The ’80s Pin Project: Katrina and the Waves

For an explanation of the 1980s Pin Project, go here.

There were plenty of female, pop-oriented performers who staked a claim on the 1980s music scene. Madonna is, of course, the biggie, the trailblazer, the trendsetter. Lots of pretty, blonde-ish, mostly forgettable singers danced along in Madge’s footsteps, ones like Stacey Q and Taylor Dayne. There was the sugar-sweet teen bop of Tiffany and Debbie Gibson, and infectious bubble gum from bands like The Go-Gos and The Bangles. Every one of these musicians were fun and dance-friendly, but (with the possible exception of The Bangles, and of course La Madge) suffered for the want of an individual musical fingerprint. 

I hate to sound like I’m being mean to The Go-Gos–God knows I enjoy “Our Lips Are Sealed” as much as the next guy–but they hardly broke new ground. And I feel for Debbie Gibson, because she seems like a nice person and I think she really tries in her music. But. Ahem. I digress.

In the midst of the vast array of ’80s-era, shellacked-hair and fishnets-bedecked chick pop, Katrina and the Waves came on the scene. What? Who? Driving drums? Great guitar hooks? Punchy horns? Where in the hell did this fit in?

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RAWK!

Fronted by American-born Army brat Katrina Leskanich, Katrina and the Waves were a UK-based power pop band whose self-titled US debut album was full of well-crafted songs and Katrina’s soaringly huge voice. Was the album dance-able? Sure. But their music also flat-out rocked. Imagine if you took Joan Jett‘s energy and party-ready attitude and and stuck it in a blender with Southside Johnny, the frontman for New Jersey’s greatest rock & roll bar band ever, and then threw in some serious high-fives for good measure.

That? Hell yeah! That’s what I’m talking about.

I ~~~loved~~~ Katrina and the Waves’s first album. The fact is, I still do. I think it’s strong and holds up against time and changing musical sensibilities. And there wasn’t really anyone else doing pure, good-time rock and roll with a strong female taking the lead. At least, not like Katrina & Co., and not like the rock-pop fusion they put out on their debut album. There was Lone Justice, I suppose, though they were more country-folk-rock. The Pretenders clung to their punk roots; believe me, I’m not saying that’s bad. I’m just saying Katrina’s sound was different. As for performers like Pat Benatar…full disclosure. Pat Benatar has always been a little too strident for my liking. I wish her well, as I appreciate what she’s done, but if I never hear another Pat Benatar song again my life will be just fine.

I saw Katrina and the Waves way back in the day, opening for Don Henley at the Garden State Arts Center. (Yes, I saw an inordinate amount of shows at the GSAC. Moving on.) For those of you who know my reactionary dislike of The Eagles and might be surprised that I would go and see their drummer’s solo concert, let me explain: I had not yet worked in bars enough to have heard everything off The Eagles’ Greatest Hits, over and over again, sung loudly and off-key, late at night, by a thousand different patrons, from New Jersey to Boston, to Texas, and back again. Simply put, I hadn’t been taken to my Eagles limit. And I still stand behind Henley’s solo work. But it’s true, these days, I am like The Dude from The Big Lebowski.

It’s unfortunate that Katrina’s follow-up album bombed and the band sort of disappeared off the US music scene after that. I still have a copy of the second album–I think I kept it out of first-album loyalty–but I haven’t listened to it in years. They are not the first band ever to fall victim to the sophomore slump.

Is it possible that the song “Walking on Sunshine” has been out for thirty years? And that I’ve had this pin for thirty years? And that I’m…and yet, I remain 29, I’m not sure how that works. Good lord, time has a way of moving past a person, doesn’t it?

Anyway. Here is Katrina and the Waves, and the glorious “Walking on Sunshine”. I defy you all not to get up and dance.

See you at the next pin!

 

The ’80s Pin Project: Special Guest Mother’s Day Pin

For an explanation of what the Pin Project is, go here.

When I started working on the Pin Project, it jump-started a fun little conversation between me and my friends and family about pins that we had, or have, and what they may have meant to us at the time we bought them. My sister mentioned having a “Shut Up and Dance” pin (which I may also have but you know…I don’t know. Time will tell!), and a friend reminisced about how she, too, used her pins to go up one side of her purse strap and down the other. Because we’re cool like that, right? 

Then my mother–my adorable Mom-o-rama–said, “You know, I have a pin like the ones you’re posting. Your aunt sent it to me while I was in the hospital.” When I visited her recently, she’d already dug this pin out of her memento box and had it sitting front-and-center on the dining room table. Bright yellow pin, dark wood table, bright sunlight. I couldn’t have missed it even if I wanted to.

Truth.

Truth.

There’s an inescapable poignancy to this pin. Because the fact of the matter is: she has survived damn near everything.

Cancer. Survived.

Heart attack. Survived.

Broken neck (what? Really!): Survived. (That’s when this pin came on the scene.)

My father’s long, slow decline thanks to Parkinson’s disease: Survived (and, she even managed his care while healing from said broken neck).

When she was in the rehab facility, early on in her neck recovery, my mother (obviously) wasn’t allowed to smoke. And she had been a smoker for decades. After her release from the hospital, Mom continued with her campaign of not-smoking, which kind of surprised me because nothing else had deterred her before. I said, “I’m glad you quit, but why now? I mean, you had cancer, you didn’t quit smoking. You had a heart attack, you didn’t quit smoking. But a broken neck makes you quit? Why?”

Gesturing into the air, my mother shrugged her shoulders and said, “Eh…I feel like I’m using up too many of my lives.” 

Did I mention, she’s funny?

My mother is an inspiration for what to do when you feel like life is kicking you in the ass. Because what the hell else are you going to do? Give in? Or get back up and keep living?

Me and la Mom.

Me and la Mom.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. Thanks for setting the standard.

XOXO

The ’80s Pin Project: Hooters, #1

If you’re wondering what in the heck this “Pin Project” thing is, please go here, then meet me back at this blog. ‘kay? ‘kay!

The pin that I pulled out of my little box of treasures (dumped into a bag, reaching in blind….”You certainly are being random, aren’t you?” asked George), was a pin–first in what will surely be a series–for the band The Hooters.

Oh my word, how I loved The Hooters.

hooters1

Not to be confused with a certain wings-and-boobs-centric “family” restaurant.

What wasn’t to love? The Hooters of the 1980s were a five-piece power pop band out of Philadelphia. They were cute! They were dance-y! They were color-coded!

Cute, and harmless. What's not to love? Image from the80sman.com

Cute, and harmless.
Image from the80sman.com

The boys were all razor-cheeked and hairsprayed, and appropriately collared and slouchy. They made (make, actually, as they’re still together) music that fuses pop, ska, folk, and reggae. In the early-to-mid-1980s, this meant they created a decidedly different sound that stood out from the pop-synth ’80s electronic boom. Often their songs were flavored with unexpected instruments. They made a lot of use of the mandolin, which at the time was generally used by art-rock bands like Jethro Tull, or easy-breezy twee-folk like that given unto us by Seals and Crofts. The other instrument that set The Hooters apart from the ’80s power-pop pack was…

A melodica.

A what?

firemel

A melodica. Image from buttonbox.com

 

A melodica. Maybe you know it better by its nickname.

A hooter.

(Side note to Hooters fans who call themselves “Melodicans”. Stop that. You are not “Melodicans”, and you need to get over yourselves. You are Hooter Heads. Deal with it.)

Indeed, The Hooters named themselves after an oversized harmonica and took early-1980s Philadelphia by storm. They broke nationally in 1985, after signing with Columbia Records and producing the album Nervous Night. It’s a well-constructed album full of pop hooks and great harmonies. It’s an album I will stand behind to this day. Mostly. With one caveat.

It is entirely true that on every Hooters album, there is one song that I find unilaterally unlistenable. Dreadful. I find myself asking if their producers were on crack when they let this song through, or maybe their producer has some kind of terrible secret about the band and makes them perform one abysmal song per album, one that is atonal and completely lacking in style, or hook, or musical sensibilities. On Nervous Night it’s their cover of Love’s “She Comes In Colors” (note: watch the Love video at your own risk; NSFW or kids). I love all the rest of the album, but that song, their cover? It makes me want to burst my own eardrums. We can talk about their other albums’ misery songs, “Hard Rockin’ Summer” and “Mr. Big Baboon”, another time. And I digress.

One of the highlights of my misspent youth was an invitation I received from a friend to accompany him to a listening party, celebrating the 1989 release of The Hooters’ album Zig Zag. Swoon! Do I want to go listen to the new Hooters album and meet the band in the process? Swoon! HELL YES! Here’s a little photographic evidence of me and swoony blond Rob, hooter-playing Hooter and scalawag, who asked the friend I went there with if I was single.

Please note: my suspenders? Are paisley.

Please note: we had matching poofy hair volume.

Eagle-eyed readers: yes, my suspenders were paisley. I blush at the sight of that acid-washed jacket. And I wish I’d known my collar was turning upward. But I digress.

As I was not single at the time, that ended my potential for dating said Hooter. In one of the least-expected coincidences I can imagine, I discovered that two different women I have become friends with over the last bunch of years were also hit on by swoony Rob. I will say this for him: I know these ladies. He’s got good taste.

Ahhh. The Hooters. Everyone I know, knows who they are. Most people have disavowed fandom of them; they’re not cool any more, they’re not color-coded, they haven’t really changed their hair and that’s kind of weird. (OK, I’ll grant that retaining ’80s hair is an unwise business decision in terms of staying pop-relevant.) It’s too bad, because their music is still fun. 1980s nostalgia isn’t always a bad thing. Not when the music is great. Imma leave you with “And We Danced”. If you’re looking for me, I’ll be be-bopping at the union hall.

What’s That Thing On Her Head?

I know, I know. I like to start the week off with a recipe, but I don’t have one. Mea culpa. I plan on getting into the kitchen later to do some cooking so I can share it all with you, but it was a weird weekend and when I did cook, I didn’t have the luxury of time to take photographs. Which is a little bit of a drag, but, silver lining! I’ll be forced to make yummy food all over again.

In the meantime, I want to present you with….this ad. I have carried this ad with me for years, it’s survived two moves, through Texas and back east to my little home in central PA. After a decade of puzzlement, of staring at this ad and shaking my head, I confess I am no closer to comprehension than I was ten years ago. I’ve spent more time trying to understand the mindset of the advertising agency that gave this the green light, than I have most pieces of abstract art. I still have no idea what this ad is getting at. Ok ok ok, here. Feast your eyes. (Identifying details removed. Mostly. :))

Hey...what's that thing on her head?

Hey…what’s that thing on her head?

In case you’re staring at this ad in stricken disbelief–which is totally understandable–I will explain. This is an ad for stores that sell jewelry. A jewelry mall, if you will. Glamorous, high-end jewelry, not the “Buy three pairs of earrings, get the fourth free” kind that I usually buy. And the model, in her LBD and thick golden rope of a necklace, is wearing a cat on her head. A cat. On her head. Here’s a closeup.

Shmexy.

Shmexy. Hey, wait. Is that terror I see lurking in her eyes?

Indeed, this is certainly all I’ve imagined and more. I know that when I think about which lovely lady ought to get the fancy jewelry, it’s almost always the one wearing an animal on her head. 

Only opposite. “Give in to the luxury”, the ad says. But how does wearing a cat on one’s head indicate “luxury”? Or something that should be given in to? I fight the urge to accessorize with my cat every day, and I feel like I’m a better person for it. Because if she were wearing pajamas–and you know I’m right here, people–she would be a crazy cat lady. This should be instant birth control. Instead, this ad was meant to create allure.

Herein lies my befuddlement. I don’t understand. I mean, if I want to buy shoes I don’t look for someone with an egret perched on her head so I can think, “Oh, wow, that must be a great shoe store I can’t wait to shop there.” Maybe I just don’t grok high-end jewelry in this way, but…why is this lady wearing a cat on her head? And what does that say about…oh, good Lord, about any and everything that’s weird about the advertising business?

Please, internets, if you can explain, I would be most grateful.

NYC 4-D Puzzle and Sammy, Master of All He Surveys

George’s father died two years ago this month. He was a good man, and nice, and whenever George and I went to visit his parents, his father and I would inevitably end up working a puzzle together. It was a gentle, charming way to bond with his family and I keep those memories close. It was sweet. After he passed away, and because I was a puzzle-buddy, George’s mother gave me his father’s New York cityscape puzzle to complete. It’s 4-D because it also looks at New York through the lens of time. The base, a standard cardboard puzzle cutout, shows New York in the 1700s, huge expanses of farms in what’s now midtown, the already-emerging alphabet city on the east side. The base is far and away the most difficult part of the puzzle, with a lot of incredibly similar-looking pieces and not a whole lot of distinctive features to work from. But eh, I got it done. I regret now that I don’t have any pictures of that layer. Hindsight is 20/20.

The second layer of the puzzle brings you into the modern NYC layout. It’s made from thick foam with heavy paper overlay, and has pre-punched squares to accommodate various NYC landmark buildings. Buildings are color-coded to indicate the era in which they were constructed, so you can see the spread of vertical development over the course of 200 years. Plus, it’s super-cool. And it’s done.

To you historians and nit-pickers who claim that this puzzleis not entirely accurate…I understand, I get your point. But it’s also a puzzle, a toy meant to spark interest, not something meant to be sourced for a dissertation. Get over it.

So. New York City in 4-D.

Be real, people. The first thing you’ve got to see in New York is the Statue of Liberty, amirite?

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Hey, whassup, you tired, poor, huddled masses?

Then we go up around Battery Park and check out the gateway to the Financial District.

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Personally, I dig the lineup of bridges in the background.

Have a look straight down Broadway.

Give it my regards, will you? And remember me to Herald Square.

Give it my regards, will you? And remember me to Herald Square.

Get an aerial view. (Uh…seems that a building got a little wibbly-wobbly….whoops!)

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Go home, Chrysler Building! You’re drunk!

And check out Manhattan from the other side.

Surprise! Not all of Manhattan is pure skyscraper.

Surprise! Not all of Manhattan is pure skyscraper.

While I was doing this, Sammy–who is without question the boss of this house–jumped onto his loveseat to acquaint himself with all goings-on. Sorry to break it to you, New York, but Sammy is the master over all he surveys.

All shall love him and despair.

All shall love him and despair.

 He is an imperious task-master, but not tyrannical. There are worse gigs, so long as you keep him in a steady supply of thyroid boosting cat food pellets. You’ll get used to it.  :)

So there we have it! This was a lot of fun, and sweet and poignant for me to complete. And it’s good to let the world know Sammy is bent on world domination, one puzzle-city at a time.

Thanks, I guess? For the memories…

Recently I came across an article on the internets featuring photos of abandoned Pocono-area honeymoon resorts. I don’t know if this was something people knew about across the US, but for east coasters, the Poconos dominated the honeymoon and couples-getaway market with a plethora of romantically-themed resorts to choose from. I can recall the theme songs from the commercials pretty readily, because that’s the kind of effluvia that clutters up my synapses.

This article took me for a walk down…ummm…not quite Memory Lane, because everything about the upcoming story is just so weird. Should Have Been An Acid Trip Lane? I Must Have Made This Up In My Fevered Brain Lane? Here’s the deal:

A thousand years ago, when I was but a slip of a paisley, I was married. For the purposes of storytelling, I’ll call my ex Snidely. Snidely had a very good friend who had just ended a very bad relationship; a few weeks after that ugly breakup, this friend was at his office holiday party and won a romantic weekend getaway for two to a resort in the Poconos. Since friend was unattached and had sworn off women for a while, and his vacation package came with an expiration date, he gave his vacation to Snidely and me–here you go, Merry Christmas, have crazy fun. So far, so good, right? We picked a weekend (off-season, of course, because that’s the block of time the voucher was good for), booked a room, and planned to whoop it up.

In all honesty, I don’t remember exactly which resort we stayed in. I suspect it was, indeed, Penn Hills (see the above commercial), but the Poconos are littered with abandoned resorts that shared similar sensibilities. These are the hotels that kitschy dreams are made of; the places with heart-shaped tubs and round beds with mirrored canopies. With red accents on every available surface and shag carpeting on the wall. Because carpet on the wall is for lovers.

Hot cha cha! Image from roadtrippers.com

Hot cha cha!
Image from roadtrippers.com

As an aside…is anybody else interested in spraying shag-carpeted honeymoon suites with Luminol? I’d imagine we’d need sunglasses. And I digress.

The thing is, there’s a desperation to these sorts of places. They wink at you and grab your hand before you can stop them. They’re designed with this message: You? Are saucy. You? Can finally let go of your inhibitions! You? Can do IT. That’s right. The big IT. And we all know what’s going on, because we’re doing IT too. It’s like you’re obligated to have sex while you’re there, because it’s racy and naughty and expected and then you can go to breakfast the next morning and do that shy smile-giggle as you see your freshly-laid neighbors coming out their hotel rooms too. 

Can we also take a moment to consider how mirrored-everything is a nightmare for anyone with body image issues?

Oh, no, that's just...great! I'm...naked. And can see myself from every angle. *kill me now* Image from dcist.com

Oh, no, that’s just…great! I’m…naked. And can see myself from every angle. *kill me now*
Image from dcist.com

We pulled up to the parking lot and of course, this resort had a sign out front to announce events or welcome special visitors. You expect them to say something like, “TONIGHT! MAGYCK MOMENTS PERFORMING LIVE IN THE TIKI LOUNGE” or “GIVE HER SOME MORE MEAT WITH OUR TUESDAY NIGHT PRIME RIB SPECIAL FOR TWO”, right?

What you don’t expect to see is this.

Who brings the party?

Who brings the party?

That’s right. Accordion players.

I’m sure I had photos of this, at one point. I looked for them last night. If I had any, they are long, loooooong gone. Please enjoy my artistic rendering.

It seems that we had booked our romantic, couples-only resort weekend on the same weekend that an accordion players association was hosting a convention. And while I appreciate the works of the noble accordion, we were surrounded by two hundred men (and only a tiny handful of women; ladies, you gots to represent!) with a country mile of great bushy eyebrows between them all, decked out in tuxes, accordions strapped to their chests. They would play accordion all day long. As they walked down the hall. If they took a smoke break and went outside. You couldn’t get away from it. This doesn’t say “sexytime” so much as it does “polka party”.

If we had gone there for a polka weekend, it would have been perfect.

To get away from the 24-hour polka party people, we stopped in the hotel bar. And indeed, Magyck Moments (or whoever they were) were playing in the lounge, torching up songs that shouldn’t have been torched. (Wait…I remember having to get up and go to a different seat, because from where I originally sat at the bar I could still see and hear the goings-on at the accordion banquet, while listening to the bewitching sounds of Magyck Moments. It was pure sensory overload.) The Magyck Moments singer, a woman, was murdering something totally poppy, taking “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” from bubblegum to dirge. I remember she had a Linda Evans, Dynasty-era haircut, only it was screaming red, and she was wearing some kind of holdout, ’80s-leftover prom dress. It was blue and had copious amounts of sleeve. Like this one; though I remember hers being even more shiny.

Everybody wang chung. Toni-i-i-i-iiiight. Image from liketotally80s.com

Everybody wang chung. Toni-i-i-i-iiiight.
Image from liketotally80s.com

Since she was clearly past the age of prom, I can only assume she pilfered it from her daughter’s closet.

I can’t tell you much more about that weekend. I remember things were kind of tense with Snidely because the whole situation was so weird, and this was at the point in our relationship where we still liked each other. Since we were there off-season, all the activities they advertised–things like horseback riding and nature hikes and tennis and golf–were not operational, so there was a lot of wandering around relatively quiet hotel grounds. It was as though I dreamed of all the ways that weekend could become an insane, not-romantic spectacle and it all came true. All it was missing was some sort of brute strength. If there was an assemblage of Scotsmen playing highland games, it would have been ahhh. maaaa. zing.

You know what else I remember? I remember that the burger I got at Flood’s was excellent. Please note: the honeymoon hotels are reduced to monoliths, sad reminders of the limits of kitschy romanticism. Snidely and I have long split. But Flood’s is still in operation. It seems that a good burger withstands the test of time.

Photo credits

Heart-shaped tub: www.roadtrippers.com

Round bed: dcist.com

Welcome sign: Me :)

Prom dress: www.liketotally80s.com

The New Year Thus Far

Yes, I know, it’s been a while. Christmas always seems to knock my blogging off-kilter. There’s just so much to do, what with decorating and festivities and a bajillion cookies to make and some writing and teaching shoehorned into the middle of all that…

What’s that? You think I exaggerate when I lay claim to a bajillion cookies? Oh ho ho, my friends. Behold!

Bajillion.

Quantity: One bajillion.

Plus pumpkin fudge and green tea marshmallows (OMG YES) and Turkish delight, which is like eating soft and beautiful rose-flavored clouds. I could hoover that all day long.

The last few years have had rough beginnings/endings to them. Two years ago, January ushered in back-to-back funerals and the most vicious stomach flu I’ve had in a decade. A year ago in December, George and I got into that terrible car accident and totaled our Honda.

And just last week, as I was getting set to emerge from the Christmas cocoon without a funeral or a car accident in sight (all good things!), I dropped my external hard drive and broke some kind of connector thingie inside. The hard drive had EVERY SINGLE PHOTOGRAPH I’VE EVER TAKEN (more or less, minus what was on my phone, and the few files I’ve loaded onto the new computer) on it, moved there after my old computer’s hard drive died on me earlier this year. It is dead to me and all my photos are completely inaccessible. Yes, I know I should be in the cloud and your well-meaning point has been taken, but that advice? Is no good to me right now.

To say I laid around for two days wallowing in despair…that’s not so much of a dramatic re-interpretation of my days as it is a spot-on description of what I did. Every. Photograph. Thousands and thousands of them. (For those of you who know I’ve written a book, don’t worry. The book is the safest thing I have, backed up in several places–including a copy in my email–and sent in full to the writing partner. At least there’s that.) As we speak my hard drive has been sent off to a data retrieval service, and so I wait. And wait. At least I’ve crawled out of my apoplectic coma. The howling in my head has stopped. And I feel the need to write again. These are all good things.

So. Here is one of the few photos I currently have in my possession, taken in a nearby corn field on a cloudy, yet bright, day.

What happens to corn stalks in the winter.

What happens to corn stalks in central PA in the winter.

Ever forward.

No more posts.