Sunday, January 18, 2009
Top 10 Original Bottoms
1. Playground in My Mind – Clint Holmes
Call me Mike.
Mike is not my actual name and it’s certainly not the only one to which I’ve every answered.
At age 10, for reasons to be disclosed later, I was deemed Humper by my parochial school playmates. Charming, no?
In high school, because of a similar-sounding surname association with Hollywood’s Van Patten family, friends called me Vince. The other, more obvious, option would have been Dick. I lucked out on that one.
Less benign – and only appreciated much later in life – was my other high-school moniker, arising in part from my preoccupation with cinema, but mostly from being a bespectacled fatboy with a predilection for sweater-vests: “Ebert.”
Then, in the early 1990s, I re(anti)christened myself Selwyn Harris. It was a commingling of the names of the last two grindhouse theaters on New York’s salacious
42nd Street entertainment strip (pun very much intended with that last word), the final holdovers from the city’s pre-AIDS, pre-crack, pre-sensible-adults-in-charge heyday.
Of that time and of those places, one might say, as Simon and Garfunkel did decades earlier, that Selwyn Harris took some comfort there.
In the beginning, though, I was Mike or, more specifically, Michael.
And circa 1973, Michael was the worst possible name anybody could wish on a ruddy-cheeked, blue-eyed kindergartener whose bowl haircut got him mistaken uncomfortably often for a girl.
The reason? One man and one AM radio smash – namely, biracial song-and-dance dork Clint Holmes, who charted high with a schmaltztastic discharge of childhood reminiscence titled “Playground in My Mind,” the sing-song chorus of which goes:
My name is Michael
I got a nickel
I got a nickel, shiny and new
I’m gonna buy me
All sorts of candy
That’s what I’m gonna do
Thus, from age four-and-a-half until “Playground in My Mind” slipped from the public mind and/or I morphed from an adorable towhead into a constantly distraught, fey, overweight nebbish – right about when I turned 10 – any time I was introduced to anyone, the person I met inevitably burst into:
“My name is My-kull, I got a nick-kull…”
I couldn’t stand it.
By any sane measure, “Playground in My Mind” is a dreadful thing. I write that as a devoted fan of the softest of soft rock, the bubbliest of bubblegum and all manner of contrived pop-cult nonsense. Still, Mr. Holmes’ treacle is just … indigestible.
Especially egregious in “Playground” is how, when the chorus comes around, Holmes’ semi-soulful, pseudo-Tom-Jonesish tenor is joined by a pinched-testicle falsetto back-up vocalist meant to suggest his Inner Li’l Clint exploding into the Wonder of Music. The true horror occurs in the second chorus:
My girl is Cindy
When we get married
We’re gonna have a baby or two
We’re gonna let them
Visit their grandma
That’s what we’re gonna do
The only strand of luck in all this is that I didn’t know anybody named Cindy until my late teens and, by that point, she spelled her name Syndi anyway.
Cruel Irony #1 of this post-toddler, pre-prepubescent punishment was that Michael isn’t even my name. Legally, today, I am William Michael McPadden. But that’s not what my birth certificate reads.
On August 21, 1968, the Great State of New York welcomed to its citizenry a newborn officially deemed “Male McPadden.”
Male – as in my gender, as in I was taken home from Brooklyn’s Methodist Hospital with nothing formal to call me, as in this lack of proper nomenclature speaks volumes.
I came about as the result of a physical union between a Flatbush kindergarten teacher and a Green Beret who, at the time of my arrival, was sweating it out in the jungles of Vietnam.
I’d like to imagine that my being stemmed from an act of affection. However, my parents’ post-partum argument as to what to call me – a berserk dust-up conducted across a distance in excess of 7,000 miles – suggests that maybe their relations were as, let’s say, off-the-goddamned-wall from the start as they would remain forever after.
Mom wanted me to be William. It was a family tradition – her father was William and his first-born son was William, too. So that was precisely the issue Pops had with the whole idea: her family.
He viewed my grandfather as a skinflint pain in the ass, and my uncle as an insidious hippie and, while not insanely off-point on either assessment, he preferred the name Michael regardless.
Michael – as in the Archangel, as in the patron saint of soldiers and police officers, as in the sword-wielding winged dynamo who cast Satan and his minions into Hell after serving as God’s General during the War in Heaven (read your Ezekiel – it’s in there).
Here on Earth, Pops clearly had some expectations of his boy.
Several days subsequent to my joining the diaper-soiling set, those two loons compromised. For documentation purposes, I would be William Michael McPadden, but they’d call me Michael.
Michael – as in (a few years later), the diabetes-inducing dipshit from Clint Holmes’s “Playground in My Mind.”
2. Little Willy – Sweet
Cruel Irony #2 is that simultaneous with the Top 40 rise of “My name is Michael” was that of one of pop-rock’s most perfect concoctions, a thrilling amalgam of candy-metal guitar bombast and nursery-rhyme irresistibility.
That song was “Little Willy” by an English glam five-piece known, appropriately, as Sweet.
And had my parents not saddled me (after intercontinental combat) with a out-of-order moniker that has caused me no end of irritation from that stupid Clint Holmes chant to constant explanations when it comes time to cash a check. “Little Willy” is what people would have serenaded me with when I was growing up.
This lesson I learned early: life is not Sweet.
3. Half-Breed – Cher
I heard some older neighbor kids singing "Half Breed" along with the radio. I thought it was "Care Free," like the gum. Later, I sang "Care Free," trying to be cool. They were nice to me, but I felt like a tool. And that's a truly misheard lyric, unlike "Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy."
4. Live and Let Die – Wings
Whenever it got to the really James Bondish part, I’d always slide my eyes back and forth, all spy-like. Until I got busted.
5. The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald – Gordon Lightfoot
More misheard foolishness, specifically the line, “The gales of November came early,” which I took to be, “The GIRLS of November came early,” and it made me picture some girls from my third-grade class – led by the impossibly luminous Deidre Flynn – wearing bikinis. In November.
6. Reminiscing – The Little River Band
The closest I ever came to getting massacred by a homicidal pedophile (that I know) occurred when I was playing miniature golf with my friend Mickey Cosgrove in Keansburg, New Jersey.
“Reminiscing” was playing in the arcade, and I imagined the words describing my life in 60 years or so, as I sat with my wife (who I met in college, but who also may have been my next-door-neighbor Lisa) looking back on our decades of romance. Reminiscing about those thoughts makes me wish that the child-eater had consumed me whole.
7. I’d Really Love to See You Tonight – England Dan and John Ford Coley
After seeing England Dan and John Ford Coley perform on American Bandstand, I spent the afternoon in my grandmother’s downstairs bathroom, spinning the dial on her transistor radio toilet paper holder, hoping to hear the song again. I did, several times, and I thought it really, really rocked.
8. Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road – Elton John
In the wake of Manson devotee Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme’s attempt on the life of President Gerald Ford, Time magazine ran a topless shot of her (and another half-naked Charlie groupie).
This was a sight I could not possibly stare at long enough. To keep my cover, though, I put the magazine inside sheet music for “Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road” at my aunt’s house, and I just sat transfixed.
Eventually, she caught on to what I was doing and took my Squeaky away. Then we drove my grandmother to the airport. She was flying to Rome to go see the pope.
9. Pretty Vacant - Sex Pistols
It was 1977 and I lived in New York City and the first word in their name was the topic by which I was most head-spinningly captivated so, yeah, I was hip to the Pistols. I never actual heard their music, though, until they appeared on some recklessly eclectic CBS variety special wherein Telly Savalas touted their appearance by announcing: “Coming up, the FABULOUS Sex Pistols.”
So these four malnourished hobos fired up their instruments and one started screaming and, no, this is not the part where I talk about seeing God and understanding why I was put on this earth and how everything up to that moment was in black-and-white and now – POW – I experienced life in Technicolor.
I just thought the Sex Pistols were soil-your-shorts hilarious.
Really, I thought they were incompetent and I couldn’t believe this was being passed off as entertainment, and the whole scam cracked me up.
Prior to “Pretty Vacant,” two other musical moments struck me as similarly “who-do-they-think-they’re-fooling” uproarious: the first time I heard Jim Morrison sing “Light My Fire” and the very idea of Sonny Bono’s voice on “I Got You Babe.”
Years later, I learned to love the Sex Pistols -– as well as Sonny & Cher – straight up. But at some point, the Doors elicited anything from me but smiles.
10. The Things We Do for Love – 10cc
The Olympic-sized, open-to-the-public Belvedere pool in Keansburg attracted all kinds of cool teenagers, along with nine-year-old me, who walked around when this song came over the PA system conducting imaginary conversations with them. Actually, it was just them talking to me, saying stuff like “Great party!” and “Your private pool with a snack bar and pinball machines is far-out!” – but just in my head. I was there alone. Nobody was talking to me. And vice versa. Had I been wise, I'd have gotten used to that set-up. But wise, I am not, guy.