Darrell Vickers: What I Did on My Vacation(s)

When I was but a young lad (Sometime between the Visigoths sacking Rome and when poulaines fell out of fashion), my family frequently ventured southward to vacation in the mysterious and violent land of the United States.  What a full panoply of dystopian offerings those E. Pluribus Unum guys harbored within their borders.  They didn’t like blacks or hippies and they shot their presidents and civil rights leaders.  Towns on fire.  Governors gassing peaceful protesters.  The national guard shooting unarmed college students.  In Canada you had to wear a pair of skates and hold a stick to get the teeth punched out of your head.  All you needed to do in America to lose a few bicuspids was show up to vote wearing the wrong color of skin.  What a hell hole.

But, by the time I was in high school, these were insignificant trifles.  For that nation of gun toting, cowboy-hat-wearing, beef-chompin’ Yee-haw Monkeys was also littered with stores overflowing with cheap records by rockin’ bands and sensitive singer/songwriters.  Any amount of foolhardy risk was worth taking to acquire such treasures.

Besides some of the minor differences I’ve already expounded upon, there is another significant bifurcation in American and Canadian cultural identities.  An example:  Say you have a table in your furniture emporium that is selling for 100 dollars – but alas, it fails to excite the furniture buying public.  After a month or so, the American retailer will lower the price to 75 dollars and slap a big “””SALE!!””” sign on it.  If it still fails to find a purchaser, he will drop it to 50 dollars, 40 etc.  Eventually, he will hit upon a figure low enough to get that big hunk of ugly wood out of his store.  A Canadian would rather eat that table rather than sell it for less than he thought it was worth.  The same held true for blessed vinyl.

Thus, while even obscure and tragically unloved albums were still pretty costly north of the border (safety has its price), things were vastly different in Buffalo (the arson capital of North America) or Cleveland (their rivers were so polluted, they caught fire).

But back to my family vacations.

While my parents were delighting in the sights and sounds of New Orleans or St. Petersburg or Carson City, all I cared about was ferreting out those thriftily-priced record shops.  Armed with my vacation money and not much else, I would eagerly scurry off in search of the nearest shiny black slices of gold on offer.  I wasn’t out to buy new releases, you understand.  I was after Cheapies.  (Those remaindered albums that had failed to find an appreciative audience and now sat in big wooden bins with 2/$1.00 or 3/$2.00 written on them.)  It would be so hard to choose as I flipped greedily through the rows of dusty covers.  Not so much the ones I wanted to take with me (that was all of them) but which ones I had to leave behind.

I still remember many of my finds (I still have the records).  Names like Willow (I scooped up two of their albums), Griffin, Ramatam (with the gorgeous chick guitarist who everyone thought was really a guy because she played so well), Crabby Appleton (remember Go Back?), John Hartford (who wrote Gentle on My Mind), Hard Meat, Randy Bachman’s Axe, Bull Angus, Boffalongo (they wrote Dancing in the Moonlight that was a hit for King Harvest) , Christopher Milk etc.

By the time we finally returned to safe and gun-free Canada with its national healthcare system and sparkly clean streets, I had a big precious stack of vinyl that I’d been waiting for more than a week to listen to.  I’d been staring at covers of long-haired men and tough-looking chicks for several days in the back of my parent’s hot and cramped Volkswagen Bug, reading every credit and anticipating that blessed moment when I got to slice open the cellophane wrapper and dig into the juicy tuneage within.

But there was one small downside to having one’s turntable runneth over.  When listening to a ton of new music, all at one time, it can seem like it’s all blending together into one big hummable homogenous lump.  You begin to wonder whether you really ever enjoyed music at all.  Whether you’d risked being savagely murdered by dope fiends, pimps and homicidal psychotics who could only find sexual satisfaction in the coin pockets of dead women’s purses for nothing.  But then you’d hear it.  It would dance out of the speakers like a sprite emerging from a mystical forest and set your brain ablaze as it Madisoned and gavotted into your ears.  It’s at that precise moment that you realize, “Hey, I still like music, I’ve just been listening to shit.”  And let’s face it, when you buy Cheapies, you’re going to sift through an awful lot of defacatory material before you come to that golden corn niblet of sound.  But, at that shining moment of nibletiness, it all becomes worth it.

Which leads me to today.

I have lived in L.A. for almost 3 decades now.  There have been riots, fires, floods, mudslides and earthquakes but I’ve managed to survive it all with only the odd nervous breakdown and a big bottle of horse tranquilizers.  This country has given me an unbelievable wife, a daughter who has brought me inestimable joy and lots and lots of cheap records.

For the last few years, I have been putting out a daily music mailer. (shameless plug – you can sign up for it by contacting me at radiovickers1@gmail.com ) So, every day is like I’ve just gotten home from summer vacation and I have to listen to a daunting amount of new music.  Again, after six or seven bland efforts in a row, I think I may be losing my appreciation for music entirely until I hit that one song or album that lights up my ears.  Some indefinable quality that makes said tune pop up out of the crowd and demand to be listened to.

Below are some of the songs that have popped for me in the last year.

Bic Runga is very big in her native New Zealand (the majestic land of hobbit suburbs that gave us Flight of the Conchords) and is just one of those great pop finds.  If you don’t instantly like this song, perhaps you don’t like pop music.

Bic Runga – Hello Hello


Her Wiki page


Gin Wigmore is also from New Zealand!  (It’s also a great place to see big pools of bubbling mud.) She is the Southern Hemisphere’s Amy Winehouse.  Great voice and terrific songs.  I think I heard one of her tunes on a commercial recently.   Well deserved.  She should be enormous.

Gin Wigmore – Black Sheep


Gin Wigmore – Man Like That


Gin’s Wiki page


David Myrh is from a little further north.  Sweden to be precise.  He was in a band called The Merrymakers but is now solo.  This tune is an obvious pop winner.  It starts out like a Cure song but then it takes its own path to musical glory.

David Myhr – Looking For a Life


David’s Home page http://www.davidmyhr.com/

An American group!  There are a million bands that sound like The Downtown Fiction but very few of them have come up with a song as catchy as this one.

The Downtown Fiction – Happy (Without You)


Their Wesite is here: http://www.thedowntownfiction.com/

Cosmo Jarvis reminds me of a cross between Robyn Hitchcock and Billy Bragg.  I didn’t know this guy from a bag of hammers but once he hit the chorus, I was hooked.

Cosmo Jarvis – Sure As Hell Not Jesus


Cosmo’s Homepage: http://cosmojarvis.com/home

There seems to be a spate of man/woman-folk/roots duets springing up lately.  The Civil Wars are a good one.  Shovels & Rope is definitely another.  I really like this album.

Shovels & Rope – Birmingham


Shovels & Rope – Hail Hail


The Shovels’ Website: http://www.shovelsandrope.com/

So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going back to listen to a humungous pile of new music, and wait for the next great song to gambol into my auditory canal.

Darrell Vickers is now a Friday Contributor to DBAWIS

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

Darrell Vickers started out as one half of Toronto area band, Nobby Clegg.  CFNY fans may remember the cheery song “Me Dad” which still gets airplay.  From there, he valiantly ventured to L.A. and eventually became head writer for The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.  Since then, he’s created numerous sitcoms and animation shows in Canada and the U.S.  He still writes music and has an internet band called Death of the Author Brigade (members in Croatia, Canada and the U.S.)   Mr. Vickers also had a private music mailing-list where he features new and pre-loved music.  Anyone who would like to be added to my daily mailing list, just write me at Radiovickers1@gmail.com .

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