Category: Personal Pop Tales

Pop Art : Look What I Made You…

IMG_7595

Back in the 80’s “screenshots” had to be done manually. As in you had to literally take a picture of the tv screen with the image you wanted to capture, with a camera. With actual film. And then have that film developed at the One Hour Photo store. I know this because I spent a horrifying amount of time doing it. Pictures of my personal “rock gods” in magazines were not enough, oh no, there were specific images I just needed to have, to own, to be able to look at whenever the hell I wanted not just when MTV let me. And with that I began recording videos off the aforementioned MTV, on our suitcase sized VHS player, and embarking on regular photo sessions with my favorite videos. Of course I did this when no one was home as there was no way I could really explain why I was doing it. How could I possibly tell Mom I liked Simon LeBon’s mouth in the “Hungry Like the Wolf” video so much that I really needed a picture of it. No, best to keep it to myself and document my video stills in secret.

One day as I was thumbing through my “Hungry Like the Wolf” photos, the bulb of inspiration lit up and I thought “wouldn’t it be cool to make something with these ?”.

And so out came the glue, acrylic paints, and markers, and born into the world was the “fine” work you see above. I know what you’re thinking, you can literally hear Simon singing “do-do-do-do, do-do-do, do do do, do do do do doooo” just by looking at it. Note how powerfully the 80’s style arrows accentuate the scene.

The photo manipulation soon morphed into doing actual drawings of my beloved idols. These drawings were also a secret. Upon completion, I showed them to no one. They were private. Just between me and the subject/victim as in “This is how much I love you Genesis era Phil Collins, with your long hair and beard, enough to painstakingly render your visage in my secret sketchbook, and accentuate your rakish charm”. 

IMG_7594

“Thanks for capturing my true essence Luv”

Soon after I took things up a notch and drew Sting in multi-colored crayon…I’m uncertain what motivated this medium choice.

IMG_7596

If you visit the Deviant Art website, the insanely vast, and endless home for both inspired and WTF artwork, you will be face to face with literally thousands of portraits, and pieces of Fan Art, featuring every celebrity you could possibly imagine. The Beatles. Hendrix. Jennifer Aniston. Harry Styles. President Lincoln. Stephen Hawking. It’s endless. Well, at some point, someone launched an Instagram account where they reposted very particular examples of those drawings, that uh, didn’t turn out quite right. You know, like a portrait of John Lennon where one of his eyes is looking right, the other looking left.

The point of the feed was, of course, to laugh at these “failed” attempts, to mock the “ineptitude” of their execution, how far off the mark they were. And I used to look and laugh too…but oddly I also found them to be incredibly moving. The overwhelming expression of love I thought I could see in every pair of crossed eyes, off kilter mouth, or Picasso-esque facial feature would occasionally bring me to tears. I understood it, yep. Adoring someone so much that you hunkered down, concentrated, spent hours, days, maybe even weeks, expressing your Big Love on paper or canvas, with true heart on the sleeve earnestness, and soundtracking the whole project with your subject matter’s music playing in the background for added authenticity. Obviously in order to draw Phil Collins, the divine strains of “Misunderstanding” needed to be wafting through the room for it to turn out “right”.

If you google “bad fan art”, you can bear witness to some truly mind-blowing portraiture. It’s okay to laugh, but take a step back, look within your soul, and try to remember that some of these things were created with genuine, reverential, uncontrollable love…yes, sigh, I am clearly speaking from tragic personal experience as evidenced above…but even as a spectator, I can tell you, I felt more emotion looking at “cross-eyed John Lennon” than I ever did looking at Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”.

And hey, Simon, Phil, and Sting, I know I strayed from you as the years went by but I hope you can see that I really did love you once. Thanks for being my Mona Lisa’s.

Rush’s “Subdivisions”: One band. One song.

graceunderpressure-4

Rush were, are and will always be loved. They’ve sold millions of records, are regarded as one of the finest live bands in musical history and in 2013 were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They can also lay claim to having one of the greatest drummers of all-time, the late Neil Peart, in their ranks. The plus column is stuffed with powerful affirmations of their goodness yet I just, plain, can’t get into them. But lord oh lord, how I’ve tried.

I’d been particularly charmed by their 2010 bio documentary and career retrospective, Beyond the Lighted Stage, had found myself completely won over by the trio’s camaraderie, humor and self-awareness. I was so invested in maintaining these good feelings that I decided to read not one but two of Neil Peart’s acclaimed travel memoirs in quick succession. I actively tried make Rush happen in my heart.

Of course I recognized that the film and books were mere ephemera and a diversion from what really mattered. Yup, I knew that to truly understand and experience Rush in a meaningful way, I had to spend time listening to the actual music. And so I did, the whole discography. It didn’t work. Which is to say as I was listening, I felt nothing. Was not transported. Had no epiphany.

Wishful attempts like this to love, feel and understand Rush were actually nothing new to me. My approach to appreciating Rush was disturbingly similar to having a drivers license or passport renewed. Every few years like clockwork I would check in, usually after witnessing some extreme display of fandom and/or worship, then trawl through the discography. And the result was always the same. Several years prior to the documentary, I’d been similarly swayed to give them another chance after witnessing the unbridled Rush passion of Nick Andopolis on Freaks and Geeks ( a TV show so painfully, chronologically on point for me that I officially categorize it as a 19-part documentary). Seeing Nick’s complete and utter worship of the band, watching him clumsily, passionately thrash along to “Spirit of the Radio” on his 29 piece drum kit and later defend drummer Neil Peart’s genius to his ex-girlfriend’s Lindsay’s Dad, was downright inspiring. And with that I hopefully cued up their mega Moving Pictures album…and felt nothing as it played.

Nick-neil peart

“Neil Peart is the greatest drummer alive !”…say no more Nick, turn that shit up…

And so why continually try when these attempts have never worked ? Well, it’s all because of one song, 1983’s fatly synthesized anthem of teen alienation and ennui, “Subdivisions”. I loved it. That song was the singular source of this blind and apparently eternal optimism. Back in the day, it’d spoken to my young, angst-ridden ass as deeply as any of the songs my most beloved band at the time The Smiths had kicked out. It was my “Manchester, so much to answer for”. But my “Manchester” was the considerably less historic, austere, damaged and romantic patch of unbridled suburbia known as, uh, Long Island. And so The Smiths were only gonna get so far in terms of helping make sense of the world in which I lived out my teen-dom. “Subdivisions” on the other hand understood. It got me.

In the High School Halls

In the shopping malls

Conform or be cast out

Yes, Rush, yes, I would geekily think anytime I heard it. “Subdivisions” was released just as MTV was beginning to grow in popularity and the song’s video was on constantly. And since I watched MTV roughly 4-5 hours a day every day (sick), it was only a matter of time before it planted its flag into my oh so impressionable psyche. Of course, as was the trend in music videos of the time, the visuals were painfully literal. Faceless suburban streets, check. Lonely bespectacled nerd ignored by oblivious, happy popular kids, check. Rush themselves, check, check, check. Here it is, in all its glory:

Nowhere is the dreamer
Or the misfit so alone

If I’m being honest, as far as my teenage musical touchstones go, I’ve spent more time listening to “Subdivisions” over the past several decades than I have the entire Smiths discography. I know that sounds sacrilege but that’s the mysterious and insidious power of “Subdivisions”. Rush said everything I needed to hear to feel understood and seen in one song. That’s all it took. Just the one song. And as it turned out that’s all I needed from Rush. And maybe after all this longterm effort that’s the real epiphany I was meant to have. And I couldn’t have asked for more.

P.S. In 2007, singer-pianist Anita Athavale released an absolutely kick ass cover of “Subdivisions” which as of this writing is not available on any of the streaming services…but it is on YouTube albeit in the weirdest and most on the nose way imaginable. Anita’s version provides the poignant soundtrack for a resolutely grim, un-ironic video tribute to a deceased shopping mall in Cleveland (complete with a “1976-2009” graphic at the end). Seriously though, Anita strips it down to its bones and it’s ridiculously good. Here it is :

P.P.S. The Rush fanbase is overwhelmingly male. While this “boys love Rush” phenomenon is discussed with sweet and hilarious candor in the aforementioned Beyond the Lighted Stage, nothing beats the depiction offered in the 2009 buddy comedy I Love You Man.¬†Come cringe along with Rashida Jones, playing Paul Rudd’s beleaguered girlfriend, as she experiences the effect Rush has on grown men in real time. It’s perfect.

West Coast: A Love Story

0d4fcb16b8b14fea8b9db12e4df8e48d

“They say he’s got an ’81 Firebird, I’m still in my ’79”

( Paul Davis lyric from “Somebody’s Been Gettin’ to You”)

For me, that line kind of typifies the West Coast sound, a sound which during its 1978-1983 heyday, was as pervasive in the U.S. as hair metal was in later in the decade. During those years, the top 40 charts were littered end to end with the stuff. The “sound” was typified by supreme musicianship, slick production and melodic cleanliness, and the people that made it tended to be straight white guys within the age range of 25-35. And as the state of the art recording studios in Southern California were where the overwhelmingly majority of it was created, at some point, years later, it started getting referred to as West Coast. When it was actually happening, it was just pop music, but the latterly coined genre name and the sound are admittedly a perfect match.

As for the music itself, I loved it. It spoke to me in ways I did not understand since I had nothing in common with the people creating it or their life experiences ( I was also obsessed with soul man Billy Preston, so there you go). I listened religiously to Casey Kasem’s Top 40 on Sunday mornings with anticipation, hoping for a new smoothie to spend my allowance on. The deal was, if you had a neatly trimmed beard and were leaning on a sports car, in a crumpled yet clean linen suit, with the sun descending behind you on the cover, and your single was at least # 39 in the chart, I bought your record. I trusted you and I loved you. My big obsession for awhile was this guy named Robbie Dupree who turned out to be from Brooklyn, but to me, was the West Coast-iast of all the West Coasters. His self-titled 1980 album is full of sleek, lonely and lovelorn tunes, nearly all of which I just plain f-ing loved. I would play it endlessly whilst simultaneously attempting to draw portraits of Robbie’s sullen bearded face as he stared out sadly from the album cover.

513FY2071DL

Come on and hold me,¬† just like you told me…

There’s been a major resurgence in the popularity of West Coast over the past handful of years. In 2014, the lovingly curated Too Slow to Disco compilations appeared on the scene, collecting favored vintage cuts by some of West Coast’s finest and garnering a surprising amount of attention and critical love from the requisite “tastemaker” music blogs and mags. Then in 2017, brilliant bass man Thundercat featured esteemed West Coast royalty Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald on his super fine Drunk album. But of course it was the “Yacht Rock” phenomenon that really reignited the mass interest in the artists and songs of the West Coast world ( though the parameters of what qualifies as “Yacht” are ridiculously inconsistent…says a purist…me). It’s great that people are openly, brazenly loving these songs without guilt (as they should be) and artists that were “forgotten” are getting some attention. But the term “Yacht Rock” will never be an official part of my music vernacular. Never, because to me, especially teenage me, it’s never been an ironic joke. West Coast forever baby.

And with that here’s a playlist of spineless, wussy and awesome songs that continue to shine as brightly as a million suns, to play in your ’79 Firebird, as you drive to 7-11. They’re just waiting to be found

Introduction: “You’re a disc 2 person”

image1-9

At some point, during my record buying life, I realized there was a significant short in my internal wiring, that resulted in my preferring the “wrong” album or song by a band. The critically panned one. The overly ambitious, artistic statement one. The drowned in strings one. The keeping up with the production techniques of the time one. When everyone and their mother started releasing multi-disc cd compilations in the ’90s, one of my record store co-workers derisively and geekily referred to me as a “disc 2 person”. Meaning, I didn’t like the youthful, vibrant perfection of the “early stuff”, but sadly preferred what was regarded as the sanitized, commercial, artistic void of the later stuff, when the fire had gone out, and the creativity had dried up. In other words, when the band supposedly sucked. And know what, it was true. I was a “disc 2 person”. It was something I had no control over.

Over the years though, I blessedly discovered that I was not alone, that there were a lot of disc 2’s out there, actual humans who preferred the “difficult” second album or the well-intentioned but failed attempt to “go back to our roots” album.

Picking Up Rocks is a home for just such beloved obsessions, where we’ll offer you amazing things that were maybe overlooked during their own era or have been forgotten over time or were written off for being uncool. Lost albums. Lost songs. Lost artists… but HEY, HEY, not only gonna be shining a spotlight on old stuff to reconsider, but offering up lots of new bands and songs that it would be worth meeting for the first time.

…so yeah, c’mon and let’s (re)discover together …