Category: Personal Pop Tales

Inglorious Results of a Misspent Youth: A True Life Story

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 Joan Jett has magical powers. Andy Moreno explains how the explosion of “Cherry Bomb” forced her to leave her hometown and find a way to ROCK forever…

I was going to call myself a late bloomer but the truth is I’m more like that old house plant you keep alive.  It never dies and you wouldn’t call it healthy or vibrant but you do give it props for defying natural laws.

By 1982 Joan Jett was out of The Runaways and off making hits. I had one foot out of my home town and another knee deep in what I call Indiana girl muck.  In 70’s Midwest, by 20 years old, you should’ve been well on your way to marriage and kids. A small starter house was a part of most friends’ worlds… if they didn’t already die in a drunk driving or overdose accident that is. I was working as a full time dispensing optician at an Ophthalmologist’s office in one of those ugly one story office buildings off of Lake Avenue in Fort Wayne, Indiana. You know those places that are completely devoid of any type of cool in an area where it was blocks and blocks of the same.  I wore nurses whites and orthopedic shoes. On my break, I would sometimes run to Taco Bell with my boyfriend and, on occasion, suck back a beer or two before returning to finish my shift. But most times I’d drive solo forfeiting food to smoke cigarettes and blast my speakers making sure to put on the “power booster” to elevate the mood. I would drive in giant squares so that I could come back in time but long enough that I could feel the wind on my face and escape the debilitating monotony. What I’m describing is a lonely loner, early signs of a deep introvert. But even recluses get bored. In the “The French Song” Joan sings I know what I am, I am what I am. I might not have known what I was but I always knew what I wasn’t.  I remember one particular afternoon, coming back from my lunch break, now in my newly purchased used canary yellow TR7 that unbeknownst to me had cracked cylinder heads and was already showing signs of major distress after only two weeks.  I sat silently in that car as it bumped and rattled, unable to turn off, painfully acknowledging that I could no longer live this particular life. I couldn’t drive up to this building one more week to this job that I felt was pulling me into some unremarkable abyss.  I thought about the week before and all the weeks before that. The reason I got this car was because I allowed my boyfriend to total my Celica GT lift-back by slamming into a pole while we were all drunk in the passenger’s seats.  That was car wreck number 6 or 7 if I was counting. I was going to be 21, not 18. My nighttime shenanigans were becoming very worrisome to the sober adult me.  Unable to get replacement parts locally, that car became a permanent garage fixture and I was afraid of the same fate.

In the following days “Cherry Bomb” came on the radio as I was dropped off yet again to the gates of doom as I was now carless.  The music felt so alive blaring loudly from inside that vehicle. I didn’t want to step out knowing that life was stagnant on the other side of that door.  It suddenly occurred how late in the game it was for me. My boyfriend was speaking but I drifted off imagining being where Joan was, this magic place where a girl like me could play guitar and live a completely different type of life.  I left my body which I was prone to do. I was shaking my head and my hair starting flying around my face. I drank up every last ounce of that song. That moment unleashed some newfound freedom that I had felt rising up recently and caused it to erupt like an oil well.  I would leave town for LA to try to play in bands! That was it! I started making a real plan. I quit that job, I babysat for my sister and saved enough money for a ticket. I got my GED. I recruited a friend. We left about 3 months later.

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Andy in 1982: play it girl…

In hindsight I should have left about 3 years before I got on that plane to California if I wanted any chance to actually fly.  I wasted just enough time to pack on enough self doubt and guilt that it was very hard to get off the ground even with all the miles between me and the muck.  I drank when I was nervous and that was generally always. It doesn’t help matters to be drunk or timid but I could never decide which was worse. So I always erred on the inebriated side. Had I moved in 1979  I believe I may have become a real musician and possibly stuck to it to this day. I had the self discipline and desire but the few obstacles I ran into were enough to not only deter but stifle me entirely. Unlike all the determined strong folks you read about with all their dreams. It’s a shame too, because women artists were just about to pop, so the timing was right in the world for someone with limited talent like me to actually make it. That perhaps was my epiphany. I wanted to be Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen, Jeff Beck.  In other words, I wanted to be credible but was convinced early on that I didn’t have what it takes to become great.  And the alternative was becoming famous and mediocre. If I was anything I would be legitimate and authentic. Or nothing at all.

This is the bullshit I tell myself.  I had about 5 years of practicing the guitar before I left home.  I was getting better but it was already apparent I was not gifted.  After more lessons, being in working bands and a few #metoo stories later I just gave up.   

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Andy in 1985: it’s on…

But Joan Jett got me out of that office building and on that plane to California. That in and of itself was giant in my small world. Her voice, guitar, and  songs throughout the years got me into those band auditions. They put me in those record store jobs. Her chutzpah kept me in the mix of excitement, meeting songwriters and artists, mingling with creativity.  She got me to New York, where I always dreamed of living.

I have enough hangups to fill five tour buses but Joan continues to motivate and inspire me to push my mole ass further into the world each year and for that I’ll always be grateful.

Editors note : Everyone make sure to check out the new fist pumping/tear jerking Joan Jett documentary “Bad Reputation” asap: it’s awesome.

How you doin’ tonight Tallahassee ?!

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My brother plays in a cover band in Florida. I had questions. Lots of questions. 

A 4 piece whose arsenal features songs from the 60’s through now, my brother’s band covers the Florida coastline bar circuit literally and figuratively. This was a dream come true for me because my eternal cover band questions could finally be answered. Here we go !

Have you been surprised by the reaction to certain songs ?

We were playing “Heart-Shaped Box” at a smoky country bar…the smoke was so thick you could lean on it. Some bald hill-jack grabbed the mic from the lead singer and sang the song in a very spirited and angry way, probably reflecting  on mommy issues or something…the surprising part was he did not turn to face the cowboy hats bobbing into their Budweiser’s at the bar, nope, he sang directly into the face of our lead singer. It might have been a country bar but that is totally fucking punk rock (and a little obnoxious).

Have there been any big singalongs ?

People don’t sing along to our stuff thoroughly. Most people are faking the words and stop once you make eye contact…I think it’s fucking awesome anytime someone is feeling the music, who gives a shit if the words they sing are right? I certainly don’t…

Have you ever done themed sets ?

No themed sets in the true sense. Rhythm guitarist trying his hardest to play the wrong chord, bass player staring at the wall and forgets the song the band is playing at that moment or the drummer playing 150 beats a minute on a ballad…if these are themed than yes, we play themed sets all of the time.

Any funny stories about audience reactions (as a group or specific people) ?

A lesbian wedding party ended up at this biker bar we were playing at…the ladies were wearing overalls and tiaras and wanted us to play a song they could dance to but couldn’t recommend anything…our drummer says, “let’s play Tennessee Whiskey”. Let’s be very clear, I am not a fan of that song. We played it, everybody danced, the newlyweds had the most enormous cartoon smiles during that song, extreme happiness. It was fucking awesome!

What are some weird requests you’ve gotten ?

Sometimes a guitar nerd will play “stump  the chump” and request some obscure thing… we don’t do requests  unless we can “deliver the goods” properly…songs that we already know.

Do you find that the Floridian taste is a little behind the times ?

I wouldn’t define Floridians a certain way since so many people are transplants trying to escape from somewhere else…have you ever watched “America’s Most Wanted”? “The suspect is armed and dangerous, police think she/he/they are on the run to Florida”.
I am always amazed at the songs people know. 60 year olds singing along with Sublime, a housewife shouting out Godsmack lyrics or some young hipster kid in skinny jeans singing along with a Joe Walsh song. A good band will always watch the crowd but you don’t want to judge. I just appreciate that people are there and listening…Does that make sense?

Is it hard to play songs you don’t like ?

Initially yes. Sometimes my dislike grows even more after we play them routinely. There is something amazing about playing anything with a band once everybody is in the groove and there is flow. And when the audience, even if it’s only one person, feels it, then nobody should give a fuck about what I think. It’s just as much for them as it is for the band…even if it is a  song I hate.

Talk about what you loved when you were young…

I loved the Ramones as a kid. The music was raw, loud, unrefined, not complicated and made me feel great. Joan Jett gave me the same feeling…I was a nervous and frail kid, definitely not an “in your face” kind of guy. The music filled some of that gap mentally.

Ironically my musical motivation comes from songs that all of us agree on. Many times we play songs that I have never fully listened to until I had to learn them. Afterward I say “damn, I heard that song when I was a kid and hated it, what happened, that song is amazing”!

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Pop Art : Look What I Made You…

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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”. 

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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“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:

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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

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“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.

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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”

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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 …