A Surrealist Epic Post-Thanksgiving Poem

Since we first started hosting Thanksgiving dinner in, I believe, 2012, I have been responsible for the epic cleanup. As with all good rituals, it started as a one-off: I put Nell and the girls to bed and said good night to the last of our guests to leave with the understanding I would finish cleaning the living/dining room and kitchen.

This meant two things.

One, pulling out my portable CD player and earbuds and four older CD mixes. Forget whistling while you work: there was full on singing and dancing. Cavorting, even.

Two, it was not enough simply to run the dishwasher, make things passably tidy and leave the rest until morning. No, I had to restore the living/dining to its pre-meal state, which included moving furniture to its normal location; wash, dry and put away every single pot, dish and piece of flatware; store every leftover; and clean (within reason—I could not run a dust buster or vacuum cleaner) the two rooms, including taking out the garbage and recycling.

If memory serves, that first cleanup took about three-and-a-half hours, with dazzling results; if there is such a thing as kinetic zen, this is it.

And a ritual was born.

In preparation for Thanksgiving 2019, I curated a playlist of 55 tracks totaling 3 hours and 50 minutes on my classic flywheel iPod. I usually make the playlist a bit too long, finding myself wandering around listening to the last few tracks, but this year I actually had to restart the mix, playing the first two tracks again while I took out the garbage and recycling.

Darn, what a shame.

To honor this mix, of which I am quite proud, I decided to create a surrealist epic poem consisting of representative (read: the ones I most enjoy singing) lyrics from each track in sequence. As three tracks are instrumentals, two serve as overtures to the two parts of the poem, and one introduces the dramatic conclusion.[1]

It is no secret I have eclectic taste in music, though given my recent obsession with Stranger Things (after enjoying David Harbour as the guest host on Saturday Night Live on October 12, 2019, Nell and I watched all 25 episodes in seven weeks), there is a heavy emphasis on the generic classifications of “New Wave” (11 tracks), “Post-Punk” (4) and “Synthpop” (3); seven other tracks could easily be classified under this rubric as well, for a total of 25. Moreover, 30 tracks were released between 1980 and 1989; the show is set in 1983-85 (11 tracks). That said, eight tracks from the 1970s fall into a broad Soul/R&B/Funk/Disco category, six other tracks from that decade fall into a broad folk rock/singer-songwriter/soft rock category. Finally, four of the seven tracks released between 1990 and 2016 fall into a grunge/Alternative Rock category, two are from movie/television soundtracks and, last but far from least, is the joyous Americana of “Square Glass in the Wall” by the Four Legged Faithful.

Given the inherent spirit of randomness masquerading as creativity, I illustrate this epic poem with our eldest daughter’s unnamed creation from November 28, 2014, the day AFTER Thanksgiving that year.

IMG_1455.JPG

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Part 1

Overture: Theme from Stranger Things by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein

 

Well lately

You look around

You’re wondering what you’re doing

Yeah lately

You look around

You’re wondering what you’re seeing

What you’re doing.

 

I know you

Were expecting a one-night stand

When I refused

I knew you wouldn’t understand

I told you twice

I was only trying to be nice

Only trying to be nice

Ooh, I didn’t mean to turn you on.

 

So grab your friends, get the train comin’ through

Climb on board, where you leave’s up to you

Leave your worries behind

‘Cause rain, shine, don’t mind

We’re ridin’ on the groove line tonight.

 

Ohh, if I had my wits about me now

About me now

I would tear across the waterway somehow

Oh somehow

The body has never turned its back on me this way

Dare I say

Something was wrong.

 

The wild dogs cry out in the night

As they grow restless, longing for some solitary company

I know that I must do what’s right

As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti

I seek to cure what’s deep inside, frightened of this thing that I’ve become.

 

Every day, every night

In that all old familiar light

You hang up when I call you at home

And I try to get through

Ant I try to talk to you

But there’s something stopping me from getting through.

 

Nothing lasts forever

Of that I’m sure

Now you’ve made an offer

I’ll take some more

Young loving may be

Oh so mean

Will I still survive

The same old scene?

 

We must play our lives like soldiers in the field

The life is short

I’m running faster all the time

Strength and beauty destined to decay

So cut the rose in full bloom

‘Til the fearless come and the act is done

A love like blood

A love like blood.

 

And I was here to please

I’m even on my knees

Makin’ love to whoever I please

I gotta do it my way

Or no way at all.

 

Come doused in mud, soaked in bleach

As I want you to be

As a trend, as a friend

As an old

Memoria, memoria

Memoria, memoria

And I swear that I don’t have a gun

No I don’t have a gun.

 

The body’s weak, the shadow’s strong

Walk through the fire

Through the dust and ashes

While the building crashes

Walk through the flame

Lion show no sign of fear.

 

I find myself on canvas

I find myself on stage

Can you see me?

Are you near me?

And I long to know you’re real

And I long for you to be a part of me

I long to know you’re real

And I long for you to be a part of me.

 

I might like you better if we slept together

But there’s something in your eyes

That says maybe

That’s never

Never say never.

 

This old town’s changed so much

Don’t feel that I belong

Too many protest singers, not enough protest songs

And now you’ve come along, yes, you’ve come along

And I never met a girl like you before.

 

Politician’s promises

Have made all of us doubting Thomas’

And as we all adjust our confidence

Still in you I trust

In you I trust

In you I must

I trust you more each day

You seem to mean exactly what you say

Friend and lover, lovely friend.

 

Like the fool I am and I’ll always be

I’ve got a dream, I’ve got a dream

They can change their minds but they can’t change me

I’ve got a dream, I’ve got a dream

Oh, I know I could share it if you want me to

If you’re goin’ my way, I’ll go with you.

 

Get around town, get around town

Where the people look good, where the music is loud

Get around town, no need to stand proud

Add your voice to the sound of the crowd.

 

Where are you going now, my love

Where will you be tomorrow?

Will you bring me happiness?

Will you bring me sorrow?

Oh, the questions of a thousand dreams

What you do with what you see

Lover, can you talk to me?

 

But no matter where the days have left you

Every day ends at the street café

The street café

And no matter where the road may take you

Every time it brings you back to the street café

Yeah the street café.

 

Get on up, on the floor

‘Cause were gonna boogie oogie oogie

‘Till you just can’t boogie no more

Ah boogie, boogie no more

You can’t boogie no more

Ah boogie, boogie no more

Listen to the music.

 

Don’t talk to me about love

(yesterdays shatter, tomorrows don’t matter)

Don’t talk to me about love

(yesterdays shatter, tomorrows don’t matter)

Don’t talk to me about love

(yesterdays shatter, tomorrows don’t matter).

 

Shadows from the buildings creep along the parking cars

While the women spank their babies and the old men just drink all day in bars

And the people that “never see it” always end up as the ones who’ve seen it all

And the liquor store is crowded, while an empty phone booth rings another call

And the hills that used to all seem green now look an ugly brown

And no one ever found any movie stars on the stormy side of town.

 

All the love gone bad turned my world to black

Tattooed all I see, all that I am, all I’ll be yeah

Oh oh ooh

I know someday you’ll have a beautiful life

I know you’ll be a star in somebody else’s sky, but why

Why, why can’t it be, oh can’t it be mine?

 

Rough boys

Don’t walk away

I wanna buy you leather

Make noise

Try and talk me away

We can’t be seen together

Tough kids

What can I do?

I’m so pale and weedy.

 

I have waited a lifetime

Spent my time so foolishly

But now that I found you

Together we’ll make history

And I know that it must be the woman in you

That brings out the man in me

I know I can’t help myself

You’re all my eyes can see.

 

Dream on white boy, white boy

Dream on black girl, black girl

And wake up to a brand new day

To find your dreams have washed away.

 

Now the thing that I call livin’ is just bein’ satisfied

With knowin’ I got no one left to blame

Carefree highway, got ta see you my old flame

Carefree highway, you seen better days

The mornin’ after blues from my head down to my shoes

Carefree highway, let me slip away

Slip away on you.

 

So you’re left standing in the corner

You keep your face turned to the wall

A fading dream

A fading memory

A shooting star that had to fall

Mama Mama I keep having nightmares

Mama Mama Mama am I ill?

Mama Mama Mama hold me tighter

Mama Mama do you love me still?

 

Is there something you should tell me?

Is this the time of bliss?

Should I live without you?

I dare not contemplate.

 

Part 2

Overture: Theme from The Shadow by Jerry Goldsmith

 

This is not a horse race where winners beat the time

This is not a funeral with mourners in a line

This is not a sitcom where everything’s alright

This is not a prison with terror through the night

Go… don’t you go

Won’t you stay with me one more day?

 

You don’t pull on Superman’s cape

You don’t spit into the wind

You don’t pull the mask

From that old Lone Ranger

And you don’t mess around with Jim.

 

You function like a dummy with a new ventriloquist

Do you say nothing yourself?

Hanging like a thriller on the final twist

You know you’re getting stuck on the shelf

Come up to me with your “What did you say?”

And I’ll tell you straight in the eye, “Hey!”

D.I.Y.

 

There’ve been times in my life

I’ve been wonderin’ why

Still, somehow I believed we’d always survive

Now, I’m not so sure

You’re waiting here, one good reason to try

But, what more can I say?

What’s left to provide?

 

New cities by the sea

Skyscrapers are winking

Some hills are never seen

The universe expanding

We’re gazing out to sea

Blue dolphins are singing

Minds swim in ecstasy

Clear planet, ever free

Topaz.

 

Feel sunshine sparkle pink and blue

Playgrounds will laugh

If you try to ask

“Is it cool?”

If you arrive and don’t see me

I’m going to be with my baby

I am free, flying in her arms

Over the sea.

 

Ooh, I’m in love, I’m in love

I’m in love, I’m in love

I’m in love

Ooh, I feel love, I feel love

I feel love, I feel love

I feel love.

 

And we would go on as though nothing was wrong

And hide from these days we remained all alone

Staying in the same place, just staying out the time

Touching from a distance

Further all the time.

 

And in the morning when he’s gone

Please don’t sing that sad sad song

I don’t want to hear it

Forget about him

Let him go

It won’t hurt what he don’t know.

 

Dance with the boogie get high

‘Cause boogie nights are always the best in town

Got to keep on dancing

Keep on dancing

Got to keep on dancing

Keep on dancing.

 

Hey Jimmy

They’re calling you back

They want you to come back

And take out the garbage

They want to talk to you

About something

They found in your drawer

Under a Hustler magazine.

 

And just when I think

Everything is in its place

The universe is secure

The whole thing explodes in my face

It’s just another-

It’s just another day…

It’s just another day.

 

I can live without love

If I wanted to in this lonely room

But I don’t want to so I leave it up to you

To wash away my gloom.

 

I tried but could not bring

The best of everything

Too breathless then to wonder

I died a thousand times

Found guilty of no crime

Now everything is thunder.

 

This life I’m living’s getting so hard to feel

Ooh Ooh, I’m missing you

The days are empty and the nights are unreal

Ooh Ooh, I’m missing you.

 

You said you want to reach the sky

So get up

The feeling’s right

And the music’s tight

On the disco nights

Just say you will

Just do what you feel

I’m for real.

 

It’s gotta be a strange twist of fate

Telling me that Heaven can wait

Telling me to get it right this time

Life doesn’t mean a thing

Without the love you bring

Love is what we’ve found

The second time around.

 

In the middle, in the middle, in the middle of a dream

I lost my shirt

I pawned my rings

I’ve done all the dumb things.

 

Oh, all alone, in my bed at night

I grab my pillow and squeeze it tight

I think of you

And I dream of you, all of the time

What am I gonna do?

I want your love.

 

Here’s that rhythm again

Here’s my shoulder blade

Here’s the sound I made

Here’s the picture I saved

Here I am.

 

Ain’t nobody

Loves me better

Makes me happy

Makes me feel this way

Ain’t nobody

Loves me better than you.

 

Shopping Center crazy

I need some fast relief

The boss says, “Boy, you’re lazy”

But I’m just bored beyond belief.

 

[Musical interlude: Theme from The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension by Neil Norman]

 

What’s a poor boy to do when he’s fallen in love with you?

Help me make it through the night.

Everything’s gonna’ be alright.

Yeah…

You take me to the top.

Perhaps, just as Jews on Passover spread the reading of the Haggadah across multiple family members and guests, you could use these stanzas to defuse your next fractious gathering. Simply have each person present read a stanza, cycling through everyone until the final one. I expect the utter nonsense of the successive passages will serve as a much- needed distraction.

And, of course, here is the actual playlist:

Stranger Things Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein 2016
Lately INXS 1990
I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On Robert Palmer 1985
The Groove Line Heatwave 1978
Square Glass In The Wall The Four Legged Faithful 2012
Africa Toto 1982
Nowhere Girl B-Movie 1982
Same Old Scene Roxy Music 1980
Love Like Blood Killing Joke 1985
Turn Me Loose Loverboy 1980
Come as You Are Nirvana 1991
Walk Through the Fire Peter Gabriel 1984
Between Something and Nothing The Ocean Blue 1989
Never Say Never Romeo Void 1982
A Girl Like You Edwyn Collins 1994
In You I Trust Rupert Holmes 1979
I Got a Name Jim Croce 1973
The Sound of the Crowd The Human League 1981
Carry On Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young 1970
Street Cafe Icehouse 1982
Boogie Oogie Oogie A Taste of Honey 1978
Don’t Talk To Me About Love Altered Images 1983
Stormy Side of Town Stan Ridgway 1986
Black Pearl Jam 1992
Rough Boys Pete Townshend 1980
Feels Like the First Time Foreigner 1977
Original Sin INXS 1984
Carefree Highway Gordon Lightfoot 1974
Nightmares A Flock of Seagulls 1983
Beyond Doubt Gene Loves Jezebel 1986
The Shadow Jerry Goldsmith 1994
Stay Oingo Boingo 1985
You Don’t Mess Around With Jim Jim Croce 1972
D.I.Y. Peter Gabriel 1978
This Is It Kenny Loggins 1979
Topaz The B-52’s 1989
Strawberry Letter 23 The Brothers Johnson 1977
I Feel Love Donna Summer 1977
Transmission Joy Division 1979
When It’s Over Loverboy 1981
Boogie Nights Heatwave 1976
Jimmy Jimmy Ric Ocasek 1982
Just Another Day Oingo Boingo 1985
Love Or Let Me Be Lonely The Friends of Distinction 1970
Let Me Go Heaven 17 1982
Missing You Dan Fogelberg 1982
Disco Nights (Rock Freak) GQ 1979
Twist of Fate Olivia Newton-John 1983
Dumb Things Paul Kelly and the Messengers 1987
I Want Your Love Chic 1978
Stay Hungry Talking Heads 1978
Ain’t Nobody Rufus & Chaka Khan 1983
Rage In the Cage J. Geils Band, The 1981
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Neil Norman 1984
Take Me to the Top Loverboy 1981

You are welcome.

Until next time…

[1] I am deeply indebted to LyricFind for help in deciphering many of these lyrics.

Always Just What I Needed: Ben Orr, Ric Ocasek and The Cars

I wrote these sentences in my Father’s Day 2019 post.

The 24-hour Howard Johnson’s in Medford was a regular late-night hangout for AC (among others) and me before it closed on December 31, 1998. It got to be a habit that on nights I did laundry in the basement laundry room of our apartment building, AC and I would “go for pie” there afterwards, which generally meant eating a full meal; I developed a particular taste for steak and eggs in those days, usually washed down with one of their orange-sherbet-based drinks. And lots of decaffeinated coffee.

“AC” is my long-term 1990s girlfriend, the one my wife Nell calls, not without reason, my “first wife.”

This Howard Johnson’s always had pop/rock music playing in the background, an early form of satellite radio. In 1997, I began to notice one song in particular. It had a lovely tinkling electric piano backed by a soft synth wash, and the chorus was a gorgeous earworm of vocal harmonies, which sounded something “It’s been coming up you, coming up you again.”

I could not get this song (which I thought might be by Alan Parsons Project) out of my head. This was in the early days of the internet, so it took me some time to figure out its title and artist.

And I was not at all surprised by what I learned. The song, “Coming Up You,” was written and recorded by one of my 10 favorite musical artists:

The Cars.

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Early on the evening of September 15, 2019, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed (please follow me @drnoir33), when I read a tweet that stopped me cold. It announced the death of Cars lead singer, songwriter and rhythm guitarist Ric Ocasek of natural causes at the age of 75.

I literally yelled out “Oh, NO!” when I read this tweet, and, given the proximity of our two young daughters, had to restrain myself from adding more colorful language.

I had reacted similarly late in 2000, when co-lead-singer and bass player Benjamin Orr died at the age of 53 (the age I will be in just two weeks).

My love for The Cars—arguably the new wave reincarnation of Buddy Holly and the Crickets—began in summer camp in the summer of 1979. Philadelphia rock radio stations like WMMR (93.3 FM) and WYSP (94.1 FM) were seemingly always playing in our bunk. Among the songs they regularly played (at least in my memory) were “Just What I Needed,” “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight,” “My Best Friend’s Girlfriend” and one that really appealed to me, “Good Times Roll.”  It is possible “Let’s Go” (from their excellent second album, Candy-O) was also being played then.

In my suburban musical cocoon, I was slowly becoming aware of this new genre of music: synthesizer-based, angular and uncomplicated. The sound was fresh and clean, highly melodic and hook-driven, and unencumbered by endless instrumental passages.

It was love at first listen, especially this band I soon learned was called The Cars. Years later, I would learn how heavily influenced they were by another top 10 musical artist of mine, Roxy Music. But that is a conversation for another day.

Perhaps a year later, my father (routinely short of money in those days) and I were in a Sam Goody record store in the suburban Philadelphia town of Ardmore; it may well have been for my 14th birthday. He had promised to buy something for me, so I walked up to the checkout counter with three albums: The Cars and Panorama by The Cars (debut and third albums, respectively) and Breakfast in America by Supertramp. Their combined cost was about $25, roughly the equivalent of $75 today.

He gulped a few times, but shelled out the money. After all, this was a man who would say to me whenever I ordered food in a restaurant, “Order whatever you want, pal, just so long as you eat it.”

I did the analogous thing with those three records: I played the heck out of them for years.

Thank you, Dad. That meant the world to me.

While Panorama (released in the fall of 1980) is the only Cars album I still have on vinyl, I gravitated more toward the exceptional debut album; it is still one of the handful of albums I enjoy playing straight through, first note to last.

Panorama

What especially grabbed me was a short instrumental bridge (highly evocative of The Pretenders’ “Private Life”) between the last two tracks on side two, “Moving in Stereo” (memorably featured in the best high school movie ever made) and “All Mixed Up.” As the slow, synth-driven crunch of “Moving” ends, David Robinson plays a soft rhythm on the cymbals. A few seconds later, Elliot Easton overlays a simple shimmering guitar lick backed by a gentle synth arpeggiation from Greg Hawkes. The passage lasts only about 15 second before Orr begins to sing, “She shadows me in the mirror/she never leaves on the light/And some things that I say to her/they just don’t seem to bite.”

I was so mesmerized I played those 15 seconds over and over again—and, in August 1981, when I created my first mix cassette (cleverly titled “My Stuff”), side one ended with those two tracks. Side two opened with two tracks from Panorama: the ethereal “Touch and Go” and the propulsive “Running to You.” The video for “Touch and Go” received a fair amount play on a Sunday night, half-hour television program that aired (on HBO?) at 11 pm. Because everything connects, note that Ric, Ben, Elliot, Greg and David are riding a Tilt-A-Whirl.

The photograph on the rear of Panorama, all black-and-white and shadows, is still how I think of The Cars (and presaged my later love for film noir).

Panorama rear.JPG

Those four tracks were the first of 23 (of 3,305) I would record onto a mix over the next 25 years. Indeed, for my second mix (Stuff Vol. I, December 1981), I recorded “Cruiser,” from their fourth album (Shake It Up), off of the radio (WMMR, most likely). This meant that five of the first 36 tracks to appear on a mix were by The Cars; no other artist had more than two.

However, I would not put another Cars song on a mix cassette until June 1985 (Summer 85, Vol. III), when I recorded the haunting “Drive,” from Heartbeat City, their fifth (and most commercially successful) album, off the radio. The final “scene” of the arty video for the song (third of four singles to reach the Billboard Top 10) reinforces the notion The Cars evoke the 1950s. The eight Summer 85 mixes also include “Dangerous Type” and “Let’s Go” from Candy-O, both recorded off the radio. Two years later, having finally bought a used vinyl copy of Candy-O, I put “Shoo-Be-Doo” and the title track onto a mix; I would then record a live video for “Good Times Roll” onto a VHS cassette in 1989 and “It’s All I Can Do” (from Candy-O) onto the April 1990 Stuff and Such, Vol. XVI mix, meaning 12 of the first 998 (1.2%)  tracks to make it onto a mix were from The Cars.

But that would be it until October 1995, when Panorama opened Stuff and Such, Vol. XVIII.

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Heartbeat City was released in March 1984. In the interim, Ocasek released his first solo album, Beatitude, at the very end of 1982. I would purchase a used vinyl copy of the album in the summer of 2006; you can still see the $1.00 price tag from Harvard Square’s In Your Ear records (which, sadly, closed for good this past January).

Beatitude.JPG

Six years later, I was working at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC. A colleague and friend (who, sadly, I have not seen in more than 30 years) was a young woman with similar musical tastes to me. One night, we were out with some other colleagues, when Ocasek’s solo album came up. We both remembered the name of my favorite track from that album (which I recorded from the radio for the April 1983 “I-92 Mix”), the hypnotic ode to alienated youth “Jimmy Jimmy” (I think the video is absolutely gorgeous). But we could not remember the name of the primary single from the album, with its heavy-rotation-on-MTV video showing the tall, dark and handsome (if overly thin) Ocasek and an elegant young blonde woman preparing for a date (maybe?).

Later that night, having consulted a reference work, I called my colleague and told her the song was called “Something to Grab For.” With friendly-but-pointed questioning, she got me to admit I had not actually remembered the song’s title on my own.

She forgave me.

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Shake It Up and Heartbeat City, which I would not purchase until the spring of 2010, yielded The Cars’ first two Billboard Top 10 songs: “Shake It Up” and “You Might Think.” The latter song in particular, whose innovative video was an award-winner, is one of a dozen or so songs that recall the spring of 1984, when I completed my last semester of high school (having already been accepted to Yale). Those were heady and happy days, especially because I was working the most fun job I ever had.

The following summer, they performed two songs at the Live Aid festival in Philadelphia: “Just What I Needed” and “Heartbeat City.”

Two years later, they would release their sixth (and final until 2011) studio album, Door to Door. For some reason (the press of my senior year at Yale?), the album made no impression on me at the time, though I vaguely recall the Billboard top-20 single “You Are the Girl.”

And that brings us to the Howard Johnson’s in Medford, and “Coming Up You” (the third single released from Door; it peaked at #74). Once I figured out the name of the track, I bought a used cassette of the album (later replaced with a CD) and promptly made “Coming Up You” the first track on the September 1997 Stuff and Such Vol. LIII mix; it would ultimately appear on seven different mixes, edging out “All Mixed Up” (five); Cars tunes occupy 54 (0.9%) of 6,188 total “slots,” a high percentage given 1,000+ unique artists occupy those slots. Within a year, “Coming Up You” had supplanted “Save Me” by Public Image, Ltd. as my favorite track[1]. That lasted until the early 2000s, when “Blue in Green” by Miles Davis supplanted it for good.

Two other tracks from Door to Door, “Wound Up on You” and “Fine Line,” would be recorded onto 1998-99 mixes. Around this time, AC became enamored of the Ben Orr 1986 solo single, “Stay the Night,” which I would purchase on iTunes about 15 years later and put onto the May 2013 CD Stuff Vol. CIX mix.

An additional six Cars tracks would be recorded onto mixes, beginning with “Bye Bye Love” from The Cars in March 2000 (Stuff and Such Vol. LXXI). This track would be memorialized in our household as a long-running joke, once our daughters became old enough to appreciate it.

Whenever one of us would observe a sunset, or any other sky with unusual coloring, I would inevitably recite these lyrics (with Nell or one of the girls sighing in exasperation):

“It’s an orangy sky/

Always there’s some other guy/

It’s just a broken lullaby/

Bye bye love”

Last night, when I told our eldest daughter (our youngest was already asleep) why I was so sad, I used that song to explain who Ric Ocasek was.

Oh right, she said, and returned to her book.

Which was just fine.

Rest in peace, Mr. Orr and Mr. Ocasek. Your place in the rock firmament is secure.

Until next time…

[1] Technically, it was a mash-up of “Save Me” and the unlisted reprise that closes the Happy? album.

Pete Shelley, RIP; or my life in punk and new wave

As I walked into my office this past Friday afternoon (December 7), I vaguely noticed our eldest daughter sitting on the sofa reading. Firing up my computer, I turned on iTunes. The 9,560 tracks contained there are sorted by artist, so I only needed to scroll down to the end of the B’s. I clicked on the track I wanted, turned up the volume, and sat back to listen.

“Well, you tried it just for once/

found it all right for kicks.

But now you found out/

that it’s a habit that sticks.

And you’re an orgasm addict,

you’re an orgasm addict.”[1]

The track continued in the same vein for an additional two minutes, tracing numerous permutations of sexual release, concluding with…

“Johnny want fuckie always and all ways.

He’s got the energy, he will remain.

He’s an orgasm addict, he’s an orgasm addict.

He’s always at it.

He’s always at it.

And he’s an orgasm addict.

He’s an orgasm addict.”

Unbeknownst to me, our eldest daughter had come into my office. And as the track ended, she asked:

“Daddy, what’s an orgasm?”

Uh-oh.

OK, that did not actually happen. But the possibility that it could happen kept me from blasting “Orgasm Addict” in response to the news that Buzzcocks co-founder and lead singer Pete Shelley had died on Thursday at the age of 63.

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A few years ago, I bought this book for our daughters.

IMG_4013 (2).JPG

This is what is written on page 13:

“Back in foggy Londontown, things were getting really bad.

All the young kids in the streets seemed to be going mad.

They played music that was new, it was bold and it was brash.

The Damned and the Sex Pistols, the Buzzcocks and the Clash.”[2]

Pete Shelley (born Peter Campbell McNeish) and Howard Devoto (born Howard Trafford) formed Buzzcocks in Bolton (near Manchester), UK in early 1976. It was they who organized the legendary Sex Pistols concert at Lesser Free Trade Hall on June 4, 1976 whose audience included future members of The Smiths, Joy Division/New Order and The Fall.

However, as deeply influential on the development of punk as Pete Shelley was, I first became aware of him through his solo work in the early 1980s, soon after the breakup of Buzzcocks.

It was most likely the fall of 1982 when my mother first signed us up for cable television, allowing my first sustained exposure to a nascent 24-hour-a-day music channel called MTV. MTV often played a video for a mesmerizing synthesizer-driven track released the previous December called “Homosapien.” Having grown up with Kraftwerk’s Autobahn while recently loving influential synthpop tunes like M’s “Pop Muzik” (I still have the original 45 RPM single) and Gary Numan’s “Cars,” I was particularly drawn to this track.

I was just 15 years old then, so while I unequivocally appreciated the more-unites-us-than-divides-us message, I may have missed the fairly overt declaration of sexual preference.

**********

By the summer of 1979, I had become aware of something called “new wave” through breakthrough hit singles by Blondie and Joe Jackson. My ongoing love of this genre—one of many pop-influenced offshoots of punk—is apparent in my own musical journey, summarized graphically below (the yellow represents new wave).

Cropped data art screen shot

But my suburban Philadelphia milieu limited my exposure to the propulsive immediacy of this music (I was a hair too young to hang out on South Street) until MTV started playing nearly non-stop in my bedroom.

A few months later, my favorite Top 40 station (WIFI-92) transformed into “I-92 Rock of the 80s” …

…and it was as though my musical existence came fully into focus for the first time (I would have much the same experience listening to Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue for the first time some 15 years later—it remains my favorite album while “Blue in Green” remains my favorite song).

Among all the music by artists I was hearing for the first time (Simple Minds, New Order, B-Movie, Thomas Dolby, The Fixx, Shriekback, Ministry, Tears for Fears, Wall of Voodoo, Spandau Ballet, Freur, Falco, Talk Talk, Kajagoogoo, Burning Sensations, etc.) was a relentlessly hypnotic earworm by Shelley called “Telephone Operator.” The video released for this track features perhaps the best mens’ shirt ever.

Early that spring (1983) I learned how to drive, and I began to spend hours driving back and forth to Northeast Philadelphia to hang out with a maternal 2nd cousin who had become my best friend, listening to this station the entire drive. At home, my stereo was permanently tuned to 92.5 FM. And one day I began to tape (illegally, I know) tracks from the station onto a 90-minute Maxell cassette.

The resulting mix—cleverly (and mistakenly) labeled “I-92 All Rock of the 80s”—included both “Homosapien” (which I actually taped from MTV, along with Devo’s “Peek-A-Boo”) and “Telephone Operator,” as well as two tracks[3] by an Irish band named U2 I had only been vaguely aware previously,[4] plus two other Devo tracks[5]. They are all on Side 1.

Side 2, meanwhile, is particularly excellent:

Stand or Fall” by The Fixx

Red Skies” by The Fixx

Too Shy” by Kajagoogoo

Jimmy Jimmy” by Ric Ocasek

Talk Talk” by Talk Talk

I Confess” by English Beat

(Keep Feeling) Fascination” by The Human League

All Roads Lead to Rome” by The Stranglers

Der Kommissar” by Falco

Love on Your Side” by The Thompson Twins

Reap the Wild Wind” by Ultravox

Change” by Tears for Fears

That was in April 1983. Two months later, I taped Shelley’s “(Millions of People) No One Like You” onto the cassette mix Stuff Vol. XI, along with tracks by XTC, A Flock of Seagulls, Chris DeBurgh, Planet P, Ministry, Spandau Ballet, Fun Boy Three, Yello, Shriekback, U2, The Fixx, Duran Duran and Tears for Fears, along with “Modern Love” by David Bowie.

Unfortunately, the format change only lasted until August 1; by March 1984 92.5 FM had switched to country music (WXTU), which it remains. Even though the “rock of the 80s” format only lasted six months, however, its influence on me was such that I created not one, but two, “in honor of” mix tapes.

The first was a single-cassette mix in July 1994; note the last track on Side 1:

Side 1
Let Me Go Heaven 17
Promised You a Miracle Simple Minds
The Fanatic Felony
All Roads Lead to Rome Stranglers, The
Red Skies Fixx, The
Blind Vision Blancmange
Love on Your Side Thompson Twins
Nightmares Flock of Seagulls, A
Let’s Go to Bed Cure, The
Nowhere Girl B-Movie
Sex (I’m A…) Berlin
Telephone Operator Shelley, Pete
 
Side 2
Eyes of a Stranger Payola$, The
Mexican Radio Wall of Voodoo
Communication Spandau Ballet
Lined Up Shriekback
(It’s Not Me) Talking Flock of Seagulls, A
Reap the Wild Wind Ultravox
Work For Love Ministry
I Melt With You Modern English
Blue Monday New Order
Images of Heaven Godwin, Peter
Change Tears for Fears
Accretions Shriekback

The second mix I prepared in July 1997 for a three-week road trip my then-girlfriend (let’s call her “AC”) and I took through New York (Cooperstown), Pennsylvania (Gettysburg, Hershey, Lancaster), Maryland (Eastern Shore) and New Jersey (Wildwood). Essentially, I interspersed new tracks between every consecutive pair of tracks on the earlier mix (adding another Shelley track in the process):

Cassette 1

Side 1
Let Me Go Heaven 17
That’s Good Devo
Promised You a Miracle Simple Minds
Effigy (I’m Not an) Ministry
The Fanatic Felony
Europa and the Pirate Twins Dolby, Thomas
All Roads Lead to Rome Stranglers, The
Too Shy Kajagoogoo
Red Skies Fixx, The
Torch Soft Cell
Blind Vision Blancmange
Lifeline Spandau Ballet
Love on Your Side Thompson Twins
 
Side 2
I Love You Yello
Nightmares Flock of Seagulls, A
Saved By Zero Fixx, The
Let’s Go to Bed Cure, The
Sign of the Times Belle Starrs, The
Nowhere Girl B-Movie
Pale Shelter Tears for Fears
Sex (I’m A…) Berlin
It’s You, Only You (Mein Schmertz) Lovich, Lene
Telephone Operator Shelley, Pete
Revenge Ministry
Escalator of Life Hazard, Robert and the Heroes
My Spine (Is the Bassline) Shriekback

Cassette 2

Side 1
Eyes of a Stranger Payola$, The
Living on the Ceiling Blancmange
Mexican Radio Wall of Voodoo
Angst in My Pants Sparks
Communication Spandau Ballet
Metro Berlin
Lined Up Shriekback
Save It For Later English Beat, The
(It’s Not Me) Talking Flock of Seagulls, A
Da Da Da Trio
Reap the Wild Wind Ultravox
He Was Really Sayin’ Somethin’ Bananarama
Work For Love Ministry
(Millions of People) No One Like You Shelley, Pete
 
Side 2
I Melt With You Modern English
She Blinded Me With Science Dolby, Thomas
Blue Monday New Order
Whirly Girl Oxo
Images of Heaven Godwin, Peter
Wishing Flock of Seagulls, A
Change Tears for Fears
Don’t Change INXS
Accretions Shriekback
Doot-Doot Freur
Overkill Men At Work
Cool Places Sparks with Jane Wiedlin

Happily, when I lived in Washington DC from September 1988 to June 1989, I discovered modern rock station WHFS (99.1 FM); a handful of tracks they played appear on Washington Vol. I-III. And in 1991, I was introduced to legendary Boston alternative rock station WFNX (101.7 FM). This was my station of choice for the next six or so years, though by then I had stopped taping tracks from the radio.

And it was on WFNX I heard Buzzcocks tunes for the first time: the ebullient “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays,” the frenetic “Ever Fallen in Love?” and the looping “Something’s Gone Wrong Again.” In fact, I so loved these tunes, in which I heard punk evolving into new wave, that in January or February 1994, I purchased a CD copy of Singles Going Steady, the superlative 16-track Buzzcocks compilation first released in September 1979.

April 1994’s Stuff and Such Vol XXXIX, intended for a road trip to visit a friend in Iowa that never happened, marks the first “Stuff and Such” appearance of the three Buzzcocks tracks listed above; they are the 2nd, 12th and 9th tracks, respectively, on Side 1. “Why Can’t I Touch It?” first appears as the 9th track on Side 2 of March 2000’s Stuff and Such LXXIII (the third of three mix cassettes I prepared for the sixth—and final—trip I made with AC[6] to watch the Phillies play Spring Training games in Clearwater, FL). And the final Buzzcocks track to make one a “Stuff and Such” mix is the aforementioned “Orgasm Addict.”

And therein lies a tale.

**********

I have yet to stop dressing up as something for Halloween, even if this year I essentially just wore my new MSNBC t-shirt with a lot of “blue wave” blue.

IMG_3981.JPG

In the fall of 1995, I decided to abandon Phillies-related attire and create the more conceptual “punk becoming new wave.” I was trying to replicate the two-tone black-and-white style of, say, Joe Jackson or the Cars on their album covers. What I came up with—after scouring Goodwill and other used clothing stores—was a black button-down shirt (over a white t-shirt), an old pair of black jeans, a thin black-and-white belt held together with a safety pin, a skinny white tie, a faded black suit jacket, “new wave” black sunglasses, a motley collection of pins with band names on my jacket lapels, and one white dress shoe (with a black dress sock) and one black dress shoe (with a white sock).

That outfit debuted at a Halloween party thrown by some of AC’s fellow MIT doctoral students on October 28, 1995. I am certain of the date because we watched the Atlanta Braves beat the Cleveland Indians 1-0 (a Fred McGriff solo home run) in the sixth and final game of the 1995 World Series.

Unfortunately, I do not seem to have a photograph of me in this outfit.

I was still wearing it on Halloween five years later. Halloween fell on a weekday in 2000, so the company where I worked held a party with prizes for various categories of costume. I am still quite proud of my award:

IMG_4015 (2)

That year, I decided to prepare an accompanying Punk Becomes New Wave, 1975-80 mix cassette. The mix is roughly in chronological order and consists of key tracks and artists. Not only does “Orgasm Addict” debut as the 7th track on Side 1, two other Buzzcocks tracks return as well.

Side 1
Roadrunner Richman, Jonathan and the Modern Lovers
Pissing In a River Smith, Patti Group, The
Anarchy in the U.K. Sex Pistols, The
Career Opportunities Clash, The
Beat On the Brat Ramones
No More Heroes Stranglers, The
Orgasm Addict Buzzcocks, The
Warsaw Joy Division
Psycho Killer Talking Heads
Watching the Detectives Costello, Elvis & the Attractions
I Wanna Be Sedated Ramones
Hanging On the Telephone Blondie
Ever Fallen In Love? Buzzcocks, The
Take Me I’m Yours Squeeze
Pump It Up Costello, Elvis & the Attractions
Public Image Public Image Ltd.
Jocko Homo Devo
Hey, St. Peter Flash and the Pan
Artists Only Talking Heads
 
Side 2
Is She Really Going Out With Him? Jackson, Joe
Everybody’s Happy Nowadays Buzzcocks, The
Next To You Police, The
One Way or Another Blondie
Zerox Adam and the Ants
Gangsters Specials, The
Are ‘Friends’ Electric? Numan, Gary
London Calling Clash, The
Life During Wartime Talking Heads
Lucky Number Lovich, Lene
It’s Different For Girls Jackson, Joe
Discovering Japan Parker, Graham
Stop Your Sobbing Pretenders, The
Rock Lobster B-52’s, The
Love Will Tear Us Apart Joy Division
Pop Muzik M

I wore the outfit a few more Halloweens, but it was never quite that exciting again.

**********

AC and I spent Thanksgiving 1994 with my mother and assorted family members in the Philadelphia suburb of Penn Valley. One (relatively) warm afternoon, we ended up on a local elementary school baseball/softball diamond with a married couple. The husband (let’s call him “UP”), a close friend from Yale, and I had been playing a kind of modified game of baseball (alternating hitting and pitching with consensus on what balls put in play fair signify) since the spring of 1990. We had traditionally pretended to be some combination of Phillies or Boston Red Sox players.

This day, however, UP decided that he was going to be a team of 17th-century Anglican bishops, who did not so much run the bases as move in a stately manner about them.

Thus was born a years-long tradition of inventing bizarre and unusual “teams” when we played. In fact, I so loved the idea that I bought a special notebook in 2002 (after AC and I had split up, and I had temporarily moved back to the Philadelphia area in February 2001) in which I would create various teams.

IMG_4023 (2).JPG

Sitting at night at the counter of Minella’s, my favorite 24-hour diner, I would create a team in three pages. On the first page, I would brainstorm possible players (say, musical artists I have seen live). On the second page, I would work out the positions (eight starters, a starting pitcher, six-person bench, six-person bullpen) and batting order. And on the third page, I would write out the final team as neatly as my poor graphomotor skills allow.

IMG_4021

The single best team I ever created, however, does not appear in this book (which still lives in my car, even though I have not created a new team in 15 or so years).

Knowing that AC and I would be traveling to Philadelphia in August 2000, and that UP and I would be playing our version of baseball one afternoon, I decided to create an epic punk/new wave All Star team (clearly those genres were on my mind that year). It consisted of four lineups: pre-punk (“Leading off, playing second base, Lou Reed of the Velvet Underground!”), punk, new wave and early alternative. The starting pitchers for these teams were Andy Warhol, Malcolm McLaren, Martha Quinn and WFNX, respectively, while the pinch hitters assigned to hit for these pitchers were Johnny Rotten (John Lydon), Ian Curtis, Bono and Kurt Cobain, respectively. And each position represented a kind of sub-movement within each genre. Thus, I divided the “new wave” lineup into a “batting order” of Los Angeles (and other American), ska/reggae, gothic/moody, new romantic, synth gods, Australia, “other” and one-hit wonders.

As far as I can tell, I only kept the sheets I used to organize my thoughts and not a record of the final teams/positions. If memory serves, I simply memorized it for my game. However, I do recall that in the second lineup, one Pete Shelley batted third, playing third base.

Pete Shelley on 2000 Punk to New Wave Team

As for the game itself…

UP and I dropped AC at the Lord & Taylor in the Bala Cynwyd Shopping Center (corner of Belmont and City Avenues) then drove less than a mile north on Belmont Avenue to the baseball diamonds in Bala Cynwyd Park (directly across from West Laurel Hill Cemetery).

Whatever team UP put together is long-since forgotten, but they did not score in the top of the first. With two outs and nobody on in the bottom of the first, Brian Eno and David Bowie both walked, bringing up Kraftwerk’s Ralf Hutter. His double to left center brought home both Eno and Bowie to make it 2-0 in favor of my team.

Eight innings later, WFNX nailed down the save in a 2-0 victory for Andy Warhol.

I do not remember what Pete Shelley did in his lone at bat.

The game took some two hours to play, and I envisioned AC waiting impatiently for us. However, when we found her in Lord & Taylor, it was though we had never left. Holding up two pairs of black dress slacks, she asked,

“Which pair do you like better?”

I hope she is well, wherever she is.

And rest in peace, Mr. Shelley.

Until next time…

[1] Songwriters: Howard Devoto / Peter Shelley; Orgasm Addict lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, BMG Rights Management

[2] Morse, Eric. 2015. What Is Punk? Brooklyn, NY: Akashic Books.

[3] “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “New Year’s Day”

[4] Basically, “I Will Follow” and “Gloria”

[5] “That’s Good” and “Theme from Doctor Detroit

[6] We dated for over seven years, living together for over five years, so my wife Nell calls AC my “first wife.”

A Musical Mosaic

This is a LONG post, even accounting for the 28 footnotes. While I encourage a complete read, please feel free to skip the introductory sections and cut right to the chase: the iTunes chart and subsequent personal musical history.

When I enrolled at Yale in the fall of 1984, I was undecided between majoring in political science or mathematics. A less-than-stellar experience in Math 230—required for freshman mathematics major—quickly decided me: political science, it would be.

Luckily, two courses I took sophomore year taught by Professor Edward TufteData Analysis for Politics and Policy and Politics and the Economy—allowed me to merge these interests. They expanded my knowledge of advanced statistical methods, a branch of applied mathematics which would undergird a two-decades-long career as a health-related data analyst[1].

One textbook from the former course fundamentally altered how I viewed the aesthetics of data presentation: the landmark Visual Display of Quantitative Information. Tufte’s purposes for graphical display[2] have informed every chart, graph and map I have constructed since:

  • show the data
  • induce the viewer to think about the substance […]
  • avoid distorting what the data have to say
  • present many numbers in a small space
  • make large data sets coherent
  • encourage the eye to compare different pieces of data
  • reveal the data at several levels of detail […]
  • serve a reasonably clear purpose: description, exploration, tabulation, or decoration
  • be closely integrated with the statistical and verbal descriptions of a data set

This is data presentation as art…or data art.

**********

In two previous posts, I described…

  1. How I manipulate mix tape/CD/iTunes playlist data to generate lists of favorite tracks (a term I prefer to “songs”), albums and artists, organized by year and musical “genre,” and
  2. My desire to create a visual representation of my iTunes data (as of March 6, 2018), displaying the number of tracks released each year (if any, 1721-2017) by an artist/in a musical genre.

I actually started the latter project in May 2014 before abandoning it the following month. Recently, however, I devised a simpler way to generate all necessary cell entries using the statistical software package SPSS.[3]

Before I present the final chart (the first of two I intend to create), just bear with me while I briefly detail some necessary prior data organization steps.

Feel free to skim the next section.

**********

The raw data consisted of 9,552 tracks (40,610 total “plays” beginning in January 2013, when I purchased this computer) performed by 1,311 unique “artists.” However, many “artists” are simply variations on what I call a meta-artist. For example, I subsumed the 23 tracks by “Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band,” eight tracks by “Bob Seger” and one track by “Bob Seger System” under the meta-artist “Bob Seger (+).”

Applying this logic to all 1,311 artists yielded 1,217 meta-artists; please see attached PDF for details.

Artists within Meta-Artists

Similarly, I collapsed 242 musical genres—based upon with the first listed “Genre” on the track’s (or parent album’s) Wikipedia page, supplemented as necessary by its AllMusic page—into 89 meta-genres. For example, I subsumed all “Darkwave” (n=15), “Neue Deutsche Welle” (2), “New Romantic” (3) and “New Wave” (1,098, most by far) tracks under the meta-genre New Wave/Darkwave (+). Please see attached PDF for details.

Genres within Meta-Genres

To keep the chart from becoming unwieldy, I settled on a maximum of 200 rows (i.e., meta-artists/meta-genres). With up to 89 meta-genres, that allowed me 111 meta-artists.

I began with the 76 meta-artists with ≥20 tracks AND ≥100 total plays. An additional 157 meta-artists had ≥20 tracks or ≥100 total plays. Of them, I selected 13 meta-artists (Modest Mussourgsky, Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky, Bessie Smith, Fats Waller (+), Sergei Prokofiev, Glenn Miller and His Orchestra, Spike Jones and His City Slickers, Charlie Parker (+), Nat King Cole (+), Dave Brubeck Quartet, James Brown (+), Frank Sinatra (+), John Coltrane[4]) whose first track in my iTunes was released before 1960. I then selected two meta-artists (Geoff Martin (+), Steve Hackett) whose first track was released after 2000[5].

These “expanding the musical horizons” additions put me at 91 meta-artists.

A total of 99 meta-artists had a “Product” (number of tracks * total plays) of at least 2000 (i.e., 20 * 100). Of those, 20 were not among the 91 meta-artists I had already selected for inclusion. I rejected a) Mark Isham (19 tracks, 294 plays, all from his 1992 The Public Eye soundtrack) and b) Abba, ABC and Altered Images (artificially-inflated play counts from inadvertent iPod [treasured classic fly-wheel model] plays in order of artist name, starting with A3).

That left 16 additional meta-artists (increasing my total to 107): Tony Banks, Bee Gees, Berlin, Blondie, Kate Bush, The Cure, Chris Isaak, Gary Numan/Tubeway Army/Dramatis, Oingo Boingo, Robert Palmer, The Rolling Stones, Todd Rundgren (+)/Utopia, Simple Minds, Suzanne Vega (+), Violent Femmes and George Winston.

I rounded out my selections with three meta-artists with Products between 1972 and 1978: Marvin Gaye (+), The Motels and Thomas Dolby. This gave me a total of 110 meta-artists and up to 89 meta-genres, or 199 possible rows.

Perfect.

I constructed the chart this way:

  • Each selected meta-artist (n=110) had his/her/their own row. Cell entries are number of tracks released by that meta-artist in a given year, if any. Years go from left to right.
  • Remaining tracks are enumerated in a separate “Miscellaneous” row for each meta-genre.
  • Cell values between 10 and 19 have a thin black border; cells with value≥20 have a thick black border.
  • Meta-genres are color-coded (different colors for cell and text) as shown in the attached meta-genre summary.
  • Meta-artist name and track total (1st 2 columns on left) of the 110 are color-coded according to the predominant meta-genre of their tracks (g. “Genesis” and “288” shaded Progressive Rock [6] because 57.3% of tracks have that designation[7]). I used total plays to break ties.
  • Each cell is color-coded the predominant meta-genre of tracks released by that meta-artist in that year (g., 12 of 15 tracks released by Talking Heads in 1978 are Post-Punk/Revival[8]). Every meta-artist/meta-genre cell between first and last release is color-coded[9], even if no track was released in a year in that range.
  • All text is Palatino Linotype Bold. Any row (meta-artist/meta-genre) with <10 tracks was 13 point, increasing as follows: 10-20 tracks (14), 21-40 (15), 41-60 (16), 61-80 (17), 81-100 (18), 101-150 (23), 151-200 (28), 201-400 (32), >400 (36).
  • Any column (year) with 0 tracks has width=6. Years with 1-10 tracks has width=10, increasing as follows: 11-20 (11), 21-50 (12), 51-100 (13), 101-200 (15), 201-300 (17), 301-500 (19), 501-600 (21), >600 (23).

**********

At 137 columns and 195 rows[10], the final chart does not fit onto one page for printing; the best I could do was “Fit All Rows on One Page,” which still requires two pages to print. Ultimately, I will have this chart professionally printed as a large wall poster.

My printer is low on cyan and magenta ink, so I took this (cropped) photograph of my computer screen (magnification=12%).

Cropped data art screen shot

This piece of data art, if you will permit some self-congratulation, is gorgeous AND serves its purpose—to display the key artists, genres and chronology of the 9,552 tracks in my iTunes—very well.

Your eye is naturally drawn to the vibrant yellows and blacks of the 1ate 1970s and early 1980s, an era musically dominated for me by variations of Punk, Post-Punk, New Wave and Synthpop (46.3% of 3,490 tracks, 1977-84). Overall, 20.8% of all 9,552 tracks are subsumed under this loose family of genres, so that is precisely what should happen.

Moreover, as your eye runs from the upper left to the lower right corner of the chart, you travel through time from Classical through various forms of Blues and Jazz and into the Pop and Rock era, with a special emphasis on Progressive Rock; along the way, Rhythm and Blues, Soul, Funk, Disco and assorted post-Disco forms of Dance emerge. The Punk/New Wave era morphs into Alternative in the second half of the 1980s. Finally, the last 10-15 years are a hodge-podge of musical forms, with the most recent meta-artist of interest being the The Four-Legged Faithful, shown here performing in March 2014 at Toad in Cambridge, MA (I regret not capturing the mandolin-playing talents of Jonathan Kaplan).

IMG_1008.JPG

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Between 1721 and 1922, excepting eight Scott Joplin tracks between 1901 and 1909 (Dixieland/Early Jazz/Ragtime), Classical is the dominant meta-genre. The severe truncation of those two centuries reflects the relative dearth of tracks (n=110) I own from those years; fully 71.8% were composed by Ludwig von Beethoven, Mussourgsky or Tchaikovsky.

The first recordings by Bessie Smith mark the emergence of Blues/Classic Female Blues in 1923[11]. Over the next 10 years, this meta-genre competes with Dixieland/Early Jazz/Ragtime (Louis Armstrong (+)), Jazz (+) and Progressive Jazz (Ellington (+)) for dominance.

By 1935, however Jazz, writ large, had taken center stage, establishing full dominance through 1960; the genres of Vocal Jazz, Jazz, Swing, Big Band, Early Jazz, Hard Bop, Cool Jazz and Bepop account for 72.1% of tracks. Of the 662 tracks released during these two-and-a-half decades, fully 55.4% were by Billie Holiday (+), Miles Davis, Waller (+), Ellington (+), Parker (+), Miller, Coltrane, Cole (+) and Ella Fitzgerald (+).

This was also the era of Classical artists like Prokofiev (25) and the Comedy/Novelty parodies of Jones (+).

The catch-all meta-genre Music for Film and Stage first appears in 1953, with the Broadway production of Kismet. Other dominant meta-artists in this genre, besides the afore-mentioned Isham, are John Barry (e.g., jazz-inflected soundtracks to Hammett and The Cotton Club), Leslie Bricusse (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) and the composers/performers of Fiddler on the Roof and Jesus Christ Superstar.

Indeed, a favorite self-deprecating observation is that I was raised primarily on a combination of Fiddler and Superstar.

My personal jazz peak is 1959: my favorite album (Davis’ Kind of Blue), containing my favorite track (“Blue In Green”), was released then, as was the Cool Jazz masterpiece Time Out by Dave Brubeck Quartet. Baker (+) also released seven iTunes tracks that year.

However, starting with the Rockabilly “I Walk the Line” by Johnny Cash in 1956 and a handful of Bobby Darin singles two years later[12], a new musical form—Rock and Roll—began to assume dominance.

Led by the emergence of The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Who and The Rolling Stones between 1962 and 1965, Rock (+) (24.0% of 918 tracks, 1962-1970), would dominate the 1960s. Such variations as Folk Rock (e.g. Rubber Soul) and Psychedelic/Acid Rock (Revolver, Pet SoundsSgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band) would emerge in 1965 and 1966-67. Folk Rock would return with a vengeance for me in the 1980s with the ethereal Vega (+) and The Waterboys, whose epic 1988 Fisherman’s Blues is the closest my wife Nell and I have to “our album.”

Other meta-genres were emerging as well. Ray Charles kicked off Rhythm and blues (+) in 1954 with “I Got a Woman.” Sinatra (+) did the same for Pop (+) in 1957 with “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” Instrumental (+) debuted in 1962 with Herb Alpert (+)’s “The Lonely Bull[13]

In 1963, a young gospel singer from East Orange, NJ named Dionne Warwick launched Soul (+) with “Anyone Who Had a Heart” despite being predominantly Pop (+). The first predominantly Soul (+) artist, another young church-trained singer named Marvin Gaye, would debut in 1964 with “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You).” Two years later, a blind 16-year-old Detroit singer named Stevie Wonder released “Uptight (Everything’s Alright).” For me, the Soul (+) pinnacles of these two extraordinary artists are What’s Going On and Songs In the Key of Life.

In 1967, a meta-artist who had been releasing Rhythm and blues (+) and Soul (+) tracks since 1956 took a radical turn. With “Cold Sweat, Pt. 1James Brown (+) would become synonymous with Funk (+); the meta-genre would blossom in the early-to-mid 1970s before spinning off a new meta-genre, Disco (+), which would peak between 1976 and 1980 (91.9% of 86 tracks).

In the early 1980s, Funk (+) would dramatically reassert itself in the person of a multi-instrumental musical genius from Minneapolis, MN named Prince (+). His Purple-ness inspired the base color I use for Rhythm and blues, Funk (+) and various Dance-related offshoots; the artist formerly known as the artist formerly known as Prince also dabbled in Synthpop and Psychedelic Pop/Neopsychedelia. Rest in peace, Mr. Nelson

Straight-ahead Folk (+) appears in 1965.[14] Two years later, a 33-year-old Canadian poet named Leonard Cohen would release The Songs of Leonard Cohen; five tracks, including the shimmering “Suzanne,” remain Folk (+) classics. Rest in peace, Mr. Cohen.

**********

Four teenagers from the storied Charterhouse public school in Surrey, UK would play a major role in the development of Progressive Rock, accounting for 653 (6.8%) of the tracks in my iTunes, third behind only New Wave (+)/Darkwave and Rock (+).

Classmates Peter Gabriel and Tony Banks had formed The Garden Wall, while fellow classmates Anthony Phillips and Mike Rutherford had formed Anon. At some point in 1966 or 1967 they combined bands and, employing a series of short-term drummers (until bringing Phil Collins on full-time in 1971; Collins would achieve superstar status in the 1980s as a Pop Rock (+) meta-artist), acquired the name Genesis. In 1967 and 1968, they released 15 demos, and in 1969 they released From Genesis to Revelation, which promptly went nowhere.

First hearing them in 1978, when “Follow You, Follow Me” became their first American Top 40 single (of 17), the track that cemented my enduring love for Genesis was 1980’s “Turn It On Again.” I saw them live for the first time in the summer of 1982 (and thrice more through 1992), at the since-demolished JFK Stadium[15]. They headlined an all-day stadium show that also featured local favorites Robert Hazard and the Heroes, A Flock of Seagulls, Blondie, and Costello (+). That fall, early in my junior year of high school, a senior would introduce me to the live album Seconds Out—a brilliant introduction to Gabriel-era Genesis—cementing them as my “favorite musical artist.”

More than three decades later, that designation still holds; their 288 tracks lead all meta-artists.

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Many Progressive Rock meta-artists quickly followed (all dates are earliest iTunes tracks): King Crimson in 1968, Todd Rundgren (+)/Utopia in 1970, Pink Floyd and Yes in 1971, Renaissance in 1972, The Alan Parsons Project and Gabriel in 1977, and Banks in 1983[16].  The related meta-genre Art Rock emerged with Roxy Music’s third album, to be followed by Kate Bush’s 1978 debut The Kick Inside[17]. Lead singer Bryan Ferry would begin a parallel, predominantly Dream/Sophisti-Pop (see 1987’s Bete Noire, as well as albums by The Dream Academy and Danny Wilson) solo career in 1973.

Rock music was also branching in other directions in the late 1960s. Led Zeppelin’s eponymous 1969 debut signaled the emergence of Hard Rock/Heavy-Alternative Metal. Fusion/Jazz Fusion, first pioneered by Davis in 1967-68 with the Water Babies recordings, would find fuller rock expression from Chicago (+) with 1969’s Chicago Transit Authority and 1970’s Chicago II; two years later, Steely Dan/Donald Fagen would launch Jazz Rock with Can’t Buy a Thrill. Rest in peace, Mr. Becker.

Other Rock (+) meta-artists to emerge between 1969 and 1971 are

Although they had existed as a Blues Rock band for years, the first Fleetwood Mac in my iTunes is 1973’s Mystery to Me (a long way away from the Experimental Rock of the uneven, but often breathtaking, Tusk)

That same year, a struggling singer-songwriter from South Jersey named Bruce Springsteen (+) would release Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J., which includes the gorgeous “Spirit in the Night.” Another singer-songwriter from Long Island named Billy Joel would release Piano Man that same year, containing the iconic title track and “Captain Jack;” Joel’s predominant designation is Soft Rock, thanks in large part to his 1977 breakthrough The Stranger.

The consequential year 1973 also marks the debut of the first predominantly Pop Rock (+) (Hall and Oates), and Orchestral/Symphonic meta-artists (Electric Light Orchestra).

Electronic (+) debuted in 1974 with Kraftwerk’s deeply influential Autobahn. Seven years later, the predominantly Electronic (+) Depeche Mode with the infectious Synthpop track “Just Can’t Get Enough.”

In 1974, two favorite male meta-artists debuted, predominantly-Rock (+) Palmer (even if some of his best work is New Wave (+)/Darkwave and Dance/Rock (+)) and predominantly-Adult-Contemporary (+) Rupert Holmes, whose 1979 Partners in Crime is a Soft Rock gem. Seriously, EVERY aspiring singer-songwriter should memorize this album.

Before launching into Punk (+) and its many offshoots, a quick word about Bee Gees and Michael Jackson. Starting as Funk (+) in 1975[18], they passed through Disco (+) with the still-exceptional Saturday Night Fever soundtrack before landing on Soft Rock with 1979’s Spirits Having Flown. Jackson, meanwhile graduated from the infectious Rhythm and blues (+) of 1979’s Off the Wall to the exemplary Post-Disco of Thriller, the best-selling album of all time.

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Split Enz actually started as an Art Rock band in 1975 with tracks like “Titus” and ”Time For a Change.” By 1980[19], with the phenomenal True Colours, they were firmly New Wave (+)/Darkwave.

In between those years, a series of bands had begun to play at the infamous CBGB’s in the Bowery section of Manhattan. These bands, including Ramones[20] and The Patti Smith Group, would soon be labeled Punk (+). Most salient between 1976 and 80 (123 of 159 tracks[21]), it would yield the rise of such meta-artists as The Pretenders.

Punk (+) quickly spin off other musical meta-genres, most notably Post-Punk/Revival and New Wave (+)/Darkwave.

Another regular early CBGB’s meta-artist, Blondie, launches New Wave (+)/Darkwave in my iTunes with two 1976 tracks,[22] while The Stranglers do the same for Post-Punk/Revival with three 1977 tracks.[23]

Ranked by number of tracks, chart-selected predominantly-New Wave (+)/Darkwave meta-artists are Simple Minds, Berlin, Spandau Ballet, INXS, The Motels, The Stranglers, Costello (+), Dolby, The B-52’s, Numan (+), Oingo Boingo, Split Enz, The Fixx, Icehouse, The Police, The Cars, Joe Jackson and Talking Heads.

And Post-Punk/Revival?  Adam Ant (+), Joy Division, U2 and The Clash. And let us not forget the Art Punk of Wire or the Folk Punk of Violent Femmes.

Finally, there are the Synthpop meta-artists: Duran Duran, Blancmange and Yello. I 1989, Blancmange would spin off this delirious piece of Avant/Experimental/Leftfield/Post Modern.

Collectively, these 29 meta-artists combine for 1,137 (11.9%) of my 9,552 iTunes tracks—and that excludes meta-artists like The Cure and Stan Ridgway (+)/Drywall that evolved into Alternative Rock (+), as well as the 1979-82 era Ska/Two Tone, exemplified by English Beat, Madness and Specials/AKA, and Mod Revival  (The Jam).

Overall, 3,701 (38.7%) of my iTunes tracks were released in this time frame: between 1976 and 1984.

This is MY music.

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In mid-1970s Los Angeles (L.A.), Stan Ridgway was running Acme Soundtracks, an Ennio-Morricone-inspired film score company. By 1977, drawn to the burgeoning L.A. Punk (+) scene, he and four other men—Chas Gray, brothers Bruce and Marc Moreland, and Joe Nanini—had formed Wall of Voodoo. Debuting with a stunning 1980 Darkwave cover of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,”[24] their two studio albums, Dark Continent and Call of the West are New Wave (+)/Darkwave masterpieces.

Their formation and rapid dissolution are bitingly chronicled in “Talkin’ Wall of Voodoo Blues, Pt. 1.” In the song, Ridgway mocks “the single they still talk about”: the inimitable “Mexican Radio.”

Ridgway collaborated on two film scores in 1983 and 1984 before releasing his first solo album in 1986—the stunning The Big Heat. Given that Ridgway has been called a “noir balladeer,” he likely drew inspiration from the 1953 film noir.

In 2002, however, all I knew were the “Ring of Fire” and “Mexican Radio” (and its B-side, “Call of the West”—I have the original single). A coworker who moonlighted as a disc jockey told me about “Drive She Said,” from The Big Heat. Curious, I purchased The Best of Stan Ridgway: Songs That Made This Country Great.

I was immediately hooked, especially by this lyric from The Big Heat’s “Walkin’ Home Alone” (boldface added for emphasis):

“The telephone’s dead––I guess they turned it off today

Turn the key on the mailbox slot

Lookin’ for a letter, but bills is all I’ve got

And even the cat she left me with

Is goin’ out with someone else

So put another quarter in the jukebox, Pete

But don’t play that one with the sad trombone

‘Cause tonight, I’ll be walkin’ home alone”

Five years later, I saw Ridgway live for the first time, in Manhattan. Three tours later, in August 2015, someone took this photograph of us at the now-defunct Johnny D’s in Somerville, MA.

Stan Ridgway and I at Johnny D's August 2015.jpg

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Designated Alternative Pop Rock, Stan Ridgway (+)/Drywall is second in tracks (192, not counting 23 Wall of Voodoo tracks and 13 from wife Pietra Wiexstun’s band Hecate’s Angels); he still releases new material.

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The first tracks labeled “Alternative” were released in 1979: two Alternative Rock (+) tracks from The Cure[25] and the indescribably weird (and brilliant) Pere Ubu sophomore effort, the Alternative Dub Housing.

In 1981, an Athens, GA (home of The B-52’s) band called R.E.M. released an Alternative Rock (+) single called “Radio Free Europe.” They and The Smiths would help foment the shift to Alternative Rock (+) in the mid-1980s with albums like 1984’s Reckoning, 1985’s Meat is Murder, and 1986’s The Queen is Dead.

In 1992-94, Tori Amos brought harrowing personal experiences and singer-songwriter chops to Alternative Rock (+) (e.g.,Crucify”), while Geoff Martin (+) brought hard-rock sensibility and social conscience in the first decade of the 2000s, especially on such excellent tracks as “Laura” and the 9/11-inspired “32nd Floor,” both from the band Days Are Golden in 2003[26].

An early spin-off of Alternative Rock (+), Adult Alternative/AA Pop Rock, first appears in 1984, with lush albums by The Blue Nile and Mitchell Froom. Two years later, Crowded House, formed by Split Enz vocalist Neil Finn following the demise of Split Enz, would release their eponymous debut album, quickly achieving the American commercial success that had eluded Split Enz.

Alternative Pop Rock would peak (for me) in 1987 with albums by Cindy Lee Berryhill and Curiosity Killed the Cat.

One quirky, short-lived spinoff of Alternative Rock (+) was Madchester, a 1989-92 “psychedelic revival” that spawned Charlatans UK, The Stone Roses and, especially, Happy Mondays.

The alternative to “Alternative” is apparently “Indie,” as the rise of first Indie Pop (1986-1990: It’s Immaterial, The Ocean Blue, The Sundays) then Indie Rock (1999-2003: Sleater-Kinney, Del Rey) suggest.

Before leaving the 1980s entirely, here are five disparate artists:

  • George Winston: This superior pianist, a direct musical descendant of Waller (+) and The Vince Guaraldi Trio, brought New Age to the mainstream with Autumn and December.
  • Uncle Bonsai: This Folk (+) trio, two women and a man, emerged in the mid-1980s with ironic, wickedly-funny songs delivered with angelic harmonies. “Silent Night” from 1986’s Boys Want Sex in the Morning may be the most beautiful song I have ever heard.
  • The Smithereens, a Rock (+) band who nevertheless dominated alternative rock airwaves in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Their 1988 Green Thoughts is songwriting at its finest. Rest in peace, Mr. DiNizio.
  • Madonna, the Dance Pop avatar from Detroit who evolved from girlish pop star to international icon. “Lucky Star” was a track I continually listened for on the radio of my black 1979 Ford Fairmount in the summer of 1984.
  • Chris Isaak, who led a Rock & roll revival in the late 1980s and early 1990s with moody, yet catchy albums like Heart Shaped World and San Francisco Days.[27]

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Brian Eno first started making Ambient records in the 1970s, but my best exemplar is Selected Ambient Works, Vol. II by Aphex Twin. I confess to knowing nothing about this 1994 album until I read this terrific book[28].

And, with a nod to the anarchic Comedy/Novelty of Cartoon Planet Band, that brings us to the late 1990s, when I stopped paying close attention to contemporary pop music and began exploring older blues and jazz.

Still, older artists were releasing fascinating music in the first decade of the 2000s, such as ex-Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett. I categorized him as Classical, but he could easily have been Progressive Rock because of his 2003 To Watch the Storms.

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I will close by identifying key meta-artists and years associated with remaining meta-genres with at least 10 “Miscellaneous” tracks across any three successive years:

Until next time…

[1] And more than 20 years later, I would circle back to mathematics, earning a Master’s Degree in biostatistics and a PhD in epidemiology.

[2] Tufte, Edward R. 1983. Visual Display of Quantitative Information. Cheshire, CT: Graphics Press, pg. 13.

[3] SPSS Statistics 17.0 for Windows; SPSS Inc. Released 2008. Chicago: SPSS Inc.

[4] I excluded Oscar Peterson (20 tracks, 29 plays) because all but one of his tracks were released in 1995 or 1996, and I excluded Henry Mancini (8,111) and Nelson Riddle (13, 111—all but one track 1966) because they had fewer than 15 tracks.

[5] I excluded Murray Gold, because he only had two tracks (“Doctor Who XI” and “I Am the Doctor”), both released in 2010.

[6] Cell shaded “Aqua, Accent 5, Darker 25%,” text “White, Background 1, Darker 25%”

[7] Remaining tracks: 21.9% Pop Rock (+), 11.8% Rock (+), 5.9% Baroque Pop, 3.1% Art Rock.

[8] Cell shaded “Black, Text 1, Lighter 5%,” text “Yellow”

[9] For a meta-artist, the predominant meta-genre color scheme was used, though sometimes a color scheme would simply be extended to the right from a given cell.

[10] Six meta-genres were entirely subsumed by a single meta-artist: Children’s Music (Stan Ridgway (+)/Drywall), Folk Punk (Violent Femmes), Jazz Rock (Steely Dan), Modal Jazz (Miles Davis), Progressive Jazz (Duke Ellington (+)), Third Stream [Jazz] (Miles Davis),

[11] “Downhearted Blues,” “My Sweetie Went Away (She Didn’t Say Where, When Or Why),” “’Tain’t Nobody’s Bizness If I Do”

[12] “Early in the Morning,” “Queen of the Hop,” “Splish Splash”

[13] Plus three Henry Mancini tracks: “Days of Wine and ‘Roses,” “Hatari,” “Baby Elephant Walk.”

[14] Donovan’s “Colours” and “Catch the Wind”

[15] In July 1985, this was the site of the American portion of Live Aid.

[16] That does not even mention other favorite meta-artists like The Moody Blues and Jethro Tull.

[17] I would be remiss if I did not mention Supertramp and late-1970s Brian Eno.

[18] “Jive Talkin,’” “Nights on Broadway”

[19] OK, technically 1979’s “I See Red” is their first New Wave (+)/Darkwave track in my iTunes.

[20] Their eponymous 14-track debut album, clocking in at just 30 minutes, is often considered the start of Punk (+).

[21] Including the 19 tracks on a single Punk (+)-inflected 1999 Roxy Music/Bryan Ferry cover album.

[22] “In the Flesh,” “Rip Her to Shreds”

[23] “No More Heroes,” “Peaches,” “Something Better Change”

[24] Even if Nell disdains the closing distorted electric guitar solo as “screaming cats.”

[25] “10:15 Saturday Night,” “Grinding Halt”

[26] Martin is my first cousin.

[27] I had the pleasure of meeting Isaak, a San Francisco native, at NOIR CITY 12 in 2014. http://www.noircity.com/

[28] Weidenbaum is a college friend.