Monday, August 25, 2008

Self-Discography #5: "Blackout" by Scorpions

In the neighborhood of Northeast Portland where I grew up, there were, by our schools' standards at least, two kinds of kids. Looking back on it, I now realize it never really was about the fact that we were evenly split between black and white. Instead, it was just pronounced that these two groups were the Rockers and the Rappers.

It was the early '80s in a working-class neighborhood of a small city that had little to offer the world beyond its proximity to the Columbia River and huge swaths of virgin timber. This paucity of options seemed to bleed into several aspects of our day-to-day lives as a result. Fathers in our neighborhood worked on trains, drove trucks, were day laboring carpenters and carpet cleaners. Mothers were mostly homemakers. The few that did work toiled at administrative jobs.

And although I knew that I didn't (and really couldn't) fit the mold of either a Rocker or a Rapper--least of all because I was a gymnast breakdancer--I also knew the value of hanging out and listening to what everyone else in my immediate neighborhood did...which meant heavy metal that ran the gamut from poppy (Motley Crue) to bombastically baroque (Iron Maiden).

For the kids on our block--spread between the ages of of about 9-19 across five or six different families--this music was omnipresent. The older boys might disagree, stoned in a neighbor's basement, about the value of a Dio song versus Saxon, but for most of the rest of us, popularity was determined partially by radio play, but reinforced by our neighbors and peers.

The youngest of all of us, Amy, Leslie, and I would begin to dip our toes into the emerging rap of the era--from Slick Rick and The Sugarhill Gang to, later, Whodini, Salt N Pepa, and Eric B & Rakim--but for what seems to be a few years suspended in time, this metal and pop-metal was the main course on the menu.

The band that most successfully bridged the gap between the sometimes alienating heavy metal coming from England, and the more pop-oriented American descendants, Scorpions were hitting big in the summer of 1982. I was only 9 at the time, but I knew the words to "No One Like You" and could revel in the complex guitar solo that segued back into a killer riff, overlaid with Klaus Meine's impassioned love-song vocals. It was a classic pop song plea dressed up in shiny, sharp edges. I knew a hit when I heard it.

And I wasn't alone. "Blackout" simply was; it was my first taste of the "soundtrack to summer." The very tone of the 10 songs to this day conjures crystalline memories of riding in cars to go to the river with kids from the neighborhood on a blazing hot day. Of watching my sister and her friends smoke cigarettes they bought at a local gas station. Of suspiciously eyeing the skinny white guys with long hair and wannabe muscle cars who were, or wanted to be, boyfriends of the girls in the neighborhood. Of clandestine gathering of the older teenagers in bedrooms and basements where they would gossip, smoke pot, or just lie around complaining about their parents.

I wasn't yet privy to the full-blown adolescent fever that seemed to make the band and their albums even more relevant. I couldn't go to the Scorpions concert that my sister and her friends so excitedly road tripped to. And even though Top 40 radio began to beckon to me, I found nothing short of comfort in the Scorpions, equating the band with a time period, only a few years away, when I would be going to high school, smoking my first cigarette, staying at past curfew--each gesture done with no regret and with a sense of freedom.

Listening now, I am surprised to feel, instantly, that same yearning and optimism in an album that is, in many ways, such a product of its time. The title track, "No One Like You," and "Can't Live Without You" are all anthemic, quasi-headbangers about loving girls and the music's fans. And "Arizona," long my favorite song, is really nothing more than a cheesy song about easy lays that could now be played during Spring Break at Lake Havasu.

But then there's "China White," a blatant plea about how the world seems to be dominated by evil in the form of drugs and that we need to change that by looking inside ourselves. If you didn't listen closely to the lyrics--as we really didn't, let's be honest--you wouldn't even hear Klaus flat-out sing "We need to fill our hearts with love." You'd only enjoy the smothering guitar work of Rudolf Schenker, Michael Schenker, and Matthias Jabs.

2008 and 1982 mingle in my ears at this very moment, headphones on late at night, listening to "Blackout" on repeat. In the process of trying to capture the emotions and events of the time when this album gained its importance to me, I have only come to realize that the pure enjoyment of it--as cheesy as it sounds at points 26 years on--is its offering. I still feel, with these sounds in my head, that I could step out my front door and go over to Leslie's house to watch TV until 5 am. I could ride my bike all day, not coming home until dark. I could follow my sister and her friends around as they try to ditch me at the college across the street. I could even lie on the front lawn, fervently daydreaming about all the stuff I am going to do when I am old enough. And summer is over.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Skype This!

Shouldn't my 100th post be something more ... meaty?

Maybe. It's not like that many people are going to be offended by the lack of celebration I am exhibiting by typing about a computer program. In fact, those who know me well enough know that this makes perfect sense. After all, few things in this world bring me more happiness than hearing a computer/robot voice, whether in "The Simpsons" or a bad '80s movie.

For a long time, I'd resisted Skype. I had a few friends in the past who really liked it and extolled its virtues, but I responded with a simple "Meh." It was nothing personal. It's just my inability to really understand technological advances, even though, once I do figure out the rudimentary way of using a device or program, I am SO into it.

So, a few months back when Lesley told me Chrissy--the ever-elusive Chrissy--was on Skype, I said, "Oh!" and then said, "Meh." Following week:

Lesley: I am telling you, if you want to talk to Chrissy, Skype her.

Me: Oh, so it's a verb now?

Still, I resisted, despite the fact that I missed Chrissy and did want to talk with her. Or "talk" with her.

When I finally was supposed to be working one day and decided I'd see what the hullabaloo was about, I saw this on the Web site:

This can't be good, I thought.

But boredom and work avoidance have funny ways of making you do things, so I downloaded it and I didn't even have to do anything. It was like a magical elf came and cleaned house and then left ME money. It opened up and immediately, there I was. And there Lesley was. And there Chrissy was. And the three of us online at the same time is something akin to hysterical chaos. Really, I fear for anyone who might try and read a transcript of the conversations.

It wasn't even that chatting online was novel, or that I was reveling in suddenly communicating with Chrissy again. It was the simple rhythm of the text/speech between the three of us. Given that we are separated by many miles at the moment, Lesley is dealing with stressful family things, Chrissy is figuring out how to make designs for clients that don't make her want to throw herself out a window, and I'm generally trying to figure out what my own job even is, these short frantic text balloon bursts online are suddenly an anchor. Granted, it feels like a linguistic Slip 'N' Slide, but I have never laughed so much at my stoic computer screen.

I try to keep it to a dull roar and not overdo it. Chrissy is good at simply saying "OK, gotta go, bye," and then disappearing, while Lesley and I send bizarre emoticons back and forth to communicate the easy stuff while avoiding some of the really hard stuff for a little bit longer. Then I disappear, we all go quiet, and two hours later someone yells on-screen "IS ANYONE THERE!?" I stare at it, wondering if I should be philosophical, but instead chat while on the phone with someone telling me why "cream" and "tan" are not the same thing.

Me (on phone): Yes, I understand...

Chrissy on computer screen: Did you hear about the Canadian beheading?

Me (still on phone, coughing): Oh, sorry, excuse me...


Chrissy: I love that they are doing psych tests on the guy who did it. You know, to see if he's crazy.

Me: (guffawing)

Client: Are you OK?

Me: Yeah, oh, yeah. Sorry, just water down the wrong pipe.

After a particularly dizzying exchange of words today, I realized Chrissy needed some time to get where she is. Lesley will be gone for a while and need to come back to some peace and quiet. And I'll still be wondering what the hell I'm doing. But it's indeed great comfort when I can spend two minutes disparaging Mel Gibson, Peter Gabriel, and Canadian psychologists, all in one fell swoop. Where's my copy of "That's What Friends Are For?" anyway?

Ah, yes: