A brush with greatness

Yesterday, I was reminded of this incident from way back in my college days. I think this happened in 1987.

It was late on a Friday night and I was walking around the student activity center.  I was taking a break from studying, or maybe I was on my way out for the night, I don’t recall.  I walked down a corridor and something caught my eye.  There was some activity in a meeting room that looked out of the ordinary.  The door had a glass window at the top,  so as I walked by I saw a group of people in the room milling about who didn’t quite look like students.  There were maybe a dozen or so in the room.  Most were talking in groups of two or three.  There was one person who stood out among the others.  He was wearing a leather jacket, sitting at a table, smoking a cigarette, drinking what looked like beer from a glass, looking both oddly frail and menacing at the same time.  Who is that guy, he looks vaguely familiar.  The “Student Activity Center” was really an enormous study hall, there was no smoking allowed in the building, and drinking was obviously banned too.  So maybe it was him raising the glass that caught my eye at first, or maybe it was his smoking, since either one would have been very noticeable.

During my college years, I spent a lot of time listening to a nightly program on a college radio station. “No Commercial Potential” was the name of the program.  As the title suggests, anything unusual was played, especially current experimental, electronic, or punk rock music.  If anything sounded good to me, I would take a bus, then a train, to go to the one store in the Boston area that sold records by these no commercial potential artists.  I would also sometimes purchase music magazines imported from the UK, such as NME, or Melody Maker, to find out more about the artists that were played on the college radio station.

It soon struck me who the man at the table was, I was sure that I had seen his picture in one of the magazines. Was it Mark E. Smith from The Fall?  Were The Fall playing at the theater in the student center?  I had not heard about that, this was exciting news.

‘Hey!  Mark!  Hey!!!  I shouted from my side of the door, probably looking like a mental patient.

“Hey, it’s The Fall! Are you playing here tonight?!”  I shouted again.  By this point I was most likely jumping up and down a bit too, looking increasingly like a deranged person by this point.

Mark narrowed his eyes at me, called over another guy in the room and pointed to me. The second guy approached the door, opened it up.

Wow, I thought, maybe they’re going to let me into the show?  Or maybe meet the band?

He quickly slid through the door, and said…

“Mark wants you to FUCK OFF!!”

“Oh, Ok, sorry”  I said.

OK, I guess that proves it. The Fall are playing here tonight. I slunk away. I’m being a little sarcastic in the title of the post as I had read a little about how Smith sometimes reacted with fans,this was not really out of character, it may have even been a bit subdued for him.

I went downstairs to the theater that was in the student center, which did indeed list ‘The Fall” as being on the schedule for that evening.  I purchased a ticket and went inside.

‘Theater’ is a generous term, it was more like a large meeting room. It was an area that was also used as overflow for the cafeteria.  It was a sparse crowd. Not surprising since Mark Smith and The Fall never really made much of an impact on the radio here in the US.  His lyrics are cryptic, meandering, sometimes political, and more spoken than sung.  And for a few years I absolutely loved everything they released. There were plenty of other bands and performers who I liked more, and The Fall were often just too abrasive for long term listening, but in my quest to find the unique sounds of the time, they were one of the leaders.

The band appeared on stage first.  Look there’s that guy who yelled at me, playing guitar! Mark Smith came on stage and for the entire concert he sang while holding a cigarette in one hand and glass of beer in the other.  He did keep a stool nearby where he would place the beer now and then, to give his arms  a rest I suppose, or to pour more into the glass.  He never faced the audience, standing somewhat to the side of the drummer, his back to the crowd, but oddly enough he was a very charismatic performer.  You just couldn’t help but watch him.  He didn’t sing in the traditional sense so much as snarl.  Spitting out the words not with the rage common among punk rock singers but with a detachment, as if to say ‘This is the way it is, you can’t do anything about it.’   What was he saying? What is he going to say next?  Would he leave the stage early for some unknown reason?    The Fall and Mark Smith performed a full concert that night, which may have been unusual.

I had not listened to The Fall in years when I heard that Mark Smith had died on January 24, he was just 60.   He was a unique artist.  I’m not sure who I would compare him to.  Lou Reed? Tom Waits? Captain Beefheart?  No, there wasn’t anyone else like him.

Here’s a link to a better tribute than I could ever write by someone who followed the band from beginning, sometime around 1976, to end.  Mark Smith was performing up to the end too, having recently performed from a wheelchair with his arm in a sling.

Daddy’s Crazy Music

I still have some old vinyl records, and among the vintage new wave hits of the 80’s in my collection, there are a number of works that I suppose could be called ‘experimental’. Mr. C just calls them ‘Daddy’s Crazy Music’.  Examples include works by This Heat, Steve Reich, Brian Eno, Dead C, Bailter Space, Godspeed You Black Emperor, and Gilbert & Lewis.  Some of this is ambient and some might just be called noise. As a Classical music fan, Ms. J does not prefer to hear any of this either. 

Here’s an example from Bruce Gilbert and Graham Lewis.  ‘Barge Calm’ from their 1980 LP, ‘3R4’.  

If you do go ahead and listen to it, you can stop after a minute or so, it just continues like this….for another 17 minutes. 

Here’s the LP.  (I can’t believe it’s been 37 years since I bought this!)

Since I work from home, and I know this sort of music is not for everyone, if I do want to listen to any of it I will dig out one of these old LP’s during the day. When C is at school and J at work. 

This has worked fine until we got our dog Scout.  Something like ‘Barge Calm’ will make him howl. Hoooowwwwwwllllll ….owwwwwww!  Owwww….Howwwwwwlllll!  This continues until I take the music off. 

Not an avant-garde music fan. 

Looks like I will have to resort to listening to this in the car.  Yes, I do own two copies of this, the other one being a compact disc. 

Those are some giant CDs, Dada!

When I was about seven years old, my Hippie Cousin, much older than me, would play me his weird hippie music from the late 60’s.  Hippie Cousin would play me his Beatles records most often, since I probably liked them the most at the time. They’re a good choice for kids, on most of their songs they sing clearly and their songs are easy to understand and remember.  He would also try to get me to listen to the more experimental sounds of Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, Caravan, and King Crimson.  All of those other bands just confused me when I was seven, just too weird for me at the time.

I have had an old record player in the basement for more than fifteen years, it’s probably not a good idea to store it down there since it can get damp and mildewy, and I thought it would be fun to show Mr. C some of my old records so I set it up recently.   I pulled out my boxes of records from a closet and played him some of the new wave hits of the 80’s that I still have on vinyl.  ‘Wow, those are huge CDs!” he said, when he saw 33-1/3 LP records for the first time.

It seems as though Mr. C is interested in making a transition from the music of Raffi and other children’s music artists, so I’ve been looking for things that he can listen to from my collection and I’m having the same problem that Hippie Cousin had.  Even though most of his records befuddled seven year old me, at least Hippie Cousin had Beatles records though. I don’t have anything by The Beatles, and I quickly realized that  I don’t really have much music that interests a seven year old.

My old records tend to be recordings by either angry political ranters, like The Clash or The Jam, “What’s he talking about, Dada?!”


Or songs that are too menacing or existential, like Magazine….

“This guy is just weird, Dada”


Maybe something more recent?    Will Oldham, maybe?   His songs are easy to understand, I thought.  No, this is not a good choice for Mr. C.  This could be the saddest song ever written.


How about something older?     Van Morrison comes close, Mr. C does like his “Caravan”, and “Woodstock”, but he mumbles a lot, so C just says ‘blah,blah,blah’ when he tries to sing along during the typical Morrison mumbling scat singing parts.  He does like the   “La, la, la, la,…La,la, LAAAAAH!” section of “Caravan”.

In between Will Oldham and Van Morrison I have Califone.  Much as I love this band, it won’t work for Mr. C, this guy mumbles even more than Van Morrison does.


Ah ha, here’s something, I thought.  In my desperation to find something of interest, I pulled out an old record that I had not played in many years.  However, I forgot that it is the number 1 ear worm song of all time.

Of course, now it is Mr. C’s favorite song and we listen to it ten times a day.  All hours of the day and night this song goes through my head now.   Make it stop, make it stop!!!     I shouldn’t complain, I did buy it when it came out.

Maybe I should buy a Beatles record.










In case anyone was ever wondering what it is like to need an emergency root canal, imagine a very large drill, like the one below, drilling into your jaw day and night, resulting in the worst headache imaginable.


I tend to get songs stuck in my head, so for days this song was the soundtrack of the pounding in my head;  “Headache” by Frank Black.  A friend of mine once told me that I look a bit like Mr. Black, I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not!


Thankfully, after not having dental insurance for a few years, early last year I ordered new dental insurance and I dragged myself to the dentist.  So I at least had an established relationship with a local dentist and insurance that will pay for at least part of the cost of the root canal.

If I had waited any longer, apparently I would have needed surgery on my jaw, but luckily I fixed the issue early enough that there is no permanent damage, besides the damage to my bank account.  So now I have this song stuck in my head, “The Skin of my Yellow Country Teeth” by Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.


Lunch Money

It’s not too often that you can hear children’s music anywhere on the radio, but thanks to Pandora, an internet radio service, we’re able to hear a lot of children’s music that we otherwise would hear at all.  One of our favorites is this band out of South Carolina; Lunch Money.

What makes them unusual is that most of their songs are stories told from the perspective of a kid.  After hearing yet another heartfelt rendition of ‘You Are My Shine’, it’s nice to hear something different.   They do a good job of pointing out some of the things that most kids like to do, things that I have almost completely forgotten about such as in the song with the video above; “I Want to Push Buttons”.   It certainly helps that their lyrics are always filled with wit and humor, with such lines as:

“The accordion is a one man band, thanks to all those buttons.

I know your phone is fancy pants, but it doesn’t have any buttons

I want to push buttons, but not the ones that make you mad a me!”

Unfortunately, they don’t seem to have very many videos posted, here’s another one for their song “I Want a Cookie as Big as My Head”, which seems to have been taken by someone in the crowd.

It’s a song about wanting a cookie, but not just any cookie… a cookie as big as your head.


St Paul and The Broken Bones

“Stop singing Dada!   You should only sing when I’m at school. ”

See that picture of me, the chubby guy over there on the right, or the tiny one below if you’re using a smartphone?  I don’t miss very many meals.


As an increasingly widening guy, and a music fan, I appreciate how this guy from St. Paul and The Broken Bones is nowhere near to being the typical good looking and polished pop music star.  If I start practicing more,  maybe I can get on Letterman too!


A 30 Year Christmas Tradition

In the last post I wrote about Hess holiday trucks, another tradition I look forward to is the annual appearance of Darlene Love on David Letterman’s Late Show to sing ‘Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)’. She’s been appearing on the show every year for the past 30 years, starting in 1986. It’s funny to think that the song was just a little over 20 years old in ’86. At the time, 20 years seemed like a long time to me, but now it doesn’t seem so long ago since a large percentage of my music collection is more than 20 years old!

The presentation has gotten increasingly more elaborate over the years, but it’s the song that matters more than all the added extras. This could be the last year of this tradition though, as Letterman is retiring at the end of the year. Maybe his replacement, Stephen Colbert will continue this tradition, but maybe he’ll have something new to start a new tradition.

Here’s the first time she was on the show, and further below is her appearance from last year. The same guys are still in the Letterman band 25 years later!

Here’s 1986



Here’s 2013