Monday, September 28, 2009

New Wave for the New Week #29

Holly Beth VincentHolly Beth Vincent via

Chicago native Holly Beth Vincent found herself in L.A. in the late 1970s. After a few years of drumming, playing guitar, and singing in a variety of now-forgotten groups, she was ready to put together her own band. Holly & The Italians began playing the L.A. club circuit in 1978, and by 1980 had their first single on record store shelves.

That first recording, "Tell That Girl to Shut Up," immediately defined Holly's snarl-lipped tough-girl persona and remains her most well-known song. A full album, The Right To Be Italian, followed in 1981 and remains an impressive slab of vinyl. Coming across like Blondie's brunette counterparts from the other coast, the band churns through the album's tracks with gusto, but never loses their sense of strong melody or pop hooks.

The following year, the band split up and Holly released a solo record, confusingly titled Holly & The Italians. She was beginning to explore new territory musically; her cover of The Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" is simply stunning and is worth the price of admission alone. Shortly thereafter she recorded a duet with Joey Ramone, covering Sonny & Cher's "I Got You Babe"...and then she disappeared.

The forever enigmatic Vincent resurfaced in 1994 with a new band, The Oblivious, again releasing one album and disbanding. A year later she teamed up with Concrete Blonde's lead singer, Johnette Napolitano, to form Vowel Movement. Guess how many albums they released before fading to obscurity? A nifty two-disc set of demo recordings from the Holly & The Italians days (both the band and the album) appeared a few years back, and a new solo work, Super Rocket Star, in 2007.

With the variety of styles she's tried and the limited catalog of releases she's been involved with, it's difficult to suggest to a new listener where to start - other than to say, start at the beginning! So, this week's New Wave for the New Week is that first single, the excellent "Tell That Girl To Shut Up." Sadly, no video exists for the song, so, as a bonus, I'm also including a clip of Holly & The Italians performing two songs, "Youth Coup" and "Rock Against Romance," from The Old Grey Whistle Test. Enjoy!

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Lancaster Then and Now: Water & Orange

I love finding old pictures of downtown Lancaster. It fascinates me to see how the city has changed over the years. I could listen for hours to stories of old hangouts, long-defunct businesses, the people and the community of Lancaster from years gone by. Certainly, as I grow older, I grow nostalgic for the Lancaster of my childhood, but my interest goes back further than that to include the Lancaster my parents knew in their youth, and my grandparents before them. Getting the chance to see what was before through old photographs is a joy to me.

Not too long ago, in an insomnia-inspired late night 'Net surfing session, I found one of the most beautiful photos I've seen of a street scene in downtown Lancaster on a website devoted to railroad photography, I want to thank the photographer, John Dziobko, and his associate, Ray Peacock, for giving me permission to repost the photo here:

(click image to enlarge)

The vibrancy of the colors and the clarity of the image belie the fact that this photo was taken in December of 1966 - the month before I was born over four decades ago! (Take a moment, folks, to mourn the loss of Kodachrome film. It gave us "those nice bright colors"...) The original posting labeled the site of the photo only as "along Water Street." It looked so familiar, and yet unfamiliar at the same time.

Thanks to collaboration with friends on Twitter and Facebook, the location was determined to be the intersection of North Water and West Orange Streets, but initially we all thought the photo was looking south. If it were, though, the "One Way" sign on the right of the photo would be pointing the wrong way. Or, could Orange have possibly run the other direction at one point in time? Confused discussion ensued as we wracked our brains, and those who were around at the time tried to recall if there had been a time when Orange ran west-to-east rather than east-to-west. Finally, one of my Twitter friends figured it out: we were turned around the wrong way - it was Water and Orange, but facing north!

Should it have been so hard to figure, though? Had that intersection changed so drastically that it took a group of long-time and lifetime Lancastrians hours to recognize it? Well, judge for yourself:

(click image to enlarge)

Happened to be in the area about a week ago, and since I had my iPhone handy, I thought I'd try to take a quick snapshot of the same intersection from roughly the same vantage point. I didn't have the old photo with me to use as reference, so I didn't get the angle completely right, but I think close enough for comparison. So what has 42+ years done to the intersection?

Surprisingly little, actually. Aside from the three identified businesses in the original photos all having been replaced, the train tracks having been removed from the street, and some changes to building facades on the north side of Orange, little else has changed. The structure of the buildings remains the same, and there has been no change at all to the background buildings. The biggest giveawway should have been the fire escape on the right of the frame - still intact, still the same.

Helen's Lunch, on the right side of the original photo, is now the Lancaster Trophy House. The gray building on the north side of Orange, to the left of the train, was a liquor store in the original photo (I can't quite make out the name); it is now the Tally-Ho. The Gulf Station on the immediate left in the 1966 pic is now a Firestone. Note the gas prices back then?

I found only limited information on the train in the picture, identified as PR-1223. The engine is currently on permanent display at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg, and is the only preserved example of its class of steam locomotives of the Pennsylvania Railroad. As another friend on Twitter noted, how cool it would be to see a steam locomotive chugging through downtown Lancaster today!

If any fellow Lancastrians are reading this who remember the days when trains came through downtown, or who remember the eatery or the liquor store in the original picture, and have stories to share, please do in the comments section below. I'd love to hear your memories. I also hope to do future "then and now" posts where I compare an old photograph from somewhere in downtown Lancaster to a current snapshot of the same location.

Again, my great thanks to John Dziobko and Ray Peacock for their blessings in reproducing the original photo here. Ray is helping John set up a website, GodFatherRails, where more of his railroad photography will be shared - please check it out!

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Monday, September 21, 2009

New Wave for the New Week #28

Quick - what mid-to-late '70s power pop band played supporting gigs with both Van Halen and The Ramones?

Quick - what quirky, Sparks-influenced band's lead singer went on to co-write and perform the theme song for one of the most-watched TV shows of the 1990s?

Quick - what band that hasn't played live since 1978 and never played a gig outside of their native California is challenging its fans that, if at least 1000 people commit to buying tickets, they will play a reunion gig in Los Angeles THIS YEAR?

If you answered, "The Quick!" you're right on all three!

Consisting of Danny Wilde on vocals, Denny Benair on drums, guitarist Steven Hufsteter, bass player Ian Ainsworth and Billy Bizeau on keyboards, The Quick started life in the mid-seventies California post-glam/pre-punk scene. Their influences ranged from the British Invasion bands of the 1960s to their obvious close study of Sparks' Propaganda and Kimono My House albums; their music was equal parts glam, bubblegum and power pop.

Despite never venturing beyond the California state line, The Quick released their only full album, Mondo Deco, on a major label (Mercury) in 1976. Their most wonderful creation, however, is not found within its grooves. Over the next two years, the band self-issued two EPs in the hopes of securing a deal with Elektra Records; the second of these, In Tune With Our Times (1978), is where their masterpiece can be found.

"Pretty Please Me" is a damn-near perfect song: musically catchy and lyrically clever, its only flaw is that it was about a year or so ahead of its time. Had it been released while bands like Cheap Trick and The Knack were the darlings of radio programmers across the country, it would likely have been a huge hit.

Unfortunately, Elektra passed and the band went their separate ways. Denny Benair would go on to drum for various L.A. bands including The Weirdos and The Three O'Clock, and Danny Wilde would have his moment in the sun as a member of The Rembrandts, whose theme for the TV show Friends would be inescapable in the mid-'90s.

The Quick have long been celebrated by bands who came after. "Pretty Please Me" has been covered - very well, I might add - by The Dickies and by Redd Kross. Fans of power pop and what we sometimes used to call "skinny-tie new wave" have been rediscovering the band, and an excellent CD compilation of the band's recordings, Untold Rock Stories, was issued in 2007. This renewed interest has resulted in the band staking their claim to a MySpace page, and agreeing to the "We Want The Quick to Play Live" fan challenge: if 1000 fans commit to buying tickets by 12/1/09, the band will play a reunion gig! (If you are in the L.A. area - or are willing to travel to see them - you can add yourself to the head count using the widget at the bottom of this post.)

"Pretty Please Me" will be another audio-only entry in this series (not even a performance clip of the song to be found?!?), but with a song this good I think that's OK. Please enjoy the New Wave for the New Week entry this week, The Quick's "Pretty Please Me":

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Triumph of the Rude

Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount punches Boise State's Byron Hout after a game, and has to be restrained from punching fans, because he doesn't like what they said to him.

South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson interrupts the President of the United States during a nationally televised speech to Congress to call him a liar, because he doesn't agree with the President's statements.

Serena Williams threatens to shove a tennis ball down the throat of a line judge for calling a foot fault on her.

Kanye West interrupts Taylor Swift's acceptance speech after she had won Best Female Video at MTV's Video Music Awards, because he didn't think the right person won.

In each case, even though there are still those who chide such boorish, vulgar behavior, especially when exhibited on a national stage, voices rose up actually supporting these folks behaviors! In each case, the person didn't seem to think there was anything wrong with what he or she had done, and found many, many others who agreed. In each case, a half-hearted "apology" was only offered after someone in authority demanded it be given. In each case, the offender stole the spotlight from someone else and benefited from the publicity.

When did the concept of socially acceptable behavior become passe? How have we let ourselves reach a point where society celebrates the scandalous, where actions that once would be the source of great embarrassment are now points of pride? We as a culture seem to be teaching our own that such outbursts are the way to express disagreement, that if it satisfies our own needs we should do it without a thought given to those around us, that the old saying "no publicity is bad publicity" is really true, and as long as you have your people release a hastily worded press-release of an apology, everything will be just fine. In fact, better than fine: it'll make you a household name! You'll be a star!

We have reached a point where the governor of a state can admit to having an extra-marital affair and to misusing state funds for personal use, and still stand before cameras straight-faced declaring it unfair to judge him because "other governors have done the same things," as if that somehow gives him a free pass. Our national "news" coverage consists more of supposed adults calling each other names than of actual journalism. The President himself can call the police stupid, and we all smile and nod approvingly.

When did we all become so rude?

Some friends and I recently challenged one another to identify the last time someone engaged in publicly scandalous behavior and was actually embarrassed, was actually chastised uniformly by both critics and supporters with no voices rising to defend the indefensible. Exactly how long ago did scarlet letters become badges of honor? The most recent one we came up with was almost twenty years - a full generation - ago, when Pee Wee Herman was found having a little more fun with himself in a movie theater than he should have been. He was the last we could think of who apologized because he truly felt ashamed of and sorry for what he had done. Nowadays, people only apologize because they have to.

It's a sorry state of affairs, and I'm not sure what the solution is - or if one even exists. We live in a world where adults behave in a manner that most parents I know would be horrified to see their children behaving in. How very, very sad for us.

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

RIP Jim Carroll (8/1/50 - 9/11/09) | New Wave for the New Week #27

Jim CarrollJim Carroll via

"You get nothin' back for all you've saved
Just eternity in a spacious grave"

-Jim Carroll, "Nothing is True"

Jim Carroll passed away in his apartment in New York City this past Friday. He was 59. The cause of death was an apparent heart attack.

As a teenager growing up in NYC, Jim Carroll was a good enough high school basketball player to make the National High School All Star team in 1966, all the while leading a double life as heroin addict who routinely sold his body to support his habit. He also wrote feverishly, seeing his poems published in assorted magazines, writing bits of dialogue for Andy Warhol films, and publishing three collections of his work between the ages of 17 and 23.

In 1978, he turned the journals he kept as a teenager into the autobiographical masterpiece, The Basketball Diaries. It is at once a spellbinding and horrifying book; an unflinching and unapologetic description of the life he led as a drugged-out kid surviving on the streets. An absolutely riveting read, the book was given a second, perhaps more commercial, life in 1995 when it was turned into a movie with Leonardo DiCaprio playing Carroll.

About the same time as The Basketball Diaries, Carroll began setting his poems to music and assembling a band. This was largely at the urging of Patti Smith, who had taken a similar route into the music world. The Jim Carroll Band released three magnificent albums, the best being the 1980 debut, Catholic Boy. Dry Dreams followed in 1982, and I Write Your Name in 1983.

By the mid-'80s, Carroll decided to return to the written word, hitting the spoken-word circuit and intermittently releasing recordings of readings of his works. The release of movie version of The Basketball Diaries saw a resurgence in interest in his music, and an excellent compilation of tracks, A World Without Gravity, was released. In 2000, an EP appeared based around Carroll's cover of Del Shannon's "Runaway," but no album followed.

Carroll continued making spoken-word appearances as well, but in recent years had focused on writing a novel, which remained unfinished at the time of his passing.

For this week's New Wave for the New Week entry, we celebrate the life of Jim Carroll with three clips. First, his best-known song, the stunning "People Who Died." A punk-rock ode to his friends who had passed on during his teenage years, it is at once celebratory and harrowing as he name-checks real people he grew up with and how they died. The song was originally recorded and released in 1980, the clip below comes from the 1995 soundtrack to the DiCaprio film. Following that, a 1980 clip of The Jim Carroll Band performing "Day and Night" on the old Fridays television show, and finally, the only proper promo video Carroll ever made, for his 1983 cover of The Velvet Underground's "Sweet Jane" - complete with guest appearance by Lou Reed himself.

Goodbye, Jim. You will be missed.

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Friday, September 11, 2009

Never Forget

{{Potd/2006-09-11 (en)}}Image via Wikipedia

On this, the eighth anniversary of 9/11, I offer an updated version of a piece I originally wrote and posted on my Facebook page a year ago, before the inception of this blog. I want to share my thoughts, feelings, and memories of that day; I encourage you to share yours in the comments section below.

I can tell you where I was when I watched Space Shuttle Challenger explode. I can tell you what I was doing when the news broke that President Reagan had been shot. I will never forget anything about the morning I awoke to the news that John Lennon had been killed. I remember the fear associated with Three Mile Island. Yet all of these events, terrible as they were, even taken as a combined whole do not approach that horrific day eight years ago.

Do you remember how crystal clear the sky was that morning? It was the kind of day when you secretly began formulating some sort of excuse to cut out of work early so that you might drink in some of the beauty, knowing that there would not be many more of these days left before the weather turned too cold.

I went to work that morning as any other, and had just gotten my morning coffee and sat down to read my emails when a coworker began calling everyone in the building to say that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Wow - that's kind of bad of a pilot do you have to be to not see the Twin Towers, especially on day like this? The image in my mind was that of a small private plane, and I thought that the damage to that plane would have to have been much greater than any damage to the building. I made a mental note to check the news when I got home that evening, and went about my morning routine.

Then the second plane hit.

It's funny how your sense of scope can sometimes be so very far off. I remember immediately thinking "terrorists," but, having no knowledge of what had happened other than being told that two planes had hit the World Trade Center, in my mind's eye I still saw only two small private planes, piloted by crazed terrorist kamikazes. How could anyone have imagined the breadth and depth of this attack, much less that it wasn't over yet?

By now, some coworkers had foregone their morning assignments to start following what was happening online. We had no TV in the building, but a few more radios were rustled up. Do you recall the misinformation that began to flow as everyone tried to make sense of what was going on? When the third plane crashed into the Pentagon, it was not originally reported as such, at least not on the broadcast I was listening to. Instead, it was reported that a bomb of some sort had gone off "near" the Pentagon. Now, panic was starting to rush in. What the hell was happening?

I remember one coworker who reported for her scheduled shift later that morning in tears. She was the first person I saw reacting emotionally to the attack. The only words she could muster were, "They're gone. The towers are gone." Footage of the collapses was showing up online, and panic turned to outright fear. Word came that Lancaster was closing our courthouse and other public buildings. We, too, closed for the day.

The real impact of it all did not hit me until I got home and turned on the television. It's at about this point in the day where that "where were you when" clarity of memory fades into a cloud of rushing images, sounds, and emotions for me. Watching the footage of the planes as it was being found and thrown on air, raw and unedited. Seeing the pictures of people standing almost zombie-like, caked with dust and tears and blood and fear, unable even to move much less understand what had happened to them. Realizing how many innocent people had lost their lives without ever knowing what happened; and then realizing how many more lost theirs with full knowledge of what was happening. And further - realizing how many voluntarily ran towards the disaster as everyone else was running away, knowing that they were likely to lose their lives but doing so to help others. As clich├ęd as it sounds, there is no better definition of "hero".

Then, the panic and fear I felt was joined by an emotion I did not expect: anger. Outright, unfettered anger. HOW DARE THEY?!? I've never been what you would call a war-monger. I'm not of the "kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out" school of thought. I abhor violence as a means to resolve dispute or exact revenge. But, as the saying goes, in this case I made an exception. I was full of patriotic anger, and to this day I make no apology for it. I wanted us to find out who did this and blow the fuckers off the face of the Earth - period!

I started to write this wanting only to share my "where were you" story and ask others for theirs. Amazingly, all these years later, writing this is causing many of those same emotions I felt that day to well up in me again, just as they had resurfaced three years after the attacks, when I had the opportunity to see Ground Zero with my own eyes. To be there, where those towers once stood, where the attacks began, where so many lost their lives for no reason and so many more for the most heroic of reasons, brought it all rushing back in a way that again surprised and, frankly, frightened me.

Despite that surprise and fear, I do pray that there never comes the day that thinking about the events of 9/11 doesn't cause so strong an emotional response in me. Although I was not physically there that day, I am forever grateful to those men and women who gave the greatest sacrifice in the effort to save people whom they had never met, and will forever think of those who did not survive. May this day be one where your thoughts and, if you offer them, prayers go to those folks, and not a moment of your time be given to those who committed the atrocity that made this day so painful.

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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

999 On 9/9/09

Seems today is one of those funky dates that everyone gets all excited about because "this only ever happens once in lifetime!" or some such nonsense. In this case, It's 9/9/09. Nine-Nine-Nine. Hey - that could be the name of a band!

In fact, it is! And what better way, then, to celebrate this once-a-century date than by listening to 999?

I featured 999 and their video clip for "Emergency" early in the New Wave for the New Week series here. Bop on over to that post to read about the band and hear that song, then come on back here and feast your ears on a grab-bag of some of my favorite 999 tracks, including the very similar clip for "Homicide".

Happy 9/9/09!

Monday, September 7, 2009

New Wave for the New Week #26

What a nifty find! The original, rarely-seen video for The Mo-Dettes' debut single, "White Mice!" As soon as I learned this had hit the Internets from the wonderful Bedazzled blog (which you should bookmark yourself), I knew it was going to be the next entry in the NW4NW series.

The Mo-Dettes released six singles and one album, The Story So Far, beginning with "White Mice" in 1979. A multi-national group (singer Ramona Carlier is Swiss, guitarist Kate Korus is from the States, and Jane Crockford and June Miles-Kingston, bass and drums respectively, are British) based in the UK, their music was a bit rough around the edges. Landing somewhere between The Slits and Gang of Four on the musical spectrum, with a pseudo-syncopated beat kicking along below the surface, "White Mice" became a big indie hit in the UK, and is probably the band's best-known song.

The video clip, which surfaced in May of this year, is very much of its time: ever-changing neon colors and basic, primitive transitions try to make the fairly straightforward performance clip seem more off-kilter than it really is, but in 1979 it likely seemed very cutting edge. Still, it's a cool thing to see again after all these years, and the song's quirkiness will stick with you.

So, enjoy this week's New Wave for the New Week entry, The Mo-Dettes' "White Mice":

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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Time to Give Ashley a Helping Hand!

We're four days into the voting on Facebook for the Intel Vote for a Cause contest, and Ashley Kumlien's MSRuntheUS Inc. has been putting up a very nice showing so far. My great thanks to all of you who have been casting your votes daily to help her cause, which I first introduced here about two weeks ago.

For the first three says, MSRutheUS held the lead. Today, Ashley's cause has fallen to second place. She needs your continued votes - and she needs your help in spreading the word!

With over half a million folks afflicted with Multiple Sclerosis in this country, the chances are you may know of someone who is fighting the disease. Here is a chance for you to help out without it costing you a thing but a brief moment of your time.

Continue to go to Intel's Vote for a Cause page each day to cast your vote for MSRuntheUS Inc. You may vote once each day, and every vote counts! Then, if you would, simply ask one other person on your Facebook friends list to do the same. Just that like that, you have instantly doubled your vote! Ask them to ask one person as well, and before long we'll have Ashley back on top! Let's give Ashley a helping hand, and help find a cure for MS.

Again, my great thanks to all of you who for your support on this worthy cause.

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