Loggins and Messina, Loggins And Messina, 1972
Some songs you need to keep close to you for completely random reasons. Here's the story with this one, a hilarious country-rock monstrosity from the days of sleeveless, cable-knit sweater vests, awesome beards, and mid-song bass solos.
It is the summer of 1992. I am driving across the country from California after my first year of teaching to go back home to Maryland for a few weeks in the summer because I basically can't figure out what else to do. I am driving by myself, so I want to do the trip as fast as possible. We are in the days before iPods or satellite radio, so the entire passanger seat of my car is a pile of tapes and CDs. I don't have a CD player in my car (too fancy for me) so I have to use a Discman and one of those cassette adapters, which means I have to change the batteries every four hours or so-- there's also a huge stack of AA batteries in the glove compartment.
This is the itinerary that I follow:
Phase 1-- San Francisco to rest stop somewhere in Nebraska on I-80 (20 hours)
Sleep in back of car for six hours.
Phase 2-- Nebraska to Indianapolis, IN (spring for truly tragic hotel room) (17 hours)
Phase 3-- Indianapolis IN to Annapolis, MD (11 hours)
That is a dumb, ill-advised way to travel across the country, but I was young and broke, and it made every conversation with every gas station clerk and Dairy Queen window attendant (and the cop who gave me a speeding ticket for going 68 in a 65) extremely meaningful. Luckily, midwesterners are incredibly, genuinely friendly, so I had long conversations about corn-infused gasoline (Gasohol) and life in Iowa while filling either the car or me up.
On the way home, I've even dumber:
Phase 1-- Maryland to Champaign-Urbana IL to stay with friend from high school (hey, Sally). (12 1/2 hours, plus a day of hanging out)
Phase 2-- Champaign-Urbana IL to... San Francisco. Non-stop. (34 hours)
You read that correctly. I drove for 34 straight hours, by myself, from Illinois to San Francisco, across some of the most boring real estate in the world. Why? Because I could, I guess. It was the kind of decision that a lonely, bored 22 year-old makes. I thought I'd get back home and have more summer in CA. Instead, the effort of doing that ridiculous leg made me sick as hell for a week.
Somewhere around 4am of that night, in the desolate Wyoming darkness, I realized that I wasn't what one would call completely awake. I decided to see how long I could go without blinking. I made myself blink at 45 minutes to make sure I wasn't dead. I had entered a completely zen, half-life state. I just guided the car's headlights in between the lines of the road. I had not seen another vehicle, even a truck, for hours. At 5am, I decided that I better pull over, so I paid attention for the next exit.
Have you been through Wyoming on I-80? You get about five chances to pull over in the entire state. I had just passed Rawlins, and the next town was Rock Springs, about 100 miles away. The interstate was under construction, so there was no shoulder, and no rest stop. Moreover, when I had last pulled over for gas at Midnight, a huge, filthy, drenched (it had been pouring) obviously insane hairy guy in a camoflage poncho with a hand-written sign saying "EAST" had asked me for a ride (happily, I was headed "WEST"), and he'd spooked me a bit about trying the "sleep in the rest stop" plan again.
So I had to grin and bear it-- I had gotten myself into this stupid mess, and now it was time to see how much I wanted to survive. I was out of junk food and caffeine. The Discman's batteries had given out, and I couldn't reach or find replacements. Desperate, I turned on the radio for help.
Have you ever listened to Wyoming radio? Not a lot of choices, especially in 1992. Here's what scanning the dial got me on FM:
"Some people seem to think that the words of Jesus... are about peace. WRONG!!"
Modern country music.
"Fiery pits of HELL!!!"
Modern country music.
That's it. Two stations, equally unappealing. The religious barker would have turned me away from God, and the modern country music would have made me crash the car on purpose to try to meet Him. I began to panic, and switched to AM.
Scan... nothing. I go around the WHOLE dial once without catching anything, but then my radio pulls up a miraculously clean signal of a station playing the very end of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Gimme Three Steps."
This song is what comes on next, and I'm a fan for life. After these eight minutes, I feel like I've had a nap and a shower. When I hit Rock Springs at 6:30am, I just kept on going and going and going until I was home. "Angry Eyes" was my guardian angel.
If you had asked me to predict which song would do that, it would not have been this one. Loggins* and Messina are responsible for two of my least favorite songs-- the "I'm so in love with you honey" song that people make bands play at weddings, and "House At Pooh Corner." I have particular venom for that one because I've heard six or two thousand (I lost count) a cappella groups sing it, and I really dislike a cappella. It's not just because in college the a cappella groups would draw 800 people to a show while the rock bands played to... the other fourteen surly guys in the other rock bands. Well, maybe that's the main reason. But I still hate it-- all the cutesy arrangements, and swaying back and forth, and "Let's all wear suits that we got for our Bar Mitzvahs" outfits, and the "Let's have the guy who can't sing do percussion" beatboxing, and the skits, and the cheesy, Broadway arrangements that ruin songs we all love-- I saw a group do "Where The Streets Have No Name," and half the band "sang" The Edge's guitar part through the whole thing by going "Dunka-dunka-dunka-dunka" over and over. Some nights I still wake up screaming. Yes, I'm bitter and judgmental, but so was Ethan Hawke in Reality Bites, and he was right about a lot of things also.
Irony is when the actual meaning is the complete opposite from the literal meaning.
So those of you who were in a cappella groups, feel free to write in and defend yourselves. Or, I can keep your identities secret, and you can continue to live taunt-free adult lives. Your choice.
Back to Loggins and Messina. Under any other circumstances, this terribly conceived song whose faults are numerous would never have garnered much attention from me, but it's precisely those faults that attracted my attention enough to pull me back into the land of conscious thought and safe driving.
"Angry Eyes" is a really funny attempt to be a bunch of different genres all at once. It starts off as a classic 70s swamp-rock tune, all Doobie Brotherish, but Loggins' twangy vocal puts us right into country singer-songwriter world. The chorus invents the sound The Eagles would shamelessly rip off for the next eight years, and the lyrics are right up Glenn Frey's misogynistic alley as well (see Blog #17 for a more complete Eagles analysis)-- "Well I bet you wish you could cut me down with those angry eyes." The lyrics to this song are a total throwaway. Woman looks angrily at man. Man notices. Fini.
That covers the first minute, and the 2:25 single version never leaves that territory. But at 5am, that DJ on that little tiny AM station wasn't about to be bothered changing a record that quickly. I thankfully got the full, 7:45 minute album version, 'cause that's where the fun stuff is. Things get very weird and quickly at 1:15. Without warning, we get a full horn section playing a Steely Dan-style chart for twenty seconds, right into a BASS SOLO. A bass solo ninety seconds in. I can understand having a bass solo in a twenty minute epic, but after ONE chorus? That's just lazy. That's followed by a soprano sax and xylophone dueling solos section that continues for the next two minutes. I am not inventing this. You're listening to it, right? Doesn't it sounds like the Stones' "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" played on the instruments they gave you to mess around with in elementary school music class? That's when I really perked up in the car. I thought I was hallucinating. "Is that a... a xylophone?" And it is. NOT a vibraphone, the much more cool, electrified option, but an old-fashioned, "OK kids, now we're going to learn Pop Goes The Weasel" XYLOPHONE! Needless to say, I was intrigued.
The guitar returns at 3:00, but the sax isn't done hitting that high note. We get not one, not two, but three "WAAAAAAAAAAAA!!" from the sax player. It cracks me up every time. "Not yet! Not yet! This is my moment!" By 3:30, we're in classic 70s guitar solo land. This could be a Chicago track at this point. At 4:00, the guitar starts to lose ideas or interests in things, and he plays a bizarre, angular figure that, in a live context, would mean "I'm done. Someone else take it." No such luck-- the band just keeps on goin', so the guitar has to also. For another full minute! It's the most tired, "I wish this were over" guitar solo I've ever heard on a studio recording.
At 5:00, the drummer suddenly switches to double time randomly, but no one in the band follows. He tries again. Strike two. What is going to save this endless tune? A FLUTE SOLO at 5:25!! Seriously, were instruments just lying around? Did the guitar player put down his guitar dejectedly, having failed the band and the track, see the flute, and think, "Ah, what the hell?" Now we're in the Jethro Tull wilderness, all jazzy guitar single note arpeggios and a meandering flute. It has been FIVE MINUTES since the band sang the chorus. At this point, we're heading into prog-land. This one minute section wouldn't be out of place on a Yes record.
And then... after almost six full minutes of some of the most random jamming committed to tape, we're back to the beginning! The band gives us 45 seconds of pop-country rock, and even tries to join the drummer in double time for the last few seconds, and we're out.
It killed me, and I found myself blurting out the chorus randomly for the next twelve hours. I couldn't wait to get home and tell people about this crazy track.
And now I have.
If I asked you to name the one song that got your heart racing, NO ONE would mention this one. It's a time capsule relic. But I don't care-- for the rest of my life, singing "Angry Eyeee-zzzzz!" will be like getting a Vitamin B-12 shot.
I always wonder who that DJ was who played me that song, who was bothering to broadcast anything to that empty section of Wyoming nothingness-- he must have been broadcasting from his car, since I was in the middle of nowhere and the signal faded to nothing five minutes after this tune. I drove on and away, bringing, gratefully, this little piece of unforgettable detritus with me.
* Kenny Loggins also wrote the theme songs for Caddyshack and Footloose, which deserve a loving blog of their own.