Saturday, October 22, 2016

Sit Down, I Think I Love Your Music

That moment when you know you made the right musical call.

It's after you get home from the University of Richmond's International Film Series seeing "Tokyo Story," a black and white 1953 post-war commentary by the Japanese director considered second only to Kurasawa.

Shot from the point of view of a person sitting on a mat on the floor, the film offers a heart-breakingly sad look at the already seismic cultural shift from old to young after WW II. In fact, it may have been the birth of the whippersnapper generation that spawned successive legions of disrespectful children with no interest in history or heritage.

A beautiful film, but also a dispiriting one.

No, it's when I'm getting ready to head out in search of my evening's repast, but before I pick up dessert and head to Holmes' basement for a two-month catch-up session and music fest ("We've got some new music," he says with a leer in his voice on the phone call to arrange things).

Certainly, it's when "Almost Cut My Hair" comes on the radio and it's followed by John Prine and then Leonard Cohen's latest album "You Want It Darker" (do I or is that just his old age talking?) that I feel the universe patting me on the back.

Go to the vinyl, Karen. And take chocolate...

But my family's rule was always "no dinner, no dessert," so I head directly to Bistro 27 where a rehearsal dinner is in progress for what will surely be no more than a starter marriage for these two impossibly young people. Watching the guests occupy themselves with alcohol and each other's spawn reminds me how tedious such events are when small children are involved.

My meal, on the other hand, delivers in spades: the rockfish is weighed down with lumps of crabmeat and the accompanying sauteed vegetables - squash, mushrooms, zucchini and tomatoes rounded out with lemon juice and herbs de Provence - could not have been cooked more perfectly. The mushrooms, especially, are so flavorful they all but burst in my mouth.

I order two chocolate mouse cakes to go and head to the party of three.

Holmes and Beloved are just finishing up dinner when I arrive, pleased to no end with how their first attempt at chicken saltimbocca and pasta has turned out.

After our shared dessert, Beloved excitedly tells me she has a present for me: a hardback copy of "Valley of the Dolls" scored at an estate sale. Miraculously, the deceased had had two copies and she'd picked one up for herself as well. We're both elated at our new trashy reading score.

As a result, the time machine for the evening is right that moment set to '60s/70s as we move to the man cave, take up our assigned bar stools and the musical focus begins with them showing off some new vinyl finds: The 101 Strings' "East of Suez," and an Arthur Murray party record with appropriate music for rumbas, the waltz, fox trot, samba and others to keep your guests cutting a rug all night.

Then the radio's earlier foreshadowing kicks in as Holmes puts on Crosby and Nash's "Wind on the Water" so we can moon over "Sit Down, I Think I Love You," but it's when he puts on "Nuggets: Original Artifacts from the First Psychedelic Era 1965-1968" (modestly claiming that he'd just happened to come across it while perusing the "N" section of his record collection) that the party truly gets started.

Don't get me wrong, I only recognized a very few songs on this two-disc set, but the overall sound was completely memory-inducing. "Lies" by the Knickerbockers was familiar and the Standells' "Dirty Water" almost was, while Mouse's "A Public Execution" sounded eerily like Dylan, if he could sing.

Easily the most dramatic song was the Barbarians' "Moulty," an autobiographical ode to the drummer losing one of his hands. The song winds down with Moulty telling us not to pity him because he's happy with his lot in life. "I just need to find a good woman and I'll be complete!" he sing-songs dramatically.

"No, you won't!" hollers Beloved at the turntable. "You haven't got a hand!"

But it was when the Castaways "Liar, Liar" came on that Beloved got excited, recalling that the band had played a school dance when she was at Albert Hill Middle School. A classmate named Mac had been inspired to start a band, she said, and when they played "Gloria," all the girls at Hill swooned and screamed.

Not willing to be outdone in school memories, Holmes shares that he and friends at John B. Cary also started a band, with the dubious name of Dr. VD's Observatory. No report on how the girls reacted.

Virtually all the songs were one hit wonders, sometimes one of two, but one band was instantly recognizable and that was Nazz. No one sounds like Todd Rundgren and none of the other songs had the production his "Open My Eyes" did, either.

It was after listening to all four sides of "Nuggets" and lamenting Holmes' loss of a similar version except of original artifacts from the first English psychedelic era that he pulled out another album for one last bonus nugget, Syndicate of Sound's "Hey, Little Girl," who - we really shouldn't have been surprised - had also played at Albert Hill during Beloved's junior high tenure.

As we're listening, Beloved reaches over to the end of the bar and randomly picks up a 1967 issue of a Mad Magazine Special and begins flipping through. Shrieking, she holds it up, saying, "You know what's in Mad? Valley of the Dolls!"

Actually, it was Valley of the Dollars, a spoof on the millions author Jacqueline Susann had made on the book and movie, but also mocking the cheesy film with abandon. Actress Barbara Perkins is shown on her way to the movie set, walking past a sign that says, "You are now leaving Peyton Place.

I may be too young to have seen the cheesy prime time soap opera, but I nonetheless got the joke.

It was then that the happy couple pulled out another piece of the web they were weaving over me with the soundtrack to Valley of the Dolls, complete with movie montage music and the theme song sung by an uncredited vocalist because Dionne Warwick was under contractual obligation to another record company.

I ask you, how many friends gift you with the book, provide a period-appropriate magazine satire of it and then follow up with the music from the film?

Four plus hours into our evening, we had to decide on the final vinyl and Beloved scooped up the double "Shaft Soundtrack" album, asking rhetorically, "What is this?"

Holmes, no more than our obedient DJ by this point, barely looked up, mumbling, "I don't know. I'm just a captive."

Since I'd just seen "Shaft" a week ago, it was especially satisfying to hear Isaac Hayes' masterpiece on speakers as fine as Holmes has.

And because even when you're heading toward 2 a.m. Holmes will still try to slide in one last record to dazzle his guests, he put on a pink vinyl copy of a club mix of the Rolling Stones' "Miss You." Since it had been ages since our last rendezvous, he could have been trying to tell me something.

More likely, he was reminding me that when I stop by Dr. VD's Observatory, I always make the right musical call.

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