Song of the Week – Fifty Mission Cap, The Tragically Hip

IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED

The Tragically Hip is a band that is yuuuge in Canada but not so well known below the border, here in the US (except for a few spots like upstate New York). There are other acts in that category — Sloan comes to mind – but none as well loved as The Hip. They write and perform their own brand of hard rock anthems.

I recently stumbled across an article in the New Yorker that covered the band’s farewell tour (New Yorker – Canada’s Biggest Rock Band Say a Dramatic Goodbye). Apparently the band’s lead singer, Gord Downie, has a particularly nasty, terminal brain tumor known medically as glioblastoma.

Hearing about this prompted me to write this long overdue post on my favorite song by The Hip, “Fifty Mission Cap.”

This song rocks! But one of the reasons I’ve always liked it so much is because it has such an interesting back story. It all starts with a card.

bill-barilko-1951-52-parkhurst

The verse tells the story of Bill Barilko, the hockey player that scored the winning goal to give the Toronto Maple Leafs the Stanley Cup in 1951. A few months later, Barilko was on his way to a fishing trip when his private plane crashed and he went missing. Some Leafs fans felt this set off a curse. Some believed they couldn’t win another Cup until his body was found. Others said his body wouldn’t be found until they won another Cup.

In April 1962 the Leafs won their next Stanley Cup. About 2 months later Barilko’s remains were finally discovered about 60 miles from the place his plane was thought to have crashed.

So what has any of this got to do with a “fifty mission cap?”

I found the answer to that at a fan website called The Hip Museum, dedicated to “the people, places and poetry found in the music of The Tragically Hip. You will find listed here all of the references that make The Hip’s music so entertaining and enriching.”

HOGAN'S HEROES   Bob Crane as Colonel Robert E. Hogan    John Banner as Sergeant Hans Georg Schultz   © TV Land, a business unit of MTV Networks, a division of Viacom International Inc.

HOGAN’S HEROES
Bob Crane as Colonel Robert E. Hogan
John Banner as Sergeant Hans Georg Schultz
© TV Land, a business unit of MTV Networks, a division of Viacom International Inc.

It turns out Gord wanted to make the story a little more interesting so he melded it with the legend of the WWII fifty mission cap. Pilots in the war were issued caps that they wore under headphones when flying bombing missions. Over the course of 50 missions (if you were lucky enough to survive that many) the caps would become crushed. This was such a status symbol that pilots would intentionally break them in to achieve “the look.” I’ll let The Hip Museum take it from here, quoting Cory Graff of the Seattle Museum of Flight:

“But here’s the little detail that might be important to part of the song… It was cool to have the sides of your hat all smashed. But it was very uncool to have the front droop down or collapse. As a result, many of these guys put in a piece of cardboard or a playing card on the inside in the front to keep it all going upward. So this hockey card (doing a bit of time travel I guess) is worked into the front of the 50 mission cap as a stiffener.”

BTW, if you’re wondering, a fifty mission cap looks like the one Colonel Hogan (Bob Crane) wore in Hogan’s Heroes.

I hope this post turns a few more Americans onto one of Canada’s best kept secrets.

Enjoy… until next week.

Something About What Happens When We Talk: Lucinda Williams

OK, a big hiatus from writing, and I don’t so much have an excuse as I do a reasonable explanation.

Back in April, during our insanely fun Passover Sedar, my friends Debbi Berenberg and Barbara Kweller told me I needed to throw a party for my partner Diane who recently graduated from UC Davis, at age 57, with a BS in Animal Biology.

Since Barbara and Debbi’s suggestion was public, I was kind of stuck, but I knew Diane’s best friends, Dee Dee Huebner who is getting a PhD in Fairbanks, and her cousin Cherie Dudek, would be out our way in August, so I thought I would throw the soiree when Di’s buds were out.

In the mean time, Diane and I made our way to New York City where I attended the FSTA Summer conference, and where we stayed for the whole week as our main summer vacation. Di and I have been to Manhattan a handful of times over the nine years of our relationship, and have had a lot of fun, had great walks and meals, and seen wonderful plays. But, we had never really had a fancy dinner out together, and I knew Diane kind of coveted such an experience.

So, I made reservations at Tavern on the Green and then thought she might like it if we went on a horse driven carriage ride around the park, under the stars when we were finished eating. And, before we left, as I considered the party, Dee Dee and Cherie coming out, and with this romantic opportunity, maybe after all these years I would ask Diane if she wanted to get married. That way we could have a combined wedding and graduation party while Di’s mates were around.

So, we rode and I asked and she said ok, and the gears started turning, churning towards last Saturday, August 20, 2016 as the anointed date.

Indeed last Saturday we were wed, on the on the sand in the little town called Stinson Beach, near San Francisco. Our friends Rob Lewis and Mary Ford have a lovely house they let us use for the post beach wedding party, and my childhood mate and sometimes band partner Stephen Clayton, who also owns a house at Stinson with his wife and another life long friend Karen, let our contingent stay and base out of their house in the town.

More friends, Zoe Pollock and her mom Jeanne Schumann (yet another music mate, as are Mary and Rob from time-to-time) made our cake so the whole affair was pretty cozy and within our music and Passover (there are usually 40-plus humans at Pesach) communities making for a lovely day and party.

Though it was a dumb move, we did hire a DJ. Di really wanted one, though as I have noted before, she and I don’t share a lot of music other than some Meat Loaf. But the DJ is what she wanted, so she got one. But, we never really had a chance to give the DJ hired a set list or anything before the festivities began.

When we walked back to Mary’s from the beach, the guy had this awful sappy wedding crap playing, and as soon as I noticed I grabbed a copy of my CD Downward Facing Dog and told the DJ to get the horrible sappy shit off and just play the album till Diane could find him and give a set list.

The guy was lost when I told him to play I Knew the Bride (when she used to rock’n’roll) and he blew off Diane’s request for Surfin’ Bird, but we had a great time, and he did get our first dance down.

That dance was to Lucinda Williams’  Something About What Happens When We Talk which is sort of our song. Diane and I met via meetings we coordinated–her from Chicago, me from the Bay Area–when groups we managed had weekly discussions while we worked at ATT.

Di and I did change jobs, but six years after we met Diane came to the west coast to visit and suddenly we were in a relationship, and well, five years ago, after retiring from ATT and starting at Harper Community College in Chicago, Diane moved to California for good, into our home in El Cerrito, and began the second half of her college career commuting to Davis to finish her degree.

Before the move, however, we both worked for ATT, and we had essentially free land lines and long distance, so we spent hours on the phone after work, watching TV shows together long distance, having long philosophical discussions, and falling asleep with the phone off the hook (check out my song Geography Matters from Downward Dog which is about just that).

So, via the phone is how Diane and I actually fell in love, and that makes Lucinda’s song all the more poignant and special.

Hence, making plans for the wedding on the beach took front seat over the past couple of months and the best I can offer is Lucinda and her band simply killing it on a beautiful tune. And one that is our tune, I might add.

And, here is a pretty cute photo of Diane and me sort of cutting the cement to Lucinda (I am holding her mortorboard in my hand).

Mink Deville, Le Chat Bleu

This is Billy Borsey and his band’s third album, but at this point most of his original band was gone. Soul survivor Louie X. Erlanger on guitar was joined by Elvis Presley’s rhythm section, Jerry Scheff and Ron Tutt, in Paris, as well as keyboardist Kenny Margolis and others for an amazing adventure recording a record no one knew what to do with. Or, at least, Capitol Records was flummoxed when it was done.

This was a rock record that drew equally from hard rock, chanson, and Brill Building tunes filtered through Phil Spector, produced by Spector henchman Steve Douglas. Willy wrote some of the songs with Doc “Save the Last Dance for Me” Pomus, covered the Jive Bombers’ Bad Boy, and didn’t mind exploring the Cajun life, too. The wonderful thing is it feels all of a piece, a slice in time and eclectic taste, even as it slides from genre to style. I’ll admit, this record’s breadth reflects my

Listening to it again recently is to be reminded what a major figure Willy was, maybe not in his sphere of influence and celebrity, but in the pure fact of his craft, his musical skills and his songwriting talent. The other four CBGB house bands (Television, Blondie, Talking Heads, Ramones) were iconic figures in the punk eruption. Mink Deville was no less iconic in its way, but resisted the punk label, and while they were all just as talented and accomplished, he didn’t find a way to star quite so brightly as the others.

No disco for Mink Deville. (But he did have a huge hit from the soundtrack of the Princess Bride.)

Rolling Stone’s critics poll called Le Chat Bleu the fifth best album of 1980, for what that’s worth. What’s certainly worth your time is the whole album.

Here’s the first tune, This Must Be the Night, which echoes Springsteen’s sounds, but is a pretty fresh take on that sound. Or is it playing tricks on me?

Here’s the Borsey/Pomus collaboration on the World Outside.

A rocker.

Cajun, in French, a cover of a song from the great Queen Ida.

I’m not sure these are the best songs. Listen to the whole thing and make up your own mind:

 

 

 

 

Dave Loggins, Please Come to Boston

This is a sappy song with a heart felt series of verses, and a gumptious elaborate arrangement of strings and stuff on the chorus.

But there is detail and structure and melody here that make it a great song. Not a riff song, not a rock song, but a pop song that expands people’s horizons rather than shuts them down. It’s a song that addresses adult concerns (who lives where, and why) rather than adolescent ones (who grinds where).

That isn’t rock, but it is a bit rockish in that whole Rambling Boy idea. Feel free to search for all the alternative versions on YouTube. They all help explain how a simple story became a trope. And how songwriting transcends genre. This is a song that is a short story. Or an anecdote. Or both.

Song of the Week – Oh Girls, Girls, The Sparkles; Girls, Iggy Pop; Girls, David Johansen; Girls, Beastie Boys

IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED

The earliest rock and roll music dealt with a few recurring subjects – cars, fashion, school… and GIRLS!

There are a million rock songs about girls. Many call girls out by name – Gloria, Peggy Sue, etc.

Some pay homage to their geographical location.

California Girls – The Beach Boys
Italian Girls – Rod Stewart
Southern Girls – Cheap Trick
West End Girls – Pet Shop Boys

Others deal with their emotions.

Big Girls Don’t Cry = Four Seasons
Girls Just Want to Have Fun – Cyndi Lauper
Girls Talk – Elvis Costello/Dave Edmunds

Today’s post is a tribute to a few of my favorite rockers about GIRLS.

I’ll start with “Oh Girls, Girls” by a Texas based garage band called The Sparkles.

This hep number was released in 1966 as the b-side to “The Hip.” The vocal is awesome. The urgency borders on lecherous.

Next is Iggy Pop’s “Girls” from 1979’s New Values.

The proto punk is in form for this release which came at the peak of the punk/new wave return to the straight ahead rock ‘n roll style he pioneered with the Stooges in the late 60s.

Another punk pioneer was David Johansen, originally of the New York Dolls. He released his song about “Girls” on his self-titled solo debut in 1978.

This is another party rocker. Like all of the others, the lyrics are just an unabashed ode to a guy’s infatuation for girls of all types.

By the mid-80s, Hip Hop had worked its way into mainstream pop culture. The Beastie Boys added their “Girls” to the ongoing history of the genre.

This is typical of the Beasties goofy, humorous take on any subject they tackle.

I apologize if any of these songs come across as sexist or politically incorrect. But it’s only rock and roll and I like it.

Enjoy… until next week.

Bevis Frond

In my never-ending quest to learn nothing about bands I discover, I learned something anyway. This band is basically Nick Saloman and the odd musician he picks up. He seems to be eclectic in his rock styles but the few other songs I’ve heard fall into the “interesting but hardly compelling” category. But I like this one, basic power pop with folk-rock leanings. Good guitar solo. I even like the lyrics that I can understand.

Muddy Waters, She’s 19 Years Old

There is so much going on here. Muddy seems to be copping to the idea he’s not up to the barely legal conversation. That’s the opposite of the mannish boy. But whatever is going on with that pales beside Luther “Guitar Jr.” Johnson’s guitar, which is bigger than life.

On this album, a live album, Johnny Winter makes some excellent appearances. He’s a great guitar player, but lordy, Luther makes a fairly straight blues into something else altogether. I know I’m sati-fied.

 

Song of the Week – Can’t Stand It, Wilco

IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED

Back in the early 80s I was a fan of Uncle Tupelo – the brainchild of Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar. When they split to form new bands – Tweedy with Wilco and Farrar with Son Volt – I was going to follow both.

Since then, Tweedy has come out on top. Wilco has been a hugely successful, critically acclaimed band and Tweedy has had further success as a producer and collaborator.

Wilco started covering the same alt-country terrain that was staked out by Uncle Tupelo. They would eventually record the adventurous Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and other innovative albums. The bridge between was Summerteeth (1991).

On Summerteeth, the band changed their recording style from “live in the studio” to more heavy reliance on overdubs and post production. Today’s SotW is “Can’t Stand It”, the lead off track from Summerteeth.

In fact, “Can’t Stand It” was originally recorded in a simpler form. But the record company suits at Reprise intervened and persuaded the band that it needed to be remixed to make it a more suitable single for a broader radio audience. I’ve never heard the original (I can’t believe it wasn’t included in the “expanded” reissue of Summerteeth along with the other bonus cuts) but I’ve read that they shortened the bridge and added bells. (Other than Naked Eyes version of “Always Something There To Remind Me”, who puts bells on a rock song?)

The lyrics tell the age old story of a broken relationship. This time it seems to center on the lies or misunderstandings between the couple.

The way things go
You get so low
Struggle to find your skin
Hey ho
Look out below
Your prayers will never be answered again

Phones still ring
And singers sing
Speakers are speaking in code
What now
Well anyhow
Our prayers will never be answered again

Depending on when you became aware of Wilco might affect how well you like this song. Fans of the later albums might find this too poppy. But I think the song has soul and the spirituality of the line “prayers will never be answered again.”

Enjoy… until next week.