“Well then what do you want to do?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” Sherri said. “But I don’t want to go to the movies. All you want to do is watch videos and go to the movies. We never do something I want to do.”
“Well then what do you want to do?”
“I don’t know. You’re supposed to think of something. You’re the guy.”
This conversation had the potential to consume an entire Saturday. “Come on, let’s go.”
“Let’s drive to Asheville.”
“What’s in Asheville?”
“I don’t know. It will be fun.” I grabbed a couple of cassettes and stuffed them into the pocket of my thrift store overcoat. It was the kind of long, slouchy coat favored by elderly Jewish men and flashers. My pink plastic cowboy dangled from the lapel along with a couple of band buttons. We jumped into Sherri’s Chevy, I dropped X’s More Fun In the New World into the tape deck, and we headed toward Asheville.
Opinion of that album remains all over the place. As I understand the situation the band members (guitarist Billy Zoom in particular) were tired of their role as critical darlings with no money in their pockets. More Fun In the New World moved the band away from their L.A. punk roots toward a more commercial center, a process that culminated in the truly bad Ain’t Love Grand! the following year.
But X’s idea of commercial was miles away from what was selling in 1984. That year’s biggest single was Band-Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” but that was a charity single so maybe those 11.7 million sales were less about the music than the charity.
Next up with over seven million singles sold was the completely forgettable “You’re My Heart You’re My Soul” by Modern Talking. I literally have no memory of this song, so I tracked down the video on the intergooglewebtubes and found a waiter playing a keytar while next to him a Richard Carpenter impersonator in a crew neck sweater grins stupidly and pretends to play guitar. I played the video twice not more than five minutes ago and I can’t remember anything about the song, just the horrible image of these Siegfried and Roy impersonators primping for the camera. Where’s a tiger when you need one?
The next biggest seller of 1984 was Wham’s “Careless Whisper,” so there you have it — this is the arena in which More Fun In the New World was competing.
In that environment cuts like “Devil Doll” and “I See Red” sound hardcore, but it’s certainly true that X’s latest also was their most accessible. I loved its blend of country, rockabilly, punk, and even funk in “True Love Part 2.” While John Doe and Exene likened true love to various possessions owned by the Devil I kept time on the steering wheel and watched the Blue Ridge Parkway roll past.
“Do we have to listen to this?” Sherri asked.
“I love this album.”
“Why? It sucks.”
“Not this shit again.”
“I can’t stand it. What else did you bring?”
“Siouxsie and the Banshees.”
“Oh, God. I hate that even more. What happened? You used to like good music.”
“This is good music.”
“No, like Van Halen and Genesis.”
“I never liked Genesis.”
“Then why’d you play ‘Mama’ every time we got in the car?”
“Okay, yes. That’s a cool song.”
“Why can’t you like that stuff still?”
“I like this. We’ll be there soon. It will be fun.”
When we arrived in Asheville I pulled into a gas station parking lot. “Be right back,” I said. “I have to make a call.” Inside the station’s phone booth I scanned the White Pages: Mellow, C.
“Hey, is Chris there?”
“I’m sorry, he isn’t home. Who is calling?”
“My name is Jim. I’m a friend of his from Spartanburg.”
“I think he’s mentioned you. Are you the one with the bicycle? Lee’s friend from the beach?”
“That’s right. Do you know when he’ll be home? I’m actually calling from a gas station here in Asheville.”
“I’m sorry, honey, he’s at the movies.”
“Where? Which one?” Chris’s mother gave me directions and I jumped back into the car.
“Where are we going?”
“Movie theater. Let’s go see Streets Of Fire.”
“I don’t want to go to the movies.”
“It will be fun.”
We arrived late, grabbed a couple of seats near the front. The movie starred Fear’s Lee Ving, a life-sized cutout of Michael Paré, a seriously hot Diane Lane, and a seriously weird Willem Defoe. I think the movie was about a street gang forcing Stoney Jackson to sing like Dan Hartman, but my memory is a little fuzzy.
The soundtrack was wildly eclectic, though, featuring big Jim Steinman epics, a couple of great Blasters tunes, the Stevie Nicks-alike “Sorcerer,” The Fixx, Ry Cooder, and the atrocious “I Can Dream About You,” which may as well have been titled “We Shoehorned This Piece Of Shit Into the Movie Because the Soundtrack Needed A Hit.”
“What are you doing?” Sherri whispered.
“Why do you keep turning around?”
“I’m looking for somebody.”
“Who do you know in Asheville?”
“It’s a surprise.”
We sat through the rest of the movie. The facsimile of Michael Paré eventually defeated the Green Goblin, Stoney Jackson celebrated with a last round of lip synching, and we were out of there. We stood in the lobby and watched as the crowed filed out of the theater.
“Can we go?”
“Hold on. There he is. Chris!”
He stared at me for a few beats, and then the light went off. “Hey,” he said, and then he hugged me. “What are y’all doing in Asheville?”
“Just hanging out. This is my girlfriend, Sherri.”
Chris introduced his friends and then asked again what we were doing. “Well let me show y’all around,” he said, and he hugged his friends goodbye. “I love your coat. The pink cowboy!”
Back in the car we blasted X and headed toward Chris’s favorite record store. “That movie was weird,” I said.
“I love it,” Chris said.”
“Why? It doesn’t make any sense and that guy can’t act.”
“It looks cool. I’ve seen it six times. Me and my friends drop acid and freak out when that weird sizzling transition thing happens between scenes. This is a cool car.”
“Thanks,” Sherri said from the back seat.
Asheville is not a metropolis. There is no huge city center with towering buildings and miles of concrete. The town sort of rolls through the Appalachains with all of the beauty and romance that suggests. So when we entered Blue Ridge Records I wasn’t expecting to see dudes with mohawks playing Iggy’s Raw Power. The guys who worked there didn’t hug Chris, but they exchanged the requisite “what’s up” head nods.
This was the record store I’d been looking for all my life: a little dirty, cool music on the turntable, a wall of collectible albums behind the counter. They even had the elusive Lynyrd Skynyrd Street Survivors flame cover, that mysterious piece of voodoo released three days before the infamous plane crash.
The store wasn’t all rare album covers, though. Blue Ridge packed its bins with imports, indies, and bootlegs. Sure, you could get the punk and new wave basics there, too, but that wasn’t the draw. I could pick up London Calling anywhere.
I didn’t make it any farther than the D’s. One look at Night Of the Living Dead Boys and I had to have it: Stiv all bloodied and heroin skinny; Cheetah Chrome dressed like a punk straight from central casting.
In retrospect the album sounds like a bit of a put on — Stiv’s stage patter is straight from the punk handbook — but the music is great: fast, simple and hooky. If you’ve ever wondered why Iggy Pop is considered the godfather of punk play Raw Power and Night of the Living Dead Boys back to back.
The drive home was three times longer than the drive to Asheville.
“I can’t believe you did that to me,” Sherri said.
“What? That was fun.”
“For you. You knew I’d hate this.”
“I wanted you to meet Chris.”
“Y’all ignored me. Today was supposed to be for me.”
I couldn’t argue. She packed that day away, not forgetting it but just biding her time. I’d pay eventually, but at least I got a decent record out of it.