Music History: Firsts

I love music.

This may be the most understated thing I will say all year.   Long-time readers of this blog probably figured out a long time ago that most of my non-work trips start with me going, “Ooh, a concert I want to see!”    I’ve talked a great deal about music on this blog already- I’ve talked about They Might Be Giants, and Leonard Cohen, and Eurovision.   I ‘ve posted about musicals in general, and about Starlight Express and A Chorus Line in particular.   I’ve also talked about my first ever concert (New Edition), and about my memories of the Ghostbusters soundtrack in that glorious red plastic Arista case back in 1984.

And of course there’s a page on this blog that I keep updating to show the artists that I’ve seen play live.

I’ll say it again:  I love music. I need music.  If I don’t listen to music for a while, I can get downright cranky.  It’s as vital to me as breathing, and I go to concert after concert after concert for the love of music, even though I hate crowds and I have a fair amount of travel anxiety.  I can’t not go. (FOMAC, or Fear of Missing a Concert, is an entirely different blog post that I may come back to later.  Shut up, it’s a real thing!)

With that introduction in mind, I want to talk about music throughout various parts of my life.  I’ll start at the very beginning.

My earliest memory of music, any music, was all the way back in 1978.  I was five years old, and I remember being in some sort of a school or daycare center or something along those lines- it wasn’t a usual place for me.  I was waiting near some other kids while we picked up one of my siblings. The kids I was hanging out near were playing with original first-generation Star Wars action figures. I remember they made me be C3PO. While we played with the Star Wars toys, there was a radio on.

There were two songs in heavy rotation on the radio at that time, and they were the first songs to ever penetrate my tiny little head.  Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana,” and John Paul Young’s “Love Is In The Air.”

Those two songs played back to back. I can’t remember ever hearing music before that day. I’m sure I did, but I don’t remember it.

I also recall the very first album that I ever owned.  When I was ten years old, there were advertisements in the back of comic books that said that if you sell stuff from their crappy catalog, you could win prizes.  This company sent an army of tiny Willy Lomans (Lomen?) door to door to sell magazine subscriptions, Christmas cards, pecan turtles, and wrapping paper.  With enough sales, you could get yourself a tent, a bicycle, or any number of other “fabulous prizes.”  It took a hell of a lot of sales to get anything substantial, but in 1983, I used my hard-earned prize bucks to get a voucher for a cassette tape from one of those music places like Columbia House or BMG, only not quite as obnoxious. That first album?  I was grooving to “Future Shock” by Herbie Hancock.

I had seen the video for Rockit, of course, and the kicking-pants robots made me want to dance.  Or something.  The entire album turned out to be really phenomenal, but I didn’t appreciate it nearly as much in 1983 as I do now.

My mom got me the second album I ever owned- we were in a Richway, which was sort of like the larval form of the retail chain now known as Target.  Richway’s parent company sold all of their stores to Dayton-Hudon Corporation around 1988, and that company closed all the stores, stripped them for parts, and then reopened most of them as Target stores.  The specific Richway from this story is actually some other non-Target store, according to Wikipedia.

But I digress.   We were in Richway, in West Palm Beach, Florida, in 1984.  It was an amazing day for eleven-year-old Steven because not only did I get my first transforming toy there, a red Gobot sports-car named Turbo, but  Mom also bought me a cassette of Rockwell’s first album.   Again, I was familiar only with the first single released, a popular song called “Somebody’s Watching Me,” which had Michael Jackson on backup vocals. The rest of the album was a lot of fun, though, and I still listen to it sometimes.  “Obscene Phone Caller” was always one of my favorites songs, even though it would be years before I actually understood how pervy the song really is.

What was your first album?  Your first concert?  The first song you remember hearing?

5/52

Two They Might Be Giants Shows, Twenty Years Apart

I went downtown to see They Might Be Giants this week.  The show was at a venue called The Beacham, which is a large and venerable concert space right on Orange Avenue.

TMBG did a rollicking two-set show, where they served as their own opening act.  They made jokes about Clippy the paperclip and Phil Collins, and kept their audience thoroughly entertained while doing a combination of their classic hits and their new stuff.

While I was listening to “Whistling In The Dark,” I was thinking about the last time I saw this band- twenty years ago, at another show in Orlando.  They Might Be Giants played at the Embassy Music Hall in 1998.

When I lived in Orlando twenty years ago, the Embassy Music Hall was part of my regular rotation of clubs to go dancing; they had a Wednesday night (as far as I can recall) with lots of 80s and new wave music. I have loads of great memories of dancing there with friends.

The Embassy was a nondescript looking place, situated on the side of a big shopping plaza off Lee Road.  It was kind of nondescript, even when it was open.  This picture is long after the Embassy closed, but it didn’t look much different than this:

The Embassy had a regular rotation of amazing concerts.  While I was looking up details about the club for this post, I found information about shows by Love and Rockets, KMFDM, Green Day, Primus, The Damned, Collective Soul, The Lemonheads, Snoop Dogg, Marilyn Manson, Anthrax, and Iron Maiden, all from the late 1990s.  I got to see TMBG there in ’98, and I also saw Project Pitchfork and Front 242 there.   The Embassy Music Hall was awesome.

Sometime in 1999, Embassy shut its doors and was re-imagined as a sort of after-hours raver club called Cyberzone.  Cyberzone had problems right away, including multiple drug arrests and the deaths of two people.  I never went during the Cyberzone era, and the club closed in early 2001.

I hadn’t heard much about the place in a really long time, so while I was getting ready to see They Might Be Giants for the first time in two decades, I checked in on the old place with some Google Map action.

It’s a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Grocery now.

Yup, that sounds about right*.

*There’s a song on TMBG’s 1992 album Flood called “Minimum Wage.”  It uses a whip-crack to hilarious effect.   Seems about right.

What happened to your favorite places from years ago?

Bob’s Burgers Live, and the Los Angeles Intro.

Up until the middle of this month, I’d never set foot in Los Angeles, not counting layovers.   When I found out a few months back that Bob’s Burgers was doing a live show, I could not resist.  I bought tickets right away.  The first night sold out and they added a second night, but we didn’t need to go twice even though I’m sure it was just as awesome on the second night.

The show was on Saturday evening.  We flew in Thursday night and out Monday morning, so that gave us a full three days to explore sunny California.  We covered Hollywood, Long Beach, and various points in between.  I took 810 photographs in three days, and distilled them down to 121 for the blog.   102 of the photos were from the Walk of Fame, but those stars are really all kind of the same, so I’m only going to post one of ’em.  There were 118 photos at Madame Tussaud’s, because that place is just fun, but that’ll be one whole post with about seventeen selected pictures.   Nobody needs to see every photo I take.

I’m not going to put all 121 of the finally chosen photos in one post though, that’s just nuts.  I’ll break it up a bit.  This is the first of many California posts.  I’m gonna start with the show that initiated our trip to California, Bob’s Burgers Live at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Los Angeles.

The Orpheum is a lovely old theater 2000 seat theater.  It was originally opened February 15, 1926, and was reuilt in 1989.  It has a “Mighty Wurlitzer” pipe organ installed, one of the last three pipe organs in Southern California venues.  I wish I’d heard it while we were there. I bet that thing sounds cool.  I also just learned that Taylor Swift filmed her video for “Mean” at the Orpheum.  Neat!

We were there for Bob’s Burgers, and that’s what we saw!  Each of the primary cast members is a comedian on their own, so the first half of the show was a series of comedy routines from the cast members.  The second half of the show was where it got really good though-  they did music from the show, along with Matt Berninger and the National. (Bonus!  Now I’ve seen the National in concert!)

All of the primary cast members were present for this gig.  The next picture is Eugene Mirman (Gene), Kristen Schaal (Louise), and Dan Mintz (Tina) singing “The Fart Song!”

Eugene did Gene’s masterpiece, “The Snake Song.”  I’m so happy they did this one.  In the left part of the photo, you can see the giant puppet snake that wound its way through the theater during this song.

Here’s the short version of The Snake Song, for your enjoyment:

On this next photo, sisters Louise (Kristen Schaal) and Tina (Dan Mintz) sang “Bad Girls.”  I love the keyboardist from the National to their left.  He was having a great time for the entire night.

Near the end of the show, there was a giant puppet Tina and a giant puppet for “Electric Love.”  Alas, no Kevin Kline or Megan Mulally were present to do their parts.  That would have been quite nifty!

This was the finale, though, with the entire cast on stage.  From left to right:  H. Jon Benjamin (Bob Belcher) in the yellow and blue shirt to the left, Larry Murphy (Teddy) in the suit, Dan Mintz (Tina), Eugene Mirman (Gene), Kristen Schaal (Louise), John Roberts (Linda Belcher) in the white t-shirt, and Matt Berninger from the National in the red suit.  Not visible in the photo, but sitting in with the National, was Loren Bouchard, the creator of the show.

The merchandise line at this show was run by a bunch of people who severely underestimated demand for their wares, and it took a long time to get out of the theater.  By the time we left, I had a new t-shirt or two, and Amelie had some official Louise ears.   Success!

Who’s your favorite Bob’s Burgers character?

Dance Me to the End of Love*

Damn it, 2016, knock it off already.  You’ve already taken Alan Rickman, Prince, Abe Vigoda, George Gaynes, Jerry Doyle, Gene Wilder, and David Bowie.  And now I see in the news that you’ve also taken Leonard Cohen from us?  This will not stand!

Leonard Cohen was beloved by many of my friends. I loved him too.   Leonard has been actively writing and performing music for almost sixty years.  Almost everyone knows his work, even if they don’t realize it- he wrote “Hallelujah,” one of the most covered songs ever sung.  Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright, and countless others have done  hundreds of versions of this song, but the original is still the best.  Leonard Cohen originally wrote around 80 verses for the song, and different artists sometimes choose different verses, which means that almost every version is just a little bit different.

My first exposure to Leonard Cohen was in 1990, when I was seventeen years old.  A group of us (including Jade Walker and our good friend Chris Pine, who is now deceased) went to see the Christian Slater movie, “Pump Up The Volume.”  During the movie, Christian Slater’s character spun up “Everybody Knows” and “If It Be Your Will.”  I was transfixed, and I’ve been listening to Leonard Cohen (and the ridiculous number of covers of his work) ever since.  Those first two songs are still among my favorite songs of all time.

A recent Rolling Stone article mentions that when he finished his “Grand Tour” in New Zealand on December 21st, 2013, he had been touring for five years and played 387 shows. He came out of that tour with serious physical problems.  Leonard Cohen had multiple fractures of the spine, and severe mobility problems.   His final album, “You Want It Darker,” was recorded from a makeshift studio in his house.  His son set up a Neumann microphone on the dining room table, and set the living room up with recording gear, a laptop running Protools, and a set of speakers.    Much of that album was recorded with Leonard in an orthopedic medical chair.  “You Want It Darker” was released on October 21st,  just a few weeks before Leonard left us.

leonard_cohen-rollingstone-nov-17-2016(Editor’s note:  I accidentally acquired a subscription to the Rolling Stone a few months ago.  I’m still not entirely sure how this happened, but every once in a while the magazine is really entertaining.  If you’re interested in reading this fascinating look at the production of Leonard Cohen’s final album, I scanned the page from the November 17, 2016 Rolling Stone.  Here you go.  Click the thumbnail on the right to embiggen.  )

Leonard was 82 when he died, which means he was about 79 at the end of his final tour.  Six months before the Grand Tour ended, I was lucky enough to see him at the SAP Arena in Mannheim, Germany.  I was thrilled to finally be able to see him live, and I had no idea that he was on the last tour of his career.  Even then, in late June of 2013, he was spry and witty and a master of his craft.

Thanks to the wonders of YouTube, I can show you what it was like to see him perform Hallelujah live in Mannheim, Germany, about three and a half years ago.

I’m tired of 2016 taking my musical idols from us.  Someone keep an eye on Cyndi Lauper, Martin Gore, Andy Bell, and Vince Clarke, ok?

*If you’re not familiar, “Dance Me to the End of Love” is one of Leonard Cohen’s songs.  There’s a live version on the 2009 Live in London recording you can get from Amazon and iTunes.

What’s your favorite Leonard Cohen song?

Editor’s Note:  I’m attempting to blog every day in November with CheerPeppers.  I don’t expect to succeed because life be crazy, but any blogging in excess of my previous post-free month is a win, right?

All For Love

I was clicking around today, when I learned that Bell Biv Devoe has released “Run,” their first new song in fifteen years.  I watched the video, and then I fell down the Wiki-hole.  It started with an idle curiosity about just how old Ricky Bell, Michael Bivens, and Ronnie DeVoe are.    I also thought that Bobby Brown was dead, for some reason, but I was mistaken about that.

Thirteen year old me.

For me, those names, along with Ralph Tresvant, are still forever-linked with New Edition, the band they all shared throughout most of the 1980s.    I used to have their first singles (Cool It Now, Mr. Telephone Man) on 45 rpm vinyl, the cassette singles of my youth.    In late 1985, thirteen year old me played the hell out of my All For Love cassette.  I still occasionally hum their song about staying in school.

There’s a verse in one of the songs, where the band members are listed off: “Ronnie, Bobbie, Ricky and Mike,” says Ralph Tresvant, and “Hey Ralph!” says one of the others.  I’m not actually sure who has the line, but that little back-and-forth has been stuck in my head on and off for thirty years.

Fast forward to April of 1986.  I was in the eighth grade, and my father had secured tickets to the two of us to see the “All For Love” tour in the West Palm Beach auditorium!   This was my first ever concert, although I’ve seen at least 128 other musical acts since then.  I didn’t know it at the time, but Bobby Brown had just left the group, so he wasn’t part of the 1986 tour.

Dad was a very good sport to take me, because this entire event was way outside of his comfort zone.   The general admission system wasn’t very well organized for this show, and getting into a seat involved a fair amount of pushing through a crush of people.  I was a small kid at that point in my life, so it was extra crazy for me.

I still have the ticket stub for this show.  I still have almost all of my ticket stubs.  This one is kind of amazing because it was printed by a ticketing company that no longer exists (Bass Ticket Outlets), for a concert venue that no longer exists (the West Palm Beach Auditorium).

What was your first concert?  What was your favorite?