Listen to the music: Are we wide awake

24 02 2016

So I can’t listen to Supertramp because it takes me back to high school and I don’t wanna go back, but sometimes I get pulled back and it’s. . . okay?

I am not the first to contradict myself.

Anyway, Charlie Pierce linked to Nena so yes I clicked on it and yes, I enjoyed it. And even felt a bit wistful (as opposed to dread-ful) while listen-/watching.

Then I looked for ‘Soviet Snow‘ (couldn’t remember that it was Shona Laing) and I watched and listened to that as well.  (The vid is bit crowded; better just to listen.)

Then I wondered: why don’t I mind going back with this and not that?

And then I figured: because this is not that.

Supertramp was a part of my coming-to-music, and while I did listen to it through college, it’s very much anchored in that transition to adolescence, to making my way into high school.

The other music—post-punk? New Wave?—hooked me later in high school and carried me out.

That’s a little too neat, but I think that’s what happened. If Supertramp was about going deep—into the music, into myself—the new stuff was about getting out. MTV hit Sheb Falls at some point in the early 1980s, and for the first time I was exposed to music which wasn’t either album-oriented rock (which was my thing) or Top 40 (which was not). There was the Eurythmics and The Police and the B-52’s and the Violent Femmes, the Call and the Fall and the Clash and the Jam and none of it sounded like home and all of it sounded like somewhere else.

And, oh, by mid-high school I was ready for somewhere else.

So here I am, decades older, and even if I have landed in my ultimate Somewhere Else, I am still restless, still wondering what else is out there.


Fool’s overture

19 07 2010

Oh my god, is that who I think it is?

That stutter of chords, fanning out across the guitar strings, repeated, then a side-step into another flutter of chords. And now, that high reed of a voice. . . no.

A cover.

Strangely, I was disappointed. I didn’t particularly want to hear the song, but if Planet Fitness radio is going to play it, then play the real goddamned thing.

Faux Supertramp is unacceptable.

Not that I can listen to the real Supertramp, but at least with Roger and the boys, I know what I’m getting.

(I have no idea about the images, but this is the only actual Supertramp version I could find in my, uh, 3 minutes of searching YouTube.)

I sometimes listen to vids after I post them—I watched the Lena Horne interview a couple of times—but I won’t listen to this.

Takes me back. . . to where I don’t particularly care to go.

My older sister brought home Even in the Quietest Moments some time before I was in junior high, and by eighth grade I almost certainly listened to that album more than she did. ‘Give a Little Bit’ opened up side 1, and side 2 ended with the long mashup that is ‘Fool’s Overture’.

I loved it, beginning to end, unreservedly and unashamedly. When Breakfast in America and the double-live Paris came out I scooped those up, then went back and sussed out Crisis? What Crisis?, Crime of the Century, Indelibly Stamped, and their eponymous debut. (The latter two didn’t get much time on my turntable, and Stamped, which featured a naked woman’s tattooed torso embarrassed my teenaged self.) I stayed with them through Famous Last Words—Roger Hodgson’s last gig with the band, but didn’t let up until I was in college, and knew that Brother Where You Bound was the last Supertramp album I would ever buy.

Six years of intense devotion; it wasn’t a bad run.

I almost certainly still listened to them in college, but I don’t really remember that. And when I sold or gave away my albums prior to my 1993 desert sojourn, I knew that I would never own Supertramp in cd form.

I’m no longer embarrassed by women’s breasts (which, given my ownership of a pair, is probably a good thing), and even all these years later, when I don’t want to listen to one  Supertramp song and two is out of the question, I can’t quite be embarrassed by my former ardor, either.

I was just about to write something snarky about the band, but, honestly, I can’t. You can, if you like—there is much eye-rolling to be done when it comes to Supertramp—but given how much I loved them, how they carried me out of my childhood and angsted right along with me in my teenaged years, it seems like bad faith for me to slag on them now.

I don’t love them now, but I did, once, and even if—or, perhaps, because—I no longer love any band (or any thing) the way I loved Supertramp, it seems a kind of betrayal both to my young self and to that love to repudiate them.

They weren’t the only band I listened to, of course, and when MTV hit SmallTown in the early 80s, a whole genre of music which the album-oriented rock of the Milwaukee stations never played suddenly chipped its way into my consciousness: the Police, the B-52’s (back when they still had the apostrophe), the Eurythmics, the Call, the Fall, the Clash, the Jam and on and on. I didn’t like them all, but to have the world open beyond Kansas or Boston—well, MTV in the early days performed a public service to us SmallTown kids who didn’t live close enough to catch the college radio stations.

By the summer after my sophomore year I was slam-dancing to the Violent Femmes at the Peaches stage at Summerfest, and when the LP played their 3 song ‘alternative’ rotation of the B-52’s (Rock Lobster), the Femmes (Gone Daddy Gone) and Surf Punks (Shark Attack), I was out whipping my skinny little body around that almost-empty dance floor.

A slightly-older co-worker at the local health club introduced me to Pat Metheny, and my theatre buddies to Manhattan Transfer, Frank Sinatra, and anything else that wasn’t, well, album-oriented rock played out of the Milwaukee stations.

So while I took Supertramp with me to college, I was already heading away from the songs which cocooned me and toward those that smacked me in the face, upside the head, and out into the headwinds.

I haven’t missed them in the fifteen or twenty years since I stopped listening, and I don’t think I ever will.

But they were a part of me, and they’re at the heart of one of the best things anyone has ever done for me:

Supertramp’s final tour with Roger Hodgson stopped at Alpine Valley, a mass-seating concert venue somewhere west of Milwaukee. I couldn’t afford one of the few hundred reserved spots, but I damned sure made sure that we got as close in as general seating allowed.

(General seating: the stage at Alpine Valley was situated near the bottom of a hill; the reserved seats were covered, and rising behind them, a vast slope of green. You’d get to Alpine Valley early in the day, set out your blanket and cooler in line if wanted to be first-ish in, or just in the gravel parking lot if you wanted to, I don’t know, hang out near your car. At some point they’d announce they would shortly open the gates, at which point you grabbed your shit and scrambled up into the crowd—which would, inevitably, start mooing—and pressed and pressed until they opened the spigot and you popped through the turnstiles and ran as fast as you dared down the hill to claim a spot.)

We did pretty good getting far down the hill at the Supertramp show, but as I was as short then as I am now, when the crowd stood up for the first song, I couldn’t see a damned thing.

That’s when the best-thing happened: JK, who didn’t come with us and wasn’t a part of my regular crowd, came over to me. Get on my shoulders, she said.


I know you love Supertramp. Get on my shoulders.

JK was not a big girl, but she was strong, and she hoisted me up and bounced with me through that whole opening song.

What a magnificent thing to offer someone who’s not, really, even your friend.

I don’t remember what the opener was, and I haven’t seen JK since high school graduation, but as long as I can remember her I will.

So, you see, to turn my back on Supertramp is to turn my back on that passion and is to turn my back on this great, good deed that JK did for me.

She deserves better. And, what the hell, so do I.