March 13, 2005

Get it On! or, The Gods of Ronco Whisper to Me

My piece from the Lost in the Grooves reading yesterday at Vroman's. Nice turnout, nice readings. I should point out that I originally remembered this record as having been from K-Tel, and the title sounded much nicer. So, as someone pointed out yesterday, research sucks.

'Get It On!' Exclamation point. The gods of Ronco want to get it on with me. There is a motorcycle on the cover, jumping over something, like Evel Knievel. If that's getting it on, I need to do it, now. I am ten years old and the universe opens before me.

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I buy it at Zody's because of 'Spiders and Snakes' which I find very funny. Note that I also find 'The Streak' funny, but it isn't on this record. It may not even have come out yet. I listen to 'Spiders and Snakes' a whole bunch of times, never letting the needle stray too far beyond that one song. Play, reset, play. There are 19 other Original Hits by the 19 other Original Artists, but I only want 'Spiders and Snakes'. A couple of them are straight off my AM radio station, 93 KHJ, but I don't play them from 'Get it On!'

I buy Jim Stafford's record. There aren't any other songs as good as 'Spiders and Snakes'. I grow tired of 'Spiders and Snakes', even though it has a 'wacka-doo, wacka-doo' chorus, like on Wonderama. The universe has taught me its first great lesson: Sometimes the single is the best thing on the record.

'The Cover of the Rolling Stone' means nothing to me, as I have not yet actually seen Rolling Stone. 'The Morning After' is lame, even if it is from 'The Poseidon Adventure'. 'Love Train' is not my favorite O'Jays song. If pressed, I probably don't have a favorite O'Jays song, but it wouldn't be 'Love Train'.

One day while playing 'Get it On!', the needle strays into 'Drift Away'. Damn that's a great song. I listen, I sing along, but I don't buy Dobie Gray's album.

'Me and Mrs. Jones' is on there, but it's too sophisticated for me, I can't hook into it. I am ten and the universe that is open before me doesn't contain the idea of having a 'thing' going on. But the song is encoding itself on my DNA, and thirty years later I hear it and see gold shag carpet and Peter Max prints on the walls.

There are other songs on the record which I don't like very much, but it's my only record and I'm tired of 'Spiders and Snakes'. Both B.B. King and Jerry Lee Lewis are there, but the songs are mediocre and I move on, not knowing that B.B. King and Jerry Lee Lewis are supposed to be cool. 'The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.' is fun for me now, but ten year-olds don't know from kitsch. All in all, 'Get it On' is pretty lame, and I experience my first twinge of buyer's remorse.

'Smoking in the Boys' Room' is the only real rock 'n' roll song on the disc, but it doesn't grab me for two reasons: 1) I like school, and I don't mind the teachers' rules. They seem reasonable and logical to me. 2) I see Brownsville Station on TV and they wear makeup. Not in some strange, scary way like Bowie'a couple of years hence I will spend hours staring at the cover of 'Aladdin Sane' trying to understand where the makeup ends and Bowie begins'no, this is clown makeup. And one of the guys has leather suspenders over his hairy, bare chest like Derek Smalls or Peter Kris. Brownsville Station look like dorks.

But 'Get it On' is in the wire rack under the stereo next to 'Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player'. I think the guys from Brownsville Station must be talking to Elton John. It's my brother's album, one of his 12 records for a penny from Columbia House. He just has to agree to buy seven more records at three times the going price at Zody's. Eventually, he will get out of it because he was underage when he signed up. 'Daniel' is on the Elton John record, so is 'Crocodile Rock' which full of the kind of fake nostalgia that is just around the corner. I hate the song, but we all dance to it.

Francesca, our babysitter who lives next door, brings over 'Tapestry' one night while our parents are out and she sets it down next to 'Don't Shoot Me'. She puts it on and promptly ignores us. I watch her listening. I am neither 15 years old, nor female, but the universe is still beneficent and reveals another law: For every person on earth, there will be music which whispers its secret language through ear drum, along semi-circular canal down to spinal column and you cannot disregard the power of that direct pathway. Eventually, I learn the corollary to this law: If you *do* disregard the power of that direct pathway, or worse, if you make fun of the music whispering its secret language down someone else's neural pipes, you will not have sex with that someone. (See: 'Some People Think Kate Bush Is a Genius'.)

My brother does not know this law and while Francesca is putting our sister to bed, he takes off 'Tapestry' dropping it down next to Edgar Winter Group's 'Shock Treatment'. Edgar and the gang float in space across the cover, pouting, strutting, more makeup. Rick Derringer holds his guitar in a way which is not altogether wholesome. For some reason, I wind up with 'Shock Treatment' in my stack but I never play it. Eventually it winds up next to 'Pretzel Logic' but they can't co-exist peacefully. 'Ricky Don't Lose that Number' exercises a pull like the steam from a just-baked cartoon apple pie set out to cool on the farmhouse window sill. The song taps me on the shoulder, beckons with it's steam-finger and I rise up into the air, following it, nose cocked, imaginary snake charmer music playing in the background. I am twelve years old and the universe is flashing me hand-signals from the wings: 'Things aren't what they seem'don't fight the cartoon-pie steam, it will lead you places you can't get to on foot.'

I go away to school for a couple of years. My grandmother has no stereo and my music stays behind in California. My uncle who has Downs syndrome listens to records on a small portable record player which he brings home from his school on weekends. Mostly, it's Peter Pan records, with the yellow label, but one time my grandpa buys him a few discs from Zaire's, which is just Zody's on the other side of the country. One of the records is from a movie by Coppola, 'You're a Big Boy Now,' music by The Lovin' Spoonful. I have never seen this movie, but the soundtrack beat the hell out of 'Mickey and the Beanstalk'.

Eventually, I return to my records in California. But my friends and I are mobile now. My friend Frank's car has an 8-track, but 8-track is already dead so we only have two tapes and Rodney on the ROQ to get us through 2 years of driving. When Rodney's not on it's either the Kinks live album, which we learn by heart, or 'Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap'. Let me tell you, AC/DC sounds so good blasting out of the windows of a '76 El Camino that they ought to give one away with every copy of the album, but the Kinks, and especially 'Lola', is pure pie steam for me. I find a copy of 'Powerman vs. Lola and The Moneygoround, Part One' and bring it back home. The next year Lola makes friends with Madame George, who eventually snuggles up next to Alison. I don't really know exactly what 'Johnny Hit and Run Pauline' is about, but it burns'in a good way. Lesson time, evidently: 'It's good to get kicked in the balls, as long as you learn from it'.

I carefully select the records I will bring to college with me. I decide that I can live without the Eagles, Tom Petty, Pat Benatar, Jim Croce. My roommate, Chris, likes reggae and Talking Heads, and we bond over the Clash's version of 'Pressure Drop'. My friend Eileen visits my dorm room, bringing 'Give 'em Enough Rope' and I get the wind knocked out of me, but she also lets me make a tape of 'London Calling' which pushes it front and center: Some people have their eyes open and some people need that kick in the balls.

I have money and a used record store nearby and the Clash find themselves sharing space with Phil Ochs, who introduces me to Kim, who leads me to Nick Drake and Television and Alex Chilton. I eventually return the favor with Townes van Zandt, so I figure that makes us even.

I am eighteen and the Ronco Gods reveal themselves in all their polyphonic glory. The universe is multi-casting: 'Not everything moves in a straight-line. You have to learn to parallel process in a serial world.'

My brain just naturally makes aural stew, I've lost the ability to separate music the way some of my friends seem to. It either hits me or it doesn't. Butch Hancock and Robyn Hitchcock and Iggy Pop hit me. Van Dyke Parks hits me. The Buzzcocks hit me. The Replacements, Randy Newman, the Carter Family, Minutemen, XTC, The Chills.

And finally, finally, one day I hear 'Me and Mrs. Jones' and the last synapse goes pop. It's all there in one breathless moment: the Peter Max prints, the Pachinko machine, the swag lamp. I am lying on a verdant field of gold shag, staring at the cottage cheese ceiling, Getting it On with the Gods of Ronco.

copyright, 2005, Kenneth A. Rudman, do not reproduce without permission

Posted by krudman at March 13, 2005 08:05 PM | TrackBack
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