So last night was a Minneapolis rock triumph, at least for me. It began at a BBQ in "Nordeast," the area known as Northeast Minneapolis, even though it's actually located in the northwestern part of the city (just as West St.Paul is located in east St.Paul). Whatever. This place is a little bit stuck on its past, and old names will stick even when they're loopy as hell, not to mention totally wrong.
In this place, the local joke goes, a family called Smith moves into a house and the neighbors all say, "Oh, I see you've bought the old Svenson place." For ten years, the Smiths live in this house and the neighbors refer to it as "the old Svenson place." When the Smiths move out and the Browns move in, the neighbors greet them and say, "Oh, I see where you've bought the old Smith place."
But maybe being stuck on the past isn't always such a bad thing.
Exhibit A: "Cosmic Slop: Forgotten Pop of the Seventies," my favorite radio show of all time.
Cosmic Slop is right up there with popcorn and library books on my list of things that are right with America, and I know that after you grok their magic you'll feel the same way.
Cosmic Slop is a spiritual home for bubblegum detectives who get sexually aroused by the very concept of discovering a secret musical mine--an underground mother lode of once-and-future jewels of pop craft. Stuff even the actual musicians don't remember recording.
(At Cosmic Slop Radio you can live in love 24/7.)
During my final year of residence in Minneapolis (1998-99) Cosmic Slop became my Sunday school of secret music. I called Chuck and Joel, the hosts, with special requests, and they helped me to make a few soul-revealing mixed tapes for this guy in L.A. I wanted to like me. (It actually worked, and I blame Chuck and Joel entirely for this. The guy thought I was some '70s pop supergenius but really I was just a girl in Minneapolis with an AM radio and a tape recorder.)
I usually needed Chuck and Joel to re-play a song I had discovered through them: A ballad by Colin Blunstone called, I think "Let Me Come Closer to You." "I'm On Fire" by Dwight Twilley. A weird alternate version of "The Dangerous Type" by the Cars, which sounds way T-Rexy. "Ariel," by some Jewish guy from New Jersey whose named I forget. And, always, always, "Roxy Roller."
"Roxy Roller" is a lost gem of the North American glam-rock era (or "glitter rock," if you're Rodney Bingenheimer). I had the pleasure of referencing this song in an article I did recently for Spin on Nickelback. (Another story.) Roxy Roller's recording lineage connects Nick Gilder ("Hot Child In The City") with Bryan Adams and Suzi Quatro. It's that kind of song. You know.
So anyway, last night I'm at a BBQ in Northeast and who is there but Chuck. Sloppy Chuck!
So immediately we start talking about "Roxy Roller," and he's telling me all the trivia-stuff I already know. I say, yeah, but you guys never play the Suzi Quatro cover. He looks confused.
He didn't know the Suzi Quatro version of "Roxy Roller."
I had bested the bestest.
So then I go, well, I know you've dug the Jeff Lynne acoustic demo version of "Xanadu," yo.
He didn't know that either.
Suddenly I'm feeling floaty and cold, and the furniture and people in the room begin to recede as I see a black tunnel open up before my eyes. Something has changed, and I stand facing the entrance to the mine. The Magic Mine.
A cloaked figure appears before me. I can't see its face but I can hear it in my head. It doesn't speak with words, yet I understand what it is saying. And it says:
Do you, mortal, wish to enter the Magic Mine of Seventies Pop Flops?
I do, I say.
Then you must answer my questions correctly.
Ask away, I say, trying to sound like I've never not been mellow.
The figure pauses. At length, it asks:
"What group did Rod Argent, of the band Argent, come from? Name a famous Argent song, and tell me what Billboard chart oddity distinguishes Rod Argent's former group?"
Jesus, he must be kidding, I think. This is sad.
I roll my eyes and reply, bored-like: The Zombies; "Hold Your Head Up"; the Zombies had their big number one hit in the U.S. after they had broken up. Happy, Mr. Floppy?
I do not know mortal emotions such as happiness or grief. he says. I know only the Pop.
Oh whatever, I say.
"Number Two: Which power-pop also-ran created a concept album in 1980 about space aliens who rescue Earthlings with spaceships after a nuclear war?" he asks, bowing his head.
Duh, Billy Thorpe, I say. And he's from Australia, Mr. Snippy! And the record's called "Children of the Sun"!
The figure pauses again. I think he's about to surrender to my surrealistic popitude when he asks:
"Which L.A. glam-rocker was signed for a huge sum in hopes of becoming the American Bowie, but was painfully ignored by the American public, partly because of his overt, flamboyant, and genuine gayness?"
Fortunately I've just read the L.A. punk history, "We Got the Neutron Bomb," and am able to answer "Jobriath" as if I know what the fuck I'm talking about. And because they just played him on Cosmic Slop on Sunday, I add: And he had a song called, astonishingly, "Space Clown"! You big jerk!
I can tell, somehow, the Figure is growing bored with me. He wants blood. He wants to see me cry.
He quickly asks, "Which Todd Rundgren-produced '70s band wore heavy makeup and ridiculous clothing in a 'clever' American twist on British glam-rock, and featured numerous recording guest-stars, including Peter Frampton? What was the nature of their visual gimmickry? What was their best song?"
I feel my limbs go cold and my face turn hot. I suppress a gasp, and feel a sense of grief in my solar plexus.
I have lost, I just know it. I knew I would lose. I always screw it up right when I could win.
Forget it. I'll never be number one. Always number two. And we all know what number two is.
My eyes get all hot and wet. Goodbye, Magic Mine. You will never be mine.
What is your answer? asks the hooded figure.
Just as I am about to say The Nice, just because I can't think of anything, I hear another voice in my head. It sounds like a combination of Glinda the Good Witch and Ginger Spice.
I understand implicitly that it is my best friend, the best friend I have shared everything with, yet never met: It is my guardian angel.
"Kate, we have been waiting a long time for this day," the voice says. "Me and your groovies--you know, all the little floaty spirit buddies who hang around to watch out for you. Anyway, we've decided that since you always try so hard to be cool, we're going to help you out this time. So we're giving you the answer on the conditions that you: 1. Buy a goddamn turntable, finally. 2. Stop trying so hard to be cool and just be cool, if you dig. 3. Be kind to strangers, animals, crazy people, tourists, and telemarketers. 4. Don't fear the reaper."
Before I can even thank her, my mouth opens and I hear myself say to the cloaked figure in a light, musical tone:
The Hello People. They dressed as mimes. Their best song was "Future Shock."
The cloaked figure is gone. I am standing in a dazzling cave filled with uncut rubies, diamonds, and emeralds, loose, enormous pearls and chunks of gold and platinum. I approach one of these piles of riches, and reach out to touch a stone. As I do so, it turns into a Nirvana 8-track. The original Nirvana, silly. I then pick up a large, rough-hewn chunk of amber, and it becomes a Crabby Appleton LP. Each time I lift a gem to examine it, it turns into a lost recording that I can hear in my head without even having to play it. And then, when I touch a rose-colored amethyst, I am suddenly in a practice room, where a group of young men are playing a song. They look like wannabe Beatles, with moppy haircuts and short trousers. I don't recognize them but the song is familiar.
The lead guy is singing:
Do ya do ya want my glove?
Do ya do ya want my lace?
Do ya do ya want my Cottleston pie?
Just after the second chorus, the singer/guitarist stops playing and holds up his hands to stop the band. Everyone stops playing. The room is silent. The singer guy kind of smiles, then laces his hands behind his head and looks up at the ceiling. The drummer absentmindedly taps a cowbell. Everyone in the room knows: When the singer-guy smiles, that's bad. When he looks up at the celing as if imploring God, that's really bad.
At length, the guy speaks.
"The chorus lyrics aren't working. The Beatles would never sing that shite. Crikey."
"I mean, I just wanted to be a little femmey and English-boy Paul, but every time I try it sounds so bloody precious."
The band guys don't react: If they agree, they know it will only make things worse.
The singer-guy walks over to an amp and picks up a pack of cigarettes, lighting one. He stands, arms crossed, and exhales, watching the smoke waft upwards.
After 30 seconds or so, I can't bear the silence. I step forward into the middle of the room and say to him, as gently as possible, "Maybe forget the precious-boy Paul bit. Maybe this is a more aggressive and overtly sexual hybrid of all your influences, from Chuck Berry to that Bowie guy. What if you try less predictable words. Say, oh, heck, I dunno, 'Do you want my face?'"
No one seems to hear me. In fact, no one even looks at me. I may as well be invisible.
The singer-guy frowns. Then he frowns even more. Then he paces in a circle and smokes his cigarette to the filter in three hits.
The band smiles at each other. Then they pick up their picks and sticks and get ready to play.
"We are the Move," the singer shouts, "and we are an electric orchestra for now people!"
"That's it! An electric light orchestra!"
And he sings,
Do ya do ya want my love?
Do ya do ya want my face?
Do ya do ya want my mind?
It is 1971, and my work is done.