The 16-year-old kid with the obscene acne problem and boring piercings said he had never heard of Joan Jett. He stood behind the store's counter wearing a cow's expression and a Korn tee shirt. He used his mouth to draw air in and out of his body. Around his neck hung a laminate that read "Wherehouse," under which was the name "Jake."
A couple of customers at the register, both chubby boys with close-cropped hair and feeble whiskers, were purchasing two copies of the new Limp Bizkit disc. Fucking garbage, Blake thought.
"Whaddya mean you never heard of Joan Jett?"
"Uh, yeah. Isn't that the new chick opera singer?" said pimple head. "The one from England or wherever?"
Record stores make Blake want to puke these days, especially ones in chains and shopping malls. These stores are nothing but corporate color and test-market results manned by insufferable do-nothings with compulsive masturbating disorders who think there is no connection between what is old and what is new.
Gone is the milieu of the corner record store staffed by overread, undermotivated employees who drink beer and debate Joe Strummer's integrity versus that of Lester Bangs or W.C. Fields, while inexplicably undercharging the customers; places in which cigarette-stained posters of the Dolls, Chrissie and Brian Jones would stare down at you instead of interchangeable, puppy-dog faces proclaiming "Take me home, please" from overwrought wall displays; places in which pricey punk-rock picture-sleeve singles were pinned up behind the counter and everything from bongs to bootlegs could be had for the asking; places that smelled of new wax and old vinyl, not some hideous sachet wafting from pages of waxy magazines.
In a time long since forfeited, a person could hang at a record store for the sake of being and not consuming. It was a place a person would actually want to go, as much to find new records as to get up the nerve to talk to a girl, or find a drummer, or wait for summer.
Blake turned quickly from the zitted void standing behind the counter. He moved into the angular, sterile confines of the "record" store in search of a new copy of a Joan Jett reissue. He went to the "J" section of Rock, Pop, Soul and found no Jett, only Jesus Lizard and Jewel in its place. He wasn't surprised. Then, for kicks, sensing Joan was in the store somewhere--only misfiled by some slouched drone with bad tattoos--Blake tried the Soundtracks section to see if she, perhaps, was there. No luck. He went over to the country music section and, again, no Joan.
But on the way out of the store, Blake stopped in the last place on Earth that would be home for Joan: the Christian music section. He stopped anyway, started flipping through the discs, and titles like 4 Him and Grace Changes Everything, featuring happy, ivory faces blurred in front of him. The CDs looked drab and colorless, like the sort of thing John McCain would be into.
Then, right when he was about to give up all hope, a miracle happened. Looking down at the CD covers fanning between his fingers, in the space between Jeremiah Smiles on You and Just for Kids, he found Her. A punk-rock dyke-goddess in the Holy Land.
"Holy shit," Blake gasped out loud. "Joan Jett."
He reached down, pulled out Light of Day and made for the counter where Jake was waiting. Blake took out a credit slip for all the awful record-company promos he traded in earlier and made the exchange. His receipt showed a credit of $4. Blake wadded the receipt into a tiny ball and flicked it like a booger across the mall. Then he made his way out of hell.
Blake pushed through throngs of eager shoppers and scrubbed power teens. The smell of new clothes, cookies, money and pizza made him dizzy. The ultramodern shops and emporiums looked like blurry Christmas decorations as he rushed past. When he got to the big double doors, he pushed them open and stepped outside. A horrible light blinded him. It was only the June sun.
Beach House on the Moon
All them Mellow Mafia constituents from Hotel California in the '70s--Linda Ronstadt, Eagles, Buffett, James Taylor, etc.--may have accepted the fact that their nasal septums just ain't what they used to be, but damn if their old fan base of second-generation weed-embracers didn't evaporate.
Christ, this platter of wimp-fry entered the Billboard pop charts at number eight. The only record to debut higher that week was by them fairy punks Backstreet Boys.
On this, the cover pic sees Buffett wearing shorts, white rubber boots and looking like somebody's old alcoholic uncle Joe, only with a manicure and a millionaire smirk. And he's squatting on some lunar surface above a large body of water, and the Earth is in the background.
Hey, he's on the moon! Perhaps the avowed environmentalist is scouting a new site for another one of his yup cash-cow cafes he so affectionately calls Buffett's Margaritaville?
Back in 1977, Buffett's "Margaritaville" could very well have caught some with their defenses down, if not only for the booze nod, but '78's "Cheeseburger in Paradise" left no room for excuses, or even burps. On Beach House on the Moon, Buffett's voice commands about as much attention as a dozing Circle K security guard, and all the usual calypso drivel (again, the Coral Reefer Band) and millennium metaphors won't even serve to support some drunken blue-collar dude on Tuesday-night karaoke.
"Math Suks" is unintentionally droll, 'cause we hear a kind of dub-country-Devo providing twang for these sorts of pubescent admissions: "I got so bored with my homework, I turned on my TV." And an anomalous Bruce Cockburn song, "Pacing the Cage," shrivels in its surroundings, probably wishing it could be back on Earth.
If there is ever a time when James Taylor can be looked back upon with warm and fuzzies, this is it.
Return to the Center of the Earth
Like that old hippie we've all seen wandering down some street wearing rags, long thinning hair and a startled expression, Rick Wakeman is a man abandoned by all sense of reality and time. He's a complete anachronism. Only now his face is pasty and saggy, thick with years of pub abuse. And he still wears the long coat.
In '74, the man who fronted that unsightly mountain of keyboards in Yes (no!) recorded Journey to the Centre of the Earth, a bloated testament to music that is absent of anything worthy. A record that single-handedly sent millions of record buyers to drool on their pillows with its prolonged keyboard solos, boring time changes and songs that dragged on like pregnant cows.
Now Wakeman is keen to repeat the process. He says, "It has been said many times that in life you should never go back, but, as with all 'great sayings,' there will always be an exception to the rule."
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This record is twice as long and twice as pompous as the first. Its tired concept of traveling into the Earth is matched by the agonizing read of the story's text. Sample from "The Gallery": "Ever-descending, they continued through arch after arch--their lights constantly reflecting off variegated white and red veined marble indelibly stamped with impressions of primitive life."
Rick Wakeman and all his prog cronies were to have been thrown to the lions eons ago by all the young punks. But then punk rock really only lasted for about six months.
Contact Bill Blake at his online address: email@example.com