The SamuraiMarine

Thoughts, Philosophy, Life and Love

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XTC

I first heard of XTC when I heard the song “Senses working overtime” on the radio.  Because of the way my hearing has always been, however, “Senses” is not what I heard.  So when I walked into Sam Goody Music, I had the misfortune of hearing several people laugh at me when I asked for “SISTER’s  working over time”.

Needless to say, they corrected me and set me up with two tapes.  Again, when this happened, CDs were a luxury that I could not afford as was a CD player.  The Tapes were English Settlement and Skylarking.

English Settlement really did not do much for me.  The music seemed to all be the typical kind you might hear on the radio any particular Thursday afternoon, but I will admit that it was OK.  The one that really moved me, though, was Skylarking.  The songs, sound, rythym and story were great…  but as you might have already guessed about me… it was the story that was told through the lyrics and the track placement that hooked me.

If you listen to all of Skylarking, you will hear a story of meeting, courting, life, birth, death, questioning our existence and love.  You may not catch it the first time around, but listening to it enough, you will see it all there.  While I could find no confirmation of it, I have to think that the album was inspired by something that happened to one or more of the writers.  Who knows.

XTC themselves have been around since the late 1970s and the members performing for longer than that.  Unfortunately I have no personal experience with their music dating before 1982, so it would be unfair for me to comment on what they were before that.  I do see a lot of information out there about them on sites like Wikipedia and the like, but I would like these articles to be as much in my own words as it possible.

One of the lead names attached to XTC during their rise to fame was that of Todd Rundgren.  Yes… THAT Todd Rundgren.  While I will admit that his leadership did guide XTC to greater success, I think it also drove them apart.  Again… this is my own opinion and not based on anything other that what I see in the music and read in the trades.

Based on what I have read, one gets the feeling that Todd’s brief direction of the group caused them to burn brightly and use up quite a bit of their success.  But what was created in this period of time, while he was pushing them and going forward, was… in my humble opinion… some of their best work to date.  This culminated in the release of their last two CDs… Apple Venus volumes 1 and 2 in 1999 and 2000, respectively.

The Apple Venus CDs appeared to be the straw that broke the camel’s back, however… shortly there after there was nothing else to be heard from the group.

One could say that the bloom had fallen off the rose by this time and there appears to be no effort to get the group back together again.  Though if someone out there reading this hears different… I would like to know.  XTC is actually on the short-list of groups that I would be willing to go stand in line to see… preceded only by Pink Floyd and Jimmy Buffett.

If by some chance any reader thinks that I am bashing Todd Rundgren with this or blaming him for the breakup of XTC, that could not be further from the truth.  I think that he simply exposed flaws in the band that were already there.  They were destined to break up at some point.  He caused them to refine their talents and work harder for a period of time so that the production house would be happy.  They might have made it a few more years without him, but I suspect that the sound would not have been the same quality.

Please… go out and pick up a copy of Skylarking, then let it help you decide if you think the others will be good for you.  Personally, I think that if you like Skylarking, then you will like all their work, including the early stuff.

Electric Light Orchestra

There are very few conversations that you can have about musicians and bands that were ahead of their time without mentioning, at some point, Electric Light Orchestra, or ELO.

For those of you who may not know who ELO is, you will probably be surprised.  Their music has been used in movies, commercials, television programs as well as being covered by several other groups over the years.  So it is very likely that you have at least heard some of their work and just not realized it.

Founded in 1971 by two guys (Raymond Wood and Jeffery Lynne), they created a group with a sound not entirely unlike the “electronica” sound that you hear today, combining the sounds of violins and organs with the sounds of electric guitars and synthesizers.

Today you might listen to their work and think that this sound is nothing really that spectacular or special, but you have to stop and think for a moment about the time that the music was originally released and who it was that they had to compete with at that time during their formative years.

In July 1971 (1972 in the USA), when their 10538 Overture was released, they were competing against such rock legends at Rolling Stones, Sly and the Family Stone, The Bee Gees and various others.  Needless to say, one might think that they really did not have a chance right out of the gates… they had a lot of well established competition.  People were not really ready to listen to something  new, with a completely new sound.

The Overture peaked at number 9 that July, in the USA. So in spite of the odds, they found their market and their niche.  The rest, as they say, was history to be made.

The music did continue to get better and their world appeal increased but personally I think they peaked with the release of the album Time, in 1980.  I still think that it stands as one of their best works as a whole.  That is not to say their other albums were bad, it was just that with the others, there are songs I like and ones I did not.  You know, the ones that you fast-forward through, or skip if you are playing them on a CD.  With Time, I could listen to the entire album and not want to skip a single song.  My two favorites on that album would be Ticket to the moon and Hold on Tight… the later a fairly popular song even to this day.

The band kind of started to fall into disrepair after the release of Time, releasing Secret Messages in 1983 and Balance of Power in 1986.  I am sorry, but even though Secret Messages had a couple good songs on it (Rock and Roll is King and Four Little Diamonds), I feel that the entire album was a parody of themselves and a lame attempt to gain new momentum for the band, which was starting to break up about that time.  The album intentionally included back masked messages on some of the songs… a couple of them I heard, most I did not.   Balance of Power, however, was a noble attempt… they had a good sound and some catchy lyrics, but gone was the original sound of the ELO that I remembered.  It did not have the deep rich “Light Orchestra”  sound that they had become so well known for, having become mostly synth and guitars with no more strings or brass.  In addition, you would think that we should have suspected something was happening when they were no longer using their trademark “spaceship” logo on the front of that album.

In spite of a few attempts to reignite the spark they had, namely the formation of ELO Part Two, in the early nineties, it was apparent that the band was gone.  In 2000 or 2001 the album Zoom was released.  I had been expecting this for a while and was waiting in anticipation for this, not know at the time that the ONLY original member of ELO that woudl be in the band was going to be Lynne… Tandy did participate on one song, but I have a feeling that was because he felt some requirement to do so, nothing more.  The rest of the album had some good music, but I felt that it was more like going to see “The Beatles Experience” after having seen the real thing.  It was fun, and the music was alright, but it was just not the same.

ELO is gone… but I still have the CDs and a couple of the 8-track tapes, somewhere.  Like so many other things in our lives, it is sad to see something like this go.

My message to the remaining band members?  Do not try to put the band back together again.  Leave us with the memories we had.  OK?

Here are some pieces for you that may not be familiar with the work:

Rick Springfield

This article may not be what you are expecting for a piece written about Rick Springfield.  No mushy talk about how he was considered an 80s heartthrob or the fact that he played Noah Drake in a soap opera.  All of this is true and I am sure that there are many woman… and possibly a few guys out there… that would throw their underwear at him, even to this day.

My like for Rick was based on the story many of his lesser known songs conveyed to me, the songs that never gained the popularity of “Don’t talk to strangers” or “Jesse’s Girl”, which were good, fun songs.  As anyone who really knows me already understands, I have always been the one that looks for the deeper meaning in music and the songs that are sung.  I have always felt that singing was both for entertainment and to tell a story that you might otherwise not be able to tell through just talking.  You just have to take the time to listen to the words.

Many of Rick’s songs that were mainstream became so because they were easy to dance to or easy to sing along with, but not all of them really had a back-story.  They were auditory bubble-gum for the kids to listen to and play to.  Songs that were more for the ratings and sales than for the intrinsic meaning there.  I am sure that Rick will disagree with me on some those points, but they are my opinions.

When you listen to the whole album (or CD), though, you see something that people who just go for the popular songs miss.  Hidden in the music is a story in some of the songs.  Those are the ones that have always had a meaning for me.  A story to tell that I would listen to and that I could find some connection with him through.  But in order to understand what is being said, you have to listen past the beat and the music, to the words and what they mean.  Listen to the voice and the emotion that it is carrying.  Here is a list of some of the songs I am talking about:

Album: Success hasn’t spoiled me yet   Song: April 24, 1981

Album: Beautiful Feelings  Song: Guenevere

The Entire “Tao” and “Rock of Life” Albums. – Both of these albums feel like a defining moment in Rick’s carreer.  Sort of a spiritual transition.  You hear a more contemplative sound in the music and you feel like he is telling you something about himself.

Listening to his music over the years, and having a chance to listen to it in chronological order, or as the albums were released, you get a sense of his developing spiritualism and hear his style maturing as he grows with his music.  As time goes on, you get a feel for understanding how his faith works and, in turn, start to feel it yourself.

I have been accused of reading too much into music and you will never hear me deny it.  But I think that when a person puts as much into the song as people like Rick, among others, do, they WANT you to understand what they are saying.  It is easy to just listen to the tunes and dance to the beat, but I do not think that is what it is all about.  There is a story to songs like “Like Father Like Son”, off his “Living in Oz” album.  If he took the time to write the piece and put it out there, then he wanted to share it with us.

I have not had a chance to listen to his newer works, but I will be making an effort to get them shortly.  I have heard nothing bad about them and, in fact, I see very good reviews of his newer work.  He has even released an album of lullabies.

So… it looks like Rick is going to be around for quite a while longer, entertaining those of us who were around when he was building up his steam and now a new, younger fan base.  If you listen to the stories, he can still pack in an audience and even holds a cruise on a regular basis that is almost always sold out.


What to expect from July

In July I will be trying something new.  I will be writing eight articles that feature a different band or performer.  I have decided to write about people that many of you who might read this would probably not be very familiar with.

My reason for doing this is because of the level of importance I place on music in my life and what music and it’s meanings are to me.

Every song tells a story and every group or band has a different story to tell… I am hoping that I can convey some of what I see in the music to you and share my love for the art.

A New Addition is coming!!!

Hello all… on April 1st, I will officially launch the SamuraiMarine PhotoBlog.  There will be no changes here, this will be a new site dedicated to pitures and the art of picture taking.  I will post my pictures as well as having area for subscribers to post theirs.

Mark your calendars!

Requiem for Buckaroo Banzai

I love a good movie but I tend to be especially enamored with the little known or low budget movies that are out there.

Of these, one of my all time favorites has to be Buckaroo Banzai: Across the Eighth Dimension.

For those of you who are not familiar with this movie, it follows a story by Earl Mac Rauch about Buckaroo Banzai…  a Physicist, Brain Surgeon, Band Leader, etc… and his team as they try to defeat the Red Lectroids.

In all seriousness, this was not a great movie.  It did little in the theaters, at least those that would actually show it and even then, it did not stay in theaters very long.  In fact, I first saw this movie as a rental back in the mid 80s while at the birthday party of my Nephew.  Since that day I was hooked and at this time I have seen the movie more than 250 times.

In fact, I have seen this movie so many times that I have the entire script memorized and will usually recite the lines as they are happening.  My wife will not even watch the movie with me, I am so bad about it.

You know… there is something that is enjoyable about a movie like this.  Yes, it is a dumb movie.  Yes, the dialogue leaves a lot to be desired. No, it won no awards that I am aware of, please correct me if I am wrong.  By there is something about watching a movie whose only redeeming quality is the fantasy quotient that it provides, that ability to make the person watching is just have fun.

The other fun thing about a movie like this is inviting friends over and throwing that in the DVD player for them to see.

Watch out Russ…  ;-D

Are we hostages to our parents dreams?

As we are growing, we are taught by out parents that we need to succeed.  That we can be whatever we set our minds and hearts to.  That there is nothing that we cannot accomplish if we set our minds to.  In fact, at least in my time, parents even told us that we could be president… I am not sure that is something that many people see as a noble career these days, though.

I wonder, though.  How much of what they are telling us is to try to make up for what they were never able to accomplish in their lives.  Things that they wanted to achieve, but were unable or unwilling to try for.  Thusly holding us captive to their dreams, albeit most of the time this entirely unintentional.

For those of you out there that are parents, I think you know what I am talking about.  I also know that it is no bad reflection on parents for wishing this on your children.  My mother wanted these things for me, and I am sure still does… I am not, however, sure about my dad, but I have to think that both of them wished the best for me and hoped that my achievements in life would surpass theirs.  I would like to think that I have done a pretty good job of raising me or instilling in me a sense of purpose, discipline and right & wrong.

There is also the things we learn from our parents by watching them.  Through our lives we will watch out parents, as well as other adults around us, do both good and bad things.  We learn through that as well.

To return to the original question… Are you and I being held hostage to our parents dreams and aspirations?

My answer is Yes… to a point we are.  I think that throughout our years, from youth to old age, we continuously ask ourselves what our parents might think of what we are doing and where we have ended up in life.  Was it at least close to where they were hoping that we would be? Would they be proud of us?

I think that there is actually something magical about this, in a way.  Whether by design or by coincidence, we or they are creating a set of internal checks and balances that keep us heading in what we hope to be the right direction.  In a way they, our parents, our guiding us through our lives, even when, in the fullness of time, they are no longer with us.

As for the “hostage” portion of the question…  I think that is what I would call a “self imposed hostage crisis” for which we have no one to blame but our own sense of guilt and honor.  We all tend to be more critical of ourselves than are others and think that we are much more so than our parents are or were… even in our old age, we hope that they would be proud of what we have become.  So in that sense, we are holding ourselves hostage to their hopes and dreams.

I was inspired to write this piece after listing to a song by Mike and the Mechanics called The Living Years.  There is just some music that prompts me to deep thought, and they are one of those groups.  I encourage you to buy the CD and listen to the songs.  There is a lot there to motivate and to help you reflect.

More new features…

I have started a page called “Open Letters”.  You will see the new option on the top of the page right now.

This is going to be a place where I will post Open Letters to people that I know would not otherwise read a letter I sent them directly.  More or less it is just a place for me to vent, even if there is no one out there to listen.

The Little things we keep

I recently, a few weeks ago, decided to go through and really clean house a for a couple weeks.  You will notice the use of  “a couple of weeks.”  That was not a typo, nor was it any form of exaggeration, we have lived in our house for ten years now and still have boxes that we have not oped since we moved in.

Yes… My wife and I are pack rats… that is my admission, so where is our twelve step program?

To be fair, I do not think my Wife was until she met me, save for a very large box she had of posters that she had on he walls as a teenager.  I think that my inability to throw things away rubbed off onto her, and now, between the two of us, we have an ungainly amount of trash that we have collected.

So, as I am going through all this stuff, there are things I am finding that I recall storing away and at the time I am sure I thought there was a very good reason for it.  Now, looking at them, I find myself asking;  “WTF was I thinking?”  Most of THAT stuff is things like notes that had no important information on them, receipts from items we bought ten years ago.  Pay stubs from more than ten years ago.  Candy wrappers that had entry forms on them from some obscure contest that we never entered.

I do not think that there is anything really wrong with collecting this stuff, I just think that there must be a limit to it that My wife and I must find.  Some stopping point that we need to learn so that we do not find ourselves saving ten-year-old turkey sandwiches some day because we saw something cute in the toaster pattern on the bread.

I am sure that her and I are not the only ones with this defect.  There must be many more people out there with this same problem, perhaps even worse than us.  So in that, I take some solace, some little bit of calmness from that thought helps me justify my problem by saying… “Yeah… but look at him, he collects bottle caps!”

Oh well… I will bid you farewell and go check on my chronologically sorted, named and alphabetized belly-button lint collection.

Chasing the spark.

I am not sure where I first heard that term, Chasing the Spark, but I have always liked it.  It can have so many meaning that can cover everything from the philosophical to the physical.

The way that I like to use it, in the rare times you will actually hear me use it aloud, is to refer to following a dream or a train of thought that may lead you somewhere positive.  It does not appear to me to be a reference that you could use for following anything tangible or anything that you can hold in your hand.  It seems to be more about going after that thing you want most or that idea that you feel most dedicated to.

I could also see how this can be used in the scientific sense.  To say that “he was chasing the spark”, could be applied to the quest for that missing element.  That something that you need to complete a project or that “Eureka!” moment that all scientists hope for.

This is also something that you could use to refer the search for the person of your dreams.  Finding that perfect mate that will be with you through all of life’s ups and downs.

No mater how you use it, if you use it, or what you take from it.  I have always liked the phrase.

Sorry for the short post, just a thought I wanted to share.

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