music, rock 'n' roll

Stayin’ Alive: Little Richard

Little Richard Penniman is 84 years old. Recently, I scored his first album, “Here’s Little Richard”, mainly because I had heard so much about this record by the man a lot of people would say was the most dynamic performer of the 1950’s. I looked up some info on the album, as I’ll often do when an artist/album/movie attracts my attention. Reaching #13 on the pop albums chart, it is Little Richard’s highest charting album and it contained two of his biggest hits: “Long Tall Sally” and “Jenny, Jenny”. The lead-off track, “Tutti Frutti”, is a legendary recording that has since landed on many lists of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll recordings of all-time. The album ranks #50 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s top 500 albums and “Tutti Frutti” comes in at #43 on their list of the top 500 songs of all-time. Impressive. So, all this made me want to read up on Little Richard. Or should I say re-read up.

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I was 13 or 14 years old when I read the definitive Little Richard biography, “The Quasar of Rock” (30 years later I’m still not sure what the title means). At that time, it was the biggest book I’d ever read. So, all these years later I found myself going over his life story again and I was looking for anything that really stood out that I could maybe build a post around, something I thought you people should know. His is an interesting story, for sure. An admitted gay man, (I was shopping for Little Richard t-shirts and saw one that said “The Real King of Rock ‘n’ Roll is a Gay Black Man from Macon, Georgia”) he was an absolute wild man in the early days of rock ‘n’ roll, scoring many hits with songs that are nothing less than definitive of the genre. After several years of hits, he – like Jerry Lee Lewis – became convinced that he had been called into the ministry and (unlike Jerry Lee) Little Richard quit rock ‘n’ roll to be a preacher and release albums of gospel music. After several years of this, he returned to secular music and excelled in live performances but was never again a factor on the charts. He had trouble maintaining record contracts and was embroiled in litigation over monies owed him by his original record label, Specialty Records. All this is pretty common stuff. Where his story gets truly remarkable is when you consider the impact he had on some of the greatest artists ever and on the evolution of many genres of popular music.

In general, his style was influential. He was loud, flamboyant and possessed of a raspy, shouting singing style that was soon to become a hallmark of rock. Two of soul music’s pioneers – Sam Cooke and Otis Redding – stated that Little Richard had contributed greatly to soul’s development. Redding had also spent time in Little Richard’s band. James Brown was quoted as saying that Little Richard and his band, the Upsetters, were the first to inject funk into their rhythm and a biographer added that their music provides a bridge between ’50’s rock and ’60’s funk. Ray Charles said in 1988 that Little Richard was “a man who started a type of music that set the pace for a lot of what’s happening today”. Bo Diddley called him “one of a kind” and said that he influenced so many in the music business. Many of his contemporaries covered his music including Bill Haley, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Everly Brothers, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran and Elvis Presley. Notably, Presley once told Little Richard publicly that his music had influenced him and that he was “the greatest”. Pat Boone noted that “no one person has been more imitated than Little Richard”. Ike Turner once claimed that most of Tina Turner’s early vocal delivery had been based on Little Richard. In high school, Bob Dylan played Little Richard songs with his band and stated in his year book that his ambition was “to join Little Richard”. In 1966, Jimi Hendrix said “I want to do with my guitar what Little Richard does with his voice” (Jimi also took to emulating Little Richard’s pencil-thin mustache). Bob Seger and John Fogerty were influenced by him, Michael Jackson said that, prior to “Off the Wall”, Little Richard had been a major influence on him and it was often pointed out that Prince adopted a physical appearance that was almost identical to Little Richard’s – right down to the colour purple. It is well known that the Beatles were heavily influenced by him. Paul McCartney idolized him and channeled him when he wrote rockers such as “I’m Down”. Indeed, “Long Tall Sally” was the first song Paul performed in public. Perhaps most significantly, during the Beatles acceptance speech at their Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction, George Harrison made it plain when he said “thank you all very much, especially the rock ‘n’ rollers. Little Richard there, if it wasn’t for him…it was all his fault, really”. And when John Lennon first heard “Long Tall Sally” he said he “couldn’t speak”. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were both profoundly influenced by him with Jagger adding that Little Richard was his first introduction to R&B and referring to him as “the originator and my first idol”. David Bowie went even a step further. He called Little Richard his “inspiration” and stated that when he first heard “Tutti Frutti” that he “heard God”. The band Bluesology once opened for Little Richard and the band’s piano player, Reginald Dwight, was inspired to become a rock ‘n’ roll piano player and changed his name to Elton John. As a teenager, Farrokh Bulsara performed covers of Little Richard songs and went on to find fame as Freddie Mercury. Little Richard inspired Lou Reed to “go to wherever that sound was and make a life”. John Bonham, drummer for Led Zeppelin, was fooling around one day emulating the pounding drum intro to Little Richard’s “Keep a-Knockin'”. Jimmy Page jumped in and the iconic “Rock ‘n’ Roll” was born. The late Bon Scott, original front man of AC/DC, idolized Little Richard and aspired to sing like him and guitarist Angus Young decided to take up the guitar after listening to Little Richard. It has also been said that recent performers including Andre 3000 and Bruno Mars have channeled Little Richard in many of their recordings and performances.

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And here’s a couple of bonuses for you: in 2010, Time Magazine ranked “Here’s Little Richard” at #2 on it’s list of the most influential albums of all-time, the highest ranking rock album on the list. He was ranked 8th on a Rolling Stone Magazine list of the greatest artists of all-time. That’s huge. I mean, look back at the names listed above. I find it interesting that those who say they owe Little Richard a debt are the most influential and world-shaking artists ever. All the big hitters – Presley, Dylan, the Beatles, etc. – have pointed to Little Richard and have publicly stated their debt to him, that he inspired them, that he made them want to rock ‘n’ roll. It’s crazy that on that list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All-Time everyone supposedly ranked ABOVE Little Richard says they were influenced by him. Every one (except Chuck Berry) have said ‘Little Richard is the man. He started me on the road to where I am now. He’s the greatest’. And yet they’re ranked HIGHER than him. Makes you wonder if Little Richard gets all the respect he obviously deserves. Maybe the real king of rock ‘n’ roll really is a gay black man from Macon, Georgia.

Little Richard In Concert At Epcot Center

 

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Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry: The Proof is in the Covers

 

As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, Chuck Berry has died at age 90. I was happy to see tributes to him all over the internet because here is a performer that has become a true legend with almost no peer in the history of rock music. As I’ve said before, to fully understand where you’re at at any given point in time, you need to understand and appreciate where things have come from. There may be some degrees of separation, yes, but Chuck Berry is at the heart – at the absolute core – of popular music as we know it today in the 21st century.

To track the origins of “rock ‘n’ roll”, you have to go back to the early 1950’s to records like “Sixty Minute Man” and “Rocket 88”. Then, in 1954, you had Bill Haley and His Comets recording the immortal “Rock Around the Clock” and Elvis Presley’s first record, “That’s All Right, Mama”. In these four instances you had 1) black rhythm and blues groups having success and getting noticed by white high school kids and 2) you had country boys channeling a “black sound” while still exhibiting a southern look (Haley) and/or a decidedly southern sound (Scotty Moore’s guitar). When you add in the gospel flavour of an artist like Ray Charles, you have all the ingredients for what would become known as “rock ‘n’ roll”, the first music that was made specifically for young people. So, here you have the foundation of the music. But let’s consider this: there’s a difference between blending R&B, gospel and country to make rock ‘n’ roll and actually making rock ‘n’ roll. In the spring of 1955, Chuck Berry took the results of the ‘experiment’ that Bill Haley and Elvis Presley had been conducting and added certain key things. The result of the additions he made emerged as nothing less than the blueprint of rock music. In fact, he was the first to combine all of the necessary elements that are essential to rock music. These elements include showmanship, for starters. Chuck played the guitar and the very fact that his instrument was strapped to him allowed him to move around while playing it and therefore engage in the type of showmanship rock ‘n’ roll is known for. Another main element is the guitar itself. Because the guitar was his instrument, he, of course, featured it in his songs, starting most of them off with an energetic ‘riff’ taking both the guitar and the riff to the forefront of this new music. He also established, two years before Buddy Holly, the singer performing songs he himself had written. And then there’s the subject matter of these songs. Something else he was the first to popularize was singing with humour about teen life, often telling a story in his songs.  He wisely considered the audience for this new music consisted of kids so he wrote joyful, happy songs about cars, about school, about getting out of school, about getting in your car and going to the local hang out and pumping dimes into the jukebox. He sang about being a fan of rock ‘n’ roll, about taking this music with you as you grew up, got a job and got married. He was like a reporter, reporting on kids’ lives while they were happening. From 1955 into the early 1960’s, Chuck laid the foundation for what rock music would become.

The proof is in the covers. Chuck’s story is told, for the most part, by looking at who covered his music. Suffice it to say that any group of guys who got together and plugged in in the garage were following Chuck Berry’s lead but when you look at the artists that have covered a Chuck Berry song you understand the immensity of his contribution. It’s interesting to note that you cannot name me one significant cover of an Elvis Presley song. There are no other notable versions of “Hound Dog” or “Jailhouse Rock”. Those songs are so indelibly connected to EP that no one else dared to attempt them. The wonderful thing about Chuck is that his songs were really for everybody. Every important rock artist after Chuck had to try their hand at one of his songs. If for no other reason than to make it clear what their intentions were: if you cover “Johnny B. Goode”, it tells the world what kind of band you are.

The connection may not be readily apparent but we’ll start with the Beach Boys. Brian Wilson may be the most successful songwriter ever who was least influenced by black music but Brian, his brother, guitarist Carl and their cousin, lead vocalist Mike Love were all enamored of doo wop and – mostly Carl, natch – Chuck Berry. Brian Wilson enjoyed Chuck’s “Sweet Little Sixteen” so much that he took the melody and changed the lyrics to include popular surf spots across the country. Initially, the songwriting credit listed only Wilson. Then it was changed to credit Berry only. I remember, when I was 12, owning the popular Beach Boys compilation “Endless Summer” and noticing that it listed Chuck Berry as the writer of “Surfin’ U.S.A” which was a real head-scratcher for me. Nowadays, both Wilson and Berry are credited. It’s always been published by Chuck’s Arc Music publisher. Chuck was a major influence on Carl’s playing and the Beach Boys released an early tribute to Chuck and others called “Do You Remember?” in 1964: “Chuck Berry’s gotta be the greatest thing that came along. He made the guitar beat and wrote the all time greatest songs”.  Then, in the 1970’s, the Beach Boys emerged from a creative valley with the album “15 Big Ones” that featured, as it’s lead-off single, Chuck’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll Music”. The single went to #5, which was their highest charting single since the landmark “Good Vibrations” in 1966.

Like every other beat group that emerged in England in the early 1960’s, the Beatles were heavily influenced by rhythm and blues. If you had seen them in pre-stardom days on stage in Hamburg or at the Cavern Club in Liverpool, you would have seen a gnarly bunch of greasers crunching their way through a set list loaded with covers of their favourite records. Chuck Berry loomed large. Their raucous cover of Chuck’s “Roll Over Beethoven” was featured on their second album, 1963’s “With the Beatles”. This track of Chuck’s was a favourite of the boys’ since even before they were called “the Beatles”. Just as exciting was their cover of “Rock ‘n’ Roll Music”. This track appeared on “Beatles For Sale” in ’64 and features an excellent, frenetic vocal from John. Another litigation episode involves the Beatles. The Beatles’ 1969 song “Come Together” was targeted by the owner of the copyright to Chuck’s tune “You Can’t Catch Me”. The owner claimed the two tracks were similar musically (they aren’t) and that the first two lines of the Beatles song – “Here come ol’ flattop, he come groovin’ up slowly” – was too close to a line of Chuck’s: “Here come a flattop, he was movin’ up with me”. They settled out of court with John promising to record three future songs that were controlled by the same copyright owner. The result was Lennon recording “You Can’t Catch Me” and “Ya Ya” for his excellent 1975 album of covers “Rock ‘n’ Roll” (his “Stand By Me” is spectacular).

Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry. I mean, that’s it, right? The two legends together are probably the most influential artists in rock history. EP covered Chuck in early 1964. Presley was experiencing  his first dry spell on the charts and he had latched on to Chuck’s “Memphis, Tennessee” for his next single. Memphis, after all, was Elvis’ hometown and he worked hard on getting just the right sound for his recording, a recording Presley believed would restore his standing on the pop charts. At this time, Elvis and his buds were living in Elvis’ Los Angeles home and when they were not at the studio working on “Memphis”, they were kicking it around in the living room and talking excitedly about the track. Hanging around the house at the time was singer Johnny Rivers. Elvis biographers and many ‘Memphis Mafia’ books report that Elvis felt betrayed when, after sharing his hopes about the song with the boys with Rivers in attendance, Rivers himself released a version of “Memphis” of his own and watched it rise to #2. Elvis was deflated and felt that releasing his version now would just seem exploitative. Rivers and Chuck Berry himself have claimed that the move by Rivers was not malicious but simply orchestrated by Rivers’ record label. No matter. Johnny Rivers became persona non grata with Elvis and the boys and is a minor villain in ‘Elvis World’. Presley went to Chuck again for a track that easily ranks among the top ten Elvis Presley recordings of all time; 1973’s “Promised Land”. In terms of energy and flat-out, driving, pedal-to-the-metal power, it’s hard to find an EP recording that tops this. Adding to the coolness level of this recording is the fact that it was recorded at the famed Stax Studio in Memphis and features some stellar clavinet. It’s hard to do justice in words to Presley’s recording of this track; you have to listen to it. A lot. Interesting to note that Berry wrote this song while incarcerated in 1961-62 for violating the Mann Act. He has said that while writing the song he wanted to study an atlas to confirm some of the lyrics but one wouldn’t be provided. It may prove too helpful in planning an escape route.

There’s been many other fantastic covers of Chuck’s songs. They make for great listening because when you’ve got a well-written rock song and an artist who wants to pay homage and at the same time sink his teeth in and put his own stamp on a song, the results quite often are good. Cases in point include the Animals and their scintillating “Around and Around”, Electric Light Orchestra’s soaring version of “Roll Over Beethoven” and Rod Stewart (back when he was cool) tearing a strip off “Sweet Little Rock ‘n’ Roller”, with the help of a rabid dog. I’ve tried here to provide details on some of the earliest stand-out covers of Chuck Berry’s songs. The three artists we looked at here are as big as you get and it’s telling that they’ve all notably – NOTABLY – tackled Chuck Berry’s music with interesting and exciting results. But the list of other artists to cover Berry is extensive. And varied. Everyone from Wyclef Jean to Uriah Heap. From Tanya Tucker to Peter Tosh. I haven’t even touched on the Rolling Stones’ fantastic Chuck run-throughs in their early days and gritty bluesman George Thorogood’s devotion to Chuck’s songs. But if you check the lists of artists who have covered Chuck, you’ll see that his music has been visited most by three of the biggest artists in music history. What does that tell you?

Thanks, Chuck.

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Spotlight on…Del Shannon

I recently listened to a Del Shannon 2-CD Greatest Hits package and it really got me thinking. I have known of him since basically the beginning of my awareness of “oldies”, due in most part to his timeless 1961 #1 song “Runaway”. It was the biggest success of his career and the number he is most remembered for. But I seemed to recall having heard things about his later career, about how super stardom seemed to elude him and of his tragic end.

Del was born Charles Westover in Michigan. Just as he was beginning to get his recording career off the ground, he joined forces with a keyboardist named Max Crook who had invented his own organ-type keyboard called a musitron. Del and Max reworked an older song of theirs called “Little Runaway” and recorded it as “Runaway” in early 1961. The song reached #1 in many countries in April of that year and became one of what I would call the pillars of classic rock ‘n’ roll. Even today, many people have heard or heard of the song and it has even become something more than just a song and has become an iconic symbol of another era. “Runaway” also received the Lucas Stamp. George Lucas deemed the song indicative enough of classic rock ‘n’ roll that he included it in his seminal document of the era, “American Graffiti”. Del is interesting to me because he was more than just a one-hit wonder and was able to follow up “Runaway” with other moderate hits. Indeed, his next single – “Hats Off to Larry” – peaked at number five and he closed out the year with two other songs reaching the top 40. Not bad. While Del was not an excellent vocalist, he did have an excellent falsetto that was featured on both of these early hits and became something of a trademark of his recordings. 1962 started with minor chart activity until late in the year when “Little Town Flirt” reached #12 in the US and also did well globally (#1 in Ireland). And then the hits seemed to dry up. So, really, that’s only two calendar years but three notable hit recordings – one eventually reaching iconic status – is a pretty good resume for the fickle world of early ’60’s rock ‘n’ roll.

He continued to be popular in England – where he was always more popular – and in fact added to his rep in 1963 by becoming the first American artist to record a Beatles song. Del’s recording of “From Me to You” charted in the States before the Beatles version did. In 1964, after a few more minor chart entries, Del had a hit with the excellent “Keep Searchin’ (We’ll Follow the Sun)” which entered the top ten late in the year. Also in 1964, Del produced some demo recordings for fellow Michigander Bob Seger. The demos fell into the hands of Dick Clark and shortly thereafter Seger signed a recording contract and began his lengthy career with some regional successes. In 1965, British pop duo Peter and Gordon scored a hit with Del’s gorgeous “I Go to Pieces” but chart success eluded Shannon during the late 1960’s. He turned to production and discovered country singer Johnny Craver (?) and the band Smith, who you may remember had a hit with a remake of “Baby, It’s You”. He also produced Brian Hyland’s 1970 hit “Gypsy Woman”. A telling sign that his own recording career was nearly over is his re-recording of his big hit “Runaway” in 1967, although the single was successful in Canada and Australia. Also in that year, back in welcoming England, Del worked with former Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham on an album called “Home and Away”. Oldham intended the album to be in the vein of the Beach Boys’ 1966 masterpiece “Pet Sounds”. However – and this is a common story in rock ‘n’ roll history – the record company shelved the ambitious album and refused to release it. Another highly regarded album – “The Further Adventures of Charles Westover” – couldn’t find an audience and sold poorly.

So, at the dawn of the 1970’s, Del had a good rep as a live performer and was looked on as somewhat of a survivor but his lack of chart success disappointed him and – another common story – he turned to alcohol. However, Del cleaned up enough to record the album “Drop Down and Get Me” in 1982. Del had a fan in Tom Petty and Petty produced this album and his Heartbreakers play on it. It features the moderate hit remake of “Sea of Love” (#33). Petty and his friends would come back onto the scene after Del enjoyed a resurgence when he re-recorded “Runaway” yet again for use over the opening credits of the great Michael Mann show starring Dennis Farina, “Crime Story”. At this time, Del also worked with Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty’s band mate in the supergroup the Traveling Wilburys who had just lost their resident early ’60’s legend when Roy Orbison died. Here’s the part I actually remember about Del and it used to bug me. There was every indication that he would be the perfect – freakishly perfect – replacement for Orbison. But Shannon had been suffering from depression, depression caused by his faltering recording career. He had been taking Prozac for this depression and, despite his possible future as a Wilbury, he took his own life in February of 1990 with a rifle (!?).

The part that bugged me was, at the time, I was stunned by his depression caused by not having a chart hit for many years. What did he expect? I remember thinking. He started out in 1960, he still wants hits in 1990?! Well, yes, he did. Easy for us fans to sit back and say ‘hey, Del, you gave us “Runaway”. That’s good enough’. But for him and for artists like him it’s not good enough. They want to continue to make music and have it heard by the world. When they feel they can’t do that, I’m sure it can be a blow.

So, what is Del Shannon’s legacy? What is he? A ‘one-hit wonder’? Just another tragic example of how middling success can take a toll on those who aim for super stardom? Seems to me it’s yes and no and somewhere in between. He was responsible for one of the most enduring songs of an era that has taken on the rosy glow of nostalgia for many people. And that’s enough for us, the fans. But he had ambitions and he had more music in him. It’s just that the majority of the record-buying public wasn’t into that music. And that’s a shame. It’s also a shame that Del Shannon’s story is a common one.

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The Downside to a Vivid Imagination

I’ve always had a vivid imagination. I can’t really say where it came from. One of the earliest memories I can recall was when I was about seven years old and still living in Downsview. I was a big “Happy Days” fan and owned the record “Fonzie’s Favorites”. The B side featured romantic doo-wop songs and I remember listening late at night with a single lamp on, suffusing the room with dim, red light. I recall taking in every lyric on that record, every word coming to life as I pictured the guy looking up at his girlfriend’s window, seeing her with another guy only to realize he’s on the wrong street. Guys wishing in the starry night and girls wondering what it’ll take to get their boys back. Thing is it was so vivid. Reality was gone and imagination took over.

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As I grew older, there came to be so many more similar examples of me ‘connecting’ with an album or a TV show, book or movie. Even when I knew a particular film was lousy, if I ‘got something’ from it, if it ‘took me somewhere’, then I liked it.

Then it began to spread to many different things and I soon discovered the downside. Now, some people with little or no imagination simply don’t know any better. They’re not fascinated by the furniture in the room in a film from the 1940’s or golf being played in the Swiss Alps or the way that song goes up a key and actually sounds like late afternoon sunshine feels. They don’t think they can actually smell the coffee and beans at a campfire in a Western or the cigarette smoke in a Harlem jazz club in the early ’50’s when they listen to John Coltrane. These people are, of course, normal. They go to work five, sometimes six or seven days a week. On days off, they drink beer in their basements or backyards. They watch hockey, UFC, WWE, gridiron football. Their only dream, really, is not having to work anymore. If they had a vivid imagination, they would know what an array of kicks are available cheap to the average Joe.

Then there’s me. My imagination has opened up interests for me in a number of different areas. The downside? There’s simply not enough time. Trying to ‘keep track’ of all the things I’m into is hard work. I could easily spend ALL my time doing any number of things. SO MANY things fascinate me.

I could be “Travel Guy”: subscribe to National Geographic, save every dime I could for travel, get a map of the world tattooed on my back. I could EASILY devote all my time to learning new languages, cook food from around the world and just be a nomad; either travelling somewhere or planning to.

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I could be “Classic Movie Guy”: connecting with my Twitter friends with #TCMParty has shown me that there are many people who devote their lives to classic film. I could EASILY watch nothing but Turner Classic Movies or movies on DVD, collecting even more obsessively than I do now. Join and follow sites/blogs/groups on the internet and basically just live in black and white. I love this world. I could live there 24/7. No sweat.

I could be “Sailor Guy”: I could immerse myself in all the classic literature of the sea. Watch only pirate and nautical-themed movies. Study ships of the past, eat fish, smoke a pipe. Learn how to tie all the knots. Move to Alcona, buy a boat, fish all the time. I could EASILY spend all my time. learning about life lived by the sea. I really feel like this guy every year when we go to Ponce Inlet, FLA.

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I could be “Oldies Guy”: nothing but the music of the ’50’s and early ’60’s. Pile my hair high in a pompadour (as I used to), wear blue jeans and motorcycle boots (as I used to). Go to car shows and Fifties dances. Again, the internet – upload songs to YouTube, talk about them with others, join discussion groups and get newsletters. Collect rare 45s. I could just doo-wop myself to death.

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I could be “Car Guy”: I watch the guys at the car shows. Talking about 325’s and positraction. Their hands are always dirty. I could tinker with some heap in the backyard. Buy a ’59 Impala and wipe it all the time. Wear coveralls with black, hi-cut, canvas Converse and a red bandanna hanging out of the back pocket. EASILY.

I could be “Surfer Guy”: Hawaiian shirts, t-shirts, shorts, slaps, bare feet. Move to the water and spend all my time in it. Ukulele and campfires. ‘Surfer’ Magazine, surf music, coconut water. There’s days worth of surfing footage/films to watch on YouTube. Follow nothing but World Surf League and watch all the events online. Grow dreadlocks and call everyone ‘brah’. A life of NOTHING but sun and water.

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I could be a “Jazzbo”: grow a goatee, speak ‘hip’, take up smoking again. Listen to nothing but Miles, Trane and Dizzy. Listen to and support Jazz FM91. Dress in Kangol hats and dark clothes. There is such a cool, unpretentious detachment to the jazz world that has always appealed to me.  In high school, for a co-op, I was host of “Jazz International” on a community radio station in Waterloo. Particularly in the autumn, this world is very appealing.

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I could be a “Cowboy”: there is such a significant history inherent in Western living. There is such a hearty, honest, hard-working quality to the Cowboy Way. The camaraderie that can exist between a person and a horse, the campfire, the stars at night, the rope and leather. I’d love to grow a big, ol’ Sam Elliott mustache and listen to nothing but classic country. Even new country music adds to the aura with it’s songs of difficult relationships, hard-working good, ol’ boys, God and the Bible still a part of life, memories of mama and daddy and how they raised their children. Poking around a TSC Store always makes me feel that I could EASILY live as ‘rural guy’.

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I could be “Elvis Guy”: ‘Elvis World’ is so diverse it’s easy to spend all your time there. A lot of people that do, though, can become a little creepy. My man appeals to me in such a way and there is so much to his story that I can totally see how people can focus on him to the exclusion of all others. This makes me think of the times I’ve visited various forums or chat groups devoted to one artist. You see people that are so dialed in to the one group or singer/actor that they love that the spend ALL their time and effort reading about, learning about and talking about just one thing. I can’t do that but I often think I could with Presley. Just listen, watch, read, collect, share, learn, study nothing but EP.

I could be “Sports Guy”: this is a post in itself. When my sons were little I decided we should follow hockey. I had a strong dislike, though, for all the hating that went on between the fans of rival teams. I told my boys ‘we’re going to follow hockey but we’re not going to hate – or love, for that matter – any specific team’. I carried the same mentality over into English Football when I started watching. A friend of mine – a hardcore footy fan from way back – became enraged with me and told me it was not allowed to like ALL the teams. You’ve got to pick one, love it and despise their rivals! So, now I can say I love my teams and hate their rivals. Particularly when we are in the middle of a season, I love to focus all my attention on my teams: read articles on how they’re doing, listen to podcasts, collect jerseys, learn about their history and basically just live and die with their fortunes. I feel like I can’t be ‘all in’ in this though mainly because I hate to debate. I can’t stand it when I hear someone disparaging another team. I always think if you love your team then you love your team even if they are the worst in the league. That is even the essence of loving a team – you love them not based on their performance but on where you live or simply because they’re your team. I could EASILY abandon everything else and just follow my teams. In this day and age there is no shortage of info, stories, interviews and highlights to watch. It can be a full-time job, one I think sometimes I could do.

I could even be “MCM Guy”: in the last year or so, my interest in all things ‘Mid-Century Modern’ has peaked. This world is one of everything that was popular or cool in the 1950’s and ’60’s. The term actually applies to architecture and home furnishings but all areas of media and culture could be included. As far back as my pre-teens, I’ve always said I could wear some variation of a suit every day. When I got a job at McDonalds, my mom said ‘at least now you can wear a tie to work!’. It was a green polyester clip-on and always had food on it. I still lament the fact that you can’t go out in ties or cardigans without getting looked at strangely. I love the era when if a man was going to dig a ditch he’d ‘dress down’ to a pair of casual slacks and a sports shirt. I’ve had times in my life when every day I dressed like Ward Cleaver. When my oldest son was born I vowed he’d never wear a pair of jeans – “What is he? A Hobo!?”. There are many places online you can go to immerse yourself in the ‘cocktail nation’, the tiki and lounge scene. When I’m listening to Les Baxter and watching “Mad Men” this role seems the one I’m best suited to. But then of course that clashes with the guy that wants to wear an eye patch or flip flops or cowboy boots. See what I’m getting at?

So, you see? It’s problem. But it’s a great problem to have. It’s a problem because, for example, I won’t listen to oldies for a long time and then I’ll overhear one somewhere and I’ll say to myself ‘oh, I love that song. I must listen to oldies again. What’s wrong with me!? I love oldies! Why have I not listened to them in so long?!’. Well, buddy, it’s because you’ve been listening to jazz, or Elvis or cowboy music and it’s then that I’ll get frustrated and wish I didn’t love so many different things. There’s so much cool stuff  that grabs my attention that it’s hard to devote much time to any one thing. What ends up happening actually is I’ll listen to certain types of music and watch certain movies or certain types of books at certain times of year. Some things I seem to enjoy more at specific times of year. But it’s great, too. I’ve never been one to worry or feel stress and one of the main reasons is that I’m constantly off in some land. I simply don’t worry about many things in life because I’m too busy listening to Koop Kooper and “The Cocktail Nation” or watching “Emergency!”. In the end it’s like the Temptations said: “I’m doing fine up here on cloud 9”.

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