May 4th, 2006

Heavy Rotation

Here are some of the things on my mind these days:
• The Fall
• pollen
• Seattle
• steak
• Dennis Hopper
• the state of exception
• interior passing
• Alain Badiou
• the first person singular
Das Boot
• shoulders
• boom microphones
• The Dramatics
• Northern Virgina
• relative humidity
• interstices
• peach
• Flight 93
• hormones
• Thom Gunn
• marks on the floor
• rattlesnakes
• Dada
• those huge aviator glasses all the college girls wear
• heat
• Barry Bonds
• disinterest
• English muffins
• hugging
• ideas for offensive bumper stickers
• muscle cars
• Bean
It's not an exhaustive list, to be sure, but I'm happy with the way it represents the desiccated wash of my consciousness.

You Can't Dream Unless You're Dormant

Sunday evening in Seattle I watched a member of my party sing "I Want You To Want Me" in a Capitol Hill karaoke bar frequented primarily by a mixed-race gay crowd. Because I'd been reading about Cheap Trick in The Stranger -- they were in town -- it seemed fitting. Even though it had always been one of my least favorite songs by the band, I came to see it in a new light that night. There's something compelling about the naked expression of a need for reciprocity.

Then, upon returning to Tucson, I was reminded that Cheap Trick was going to be playing here as well. Tonight, to be specific. I was surfing the radio for a good song this afternoon and came across an interview. At first I couldn't tell who it was. But then I realized that it must be Rick Nielsen from Cheap Trick. He's pretty sharp still. When the interview was over, they launched the next music set with "Dream Police."

It had been a long time since I'd heard that one. Back in the day, it was the Cheap Trick song I liked best. Part of that had to do with the fact that I wasn't really listening to much popular music in 1978 -- we were still living in rural Pennsylvania -- but had become an American Top-40 devotee by the summer of 1979 -- we'd just moved to suburban Maryland -- and indiscriminately collected 45s regardless of genre, provided that they struck my fancy.

Hearing the song on the radio today made me nostalgic for my vinyl days, which are concealed besides several barriers in my mind.

I decided that I wanted a CD player shortly after they appeared on the market. Even though my passion for popular music was at ebb tide back then -- somewhere between "Another One Bites the Dust" and "Beat It" -- I was learning a lot about opera and reading audiophile magazines in which the digital vs. analog debate raged endlessly. When the Police album Synchronicity came out in 1983, I was chagrined to discover that it had an extra track -- "Murder By Numbers" -- and realized that vinyl was going to have other limitations besides hiss and crackle.

As it turned out, I didn't get my first CD player until 1986. I received a high-end Sony boombox as a high-school graduation present, together with four CDs: Prince, Under a Cherry Moon; a greatest hits collection of the Glen Miller orchestra; Sir Georg Solti conducting Dvorak's New World Symphony with his regular charges; and Jackson Browne, Lives in the Balance. Rather shockingly, I only have two of those CDs left in my collection. In a time of freshman-year penury, I traded the Glen Miller and Jackson Browne in at Rasputin's, an impulsive move I've regretted ever since, not because I missed those records that much -- I haven't bothered to replace them -- but because they were part of that initial 4-CD library.

With the exception of those two CDs, a few others I traded in, and a number that were pilfered from me -- most notably by "Smokey," the African-American woman whom my freshman-year flatmate periodically invited into our place and who, despite her general kindness, grabbed whatever she could in order to support her crack habit -- my CD collection is a functional archive. I still listen to that Prince album from time to time and, despite Steve Albini's fears, it sounds the same as ever. Other early entries in my collection, such as the first Violent Femmes album, REM's Lifes Rich Paegant, The Cure's Inbetween Days and U2's The Joshua Tree remain in regular rotation. And they sound fine too. Indeed, I have to remind myself that they are almost two decades old.

With my 45s, though, it's a different story. I've finally managed to bring them all out West to be with me. But I don't even have a turntable these days. I haven't had access to one since we left California. So, whereas my CDs remain what I will call, for want of a better term, "musically active," my 45s -- not to mention my LPs -- are dormant. Although I can hold them in my hand, I can't hear them. I can only hear the songs they carry.

Maybe that's why I feel a special surge of longing when I do hear one of them on the radio or in a movie. Tonight Skylar was watching Shrek 2. When Shrek and Fiona leave for her parents' castle, their friends stay behind to party. "Le Freak" comes on as our protagonists ride away. I have the original 45 for that one. And for "Dream Police" too, obviously. In the case of the latter, though, the opportunities to hear it are far more limited. So I paid close attention this afternoon.

The song is repetitive, just like "I Want You To Want Me." I'd like more variation, both lyrically and musically. But it has meaty hooks and a bridge that sounds all the better for coming relatively late in the song. And the best moments rival the carefree complexity of the New Pornographers. I'd never thought to make that particular connection, even though I've always thought of Carl Newman & Co. as a band that hearkens back first and foremost to the post-disco pop of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Maybe I'm finally grasping the reasons why Cheap Trick has been relatively unscathed by the scorn of critics. Although I wouldn't have been going to tonight's concert at the casino even if my partner were well, I'm looking forward to living vicariously through _luaineach's concert report. I hope she's having fun.
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