John co-wrote and sang a song that many consider near-perfect: “Starry Eyes,” a staple on alternative radio after it was released in 1979. He died of cancer on Oct. 7 in California. He was 65.
The Records were from England, but for a few years in the mid-1990s, John called Northern Virginia home. Why?
He told me he that his band was more appreciated in the United States than it ever was back home. He’d heard that another song he had composed with fellow Record Will Birch — “Hearts in Her Eyes” — was often performed in concert by locally grown country star Mary Chapin Carpenter.
And he knew that the Records’ music — especially “Starry Eyes” — was played on WHFS, an alternative radio station in Bethesda.
I asked Weasel, a former WHFS DJ, how often he played “Starry Eyes.”
“Almost every day,” he said.
The song is about a crooked manager who stiffs his band, but those particulars are wrapped in such soaring harmonies and chiming guitars that it makes the band’s pain and disillusion worth it. It produced “Starry Eyes,” after all.
Perhaps that’s what we get from the best power pop — the “new wave” genre the Records were so good at: a mix of the salty and the sweet, the raw and the cooked, the cruel and the kind.
In 1995, I would see John and his revamped Records play around town: at places such as Phantasmagoria in Wheaton and Iota in Arlington.
Local musician Kevin Johnson often shared the bill with John. “One of my favorite memories is joining him onstage with my band, the Linemen, to play the Kinks’ ‘Lola,’ ” Kevin wrote me in an email. “The night we performed it at Iota, when he kicked in on the high harmony, it just sent a chill down my spine. His voice was pure as spun gold. And you’ve never met a nicer guy.”
Mike Harvey recorded some demos with John at his Actiondale studio in Annandale, and his band, the High Llamas, gigged with him.
“There was always a bit of Nigel Tufnel in him,” Mike said with affection. “He was funny. We laughed about ‘Spinal Tap.’ ”
Mike, who runs the audio technology program at American University, said that when he was in college, the Records’ music seemed quintessentially British to him. And yet here was John, 15 years later, playing to a small crowd at 15 Mins., a bar at 15th and L streets NW. John always gave it his all.
“He could sing for hours,” Mike said.
After a few years in the Washington area, John moved to Southern California, where he had probably belonged all along. He connected with L.A. musicians who shared his love for the hook, including Debbi Peterson of the Bangles.
Big fame — Elton John fame, Police fame, even Elvis Costello fame — eluded John and the Records, but no one can take “Starry Eyes” away from them.
“I’m proud of that song,” John told me. “WHFS did an alternative music Top 500 recently, and it was Number 323 after all these years.”
London and Los Angeles were the bookends of John Wicks’s career, but for a time, he found a welcoming home in Washington. His music still lives here.
If you suspected there was something a little too precious about a unicycle-riding, barefoot-running hipster from Northeast Minneapolis chiding his neighbors for not sweeping their sidewalks of painful, errant acorns, you were right. Eric Curtis, whom I wrote about in my column Thursday, confessed to BuzzFeed that he had made it all up.
His posts on a neighborhood Facebook page went viral last week after they were shared on Twitter.
“I started it for a laugh,” Eric wrote me in a Facebook message Thursday. “I didn’t think it would gain national coverage, but once it did I figured I had to take it as far as I could. In the end I hope people got some entertainment out of it.”
Alex Conover, the fellow Minneapolitan who shared Eric’s posts with the world, wrote to me in an email: “He’s a very skilled troll. Maybe even genius level.”
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/john-kelly.