Here’s where this wandering entry began: I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss noting Tuesday’s incredibly supercool “Electrify Your Strings” concert, in which Trans-Siberian Orchestra founding member Mark Wood visited Kelsey’s school, held a day of clinics and practices with the schools’ entire orchestra program, and then led them in an amazing show in the high school gym.
For awhile now, Kelsey’s practice has hinted at what we were in for, as viola versions of “Sunshine of Your Love” and “Yellow Submarine” could be heard coming from her room. But on Tuesday, when Mark got up there and the youngest orchestra (fifth- and sixth-graders) launched into Queen’s “We Will Rock You” and the The Beatles’ “All Together Now,” it was like nothing I’ve heard before, and it was awfully neat.
For every song, in addition to Mark playing his own electric Viper, a few kids came to the front of the stage and wired up, too – three or four Vipers, and then one on the Cobra electric cello – so it was way more than a classical string sound.
I don’t remember the entire set list for all three orchestras – the seventh and eighth grades played as one, and then the high schoolers – but the oldest kids did a stirring version of “Eleanor Rigby”, followed by “Live and Let Die” which they segued directly into “Stairway to Heaven.” And it was a ton of fun watching all the kids go into full-rock mode, from the orchestras working standing and hollering and bow-waving into their performances to the electric players thrashing around and jumping off the stage and going down the aisles to play in the audience.
While the high-schoolers were, predictably, the rockin’-est, for Jenn & me the high point was during “Yellow Submarine,” when Mark brought Kelsey and a friend of hers to the front of the stage. During the previous day’s in-school practice, he had asked if anyone knew all the song’s lyrics, and the two of them were the sole volunteers – so he chose them to lead the singing during the concert! As if that weren’t cool enough, when he introduced them, he complimented Kelsey’s homemade tie-dyed shirt with her own painting of John Lennon’s famous self-portrait sketch. (Yes, this pretty much brought Jenn to near tears.)
Afterward, Kelsey lined up for an autograph and a picture, and on the way home, she talked about how the whole experience had re-energized her attitude toward orchestra.
Now where this goes next is because as I was thinking about writing about it, I was also searching YouTube for a string performance of Dragonforce’s “Through the Fire and Flames” which I’d found a few months ago, and while I didn’t locate that specific version, I did land on this Vitamin String Quartet version. This promptly led to many moments lost in their tributes to Metallica and Guns ‘n’ Roses and Muse and yes, friends, SLAYER. And since many of those covers are Guitar Hero songs, I was reminded of one of my favorite subtle iCarly jokes: Violin Hero.
When teh Intarwebs led me in that direction, I clicked on the Twitter feed and then the blog of Dan Schneider – whom The New York Times credits as “the Norman Lear of children’s television” – and while his recent work is enough to land him on my own list of People Who Do Great Creative Things I Love, I also find out from Wikipedia that holy crap he’s Ricky from Better Off Dead!!!
Thus was my morning totally made.
I was 19 years old when I started really getting into Pink Floyd: The Wall.
Oh, I remember seeing high-school kids in the early 1980s wearing black T-shirts with that screaming face image, and hearing that “We don’t need no education” chorus from “Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2” all over the place, and I remember the trippy bizarre dirty-seeming cartoon images from when the movie came out, but I wasn’t even in my teens yet, so it remained beyond my interest.
In high school, my friend Adam introduced me to Roger Waters’ Radio K.A.O.S. , and I went zonkers for it, probably in part because of its WarGames kind of sensibility, partly because I liked that there was a story here, and partly because there are songs there that still give me that excellent gut-thrum can’t-help-but-sing-along-badly buzz. Adam also got me listening to Pink Floyd’s A Momentary Lapse of Reason, which I did like an awful lot (we went to see that tour’s stop at the old Richfield Coliseum in August 1988), but it never led me to Waters-era Floyd music.
Then I spent July of 1990 in Germany, when Waters put on his famous The Wall: Live in Berlin show. I had known the concert was going to happen during my visit, but I also remembered that my host at the time hadn’t much cared for the Momentary Lapse tape I had in my car when we had dated the previous year, so I didn’t even consider asking whether she would get us tickets. Of course, I vividly remember seeing news footage on a DJH television while we were on a bike trip, and she mentioned that some friends were at the concert, and if I had said something beforehand, of course she would have loved to have gone, not necessarily for the music, but because of the symbolic ending of the East-West divide.
When I went back to Bowling Green that fall, things were made strange for starters because I had a randomly-assigned roommate, with whom I didn’t get along too well. We just had very different personalities and priorities. Couple that with the fact that circumstances of all sorts had some of my closest friends leaving my everyday life, and I felt more than a little out-of-alignment from time to time.
Feeling particularly withdrawn one day, I walked a mile-and-three-quarters to the local K-Mart and bought myself a CD-playing boom box, and lugged the thing in its bulky, awkward cardboard box a mile-and-three-quarters back to our dorm. Then I walked down to the music store we frequented and bought two albums: Alphaville’s Forever Young and Pink Floyd: The Wall. (Yes, yes: See clearly the tormented young writer, hunched at his Brother WP-55, the yellow type on its tiny black screen reflected in his sweating brow, a half-empty bottle of Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill at his elbow.) And as with K.A.O.S., I focused particularly on the writing and the story of the album as much as the music itself.
(Funny thing: A few days later, my parents asked me if I’d want a stereo with a CD player for Christmas, so I wound up returning my boom box to K-Mart. I think I got someone to give me a ride this time.)
Second semester, January 1990, I moved into a single room by luck of the draw, whereupon I did this:
I’m still kind of proud of the effort and the results: It’s black electrical tape on the room’s white wall, and what I used to fill the Empty Spaces was white sheets of art paper cut to fit and rubbed with blue crayon. Adam gave me the movie art poster before he moved, and maybe the “Live in Berlin” Rolling Stone magazine ad, too – I can’t remember. I do know, however, that they are strategically placed to cover a large patch of semi-peeling paint which I was hesitant to stick the tape to for fear I would make it worse when the time came for its removal. The brick at left center is another sheet of art paper on which I invited friends to scrawl graffiti, and where I’d write down quotes I liked, too. And the giant green Radio K.A.O.S. subway poster filled out the wall perfectly.
(Yes, those ARE “rabbit ears” on my black-and-white TV, and yes THAT IS a stuffed Bill the Cat. Ack, pththththbbbt.)
One Friday or Saturday night that semester, my friend Ivan and I had rented This Is Spinal Tap, which neither of us had seen. That same night, the old movie theatre downtown – the Cla-Zel -was hosting a one night showing of The Wall – and we hadn’t seen that, either, so we figured on a cool double-feature.
We got through about half of Spinal Tap when we realized we had to leave to catch The Wall, so we figured we’d come back and watch the ending later, no big deal.
So we go see The Wall and it just flattens us. Just depresses the hell out of everything because, well, it’s not the happiest of movies, folks, and though I still think it’s powerful stuff, it’s not the sort of film you build a Happy Fun Time Night around. Neither one of us felt much like watching the end of Spinal Tap that night.
For a long time, I wouldn’t watch The Wall on television, simply because that experience had been so mind-numbing on the big screen, in the dark, with the booming, echoing sound and everything. I finally did watch it recently on a VH-1 airing, and not only did the commercial interruptions screw up the slow descent into madness, they utterly butchered some pretty key segments of the movie.
Toward the end of the year, of course, I deconstructed my dorm project in the only appropriate way: I took the phone off the hook, cranked my stereo system, and listened to The Wall straight through. Through the first CD, I removed the “empty space” papers and the posters and used more electrical tape to “complete” the wall on my wall. And naturally, at the end, I grabbed that tape in handfuls and ripped it all down. It was fun.
My infatuation with The Wall probably started to fade not long after that school year ended, and it’s been an awfully long time since I’ve had the desire to listen to the album all the way through. If I want to play pop-psych on myself, I’d say that enough genuinely unpleasant stuff started happening in my life that putting myself through a music-induced wringer wasn’t something I needed or wanted anymore.
And though I was initially excited to hear about Waters’ announcement that he’s taking the whole concept/concert on the road again this year, I’m now kind of ambivalent about it for a couple reasons. For starters, I’m sure ticket prices will be jacked beyond belief; and as for the whole “Here’s my chance to finally see that show I missed” thrill, I already did that a couple years ago with The Police.
More than that, though, I’m just not in a place anymore where The Wall connects with me the way it used to, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
I’m having serious computer issues today – and yes, the Problem Exists Between Chair and Keyboard – but as it happens, I have a semi-relevant flashback handy: It’s been 20 years since the April 3, 1990 concert at the Phantasy theatre in Lakewood, Ohio at which I utterly failed to be anything close to cool. (I actually wrote about this back in 2006, but hey, nothing like two decades’ passage for an excuse to revisit A Tale of Amazing Dorkness.)
My friend Erin and I had bought tickets over the phone. We borrowed a car and drove from Bowling Green, Ohio to the west side of Cleveland, where we saw Nine Inch Nails open for Peter Murphy. At that point, NIN was much more a regional draw, and I kept pointing out every natty-haired, leather-jacket-clad guy I saw and saying, “Look. There’s Trent Reznor.”
So, after the show, we’re leaving, and Erin says, “Look. There’s Trent Reznor.”
Good one, Erin, good one. Almost gotmebutholyCRAP it IS Trent Reznor, leaning up against a wall hanging out. So we say ‘hi,’ he signs our ticket stubs (don’t ask, I lost it years ago), we mention a tenuous friend-of-a-friend connection with his then-guitarist Richard Patrick, and then Trent asks if we want to come to the after-party.
And I can’t believe this, but we say no.
Oh, fine: I say no. This one’s totally on me, and I’ll cop to being a total wuss. My reason was that it was already midnight and Erin and I both had 8 a.m. classes and I had an exam the next morning and it was a two-and-a-half hour drive back to BG.
So we leave.
On the bright side, we get to the car and find that I’ve left the headlights on, and we needed a jump, so if we HAD gone to the party, the battery would not only have been dead, but it probably would’ve been pre-dawn-dark outside, and there certainly wouldn’t have been anyone around to give us a hand.
Yeah, that’s what I tell myself, even though it’s lame. Still, my wife and I will be at the grocery store sometimes, and see a checkout girl in her axle-grease-think eyeliner and purple-dyed hair and her hardcore metal/punk-band-of-the-week wristband and think, “She’s got no idea.”
I actually saw Trent Reznor later that year, in line for the Blue Streak at Cedar Point – the people I was with didn’t recognize him, but I went up and say ‘hi’ anyway, and again, he was pretty cheerful and ordinary, enjoying a summer day at the amusement park.
Jenn just found this lying around the other day. I remember rediscovering it fairly recently but losing track of it again, so now I’ve taken the step of preserving it electronically, because it’s a reminder of a strange and fun little slice of my Bowling Green years:
Yes, “John Wilkes Booth” was my radio name on 88.1 fm WBGU (“The Shark!”) effectively cutting off the assassination-of-Lincoln jokes at the knees, see? Also, it required extraordinarily little effort in its creation.
And as on-air, er, “talent,” we were given free rein regarding flyer creation and posting and generous access to the BGSU administrative copy services. This was, I think, the only promotional material I ever made. Photo scanning and manipulation courtesy of my friend Jeff, who had the awesomest computer setup 1990 could provide, because not only did it allow you to create lasting and important art like this, but you could also play Marble Madness.
One of the things I love about reading Adam‘s ongoing series of music recollections is the sheer avalanche of quick-hit memories and images and emotions they trigger.
His latest entry, on Cowboy Junkies’ “Sweet Jane,” for instance, includes this bit:
I remember discovering the The Trinity Session wasn’t their first album when I stumbled upon Whites Off Earth Now!! on vinyl at Madhatter Music Co. (another independent music store now gone) in downtown Bowling Green.
Now, it’s entirely possible that I knew Madhatter was gone, but the last time Adam and I visited our old college town, it was still there. According to its Myspace page –
Madhatter Music Co. was founded in 1988 by Billy Hanway and Ed Cratty. Its first customer was a madman by the name of Jim Cummer, who became manager and eventually bought the store. For 18 years, Madhatter has stood for good music, flying under the radar of a diseased popular culture, communing with fellow like-minded freaks and lifers, and rocking out at all costs.
In October 2006, PB Army drummer and local music journalist/heart patient Keith Bergman took the torch and attempted to lead Madhatter from its recalcitrant teenage years into the murky waters of young adulthood. Sadly, he’s packed his bags and inventory, never to return. The store is officially closed.
Now, I remember Billy Hanway. At least inasmuch as he was “that guy Billy” who owned Madhatter.
And while I’ve lost track of which CDs of mine may have come from Madhatter – They Might Be Giants Flood, I’m pretty sure is one, though – I know for certain that I have two flawless LPs I got there when I still had my first stereo system, since it still included a turntable. One is Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, which I have still never owned in any other format, and the other is The Police, Synchronicity, which I picked up to replace my cassette. I think I paid maybe three bucks each for these.
But what really socked me while reading that blurb was that Madhatter was founded in 1988, meaning that when we started our freshman year at BG in the fall of ’89, the store was only a year or so old. The thing is, it felt like the sort of place that had existed for decades, sandwiched in that dingy little building between bars and gas stations and alleys. Frankly, I figured Madhatter had in all likelihood, been there since the one year my Dad attended BG back in the late 1960s. I would have at least figured the place dated back to the ’70s, but man, I’m telling you: It felt like it could have.
I mean, if you’re what, older than 30, you know this kind of store. You walk in, and there’s a rack of local music rags and a wall that’s been tacked over with countless layers of band flyers and bar show announcements. And there’s one glass case layered with stuff like “Corporate Rock Sucks” patches and anarchy logo buttons and bumper stickers, and another case filled with CDs from Europe and rare reissues and B-side collections and concert bootlegs. The walls are covered in posters and lined with racks of CDs and LP records – and one sadly-neglected bin of cassette tapes is over in a corner – and you go in and start flipping through stuff that you’ve seen before, but maybe something new is out this week, or maybe someone traded in a collection you’re looking for.
Odds are the place smells like someone’s basement that you know – like an old couch and a candle and patchouli and a bit of mustiness that never quite congeals into “rank,” but still kind of encloses you a little bit claustrophobically. It’s not anything you’d call a pleasant smell, but recalling it, by association, puts me in a mood of remembering an important and special time in my life.
Suck it, iTunes. Bite me, Amazon. Yeah, you’re convenient and wondrous and I can’t live without you, but you’ll never be my Madhatter, you hear me?
So Adam has written some of his own memories of the end of 1989 over at his blog, Random Thoughts Escaping, and while they make for yet another fantastic trip back in time, it forces me admit that at some of the points where our stories about that Dec. 31 can’t both be correct, he’s probably right this time.
As I wrote in an email to him after reading his post: Here’s the funny thing – although in my head and its logic circuits I know your recollection is correct, I can’t fully unseat my own flawed memory of the night. And I think you’re wildly correct in the observation that it was as much us revealing NIN to our friends as you exposing everyone to it that New Year’s Eve. Perhaps that’s where the emotional memories on my part are coming from.
It’s not the first time I’ve bumped into this kind of glitch: While doing some research for Collect All 21! I found my own pretty vivid memory of a conversation regarding Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind coming in direct conflict with the historical reality of when those movies came out and when my family moved out to Lake Township.
Adam nailed it right here in his piece about that New Year’s Eve: This amazing confluence of old and new friends, alcohol and music was somehow significant. It was a mingling of high school and college, Bizarre Love Triangles, and the inherent hyper-dramatic sense of trailing childhood’s end.
This is yet one more reason why I love talking and writing back-and-forth with Adam, whom I’ve known since sixth grade or so: Perspectives and facts shift and change, and even when my memory clouds, it turns out we’re totally in agreement about the important stuff.
This recollection – which I’ve had in mind for awhile but was recently jumpstarted by something my friend Adam wrote – is likely to wander and be a bit nebulous (yeah – surprise, right?) because it’s not focused on a single anecdote or event, but more on feelings and associations and tangents.
See, 1989 was the year that I changed my music.
Maybe not changed, really; maybe it’s more like I finally really felt what sort of music I liked.
And though I’m thinking about 1989, I’m going to start further back because a) I feel like it and b) it gives a little background.
I think the first time I was really hit by music that sounded different from “regular” pop music was in spring of 1985 when I was a freshman in high school and “West End Girls” was all over the radio. I associate it very strongly with a weekend class trip to New York City, and the long bus ride and staying up late in a hotel in New Jersey consuming pretty much a whole package of Oreos.
Synthpop was, of course, a real flavor-of-the-moment thing, but this song struck something deep, and I was hooked on the Pet Shop Boys for long after the tune fell off the chart.
That fall, when I was a sophomore, I gave community theatre a shot and auditioned for a North Canton Playhouse production of The Passion of Dracula. (A possible branching moment: There was also a Junior Achievement introductory meeting that night, which I was interested in, and I had to choose between the two.) To my genuine surprise – this was my first theatre experience, outside my freshman year drama class – I landed the role of Dracula. This wound up starting about a year-and-a-half of solid community theatre involvement, including dating a girl I met in Dracula who not only encouraged my Pet Shop Boys listening, but introduced me to Depeche Mode’s Music for the Masses and The Cure’s Standing on a Beach. (Oddly enough, the latter did very little for me, which is funny in a way, considering what’s coming up later.)
Now, not having the Internet and blink-twice-to-hear-similar-artists like these damn kids today, I really didn’t expand my horizons in what we used to call “progressive” or “alternative” music. The next song I really really remember stirring my gut was New Order’s “True Faith,” in 1987 – and it’s still one of my all-time-favorite “windows-down-and-crank-the-stereo” songs when nobody’s around.
So, if you look at my cassette collection in spring 1989, there’s not a lot of “progressive” in there – two Pet Shop Boys tapes, The Art of Noise In Visible Silence (almost solely because of the Peter Gunn theme – or as we called it, The Spy Hunter Music) and the aforementioned Standing on a Beach, which I actually sold to Adam for nine bucks, I think. (Also funny because he had found it in my car when I’d bought it a couple years earlier and totally made fun of me buying it.)
As previously discussed in my 1989 memories, I began dating a girl from Germany early in the year, and as summer kicked off and her inevitable departure neared, I wanted to do something really amazingly cool before she left, so I bought us tickets to the New Order, Public Image, Ltd. and Sugarcubes show at Blossom Music Center. (Because, you know, a rock concert. That’s big when you’re 18.)
Adam, having recently undergone his own change in music tastes, asked if I’d get a ticket for him, too, so the three of us went together.
Mind you, I had no freaking clue who PiL and the Sugarcubes were. And since I had never bought an entire New Order tape, “True Faith” was still the only song I really knew, though if pressed, I might have recognized “Bizarre Love Triangle.”
But “True Faith” still hit hard and deep, and I knew it would be awesome to hear in concert.
It was. And because it was the only song I knew at the time, it’s the only one I can remember, although I do know that I wore an old beat-up fedora that I found in the trunk of someone’s car and that we danced the entire night on the lawn and had a ridiculously good time with all these oddly-dressed and strangely-made-up people the likes of whom I had never seen en masse, but whose company I enjoyed nonetheless.
This was July, 1989: My first – what would you call it? Punk? New Wave? “Progressive?” “Alternative?” – concert. (Yay Internet: Most of the show can be found, badly recorded but totally appropriate for the era, on the series of tubes.)
A little more than a month later, then, Adam and I started our freshman year at Bowling Green State University, which is really where my thing for alternative music exploded. Adam had a kick-ass stereo system (which, back then, kids, meant having monstrous speakers that took up almost as much space as our refrigerator) and a massive CD collection, and he was also good at meeting people and making friends, so basically, simply by having Adam as a roommate, I found myself round-the-clock immersed in the sounds of Xymox and Alphaville and Bauhaus and Erasure and even more of Depeche Mode and The Cure, and when I want to be there in Chapman Hall again, with those friends and all the ridiculous cliched-but-true freshman year drama and heartbreak and anger and love, that music takes me there.
Music has never again played as big a part in my life as it did when I was in college, and it started that fall.
Another aside to The Cure Standing on a Beach cassette that Adam bought from me secondhand: Until recently, it was, I think, the only place to hear a song called “A Few Hours After This.” I couldn’t have told you the name of that song or even described its sound until the past few years, when Adam cued it up to jog my memory and the damn thing put a lump in my throat the size of a tennis ball because it yanked me so hard and fast back to freshman year.
An article in the campus newspaper about a comedy show on the university’s FM radio station (88.1 WBGU – The Shark!) led me to get in touch with its creators, and the rest of that year, I joined its weekly broadcast, which, in turn, hooked me on the idea of spending more time on the radio and started me on the path to discovering even more music over the next few years, when I was a disc jockey at the station.
And now we come to the end of 1989: I am home on Christmas break, and since my Dad is working New Year’s Eve, my Mom stays home and allows my little brothers and me to invite some friends over for the night.
Some of my close friends from high school, along with my new best friends in the whole damn world from Bowling Green, came over, and we had a freaking blast, the details of which are mostly irrelevant here – except this one: Adam has this tape, right? It’s a new tape that some semi-local musician brought into the CD store where Adam had worked, and we all need to listen to it right now.
So we cluster in the living room of the house where I grew up – and I’m not going to lie, there has been some imbibing, though Mom being Mom, there’s plenty of crash room in the house and nobody’s driving home impaired – and it’s me and my best old friends and my best new friends and we’re all a little wound up and goofy and it’s fantastic and awesome and it’s New Year’s Eve and this is what’s going on in my world the first time I hear Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine on my parents’ tape deck.
And it is effing incredible.
I remember smiling and I remember laughing at things like “…did he just say he wanted to fuck the devil?” (Answer: No. He did not.)
Yes, it’s a damn dark raging album, but the thing was, it was so much freaking fun to listen to. I never became a full-on NIN fan, mostly because nothing else has ever hit me the way Pretty Hate Machine did.
It came along at the right moment; the right crossroads; the right ending to a year.
Dear Robert Plant,
Out of respect for your legendary rock status, we hereby apologize for making you think this video was a good idea.
Kelsey and I got to go to a preview screening of U2 3D at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, and I blogged about it for my friends at Positively Cleveland. (The movie’s free with admission to the Rock Hall, so we’re already planning to go back so Jenn can see it, too.)
I kid you not: This was totally unstaged.
Jenn’s playing Beatles Rock Band, when partway through the song, Pepper brings his “date” (yes, it’s a stuffed cat with a bandaged paw) into the room. I guess he knows classic mood music when he hears it.