Tuesday, August 08, 2006

did i fall or was i pushed?

I have a confession to make.

When I was a kid, in the backseat of my parents' car, I enjoyed, gestured along with, sang, and loved "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" by Meatloaf. And Jim Steinmen. Both of them, together, in my head and coming out my mouth with a big 7-year-old smile on my face and a similar such grin on my brother's 12-year-old face.

I was probably wearing shorts with a white stripe along the side (now available in a far less innocent fashion at American Apparell) paired with what was probably a tshirt that didn't quite match and, most likely, a pair of tube socks with those 'sport' stripes along the top (which more than likely also didn't match). Oh yeah, and my maroon Zips that undoubtably made me run faster in the thick and sticky summer air. And listening to Meatloaf. It was the 70s and it was Ohio. Abba did not exist.

I even remember the video, all 642-odd minutes of it. There's Meatloaf, looking like he just stepped out of the pool in a ruffled tuxedo shirt and dark slacks that were nobly fighting to contain his every arrhythmia-tempting pound. Had this concert with Meatloaf been going on long? Did everyone take the stage after him taking a couple laps while being pursuued by a puma? No one's saying, certainly not the faint suggestion of the band behind him that you barely glimpse behind Meatloaf's gargantuan head. We do see, however, his singing partner, all dark shadowy eyes and clown makeup, doing everything in her power to kindly introduce the prepubescent me to the concept of breasts.

The video goes on like this through eight-odd minutes. There's a storyline here: Meatloaf wants to get laid, virginal-clad girl wants some kind of committment in return. That's it. An eight-minute, million-selling salute to a guy trying to cop a feel in what must have been an impressively large car.

This was the sort of thing I loved listening to back then. Not that I knew it, but somewhere in this operatic pomp was the groundwork for my highschool interest in fellow Steinman disciples the Sisters of Mercy (strange but true!). It's indulgent, it's ridiculous and now, under the rubric of misguided yet 253% committed bad art, it's magnificent in its quaint way.

My point? This is where I came from, musically, warts and all. We've all got these hidden treasures in our background--maybe we even enjoy listening to such things now. (To clarify: I do not now enjoy Meatloaf. Let's not get crazy. After all, I was a kid and all the song reasonably has to offer is high comedy, as well as another item under the heading of 'What the Hell Was Wrong in the Seventies?') Guilty pleasures and all that, things that I know friends of mine have on CD, but are kept in a special 'secret' area of the collection, somewhere far from prying eyes.

Which is bullshit.

'Pride and Joy (live, acoustic)' by Stevie Ray Vaughan

If i was the sort to hide these things away, my Stevie Ray Vaughan boxed set (bought solely for this song) would probably be buried in a sock drawer or on the bottom of a bookshelf between dusty copies of "Ask the Dust" and "Bloom County Babylon." It's not Stevie's fault--I'll defend his guitar skills against just about everyone. It's what he begat that is troubling, and what he stands for that is, yes, a little embarrassing.

Did I say a little? Try the "Blues Hammer" scene in "Ghost World." How about the "G3" guitar tour? Every sawdust-floored bar in the middle west with a dartboard and plastic football banners hanging from the ceiling. Yngwie! Mother of God, Yngwie! Every diarrea-fingered slackjawed white dude seated in Guitar Center, wailing away on some lipstick-colored mall 'axe' (he'll address it as such, if you let him), boring the living daylights out of his poor girlfriend in a fringe jacket, every one of those guys is DREAMING his ever-loving BRAINS OUT over sounding like Stevie. Ray. Vaughan. They probably even own scarves.

And I'm sorry. But I'm going to ask you to read all that and STILL download this song. If you can listen to Wolfmother dribble all over the entire Black Sabbath catalogue, you can give this a shot. C'mon, it's acoustic. It'll be okay, trust me. There will be nothing that some lazy rock writer can call 'pyrotechnics' here. And no one else will know.

Taken from a two-song "MTV Unplugged" performance filmed shortly before his death, Stevie bounces through a, well, soulful version of "Pride and Joy" from "Texas Flood" before an audience that was probably wondering when that "Five man acoustical jam" that was promised was going to kick off. I found this performance accidentally one night when I was 19, staying up late with my brother who was already a fan of Stevie's (my brother whose collection eventually gave me an appreciation of not only Meatloaf, but Led Zeppelin, the Beatles and the aforementioned Black Sabbath) nodded his head quietly and smiled. I couldn't believe what I was watching, what was coming out of that guitar and out of that man's lungs...on MTV of all places, the channel I was pretty sure was only reliably worth a damn for 120 minutes a week, tops.

My music collection, up to then filled with Depeche Mode, Ned's Atomic Dustbin and New Order, wasn't prepared to embrace "Texas Flood," but soon after it did. Quietly, at first. But then along came the above classic rock titans of my youth, and you know what? They all get along just fine. No introductions or apologies required.


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