Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Steel: A Steel Guitar and a Glass of Wine

Back when I was in college, early to late 90s (I stuck around to take a few extra classes) there was a neo/retro-lounge music craze that kicked off. For me, the whole soft bubble keys and castanets movement started with Esquivel. Juan Garcia Esquivel was a Mexican bandleader, and his Esquivel! or Space-Age Bachelor Pad, re-released along with a lot of other music on Bar None, was the height of easy listening. Space age pop, exotica, lounge: it all meant the same thing.

The music goons and college DJs and bar band bums that made up my crew got into it, thought that sleazy lounge nostalgia pop made us sophisticates. We bought a bartender's book and learned how to mix fancy drinks. We hit up the Goodwill and bought the snazziest polyester duds we could and threw Lounge Lizard parties. Our first one was a smashing success. Some tools tried playing 80s music, nostalgia for the ‘80s becoming a real fad itself about that time. But, we insisted: lounge or nothing.

From there on it was Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Herb Alpert, Combustible Edison, Dezi Arnez, The Squirrel Nut Zippers, Southern Culture on the Skids, the very Reverend Horton Heat, Les Baxter, Elvis movie soundtracks, Ennio Morricone, Stereolab, Paul Anka, Canada’s crown prince of the languid orchestral swing. Understand, we were making our own definition of lounge. It didn’t matter if we were throwing in Big Band, Rockabilly, or Barry Manilow: sweet and easy listening meant being silly chic and suave in a way that let us push the furniture against the wall, put on our dancing socks and glide sliverswift across the floor with the few girls we had convinced to come to our one of a kind Odd Ball.

It didn’t matter that we were mixing in multiple genres—Tarantino was making great soundtracks with AM radio gems that would never have been any one single radio programmer’s play list. And we took our inspiration from him and the record bins at the local CD shops (Vinyl was making a big comeback as as fad about this time, too). We made up our own playlists and bought even  better records at those same thrift stores.  We were chasing a kooked up, weirded-out vibe, where sound was blatantly old, odd, but fun, without any pretension, full spectrum color that came from a time we didn’t really know, but wish we had.

This was the early ‘90s, right? I said that? Nirvana was magic, but the spell hadn’t quite taken full effect. So flannel and Doc Martens hadn’t taken up so much room that those natty, mis-matched suits bought at the thrift store were  out of our wardrobes quite yet. Eventually, those two sartorial elements would merge together, and velvet jackets, ratty, off-labeled t’s and thick soled suede wingtips would all somehow look good together. That, a superior hair.

I miss dressing like that. I also miss those parties, where our social existence was an un-ironic Halloween bash every weekend, while we swilled well-vodka martinis and cruised, strutted and cut a rug like we were some variation of George Lazenby James Bonds, full of the kind of exuberant camp, quirk and whimsical bliss that space-age pop music, with all those Batman and Robin zings and zangs and zooms and booma boom booms sound effect graphics, brought to glorious, techni-color life. 

So, Paul Anka—I dubbed him the crown prince of Lounge, with a capital “L”. Today, I ask you to pull out your snazziest duds, get dolled up and hit the dance floor with your very best gal, and ring a ding ding to the glorious sound of  “A Steel Guitar and a Glass of Wine.” Dig it  and dance on, space traveler...

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