Saturday, June 13, 2009

Things are DIRE all over!

Haven’t done a band tribute in a while, so here’s one on a band I really got into in the early ‘90s, even though they’d been around quite a while, Dire Straits—one of the few “critic’s choice” bands I actually like.  I always enjoyed DS and their hit singles during the ‘80s, but it wasn’t until 1991’s outstanding On Every Street album that I totally embraced the group—just in time for them to cease making studio albums, naturally!  Singer/guitarist Mark Knopfler’s reason for shutting Straits down was that the group’s success “was all getting too big” (or words to that effect).  I’ve never quite understood that, because with their ever-changing line-up of personnel, it always seemed like Dire was more of a backing band for Knopfler than a full-fledged group effort anyway—only bassist John Illsley made the entire trip with him.  MK is sort of an odd duck with his quirky sense of humor and idiosyncratic Country-tinged style of guitar playing and Dylan-esque vocals, but it all worked and he could put out some fairly tasty music when he was fully-motivated to.

Although critically acclaimed, I never thought much of Dire Straits’ first two albums, apart from the classic hit “Sultans Of Swing”.  It wasn’t until album number three, 1981’s Making Movies, that they hit their stride, in my opinion, with great stuff like “Solid Rock”, “Skateaway”, “Tunnel Of Love” and “Romeo & Juliet”.  In spite of its goofy hit song “Industrial Disease”, 1982’s Love Over Gold didn’t honk my hooter either—it had too many long, drawn-out songs that didn’t hold my interest (one lasted almost 15 minutes—bigger isn‘t necessarily better).  DS hit the platinum motherlode in 1985 with Brothers In Arms, which contained the mammoth hit “Money For Nothing”, as well as “Walk Of Life” and “So Far Away”.  Much to the consternation of Warner Bros. Records, no doubt, six years of silence ensued before On Every Street appeared in ’91.  And nothing but silence since then…

My All-Time Dire Straits Top 15
15) So Far Away (1985)  Kind of a weird choice for the lead-off track on the Brothers In Arms album, but very atmospheric and trippy, all the same.
14) Les Boys (1981)  Oddball postscript from the Making Movies LP about some fellers who “are glad to be gay”.  Relax, Alex, if you’re reading this—it’s just a silly song and I still like girls, mmm-kay?
13) Money For Nothing (1985)  I absolutely loved this song when it first came out, but it’s been played to death so much on the radio that I’m burned-out on it now, otherwise it'd have finished much higher on my list.  The line “That little faggot with the earring and the make-up” was a direct hit on the Artist, and I loved it.  Classic video too.
12) Industrial Disease (1982)  Only really accessible song off Love Over Gold, and a funny one, to boot.  For some reason, I can’t help but associate the story of it with one Homer J. Simpson…
11) Walk Of Life (1985)  Resistance is futile here, with such a catchy hook and fun attitude.  Brilliant idea for the video, too, by including baseball, football and basketball bloopers therein.
10) On Every Street (1991)  Takes forever for this song to get going, but once it does, I love the riff Knopfler plays throughout and the steel guitar in the background.  It’s kinda fun to change the title to “On Sesame Street” while singing along…
9) Tunnel Of Love (1981)  I think of the line “let it rock and let it roll” every time I play a slot machine…
8) Sultans Of Swing (1979)  Man, what a breath of fresh air this thing was on Top 40 radio when it came out during the height of Disco malaise!  Way over-played on Classic Rock stations now, but still a great record.
7) Calling Elvis (1991)  Knopfler’s goofball humor hard at work here.  You can almost picture Johnny Cash singing this one too.  In both cases, “You got to tell him, he’s STILL the man…”
6) Heavy Fuel (1991)  True to its title, this is one of Dire’s heavier tunes, sounding very Z.Z. Top-like in places.  Six hamburgers, Gracie?  I can only assume he was talking White Castles.  Two regular burgers at a time is about all I can handle.
5) Ticket To Heaven (1991)  This was a brilliant body slam (performed in the most subtle manner possible by Knopfler) on TV evangelists everywhere, filled with lush strings and Flamenco guitar.  “Now I send what I can to the man with the diamond ring…”
4) The Bug (1991)  I believe this one’s been covered by more than a few Country artists, and it’s a great way to look at life:  “Sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug…”
3) Twistin’ By The Pool (1984)  Not unlike “Walk of Life”, this one is pretty irresistible too.  Although it got regular spins on MTV, it never really caught on as a hit record, for whatever reason.  Too bad, because it’s a fun little romp and a great party song.
2) Skateaway (1981)  This one is very atmospheric, too, and I always loved Knopfler’s twangy lead guitar as the song fades into the sunset here.
1) Solid Rock (1981)  Why this one doesn’t get played on the radio as much as “Money For Nothing” and “Sultans Of Swing” mystifies me.  Sonically, it’s not much different than “Sultans”, but never made it as a hit single.  Love the attitude in the lyrics here (“When you point your finger ‘cus your plan fell through, you got three more fingers pointin’ back at you, yeah…”) as well as Knopfler’s staccato lead guitar work.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

"Can't pretend that growing older never hurts..."

Tomorrow is my 45th birthday.  Not sure whether to celebrate or mourn at this point…

I have to say I never really had an opinion on actor David Carradine one way or the other.  I remember my older brother used to watch “Kung Fu” all the time back in the day, but I was only 8 or 9 at the time and found it very boring.  Never got into the Kill Bill movies either.  You can bet the farm, though, that the tabloids and TMZ people must be having a field day over this guy’s death and the alleged lurid circumstances thereof involving the ignorant act of auto-erotic asphixiation.  I probably shouldn’t say this, but I’m going to anyway:  it sounds to me as if DC came and went at the same time…

Look who’s in rehab, none other than singer Henry Lee Summer, according to this article.  Seems he got busted about a month ago on Meth charges.  I know—it’s not nice to kick someone who’s down, but that mug shot just screams out to be made fun of.  Perhaps Henry Lee hit bottom when he finally realized that trying to follow in John Mellencamp’s footsteps was a dumb idea after all…

I guess they’re going to make the big switch-eroo Friday from analog to digital TV broadcasting, unless they postpone it again.  I have cable TV, but I’ve been totally underwhelmed by the whole state-of-the-art fiber-optic poly-unsaturated whoop-de-doo digital thing on Compost, er uh—Comcast, with whom I’ve been at odds over this for about eight months now after numerous service calls.  Half the time, my channels start pixellating at will, the sound cuts out and the picture flashes constantly, and it becomes totally unwatchable.  I was trying to watch hockey the other night when this occurred, and it rendered my Sony Trinitron nothing more than a 27" strobe light!  Meanwhile, the same cable programming comes in just fine on my 19” bedroom TV that doesn’t have the digital converter.  Comcast—it’s Crap-tastic!

Anyone read the big cover story in last week’s Newsleak about Oprah?  A very interesting read if you wanna see Ms. Winfrey brought down a few pegs.  Now, before all you Oprah sycophants out there aim your bazookas at me, let me preface my remarks a bit.  I’ve always applauded her for taking the high road on her talk show—thus sparing us the Springer-esque and Povich-ian White Trash Theater palaver of “I’m sleeping with my son’s transsexual midget girlfriend”, et al—and I do believe Oprah means well.  However, I get a little concerned about her omni-presence in the media and the sway she holds over so many people, to the point where Oprah’s fan(atic)s believe in everything she says and advocates/sponsors on her show, not unlike how Rush Limbaugh’s over-sized cult following does, in their own way.  I also agree with the article where it questioned how Winfrey can possibly pass herself off as an “everyday” woman when she’s an unapproachable multi-billionaire and totally out-of-touch with lay people.  Oprah’s constant weight-loss advice doesn’t cut much ice with me when she can’t seem to maintain her own weight very consistently, and I have to question Oprah’s credibility by having Suzanne Somers on her show as an authority on anything—unless the discussion is about being an untalented semi-attractive hack actress who somehow got lucky and made it.

Total non-sequitur here, but does anybody remember when ESPN2 was called “The Deuce” back when it first started?  Remember how they tried to appeal to the irreverent MTV generation with all the lame lower case graphics?  And Keith Olbermann anchoring “SportsCenter” wearing a leather jacket?  Wonder why it didn’t last…

It would appear all efforts to save what remained of Detroit’s Tiger Stadium have failed, as the preservationists were unable to come up with the $33.4 million needed to renovate the grandstand and convert it into a minor league ballpark.  Workers have already begun demolishing what’s left of the stadium.  I’m disappointed, but it’s time to let go—may it rest in pieces…

I always get a chuckle at how my iPod shuffles songs and the weird combinations it comes up with.  I almost always listen in shuffle mode, and my policy is to never skip a song—if it’s in my iPod in the first place, there’s a reason why, so no skipping allowed!  Check out the eclectic mix I enjoyed while mowing the back 40 the other night (in order):

Tunnel of Love—BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN (The ONLY time I enjoy hearing anyone yodeling!)
Big City Girls—APRIL WINE
Voices Of Babylon—THE OUTFIELD
The Song Is Over—THE WHO
Bloody Reunion (Live)—MOLLY HATCHET
Cotton-Eyed Joe—RED NEX
Going To Brazil—MOTORHEAD
In A Different Light—THE BANGLES
Lover’s Night—JANE WIEDLIN
In My Dreams—DOKKEN
Across The Border—E.L.O.

How ‘bout that Kiss/Osmonds/Moody Blues triple-play combo in the middle there?  I’m fairly certain those three songs had never been played in succession in recorded history before!  Makes me feel kinda special, in a bizarre way…

Looks like the updated Land Of The Lost flick is the latest semi-annual flop starring Will Ferrell, aka this generation’s Chevy Chase.  I’ve never found this hack to be funny in the first place, and it only figures he couldn’t even make a go of an old show that could be easily ridiculed.

"LOTL" was one of Sid & Marty Krofft’s better creations back in the ’70s Saturday morning kids fare, all about a father and his two kids on a rafting trip who go back to the dinosaur age during an earthquake—don’t ask me how!  Great storyline until the guy who played the father got fired and was replaced by another guy who played his brother.  No one bothered to explain how the uncle was able to switch places in the time-space compendium, though.

A little trivia for you:  on the original NBC "LOTL" show, one of the Sleestaks was portrayed by future Detroit Piston Bill Laimbeer.

For the first time since I was about ten, I am the proud owner of a library card!  At the urging of a fellow co-worker, I decided to take advantage of something I’m already paying taxes on anyway by utilizing my public library system.  I was totally unaware that the Mid-Continent Public Library system here in K.C. had such a great selection of CDs (something a little less stodgy than Ray Conniff and Lawrence Welk!) and DVDs to borrow, much less up-to-date books like the recent biography on “Peanuts” creator Charles M. Schulz (which I almost paid 30 bucks for when it was released), and a 2008 bio on The Who’s Pete Townshend.  Thanks the library, I’m able to bypass my Netflix subscription and borrow the likes of “Hawaii Five-O” on DVD—an entire season at a time rather than just a disc at a time, too.  I’m also able to fill in a few gaps in my music collection by pirating/copying a few old albums that I have on vinyl, but never replaced with CDs (Aerosmith’s Toys In The Attic and George Thorogood’s Bad To The Bone, for instance), as well as some albums I never had at all, like Pink Floyd's Animals.  What the hell, you can’t beat free!

My latest DVD view on Netflix is the old Tony Orlando & Dawn CBS variety show box set.  It was your basic typical mid-‘70s variety show, and thankfully, TO&D wasn’t nearly as gaudy or schlocky as the Captain & Tennille’s disasterpiece during that same era.  Orlando seemed to be a good fit for a show like this, given his gregarious personality, and Dawn (Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent-Wilson) certainly weren’t hard on the eyes (or ears).  The show debuted as a summer replacement series in 1974, and came and went in intermittent stints for a couple years after that.  As one might guess, their guests were mostly from CBS shows, folks like Ted Knight and Georgia Engel from “Mary Tyler Moore Show” and Loretta Swit from “MASH”, although a later incarnation of the show included George Carlin as a regular and guest appearances by Alice Cooper and the late Freddie Prinze, who was a close friend of Orlando’s.  Prinze was also featured on a fairly poignant special feature on the DVD, shown guest-hosting the “Tonight Show” for the first time in 1976 with Orlando as his guest.  It’s eerie (and sad) to see him in such high spirits that night, knowing that less than a year later, Prinze would succumb to his personal demons and take his own life, subsequently sending Orlando himself into a major downward spiral/depression.  T.O. eventually recovered, and I believe he still performs regularly in Branson as Tony Orlando & Dusk.

Physician (To Burt Campbell on “Soap”):  “Are you going to be alright, Burt?”Burt Campbell (having just been informed he had six months to live):  “Apparently not!!”