Thursday, July 22, 2010

They Drove You Or You Drove Them Crazy (Songs 'n' The Hoods Part 2)

Knowing what I knew about music at the age of 15 was amusing to many of the older guys in my Greenwich Village neighborhood, but not so much to the guys closer to my age, who just chalked it up as one more reason to give me a wedgie. I wasn't trying to show off. I was just so immersed in my record collection and the idea of making it larger, that the information seeped in on its own. I wasn't walking around blurting out facts and figures and chart positions. Jeffery did shit like that.

Jeffery somehow found the time to build a volcano out of newspaper, paint, rocks, some oversized battery (which he always seemed to have on hand) and probably a little bit of loneliness. This mound of genius actually spewed lava, or what he called lava. It was orange and gooey, I remember that. Science was his thing. But then he lugged this experiment around his neck like a cigarette girl at the El Morocco. Music was my thing. But I just listened to the records. All day and all of the night.

Hanging out on summer nights, someone would inevitably say, "Who sang the song...?" I would know, so I'd answer...all the time. I became entertainment. "Ask Sal, he'll know." I blame Eugene.

Our softball league played on Tuesday and Friday nights at the park on 6th Avenue & Houston Street. Of course, sitting right next to my mitt, was a record bag. (I always made a pit stop right before the game.) Eugene, who loved music as much as I did, would always ask to see what was in the bag. Most of the time, he wasn't familiar with my purchase. "Who the hell are Sparks?" "Is John Cale rock?" So I'd explain and he was genuinely interested. We'd talk. Eugene was a good guy.

I'd be playing third base and the sounds of a concrete softball game would take over. "NO batter!" "Good Eye." "Hey, who sings 'Spirit In The Sky?'" (That was Eugene.) "Shift! He's a pull hitter." "Hey! Son Of A Preacher Man?" (Eugene, again.) This is how it was...until it really lost control.

You haven't really played "Name That Tune," or more accurately, "Name That Artist," until you've had a dozen Italian guys, shouting song titles at you from fire escapes all across MacDougal Street. Eugene was the ringleader, but everyone got involved--Kevin, Dummy Carl (who really wasn't a dummy at all,) Ross, Richie and Charles. Walking to the park, I'd hear a voice, like God speaking from above the clouds, "Hey Sally, I got one for ya! 'Charlie Brown.'" I'd look up and shout back, "The Coasters." There was Richie, waving his hand at me in disgust. In he'd go, window slammed shut behind him. No dinner for two at Trader Vic's for Richie.

Then there was the other Sal, who was rattled by the attention I was getting. His "forte" was Paul McCartney. So, I'd get Paul McCartney song titles barked at me. You'd think this exercise would have gotten old. I mean, the answer was always the same--Paul McCartney.

"My Love?" "Uh, Paul McCartney." "Another Day?" "Uh, Paul McCartney." Poor guy. One day he finally hit me with something I didn't know. "Naboorea?" My first thought was, "No such song." I kept the attitude to myself, fearing another wedgie. I simply said, "Say it again." He tried, "Maboonia?" So I said, "Mamunia? From Band On The Run?" "You're an asshole," he said. Yeah...maybe.

The final straw was when I had been waiting for the light to change on 6th Avenue, and the M6 bus came whizzing by. I heard a voice over the traffic screaming "Pata Pata." I saw Eugene's head sticking out of the window like a weimaraner, looking back at me as the bus made it's way to the next stop. That night at softball, he came running, still in his work suit. "So, Pata Pata?" At this point, I couldn't help but be a little cocky. "Miriam Makeba," I snorted. Eugene was impressed.

I'm pretty sure the only reason I knew that answer was because I saw the album cover on the inner sleeve of one of my uncle's Frank Sinatra albums on Reprise. At least I wasn't carrying them around my neck.


FD13NYC said...

Ahh the trivia. It comes with the musical knowledge territory. The funniest thing are the people who think a song name is something else, which turns out to be totally hilarious. Like the Mamunia guy, now that's funny, trying to keep sort of a straight face while you correct these musical geniuses.

Like a girl I knew who thought Tommy James' Draggin' The Line was Lemon Meringue. There are probably hundreds of those, and they're all funny.

CoolSchool said...

Great story. Reminds me of how kids get tagged at that age and never live it down. That day on the bus the topic was Alice Cooper. The trying so hard to be with it kid leans in and says, "Yeah Alice Cooper, she's great". Obviously he was no Billion Dollar Baby.

jeff said...

Hey, Sally, "Live and Let Die."


great, wonder post.

cmealha said...

I like the autobiographical tone of the last couple of posts. Keep it up.

steve simels said...

I can't believe you posted that Makeba song. It's been going through my brain all week, and I have no idea why.

Eric said...

You're onto something with these strolls down memory lane...screws strolls: these are raw vestiges of teenage fun and angst all with music as the backdrop.....

still waiting to hear about gary puckett and the union gap, though...jay and the techniques.....i'm getting a blood clot from writing these names.

Anonymous said...

I love these memory posts, too. Sal, if you haven't, you should read Jonathan Lethem's Fortress of Solitude, a novel steeped in music and about what sounds like a somewhat similar childhood, growing up in Brooklyn in the 70s and early 80s.

Also, re: an earlier post, you were right about "Downtown," definitely disqualifies "Strangers in the Night" from the great album with bad first cut category (no matter what you think about "Strangers in the Night" the single). I've heard an outtake where Sinatra kisses off the song even more than he does in the released version.

Bruce Handy

Marsupial said...

'Who the hell are Sparks?" People still ask me that one.

Sal Nunziato said...

Bruce, I have read "Fortress Of Solitude." Wonderful.

That Makeba song is on a commercial and I can't think which.

David Handelman said...

It's such a guy thing to own and one-up the music trivia. Were there any women in your crowd who cared about such things?

Also, in re your "guilty pleasures" post -- when I was on the staff of Love Monkey, our first week all the writers listed their top five songs. I spent hours figuring on just the right mix, and even left off Springsteen (feeling there were too many and it was too obvious).

One of my fellow writers, unabashedly, chose "Spirit in the Night" but also "Operator" by Jim Croce, "Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing" and "Rock With You" (I forget his fifth). And I thought, sometimes we just overthink it all. Who's to say what's cool?

Sal Nunziato said...

Nicely said, David. And no, no any time, unfortunately.