Monday, February 25, 2008

Musical Moments That Change Your Life—The Remix

The Days Of Vinyl and Roses...

As I fire the boilers up for what looks like a fearsome, fright-fraught, and in the case of John McCain's Arizona brother-in-less-than-ethical behavior—flat-out felonious week's worth of doings, I find myself using music to keep me from walking the streets looking for creeps to slap down. That's how silly the “Silly Season's” getting lately with talk of Manchurian Candidates and other candidates being deemed one minute as a GOP enabler, and the next as a bereted, leather-jacketed second coming of Bobby Seale and Fred Hampton.

Great Balls O' Stupid!

But music is a saving grace for me. It gets me through. Takes the edge off—and in a sensory way, simply transports me. My ears tune in closely and my brain itself opens up. I “hear” the music in an enjoyable as well as an analytical manner. My nervous system is primed to a high sensitivity. There are chills and shudders. The hair will stand on end on note trills, and certain bass lines sock you in the gut and waggle your pelvis against your will.

And oftentimes—the music will key in emotionally. It can support or provoke a moment. Our dear and talented littlest gator wrote about this beautifully about two weeks ago. It was a popular post and a thought-provoking one. From it, I got an e-mail from one of my oldest friends—an artist, teacher and writer who read the piece and got him to thinking about his musical moments.

And maaaaaaan, has he got some. As I've known him for over 25 years. I've been a witness to some of 'em—so I figured I'd share them with you, as he's just a damned fine writer himself, funny,and as much a music “head” as I am. You'll be hearing more from him in the future as he's also a wonderful military historian capable of tying in classic tales of Spanish armadas into modern-day doings. And be on the lookout for some special music posts I'm whipping up with the help of a few friends who boast impeccable Rock, Pop and Funk chops. Trust'll love it!

Thus without any further ado, my pal—who shall go by the moniker “The King Of Pain” for now, and his musical moments, followed by my own “Ten”.



When it’s good, music can be uplifting. Energizing. Unforgettable. Timeless.

And when it’s REALLY good, music can inspire a timid soul to plan, and do, magnificent feats, to express feelings of great joy, or to be a balm in time of sorrow. Oh yes, that is the power that music, good, nitty-gritty, down-to-the-bone, make you wanna slap your mama music has, regardless of genre, or race or culture of it’s creator. GOOD music is all that, and more:

It can be Magical.

My best bud in the world's post prompted me to list the ten most magical memorable songs I know. Songs that, for whatever reason, have left their mark on my psyche. As an avid music man, this was no small task, and the list here is no way fully inclusive, but these ten are the first I always think about. And since this list involves going down “Memory Lane”, because I’ve been in enough trouble lately, the names of the innocent have been changed, but the songs remain the same.

10.) “Sweet Love”—Anita Baker, (1986)

From the dramatic and powerful first eight chords, you get the sense that something new was dawning. And when the instrumental intro subsides and Anita’s dusky alto takes over, the new sound is complete. A different strain of torch love song had been unleashed, one that would become a staple of—and one of the only actually enduring examples of what would soon be known as “Cool Jazz.” For me, this song also ushered in the dawn of a new and unfamiliar era for me personally: the Era of (finally!) Getting Laid.

9.) “Sideshow”—Blue Magic, (1974)

70’s R&B melancholy at its best. “Sideshow” always evokes a far more innocent time, of being in 5th Grade at PS 335 in Brooklyn, of a young, skinny lad with big glasses and bad teeth trying to dredge up the nerve to ask the school Goddess, one *Felicia Packer, to be his girl, hanging around her block on Park Place and Utica Ave. for hours every Saturday, hoping to get a glimpse of her magnificence (today, this would be stalking). “Sideshow”, along with The Stylistics’ “You Make Me Feel Brand New” was the soundtrack of that time, forever blaring from someone’s apartment or car radio as I maintained my weekly vigil. And though I did intercept her several times, I ultimately gave up the ghost, figuring a geek like me never would have a shot, only to realize twenty years later, when events would play back in my mind, I belatedly, and heartbreakingly realize that every time I did Intercept The Goddess, she was always, ALWAYS happy to see me.


8.) Pop Pop Pop (Goes My Mind)—Levert (1986)

You fucked up. Be a man. Admit it. You. Fucked. Up. You had a diamond, and you traded her in for rusty, shedding Brillo pads. Could’ve had a Lexus, but you went for the Le Car instead. Friends call me “The King of Pain”, due to all the sad love stories that I’ve had the misfortune to live. But not all of them are those that cast myself as the victim of a wily woman. No…some are self-inflicted pain, the result of bad choices (or in some cases, no choices made at all). “Pop Pop Pop” is a signature song for those times that I blew it, when I gummed up the works, when I did bad. A haunting song coolly delivered by the late, great Gerald Levert and company, it’s what I always played when all I could do was mope and wallow in self-pity. Good times. Gooooooooood times.

7.) “If Loving You is Wrong, (I Don’t Want to Be Right)—Luther Ingram (1972)

And speaking of haunting, this tune is as good as it gets. As a child I loved this song (I was eight when it came out). But it wasn’t until I became an adult —a married adult, that this song’s power and pain was fully understood. And what pain there is!

“Am I wrong to fall, so deeply in love with you?
Knowing I got a wife and two little children depending on me too.
And am I wrong to hunger for the gentleness of your touch,
Knowing I got someone else at home who need me just as much.”

“OOOOHHHH!!!! ” As Dr. Smith (from Lost in Space) would say— “The pain, the PAIN!” ”

What grabs me about this song is its simplicity in lyrics. It goes right to the point, without trying to be clever or cute. It’s raw, it aches, and Mr. Ingram (who wrote the song) delivers with a smoky, down-home chit'lin-style that tells me this ain’t no make believe shit; this is the real deal, this motherfucker lived this mess, and he is oh-so-torn. And it's made even more evident to me as a married man who has felt…well…um...let’s just move on, shall we?

6.) “Sucker MCs” (Krush Groove One)—Run-DMC (1983)

Much acclaim has been heaped upon Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” as the first mainstream rap record, and “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five for giving rap a social conscience, and it is all deserved. But in my estimation, there is a third nascent rap song that completes the holy trinity, and that is Run-DMC's “Sucker MCs”. After “The Message, which came out in ’82, rap really was just meandering along, still a novelty waiting to expand its beachhead. Then came the Spring of ’83 when “Sucker MCs” burst upon a sleeping population, bringing the oomph back in to the Hip-Hop Nation. Simple and sparse, with only an addictive, repetitive percussion beat mixed with mad skill by the late Jam Master Jay, Sucker MCs harkens back to a time when you could actually play a rap song that wasn’t angry, or filled with hate, self-hate, misogyny or abounding with words that sane parents try desperately to shield their little ones from. It’s a flat-out fun record, with a funky little beat that 25 years later, is still a crowd pleaser in the clubs.

5.) “I Feel Good All Over”—Stephanie Mills (1987)

Are you into doing acts of evil? Not EVIL on the scale of Hitler, Stalin, Dahmer, or bin Laden, but rather, lower-case evil, Reggie Miller giggling and throwing up “dagger” three-pointers in the final seconds sort of wickedness? Then play this song, or if you’re at a party that I’m present for, get the DJ to play this song. For then you will see a man, a steady, secure, confident man be reduced to a glob of goo—struck catatonic by the first five bars of this love anthem. It never fails; that is always the reaction I have when I hear this song. I could have Beyonce sitting on my lap, with Gabrielle Union caressing my shoulders while Catherine Zeta-Jones is pleading with me to free her from the hell that is her craggy grandfather of a husband, and it would still be the same; instant transportation to a time gone by, when I still had “The One That Got Away”, in my grasp. The One with whom I shared the most glorious kiss, during an August sunset, in the life-guard tower at Coney Island, as this song played softly in the background, echoing from the lit-up amusement park behind us. I hear this song and I become a glassy-eyed mute, an arrow shot through my heart, because through my stupidity, that magical time ended far too soon (cue that damn “Pop Pop Pop Goes My Mind”). So go ahead, you evil little bitches, do the deed—play that song. I’ve long accepted it’s the penance I must pay for being a greedy bastard, for trying to make “The Seinfeld Switch” when I should have loved the one I was with.

Kleenex, please.

4.) “Tempted”—Squeeze (1981)

In December,1981, as a college freshman, me and my buddies went to a college party at F.I.T.—The Fashion Institute of Technology. This was still the time period when I was painfully shy, and probably only the third real party I'd ever ventured out to. Got to the party in the cleared out, darkened Student Lounge, and it was jumping, filled with hot babes of every stripe. Like barracudas sweeping through a school of tuna, my boys went to work, scoring dance, after dance, after dance. At first I held back, unsteady, unsure. But then after awhile, I reasoned, “What’s the problem? You’re handsome, looking sharp in your black slacks, black turtleneck and beige blazer, how hard could it be to ask a girl to dance?” And so I entered the fray. Asked a girl for a dance. She said “No”. Asked another. Again, “No”. Tried again.

And again.
And again.
And again.
And again.

By the seventh time—I was shot down in flames. I finally raised the white flag, and as the party kicked into high gear, I sauntered off to the TV room, my ego shattered, and head hung low. There I stayed for the rest of the party, looking at something called Cable TV, that had some program called MTV that was showing something called music videos. One of the songs played was “Tempted” by the British pop group Squeeze. A song about being tempted by the fruit of another, it instantly became my default song for every time I was tempted to give up in my pursuit of the “Fairer Sex”. Later, when I’d meet similar bad nights at the clubs or a horrible date, I’d loop this song, playing it over and over and over again, much like my rejections that cold December night in ’81. And I still love the song.

“King of Pain”...that's me.

3.) Red Light Special—TLC (1994)

In the waning days of my bachelor life (July ,1996) I found myself at a Manhattan club. There that night was a beautiful young lady whose name is lost to me in the mists of time, but not the image of her beauty. Model tall, with shapely long legs and the look and build of Garcelle Beauvais, the girl was but a casual acquaintance; someone I’d love to target, but she was a bit young, (maybe ten years my junior) and a tad too beautiful and popular with the fellas who were hawking her like mad that night. So I harbored no illusions. Well this night, as the joint was about to close down, I asked her for a Last Dance. She accepted and we danced thru a couple of songs. Then “Red Light Special” came on. Seeing it was a slow jam, I was ready to back off. To my surprise, however, “Garcelle” drew close to me and we started to dance. Really close. And in my head, cheering erupted, slowly at first but gaining in strength the longer the song blared thru the emptying club, and the closer that sweet, lean body was up on mine. Oh, shit! Could it be? Am I on the verge of a miracle? I wondered. As T-Boz crooned her tune, I switched gears, from passive to aggressive. I said something about “Garcelle” being beautiful. She buried her head in my chest. I looked over towards my wingman, LM who stared at me with wide-eyed wonder. Getting bolder, I tossed another line as we slowly danced in sync. No response. Launched another get over-line salvo. No response. I reared back a little to check on my silent, clinging partner, and in doing so, I got a whiff of reality.

The girl was drunk. Damn near out cold on her feet. And as a result, she had fallen asleep in my arms. That’s why she was all up on me—I'd been practically holding her body upright. The cheers quickly turned to groans, and as “Red Light Special” ended, I had the task of trying to wake my dance partner up, bitter that my dream had already ended. As usual.

2) “Over Like a Fat Rat”—Fonda Rae (1982)

Of all the songs on this list, this is the only one I don’t have great affection for. Yet it makes this list solely on the strength of something that happened that some folks believe I made up, but alas, it did happen.

Saturday, May 7th 1988, I was at a graduation party of an acquaintance up in the Boogie Down Bronx. I'd just broken up with “I Feel Good All Over” girl, and was out looking...for a replacement. Shallow? Yes…but I was young. At this party were three prospects, one of whom I’d met sometime before.

The party…was as we said then, wack,, and the three young ladies were bored. I suggested that we’d go to my crib to get some up-to-date records to liven the party up. The three agreed, and we drove to my apartment in the Murphy Houses off Crotona to grab some albums.

When we got there, the three were amazed at my album collection, which numbered over 1,000 discs at that time. So much in fact, that they seemed to not want to leave, but rather—stay at my pad. “How long can we stay?”, asked the cutest of the three.

“As long as you like.”, was my reply, and the three girls shrieked in delight.

So as they giddily became familiar with my record collection, I was in the kitchen making some snacks, trying to decide which of the three I was going to concentrate my efforts on. It was there, in the kitchen, where I heard it; a slight shuffling, crinkling noise, behind the refrigerator. Thought I was hearing things, but a minute later, heard the same noise again, and my heart froze, because I knew exactly what that rustling noise signaled.

A mouse
No Lord, not here not now! I remembered praying, already knowing the answer. My crib had regular flare-ups regarding mice infestations, and that night one decided to make a visit. But I didn’t have time to combat the bastard, I had guests to entertain; three seriously sweet female guests whom I was trying to impress. All I could hope was that “Mickey” would stay his ass in the kitchen, while action unfolded in the living room. Or perhaps …beyond?

With snacks in hand I gamely returned to the living room where the girls were playing jams by Salt & Pepa, Eric B, and Sybil, laughing and dancing and swapping club stories. I sat on the couch, trying to relax, but my ears were cocked, waiting to hear that noise again. The cutest girl then went to my pile of records and picked out, you guessed it, the NY club classic, “Over Like a Fat Rat”. Excitedly she put the needle to the record, telling us how she loved this song—a thumpy, bass-heavy, ass-shaker of a jam.

And that’s, I swear on my mother’s ashes, when the trouble began.

Like a self-fulfilling prophecy, I heard the same rustling noise over “Fat Rat”, but the girls didn’t catch it. I started talking really loud, desperately trying to drown out the sound. Then I heard a squeak. And one of the girls heard that squeak above the record. I tried to play it off like “I ain’t heard nothing!” But then...the motherfucker did it again, this time letting out a big squeak.

“Was that a mouse?”

As if to answer the girl’s question, there was a sudden flash of grey lightning, darting quickly from behind the sofa to behind the piano. And all three girls saw it.

“A MOUSE?! Oh, FUCK no! FUCK no!”

And in a matter of seconds, as Fonda Rae was still singing about getting over like a fat rat—all three honies grabbed their jackets and cleared out of my crib with the quickness, leaving me with Fonda, and that mother-fucking, cock-blocking rodent.

It would be another TWENTY-EIGHT MONTHS (!) before I came CLOSE to getting some like I might’ve been close that night.

And in twenty years I’ve never played this song again. Ever.

1.) “We Must Be In Love” (The Wedding Song) —Pure Soul (1996)

In my opinion, one of the best wedding songs of all time, and to this day I am surprised this was not a bigger hit. Beautifully sung by women (and not little girly-girls) singers that could give a vintage EnVogue a run for their money, “We Must Be In Love” was me and my bride, “L.A.'s” first dance at our wedding reception nigh ten years ago, which more than made up for all the suffering and angst I went thru during my single days. If you don’t know this song, do yourself a favor and download it. Maybe it’ll be magic for you as well.


From the King of Pain.


Now, here are mine—pulled from the comments in TLG's original post, but here now to show some counter-balance and to give you a bit of insight into li'l ol' me.

My ten (LM's) moments:

1.) Hearing Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers “Moanin” at my dad's friend Lewis' home in Englewood, New Jersey. Lewis had a full-blown, high-end stereophile room in his basement. Big Quad channel stereo. Everything was perfectly balanced. I could pick out where each instrument was and the quality was simply magical. That dark, paneled audio womb was amazing to hear music in, and hearing that majestic Jazz classic—those thundering drums, Bobby Timmons' loping piano, and Lee Morgan's serpentine horn just transported me. I fell in love with Jazz that day. Lewis would give us one more treat that day. We were in his yard and he pointed down the block and said the song was recorded about three blocks away at the legendary recording engineer Rudy Van Gelder's house. Wow.

2.) Marvin Gaye's “What's Happenin' Brother” from the “What's Goin' On” album. When we got our first stereo—a huge, Sylvania console, one of the first things we ever played on it was that album. I lay on the floor underneath the speakers, entranced by the panoramic sound and when “What's Happenin' Brother” came on, I swear I got high from it. It was the bass line. James Jamerson's bass line to be precise. I'd heard his bass before, but not stereo separated like that. It was an almost organic thing, pounding like a pulse—almost alive. I lay there, eyes closed as I repeated the song four times or so. It was THAT song that got me listening to music closely—picking out the individual sidemen and training my ear. But every time I hear that song to this very day—I trance out. I'm 8 years old again, life is simple, and music is...transformative.

3.) Stevie Wonder's “My Cherie Amour”. I had a crush on a waitress at my father's restaurant. Her name was Eleanora—she was a beautiful. mocha-colored sister whose skin fairly glowed and she had the most magnificent legs. One day, I watched her loading cups into the take-out dispenser for what seemed like several minutes when someone put Stevie Wonder's “My Cherie Amour” on the juke box. Time seemed to slow. The jangling guitars and singing strings, coupled with Stevie's longing voice while looking at the beautiful Eleanora melted my very soul. It didn't help that a huge blast of sunshine broke through the window and illuminated her in almost golden light. Shit. I'm choking up writing this. Every time I hear that song, I feel an impossibly sunny day and I'm drunk with thoughts of dewy-eyed love.

4.) It was an unnaturally warm Spring day in '73 when I sat in school in Harlem. The windows were open and Lenox Avenue was quiet that day. And then I could hear coming 'round the corner a sound. Drums first—“Bum-ba-ba-bum”, then a trilling vibraphone with a piano. It was the opening of The Spinners “Could It Be I'm Falling In Love”. It sounded so beautiful, so pristine. Then the strings washed in and I was lifted on a cloud of happy. That song is so damned perfect that I can't describe it. I was so taken away that I leaned over at my desk to look out the window for where it was coming from. It was a pimped-out, copper-colored Buick Riviera slowly tooling down Lenox Avenue, and as that monster slowed behind other cars that song blared from the 8-Track. So perfect. So beautiful. The teacher saw me distracted and gave me demerits. I didn't care. I still don't. That song's sound just moves me something fierce and always will.

5.) Jimi Hendrix' cover of and subsequent claiming of Dylan's “All Along The Watchtower”. I heard this loopy, psychedelic, apocalyptic number during a terrible hailstorm while I was still living in Harlem. I was six years old. The song was petrifying enough—Hendrix's trippy, keening guitar lines and slurry voice fed through the heavy reverb. But the fearsome sound and dystopian imagery will always be punctuated by a visual that took place at that moment. I was looking out the window during his backwards-sounding solo when a huge, bloody, dead pigeon plopped onto the sill in a thud of feathers and ice-ripped wounds. Yikes. That song still scares the living shit out of me, but I can't stop listening to it. It's a sense memory of my youth I'll never forget. It just has that cool, spooky “end of the world” vibe. Brrrrrrrr!

6.) “How Deep Is Your Love” by the Bee Gees. Say what you want about the Brothers Gibb, but those S.O.Bs can turn out a ear-sticking pop song like very few in the modern era. Tuneful, catchy stuff that you can't shake. In the three year span of '76 to '79, you could not avoid them. I was at a sweet sixteen party for a classmate and in attendance was the most beautiful girl in our grade-Ann Marie. A statuesque, doe-eyed, elegant girl with a huge mop of dark brown hair. She was smart, beautiful, classy and I think at least thirty boys in our class were in love with her. I was among them. We were friends Ann Marie and I, and as a bunch of us lingered about holding up the walls at the party, The D.J. put on “How Deep Is Your Love” and the floor cleared except for the longstanding, and just hooked-up couples. I saw Ann Marie standing there off to the side and I impulsively made my move. The assembled fellas saw me making my way towards her and mouths fell open. I was gonna get shot down. NOT. Ann Marie said yes. We clinched on the floor in a soulful slow-dance and that song was magical. The warm Fender Rhodes, languid bass, and trilling guitars swept me away. The lyrics took on meaning and the sighing vocals finished the job. I was in heaven. I swear, when I hear that song nowadays, I can still smell the “Charlie” perfume on Ann's neck and feel myself getting dizzy from our little circle of dirty dancing there on that living room floor. I close my eyes when I hear that song, the same way I closed my eyes while dancing with the impossibly perfect Ann Marie. Maaaaaaan....

7.) First Choice's “Doctor Love”. I was still a teenager but it was my first time at a big-time Disco. It was Studio 54—early summer of 1978. A bunch of us had gotten in and found ourselves nervously standing near the shiny bar under the balcony when the man at the wheels of steel—D.J. Nicky segued from “Don't Leave Me This Way” into “Doctor Love”, disco music's magnum opus. I'd heard the song before, but never in a “club” atmosphere with the huge speakers everywhere and with a chance to dance. The bass was blasting through my mid-section as Rochelle Fleming's singing swooped and dipped like a wild bird on the wing. And then, a beautiful girl spun before me, stopped and then cocked her head, asking me onto the floor. For the next six minutes we danced—a bit of the Hustle, The Spank and The Freak mixed in. I was...for those brief minutes, an adult. Out for a night on the town, dancing my ass off with grown-ups. I can still feel every spin, every shoulder-swagger. My hands about this woman's waist, trailing off to her back, the toe-steps and shimmies. It was my coming-out party hang-out wise and that amazing, propulsive jam is what I think of when partying comes to mind. Sung by the mother of all Disco Divas—the amazing Rochelle fleming, NO song moves my feet more than that one does.

8.) Elvis Costello & Burt Bacharach's Painted From Memory”. I was in the process of getting over my first post-divorce relationship's coming to an end, and I was an absolute mess. I couldn't think, I couldn't cope. My friend and trainer at my job's gym I guess had noticed my odd distance and depression and knew I needed a catharsis. I came out of the shower one day to find she'd left me a CD on my gym bag with the note “Just Listen”. So, as I left the gym (unable to find her), I headed home and put the CD in my Discman and listened to it. The whole thing was amazing, but that one song had me blinking back tears on the train. I couldn't blink them back any more, so I got off many stops before my intended one and walked home, with that song on repeat and tears flowing down. It of the most heart-breaking songs about lost love you will ever hear. The combination of Bacharach's melody, and Costello's lyrics and gut-wrenching singing is like a punch in the chest. A real orchestra, swelling and receding along with my emotions—my God. By the time I got home I was exhausted. But it was a good exhaustion. I needed it. That song released me and I'll never forget it.

9.) “People Get Ready” by The Impressions. I've written on this song here before here. But I'll add this. It is one of my earliest audio memories, a song that sounded 400 years old—an ancient, soul-deep moan that I remember my dad giving me and my brothers haircuts to. I can still hear those ringing harmonies coming out of our cheap little phonograph as I watched the eerie ABC-Paramount label slowly spin around. I'm transported back to a simpler time. When I was a child, and while the world was tearing itself apart, a familiar song could actually soothe my soul. I still fall back on this tune for comfort today.

10.) Run-DMC's “Sucker MCs”. I heard this live at a block party three blocks off Hollis Avenue in front of St. Pascal's school on 109th Avenue in Hollis, Queens. Run, D and Jay freaked the assembled when they tore into this live version of their first hit for the locals. There were about a thousand people there with Jay's rig jacked into a light pole for juice. I'd listened to rap, mostly stuff done live at house parties by local would-be's, but when these three rocked the house that day it was amazing. Local boys made good, or, def as it were. The energy they radiated while performing was almost electric. People dancing, jumping, shouting and singing along as rap in essence was coming to life before the world's eyes, and we were there soaking it all in as guys from 'round the way were doing their part to spread it around. We knew something special was happening, but couldn't put our finger on just what—what we did know was that they were rockin' shit like we'd never seen it rocked before. The version they did was considerably extended and chock full of call-and-response stuff between the audience. We danced till our feet hurt and screamed along until we were hoarse. The late Jam Master Jay ended the jam with a two minute virtuoso bit of cutting and scratching. As an old rap song used to go, God damn that Dee Jay made my day!

Those are my ten. I could give you twenty, but those are the big ten that immediately come to mind here in LowerManhattaniteVille. :)

Heal up kiddies, get your music on—the “Silly Season” we're in the ever-lovin' middle of absolutely decrees it.