Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Trick Tuesday: "Dream Police" (1979)

Above: The gatefold that sealed my fate.
Ahh, you damn kids and your Demonoids and Pirate Bays and YouTubes and what have you.  You have no idea what it was like back in the olden days for decaying farts like me.  Man, everything was better back then.  You know, when you had to go to six different stores just to find that one album you were looking for, and then it was always only in the most expensive store of the lot.  I’m telling you, you little ingrates with your two-mouse-clicks-and-done culture, you don’t appreciate anything.  Not the way we did, back when procuring music was a task.  Back when it wasn’t for the weak.  Back when we walked to the store, uphill, both ways in the snow, and loved it, god damn it.

Just in case you wandered over here from, I dunno, the Steve Hoffman Music Forms or some other similar bastion of crotchety drool-spew elsewhere on the inter-tubes, please allow me to assure you that the preceding paragraph was 100% parody.  Sure, record stores were fun, no doubt about it.  So is being able to hear anything I’ve ever wanted, completely free of charge, without much worry about rarity.  What follows is a sad teenage tragedy that underscores the fragility of physical media, and a free lesson in the use of exaggeration for comedic effect.

Shortly after returning from family vacation with Heaven Tonight and At Budokan, I found myself dragged to the Stamford Town Center, a mall in Southern Connecticut about half an hour north of where we lived, for the dreaded yearly clothes shopping.  I’m not sure why I hated clothes shopping as much as I did when I was a kid – it’s not like my parents tried to dress me for the short bus or anything – but about the only thing that could get me in that car was knowing that there was usually a trip to the record store in it for me on the way out.  What can I say?  I guess I sold out cheap when I was a kid.

Back in White Plains, you choices for music acquisition were the sleazy indie store I mentioned back in my musings on Cheap Trick, plus two (count ‘em) Sam Goody/Musicland stores in the Galleria.  Those were a bummer for a kid on a budget; essentially in competition with themselves, their prices were astronomical.  Stamford, on the other hand, had a Record World.  Looking back on it, Record World was an interesting chain: clearly, the modus operandi of their dingy, dimly lit stores was to replicate a “real” record store.  By mall standards, they were somewhat successful: their prices were a bit tamer than Goody’s, and it was under their roof that the terms “import” and “cutout” became important parts of my vocabulary.  The following commercial probably isn’t too promising, but take my word for it: the store was about as alright as anything rubbing retail shoulders with the likes of Benetton and Chess King could be.

Having decided before our car even pulled out of the driveway and headed north that this was going to be Dream Police day, my visit to Record World was fairly short and clinical.  I had only one decision to make: vinyl, tape or CD?  See, that’s another thing about music shopping back in the day, kids: three different media to choose from.  Let’s see your silly little internet replicate something that redundant and unnecessary, eh?  The CD was immediately ruled out: out of stock.  Tape and vinyl were the same price, but the vinyl sported a gatefold cover.  Decision made.

Made wrongly, as it turned out.  Everything was fine for about a minute or so; there I sat, staring at the big, colorful lineup photo in the gatefold, and grooving to the album’s classic title track, when the second chorus came and shot everything to hell: The Dream Police, they THUNKA-THUNKA-side of my head.  Not a skip per se – the needle never jumped – but a LOUD THUMP right in the middle of the chorus.  See, that’s another thing about music buying in the golden age, children: if you bought something out of state and it had a defect and you were a fourteen year old kid lacking in independent transportation, you were shit outta luck.  I moved the needle back three or four times to make sure it wasn’t just dust on the groove or anything.  No such luck: this thump was a permanent resident.  Ruined my whole day, I tell ya, as well as my enjoyment of the rest of the album.  Now, of course, you’d just hear such a blemish and go “wow, this rip sucks, let’s find another torrent” and be happily listening again in a matter of moments.  No respect for the old ways from the kids these days, I tell ya.

Instead, I found myself out the $6 I spent on the bad vinyl copy, plus another $12 for the on-sale-at-The-Wiz (gotta love the concept of an electronics and music chain named after urine, don’t ya?) CD a few weeks later.  Blessed with the thump-less clarity of digital audio, I immediately fell in love with the music once again.  While the debut album will always remain my favorite of their albums, Dream Police may well be their finest three-quarters-of-an-hour in the studio.  It’s the album that consolidates everything that was great about its three predecessors and moves forward.  I’m not usually a guy who goes for the long songs, but Dream Police boasts two that have real reason to go past four minutes: the intense build-and-release epic of “Need Your Love” (previewed on At Budokan, but better here), and the mesmerizing death disco of “Gonna Raise Hell”, home to some of Robin Zander’s best screaming ever.  Also, an instant-classic title track, some great three-chord shout-alongs (“I’ll Be With You Tonight” and “I Know What I Want”, the latter of which sports a Tom Petersson vocal that the Trouser Press Record Guide perfectly summed up as “delightfully goofy”), and the best power-pop song ever written, hands down.  That’d be “Way of the World”; really, the genre could have just called it a day right then and no one would be any worse for it.  The best part?  The songs I haven’t mentioned are just as good as the ones I have.

If you’re looking for a non-compilation start to your studio Cheap Trick explorations, look no further.

Next week: All Shook Up…and bent outta shape.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

New York, Welcome to the Modern World!

“Some of my best friends are gay” is an irredeemably dorky thing to say at best; at worst, it’s often the prelude to some sort of breathless stream of bigotry.  Please take me at my word: in my and Rhea’s case, it’s the simple truth.  As such, this has been an extraordinary weekend here in New York State; the view from the twenty-first century is breathtaking, thank you for asking.  As corny as this may sound, I actually sleep better at night knowing that all of my loved ones now have equal protections under the laws of a state I’ve always been proud to hail from.  To those for whom the events of this weekend have been a more personal victory, please allow me to offer my most heartfelt, heartiest congratulations as well as apologize on behalf of those living on the lamer end of the straight spectrum who have held up this logical and necessary event for so long.

For those still clinging to the previous century with the tightest grip they can muster, please allow me to offer you a few words of wisdom:

Your religious beliefs are not absolute.  In fact, they may not even be the most commonly held ones on your block, let alone the entire world taken as a whole.  The landscape of humanity is just as diverse as Benetton's advertising would have you believe, and as such there is nothing wrong with the laws of the land duly reflecting this.

All this talk of “family values” is, in fact, valueless.  The divorce rate amongst heterosexual couples generally hovers somewhere in the vicinity of fifty percent, and has for some time now.  Before you begin to wax morally superior about something, it might help to actually exhibit some skill at it.

In the rational, thinking world, this has never been a religious issue.  In fact, only faith-based bigotry towards homosexuals has made this a question of religion.  This is about legal status, and it is about telling all of our tired, huddled masses that they are just as welcome as their neighbors.  Allow me to turn the tables on you, dear stereotypical true religious believer, for a moment: I do not agree with your belief system.  I find many of your ideals – such as those forbidding gay marriage – archaic and irrelevant to modern life, not to mention more than a bit bigoted.  The path you have chosen is not one I’m interested in becoming involved with.  However – and I’ve italicized that because this concept is huge – I would never dream of so much as telling you, let alone lobby for laws enforcing the idea, that you have no right to believe and live as you do.  It is a pity that you cannot say the same for yourselves.

No one is interested in crashing your churches, temples, etc. and forcing you to marry them.  Seriously, grow up.  Nobody really likes to hang out where they’re clearly not wanted.  Given that my views on life probably put me only a half a step, if that, above homosexuals to most hard-line religious folks, I can assure you that the cool kids table is located elsewhere, and not likely to relocate anytime soon.

Last, and most importantly, three simple words you should already be aware of: love thy brother.  Should he turn out to have a boyfriend, this concept does not become invalidated.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Rhea's Defective Internal Jukebox: Skid Row (in general)

Ever find yourself defending the indefensible simply because it seemed like a good idea in a silly moment?  Most likely you have – it’s part and parcel of being in a relationship that’s still got some fun left in the tank.  Yesterday, while playing Mario Kart Wii, I referred to Waluigi as a “dicknose.”  Not exactly a moment for the resume, I grant you, but that gawky bastard threw about five different types of koopa shells at me just as I was about to win the race.  The following then transpired:

Rhea: Dicknose?!  Really?

Me: Yeah.  Dicknose.  You know, like Sebastian Bach has.

I then found myself spending the next few hours maintaining that the former Skid Row front man had a rather phallic snout.  In reality, he does not.  What he has is an album that sits on my hard drive, ready to be burned once every few months when Rhea loses yet another one.  I have never listened to this album; sorry, but the MTV videos that were on every thirty seconds back when I was fifteen or so were enough, thanks.  Besides which, I was a dude: while I’m sure the Iron Maiden I enjoyed contemporaneously (and still do) was no less cheesy, it was…well, it was less pretty-boy, damn it.  When you’re fifteen, that counts for something.  When you’re thirty-seven, well, it’s still kind of fun to call the pretty boy a dicknose every now and then.  Stay true to your roots, folks.  Death to false metal.  Something like that.

So, right, not really a dicknose.  The alcoholic face bloat wasn't discussed.

Initially, I briefly entertained the thought of finally listening to the album of Bach’s former band that festers away on my hard drive and reviewing it in this space, but then I thought of “18 and Life” and immediately smacked myself upside the head.  So here goes, darling: I promise to stop calling Sebastian Bach a dicknose if you’ll swear I never have to hear “18 and Life” or watch its video again in my life.  “Youth Gone Wild” we can bargain over, especially if adult beverages are involved.

Good.  Now that we’ve reached an understanding about this cheesy nonsense, I can get back to listening to Foreigner 4 in peace.

(Good night, darling.  Hope you feel better tomorrow!)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

It's Not a Coronary, It's DiGiorno!

"Daddy, why do the other countries call us fat?"

Watching TV for a few minutes last night, I saw a commercial for a product that made at least one of my chins hit the floor: DiGiorno Pizza and Cookies.  This is a real thing you can take home from the grocery store, folks, not something made up by a smartass parodist like myself.  Amazingly – and perhaps a bit sadly – this product is exactly what it sounds like: a frozen pizza that comes bundled with a tube of cookie dough.  After all, if you’re going to be bored for twenty minutes while your crap-fest dinner gets good and hot, why not multi-task your way into a complimentary crap-fest dessert?

As I’ve mentioned here and there on this blog, I’m not the kind of guy who’s ever really going to be skinny; between my bone structure and my desire to occasionally actively enjoy what I’m eating, I’ll probably always veer a bit closer to the “before” picture than the “after.”  These days, I do try to maintain a healthy balance, and I’ve been successful in getting myself in better physical shape than I had been previously.  There’s plenty of work left to do, but there’s also nothing wrong with a one burger/wings/etc. to fifteen Chicken and Broccoli meal ratio.  Long term success lies somewhere in that balance, folks: seen in the big picture, proper maintenance and overall enjoyment are both important factors in the quality of one’s life.

Personally, I’ll be passing on the Pizza and Cookies not because it’s ridiculous and unhealthy, but because neither the pizza nor the cookies offered are worth diet-breaking for.  If I’ve got a hankering for pizza, I live within twenty miles of New York City, pizza capital of the world, not to mention three miles from White Plains’ great Italian Pavilion.  Likewise, the cookies: Arthur Avenue is less than a half-hour away.  Take it from me, folks: if you’re gonna sin, you might as well have some standards.  That’s good advice anywhere it’s applicable in life.

Unsurprisingly, a quick Google search will find you plenty of voices in protest of DiGiorno’s new brainchild.  The one I linked above is relatively mild, actually; several that I skimmed briefly called for this product to be immediately outlawed.  Sorry, moral crusaders, but you lose again: as I said of McDonald’s in this post, the responsibility for your health does not lie in the hands of corporations offering products that they feel will prove desirable for customers.  Honestly, there are a million good reasons why you should be grateful for that fact.  The responsibility for the quality of your health rests solely on your shoulders.  By the time you’re old enough to at least pretend to be an adult, you should be perfectly capable of saying “wow, given the amount of crap I’ve shoveled in my face this week, maybe I’ll pass on the Pizza and Cookies for now.”  Likewise, the health-conscious couple standing in the supermarket who decide that they’ve had enough turkey burgers for one week and why not live a little for an evening should have every right to shovel in the Pizza and Cookies to their bowels’ discontent.

Obviously, it’s your life and your choice.  I’m hardly suggesting that Pizza and Cookies sounds like anything but a fun night in.  But, really, DiGiorno?  Come on, folks:  why not pick something less bland and at least have something to look fondly back on while you’re doing a double workout the next day in the hopes of whisking all those extra calories into the cornfield?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Grampa Will's College Tips, Part 1

Contrary to the sign in Macy’s, it is not quite off-to-college season yet.  In fact, it’s currently the opposite end of the summer from off-to-college season, but seeing as how summer has a way of disappearing right before our eyes, I figured that now was the right time for a new occasional series on the blog: Grampa Will’s College Tips, inspired equally by my interest in rebooting my own education and by the utterly ludicrous thing I spotted in Macy’s this evening, which we’ll discuss momentarily.

Our legal department insists that before we begin, I make it perfectly clear that you, smart college-bound reader, take any advice I have to offer completely at your own risk.  The fact that I’m looking into finishing my bachelor’s degree now, at thirty-seven years old, should tell you that I am not to be completely emulated in this particular arena.  Still, I did do a lot of living during my collegiate years, so perhaps my lessons learned back then will provide you with some guidance – or, more likely, a few cheap yuks.  Onward, then.

Part One: Bedding

The first thing you need to know, before we even discuss why you shouldn’t be shopping for this stuff at Macy’s, is that most college dorms feature “extra long” beds.  This bit of information may prove invaluable to you; better to know it in advance and be prepared than be the dope standing there on move-in day growling ever more loudly “why the fuck doesn’t it fit?” and thusly marking yourself as a mama’s boy/girl who probably never made your own bed before in your entire life.

Walking through Macy’s this evening, I saw a bedding pack (yes, it was extra long, actually) aimed specifically at the newly collegiate.  Price tag: $129.  No, no, no, no and no.  Bear in mind that I’m not suggesting that you proceed immediately to the cheapest sheets Wal-Mart has to offer, but walk through this with me, okay?  Your bed is your own personal roost, and you’ll spend more time there than you think.  So why not pamper yourself, right?  Wrong: in time, you will drop food on your bed.  You will spill beer, liquor, and/or bong water on your bed.  You will vomit on your bed.  You will have sex on your bed.  There will be times when two or more of these events happen in tandem.  True, it’s not exactly what Mom and Macy’s had in mind for you, but it’s more than likely what will happen.  Do you need the top of the line for that?  Of course not.

Nor do you want the bottom of the barrel, either: while that $20-all-in set from Wal-Mart might be light on your wallet, it will literally be hard on your ass as well.  Given the nature of some of the extra-curricular activities described above, it may become important to not mistake pelvic itches derived from low standards for those derived from poor bedding.  So say goodbye to both Macy’s and Wal-Mart, and say hello to your 20% off Bed Bath & Beyond coupon; in this case, the middle is where the cool kids hang out.  Literally.

Trick Tuesday: "Cheap Trick at Budokan" (1978, 1979)

Actually, I don't think I ever owned "Budokan" on cassette.  This one was available elsewhere on the web for $3 - congrats to the lucky buyer!


Forget about the four guys pictured on the cover, and forget about the instruments they are depicted playing.  The most prominent performance featured on Cheap Trick at Budokan belongs to the thousands of screaming Japanese fans who bed the entire album with a more-than-approving roar.  I don’t know exactly what you’d credit them for (“din”, perhaps?), but it always seemed a bit of a gyp to me that this particular crowd doesn’t receive a musician credit in the liner notes.

Honestly, I feel like I should have something more to say about Cheap Trick at Budokan than I really do.  I purchased it in tandem with Heaven Tonight, so that story’s already shot in the post concerning that album.  It’s the album that made Cheap Trick’s career, it’s arguably the quintessential live album of the great era of live albums (sorry, but I’m just not a Peter Frampton fan, and that Kiss thing is about as “live” as roadkill, folks), it’s sold a bajillion copies over the years, and there’s a far better chance that you’ve actually heard this album before than any of the three that preceded it.  So why don’t I really have much to say about it?

Because, after twenty-three years of uber-fandom, I’m just kind of over it.  I hate admitting it so bluntly, but it’s true.  It’s a bit of a strange thing: I have more unofficial live Cheap Trick on my external hard drive than any other band.  This is no collector fetish: I enjoy this group’s live performances probably more than any other.  This performance – or, more specifically, the ten songs culled from it for the original album – is so etched into my brain that there’s simply nothing new to hear in it for me.  I’m not suggesting it isn’t wonderful and magical and every bit the classic it’s cracked up to me.  I’m simply pointing out that twenty three years of “Oh, you like Cheap Trick?  I’ve got that album, let’s throw it on” immediately followed by the iconic “All right Tokyo…” stage announcement has left my enthusiasm for it severely blunted.  That’s life, as they say.

‘Twas not always thus, however: upon first hearing back when I was fourteen, I was floored by how the songs came to life in a way that was simply not represented adequately by their studio counterparts.  The roar of the crowd yelled excitement!  in a way that hype stickers or stage announcement hyperbole could never hope to so vehemently convey.  They even manage to make an old war horse like “Ain’t That a Shame” sound like they wrote it for Heaven Tonight – no mean feat.

The final round-up looks like this: if you’ve never actually heard Cheap Trick at Budokan before, my advice to you is run, don’t walk.  It’s as excellent and exciting as you’ve always heard.  If, like me, years of repeat play and classic rock radio have worn down its luster for you, be glad that there’s so many great sounding live shows from roughly the same era…and why not take a moment to remind yourself how great it was back when you first heard it?

The Timeline and Many Faces of Budokan

Because the Budokan material has been reissued and repackaged seven ways from Sunday, here’s a quick timeline of releases and delineation of the differences between them for the uninitiated.

Cheap Trick at Budokan (LP, cassette, 8-Track)
Epic/CBS/Sony, November 1978 (Japan); February 1979 (USA)

The ten-track original, and still the best way to hear this material for the first time.  Initially intended to be released only in Japan, but rolled out in the USA after four months of (at the time) record-shattering import sales.  Early copies, both Japanese and domestic, come with an impressive large booklet containing photos, essays in Japanese, and full lyrics.  British copies are slightly retiled (At the Budokan), skip the gatefold cover and the booklet, but are pressed in what Epic Records describes on the hype sticker as “Kamikaze Yellow” vinyl.  Tasteful!

Cheap Trick at Budokan (CD)
Epic/CBS, ca. 1987 (USA) [Catalog number EK 35795]

Original US CD pressing.  Sounds like it was dubbed from a highly Camaro-tested cassette; unless distant sound, no bass to speak of, and tape hiss are a few of your favorite things, this moldy oldie is best consigned to the dustbin of history.

Budokan II [CD]
Epic/Sony, 1994

Purported to be the “other half” of the Budokan set, which is true as far as it goes.  Also includes three tracks from the next year’s Budokan performances, assumedly to push the total running time closer to what was considered full length in 1994.  An absolutely essential release in its time, largely rendered unnecessary (unless you’re a nerd like me who needed to hold on to if for those three 1979 tracks) four years later by…

At Budokan: The Complete Concert [2CD]
Epic/Sony, 1998

Twentieth anniversary stitch-together of the original ten track album with the 1978 material from Budokan II, now sequenced in the order in which the set was actually performed way back when.  Excellent sound and good liner notes make this the second stop on your Budokan journey, once the original album’s got its hooks in you and you need to know the whole story.

Warning! Collector nerd/audiophile porn above!
 Cheap Trick at Budokan [Gold CD]
Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs, mid 1990’s

Budokan makes a bit of a strange choice for an audiophile release; honestly, the tapes sound like what they are: a rough recording made very much on the fly that makes up for in excitement and ambience what it lacks in dynamic range and detail.  That said, Mobile Fidelity deserves some credit here: of all the digital iterations of the Budokan material out there, this gold CD is the closest match in overall sound to the original Japanese vinyl, and the meticulous recreation of the original vinyl booklet insert is unique to this version.  Honestly speaking, I only own this because I snagged it in the late ‘90s from a Borders clearance bin for about $10.  For what out of print Mobile Fidelity releases tend to go for on the nerd market, I’d pass on this one (or find a torrent, nudge-nudge-wink-wink) in favor of…

Cheap Trick at Budokan [Remastered CD]
Epic/Legacy/Sony, 2002 [Catalog number EK 86448]

Sounds nearly as good as the gold CD, contains most of the English-language content and some of the photos from the original booklet, and retails these days for about $6.  If you’re looking for non-vinyl physical media, this should be where you start.

Budokan! [CD/DVD boxed set]
Epic/Legacy/Sony, 2008

As awesome as it was frustrating, this 30th anniversary cash-grab from your friends at Sony has nearly as much to annoy as it does to offer.  New to the package is a brand new Jack Douglas remix of the complete April 28th, 1978 show (At Budokan was culled from two shows: April 28th and April 30th), as well as a long overdue official DVD release of one hour of the April 28th show, seen at the time on Japanese television and a bootleg favorite ever since.  So what’s wrong, you ask?  Unfortunately, Sony felt the need to bloat out both the content and price of the set by including The Complete Concert 2CD set in it as well; the hype sticker on the front refers to it as “meticulously remastered”, but it sounds the same – and, to be fair, as good – as ever to my ears.  Honestly, it’s hard to imagine anyone interested in something like this not already owning the 1998 release of The Complete Concert, rendering half the discs in this boxed extravaganza completely redundant.  Douglas’ remix of the April 28th show is mildly revelatory: rougher and more raucous than any previous version, it actually managed to make me actively enjoy this material for the first time in years.  The DVD is a hoot, although it’s too bad they couldn’t have also included the utterly bonkers Japanese commercials embedded in most of the bootleg versions.  To be fair, about a year later Sony tried to make good, releasing just the April 28th audio disc and the DVD as a combo pack for about $20, although I’d assume that the excellent booklet and poster that came with the big box probably don’t factor into that deal.  The new material is well worth it for devoted fans, but newbies may want to start with a simpler package and work their way up.

Next week: they persecute me right here on this very blog!!!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Trick Tuesday: "Heaven Tonight" (1978)

Heaven Tonight finds my teenage self still on vacation with the folks up on Cape Cod.  Now that I think back on it, fourteen is a really tough age to be on vacation with your folks: fresh into High School, you’re supposed to be independent, damn it.  To be fair, I’m certain that being stuck in a car for hours on end with a teenager who knows and hates it all wasn’t exactly the vacation of their dreams, either.  To everyone’s credit, we made it work on both ends; I did some family stuff with them, and I was allowed to roam around Hyannis unaccompanied for the first time in return.

It was probably the last full day of the vacation when I found myself back in Strawberries Music with a few last vacation bucks burning a hole in my pocket.  Further investigation uncovered that the CBS Midline sale I mentioned back in the In Color post also extended to CD’s.  For my birthday the preceding June, my folks had gotten me a CD boombox; it may not sound like much now, but back in 1988 that was the be-all-end-all.  In the intervening couple of days, I’d fallen hard enough in love with In Color that I knew the rest of my cash was going towards the next few chapters in the Trick saga.  Perusal of the Cheap Trick CD bin turned up the following:

·         Heaven Tonight: $9.99
·         Cheap Trick at Budokan: $11.99
·         Cash in pocket: $25.00
·         Money left over for a soda on the way back to the hotel: priceless.

Only once I’d returned to my hotel did I notice the flaw in my logic: this was way before Discmans were affordable, folks, and the boombox was back at home.  Rats.  For the next twenty four hours, then, all I had was the artwork and song titles to go on.  This was back when CDs were sold in longboxes.  “What’s that”, you ask?  Why, it was a stupid, ancient form of packaging about six inches wide by twelve inches long that allowed CDs to fit more easily into ancient vinyl browsers in record stores.  No luck finding a pic of the Heaven Tonight one on Google Images, but this grainy, stolen shot of an At Budokan one is identical to what my copy of that album came housed in way back when.  Pathetic as it may sound, the walls of my room were lined with these dopey things back in the day.

Back home, then: flung my bags on my bed and ripped open the longbox.  Threw the disc in the boombox and got my head blown clear off; if In Color took a listen or two to sink in, Heaven made its permanent place in my collection in about thirty seconds.  Having “Surrender” open an album will do that for you.  It’s a funny thing about the songs from your favorite bands that have hit saturation point: at any given time there is a 50% chance that I will turn “I Want You to Want Me” or “The Flame” off the radio if they appear, but “Surrender” never, ever gets old.  Speaking of never getting old, the one for the hormones this time out was the second song, “On Top of the World”: she was young, she was dark, she was fair.  It’s possible, but only if you’re an undersexed teenager.  You’d explode, she would touch you there.  One could only hope.

The general consensus on Heaven Tonight is that it was the album that merged the volume and mayhem of Cheap Trick with the pop smarts of In Color.  That’s mostly correct, although like all Tom Werman productions, the guitars could still stand to be a whole lot more in your face.  The other general consensus on Heaven Tonight is that it’s the perfect studio Cheap Trick album, which is hogwash.  Near the top of the list, sure, but they’ve got several filler-less albums.  Heaven is one track shy of being one of ‘em: “On the Radio” is more or less crap, if we’re being honest.

But, really, so what?  The other nine songs are varying degrees of classic, and if “Surrender” was the only pop hit, the fact that a high percentage of the other songs on the album remain fan favorites and live standards speaks volumes.  In fact, I’ll let this picture of the back cover of my ancient, Strawberries-purchased original CD speak for itself.

Ancient Heaven Tonight CD issue.  If any self-professed "audiophiles" try to tell you that this hunk of plastic sounds better than the '98 reissue by virtue of being old and "uncompressed", you should laugh at them and then slap them for being so silly.

Next week: the closest to Japan I’ve ever been.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Two Minutes of Uplift and Inspiration

For all that I like to present myself as a cool, rational, well-informed, well-balanced kinda dude, the truth is that sometimes I need a bit of inspiration just like anyone else.  Call me a Hallmark-loving wuss if you must, but sometimes we all just need that little extra push up the hill.  When I feel like I’m flagging a bit, I turn to one of America’s most beloved inspirational speakers: the one and only Richard Simmons.  Laugh all you want, but I guarantee you won’t be chuckling anymore if you just push play on the embedded video below and give this special little man just two minutes of your day.

(By the way: when I said you wouldn’t be chuckling anymore, I meant that in the “actually, you’ll be fucking rolling on the floor instead” sense.)

Thank you, Richard.  Thank you for youSweatin’ to the F-Bombs is the best diet plan I’ve ever been on!

Weiner Goes to Rehab; I say "no, no, no."

Just like any number of dopey pants-down celebrities before him, our good friend Anthony Weiner has checked himself into rehab.  The lesson he’s learned from those who’ve gone before him is simple: you can’t be redeemed if you don’t do your penance.  It’s hard to get that all-important People cover story unless you lay low and act humble in a place called Reflective Pines or something like that for a little while first.

Perhaps I’m being too cynical.  In the interest of presenting both sides of the story, I’ll quote Mr. Weiner himself (or, more likely, his PR firm) on the subject: he will be taking a "short leave of absence to seek professional treatment to focus on becoming a better husband and healthier person."  Nowhere in anything I’ve read does Weiner specify that he’ll be receiving treatment for sex addiction, but I think it’s safe to guess that’s where his train is ultimately headed.

This is the point at which my blood begins to heat up a bit, and not at all because I’ve now been forced to see pictures of a legislatin’ dude in a low-down, no-shirt mood ad nauseum.  Weiner isn’t an addict.  Weiner is an idiot.  Weiner is a simpering man-child whose ego has allowed him to convince himself that his position of power negates any possible negative repercussions of his pathetically adolescent behavior.  Sexting pictures of your no-no-parts when you’re a hormone factory of a teenager is one thing; consider it the modern-tech equivalent of “you show me yours and I’ll show you mine” and chalk it up to the pains of being that age.  Engaging in the same behavior as a forty-six year old man is considerably more problematic; a manifestation of arrested development writ epic, to put it mildly.

On the one hand, yes, I agree that it is high time for this jackass to slouch on home for a while with his, er, tail between his legs and sit in the corner until he learns how to behave in polite company.  Where I begin to become angry is when the label “rehab” is hung on top of it all.  Without rehab, Weiner is a creepy jerk who never learned how to behave around women.  His actions are unquestionably his fault, and the results of them are unquestionably his responsibility.  Throw him in rehab, though, and suddenly voila: it’s a disease.  It’s not his fault; he’s an addict who can’t possibly help himself.  Before you know it, you’ve got soft little Hollywood enablers like Dr. Drew buzzing around like flies, doing nothing but massaging Weiner’s ego.  It’s not your fault, Anthony.  You’re really a good boy.  We’ll just treat you for your “addiction” and then everything will be swell and you’ll never have to say you were wrong.  Isn’t life just sweet?

Certainly I’m no expert from a medical standpoint, but I’ve always kind of dismissed sex addiction as malarkey.  To a certain extent, we’re all addicted to sex; after all, the continuance of our species depends on it.  What’s more, it’s fun.  Logically, the way to deal with that is to find someone you like whose attitudes towards sex and exclusivity are compatible with yours and then get to grunting.  Most “sex addicts” you read about are celebrities: rock stars, actors, athletes, etc.  The sex they claim to be addicted to seems to me to be more of a manifestation than the problem itself: they are, in fact, addicted to power and attention; indiscriminate sex is simply a way for them to exert the former while basking in the latter.  If nothing else, this description seems to fit Anthony Weiner like a pair of tighty-whitey Fruit of the Looms.

Really, it’s simple: Weiner is a guy who let his swollen ego control his large head, which in turn gave Twittering orders to his smaller head.  He’s a man who made a string of terrible decisions, and he should have to answer to his family for them.  He is not, however, some poor little victim of a “disease” who didn’t know any better.  He is a man who acted incredibly foolishly, and it is now time for him to own both his actions and their results.  As I said in my first post about all of this, I’m not truly convinced that this should result in the surrender of his office; from what I’ve seen of his record before this scandal, he seems like a man who fulfilled the duties of his elected position with aplomb.  But if he truly wants me to believe that he’s some helpless addict who couldn’t tell the difference between appropriate behavior and his own conduct, then I hope he doesn’t let the door hit his naked, poorly photographed ass on the way out.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Russell Crowe: Chop-Blocker

I’m sure that the early stages of new parenthood are chock full of all kinds of decisions that the happy parents hadn’t even considered that they’d ever have to consider.  I’m sure that the combination of being under-slept and overwhelmed leads people to ask all sorts of questions, and to ask them of nearly anybody who happens to be in the immediate area.  As much as a guy who’s never been through it can, I get it.

All of that acknowledged, who in the hell tweets Russell Crowe of all people for advice on something like this?  How does that thought process go?  “Honey, I know we’ve reached an impasse on whether or not to get little Tucker circumcised.  So I was thinking: why don’t we use this newfangled Twitter contraption to ask Russell Crowe what we should do?  He’d know, right?  I mean, who better to advise us on an important medical and spiritual decision concerning our child than a b-list celebrity?”

I can only hope that I’m being a bit too harsh here.  Perhaps Crowe wasn’t the couple’s first choice of counsel.  Maybe Arnold Schwarzenegger and Anthony Weiner just aren’t answering their tweets right now.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Trick Tuesday: "In Color" (1977)

At first, it all felt too quiet.  After about two weeks of listening to nothing but the debut album, I guess that whatever Cheap Trick album I dipped my toes into next would seem a bit less…well, just a bit less, I suppose, than that first album.  Indeed, it took me ever so slightly longer to be wowed by In Color than its predecessor.  Five more songs, to be precise: if Cheap Trick boom-boom-thwack-boom-boomed its hooks into me on the third song, In Color made me a true believer by track eight.

Every year through the end of High School, my parents would take advantage of the time we were given off for Rosh Hashanah for a family vacation; by the time I was a teenager, the destination was invariably Cape Cod.  Like clockwork, our first night there found me standing in a Strawberries Music store in Hyannis, knowing exactly what I was going to spend my first dollop of vacation money on.  This may have been the first understanding my poor, underfunded music geek’s soul had of the joys of a Sony (then CBS, actually) Records Midline sale: $3.99 later, my most played cassette of the past six months finally had a younger brother to hang with.  (Sorry, folks, no sexy photos of outdated media this time around; 99% of my cassettes have long since relocated to a landfill somewhere.)

Unlike the debut album, which I’d never heard a note of before rolling the dice on it on my first day of high school, I knew two things about In Color going in: “I Want You to Want Me”, and the fact that, according to some sort of Encyclopedia of Rock book I’d gotten the previous Christmas, it had followed the first album into stores within a matter of months.  Based on those things alone, it couldn’t possibly lose.  By the time my folks had settled in for the night in front of some awful TV movie and I could finally be alone with my walkman, I was practically drooling.

At first, everything seemed just as I’d expected; within the first ten seconds or so, I was confronted with a loud, obnoxious guitar riff over which Robin Zander was yelling “are you ready to rock?”  It was phrased as a question, but delivered like a demand; it’s this kind of nuance that breathes new life into a cliché.  As for me, I was indeed ready.  By the third song or so, though, something seemed a bit off: the band sounded muffled and muted in a way they didn’t on the first album.  At fourteen years old, a kid – even one as music-geeky as I was – doesn’t know what “bad production” is; ‘twas the first of many lessons I’d learn from In Color over the years.

Soon enough, I was confronted by “I Want You to Want Me”, and the second lesson I’d learn from In Color: sometimes, the version on the album you’ve bought isn’t quite the one you’re familiar with.  I liked the version I’d heard on the classic rock stations well enough, but this was…this was crap.  I remember my brilliant bit of internal-dialogue teenage disappointment as though it were yesterday: “this sounds like fucking Peter Frampton or some shit.”  Happily, one more song and we were suddenly back on track: “You’re All Talk” actually sounded like the stuff on their first album.  Finally.

Time to trepidatiously flip over the tape: “Oh Caroline” and “Clock Strikes Ten” kept the faith that “You’re All Talk” had instilled in me.  Then it happened: just like last time, it all started with the drums.  This time when the guitars came in they teased instead of jackhammered, but the feeling mirrored my first encounter with “He’s a Whore”: this, right here, is my idea of music.

Being fourteen years old wasn’t much fun back in 1988, and I’m sure little has changed in the time since.  It was the time when your hormones started evolving a lot faster than your brains.  I didn’t know exactly what all the late-teenage girls in the tight dresses were doing standing in line outside the bars on Main Street in Hyannis (call me naive, but I was a few years away from “trying to get in on a fake ID” became part of my vocabulary), but I knew the tight dresses were something I was suddenly a lot more interested in than I had been even six months previous.  I didn’t know exactly why, nor did I really understand what I was supposed to do with these women should the opportunity ever arise, but I did understand that somehow, the music I was listening to right at that moment had something to do with it all.  Get out on the street, you’ve got nothing to lose; there were still a few clues missing for my poor pubescent soul, but some of the pieces were starting to come together.

Thusly reinvigorated, I listened to the last couple of tunes and then started the whole thing again; this time around, there was a lot more love in the air.  I still wished it was loud like the first album, but now the songs were getting their hooks in me just like the ones on Cheap Trick.  All of ‘em except for this version of “I Want You to Want Me”, that is: seriously, what the hell happened there?  No matter: as it turned out, I was about three days away from adding the word “Budokan” to my lexicon.

A few weeks later, sitting back at home listening to WNEW, it hit me: “Oh, the songs on In Color sound more like the other songs on the radio than the ones on the first album.”  Witness the birth of my music geekdom in one simple sentence; feel free to celebrate or mourn as you see fit.  In that moment, I realized that on In Color, Cheap Trick had surrendered, but not given themselves away…

…but I’m getting a bit ahead of myself with that talk, aren’t I?