Musical Advent Calendar: December 1

I’ve done this once every few years and feel as though I’m well overdue to do some blogging here, so here we go with my Musical Advent Calendar. I’ll post a holiday-themed song once a day through December 25th, and blather on a bit for most of them, I’m sure.

I thought we would kick off with a song that would set the tone for our little musical journey, so today, I give you the incomparable Kate Bush singing “December Will Be Magic Again.”

Kate Bush is, and forever shall be, inexorably linked to my record store days. It was an indie CD store, one owner and one employee, me. I worked there pretty much all day, every day, oftentimes running the store by myself.

Our shop had the finest selection of imports and “rare live” albums in the area, and one could not help but become an expert working there. The store was regularly visited by quirky audiophiles hoping for the latest digitally remastered Sensational Alex Harvey Band CD or a “rare live” recording of a classic Pink Floyd show.   We only sold CDs, no vinyl, and we carried a few fanzines and other imported ephemera, like Melody Maker or NME. I basically had a job where I sat around and listening to music of my choosing, while talking about music all day and helping people find music. Kind of the best job ever, really, at least back in the day. The rise of the Internet pretty effectively crushed that option for everyone, but that’s a different topic. Let’s get back to Kate.

When it came to Kate Bush, our store had the best selection of all things Kate in perhaps not just Northeastern Ohio, but in the whole state. Signed posters on the walls dedicated to the owner, more Kate Bush rare live imports than you knew existed, current and back copies of Homeground, the classic Kate Bush fanzine – you name it, we had it or we could get it for you. If the owner was working, there was an 85% chance of hearing Kate when you walked into the store. I mean, not only was it a lot of Kate to be exposed to, it meant a lot of exposure to other Kateophiles. I had to become fluent in the ways of Kate, and the more time one spends listening to Ms. Bush, the more one can appreciate, and quite possibly become deeply enthusiastic about “our Kate.”

“December Will Be Magic Again” was one of those elusive Kate Bush tracks that was really hard to track down for a long time.  A single released in 1980, this wasn’t available on CD until the 1990 release of the Kate Bush box set, This Woman’s Work (it also included “Under the Ivy,” another rare KB gem). I played this track a lot that year, and we sold a lot of copies of that box set. It’s definitely a good one to start us off.

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The Posies, Dear 23

In the fall of 1990, I was the sole employee for an independently owned record store located in an unglamorous suburb of Akron, Ohio.  We were located in a long and slender shoebox-shaped space in an unremarkable strip mall located across the street from a televangelist headquarters that had a giant concrete tower and an all-you-can-eat buffet as defining characteristics.

One afternoon, I was opening the mail. We had received the usual miscellany — some invoices, some promotional material, some padded envelopes from labels. I used to open the padded envelopes first. Padded envelopes meant music – usually promos or advanced copies of artists that I could throw on while I opened the rest of the mail.  I opened an envelope from Geffen Records, selected an album by a band called The Posies, stuck it in the player and hit “play.”

Dear 23 was the name of that album, and it was played by me not just once, but repeatedly for hours and then days on end. I worked at the store from 11am til 8 or 9pm daily. By work, I mean “sit around all day, listening to music and turning people on to quality music.”  Dear 23 qualified as quality music (amazing music! genius music!) in my book and everyone needed to hear this. I think I played that album at least six hours a day every day for a month at least. I was in love with this album.

I wrote a review of the album for a local music newspaper:

Is there something in the water in Seattle, Washington?  Many bands from the Seattle area have recently found themselves releasing debut albums on major labels. One of the most promising of these new bands is Geffen recording artists THE POSIES.

Their album, Dear 23, is reminiscent of the music of The Hollies from the sixties. Lush guitars and striking harmonies are found throughout the album, and they sound extraordinarily good.

However, it is not only the music that makes THE POSIES sound so good, they have have a talent for developing dynamic lyrics. The lyrical diversity ranges from the frustrating hopelessness of “Help Yourself” to the gentle admonition in “You Avoid Parties.” Kenneth Stringfellow and Jonathan Auer have been able to unite the intesity of the music with lyrics that are equally intense.

So, if you’re looking for something new, check out this four-man band from Seattle. THE POSIES are a band that has captured the sound of the sixties, while adding a nineties flair.

The Posies came to town in December 1990. My editor called me a couple weeks before the show: “Hey, that band you like is playing at The Empire – do you want to review the show?” Do I?  “Yes, I do!”  I got the name of the label guy and reported to the venue the night of the show.  “Hey, do you want to meet the band?”  Do I want to meet the band? “Yes, I do!” And away we went to the green room, where I encountered four Posies and a deli tray.  And copies of the newspaper with my review in it. I believe the conversation started like this: “You’re the one who wrote that review!?” “You’re the ones who made that awesome album?” and then continued into one of those magical moments that happen when music lovers bond.  The time quickly came for the show to start – “We have to go play – are you going to stick around after the show?” Am I? “Yes, I am” and off we went, the boys headed to the stage while I positioned myself front and center. It was a fine show.

My review  follows:

I must admit, after listening to The Posies Dear 23 I was a bit apprehensive about seeing them live. Visions of Milli Vanilli were haunting me; I could only hope that The Posies were real.  With notebook and pen in hand, I stepped into The Empire Monday night, silently hoping The Posies wouldn’t let me down. As those of you  who saw the show (or heard it on WMMS) know, The Posies are no Milli Vanilli (THANK GOD!). The Posies are, in fact, one of the most powerful, energetic new bands I’ve seen in a long time.

Opening their set with “My Big Mouth,”  the band jumped into some of the more aggressive songs in their repetoire, including “Under Easy” and “Any Other Way.” In case anyone thought that the Posies are a one-dimensional band, Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow reassured the crowd that there is indeed “a kinder, gentler Posies.”  With this said, bassist Rick Roberts and drummer Mike Musburger left the stage, allowing Auer and Stringfellow to show their vocal and instrumental talents on “You Avoid Parties” and “Apology.”  The only disappointment was the lack of the acoustic guitars on these songs, which were used on the album. The electric guitars caused a bit of feedback on “You Avoid Parties,” but it was quickly fixed. The other band members returned for the rest of the set.

It was evident that The Posies really enjoy performing together as they joked and kidded around both with each other and the audience. They seemed as excited to be on stage as the audience was listening to them.

Afterwards, I sat and talked with Ken and Jon for a long time, and promised to keep in touch.