It was a little tough forcing myself out for a walk this morning. The day was foggy and gray and the neighborhood looked like the cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Bare Trees. We received a little snow over the weekend but it was getting soggy and old, like something left too long in the fridge. Yesterday a DJ on WXPN mentioned a study that had determined January 24 was the most depressing day of the year. It made sense.
But I’m glad I forced myself outside. The tag-team combination of the music and the exercise helped lift my spirits. First I got a one-two punch of 1970s TV when the iPod played the themes from “The Odd Couple” and “The Rockford Files” back to back. Two great songs from iconic TV shows, both of which were on Friday nights, I think. I had even purchased the 45 of the Rockford theme way back when, at the Melody Shop in downtown Augusta, Maine. A few months ago I even went online to find out who plays the guitar solo on that. The consensus is that composer Mike Post played it himself, although some people theorized it was Les Dudek. It’s that good.
Sometimes the iPod has an almost uncanny way of picking the right song. After the exercise in TV nostalgia it played “Barely Breathing” by the Reivers. That was a strange coincidence because just yesterday I had been thinking about the CD it’s from, Pop Beloved, after reading an article in the Washington Post about the record store where I had bought it.
The store was Melody Records on Connecticut Avenue in Washington, just north of Dupont Circle. The article said the store was going out of business. Truth be told, I was surprised to hear it hadn’t closed years ago. Running a record store these days is about as smart as operating a dinosaur ranch. It’s only the dinosaurs like me who still buy CDs, and I don’t buy very many. Once we purchased objects that contained the music; now the music comes unencumbered by a physical body. It’s just bits and bytes that flow through the ether and into your storage device. Tunes today are like those beings from old “Star Trek” episodes that evolved until they were just balls of energy (which must make it very hard for them to adjust their earbuds).
There was a time, though, when Melody Records was just one of many record stores I would visit on my walks through Washington. If I decided to make the big hike home from my office near L’Enfant Plaza I could hit the Olsson’s near Metro Center, continue on to check out the new-arrivals bin at the Olsson’s near Dupont Circle, peruse the cutouts at the nearby Kemp Mill Records on Connecticut Avenue, then cross the street to peek into Melody Records. I think I bought only two things there—one record and one CD—but they were good purchases. The record was Happy All Time by the Primitons and the CD was Pop Beloved.
Local station WHFS turned me on to the Reivers when I moved to DC in 1986. Back then the band called themselves Zeitgeist until another group by that name threatened to sue them. HFS was playing the band’s cover of “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” the song originally made famous by Willie Nelson. I liked it enough to buy the album—at Tower Records, I think. I saw them live every time they passed through DC, always at the smelly old 9:30 Club on F Street, around the corner from Ford’s Theater. Every show was excellent. On one memorable occasion their encore was Thin Lizzy’s “Cowboy Song” and that was me jumping up and down in front of the stage in the nearly empty club, screaming, “Thin Lizzy! Thin Lizzy!” Ah, good times. The hangover the next day? Not so good.
They were a great band, a pop-oriented quartet from Austin, Texas, fronted by the sweet-and-sour vocal combination of Kim Longacre and John Croslin. Longacre had a powerful, pure voice and Croslin sang gruffly like Lou Reed but their voices worked together beautifully, like a good marriage. A lot of their songs were about family and relationships and just trying to make things work out, so sometimes it felt like a musical marriage. And although I was listening to the Reivers today on a cold and damp January morning, they are really a summer band, best heard on a steamy, humid afternoon with a canopy of green leaves above your head and a cold beer in your hand.
The followed up their debut with Saturday, a Don Dixon-produced album (which I only recently got on CD). Next came what might be their best album, End of the Day, which includes “Star Telegram,” one of my favorite Reivers songs , a nostalgia-drenched look at a past that is gone forever. With its imagery of fans, backyard barbecues and cold soda it also reinforces my feeling that the Reivers are meant to be heard in the heat of a languid summer afternoon. The fact that they do a rocking cover of the showtune “Lazy Afternoon” on that album only reinforces that opinion.
I bought End of the Day at the big Tower Records near George Washington University, which has also gone out of business. The Olsson’s chain is gone, too. I just went online to check and gasped with surprise and sorrow to find a placeholder page that said, “Olsson’s is closed.” While I can’t feel as much sorrow over the end of Kemp Mill, which was the least personal of them all, I did buy a fair amount of product at their stores. I especially loved their cutouts (which is how I got Dumptruck’s Positively Dumptruck and the first, Nick Lowe-produced Katydid’s album, among many other purchases).
That’s another thing about records and CDs— each one can act as trigger for a specific memory. I can still remember my feeling of excitement when I looked into the new arrival bin and found Pop Beloved. In those pre-Internet days I had no idea it was out, or even being recorded. You don’t get that kind of captured moment when you download a song. It’s like the difference between getting a letter and receiving an email, buying a book or downloading one. I’m not saying that to rail against technology, but something has been lost.