Every once in a while, I will have a drink or two and listen to some music. Less often, I will have a couple drinks and write. Even less often, I will have a drink, listen to some music and write, all at the same time, just to see what happens.
Pick a song in i-Tunes, hit the “genius” button and away we go…
Rick Derringer has been around a long time. He is well-known for a few things, like “Rock and Roll Hoochie Coo” and for being a member of The McCoys, who did the hit version of “Hang on Sloopy” in 1966. Right now I am listening to Derringer do “EZ Action,” a not-too-well-known song from his 1978, album If I Weren’t So Romantic, I’d Shoot You. It’s old school rock and roll: two guitars, bass and drums, gritty vocals and some killer screaming. Oh, and the song! Derringer is all about the song. Now, a lot of great old school rock and roll songs are about sex and “EZ Action” is no exception. In fact, it’s about, uh…underage sex. Rick Derringer (his homepage is quite cool) is a devout Christian these days so I doubt “EZ Action” is in his repertoire anymore. The drummer on this album is the kick-ass Myron Grombacher, who went onto greater fame banging away on all the big Pat Benatar albums in the eighties—a killer rock pocket player.
Last week, I was at a birthday party for the mother of one my oldest friends. She’d had a recent surgery but looked none the worse for the wear. I am a dumb-as-rocks workaholic. I figured out what I wanted to do with my life rather late in my life, or so it seems to me. So, I constantly feel I have to make up for lost time. I go weeks, months sometimes, without seeing my friends. When I finally do get out, focus goes completely out into the environment: The people I haven’t seen in a year or more. I forget about me and my concerns. I notice how they look. They remind me about something I did or said 20 or 25 years ago and I realize that perhaps I am someone other than the person who is working to build up a new business, to write killer songs and get them published, to, to, to…enough about me. I love my friends and I often feel very sorry for depriving them me and for depriving myself of them.
Right now, the studio version of “I Want You to Want Me” is on and it’s just so…weird to hear, compared to the one we’ve been hearing continuously since 1979: Cheap Trick Live at Budokan. The studio version is so quaint, so…cute. No screaming Japanese girls, no edge-of-chaos electric guitar. (Hell, I think it has a banjo on it.)
I am drinking an Anchor Steam Beer (which is weird because I could’ve sworn it was a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale when I bought it.)
“What a drag it is, these gold lamé jeans. Is this the coolest way to get through your teens?” asked Alice Cooper on “Teenage Lament ’74.” It’s a weird song, by Alice standards. It’s one of the last songs recorded by his original band, on an album called Muscle of Love. I get weird feelings when I think about that record. (I am using the word “weird” a lot tonight. Weird.) It’s a record full of…interesting songs about bankrobbers and yokels in the big city and…muscles of love but it has no underlying concept, unlike earlier Alice albums like Billion Dollar Babies, Killer and School’s Out. The songs are good but it’s just not cohesive. And listening to it, knowing after the fact it was their last album together and that they’d already peaked? It was a bit depressing.
(As a teen, I was so fixated on Alice Cooper that at one point, at age 13, I lived in a state of anxiety that maybe I was a homosexual. That anxiety was neutralized by my discover of Playboy magazine.)
One of the most pleasurable afternoons of my entire life was spent on the couch in my living room on a spring afternoon, reading Alice Cooper, a paperback issued by Circus magazine. I laid on that couch all afternoon, undisturbed, lost in the moment, reading in twisted delight about the twisted origins of this twisted rock and roll hero. More recently, I sold off most of my rock and roll biographies and related books (including another Alice bio I bought for $8 in 1978 and sold last month in trashed condition to some other Alice junkie for $150) but kept that Circus paperback. I am not terribly sentimental but there’s such a good memory attached to that book that I had to keep it.
After Alice, I became a stone Tom Petty fan. I spent the summer of ’80 wearing out the grooves of his You’re Gonna Get It album (which was two years old then). At one time, Petty rated it his least favorite of his albums but what the fuck does he know? Was he ever as big a Petty fan as I was? You’re Gonna Get It was the Heartbreakers’ last indie album, before there was such a thing as “indie.” It was released by tiny Shelter Records, who later sold out to MCA. The band were still struggling (and they would struggle even more after becoming associated with MCA) but it’s the album that put them on the cusp of stardom. It’s rock and roll through and through: rough, rugged, rootsy, raw and a lotta other “R” words. Not to be too sentimental, but You’re Gonna Get It was my 14th summer. It’s a record that’s very close to my heart.
I might be hard for a lot of people to understand why the hell a person gets so “into” music, listening to it, thinking about it and feeling about it enough to devote a significant portion of their life to it—to spend their Friday night, for instance, writing about it. I think I know why: For some, music becomes the company they keep when they find they are unable to be properly understood by the people closest to them. The radio, with messages tailored for the hearts and minds of kids, “speaks” to them. It becomes more “real” than mom and dad. You can trust it. It’s always there, always on, never lets you down. That is how it was for me as a kid. I later discovered that it had remained that way for a long time.
One afternoon, square in the middle of adulthood, on a work day lunch break, I wandered into a local record store. Up and down the aisles I wandered, looking at nothing in particular. I hadn’t come in for a certain disc or book or DVD. But I had come in for something. I just didn’t know what. And I had found myself in this position (both geographically and emotionally) many, many times over the years. This particular afternoon, standing there, on the store’s polished concrete floor, amid the rows and rows of record racks, with some unidentified music playing over the house system, I realized I’d come in there looking for understanding, for comfort. I’d come in there on the same impulse that brought me to the radio over and over as a child and a teenager. While I still love music, however, it no longer serves that function. I have had to find that understanding and comfort elsewhere. Sometimes it’s not easy.
In the mid-80s, somehow or another, I got a copy of the Stones’ Tattoo You and played the cassette over and over in my truck for months. It became my favorite Stones album. To me, it sounds all of one piece but I would later find out that it was cobbled together using songs that were recorded for earlier albums but weren’t used. While it has the big hit “Start Me Up,” that’s hardly the high point for me. Tattoo You has one of the all-time harp-wailin’ blues numbers, “Black Limo.” Do you know this one? I loved that song so much, I started learning how to play harmonica just so I could play along. I used to drive around in my truck, when I was unemployed (for 18 months), blowing that “Black Limo” riff over and over to perfection. In the late 80s, I got to put that riff to great use when me and my friend Bill Berry were hired to create some “soundtrack” music for an, uh…adult film. If you ever bought any VHS videos issued by Plum Productions, you’ve no doubt heard my blues harp playing. (I heard they used that same music in everyone of their sleazy films for years.)
And now The Knack are laying down “Good Girls Don’t,” in all its pervy power pop perfection. I don’t want to admit how much I like this song (and that entire first Knack album) so let’s just move on, shall we?
One of wickedest guitar riffs ever played has got to be the main riff in “Hocus Pocus,” by the Dutch progressive rockers Focus. This was a Top Ten record in 1973! Listen to it. One of the wildest rides ever recorded. I mean, they pull off some wild shit on this record! Listen to it! The last time the singer does his yodeling bit, he hits this impossibly high note and then breaks into a celebratory hoot. I bet he choked on that note on earlier takes but on this one, he got it. And that wild, impossible bass guitar…did you hear that? Those guys could play.
I don’t want to be that guy who complains about how music isn’t as good as it used to be. Ask any kid who listens to today’s radio and they will tell you how great Katy Perry and Lady Gaga are. It’s all relative. Sure, our tastes in music seem to be pretty much formed in our teens but who said we had to calcify at that point? That’s the trick: To find stuff today that you think is cool. It’s out there. Find it.
Thanks for taking a ride with me tonight.
Steve Wagner is a copywriter and editor with clients worldwide, including Press 8 Telecom (Austin, TX), Green Gold Group Cooperative (Jamaica), U-Office.com (Sydney) and many other authors, entrepreneurs and small businesses. His work includes articles, blogs, sales & marketing copy, website content and more. He keeps this blog for when he is inspired to write about music. His website is http://www.writer-editor-etc.com