How I Spent My Vacation

Mitch Ryder

J-Bird Records, 1978

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/05/2000

A few months ago, my buddy at J-Bird Records sent me a bunch of re-releases from Mitch Ryder. You remember Ryder, don't you? With his band the Detroit Wheels, he left his permanent mark on '60s rock with "Devil With The Blue Dress/Good Golly Miss Molly."

Well, apparently this wasn't the style of music that Ryder wanted to play, and he was creatively stifled by the industry. When he finally started recording on his own, he let out all of his aggression. How I Spent My Vacation, Ryder's 1978 release, is an example of that -- but sometimes Ryder's choice of subject matter in his songs is highly questionable.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

This disc marked the end of Ryder's five-year self-imposed exile from the music business. And right out of the gate, Ryder showed that he was pissed off -- though at whom, it's hard to tell. Take "Tough Kid," the album's opening track. Sample lyric: "Open your mouth you failure, shoot off a gun / Nobody's gonna miss you anyway when your [sic] gone." Musically, it's a sound effort -- but the sheer anger of this one leaves me confused, and it takes all the musical fire out of the track.

Nothing, however, prepares you for "Cherry Poppin'". I listened to this track several times, each time asking myself, "Did he really say what I think he said?" Believe it, bucko. On one side, you could say that the, aah, creative imagery Ryder uses here is meant to express anger at how he was treated by the music industry early in his career. But on the other hand, one wonders if Ryder was asked to become the spokesman for NAMBLA after cutting this track. Mitch, c'mon, man to man... what the fuck were you thinking when you wrote this one, huh?

Yet there are times when How I Spent My Vacation shows the talents of Ryder and his fellow bandmates, and makes you wonder why Ryder wasn't allowed to plow his own musical path earlier in his career. "Dance Ourselves To Death" is highlighted by the solid performance of his backing band, while "Passions Wheel" and "Freezin' In Hell" allow Ryder to show a gentler side to himself.

Still, How I Spent My Vacation is as difficult to listen to as sitting through five carousels of vacation shots when you go visit relatives you hate. "Nice & Easy" and "Poster" are very difficult tracks to get through, though there are occasional signs of hope in both songs. Even a song like "The Jon," which is one of the better tracks, occasionally steeps itself into non sequitur babbling lyrically.

Was it a good idea for Ryder to come back into the musical scene with such raw nerves exposed? I don't know the answer to that, but I do know that How I Spent My Vacation is an occasionally disturbing picture that might seem satisfying to some, scary to others, and I have difficulty recommending this one.

Rating: C-

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© 2000 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of J-Bird Records, and is used for informational purposes only.