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Monthly Archives: February 2014

Sur glace.

I am on something of a hockey bender.

The Olympics is part of that, sure; but it’s that time of year anyway. Before the Olympics, I went to see college hockey. After the Olympics, there will be the NHL. And all winter there’s been snow and ice and snapping cold here in eastern Pennsylvania — very much hockey weather.

Somebody was kind enough to scan in the 1976 O-Pee-Chee set of hockey trading cards and post them all on Flickr. As part of my hockey jag, I’ve been enjoying them tonight. You don’t have to be a hockey fan to appreciate some of the faces and poses — some timeless, some firmly of the Seventies.

Here are some of my favorites. To respect the owner’s rights, I won’t copy them here. But each link should open in a new window, so you can check out the pix without having to leave my gripping commentary.

Allons-y:

This pose is so metal.

– Know what today’s sports cards need? More flesh wounds.

– Something tells me Ernie Hicke‘s sartorial style was wasted on St. Paul. (Gary Smith’s, too; there’s more than a little Glenn Frey in that photo.)

Ed Van Impe looks as though he’s been playing since 1938 and has seen literally everything that can possibly happen on a hockey rink.  (“Did I tell you about the time the linesman’s dog came running onto the ice and blocked a shot?”)

Simon Nolet, meanwhile, looks like a former hockey star turned junior high school science teacher who terrorizes the kids every year in the students-vs.-faculty hockey game.

– With his unfortunate hair, his lopsided grin and the glint in his eye, Tim Jacobs could have played a member of a homicidal motorcycle gang in a slasher B-movie set in Quebec.

– Similarly, I’m glad that’s not a chainsaw in Larry Goodenough‘s hands.

These three guys, in contrast, look like some sort of Canadian hoser-humor vaudeville act.  (“Tonight at the Sherbrooke Theatre: Les Trois Canadiens, performing their nationally famous routine, ‘It’s A Beauty Night for Hockey, Eh?’ “)

Rod Seiling seems quite pleased with the airbrush job on his jersey; Michel Plasse, less so. (It is possible, I suppose, that those are practice jerseys.)

– I imagine slapshots clanking harmlessly off the frosted hair-helmet of Garry Unger. It’s easy to set a record for consecutive games played when your hair is impermeable to assault or injury.

– John Bednarski did radio and TV for my hometown Rochester Amerks for many years. In this pic, he looks like an 11-year-old youth hockey hotshot whose dad, the coach, has just pulled him off the ice for hotdogging.

Dallas Smith saw something in the basement of Boston Garden that he doesn’t tell anybody about.

– Playing a sold-out Madison Square Garden was the highlight of Ralph Klassen‘s career as Peter Frampton’s keyboard player, as well as Bert Wilson’s tenure as ABBA’s touring bass player.

Dave Hrechkosy, meanwhile, looks like the frontman of a power-pop band from Long Island that’s trying to decide whether to take that major-label offer.

– With his mustache, long hair and somewhat beefy look, Jocelyn Guevremont bears — at least to my eyes — a passing resemblance to Chicago’s Terry Kath. (Kath was fond of wearing hockey jerseys onstage, which probably contributes to the resemblance.)

– I could also see a touch of the young, deer-in-the-headlights Brian Wilson in Richard Nantais, and the tiniest hint of Neil Diamond in Doug Favell.

– If Rod Gilbert never did ads for men’s underwear, it wasn’t any fault of his own.

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Walkin’ every night here in the shadows.

I’ve been quiet for a few days. I should probably be quiet tonight too, as I don’t have a lot to say.

But, the beast must be fed. So, a couple of words on the earworm that’s owned my head for the past 36 hours or so. It’s a relic from an artist on his way down, but not yet bereft of talent.

(It also happens to be 40 years old this year; that’s not particularly why I’m writing about it, but since it’s convenient, I’ll mention it.)

Looking back, 1973 was pretty much the start of Elvis Presley’s final decline. After his successful Aloha from Hawaii concert in January, Elvis’ agenda for the rest of the year included a divorce; several drug overdoses; hospitalization; and being bum-rushed on stage by a group of fans, an incident that greatly unsettled him.

The year also marked the start of a decline in Elvis’ chart fortunes. After reaching No. 2 with “Burning Love” in the fall of ’72, Elvis spent the next two or three years issuing a stream of singles that limped into the Top 20 and expired.

(Elvis remained a successful concert attraction, as well as a strong performer on the country charts. Even 1974’s infamous spoken-word outing Having Fun with Elvis On Stage was a Top 10 country album. However, he would not have another pop Top 10 single in his lifetime.)

During a burst of recording in December 1973, Elvis managed to put down one song that outshone the others in atmosphere and intent, if not in chart success.

“If You Talk In Your Sleep (Don’t Mention My Name)” was co-written by Johnny Christopher and Red West, Elvis’ bodyguard-turned-biographer.

It’s a cheatin’ song, drawn from the endless well of honky-tonk-tinged country songs that owe their existence mostly to a clever bit of wordplay in the chorus.

It’s not the finest of those songs: “Someone else is waiting / And he owns you” is cringe-worthy even by 1973 standards. And Elvis’ pillowy baritone doesn’t have the power to lift the song over its less inspired moments.

America agreed: The song topped out at No. 17 on the national pop charts in the summer of ’74, and local airplay charts don’t show it catching fire in any regional markets.

And yet … there’s a certain backstreets smolder to it, an ominous quality of lust-driven paranoia that’s perceptible but only hinted at. (Our narrator isn’t breaking off with his married lover, even though he’s far enough gone to worry about what she says in her sleep.)

Someday a singer will come along who scorches where Elvis only simmered, and in so doing, makes the song theirs forever.

(That singer was not Little Milton, shown here giving the song his best B.B. King, except that B.B. is probably a more dutiful lip-syncher.)

Until then, we have the King, standing in the shadows of love and waving an admonitory finger:

The plunge to nowhere.

A few days ago I announced my participation in the Paupack Plunge, a charity wade into a frozen lake in northeast Pennsylvania, and solicited your support for the big event.

How’d it go? Well … not according to plan.

My part of eastern Pennsylvania got a foot-plus of snow on Thursday, followed by something like three more inches today (which is still falling as I write this).

Since Lake Wallenpaupack is up north in the hilly rural regions, and since I drive a compact car that takes icy roads like a derelict shrimp trawler takes a strong sea, I did not have confidence in my ability to get there. So I decided to take a regretful pass on the Paupack Plunge.

This was Friday morning; today's snow is not included.

This was Friday morning; today’s snow is not included.

I regretted that I would be unable to take the Plunge. I’d publicly announced my intention to do so, and even gathered a donation or two. A promise made is a debt unpaid, as the saying goes.

So I decided the next best thing would be for me to find some body of water close to my house and plunge into it by myself, to show my solidarity with the war effort. Those people who donated to support me surely expected something for their gift; they didn’t do it so I could sit on the couch and eat bonbons.

That best-laid plan went awry too. I spent an hour cruising from crick to crick this morning in the towns surrounding my house. Every one was either overlain with snow or impossible to reach without a team of elephants.

(There was always the Lehigh River, but I decided to take a pass on that. I wanted a smaller and more controlled setting for my  personal Plunge, just in case I had a heart attack or something.)

PlungeHunt

Me casing out a potential crick, which is off to the right and not visible in the photo. You’ll note a No Trespassing sign, which made it even more ill-advised to try to reach the water.

In the end I was unable to prove my mettle. I could not — or simply did not, depending on your perspective — get myself in the cool, clear water. I failed to fulfill my promise.

But, some sort of futile gesture still seemed to be called for.

So I did my best.

Whaddya want for a snowy day?

 

From the Valley: Curtis Chris Roman, “Letter A-Frame.”

The return of an intermittent series of posts reviewing recent releases by Lehigh Valley musicians.

Used to be, if you liked a song and wanted to hear how it had progressed through the writing process, you had one of two choices:

1. Collect bootlegs of uncertain provenance and sound quality.

2. Wait 30 years and hope the artist puts his rough drafts out on some sort of career-spanning vault-tape collection.

The online music era makes life much easier in this regard. It’s easy (and, in my experience, fairly common) for a performer to toss out a couple different takes on a song that catches their fancy.

Letter A-Frame, a recent online release by Bethlehem-area singer-songwriter Curtis Chris Roman, finds Roman exploring three variants of a single song metaphorically dealing with storms, stress and security, huddling beneath a roof made of “grace and tar.” (An OK metaphor, that, for the combination of the divine and earthy that gets us through the days and nights.)

They’re not massively different. But they’re different enough to be worth hearing and considering. And, they’re a glimpse inside the creative process, which is interesting.

According to Roman’s bio, he recently resumed recording after a six- or seven-year musical layoff. His strengths are a gravel-edged voice, some quietly effective guitar chops, and the old folk/country way of turning a few basic chords into a working song.

Personally, I think the stuff that stays truest to its folk/country roots is the best stuff on Letter A-Frame.

“Over To You” — which began as country-folk, Roman says, and ended as some kind of rootsy electro — is kinda burdened by what sounds like a stiff machine-generated backbeat. A little more wind blowing through it would probably do it good.

While I like “First Comes/Catasauqua Girl,” I find the echoey voice in the background to be distracting; to my ears, it doesn’t fit in. Were it up to me (caveat: No one has ever asked me to produce their record), I might have mixed it out front with the lead vocal, for a sort of duet.

And while the Dinosaur Jr.-inspired instrumental and the ditty about Evil Santa have their place, I find the more traditional songwriting to be the material that stays with me the most.

On a certain level, this is nitpicking. Letter A-Frame is Roman’s first collection of songs, and it’s only natural that a first album try a couple of different approaches.

What really counts is that he’s got a guitar back in his hands; the creative juices are flowing again; and if both grace and tar hold out, we’ll hear more from him.

“Letter A-Frame” is currently available as a name-your-own price download here, though Roman indicates on his Facebook page it will only be free for a limited time.

Charity is a dish best served cold.

Four days from now I will waddle into a frozen lake somewhere in the wilds of northeast Pennsylvania, all in the righteous name of charity.

You don’t have to join me. But if you want to support me from afar, well, your chance is now.

I don’t usually go in for solicitations; I don’t think I’ve ever written one on this blog. I have never liked asking people for money. Plus, the world is already full of solicitations, at work, home and play.

Tonight I’m breaking the mold, just for a second. (I won’t make a habit of it, I promise.)

I’ve signed up for a polar plunge-type event called the Paupack Plunge. It’s held on a man-made rural lake and summer getaway called Lake Wallenpaupack, known to generations of good-time visitors as “Lake Wannasixpack.”

Every year around this time, they carve a big rectangular hunk of ice out of the lake at a local marina’s boat launch. Groups of plungers take turns marching down the ramp and into the water, where they screech, frolic, shiver, turn blue and otherwise cut up.

The money the marchers raise benefits two volunteer dive-and-rescue teams that help keep the people of Lake Wally safe year-round. The money helps keep the divers trained and their tanks filled.

A few of my co-workers have done this event before. They made it sound like fun — or at least like something I could hold up, whenever I finally shuffle away from this mortal clambake, as an example that I once Lived.

So I bit down and signed up.

Weather permitting (and it might not), I will amble cheerfully into Lake Wally at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 15, accompanied by a bunch of my new closest friends.

That’s where you come in, if you so choose.

If you want to sponsor me, click here and choose the “I Would Like to Sponsor a Plunger Online” link.

(Any amount is fine as far as I’m concerned. I’m not choosy, and I imagine the dive teams aren’t either. If you opt not to give, I won’t take offense; I know we all have limited charitable budgets.)

Your donation will probably never bring you a direct benefit. But there’s gotta be some sort of karmic payback for giving a hand to a pair of volunteer dive teams in rural Pennsylvania.

Presuming the water doesn’t kill me, I will bring back a full report of the day’s shenanigans, to be posted in this space.

That concludes the charitable portion of our programming. Regular blog-service will resume shortly. Thank you in advance for any consideration.

From the Valley: Flashback, Part 3.

I seem to spend a lot of time lately complaining about music I don’t like.

There is a great quote credited to Jerry Garcia that I would do well to remember: “Even the worst, most ill-thought-of music in the world doesn’t hurt anybody.”

And yet, another From the Valley flashback post has me sharpening the rough side of my tongue again.

A few months ago I looked at old local airplay charts from Allentown’s WAEB-FM, formerly the top hit-radio station in the Lehigh Valley, now a talk-radio station. I wrote about charts from 1968 and 1970, both preserved online by the marvelous ARSA database.

Whaddya think I found but another WAEB local airplay chart, from this week in 1960.

And … well, it hurts to look at.

Because it just drips with the marshmallowy, string-laden, soulless, sweatless, sexless, grooveless music that owned the world between the fall of Chuck Berry and the rise of the Beatles.

The Four Preps? Steve Lawrence? Jimmy Clanton? Bobby Rydell? Mitch Miller? Frankie Avalon? A teen-tragedy record? All present and accounted for.

Here are a couple of examples. See if you can sit all the way through them. First, this week’s WAEB Number One, Dion and the Belmonts with “Where or When”:

And up a notch this week to Number Six, the Four Preps with “Down By The Station”:

Sure, there are a couple of worthwhile records here.

Marty Robbins’ “El Paso” is part of the Great American Country Songbook. I know reasonable adults who like Bobby Darin’s version of “Beyond The Sea.” And if you look carefully, you’ll see a young James Brown at the bottom of the chart, under the nom de plume of Nat Kendrick and the Swans.

But I think the whole thing is summed up in the Big Six Pix of the Week, which I’m guessing is a list of “bubbling under” hitbound singles that hadn’t made the main list yet.

What was moving up this week in 1960 but “Onward Christian Soldiers,” performed by the Harry Simeone Chorale?

Imagine a couple parked on Lovers’ Lane in Allentown, wherever that was, in February 1960. (Or, since it can get cold here in February, maybe they are parked on a couch in a house that has helpfully been left unattended.)

The radio is playing low and the light is shining in their eyes as the boy reaches over and draws his sweetheart’s lips to his …

… and then the Harry Simeone Chorale comes on the radio singing “Onward Christian Soldiers,” and the moment is ruined, and the boy and girl dispiritedly get out the Mille-Bornes deck and start playing because what the hell else is there to do in a world that feeds you “Onward Christian Soldiers” at every opportunity?

It’s almost as if this music was forced on the youth of America as a placebo to keep them well-behaved and compliant.

No wonder songs like “Satisfaction” flipped people out so much. Just five years before, everything on the radio had been so clean, so chaste, so inoffensive, so soft-edged.

(Unreliable narrator alert: A number of religious songs made the charts in the ’70s, too. You could move the frustrated teenage couple forward about 15 years, and the radio might be playing “My Sweet Lord” or “The Lord’s Prayer” or “Day By Day” or “Morning Has Broken.” So what made 1960 so much worse than 1974? The impenetrable wall of vanilla surrounding the hymns in 1960, I’d argue. But I could be seeing things just the way I want to see them. Wouldn’t be the first time.)

If there’s a silver lining in this countdown, it’s that the development of pop music must seem like a continual wonder to my parents’ generation — those unfortunate kids who had to sit through Bobby Rydell and Jimmy Clanton when they were young.

Every time someone of that generation hears something new and creative that grooves them — whether it be the Beatles, or Aretha, or Al Green, or the Sex Pistols, or U2, or Radiohead, or you name it — it must feel like they survived the famine and are now seated at a lavish buffet.

I feel that way just reading this chart.

The worst.

After I ranted the other day about the suckiness that is Motley Crue, an old friend left me a challenging comment:

“Anyway, since you brought it up, I’d like to see your complete list of your top 10 least favorite major rock bands.”

You would think such a thing would be easy for any opinionated music listener to come up with … and yet I am struggling, like a fisherman in a Hemingway novel trying to reel in a marlin.

It would be easy to dash off a listicle with a grabby headline like “18 Bands That Really Suck.” Such things are all over the Net these days; and writing such a post would probably drive up my traffic, at least a little bit.

But I can’t just dish the snark and be done with it. Can’t bring myself.

Here are the obstacles standing between you, the reader, and my list of worst all-time major bands:

Small sample size. The bands I don’t like, I’ve not really listened to.

Take Supertramp, for instance. I dislike many of their radio singles, so I’ve never listened to their albums.

But how can I list a band among my least favorites if I’ve not even done them the favor of listening to one of their albums? That seems dishonest. For all I know, their album tracks could be really killer — or, at least, good enough to lift them off my Bottom 10 list.

(As a side note, Supertramp — more so than any other rock band I know of — has completely scrubbed YouTube of its studio recordings. Seriously; try a search and see what you get. This is counterproductive in my case: I’m not buying Breakfast in America without hearing it first, and a YouTube preview would have been a fine opportunity for me to do that.)

Artist, or genre? Sometimes, it’s not a particular artist I dislike, so much as it is an entire genre.

I strongly dislike R&B divas who grossly over-emote, and pop-punk bands with bratty singers, and today’s popular bro-country, and most anything labeled “nu-metal,” and easy-listening smooth jazz.

So how does one represent that on a worst-bands list? I mean, it doesn’t matter who the group is. If they make those noises, I hate them. But how much do I weigh down my list with them?

Peaks and valleys. The ’64 Beatles were a great band. Same with the ’69 Beatles.

But the late ’66-early ’67 Beatles? The guys who put out songs with McCartney playing trumpet, and who couldn’t figure out how to end their songs (think of the ending of “Magical Mystery Tour”), and who seemed to abandon craft for randomness and novelty?

I have no great use for those guys, and would even suggest that their hubris might bring them dangerously close to my Bottom 10.

The thorny questions: Is it cricket to define a certain time period of a band’s existence as Bottom 10, but not other periods? Is that a hopelessly arcane, smug and obnoxious pop-geek thing to do?

And for that matter, is any band that lasts long enough to have multiple developmental stages automatically good enough to deserve exclusion from the Bottom 10?

Other bands qualifying for the Bottom 10, if this wrinkle is allowed, include the 1971 and 1994-95 Grateful Dead and post-1977 Chicago (OK, I like “Street Player,” so make that post-1980 Chicago.)

Having thrown out all those caveats, I guess I can still bring myself to compile a list of performers I don’t have a lot of use for.

They include Motley Crue, the Moody Blues, the Eagles (including Don Henley and Glenn Frey solo), Poison (no ’80s hair-metal, really; there’s that genre question again), Madonna (except for “Vogue,” which is fierce and wonderful, and I mean that), John Denver, Harry Chapin, Styx, Hootie and the Blowfish, Phish and Green Day.

There, there’s 11 for ya. One to grow on.