The Stroke

“If that forecast for severe thunderstorms comes through, I’m gonna look like Billy Squier by 2:00.”

“Billy Squier…?”

“He sang for Foreigner for a while*, but also he did ‘The Stroke,’ a song I have wanted to cover for a long time. I tried, but that song is nothing without the backward snare.” (*Wikipedia has informed me that Squier did not actually sing for Foreigner. Instead, he employed Foreigner as his backup band on arena tours in the early 80s.)

(Puzzled look, wondering how this relates to a severe thunderstorm)

“Also he had curly, layered hair that was the embodiment of the 80s. Think cocker spaniel.”

Mother nature ended up only mustering serious wind, rather than severe thunderstorms, but the conversation did prompt me to look up “The Stroke” on YouTube.

The video features Squier in a white tank top and jeans tight enough to make me feel violated, wagging his curly bob passionately on stage to a non-existent audience. This was 1981: MTV barely existed and people were only starting to grasp the concept of the music video. As some artists began to experiment with what videos could be (narratives, motion editorials, mini-movies), some artists just seemed puzzled. Seemingly having no idea what to do and deciding to lead with their strengths, they went with what they knew and just filmed themselves performing. Some artists filmed actual concerts, and some awkwardly set up concert stages in empty soundstages. The result of the latter always came off feeling a little bit sad and delusional, like a teenager performing an elaborate air guitar solo before a toothpaste-spattered bathroom mirror. Squier’s video for “The Stroke,” not unlike Loverboy’s “Working for the Weekend” is one such video.

If this song is looking to avoid ridiculousness, the song’s lyrics don’t help, either. They are filled with the kind of not-so-subtle innuendo that 70s rock seemed to love (see also: “Love Gun”). Squier is, in effect, comparing a life in the music business to an awkward hand job. Classy!

Still, I maintain that this song is a classic.

Squier delivers those cringe-worthy lyrics with a pronounced sneer, straddling the line between sassy bad ass and petulant child. His delivery sells the lyrics. “When you find you bled me, skip on by” is delivered with a sub-textual middle finger so huge that it almost blocks the view of Squier’s repeated use of duck face.

The guitar is strategically placed and filthy, serving as punctuation for Squier’s delivery. It’s a sort of call and answer: Squier delivers a line, and the guitar jumps in with “damn straight.”

But, readers. Readers! The most noteworthy part of the song, the reason why I may never successfully cover the song, the instrument that gives the song an instantly-recognizable signature…is a backward snare. Snares had probably been run backward before and they’ve definitely been run backward since but this, for me, is the textbook example. The use that all other uses aspire to be. That backward snare gives the lyrics one more dimension: rowing crew. Toward the end, when the chants of “stroke! stroke!” start, we can picture the crew of an early 80s viking ship, propelled by dudes with curly layered bobs and jeans leaving nothing to the imagination. Those magnificent, feather-haired bastards are rowing in time to the beat of a drum, but on this viking ship, the drum is backward.

Ass backward, plodding along to a steady rhythm and on a journey to who-knows-where. Like the music business. Or, if you will, an awkward hand job.

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Freedom: A Love Letter

This morning, I looked up George Michael’s “Freedom! ’90” video with the intent of just letting a semi-forgotten song play as I started to work. I had never noticed the pointed nature of the title of the song: it bears an exclamation point, a nod to his former band, Wham!, which also had a song called “Freedom,” hence the year number in the title of “Freedom! ’90.” Michael is snarkily differentiating the “now” from the “then.”

As the song played, I found that I couldn’t take my eyes off the video, and I realized that the “now” isn’t what it used to be.

The video was made in the days before Tyra Banks demystified the “supermodel.” Here, we are treated to images of Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford and Christy Turlington, with all those angular cheekbones playing in some wonderfully dramatic lighting.

The video itself is one of those things you look at as a former art student and think, “damn, I need to take more pictures.” The lighting is amazing: warm and golden one minute, cold and blue the next. Any movement in the shot appears to play in a shower of light, causing a delicious array of light and shadow. Everything is about steam, sensual lip-syncing and jukeboxes exploding exactly on-beat. It is everything that music video was meant to be: dramatic, inspiring, beautiful. It is not simply a marketing tool, hoping to sell us music by selling us tits and ass: it is a series of well-crafted images that cause us to wish that our own lives could be that cool.

When this video came out, there was a big to-do about how Michael, still hot and riding the sex symbol wave started with “Faith,” did not appear in the video. It didn’t matter. Director David Fincher had delivered a gorgeous love letter to light. It was then and still is one of my favorite videos of all time, from an era when music videos were still art…and models could still be “super.”

(e)tv: Summer Brings a Lack of Wookies

I’m a bad goth chick, as I have never had the time/money/will to commit to going down to Atlanta for 4 days for Dragon Con. I don’t travel well, and I work a lot. In truth, had the recession not hit me this year, I probably would have made it because my sis lives in Atlanta now, which would at least allow me to save on hotel money. Instead of actually going to Dragon Con, I went down to hang out, do whatever, and do a little people-watching.

Despite Atlanta being only 4 hours away, I hadn’t driven there in my 13 years of living in Nashville. I didn’t realize it was so close, and my fear of driving over Mont Eagle was based mainly on childhood memories. In reality, the drama and slope of Mont Eagle only lasts four miles and isn’t really that bad, unless it’s raining or snowing.

I got to Atlanta late Saturday afternoon, and my sister, her friend, Elizabeth, and I took a cab over to the Marriott Marquis (chosen for it’s easy lobby-viewing) to scope out the array of storm troopers, anime characters, and Princess Leias. There was a strong Wolverine representation, which is fine by me on account of the “sideburns” factor. While I stood around saying, “is that a guy? if that’s a guy, he’s hot….if not, never mind,” my sister developed a crush on a gaggle of dudes dressed as Halo characters. Maybe it was Gears of War. I suck at first-person shooters.

This would be a good time to mention that, in addition to Dragon Con, Atlanta was also hosting a Black Gay Pride gathering, an Alabama/Virginia Tech game, and a NASCAR function of some sort. Where else can you witness dudes in burgundy visors (backward, of course) posing for pictures with Predator or a four-foot-ten Gene Simmons?

After the Marriott, we went to a sushi/Thai place, hit a random book store, a bar called The Graveyard (hearse out front? check.), and my sister’s regular bar. I had a couple random blue drinks, which is my fallback whenever a bartender doesn’t know how to make a Blue Valium.

The next day, we had brunch and then went over to little five points. I know, I know. It’s touristy and cheesy, but I had never been and I needed to witness Junkman’s Daughter at least once. We also went to a couple of “thrift stores,” which were mere like vintage stores. For those of you saying, “what’s the difference?” I say, “about 40 bucks.”

After confirming that I was, in fact, mentally prepared to witness Ikea on a Sunday, we went over to witness the seething humanity at the local Ikea. It was fabulous, but in a sort of “I don’t need to do this for at least another year” sort of way, as Ikea is a lot like Disney world, but with crazy Swedish names instead of rides.

Everybody was pretty worn out at that point, so I headed on back to Nashville to put together some video:

Click here if you can’t see the embed.

Friday LOL: Kung-Fu Hillbilly, Joel Bauer

Holy hell, it’s a twofer! Little bit off frontbutt, little bit of douchenozzle. I does what I can.

Props for the first vid go to Jay. Props for the second vid go to DrawAndQuarter.

(Click here if you can’t see the first one.)

(Click here if you can’t see the second one.)