Archive for the ‘D&D’ Tag

[50/50] Between a rock and a hard place

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

SomeGirls78This entry is about the oddest concert experience I ever had. This is also the only opportunity I’ll have to write about the Rolling Stones as (spoiler alert) they don’t appear anywhere in my Top 50, songs or albums. (Although, it should be noted, “Some Girls” came close to making the cut, and I always had a soft spot for their oddball hit “Emotional Rescue,” if only because I remember my friend Monty mocking Mick Jagger’s soliloquy at the end of the song, endlessly repeating “I will be your knight in shiiiiiinning aaaaaaaaaaamour …. on a fine aaaaaaaarab chaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarger” as we played D&D in the Link’s basement.)

Anyway, back to the concert. After years of listening to my friend Rusty go on and on about how awesome the Stones’ famous 1981 tour was, and, having never seen them play live —[ Fun Fact Aside! One of the very first shows the Stones ever played in the U.S. was at the FARM SHOW ARENA in Harrisburg … in 1964! ]— my brother got us tickets to the 1989 Steel Wheels tour. This tour was notable in that a) it was the first band stage so tall it required FAA lights at the top of the structure so planes wouldn’t hit it and b) it was widely reported that this would be the Rolling Stones final tour.

… I’ll give you a minute so you can stop laughing…

So there we were, in Veteran’s Stadium in Philadelphia with 100,000 people before a structure the size of an aircraft carrier, with stories-high blowup dolls flanking the stage and swaying back and forth as Mick and Keith played the hits. They veered into stuff off their latest album and had just broken into a number called “Rock and a Hard Place” when a fight broke out in the row in front of us. Stadium security quickly appeared, but instead of coming down the aisle, they decided to swarm over the seats of our section and make a beeline for the brawl. Suddenly, my brother and I were in the middle of a huge scrum between the frat boys, still throwing punches, and overzealous guards grabbing over our heads. The crush of people carried us back and forth like a rugby ball as the chorus reached its crescendo and Jagger yelled repeatedly “Between a ROCK” and the backup singers replied “and a HARD PLACE.”

I looked at my brother and shouted out something like, “oh the irony.”

As the song ended the cops swept down the aisle and dragged the perps out. The guards wanted to clear the whole section and tried to throw everyone out, but the police stopped them. I don’t remember much after that except that we now had a much better view of the stage. Regardless, I wanted to thank the Rolling Stones for giving me my most literal rock-n-roll experience ever.

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[50/50] Album #39: Led Zeppelin IV

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

Album #39: Led Zeppelin — Led Zeppelin IV (1971)

Zoso.svgIn the only real music debate I ever had with Grayson Currin, our music editor at the Independent, he expressed disappointment when I said Led Zeppelin IV was their best album. “What? III is the better record,” he replied authoritatively, standing in the lunch room while waiting for the microwave to ding. Sure, I agreed, Led Zep III IS the better record — but IV is still my favorite. He shrugged dismissively, as if to say, how can you base an argument on that?

Soaked in Tolkien references and faux mysticism, the band’s fourth studio album marked their transformation from a mere British blues-rock group to LED ZEPPELIN; by the time we caught up with them in the mid-70’s they had already become the bloated rock leviathans “Spinal Tap” would eventually so accurately mock, yet at the time it was still new to us, and my brother and I proudly wore our Zoso t-shirts until they shredded.

Led_Zeppelin_-_Officially released with no title — and adorned only with medieval drawings, a strange photo of a woodsman, and the aforementioned runes — Led Zep IV suffered from the collective scorn of having “Stairway to Heaven” as one of its tracks, even as it ensured it would be Zeppelin’s best selling album ever. But IV was also the home of “Black Dog,” “Misty Mountain Hop,” Rock and Roll,” “Going to California” and other songs that are still in heavy rotation on a radio station somewhere, probably this very minute.

While overexposure has no doubt worn IV’s welcome thin, it still has one song that calls out to me — literally. At about the 1:36 mark in “The Battle of Evermore” — Jimmy Page and Robert Plant’s ultimate fantasy mashup — a clash of voices in the chorus conspire to sound like someone is saying “JP?” I first noticed this, back in the misty days of middle school, while listening to the track through headphones. Thinking my mom was calling me from the kitchen, I took off the headphones and went to see what she wanted. It went something like this.

“Yeah, mom?”

“What, dear.”

“Didn’t you just call me?”

“Nope.”

“OK.”

I went back to my dad’s office, where all his recording equipment was set up, and started the song over. Again, I heard my mom yell for me from the kitchen.

“What.”

“What?”

“I just heard you call my name.”

“I didn’t say anything.”

“Are you sure? I heard you yell ‘JP'”

“No, I’m sure.”

“Oookay.”

Again I went back and put on the headphones — and there it was clear as day. In the chorus, you can hear two voices collide in something that sounds almost exactly like “JP?” … I lifted the needle again and again to try and isolate the sound. “JP?… JP? …JP! … JP!?” — Suddenly, my mom ripped off the headphones.

“HEY! I’VE BEEN CALLING YOU FOR THE LAST FIVE MINUTES!”

“Wha? But — but, the song! It’s in THE SONG!”

“WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? DAMMIT, TURN OFF THE STEREO RIGHT NOW, I NEED YOUR HELP IN THE KITCHEN.”

I later played the track for my brother, to see if I was crazy or not, and after he too heard it he took off the headphones and said, ‘Okay, that’s weird.”

[50/50] Album #45: “Saturday Night Fever Original Soundtrack”

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

Album #45: “Saturday Night Fever Original Soundtrack” — Various Artists (1977)

fever“I always hated Saturday Night Fever because it forever ruined the white suit.” — Tom Wolfe

“You should be dancin’, yeah” — The Bee Gees

A review in four part harmony

1) What the hell were we thinking? I don’t mean, “why did anyone ever like disco” but — “why did anyone hate this movie?” (Beyond Tom Wolfe and his somewhat-justified loathing.) Clearly no one who ever screamed “DISCO SUCKS!” actually saw “Saturday Night Fever” — a dark existential affair where the music served as much to ironically undercut the bleak, nihilistic lives of its characters as it did to get their asses out on the dance floor. Sure it had disco and dancing, but it also had a gang rape, ethnic violence and someone plunging to their death from a bridge. Are we having fun yet? Far from being some cheesy flick exploiting a craze (which, yes, it did eventually become) “Saturday Night Fever” had gritty cinematic aspirations born out of the ’70s auteurism of “Midnight Cowboy” and “American Graffiti” — in many ways an updated “Rebel without a Cause” for the Me Generation. If any argument remains, one of the fairest assessments of the quality of a movie is how easy it is to satirize, and “Saturday Night Fever” has been endlessly parodied —especially it’s cocky, strutting opening scene:


Then again, one of the reasons most of my 8th grade friends never saw the movie when it first came out was it’s R rating. In an effort to capitalize on both disco and the soundtrack’s popularity, “Saturday Night Fever” was eventually rereleased Rated PG with most of the violence and bad language left on the cutting room floor — and leaving it open to arguments of simply cashing in on the disco craze. “Saturday Night Fever” was the 1970s hitting bottom: It tried to have its quaalude and eat it too.

2) Spin the bottle. Whatever you thought about disco or this movie, there was no escaping the soundtrack. You couldn’t turn on a radio in 1977 or 1978 without hearing a cut from it. It was the No. 1 album for 24 weeks and spun off at least five #1 singles. Heck, even songs cut from the movie and the soundtrack — such as Samantha Sang’s “Emotion” — were Top 10 hits. Most of my friends had a copy, and I remember Side 1 was in heavy rotation the night we played Spin the Bottle (ironically, of course) down in Anne Dunlap’s basement. And if you ever needed an 11-minute cut of The Trammps “Disco Inferno,” you were set. The soundtrack also had one of my all-time Guiltiest Pleasures, the epically awful/awesome “A Fifth of Beethoven” by Walter Murphy. (If it pleases the court, let the record show that Walter Murphy’s LP was the first album I ever bought with my own money, and as it is nowhere on this final countdown, this is my only chance to play his one and only #1 hit. Number One, do you hear me? At some point in American history, this was the most popular song in the country. The only possible explanation is that everyone was on drugs.)


3) No escape. Of course, none of this explains why this album is in my 50/50 countdown, or why I still like it 35 years later. Quite simply, I was on drugs. In the spring of 1978, I spent several weeks hopped up on goofballs after tearing a muscle in my lower back trying out for the track team. The first week I spent recuperating at home — drugged out on the biggest muscle relaxers you’ve ever seen — with little to do except read “Lord of the Rings” and listen to the radio. The potent combination of pain killers, epic fantasy and Top 40 pop forever fused in my brain and that was that. When I think of Dungeons & Dragons or The Hobbit, even now, I don’t hear “O Fortuna” but Yvonne Elliman.


4)
“Watch the hair!”

Goddamn could that Travolta boy dance. Seriously.