Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 61: 'Mrs. Stone's Thing' (1970)

Ed Wood dons eye shadow and lipstick for his role in Mrs. Stone's Thing.

"It's amazing. I mean, here the guy is a complete failure in our way of thinking. Made schlock pictures, you know. And suddenly, he's famous. It's amazing."
-Director Joe Robertson on the career of Ed Wood

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The most incredible optical illusion of all time

An incredible optical illusion. Just keep staring at the black dot and amazing things will happen, I swear!

Stare at it. Stare at the little black dot in the center of the picture. That's right. Don't look at anything else. Just keep staring at the little black dot. Whatever happens. Whatever the cost. Babies will be born. Old people will die. Empires will rise and fall. But you won't even notice any of that shit, because you've got a job to do, and that job is staring at the little black dot.

Don't look at the faces of your family. They'll only distract you with their so-called "love." Don't look at the depressing headlines about genocide and famine and man's inhumanity to man. Those'll only get in your way. And for god's sake, don't look inward at your own miserable dung heap of a soul. This is no time for introspection. No, this is a time to stare at a little black dot between two flowery-looking rainbow things on the goddamned Internet. This is an amazing optical illusion, maybe the most amazing one ever, and you are this close to ruining it with your petty personal bullshit. Do something right for a change. Stare at the little black dot. Stare some more. Stare harder. Harder! Stare until you become the little black dot.

There. That's it. Good job. You're doing great. Keep it up.

Keep staring.

Keep staring.

Keep....

THERE!

Did you see it? Did you witness the miracle? Did you, a grown-ass adult human being with a functioning brain, manage to successfully follow the one simple instruction you were given? If so, congratulations. By this time, the optical illusion has revealed itself to you, and you are still reeling from its effects. Wasn't that incredible? Wasn't that the most amazing sensory experience you've ever had in your life? I'm sure you'll agree that it was worth the time and effort to stare at the little black dot. Better than any orgasm, and with no messy cleanup afterward. Better than any drug, and it's all totally legal. Can't nobody narc on this stash... 'cause this stash is in your mind! You may never stare into the face of God, but now you've come as close to that as any human ever could. From this moment on, your life has meaning.

Some of you, having gotten the illusion to work properly, will be tempted to do it again. And again. And again and again and again. I must warn against this. This optical illusion is so powerful, so awesome, so paradigm-shifting that it's best just to do it once and walk away. So go. Live your life. Talk a walk. Get some fresh air. Try to forget what you've seen here. Otherwise, you'll likely spend the rest of your life chasing a single, five-second-long high. Your brain, already weak and feeble, will completely liquefy. We're talking Tapioca City. You'll end up on the streets or worse. I have a cousin who did the little black dot thing twice. Just twice. Now, he's living in a group home and making brooms for 17 cents an hour. I visit him every other weekend.

On the other hand, if you didn't get the optical illusion to work, then I'm afraid I have some bad news for you. Either you have the mental acuity of a doorknob, or God just plain hates you. It's probably a combination of both. So that's what you get out of this experience: the knowledge that God hates your guts. Right now, Jesus, Moses, Allah, Buddha, Mohammed, and Tom Cruise are probably taking turns saying rude things about you. I guess you'll just have to live with that knowledge.

Aren't optical illusions the best? I mean, just the best?

Saturday, May 16, 2015

A new 'Mary Worth' rewrite

Original by Karen Moy and Joe Giella. Drastic rewrite by your humble blogger.

I'm working on some dandy new content for this blog, but in the meantime, I wanted to post something new here. This is another one of my rewrites of a newspaper comic. I took today's Mary Worth and added my own dialogue to it, changing the plot ever so slightly. Currently, the storyline revolves around a recently-reuinted couple, Adam and Terry. Disturbingly, Adam moved into Terry's building without telling her. She was shocked and horrified at first, but now they're sort of dating again. In this episode, they've just been hot air ballooning and are enjoying a nice lunch afterwards. Terry clearly wants to take things slowly, but Adam is already talking marriage. I thought that was funny, so I made the dumb thing you see above. Enjoy.

I've done similar jokes about the high-pressure guys in Mary Worthi before. Here's an example from a few years back. I called this one "The Patient Man."

A moldy oldie from the Blevins vaults.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 60.5: A roundup of Wood news!

The cover of a soon-to-be-released book about Ed Wood's movies.

NOTE: It had been my intention today to present my findings on Mrs. Stone's Thing (1970), an extraordinary film whose cast features Mr. Edward D. Wood, Jr. However, some heavier-than-expected work commitments have forced me to reschedule that posting. Rather than shortchange Mrs. Stone's Thing with a sloppy or incomplete analysis, I have decided to postpone that article one week. It will appear in this space on May 20, 2015. In the meantime, I have accumulated a few bits of Ed Wood-related news which I wanted to present to you. Please enjoy. - J.B.

Try as he might, our boy Eddie just can't stay out of the news for long. You might think that it would be easy keeping up with a guy who's been dead since December 1978, but that's just not the case with Mr. Edward Davis Wood, Jr. You see, dear readers, Eddie's is a restless spirit which the afterlife simply cannot contain. That's the only explanation I can offer for the man's remarkably busy post-death career. The actress Valda Hansen, who sexily starred in Eddie's 1959 classic Night of the Ghouls, repeatedly claimed that she had felt the ghostly presence of Ed Wood in her life and that Eddie had appeared to her in her dreams long after his demise. While he was alive, Eddie repeatedly wrote stories and scripts about supposedly "dead" people who enjoy no solace in their own graves. The female narrator of "The Night the Banshee Cried" is summoned back to our world, for instance, to haunt the grounds near her ancestral family home. The protagonist of "Into My Grave," on the other hand, is able to give us a blow-by-blow description of his funeral as it happens. The dancers in Orgy of the Dead, all purportedly deceased, are condemned to thrust and gyrate for all eternity in order to please Criswell, Emperor of the Dark World. The scam artists in the aforementioned Night of the Ghouls are so adept at pretending to contact dead people that they inadvertently manage to attract some of the genuine articles. And, of course, Plan 9 from Outer Space has its trio of shambling human zombies in the thrall of some snooty space aliens. Death, then, is rarely "the end" in an Ed Wood story.

I don't wish to give the impression that there is a geyser or deluge or downpour of Wood news to share. It's more like a slow, steady trickle which never quite ends. If you have a slightly leaky roof and you leave an empty bucket on the floor beneath the source of the seepage, the water will accumulate deliberately, drop by drop. After a while, when the bucket is full or half-full, you can dump it out and start over again. That's basically how I deal with the Ed Wood-related news items which accrue in my e-mail inbox: I let them build up for a while, then dump 'em out all at once.

To wit:

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Pink Shoe Laces: Songs from my mother (UPDATED FOR 2015)

This record was an unlikely part of my music education.


Kids are inundated with music every day of their lives, of course. We sing to them and encourage them to sing, too, both at home and at school. There are thousands and thousands of recordings made specifically for kids. Children's music is a whole genre unto itself. Meanwhile, TV shows, films, and plays aimed at kids are generally very song-heavy. My musical upbringing, in retrospect, was very typical for American suburban children of my generation. I sang the usual Christmas carols and nursery rhyme-type songs, took piano lessons for a couple of years, learned how to play "Hot Cross Buns" on the recorder, and joined the school band when I was about 10 years old.

But my introduction to popular music was a little more unorthodox. It came in the form of a stack of scratchy, well-worn 45 RPM singles that my mother handed down to my sister and me. They'd been hers as a girl, and she wanted us to have them. My grandparents were restaurateurs in Northern Michigan in the 1950s, and they'd let my mom keep the records from the jukebox once they were done with them. Back in those days, jukebox play was an important gauge of a record's success, sort of like how digital downloads are today. From 1955 to 1957, Billboard even had a separate Most Played in Jukeboxes chart for pop songs. That was when rock 'n' roll music -- beloved by teenagers, detested by adults -- was first taking over the world. My mom grew up during those Back to the Future years. What a coup it was for her to get all those jukebox platters for free! How proud she must have been to play them for her friends at slumber parties and the like. Lucky for me, she held on to those cherished 45s. By the late 1970s, when she was a working mom with two kids of her own, she was able to give those records a second life. My sister and I played those twenty-plus-year-old tunes over and over on our dependable little Fisher Price record player in the basement. Of course, we managed to break a few (so sorry, "Peter Gunn Theme"; you were enjoyed), but I still have most of them in my possession today.

Dodie Stevens
Among those ancient records was "Pink Shoe Laces," a million-selling 1959 novelty smash by one-hit wonder Dodie Stevens, who recorded the sassy, lighthearted tune when she was only 13. It reached #3 on the national charts, but Dodie would never so much as graze the Top 40 ever again. She's still at it, though, as a singer and vocal coach more than half a century after her brief flurry of Eisenhower-era fame. The record itself is an odd one and must have baffled grownups at the time. Dodie more or less raps the verses, decades before that genre even existed. Lyrically, the song is about how smitten Dodie is with her older-sounding boyfriend (she claims she "love[s] him truly") because of his flashy wardrobe and material wealth. These would not have been typical sentiments in the stodgy romantic music of the era. (Think: "Love Is a Many Splendored Thing.") Only on a rock 'n' roll record could Dodie say such things. A typical lyric: "He takes me deep sea fishing in a submarine/We go to drive-in movies in a limousine/He's got a whirly-birdy and a twelve-foot yacht/Ahhh, but that's-a not all he's got!" Listening to the song with modern ears, it's tough not to take that last couplet as a double entendre, but we must remember that this was 1959! Still, though, perhaps in Dodie Stevens we can see a precursor of Ke$ha or at least Rebecca Black.

As silly and utterly trivial as "Pink Shoe Laces" is, every time I hear it, I think of my mother, who would also have been about 13 when the song was new. I do not currently possess any photographs of my late mother. I don't know whether any audio or video recordings of her even exist. Twenty-two years after her cancer-related death, her face and voice are fading a bit from my memory. What I have is that stack of vinyl records she used to own, and I'm damned glad to have them. Mom, this one's for you. Enjoy.


Friday, May 8, 2015

Notes on my incredibly glamorous and exciting life (including a trip to Onion HQ)

No, this isn't an outtake from Caligula. It's supposedly a picture of an Onion staff party. (Not pictured: me.)

"May you be happy in the life you have chosen."
-Scrooge's ex-girlfriend, Belle*
*She doesn't really mean it when she says it, but I think it's good advice anyway.

My life is, at least partially by design, uneventful to the point of almost total stasis. I can define myself by the (many) things I dislike: people, crowds, noise, disruption, spending money, following directions, traveling, making small talk, listening, trying to be nice, doing favors for people, and social interactions of all kinds. The extent to which I can successfully and temporarily avoid these terrible maladies is the extent to which my life is tolerable. Of course, this comes at a price. Boredom, alienation, loneliness, and stagnation are the occasional side effects of my chosen lifestyle, but they beat the alternatives: despair, frustration, humiliation, resentment, and an overall disgust with the world and every last person in it. In other words, a relatively solitary, quiet, and dull life is the only kind for me. I couldn't imagine any other way of existing.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

A hidden gem in Ben E. King's discography

Ben E. King (1938-2015)

"Stand By Me" is dominating the obituaries of R&B singer Ben E. King, who left us on Thursday at the age of 76. And why shouldn't it? Not only did King co-write and sing the ballad, but it was a big hit twice -- twenty-five years apart, no less! -- and inspired cover versions by everyone from John Lennon to Muhammad Ali. It's one of those indestructible oldies which has burrowed so deeply into the collective subconscious that we take it for granted. But Mr. King's career did not begin or end with those three minutes of evocative, violin-drenched music. Along with his solo career, of course, he was a key member of the Drifters during that group's early prime and thus provided lead vocals on even more indelible prom night classics: "Save the Last Dance for Me," "Spanish Harlem," "This Magic Moment," and more.

But none of those are the Ben E. King song I like best. "Stand by Me" and those Drifters hits I mentioned are definitely on the softer, more genteel side of soul music. Nothing wrong with that. But King could definitely throw down when the song called for it. As a prime example, take a song he recorded as a B-side for Atco Records in 1964, three years after "Stand by Me." It's called "Let the Water Run Down," and I first heard it on a compilation of songs with the so-called "Bo Diddley beat." (BOMP BOMP BOMP uh BOMP BOMP!) This record is about as un-"Stand by Me" as you can get. There's not a violin for miles. The song is edgy, insistent, and urgent. King sound genuinely perturbed as he retreats to the bathroom to sob over the woman who's just dumped him. While he's freaking out, there's a line forming of people who just have to use the can. That's a high pressure situation, and the song captures it perfectly. Enjoy.

Friday, May 1, 2015

You might be the new Jesus and not even know it

Lookin' good, Mr. J! Lookin' good.

I heard this theory once that you should treat everyone you meet as if he or she were the Messiah. I don't believe in the Messiah, but it's an interesting idea anyway, even if it's hopelessly impractical. And, hey, I'm wrong about a lot of shit. I might be wrong on the "Messiah" thing, too. Maybe another one's just around the corner, waiting to fix everything that's wrong with the world. Think of all the people you encounter on a daily basis. Think, furthermore, of all the people you've ever encountered in your whole life. That fat kid in your third grade glass. The barista who served you coffee yesterday. The homeless guy you pretend not to see on your way to work. Any of these folks could be the Messiah. Imagine if one of them turned out to be the Savior of All Mankind, and you were shitty to them, as if they didn't even matter. Then wouldn't you feel like a dope?

Perfect example: In the train station parking lot today, there was this woman -- Caucasian, late middle-age, dark hair, sort of dressed up, if you're trying to picture her --  who walked in front of my car as I was leaving. Not directly in front, I should point out, but close enough that we could see each other's faces. I slowed down, of course, but the woman must have thought I was still going to run her over because she kept waving at me with a distressed look as if I didn't see her. A guy I'm presuming was her husband was with her, and I'm sure she complained about me to him immediately afterward. ("Harry, did you see that? That guy was a maniac! He almost killed me! Good thing I waved!") In truth, I was burned out at the end of another unsatisfying work week and just wanted this lady to get the fuck out of my way so I could get out of that goddamned parking lot and go home. She got to wherever she was going, and I left, cursing her under my breath because she delayed me getting back to my shitty apartment by five seconds. What if this woman were the Messiah? Maybe she is.

But, then again, maybe I'm the Messiah and just don't know it. Wouldn't that be wild? The real Joe Christ. (Much respect to the late filmmaker who went by that name.) I don't have any magic powers, though, and I haven't as yet been inclined toward any world-saving activities. If I'm the new Jesus, I'm a crappy one. Sorry about that.