Matt McMichaels and I put together an acoustic cover band playing nothing but those particular songs we liked.

Bizarrely, we were a huge hit, despite not trying very hard. Sure, we practiced a lot, but it was pretty effortless – I remember the day I got the idea, I went downstairs in the Purple House to talk to the guys, and they said, “we were just about to come upstairs to pitch the same idea.” A couple of sorority chicks had already forged a duo called “She Says” and were playing Paul Simon covers, and we were determined to blow ’em out of Chapel Hill’s waters.

We knew the social chairman at most of the fraternities, despite being a year or two out of school, and they hired us early and often. Eventually, a frat at NC State got wind, and invited us on their pledge formal, which was an all-night booze cruise up the Chesapeake Bay. I had a flu-induced temperature of 103 and was hallucinating while playing Haulin’ Oats and Kenny Loggins, but the entire boat began to chant “DAMN GOOD BAND! DAMN GOOD BAND!” (Noj, please verify)

A partial playlist from the top of my head: “Things We Do For Love”, “Private Eyes”, “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)”, “Dance With Me”, “You Are The Woman”, “Moonlight Feels Right”, “Don’t Bring Me Down”, “I’m Alright”, “Wishing You Were Here”, “Sharing the Night Together” and we even threw in “Take On Me”, “Careless Whisper” and “Come On Eileen” (with me on violin) for the chicks needing an ’80s fix. Matt and Jon did a great duet of Never Going Back Again, I sang the Beatles’ No Reply, and there was some bizarre medley that contained Matthew Sweet’s I’ve Been Waiting.

This was about ten minutes before the Internet happened, so just finding these songs (and therefore lyrics) became an odyssey in itself. It took me three months to track down I Love You by the Climax Blues Band – I finally found it on a 45 single at a consignment shop in Durham. A bunch of songs came from the 8-track carts at WCHL in Chapel Hill, where I was the “movie reviewer” by day, song-dubbing thief by night.

One thing lost in all the wink/nudge and nostalgia is how good those bands were, and how complicated those pop songs could be. The three of us were able to pull them off because we were pretty fucking good at our instruments and sang 3-part harmonies in tune, but if you look at the Ambrosia video Joanna linked to, it’s frequently 4-part harmonies (even the drummer is belting it out) and the chord changes are mesmerizing. Just try and do what this bassist is doing, even without the “Joanie from Happy Days” hairstyle:

 

More than that, I think many of these songs are more punk than what came after, just for their utter lack of restraint. I give to you, as a public service, the video for “Baby Come Back” by Player. I defy you to find anything more “dick in the dirt” than the dramatic pause at 2:45…

 

Not to mention the amphibious dual keyboarding, featured both in this song and in “Video Killed the Radio Star”:

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As Noj said one night about “Moonlight Feels Right”, the singer chuckles lasciviously not just after the first verse, but after all of them:

dig the marimba solo AND the marimba soloist uniform

 

It was an era that wasn’t afraid to use what could only be semicolons:

“I like feeling like I do

And I see in your eyes that you’re liking it; I’m liking it too…”

– Dr. Hook, “Sharing the Night Together”

“You can run but you cannot hide; this is widely known…”

– James Taylor, “Shower the People”

“We could go walkin’ through a windy park

Take a drive along the beach

Or stay at home and watch TV; you see, it really doesn’t matter much to me…

– England Dan and John Ford Coley, “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight”

Needless to say, our little cover band (called, originally, “Purple House”) made thousands of dollars over the course of a year – which, adjusted for inflation, was a lot of bourbon and cokes. I got a new amplifier for my violin and Joanna sold me a leather jacket at Barree Station on Franklin Street. And then we sorta stopped doing it, because it was all feeling a little too easy, and we wanted to be writing our own songs.

But I’m still proud of the fact that we seduced our little micro-generation, the specific group of college kids born between 1968 and 1973, by doing conjuring up the songs that would crackle out of one speaker in the middle of our mom’s dashboard. Sometimes I’ll hear “Dance With Me” on the speakers at a grocery store, and remember that I got to spend the night with a hot KD from Georgia because she dug the lilting bassline.

i see in your eyes that you’re likin’ it; i’m likin’ it too

10/11/10

I’ve labored long and hard to rise above the hoi polloi; it has only been through steadfast dedication to my ideals that I’ve been able to conjure the wit and sophistication inherent to my station. It is incumbent – nay! A responsibility! – to share my boundless understanding of the way the world yaws and flutters through consciousness…

Er…

Oh, okay. Fine! I BOUGHT A REDNECK HOT TUB!!!

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I admit it, I’ve always wanted a hot tub of some variety, and that’s sure as hell what I got. Because I bought a putter and a sand wedge from an online golf distributor two years ago, I was put on a Frequent Buyers List that offers these crazy awesome deals. Well, they’re only “crazy awesome” if you’re in the market for eight-irons and aprons that say “SHIT! I SLICED IT!”… but a few weeks ago, they were selling these portable spas for hardly anything.

Did I get one? Yes I did. Did I figure my wife was going to loathe it? Yes I did. But I also knew she’d come around once she got in there with me, and I put on my Slow Grooves cassette tape. Sure, the “jets” are just air bubbles (a little like blowing into your straw when you’ve got chocolate milk) but anyone who says they’re not relaxing in my redneck hot tub is either lying or claustrophobic.

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I will light candles. I will blow out the candles because I forgot I had to put Lucy to bed. Then I will light the candles again. Then I will put on the music:

Sharing the Night Together by Dr. Hook

We Just Disagree by Dave Mason

Crazy Love by Poco

On and On by Stephen Bishop

Love Will Find a Way by Pablo Cruise

… and my wife will say, “what are these songs?” And I will say “these are the songs playing on the radio when I was four years old in the back seat of the car, thinking of all the hairy dudes and Me Decade girls slipping into hot tubs and looking up at the warm wind blowin’ the stars around.”

And she will understand. Oh……yeah.

oh my beloved ice cream bar

10/10/10

You’ll have to forgive any lapses on my part, as Tessa has abandoned me for the lascivious devil-may-care of New York City this week. Lucy and I are doing just fine thanks (with the help of my mom and my brother Steve) but we do miss that blonde Carolina chick terribly, and try to video chat whenever her hotel wifi allows:

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This weekend was the first weekend I’ve been here that allowed for the actual Doing of Beach Things, since it was cloudy and cold from January until a couple of weeks ago. Everywhere we went, the locals were like, “so… summer starts in late October now?”

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Lucy walks oceanward with her grandma and our neighbors

It was the first time I had stepped into the ocean since mid-2009, which is a travesty, I tellsya:

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The school brunch picnic (brunchnic?) had a face-painter there, but I wasn’t entirely impressed with his artistic range:

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Lulubeans (left) and friends

I’d bought a completely over-ornate bundt cake pan because I motherscratchin’ LOVE bundt cake. This thing looks like it was hand-forged in aluminum by the flying buttress-makers of medieval Paris. My mom harkened back to our childhood and made her patented – and indescribably yumblicious – Caramel Apple Slightly Gooey & Totally Awresome Bundt Freakout:

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Oh brown sugar and butter, is there anything you can’t do?

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i was going for “retro salmon chiffon” meets “punk laura ashley”

10/6/10

I can’t remember how I got invited, but I’ve been a member of the online sale “club” Gilt for a few months now, and they’re pretty awesome. You can get suits from the top names in the biz for a quarter of the price, and I’m especially fond of their vintage-y polos that I can wear to meetings in this town without looking like a scalawag. Tessa has gotten deals on some gorgeous stuff of her own, and if your closet is getting stale, I highly recommend it.

But! (as Lucy would say) There are some choices being made in the middlebrow fashion world that defy basic logic. For instance, get a load of this stigmata-meets-black lung disease gem:

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And these pants, with a symmetrical stain right across the urethra:

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My favorite has to be this one. A normal T-shirt with a vomitorium toga sewed onto one side. Worse yet, they offer it in different sizes:

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Everything I know about fashion I get from Tim Gunn, and there’s no way he’d let this shit out on the runway without a withering stare of paternal despondency.

givin’ the ball ‘n’ chain the 23 skidoo

10/4/10

A propos of absolutely nothing, I found myself watching the lion’s share of this video – Barry Williams (Greg Brady) appearing on The Dating Game in 1972:

By no means do I recommend watching the whole thing (as opposed to Farrah Fawcett on the same show in 1969 – god, she was stunning) but to sample a bit, take a look around the 3-minute mark when all the girls say hello to Barry and then he asks Girl #2 about “promising not to get fresh.” I mean, it’s culturally stunning; the hair, the shiny faces without TV makeup, the lack of any kind of sophistication or self-awareness, the inane banter, and certainly no trace of irony. There is almost nothing about this video that resonates with a video from today – we might as well be looking at the etchings on a cave wall.

But this is only 1972. I turned five years old in 1972, exactly the same age Lucy is right now. And while the tyranny of “right now” overwhelms us out of perspective, I find it very hard to believe American culture will have changed so vastly by the time Lucy is my age, barring nuclear war, superviruses or our ability to levitate.

I mean, we might be in flying cars and have USB ports in our armpits, but my guess is that our style, language, and media self-awareness will be pretty similar. There will be precious few YouTube videos from this time that will be embarrassing in terms of fashion or patter, which is a pity. Could it be that Kids Today™ will have no more past to be embarrassed by?

Look at the way American culture has sped up to an infinite state of stasis. It’s like descriptions of falling into a black hole, or even Oliver Sacks’ prognosis of the “Awakenings” patients: we’re the equivalent of the Parkinson’s sufferers whose tremors got so fast they froze. It was easy to throw a ’60s or ’70s party in college, but it’ll be damn hard to throw an ’00s party, including what the hell to call it. And why? Because the decade had no outwardly defining characteristics!

This has been brewing for a long time. For example, let’s look at the ’80s. Here is a picture of Chip, the Budster, Jon and me in March 1987:

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Chip has a rugby shirt, Bud’s wearing a polo and Air Jordans, Jon’s got a Carolina hoodie, and I’m busting a sweater over an untucked button-down (I had parted my hair down the middle and wore fake glasses as a joke). There is no reason to think that picture is almost 24 years old, except for the “filmic” quality of the image. Bud’s Air Jordans are still all over the place as a “retro” option, and even Jon’s white 1986 Hyundai looks like a shitty rental car from today.

But let’s rewind 24 years before that, and what do you get? A time called “1963”:

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kids the same age as us above, in Chapel Hill no less, 1963

Let’s try another one. Here’s all of us at the Purple House on McCauley St. in 1993:

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That was 17 years ago, but you’d be hard-pressed to date it that far back. In fact, it looks just like the pictures my nephew Sam takes as a sophomore at UNC right now. For perspective, here’s a gathering of like-aged people at college 17 years before that picture, in 1976:

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I know that people who predict against change always get pilloried, but several things have combined to make the past less embarrassingly obvious in American society:

• ubiquitous social media makes many people “ready for prime time” or at the very least, better prepared for their 15 minutes of fame. When you get so much constant feedback about the way you look and the way you sound, you’re way more likely to conform to universal tried-and-true styles that won’t stand out, not even years from now.

• relentless focus-group testing means that very few products get out that aren’t vaguely satisfying to almost everybody. This is especially true of clothes, where my smart wife Tessa nailed the lockstep fashion of high school and college kids who now all buy from the same catalogs and stores at the mall. She calls it “catalog culture” and when you go to campuses, you’ll see it immediately. Function has triumphed over form, and that means that visual changes will be so slow as to be nonexistent.

• a fashion world bereft of ideas hasn’t helped matters either. This is true of the art world and pop music world as well – the best you can say for many artists is that they recycle another decade’s fashion brilliantly.

• a racially and sexually conscious world means that people are much less likely to go on record as racist or homophobic, thus immediately “dating” themselves as bigots. Tea Partiers notwithstanding, most Americans these days know better than to use a racial slur in public, even if they’re still racist.

• the loss of American accent dialects has been going on for a long time now, ever since the evening news started reaching rural America by radio (and later by TV), but now there’s so much interconnectivity that many of my Deep South friends have no accent at all. Whether people give up accents consciously or subconsciously, the lack of distinct dialects means that all audio or video coming out of the last 20 years is hard to age. [point well-refuted by commenters – ed.]

I’m sure there’s more – and I’m sure I’m wrong about the reasons – but it’s fascinating to think how outward American culture has skidded to a standstill for the last couple of decades. If anything, the “Internet Revolution” has only made the problem worse. Pretty soon, the only thing that will betray your decade will be your body – you may be wearing the same sweaters and speaking the same language, but your eyes have a tendency to give you away.

oh my nose

10/3/10

Like any budding neo-anthropologist, I’m always pitting myself against the concept of “normal”, so today’s code word question comes from the land of headaches, migraines and the usual sensory integration landscape.

To wit: how often do you get a headache, a migraine, or some other body pain? What specific drug or remedy do you use, how much do you use of it, and how often?

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the green ones look YUMBLY!