With 3 kids to care for on schoolteacher salaries, my parents were only occasional, bargain bin record collectors. Thus, a random Elvis, Brenda Lee or Beach Boys album might, infrequently, be found floating throughout the family area as I grew up. I was fascinated most, though, by my dad’s copy of Roberta Flack’s Quiet Fire. The cover of this LP seemed to suggest maturity and strength, a wave of artistic expression that I would only begin to understand as I grew older. This youthfully imagined, hushed sophistication has rightfully defined much of Flack’s gorgeous output.
But anyone who has listened to her joyous take on Gwen Gutherie’s God Don’t Like Ugly knows that she also can embrace a joyful place of popishness. Other surprises loom due to the placement of her songs in such celluloid projects as Body Rock, Killer Condom and X-Men: Days of Future Past. Interestingly, on that same cinematic track, her classic recording Killing Me Softly was recently used to potent effect in the very popular neo-slasher offering Fear Street: Part One – 1994.
That song is a classic, tucked securely into the pantheon of top tunes via The Fugees’ incredibly popular 1996 cover, but Flack also brings immeasurably intense beauty to lesser-known tunes, such as Jimmy Webb’s I’ll See You Then, the closing song of QF’s first side.
For decades my grandfather Kirst worked at the Niagara Mohawk coal plant in WNY. It was a backbreaking job that was accentuated and/or offset by his wicked sense of humor and love for the written word. One year when I was 6 or 7, he and my grandmother decided to play a joke on me – one that they had probably been anticipating for years. They just had to wait until I was old enough to understand. So, finally, in that moment of my glimmering consciousness, they wrapped up a gloriously shiny chunk and placed it under the tree – a behaviorist coal in your stocking moral come to late winter’s life. The whole family breathlessly waited as I opened it up, expecting me to jokingly howl in protest. I surely hadn’t been bad enough to deserve this as a gift!!
Unfortunately, they hadn’t realized the extent of my grade school angst. “It’s coal, Brian, it’s coal!” they chanted as I sat, bewildered, staring at it. I could tell my grandparents and everyone who witnessed the unveiling were disappointed. They thought the joke had failed. It hadn’t. I knew what it was. I was just lost, as I always seemed to be, endlessly in my head. Was there a hint of reality in this bit of humor? Did everyone, deep down, really believe that I was a bad kid? Even then, I could multiply my darkest thoughts without much effort, so I sat there adding up all the small betrayals and petty lies I had conjured over the past twelve months. Perhaps, I really was only worthy of inky stone at holiday gatherings – and here it was, an instance of truth behind the laughter shining into life. Of course, other gifts were soon dispersed and those thoughts were quickly put behind me.
But on these first few days of freezing seasonal temps here in Chicago, the memory of this evening comes rollicking back and I wish I could tell my grandfather (and all those there long lost) that their game then was strictly on point. But as with any other youthful sport I attempted, I was eternally bound for the sidelines – the minutiae of analysis, my propensity to view both sides of the coin fully, already doing me in.
Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan