Friday, September 24, 2004

I can't believe I gave my panties to a geek.

Seemingly like all [okay, maybe not the Amish] women of my generation [and Kevin Smith], I once had an unhealthily obsessive relationship with the movies of Illinois' own John Hughes. I saw myself in all the freaky female protagonists and longed for the day when my handsome, popular prince charming would lure me out of my black nail polish and tattered clothes and lead me to the promised land of open-mouthed kisses and makeup the color of things actually found in nature. And guess what, my pretties? That shit doesn't happen. The wiry geek with headgear doesn't get to fuck the prom queen. The dreamy wrestler never makes out with the bi-polar liar with dandruff. It's all a sham. And, despite all these inexplicably doe-eyed Gen Xers who in retrospect still give Hughes icon status, ultimately Hughes' little fantasies were no more significant to me than all millions of cheesy Cinderella stories out there today. Well, except for the fact that I know the dialogue of every Hughes flick by heart. (Seriously, Hollywood, I don't care about presidents' daughters and how tough it is for them to find romance, so just stop!)

But there's one thing about John Hughes movies I still appreciate: the music. That's not to say that all of the music he used was good, by any means, but at least it was different from the pop machine utilized in other movies of the era, most of which were stuffed full of Kenny Loggins, Carly Simon and Bob Seger. And, as connoisseurs of Hughes' soundtracks well know, he and his minions loved the covers.

Some Kind of Wonderful:
SKOW is, ostensibly, my lingering favorite of Hughes' films, if only because it's far more realistic for two outcast friends to eventually hook up when one's nonsensical dreams of dating the popular gal fail. And that "practice" kiss scene between Eric Stoltz and Mary Stuart Masterson still makes the 12-year-old inside me completely melt.

  • March Violets "Miss Amanda Jones" (Rolling Stones cover)
    Ah, the energy that's building when this song plays. Amanda is getting ready for her date with Keith, which she really has no desire to attend. She's flicking her hair around under her dryer and Keith's dad is riding him about college, which he no longer has the savings for because he spent all of his damned money trying to impress this dopey, spineless sycophant Lea Thompson expertly plays.

    I was not previously familiar with The March Violets when this movie came out, nor am I quite down with them now. The quick Internet research I performed a minute ago leads me to believe that many people consider them a goth band, but having only heard this cover, I have a difficult time believing that since this sounds only slightly darker than Katrina and the Waves' "Walking on Sunshine." But whatever. It is what it is.

  • Lick the Tins "Can't Help Falling in Love" (Elvis Presley cover)
    I think I have to credit this cover with introducing me to how distinctly different a cover can sound from its original and, thus, spurring me on to investigate other cover songs. This quirky, dancey little Celtic folk version of Elvis' ubiquitous ballad always made me picture Leprechauns dancing around a May pole on a glenn somewhere. Or maybe I was just having "Safety Dance"-video flashbacks.

    Ferris Bueller's Day Off:
    When I was in the 8th grade, I took a weekend painting class at the Art Institute of Chicago. One day, the instructor didn't show up and I wound up wandering around the museum (past some of the same paintings Ferris & Co. pondered in the film) trying to find my mom and my friends who'd come up with me that day. After doing the Museum thing, we headed off to do the shopping thing. But as we neared State Street, there was unexpectedly a mass of people milling about. It looked as if there were a parade, but nothing was moving. We asked a random passerby what was going on and, lo and behold, we were told, "They're shooting a new Matthew Broderick movie." Of course, we promptly joined the crowd and wound up spending the day as unpaid extras in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and at one point found ourselves toward the front of the faux float about a foot away from Broderick as he lip-synched "Twist and Shout" about a hundred times. Eventually, we wound up toward the back of the float, and, of course, are not seen at all in the movie, but it was a cool experience.

  • Dream Academy "Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get what I Want (Instrumental)" (Smiths cover)
    Hughes apparently really liked this song, as versions of it wound up in both of his 1986 films. The original was in Pretty in Pink, which Hughes wrote but didn't direct and this pretty instrumental cover was in the aforementioned Art Institute scene of FBDO and was pretty and perfect.

    Pretty in Pink:
    Yes, I related to Andie in PIP. Yes, I thought she should've gone with Duckie instead of Blaine. Yes, I liked this movie at the time. Yes, I still watch it from time to time when I catch it on cable.

    Now for the "but": But its message sucks. Sure, Andie doesn't change who she is to get Blaine to fall for her, but the coolest character in the damned movie, Iona [Annie Potts], has to become a fucking yuppie in order to find love. And what about Blaine is so appealing? Yeah, Andrew McCarthy's kinda cute in that dopey, dough-faced way, but the Blaine character in no way deserves Andie. In the version of this movie that exists in my mind, the movie doesn't end with Andie and Blaine kissing in the parking lot. It my version, it ends about a month later when they break up because they have absolutely nothing in common. Then Andie dates Duckie a while until he comes out of the closet. Then she goes away to college and has her heart broken a million more times by people she actually had real connections with. You know, like guys in bands.

    Yes, I'm bitter. No need to point this out to me, I already know.

    But, again, the chosen music was pretty good for the most part. Indeed, it introduced me to New Order and, therefore, Joy Division. Ditto Echo and the Bunnymen. So, there's merit there. (And others agree, as the PIP soundtrack has at least two cover tributes, see here and here.) I remember reading an interview with Hughes and Ringwald before the release of the movie in which they discussed how none of the music in the film was an afterthought. They also discussed Hughes' decision to use Ringwald's favorite band, The Rave-Ups, in the club scenes. Curiously, however, those tracks were not offered on the soundtrack, which always kinda pissed me off.

  • Danny Hutton Hitters "Wouldn't It Be Good?" (Nik Kershaw cover)
    This cover always seemed pointless to me. I was aware of the Nik Kershaw version only because, after seeing its video the first time on Friday Night Videos at my friend Sherie's house in Bloomington, Sherie promptly ridiculed me for never having heard it. I guess what's big in Southern Indiana isn't always what's big in major cities. Go figure. And, Sherie's ridicule aside, I didn't get what the big deal about it was. I found it to be mediocre pop snoozefest on par with John Waite's "Missing You," which I likewise hated despite its obviously ironic lyrics.

    Anyhow, this version isn't much more exciting than the original except, I guess, that it's performed by the band of a former Three Dog Night singer. If that's the sort of thing you find exciting.

    Next time: I'll post covers of some of the original songs from Hughes soundtracks.
  • Wednesday, September 22, 2004

    Get these hard times right on out of our minds.

    The track from the last entry should be working now. Sorry about the delay.

    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.
  • Saturday, September 18, 2004

    I don't have to dream alone.

    My latest horoscope via the awesome Free Will Astrology:

    Young rock bands often do cover tunes, copies of songs originally performed by well-known musicians they admire. Art teachers sometimes give their students the assignment of reproducing the great paintings of the old masters. To take maximum advantage of the current astrological influences, I suggest you use this strategy in your own unique way, Cancerian. Pick a hero, either dead or alive, either famous or unsung, whose approach to life you admire. Find out as much as you can about that person, and then engage in a flurry of imitation. Dress, talk, think, and dream like your hero. In every situation you're in, ask yourself what he or she would do. Have imaginary conversations, fantasize abundantly, and move through your days and nights as if you are that person.

    Today I choose Wendy O. Williams.

    I remember perusing my father's seemingly infinite record collection as a child and stumbling on not one but two Plasmatics albums. At the time, I'm not sure what perplexed me more: the fact that this band existed at all or the fact that, should this band actually exist as it appeared to, my father would own two of its albums. Then again, the late '70s and early '80s were heady times for my dad and his friends, whom he often entertained while I was supposed to be asleep in the back bedroom.

    Anyhow, a few years after finding the albums, I remember reading about Wendy O. Williams and crew and knew instantly that I felt then what I feel now about most seminal art-punk-metal outfits: I'm glad that bands like this exist, but I'm not particularly interested in listening to them.

    Still, getting arrested multiple times on obscenity charges and regularly attacking guitars with chainsaws while wearing nothing but black electrical tape over your nipples and leather bikini bottoms is pretty fucking badass.

    In the mid-1990s, I was hanging out with Syd Straw at an Iris DeMent show and she introduced me to the Plasmatics' bass player Richie Stotts, who was in Bloomington working on, I believe, a master's degree in geology at IU. I was drunk and probably said stupid things to him about my dad's record collection, but later that night I felt pretty fucking cool for having met the giant former blue-mohawked guy from the album covers.

    So, yeah, Wendy O. Williams was hardcore and today I feel fucking hardcore. But, luckily for everyone, I have no plans to head out sans shirt. Rather, I'll just keep my tape-obscured nipples at home and scream profanities at anyone who calls me and maybe set fire to all the laundry I don't want to do. And dye my hair. And drink a lot and get really high.

    Just remind me not to off myself when the adrenaline wears off.

  • The Plasmatics "Dream Lover" (Bobby Darin cover)
  • Tuesday, September 14, 2004

    Lumber up, limbo down.

  • Hole "Hungry Like the Wolf" (Duran Duran cover)
    You know, I was pulling for our, uh, fair Courtney for a long time. You have to admit that for a few years there she was pretty bad-ass. When Hole was on MTV's Unplugged, from whence this track comes, back in the late 1990s, I really thought she was going to get her shit together. Still, I thought it would've been nice had she taken the time to actually learn the lyrics of this ubiquitous DD tune before performing it. I guess I'll never understand that punk/grunge/insert-whatever's-cool-now penchant for covering songs you don't really know and whose lyrics you can't be bothered to investigate.

  • Melissa Auf der Maur "Love Is the Drug" (Roxy Music cover)
    This live cover of ex-Hole (heh) Melissa Auf der Mar is significantly more worthwhile than Courtney's mutilation of Duran Duran. And that she's covering a band that influenced Duran Duran rather than covering Duran Duran itself increases her indie cred tenfold.
  • Tuesday, September 07, 2004

    The problem is, for many years, I've lived my life publicly.

  • Telly Savalas "If" (Bread cover)
    A holdover from last week's brief soft-rock fixation, this track comes straight from the William Shatner School of Spoken Covers. When I was a little kid, my grandmother watched a lot of Kojak, and I must admit his rumored sex appeal was lost on me. But I was only about 3, and I liked the idea of lollipops so it was all good. Now, thanks to the barrage of forced nostalgia that VH1 is consistently shoveling down our throats ad infinitum, I have to admit that, thanks to a few choice Kojak clips, for a while there I was starting to get it. Unconventionally handsome, tough, virile, bald? Lust seems a reasonable reaction to that to me at 32. Then I heard this.

  • Jamelia "Numb" (Linkin Park cover)
    Nu metal, when in ballad form, is the new soft rock. Whiny geeks lamenting the fact that their girlfriends are smothering them? Cue the damned violins, my heart is soooo breaking for them. New run-of-the-mill dance/R&B chanteuse Jamelia's piano-heavy version is surprisingly pretty good. I think. What I can say for sure is that it makes me laugh a lot less than the original does.

  • Cat Power "Deep Inside" (Mary J. Blige cover)
    Cat Power sings pretty songs, covers or no. This Peel Session cut of one of my favorite MJB tracks rules.