Gonna sail away

How sad it is to watch people who I’ve never met–but who still enriched my life in some way–cross over into whatever comes next. In just the past week, Chuck Berry died (and I’ve had Johnny B. Goode stuck in my head ever since), followed by Jerry Krause of the Chicago Bulls, Chuck Barris of the Gong Show, Dallas Green of the Cubs (and several other baseball teams) and most recently, Sib Hashian from the rock band Boston.

I can still picture seeing Sib’s image on the back of my vinyl copy of Boston’s debut album. He had the giant afro and was standing in the middle of the group, which made him look totally badass. The album was released in 1976, which was just before I discovered rock music for the first time. I regret that I wasn’t cool enough for this at age 8, but I got there once I reached high school in the mid 1980s.

I listened to the first two Boston albums over and over again back in 1985 and 1986, as I was biding my time and waiting for life to begin. I couldn’t have the kind of life I wanted to have–and I wasn’t very clear on what that should be, either–so long as I was living under my parent’s roof. So I waited, and listened to Boston every chance I got.

Sib Hashian was not the musical mastermind behind the group’s music, nor was he the voice that people hear on songs like “More than a Feeling” or “Hitch a Ride.” But his drumming was always there with me, and it will be for as long as the music means something to me, and to everyone else who feels the same way. That’s quite a legacy to leave behind, isn’t it?

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If you’re gonna be a bear, be a grizzly

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Seeing a copy of Def Leppard’s Pyromania album on vinyl this evening made me happy. It took me back to when I was a teenager living in my parents’ house in Jerome, Illinois.

I don’t have too many memories of that time in my life, other than wanting to move away and live somewhere else. Anywhere else. And I knew that starting college was the only chance I was going to have for making that happen.

So I did what I could to bide my time. I kept my grades up, but I would be a liar if I said I worked very hard at it. And I found escape in the music of the day. Def Leppard came along at the end of my freshman year of high school, and from then on it was a procession of Motley Crue, AC/DC, and what are known today as “hair metal” bands. There was some Springsteen thrown in for good measure, and some Led Zeppelin–lots of Led Zeppelin, really–and others like Night Ranger and Loverboy and even some Ratt. I owned at least two Ratt albums on vinyl, back in the days of my high school angst.

I never owned Def Leppard on vinyl, though. I had a copy of Pyromania on cassette, and even a copy of their first album On Through the Night on cassette. And I was in college by the time Hysteria came out, so I never owned that one at all. Loved the music, but never got around to buying it.

I took the copy of Pyromania out of its inner sleeve and looked at the grooves of the vinyl. I was reminded of what a tactile experience it was to hold an LP in your hands, so you could put it on the turntable and drop the needle onto it. CDs are smaller, and the feeling is less pronounced. And a cassette hardly felt that way at all. Maybe it was the plastic involved, or the portability of a tape that allowed it to be carried around in a car. Vinyl LPs never had any of that. You kept them in your room, or wherever the turntable happened to be.

As I was looking at the grooves of the record, my eyes wandered into the middle, where the needle would have gone to after the last song of a side was through playing. There were always a series of little scribbles or numbers in there, but nothing worth looking at too much. But Pyromania–at least the UK pressing of it that I was holding in my hands–contained a special little treat that I, as a cassette owner of the album, knew nothing about.

On side 1, in small but still legible capital letters, the words “IF YOU’RE GONNA BE A BEAR” appeared. I got a good laugh when I saw it, because it seemed like a weird thing to have on a record album. But then I started thinking about it: If your’re gonna be a bear, then what? The obvious thing to do was flip it over and see if there was anything else. And it turns out, there was. “BE A GRIZZLY” appeared in a similar place on side two.

The quote appeared in the movie Cannonball Run, which came out before Def Leppard’s album did, and so it’s possible–although not terribly likely–that someone was making a reference to that movie. The quote was originally attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, so perhaps whoever did this had that as their source of inspiration. But whatever it was, it felt like an old secret was revealed to me tonight, and I’m happy to spend a few moments writing about it here.

Unta Glieben Glauten Glomen….

Appreciating vinyl once again

I rarely read the Wall Street Journal, but when it’s available in the hotel it’s hard not to at least pick one up. The USA Today is probably more common in hotels, but that wasn’t an option for me today. It was the WSJ or no way, so I went with what was in front of me.

So buried deep in section 4, or whatever that weekend section is called, was an article about the vinyl record. Vinyl was the way I learned how to listen to music, back in the mid-1970s when I discovered my parents’ old version of Beatles ’65. They had other records too, but that’s the only one that I remember anymore. Not Abbey Road or the White Album, but Beatles ’65. Better than nothing, I suppose.

The first vinyl record I ever bought myself was the Grease soundtrack in 1978. I liked the gatefold in between the two albums, with scenes from the movie splattered all over. You know, the things that a ten-year old looks for. I played the first record–the one that had all of the hit songs on it–and pretty much ignored the second record altogether. I wasn’t yet old enough to appreciate how the record label had packaged it all up into a double LP (that’s what we called them, and it stands for Long-Playing, if you’re wondering) to make me fork over more money than a single LP would have cost.

I actually used the Grease soundtrack to get myself into trouble once in grade school. It was my music teacher’s idea to teach us about what different musical instruments sounded like, so she told us to bring in a song and we could listen to the songs and pick out what the different instuments were. I brought in the Grease soundtrack–which was the only record I owned at the time–and wanted the class to hear Greased Lightnin’ with me.

When the teacher asked if there were any objectionable words in the song (since I wouldn’t yet know what lyrics were), I didn’t pause a moment before telling her that there weren’t. So when John Travolta sang out “You know it ain’t no shit, we’ll be getting lots of tit, Greased Lightnin’” I had been exposed, and the needle was unceremoniously pulled from off the record. There was some laughter from the kids, of course, but the teacher moved on to the next song to be played. It goes without saying that there was no discussion of the instruments played on the record.

The article I read today took me back to my own experiences with vinyl, which lasted through the middle of the 1980s. By 1986 or so it was all casettes, and by 1990, I donated all of my old LPs to Salvation Army because I didn’t own a turntable anymore and wanted everything to be on CDs instead. All the old vinyl, from Nazareth’s Hair of the Dog to Led Zeppelin II to the Eagles’ Hotel California to Motley Crue’s Shout at the Devil to Boston’s first two albums to…I could go on for quite awhile, but I’m sure the point has been made by now.

Digital life and the cloud has made owning physical manifestations of music, whether it’s casettes, or 8-tracks, or vinyl, a relic of another time. But apparently it still lives on, and I’m happy about that. I won’t go out and buy a turntable, and I won’t be acquiring vinyl records again, but I’m glad to have the memories that I do. And I’m even happier to have a forum for sharing these memories with you. Thanks for reading.

Any comments about your own vinyl memories will be much appreciated.