Thursday, January 31, 2013

More Music by Caldor

As promised, here's the second installment in my series that looks back at 45's my brother, sister and I bought in the '70s (see January 23, 2013, "Music by Caldor.").

Today, I picked three random little discs out of the battered pink case that's held our collection of 45's since back in the day. Over the years, I've become the de facto music archivist in my family, gathering up some of my parents' old LP's, and scattered long players and singles that my siblings and I bought over the years at our local Caldor department store in Avon, CT.

The first one to come out is Elton John's "Bennie and the Jets."

This song came out in 1973, when I was 8 years old, and was incredibly popular on the radio. John didn't want to release the song as a single, thinking it was too plain and boring, according to good ol' Wikipedia. Producer Gus Dudgeon decided to punch it up a bit by adding in reverb, applause and other audience effects to make it more lively. The song became John's first Top 40 hit on the R&B charts.

For more on the song's history, read this.

Interesting side note: I had a friend growing up named Bene (pronounced "Benny"), so we used to mock him at times by singing this song. Bene, unfortunately, passed away several years ago two months shy of his 40th birthday. Driving home from his funeral, I got stuck in a traffic jam on Route 84 just south of the Mass. Pike. As I sat there, listening to a mix CD I'd made a few years ago, a version of "Bennie and the Jets" done by the Beastie Boys with Biz Markie suddenly popped up.

I don't get too mystical and spiritual, but I laughed to myself and thought my good buddy was telling me, "Hey, don't sweat the traffic."

On to the next song.

Jim Croce's "Time In a Bottle" always makes me sad.

Like "Bennie and the Jets," Croce's tale of wishing for more time to do the important things in life was released as a single in 1973. The song became popular after Croce's tragic death in a plane crash in September of that year.

I wasn't crazy about this song, instead preferring Croce's more upbeat tunes like "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" and "You Don't Mess Around With Jim."

I put Croce in the same category as Harry Chapin, who also died tragically, in a car accident in 1981. They were both singer-songwriters with loads of talent, but also guys who were a bit too, well, singer-songwriter-y for me.

Finally, Jo Jo Gunne's short, sweet boogie rocker, "Run Run Run."

Jo Jo Gunne was kinda like Foghat. Slide guitar solos, chugging rhythms and a fun sound. I didn't know anything about them, so I went to Wikipedia, of course. The band grew out of 1960's L.A. band, Spirit, who allegedly influenced Led Zeppelin. "Run Run Run" charted in the U.S. and U.K., but Jo Jo Gunne (they got the name from a Chuck Berry song) broke up after releasing four albums in two years.

Stay tuned for another installment (or two, or three)....

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Music by Caldor

Other than a brief fling with anti-apartheid activism in college, I've always kept my politics mostly to myself. Sure, if you know me well, you know I'm a liberal Democrat. But I don't speak out much about my views except in close company.

So you might be surprised to learn that the first 45 (remember those?) I bought was "Give Ireland Back to the Irish," a political screed written and recorded by Paul McCartney & Wings.

OK, screed might be too strong a word, but considering the song was written by the guy who penned "Ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on, brah!", "Give Ireland Back to the Irish" is a pretty strong statement.

I have no idea why I opted for this song as the first single I bought from the Avon, Connecticut, branch of Caldor, the department store chain that closed in 1999. My parents would take my brother, sister and me there once in a while, and we kids would buy 45's there, then take them home and play them on our pop-up record player.

I guess the song must have been popular on the radio when I was 7 years old. Somehow, I grew up in a household devoid of Beatles music, and I didn't buy an album by the Fab Four until I was well into adulthood.

Digging through my musty stack of 45's in the attic, I did find, however, that one of us bought McCartney & Wings's "Jet," as well as Ringo Starr's "Oh My My."

I had no idea what "Give Ireland Back to the Irish" meant at that age. As I got older I came to an understanding of just what Great Britain was doing in Northern Ireland.

The song didn't mean much to me, but perhaps I thought of it during my time at Keene State College as a member of a student group that tried to raise awareness of the appalling apartheid in South Africa.

Oh, who am I kidding -- that didn't happen.

Here's a video of the song that shows the 45. Below this clip is an interesting video of the band practicing the song in somebody's living room.

The second 45 I bought had a bit more of an impact on my life.

"Rock 'n' Roll Hoochie Koo" by Rick Derringer continues to be a song that I listen to, and one that inspired a story in my short story collection, (C)rock Stories: Million-Dollar Tales of Music, Mayhem and Immaturity.

This one was also popular on the radio when I was young, but unlike McCartney's song, it continues to get airplay on classic rock radio.

Let's watch and listen together:

Other 45's I bought that I still have in my collection (but never play) include "Hot Rod Lincoln" by Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, a song that also features in one of my (C)rock Stories; and The Knack's "My Sharona," the sleeve of which features a somewhat androgynous young woman in a tight, see-through tank top.

When I started writing this a few days ago I wasn't planning on digging through the little pink box that my siblings and I stored our 45's in, but now that I've done so, I think I'll write a few more installments in coming weeks.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Rock and Writing

This is Tales From the House Band, Volume 2. It is an anthology featuring 15 short stories at least tangentially related to music. One of the stories from my collection, (C)rock Stories: Million-Dollar Tales of Music, Mayhem and Immaturity, is included in this new book. I hope you'll consider buying it and telling your friends and neighbors about it and suggesting that, "Hey, you know, you really don't have enough Dave Brigham in your library."

The book came out without much fanfare back in early December. For some reason, the publisher, Plus One Press, doesn't feature the book on its web site. Nevertheless, it's available online and at brick-and-mortar stores if you ask nicely for them to order it.

I self-published (C)rock Stories more than two years ago, but felt OK contributing one of those stories to Tales From the House Band #2. I'm not sure if Plus One is planning a third installment in the series. If so, I would consider joining in again, if they'll have me (my story, "Three Times a Lady Sniff," is by far the most vulgar story in the book, although, in my mind, also the closest to reality).

If I'm asked, I would write a new story.

I've got a lot on my plate right now, with my memoir, a planned children's book series and my long-on-the-back-burner novel. But I'm excited to write a new story about music, even though I don't have any ideas for one right now.

By the way, I've got a reading planned next month in Portsmouth, NH, at River Run Bookstore. Thanks to my buddy Peter for setting that up. Unlike the reading from Tales that I did in Arlington, Mass., last month, this time I'll be on my own. Which means I'll probably torment attendees with my full story about the trials and tribulations of following the Butthole Surfers on the road.

Hope you can make it.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Selective Memory

I've long thought that I have a poor memory, but in working on a memoir about a road trip I took nearly 25 years ago, I've come around a bit to give myself some credit, and feel as though I've learned a bit about how my memory works.

First, let me state that there are times when my memory isn't all that great. My wife will tell me something about an upcoming plan for the weekend, and later that day I'll ask her, "What are we doing Saturday?" She just looks at me and says, "Weren't you listening to me earlier?"

I was listening, but I wasn't concentrating on what she said. Sometimes I truly didn't register the information, and can't summon it. Other times, I'm too lazy to think about the conversation and ask her to repeat what she told me. Occasionally, I'll burn a few brain cells and recall the information.

Unlike a lot of people, I can't blame my distraction on smart phone usage. As of this writing, I'm still living in Luddite Land, with a dumb phone. Rather, I have a hard time focusing on what other people are saying sometimes, instead letting my mind wander to thinking about some random shiny object or song running through my head.

Sometimes I distract myself during a conversation by telling myself, "Hey, pay attention to this!" which of course guarantees that I'm not paying attention. Weird, I know. Maybe it's ADD.

Still, in writing my memoir (working title: "My Four-Month Tour of Duty on the Battleship Patchouli") I've raised more details in my mind than I would've thought possible before I started writing the book.

My primary resources are a short journal and an audiotape that I kept during the trip, as well as two articles I wrote for my hometown newspaper (R.I.P., Farmington Valley Herald) to spark my memory. Still, those resources leave a lot of gaps, especially during our travels across Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico, and our time spent living in Albuquerque.

I've reached out to my road trip buddies -- Andy, Pete and John. As I and listen to and read (via email) their memories of the trip, and as I spend more time writing and researching and thinking about the trip, memories pop up and fill in important spaces in the manuscript.

What valuable nuggets have emerged? Going to the stock car races in Albuquerque, and seeing a Powder Puff competition. Visiting a strip club in New Orleans featuring a girl on a swing. Getting chili-and-cheese hot dogs way too often at 7-Eleven. Riveting stuff? Perhaps not, but all these tidbits help paint a larger picture.

As I've asked questions of my road-mates, I realized they remember some of what I recall, but by no means have better memories than I do. Perhaps it's just because I've spent so much time on this in recent months, or maybe my memory isn't as bad as I thought it was.

I'm having a great time working on the memoir, primarily because it's a fun challenge to put together my history and to analyze who I was in 1988 and who I've become. And secondarily, I find it enjoyable because I've learned to give myself a break when it comes to my historical recall.

Now, please to enjoy Giant Sand covering Johnny Thunders:

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Waltham Empire

I'm a big fan of HBO's "Boardwalk Empire," which stars Steve Buscemi. I also liked him in HBO's "The Sopranos," and movies including "Ghost World," "Fargo" and "The Big Lebowski."

So I was excited when on a recent drive through the neighboring town of Waltham I spied this:

Waltham Empire

In "Boardwalk Empire," Buscemi is the king of Atlantic City and its illegal casinos, speakeasies, theaters, cat houses and more. Here are a few shots of the empire that Waltham's S. Buscemi lords over....

Libreria Cristiana

(A Christian bookstore. "Jesus Mi Pastor" translates to "Jesus My Shepherd.")

French American Victory Club

(The French American Victory Club)

Recording studio

(Woolly Mammoth recording studio, located above a furniture restoration shop.)

Bad TV

(A bad TV hanging outside a book bindery.)

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Let There Be Light!

I get a laugh from Jack Handey and have deep respect for W.C. Handy, the father of the blues. But as for my own handiness, well, it leaves a lot to be desired.

My snow blower refused to work during last weekend's storm, but I have no clue how to fix it. When Beth put in a bulldog bottle opener on our deck last summer, and couldn't get the screws to bite all the way, I looked at it and said, "Oh well." Then I felt really stupid when I mentioned this to one of my neighbors and he showed up with a power screwdriver and finished the job that I should have done.

While holding his baby.

I call it laziness or procrastination, but what my condition really boils down to is lack of self-confidence. My dad used to do stuff around the house when I was a kid, but he wasn't a real fix-it kind of guy. I didn't take shop class in high school. Nobody in my family needs to keep Borax next to the sink to clean up their greasy hands.

As I've gotten older, I've realized that I have some sort of executive function issue. I have a hard time looking at a mechanical problem and figuring out how to approach it and get 'er done, as the saying goes.

OK, sometimes I'm just lazy and would rather read a book, work on my memoir or do a crossword puzzle than paint that gray spot near the back door that's supposed to be yellow like the rest of the wall.

But once in a while I actually get off my executive-misfunctioning butt and get something done. Like today, when I installed a new light fixture in our basement. I'm feeling pretty damn proud of myself.

Sure, the light's been broken for, oh, maybe two months, since my nephew yanked the string out of the ceiling-mounted fixture. But the idea of trying to fix the light, or replace it, was worse in my mind than having to walk an extra eight feet to turn on a different light in the basement.

If we used this light more often, I probably would have gotten to it sooner. Like, you know, maybe only a month after it got broken.

Anyway, here's some W.C. Handy: