Sunday, December 23, 2012

Do You Remember Christmas Radio?--Part Two

Thursday, 12/20--12 PM to 1 PM

"It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year," Andy Williams
Rich, dulcet tones!  That cliche was born in the brain of some poor writer trying to express the bliss that melted their dendritic spine upon listening to Mr. Williams.  So warm, so sweet, it just compels me to run outside, drop down, and start making pavement angels like a dumb-ass.

My most wonderful Christmas was 1984.  Just the day before I had been knocked out by a nasty stomach virus that prevented me from enjoying any of the Christmas Eve festivities at my childhood home.  But come the next morn, I was sitting right there by the tree, opening presents and downing multiple mini-cans of grapefruit juice.

My least wonderful Christmas was 2010, which I spent hungover.  I really should have known better than to let my brother goad me into that drinking competition.

"Silver Bells," Martina McBride
All you country bitches sound alike to me.  So do all y'all hat-donning, chaw-chomping, arsenal-stockpiling fellas.  This is a cheese pizza left out in the rain, but it'll be okay, 'cause everyone in the city of Nashville has that friggin' recipe, unchanged since 1936.

"Let It Snow," Dean Martin
The snow around the Martin homestead was always stained a rich Kentucky brown.  Deanie's not as out of his skull on the good stuff as on, say, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," but he's still dropping g's and elongating meaningless syllables like nobody's business.

"Deck the Halls/The Twelve Days of Christmas," Kenny G
If Kenny G had never put himself on his own album covers, he'd never accumulated half the negative rep he has in certain chilled circles.  The man is now as ever a purveyor of inoffensive background music.

"All I Want For Christmas Is You," Mariah Carey
"I can't stand Mariah Carey.  Never have been able to."

"I remember when she first came out, with that 'Vision of Love' song.  And it was like okay, she can sing.  No question about that.  But it's all just dime-a-dozen R and B, who really needs it?"

"And here we are, twenty years later, and she's still a superstar."


"And she even had the gall to do a Christmas song that they play all the time on the radio, and in stores, just raping our ears with that stupid crap!"

"Yeah.  I'm going to have to ask you to leave my home."

"Christmas Eve/Sarajevo," Trans-Siberian Orchestra
The story behind this song is much heavier than the actual track, itself a somewhat clever medley.
This is better known perhaps as that SUPER FUCKING DRAMATIC GUITAR ORCHESTRA SONG.  Preferable to Mannheim Steamroller's music made for boring middle-class people, but really, few things aren't.

"There's No Place Like Home For the Holidays," Perry Como
The Carpenters did the definitive version, but oh well, the radio hates me.  I always liked the lyrics use the word "terrific" in its less popular sense.

"The Christmas Song," Nat King Cole
There's nothing creepy, or anachronistic, about this one.  It's the essential holiday song to me, more so than "White Christmas," and no one did it more justice than Mr. Cole.

"Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," Darlene Love and Ronnie Spector
This should not suck.  But it does.  Additionally, it swallows.  Pour acid on a ferret, y'all, Christmas is dead.

"Frosty the Snowman," Willie Nelson
I can only imagine what kinda "magic" Willie keeps in his hats.

"Christmas Waltz," The Lettermen
"Santa's on his way/He's filled his sleigh with things."  Oh goodie, I love things!  Again, the Carpenters own this, the most self-aware Christmas song yet written.

"O Holy Night," Richard Marx
"O Holy Night" is a beautiful tune that dates back to the 19th century.  The brilliant melody--calling for a soaring quality that is by turns delicate and mighty--has attracted multitudinous singers, including some of the best voices to ever bless a record.  Enrico Caruso, Whitney Houston, Johnny Mathis, Nat King Cole.  And this is the one Wash-FM plays for me right now.  Mr. "Right Here Waiting."  GET OFF THE STAGE.

"Winter Wonderland," Jason Mraz
Mr. A to the Z is all about the snow play!  Asshole.  Thank Jebus I'm not eating till after I'm done this segment.  So much pizza, wasted.  Is he doing some call-and-response ala "Yellow Submarine" with himself?  Dear Lord.

"Joy to the World," Anne Murray
She's like the country Annie Lennox.  More with the hair than anything, Annie Lennox is a far superior singer.

"This Christmas," Harry Connick, Jr.  
If I played this at a party and people didn't catapult shit at me, I'd wonder out loud if I really had any friends at all.

What a dreadful way to end Day 2!  To go out on a cheerier note, here's a picture of me from that infamous Christmas Day 1984, co-starring my slumping older brother and my mother with her technicolor nightmare robe.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Do You Remember Christmas Radio?--Day One

Wherein your humble blogger picks one random over each day for three days, and absorbs the seasonal playlist of Washington DC's soft-rock bastion, 97.1 WASH-FM.

12/19, Wednesday--9:30 PM to 10:30 PM

"Little Drummer Boy," Jackson 5
You know why the Jackson 5 are considered one of the iconic acts in American music history?  Not because of their Christmas songs.  Why is Cookie Monster's nephew on here clearing his throat?  Why is that being passed off as a drum roll effect?  Why change "lamb" to "mule"?  Was that Joe Jackson trying to throw in a passive-aggressive eff-y'all to the establishment?

"White Christmas," Bing Crosby
The biggest-selling single of all-time per the good folks at Guinness, with a tally in excess of fifty million copies.  Thus any radio station worth their Mr. and Mrs. Claus salt 'n pepper shakers will have "White Christmas" on their playlist.

I remember two white Christmases in my entire life, and frankly the whole business is overrated.  I never asked for any presents that required snowfall for maximum enjoyment anyway.

"May all your Christmases be white."  First of all, racist.  Secondly, and less sarcastically, that's just one of those statements it's impossible to get a temperature reading of.  Why would anyone tell anyone else that?  If pressed, could they explain why precisely it's so much better to gaze upon sheets of the gentlest white stuff on one specific day over another?

"Please Come Home For Christmas," Charles Brown
Yep, that's his name.  And truly this song is a real "nothing face."  I think Don Henley was more soulful than this guy.  But fret not, Chuck, you will outpace Jon Bon Jovi in the vocal-vitality department.

"Up On the Housetop," Gene Autry
Ol' Gene sounds like he's fulfilling a contract, but bells and whistles abound like the display window of a mom 'n' pop.

"Happy Holidays," Steve Lawrence and Edyie Gorme
So that's who sings this.  Per my mom, Steve Lawrence just made all the thick cotton panties moist back in the day, although she didn't put it in those exact words.  Edyie comes with the package but she's inconsequential.  In fact, so is this song.  No drama, real or imagined, no abrupt hitches, no opportunities for histrionics among the cast of players, and I swear there's more whistling happening than actual singing.  'Bout as durable as a Dixie Cup.

"The First Noel," Elvis Presley
You know why Elvis is considered one of the iconic acts in American music history?  Jebus, Cletus, can you tame that lip just a smidge?  It's yer friggin' lord and savior yer singing about, not a mangy mutt.

"Merry Christmas Darling," The Carpenters
Heaven is here!  Milk, honey and bacon!  Let us all gather 'round and SHUT UP while one of the true great voices of pop music opens our presents and claims them for herself to zero protest.

Karen relied on vibratos a good deal, but most of the time--and here especially--they are wise and true.  She makes "you" sound like, y'know, you.

"Frosty the Snowman," Beach Boys
Now the Boys generally did Christmas correctly, even penning a couple originals that get play on the radio to this day.  But this timeless classic comes off a lesser tune in the hands of the California boys.  Their clean harmonies go unsteady with the big band shuffle.  It's not unlistenable in the slightest, just unremarkable to extremity.

"Here Comes Santa Claus," Ray Conniff
I much prefer Mitch Miller's vast orchestra of kung fu killers to this claptrap.

"It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas," Perry Como
Who are these uncredited women on backing vox?  Why was this a thing?  They gets no love.  I bet this song sold like chocolate-covered candy canes, but much of that did those poor ladies see?  Yep, barren stockings all 'round that Christmas.

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," Lou Rawls
Blander than a meal of toast and cranberry juice.  But nowhere near as crumbly or colorful.

Oh no, I hear slap bass.  All these miniature incorrigibles are devilishly constructing a migraine-man in my gourd.  Friggin' kids!  Get off my smooth noodle lawn!

"Jingle Bell Rock," Bobby Helms
Well-voiced to the point it overwhelms the dispassionate sound behind it all.  I dunno about the wisdom of the unisex chorus to somehow enhance the main vocalist's performance.  'Course I guess you could say having only the one voice is counter to the inclusive spirit of the season.

And I know he didn't do this version, but he did do a version, so ooohhhh maaan I wanna slap Bono with a titanium rod.

"Santa Claus Is Coming To Town," The Crystals
Carole King didn't write this one, the Crystals just made it sound that way.  Wicked display window:  toy soldiers painted with loving eyes and patient hands; wide-eyed dolls and their adorable dresses; miniature balls attached to strings of garland; blinking lights burning holes into brains.  I bet the saxophonist was wearing a Santa hat in the studio when he laid that solo down.

"Angels We Have Heard On High," Percy Faith and His Orchestra
A genuinely spiritual song, even sans the lyrics.  See, not everything needs CHOIRS FROM THE BALLS OF CHRIST to make an impact.

"Christmas Auld Lang Syne," Bobby Darin
What in the actual?  Oh how I long for that Dan Fogelberg song about the two alcoholics who used to be in love!  It's just the melody to "Auld Lang Syne" with Christmas-themed lyrics.  It's also garbage.  I would take this song over having my leg chomped off by a shark, but just barely.

How have I never even heard of this song before?  It certainly can't be new, as a cursory check of Mr. Darin's existence status reveals that he has been dead since 1973.  This is weird to me.  I can't think offhand of a Christmas song more pointless.  "Auld Lang Syne" is a fine tune as it is, why you gotta throw it under the tree like that?  And oh, did I just hear our little friend the flute do a little decking of the halls at the end there?  Isn't that just the cutest thing.  Makes me wanna soul-kiss a gingerbread man, it does.

"Sleigh Ride," Andy Williams
The "jing-a-ling jing-jing-a-ling" makes me want to extract each tooth with my own bare, unmoisturized hands .  And it changed keys for pretty much no good reason.  Piss on a puppy, y'all, 'cause Christmas is dead.  I demand a classic, Wash-FM, and I demand it now.

"Christmastime Is Here (instrumental)," Vince Guaraldi Trio
Why, Internet radio, it's like you just heard my plea!  But I was born three decades after the mandatory chip-implantation, so it couldn't be that.

A majestic single from a majestic whole.  I can see the snow falling lightly but insistently.  I can feel the wet flakes tickling my unprotected face.  I can hear the crunch underfoot.  I marvel at my very essence come to life before my eyes.  And on.

"Silver Bells," Dean Martin
Yes, it's old Drunky the Drunk Guy!  (He was damn close to being the Dave Mustaine of the Rat Pack, I should think; surely Jerry Lewis was the Lars Ulrich.)  Dude did not punch up his egg nog with booze, nope, he uppercut that shit.  One sip'll give lesser beings the Romney ringside face.  Unisex choir in attendance to prop Mr. Martin up literally.  Fun stuff.

Stay tuned for day 2, coming tomorrow...

Friday, December 21, 2012

It's the Girl in the Red Truck, Charlie Brown

AIRDATE:   9/27/1988

STORY:  The Girl in the Red Truck is possibly the sore thumb of the Peanuts television franchise.  It's alternate title is "The One That Mixes Animation With Live Action Footage."   Charles Schulz wrote the script with son Monte, and had high hopes for the end product.  Production of the 48 minute special, with legendary televison director Walter C. Miller at the helm,  took four years and cost millions of dollars.  Three months before Red Truck made its small-screen debut, however, the similarly-crafted Who Framed Roger Rabbit? hit the theaters.  It was impossible for critics and the public to avoid unfair comparisons.  While Roger Rabbit was wildly successful and acclaimed, The Girl in the Red Truck was widely panned.  Schulz made it an effort to explain that the shows conception preceded Roger Rabbit by years, but the initial impression that he had created an inferior copycat in a desperate bid for relevance persisted.

On to the show.

The action begins with Charlie Brown retrieving a letter for Snoopy.  It's from his brother Spike!  Instead of just letting Snoopy have his privacy, Charlie Brown insists on reading the missive aloud to his pet.  (Schulz objected to this scene, which is just Infodump 101, but eventually he was convinced that there would actually be people viewing this show who weren't massive fans of the strip and thus would have little to no idea what Spike's story was.)

For those unaware:  Spike is Snoopy's emaciated brother, he wears a fedora that was apparently run over by a 16-wheeler in a torrential downpour before he picked it up from the side of the highway, his sad little moustache could be duplicated by many elderly women, and he lives in the desert in Needles, California.  He speaks with the cacti, plays one-dog frisbee, ponders tumbleweeds, and learns the French language through cassettes on a hand-held player.  And he keeps his eyes peeled for the red pickup truck that passes through his neck of the desert wood, just so he can share a friendly wave with the young woman behind the wheel.

One day, the truck breaks down in front of the besotted beagle.  Spike communicates with the young woman, Jenny, via his language tapes.  She takes an immediate liking to Spike and, once the truck is fixed, offers him a ride to her home.

Jenny is a vivacious aerobics instructor who dreams of a more meaningful career as a jazz dancer.  She lives in a nice beachfront condo with her boyfriend Jeff, who is apparently some fancy record-industry dude in L.A.  Meaningful conflict attempts to arise when Jeff announces that he has arranged an audition for Jenny without her foreknowledge--and the audition is scheduled for the same day as an aerobics class she is expected to teach.

Jenny's peeved, but not so much so that they can't all head to the local roller rink for some wheel-y good times.  But when Spike is accidentally thrown out of the back door, he decides to head back into the desert instead of waiting for Jenny and Jeff.  (I thought dogs were loyal?)  He pals around with some suspiciously Snoopy-esque figures whose faces insinuate inveterate indisposition.  Spike just isn't meant to enjoy the night, though, as soon some rifle-toting yahoos in pickup trucks roll in, ready to take out some coyotes.  Jenny and Jeff arrive in time to save the day, and offer Spike a newer, warmer, safer place to rest his highway-hat.  But old habits die hard if they even die at all, and our cute li'l hero returns to the dry landscape he has come to love.

I've just written a lot about a story that is tepid and sprinkled liberally with cliches.  Sure, coming so soon after a blockbuster film that used the same visual hook didn't help The Girl in the Red Truck, but a fresh and interesting plot may have.  4

MUSIC:  Composer Paul Rodriguez brings us re-imaginings of "The Best of Laura Branigan, Karaoke."  3

ANIMATION:  Spike looks great.  Snoopy has some weird face stuff happening in the introduction, like his facial muscles kinda forgot how to smile for a half-second.  But really, the animation is secondary to the actors.

Jenny is played by Jill Schulz, daughter of Charles, and reviews announcing her irredeemable horribleness are exaggerated.  She does adequately.  Same with Greg Deacon in the role of Jeff.  There's a lot of meaningful gazing expected in the script.  I suspect that reacting to basically nothing isn't easy, so I'll give both of them a 5.5.  The story did not give them the chance to either succeed greatly or fail miserably.  You can only hold on to the bottom of a wet bag for so long.


--Dude in the middle looks like a Snoopy/Woodstock hybrid.  I ain't mad.


Spike's phlegmatic attitude while Jeff bares what remains of his soul is so friggin' California. Everyone there is searching for the undiscoverable, and because the weather is so monochromatic, they're convinced they can find it one day.  Because snow never comes around and forces them indoors where they can realize how lame they are and make the appropriate lifestyle changes to stave off further lameness.  Lesson:  too much sun is no good.

Poor Spike, you can tell he just wanted to catch the next dust wave east and chill with his bro and all the stupid weird-looking kids in the neighborhood.


Mountain Dew, Schlitz, Old Milwaukee, Ice House, Red Bull and Bud Light.  A little touch of Hagerstown, way out west.


--Damnit rednecks, this is why we can't have nice coyotes.  Except coyotes aren't particularly nice, what with the attacking children and things.  But hey, I just had to hear the head honcho of the National Rifle Association say that the only way to deal with the increasing gun violence in America is to arm more people.  So I'm not too fond of either of ya.

--The visual dissonance of cartoon Spike and his real-life surroundings is so jarring.  It's funny to see him in his element, and the initial novelty is impressive, but when he interacts with people the shortcomings of the production are apparent.  Admittedly the technology was not then what it is now, but it's also the forced feeling that pervades each frame.

Now I'm not saying Spike should've suddenly gone into town on a quest for erotic cakes, but it would have suited Schulz and Co. better to not make him the centerpiece of such an ambitious project.  Not because Spike is a secondary character in the Peanuts universe but because his base of operation is one of limited visual appeal.  Imagine, instead, adults interacting with the animated kids in the neighborhood--the writers and crew could work with residential homes, schools, and baseball diamonds.  Settings familiar to the fans, given a fresh spin, challenging and stimulating to creators and viewers alike.  I mean, they could have shown animated Snoopy lying atop an actual wooden red doghouse!

Charles Schulz knew they had fallen short:  "I wanted this to be my Citizen Kane, but it's not."  It's a shame, to me, that they never tried it again.  I really feel the second attempt would have been wiser in mind and surer in step.   But!  Que sera, sera, blockhead.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Action in the Morning

Yeah..this is what happens when I need a soundtrack for the morning and decide to browse video game songs that have been ripped to YouTube.

Because honestly, part of appreciating how horrible a gaming experience Action 52 is includes realizing the anti-artistry displayed by the composers as well as the designers.  But when I got to the theme for the second level of Lollipops, I was in for a jolt that my coffee couldn't hope to equal.

Are you serious?

In an interview with Ink 19  to promote the release of her debut album The Golden Dove, Mary Timony was asked what inspired the "beautiful and amazing" melody of "Dr. Cat."

"I think I was just playing around with a drum machine beat; it was just a fun, spur-of-the-moment melody."

Or, you jacked it from a virtually unplayable game on a virtually unplayable multi-cart released on Nintendo in the early 1990s.  Either way, well done.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Snoopy's Getting Married, Charlie Brown

AIRDATE:  3/20/1985

STORY:  Peppermint Patty's pops is outta town, leaving his only child all alone in the cavernous Reichardt homestead.  Brave and brazen though she normally appears to be, young Patricia reaches out to her pal Chuck Brown, and borrows his pup Snoopy to fulfill the role of formidable guard dog.  From his perch on the porch, Snoopy spies a cute li'l poodle named Genevieve.  The pair begin a tsunami-esqure romance and are quickly betrothed.

Snoopy's nerves are almost shot by the time The Big Day rolls around, but the presence of his brother Spike--who rolled in, quite literally, all the way from the desert to act as "Best Beagle"--helps Snoop overcome his chilly paws.  Such fortitude is for naught, however, when news arrives that the bride-to-be has left him for a golden retriever.  Who are clearly the studly breed.

Based on a series of strips from 1977, with a couple key differences (Snoopy's paramour was never seen by the reader; and she actually ran off with Spike), Snoopy's Getting Married, Charlie Brown is one of the faster-paced Peanuts specials.  It's a nice excuse to showcase Snoopy for a half-hour and also to introduce Spike to the television audience.  8

MUSIC:  Milquetoast Munsen and the Anti-Funky Bunch.  6

ANIMATION:  Aims square for the middle of the color wheel, lands there, and refuses to move. 8

VOICES:  Brett Johnson's version of Charlie Brown is warm, sweet and childish in the way that these shows specialized in by having actual children in the voice-acting roles.  A solid 9, with an extra half-point for his enunciation of the word beautiful.

Gini Holtzman gets an identical grade for Peppermint Patty.  Always a pleasure to have some minty peanuts mingling in the bowl.

A pair of 7's to Jeremy Schoenberg and Heather Stoneman as the eldest Van Pelt kids.  Daniel Colby gives voice to Schroeder, which is now as ever a non-event for me--5.  Keri Houlihan, however, is a near-perfect 9.5 as Marcie.  (I love it when they do my doppelganger justice!)

Lastly we have Stacy Ferguson.  The future Fergie handles both Sally and Violet, but it is as the former girl that young Stacy gets to display the voice that would somehow regress completely by adulthood.  Her rendition of "Oh Let Me Be the One"--with Schroeder on accompanying tinkles--is a sweet sprinkle of cinnamon indeed.  But is it the greatest pre-ceremony song ever performed?  No.  Nothing will top this, ever.  Still, have an 8 for your troubles.


--Patty! 5! Nice to see you still on the mailing list!

--I actually believe Eudora Welty ghostwrote the Bunnie-Wunnies series of books.

--Spike is so great.  Woody from Cheers would have had a dog like Spike.  His correspondence with Snoopy, as read aloud by Charlie Brown, is how we learn the details of Snoopy and Genevieve's courtship.

--After Sally's serenade, Schroeder throws down some Beethoven; specifically, the ending of the first movement of Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67.  Cracks my crap up completely.  Dude bashes those keys like he's anticipating candy will come flying out.

--I always stitch the sky blue.


--There appears to be some light flirtation between Spike and Genevieve that suggests (however briefly) that the special will stay faithful to the strip, but it's possible that the mighty triumvirate of Schulz/Mendelson/Melendez didn't want casual viewers to turn off their sets with a bad first impression of their beloved beagles desert-dwelling bro.

--So everyone here is cool with two dogs getting married?

Snoopy's bachelor party is a bunch of young boys speaking wistfully on something they could not possibly have any intimate knowledge of:  the pressures of impending maturity.  Snoopy's about to be a husband, and surely a father, so that means only one thing--SO LONG TO ALL THE FUN SHIT.  Kids are the worst.  And what would the offspring of a beagle and a poodle be called, anyway?  A "boodle"?

--"I feel the pain of everyone/Then I feel nothing/'Cause I just ate an entire wedding cake."

I don't know why, precisely, Snoopy's Getting Married, Charlie Brown doesn't have a heartier cult following.  The title alone should guarantee it its own goddamn Tumblr page.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween III: Season of the Witch--It's Actually on YouTube

Actually, they have to be at home for the horrifying plot twist to pop off...also doesn't Michael Myers look weird?  Oh yeah, about that...

Halloween III:  Season of the Witch came out in 1982, four years after the classic original and one year after the inevitably inferior but still quite good part II.  Producer/director/writer John Carpenter intended for the villain Michael Myers to die for good at the end of the second film, and to continue the series as an anthology of films unrelated to each other save for the obvious connection in the title.  However, the masses were disheartened at the lack of Mike, and the producers gave in and brought him back for future installments.

In case you thought artistic integrity had anything to do with any of this.

Halloween III is not just a Halloween sequel, and not just a horror film.  It's every 80s movie ever.  The feelings this irrefutable fact engenders inside of you will definitely determine how much you enjoy the film, if at all.  It is 1 hour and 38 minutes of a decent story sunk by unimaginative directing and cinematography, turgid dialogue, and acting that fulfills a contract.

It's actually up on YouTube for your possible enjoyment, and in the spirit of the Top Chef finale reviews I did back in the days when I cared, I present a timeline review of Halloween III.  Meaning I had to watch the damned thing a second time.

0:33  The opening credits design reminds me of the Swordquest games for Atari, namely the screen that would pop up featuring the numbers a player would need to write down so's to complete the quest.

1:09   Dan O'Herlihy portrays Conal Cochran.  Oh fuck, that is a lot of Irish.

2:55   NORTHERN CALIFORNIA.  We're out West here.  Remember this.  I mean they put it up on screen, so they clearly want us to store it in our mind grapes.

3:09   THE 23RD--my birthday!  Wow, this is a feeling of pride almost as fulfilling as when part of the Patsy Cline biopic Sweet Dreams was shot in my little-ass elementary school, and the filmmakers didn't even mention us in the end credits.  Assholes.  We worked our little hands very hard on that paper mache barn Jessica Lange "sang" in front of, I'll have you know.

3:22   The music is spooky.  Anytime now, pieces of cobalt sky will plummet and impact the earth below with all the force of a steel elephant.  Possibly it will hit this Disheveled Guy who is being pursued by a non-speeding car.

5:09   It's Gary Numan!  He's gonna kill Disheveled Guy.

5:43   Gary Numan ends up dead instead, crushed by a car.  Yep.  The fact that he crunches so much should tip us off to something...

6:46   Nine months on, no one knows what's happened to Stonehenge.  It apparently just disappeared.

7:13   The most important moments of the entire movie.  It is at this time we are introduced to the Silver Shamrock commercial.  You will always remember the first time you heard it.  Set to the tune of "London Bridge Is Falling Down," this jingle is not an earworm.  It's an ear-anaconda.  Be forewarned, one listen is all it takes.  Once it sinks the hooks into your brain, they cannot be removed.

8:36   Disheveled Guy practically attacks Black Gas Station Attendant as he rasps out, "They're coming!"  In his hand, he clutches a pumpkin mask that looks very much like the one in the commercial.

9:09   Enter the alleged hero, Dr. Challis, portrayed by Tom Atkins, who's usually busy playing cops.  Either way, the moustache remains, and it is easily the second-scariest thing in the entire film.

9:56   The way Challis' kids put their stupid Silver Shamrock masks on and start dancing around whilst singing that goddamn commercial jingle makes my forehead pulse.  However, it does come on the heels of some fantastic emasculation as delivered by the ex-Mrs. Dr. Challis.  Nothing's gonna convince me to ever push out some brats, though.  What if they grow up to have poor taste in music?  What if they don't like to read?  What if someone catches me tying them to the highway median?  Too much possible hassle.

10:17  Second time the commercial has appeared and I'm already prepared to impale myself on a dead man's penis if it pops up again.  The commercial, I mean.

11:09  Fucking ad runs on the hospital TV while Disheveled Guy is being tended to!

11:46  They keep showing another Gary Numan hovering around.  I don't like the film.  And I don't like the scenery.  And I don't like the set.

13:40  In all the trips I've had to take to (the) hospital in all my time as a mentally ill asthmatic, I can tell you:  doctors and nurses do not respect you unless you're being kept in a room with a door.  That sheet shit is for the birds, and they know it.

14:10  New Wave revenge, as Disheveled Guy dies via skull ripping.

15:43  This man is able to blink his eyes even after dousing his entire head in gasoline.  This seems to indicate something, perhaps.

17:13  I bet Tom Atkins and Stacey Keach used to get together at big ol' Hollywood parties and have stache-offs disguised as friendly conversations.

17:32  Absolutely pointless voiceover of Disheveled Guy's last words, uttered minutes previous as the Silver Shamrock commercial made doves cry:  "They're going to kill us."

19:16  Not even one minute after she first appears, I can already tell that Challis is going to bang Disheveled Guy's distraught daughter, Ellie.

19:43  The 27th!

20:57  The 29th!

21:21  The TV references a vague-ass "Big Giveaway" to be held by Silver Shamrock Novelties at 9 PM PST, after a showing of--yep--Halloween.  They even show clips of the flick.

21:55  This Ellie bitch has the same blow-dried Brillo poof hairdo and mime-corpse makeup that so many bitches in the 80s did.  When Mimi Kuzyk was introduced as the new female cop on Hill Street Blues, you knew it wasn't just because Steven Bochco was kowtowing to network pressure re: gender representation, it was because while Betty Thomas' character kicked ass, she was pretty much a six-foot blonde dyke from the Midwest, and goddamnit, we need our female cops to be glamorous.  Mind you, such a character insulted men as well as women, 'cause the implication was transparent that you'd have to be utterly ruled by your penis to even want to stick it into such an ambulatory mannequin.

That's why Captain Furillo, married yet separated as he was, turned down the new woman cop's advances.  'Cause of standards.  Decency.  And it was in the script.

24:17  Tom Atkins' and I have the same thought: Damn, this woman cannot act.

25:06  That song is worse than "American Pie."

25:39  Ellie's desire to find her father's murderers and Challis' desire to take a nap inside Ellie's vagina lead them to Santa Mira, CA.  Info dump included, of course.

27:17  "I'm not ready for this, we need a plan."  She says right as they arrive at the Silver Shamrock factory.

27:54  "Good evenin' to ya!"

29:03  Everyone loves Conal Cochran!  Despite the fact he drives along the main road at 3 MPH.
Or is it because of the fact?  Irish people!

29:40  It's the Kupfer family!  Buddy, Betty, and Little Buddy!  They happen to be checking into the same hotel as our heroes.  Big Buddy is obese and wearing a mismatched shirt/sweater/golf hat combo, while his wife has a perpetually-distracted face and a body like Violet Beauregard after gastric bypass.  When she attempts to flirt, it looks for all the world like Bell's Palsy has set in.

30:11  The Elaine Benes of the movie has arrived!  GO TO HELL!

30:29  "This place is a zoo!"  I wish.  There'd be komodo dragons, pandas...

31:10-31:18  Some brief discussion about sleeping arrangements leads to, "Where do you wanna sleep, Dr. Challis?" and the response, "That's a dumb question, Miss Grimridge," and then face-sucking commences but thankfully it's not for very long.

I get the feeling the Challis phallus was a co-defendant in his divorce case.

31:41   Of all the people I thought would incur a 6 o'clock curfew, the Irish would not have been in my top 5.  Swedes for sure...Russians...Canadians...but the Irish?

32:44  This portion of the soundtrack has always reminded me of John Carpenter's work for Christine.

33:22   Challis is leaving a store.  Um?  He has alcohol.  UM?  Curfew!  What the hell.  Movie, why aren't you trying?

34:18  Bummy Guy lets out an impassioned "Fuck you!" and the profanity is like spotting an emerald glistening from the viscera of a dead deer.

34:38  Bummy Guy lets Challis know Silver Shamrock is bad news, man.  In fact, he's gonna firebomb the place, with bottles of gasoline that he will ignite with his revolting homeless-dude breath.

36:16  Draco Malfoy rips a dummy's head off.  More believable sound effects would have done this scene a galaxy of good.

37:25  Elaine is actually named Marge, and she's a motormouth saleswoman with some questions for the Silver Shamrock people.  The answer she receives will be definitive.

38:12  Gratuitous partial nudity and faux-sex sounds when no actual sex is involved.

39:31  This bitch packed lingerie.  Out on a frightening mission, in a strange Irish-Amish town, hunting the people behind her father's murder, and she packs lingerie.  'Cause this older doctor dude has a stache that makes her lady parts all tingly and she can't just can't help it.

39:41  Terrible alleged sex scene.  No one has sex like this.  They act like they're moving in a tub of gravy.  It's like the director showed them Don't Look Now and said, "Do the opposite of that."

40:24  Post-coital bliss shattered by the bedside radio:  "Silver Shamrock!"

40:43  The fact this Dr. Challis has a face that says, "Punch me till your fist breaks" means nothing because he has a sexy thick moustache!  I could never trust such.  You may think the presence of a face brush would mean the man would be down to shuffle as well as deal, but I'm of the mind it indicates the opposite.  Poor Ellie.

41:58  A female Macgyver would have an endless supply of bobby pins.  Just like a hillbilly Macgyver would have a bottomless reserve of duct tape.


42:22  Marge's face is superbly mangled.  Where once was a mouth is now a fleshy crater that a bug escapes from.  That's actually creepy and disgusting!  Well done, movie.

I wanna dedicate this one to the movie!

44:09  First appearance of Cochran.  Lamentably, not a splash of green on him.

44:16  Challis and Ellie would have the ugliest kids, inside and outside.  His stache, her poof hair.  Her desire for answers, his willingness to humor her.

47:16  Ellie's got that face like a child watching a clown die.

48:04  The Kupfer family!  How great of them to show up at the Silver Shamrock factory at the same time as our protagonists!

48:40  Buddy Kupfer is the number one salesman of Silver Shamrock masks.  And yet he's still so humble!

48:57  Pressed to improvise a fake last name, Challis comes up with "Smith."  Wow.  Post-coital wet brain really endures in some people, huh?

50:53  Conal Cochran is apparently the "all-time genius of the practical joke."  He invented sticky toilet paper and the sloth chainsaw.  Huh?  Did he invent one I've heard of, at all?  Like snakes in a can?

51:22  Little Buddy goes nuts over a pumpkin mask.  Exactly why is weird, for two reasons.  First, all three of the masks Silver Shamrock offers are pedestrian in both concept and execution:  skull, witch, jack-o-lantern.  The only reason they're selling as well as they are is that vague-ass "big giveaway" which itself is only appealing to people because A)  ooh what if it's money I bet it's money ooooh a lot of money and B)  that goddamn Hell-song.  Second, this boy's dad is the number-one Silver Shamrock salesman in the country and he hasn't already hawked one to his own spawn?  Come on.

52:06  Something about the sound of an Irish man laughing makes my soul vomit.

52:40  Cochran's evasive bullshitting technique is weak, but still better than Dr. Challis' naming abilities.  Smith, indeed.  You cunnilingus-denying premature ejaculator, you.

54:14  These people are so dumb.  I'm beyond thrilled that death shall soon come to them.

55:21  THE 30TH!

56:16  Oh no, it's Kraftwerk!  They've come to kill!

58:10  The chase through the streets has all the drama of a snowball fight, but like three times the comedy.

1:00:35  Robots!  Knew it!

1:01:34  Ewwwww, robots are gross.

1:02:39  The way Cochran says "It'll be morning soon" immediately puts me in mind of Torgo from Manos Hands of Fate.  And I wish so much the MST3K guys had gotten to this one.

1:05:27--1:05:34  Cochran stole Stonehenge!  And has it in his factory!  "We had a time getting it here.   You wouldn't believe how we did it!"  Unbelievable.  They just put that in a script and got human beings to recite it, film it, and release it to other human beings.  One of my favorite plot holes ever.

1:05:49  I seriously can't believe he didn't explain it--he's the villain!  The villain always overexplains their sinister machinations, that's how they're thwarted.

1:07:24  Relocated to a "test room" with a nice comfy chair, a nicer comfier couch, a lamp, some schizophrenic artwork, and a TV, the Kupfers are ready to watch a new Silver Shamrock commercial.  Also, to die.

1:08:14  Betty Kupfer is forever drunk.  One of those unsatisfied housewives with fat ugly hubbys and incorrigible brats, so to dull the agony they dress far too young for their age and bolt straight to the bathroom right after they wake up in the morning to take a hearty swig from the liquor bottle they've surreptitiously stashed behind the toilet.

1:08:48  This version of the commercial is the one that will air across the country on Halloween night.  Cue repetition of already-redundant melody and a flashing J-O-L face.  The voiceover asks that the kids put their masks on, and Buddy does so without hesitation.

1:09:13  As Challis and Cochran watch from a security camera, drunk Betty starts laughing hysterically at the ridiculousness of the entire setup.

1:09:22  Down goes Buddy!

1:09:28  This movie just killed a kid!  His head is pumpkin mix!  It seriously has that consistency.

1:09:30  And NOW the parents notice their son is twitching and his head has been destroyed.  Bad news, Kupfers--your only child is dead.  Good news--you get free pumpkin mix!

1:09:36  Ah, shit no, BUGS!  Like hundreds of them.  Spawning from what was once Buddy's head.  The dad's face is so good.  That was the first take or I know nothing.

1:09:48  Down goes mom!

1:09:51  Snakes!  RATTLESNAKE?!  How?  This is all down to Druid magic, I guess?  I see...Stonehenge slivers in the mask's trademark.  Commercial triggers laser.  Which in turn triggers ANIMALS.

1:09:54  Ol' Buddy Kupfer loses it here.  Despite the presence of a dead boy, his dead mother, his soon-to-be-dead father, and oh yes, bugs and snakes a-poppin', the scariest thing about this whole sequence...the song is still playing.  Faster than ever.  Oh my Samhain!

1:10:22  The culmination of Dr. Challis' horror, as brought to life by Tom Atkins, is a wonder to behold.  I think the figures behind him are actual robots, 'cause real human beings would have blown every single take from laughter.

1:11:35  Montage of children across the country trick-or-treating, and herein the most blatant plot hole of the whole film lies bare, waiting for you to fall on in.

1:11:55  That girl is wearing an SS Pumpkin Mask whilst dressed up as a ballerina whilst riding a skateboard.  If only she'd ollie'd over a rampaging tiger.

1:15:10  Movie, the hell?  We can bear witness to a guy getting his head ripped off, and a little kid's noggin disintegrating and birthing fucking insects, but seeing a woman taking a drill bit to the head is too much?

1:15:58  Conal Cochran has Dr. Challis trapped and decides to explain his "joke on the children."

1:16:10  Basically, the Celtic traditions of Samhain demand a sacrifice on this Halloween.  With the help of magical Stonehenge sliver power, Silver Shamrock is going to kill millions of children as they stare hopefully at their TVs.

Conal Cochran is like Linus Van Pelt, all grown up and Irish.

1:20:41  So of course Challis escapes and of course the means by which he does so are complete movie bullshit.

1:23:52  He saves Ellie.  And maybe, eventually, the day?  Vagina naps for all!?  Ooh, let's all hope.

1:27:10  Wow Ellie sure seems subdued.

1:27:57  Killed by your own Druid-infused trademarks.  Classic horror movie staple.

1:28:42  Cochran actually golf claps before he dies.  Aw, come on, wherefore art thou, diabolical laughter?

1:28:57  Wuzzah?

1:29:05  Huzzah?

Dude, Cochran just went out like an ELO song.

1:29:46  Ellie sure is traumatized.  Hasn't even spoken yet.

1:30:06  Oh shit she's a robot.

1:30:09 YEP.

1:31:21  The fact Challis left Ellie with no head just hearkens back to the observation I made about three fucking hours ago when they were in the hotel making the bed tremble.

1:33:05  Gas station again!  Circle of life, man, I tell you.  Attendant must be thinking, Another crazy white motherfucker.  

1:33:30  Challis actually sputters out, "Life and death!"  Sentence fragments, yeah!

1:33:43 to the end  Yeah...this is where we get amazingly ridiculous.  You may have thought, as I did, that the ending to Halloween III would be anticlimactic.  Like what tops disintegrating young boy head bringing forth animals out of fucking thin air?  How about, crazy guy gets on the phone to a major TV network screaming about how everyone's going to die if they don't take that annoying fucking commercial off the air and it actually almost works?

What network is he calling?  Not all networks are even affiliated.  Why would they trust him?  Because he claims to be a doctor and he sounds out of breath?  And see, here's the kicker.  It's 9 o'clock on the West Coast.  It was 9 on the East Coast three hours ago.  Two hours ago central, one hour ago Mountain.  Millions have already died.  You mean to tell me there's no chance maybe someone who was around an exploding little brat managed to escape and run screaming for help?  You mean to tell me Stonehenge slivers have the power to lock doors as well?  No.

Now I understand, having lived through that time, that communication back then was not what it is now.  Social networking was not a thing.  Twitter, Facebook, Internet in general, none of that was going on.  But we did have phones.  Okay so running screaming to a payphone to call the cops and tell them that the Amazon jungle just exploded in your living room isn't as quick and effective as tweeting, "OMG my lil bros head just turned into #pumpkinmix!" but my point is, someone would have known something and told other people.  It would have made "breaking news" across America.  They would have interrupted regularly-scheduled way-better Halloween movies.  The people out West would have received warning.

Of course, logic doesn't work when it comes to so much of our entertainment.  And rather than obey the laws of "oh of fucking course," Halloween III gives us an ending for the ages, a five-layer conclusion to one of the most enjoyably cheesy movies I've ever seen.

OH MY GOD, that's good.

Friday, October 19, 2012

"Why, Charlie Brown, Why?"

AIRDATE:  3/16/1990

STORY:  It was Sylvia Cook, an RN at Stanford Children's Hospital, that sent a letter to Charles Schulz in December 1985, with a bold request:  a Peanuts short featuring the kids talking about cancer, to be shown in hospitals.  Schulz was intrigued by the topic--he'd lost his mother years ago to the disease--but was discouraged by the potential production costs.  Cook then contacted the American Cancer Society for assistance, and Schulz was soon convinced to expand her initial idea into a full half-hour special:  Why, Charlie Brown, Why?

Linus has made a new friend:  sweet, shy Janice Emmons.  Janice loves getting on the swings at school, and Linus loves being right there to push her on them.  All is idyllic, except...Janice has been bruising a lot lately.  She's also been feeling more tired than usual.  Sent home from school, the kids learn Janice is in the hospital--she has leukemia.

Linus and Charlie Brown--along with Dr. Snoopy--visit Janice, where she answers their questions about her mysterious illness.  Despite her outward optimism, Linus becomes bitter and sorrowful as the months pass.  Clouds lift and part when Janice returns to school, a pink cap covering her bald head.  Inevitably, a bully boy harshes the marsh when he makes fun of first her hat, then (after the hat falls off) her hairless head.

Janice gets the last, heartiest laugh in the end, when spring comes and the swing set is accessible for the students at school again.  As Linus pushes her upward, she lets her cap tumble to the ground--revealing that all of her hair has grown back, thick and lush as ever.

Given the circumstances surrounding this specials origin and the very nature of the show, assigning number grades may strike some readers as tacky...but I have chosen to keep the tradition going.  It should go without typing, but Why, Charlie Brown, Why? was wonderfully executed.   For handling a sensitive topic with intelligence and heart--and not forgetting to inject some humor--this one gets an absolute 10.

MUSIC:  Judy Munsen keeps it harmless...for once, that's good.  Starts up upbeat, then, as the story takes an uncertain turn, so does the soundtrack.  Including the hymn "Farther Along" is another example of Schulz and co. inserting religion tastefully into a kids show.  8

ANIMATION:  Very standard for the time in which it was produced.  Visual histrionics not needed here.  8

VOICES:  Brandon Stewart and Olivia Burdette are the stars here, as Linus and Janice respectively.  Stewart does a fine job getting Linus' fear and confusion across when faced with his new friends diagnosis, but what makes this a 10 are the moments when Linus must endure the ignorance of his peers.  Whether it's just barely keeping from screaming from his own sister when she insists that Janice caught leukemia because "she's a creepy kid" or going ballistic on a schoolyard bully who finds Janice's chemotherapy-induced hair loss a total laugh riot, Stewart hits all the right notes.  Burdette is a comfortable 8 as the poor Janice, keeping on a brave face even as a brutal disease steals months of her childhood from underneath her.

Adrienne Stiefel's Sally is depended upon to provide some comic relief, and she certainly does.  She spends almost the entire time angry, whether it's over school and her mandatory attendance or her abandoned lunch sack.  No one ever tells Sally, "Hey, it could be worse!"--that's one lesson the producers decided to let the young audience learn on their own. 9  Her blockhead brother is portrayed by Kaleb Henry, who rocks Ny-Quil in his lunchbox.  Oh that's a bit too much...he has a very true Charlie Brown "blah" voice.  5.5

Jennifer Banko is an 8 as Lucy.  We'll get to her later.  Likewise Dion Zamora's performance as the bully.

                                            MARIE TALLEY BENNINGFIELD

--Faced with their bed-bound friend in the hospital, Charlie Brown and Linus are forced to speak questions no child should ever have to ask.  The topper is when Chuck plainly asks Janice, "Are you going to die?"  Linus is horrified his pal would even mouth such a terrible sentence, but Janice answers with equal bluntness.  Thank you, Charles Schulz, for helping kids feel a little less scared.

--"You get well, Janice, and I'll push you on those swings forever." 

--Linus' shining moment as a friend any child would love to call theirs comes when the bully (he even has a "B" on his tee!) decides to pick on Janice her first day back.  What kid can't relate?  If there's something a little different about you--facially, sartorially, bodily--there will always be at least one other someone there to call attention to that.

Janice has just gone through months of debilitating cancer treatment, so Linus takes it upon himself to be courageous in her stead.  If he'd had that trusty blanket on him (and note, his famous lucky charm is absent the entire show) that bully would walk away missing a butt-cheek.  But as another lesson, Linus doesn't resort to any physical retaliation, aside from grabbing the bully's collar as he screams in his face, letting this stupid kid know exactly what Janice has been through.

The bully watches as Linus leads a crying Janice towards the school, his repentant words ringing ineffectually behind them.

(Although Why, Charlie Brown, Why? shows this one possible outcome, kids should also know that the appeal to suffering does not always work, because some people are that heartless and self-absorbed.  But it's nice to think this one kid learned not to be so judgmental and hurtful towards people and things he doesn't immediately understand.)

--Damn, can we have some comic relief up in here?

                                            EDGAR LAMONT BENNINGFIELD

--The re-growth of Janice's hair is unrealistically portrayed--it would take a longer amount of time for it to be back thick and long as it was before chemotherapy--but this is a half-hour long show.

--Wow, bloggers will nitpick anything.  When Linus and Charlie Brown go to visit Janice, they are told she's in Room 402.  The boys are momentarily relocated as the nurse comes in to give Janice a shot.  When they are told they can return, they enter a door clearly showing Room 404.

--There is no way around this:  Lucy Van Pelt is a monstrous little bitch in this special.  She is the exemplar par excellence of puerile ignorance and intolerance.  As Linus brings her a glass of milk he notes that he visited Janice in the hospital.  Lucy immediately freaks out, voicing her concern that leukemia is contagious and refusing to drink the "tainted" milk.  Sympathy, empathy--none of these silly affinities apply to Lucy.  As I mentioned earlier, she actually voices her theory that Janice's condition is the direct result of her being "a creepy kid."  There's ignorance that makes you shake your head...then there's ignorance that makes you shake the shit out of someone else.  Linus is enraged, but decides to leave his older, not-wiser sister to stew in her own crude insensitivity.

--There's a pretty amazing sequence where Linus stops by the Emmons household to drop off a gift.  Her sisters come to the door, and instead of accepting the present gratefully, decide to let vent their frustration over all the attention their sick sibling is receiving, not to mention how cautious they have to be around her. Linus can't believe it...and so challenged, they admit that they aren't really resentful towards Janice, just confused and helpless.  Adding Linus' present to the many already gathered underneath the Christmas tree, the sisters reach a collective epiphany:  instead of feeling resentful that Janice is getting all the extra attention, they come to appreciate that so many people want her to get better.  It has nothing to do with them.  Empathy is a huge lesson for kids to learn, and the sooner the better.

Frankly I think Janice's sister has bigger fish to fret over.  Like how she has Frieda's hairstyle, Peppermint Patty's hair color, and Lucy's wardrobe.

Why, Charlie Brown, Why?  was the first animated program to openly address the horror of cancer.  It would take another twenty years for those murky waters to be broached again, by the PBS hit cartoon Arthur.  The success of any children's show aiming to talk about very important issues depends on how the creators honor the emotional and mental intelligence of the target audience.  The Peanuts crew hits all the right notes.  Children will have many of their questions answered, but not all.  As it should be.  This show is not a stand-in for the parents.  If you pick this one up on VHS, or find it online, be prepared.  Do not throw this one on for your child and think you're off the hook.  Get ready to talk with them.  Do not be afraid.  Linus is missing his blanket in this special for a reason.

Above all, be there.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Discography Party

With my final write-up on Duran Duran's 1980s output published this week, another Trapper Jenn Discography Review has been completed.  I've done quite a few of these, and only one more looms on the horizon:  reviews of every studio album released by the so-called "Big 4" of heavy metal--Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax.  This series will begin sometime next year, as I have bigger fish to catch and then summarily fry, but trust that the series will begin.  And end.

In the meantime, let's reminisce.

Duran Duran Discography, 1980s only 
Devo and The B-52s
Shonen Knife
The Beatles
Sonic Youth

Once the Big 4 review series is completed, that does it for these extensive breakdowns of a band's catalog.  It's fun, but exhausting, and the rewards no matter how gratifying (and they are) are never monetary.  So.

The next two music-centered posts I have in mind (both of which will precede the Big 4) will be for my top 10 hip-hop albums of all time and a look at three solo albums by Sonic Youth members and the impact they made on my life upon their release.

The suspense is delicious, yes?

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Glamour Boys: Duran Duran in the 1980s (Pt. 6--Sometimes You Kick)


It's not Duran Duran, you see, it's Duranduran.  Oh the mega-filthy life of inexhaustible luxury!  You sounded so damned pant-worthy on the earlier records; now you just sound pants.  Could be the permanent introduction of the Linn drum machine into the family.  That's the same poisonous breach of the citadel that doomed Devo, you know.

"Big Thing"--1988 was the year INXS released their sixth album, KICK, and saw their standing in the States catapult from cute white-boy funk-pop group from Koalaland that a lot of people knew about to one that everyone knew about.  While INXS at their best fell well short of DD at their apex, it was clear by the time Big Thing and Kick were allowed out in public, MTV and their millions of impressionable viewers had a new band of catchy, flashy bastions of groove to obsess over.  The likes of "Need You Tonight" and "New Sensation" were vivacious if not exactly vital, and honestly, Michael Hutchence was more shaggable at that point than Simon LeBon.

The song "Big Thing" reminds me precisely of Kick's introductory "Guns In the Sky."  Both are calls-to-arms, but while INXS concocted a riff that is positively Lenny-esque in its dunder-headed charm, "Big Thing" is majorly sloppy, an ostensible populace pleaser that peters out pathetically before the midway point is reached.  It also features the worst chorus of any song in the Duran oeuvre. 

"Hang it up hanging out hanging on a big thing….Bang it up bang it out banging on a big thing."

That's anti-sexual.  That's ANTI-DURAN DURAN!

"Shake it up shake it out shake it all the time."

Oh how I loathe the ambiguous IT of the faux pop anthem!

"I Don't Want Your Love"--Phony-ass techno, move along, nothing to dance to here.  I mean it could be worse, it could be phony-ass reggae (or even genuine-ass reggae).  Hey, you could have lost your whole arm instead of just the one finger!  

I give "Love" credit for a punchy, staccato verse and fluid chorus, but I always need to be reminded of them.

"All She Wants Is"--Compares unfavorably to Wham's "Everything She Wants."  Cut from the same cloth Martin Gore sold at a premium back in the 80s but the boys unfortunately spilled cheap champagne all down the length of it.

"Too Late Marlene"--The piano-heavy soundtrack to that Ed Hooper painting that isn't an exterior view into a diner.  The shading is slight and the lack of real danger rather dispiriting.  All these people must have stories, but they must not be very interesting, 'cause damned if I wanna take my time out to hear them.

"Drug (It's Just a State of Mind)"--A cause of internecine dissent:  John Taylor wanted the original mix to make the final product, but was outvoted, and nearly quit in protest.

What the majority ruled on is basically oatmeal for the dance floor.  No charisma, no thrill, and honestly now, those horns should be broken up and melted down.  All in all, even worse than their lubeless ass-fuck of Grandmaster Flash's "White Lines."

"Do You Believe In Shame?"--The first in an eventual trilogy of heartfelt and thoughtful songs dedicated to LeBon's doomed childhood friend David Miles.  ("Ordinary World" and "Out of My Mind" were to follow.)  "Shame" is easily the highlight of Big Thing.  A full-body lament from an utterly helpless friend trying not to become utterly hopeless, it brings out the best in LeBon lyrically and especially vocally, his voice a smoke-enhanced curl that seems wary of coming across too strongly and is all the more unfortunate and relatable for it.  

"Do you believe in love?
Do you believe in shame?
And if love can conquer all
Then why do we only feel the pain?"

"Shame" seemed incredibly familiar to me from the very beginning, and after a bit of time, I figured out why.  

"Palomino"--Welcome to the blue edge of the record.  I simply do not care about this Palomino woman.  She has not a thing on our beloved Rio.  If Rio represented the United States, Palomino represents Canada.  

"Interlude One"--Wow, it's "Honey Pie" and the ending of "Baba O'Reilly," together at last!  A grander union cannot be imagined!

"Land"--"Baby, I'm really sorry to break your dream."  Simon, are you getting analogous again?  Pardon me while I fetch the alagesic.  

No more pioneers, no more heroes, the wolf's stomach is full and aching, and Duran Duran are now putting out records that Chris DeBurgh could feel smug listening to.

"Flute Interlude"--Should be sampled by Clams Casino for eventual misuse by Li'l B.

"The Edge of America"--DD can talk crap on the States 'cause at least they've spent considerable time within these borders.  They're not the type who are convinced that reading The Guardian online and watching the BBC makes them worldly people.  Snide, sarcastic, cultural hermits who have such a distorted view of the land they loathe that they express genuine disbelief when presented with the reality that there are millions of avowed American atheists, 'cause, I mean, not believing in God is illegal over there or summat, innit?  

"The Edge" isn't precisely intellectual, but it's a tolerably observant cautionary tale of entrenched military complex culture driven by another familiar melody.  The drums are virtually absent and the song shivers all the more for that.

"Lake Shore Driving"--A medley with a tremendous ending--it just stops.  This was not a purposeful dramatic gesture; the tape in the studio just ran out.  Duran Duran are the Kool G. Raps of European pop music!  

I haven't spoken much on Warren C.'s contributions here, and there's a reason for that, he's bland as baby babble throughout, but here he actually unveils some personality, gliding nice figure-eights over the ice.  Still waiting for T'Pau to come in and sing.

At least Big Thing ends better than it began, but that's a small victory, seeing as how it began with rubbing away rheum for three or so minutes.  Duran Duran's prior records aroused grunts, whoops and shouts.  You were asked politely, loudly, and sometimes cryptically to buy into the emotional healing power of motion, and the reward exceeded the effort almost always.  Here?  An indifferent murmur is all I can muster.  Duran Duran said goodbye to the decade they owned sounding as useful as a burned out neon tube.

Glamour Boys: Duran Duran in the 1980s (Pt. 5--Three Against the World)


Roger Taylor bowed out after the recording of "A View To A Kill," citing "burnout."  Andy Taylor stayed, but strung along his band mates as he completed a solo LP in Los Angeles.  With session drummer Steve Ferrone and Zappa/Missing Persons guitarist Warren Cuccurillo brought in to facilitate the recording of wreck-hard number four,  the Duran Duran that fans knew and smothered with maniacal obsessive love essentially vanished from the planet, vamoosed the caboose, and exited left of stage in apoplectic rage.

Fresh off the hells of two ill-fated side projects (and Simon LeBon's brush with death in a yachting mishap), stylistic whiplash was inevitable, and perhaps inevitably painful.  The presence of band hero/one-time savior Nile Rodgers on the boards and on record helped to shrink the swelling somewhat.  John Taylor yearned for funky horns all over Notorious like cheese on macaroni--Simon LeBon, not so much.  In a violation of the standard rock-star rulebook, the singer did not overrule all here.  Notorious is nothing if not brazenly brassy.

"Notorious"--A top 3 smash in the States (top 10 in their homeland), "Notorious" is perhaps best known these days as either Sparkle Motion's last-minute soundtrack in Donnie Darko or as Diddy's so-obvious-it-blocked-my-nasal-passages sample choice for yet another tribute to his long-deceased yet still-valid meal ticket, Notorious B.I.G.  

Too bad.  This is how you kick off an album, confidence and intelligence covering every inch.  "Notorious" is a vigorously defiant "V"-up to any and all second-guessers and would-be underminers of the double D juggernaut:  "Lay your seedy judgments/Who says they're part of our lives?"  Their ex-band mate is also a target:  "Who really gives a damn for a flaky bandit?"  Damn, Simon, GET 'EM.

There's actually nothing to not love.  The chicken-scratch guitar at 2:00, the horny embellishments to the chorus starting at 2:56, the way they sing the word "notorious," it's all filthy good.  Back-against-wall is a good position for the boys.

"Girls will keep the secrets/As long as boys make a noise."  That line is peach pie amazing.  It can go in so many different directions.

"I'll leave you lonely/Don't monkey with my business."

I wish I didn't care about being factual and doing research, otherwise I'd love to sell you on the theory that this was a George Michael dis.

"American Science"--Oh shit, kid, drama is afoot.  The band were going for dazzling here, but misspelled it with an extra "z."

"Skin Trade"--For a song whose purported concept is "There's a little hooker in each of us," this walks the streets far too leisurely.  Taking inspiration from a well-drained writer's catalog (in this case, Dylan Thomas) does not give one license to underwhelm.

The Duran Duran of even two years prior would have made "Skin Trade" sexy and complex, as well as sultry, sensual, salacious, and many other words that begin with the letter "S" and all mean more or less the same thing.  But times change, people change, and tastes change.  Years under white-hot spotlight aged our heroes rapidly.

"A Matter of Feeling"--Oh, fame is alienating!  Weep for the isolated rock god!  Where hath his soul gone?  Why is it such a chore to just feel anymore, damnit?!  

Fuck that.  Nick Rhodes bought a Picasso on his AmEx card.  You think I can go to MOMA and throw down my fucking Visa and walk away with that Braque piece I love so much?  Do you think they'll accept my generous offer of one million payments of five dollars spread out over 370,000 years?  Will they HELL.  New York assholes!

"Hold Me"--Oh man, I thought "In a Big Country" was starting up and got excited.  Then the real song happened and I was crestfallen.

"Vertigo (Do the Demolition)"--Simon's stern and heartfelt lecture to John concerning the latter's worsening dependence on chemical comforts.    In other words, a dabbler tut-tutting a full-blown.

The sounds conjured are a fit companion, leaving sleaze trails so positively of the decade that Crockett and Tubbs could trawl strip joints to them.  Despite the title's promise, the proceedings remain steady...perhaps a lesson by example?

"So Misled"--A cornucopia of insignificant ideas.  But enough about Rebecca.

"Meet El Presidente"--What a Prince-ly falsetto on display here, Mr. LeBon.  Slower than it is simple, but harbor no query, it is simple.  Thatcher?  Reagan?  Castro?  Heroin?  Is it heroin?!  Throwing out a bait-less hook into the open waters, oh I don't approve of that at all.

They released "El Presidente" as a single and it tanked.  But but, where was Nile Rodgers to shore up their hit potential?  Oh, that's right--he was already there behind the boards.  You're' telling me he never once thought to futz with the pitch or add kazoos?  

"Winter Marches On"--"To drink from her breast of fortune."  Because just coming out and saying "big tits" is anathema to masters of 80s pop music.

Faux-emoting doesn't derail the train, thankfully, free as it is of BIG DRAMATIC DRUM CAR, leaving orchestral elements to sink along the rails.  Like so much of this album, "Winter Marches On" passes through my ears leaving little impact other than it wasn't an unpleasant listening experience to have.

"Proposition"--Nick's shuffle keeps distraction at bay, chiming insistently, a Morse Code missive reminding fans why they ever gave multiple bothers about the boys to begin with.  Only problem, there's more sway than thrust apparent, and that's no way to reach satisfactory climax.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

62 Years of Peanuts

The greatest comic strip ever debuted 62 years ago today.  On October 2, 1950, a mere seven U.S. newspapers gave their readers the option of Peanuts.  At its eventual peak, the strip would appear in over 2,600 papers worldwide.

Some time ago I listed my favorite Peanuts dailies and Sundays, and if you missed it or would like to revisit, I've compiled all the posts here in one helpful "link-bomb."  Please enjoy.

The Honor Bag
Greatest Dailies, 50-41
Greatest Dailies, 40-31
Greatest Dailies, 30-21
Greatest Dailies, 20-11
Greatest Dailies, 10-1
Greatest Sundays, 20-11
Greatest Sundays, 10-1

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Glamour Boys: Duran Duran in the 1980s (Pt. 4--A Side Project Of My Own)

I was only eight years old when it happened. Of course I had no idea.

 Power Station, that was just John and Andy Taylor taking a little break, hooking up with fellow rock star Robert Palmer and having some supergroup fun. That "Bang A Gong" song sure sounds swell, especially when to you T-Rex = dinosaur. Why would any of that indicate disharmony within the ranks of their wildly successful pop group?

 Same with Arcadia. Except not at all, because I will never be of an age to care about Simon LeBon and Nick Rhodes' extracurricular douchecrabbery.

 I didn't know the end was nigh. I did realize, thanks to my older brother, that Duran Duran were on tap to record the title song for the upcoming James Bond film. I also knew, again thanks to my 007-nerd of a sibling, that Roger Moore was about three years too old for the role of the suave British Naval Commander/spy. But he had no idea that said song would be the last recorded by the original quintet for another sixteen years.

 Performing the (usually titular) song that plays over the flashy opening credits of a James Bond film is still a prestigious honor. Artist and production studio alike crave instant credibility, and this provides ample opportunity.

Reviews of the films themselves could take up a whole 'nother TJMD series…they most likely will not.  I am, thanks to familial interference, an avowed fan of the double agent on screen AND page, so as an excuse to write about one of Duran Duran's best-ever tracks, I present to you my own side project.  Reviews of each Bond theme, in chronological order.

DR. NO (1962)
"James Bond Theme"
John Barry Orchestra

Just as Cy Young's 511 career wins should be exempt from inclusion on any list of sports' most unbreakable records, so should Dr. No's opening track be excluded when considering the great Bond themes.  It is the Bond theme!  Yer not gonna shatter that sword in a duel anytime soon.

Combining the swing of a virtuoso big band with staccato guitar that sweats like casino walls while lacking the usual odor of desperation-sweat, this is all-time.  House doesn't win; Bond wins.  All the time.  He doesn't play the numbers, he is the number.

"From Russia With Love/James Bond Is Back/James Bond Theme"
John Barry Orchestra

This instrumental isn't too far from Percy Faith…but far enough.  Segues painlessly into the beloved theme, because no one is to forget that they are watching Bond, James Bond.  Did you know he's an orphan?  Pity.

Some rate the vocal version of the theme that plays over the end credits. Clearly I don't.  Sung by Matt Monro ("The Ugly Sinatra"), listening to it is as forlorn an experience as reading most Beat poetry.

Shirley Bassey

If this song were a drama student, the teacher would tell it to slice the ham a little thinner.  The trumpets don't blare and whine, they wail and bleat.  Shirley Bassey's intensely dedicated vocal performance gives premature birth to the phrase "seductive silliness."  A top-tenner in the States, but just missed the top 20 in Bond's homeland of the United Kingdom.  Check in our column!

"Goldfinger" is the first of Bassey's unmatched three turns at singing a Bond theme (no other vocalist has done more than one) and as top-notch a flick as it is--sublimely ridiculous plot, hot bitches with ballsy names, cool cars, superbly-monikered villain and his imminently-deadly, cult-friendly sidekick--without Bassey's touch, it would all feel like the Discovery Channel without Shark Week.  The very first notes generate a massive excitement that endures throughout the entire 110 minutes of the film.  

Producer Harry Saltzman hated this one; thankfully, his was not the final say.

Tom Jones

On the heels of Goldfinger's blockbuster success, Thunderball was an inevitable massive hit in theaters.  Never mind that nearly fifty years on, it's exposed as a tedious and suffocating Cold War relic.  

I'll give Tom Jones credit, he definitely "says it with his chest."  I would imagine this gusto extends to all facets of his existence, and would explain why throughout the peaks and valleys of his career he has maintained a reputation as a Lothario nonpareil despite looking like Burt Convy's death mask with some hair sewn on it.

Just like "Goldfinger" before it, "Thunderball" starts off with some egregious horseplay.  Also, it tells us the fantastical story of the dastardly bastard our hero must thwart lest the world suck significantly more. His name is not Thunderball, but--"He strikes like Thunderball."  It becomes slightly scarier when you learn what Thunderball is, but only a bit, and you may have fallen unconscious by that point in the film.

The original choice for a theme was a song entitled "Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," pretty much the greatest possible description of these films.  Shirley Bassey was brought on board, then Dionne Warwick, but then United Artists, in the dynamite-fuse-finite wisdom of all major motion picture studios, decreed that since the movie was named Thunderball, the song must also be named "Thunderball."

Nancy Sinatra

"One life for yourself/And one for your dreams."

A perfect aural representation of the film's Far East setting, "YOLT" is one of just a few Bond themes that has gained renown as a worthy song even when considered independently of the behemoth it was created to help keep upright.  Yes, Robbie Williams' shameless sampling for "Millennium" was horrific, but the use of this song in the closing minutes of Mad Men's fifth season was mute-button brilliant.  It's much more than a song for the hero.  Much much more.

Neither soundtrack god John Barry or Miss Sinatra herself were terribly thrilled with the vocal take here, and technically it is tremulous in parts, maybe even timid.  Compared to Queen Shirley's gleaming tour de force, it can seem lackluster.  But considered within the proper context, and judged on its own merits, Nancy's vox perfectly serves the theme of the song.

John Barry Orchestra

The studio was in a frenzy over having to replace Sean Connery in the role, but the composition crew wasn't having an easy time of it either.  How the hell do you fit that title in a song?  And what rhyme do you use?  NervousCervix?  John Barry did better emerging from his muck, blessing our ears with a blue-orange instrumental that takes the classic theme and traumatizes it just enough so that we recognize it on sight, but can't help but acknowledge that it's been through some shit.  Moogs.  Alpine horns.  What rhymes with, "Best chase scene music ever"?

Shirley Bassey 

Vibrant.  Mesmerizing.  Powerful.  Everything the movie was not, despite the best efforts of Wint and Kidd, Bambi and Thumper, Jimmy and Dean.  Diamonds cascading out of a purple velvet bag.  

"I don't need love….Diamonds never lie to me."

Just like Shirley's prior contribution, Harry Saltzman was not fond of this one.  I can't believe they let this guy have money.

Paul McCartney & Wings

The first Bond theme classifiable as "rock," this was a huge chart hit as well as strong contender for most successful and well-known of them all.  Getting a fucking ex-Beatle to write and sing a Bond song?  Anything less than pyrotechnic bliss would have been an unspectacular failure following the true meteoric trajectory.  What Macca delivered was:  piano ballad/rock opera/reggae shuffle/reset.  Also the lyric "If this ever-changing world in which we live in," which suffers from the same redundancy as my last name, but (also like my last name) is forgiven just because it's so damn fly.


I love this song, for the reason many despise it--it is so ridiculous that it sounds like a parody of the Bond franchise.  Those near-comically zig-zagging strings, countered with mournful brass and--best of all, like blue ribbons and gold stars all over its chest--that 1970s porno-wah magic.

Lulu handles the entendre-laden lyrics with all the gusto they have coming to (and from) them.  It's really the lyrics fans have beef with, for leaning too hard on lascivious puns, to which I can only reply--these are James Bond movies.  Pussy Galore.  Honey Ryder.  Goldfinger's first name was Auric, for Christ's sake.  Speaking of Jesus, do you know how many times the not-accurate anniversary of his birth is celebrated annually?  I mean in this movie alone Bond flirts briefly with a swimmer named Chu Mi and sips Foo Yuk during a dinner with Mary Goodnight.  You don't go to a candy store and bitch about all the chocolate, do you?  WOW, THIS DOG PARK WOULD BE A GREAT PLACE TO HANG OUT IF IT JUST DIDN'T HAVE ALL THE DOGS!

John Barry's least favorite of all the themes.  Good for him.

"Nobody Does It Better"
Carly Simon

Another for the pantheon.  Huge hit, and so wonderfully crafted by Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager that it has long outgrown its initial role as "just another Bond tune" and been featured in other movies.  It also appears on AFI's "100 Greatest Movie Songs" at #67, the only 007 track so honored.  

All Carly had to do with this one was show up, and she did.  

The lyric "Nobody does it better/Though sometimes I wish someone would" has always intrigued me (in that one-eyebrow-up way, as opposed to both of them).  It nails the frequent agony of loving a jet-setting super-sleuth who will always put his majesty above his conquests.

Shirley Bassey

Queen Shirley's final turn at the mic is also her least impressive, although very little of the underwhelming atmosphere is directly attributable to her efforts.  She was a last minute choice, after Johnny Mathis flaked out.  Maybe he saw the lyrics?

"Just like the Moonraker goes in search of his dream of gold/I search for love, for someone to have and hold."

Yeah.  It just goes on like that.

Sheena Easton

Follows the pattern established by "Live and Let Die" and "Nobody Does It Better":  top 10 in the U.S. and U.K., Oscar nomination.  Yes, it's more "soft chick-shit."  Eat it, piggish fanboys.  The chorus is better than your blog, probably.  Everything that was good and right about 80s pop balladry.  What didn't that decade do with supreme excellence?  Oh, right...elect American Presidents.  That aside!  Spacious, warm, worth revisiting. Work that, Sheena.

"All-Time High"
Rita Coolidge

A resolute non-smash as handled by a country crooner several years past her peak.  A surprising choice, and one apparently made to appease the daughter of producer Cubby Broccoli.  If its reputation is that of a half-ass love ballad that has squat to do with the film it precedes--well, it's still rather catchy.  Yes, there's certainly times it sounds like the music to a Stephen J. Cannell TV drama, but it was the 80s!  Best decade ever!

Duran Duran 

The only Bond tune to hit #1 in America was born unceremoniously:  Duran bassist and mega Bond-freak John Taylor approached Cubby Broccoli at a party, possibly stumbling the entire way, and blurted, "When are you going to get someone decent to do one of your songs?"

Common sense would have dictated Cubby pat John on his head, chuckle, and moonwalk to the adjacent room.  But, it seems Mr. Broccoli never heard the last time Duran Duran provided a theme for a movie (that never was), the bloodless and brainless "Wild Boys," and took up the pixilated bassist on his "offer."

"A View To a Kill" is as magnificent a piece of potent pop menace as A View To A Kill is a rancid bucket of stercoraceous vomit.  It's right up there with "The Man With the Golden Gun" as far as being a sonic parody of the entire brand it's intended to celebrate, but this time erring on the side of devilish suspense.

It goes without saying--yet, here we are--that the lyrics are absolutely state-of-emergency impenetrable.  "A sacred why/A mystery gaping inside/The weekend's why."  Yep!  "That fatal kiss is all we need."  Mind you, John Barry's orchestration alongside the band makes this all sound positively Wilde.  The last truly great Bond theme, and I have little faith that it will be challenged anytime soon.  

John's bass challenged Jaws from Moonraker to a refrigerator-eating contest and won decisively.  Score one for determined fanboys.  


Made top 5 in the U.K. but didn't make a dent here, 'cause unlike much of Europe, we Americans picked up on the fact a-ha had the one undeniable song that would endure, and chose to ignore the rest of the relative clap-trap they produce.  (See also:  Spandau Ballet.)  So while on this side of the pond the decision to let the musical pride and joy of Norway headline the soundtrack was greeted with furrowed brows and narrowed eyes, it made sense over there.

The introduction sounds enough like Madonna's "Angel" to convince me a good song is about to happen.  But the lyrics are prophetic:  "Set my hopes up way too high."  Yep.  "Living's in the way we die."  Wow, way to extinguish all the tension from the one room that needed it.  Does your lifestyle determine your deathstyle as well, pray tell?

The Pet Shop Boys were originally on board, but pulled out after learning their services would be required for the theme song only, and not the entire soundtrack.  I appreciate their collective ego and ambition, but ah, what brilliance the authors of "West End Girls" might have wrought!

Gladys Knight

That intro is so fantastic...


Bombastic bubble plastic.  Which isn't an insult.  I admire the chutzpah of recreating "Goldfinger" as an R & B song.

Tina Turner

Just as the flick was a throwback to the days of when studios made intriguing, exciting, memorable installments to the series, the title song is a nice return to the days that a Bond song didn't make me press the fast-forward button through the remote control.  Short sharp stabs from nylon and lace-covered blades work well alongside surprisingly inoffensive lyrics from the two biggest douchebags in U2.  

Sheryl Crow

"Darling, I'm killed."  

Oh Christ, if only.

This charted high in the U.K….in fact all the latterly Bond themes have, while receiving little chart love in the States…which puts the whole "England is better than America" argument into serious question.  There's other things.  Like how the populace not only didn't kill the Gallagher brothers before they could escape the borders and poison other countries but actually permitted their preposterously unoriginal drudgery to flourish, like they wanted it to happen.  

Co-writer Mitchell Froom separated from his then-wife Suzanne Vega a year after this song was released.  I have seen no evidence tying the split to an affair with Crow, but this song is so repulsive that it could put foul, deceitful thoughts in anyone's head, so…I wouldn't be surprised.  

What's most disgusting is that this was not the original theme.  K.D. Lang's "Surrender"--a vastly superior track that sounds like a song that belongs in a James Bond movie--was relegated to the closing credits when Eon Productions decided to go with a bigger name and more conventionally attractive  (read: non-lesbian) image.  

AND--that picked guitar melody in the verse is just "Bringin' on the Heartbreak" by Def Leppard sped up a little bit.  


Yep, another U.K. Top 10 hit.  England, I don't see the use in your defamation of America's character.  How can we improve if our mother doesn't set a sterling example for us to follow?

Anyway I listened to this song three times and can't remember any of it.  


Well, this hit the U.S. top 10 as well…sigh.

This is only the second-worst musical moment in the movie ("London Calling," anyone?).  Fans of this song gush over how edgy and fresh it is/was.  My thoughts are for the poor runner, she died on the track, and no one came forth to claim the corpse.  There it laid, till the elements had their way and nature took its course.

"You Know My Name"
Chris Cornell

Y'know, "Die Another Day" doesn't sound like the wretched crime against cognitive abilities that it is when paired with the film's opening credits.  Same here.  While "You Know My Name" isn't near that level of horrible, it is an undergrown Soundgarden indeed and let us move on.

"Another Way To Die"
Jack White & Alicia Keys

Jack White took inspiration from On Her Majesty's Secret Service and somehow this happened.

"Something that you think that you can trust/Is just another way to die."

A random Tuvan person throat-singing the content of Swizz Beatz' paternity case court files would be more riveting and, frankly, musical.  This is the facile strut of someone who just got shot in both kneecaps.  Bond songs shouldn't make you root for the villain.

So…to conclude:

BEST BOND THEME:  "A View To A Kill."
WORST BOND THEME:  "Die Another Day."

Well done, boys.  And Maddy...the 80s are very disappointed in you.