Grab a hold of something, folks, and take a deep breath. Next week is Halloween, the unofficial start of the holiday season. Christmas Club accounts are starting to turn around, desperate retail outlets fearing one of the worst shopping quarters in decades are trying to pump up the good cheer, candy cane colors and “insane year-end prices!” The kids are starting to get in the spirit and while, for some, that means the spirit of getting more than giving, you can’t help but be just a little tweaked when they’re so happy. They don’t know the extremes of bad finance, credit crunch, etc. et. al. I hope that, when they get to my age and position, they’ll never have to.
Another thing that comes with the holidays is holiday music. I won’t go into that too much (we’ll just say there’s a nice lump of something coming in your Popdose stocking soon enough, and leave it at that) but I’ve made no bones about my opinion of such tunes. They’re a hat you can only wear once a year. Even my beloved A Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack sounds slightly screwy in the midsummer heat, don’tcha know, so music of lesser stature and quality definitely doesn’t see the light of day until the temperatures flirt with the 40s. And besides, in my messed-up brain, I associate other music with holidays anyhow. Mostly, they’re involved with gifts received during festivities, but often it’s because they’re things I’d rather listen to any day rather than the standard “Holly jolly, nice ‘n rosy, comfy cozy, shove a fistful of mistletoe up your bunghole” repertoire. Feelin’ all jingle-belly now? Outstanding, let’s begin.
I received this as a Christmas gift not once, but twice and no wonder. My first go-round found me playing the thing incessantly. First of all, in the whole of the New Wave era, there were few groups that could so ably mix the punch of rock, the infectiousness of pop and the weird flavor of synthesizers and keyboards. The two vocalists, Ric Ocasek and Benjamin Orr, had very distinctive sounds and it’s hard to think either of them would have worked well beyond the outfit. By the time their solo output was happening, both had softened the edges, backed down on the warble and put the Faux-Brit enunciations away. All are in force on this debut album.
And yeah, let’s get into the fact that few debut albums have opened with the twisted urgency “Good Times Roll” provides and even fewer end with a sweet confection like “All Mixed Up” – I cycled this particular track more than any other because of a few reasons. Seldom has a debut ended so cleanly and strong, leaving you wanting more. Add to it that saxophone solo by keyboardist Greg Hawkes, a miracle in itself since I consider saxophone accompaniment generally a sure sign of crapulence. Here it’s done right, not sleazy and wanky. So yes, I beat the hell out of my first LP of The Cars, so receiving it again the next year was a welcome sight.
Genesis – Abacab
This ought to explain a lot about me. One holiday season my sister and I decided it would be cool to make gifts for family members, specifically painting ceramic ornaments. There was a ceramics outlet right across the highway from us so it wasn’t like we needed too much from others to make it happen. Sounds good, no?
Sis had just picked up this album. A friend of hers in a cover band purportedly sang just like Phil Collins and it was enough to coerce her into buying the actual article. Big prog-heads hate Abacab, considering it the solid end to the band’s credibility, which is stupid. The record is chock full of great songs like “Like It Or Not” (and an awful one in the ridiculous “Who Dunnit?”) but even that song sounded cool in a closed room… with a space heater on… and toxic glazes being applied to ceramic Christmas mice. The flabbajib was absolutely fusticating.
I don’t think any permanent brain damage occurred. The ornaments turned out awesome. I want cookies right now and have no idea why.
Kerry Livgren – Seeds Of Change
Kerry Livgren was the lead guitarist and keyboardist for prog monolith Kansas as well as the primary songwriter. It was his existentialist musing that conjured up “Dust In The Wind” after all. So on his conversion to Christianity, he initially felt the need to take those themes outside of the band. The result was Seeds Of Change, an album that is as cool as it is confusing. It features guest vocals from Steve Walsh (naturally), Ambrosia’s David Pack (oddly) and, on two tracks, Ronnie James Dio (WTF?) Actually, Dio’s tracks are replete with awesomeness, but the epic closer “Ground Zero” featuring Pack trumps them all and, near as I can tell, gave me a newfound appreciation for the Prog, a genre I had always considered too bizarre and nerdly until then.
I myself was bizarre and nerdly, so my aversion seemed entirely misappropriated.
Not only was this a gift one year, but it ended up on cassette and in my Walkman the next. Dad and I took on the challenge of painting the living room to make it presentable for guests later in the month of December. We had tarped over everything with plastic and he manned the upper reaches while I skimmed the baseboards. The job took a couple hours but seemed like far less. It wasn’t the fumes either as, this time around, everything was properly ventilated and fusticated in proper flabbajib.
Steve Taylor – I Predict 1990
1987 was a tough year. Dad’s business was struggling. Mom had to get a second job to keep the mortgage payments liquid. Sis was married, out of the house and dealing with her own marital issues. My school life was rough as I was socked with the throes of teenage depression. Back in ’87 it wasn’t known as depression, though. I wore clodhopper boots, had greasy hair and bad hygiene because I was “antisocial.” No wonder. It’s hard to be social when you smell like a walking ass-crack. The joke of it all was that in about six or so years, scumbag-as-fashion-statement would be reclassed as “grunge” and I probably would have been their king. King Ass-Crack of the Patchouli-Stinkers, I would be. I’m never on time, I guess.
But even under all of that beat the heart of an old softy and I had committed myself to making it as good a Christmas for my younger brothers as I could. I wrote and drew a comic book which I sold in high school called Blyberg. It was not half bad coming from a lower-lower-lower-middle-class suburban outcast in an affluent school, meaning of course it was total crap, but I drew well enough to sell it, so that’s something. I also sold half my comic book collection to span the financial chasm, getting virtually robbed by the local shop for all my original Chris Claremont / John Byrne X-Men issues. It didn’t matter to me. Neither did the fact that instead of Toys R’ Us I was doing my shopping at the Odd Lots store. It was the best I had at the time and that was all I was able to give.
Christmas Eve, and I was setting up the punchbowl, the little holiday train set and listening to “Jim Morrison’s Grave” from Steve Taylor’s controversial I Predict 1990 album. It suited me at the time. Taylor was stepping on toes all over the place, from the Tarot-esque album art (a big sticking point since the album was released by the ultra Christian label Myrrh Records), to the pointedly satirical songs like “I Blew Up The Clinic Real Good” (the point being that the end never justifies the means, but most points are never taken properly, are they?), “Since I Gave Up Hope, I Feel A Lot Better” and the elegaic closer “Harder To Believe Than Not To”… I wanted to step on toes too. I wanted to rage against the circumstances that seemed to keep our family down for so long. I wanted to blow it all off and just have a great holiday, a great day, a great moment for once.
Mom called from work. All the help called out sick and stuck her with the closing shift. I went into my room, turned on my Walkman and waited for something to happen. Anything would have worked.
Yes – Big Generator
Here’s a bittersweet entry. For the majority of my young years I was infatuated with music, specifically the record. My parents had photos of me as a baby playing on the rug with 45 rpm records. I spun them on my toes. Although my recollections are hazy, I vaguely recall having Vee Jay and Swan label versions of Beatles tunes before they struck paydirt on Capitol in the US. I probably beat the crap out of those 45’s then. I beat the crap out of myself now because rabid collectors would offer me a friendly clip of cash for either of ’em had I kept them decent.
The point, if there is one, is that records ruled my world. Yes’ Big Generator was the last vinyl offering I would receive as a gift, fittingly from my mom who filled this chubby boy with dreams of music stardom, indulging my whims in any way she was able, be it by mysteriously spiriting Stevie Wonder’s Music In The Key Of Life into my room while I was at school or begging my grandfather to let me borrow his prized acoustic guitar for awhile. Dad, although he loved all of us dearly, didn’t understand the fervency of her encouragement. He believe that it was only in the trades where you earned a decent living, not in spotlights… But I’m getting off track.
When I opened the wraps on Big Generator I had no idea that the vinyl medium was about to collapse for nearly two decades. All I knew was that I was head-over-heels about 90125 and was excited to hear what the band had up its sleeve next. While not as much an eye-opener as the previous release, Big Generator had a lot of great tunes including “Shoot High Aim Low” a moody thriller of a song that would have been unthinkable during the classic Fragile phase. Mom’s been gone since 2000. Dad still doesn’t understand my obsession with music but is glad that I have it. Life is too short to not have passion, and one day I too will have a vinyl LP with my name on it, and I’ll dedicate it to Virginia Lee Dunphy, who never gave up on the chubby boy.