Sunday, December 9, 2018

Get Me to the World on Time

Ain't too proud to beg, or, more accurately, invite myself over.

Looking at a Saturday that involved a gallery tour by an artist I'm writing about, an interview with a curator and a protracted meeting of the Theater Alliance Panel I'm on, I didn't hesitate to call Holmes before leaving for my busy afternoon. My inquiry was simple: did he and the little woman have a bar stool available at their record-listening party tonight?

Bingo. Let me tell you, it's far more pleasant working through the afternoon and early evening knowing I'd wind up with a glass of wine in hand, listening to music with friends. They were making dinner at home, so we timed my arrival to coincide with post-meal cleanup.

You have to love hosts who immediately pour you a glass of Rose All Day, a French Grenache Rose that is currently Beloved's favorite and lead you to the man cave crowded with records, CDs, cassette tapes, a full bar and a wine fridge, sort of a bomb shelter for those who've just eaten.

To kick off our listening party, we usually begin with a 45 to set the tone before moving on to albums.  First up was Elvis Costello's "Allison," a slow start, but one that decided the era.

But to change things up, next Holmes pulled out another 45, this one of U2's "With or Without You," while Beloved and I marveled at the 1987 photograph of Bono on the sleeve. Clearly he'd still been in his "tortured Irish artist" phase, although Beloved put it best, noting, "He looks dirty. Like he's about to start digging potatoes."

And he did. Not yet developed was the grandeur poses of the humanitarian god he was to become.

And, mind you, I hadn't had anything to drink beyond a few sips of my Rose, so when Holmes turned the 45 over to play the flip side, "Luminous Times," it took but a second for me to realize that something was wrong. That didn't sound like Bono singing or the Edge's guitar.

Looking at Holmes for help, I asked if the 45 was on the wrong speed. Negative. He turned it back over and, sure enough, "With or Without You" was instantly recognizable. What the ...? He thought perhaps he'd accidentally hit the speed knob while changing records, but, no, it was on 45 rpm.

Maybe it was the Rose, but we debated the issue for far longer than we should have.

Only once Holmes took the 45 off the turntable and examined it did we see the problem. The flip side clearly stipulated, "Play this side at 33 rpm." We did and finally listened to the song as it was meant to be heard.

Bono no longer sounded like a member of Alvin and the Chipmunks.

All three of us looked at each other incredulously. Not one of us long-time music fans had ever seen a record with different speeds on each side of the same disc. It was almost like the young band (or perhaps artsy producers Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno) had been testing its fans to see if they were paying attention.

Check that, it was as if the lads of U2 purposely decided to mess with their listeners' heads. Apparently it never occurred to them that some people might be listening while drinking and not fully paying attention to such details on a Saturday night.

Instructing Holmes to look at the ceiling and randomly pull an album from under the bar, he came up with Rod Stewart's "Never a Dull Moment" and handed it to me for inspection. The moment I saw that "You Wear It Well" was on the album, I was on board.

Because it came out in 1972, we each began reminiscing about what we'd been doing then. For me, in my first year of high school, the song conjured up memories of hearing it on the college radio station, noticing its similarity to "Maggie May" and digging the fiddle parts. For my hosts, it was a college memory, so a lot more had been going on in their lives, though both had great memories of the album.

I mean, who wouldn't love hearing Rod the Mod's raucous cover of the Sam Cooke-penned "Twistin' the Night Away?"

Yet again, we succumbed to Holmes' two-record compilation of the best of the Zombies, a record we seem to regularly revisit for different reasons. For them, it's the soundtrack to their teen years, while for me, the Zombies' music sounds like the essence of the mid-'60s sound, which I was too young to be paying attention to when it came out.

The problem is, every time we put one of the records on, we pretend that we're only going to listen to one side, but inevitably, we can't stop ourselves. Classics like "She's Not There" and "Time of the Season" never get old, but the unexpected pleasure of "Tell Her No" also caused no small amount of dancing and excitement in the basement bar.

My new favorite? "She Loves the Way He Loves Her."

And let's not overlook the exquisite surprise of the Zombies' languid cover of Gershwin's "Summertime," which took mere moments to recognize despite its new-to-me arrangement. I have to admit, I never saw that one coming.

Despite our best intentions, last night we got through three sides before Holmes played the grown-up and pulled the plug.

As if music hadn't been enough to lure me over, Beloved had made sure that there was dessert in the house in the form of a multi-layer chocolate confection with layers of dark chocolate ganache, chocolate mousse, a dense, cake-like layer and chocolate icing.

That the slice was more than enough for three was proof that there is a dessert god.

Next up was a new addition to Holmes' collection, recently acquired at Hardywood's record fair: the promotional album, "1969 Warner Bros/Reprise Songbook," which turned out to be a Whitman's Sampler of musicians, songs and oddities the record company was putting out to entice fans to buy more albums.

I was tickled to see a range from South African songstress Miriam Makeba doing a powerful rendition of Dylan's "I Shall Be Released" to Joni Mitchell to the Kinks.

And while I'd heard the name the Electric Prunes (a name chosen, according to the liner notes, because it was so far out), only last night did I learn of the psychedelic band's early role in combining classical music with rock, as in their attempted "Mass in F Minor." What?

When Beloved insisted she didn't know the band, Holmes assured her she'd heard "I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night" while I just smiled along because I'd never heard of it either.

Along about then, my host decided to celebrate the start of bubbly season by opening a bottle of Tattinger "La Francaise" Brut and making Beloved smile ear to ear. "Now that is Champagne," she announced after one sip with eyes closed.

Indeed it was, though I'm partial to sparklers and could drink them any time they're offered to me.

Equally worthy of celebration, especially for Holmes, was a collector's item cut by Jimi Hendrix, originally recorded for "Are You Experienced?" and then held for "Axis Bold as Love." Only problem was that that album wound up being too tight to include it, so they pushed it forward to use on "Electric Ladyland," which was even tighter.

A pattern was developing.

Apparently "Red House" finally got released on something called "Jimi Hendrix Smash Hits," but for Holmes, ever the music student, it was hearing an unreleased track and its backstory that made his night.

Side three began with the unlikeliest of tracks - unless you read that it was Dr. Demento who chose and sequenced the tracks - of Tiny Tim laughing long and hard before segueing into a track by the Mothers of Invention.

In 1969, or possibly with enough drugs, I'm sure these choices made perfect sense.

When we got to a track by the Fugs - apparently the name is a Norman Mailer euphemism for f*ck - what cracked us all up was the liner notes about some of the guys in the band, one who taught courses in the sexual revolution at the Free University of New York and one who was proprietor of the Peace Eye Pornographic Gallery of Art.

What better qualifications for forming a satirical, lewd avant-rock band? And truly, did we need courses in the sexual revolution? Couldn't you just learn that stuff going to parties and shows?

Shaking his head, Holmes summed things up. "The Fugs were bizarre. They did songs called 'River of Shit' and 'Wet Dream Over You.'" So there was that.

As if on cue, another Fugs' track began and Holmes reacted instantaneously. "Oh, my god, this is 'River of Shit!'" Except that the track's actual title is "Wide, Wide River," but it's still about a river of shit.

Last up was Arlo Guthrie doing a comedic bit about the FBI and how it takes 25 years to train agents to become bastards, a long-winded riff on authority that probably played better in 1969 than now when democracy is under siege.

And, just like that, four and a half hours had gone by and we'd only managed to listen to three albums and two 45s, albeit one of the latter played multiple times until we discovered our stupidity and had polished off two bottles of wine.

Tiny Tim can laugh all he wanted, but an evening that swings from Gershwin to Tattinger with stops at the Peace Eye Pornographic Gallery of Art makes asking for an invite worth the risk.

Even better, when tempted with my companionship charms, Holmes didn't tell me no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. But he also didn't play that fourth Zombies' side, either.

Never a dull moment when you force yourself on friends.

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