Thursday, February 3, 2011

Fab Five Freddy Told Me Everybody's Fly

The Jacket for the Blondie Single "Rapture"

My brother is four years older than I am; and he was responsible for much of my early exposure to the pop music of the day. When he was 9 or 10 he began collecting vinyl singles, which I ultimately loved more than he did. Blondie's "Rapture" was one of the "records" he brought home from the 3D, a KMart like superstore that dotted the Midwest landscape in the early 1980s. I was six at the time and I couldn't get enough of that song. I loved the rap. I loved the horn solo at the end. I loved the bass line and the overall groove. As far as I was concerned, this was the perfect song. In fact, this is the song that prompted my first grade self to march into the kitchen where my mother was whipping up a meatloaf, and announce, "Mom, when I grow up, I wanna be a singer, just like Blondie."

I don't recall my mother's response. I was only six so I'm sure proclamations about my future adult life were fairly common. But it's interesting that I remember the situation in which I asserted this particular desire. Under those bright kitchen lights, where my stay-at-home, dinner making, cookie baking, model of traditional housewifery mother did some of her best work - that's where I announced my desire to be like Deborah Harry - the pouty, ex-playboy bunny, with a come-hither squint, a cat-like wail, and a reputation for boinking her boyfriend in the bathroom at CBGBs.

Just six - and already a flare for ironic juxtapose - or so I like to think.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

It All Started with The Fab Four


Perhaps it's way too cliche to cite the Beatles as an influence in the pursuit of a rock 'n' roll life. But this greatest hits album, released in 1966, and the only Beatles album in my parents' collection, was my very favorite from the ages 2-5.

Almost every afternoon, my older brother would cue this up on the turntable and together we sat, side by side, in rocking chairs and, literally rocked to the harmonies of classics like Drive My Car and Day Tripper.

Nowhere Man was my favorite track on the album.  It really got my toddler toes tapping.  My brother probably hated it but I would sing along to the chorus, sometimes quite obnoxiously:  "He's a real nowhere man / Sitting in his nowhere land / Making all his nowhere plans for nobody."  Pretty heavy stuff for someone still required to take a nap - but then I didn't understand the subtle comment on directionless nihilism contained within the song's verbage.  I just loved the sing-songy repetitive rhyme of nowhere phrases and the relatively dark, descending note pattern of the hook's melody and harmony.  The nasal delivery delighted me too.  Perhaps this is my adult projection.  But I do know I loved the way that song sounded; and I would listen to it on repeat, a habit I still have when a song delights me.

Interestingly, the original cover for this album was quite controversial.  It featured the band wearing butcher smocks and draped in pieces of raw meat, and blood covered body parts from plastic baby dolls.  That photo was more in line with the band's dark sense of humor than the banal images usually associated with their releases; and according to Paul McCartney it was "a comment on the war."  But, ultimately the label deemed the cover too shocking and it was replaced with the placid group shot above.

I stared at that shot for minutes at a time (remember, I was 3).   I realize this is random, but I was drawn to the trunk probably because my parents had a trunk similar to the one in the picture and, for some reason,  this confirmed the group's cool in my child's eye.   Moreover, I liked the idea of sitting in a trunk the way Paul is in the picture.

After I got over my obsession with the trunk, I carefully examined  the individual members and ranked them in order of preference.  John was my 3rd favorite Beatle.  I liked his smug expression and crossed arms, but his shoes and socks bothered me (shallow, I know).   And George was always last, probably the result of his placement in the photo more than some attribute that failed to meet my pre-school standards.  But, I could never decide whether Paul or Ringo was my favorite.  Compared to the others, Ringo looked small and childlike and his name was fun to say.  Ringo!  Riiiing-oooo!  But Paul felt familiar, like the older boys in my neighborhood.

Years later, in 1983, when Paul collaborated with Michael Jackson on the song Say, Say, Say, he temporarily moved in to a solid first place in my complex Beatle ranking system, which I continue to update from time to time. (In a twist of irony, George is currently my favorite Beatle).  But, it was 1978; and Thriller hadn't been released yet; and I just couldn't decide - Ringo or Paul.  I knew I loved Nowhere Man and all his nowhere plans though; and I knew I loved sitting side by side with my big brother in those bark cloth covered rockers listening to that album on repeat.  The seeds were sewn for my future rock 'n' roll pursuits; and I was barely out of diapers.