Monday, March 31, 2008

MYTHICAL KINGS & IGUANAS. Here's a 1971 album I somehow got a-hold of as a kid. Probably out of my parents' record collection. It's by Dory Previn (who's got one hell of a biography, let me tell you. . .but we'll get to that a little later). This album was extremely odd and darkly fascinating to my young teenage brain. I literally haven't heard these songs for at least 15 years; mainly because it's been buried in my seldom-listened-to-anymore LPs and hadn't been released on cd. At least that's what I thought. Somehow, apropos of nothing, I searched for it and found out that it WAS available on cd. So I ordered it. And it came today. I've been listening to it on my computer at work. Now for those of you who don't know, I'm the guy who comes in later and stays after everyone else has pretty much gone home. So I've been listening to this album uninterrupted and it's been giving me this really strange, indescribable feeling. I hadn't heard the album for so long that I couldn't have sung them to you if I tried. But as each song on the cd played, I immediately recalled the melody and the words. I also realized that the record must've had quite a pronounced influence on my impressionable ears because it probably was critical in developing my later take on depression. Listening now, I can really relate to Dory Previn's attitude.
Dory Previn, as I said, had a REALLY interesting life. Her father fought in the trenches during World War I and was apparently gassed. His behaviour towards his daughter was, shall we say, erratic. He first rejected her but then changed his mind when her singing and dancing talents emerged. However, when Dory's sister was born the father's paranoia caused him to doubt she was his. One day in their New Jersey home, the father held the entire family at gunpoint and then literally boarded them up inside the living room for several months. It's not clear exactly how they eventually gained their release but Dory ran away from home at age 16. Who can blame her!?! Dory eventually became a staff lyric writer at MGM where she met and married famed film composer Andre Previn. Dory's lyric-writing would eventually earn her Academy Award nominations (including the soundtrack for VALLEY OF THE DOLLS) and an Emmy award. Sadly, Andre Previn would leave Dory and the marriage for Mia Farrow. Dory Previn retreated from life for a while and only held onto her sanity through "the cathartic process of songwriting, unburdening fears and anxieties in words and melody". She was institutionalized for a while and subjected to electro-shock therapy. She eventually emerged and United Artists signed Dory in 1970 and she produced several "singer-songwriter" albums. One of which was 1971's "MYTHICAL KINGS & IGUANAS" which made some impression on me when I heard it much later in the early 80's.
Dory Previn is both Irish and Roman Catholic which provides the one-two punch characteristics of morbid depression and misplaced guilt. No wonder I found her songs oddly fascinating. The rather nice cd liner notes by Paul Pelletier (which I quoted earlier) succinctly sum up the experience of listening to Dory Previn's songs and, for that reason, I'd like to quote him here:
  • "Appreciating Dory Previn songs proved a dilemma, a conflict of simple enjoyment versus the deeper awareness of something often disturbing, striking an uncomfortable chord within of recognition. From song to song, wants and needs rawly declared, love and relationships ruthlessly exposed, cynicism poetically expressed, the scaring of devotion by experience. Unfolding on vinyl was the trauma of an articulate woman voicing an emotional biography which could be shared by others, not just from a female perspective but experiences common to all. From an afflicted childhood to the despair of a love ripped asunder, Miss Previn was forging a path to stability by an outpouring of song crafted with the perfection of a master."

Wow, I think he nailed it. Dory Previn's songs are oddly powerful without being strident or whiney. There is also QUITE a fixation with suicide which, owing to the fact that Dory Previn is still with us, she exorcized in her lyrics and not in real life.

Dory Previn, in fact, actually has a myspace page and her influences are listed as: "Rudolph Valentino, God, pink turkey, Daddy, Shirley Temple doll, Ally (sic) McGraw, Peg Entwhistle..." This also sounds pretty spot on -- the Peg Entwhistle thing especially. You may recall a few months ago I mentioned it was Peg Entwhistle's birthday: the failed starlet who leapt to her death off the Hollywood sign. Before I had ever heard of Ms. Entwhistle, I had listened to Dory Previn's song "Mary C. Brown and the Hollywood Sign" which deals with the same subject and in which Previn sings: "Sometimes I have this dream/When the time comes for me to go/I will climb that hill/And I'll hang myself/From the second or third letter "o"." Probably the thing that this album influenced the most in my is my morbid sense of humour; because while Previn sings about things like suicide, loneliness and cruelty she sings it all very softly and calmly with quite a sense of humour. Sure, life sucks but at least it provides ironic poetry. In the song "Her Mother's Daughter" Dory sings of a girl whose father dies and whose mother insists that she never leave her alone; consequently she is never allowed to marry as she "listens in on other people's joys and looks longingly at all the passing boys". At least the girl gets to have some fun imagining how she will murder her mother. But of course, she never actually does. And in the song "Angels and Devils The Following Day" she tells us how she loved two men equally -- one a sensitive artist and one a coarse truck driver who bruised her. She then warns us not to judge too quickly since it was the sensitive artist who suffered from guilt the morning after while the cursing truck driver would wake up with a smile. "The blow to my soul/by fear and taboos/cut deeper far than a bodily bruise/and the one who was gentle/hurt me much more/than the one who was rough/and made love on the floor". Previn's lyrics never quite pan out the way you expect them.
"MYTHICAL KINGS & IGUANAS" is a fascinating listen; fascinating enough for me to remember it all these years later and finally seek out the cd reissue (which also includes Dory Previn's next album "Reflections In A Mud Puddle" on the same cd -- which features the remarkably creepy song "DOPPLEGANGER"). And I think the album had more of an impact on my skewed world view than I'd realized. Sadly, in recent years she has suffered from a series of strokes which had affected her eyesight. I naturally wish her all the best. But neither I nor Dory Previn really put much stock in happy endings. And that's just one more reason her songs have a particular resonance for me.
  • "Whatever you give me
  • I'll take as it comes
  • Discarding self-pity
  • I'll manage with crumbs
  • I'll settle for moments
  • I won't ask for life"

Saturday, March 29, 2008

UP FROM THE BOWELS OF THE EARTH. "Bowels" is right. THE SLIME PEOPLE is just a terrible movie. It's great! This is the perfect movie for Mystery Science Theater 3000; in fact, it actually WAS an episode of MST3K but it's not available on DVD yet. So sadly, I had to watch the ACTUAL movie. But have no fear because I had the moral support of Cheeks & Denise and my good friend Bumbler to bolster me through it.
Do you really want the plot?!?! Very well. Up from the sewers of L.A. came the Slime People: subterranean scaly slimeballs who can somehow create their own fog (otherwise they can't really walk around up here in the sunlight). Funnily enough, they can also make the fog solid -- and they do so -- which effectively creates a solid fog dome over the city. Trapping regular citizens inside with the slime people. Who are handy with spears. OK. That's about all you need.
An intrepid group of bad actors -- OK, the characters are only PLAYED by bad actors -- hole up inside an abandoned TV studio: pilot Tom Gregory (Robert Hutton -- also the director of this opus), ubiquitous professor Gelman. . .or Galbraith. . .or Galbin . . .there seems to be some confusion about the actual name (played by the constipated Robert Burton), his daughters Lisa and Bonnie (cardigan-wearing Judee Morton and cardigan wearing Susan Hart -- much more memorable in DR. GOLDFOOT & THE BIKINI MACHINE) and marine Cal Johnson (Conan O'Brien. (PAUSE) OK, it's not really Conan O'Brien it's William Boyce. But damned if it don't LOOK just like Conan O'Brien! I mean look at the guy up there! Time for a remake, I'd say! Starring Conan and Triumph the Insult-Comic Dog as ALL FOUR Slime People!). Then there's the over-the-top fun performance of monster movie veteran Les Tremayne as the nutty hermit Norman Tolliver. At least Les Tremayne is having a hoot in this movie. He appears in one scene carrying a goat: his one true friend.
Other than the usual shoestring budget "Ed Woodian"-type screw-ups (like a random person's shadow leaning into the frame), almost 2/3rds of the movie is practically indecipherable because of the dense fog. . .through which we can't see a hell of a lot, frankly. (Take a look down there for an example). Combine this with many scenes where the microphone seems to have been placed so far away from the actors that it's probably miking a different movie -- making some dialogue extremely hard to make out. Of course, it's really not that vital to hear the dialogue, is it? OK maybe I should rethink that statement; some of the dialogue you simply must not miss! Such as the romantic dialogue our Conan O'Brien lookalike marine spouts: "Gee whiz, after sitting here talking to you, I don't even want to think about slime people!" Gee whiz, just what a girl wants to hear! Or when Tom takes the leadership position by saying: "Now look, we've got to find their trail. Footprint, slime, anything."
All that matters is the four Slime People (at least that's how many monster suits it appears the budget would allow) and the often repeated identical shot of a slime peep coming up from the sewers. . .it's at least repeated 5 times. This is one of those great bad monster movies which populated Saturday afternoon Creature Features on UHF back in the day. It's almost shocking that I had never seen it before Cheekies & Denise (and Bumbler) presented me with a screening. Rest assured we all provided our very own live version of MST3K right there in Cheekies' living room. So for the opportunity to see this screen gem, I will forever be in their debt. Or is that the other way around???

Friday, March 28, 2008

HAPPY BIRTHDAY FRANK LOVEJOY. The extremely talented character actor was born on this day in 1912 and died in 1962. Lovejoy was a familiar face in many, many films and was a hell of a good actor. You can see him in the Vincent Price 3-D spookfest HOUSE OF WAX, the film noir classic IN A LONELY PLACE and the very fine Ida Lupino-directed B-noir THE HITCH-HIKER. However, as good as these films are, I will always think of Frank Lovejoy as the star of the old radio show NIGHT BEAT -- one of my favourite radio dramas -- as Chicago Star reporter Randy Stone. This radio show had a strong noir flavour but it wasn't a "detective" show. Randy Stone was a reporter who covered the night beat -- in other words, he trawled around Chicago all night long looking for stories and stopped when the sun came up. While this doesn't really sound like my kind of show, I can tell you it captivated me the first time I heard it and quickly became a favourite. There are episodes available on tape and cd but
And they're all public domain. The writing for this 50's radio show was extremely good and holds up even now. Some episodes are tinged with crime, some are human interest stories which are actually INTERESTING (imagine that) and there are even some with a sprinkling of the supernatural. I can't recommend this radio show highly enough. Off the top of my head, I can recommend the episodes "The Night is a Weapon", "Number 13", "The Devil's Bible", "City at Your Fingertips", "The Black Cat" and "The Hunter Becomes the Hunted" as shows I remember fondly from the days when I recorded them off of WCAU AM radio in the 80's when they used to have a nightly "old time radio" programme. That's when I first heard the show and I've been a fan ever since.
". . .BUT I HAVE NOT LOST MY SMILE." And neither will you if you watch FREEWAY: the 1996 movie written and directed by Matthew Bright. Now, I must admit that I had to be practically dragged to this movie both by Finkmaster Flash and Terry Frost at Paleocinema: Frost posted a review of the movie on his blog while Finky told me how much he loved the movie -- independently of the blog posting on Paleocinema. So I figured it must be pretty good. But why was it such a hard sell for me? That's because it stars Reese Witherspoon; not my favourite movie star. Taking a page from Kevin Smith's book, I've called her "Greasy Reesey" for years now. However.
  • However.
I have to be truthful and say that Reese Witherspoon's performance as the sociopathic but fun Vanessa Julia Lutz is one of my favourite performances by anybody in recent years. She is absolutely perfect for the role and laugh-out-loud hilarious -- even while doing some extremely nasty things. Nasty but justified.
Vanessa is a 15 year old illiterate white trash girl whose mother (Amanda Plummer) is a whore on methodone and her stepfather (Michael T. Weiss) is a disgusting crackhead who also sexually abuses her; treats her like a human urinal is the phrase used in the film. Mom and stepdad are quickly arrested and the cops call a social worker (Conchata Ferrell) who Vanessa promptly legcuffs to a bed. Vanessa's boyfriend Chopper (Bokeem Woodbine) cannot go on the run with her due to an impending court date so he gives her a gun to sell when she gets to Stockton and her grandmother's house. Oh yes, I might take this opportunity to tell you that FREEWAY is a 90's update of the Little Red Riding Hood story. So off Vanessa drives onto the freeway -- the I-5 --on which "the I-5 killer" has been murdering young girls. Vanessa's bomb of a car breaks down almost immediately and a therapist at a boy's school named Bob Wolverton (Kiefer Sutherland) gives her a lift. Look at the character's name and I think you'll guess which character HE corresponds to in the Little Red Riding Hood story. But keep in mind this 90's update is not of the sanitized story but the original Brothers Grimm story in which Lil Red takes on the Big Bad Wolf herself. Because remember -- while Vanessa may be trapped inside a car with the I-5 killer, she still has that gun given to her by her boyfriend. After some terrorizing by the serial killer, Vanessa manages to pull a gun on Wolverton. But because Wolverton is a rather upper-class and respected member of the community, it is Vanessa who gets thrown in jail -- not the actual serial killer.
Now, I really don't want to go into the plot any more than I have because you really must go watch the movie for yourself. The film zooms along at a fast clip and the viewer is constantly entertained. Hey, I don't even mind that Brooke Shields is in the movie as well. It MUST be pretty good if I don't mind watching a movie with Reese Witherspoon AND Brooke Shields!!! But anyway, there's violence and hilarity for one and all. And like I said, Witherspoon gives one of the best performances of the last decade. Hell, I might even have to stop calling her Greasy Reesey now. Well, maybe. . .

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

THE FIVE SONGS: THE SIXTH INSTANCE. This time around I'm choosing five songs that remind me one way or another of my grandmother who turned 90 years old in January. And I thought I'd start off a little silly. . .
  1. SHORT PEOPLE by RANDY NEWMAN. Yep. She's short. Really short. And back in the 70's (and ever since) we've played this song for her to make sure she doesn't forget it!
  2. CHOCOLATE by THE CHENILLE SISTERS. Yep. She's a chocoholic. MAJOR chocoholic. Anything with chocolate on it is living on borrowed time when my grandmother's around. And you know what? She's already made it to 90 so that shows you how much the doctors know.
  3. SEND HER MY LOVE by JOURNEY. Yep. My grandmother was an MTV junkie back in the day when MTV first came on the air. You know, back in the early 80's when MTV played music videos. And she loooooooooves Journey! There was no one song she liked better than another so I just picked one we both like. She still calls Steve Perry her boyfriend.
  4. THERE! I'VE SAID IT AGAIN by BOBBY VINTON. This one happens to be her favourite song. At least that's what she's said in recent years. When I was a kid, I remember her saying it was DEEP PURPLE but whatever. And yes, the only reason I own this song is because it's my grandmother's favourite. You got a problem with that?!?!
  5. 75 SEPTEMBERS by CHERYL WHEELER. This one is actually solely my choice since I'm pretty sure she's never even heard it. It's basically a love letter to Cheryl Wheeler's father who was born in 1915. The song came out on her DRIVING HOME album at about the time my grandmother was 75 (give or take -- she was 3 years shy) and I always associated the lyrics very much with her since they apply rather nicely: "In the year of the yellow cab/shadow of the great world war/the third kid grandma had/came into this world/on a rolling farm in Maryland/when Wilson was the president/as summer blew her goodbye through the trees/a child of changing times/growing up between the wars..." Basically the song is about the vast changes experienced through a long life time. "Now the fields are all four lanes/and the moon's not just a name/are you more amazed at how things change or how they stay the same/and do you sit here on this porch and wonder/how the time flies by/or does it seem to barely creep along/with 75 Septembers come and gone." If you don't already own ALL of Cheryl Wheeler's cds, you need to seriously rectify that situation. Go ahead. I'll wait. At least until the next five songs.

Monday, March 24, 2008

BLINK. I don't know if this episode from the 2007 season of DOCTOR WHO has been broadcast in America yet but it was hands down the best episode of the entire season (which was rather mediocre). You may have already noticed (if you took part in the voting for the Rondo Awards on the link list over there on the right hand side of this blog) that "BLINK" won for best TV episode; beating out the season finale of LOST entitled "Through the Looking Glass". Now, I actually voted for LOST since I hadn't seen the Doctor Who episode yet. However, now having seen it I would probably change my vote. This is one of the best episodes of the series and, since it doesn't require much of a working knowledge of DOCTOR WHO other than the fact that he's a time traveller, it's a stand alone episode which anyone can enjoy (unlike LOST which requires you to have seen every episode -- not that that's a minus, you understand).
The story of "BLINK" is one of the most original I've ever seen and was provided by the same writer that gave us the previous excellent Doctor Who episodes "The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances" two-parter and "The Girl in the Fireplace" from the first and second seasons respectively. And that writer is Steven Moffat. This episode is actually one of the "Doctor lite" episodes: meaning it features very little of the Doctor since it had to be filmed simultaneously with a Doctor Who two-parter. The episode focuses on a woman named Sally Sparrow who, while exploring a dilapidated old ruined house, discovers a message for her underneath the wallpaper from the Doctor -- in 1969! The message tells her to beware the weeping angels. Outside the house, Sally sees four weeping angel statues covering their eyes with their hands. Unnerved, she goes to her friend Kathy Nightingale's place. In the apartment, Kathy's brother has several TV's set up playing warning messages from guess who: the Doctor, right. Of course, Sally doesn't know who the Doctor is and what he's talking about. Yet.
Sally and Kathy return to the old house. While exploring inside, the doorbell rings. Kathy waits in another room while Sally answers the door. A man is there with a very old letter addresses to her. He was instructed by his grandmother to deliver the letter to this house on this date at this very hour. His grandmother, who died in 1987, was named Kathy Nightingale. Meanwhile, in the other room, Kathy is nervously eyeing the weeping angel statues -- they seem to move when you look away. Sally, thinking it's all a joke, calls for Kathy and goes into the next room to find her gone completely. Kathy, meanwhile, finds herself in a field in Hull . . .and the year is 1920. In 2007, Sally reads the old letter and it is indeed from Kathy. Somehow, she has been transported back in time and had to live out her entire life from 1920. Sally also finds the weeping angel statues are now in the house; in the room where Kathy disappeared. From the hand of one of the statues dangles a key which Sally takes. She then goes to the police station to inquire as to any strange occurrences noted at the old house. A policeman named Billy Shipton, obviously smitten by the lovely Sally, shows her a group of cars which were found at the house abandoned -- sometimes with the engines still running -- and the car owners were never seen again. Also they found a blue police box at the site (naturally the Doctor's time travelling TARDIS) which they cannot unlock. Sally gives the cop her phone number and leaves. Billy turns to see 4 weeping angel statues inside the basement with him. Outside, Sally suddenly remembers the key and returns thinking it may open the police box. When she re-enters the police HQ basement, Billy has vanished as well -- only to appear in the year 1969. The Doctor and his companion Martha almost immediately track Billy down and inform him that the "weeping angels" are actually a type of interstellar assassins who kill you in the nicest of ways: they send you into the past and let you "live to death". Then they consume the energy potential of the days you would have lived in the future but now will not. The "weeping angels" also sent the Doctor and Martha back to 1969 without their TARDIS; trapping them as well.
Meanwhile back in 2007, Sally goes to see Kathy's brother Larry and asks him about the guy (The Doctor) he was watching on all those TVs. Larry explains that there are 17 DVDs with this guy hidden away in Easter eggs. The Doctor talks but only appears to be one half of a conversation. In the DVD easter eggs, the Doctor warns them about the "weeping angels" and that they can only move and attack when they are not being observed by another living being. And the Doctor tells them that the weeping angels are coming for them. He warns them not to look away -- "Don't even blink! Blink and you're dead!"
This is only some of an episode so jam-packed with novel ideas it's almost criminal. There are moments of genuine humour, of creepiness, one or two truly frightening moments and even a tear-jerking scene. The cast is top notch: Carey Mulligan as Sally Sparrow and Michael Obiora as Billy Shipton are particularly fine while Lucy Gaskell (Kathy Nightingale) and Finlay Robertson (Larry Nightingale) are equally good although having a little less to do. While I don't know if this is the best of the David Tennant episodes, it sure is up there in the top few. I really can't recommend this episode highly enough.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

"POWERFUL DRUGS COULD BE INSINUATED INTO MY SOUP!" THE NINTH CONFIGURATION is not the film I expected. Written and directed by William Peter Blatty, the first 2/3rds of the film is a very sharp satirical comedy. However, underneath the asylum hijinx there is a very serious theme which doesn't become apparent until the completely serious final third of the movie. As in Blatty's novel "The Exorcist", "The Ninth Configuration" deals with religious faith. And in this film the question is none other than whether or not God exists. The feel of the first two-thirds is much like Catch-22 crossed with One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. However, that's only the feel. The script is amazing with more quotable lines per square foot of celluloid than most any other movie. There is also a very real mystery at the heart of the film; a mystery which you're really not aware of until the final act.
The film takes place in a castle transported to the Pacific Northwest and used as a military insane asylum. Stacy Keach plays a psychiatrist colonel who is assigned to take over the asylum. He arrives to find an unforgettable cast of mentally ill played by a magnificent cast of actors. First among them is a former astronaut who aborted his moon mission and lost his mind. The report of his meltdown is priceless: "Two days prior to his scheduled space shot, subject officer, while dining on the base, was observed to pick up a plastic ketchup bottle, squeeze a thin red line across his throat and then to stagger and to fall very heavily across a table (then being occupied by the director of the National Space Administration) gurgling 'Don't order the swordfish!'" Said nutty astronaut Cutshaw is magnificently played by Scott Wilson (from "In Cold Blood") who invests his performance with amazing depth. The quality of Wilson's performance is very important because the role (and the entire film) would have fallen apart without it. Keach's performance in "The Ninth Configuration" is also the best I've ever seen him give.
The rest of the cast is also pretty much perfect. Superb yet tragic actor Ed Flanders (best known for "St. Elsewhere") is alternately hilarious and touching as the asylum's medical doctor who spends the entire first act without his pants (they were stolen from him and all his other pants are at the cleaners). Jason Miller (Father Karras from "The Exorcist") plays a mentally ill inmate whose mission in life is to translate Shakespeare for dogs. Miller is hysterically funny as well -- mainly because he plays it perfectly straight without even a hint of a tongue in cheek. In fact, everybody plays it completely straight -- which makes it even funnier. Real life World War II highly decorated war hero Neville Brand plays the humourless, put upon guard Major Groper. The rest of the cast is rounded out with a plethora of terrific character actors. George DiCenzo (who played Captain Lou Albano) is Captain Fairbanks. Moses Gunn (memorably threatening in "Shaft") as Major Nammack thinks he's Superman. Robert Loggia plays the insane Lt. Bennish who thinks he's actually on the planet Venus and sings Al Jolson tunes in blackface. Alejandro Rey (from the episode "La Strega" in Boris Karloff's Thriller TV series) as an insane painter. Tom Atkins (Nick Castle from John Carpenter's "The Fog") as guard Sgt. Krebs. The movie features an embarrassment of riches as far as casting is concerned.
Once Stacey Keach's colonel takes over the asylum, he institutes some novel techniques of running the place; this is in order to indulge the inmates so they will hopefully get better. Throughout the film, Scott Wilson engages Stacey Keach in multiple discussions which seem merely comical and insane but later turn out to be extremely relevant religious debates. Wilson's character eventually takes off in a car to a local dive bar and gets into a scuffle with a biker gang. This scene has been rightly noted for the incredible buildup of suspense and threat. Keach arrives to find Wilson being humiliated by the bikers and soon finds himself in the same position. It's after this point that the real meat of the film is made clear and, in fact, the movie is even BETTER when watched a second time. And then, of course, there's that amazing scene featuring the crucifixion on the moon. . .
THE NINTH CONFIGURATION defies all efforts of categorization; which is precisely why it didn't make much of a splash in the theatre but only found it's extremely loyal cult following on video afterwards. However, the film did win a Golden Globe award for script and was nominated for best picture. Sadly, it was totally snubbed at the Oscars owing to a little petty Hollywood press hijinx. That's a real shame because, besides the script, there are masterful performances from Scott Wilson, Stacy Keach and Ed Flanders which should have been nominated at the very least. This is a film which some viewers (with the attention span of a gnat) may find perplexing. However, if you actually watch it instead of giving it side glances while playing a video game, the film is extremely watchable, often hilarious, sometimes touching, occasionally frightening and thought-provoking to the Nth degree. The film also rewards repeated viewings and becomes even better. And on one final note: No, Ilsa*, you don't have to buy the DVD from me.

Friday, March 21, 2008

THE FIVE SONGS: FIFTH INSTANCE. As promised, I'm going to use this installment of the five songs to put up five songs I've simply been listening to a lot this week. They've got nothing else in common other than they are all fairly new additions to my musical archives and I kinda like 'em.
  1. LOVECRAFT IN BROOKLYN by THE MOUNTAIN GOATS. Recently acquired their album HERETIC PRIDE and it's pretty keen. I suffered heartbreak trying to choose between this song and MICHAEL MYERS RESPLENDENT but I finally went with this one because it's a real cruncher. "I cast my gaze towards the pavement/too many blood stains on the ground/Rhode Island drops into the ocean/no place to call home anymore". Smashing drums and grinding guitar-driven song where the singer complains of feeling like Lovecraft in Brooklyn. Now, for those not in the know, horror author H.P. Lovecraft briefly moved to Brooklyn from his beloved Providence -- and he absolutely hated it. So basically, this song is the new 21st century version of saying you're "Feeling Minnesota". Here's a site about 'em and here's another one.
  2. STRING OF RACEHORSES by HOTEL LIGHTS. Next we have a more laid back, strummy groove from former Ben Folds Five member Darren Jessee's band. The 6 song EP "Goodnightgoodmorning" is solidly packed with longing while keeping an open, layered sound to the music. You can visit their rather minimalist site (more to be added later) here. "String of Racehorses" is one of those songs you can get lost in or ride in the warm weather in your car with all the windows open or just sit there and sigh like a poozer.
  3. THE NAZIS HAD TINY GENITALIA by THE FISH BROTHERS. Total change of mood here as we move to a band that sounds like a turn-of-the-20th-century English music hall band morphed into a punk band. The musicians are surprisingly tight while the lyrics are without fail irreverant and sometimes offensive. All the better. They have a much more extensive website you can click on here to experience the insanity. This song postulates that the Nazis lost the war because they had tiny johnsons. The brothers' cd "NUMBER TWO" features songs running the gamut from a really authentic-19th century-sounding song about SWEENEY TODD to a song describing a strange monster called the PENIS MONSTER OF BRUNSWICK SQUARE. Can't be missed.
  4. SECOND CHANCE by LIAM FINN. Former member of Kiwi band Betchadupa and more famously the son of Split Enz/Crowded House founder Neil Finn, Liam Finn has finally struck out on his own with his first solo album recorded at his own Dad's analog studio. While Liam's voice is almost a dead ringer for his father's, the songs are more psychedelic-sounding. "Second Chance" actually begins sounding very much like the start of a Manu Chao song but quickly spins itself out into almost a train-like rhythm. Liam's ethereal double-tracked vocals sail out over the rhythm track. The entire album is an interesting listen which owes a little something, I think, to Sufjan Stevens' sound. However, the songwriting is quite different. A paradox but true. Take a peek at his own website where you can see videos for this song and the follow-up single "Gather at the Chapel".
  5. SLEEPING DEAD by EMILY JANE WHITE. Another total change in sound and feel as this loping, almost cowboy-like graveyard song. The tone of the album is set before you hear it: Emily Jane is pictured on the front of the cd covered completely in a shroud. The quickest way to my heart, to be sure! "I had a dream last night/there were ravens above my bed/and they took my newlywed." I can hear Johnny Cash covering this song, I really can. The weird part is that this introspective-sounding mainly acoustic album was made by a woman who apparently used to front an extremely loud punk band. Go fig. All the songs on this great new album sound like they're folk songs dating back a couple centuries. Visit her website here.

All five of the five songs are readily available so check them out. That about wraps it up for this installment of the five songs which are pleasing to the ear. Sometime soon, when you least expect it, you may encounter another installment of the five songs.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

FINK'S BRILLIANT! So, we had to take these idiotic online tutorials at work -- you know the kind, don't you??? And if you don't, SCREW YOU for having a job that DOESN'T take itself overly seriously and make you do these tests. But anyway, we wuz taking 'em and this one was particularly idiotic. You know the kind. . .the kind that doesn't just present the information you need to know but decides it needs to write dialogue and pretend like it's a Broadway play or something. So instead we see these fictional people introducing themselves, going off to a coffee shop -- in short, doing everything except PRESENTING THE INFORMATION WE'RE SUPPOSED TO BE LEARNING!!!
And here is the photo:
So, having been forced to sit through endless erroneous patter, the old Finkmaster Flash provided his OWN caption for this photo:
"The doctor said it WAS contagious and we SHOULD have been more careful."
I'm sorry but that works WAY better with that photo than any of the extraneous nonsense that was going on with it.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

EXTREMELY SHOCKED TO HEAR THAT COMIC ARTIST DAVE STEVENS HAS DIED of complications from leukemia. Stevens was best known as the creator/artist of The Rocketeer and his artwork was beautiful, slick and almost photo-realistic. I can remember waaaaaay back in the 80's when The Rocketeer first appeared; the amazing 1930's retro look was something new and really nice to look at. The Rocketeer's helmet looked just like a classic car, somehow; and the look also brought to mind that classic 30's Rocket Men serial. That was the whole point. But perhaps the greatest and most long-lasting contribution Dave Stevens made to this comic readers psyche was the introduction of Bettie Page to a whole new generation of teenagers with surging hormones. The first appearanace of Bettie Page in the Rocketeer (as the hero's girlfriend) was stunning; thousands of lads must have fallen in love immediately. It was only a little later on that we came to know that Bettie Page was actually a real person. We sought her out and REALLY fell in love. For this alone, Dave Stevens earned my undying gratitude. But the man was unquestionably one hell of a great comic artist. It seems impossible to believe that we won't be seeing any more of his artwork now that he's gone at the age of 52.

Monday, March 17, 2008

THE FIVE SONGS: FOURTH INSTANCE. This time around I've decided to take inspiration from the world wide web that we seem to be swimming in at this very moment and think about five songs which to me are particularly "spidery". This should strike a nerve with those of you who are fond of barking wall spiders (Hi Cheeks!) and those of you who are terrified of any sort of insect life whatsoever (Hi Fink!). So let me spin you a fable of five songs:
  1. SPIDERMAN by THE FRANK AND JOE SHOW. There are of course many version of the classic Spider-Man cartoon show theme song ("Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can...") particularly the Ramones version. However, I didn't feel like being that obvious so I went with an instrumental version from a jazz album by The Frank and Joe Show (yeah, you heard me!). Now, the Frank and Joe Show album 33 1/3 is a fantastic cd which features jazz instrumentals as well as guest vocalists on some songs (Hi, Jane Monheit!). This frenetic instrumental seems like it's twice as fast as the regular cartoon theme and features only guitar and drums. The guitar playing is lightning fast and the drum playing features frantic brushwork. A really classic, unusual jazz update of the Saturday morning tune.
  2. THE SPIDER AND THE FLY by THE ROLLING STONES. This bluesy number is from the Stones' 1965 album "Out Of Our Heads" and is a harmonica-driven blues featuring a wandering-eyed singer (Mick Jagger, of course. . ."sittin', thinkin', sinkin', drinkin', wonderin' what I'll do when I'm through tonight/smokin', mopin', maybe just a-hopin' some little girl will pass on by") with an eye for the ladies. Unfortunately, his girlfriend at home warns him not to take up with strange women. "Don't wanna be alone but I love my girl at home/I remember just what she said/She said 'My, My, My/Don't tell lies/Keep fidelity in your head". What a way to cramp Mick's style. And some hopes he's gonna follow that advice!
  3. SPIDER by THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS. Incredibly bizarre song. . .well, it's TMBG what did you expect. This incredibly short song sounds like it's sung by anime characters dubbed into English (think Speed Racer, folks): "Shpider!/He is our hero!/Shpider!/Get rid of!/Shpider!/Step on spidah!/Shpider!/We love you, spidah!" Bizarre instrumentation veers from drums and tambourine to mariachi trumpets. And after about 45 seconds of this madness, the song ends.
  4. BORIS THE SPIDER by THE WHO. Yes, this is my favourite Who song. Yes, I don't particularly like the Who. Yes, it's a perennial favourite around Halloween. Yes, he's one of the coolest spiders I know. Yes, he's crawling up my wall.
  5. SPIDERMAN LULLABYE by ZACHERLEY. The Cool Ghoul himself, the original horror host with the most, provided this oddly touching yet warped lullaby which I wish my mom had sung to me. A Brahms-Lullaby-like harmonica softly eases us into the tune as Zach croons: "Hushabye, rockabye, the spiderman is comin' by/to spin a web of dreams for you/casket high, casket low/Daddy rocks you to and fro/the spiderman will make your dreams come true." The song spins a dreamlike land where monsters and goblins walk -- and this is meant to be soothing! It is if you're a little monster like me. And we're not talking about the Marvel Comics superhero here -- we're talking about something more like a man-spider, I like to think. My favourite rhyme of the song: "If you're good/pretty soon/the creature from the Black Lagoon/will come and guard you while you dream away." Zach later soothingly hums the lullabye tune -- which degenerates into a diabolical, sinister yet quiet laugh. "Dream about a tiny hearse/drawn by a fuzzy bat/and by your side some mummies ride/think how you'll like that!" A perfect way to bring our five spidery songs to a close and rock you gently to sleep until next time when we present another five songs.