I can’t leave the Piedmont’s red clay and kudzu without a nod to the songs that meant a lot but just didn’t add up to full stories. Here they are:
“Turn Me Round,” A Drop In the Gray. Sometime after Sherri and I broke up my mother sent me to Cowpens’ Civil War battlefield to pick up an electric motor that my father won in a mail auction. I don’t expect you to understand how any of these words relate to each other. It’s a Southern thing. Anyway, I took the old man’s pickup, which had a cassette deck, picked up the motor, and then drove another 90 miles for no other reason than I wanted to be alone. The whole time I alternated between this song and Steven Wright’s I Have A Pony.
Fun fact: I still can’t walk past San Francisco’s California Street without thinking of this song.
“How Soon Is Now?” The Smiths. I know that this song is completely fucked out but this is the cut that cemented my allegiance to The Smiths. I was in the Greenville Mall and I found a 12″ single import of “How Soon Is Now?” which was like finding gold. It didn’t leave my turntable for weeks. “I am human and I need to be loved / just like everybody else does.” Is there anything else that needs to be said? Anything?
“Shadowdance,” Shadowfax. Between Steve The Manager and Lee G.’s family I learned a good bit of jazz during my teenage years. Shadowfax’s Shadowdance album was one of my favorites, and Lee G. and I road-tripped down to Columbia to see Shadowfax and co-headliner Michael Hedges play at USC, or Carolina as it’s called down there. We somehow managed to find Hal The Drummer and hang out in his dorm room, playing guitar and telling lies until show time. What a great night.
Incidentally, that show still gets me bragging rights in any circle hip to the whole Michael Hedges thing. That guy was an absolutely brilliant guitarist.
“Jimmy Sharman’s Boxers,” Midnight Oil. I loved Midnight Oil up until Beds Are Burning. I just couldn’t hang with that album, but Red Sails in the Sunset was the shit. Even Lee G.’s father, a concert pianist, said after listening to it, “Those guys are really talented musicians.” “Jimmy Sharman’s Boxers,” was a favorite of a girl I was seeing right after graduation. She called it “that first and last hotel song,” and so this tragic song about boxing became a carnal accompaniment. Listen, I don’t make this stuff up, pinky swear.
“The Freaks Come Out At Night,” Whodini. Lee G. and I decided to hit the county fair that fall, 1985. We went all out — trench coats, eyeliner, Capezios, Forenzas, bangle bracelets and huge hoop earrings, my rooster tail flying high and my bangs combed into a perfect Peter Murphy point at my chin. I even shaved the side of my head and wrote GASP! in the bald spot, anticipating the reaction on the midway.
We didn’t even make it through the parking lot before the shit started: two guys followed us to the gate singing “The Freaks Come Out At Night.”
“Shock,” The Motels. I had a sentimental attachment to The Motels, so when their record label announced an in-store display contest for their new album I was all over it. As always, Rich the Greatest Manager Ever stuck his big fat mullet into the mix and I lost interest quickly. That guy was such a tool. By the way, this song really doesn’t hold up. You might want to keep moving.
“Lay It Down,” Ratt. Ratt was one of the best androgynous Sunset Strip bands. “Round and Round,” “Way Cool Junior,” “Wanted Man” — fun stuff. When Invasion Of Your Privacy came out Ratt toured with Bon Jovi opening, and the label rep gave me backstage passes. Unfortunately, they were only for Bon Jovi but that was a good time. And the Invasion Of Your Privacy album cover hit (or created) about 50% of my fetishes, so there’s that.
“Slit Skirts,” Pete Townshend. I wish I had a story to go with this, but I don’t. “I don’t know why I thought I had some kind of divine right to the blues” is one of the greatest lines ever, and I wanted to be this guy so badly. “So afraid of every new romance,” come on! Thirty years in my power rotation and going strong.
“Beat Boy,” Visage. I had a friend at Camelot Music named Sean who would occasionally suggest new music. He was the guy who gave me the signed Echo and the Bunnymen photo, for example. Sometimes I”d forget that Sean was really, really gay, and his recommendations occasionally reflected his sexual alignment. I ended up with Bronski Beat that way, and also Visage.
Jarod, Calhoun, and I grabbed my new cassette and downed a box of Vivarin each because that’s all we could get our hands on, and we tore around Spartanburg in Jarod’s Camaro trying to like “Beat Boy” even though it was shitty. “Shitty” is precisely the right word, as the three of us ended up back at Alabama Street, rotating turns on the toilet as all of that caffeine worked its evil on our colons.
“Sex Dwarf,” Soft Cell. One afternoon a pair of brothers from Georgia appeared at Camelot Music. One was named Tigger, and he was a punk. I’ve forgotten the other’s name, but he had a lot in common with Sean. We talked about Soft Cell a lot, and then we were pen pals for a few months. All I remember about him was that he didn’t wear underwear because “it’s like wearing a diaper.”
“Ghost Riders in the Sky,” The Outlaws. My sister took me to see The Outlaws with Johnny Van Zandt opening at Carowinds when I was in the ninth grade. As we waited for the venue to fill up, an occasional whoo! would erupt, causing the Guys In Black Tee Shirts Who Jam to respond in kind.
“These guys will shout at anything,” I said. “Watch this,” and I stood up and screamed, “All right, Outlaws!” and the 500 or so people who were waiting turned and looked at me like I’d farted in church.
“Dancing in the Street,” David Bowie and Mick Jagger. Of all of the musical crimes against humanity committed at Live Aid (Paul Young, Phil Collins), this was the worst. It was so heinous that it threatened to end my Bowie love. I still have a visceral reaction to this piece of shit.
“My Ever Changing Moods,” The Style Council. When this record came out we got as a promo item a little credit card-shaped hunk of plastic that was the “Style Council Ever Changing Mood Tester” or something like that. I wanted it so badly, but my buddy Dan pulled seniority and took it. I loved that bastard, and I love Paul Weller. Listening to this again for the first time in years I’m surprised how well it stands up.
“Power Of Love,” Frankie Goes To Hollywood. Separately Jarod and I were assholes. Together we were the Optimus Prime of assholes. One night we decided to cruise The Beacon with this blasting from his ’69 Camaro for no other reason than to confuse the rednecks.
Okay that’s it – my cache is as clear as it’s going to get. Next week we’ll move on to new adventures in the incredibly ordinary life of James. We might be at the end of the sidewalk for music-oriented memoir pieces, but I promise to keep serving you incredibly embarrassing stories of nerdity.