Cartooning Like You Mean It

Cartooning, Teaching & Living – by Tom Hart

What I did on the internet instead of donating money to rebuild the Gulf Coast, or aiding refugees in Lebanon, or anything that would contribute in some way to the betterment of the world volume 1: Billy Squier

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Instead, I spent two hours downloading and rockin out to Billy Squier.

I remember being 14 and being at my friend Steve’s house and for whatever reason he asked me who my favorite band or musician was. Like, when push comes to show, name ONE.

He was sure I’d say Billy Joel but I said another Billy: Billy Squier and his jaw dropped. I still think of that reaction today- often, in fact. Screw it!

Billy Squier basically took blues (read: “butt”) riffs, wrote loud, formulaic songs on top and sang the hell out of them. Listening to a few of these songs today, I’m still impressed by how great his voice is. He really belts these things out. He’s a loud, breathy second-rate Robert Plant. Awesome.

His records were perfect for dancing around in your room at 14, belting the hell out of these things. The lyrics were stupid and formulaic, and resonated only if you believed you had something to be gained by devoting your time to “rockin.”

“Make me guilty of love in the first degree” hardly sounds sexy, enticing or criminal, does it?

I remember hearing on USA network’s NIGHT FLIGHT (which basically saved my life by the way- I saw Laurie Anderson and Kate Bush there for the first time. PBS’s “Alive from Off Center” followed to continue the rescue) that Billy blamed a dip in his career on the director of this video. He might be right.

But he could have NOT dressed himself in those pink shirts. He didn’t have to dress like a new member of a Jenny Craig gym. He didn’t have to hump the floor. He could have just strangled his Telecaster like he was ejaculating all over the stage; now there’s a good rocker.

I’m fascinated by a couple moments in this video, One in particular at about 1:14: the way his mouth moves, he draws breath, he gathers the juices in his mouth, washes them around the inside before belting the first occurrence of the refrain, “Take Me in your Arms.” It’s weird and sexy. All the crawling around on the floor was supposed to be, but wasn’t.

The album this is from (“Signs of Life”) was produced by Bat Out Of Hell’s Jim Steinman, and had more keyboards than usual, and frankly it was a really moving album in places. I was surprised by how much all this stuff still grabbed me. (“She’s a Runner” (apparently written about a skateboard queen in L.A.) is terrific.) It’s the forcefulness of it all. The conviction, the dedication to “rockin'” (in the pink, New Wave 80s) that is totally tangible and exciting..

Billy still plays- he’s touring with Ringo Starr’s band right now. I bet he’s a great performer, active, loud, excitable.

He’s still got integrity. Look to these two exchanges from a recent interview:

Q. You’ve been asked to appear on “Where-are-they-now” shows but turned them down.

A.Without a second thought. I think those things are horrifying. These are desperate people. I’m not trying to cast aspersions, but I would like to hold onto whatever integrity I still have.

Q.In hindsight, what was the worst thing about the ’80s?

A.MTV! It completely changed the face of music. For me, music is this incredibly cerebral trip. You turn on the radio or put on a record, and it’s your song, it’s what you see. When MTV came along, you didn’t have your story anymore

He did a stripped down guitar-and-vocals only album in 1998 that featured of all things, a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “River.” **I’ve never heard this. Downloads -legal or otherwise- are hard to find.

Enjoy and be sure to

**A final note. I was having dinner with Roxanne and her dad in 1994, and we were talking about Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” album. Rox and I were both surprised that her left-brain, eggheady, linquist father was a huge fan. “Can you guess what my favorite song on it is?” I guessed “River” in 2 seconds and was right. What clearer, simpler emotional statement is there than ” I wish I could run away…”?


Written by hutchowen

August 5, 2006 at 11:36 pm

One Response

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  1. Um, dude? He did too have to hump the floor. This is a great post! You always say you can’t remember your childhood or cute li’l stories about yourself–this is an awesome memento. I liked what he had to say about not doing a special on himself. Makes me like him more. BS was weird for me–he emerged out of nowhere and was suddenly this institional rocker I mean judging from the way his stuff got MTV and radio play, he was Billy Squire, natch. He never seemed to have a newbie phase.

    Skip Major

    August 7, 2006 at 7:37 pm

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