Saturday, July 25, 2015

All roads, even the weird ones, lead inexorably to Spinal Tap

This is NOT Spinal Tap, but it sure looks like it.

Don't ask me why, but I decided to Google "Billy Crystal + blackface" today, and guess what I found? A clip from Billy's 1986 HBO special, Don't Get Me Started, featuring the comedian doing his famous/infamous Sammy Davis, Jr. impression, opposite Rob Reiner. Of course, Crystal and Reiner have worked together on a number of film projects, including The Princess Bride and When Harry Met Sally, but this clip is special in that it features Reiner as his pompous "Marty DiBergi" character -- a composite of Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, and Steven Spielberg -- from the classic 1984 mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap. Reiner, who directed and cowrote Tap, has reprised this role in The Return of Spinal Tap and some DVD extras, but Don't Get Me Started came out just two years after the original Spinal Tap movie. In other words, this is prime DiBergi, right down to the nautically-themed ballcap. Enjoy.

Superman saves the world through tough love, one person at a time

Gratuitous profanity courtesy of me watching a bunch of Jenna Marbles videos in a row.

Faster than a speeding life coach! More powerful than your high school guidance counselor! Able to leap tall problems in a single session! Look! Up in the sky! It's a therapist! It's an advice columnist! It's Superman! Strange visitor from another planet who came to Earth with profundities and insights far beyond those of mortal men! Superman, who can change the course of wayward lives! Bend wills with a stern glare! And who, while maintaining his role as a costumed crusader, decided that the best way to truly help humanity was to tell people what they needed to hear instead of what they wanted to hear! Maybe then they can help themselves for a change!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

I own 'Brothers in Arms' by Dire Straits because of some lady in a swimming pool

Believe it or not, it has to do with this woman.

Years ago, and we're talking decades here, my mother and father got me a whole stack of books they'd found in a remainder bin,  One of them was this collection of funny and unusual vintage photos from Life magazine. Now, Life has been kind of a mini-obsession with me for a long time. Not the magazine's sad final years of dwindling sales and cultural irrelevance, of course. No, I mean the mag's heyday as a weekly publication, right up to the early 1970s, when it was such an easily-identifiable piece of Americana that even MAD spoofed it. When I was in college -- and I realize how nerdy this will sound -- I spent many hours poring over old Life magazine back issues, which the library had bound in volumes. I was especially transfixed by the photos, but I read the articles, too. I can remember being really psyched to find the issue which contained an article actually written by Frank Zappa called "The Oracle Has It All Psyched Out." To me, issues of Life were much more interesting decades later than they probably had been when they were brand new.

So I usually read before I go to bed, and one night I decided to browse through the aforementioned volume of funny Life photos. One of them was a 1962 black-and-white snapshot of a girl swimmer in what looked like an Olympic-sized pool. She was spitting water like a fountain, and the water in the pool caused a distortion which made it appear that her head had come loose from her body. I noticed a weird detail in the picture, though: a big crucifix on the wall behind her. For some reason, I decided that this was a swim meet at a Catholic high school or college. I was brought up Catholic, so maybe that had something to do with it. With a little Google-fu, I found a site which identified the girl as Kathy Flicker and the locale as Princeton University's Dillon Gym.

Anyway, I was looking at this book before bed, and it made its way into my dreams. I had a very vivid dream in which I was competing in a swim meet at a Catholic high school. In reality, I can swim, but I have never even come close to competing in a swim meet. But, still, that's what was happening in this dream. Before the competition started, I noticed that all the other competitors had these special little slippers that they put on over their feet. I didn't have a pair, and I started to get nervous. Then I really freaked out when the race started, and my competitors were all able to walk on water with their special slippers. I tried it, and I sank to the bottom. And all through this experience, the song "Walk of Life" by Dire Straits was playing in the background. I could still hear it when I was underwater, except it was a bit muted and distant.

The next day -- maybe the first thing, since it was a Saturday -- I drove to a second-hand CD store and bought a copy of Brothers In Arms by Dire Straits, specifically to get the song "Walk of Life." And it's still in my collection to this day. I don't know if I've even played the other songs on it, except for maybe "Money for Nothing." I've told a version of this story to all the therapists I've ever had, and by my count, I'm on my fourth one of those.


Sunday, July 19, 2015

Can You Guess the Lyric Based on Terrible Microsoft Paint Art?

Song lyric #1
Song lyric #2

Okay, so here's how this works. I took two lyrics -- not titles, mind you but lyrics -- from famous songs and then illustrated them as crudely as possible in Microsoft Paint. Your job is to try to ID either of the songs based on the drawings. Your only hint is that both of these songs are used in the movie The Big Lebowski, though they may not necessarily be on the soundtrack album. Maybe they are, maybe they aren't. Anyway, post your guesses (if you have them) in the comment section below this article. "And report back to us as soon as it's done."

Aaaaaaaaand..... GO!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

WATCH! The Candy Land commercial which haunted me for years!

This is what Milton Bradley's Candy Land looked like in 1978.

The game board as it looked in '78.
It's funny how an utterly ephemeral piece of music will become firmly lodged in one's brain for decades. Take, for instance, the instrumental music in an early '80s ad for the Milton Bradley board game Candy Land. There was a particular 30-second spot for this product which I must have seen dozens of times during my tender years between Popeye and Andy Panda cartoons. Obviously, Milton Bradley bought up a lot of advertising time on children's TV shows, and I was smack dab in the middle of the target demographic. The commercial itself is nothing special: In a sunshine-yellow suburban kitchen somewhere, a young brother and sister play the game with their mom, while a gentle-voiced male announcer explains how it all works. Easy peasy. But underneath the narration is a jaunty, repetitive little melody with a whistle-like sound. To this day, I remember that insidious little ditty by heart. I will likely never forget it. As for the narrator's spiel, I didn't commit every word of it to memory, but there are certain passages which stick out: "You'll discover the Gingerbread Plum Tree, a Rainbow Pass, and Gumdrop Mountain! But be careful of the Cherry Pit Falls, and don't get stuck in Molasses Swamp!" The way he weirdly emphasizes "Rainbow Pass," as if it's a major selling point, is rather memorable.

Incidentally, one thing I learned in the course of researching this article is that there is no "definitive" version of the classic game. The Internet can't even decide whether it's called "Candy Land" or "Candyland." Under either spelling, the game goes back to 1949, and both the board itself and the box it comes in have been designed, redesigned, and re-redesigned many times since then. What was once merely "Molasses Swamp," for instance, is now a sentient creature unappealingly named "Gloppy." Other characters, like "main antagonist" Lord Licorice, have been added to Candy Land since the days of my youth. (In my day, bad luck was the only antagonist in Candy Land.) Through trial and error, I learned that the version of the game seen in the famous ad dates back to 1978. Most sources say the commercial first appeared in the early 1980s, possibly 1983.

The indelible Candy Land jingle played a minor yet arguably-significant role in my life. I can remember humming it over and over to annoy my older sister during a long car trip. She must have identified the song, too, because she said, "Mom, tell Joey to stop singing the Candy Land song!" A few years later, when I joined the school band, a few of my fellow musicians-in-training and I would try to learn as many pop songs, TV and movie themes, and advertising jingles as possible on our respective instruments. Then as now, I played the euphonium -- a little-understood and much-neglected instrument to which I was dutifully assigned after failing to make the grade on the cornet. Being relegated to the low brass section was moderately more fun if I could play a reasonable facsimile of '"Black Dog" by Led Zeppelin or "The Ballad of Jed Clampett." I remember it was a major victory (in my own mind) when I learned the familiar seven-note "Miss Gulch" theme from The Wizard of Oz. But there was this one kid, Marc, who played the saxophone and had a dizzying range of tunes at his command. And one of them was -- you guessed it -- the Candy Land jingle. That may not impress you, but it impressed the hell out of me.

Anyway, here's the commercial. If the song takes up permanent residence in your subconscious, remember that I tried to warn you.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Hypnotist

Scenes from a public access TV show.

"He's a hypnotist/Hypnotist of ladies/Never had a pocket watch/Never counted backwards/You won't remember why you liked him/You won't remember why you liked him" 

Those are lyrics from a song by They Might Be Giants, but they sort of describe what's happening in this odd little public access TV show. I don't remember much about the program, other than the fact that I found a clip of it somewhere online, most likely the Found Footage Fest website. The woman in bed is the hypnotist's wife, in case you were wondering. Why she appears to be in a hospital bed, I do not know and would not care to speculate.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Blah, blah, blah, Mark Trail, something, something...

Aw, man, you couldn't burn Old Wave or Back to the Egg instead?

I was looking through old files on my hard drive, and I found a little Mark Trail remix that I hadn't put up on the blog yet. So here's that. You're welcome... or I apologize, depending on your reaction. That doesn't seem like enough for a post, so here's a Marvin parody, too:

It's funny 'cause he's abandoning his wife and infant child.

And here's a Judge Parker, too:

I just liked the haunted look on Ned's face.

Finally, here's a Marvin/Funky Winkerbean crossover, since I know you were all waiting for that.

Well, at least she didn't miss those leaves.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Bonkers really was some candy!

Excerpt from a vintage print ad for Bonkers fruit candy. Artwork by Mort Drucker.

Someone saved on old strawberry Bonkers wrapper.
Does Nabisco even make candy anymore? Cookies, yes, but candy? I don't know, but they sure gave it a whirl in the go-go, profit-hungry 1980s, when every consumerist dream seemed within tantalizingly easy reach. I can imagine the marketing meetings that must have occurred then, with a slick Gordon Gecko type giving his sales pitch to the honchos at Nabisco: "I can practically taste that allowance money, boys! All we gotta do is take it right out of their sticky little hands!" Back in 1983, to that end, the National Biscuit Company introduced its ultimately-unsuccessful answer to competitor M&M/Mars' Starburst: Bonkers fruit candy. Chewy and gum-like in consistency, these artificially-flavored, chemically-saturated, rainbow-colored treats came in longish, skinny foil packages, just like Starburst. But Bonkers were thicker and chunkier, and each individual piece contained a core which was darker and denser than the lighter-colored outer layer. "Chewy outside, super fruity inside!" is how the ads explained it. I wish I could tell you to toddle on down to your local drug store or gas station and pick up a package, but that's not possible. After a few years of mid-'80s popularity, Bonkers fell out of favor and were thereafter found only in specialty candy shops. Nabisco phased the brand out sometime during the 1990s. Another candy wannabe had bitten the nougat, so to speak.

Bonkers revivals have been in the offing for the last decade or so, but nothing substantive has come of it. A nostalgia-minded confectioner called Leaf Brands, whose other products include Astro Pops, Wacky Wafers, and (ahem) Farts, purchased the Bonkers name most recently, circa 2012, and promised to bring back the beloved candy -- with additional flavors, no less. As of this writing, all Leaf Brands has done is brag a little on social media, posting to a Bonkers Fruit Chews page on Facebook as recently as April 22 . The company's self-imposed 2014 deadline for getting the candy back on store shelves was decidedly unmet, however. Here, to drive you mad, is a link to Leaf's page for Bonkers. Their current alibi? "We are in the process of acquiring the machinery needed to wrap these amazing fruit chews." A likely story, Leaf. No new Bonkers have been forthcoming. Previously, in 2004, a company called Joyco briefly released its own Bonkers candies, but these bore no resemblance to the Bonkers of old, leading to dashed hopes and bitter disappointment for children of the '80s.

As fondly remembered as the candy is, it cannot compare to the popularity of the TV and print advertising campaign for Bonkers. Rather like Burma-Shave, with its famous rhyming highway signs, Bonkers was a case where the promotion easily overshadowed the product. Bonkers' commercials, which debuted in '83 along with the candy, memorably centered around a demented Southern housewife -- most online descriptions call her an "old lady," but I'd say she's no more than middle-aged -- who generally speaks in a monotone directly to the camera. Try as I might, I could not find the name of the actress who played this part so wonderfully and with such gleeful malevolence. There is some speculation on Internet candy forums (yes, such things exist) that it's Lily Tomlin from Rowan & Martin's Laugh In, but it's clearly not. The character may well be inspired by Tomlin, who played the vaguely similar Ernestine the Telephone Operator, but it's not her.

The Bonkers lady
Anyway, the commercials are all set in some weirdly antiquated, early 20th century version of the Deep South. Thirty seconds at a time, they give us a glimpse of a disturbing alternate universe where eating Bonkers candy causes giant pieces of fruit to come crashing down from the sky. Pop an orange-flavored Bonkers into your mouth, for instance, and within seconds you will find yourself crushed by an orange the size of a Volkswagen. Victims of a typical Bonkers blitzkrieg are not only pinned to the ground under Brobdingnagian strawberries and watermelons but are also overtaken by maddening, incessant laughter. "Bonkers," the ads explain, "bonk you out." The candy's very name betokens its mind-scrambling effects. Meanwhile, the victim's home has been utterly destroyed by the falling fruit. There is rubble, debris, and smoke everywhere. So Bonkers promises a delicious fruity taste along with incurable insanity and massive property damage. No wonder kids adored these commercials. They promised chaos, which children love nearly as much as sugar.

At the center of it all is our prim, apron-wearing Dixie hausfrau, the only one who seems to know the true, incredible import of eating Bonkers candy. Is she disturbed by the terrible consequences of ingesting the fruit-flavored cubes? Not at all. The stiflingly old-fashioned world she inhabits -- a snoozy place where the only "entertainment" is an upright piano in the parlor -- is so straight-laced and circumspect that she semi-secretly welcomes the anarchy brought on by Bonkers candy. Curiously, she is surrounded by doubters, skeptics, and naysayers who do not understand the awesome and terrible power of Bonkers. Their ignorance gives her a great deal of smug satisfaction, since she knows what's going to happen and they don't. "Some folks think Bonkers is gum," she intones in the most famous Bonkers ad. "They know it's candy now!" When we kids imitated these commercials in the schoolyard back in '83, this was the line we quoted to one another. At this moment, the housewife is like the token oldster in a horror movie who tries to warn the youngsters that they're headed for disaster. They never listen, of course, the fool kids. But even our savvy housewife is not immune to the wrath of Bonkers! She slyly ties to cheat fate by side-stepping the falling fruit, but to no avail. Soon, she, too, is lying helpless and prone beneath a bunch of grapes the size of beach balls. "Some candy!" she manages to get out between fits of laughter, the Bonkers-induced madness having claimed her.

Here, for your enlightenment, is a selection of mid-1980s TV commercials for Bonkers, all featuring the same superlative actress. It is perhaps best simply to enjoy the deadpan, cartoon-like surrealism of these spots and not dwell overmuch on their disturbing implications. Surely, in the Bonkers-verse, there must be occasional fatalities from the relentless fruity onslaught. And imagine the weary rebuilding which must take place in between commercials. How could construction workers, plumbers, electricians, and carpenters possibly put their hearts into their labors, knowing that all of their efforts could be wiped out in mere seconds by anyone with a sweet tooth and enough pocket change to buy a pack of Bonkers? One wonders, too, about the role of religion in this world. Certainly, as conservative Southerners, these characters would be regular Christian churchgoers. But how could you continue worshiping God in a world where giant berries were constantly raining down from the sky, destroying your humble property? Would you assume that Bonkers had power greater than that of God, or would you conclude that God Himself was acting through Bonkers, using the fruity delights as his instruments of wrath? These ads raise so many theological questions.






So persuasive were these ads that, apparently, some young and very impressionable viewers were taken in by them completely, not realizing that trickery and exaggeration were being employed in this fiendish marketing campaign. On YouTube, I found a seven-minute-long testimonial by a now-grown man who learned the hard way that television advertisements do not always tell the truth. As a 7-year-old child, he convinced his parents to buy him a pack of watermelon-flavored Bonkers, only to learn to his great disappointment that eating the candies did not cause gargantuan watermelons to descend from the sky onto the roof of his parents' Chevy Malibu. "I unwrapped the package of Bonkers," he recalled, "took out a piece of that watermelon flavor, popped it in my mouth, and started chewing. And I waited. No sound from above. No crashing. I don't hear anything. Oh, what happened? Where's my giant piece of fruit?" Eventually, after the boy burst into tears, his mother let him know the truth: "Honey, it was just an advertisement." Bonkers, then, taught this young man an important, if unpleasant, lesson about the way the world really works. I'd say, in a weird way, he actually got his parents' money's worth and more.



Print advertisements for Bonkers.
Before I let you go, I'd like to mention the concurrent print campaign for Bonkers. This, too, was memorable in its own way and helped create a strong brand identity among candy-crazed young people. During those peak Bonkers years of the mid-1980s, Nabisco advertised the product heavily in comic books. Apart from a few Marvel titles like The Amazing Spider-Man, I was pretty much a die-hard DC reader in those days, gorging myself on Action Comics and Justice League of America, and I can remember seeing such ads many times back then in those publications. Our disillusioned YouTuber up there remembered the ads, too. At one point in his tale of woe, he holds up a familiar-looking example. "Let me show you the ad," he says. "You may even recognize this, that appeared on the backs of comic book and at the checkout shelves. It says, 'BONKERS! FRUITY CANDY HITS YOU WITH A NEW FLAVOR!' And you see the old lady from the commercial, a portrait of her there with the watermelon laying across her and the different flavors."

Indeed, the mysterious housewife from the television commercials was represented via caricature in the print ads, putting her in the company of such cartoon mascots as Charlie Tuna and the Vlassic stork. When I wasn't watching cartoons as a kid, I was reading comic books, so this strange lady was never far from my mind in those days. And neither, consequently, were Bonkers candies. In my research for this article, I discovered -- to my utter delight -- that one of these ads was drawn by Mort Drucker, my favorite cartoonist from MAD Magazine. He didn't sign his Bonkers work, the way he did with his Shrunken Head Apple Sculpture ad (another comic book staple), but he scarcely needed to do so. Those hatch-marks on the lady's cheeks are unmistakable, and those blissed-out background extras are pure Drucker. Enjoy.

This Bonkers ad by Mort Drucker would certainly get me to buy the product.