Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Al Wilson: Show and Tell (1973)
This is sort of the Raymond Chandler variation on the music review. It didn't take me long at all to figure out how I felt about this relatively obscure '70s soul LP (which happens to contain a huge but now forgotten hit, the title track) but I have spent the proceeding week or so trying to remember why in the hell I have it in the first place. I put it on as part of the ongoing work of trying to keep the old hard drive cleaned up and it's obvious that it was at some point very important to me to have a digital copy of the album -- it's a rather low-quality needledrop with plenty of vinyl cracks and pops, for which I assume I trolled the internet devotedly. It is thoroughly unremarkable, though certainly competent. So why on earth did I work so hard to find it?
I cautiously began to retrace my steps -- not out of any hope it would provide insight into the music so much as offer me a complete understanding of how and why I do the things I fuckin' do. First off, I downloaded the record in January 2009, at which point I had a regular DJing gig. It begins to come back, slightly. The whiskey. Yeah. I remember... the vaguest wisp of something, the notion of not the hit but the album-ending oddity "A Song, for You" (adorably placed comma there) rescuing me a bit on a night when I was very sick, lifted only by the whiskey and Coke offered by the bartender. I seem to remember its drama being a good fit for the evening, 2:00am or something, and the lights started to blur a bit.
But no. In order for me to play "A Song, for You" on stage that night I would've had to not only have the song in my possession already, I would've had to listen to the whole album enough to parse it out as a standout. The search continued.
Then I remembered the Christmas party, where someone was playing Tears for Fears records on a turntable whose pitch was not properly adjusted. It wasn't all that noticeable during the Tears for Fears album. I was drinking red wine that time. It was very noticeable during Madonna's first album, Madonna. Madonna's already high-pitched, piercing tone was too much to handle at 38rpm. So someone put on their iPod and had this album for some reason. And played it, then played it again. On an endless loop for hours, while we talked. I spoke to a gentleman from California and we discovered we knew all of the same people growing up but had somehow never met (he was from here originally) so as the oddly warm Christmas night passed around us we greatly enjoyed trading stories of our former cohorts. And Al Wilson was singing away the whole time and the record sounded pretty darn good to me, but I must've been especially into "A Song, for You" and the ridiculous cheating anthem "Moonlightin'" because I also seem to have played it at least once at a DJ set, during the Wilmington Exchange Festival the following May. But I remember rating the album highly in my mind -- and I think, on hearing it now and realizing it kind of blows, that I had just come to associate its grooves with a refreshing, satisfying conversation between adults and basically good times being had, and that can do wonders for any old thing, food or music or whatever.
I remember the California guy saying several times "This is really good, isn't it?" and "Man, this is great." As I said in the last paragraph, all I knew was someone had this on their iPod "for some reason." Recalling the conversation, I tracked down the California gent on Twitter and asked him "Remember when we were hanging out on Christmas that time  listening to Al Wilson on the front porch? Yeah that was fun."
He said "No, I don't remember that. Who's Al Wilson?"
"Didn't you have his minor hit record, Show and Tell, on your iPod?"
"Okay." Not wanting to pressure the poor guy, via Twitter, I sheepishly added "Do you have any idea whose iPod it was?"
"Jesus, dude." I pressured the poor guy. "That was three fucking years ago. Try Lucy."
Lucy was the owner of the front porch on which we were sitting. I had no idea where Lucy was these days, so I began an exhaustive search using such innovative utilities as classmates.com and Yahoo! People Finder. Eventually someone directed me to her "Facebook page" so I messaged her there and she had this to say:
I think it's really weird that you remember this and want to talk about it. kind of creepy seriously
but you are welcome to come by and have a chat. my office is located at [ADDRESS REMOVED]
It is several days before I can make the appointment without arousing suspicion. When I finally do, I am shocked to find that Lucy now works in an office occupied by seventeen cats. She dropped her iPod while touring the Rockies this summer and is sorry to tell me she has no idea how or why she downloaded the album but it probably involved a long-running quest on her and her roommate's part to uncover "all the best slow jams."
She offers me another cup of tea and asks me to leave before her next client is due to arrive. I walk out onto the porch with the sun in my eyes and reflect that there are some things it's best not to know, for sure. Because you'll always wonder. And isn't that wonderful?
Also this album is pretty boring, and very little of this actually happened. Buh-bye!