119. Return of the Son of Son of Return of the Son of the Cutout Bin

Chapter 119It’s time to leave South Carolina: past time, probably.  For the last two years you’ve been reading true tales of liquor, lust, and primer-gray Camaros.  You are a patient lot.

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.

7 replies »

  1. Shadowfax – Shadowdance. That one stayed on my turntable for a while. One of my favorites off the album is Brown Rice. Maybe it’s the diadochokenises that attracks me to that song. Who knows. Brown Riccccccce.


  2. I never knew you wanted to be Pete Townshend as badly as I did. I am sorry we are leaving South Carolina’s music memories, but very pleased that we are continuing on with the Fabulously Ordinary Life of James, told in his extraordinary voice. Thank you for these last two years, so relieved you are not leaving us entirely. It gets my abandonments issues all worked up.
    I actually do have a little story to go along with this song, why not participate since this is the last day of kudzu camp, right? I am going to go with “it doesn’t matter that it is retold in such a clunky fashion, what matters is that it is all true.”

    it involves too much alcohol in my apartment on Berendo Street, just west of Downtown LA, ‘Chinese Eyes’ the permanent rotation choice for that evening, the dancing drunk suddenly becoming the enraged drunk slamming her fists through three of the apartment windows then jamming her right forearm down on a jagged piece of window glass still hanging onto the wood despite taking a righteous beating. Storming out of the apartment and out into the gang infested streets around 2 a.m., ranting underneath the yellow street lamps, that dystopian color turning the gushing red on my arms black. This weirdness caught my attention and I shut up and just stared at my arms, not noticing the two gangbangers walking up to me until they were within shoe identification distance, close enough to enrage me all over again. Shaking my shredded forearms at them like a demented cheerleader I started singing, well, howling is more accurate, the chorus to “Slit Skirts” – obviously my voice was sub-par,as they backed away a few steps, enough to cause me to start chasing them, shrieking, “Romance, romance!!” in between bouts of out-of-breath drunk laughter. They hightailed away from the crazy lady, I ran until my tank of booze was on empty, wandered back to my apartment where Pete was still singing it, telling me that as long as he was in my head, I was invincible. All I had to do was remember to remember. So far, he has kept his word.
    Although he cannot protect any of us from Bowie and Jagger duets. Even the Almighty goes palms up on that issue.


      • You, my friend, can buy my life – it’s on sale for a limited time only, $12.34. Please send your check or money order to the psych ward of your choice.
        And of course the P.s. – in my book, you are the number one person to be writing these stories. Your frightening talent and dogged consistency just happen to spark a little memory that comes tumbling out whether I want it to or not. 🙂


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