When I was a kid in New Jersey, shopping for tapes at Wall-to-Wall Sound or Beaky’s at the Quaker Bridge Mall (judging by their eerily identical layouts, inventories, and employees, the two stores were owned by the same corporation), I often marveled at the extensive selection of albums by the band UFO: a good two feet of wall space devoted to what seemed a good dozen different records I’d never heard of, all of them with evocatively rockin’ titles like Force It and No Heavy Petting. Their spines were identically blue, de rigueur for any Chrysalis Records release (the tapes by Blondie, Jethro Tull, and Ten Years After were blue, too), and, even though they were sealed, they were all $3.99. And yet even $3.99 seemed too steep. Zeppelin, I would buy; Rush, absolutely; Aerosmith and AC/DC, surely, and clearly UFO churned out the same low-octane junk rock that I dug at the time. But there was something sad about those UFO tapes, a sense that whatever it was they were kicking, they were kicking it a little more desperately, and in decidedly smaller venues. They seemed to be the kind of thing my Greek cousin, who had posters of Rory Gallagher and Rainbow in his Athens bedroom, was into.
Twenty years later I’m on my knees, scrounging through the slush pile at the end of a summer day, and I come across Chrysalis’s new Best of UFO (1974–1983). Even now I’m not taking these guys seriously: I figure I’ll leave the CD on my coworker’s desk, and the next morning we’ll have a good chuckle about how lame UFO are. Dusting myself off, heading back toward the copy department, I run into the editor in chief.
“What’ve you got there, Will?” he asks pleasantly.
I choke when I’m around this man. I’ve had the chance to speak to him maybe four or five times in the last year and a half, and it’s limited to quips and witty rejoinders, neither my forte, and I always manage to sound like a dolt.
“Oh, just some UFO,” I say.
“UFO? Who the hell is that?”
For as long as I’ve worked here, I’ve wanted to write about music; here was my modest chance to impress the magazine’s top dog with all the junk I’ve been stuffing into my head all these years. Who knows—if I’m slick, maybe the vacant music-blogging spot could be mine, snatched from the expectant jaws of some editorial assistant ten years younger than me. I could’ve at least told him that UFO was a hard-rock band from the 1970s anchored by a dude named Michael Schenker. I knew that much. A decent bluff.
I laugh dismissively. “I have no idea,” I say, by which I hope to imply, I’m way too cool to know about this crap. He laughs, too, and walks away. I stand there, alone, next to the coffee maker, holding my free copy of The Best of UFO. Conversation squashed for a cheap laugh. I should’ve known that my shitty attitude toward UFO would one day come back to haunt me.
My mother doesn’t really watch TV anymore; instead, every night she plays hand after hand of Bridge Baron on an ancient laptop, with satellite channel 6030—the godforsaken Sirius Coffee House—in the background. There’s a lot of Jakob Dylan, Josh Ritter, Josh Jakobs, Dylan Richter. You know, pantyboys singing damply through their panties. One night I could stand no more and showed her that there were other satellite radio stations out there, too: Left of Center, The Vault, the all-Bruce one, and so on. After an extensive, hot-air-filled lesson on how to operate the remote, I left her listening to some Springsteen show from ’93.
When I came back half an hour later, she was still sitting there under her blanket, tapping away at Bridge Baron, only now she was rocking out to the most propulsively smokin’ jam the four walls of my family’s TV room had ever witnessed; wedged between ultratight-trouser vocals and 120 hammering beats per minute, there was a totally sick riff splintering, melting, then miraculously reconstituting itself at what must have been at least the six-minute mark. I think you know where this is going.
My mom had found Sirius BuzzSaw: Classic Hard Rock. And she was diggin’ herself some “Rock Bottom” by UFO. And, I’ll be damned, I was too.