Wednesday, July 25, 2018

I Don't Know, But I Been Told

Hey, hey, Mama, said the way you move
Gonna make you sweat, gonna make you groove

I have stopped working for the day. I've showered and the radio rewards me by playing a live version of Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog" recorded in 1973 at Madison Square Garden.

Outside, it's overcast because we're between showers for the fourth day in a row. I don't mind because it feels very beachy to me with constantly changing skies, winds and fronts. Walking the pipeline in a steady, warm rain made for a pretty wonderful morning.

The moment "Black Dog" comes on, though, I'm back in my high school cafeteria and it's blaring loudly from the jukebox. Because of course a school cafeteria had a jukebox in 1973. If I recall correctly, we didn't have a single lunch hour that it didn't get played - and, mind you, the song was already a couple years old then - but I never got tired of hearing it.

And while I didn't own a single Led Zeppelin album (still don't), I suggested to my then-boyfriend that we get tickets for their upcoming show at Alexandria Roller Rink. "Nah, they'll never be able to recreate their sound live," he said, dismissing my suggestion out of hand. I acquiesced because  I wasn't a big Led Zep fan, although I think the incongruity of a band like that at a roller rink spoke to me even then.

How could it not have been great/weird/awful/fascinating to experience?

While in college, I worked in a bookstore under a manager who was maybe a dozen years older than me. One slow evening, we got to talking about music and dancing. Both he and his wife loved to dance and still did so often, while my generation, he pointed out, didn't dance, we just stood around and listened to music.

Given the hard-rocking bands of the day - Yes, Jethro Tull, the Who - I'm not sure we had much choice. Dancing was uncool, old fashioned, stigmatized even.

But now that I heard "Black Dog" on the radio, I also know more about the song, namely that bassist John Paul Jones deliberately wrote it with a winding riff and complex rhythm changes so it could not be danced to.

And people question why disco had to come into being? C'mon, we were a generation starved for  music we could dance to. We took what we could get.

One thing that hasn't changed in the intervening decades is getting together to listen to records with friends. It was so commonplace in my youth that there are entire artists' catalogs I never bothered purchasing because so many of my friends owned them. Why buy Jackson Brown, Steely Dan or the Police when everyone I knew could play them for me?

Now when I go to listening parties, there's a good dinner first. Tonight's was at Acacia with Holmes and Beloved and a couple of bottles of Langlois Chateau Cremant de Loire Brut Rose (because, to quote Pru, "Why would we ever leave the Loire?"). When the sommelier opened the delicate and dry pink bubbles for us, he shared not only that it's a personal favorite of his, but that the vineyards are associated with Champagne Bollinger.

All I can say is, more, please.

The most amusing moment arrived when our young server came to open the second bottle. Unlike the first, which had been uncorked with barely a sigh, the second let off a resounding pop and from across the room, the sommelier raised his eyebrows at her noisy opening. "He's gonna kill me," she joked.

There are various ways to tell that we're smack in the middle of the summer - the absence of VCU students, the ease of parking - but none so clear cut as being in a half-full restaurant that is usually slammed every night they're open. I know, I know, everyone's at the ocean or the river, but for now we had to settle for eating from those places.

Beginning with Ruby Salt oysters and cucumber soup, we moved on to white anchovies made obscene with the richness of fourme d'ambert, pine nuts, grilled radicchio and romaine in a creamy garlic dressing. Beloved orders them every single time we go to Acacia and Holmes and I benefit by getting a taste or two out of her.

Neither of them could resist the siren song of Acaia's specialty, sauteed velvet softshells from Urbanna, served with asparagus, cream corn polenta and tomato bacon gravy, while I tucked into grilled mahi mahi accompanied by a mesclun salad loaded with heirloom tomatoes and goat cheese.

Over desserts of chocolate cremeaux with sea salt caramel ice cream and pound cake, they regaled me with highlights and photographs of their recent trip to Solomon's Island to celebrate Beloved's birthday. Just looking at the pictures, I could see how relaxed and happy they'd been to get away.

When we finally headed back to Holmes' hideaway, it was still early enough for a full-blown record listening party. Laying on the bar from a former evening was a square of paper with a handwritten message: "Scream now!" Neither Holmes nor Beloved recalled why it had been necessary to write such a message.

But he did make sure we knew that it was national tequila day before dropping the needle on Todd Rundgren's 1973 album, "A Wizard, A True Star." I love me some Todd.

When we do these listening parties, the starting artist is inevitably decided during the phone call between Holmes and me to set up the evening. In this case, when I called him, he answered the phone by saying, "This is Holmes," to which I responded, "Hello, it's me." Right away, we both know Todd Rundgren would launch the listening festivities.

We were soon far down a rabbit hole because on this album, he does a medley of Curtis Mayfield's "I'm So Proud," Smokey Robinson's "Ooh, Baby, Baby," the Delphonics' "La La Means I Love You" and "Cool Jerk," a song they knew but couldn't recall who'd originally done it. Don't look at me, I only knew the GoGos version from 1982's "Vacation"

Now that Holmes has softened his position on cell phones, Beloved is allowed to look things up if he deems it worthy of research. Turns out that a band called the Capitols had released it in 1966  on the - wait for it - Karen Records label. Who knew?

As much as we enjoyed Todd, where Holmes really bowled us over was with an album I hadn't even heard of: Joni Mitchell's "Miles of Aisle," a double live album from 1974 recorded when she toured behind "Court and Spark" (although there's only one C&S song on it) with the L.A. Express. Her voice was exquisite, not yet ruined by cigarettes, whiled the live versions offered new takes on classic songs. I wouldn't have thought I could like "Turn Me On, I'm a Radio" better live, but I was wrong.

"And this is just the songs that she'd written by 1974!" Holmes said incredulously.

I never owned any Joni Mitchell until a few years ago for the simple reason that I didn't need to. Everyone had Joni Mitchell when I was young and she got played a lot everywhere. What an innocent petunia I was. Only now do I realize that I must own all the Joni Mitchell.

Because sometimes I'm the one hosting the listening parties. And should you come across a note here or there, I can assure you it won't say, "Scream now!" Talk now?

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