Friday, April 18, 2008

(Tribe 2008): Waking Up Blind With The House On Fire

Mr. Jake Westbrook: Dealing.It was nearly a month ago now that the sports writers' predictions were coming in fast and furious, with The Detroit Tigers heavily favored to take the 2008 American League Central title and only The Cleveland Indians looming as a potential challenge to Motor City dominance. With coronation all but assured, all these two teams had to do was, you know, actually play the 162 scheduled games that stood between Spring Training and the Happy Hunting Grounds of October.

One of the funny things about baseball is that with so many games to play, anything can and does happen, and many times "anything" includes The Totally Unexpected: a few weeks later, with sixteen games now in the books, the Tigers and the Indians are indeed fiercely locked in battle ... for the basement of the AL Central.

While the Tribe's victory against the White Sox on Opening Day seemed to kick off the 2008 season on a positive note, the events of the 14 games that followed torpedoed the initial enthusiasm of Cleveland fans as nearly every aspect of their team's game began to break down over the next week. It was only after last night's payback rout of the Tigers (current owners of the worst win-loss record in all of baseball) that the Indians are starting to resemble the ball club everyone expected them to be this year.

Ryan Garko sends one to Souvenir City, wherever that may be.In a creepy recreation of their post All-Star Break swoon of last summer, the offensive engine of the Indians has been sputtering and coughing, seemingly unable to string together hits (or even come up with hits themselves). While Ryan Garko and Victor Martinez have seemingly been supplying nearly all of the Tribe's hitting (with notable assists from platoon outfielder David Delucci and backup second baseman Jamie Carroll), legitimate concerns persist over the entire bottom third of the starting lineup (especially right fielder Franklin Gutierrez) and the status of slugger Travis Hafner and whether he will (or can) regain the form that made him the terror of the American League as recently as the 2006 campaign. Defensively, infield defense remains a nagging concern as well, with groan worthy miscues from Casey Blake and Jhonny Peralta provoking some fan ire.

Mr. Fausto Carmona. Also known as The Man.If there has been any semblance of stability in one area of the team, it has been the pitching, but even that department has hands wringing all over Northeastern Ohio. The Tribe has seen excellent starts from Jake Westbrook and Cliff Lee (both of whom had sub par, if not flat-out terrible years in 2007) that greatly helped alleviate an uneven, though promising, start for backup ace Fausto Carmona, a disconcerting pair of uncharacteristically wild performances from Paul Byrd and, most shockingly, the near-total collapse of 2007 Cy Young Award winner C.C. Sabathia.

Brodzoski (The Close) is not pleased with himself right now.The Cleveland bullpen has also been in a troubling state of flux, with set-up ace Rafael Betancourt now the closing pitcher in the wake of Joe Borowski's move to the Disabled List following two disastrous ninth inning outings against the Oakland Athletics and the Boston Red Sox. Illustrating the on-and-off nature of bullpens, two of last year's trusted stalwarts Rafael Perez and Jensen Lewis have been as hit and miss this year as they were lights-out last year. Meanwhile, the jury remains out on the newly acquired Masahide Kobayashi, while veteran reliever Jorge Julio has shown flashes of promise but has been erratic overall.

With a series at home next weekend against the 2007 ALDS rival the New York Yankees (which will hopefully go far better than the Tribe's first 2008 encounter with 2007 ALCS rival Boston) as the centerpiece battle of the next phase of the season, the Indians now have to find a way to keep their newly reacquired focus and chase down the current AL Central leading White Sox with the stabilizing Detroit Tigers snapping at their heels.

The newly re-christned Mr. Cliff Lee in what looks like 2005 form.We've got a long way to go, and over five months to get there.

Monday, April 07, 2008

(Twenty Years) Part 13: I Can't Quit You Baby

While I was never a stereotypical 90s "slacker" type in appearance, there is no question that my work ethic occasionally warranted an outside adjustment. At odd times, this was simply a matter of growing comfortable and complacent with the job, and there were a couple of other occasions where I was going through some kind of life turmoil that greatly interfered with my ability and/or willingness to do anything aside from show up and occupy space behind the counter. There were never shouting matches over this (this wasn't Greg's style), but the point would be made and, if necessary, enforced by my hours being reduced to part-time (spring 1994), or being placed on involuntary sabbatical in order to get my head together and figure out what the hell I was going to do with myself (spring/summer 1990).

By the middle of 1999, though, there were new forces in play that began to affect my work performance. For the first time since I was hired, I was finally starting to tire of forever being "third key." This change in attitude was precipitated by two factors: 1) I was pinned under the proverbial glass ceiling being the third man on a three-man crew, and 2) I had met Sarah during that spring and was presented with a choice to relocate, start anew, and perhaps move up from my present position whilst doing so.

When Beth (the store's longtime assistant manager since 1989) left Record Den at the dawn of 1997 for a job downtown with the Cleveland Indians organization, I was passed over for promotion by a co-worker who had been hired 6 years after me. Thankfully, there has never been any rancor between me and Brian (who had moved ahead of me) over this, for I knew full well that I had deserved the snub considering my recent performance, and the simple truth of the matter was that Brian was the better pick of the two of us due to his retail management experience from previous jobs.

Another factor that kept any possible hurt feelings at bay is that I had been offered management jobs in the company before (I had turned down, after much internal debate, an offer to run the Great Northern Mall store during the fall of 1995), and I figured it was only a matter of time before another opportunity presented itself. What I didn't count on, of course, was the complete disintegration of the entire chain over the next two years, which effectively left me stuck at #3 for the foreseeable future. D'ohh.

The cover of an old Scene magazine. Before the dark times. Before the EMPIRE.Towards the end of 1998, a new opportunity did come along, but not from Record Den: Scene magazine, a local entertainment newsweekly that I had been freelancing for over the previous two and half years, was being bought out by the Phoenix-based New Times media group (now called the Village Voice Media, as I discovered while researching this post). The situation at Scene was almost perfectly analogous to what had happened the year before at the store when Record Town had come calling: anyone who wanted to stay at Scene was offered employment under the new ownership, but it was going to be a very different kind of publication than what had existed before and, unsurprisingly, most of the editorial staff abandoned ship as the transition drew near.

From the tone of his voice, it sure didn't sound like incoming music editor at Scene was very pleased with the situation he was rapidly finding himself in as everyone walked off the plank instead of swearing eternal fealty to New Times. In a subsequent fit of pique, or perhaps in a "Year Zero"-styled move to wipe out the past and start from a new blank slate, New Times consigned the old Scene culture to oblivion as every single pre-transition article and review (thousands of record, movie and concert reviews, interviews and news stories covering the Cleveland music scene going back nearly 3 decades) vanished from the web archives forever. Jerks. I sure hope someone somewhere is keeping every issue of the old Scene magazine in safe, dry place, otherwise this represents an incalculable loss.

Anyway, back to that opportunity: as we watched a high school football game and chatted about the New Times situation one Friday night that October, Steve (my editor at Scene) told me of a brand new entertainment weekly called Spot that he was seeking to get off the ground. If memory serves, Steve had managed to snare three or four of the senior music writers (of which I was one) from Scene, along with a couple of other contacts/friends from the outside to make up his new staff.

The idea was that Spot would quickly move to flank Scene, which we knew was almost certainly going to veer away from the all-music format it had owned since its inception and skew towards the socio-political turf long patrolled by the Cleveland Free Times. Spot would also attempt to reclaim Scene's old territory with a more irreverent, eye-catching approach to news coverage than the well-worn, familiar Scene style (for reference points, Steve had in mind such vibrant British music monthlies as Q and Mojo). The most enticing prospect was that if everything worked out, we would would have the entire "local entertainment" playing field all to ourselves. After laying all of this out, Steve then asked me if I could commit full-time to the new venture.

At the risk of cheapening the moment with an unintentional pun, this was one of the toughest decisions I ever had to make on the spot. I had started freelancing for Scene on a pure lark in the spring of 1996 after years of wanting to make some kind of inroads into professional writing. The whole gig had come about from me asking a regular Scene contributor named Lee (who had been coming into the store for years) exactly how one applied for a writing position down there. Lee basically told me to knock off a few "demo" album reviews and send them down to Steve's office for approval. To my great surprise, I was brought on board immediately and started submitting copy within days, eventually "graduating" to concert reviews, interviews, and feature articles. While the pay was minimal and on a per-article basis, I was finally taking steps towards my old dream career, and what I was being offered by Steve that fall evening was basically the full-time writing job I'd been wanting for years.

However, there were two problems that made me chew this over for a minute or so before I could respond. Firstly, I knew that the survival rate of new startup magazines beyond six months wasn't very good, and regardless of their new approach, we'd be going up against two long-entrenched local 800 pound gorillas. Granted, Spot wouldn't be fighting the twin titans head on as our content would be quite different from theirs, but we would have to call in favors and take a lot of time setting up credentials, advertising accounts, and taking a long, slow route to possible success.

Then there was a question of loyalties, plain and simple. While I felt like I owed Steve for giving me a shot and then respecting me enough to offer a full-time position at his next venture, I had known Greg a decade longer and felt equally, if not more indebted to him for keeping me employed over the previous eleven years. As much as I loathed having Deak skulking around the back room all day, the thought of leaving Record Den when we were just getting started over again tore at my insides. After a few months of steadily increasing momentum, sales were starting to take off and we were all excited by what might be possible as our first Christmas season in our new location approached. To make a move to Spot, I would have to jump ship from the Den at the worst possible time to do so, and that alone was unthinkable. Even if the timing hadn't been as terrible as it was, I knew full well that there was no room for a fourth full-timer at the store, and if Spot were to fail, I would be pretty well screwed for a job, at least in the short-term.

After a minute or so of thinking everything over, I declined Steve's offer. I would be more than happy to keep on writing and coming up with content ideas, I told him, but I couldn't leave the store at this time after all we'd gone through to land it and then set it up. I think Steve understood, though I still felt terrible for turning him down. After I dropped him off at his apartment later that night and drove home down Route 2, I wondered if I might have just made the biggest mistake of my life, because it sure felt like it.

As it turned out, I couldn't have been more wrong: about four months later, after a half-dozen or so issues had been distributed around the Cleveland area to a promising initial response, it appears that, depending on how you interpret this brief wrap-up piece, either Steve had a catastrophic falling out with the publisher or (as I had heard) Spot's sole financier developed a lethal case of cold feet and pulled the plug on the whole enterprise. It didn't matter, really: Spot never published again. The dream was over.

Steve was a pretty low-key guy emotionally, but you couldn't miss the anger and betrayal in his voice as I talked to him a day or so after the shit hit the fan. I wasn't sure what to feel: on one hand, the end of Spot ultimately marked the end of my professional writing career. On the other, I had somehow made the wisest decision of my life to that point and thus had a full-time job to fall back on, while Steve (after a stint that following Christmas working for us as part-time help) eventually landed at Lincoln Electric for a while, then ran a CD Warehouse outlet in Mayfield, and now, it appears, lives in New York City.

Within weeks of Spot ceasing to exist, Sarah and I had become an online item, and as that situation developed further, the feeling that I wasn't going anywhere at Record Den had started to gnaw at me to the point where I was seriously considering moving to Columbia, Missouri (where she lived) to see what life had to offer a thousand miles from home. With hardly anything to keep me here if I left the store, the plan was that I'd work through Christmas, save up what I could, and move sometime in early 2000. This idea was sweetened considerably when Sarah informed me that the big record store in Columbia was now hiring for a full-time position. Yahtzee! I sent off a letter and resume to the store owner, shortly thereafter informing Greg of my plans.

January 2000 came around at last, and Western civilization had failed to collapse in on itself despite all the media hysteria that the Y2K bug would send us all back to the stone age at the stroke of midnight on New Years Day. I was just starting to make final preparations for the move when the news came down that the job I thought I had a fairly good shot at was not going to happen (and I'm very glad this news was passed on to me before the move, because Goat knows what the hell kind of chaos that little snafu might have wrought after I had already arrived in Columbia). With that opportunity gone, my spirit was broken and all the little doubts about this idea that had been flittering about in the back of my mind (that I had been studiously ignoring for weeks) suddenly became a very big deal. Perhaps a bit panicked by the sudden change in the situation, I began to reconsider the idea of moving, and wondered if I might be better off staying in Ohio instead.

As luck would have it, I didn't have to think about this very long: a week or so later, Brian had accepted an offer to work full time for our ex-assistant manager Beth at a warehouse she had opened in Willoughby. While he wouldn't be leaving Record Den permanently (he offered to work Sundays in order to keep up with the biz and give Greg and I a common day off), Brian would no longer be available to be a full-time assistant manager, and the job was suddenly mine if I wanted it.

Not being a complete moron, I accepted the promotion.

(Picture of me flipping the bird while reading Q magazine by Dave M.)

Saturday, April 05, 2008

1991: The Industrial Revolution

Sometime in November of 1989, I snatched a promotional copy of Ministry's The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste from Record Den and brought it over to Brian's father's house for some warped entertainment. Playing it quietly on the stereo downstairs that night was underwhelming to say the least, and a few weeks later, the CD ended up sold to Record Exchange or something like that. No skin off of my back.
About two years later, reading through a copy of Scene, I happened across a review of the Ministry video shot live on the Mind tour. The write-up sounded like a hoot, so I grabbed a copy from work and went home to watch it and catch what all the buzz what about. My parents were out of town that weekend night, so I let the stereo rip this time and watched something out of A Clockwork Orange with a score by an insane batch of motorheads on speed.

1988: The Gold It's In The ...

Getting a job in a record store seemed only like a fun lark in the largely lonely fall of 1987 post-Floyd. After Fazio's, a succession of far-beyond-dreary jobs in various factories, and a half-dozen hideously boring Saturday nights folding copies of the Sunday News-Herald (with Pink Floyd mix tapes blaring away in my ears, of course), the prospect of cleaning used chemical toilets outhouses sounded like more fun than what I was presently doing.
It was with this attitude that I began seeking employment in October of that year. Camelot Music was actually my first choice, for what reason I honestly cannot say at this time. Perhaps because they were playing A Momentary Lapse Of Reason on the day I walked through. Maybe because a kid I vaguely knew from high school was behind the counter that day. Who knew?
National Record Mart was next on the list, followed by Record Den. Record Rendezvous and Record Carnival would have been on that shortlist as well, but they had long since folded up at that point in time. Considering how many 45 records had slipped from those stores into the folds of countless Scene magazines in the past, it was probably a better thing, anyway.
How's this for irony? Record Den proved to be the winner, if only by because of the fact that Camelot never called back, and the manager of Record Den, Greg Beaumont at least cracked open the windows of possibility by always telling me to return in a week or so to discuss the matter further. By the time I had finally been granted a serious "interview," the idea of getting a job at a record store was an obsession.

1987: The Summer Of Pink

I had finally been hired late in the spring of 1987 working as a bag boy at the Fazio's supermarket down on the corner. While I detested paying weekly union dues (this being a temporary job, I couldn't have given less of a rat shit about the UFCW Local 880's struggle against the big-capitalist oppressors) out of my paycheck, there was still more than enough money left over every week to actually go out and do things without having to beg money off of my family or friends.
At the time, I was in no great hurry to expand my Pink Floyd collection. Since before Chritsmas, I already loved The Wall. After many playings, I had finally grown to love The Dark Side Of The Moon on it's own merits. Even Wish You Were Here, while being the greatest album of my lifetime, was still not impetus enough to head out and dig up the rest of Pink Floyd's catalog.
There was a comfort / fear thing at work here. I rationalized it this way -- I was very happy and comfortable with my three Floyd albums. The thought of picking up one that sucked bothered me, because I feared I would think less of the one's I loved. How many albums of the caliber of Wish You Were Here could Pink Floyd have possibly made? Was it possible that everything was good as these three albums? (A whacked-out Spicoli-in-denim friend of mine answered that last question with a beatific grin and the mysterious word "Ummagumma!") Is it possible that they never fell flat on their faces and turned in a bomb? Well, I knew what at least three cuts on The Final Cut sounded like from my MTV salad days in the summer of 1983. At that time, the mere appearance of those weighty, vaguley bovine videos elicted a groan and some spirited flipping-around elsewhere for a few minutes before coming back to see if anything new by Asia, Thomas Dolby, Berlin or The Police was in sight. Obviously, not everything is great. Ergo, be happy with what you have, junior. Get ready for finals. For the time being, that was that.
With a week and a half to go before school let out, Dennis was pulling into the Mentor High School parking lot as Jeff and Flash were yapping it up with one of the Belkins on the radio about some Big Event coming to town that WMMS, of course, was going to announce first.
"So what's the big news?" Jeff asked.
"Pink Floyd!" was Belkin's emphatic, excited reply.
What'd he say? Pink Floyd? Touring? Holy shit! My jaw probably fell straight into my lap at that point, I forgot to notice. Cleveland Stadium? September? Holy shit!
The announcement electrified Mentor High like nothing since Bruce '86 or Prince '84 (they hadn't announced the U2 date yet, after all). Nobody could believe that Pink Floyd were actually together again and putting on a show in the fall, when a bunch of us would be in or about to start college. Nobody seemed to know that a Pink Floyd album was on the way as well, but nobody really seemed to care much, either. Everyone wanted to and my friends included. Brian got a numbered hospital bracelet from Sears later that day, seemingly guaranteeing him a place in line -- this was a newfangled solution to the previous year's Springsteen ticket debacle when everyone camped out all night in the loading docks and raced to the doors simultaneously the next morning, creating a Who-like crush at the front.
Saturday morning at 6:00 A.M. was when Brian Harnak and I met up in my driveway and Brian drove us down to Sears to stand in line for tickets. WMMS was playing Kenny G's "Songbird" on the way down (something I'm sure they'd love for me to forget, but that sunny early morning drive is etched in my mind like it was yesterday). I must admit that we both enjoyed the Kenny G track immensely, by the way. Christ, we thought it was pretty cool jazz. We were young.
Since this would be my very first concert, I had no idea what to expect when we got down to the Sears parking lot. The two hundred or so cars lined up in the parking lot was a hell of a shock. As we stood in a line before the ticket bracelet number was announced, we listened to my little jerry-rigged ghetto blaster (a Walkman with a miniature equalizer and two speakers) which was blasting out (what else?) Wish You Were Here, but the new ticket procedures interrupted our enjoyment a little while later. You see, once the starting number was called, everyone not in possession a bracelet had to stand clear of the line. Way clear, in fact. So, with some grumbling, I elected to sit out on top of Brian's car for a while, sunning myself and air-jamming until Brian returned with the tix.
Brian's face betrayed the mixture of good and bad news. The good news was the got the tickets. Six of 'em to be exact -- more than enough for all of us to go. The bad news, however, was that these prized seats were in batches of three and exactly opposite each other, otherwise they would have been a lot worse than they were. It was going to be three of us in the left hand side of the upper deck, and the other three of us on the right hand side.
Not bad, but as it would turn out nearly four months later, not great either.
A week later, the long-dreamed-of end of my three-year term (with no parole) at Mentor High School just happened to fall on the same day as Brian's 18th birthday -- June 4, 1987. His good friend Tina Shambach and I made a trip up to Great Lakes Mall to find him something cool from (gasp!) Camelot Records late that evening, both of us absolutely clueless as to what to buy. As it turned out, Tina had the right idea, and I cut a brain fart. I picked out a cassette tape of The Grateful Dead's Skeletons In The Closet (I have no idea what the fuck I was thinking about that night), while Tina picked out a CD of Pink Floyd's Animals. I liked the cover (what the hell is that pig doing up there?), and I got a kick from the fact that there were only five songs listed on the album. Lightning may indeed strike twice on the same band with the same number of songs on a different album, so I thought what the fuck? and grabbed a cassette for myself as well.
A half-hour later, we were back at Brian's house where he and Mike Gilbert were busy, ah, "orchestrating" the heat-lightning storm in the skies of Mentor that night. Those two always had a weakness for that bit in Return Of The Jedi when Ian McDiarmid was frying Mark Hammill with tentacle-like bursts of purple lightning. Bless 'em. Anyway, Tina and I gave Brian his recently-purchased birthday gifts (which he recieved with chuckling enthusiasm when he glimpsed the pig floating serenely between the smokestacks of Battersea power station) and we went for a short drive during which I played a piece of my tape in his car stereo as a preview.
"Pigs On The Wing" was, well, interesting and very very brief. "Dogs" came up next and we were far more appreciative of the sprawling feel of that song. I must admit that when the band lapsed into the standard-Floyd flat four beat after the line "you'll be the one to put the knife in" we all doubled over in laughter. Despite the more acoustic texture of the album, there were still glimpses of regular old Pink Floyd after all.

1987: That Space Cadet Glow

Aside from the psychotically-high volumed playbacks of "The Happiest Days Of Our Lives" that I had continually endured at home when Dad was showing off his new stereo to his friends, chanting along like any good fifth grader did with "Another Brick In The Wall, Part 2" on the school bus, some insanely boring WWII-era newsreel videos with shots of some guy's mug in the shadows, and an abortive attempt to record The Dark Side Of The Moon from my uncle during my stay in Pennsylvania in 1985, I was largely (some might say "blissfully") unaware of Pink Floyd as an artistic entity until the tail end of 1986. Two decades later, I still can't believe that I got by so long without ever having copped a feel of this brilliance until the middle of fucking eleventh grade, but I had other stuff on my plate that had occupied my attention.

It was on a cold, snowdusted December night that I was over at Brian Harnak's place with Rob and Mike. We were really just hanging around and doing a lot of abject teen nothingness (probably deciding whether or not to play Axis & Allies again) when Brian suddenly handed me his Walkman and told me to listen to the music he had cued up.

Though I had heard it before on a far better sound system, the music and sound effects I heard were transfixing for whatever reason that evening. The music was "On The Run" from The Dark Side Of The Moon - three minutes and change of panned sound effects and throbbing, ancient VCS-3 synthiers. To these Britsh synth-pop attuned ears, this sound collage was somehow like manna from heaven through those little earphones. What I had experienced in the Buhl planetarium the previous summer was merely a fun night out with my uncle and Brian's kitchen while in the company of my best friends, this music somehow became mindblowing.
Following the shocking, cacaphonous intro to "Time" (which scared the living shit out of me that night), I knew I had to have a copy of this record. Of course, having no job yet (and no record player) made this a rather insurmountable problem at the time. It was back to the old ninth grade solution of - "can I borrow this overnight and tape it?" Brian agreed, and within three hours, The Dark Side Of The Moon was in my rather considerable collection of dubbed albums. Side two of the tape was a bit of a problem, though a hastily-assembled collection of older mellow "psychedelic songs" (that is, if you consider A Flock Of Seagulls' "The Border" and Jan Hammer's "Evan" to be "psychedelic," as we insanely did) filled the 45 minutes of free space just dandy.
Luckily, The Wall presented a different (and far easier-remedied) solution. With a seven year-old vinyl copy moldering away in my parent's record racks, it was a cinch to dub a decent sounding copy from the downstairs stereo. Even more so than Dark Side, The Wall was great Walkman theater for that winter. The propulsive, occasionally snappy rythyms and huge, wide-open production were just dandy for walking through the school hallways. And of course there was that old lyric "We Don't Need No Education!," which every good school student and ultra-right wing populist hack knew how to misinterpret. Oh, I'm quite sure that I was one of the unwashed faceless multitude of idiot swine know-nothings that dear old Roger Waters railed against back in the '70's...but fuck him, this was high school.
Incredibly as it seems from this standpoint in time, the Pink Floyd experience was pretty much restricted to those two epochal albums for about five months after I'd first taped them. I knew vaguely of other albums by the band, but I knew nothing of the titles or quality of their deep catalog. Aside from Roger Waters, I didn't even know who was in the band or who did what. As far as I was concerned (and according to The Wall's sleevenotes), Waters wrote, sang, and did everything -- in short, he was Pink Floyd (I'm sure he'd love to hear that now). For a long while, Dark Side and The Wall were pretty much in my "sporadic rotation" tape pile most of my senior year -- for night time listening and the odd loud blast in the daytime. That's about it. They were just two cool old albums from (eek!) my parent's age that I happened to like.
During those following five months, I had begun riding to school in the morning with a few different people than before. The car I rode in was driven by a casual acquaintance of mine named Dennis Wylie -- far more desirable than more rides with Ted Kozenko and his merry burnout band, who had turned going to high school into a 45 minute, second-hand smoke-laced nightmare every damned morning. What's more is that Dennis had a primo stereo setup in his car -- top-of-the-line tape deck with the radical mustard-yellow face and liquid crystal display plus a twelve-band graphic equalizer mounted on top. While I didn't care much for the musical fare on most mornings -- the omnipresent Led Zeppelin got more than a little grating after a while (I only really knew two songs by them : "Stairway To Heaven" and "The Song Remains The Same") -- old school Rush was interesting for a kick, and the odd Van Halen album passed the time nicely.
On one beautifully clear early spring morning sometime around the end of April or the beginning of May as Dennis was crusing along the Hopkins Road curves on the way to school, he switched tapes from another Led Zeppelin fists-in-the-air anthem to a song that literally poleaxed me in a way that Dark Side never had at that point. It was another Pink Floyd track called "Welcome To The Machine," and it was unlike anything that I had ever heard before. The experience of those wailing, pitch-bent synthesizers and remorselessly throbbing bass lines at the approximate decibel level of a small jet plane taking off just floored me.
As "Have A Cigar" blasted off afterward, I immediately leaned forward and asked Dennis just what in the hell that last song was. Wordlessly, he passed me the cassette case with it's enigmatic robots shaking hands -- even more evocative than the prism and the wall put together. Wish You Were Here. 1975.
I was quick to the next point - "Hey, Dennis -- can I borrow this overnight and tape it?"
"Yeah, but I want it back tomorrow morning. And if you fuck it up, I'll fuck you up!"
Barely hearing the last part of Dennis' words (which I'd heard many times before), I was already busily examining what little information there was to glean from the tape. I wouldn't learn for months that Wish You Were Here was a shamefully empty packaging deal on cassette. Christ, those robots shaking hands wasn't even the real goddamned cover! No liner notes, no lyrics, no photos of any kind. Just that cover and the even more enigmatic song listings (only five songs on this tape? How the hell long are these tunes?). The whole album seemed like a mystery that had me intrigued hours before I even heard the bloody thing.
After school, I popped side two of my old Dark Side tape into my parent's stereo and dubbed over the mellow classics side while I watched some MTV in the family room. When I heard the tape drive click to a stop, I took the new acquisition upstairs and cued up The Dark Side Of The Moon on side A, thinking that I may as well presage this new recording with a replay of its apparent predecessor. To reiterate an earlier point -- until that evening, I had only heard "Welcome To The Machine" and most of "Have A Cigar." When I slipped on my headphones on and played Dark Side, I thought quite naively to myself : damned fine record. Probably would be perfect if only that "Machine" song was on here somewhere...
Remember the very first time you heard your favorite album of all time?
Flipping over the tape, I cued up Wish You Were Here in its entirety for the first time. Stupid as it may sound, my life has never been the same since. I believe my close friends will attest to this under oath.
After the intro silence, the eerie opening of "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" drifted out of the tape hiss like the Northern Lights appearing in the dark skies over upper Michigan. Within two minutes, I was hypnotized like I had never been to any record before. The synth work was absolutely stunning! I had never heard such rich, shimmering, full-bodied tones out of a record in my life before. I was hearing waves and washes of sound so beautiful that I was breaking out in goose-flesh listening to it. Then came those soft guitar notes, spotlessly picked and perfectly at home in the mix while the synths appeared to rise like the tides, surging through possible resolve before fading into near-blackness.
Before the famous four-note mourning guitar phrase, I was nearly in a panic -- that couldn't have been all!
My panic was in haste -- from those ringing notes, the body of "Shine On" crashed into being between my ears, trading off languid guitars and keyboard leads with exquisite grace. I literally could not believe what I was hearing that night, and every shift in mood and tempo in "Shine On" had my complete and undivided attention. When the voice began to sing nine minutes in, I was almost disappointed in that the most wondrous music I had ever heard had to have singing to it. But the vocals were fascinating (though I had no idea at the time who Syd Barrett was), and the saxophone solo at the end was a welcome surprise underneath that waterfall-like guitar work and the suddenly peppy tempo.
When the song finally faded perfectly into the now-familiar forbidding drone of "Welcome To The Machine," I was literally breathless. Why had I never heard of this album before? How could this have escaped the attention of Brian, or Mike or anyone else that I knew aside from Dennis Wylie? Why didn't the radio ever touch this album? I almost breezed through "Have A Cigar" and "Wish You Were Here" just reflecting on "Shine On" and "Welcome To The Machine." Amazingly, "Shine On" started up again in radically different form in gusts of late-autumn winds and by the time the final notes of this "Shine On" reprise finally drifted off into the ether, I honestly knew at that very moment that my musical horizons had been unalterably changed. Pop singles and rock ballads suddenly seemed trite and silly compared to something of this magnitude.
Needless to say, I rewound the tape and played it again. And again. By the third airing, I was already trying to imagine the best way for Brian to hear this album for the first time.
That TDK tape containing Wish You Were Here and The Dark Side Of The Moon became my most-played cassette virtually overnight. There was little question of throwing anything else in to hear -- nothing else I owned could top the effect that sonic one-two punch had on me that night. Every evening would be the same...listen to The Dark Side Of The Moon while I was still trying to drift off, then I'd flip the tape and experience Wish You Were Here one more time. The images and moods suggested (and realized) on that album still work an indecribable magic on me to this day. Wish You Were Here was, and still is, the most magnificent album I have ever heard.

1984: For The Love Of Big Brother

Getting a stereo of my own at Christmas, 1983 was the point after which all was lost: any chance of ever getting away from music and into some other field of interest was pretty much gone for me from that point forward. By February of 1984, I was finally starting to emerge from the worst of my homesickness and had started to elevate my GPA towards an at-least-passable level, but I was also falling headlong into my musical obsession all over again as I became familiarized with the Cleveland FM spectrum at last. There were also some musical changes afoot that started to become apparent only towards the end of that year as the "Now Sound" started to shift, particularly at MTV, who were starting to alter their approach and presentation for the first time in the wake of their runaway success over the previous two years.

Following the green Christmas of 1983, the winter of 1984 was a bear: repeated blasts of arctic air and snow squalls coming in waves off of unfrozen Lake Erie. In this wintry hell, my explorations of the local FM dial began in earnest (during times I wasn't parked in front of MTV downstairs), centering eventually on the twin Top 40 bastions of 92.3 and WGCL. The latter station carried American Top 40, which made them an easy early favorite of mine, but the not-so-gentle urgings of the more rock-leaning friends I'd played D&D with that frigid winter ultimately pushed me towards WMMS, which I already had figured out was the pre-eminent rock outlet in the area (simply judging by the number of t-shirts, banners, and bumper stickers I'd seen around by then).

I was right, but it was a while before I figured how just how big WMMS really was. As a longtime Cleveland institution by 1984, WMMS had been a kind of musical rite of passage for rebellious teenagers since at least the early 1970s. As it happens, by the time I started listening, WMMS was actually only two years away from beginning a rapid decline to Hell in a handbasket (and quite frankly, there were many who felt the station really started its downward slide back around 1981 when John Gorman, Kid Leo, Denny Sanders and the gang opted to stop airing only what is now called "classic rock" and started stirring the pot a bit to see what else would work). In the summer of '84, the station, while not exactly true-blue AOR, was a heady mix of old, new, obscure and familiar that had me addicted in no time. There was an edge there that couldn't be denied: an attitude that didn't exist at all at Top 40, and there was a very pleasing, relaxed, friendly feel to the DJs (I was a quick fan of Sanders, T.R., and Dia Stein) that I'd never heard before and liked almost immediately. From waking up to Jeff & Flash's "Morning Zoo" (and often listening to them while walking or taking the bus to school) and drifting off to T.R. later that night, WMMS became a constant (and now dearly missed) companion and for a while my most trusted source for new and cool music, largely thanks to Gorman and Kid Leo's wide-open, nearly Top 40 policy of adding whatever worked to the mix, whether it was Deep Purple, New Order, Motley Crue, or A-Ha.

While friends had been steering me towards rock music, Top 40 was already starting to drift back towards a more adult-friendly sound than it had been after the previous summer, and I was starting to get tired of hearing far more Lionel Richie ("Hello") and Phil Collins ("Against All Odds") on the radio than Berlin ("No More Words") or Missing Persons ("Give"). The problem basically was this: while synthpop was still the driving force behind my obsession, new realities were starting to set in as far as The Mainstream was concerned.

It wasn't so much that what had sounded so futuristic and cutting edge on the radio in the middle of 1983 was fast becoming yesterday's news (though in some cases, it was), but that MTV was starting to move away from breaking new foreign synthpop acts and breaking more American pop/rock acts as the music industry realized that a five-or-six-figure investment in a five-minute video clip could likely create a couple of million album sales. MTV had once been scrambling for any music to keep its programming moving, and was now starting to get in more than it could show, and some larger companies spent a lot more time and money on their videos than other, shall we say, independent companies, and those more expensive videos (generally by better-known acts) began to signficantly alter the look of the channel by the onset of summer. Eventually, that shift began to reach Top 40 radio, and suddenly it seemed like the Men Without Hats' ("Where Do The Boys Go") of the world were being thrown under the bus to make room for older, established acts like Rod Stewart ("Infatuation") who were now playing the MTV game with a far bigger production budget.

This isn't to say that synthpop simply vanished overnight -- just ask Howard Jones ("What Is Love?") or Talk Talk ("It's My Life"), who made their respective breakthroughs that spring -- but it seemed like the entire role of the modern synthesizer in contemporary music began to change right around the middle of 1984. Basically, the music world absorbed the look and sound of New Wave and re-fabricated it as straight-up pop music. In 1983, bands had put their exotic synth racks front and center in their videos (or at least clearly visible along with their hair and clothes), but by 1984 the synths were still there, but were no longer being used as fashion statements so much as a means to an end. Yes, the wild and wacky fashion sense that New Wave had kick-started would remain in the 80s pop scene throughout the rest of the decade, but the quirky use of whizzy, bleepy, alien-sounding synths would be replaced by new digital upgrades which allowed a "buffed-up" sound that was clean, glistening, and, ultimately, ubiquitous in 80s pop music.

There was also a weird give-and-take going on in the world of "rock" radio: while the synthpoppers were now being forced in effect to pick up guitars and join the mainstream (or sink back into college radio obscurity from whence they came), some of the bigger AOR (album-oriented rock) bands of the time like Van Halen ("Jump") and Queen ("Radio Gaga") were fully embracing synths and making them a prominent component of their sound. Meanwhile, it seemed like R&B as a genre was absolutely neck-deep in analog electronics, with nearly every major act of the time swathed in squiggly bass notes, stacks of Rolands and processed Simmons drums.

1984 was also the year I started to acquire records on my own for the first time (rather than waiting for Christmas to come around so I could make out a freaking huge list of albums again). What actually started this happening was a freak accident at school towards the end of ninth grade, where I wound up breaking my pinky by not watching what I was doing and letting it collide with the end of a staircase railing. The pain was excruciating, but I had been on my way to science class to take an important test, and I made myself go through that before I went to the school nurse to have her take a look at my hand. Of course, the broken digit was on my writing hand, and the test I'd taken looked like it had been filled out by a kindergartner, so bad was the writing on it (my friend Rob ended up correcting the test a few periods later and gave me some rather lacerating commentary on my script in the margins).

After I'd reached home and then been taken to the hospital to get my arm and wrist immobilized in a split and wrapped in Ace bandages, my mother decided to take me to Great Lakes Mall and buy me a record as a kind of "hang in there, kid" consolation prize (had I been eight or nine, I might have been taken out for ice cream). I had never been in a record store since I'd started becoming seriously interested in music, and walking into Record Carnival that afternoon was a pretty awesome experience: gazing upon rows of vinyl albums and tape cassettes in display bins running the length of the store and then spying the current Top 100 singles arranged in a specialized wooden display rack that offered a little labeled cubbyhole for each title made my decision difficult. In the end, I opted to go for a full-length album (and one that I knew at least three songs on): the previous year's self titled debut by Naked Eyes. A month or so later, I returned to this same store again and picked up a few 45s (like the absolutely dreadful Jacksons single "State Of Shock") with some allowance money, and my tiny little record collection started to grow.

While I would ultimately amass a pretty fair amount of 45s by the end of high school (albums were largely set aside for Christmas lists), most of my music acquisition was done the old fashioned way: spending long afternoons and evenings taping songs I wanted off the radio or borrowing albums from whoever would lend them to me. This was how "downloading" worked back in the early 1980s, kids, and while compressed music files may not degrade after a few dozen plays like a cassette tape could, I'll still take a TDK SA-90 over a 160 kbps mp3 file any day of the week, quality-wise. :)

As luck would also have it, I had met a couple of people who lived up the street who occasionally hooked me up with music that I could copy and listen to at my own leisure (often at high volume on a set of spidery-looking Koss headphones that I'd been given around the same time I got my stereo). Paul and Dennis weren't exactly close friends of mine at any time in my life, but they did have some taste, not to mention access to a lot of records that I wanted to hear. Paul was far more into New Wave of the two, and his tastes ran pretty similar to mine overall. Over time, he leant me a bunch of 45s, primarily, allowing me to add songs by Romeo Void ("A Girl In Trouble"), Industry ("State Of The Nation") and Real Life ("Send Me An Angel") to my first homemade compilation tapes.

My other connection, Dennis, was far more bent towards straight up rock music, and while we didn't always see eye-to-eye on this subject, he would ultimately introduce me to the Greatest Album Ever a few years down the road. Complementing his more rock-based tastes, Dennis always specialized in full albums, letting me dub copies of Fastway's All Fired Up ("All Fired Up"), Twisted Sister's Stay Hungry ("We're Not Gonna Take It"), the soundtrack to Footloose ("I'm Free"), while also loaning me a few 45s by John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band ("On The Dark Side") and Alan Parsons Project ("Don't Answer Me").

It was also right around this time that my brother and I got the brilliant idea to rapidly increase the size of my music collection by signing up for a record club membership on our own and thus getting a dozen albums (among them .38 Special's Tour De Force, Men At Work's Cargo, and Eddie Murphy's Comedian) for a penny, which looked like the most incredible deal in the history of business (I wonder now how many kids out there jumped to this exact same conclusion and failed to read the fine print on these agreements). A month or so later, of course, we learned of our mistake as my mother screamed bloody murder at my brother and I for having to pay upwards of seventy to eighty bucks for a dozen of rock and comedy records (plus added shipping charges). Oops.

While I was still no one's idea of a social butterfly at school, I at least had a couple of friends to talk to, and was no longer staggering around under a ton of bleak depression: the sun was coming out at last. I even realized at the time that my transition from Shore Junior High School to Mentor High School at the end of that summer wasn't anywhere near as traumatic as it could have been had I had moved down here and walked into that place not knowing a single soul the same way I had into Shore. *shudder* Good lord, I could have wound up in an early version of the Trenchcoat Mafia or something ...

The summer of 1984, however, was a splendid time to be listening to the radio and soaking up the warmth by the Civic Center swimming pool. I can clearly remember late nights lying awake in my room with the lights off, the windows open to let in a night time breeze, and WMMS filling the space with the music of the era, the airtime dominated by the likes of Prince & The Revolution ("When Doves Cry"), Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band ("Dancing In The Dark"), The Cars ("Magic"), Billy Idol ("Eyes Without A Face"), ZZ Top ("Legs"), Huey Lewis & The News ("If This Is It"), and, er, Ray Parker, Jr. ("Ghostbusters").

Long-term change was also afoot at MTV, though the effects would take a while to sink in. For the first time, the network was starting to flex its new muscle and began to make demands of its own, the most notable of which was exclusivity on new clips by flagship artists. By now, the big guys had moved into the music video world, and the network that started it all was already starting to pat itself on the back, as the first of the almost forever-more unwatchable Video Music Awards aired that fall, and a Top 20 "Video Countdown" had been showing since the late winter.

On the business front, MTV also began ponying up for exclusivity rights for new product from the major labels who were now jumping into music video with both feet. Billboard magazine had started indicating which songs on the redesigned Hot 100 chart had videos available and which ones didn't. Videos themselves were now being reviewed in the same fashion as singles and albums, with the reviews running on wire services and printed by newspapers nationwide.

After witnessing firsthand how much cultural and commercial impact MTV had created over the previous two years, the labels were then asked by the network if it might be possible that new videos by major artists such as, say, Duran Duran ("The Wild Boys"), Daryl Hall & John Oates ("Out Of Touch"), The Fixx ("Are We Ourselves?") and Bryan Adams ("Run To You") could be shown only by MTV and no one else as "Sneak Preview Videos" for a period of 4 weeks (not that there was any competition for the channel whatsoever outside of NBC's Friday Night Videos or USA Network's Night Flight). Labels, once utterly dismissive of the channel (if not the entire concept). The labels were too gobsmacked by their resurgent fortunes (watching monster albums like Purple Rain and Born In The U.S.A. selling like there was no tomorrow) to disagree, and for the first time, MTV began to act less like an upstart network and more like the giant corporations it was now dealing with on a daily basis.

The second half of 1984 also saw me walking down the hallowed halls of massive Mentor High School for the first time, and going through that "who the hell are all of THESE people" adjustment for the second time in two years, only this time I at least had some semblance of a circle of friends to keep me sane unlike the previous year's disaster. My academic performance had improved enough to get me into 10th grade, but never progressed much beyond that point again (save for the odd one or two classes or teachers a year that actively engaged my interest). For the next three years, I would basically be shooting for the 2.0 and generally not missing by much.

which at this time was actually getting ready to enter its death throes (though this would not become apparent until a couple of years later), but suddenly seemed like striking a gold mine when I was 14 coming up on 15.

Fave Raves Of 1984 (by artist):

Art Of Noise Daft

Berlin Love Life

The Blue Nile A Walk Across The Rooftops

Lindsey Buckingham Go Insane

The Cars Heartbeat City

Cocteau Twins Treasure

Thomas Dolby The Flat Earth

Eurythmics 1984: For The Love Of Big Brother

Eurythmics Touch

David Gilmour About Face

The Honeydrippers Volume One

Howard Jones Human's Lib

Judas Priest Defenders Of The Faith

Kool & The Gang Emergency

Madonna Like A Virgin

The Pretenders Learning To Crawl

Prince & The Revolution Music From Purple Rain

The Smiths The Smiths

Soundtrack Footloose

Soundtrack Repo Man

Soundtrack The Terminator

Soundtrack Witness

Bruce Springsteen Born In The U.S.A.

Talk Talk It's My Life

Talking Heads Stop Making Sense

This Mortal Coil It'll End In Tears

Thompson Twins Into The Gap

U2 The Unforgettable Fire

Van Halen 1984

1983: Miracles And Heartbreak

That was the year that it was

We rarely know until afterwards when the best years of our lives occur. Usually, commonplace distractions like schoolwork, mowing the lawn, going to work, dealing with occasional irritations like car repairs or other day-to-day minutiae draws our attention away from The Bigger Picture and it will usually be a couple of years or so before we realize "hey, 1998/1992/1988/1984 was actually a pretty good year, all things considered." There are, however, a few spans in my life when I was actively conscious at the time of how wonderful it was to be alive in the here and now. If you were to ask me to come up with a year off the top of my head when everything seemed to come together, when all was good with the world, and then maybe qualify it by adding "the first time in your life after which things never seemed quite the same afterwards," I'd have a pretty quick and easy answer for you, and that answer would always be "1983."

Looks like a really bad day ahead...In the Grand Scheme of Things, 1983 was anything but a banner year for humanity as a whole, particularly in an economic or political sense (and in my far more cynical and advanced age, I'm not really sure of the last year that was). One of the Big Issues of the day had even managed to penetrate my own consciousness: this was the year when, for the first time, I'd started coming to grips with the concept of possible nuclear annihilation, largely thanks to a 1982 article in Time magazine that detailed the effects of a rudely unannounced nuke strike over downtown Detroit (say, twelve miles and change south of our front door). While that alone was disquieting enough to read and visualize, there was also an ABC-TV movie we all watched one Sunday night called The Day After, which had far more of an impact on my psyche not so much because of the visual aspect of being able to see what I had had been reading about, but because my own life had been changed irrevocably by that November, and that somehow made the idea of meaningless mass extermination from the skies a lot more troubling than it had been only six months previous. By late November 1983, nothing seemed like a cakewalk anymore.

Of course, this isn't to say that everything since that time has been a dreary, overcast, soul-smashing grind: I can easily name a few other stretches of my life that felt almost as boundless and fun as that year did. While the second half of 1987 found me with more personal freedom and a far greater ability to steer my own destiny and do whatever I pleased, most of 1983 was a magical time of close friendship, unbounded imagination, and, most of all, endless, wonderful, exotic musical discovery.

1983 was the year that the seemingly machine-tooled, incredibly intoxicating music that I'd discovered the year before on cable television was suddenly everywhere. It took a while to get rolling, but by the middle of spring, the synthesized strains of New Wave weren't confined to MTV, but all over the rest of the television spectrum and even the radio as well. A lot of this was due to the now-inescapable conclusion being reached by the major labels who watched incredulously as heretofore-unknown British acts originally aimed solely at college radio or late-night Anglophile "specialty shows" suddenly exploded in popularity everywhere MTV was available. The gold rush was on: for a year or so, New Wave was allowed to fully infiltrate the mainstream.

One channel shall lead them least for a little while...The timing of this breakthrough couldn't have been better: as everything suddenly began to heat up, it seemed that creativity in music and in the art of promotional video clips was running at a feverish pace. Watching MTV that spring and summer was an intoxicating, unending learning experience as I was suddenly awash in so much amazing new music that I literally couldn't keep track of it all ... but Goat knows I tried.

It must be said, however, that despite the enormous underground popularity of the channel, MTV still lacked the real commercial muscle it would flex in later years when its programming began to run more in line with mainstream pop/rock music (something we'll certainly be addressing over the next post or two), thus while many acts received months of heavy airplay on the network, that didn't always translate to success in record stores. Going by the Billboard singles chart recap for 1983, you'll notice quickly that much of the new wave/synthpop invasion was contained outside of the Top 10, with only rare incursions from the likes of Eurythmics ("Sweet Dreams"), Peter Schilling ("Major Tom") and Men Without Hats ("The Safety Dance") to fly the flag for the rest of the troops (while heavily electronicized, post-disco Top 10 incursions by Donna Summer ("She Works Hard For The Money") and one-hit wonder Michael Sembello ("Maniac") don't exactly earn the "New Wave" tag). The rest of the class was still kept in check by the unending onslaught of post-Yacht Rock that was still dominating adult-aimed radio at this time. In effect, you had to know where to tune in to get the good stuff.

It sounds really strange to say it these days, but back then most of the good new music was found only on MTV. Strapped for material when it launched in late 1981, the network was now absolutely swimming in videos by new artists to the extent that their current rotation play lists (which started appearing in Billboard on a week-to-week basis) often ran several dozen titles deep and touched on everything from sales titans like Michael Jackson ("Billie Jean") to novelty jetsam such as Haysi Fantayzee ("Shiny Shiny") and nearly all points in between. So great was their influence that, for a short while, the idea of "video 45s" took flight as record labels started releasing 4-song videocassette EPs comprised entirely of clips from period artists like Naked Eyes ("Always Something There To Remind Me") (or, in one case, a gargantuan classic rock act like Pink Floyd ("The Final Cut")), sensing that some fans might consider the video more important than the song itself. A 2-CD Rhino Records compilation of channel favorites called MTV Class Of 1983, released over a decade later, illustrates just how many well known songs got their push from video airplay.

My once-favorite radio station in the whole wide world. RIP.Locally, a longtime Detroit progressive-rock radio station once known as WABX threw in the towel on its long ratings war with rivals WRIF and WLLZ and switched to a nearly exclusively New Wave programming strategy (called "Detroit's New Music") with a decidedly U.K. synth bent, often airing imported singles (such as The Human League's electro/Motown pastiche "Mirror Man") months ahead of their domestic release. While I still kept a habitual ear open to the current Top 40 hits blaring from WHYT several notches down the dial, it was listening to WABX that summer that was absolute heaven on Earth, and the one song that defined that time like no other was Berlin's relentless electro-classic "The Metro": the kind of sleek, thrumming, electronic torch song that producers like Georgio Moroder would kill to create.

It was also around that summer that I had begun to strike up a musical dialog with my Uncle Kevin (whose wedding I mentioned earlier in The Great Record Massacre post), whom I think it's fair to say was like a younger, wilder version of my father. While Dad was the more taciturn, strong-and-silent type, Kevin was like the stereotypical hippie uncle who never grew up. We'd always had a great time when I was a kid as Kevin was always up for acting like an overgrown ten year old himself: either getting into water hose fights with my mom, making funny faces at us across the dining room table, laughing that infectious, carrying bray of his, and, down the line a few years, reinforcing for me that growing up doesn't necessarily involve becoming a suit-and-tie-wearing drone.

With my new found musical geekiness in full bloom, my uncle and I had started connecting on an entirely different level as I'd learned that he and my Aunt Barb not only watched MTV, but had in fact been fans of the music I'd recently discovered for years. Within months of this realization, Kevin began sending me home-dubbed cassette tapes of Duran Duran's Seven And The Ragged Tiger, a fantastic Eurythmics club gig broadcast that fall by MTV, Visage's The Anvil, Yello's You Gotta Say Yes To Another Excess, Thomas Dolby's The Golden Age Of Wireless, and The Police's Synchronicity (though he wasn't quite anti-authoritarian enough to let me listen to Soft Cell's Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret just yet, heh heh). I guess these days, kids raid their parents' music collection to dig a little deeper into music beyond what they hear over the airwaves, but my only option back then for checking out post-punk and synthwave was my Uncle Kevin, and bless him for it: he was a much bigger influence on me than he ever knew.

In the midst of that long, wonderful summer came the proverbial bolt of lightning from the blue sky: my Dad's employer was transferring his job back to Wickliffe, Ohio effective immediately. While we would still be living in Southfield until the end of summer vacation, we would be starting the next school year in the Cleveland area (likely Mentor, the same town in which we had lived until I was about 6 years old). Our house was put on the market and everything had to be cleaned up and kept that way for showings (which would also necessitate us kids to vacate the premises for an afternoon here or there) throughout July and August. This is not a drill. Repeat. This is not a drill ...

When this news was dumped on us, I felt like I'd been flattened by a freight train. I harbored only a few distant memories of my early childhood living in an apartment complex in Mentor, flashes of friends, elementary school, and little else. My entire life, however, was in Southfield: I lived right down the street from the high school I would be attending that fall (I'd even been on the orientation tour at the end of my 8th grade year), I had a fairly wide circle of friends and acquaintances cultivated over the years, there was a girl who might have liked me that I'd finally started to pay attention to (from afar, at least), I had a radio station nearby that I already knew was the rarest of its kind in the region, and the idea of losing all of this was too terrible to even consider. But there was no working things through or alternate routes to ponder in this situation: the end was coming whether I liked it or not.

The End Of All Things, August 1983July flipped into August and the huge cardboard moving boxes we were given had started to fill. The shelves and closets of our house, always loaded with books, magazines, and smaller boxes of cruft accumulated over the years had started to empty (even down in the evil, murky basement). Since we were continually being kicked out of the house so that the real estate people could bring in prospective buyers (or my parents were headed down to Mentor to scout about for a new house for us to live in), I spent as much time with my closest friends as humanly possible, listening to WABX on the nights when I couldn't watch MTV, always living in some futile hope that the news would change and we wouldn't be leaving and everything was going to be just like it was. But then the end of August finally came around and Moving Day had arrived at last. A little more than three hours after later we watched our house disappear in the rear window of the family van, we arrived at a Holiday Inn in Euclid where we would spend a few days until everything was ready for us to move into our new home.

Two-and-a-half decades later, I can easily see the ripple effects of this move on the person I would become. In Southfield, I was friendly, outgoing, bored with school but getting through it regardless, always prone to leap on my ol' 3-speed and scout around the subdivisions looking for something to do ... generally a pretty happy kid. Once we had moved to Mentor, however, all of this seemed to change in the space of a weekend. I was absolutely crushed with homesickness, listless at school (my ninth grade year represented the very lowest-ebb of my admittedly unspectacular public school experience as I brought home a .7 GPA in early November), and feeling completely lost in the lazy, comparative rural suburbia of Mentor (which turned out to be even farther removed from bustling, crowded, built-to-bursting Southfield than I'd imagined).

With a couple of new friends to play D&D with (a trio of wildly-different kids who were pretty much the only people to so much as say "hello" to me in the weeks after I'd started school), I tried to find some measure of solace in strategy gaming and familiarizing myself with the completely-unfamiliar radio landscape of metropolitan Cleveland. Initially, I wasn't thrilled with what I'd found: certainly nothing anywhere near my beloved WABX was in the offing during my early swipes through the spectrum, an unsurprising discovery which chased me off the dial completely for a few months. Looking back, it was probably for the best: listening to Top 40 that fall would have entailed continuous dives for the dial whenever Jim Steinman's dual godawful schlock-fests "Making Love Out Of Nothing At All" and "Total Eclipse Of The Heart" reared their ugly head.

A mantra for Fall 1983With radio out of the picture, there was only a little bit of MTV here and there to pick up the slack as long as I wasn't being grounded for my abominable academic performance at Shore Junior High School. That passionate state I had been in with music before our move had dissipated a bit as I had been overcome by a crippling, withdrawn shyness that I had never known before this time. Advancing from Northbrook to Birney was one thing, but somehow starting completely over again in a new town as a ninth grader (yet still attending a junior high school) had me paralyzed like a deer in the headlights of an eighteen-wheeler. Meeting new people became tough, a kind of obstacle course that suddenly looked far too daunting to run through again and again. Underneath all of that (and perhaps powering it), was a secret fantasy I was harboring in which my parents abruptly decided in a few short weeks that Mentor was a dreary disaster and we were headed back to Southfield for good, which of course never happened. Over the next couple of months, I was too busy trying not to continually burst into tears of despair to really care much about when a new Asia video ("Don't Cry") was going to be premiering on MTV. The thrill was gone.

Christmas that year was bittersweet: I was still in a pretty terrible funk (not helped by the fact that there was no snow on the ground that day, which happens here from time to time) but very happily surprised nevertheless when I was given a stereo system of my own, along with a couple of record albums (in the form of Michael Jackson's Thriller and Culture Club's Colour By Numbers) and a whole bunch of blank 90 minute DAK cassette tapes. It should be said that this stereo system wasn't some component rack kind of deal, but instead a Sears-model "all-in-one" kind of piece with a turntable, a 5-band equalizer, a digital radio tuner that easily could double as a night light, and two tape decks (one that worked in the same "auto reverse" fashion as a car stereo tape player and one in the more familiar mode, with the ever-important record button).

I don't recall ever asking for a stereo for Christmas (I was far more into squeezing things like ColecoVisions, mini synths and AD&D books/modules into my lists back then), so for a while I selfishly wrote off this particular gift as a lucky guess on my parents' part. It seems truly silly now that I somehow thought they hadn't noticed my fascination with music at that time. How could they have? I used to listen to the radio on my dad's receiver with the headphones on for hours at a time in Detroit, I had drawn out little cartoon telethons featuring contemporary musical guests to keep myself amused on camping trips, I had spent hours recording videos onto my own 4-hour music tape, and I was continually being asked to give up MTV so that someone else could watch another channel. Sure, I'd never talked about this new love with my parents, but it was perfectly obvious that they knew the score. They might have even known that the stereo eventually would help steer me through this rough spot in my life ... and if they did, they were right. I won't say that music saved my life in this case (that came much later on), but it was the first time I would became aware of how much of a crutch it could provide when I really needed one.

And the snow turned to rain...What I thought was an even better Christmas present arrived couple of days later as I was overjoyed to discover that we would be returning to Southfield for New Year's Eve. That joy, however, dimmed considerably when I learned that we wouldn't be seeing Paul (or, for that matter, any of the other close friends I'd so desperately missed) as he and his family were out of town and we were merely crashing at their place so that my parents could reconnect with their friends. Golly, sign me up...

I don't know if anyone reading this has ever stayed at their best friend's house when said best friend wasn't around, but it was a very dull, sad couple of days. My chief memory of that time was sitting around upstairs in the old "game room" desultorily playing Turbo and Zaxxon on Paul's Colecovision and listening to my pocket radio the rest of the time before we left Southfield again for our new home and our new life in Mentor ... and to face the year 1984.

And the snow turned to rain ...

Fave Raves Of 1983 (by artist):

Berlin Pleasure Victim
The Cure Japanese Whispers: The Singles
Def Leppard Pyromania
Duran Duran Seven And The Ragged Tiger
Electric Light Orchestra Secret Messages
Brian Eno Apollo: Atmospheres And Soundtracks
Eurythmics Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)
A Flock Of Seagulls Listen
Peter Gabriel Plays Live
Genesis Genesis
The Glove Blue Sunshine
Herbie Hancock Future Shock
Billy Idol Rebel Yell
Billy Joel An Innocent Man
Journey Frontiers
Huey Lewis & The News Sports
Madonna Madonna
John Cougar Mellencamp Uh-Huh
Naked Eyes Naked Eyes
New Order Power, Corruption & Lies
Alan Parsons Project Ammonia Avenue
Pink Floyd The Final Cut
The Police Synchronicity
R.E.M. Murmur
The Rolling Stones Undercover
Klaus Schulze Audentity
Talking Heads Speaking In Tongues
Tangerine Dream Hyperborea
Tangerine Dream Wavelength
Tears For Fears The Hurting
The The Soul Mining
This Mortal Coil It'll End In Tears
U2 War
Neil Young Trans
ZZ Top Eliminator