(Somehow rearranged.) And it happened driving somewhere in somebody’s car, that the radio played the M/A/R/R/S mashup “Pump Up the Volume,” and music changed forever, all at once.
NOTE TO SELF: “… and then all things changed, somehow rearranged” are the lyrics I remember from the early 1980s HBO show “Remember When.” Dick Cavett hosted the series, which took on a topic and explored it for an hour, very much in the same way modern documentaries are done today, taking one topic, then exploring all branches that lead from it. The theme song:
No explanation, really. At the time — 1991, I think — I was stuck in a bus for two days. It moved forward, yes, but ever so slowly. All the time, all I had was my Sony Walkman and one single tape — “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” by Elton John. Also, I only had two batteries. I also had one book, “Fear and Loathing in the Campaign Trail” by Hunter S. Thompson. The batteries ran out, I read the book twice. What a miserable time. What a wonderful moment.
I’m a big David Bowie fan, but not because I heard his songs and listened to him on the radio. The first song of his that I liked was the collaboration with Queen “Under Pressure,” and even then (early to mid-80s) I associated that song more with the supergroup than I did with just Bowie. Radio hits of the 80s that followed (“Let’s Dance,” “Blue Jean”) were a welcome splash to the otherwise repetitive string of pop put out at the time.
Because pre-internet times demanded to do so, I was a member of the Columbia Records and Tapes Club, and one fine day, after failing to reject the album of the month, I received a copy of “Nirvana Unplugged in New York,” which I diligently listened to, it being the 90s and surely anything by Nirvana was worth listening to. The truth is, only one song stuck in my head, and that was “The Man Who Sold the World.” I couldn’t quite understand who Kurt Cobain credited the song to, although I was able to figure it out in not-too-long a spell (I actually had several conversations with friends and co-workers — pre-internet days, remember?).
It was during those times that I also frequented driving to the big Metropolis (Houston) to visit the big stores (Barnes & Noble) and I was able to secure my own CD copy of Bowie’s The Man Who Sold the World, and suddenly, maybe 20 years too late, I became a big Bowie fan. I don’t know that I can easily rattle off the names or melodies of the rest of the songs in the album, but “The Man Who Sold the World” is enough to fill a library of memories, hopes and doubts that were otherwise filled with synthesized chords and other regrets.
After my initial approach to “The Man Who Sold the World,” slowly I absorbed the rest of the Bowie library, which lives with me even without the help of Spotify or any other recorded medium.
Nirvana’s cover was a faithful rendition of the song, and I guess that any artist that attempts to do so will triumph in his or her or their own way, which is why that accidental CD delivery made up my mind once and for all that performing a cover song is indeed the most sincere form of flattery. If I had any talent at all, I would pick up an instrument and record R.E.M.’s “Find the River” and call it a life.
Recently subscribed to the Radiolab podcast, to fill in the hours while Howard Stern is on vacation, and it’s programming like this that makes me wish The King of All Media would just retire already, or make good on his promise to only work one day a week, so I can pay attention to something else.
Long story short, this NPR show is not easy to describe, but suffice it to say they talk about killer Argentine ants, how Bugs Bunny saved Mel Blanc and how researchers are working on programming better, smarter artificial intelligence. The latter episode is titled “Talking to Machines,” and if there’s one URL I’ll keep visiting for at least the next couple of weeks, it would be Clever Bot, a result of efforts like ELIZA, a program I had all but forgotten about.
Multiple record players, that is. There’s something about 45s that I miss. Not necessarily the sound, since all the clicking and popping didn’t add much to the experience. Maybe it’s just the fact that you had to commit to listen to the whole record before loading up another one.