Tuesday, September 29, 2009

VINYL DESTINATION 8: Reckless Country Soul



In 1981, Jason Ringenberg decided to leave his career pig farming in Southern Illinois and head to Nashville to begin a music career.

Thank God.

He met up with three other cats that along with him would comprise the Nashville Scorchers. Warner Hodges, who plays guitar like the thing's trying to get away from him, Perry Baggs, the guy who won an audition playing drums with pieces of tree, and Jeff Johnson, a heavy-bag puncher of a bass player.

Good stuff on the first recording, essentially taped in the engineer's house, a studio area comprised of the living room and a section of hallway.

"Cowpunk", it was called. The name fits.

The 4 song ep begins with "Shot Down Again", a song that starts like a country ballad before ending like surf-punk, continues with "Broken Whiskey Glass", a fantastic song that made it reworked (and weaker) onto their major label debut, and also features a cover of "Jimmie Rodger's Last Blue Yodel" and a rollicking version of Hank Williams' "I'm so Lonesome I could cry"

This is really good country/punk/rockabilly created by a band that in the liner notes of their "greatest hits", it's stated was "too rock for country and too country for rock" pertaining to radio airplay.

Shame, really. I didn't discover it until 7 years ago, and I wish I had earlier. A CD version was released on Mammoth a few years back containing some Sun Studios material recorded around the same time including a ripping "Hello Walls" among others.

Reckless, indeed.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

HALLOWEEN HEROES 4:



Director Steven Mena is obviously very influenced by John Carpenter. Some people would even maybe go so far as to call this film a rip-off of JC, with a touch of "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" thrown in. If it is indeed a rip-off, it's a well done one

Mena is one of few modern movie-makers working straight with 35 mm, which is an art form in an of itself. Crabby cameras, touchy lightwork, temperature effects, all add up to a more complicated affair than modern digital work. But God, are the colors beautiful, and there's nothing like the visual effect of a panoramic widescreen film. "Malevolence" is what Mena gives you, all of that in spades.

This movie was a bitch to make. Less than $100,000 budget, no-name actors, beginners to the film industry in the crew that found themselves wanting out of the business after this was done. Shame, because their work is fantastic. Mena wrote and performed his own score, as well as writing and directing. Tak Fujita did beautiful director of photography work, and the unknown cast does not come off that way at all.

"Malevolence" is intended as the 2nd part of a trilogy, shot out of order for budget constraints. A serial killer is bestowing his art upon a boy at the beginning. The boy grows up to be the beast he is trained to be. The payoff is why and how. In between, a creepy and often scary movie. Camera trickery, production design, and very little in the area of gore effects put you in the mode of a good spooky movie for the Halloween season. This is a good choice.

Yes, John Carpenter's presence can be felt here. In the overly gore-ridden and poorly acted movies that pass for today's horror films, is that a bad thing?

Mena's second film was a comedy called "Brutal Massacre" about a third rate horror film director trying to make a comeback. Mena's at least displayed versatility with that being his second project. It was funny more often than not, and those involved performed enthusiastically.

"Malevolence: Bereavement" is coming soon. I'm not sure if in theatres or direct to DVD, but there are much higher level actors involved, and the trailer is a piece of work. Stay tuned, watch "Malevolence" and be ready.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

HALLOWEEN HEROES 3

Alright, my first two were classic armchair squeezers, the kind you went to the outdoor with your girl in the 70's and by the 25 minute point, she was in your lap. Now I'm getting a little serious. A horror movie with intelligence, way above average acting, and a heavy-assed tone.


During the civil war a group of former confederate soldiers, an ex-slave, and a nurse pull off a robbery gone-wrong and hole up in what appears to be a gigantic abandoned plantation. Uninhabited, except by demonic after effects of something horrible that happened there. It's not the haunted house theme that puts this one on my Halloween list, it's the friggin' tone created by first time director Alex Turner.

He takes a veteran cast including Henry Thomas (Suicide Kings, Elliot from "E.T."), Patrick Fugit (Saved, Almost Famous) who is outstanding here, Isiah Washington (Grey's Anatomy), Niki Aycox (TV's Dark Blue), among other familiar faces and gets outstanding performances out of all of them. I mean, they decided to elevate the bar from the first take.

The movie has all the classic horror movie elements: the affore-mentioned haunted house, (a creepy-assed dingy plantation, in this case) approaching thunderstorms, a giant cornfield in the front yard to play head games with you, and creepy, giggling, crying children's voices sprinkled onto this horrific cake for spice.

Turner lays it on thick, with a grinding score, and lighting that lets you see just enough to induce a case of the jeebs. Facial expressions tell stories here that dialogue just could not cover, especially in the case of wounded thief Patrick Fugit and how he reacts when he wakes up to find something that shouldn't be there standing next to his bed.

As Halloween approaches, do yourself a favor. Coke, popcorn, remove the lightbulbs from the lamps, and pop in "Dead Birds"

You might not want to do it alone, though.

VINYL DESTINATION 7 and 1/2 :Buck Pets Addendum

From an interview with guitarist/vocalist Andy Thompson in "Flipside" by Karl Rumpf:

Andy: We spent four months doing that record. We were thinking that we want to get out of Dallas and we were thinking about moving to L.A. because our management is there and the record company was there. But after two months there we were kind of pulling our hair out cos we were staying right in West Hollywood. It was like, "Ahhhh. Stuck in freak land."

Karl: Wasn't Mercurotones originally going to be called Mercurochrome?

Andy: Yeah, originally it was. But it was like copyright infringement or trade mark, whatever.

Karl: Who was using it?

Andy: Well, Mercurochrome is an actual medicinal liquid. It's like iodine. We asked permission to use it and they said, "No."
We actually had the first pressing (a thousand or so) CD's and cassettes printed up with it.


My CD copy of "Mercurotones" actually says "Mercurochrome", until now, I always wondered why.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

THE RAMONES & THE SHAKESPEAREAN TRAGEDY



I was a 15 year old high school student when I first discovered the Ramones. Unlike most of the music I listened to at that point of my life, they were unspoiled by being a direct influence from someone else. I discovered them all on my own. I wasn't drawn to them by their look. Cripes, they may have been the ugliest band to ever exist! It wasn't their popularity. During their 20 year career, they could never be considered a giant success in the United States. They were still playing clubs in the mid 1990's. It was their sound. Fast and hard, funny, no-time-for-guitar-solos wall of sonic blast.

I liked their lyrics a lot. Odd at the most perfect definition of the word. Songs of alienation, pain, and loneliness were in abundance, yet they could throw some fun and hilarity into the mix that made their material that much more enjoyable to listen to. Songs as disparate and heartfelt as the near-suicidal "I Wanna Live", to the hilarious and pogo-inducing "Cretin Hop". They were just an eclectic hoot.

The nice thing about them as well, unlike a lot of the art-rock alternative, post-punk bands of the Ramones later years (the late 80's) they weren't condescending. They really seemed to think of themselves as misfits who were almost surprised you were listening to them. Except they more than gladly kicked your ass in return for your attention. And you liked it.

Recently I re-watched Michael Gramaglia and Jim Fields' excellent documentary on the group's history, "End of The Century". The Ramones may be the single saddest story in Rock and Roll History. By the time they were elected, late in my opinion, into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Joey Ramone, the 6'6 string bean lead singer was already gone, claimed by cancer in his early 50's. The award was accepted by guitarist Johnny, original drummer Tommy Erdelyi, drummer for much of their existence, Marky, and bassist Dee Dee Ramone. Joey's absence was truly conspicuous, a vacuum of sadness.

When Dee Dee stepped to the mic, to the biggest round of applause of all four members, he simply thanked himself.

Somehow it was appropriate.
Dee Dee was in no certain terms, a damn mess. He had written a book a few years prior to the doc, called "Lobotomy: Surviving the Ramones", and he backed up the statement I just made. The book told lurid tales of drug addiction, fights, self-hatred, anti-depressants, and in it, he just plain spilled his guts about living the kind of life a "creep", as he put it, like him had no other choice but to live. It came as no surprise to learn he was beaten and abandoned by his father, and his relationship with his mother was not a whole lot better. Dee Dee had a ton to overcome, he just overcame it in the sloppiest, most out of control way possible.

By the end of the book, Dee Dee was married, drug-free, and about as positive as Dee Dee could have been. The controlled substances were gone, but the man seemed to maintain an addiction to grudge-like thinking. His writing wove between speaking positive of others, including former bandmates, going as far as to refer to them as his "brothers", and swung to sundry ways they had hurt and ignored him in other parts of the book. He still seemed oddly confused, and a bit of a mess. He wasn't very smart, but somehow a survivor. Despite the clean and sober married man that was featured by the end of the book, you somehow did not come out of reading it able to call it a "feel good" experience. It felt negative.

Yet here he was, up at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame lectern, accepting a spot in it's hallowed walls. Somehow, you just felt good for the grinning fool up there. It was not unlike rooting for the mentally handicapped kid down the street, watching him claiming an award for persistence. It was an oddly warm feeling. You kinda wanted to pump your fist once and say, "Way to go, Dee Dee, you proved the bastards wrong, man. Screw 'em!"

Then Dee Dee died two months later of a heroin overdose.

It seemed wrong, unfair, eternally sad, and yet slid right into the history of the Ramones like a puzzle piece.
It's not a puzzle that makes me smile. Sometimes I don't even like to look at it. It hurts too much.

Johnny two years ago passed away himself from prostate cancer. He and Joey never got over a decades old issue between them involving a woman. The documentary illustrates this, and raises a question on how two people with such a negative and traumatic event between the two of them could continue to exist and do so successfully for such a long period of time. Watch the compendium flick, "Ramones RAW", put together by John Cafiero, which is a mixture of home movies shot by Marky over a significant period of time. The footage covers a long swatch of material, showing the Ramones as a familly, real affection present, and fun to watch. How cloudy was that line between John and Joey?

They were polar opposites. Joey was exceedingly sweet, shy, soft-spoken, and poetic. Side effects of being an awkward, gawky, and frail young man. John was a taskmaster. All business and efficient aggression. Overanalytical to a fault. In one of "End of the Century"'s most awe-striking revelations, John considered his sorrow over Joey's passing before some sort of resolution could be made between the two over their issues, a character weakness. Yet another in the melancholy collection of those pre-mentioned puzzle pieces that make up the Ramones history.

Even their furtive glances at superstardom were tinged with a sad type of misfire feeling that would have been considered by some to be humorous were they not true. The Ramones were the heart-wrench example of the Rock and Roll near miss. Despite the almost comical befallings of their hayday, and the sad and depressing events since their retirement, fans and the musical industry alike have now started to give them at least some of the due they've deserved. It's no secret that the vast majority of hard-rock acts today have some part of their musical foundation partially built by these guys from Queens.

Day to day punk fans hold them on a pedestal. Young people are seen wearing their gear to this day. "Ramones" is a revered word among many. When the self-titled blink-or-you'll-miss-it debut of theirs hit the streets, it changed the face of rock and roll. It set it on it's side and kicked it in the ass. Johnny, Tommy, Marky, Joey, and Dee Dee, whether it was intentional or not, wanted rock and roll to remember where it came from, and in the process launched it into the future.

It's a shame how most of their lives came to an end, because make no mistake, this handful of guys from New York put a shitload more into Rock and Roll than they got out of it.

God Rest the Ramones.

VINYL DESTINATION 7: The Buck Pets









"I want an emerald green Jaguar,
and an Irish Wolfhound,
I want you to stick around..."
Buck Pets
"Inamorata", 1989

In late 1991, things were tumultuous in my late-teen, early 20's "era of discovery".
Isn't that what they like to call it?
"These are the best years of your life", my Dad used to say.

Okay. If you say so.

My home situation was unresolved at best, I was a recently diagnosed epileptic, was malnourished, underweight, politically and ideologically lost, and the woman "in my life" was playing pro style head games with me.

I didn't need an answer, for I wasn't looking for one, not expecting one to exist. I was looking for a voice.

Enter the Buck Pets.



Four lads from the Deep Ellum area near Dallas, Texas that formed in the late 80's, the Pets dropped their self-titled debut in 1989. I was lucky enough to be one of the music directors at my college radio station when their second LP, "Mercurotones" was tossed without comment onto my paper-clogged desk, probably by some aloof fellow student with eyes on being the next Mancow.  To him, the music didn't matter.

"Mercurotones" was a slightly shiny, forever hard mixture of somewhat power-punk, almost thrash, cutting-edge, poetic, pre-grunge "piece of mood", as the lyric says in the Pets' banging track "PM". Brimming with confidence, they also displayed a more than human sense of longing.

There it was.

Shortly after falling in love with "'Tones", I tracked down their debut, but had to go all the way to Milwaukee to find it, and borrow the money from my best friend Matt to purchase it.

Thanks, Matt.

I forgot that I should place "broke" among the adjectives I need to use to describe my situation at that time.

Their first lp, being less polished and angrier than their second, I could almost identify with it more. They conveyed meaning to my thoughts, and if the lyrics weren't exact matches to what I was thinking, the textures of the music mirrored what I was feeling.

Below is one of 4000 limited copies of "Pearls" pressed to 45 RPM Vinyl. Click to expand:



"You're about as subtle as a tank"--"Pearls"

"I think it's plain to see,
it could work perfectly,
but I don't want anything
she doesn't want to give me."--"Song For Louise Post"

"I've been dry so long,
I get nervous when I sweat."--"PM"


Those were sentences I carried around with my arsenal of emotional introspection. The Buck Pets lyrics worked that way. They could be straight-forward or abstract, take your pick. It was memorable and great stuff.

So, anyhoo, one cold-ass day, the producer from my college cable access music show, "Video Whiplash" calls me out of the blue. He asks me, almost with no glimmer of sarcasm or even excitement  (which couldn't have been easy considering how well he knew me), "Hey, Rob, want to interview the Buck Pets?"

That would be yes. And my final answer.

So two weeks later I'm in a Winnebago outside of Shank Hall in Milwaukee, with guitarist/vocalist Andy Thompson and drummer Tony Alba. Couldn't have been nicer guys. Knowing the pretension and holier than thou assholitude that can be possessed by rock musicians that fancy themselves artists, this was refreshing. For the Buck Pets are human. Human as their music. Andy and Tony answered all my questions with free-wheeling honesty and abject humor. The only area I couldn't venture to was a recently finished tour opening for the overtly arty and celebrity-grubbing Jane's Addiction, still apparently a sore spot with them. Which was fine with me. The Pets music alway was more pure and important than the overrated Addiction in my book, anyway.

Below is the "Mercurotones" cassette liner Andy and Tony were good enough to sign for me: Click to Enlarge:





The two were briefly peeved and almost ready to cancel the gig due to the fact that the club owner wouldn't let us in after the interview piece, because of my crew's age. (We were babies) This kind of stuff wasn't new to me. I had been turned away from a Soundgarden interview because an idiotic student that had botched a previous one got there before I could and screwed it up. Anthrax road manager Rick Downey turned me away in Chicago because one of his assistants failed to call in my crew at check-in, and it was too late for the Q&A. I was used to inconveniences that busy schedules and confusion can cause. The Buck Pets knew this, but saw a crime being committed.

Knowing that Thompson and Alba were willing to go to the wall in that way for a couple of fans that they had just met made not being able to see the show almost worthwhile. That felt good.

This band's very brief 3 album catalog should be absorbed as a whole.  They covered ground.

Through the interwebs, you should be able to access all of this band, who was way ahead of the grunge curve, and probably better than the Seattle Scrod that came after them. The Pets, their music, and their personalities having met them personally, never stopped being important to me. Maybe they can have that effect on you.

It's a shame that a band can be "ahead of it's time", to the point where they can't benefit in the way that those that trod behind them do:

From the Dallas Observer:

Kim Buie (Island Records VP of A&R at the time): "The first time I saw the Buck Pets play at the Theatre Gallery, I remember there was this lightening bolt of energy flying off the stage--guitars, hair, and snarky youth in its full glory. After seeing them live, I knew I wanted them to be on the Sound of Deep Ellum compilation I was making for Island Records. It was during the process of making this project that I knew I wanted to sign them. I just had this sense that they were on the cutting edge of something that sat between punk rock sensibilities, college radio garage days and what was to become the apathetic disenfranchised rock bands of the '90s. They preceded Nirvana, but were every bit as good and could have just as easily been the band to spark that revolution."

It denotes on the side panel on my blog that the Pets are one of the greatest bands you've never heard of. Here's verification from SPIN magazine's feature "The 100 greatest bands you've (probably) Never Heard Of":



Saturday, September 12, 2009

INSULTS AND LONGEVITY

There are insults I have not been able to let go of. Years and years of honing them and perfecting them have placed them in my cerebral hard drive, never to be erased. This makes me a vacuum of stupid information, as well as a soul unable to let things go. But when these insults are used against those that piss me off, they are diatribe of my vernacular that appease my uneasy and unconfident soul.

Here are the 6 most useful and frequently used insults for me:

6. "Booger eatin' Spaz" --used by Tanner Boyle, the snot-nosed punk of "Bad News Bears" with a foul-mouthed heart of gold. As a matter of fact, those around me have begun using it due to it's repetition.

5. "Fartface"--I started using this as a kid. Way back when I was very young. And unlike classics like "camperhead" and "Lawnmowerface", it holds up because it's at least slightly more sensical than the previous name-calling attempts used by some of my contemporaries as kids.

4. "Poopstain"--I began using this in 1991, and was unable to completely drop it from my arsenal. It's degrading with a shade of gross. Plus it usually results in silence from it's victim, due to the oddness of the word.

3. "Half a Butt Puppet"--Brendan Fraser used it in "Airheads". It's a true piece of genius. Not only is the target of your barb a butt puppet, he's not even worthy of being a full one.

2. "Asscorn"--I don't fully grasp the meaning even though I created it. But deep in my soul, I have to believe that it's not complimentary in any way, shape, or form. One of my real faves.

1. "Mental Midget"--Old School. Brought back to my consciousness by incessant playing of Tom Waits and his classic, "The Piano Has Been Drinking". In the tune, the rough-throated poet/singer refers to the night club owner as this. He also tosses in the fact that he has an I.Q. of a fence post for good measure. Good stuff.

So there you have it, my bag of trash-words for the trashable. They've served me well. Maybe you can benefit from their venomous creativity as well.

Friday, September 11, 2009

THE NUCLEAR WARHEAD & ME: Part 4

Further down the road, my interests turned more serious as I became curious about the atomic bomb's history. The mechanism itself, and the beleaguered souls burdened with the responsibility of creating it with the original purpose of getting it done before the Germans. Eventually intelligence revealed the Krauts didn't have what it took to get it done, but the Americans pressed on. After the victory in Europe, America focused it's bomb advancement as a tool to defeat the Japanese and end the war for good.

I inhaled information about the likes of J. Robert Oppenheimer, Edward Tellar, Leo Szilard and others, the physicists who worked feverishly to create this most terrible and gigantic of weapons. They were a varied, maudlin, and sometimes mysterious group of guys from countries all over the world. Oppenheimer, who was put in charge of the top secret project ("Manhattan" as it was labelled) at Los Alamos, New Mexico by General Leslie Groves, had former ties to communism, but hard headed patriot Groves still thought "Oppie" was the man for the job.

In books like "The Bomb: A Life", "Shockwave", and the film "Fat Man and Little Boy" (named after the two types of atomic bombs the scientists at Los Alamos created) really illustrate the tense, yet bizarrely compelling atmosphere of working at that military installation. From the opening pages of "The Bomb", I was sucked into the non-fiction storyline.

Strangely, after the horrifically successful testing of the A bomb in the barren New Mexico desert, and before the subsequent use of Little Boy on Hiroshima, a group of 39 scientists led by Leo Szilard, the man whose mind first gave birth to it's very concept, drafted a petition to stop it from being used. I like to believe I would have gladly signed that document. The petition never made it to President Truman and Hiroshima was the first victim of atomic devastation. Even secretary of war Harry Stimson strongly pushed an idea to demonstrate the bomb on an area where no one would be killed to frighten Japan to surrender. This also was not an accepted method to the brass, doubtful though it may be that the scare tactic would work. Even 3 days after Hiroshima's nightmarish annihilation, the stubborn Japanese were still discussing their options. The meetings stopped after Fat Man detonated over Nagasaki.

These terrifying strings of events occurred long before my birth, and at the time of my doomsday fears I knew little to nothing about them. Had I, my anxieties probably would have tripled in my adolescence, knowing that these things not only could, but actually already had happened. Not a lot of people, including myself until seeing the fantastic film "Thirteen Days" and reading a lot of "Red Scare" material, knew how close we came to mutual button-pushing during the Cuban Missile Crisis. As a kid, I was scared to death of the nuclear fiend, but I had feared it as a down the road apocalyptic nightmare, not a horror story with pre-planted seeds. As a maturing adult I'm glad those childhood apprehensions were not dipped in the fertilizer of historic fact that would quite possibly have made them out-and-out paranoia.

TO BE CONTINUED...

HALLOWEEN HEROES 2: Phantasm

This time of year, as I stated is the best time of year for horror movies. In the last review, I looked at John Carpenter's "Halloween", the best of them all. Now, let's take a look at another horror movie smothered in atmosphere:


Now it would be ridiculous and pointless to try to give you the plot points of this wonderful and creepy horror ride. Much less go into the expansive twists and inter-dimensional space-time continuum haberdabber that went into it's 3 sequels, but director Don Coscarelli was onto something here.

Mike and Jody's parents just died. At the funeral home, the inquisitive Mike sees the funeral director, an impossibly "Tall Man" single handedly toss his recently deceased older brother's casket into a hearse. He's being followed by what appear to be exceptionally quiet Jawas from the "Star Wars" movies.

The "Tall Man" (legendary actor Angus Scrimm, who incidentally won a grammy for writing liner notes at one time, yep that's me as the wife calls me: "The Encyclopedia of Who Gives A Shit") also carries a silver sphere around with him that acts like a remote camera and when needed breaks out some serious Black & Decker hardware for skull alterations.

The cinematography, when considering the hyper-low budget Coscarelli had to work with is amamzing. The special effects ditto. If you are a total nerdlinger like I am and watch the special features of the DVD, you'd be even more impressed by the ingenuity the director and crew used to make what appear to be costly effects on a lunchbox budget.

The unnerving score adds to the environs of creepiness, and therefore you have it. Another one of my Halloween Heroes: "Phantasm". Seek out the sequels, they're all better than most horror sequels, because Coscarelli, taking care of his children, wrote and directed them all.

As a side note, a couple years ago, Coscarelli wrote and directed a vignette that was a featured episode of the Movie Channel's "Masters of Horror" series, called "Incident on and off a Mountain Road". A great short piece that is underrappreciated. Should be able to find it at a Best Buy. Happy Hunting!!

BLUE OYSTER CULT: Joan Crawford



I wrote a brief piece not too long ago about paparazzi and celebrity obsession and or stalking.

Now, you all know by now what a honk for Blue Oyster Cult that I am. Recently I was listening to their "best of" CD in my car when I heard "Joan Crawford". That kind of brought back a similar vibe to that old post called "Celebrity Jibber Jabber".

Back in the early 80's Christina Crawford wrote a memoir about being the daughter of screen legend Joan Crawford. The book, "Mommie Dearest" depicted the alleged startling and grotesque abuses Christina supposedly suffered at the hands of her mother.

There were detractors to Christina's claims, and the cries of doubt were very loud, and often confirmed by those "in the know".  But it didn't stop the noise the book and subsequent film made here in the United States.

In the film, Crawford, played by "It" girl at the time, Faye Dunaway, was depicted as nothing more than a raging, blithering, psychotic sadist. The atrocities Christina suffered at the hands of the actress were frightening. Wire hanger beatings, forced abusive chores and horrid verbal cruelties were in abundance.

There was only one problem.

As I stated, there were too many people out there that vocally doubted the allegations and publicly stated it.

The movie went forward anyway and was instantly controversial. It made a monster out of Crawford, and Dunaway's notoriously over-the-top hamming only made the possible doubt about Crawford's abusiveness seem more credible. However, Hollywood doesn't like it when one of their own trashes another, particularly a deceased legend, and Dunaway's career was derailed into b-movies and direct to video fare. Oh, how tinseltown is a vindictive, savage and vengeful beast.

So, Long Island New York legends Blue Oyster Cult recorded "Joan Crawford", a satirical piece beginning with a gorgeous classical piano intro before growing into a classic rock jam.

It creates a parody of Crawford's tarnished image painting a picture of the starlet rising from the grave, her visage so horrifying that "policemen are hiding behind the skirts of little girls", and mass hysteria among the populous is created.

It sounds like Crawford is being bashed by the song, but if you listen, it's actually defending her memory in a way, from a media-driven world that is a little to ready to absorb and amplify what may be character-slaughter for profit. A world that has a tendency to to overglorify some, and demonize others. As we continue to do, say with Michael Jackson. What is he this week?

Blue Oyster Cult, always one step ahead and little bit smarter than their contemporaries.  Much like the Stranger in "The Big Lebowski", I take comfort in that.

Monday, September 7, 2009

FAMOUS HISTORICAL FIGURES I'D LIKE TO MEET

Frank Serpico.

Talk about a guy with balls. When the early 70's NYPD was crawling with corruption, whether minor or frickin' huge, he wanted none of it. No protection money, no scraping off the top of impounded cash, none of it. He ended up with a bullet in his face, and when the call was made to the dispatcher of the officer down, he turned to another dispatcher and said, "Hey, guess who got shot, Frank Serpico." To which the other replied, "Did a cop do it?"

If you weren't on the take to some degree in NYC at that time, you weren't trusted by the other boys in blue, and thusly feared for what you knew, and could possibly testify about. Still, Serpico didn't flinch. As a matter of fact, he faced the intimidation, the violence, and the fact that due to his immense inquisitiveness and hunger for knowledge on all things from literature to ballet, many cops thought him weird, or even gay. he waltzed through all of that, gunshot wound and all, and ended up through his testimony through the Warren Commission, brought them all down. A truly admirable modern day cowboy.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

HALLOWEEN HEROES!!!

It's that time of year again. My Facebook friends already know what a Halloween nerdlinger I am, and I thought I'd elaborate using my favorite time-spender: Movies!!

I'm gonna start with the most obvious:


Sometime in the fall of 1981, I went up to my sisters' apartment in Racine, where they had HBO hooked up to a tiny black and white Admiral television (which I now have by the way, if you'd like to see it, click here: http://www.moviesistayeduplatefor.blogspot.com/] The plan was to watch the Walter Hill classic, "The Warriors", but "Halloween" was on first. I had heard it was a good movie, but had no idea what I was in for. From the opening sting chord as the 6-year old Michael Myers' teenage sister turns on her upstairs bedroom light, albeit briefly, to engage in the quickest bout of hanky-panky in movie history. To the closing montage of all the places "the shape" had visited and terrorized during the film's tour into hell, I was wide-eyed and freaked out.

John Carpenter's keyboard score underlies a darkly but masterfully shot film, lit with genius by Dean Cundey, where nothing is where or is as it seems. Michael Myers is everywhere. And nowhere. At the same time I had deep admiration for stage and cinema legend, Donald Pleasence as Myers' flustered and dedicated psychiatrist, Dr. Sam Loomis. He was the only one who understood the depths of Michael's evil. And, indeed what "It" (as a transfer nurse chides Dr. Loomis for referring to Michael as early on in the film) is capable of. The film caused unsteady sleep, and to this day to my embarrassment, still the occasional nightmare.

After what seems like hundreds of sequels later, and a couple of poorly executed remakes by a former rock-star turned 70's grindhouse style filmmaker, the original seems a liftime away. All of those that followed (with the possible exception of the underappreciated 1981 Rick Rosenthal-helmed "Halloween II") pale in comparison.

To me, Carpenter's film became as much a part of the holiday as the crisp, golden leaves, the bite in the air, and the peanut butter kisses and PAL gum dropped into plastic buckets on October 31. I've realized myself despite the uneasy sleep, that the creeps induced by "Halloween" are now the good kind. And are created in all too short supply these days.

TWO FAMOUS HISTORICAL FIGURES I'D LIKE TO MEET

I think a lot about history. The old west, biblical days, World War II, the 60's strife and of course, the eras of my youth, the 70's and 80's. History has been punctuated with colorful and indignant markers that spot the maps of time whether for good or bad.

This is a new feature, where I'll flash short thoughts on what I like to call "Dudes of the Past". Or Historical Cats I'd dig meeting. As the old witch on "Woody Woodpecker" used to say upon jumping onto her broom, "...And away we go!!!"

1. J. Edgar Hoover: The Man with all the info. According to pundits, long after his death, of course, this former founder and head of the FBI had files on everybody. Including you. (I don't care if you weren't born yet. ) There's a few things I'd like to ask him:

a. Who killed JFK? Just so I can do a press conference and get everybody to shut the hell up about it. It's been 40 damn years. Enough already. Concentrate on Lady Di.
b. Where's Jimmy Hoffa? With my car keys?
c. Was the moon landing faked? If so, why? It's the damn moon. We could take a freakin' cab there now, why are some people so worried about this?
d. Area 51, come on, Hoover, what's in there? Swine Flu? Ebola? Elvis?


2. Wyatt Earp: The modern era's poster boy for duality. He was known in some circles for standing up on the right side of the law, and in others as the Old West's version of "The Punisher". I'm sure he'd have plenty of stories to tell. I'm curious about whether or not Doc Holliday was really as tight with Kate Elder as history declares. Which one of you ol' gunslingers put that bullet in Johnny Ringo's forehead? And last, but definitely not least, why did you treat Maddie like such a prick, man? Couldn't you have let her down a little easier? Sheesh. And by the by, what did you think of Tom Mix weeping at your funeral?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

VINYL DESTINATION 6: The Knack


Deadpool: Nate... c'mon... wake up... say something to get me mad... tell me "According to Jim" is the best sitcom in television history. Tell me The Knack sucks. Something... Nate... ...Was it worth it?




Much like the hair band era of the late 80's, the "skinny tie" movement of the late 70's and early 80's is equally maligned and laughed at. The Romantics, The Plimsouls, and the Wigs all put out quality music.

The style of skinny tie is best described as "power pop", catchy hits with a hard rock edge, but the added ingredient of singable harmony choruses.
The absolute kings of the scene were the Knack. Large record company anticipatory marketing led to huge sales of their debut, "Get the Knack". Capitol records tried to push them as the next Beatles, including an album cover vaguely reminiscent of "Meet the Beatles."

This heavy pre and post-release marketing saturation, and one of the most overplayed singles of all time, "My Sharona", led to huge worldwide exposure. "Sharona", effervescently catchy, memorable, and features a surprising cornucopia of musicianship, especially Berton Averre's ripping guitar solo, is a microcosm of the LP itself.

"My Sharona" is far from the lone bright spot on the record. Doug Fieger's lyrical songwriting swang from sweet and classy to downright nasty and overtly sexual. His voice carries all the songs exceptionally well. "Your Number or Your Name" is a great pop song about trying to get the attention of someone who has caught yours. Featuring snappy drumwork by Bruce Gary, it's a true toe-tapper.

"Maybe Tonight" is a great heartfelt song reeking of longing, where Fieger's voice is in top form. He sings with great emotion in all his songs, but here it feels more pure and raw. Doug feels it on this song.

Sweetly expressing emotional frustration with the opposite sex on "That's What the Little Girls Do", and libidinous outrage at a teasing girlfriend with "Frustrated", Fieger's songwriting runs the attitude gamut toward relationship difficulties, whether physical or in the heart.

Every teenage boy's fantasy (including my own) is met in the lyrics of Fieger's rocker, "Good Girls Don't". The title is a line a girl gives him in the chorus, but with the caveat of: "But I do". It's a nice mid-tempo ditty, begun strangely enough with harmonica. The song could be the first and only top 40 chart single with the lyric "you're hoping you can get inside her pants."

"She's so Selfish" is another teasing girl, musically backed by a super slow build on drums, that grows into a half speed Bo Diddley beat the upswings toward a rollicking finish. One of my personal faves on the record.

Obviously, the Knack were heavily influenced by the 60's garage rock movement led by the likes of ? and the Mysterians, The Dave Clark Five, and the Troggs. The Knack capture that vibe, right down to the studio pic of them on the back cover featuring the group in black pant, white shirt, black skinny tie regalia. All five members performing with the classic instrument of each position: Prescott Niles with his Richenbacker bass, Bruce Gary on a Ludwig drum kit, Doug Fieger's brown and black vignette Stratocaster, and Lead guitarist Berton Averre's jet black Gibson Les Paul.

that oozes classic.

Rock scribe Danny Sugerman, author of the Doors bio, "Nowhere Here Gets Out Alive", wrote the liner notes for the "Best of the Knack" retrospective CD. He expressed that I agree heavily with as gospel truth. He described them in the same way that the Replacements' Paul Westerberg once described the Beatles: "A damn fine rock and roll band."

Believe the Hype.

Again.