Monday, February 1, 2010

Sibling Revelry

Not many nights ago, on a patio of a bar that used to be my favorite, some friends and I were in full on music geek reverie, discussing our earliest musical memories, and what turned us on for the first time. Sure we were drunk, and we had smoked something someone snuck in from Afghanistan, but it was a good night. I haven't talked music in forever, and it was great to hear what other guys (and the one girl) remember as their first favorite tunes.

The first song I remember liking was a song called "Alley Cat", which I heard off of one of my dad's Chet Atkins records. I think Dad only had one Chet, tucked in there with the Nat King Coles and Erroll Garners. But that's the one I liked. And then came The Beatles, on Ed Sullivan. "Meet The Beatles", their 1964 Capitol Release, was the first Album I owned, purchased for me by Mom at White Front.

But a key part of our conversation, and one that made me think the most, was the role our siblings played in shaping our musical tastes. There's five years difference between my older brother Don and myself, and growing up, we were more pains in each others' asses than friends, but when he would leave the house, I'd have free reign over his collection. Here are ten albums I first heard via my brother's collection. I own copies of all of them now, and since I've dug them for going on fifty years, I don't think there will ever be a time when I don''t love these.

1) The Dave Clark Five "Glad All Over"

I think these cats were on Shindig! or Hullaballoo! or Hootenanny! or one of those other shows with exclamation points.

I loved those two drum kicks in the hit "Glad All Over" (the bit right after "And I'm feelin..." and right before "Glad all over!") and the song "Bits & Pieces". I have a multi-disc collection of the DC5, but it's overkill. This is the one I'd keep.

Dave Clark was the drummer. I wonder how many times the lead singer had to say "No, Dave Clark's the drummer."

2) Chad And Jeremy "Sing For You"

I loved these guys. They had an album before this, but this one was the best pre-psychedelic Chad and Jeremy release (Cabbages And Kings was their magnum psychedelic opus).

This one had a Lennon & McCartney song "From A Window" --the best Beatles song not recorded by the Beatles---and one of my all time favorite songs, "Four Strong Winds".

Also, a song called "Donna, Donna" which sounds pretty until you realise it's a bird taunting a calf on his way to market and slaughter. Even the winds get a laugh out of the poor guy's plight. Whatever.

Chad & Jeremy further cemented themselves into my young psyche when they appeared as "The Redcoats", a singing group booked on the Alan Brady Show and greeted with Beatlemania-style results, meaning they had to lam it out in New Rochelle at Rob and Laura's house, where only Millie Helper could bug them. Yes, it's The Dick Van Dyke show, the finest sitcom television has ever known.

3) The Byrds "Turn, Turn, Turn"

My first exposure to Dylan was through this album. It contained more palatable (to my young ears) versions of "Lay Down Your Weary Tune" and "The Times They Are A-Changing".

This album also sparked my love affair with The Jangle, which has stuck with me through my whole life. The Jangle is that sound that twelve strings or six strings make. Jangle-pop.

The hit (and hence the album title) was "Turn Turn Turn", a Pete Seeger version of a passage from Ecclesiastes. I remember contemporary press proclaiming the Byrds the "American Beatles", and that always ticked me off to where I held it against the Byrds on subsequent releases. As I grew up, I realized the Byrds were one of the best rock bands in their own right. Crosby's haircut on the cover of this one makes Paul Simon's on "Bookends" seem tame.

4) Simon & Garfunkel "Parsley Sage Rosemary & Thyme"

This was my introduction to Paul and Artie. It's their second album. Here, Paul Simon's writing talents were really starting to bloom. He was only 24 years old.

His best early song, "Homeward Bound" is on here. Also "The Dangling Conversation", which is a bit pretentious in the lyric department, but still one of my favorites. "As you read your Emily Dickenson, and I, my Robert Frost..." All that's missing is the pipe and tweed jacket with felt elbow patches.

The one that affected me most as a kid was "7 O'Clock News/Silent Night, which has Artie's clear voice singing the classic carol while a newsreader announces the disturbing headlines of the day. Listening to it today, it's still moving to me. This album also contains Artie's finest moment until 'Bridge Over Troubled Water", which is the song "For Emily Whenever I May Find Her". It is the perfect showcase for a pretty near perfect voice.

5) Simon & Garfunkel "Bookends"

Another S & G. My first reaction when I saw this album in my brother's collection was "Whoever told Paul that bangs was the way to go does not have his best interests at heart." Well, maybe I didn't, but it's a silly haircut. No matter, this album knocked me on my eleven year old ass.

Starting with the brief instrumental "Bookends Theme", on into "Save The Life Of My Child" all the way to "At The Zoo", I was hooked.

This was the first time that I really noticed production. Roy Hallee deserves a lot of credit. Strings, sound effects, just magical.

This one has "America", "Hazy Shade Of Winter", and is the second album in a row to feature "Mrs. Robinson" (the first was their previous album, the Graduate soundtrack). It is the only album I know of that contains a track recorded live at The Home For Aged Hebrews in New York. ("Voices Of Old People")

6) The Rolling Stones "Big Hits: High Tide And Green Grass"

This is where you learn my brother was not some no-ball havin' folkie. The first time I ever heard the Rolling Stones, one of my all time favorite rock bands, was through this album, their first "Greatest Hits" package. And hits they were. Twelve songs, all the big ones. "Satisfaction", "Get Off Of My Cloud", "Nineteenth Nervous Breakdown" and "The Last Time".

My favorites on the album were "Tell Me", which had some great vocals from Mick and Keith and beautiful guitar parts, and "Play With Fire", which was a slithering ballad that made me wonder about parts of London. In the pre-internet youth, it was hard to get information on Knightsbridge, Stepney, and Saint John's Wood. I was able to determine that St. John's Wood was where the money was. If there was ever any doubt about how bad-ass the Stones were, Brian Jones puts them to rest with his FUCKING RED CORDS. Red corduroy trousers took balls to wear.

7) The Kinks "Greatest Hits"

Of all the things I'm indebted to Brother Don for, this might be the biggest---he turned me on to the brothers Davies, and ruined my young mind forever. Thanks, Don. This was the first Greatest Hits package that Reprise put out. It came out in 1966, and was even stronger than The Stones one directly above.

I'd never heard these guys before, and I can remember my nine year old jaw turning slack, with bits of drool pooling on the coffee table as I first heard "You Really Got Me", "All Day And All Of The Night" and "Till The End Of The Day". The campy "Dedicated Follower Of Fashion" was on board, as was one of my enduring Kinks favorites, "Something Better Beginning". These guys meant business.

8) The Rolling Stones "Their Satanic Majesties Request"

Where to begin with this one? First, the cover. 3D image, and if you turned it a certain way, you could find all four heads of The Beatles. It was seen as their answer to Sgt Peppers, but I think that it was their answer to Acid, which was making the rounds I'm told.

Then the songs. Two stony masterpieces, "She's A Rainbow" and "2000 Light Years From Home" laid my pre-drug infested mind out. I would put this one on and listen for hours, trying to isolate vocal bits and figure out what the hell was going on. One song had snoring in it. (The Gomper). Another one had Bill Fucking Wyman singing lead. When did that happen on a Stones album? NEVER AGAIN. Not a bad song, really, "In Another Land". The vocal effect was a bit much, but it's still a good song. Surprisingly, this ranks very high in my Best Stones Album list. Not surprisingly, my best experiences listening to it have been when I was very high myself. (Thank you, I'll be here all week. Try the veal)

9) The Doors "The Doors"

1967. My favorite year in pop music. It gave us the record above this one, as well as Sgt. Peppers. The Bee Gees first album, Procol Harum's debut, The Who Sell Out, Hendrix...and this one, The Doors debut.

I was fascinated by this one. Prominent keyboards, non-existent bass player, and very obtuse lyrics. It's the first time I've ever been scared by a song---"The End", in which it is implied that a kid kills his parents and sister. At least that's where my drug-free mind went with it. Plus, it was eleven minutes long. I think I liked everything on this album except "Light My Fire", the big hit, and I even liked that one a little bit. Over time, I came to see the Doors as a vastly over-rated band, with pretentious lyrics and a pretentious lead singer, of whom it can be said that death was a very good career move. But this album still works for me, and although I like a few songs from later in their career, this is the only one I really care about. And it's a good one.

10) Creedence Clearwater Revivial "Bayou Country"

OK, this wasn't in Don's collection. By the time this one came out, Don had moved to San Jose for school and taken his records with him. But, I include it because I wanted an even ten, and because I'd never heard Creedence before Don bought me this album as my 12th birthday present. I didn't like it at first, but later that summer I remember laying in the grass in the back yard, the living room windows open and this album playing. "Born On The Bayou" led it off, and that had swampy guitars and those growly Fogerty vocals that were new to me. The other hits were "Good Golly Miss Molly" and "Proud Mary", but the one that I liked to play over and over was the spooky eight-minute song called "Graveyard Train", which was a simple bass riff, some guitar fills, and an old blues style 'bad train to hell' vocal. In retrospect, one of my best birthday presents.

I'd be nowhere without my love for music. In hard times like these, I sooth myself with it, and motivate myself with it, and cry to it and fuck to it and lose my mind to it. Thanks to my brother, these 10 records were launching pads to further explorations and discoveries and a rare gift even if the person who gave it to you doesn't even know he gave it to you.

I owe you big, Don. I love you.

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Complacency And The Regret

News comes to me second hand that someone I held dear and who always brought a smile to my face has died.

I cannot tell you how horrible I feel. I am sad for him, his lovely wife, and his son and step-son, both of whom he loved dearly and helped mold into fine young men.

Mostly though I'm sad because of me. I have spent my whole life trying to avoid "heavy shit". This includes confrontation, life's inconveniences, and deep feelings and/or love. I guess that's cowardice.
I flee from things that might make me feel something real.

A few months ago, I learned he had cancer. I called him and we chatted for an hour, while he waitied in a doctor's office for his weekly chemo. He sounded great, and assured me I hadn't heard the last of him.
We made nebulous plans to get together, and although I knew he was sick, I didn''t take the time to drive down to the Bay Area and see him. One of my dearest friends.

Dan Cotler had a hell of a good life. Too short, of course, but full nonetheless. I met him many years ago when we worked in the Tower Books Warehouse in the corporate compound in West Sacramento. I was the defacto manager of the place, and Dan was the guy who bought remainders (cheap books).
We often ate lunch together, and found lots of common ground. He was smart, and knew all there was to know about the book business. He taught me a lot. He'd been a bigwig with a major book company, but retired when his first wife Carol took ill with cancer. He took care of her as the disease took its toll and she finally passed away. He went back to work as a sales rep, in which capacity he met his second wife, Heidi. Heidi was in charge of Tower Books, and was a single parent. They courted over release books and cocktails at the legendary Candlerock Lounge, a few steps away from the Books office on Watt Avenue. Eventually, they married, and as all good couples do, complimented each other perfectly.

At their beautiful Sacramento home, they hosted legendary 4th Of July parties, weddings, funerals, demolition derbies and all manner of bacchanalia in the back yard. People came early and stayed late.
Some of my most treasured memories are of small gatherings on the deck for al fresco supper, wine flowing freely. Kinky Friedman, Sue Grafton, and Wavy Gravy all hung out in that yard at one time or another.

Then came the move to Benicia, and the visits became less frequent but still wonderful---sitting on a smaller, chillier deck and watching the sunset and the lights come up on the Carquinez Strait. Dog parks and Point Isabel with Dioggi and Chet. Then unemployment for me, and visits from The Big Black Dog, and no visits to the Cotlers.

As I lay in bed last night, trying to remember everything I could about Dan, wishing I'd gone and seen him, I found myself laughing more than crying. But crying too.

* When we first worked together, he had examples of young Aaron aka Sparky's artwork hanging near his desk. The pride he took in Aaron and the genuine kick he got out of his son really made me love him.

* His dad was Ben Cotler, and he grew up in rural Jersey. No, I don't remember which exit. Ben loved newspapers, and Dan shared that love as well. When we travelled together, our morning coffee would feature Dan reading me items from the local rag, which he usually read cover to cover.

* Dan was in Korea, and drew hazardous duty----climbing to the top of water towers to check if they'd frozen over.

* Dan muttered to himself a lot. He had an eternal internal running dialog between "Clear Headed Dan" and "Confused Dan", which often became external via audible mutterings. Our mutual friend Javier once said "Heidi put a muddle-spell on Dan, and he failed his roll." One of my favorite memories of being his cubicle neighbor at Bayside involved one such argument between Clear Head Dan and Confused Dan. Dan came in to work, set his keys down, and began a long discussion with himself as to whether he remembered to turn the stove off at home. "Wait, did I?....I thought I did because....No, of course I did...I think I did....Did I?" He slowly worked himself into a lather that included newspaper headlines that went "HOUSE BURNS DUE TO OWNER NEGLIGENCE" ... Finally, I heard the swoop of him picking up his keys and marching out of the building. An hour or so later he returned, and went about his business. I said "Well?" and he said, quietly.."Oh yeah, it was off..."

* In 1962, Dan and a friend drove from Detroit to California and Tijuana, living out their own Jack and Neal fantasy.

* Dan lived in Detroit during the 1968 riots.

* Dan hated peaches. This was because in his youth, he worked the Jersey peach orchards and couldn't get the itch of the peach-fuzz off of him.

* Dan called Heidi "She Who Must Be Obeyed", just like that British guy on that one show.

* Dan loved the Oakland A's, and made an annual pilgrimage to an early A's game with Hal, Pally (Glen Shelton), and Ken Krieg. Pally and Ken are both gone now too.

* Dan knew Forrest Gump would be a huge hit movie, based on the way he used to sell the paperback version of the novel years before.

* Dan taught me about "Salesman's Luck", which is when you find a parking spot right near the door of the customer you're calling on.

* Dan loved hot dogs. I remember how his face lit up when he bit into a good one, and he'd wink and say "Nice crunch..."

* Dan and I once drove to Fresno in Heidi's car, and got a Tom Waits tape stuck in her player, and spent almost an hour and a half on our knees trying to remove it, lest she kill us both.

* I was with Dan the first time he died. We were in San Diego opening up the La Mesa book department, and staying at this pricey hotel in Mission Bay. We finished work and rushed back to the hotel, had a quick drink and went up to my room to watch the series finale of "Cheers". That makes it 1993. We were watching the show, enjoying it, and at one point, Dan stopped laughing. I looked over at the other bed where he was lounging, and he looked dead. Not asleep, Dead. His chest wasn't moving, he didn't appear to be breathing, and I began to panic. I thought he was dead. I imagined Heidi calling (She was supposed to call after the show) and me having to tell her "I'm sorry. Dan is least he died watching a show he loved..." I thought how lame that sounded, and was trying out alternative dialog when the old bastard snarked and woke up. My adrenaline was going, and he got a little ticked that I thought he'd died. "I"m not THAT much older than you, Koch. And I'm in better shape."

* Dan got yelled at by Gene Simmons on the phone once, making me instantly hate Gene Simmons.

* He liked a good vodka martini. I didn't, and don't, but last night I drank several because he couldn't.

I will miss the man for the rest of my life, his type don't come around all that often.

As I wait for 2009 to enter the past in just a couple of hours, I send my thoughts to him, and my Stepfather, who was every bit a father to me as my own. I lost two good men this year.

Resquiat In Pacem, old friend. Hope you're laughing wherever you are.