Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Guilty pleasures from my distant past

It’s been a rough week, but I took some time today to tick off some things I’ve perpetually carried on my “to do” list from month to month. These things have no due date. They aren’t tasks so much as research or education. And yes, some things land squarely in the “entertainment” category, but as they are music related and I am a musician, I can call them research. Check out this person’s album, watch this interview, listen to that podcast, and so on.

Today’s “research” involved some guilty pleasures. I had a note to watch a recent Rick Springfield interview. Yes, I was a fan. Still am to some extent, though I can’t stomach the soap opera thing. I also have this weird synchronistic relationship with the man that has become rather amusing over the years. His latest CD (yes, he’s still recording) is called “Venus In Overdrive.” Sound sort of familiar? Anyway, I was looking for this interview and stumbled across a video of him in 1970 with the band Zoot performing an inspired, and strangely Alice Cooper-esque version of "Eleanor Rigby." He was the guitarist of the band, and only sang backing vocals. He was playing a white SG that I’d never seen him play before. I wonder how many of his fans would notice such a thing.

Rick actually had a pretty strong influence on me in one regard. In my early teens, none of my musical idols inspired me to play guitar. They were all singers, with the exception of ELO, and for some bizarre reason I can’t even hazard a guess as to what kind of guitar Jeff Lynne played (I guess I must have been mesmerized by the eternal sunglasses). Rick was the one who made me want to sing AND play guitar. I paid attention to his guitar collection. To this day, when I hear “Jessie’s Girl” it’s that Strat that makes me weak-kneed. Even though the recording sounds incredibly thin and anemic compared to the tones I’m used to, it’s magic for me.

The song “Venus In Overdrive” has one of my favorite guitar tones of all time on it. I’m not wild about the song lyrically, but the guitar groove in the chorus absolutely rocks. Rick always had a knack for writing songs that were built around hooky guitar riffs. One of these days I’m going to write a letter to him to thank him for being my Guitar God in those formative years. And I’m going to ask him how he got that tone. Who knows, maybe he’s never had a fan ask him such a technical question and he’ll respond. If I write it before August 23, I can wish him a happy 60th birthday. Yes, 6-0. Take a peek at his website and see 60 like you’ve never seen it before. In his world, it’s the new 30.

As I was watching these old videos, I remembered that Rick had covered “Life In A Northern Town” which led me to another dark-haired boy that gave me heart palpitations and influenced me musically: Nick Laird-Clowes from The Dream Academy. I googled him to see if he’s still making music and learned that he has been busy with film soundtrack work. He’s also recorded under the name Trashmonk, though there are no tracks on Rhapsody. According to one source, he was to release a CD in 2008, but the only thing on Rhapsody is a film score. I did discover a lengthy interview with him and his DA mates from 1985. Not only were they inventive, mixing classical instruments and an ethereal 60’s vibe to create a unique sound like nothing else on the radio in the 80’s, but they were one of the only bands I was into in those days who used an acoustic guitar. If that wasn’t enough, they were all gorgeous. See for yourself...

I remember racing home to tape the one and only video show on TV before MTV aired, waiting with bated breath to see which artist was next, and hoping it was (fill in the blank). Kids these days have access to libraries of every video ever made on their cell phones! I wonder if they have anything that makes them race home from school. I wonder if they know that kind of anticipation and thrill. I don’t think they’d understand the little shiver of excitement I get when I stumble across something on the web from that era that I haven’t seen before or that I thought I would never see again.

If you ever need a good laugh, search the web for some video or band you thought was really cool back in the day. No doubt you’ll find something that will make you laugh out loud even if it does leave you feeling a little embarrassed for your adolescent self.

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