Monday, September 20, 2004

In a blizzard he was lost.

  • Langley Schools Music Project "Wildfire" (Michael Martin Murphey cover)

    I know, I know. Everyone and their brother posts Langley Schools tracks. But A) the Langley covers are pure pop wonders and B) I was recently reminded of my favorite (read: only) "Wildfire"-related story, with which I will now bore regale you:

    About seven or so years ago, I was working as a lead clerk in a Borders music department. Um, yeah. So my Christian-rock co-worker Gretchen started a monthly open mike event and kept begging me to attend. Hesitant to perform any songs I had written in front of other human people, I kept "accidentally" forgetting. Eventually, I went just to watch.

    Now, the store at which I worked was (and possibly still is) the largest store in the chain and it had some deal with a local halfway house from which it hired people for the "Operations" staff (read: janitors). These folk were, for the most part, former alcholics/drug addicts and most were quite tolerable. Then there was Joe Star.

    Man, Joe was the bane of my existence for years at that place. He was simple-minded and right-wing (well, he would have been right-wing had he known much about politics) and always said really inappropriate things that would've gotten anyone else fired, but since he was, uh, special, the higher-ups always seemed to look the other way.* But, seriously, he was often overheard in the breakroom commenting on a female employees' breasts, ranting about "faggots," talking about how he wanted all cops dead, etc. I often made a game of listening to his rant and then telling him something like "um, my dad's a cop" just to watch him backtrack and apologize. (My dad is not a cop.)

    Another thing Joe talked a lot about was music. He was really into people like Aliotta, Haynes & Jeremiah and the like. He'd often interrupt me while I was helping actual customers by shouting things like "hey, hey, Liza ... have you heard anything about this Kenny Loggins album?" and I'd respond exasperatedly with something along the lines of "um, no, Joe ... not in the past 20 years anyhow." [As you probably know, most music retailers make you sign a contract to be a total snot to practically everyone.] Joe once told me he aspired to and was successful at buying himself a new piece of musical equipment every time he got a paycheck. I was forever wondering how his one-room, dorm-style apartment (he described it, I never saw it for myself, of course) was able to fit all the guitars, amps and keyboards he supposedly had.

    So, fast forward to the open mike. I finally decided to attend when Joe, tan as ever and wearing his trademarked tapered-at-the ankle jeans with his super-shiny dyed jet-black hair, approached me in the breakroom and told me he'd be singing there. This I had to see.

    The open mike progressed as most do ... uncomfortably. Gretchen sang some God songs, a few other people played, and then it was Joe's turn. And, oh my God, was an irony-lover's dream come true!

    I noticed as Joe approached the mike, he did not have an instrument. My pulse raced and my thoughts quickened: "Holy shit. Is Joe going to sing acappella? Fuck. Somebody hold my hand, or I'm going to explode with laughter."

    But that was nothing compared with what really happened. Joe stands before the mike, backpack in hand. From said pack, he produces a fucking Walkman. He places the earphones of said fucking Walkman over his sparkling black mane and presses play. Yes, my friends, Joe Star proceeded to belt out "Wildfire" along with his tape deck, despite the fact that none of us in the audience could hear the music.

    It was unadulterated outsider-art brilliance!!! My favorite part was that, during the non-vocal parts of the song, he stood staring out at the audience completely expressionless.

    I swear, it was so funny I almost came. I managed to hold in my ecstatic laughter by clenching my hand hard into Gretchen's thigh. But it was difficult.

    And even though I went on to continue despising almost everything about Joe Star—especially the strange cosmic joke that has him currently living somewhere in my neighborhood area so I see him ALL the time and he ALWAYS feels the need to try to talk to me—"Wildfire" has been special to me ever since. I really wish video camera cell phones existed back then. (And, of course, that I'd have had one on me at the time.)

    I swear, if I were a performance artist that's the kind of shit I'd do all the time.

    *Actually, he was eventually fired for some inappropriate comment he made to a customer, I think, but it took years.
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