1970s

Musical Biography or Archaeology?

The cover I made for "Past Lives and Long-Lost Friends," which I originally burned onto two CDs.  The idea for the cover came from a  timeline feature in my high school yearbooks.

The cover I made for “Past Lives and Long-Lost Friends,” which I originally burned onto two CDs. The idea for the cover came from a timeline feature in my high school yearbooks.

I don’t know if I realized it at the time, but following up a song by The Weepies called “Can’t Go Back Now” with “Summer, Highland Falls” is kind of a definite statement.  The latter’s first lines are, “They say these are not the best of times/they’re the only times I’ve ever known.”  While I can’t confirm this, I am pretty sure I wrote that in a friend’s yearbook at the end of my senior year (or at least I was thinking of it).  It has always been one of my favorite songs and at the time I graduated high school, it fully encapsulated what I was feeling.

I’m pretty sure that is why it wound up on a playlist I made back in 2010 called “Past Lives and Long Lost Friends.”  Silly as it sounds, I put it together because at the time, I was fifteen years away from that day in late June of 1995 and the mix tape, at the time I was a teenager, was my preferred form of artistic expression.  if you were a girl I was dating (or a friend on whom I was crushing), you more than likely wound up with a 120-minute Maxell normal bias cassette that may or may not have had a custom label created using Arts & Letters, an ancient Windows 3.0 graphic design program.  Now, I’m not sure how many of those girls kept my tapes.  My wife did, but I think that’s because she never emptied them out of her car (a car, by the way, that I now drive to work every day).  But the old girlfriend whose relationship with me ended in utter disaster?  She probably torched them all the moment after I gave her one final goodbye over the phone (not my idea, mind you; she forced my hand).  And some of those other girls?  Part of me hopes that a copy of “The Last Worthless Mix Tape” is floating out there, playing in the old tape deck of someone who is feeling sentimental.

Which brings me to this five-year-old playlist that’s still on my iPod.  Like I said, I was hitting the fifteen-year mark and was feeling sentimental, so I began dragging and dropping songs into a playlist.  The phrase “long-lost friend” had been bouncing around my head for a while as had the idea of my having led a past life, or everyone I know having led a past life.  Because when you think about it, the people you are around on a daily basis have stories that are bigger than the one they have with you.  Or maybe I just notice this because it’s the curse of the writer’s mentality.  But the idea that everyone is interesting in a way, that there is always something to find out about them, is fascinating.

It seems completely pretentious to me try and encapsulate that in a mix, and looking at the song list, it probably could be at least five songs shorter.  It still would fit on a 120-minute cassette, but there are too many anthemic songs of youthful defiance (“We’ll Inherit The Earth,” “Death or Glory”) or aging punk anthems (“Scattered,” “I Was a Teenage Anarchist”) and the middle drags on through some very slow and soft folk pieces that don’t hold up (“See You Later, See You Soon,” “This is Me”).  But it was good enough to earn “permanent playlist” status.  Either that, or I was just too lazy to delete it, which is probably the more likely explanation as to why it has spent five years on my iPod.

Mix tapes seem to be this thing that is a part of my youth, whereas playlists are something you throw together because you want to listen to a variety of songs, often with the same rhythm or tone.  I make workout playlists (admittedly, I probably should start working out more often), Christmas music playlists, dinner music playlists, and even a breakfast playlist that is filled with French jazz and other brunchy music.  It’s all very adult because it serves a practical purpose, an extension of the tapes called “Tom’s Crap” that I used to make so that I had something to listen to on my Walkman or in my car.  Part of me shrugs at this, but part of me is saddened.

There was a point in my life where everything had meaning.  If I gave you a tape, it was because I wanted to say something or introduce you to something.  And no matter how crappy that tape was–and trust me, some of those tapes were crappy–I thought it was important.  “Past Lives and Long Lost Friends” was an attempt at making something important like that and also an attempt to hold on to the self-importance that comes with “meaning,” as if I am attempting to dispute the statement that Ally Sheedy so boldly makes in The Breakfast Club: “When you grow up, your heart dies.”

At seventeen, I believed her; at 37, I’ve come to realize she’s wrong.  You simply turn your focus elsewhere.  Adulthood is priorities and responsibility.  It’s not that I don’t want to sit and contemplate an entire album for an hour; it’s just that I don’t always have the time.  My geeking out happens amidst a flurry of multitasking and when I do get those moments to contemplate, I usually fall asleep in front of the television.

I’ve heard Billy Joel explain the meaning of “Summer, Highland Falls” as hitting that point in his life where he was starting to see the world for what its complexities.  Much of that playlist, if you look at several of the songs, is a similar contemplation but I don’t know if I was contemplating graduating high school as much as I was coming to terms with the onset of middle age.  At seventeen, I would have never put “Late for the Sky” by Jackson Browne on a mix tape (granted, I’m pretty sure that “Running on Empty” and “Somebody’s Baby” were the only Jackson Browne songs I knew), nor would I have considered Paul Simon essential listening.  If I was being contemplative or sentimental, I would have chosen 10,000 Maniacs, but mostly I would have gone for the bombast of Queen.

To be honest, I have thought about making a Twenty Years On mix.  I can’t decide if I would go for nostalgia or reflection, though.  Twenty years kind of dictates that I should throw together a collection of the Pearl Jam, Green Day, Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, Queen, Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen, and Billy Joel that I listened to in a Big Chill soundtrack sort of way.  Being reflective would be more of what I did five years ago, which might be belaboring the point.

“Summer, Highland Falls” ends with a few lines that have always stuck with me:

How thoughtlessly we dissipate our energies
Perhaps we don’t fulfill each other’s fantasies
And as we stand upon the ledges of our lives
With our respective similarities
It’s either sadness or euphoria

It’s a final statement worth a close examination.  If it is, as he says, the a moment of realizing that you’re getting older, it’s a perfect expression of that realization.  There’s no violent anger here, just acceptance and resignation.  Perhaps, even, there’s a bit of maturity.  Place this in the larger context of, say, looking at one’s own adulthood or having a moment of forced nostalgia like the anniversary of graduating high school, and the same ambiguity exists.  The bloom comes off the rose pretty easily when you really start thinking about all of it; thankfully, there are mix tapes, CDs, and playlists to help guide the way.

Pop Culture Affidavit Episode 45: Live From New York, it’s Saturday Night!

Episode 45 website coverIt’s a coattails-riding self-indulgent trip down comedy memory lane as I spend 30 minutes talking about Saturday Night Live, which just had a huge 40th anniversary special this past Sunday. Here, I look back on another anniversary special from the show, its 15th anniversary special, which aired in the fall of 1989, and I also talk about how the show has had an effect on me since I’ve been watching it for the last 25 years.

Here’s where to listen:

iTunes: Two True Freaks Presents Pop Culture Affidavit

Direct Download

Two True Freaks Presents: Pop Culture Affidavit podcast page

80 Years of DC Comics, Part One: A Comics Life in Moments

80 Years Episode 1 Website LogoPresenting the first episode in an all-new podcast miniseries from Pop Culture Affidavit, 80 Years of DC Comics. Throughout these twelve episodes, I am going to be taking a look at the various genres of comic books that DC Comics has produced in its 80-year history. For my first episode, I start off easy by talking about superheroes. More specifically, I go through 10 moments in DC Comics published during my lifetime that have I’ve enjoyed or that have had some sort of impact on me. So while it doesn’t necessarily cover all 80 years of the company, it’s a personal look at DC, company I’ve been very loyal to since I started seriously collecting comics more than two decades ago.

Of course, you can download the episode from the same iTunes feed used for every episode of Pop Culture Affidavit, or you can listen here:  Pop Culture Affidavit Presents 80 Years of DC Comics, Part One:  A Comics Life in Moments.

Below are scans of the ten moments I talk about, in brief, in the episode (btw, some of these are spoilers for the stories they are from).

1. Batman Confronts Silver St. Cloud (Detective Comics #475):

Silver St Cloud2. Donna Troy Reunites With Her Adopted Mother (The New Teen Titans [First Series] #38):

Donna Troy Reunion3. Ordinary Citizens Reacting to Merging Earths (Crisis on Infinite Earths #5):

Crisis 5 Old Couple4. Bruce Wayne Has Some Bad News (Detective Comics #620):

Detective 620 Last page5. The Atom and Green Arrow Kill Darkseid (JLA #14):

JLA Death of Darkseid6. Batman meets … Batwoman? (The Kingdom:  Planet Krypton):

The Kingdom Batwoman7. Rose Wilson Chooses Her Family (Teen Titans #1/2):

Rose Wilson Ravager8. Darkseid and The Infinity Gauntlet (JLA/Avengers #2):

Darkseid JLA Avengers9. “Superheroes.  Kill.”  (Final Crisis #3):

Final Crisis 3 final page10.  Danny Chase’s Sacrifice (The New Teen Titans: Games)

Teen Titans Games Danny Chase

O Say Does That Star-Spangled Banner Yet Wave; This Concludes Our Broadcast Day

JeffersonThis weekend marks the bicentennial of Francis Scott Key’s writing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”  To mark the occasion, Baltimore had a large celebration in its harbor, especially near Fort McHenry, which is where Key was being held prisoner during the Battle of Baltimore.  The history of our national anthem goes beyond that one battle of the War of 1812 and  The Washington Post has a really great article that discusses that history (“5 Myths About the National Anthem”).  I actually knew a majority of the truths the writer discusses because of a filmstrip I saw in music class when I was in the fifth or sixth grade.  Don’t ask me how I actually retained that information and not, say, trigonometry, because it’s one of the great mysteries of life.

But I didn’t want to write this short post about the history of “The Star-Spangled Banner” or discuss its significance in our everyday lives as Americans.  No, this blog is about popular culture and when I, and quite a number of people older than myself, think of the national anthem’s place in popular culture, they might think of this:

If you’re under a certain age, you may not know what the significance of the clip I just posted because you might also not be familiar with the concept of a station signing off.  In the days before hundreds of channels and all-night infomercials, local television stations and network affiliates signed off for the night, concluding their broadcast day with a pre-packaged video montage and then going to some sort of test pattern with a constant high-pitched tone:

One of the most common sign-offs was the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” (something so common it opens Billy Joel’s song “Sleeping With the Television On”). There were quite a number of different versions of the national anthem sign-off, but this one always stuck out to me as one of the more memorable, probably because it was one of the few I actually saw–although if I’m being truthful, it may have been used as an early morning sign-on as well.

The montage I posted was created by the New York-based firm Saxton Graphics Associates, Ltd., probably in the early 1970s (since it closes with the moon landing) but I couldn’t find much else in the way of history of the montage beyond this paragraph on the Wikipedia page for “Performances of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner'”:

Over the early years of U.S. television broadcasts it became common practice by many stations to close their broadcast day, usually late at night or early in the mornings, by airing the Star Spangled Banner accompanied by some visual image of the flag or some patriotic theme. One audio-visual arrangement in particular, entitled “National Anthem,” [5] was produced by a New York-based graphics firm, Saxton Graphic Associates, Ltd. The uncommonly complex and interesting orchestral arrangement of the Star Spangled Banner commences with a trumpet fanfare then the anthem is accompanied by images that illustrate several of the highlights of the history of the United States of America, culminating with an image from 1969 of an Apollo 11 astronaut standing on the Moon by the US flag. Several television stations aired this including WNEW-TV in New York (through 1978), and Washington DC WDVM-TV channel 9. There is no reference to whom arranged the music, nor to what orchestra performed it though numerous sites on the Internet host messages inquiring about this and where the original music might be found today.

 

I don’t have a long, drawn-out nostalgic story for this one.  It does remind me of the times when I had to stay at my grandmother’s house and we’d get to stay up late for, say, New Year’s Eve or something, and it kind of reminds me of flipping around the channels in the very early hours of the morning when I had my first job of putting Sunday papers together at a local stationery store.  But when I watch it now, it actually is a little moving.  I’ve always loved how the montage takes us through all of American history and reminds us just how much has happened in the last 200-300 years; furthermore, the bombastic arrangement of the song is enough to get even the most cold-hearted cynic (read: me) feeling at least slightly patriotic.  And it’s a memento of an earlier time in our country’s media history, a piece of ephemera that makes some wistful for an earlier time and others curious.

Bottom of the Inning: Taking Baseball Personally (Baseball, Part Two)

Baseball 10thIn my last post, I mentioned that watching all of Baseball made me feel like I was in an introductory, or “101” class on the game.  As well-researched and well-crafted as Ken Burns’s documentary was, there were times where I felt like I was getting the history textbook version of the baseball story:  hit the high points, go selectively in-depth, and completely skip over quite a bit.

While that’s a valid criticism, leaving it at that would be giving the work short shrift, especially since it’s a full day’s worth of a documentary.  Furthermore, I spent much of that first part of my look at Baseball on summary and critique and didn’t give much of my personal “story” as it is, or at least my personal reactions while I was watching it.  Which is kind of the whole purpose of this blog, right?

So that’s what I’m going to do.  Inning by inning.

First Inning (“Our Game” 1850s-1900):  This isn’t Baseball, this is seventh grade social studies with Mr. Kerkhof.  We’re talking about the Antebellum period and …  man, the 1800s are boring.  But this?  This isn’t so much because it’s an origin story, the kind I’m fixated on whenever we begin looking at an important event.  What were the first shots fired in the Revolutionary War and how did it progress from there?  Who actually founded the Roman Empire?  When did the  Middle Ages officially begin?  Who played that first game of baseball and what was it like in what seems like the Dark Ages to me–before Ruth, Gehrig, Mays, Mantle, and every other name I know?

Second Inning (“Something Like a War” 1900-1910):  I’m ten years old and my parents have given me a “Baseball’s All-Time Greats” baseball card set, the one I spotted in the Sears catalogue.  There’s Ty Cobb, and there’s Honus Wagner, who has the most expensive baseball card in existence, something I learned on a feature I saw on 20/20 the previous year.  I begin looking at the all-time stats for the old players and am amazed and even though many of their records have been broken, they still are in the top five for many of their most notable categories.  The card set is worth original retail price (and even today it’s not worth much), but what it lacks in monetary value it more than makes up for in facts.

Third Inning (“The Faith of Fifty Million People” 1910-1920):  To me, it’s not the Black Sox scandal; it’s Eight Men Out and Field of Dreams.  It’s “Say it ain’t so, Joe,” and the last scene of that softball episode of Married … With Children that parodies the last scene of Eight Men Out.  It’s also the idea that even something as pure as a game I play on Saturday mornings in Little League can be corrupted by outside influences (yunno, beyond the opposing team’s coach being friends with the umpire).

Fourth Inning (“A National Heirloom” 1920-1930):  I’m in the fifth grade and we’re asked to take a biography out of the library for our latest book report/conference with the teacher.  I grab one about Babe Ruth.  He competes with Gehrig.  He is supposedly “stranger than fiction,” which is what one of the chapter titles says.  Despite my being an excellent reader, I have trouble getting through the entire book.  I don’t know if it’s because the book’s badly written or because I don’t find the subject matter as interesting as I thought I would.  In fact, I can’t remember if I ever finished that book.  I do know that when I had my conference with Mr. Schafer about it, I did fine.

Fifth Inning (“Shadow Ball” 1930-1940):  I have no personal context for this.  In fact, if there is any episode that I found myself glued to, it’s this one.  Growing up, my knowledge of the struggle of African-Americans was limited to slavery, Plessy v. Ferguson, Brown v. Board of Education, and Martin Luther King Jr.  I was not exactly a scholar.  I knew the Negro Leagues existed but I don’t think that what little I read about them in books clued me in to what extent.  If anything, I’m grateful for what I gained from this episode.

Sixth Inning (“The National Pastime” 1940-1950):  It’s 2012 and I’m in a used bookstore on the Downtown Mall.  I’m looking for a copy of As You Like It but am also perusing the small graphic novel section.  On my way to the counter, I pass sports and Roger Kahn’s The Boys of Summer.  It sits on my shelf until the start of the 2013 season rolls around.  While Kahn’s biographical retelling of his time becoming a sportswriter is interesting, it’s his visits with former Dodger greats and the retelling of Jackie Robinson’s history that pulls me in.  For years, I knew three things about Robinson:  he played for the Dodgers, he broke the color barrier, and he stole home once in the World Series.  This tells me so much more.

Seventh Inning (“The Capital of Baseball” 1950-1960): I’m twelve years old and my family is throwing one of those big barbecues where everyone–from my mom’s side and dad’s side–is there.  My Uncle Brian, a die-hard Yankees fan, spends a good hour talking to Grandpa Panarese about baseball in the 1950’s.  They talk about the Yankees, the Giants, and the Dodgers.  I don’t interject; I just listen.  It’s one of the best memories I have of these two men and one of the most informative conversations upon which I ever eavesdrop.

Eighth Inning (“A Whole New Ballgame” 1960-1970):  To me, this is where baseball begins; specifically, in 1962, when the New York Mets go 40-120 and set an all-time single-season loss record that still stands.  I cut my baseball history teeth on An Amazin’ Era in 1986 and to me, “baseball history” has always involved Seaver, Koosman, Swoboda, Clendenon, Agee, Grote, Garrett, and McGraw.  Yes, there are more important figures in baseball history and more important events.  But it’s the lovable losers’ transformation into the Miracle Mets that I always remember.

Ninth Inning (“Home” 1970-1993):  It’s fascinating to see Bob Costas tell the story of being in the Red Sox locker room during the Buckner play and watching the champagne get wheeled out as quickly as possible.  It’s also fascinating to see testimony from Red Sox fans who were wounded by the play.  After all, I rooted for “the enemy” in 1986.  My nine-year-old dreams came true when Jesse Orosco threw the last pitch to Marty Barrett (I have a poster on the wall of my classroom), so it never occurred to me that someone might be upset by that night’s events.  Beyond that, there are so many recognizable faces here and I wish he was taking more time on them; I wish he was reminiscing with me the way he was reminiscing with my parents through the seventh inning.

When it ends with a talk about how baseball endures I realize that this isn’t a documentary; it’s a eulogy.  The season was cancelled due to a strike the month before the first episode aired and it doesn’t seem like we’ll get the game back.  Furthermore, it’s hard to pick a side because everyone seems greedy; everyone seems like a villain.  And here, at the funeral, we’re all trying to remember why we came.

Tenth Inning (1994-2010):  I was there.  I remember that.  I watched that.

I will never tire of watching Barry Bonds fail to throw out Sid Bream.  I always loved how much fun Ken Griffey Jr. seemed to be having–and always wished I had that swing.  I was cheering for McGwire the whole time and have to admit I was disappointed when the PED charges came to light.  I never cheered for Bonds unless he struck out looking.  I want to buy Steve Bartman a beer and talk baseball with the guy–not that game, just baseball.  No, the 2004 ALCS is not overrated and yes, I’ll watch the Yankees choke like that any time, day or night.  My heart was in my throat when Endy Chavez made that catch, only to have the Cardinals rip it out and crush it a few innings later.  You’re really using that Springsteen song, Ken?  Don’t you realize it’s about looking back and realizing how middle-aged you are?

“But then time slips away and leaves you with nothing mister but boring stories of glory days.”

You know what?  That’s exactly what this is, isn’t it?  Good job, sir.

Now the world don’t move to the beat of just one drum.

drummondWhile I know that it didn’t get the attention of the deaths of Dear Abby, Stan Musial, or Earl Weaver last week, I have to admit that I felt a little sad when I saw the obituary for Conrad Bain in the New York Times.  A Canadian-born actor with quite the lengthy resume, Bain was a mainstay of television in my childhood ecause of his role as Mr. Drummond on Diff’rentStrokes.

A sitcom that began airing in 1978, Diff’rent Strokes lasted until 1986 and aired mostly on NBC (with the 1985-1986 season airing on ABC) and was the story of two black kids from The Bronx who were adopted by a Park Avenue millionaire.  It’s an odd concept for a show and one I swear only would have worked in the 1970s, but I didn’t think anything of that when I was six years old and allowed to stay up on Saturday nights to watch it (and sometimes Silver Spoons, which came on at 8:30).  This was a big deal for a kid whose bedtime was 8:00 on the weekdays and I remember loving the show so much that I tape recorded (like literally sat a tape recorder next to the television and hit “record”) the 1984 hour-long “Mr. Drummond gets married” episode.

I’m not sure if I watched it on Saturday nights beyond that, because my memory is hazy and I always associate Saturday night television viewing with The Facts of Life (briefly, anyway), and The Golden Girls (which dominated NBC Saturday nights for years), but that doesn’t matter because the show was a rerun mainstay all the way up until I was in my first year or so of high school.  WNYW, New York’s Fox affiliate (channel 5) ran Diff’rent Strokes at 5:00 p.m. and The Facts of Life at 5:30 p.m. through much of the latter part of my elementary school career, concluding it sometime when I was in junior high (what it was replaced with I don’t remember, although eventually Fox 5 ran The Simpsons, Seinfeld, and Friends).  Since I didn’t have cable at the time, that meant I would come home, turn on the television, and at 5:00, after cartoons were done, I would see a familiar shot of the east side and hear Alan Thicke’s lyrics:  “Now the world don’t move to the beat of just one drum …”  Then, it would be Arnold, Willis, Kimberly (unless it was one of the seasons where Dana Plato had been fired for being knocked up and using drugs), Sam (whose mushroom haircut I hated), and Mr. Drummond.

Bain played Mr. Drummond like a typical sitcom father, imparting some of the show’s lessons like Robert Reed did on The Brady Bunch (a show that I remember seeing for the first time at an incredibly early age and much like Diff’rent Strokes always seemed to be on) and making some lame attempt at a joke every once in a while.  He wasn’t the type of sitcom father whom you felt was “your father” or a ‘dad”; he was just … well, there, the mainstay of a show whose cast was full of problems (though I honestly didn’t know that until years later).  In fact, I don’t remember Mr. Drummond being much of a factor in most of the episodes, especially the two most memorable ones–the Nancy Reagan anti-drug epsiode, and the two-parter about sexual molestation where Gordon Jump plays the bike shop owner (though Mr. Drummond does call the authorities and is the “moral voice” throughout).  He did, however, have a couple of episodes that stood out.

Aside from his romancing Maggie (first played by Dixie Carter and then Mary Ann Mobley, who replaced Carter after NBC canceled the show and Carter went to Designing Women), there was the time Mr. Drummond came home with his neck all cramped from stress and the family discovered that Willis had severe stress and had to learn to balance the activities in his life.  There was the “Undercover Boss” episode where Mr. Drummond works at one of his company’s factories to see what it’s like to work there and challenges the entire family to “live blue collar,” which for Arnold means wearing a Van Halen T-shirt because that’s what poor people do or something.

And of course, there was the two-parter where Sam was kidnapped and at some point, Drummond had some fisticuffs with a possible kidnapper, a scene that I remember prompted my friend Harris and I to come up with the idea for a fake movie:  “Conrad Bain is X-CUTIONER 3000.”  Yeah, I don’t know why Mr. Drummond as Charles Bronson in Death Wish was so hilarious but when you’re 13, you find some of the most random crap funny, I guess.  Besides, when I told him about Bain’s death the other day, he replied, “Bonar Lives!” in reference to Conrad Bain’s twin brother Bonar, something we also found funny at 13 (and I’m amazed that I never wrote BONAR LIVES! across the front of my notebook as if it were “Save Ferris”).

Anyway, there’s only five cast members left alive from Diff’rent Strokes:  Todd Bridges (Willis, who had his share of substance abuse issues but has been clean for about 20 years), Danny Cooksey (Sam, who has a decent-sized voice-over resume and was in Terminator 2 as John Connor’s mulleted friend), Mary Ann Mobley (the second Maggie), Mary Jo Catlett (Pearl, the third maid, who now provides the voice of Mrs. Puff on SpongeBob SquarePants), and Charlotte Rae (Mrs. Garrett, who will outlive them all).  And I’d like to say that the show taught me so much, but like Mr. Drummond, I think I watched it because it was simply always there.

Pop Culture Affidavit Episode 4: A Soundtrack for the End of the World

Pop Culture Affidavit Episode 4 CoverHey everyone, it’s time for THE APOCALYPSE!!!  And while you’re sitting around wondering if a civilization that’s been dead for the better part of half of a millennium was right about the world ending, I thought I’d supply you with some music.

You can listen to the entire episode, which is basically one big playlist, here:

iTunes:  Pop Culture Affidavit

Direct Download 

Pop Culture Affidavit podcast page

Below is a list of songs with videos provided where available …

Intro music:  Great Big Sea, “End of the World” (Live)

1. MC5, “Kick Out the Jams”

2. Andrew W.K., “Ready to Die”

3. Billy Joel, “Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)” (Live)

4. Nena, “99 Luftballons”

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On Earth, Everyone Can Hear You Scream

“The Book of Alien,” published in 1979, had me scared out of my mind when I was a kid.

I think of all the movies I’m looking forward to this summer, Prometheus is at the top of the list. I know that being a huge comic book reader I would probably be more excited about The Avengers or The Dark Knight Rises, but when I heard that Ridley Scott was making a movie that had ties somehow to Alien, something in my nerd past reawakened and I remembered (suddenly? I mean it’s not like I ever really forgot) that when I was about 11 years old, the world he created in Alien was the center of my universe.

Okay, to be fair, the reason for that was more due to James Cameron’s sequel, Aliens, because up until the time I was in the fifth or sixth grade, I had only ever seen anything to do with Alien in the movie book–The Book of Alien–that someone on my bus had been passing around when I was in the second grade. Furthermore, what I had seen was a picture of the movie’s infamous “chestburster scene” (although at the time we called it “when that thing came out of the guy’s stomach”) and it scared the crap out of me.

I refused to watch Alien until I finally sat down and watched it during the summer before sixth grade–this was either the day before or the day of the incident where my father, who was wallpapering the living room–stepped on a razor blade and wound up with a few stitches in his foot. I don’t think I thought very much of the movie when I first saw it because it wasn’t as cool as Aliens, which I had already been watching on constant replay for the better part of a year.

Can you really blame me, after all? I was eleven or twelve and it was the middle of the “action Eighties” where I was into any movie that had large guns that shot lots of people, it quickly became my favorite movie. My friends and I would “play” Aliens (I was often Hudson to my friend Tom’s Hicks, although I think one time I actually played Ripley which I’m sure that some psychologist would have jumped on … but I have a feeling I just wanted to be one of the leads) when we wanted something slightly different than the “army” games we were used to playing after being kicked out of the house for watching Aliens way too many times.

But with anything from my childhood, my interest faded after a little while and I paid less attention to Ripley, Hicks, Hudson, Newt, and the other characters and more attention to things like baseball and the WWF. I would gravitate back toward Alien when I was in junior high after watching the original theatrical trailer while waiting on line to ride The Great Movie Ride at what was then called Disney’s MGM Studios in Disney World.  I knew I had seen the movie before, but trailers were hard to come by in 1990–you either had to have it as part of a commercial break on something you taped off of television or on another video tape that came out at that time, and considering that Alien was released in 1979 and then released on VHS for the first time by CBS FOX video in the early 1980s, that wasn’t likely to happen in my house.  The trailer blew me away and left so much of an impression that I remember trying to duplicate it as part of a computer animation project in my advanced computer graphics class in the ninth grade (I think it was a bunch of stills with quick cuts that wound up with no sound and a title in a really bad font … then again, it was 1991).

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Sometimes, more isn’t that groovy

For so many good movies, there are the unfortunate sequels. Oh sure, there are good sequels out there, but there’s also Predator 2, American Pie 2, or Eddie and The Cruisers II: Eddie Lives. And I’ve seen all three of those, so I know.

Anyway, in the grand scheme of things, most of those sequels are pretty much forgotten, relegated to late night runs on random cable channels that cannot afford quality movies, and I don’t think I would have known there was a sequel to American Graffiti if it hadn’t been pointed out to me via Charles Champlain’s book, George Lucas: The Creative Impulse when it came out in 1992. While it doesn’t get the attention of Star Wars, Empire, Jedi, or the original American Graffiti, More American Graffiti is covered halfway decently. In reading about the movie online and watching it last week, however, I get the feeling that this one is ranked in the Lucas filmography as “At least it’s not Howard the Duck.”

Okay, that’s a little harsh, but it wasn’t a movie that I intended seeking out and had I not been showing American Graffiti in my advanced English class, I would have been fine with watching bits and pieces of it here and there throughout the years whenever I happened to come across a random showing on WPIX or on cable. Plus, when I looked it up on Netflix, it was available for instant viewing.

American Graffiti, Lucas’s 1973 classic, follows a group of friends on the last night of the summer. What Lucas and director Bill Norton do is set More American Graffiti on four consecutive New Year’s Eves, from 1964-1967. After an initial scene in 1964 where several characters from the original meet at a racetrack, the storylines go their separate ways: John Milner is drag racing cars in 1964; Terry “The Toad” is in Vietnam; Debbie is a hippie in 1966 San Francisco; and Steve and Laurie are a married couple in Modesto in 1967. (more…)

Toast to Innocence

[A quick note:  this is actually something that I posted on an old blog of mine about four years ago; I decided to repost it here because while I was getting a post ready on Christmas songs, I remembered this and thought it was worth the repost.  I’ll have another, all-new post before the weekend.]

So I’m driving to the most depressing Food Lion on the face of the earth and I have Z 95.1, our local “Lite Rock” station on because they’re the greater Charlottesville area’s source for “All Christmas, All the Time” every holiday season and I hear that song about drinking a toast to innocence. Turns out it’s “Same Old Lang Syne” by soft rock god Dan Folgelberg. I don’t know why it’s on the holiday playlist but someone out there likes it.

Anyway, it’s been going through my head and while this particular commentary had me laughing my ass off, I still couldn’t help but look up the lyrics to break them down. And analyze them. Because it’s what I do best, right?

Same Old Lang Syne

Okay, so by looking at the title, I can see where this might fit into the holidays because “Old Lang Syne” is the song sung at New Year’s, and the phrase, according to Wikipedia, means … literally as “old long since”, or “long long ago” or “days gone by”. So perhaps there is some theme of reminiscing of days gone by or remembering things from long ago, which is what you tend to get from your average soft rock song.

Met my old lover in the grocery store
The snow was falling Christmas Eve
I stole behind her in the frozen foods and I touched her on the sleeve
She didn’t recognize the face at first but then her eyes flew open wide
She went to hug me and she spilled her purse
And we laughed until we cried

So we start out in a grocery store. The guy’s shopping for some peas or something like that, which is pretty interesting considering that the guy in the song is supposed to be Fogelberg himself and at he was a pretty successful musician in his day. But people have to eat, so maybe he was standing in Waldbaum’s in his leisure suit with a wide-collared shirt, gold chains and classic soft rock beard looking over a shopping list going, “Okay, got the chicken and the Potato Buds. They were out of cheddar, so I got swiss cheese. Shit, I forgot the paper towels. Oh well, I’ll get them on my way toward the register.”

He’s doing his shopping and he sees and old flame. But not just any old flame. A LOVER. You’ve gotta emphasize the word LOVER because it is quite possibly one of the dumbest words ever. There are only two ways I can accept the use of the word LOVER. The first is if you’re talking about someone you are screwing around on your wife with. That’s technically a LOVER. The second is if you’re Will Ferrell and Rachel Dratch in that SNL sketch where they play that creepy couple who says “My Lover” a lot. (more…)