I was thinking about a party my parents had when I was a tiny, tiny person, in the house we lived in until I was seventeen.
The second house I have any memories of was in a neighborhood called Florida Gardens. It was five bedrooms and two bathrooms on a quarter-acre of land, and Zillow says it was constructed in 1973. The house was built at roughly the same time as I was!
This is the house as it appears on Google Maps. Our landscaping is all gone now, and the driveway is in worse shape than when we lived there. The house on the left is, hilariously, the house we lived in before this one- I still remember carrying my own toybox between the houses when we moved, even though I don’t think I had a room yet when I carried it over.
I lived in that house through all of middle school and most of high school. It started out as a three-bedroom, but the garage was sealed off and converted into two more bedrooms at some point before we moved in. My parents took the master bedroom, which was on the far side of the dining room. My room was in the back-right corner, with my elder brother’s room right next to mine. The garage-converted bedrooms were given to my other brother and my sister. They had a shared door between their rooms, which gave them plenty of opportunities to be co-conspirators when they were supposed to be otherwise engaged. I remember wandering into my middle brother’s room often to listen to his 45 records. After my sister went off to college, some of her room became a miniature office, and my brother ran a BBS from a computer sitting in that room.
I remember when our grandmother came to visit from New Jersey in 1979. We had HBO and I was watching The Black Hole in the living room when she arrived. She would stay on the second bed in my sister’s room, and in the morning she would make us Farina. I still have a fondness for Farina, despite how bland and grits-like it is.
I digress, however- I was talking about the party. I must have been seven or eight years old- old enough to know I wasn’t allowed into the party, but also old enough to want to be involved. The Formica bar on the back porch was in use for drinks, and there was music on the eight-track player in the living room. I do not remember any of the people my parents invited- I just remember there were other adults there, and my tiny little brain wanted to see all the unfamiliar people.
I’m not sure what made me think about this house party from another time, and I’m not sure that this post even has a point, other than to distract myself from all the weirdness happening in the world right now. It’s nice anyway to think about some interesting memories from back when I was a tiny, tiny person. Like this:
Do you have any fond or interesting memories from your childhood home?
For a while now, I’ve been seeing a meme popping up on BookFace and other social media:
List 10 albums that made a lasting impression on you as a TEENAGER, but only one per band/artist.
This came up in a conversation the other day, and I spiraled out, because that’s what my brain does when I start thinking about music. I spent several hours compiling (and repeatedly revising) my own list of albums.
These aren’t all necessarily from my teen years though- I chose to go a slightly different direction, listing albums that were very influential to me throughout my formative years. Each of the titles listed was important to me for different reasons during the parts of my life where I was learning who I am. The oldest album on the list was released when I was two years old, although I didn’t hear it until I was a teenager. The newest release on the list came out in 1999, roughly a month after I finished off my bachelor’s degree. Here they are in release order:
Alice Cooper – Welcome To My Nightmare (released March 11, 1975) – By the time I finally heard this album for the first time, I had already graduated high school. This album marked the first time I’d ever heard a song with my name as the title.
That song, “Steven,” is part of a trio of songs that tell a story end to end, in a really fascinating way. I’m also a big fan of Vincent Price’s cameo in the song- to borrow a line from Dana Gould, “he’s my favorite everything!“
Styx – Kilroy Was Here (released February 22, 1983) – In 1983, “Mr. Roboto” was all over the radio, and the sound of it had a sci-fi aesthetic that absolutely appealed to ten-year-old me. This album was released three months before Return of the Jedi hit theaters for the first time, and I was incredibly jazzed for both.
Kilroy Was Here was the first time I had ever really been aware of an entire album having a single story to tell. You never forget your first concept album. The different members of the band play specific characters in the story, and I just thought that was amazing.
I also have a favorite “my brother did that” story about this song- I had been using my little tape recorder, pulling it to the television or the radio to collect the songs that I liked- a precursor to the mix tapes I made later on. One night while my family was gathered together for dinner, I held my trusty tape recorder up to the television while they played the video to Mr. Roboto on “Solid Gold.” About two-thirds of the way into the video, my brother exclaimed, “I finally understand this song.” This was the only version of Mr. Roboto I had on tape for years to come.
Depeche Mode – Some Great Reward (released September 24, 1984) – While my favorite Depeche Mode album is actually 1990’s Violator, Some Great Reward was my first DM title, and my first exposure to an entire genre of music.
It was in a classroom- I don’t even remember which one now. I don’t remember the name of the guy who first let me hear Depeche Mode on his walkman, but I still remember his spiked up black hair and his so-shiny patent leather boots. He was the first of many, many, many friends who listened to goth, industrial, synthpop, post-punk, and electronic music. He had tapes for his Walkman tape deck with Depeche Mode, The Cure, The The, and a few others. (Side note: Try searching for “The The” in most search engines. Without qualifying words like song titles, it’s an exercise in frustration.) He let me listen to a few songs from this album and I was hooked- and Depeche Mode went into my mental playlist forevermore.
Weird Al Yankovic – Dare To Be Stupid (released June 18, 1985) – Needless to say, I was already a Weird Al fan when Dare To Be Stupid dropped into stores. Ironically, it was Al’s originals that brought me to his fandom, not his parodies.
I spent my middle school days waiting in the lunch line with Brian and Phil, singing all the songs from “In 3-D,” especially Midnight Star and Nature Trail To Hell. When I got my copy of Dare To Be Stupid, I immediately gravitated to Slime Creatures From Outer Space, This Is The Life, One More Minute, and of course Yoda. To this day, Dare To Be Stupid is a regular feature during my karaoke nights, and I’ve seen Weird Al live several times. The most recent live Weird Al show I attended was just last summer, thirty-five years after the first time I heard one of his amazing polka medleys.
Information Society – Information Society (released June 21, 1988) – When InSoc dropped their self-titled album, I was regularly attending parent-mandated group therapy, and I listened to this tape over and over again while driving to and from the doctor’s office where my therapy was held.
I practically wore out the tape- I already knew that I loved electronic music, and the theatricality of Kurt Harland, Jim Cassidy, and Paul Robb immediately caught my attention.
It took almost another three decades before I was finally able to see them live- partly because the band broke up after the third album. I purchased every one of their albums, including 1997’s “Don’t Be Afraid,” which was released by Kurt Harland without the rest of the group.
The band members went on to do their own things for a while: Harland writes music and does audio engineering for video games, Cassidy is faculty at Oregon State University, and Robb continued to make music without the Information Society name. They reformed the band in 2006, and I was finally able to catch them live a few years later. I’ve seen them three times now, twice by flying to a show in another state, and it’s a great show every time.
Cyndi Lauper – A Night To Remember (released May 9, 1989) – While “She’s So Unusual” is more widely known (and has bigger sales numbers), A Night To Remember is the album that locked me in as a Cyndi Lauper fan.
This album was originally supposed to include “Hole In My Heart (That Goes All The Way To China)” from the movie soundtrack of Vibes, but when the movie didn’t do well they reworked it. Several of my favorite Cyndi Lauper songs were hilariously never on any of her albums.
In any case, the summer of 1989 was the summer before my senior year of high school, and the music on A Night To Remember spoke to my nascent longing and romanticism in ways that no other music had before. Plus the drums in “I Drove All Night” really slap.
Prince – Batman (released June 20, 1989) – The summer of 1989 saw the release of the first Michael Keaton Batman movie. I had a job that summer as a dishwasher in a Wag’s Restaurant- they no longer exist, and the location where I worked in the River Bridge shopping center in Lake Worth is an IHOP these days.
That summer, I had a Walkman and a bag full of cassette tapes. I would spend time with my high-pressure water spray, and Prince. Or Paula Abdul. Or Cyndi, from the last album I mentioned. Or even Milli Vanilli, before they were discredited.
I’ve been a fan of Prince ever since the first time I heard his music, but when he did the soundtrack to a comic book movie, two of my favorite things in the world commingled. This album is also the source of a joke that I listened to hundreds of times before finally getting it one random afternoon just a few years ago. Yes, it took me nearly thirty years to grok the punchline of this joke. And no I’m not going to tell you which joke.
Erasure – Chorus (released October 14, 1991) – I’ve seen Erasure in concert several times, and while my favorite Erasure tour was absolutely the amazing Nightbird tour around 2005, that wasn’t my favorite album from Andy Bell and Vince Clarke. That honor belongs to Chorus.
This album just saw a thirtieth anniversary release, not in the United States of course, with remasters of the original ten songs, a second disc of remixes, and a third disc containing the entire album performed live in Manchester from 1992. Of course I lapped up the entire thing- Chorus was the soundtrack to my 1992, end to end. The number of memories I have pertaining to people and places around this album cannot be counted. To this day, “Am I Right” is a song that I hum to myself whenever it rains. (Unless I’m singing that other song about rain, that is.)
Toys – Music from the Motion Picture Soundtrack (released December 15, 1992) – I don’t get to talk about it much these days, but my first job ever was at a movie theater. Over the years, I’ve worked at five different movie theaters, and in 1992 I was working in a theater that played Toys.
This brilliant Robin Williams movie contained a fantastic cast. (To this day, some of my electronics are named after Joan Cusack’s character.) The soundtrack includes some of the most original and creative music I’ve ever heard, including a few tracks that I go back to over and over again throughout the years. I’m especially fond of “The Closing of the Year,” featuring Wendy and Lisa (who are themselves better known for being part of Prince’s band The Revolution.) I tend to spin up that song on New Year’s Eve, in a sort of personal musical tradition.
I’ve found that a well-curated movie soundtrack can be a thing of beauty and wonder, and this is one of my favorites. (See also: Cool World, The Crow, Mortal Kombat — amazing soundtracks, all.)
VNV Nation – Empires (released in 1999 in Europe, and May 16, 2000 in the US) – While I was a University of Central Florida student in Orlando, there was a stretch of time where I was going out dancing five nights a week. I had a tremendous rotation of clubs that simply is not possible in the city now.
The amazing Embassy Music Hall is a fricking Wal-Mart Grocery now. I can’t remember precisely where Club Zen was, but I think it’s currently called the “Tequila Lounge Club.” Cairo was downtown but it’s not there anymore. The Blue Room? That’s gone too. The only one of the original clubs from that time still standing is Barbarella, which was renamed the Independent Bar and now only has the kind of music I want to dance to once a month, stupidly always on a Monday.
In late 1999, I had just completed my degree, and I was forced to move back to South Florida even though I didn’t want to leave Orlando. VNV Nation was already well played in the kinds of clubs I went to, but when this album dropped, their music was suddenly everywhere. It was the first album in quite a while that I could listen to end-to-end without feeling the urge to skip to something else. For a span of several years in the early 2000s, this type of music- EBM and synthpop- was my most listened to genre. At a time where I was sort of adrift, many of these songs soothed me in a way that I could never really articulate. Even today, when the mood is just-so, this is the kind of music I seek out.
I realized while I was writing this post that with the exception of the soundtrack to Toys, I’ve seen the artists of the other nine albums live. All of them. Most of them I’ve seen more than once. I find that kind of remarkable, but also not very surprising.
Also, I came up with a smaller list during the making of the list above which contains five much more recent albums that I enjoy enough to listen to end-to-end. Just for giggles, here’s those five with absolutely zero additional commentary:
1. Muse – The Resistance (2009) 2. Taylor Swift – 1989 (2014) 3. Peter Cincotti – Metropolis (2012) 4. The Greatest Showman (2017) 5. Alice Merton – Mint (2019)
I listed ten of my most influential albums in this post. Now tell me one of yours!
Given how terrible the news has been lately, I thought it would be fun to circle back to my favorite tech news story of all time.
(04/09/01, 4:28 p.m. ET) – The University of North Carolina has finally found a network server that, although missing for four years, hasn’t missed a packet in all that time. Try as they might, university administrators couldn’t find the server. Working with Novell Inc., IT workers tracked it down by meticulously following cable until they literally ran into a wall. The server had been mistakenly sealed behind drywall by maintenance workers.
Just like many of my other favorites, however, the story has not aged well. When I poked around the Internet to see if I could find more details for this post, I learned that the original news item is simply not true. Judson Knott, director of Academic Computing Systems at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill at the time, disavowed the story almost immediately:
“I believe that this is what is commonly known as an urban legend. If it were a true story and Server 54 belonged to my organization, I would identify and fire the system administrator responsible for losing a server for four years. We run a first-class IT operation here in Chapel Hill and it is embarrassing to be associated with this kind of story.”
I love the whimsy of the original story, and I want to believe it really happened to someone somewhere, even though it almost certainly didn’t. This whole exercise makes me wonder what other things I’ve “known” for years and years that are in reality simply urban legends or half-truths.
What things did you learn were incorrect after years of believing otherwise?
Last April, I was in Chicago for a few days and I had a chance to swing by one of the holy places of music: Chess Records.
To be more accurate, I visited Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven Foundation, which is dedicated to the preservation of the history of blues music. The Blues Heaven foundation lives in the former site of Chess Records.
Chess Records was founded in 1950, and was located initially at several different locations. The main offices moved to 2120 S. Michigan Ave around 1957, staying there until 1965. Chess Records is where Chuck Berry recorded Johnny B. Goode. Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Memphis Slim, and some other lesser-known acts like the Rolling Stones recorded there.
There is still a functioning studio in the building- Chess Studios continued beyond Chess Records, and the Rolling Stones and other bands also recorded here. Marie Dixon, Willie’s widow, purchased the building in 1993 and reopened it a few years later as the Blues Heaven Foundation. The Blues Heaven Foundation does four tours a day from Tuesday to Saturday. The tours are inexpensive and well worth a look. While you wait for the tour to start, there’s a gallery filled with artifacts that will fascinate anyone who loves the blues.
The red dress in the gallery above was work by Koko Taylor, often referred to as the Queen of the Blues. Willie Dixon brought her to Chess Records in 1964, where she recorded Wang Dang Doodle. Here’s a slightly more recent recording of Koko just killing it live.
I happened to be there on an auspicious day- the Blues Foundation was opening a new exhibit about the blues festivals that Willie Dixon organized in Germany throughout the 1960s The gentleman in the hat in this photo is the son of Willie Dixon, on hand for the opening of the new exhibit. If I remember correctly, the other fellow was a representative from the German embassy.
Finally, it was time for the tour!
The absolute highlight of the tour was spending time in this room- the main studio. Countless legendary recordings were made here, like this one:
As far back as I can remember, I’ve always liked comic books. When I was growing up, there were always comics around- old tales of the Green Lantern Corps, silver-age Superman stories with Jimmy Olsen, and even some Legion of Superheroes stories with Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad, and Saturn Girl. The Greatest American Hero hit television when I was eight years old, and it was a foregone conclusion that I’d love it. With my nascent love of music already running strong, I also loved the theme song by Joey Scarbury. I remember sitting on the end of my mom’s bed, singing along to the song on the radio. Mom was super amused that I knew all the words.
Along with my love of superheroes, I have a long-standing fondness for all things Disney. One of my earliest Disney Music loves was the Main Street Electrical Parade. This goes beyond mere Disneyana. I used to have a tape of a 1983 album by Michael Iceberg, the composer of the theme, with all kinds of neat stuff like a Robot Revolt theme. One year, Michael Iceberg brought his pyramid-shaped synthesizer cubicle, the Amazing Iceberg Machine, to the South Florida Fair. I got to meet the man after the show, and I remember someone commenting that he was spectacularly drunk at the time. In any case, the original parade is long gone from Disney, but the music lives on as an amazingly persistent earworm. Mua ha ha!
Speaking of all things Disney, let’s talk about EPCOT. When I was ten, my dad drove both of us up to Orlando one weekend to go to the theme park for the first time. I brought back two souvenirs from that trip. The first was a brochure book about the park, detailing all of the pavilions, including the still unopened Horizons (coming soon!) and also detailing the planned but never built World Showcase pavilions for Israel, Spain, and Equatorial Africa.
The second souvenir from that trip was The Official Album of Walt Disney World EPCOT Center. On vinyl. I listened to that thing so much it’s a wonder the grooves didn’t flatten out. I can still sing large swaths of the original music from memory, and the vocals in the American Pavilion song “Golden Dream” are directly responsible for an ill-fated and poorly considered audition for the Voices of Liberty that I may or may not have attempted in the early 1990s.
Some of the album is very, very dated – “The Computer Song” specifically comes to mind- but I will always love it anyway. “Makin’ Memories” is another long-time favorite, left over from the early days of EPCOT when the pavilions were all sponsored by corporations. See if you can guess which mega-corporation sponsored this one:
As an aside- anyone who has ever gone on Journey Into Imagination with me can attest that I will always-and-forever sing the ORIGINAL version of Dreamfinder and Figment’s song, very very loudly, over the current iteration.
I’m skipping around my personal timeline a little bit, but I wanted to talk about 8-track recordings. When I was a wee lad, cleaning day was a family affair. We had an 8-track player in the living room, and we got those Columbia House shipments of new titles every so often. On family house cleaning days, we’d fire up the stereo, throw a tape into the 8-track player, and everyone in the family would pitch in to clean the house.
I suspect that a hefty percentage of my readers have probably never heard an 8-track tape, so you may not know that an 8-track splits the album up into four sections. Our player had no fast-forward or rewind, but you could switch between the four tracks, and the music would loop. If you let it play all the way through, our player would automatically switch from track to track in sequence. It’s because of the 8-track of the original Star Wars soundtrack that I whenever I hear The Cantina Band theme by John Williams, I expect to hear a fade-out, track change, and fade-in at roughly the middle of the song. That’s what it did on the 8-track. You can hear the fade-out at one minute and 40 seconds in the video below.