Yes, I understand. You’re upset with me.
Like the man said, “it’s been a long time since I rock ‘n rolled.” Things have been more than a little busy at work over the last month or so. I know you don’t care about the particulars, so I just erased a whole bunch of crap that I typed, the sum total of which boils down to this: over the last little bit, I’ve felt like a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest, and between things going on at work, groundskeeping chores, a series of (most welcome) house guests, and some other new developments here on the home front, I have been unable to devote any time whatsoever to you, my virtual friends. Pity.
Please feel free to sue me for failing to provide you with your usual level of comfort and support.
In the meantime, I have a few moments right now, during which I’ll share with you one of my latest projects. I went out today and bought a USB turntable. I am converting some of my old vinyl records into digital format so that I can load ’em on my iPod and rock out 1980s style while I’m cutting the lawn. Also, Spouse and I have become very tired of the music we’ve been listening to over and over again in the car recently. It is hoped that the new (old) music may provide some much needed variety, being as it is the spice of life.
I have crates and crates of records in the storage room downstairs, and this conversion project will take some time. In the interests of generating some posts around here (especially in the absence of Maple Leaf hockey), I thought I’d try writing a little post about some of the records I’m converting. The only rule I’m making for myself is that I must write the post while the record is playing.
Today’s entry: The Cars – Heartbeat City
Look, first of all, I don’t want to hear about how it’s an outrage that I chose a mediocre album by a band that you don’t like as the subject for this first post. I know, The Cars weren’t exactly as talented as the Beatles, and 1984’s Heartbeat City , although no doubt the band’s most commercially successful effort, does not represent their best work.
But seriously, I had to learn where to do this conversion stuff starting somewhere, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to start with some music that is truly meaningful to me. Actually, that last sentence is more than a little disingenuous; this music does matter to me, in a way. As I sit here and type, I’m finding myself sorely tempted to separate myself and my musical tastes from this record; I know it is crap, and I guess I do not wish to be judged by you for being associated with it. Nevertheless, to be honest, I would be lying if I did not admit that listening to this record is, to me, highly evocative of a certain something.
A quick contextual review: The Cars burst on to the “New Wave” scene in the late ’70s . Their stripped-down, straight ahead and vaguely techno sound was a part of a whole reactionary movement in music, an attempt to answer some of the serious excess that had become part and parcel of mainstream rock in the middle of the decade following sprawling and epic works from artists like Genesis, Led Zeppelin, Peter Frampton, etc. By far the best part of The Cars’ oeuvre comes from their first three records: their eponymous debut, Candy-O and Panorama, all three of which were released before the seventies were over. By 1984, The Cars had definitely jumped the shark and had ironically become in many ways a mid-80s version of the very thing they had started out opposing. Case in point: John “Mutt” Lange produced (and produced and produced, and yes, I’m saying “over produced”) Heartbeat City. Edges are polished, everything is musically letter perfect and there are harmonies that pop and sparkle. All of the edges, though, have been softened. Don’t believe me? Listen to “Good Times Roll” or “Touch and Go” from those early records and then follow it up with “Drive” from this album. If you want to move right past “unbelievably saccharine sweet” and go straight to “diabetic coma”, check out the version of that tune that the band performed at Live Aid in the summer of ’85.
Anyway, my point is that I know: this record ain’t exactly Dark Side of the Moon, or anything monumental, meaningful, or even necessarily “good.” By 1984, Ric Ocasek was more interested in trying to figure out, like everybody else, how the hell he managed to hook up with a 19-year old Paulina Porizkova and why she would ever be interested in a – let’s face it – homely fucker like him. The band’s performance at Live Aid was proof positive that its best years were in the past, and established without a doubt that sappy, synth-driven pieces of dreck like “Magic” would remain popular forever because God essentially hates human beings.
I know all of that. But some albums (look it up, youngsters – we had them before iTunes came along) just evoke certain points in time and space, and for me personally, this is one of them. The second I put this record on the turntable, I was transported. It was 1984 again and I was in the basement of my parents’ home working on some program or other that I was (forever) writing on the Commodore 64, occasionally dumping the code out in printed LIST form on the dot matrix printer. True story: when typing this post, I knew what year this record was released without even looking at the dust jacket. I spent a lot of time in that basement, as my pasty skin in any period photographs will attest, typing away on that little keyboad, trying to fix my little electronic creations with 10 REM FILE HANDLING PROGRAM comments and switching between this album and David Bowie’s Let’s Dance or Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense on the turntable, or (if I happened to be rocking the cassette deck instead) the Violent Femmes‘ or Specials‘ debut. Truth be told, though, although I prefer the music from any one of those other albums, when I close my eyes and think back to what it felt like to be loading a 5 1/4″ floppy disc in to the dogshit brown disc drive* of that computer, the music I hear is The Cars’ Heartbeat City.
I suppose there’s some justice, then, to that music being the soundtrack as I sit here 26 years later, still tapping away on a keyboard on yet another summer day, starting another epic digital project.
*the technically advanced 64 had a disc drive instead of cassette tape storage. The discs held 360 KB of information