Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 41: 'Ed Wood: The Musical!' (2014)

Ed Wood, Bela Lugosi, Vampira, and Tor Johnson croon their way into your hearts in Ed Wood: The Musical!

"Don't worry that it's not good enough for anyone else to hear. Just sing, sing a song."
-The Carpenters, "Sing" (1973)


The VHS edition.
"Recommend this comedy to friends!"

Such was the advice of a label affixed by the Walt Disney Company to a VHS copy of Tim Burton's Ed Wood, which I purchased used sometime in the mid-1990s from a Flint, MI-area Meijer store. Back then, this type of corporate suggestion -- common to videotapes of the era -- struck me as merely pushy and presumptuous. But now, nearly a year into the Ed Wood Wednesdays project, Disney's corporate suggestion raises some existential issues. Namely, is Ed Wood's life a comedy? I guess his famed 1994 biopic fits into that category as well as or better than it does any other. Purely from a mathematical standpoint, the funny scenes in Ed Wood (Ed and his cronies steal a rubber octopus from a Republic Pictures warehouse) outnumber the sad/poignant ones (Ed learns by phone that Bela Lugosi has died) by a hefty margin. But Ed Wood's true story, the stuff that actually happened to this guy? There's only one word for that: tragedy. Other than the part about being "highly renowned and prosperous," Edward D. Wood, Jr. fits Aristotle's definition of a tragic hero. In the Aristotelian tradition, such a protagonist is a man "who is not eminently good and just, whose misfortune is brought about not by vice or depravity, but by some error or frailty.” As you may remember from your school days, the most common tragic flaw is hubris, i.e. "a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one's own competence, accomplishments or capabilities, especially when the person exhibiting it is in a position of power." If being a movie director can be considered "a position of power," then this is a perfect description of Ed Wood. A nice, hardworking kid from Poughkeepsie, NY, he thought he had what it took to make it in the motion picture business and so moved out West to California. Thirty-one years later, at the age of only 54, he died a penniless and thoroughly disillusioned alcoholic, having worked almost exclusively in pornography for the last two decades of his career.

The movie Ed Wood soft-peddles these disturbing, depressing aspects of his life. The biopic depicts him going to bars a few times during his low moments. On one occasion, while trying without luck to raise the funds for Bride of the Atom (later Bride of the Monster), he meets Loretta King and mistakes her for a potential backer. On another day, frustrated with the Baptists who are bankrolling Plan 9 from Outer Space, Ed visits a bar in full drag and gets an unexpected pep talk from his hero, Orson Welles. But there's no sense from the biopic that we're seeing a man in the early stages of very serious alcoholism. An on-screen caption near the end of the movie describes Eddie's later life as "a slow descent into alcoholism and monster nudie films." That's true, but it's also a very genteel way of putting it. We don't see the out-of-control binges which brought out a dark, violent side to Eddie's personality. If there is one fact which has troubled me the most about Wood's life throughout the last year, it's the knowledge that Ed physically abused his wife, Kathy, while he was intoxicated. Given Ed Wood's shocking experiences in World War II, during which he was required to kill Japanese soldiers and also endured torture, it is very probable that he suffered from what we would now call post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. His case study aligns very closely with those of some modern-day soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The infamous "Chuckles Bites the Dust" episode.
Given what we now know about him, why isn't Ed Wood's life treated as a tragedy instead of a comedy? Well, frankly, it's because the most interesting details of his biography are the ones which inspire laughter. Eddie made ludicrous, low-budget films about monsters, aliens, and mad scientists. He had a fetish for angora sweaters and lacy lingerie. His cadre of stars included a phony psychic, a Swedish wrestler, a beatnik goth chick, and a retirement-age Dracula. We judge artists, and not unreasonably so, by their work which survives into our time. And what survives from Ed Wood's career? A handful of cheapskate sci-fi/horror flicks with nonexistent production values, a few more weirdly naive attempts at pornography, and a lot of sleazy paperback novels which were sold in all the worst bookshops in town. People find Ed's work funny, so they find his life funny, too. When The Golden Turkey Awards made him an unlikely posthumous star, only the silliest details of his life bubbled to the surface at first. The sadder aspects of his troubled, too-brief existence weren't widely known for another decade, and by then he was firmly established as an icon of 1950s camp, a figure of fun. And if Eddie's legacy is making people laugh, what's so bad about that? It's a tough, tough world -- as Ed himself knew all too well -- and we need all the laughter we can get sometimes. On the other hand, it seems particularly cruel to turn Edward D. Wood, Jr. into a clown, since he already faced plenty of rejection, ridicule, and adversity during his own life. One is reminded of the infamous "Chuckles Bites the Dust" episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, in which poor Minnesota news producer Mary Richards has to stifle her laughter repeatedly when hearing about the death of a local TV clown, Chuckles, who was killed by an elephant while dressed as a peanut. It is only at Chuckles' funeral -- when Mary is advised by a kindly clergyman to laugh freely because that's what Chuckles would have wanted -- that she bursts into uncontrollable sobs.

So what is the duty of the modern writer who chooses Ed Wood as a subject? The public will want to see fuzzy sweaters, stolen octopi, and flying saucers on strings. And the wise writer will give them exactly those things. But it's also important to acknowledge that there was more to this man than just these iconic props and accessories. There was a real, thinking, feeling human being behind the laughable myth, and his story deserves to be told, too, especially since it serves as a cautionary fable about the American character and the American dream. How do you find a balance which will please the camp-loving audience and not betray the real Ed Wood in the process? These are the questions I pondered as I explored the depths of...

E D   W O O D :   T h e   M u s i c a l !   ( 2 0 1 4 )

Currently, this is your only way to enjoy the delights of Ed Wood: The Musical!

Alternate titles: None of which I am aware.

Availability: Quick! Check the calendar! Are you reading this on or before June 22, 2014? If so, you can catch a live script reading of Ed Wood: The Musical! at the Actors Reading Room at OutCentral, an LGBT center in Nashville, TN. Otherwise, your best bet is to check out Rick Tell's SoundCloud page, which has the play's entire musical score available for free listening!

The backstory: Who better to tell you about the origins of Ed Wood: The Musical! than its creator, Rick Tell? Mr. Tell was gracious enough to answer some of my questions via e-mail. Here, then, is a little Q&A session for your enlightenment.

The Reppies.
Q: What is your own musical background? 
I have been involved in music practically all my life and professionally since my late teens. I toured and recorded throughout the 1970s and started producing music in my home town of NYC around 1978. Also during that time I participated in the BMI theater workshop under the late Lehman Engel.  Although I had some success in the record biz,  [hitting] #5 [on the] national Billboard dance music chart [with a record on] RCA. I left the feast or famine insecurity and made my living composing and producing music for radio and TV as well as corporate shows and videos up until 1992. I then spent the next 6 years as music producer for a PBS TV show (The Reppies) down in Orlando FL. I moved back to NYC in 1998 and then to Nashville in 2000 where I teach audio recording and produce local recording artists.
Q: How did you come to write an Ed Wood musical? 
During my time in Orlando (1990-1998), I was approached by a TV producer client that I had written some jingles for in NY to write some melodies for lyrics in a play with music about Ed Wood. I did, and the author and the producer seemed pleased. NOTHING came of it, but I thought it was a good concept so ten years later (2004), now living in Nashville, I set out to write my own Ed Wood musical from scratch. I collaborated with a Nashville writer but the script did not work although my songs were very well received. About five years ago I put a link to my songs on a Yahoo! Ed Wood appreciation page and soon after met my now very good friend and supporter Bob Blackburn. The local writer wrote a new script (mostly by himself), and thanks to Bob B. we did 2 readings in Hollywood over the next 2 years. This script failed miserably, so two years ago I decided (out of the frustration of not being able to find a writer that was competent and reliable) to write my own script. Believe it or not my script has gotten a good response. And we did a reading in Hollywood two months ago.  With the feedback and reactions it received I feel I have really tightened it up and it is close to being ready for production. However in order to get things right I am doing another reading here in Nashville on June 22 where I can spend more time rehearsing to get it better.  
Q: What were the circumstances behind the recording of the soundtrack? Who was involved? 
I wrote all the lyrics and melodies for all the songs. I produced all [the recordings] in my home studio. All the arrangements and orchestrations are my handiwork as well. I sing the roles of Ed Wood, Bela and Tor. I played most of the instruments except guitars, sax, flute, clarinet, solo violin, and the trumpets and trombone on "Shirley" and "600 Steps". I used friends and local talent to sing the female leads, group vocals, and some of the male leads on "Plan 9."
Q: What is the current status of the Ed Wood musical? 
There is still interest in Los Angeles but so far no money. There is also interest in Las Vegas, where we are trying to produce a showcase. I have joined forces with some very active and enthusiastic theater people here in Nashville, and after the reading in June I am going to try to produce the show here possibly through a grant.

A huge thank you to Rick Tell for agreeing to this little interview. I should also take the time to thank Bob Blackburn, a close personal friend of the late Kathy Wood who now looks after her estate. Bob has been a tremendous help throughout this entire project. To keep tabs on Rick Tell's show, I'd suggest you check the musical's Facebook page, which is updated with any pertinent news.

Perez Prado: The soundtrack of the '50s.
The listening experience: Didn't I already cover an Ed Wood musical as part of Ed Wood Wednesdays? Well, yeah, I did. It was Josh Alan Friedman's The Worst! (1994), and it was thoroughly dissected in Week 39. As I said back then, Friedman's musical was more like an Ed Wood-themed concept album by a singer-songwriter with country folk leanings. Several of its tracks were instrumentals, and there was no real narrative through-line to it that I could detect. Ed Wood: The Musical! (hereafter EW:TM) is much larger and more ambitious in scope. Boiled down to just its songs, it's still twice as long as The Worst! But, still, Ed Wood: The Musical! and The Worst! cover the same basic territory, so it's no surprise that there are substantial musical and lyrical similarities between the two shows, though they were conceived very separately. The twangy Texan tendencies of The Worst! are entirely absent in EW:TM, but both shows largely evoke the 1950s through the musical genres which would have been popular during Eddie's heyday: jazz, swing, and Latin pop. Remember that mambo king Perez Prado was ruling the charts while Ed Wood was making his best-known films. For instance, Prado's "Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White" was #1 for 10 weeks in 1955, the same year that saw the release of Bride of the Monster. Meanwhile, the title of Rick Tell's show might make fans wonder if EW:TM is an adaptation of Tim Burton's 1994 biopic Ed Wood. The answer is no. This is a distinct work, to be judged on its own merits and not tied to any one particular movie. But again there is significant overlap between the film and this musical. The image of Eddie fighting in World War II with women's underwear hidden beneath his Marine uniform proves too tempting for any of these versions to skip. It appears in Ed Wood, The Worst!, and EW:TM. Viewers who have seen Ed Wood dozens of times (and that includes me) will discover any number of plot points shared by these two works. To wit:

  • Bela Lugosi has a bitter, long-standing rivalry with Boris Karloff and reveals that he himself could have played the monster in 1931's Frankenstein. (The fact that Lugosi eventually did play the monster in 1943's Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man goes unmentioned.)
  • Dolores Fuller, Ed's girlfriend, is uncomfortable with her boyfriend's transvestism and despises his eccentric friends. She leaves him to pursue her own career ambitions.
  • Kathy Wood, Ed's wife, is much more understanding and forgiving about his cross-dressing and proves a loyal, faithful companion over the course of many rocky years.
  • Ed's transvestism can be traced back to his mother, who always wanted a girl and dressed her young son up as one.
  • Ed has a deep and abiding fetish for angora and worships Orson Welles.
  • Dolores is jealous when Ed gives the lead role in Bride of the Monster to Loretta King.
  • Vampira is utterly unimpressed by Ed and considers him a no-talent hack.
  • Plan 9 from Outer Space is financed by a Baptist church, and the backers insist that the film's cast and crew get properly baptized.

As for the songs themselves, I thought I'd do with them what I did with the songs from The Worst! That is to say, I'll go through them one by one and give you my thoughts and impressions of each individual track. Sound good? Then let us proceed.

1. "Monsters" (3:33) - The show's curtain-raiser is a group number sung by the fictional creatures created by Edward D. Wood, Jr.  Musically, this number is a boisterous tango with some percussion sounds provided by a typewriter. (This is another trait EW:TM shares with The Worst!) Throughout the show, Eddie's three most famous creations -- Bride of the Monster (1955), Glen or Glenda? (1953), and Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) -- get the most attention, and that's to be expected. Those are the works that people know. But very quickly, Rick Tell shows a willingness to expand beyond the "big three." The lyrics to "Monsters" reference not only The Bride and the Beast (1958) but also Eddie's 1963 novel Killer in Drag and its "transvestite assassin" character, Glenda Satin. So EW:TM scores major brownie points with hardcore Wood-ologists in the early stages.

Sample lyric: "Escaped his brain, we come to life. We run amok whenever Eddie starts to type."

2. "600 Steps" (4:47) - I was unable to procure a copy of the script for EW:TM, but Rick Tell informs me that this song is meant to take place in 1978 on the day Ed dies. The lyrics of this smoky jazz song point out something I'd never considered before: that Ed Wood's infamous "Yucca Flats" apartment at the corner of Yucca and Cahuenga in Los Angeles is a mere "six-hundred steps to Hollywood and Vine and the Hollywood Walk of Fame," signaling just how maddeningly close Ed was from the showbiz aspirations he'd always chased. We get some biographical details here, too. Ed tells us he moved to Hollywood "thirty-one years ago," meaning 1947. Interestingly, this song goes where The Worst! and Ed Wood feared to tread and very openly discusses Ed's serious alcoholism. There's a particularly nasty exchange between Ed and Kathy here:
Kathy: Ed, you're a miserable bastard! It's only 10 a.m., and you're already plastered! 
Ed: Shut up, you bitch! Must you always nag? Did you get me some vodka? What's in the bag? And there's nothing but food! You stupid bitch! Where's the booze?

Obviously, Rick Tell is interested in more than presenting Ed Wood as a cute, quirky oddball as in the Tim Burton film.

3. "Our Little Secret" (2:28) - A tender little ballad in which Ed tries to keep his cross-dressing hidden from the rest of the world. It takes the form of a duet, presumably between Ed and his own feminine side. The lyrics evoke some of the famous dialogue from Glen or Glenda? about snips, snails, puppy dog tails, and other stereotypical "male" signifiers.

Sample lyric: "We feel so close, dressing up in pretty clothes."

Ed Wood (center) in his military uniform.
4. "Shirley" (3:48) - I'd have to say this tune, a tribute to Ed's drag persona, is my single-favorite song from EW:TM. To me, it sounds like the kind of thing that Frankie Avalon might have sung on a long, lonely night when he fantasized about being Annette Funicello. Just like "Let Me Die in Angora" from The Worst!, this song hinges on the obvious irony of a cross-dressing Marine. In fact, "Shirley" begins with militaristic snare drums and a hint of the "Marine Corps Hymn." Nearly two minutes in, the song truly comes alive with a chirpy female backing chorus which really does make it seem like Frankie Avalon's "Venus" gone berserk.

Sample lyric: "I'll now reveal what I concealed beneath my uniform."

5. "Hollywood" (0:35) - Rick Tell has mentioned his background in jingle-writing, which helps explain this jazzy little petit-four of a song in which a young Ed Wood outlines his too-ambitious plan to conquer Hollywood.

6. "I Hate Boris" (3:24) - For many viewers, a highlight of Tim Burton's Ed Wood is Bela Lugosi's (Martin Landau) profane rant about his rivalry with Boris Karloff. This song is basically that same tirade set to music. Once again, as in The Worst!, Lugosi is associated with Eastern Eurpean folk tunes. This is a man from "the old country" singing in the style of "the old country." The song starts with a mournful violin before becoming a more sprightly two-step as Bela critiques Boris' acting techniques. ("He was crummy as the mummy and his Frankenstein, what a stiff!") What's interesting here is that the Karloff/Lugosi rivalry may be entirely one-sided. Lugosi seems to blame all his own career woes on Karloff, but there is no indication that the Englishman sees their relationship this same way.

Sample lyric: "And even though Universal from me struck it rich, they usurped me as king of the horrors with Boris, that son of a bitch!"

7. "Glen or Glenda?" (4:17) - All of Ed Wood's aforementioned "big three" movies get songs named after them in EW:TM.  This selection features a mixed chorus which chants the title over and over, like baseball fans razzing a rival outfielder. Musically, I'd classify this as a modern show tune, not tied to any particular era or genre. Lyrically, the song is a summary of the film for which it is named. Some parts of Bela Lugosi's narration are quoted verbatim. ("Man's constant groping of things unknown...") The Oedipal nature of the plot is emphasized, with Glen's cross-dressing stemming from his relationship with his mother. I believe the intended effect is to draw a connection between this movie and Ed Wood's own life. Again, as with "Our Little Secret," Ed's dual nature is demonstrated by making this song a duet between a male vocalist and a female one. Here, unlike in the movie, Glen gets to duet with Glenda and exchange ideas with her, as if they really were two separate people. Ah, the magic of stagecraft!

8. "Angora" (2:22) - You knew this was coming, right? Not much to say here. This is Ed's chipper paean to Turkish rabbit fur. Kudos to Rick Tell for rhyming the titular, fuzzy fabric with "Bora Bora," "flora," "aura," and "I adore ya." This is another lightly Latinized number, one likely not intended to be taken very seriously.

Sample lyric: "Mere sable and mink do not quench my kink. They just leave me cold."

9. "Look Into My Eyes" (3:35) - Another quality shared by EW:TM, The Worst!, and Ed Wood is the portrayal of the waning Bela Lugosi as a pathetic, pitiable, semi-delusional figure -- Blanche DuBois in a vampire cape. In "Look Into My Eyes," Bela is clearly losing his grip and has given in to self-pity. The title is a clever play on the hypnotism schtick from both Dracula and Bride of the Monster. Here, though, Bela really does want us to look into his eyes because he wants us to see him as he really is and, thus, share a little of his pain. "Once I was invincible, now I grow weaker by the hour," he admits at one point, even though he also claims he's "as strong and vibrant as [he] was at 25." This is a dour number, of course, but it helps to lend EW:TM a little gravitas.

Sample lyric: "There is no sadder spectacle than to see a Transylvanian cry."

10. "Bride of the Monster" (3:07) - The second of the songs named after Ed's "big three," this is decidedly not a summary of the movie. Instead, it's a musical declaration of independence by Dolores Fuller, who slinks her way through this like Julie London singing "Cry Me a River." "Bride of the Monster" also reminded me a bit of "Big Spender" from Sweet Charity. The gist of it is that tough-broad Dolores is tired of dating a guy who dresses like a gal. Besides, she's got real showbiz ambitions, and Ed seems to be going nowhere fast. So she's outta here, baby! This song gives us a new spin on the title, too. When Dolores declares she doesn't "wanna be the bride of the monster," the "monster" to whom she's referring may be Ed Wood. And she didn't wind up as his bride, as history records.

Sample lyric: "My heart but not my clothes I'll share."

11. "Magnificent Carcasses" (3:34) - In telling the Ed Wood story, you have to also tell the story of the bizarre and unique stars with whom he surrounded himself. With "Magnificent Carcasses," Rick Tell gives us a twofer: Tor Johnson and Vampira. These are actors most notable for their striking appearances. Both resemble comic book characters come to life, and this song, a happy-go-lucky waltz in the best "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" tradition, expounds on that. Personality-wise, Vampira comes off as a rather snooty elitist and self-styled artiste. Tor, as always, is the enthusiastic, overgrown kid with the bottomless appetite. The hook for the song comes from an anecdote about Maila "Vampira" Nurmi and her affair with Orson Welles, the latter of whom gave his lady love "the clap" (aka gonorrhea).

Sample lyric: "Our magnificent carcasses make us stand out from the crowd!"

12. "Hollywood Rat Race" (3:14) - This hep, swingin' number proves that Rick Tell did his homework. Once again, we venture boldly past the "big three" and into Ed's literary career. This song is clearly derived from Ed's circa 1965 book of the same name in which he gives advice, mostly to wannabe starlets, about making it in Tinsel Town. Oddly, this song transported me back to the days of Schoolhouse Rock!, except instead of grammar and the multiplication tables, Ed Wood is offering lessons about getting headshots and meeting with producers. Naturally, as in the book, Eddie is somewhat self-aggrandizing, but he shows a genuine concern for the young ladies by telling him that they shouldn't need to provide sexual favors in order to get work. By the way, this is the second-consecutive song to reference Orson Welles, in case you were counting.

Sample lyric: "Girls, remember, you're unique... just like everyone else."

13. "I'm Just Mad About Science" (5:00) - Composer Rick Tell comes off as a bit of a musical mad scientist with this gonzo track about Bride of the Monster and its bedeviled antihero, Dr. Eric Vornoff (as played by Bela Lugosi). This is a Frankenstein-esque creation, stitched together from several smaller songs into one lurching, lumbering beast of a tune. First up is a bombastic and bathetic musical treatment of the infamous "Home? I have no home!" monologue. This segues into a parody of "I'm Just Wild About Harry," a vintage 1921 show tune which later became a much-covered popular standard. After that is a passage of what I'd call vintage go-go-dancer music, with Vornoff trading lines with female reporter Janet Lawton (as played by Loretta King). And then, just when you thought this song couldn't get weirder, it segues unexpectedly into thumping, thudding techno music of a much more recent vintage. I was kind of dumbfounded by "I'm Just Mad About Science" and am eager to see how this would be staged in a full production.

14. "Dreamer" (3:52) - After the sturm und drang of the previous number, we need a little respite, don't we? Hence this gentle, wistful ballad in which Ed Wood looks back (in angora?) at the shows he used to put on as a kid, sometimes wearing his mother's clothes as a costume. "That child still dwells inside this man," Eddie says. This claim is backed up, incidentally, by real-life testimony from Kathy Wood, who in interviews has described her husband as behaving like "such a kid sometimes." The arrested development theme is strengthened by references to The Wizard of Oz and Peter Pan. There are more biographical details here, too. Ed tells us he is 31 and has just met the "missing piece" in his life, i.e. Kathy. So that places "Dreamer" in about 1955.

15. "Holy High Rollers" (3:47) - How do you pass up the story of Plan 9 from Outer Space, an outrageous sci-fi/horror fiasco sometimes called "the worst movie of all time," being financed by the goodhearted folks from a Baptist church? Simple. You don't. This is a rousing gospel number, the musical equivalent of a hyperkinetic tent revival. Presumably, the beginning of this song is sung from the POV of Ed's landlord and religious-minded financial backer, Ed Reynolds, who tries to sell his congregation on the idea of sinking their dough into Ed's flick so that they can use the profits to finance their own planned biopic of famed evangelist Billy Sunday. This is one of those times when a writer doesn't really need to invent anything to make the story of Ed Wood compelling. The truth is crazy enough on its own, thanks. My favorite part of "Holy High Rollers" is when Ed Wood himself takes the podium to address the congregation and almost makes Plan 9 sound like a sincere and profoundly religious work. Criswell, Ed claims, is a prophet. And the plot of his film is about a heavenly force that resurrects the dead. He's not being totally dishonest here, either. In the finished film, one of the aliens does speak reverently about God.

Bela Lugosi really is dead.
16. "Look Into My Eyes (Reprise)" (2:43) - You can't really build a modern-day musical without a reprise or two. The trick is not to overuse this technique so that it feels like rehashing ideas the audience has already heard. Luckily, Rick Tell is sparing in his use of reprises. He brings back Bela's signature song as the Hungarian screen legend disappears into the ether of time. Bela asks a fascinating rhetorical question: "Am I a mere reflection of the man I used to be?" I say "fascinating" because the actor is most famous for playing a character who does not cast a reflection. And this is not mere coincidence, as Tell makes sure to reference Dracula directly in the lyrics. The legendary actor may also be wracked with guilt in his final moments, as he seems to feel he is destined for Hell, not Heaven.

Sample lyric: "I am forsaken, forgotten and shunned, helpless like Dracula in the blazing sun."

17. "Method to the Madness" (4:18) - Here's a song which looks forward and backward. Backward in the sense that it quotes from a previous number, "Hollywood." Forward in the sense that it previews the melody which Tell has devised for the impending "Plan Nine." "Method to the Madness," true to its title, is more about the nuts-and-bolts of cheap filmmaking. We say Ed Wood is a "bad" director, but what specific technical traits does that entail? The song names a few: faulty continuity, overuse of stock footage, over-reliance on first takes, too many setups per day, etc. One of the observations here parallels a couplet from The Worst! "I'm no technician," says Eddie, "much more of a magician." Compare this to the words of the title track from Josh Alan Friedman's LP: "I'm no technician! Direction is the art of a mortician!" It's not that Tell was influenced by Friedman or was even aware of Friedman. Nevertheless, the life of Ed Wood led these two men to the same line and the same screwy sentiment, even though they were writing a decade apart.

Sample lyric: "No need to worry about the budget. I always find a way to fudge it!"

18. "When Love is Real" (2:43) - The softest, gooiest song in EW:TM is this sensitive love ballad, which sounds like it could have been recorded by the Carpenters. (That's a compliment; I love the Carpenters.) "When Love is Real" is a showcase number for Kathy Wood, who doesn't even merit so much as a mention in The Worst!, despite her vital importance to Ed's story. Here, Kathy stands by her man and lets him know it's okay if he dresses like a dame once in a while. She doesn't mind... much. Since it offers the opportunity for some powerhouse vocals, this is the kind of song which would be just perfect for an American Idol contestant to cover, except for lines like: "And if you sashay like a winner on Queen for a Day, that's okay!" You might have some trouble explaining that to the judging panel. But, honestly, this is no more outre than "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft (The Recognized Anthem of World Contact Day)," a real-life Top 10 hit for Richard and Karen Carpenter in 1977. Wonder if Eddie heard that one before he died.

Sample lyric: "Wear six-inch heels. It's no big deal... when love is real."

19. "Walk Like a Zombie" (3:15) - And it's time to switch gears again! This is an out-and-out novelty number -- a zombie mambo! Lyrically, it's one of those dance songs which tell the listener what to do, step by step. It seems to be about Ed directing his actors to move like the living dead during the filming of Plan 9. At this juncture, I must invoke the arcane horror knowledge I gained from contributing to the late, great Mail Order Zombie podcast from 2008 to 2013. That show taught me (repeatedly) that there are two basic types of zombie: "voodoo" style and "George Romero" style. The former are dead people who have been granted a second, miserable "life" through voodoo so that they may act as mindless slaves and do the bidding of their still-living masters. The latter are blood-thirsty, cannibalistic creatures who rise from the grave (due to radiation, infection, or some other pseudo-scientific cause) and then aggressively hunt down the living because they are hungry and must feast on us to survive. The zombies of Plan 9 are definitely in the "voodoo"/"mindless slave" category, but Rick Tell treats them like the flesh-eating ghouls from George Romero's movies.

Sample lyric: "Right foot, left foot, bare your teeth.! Right foot, left foot, shuffle your feet!"

20. "Plan Nine" (5:22) - The longest song in EW:TM and, apart from "I'm Just Mad About Science," the most complicated and convoluted. "Plan Nine" begins with the indelible six-note signature taken from the title music from Plan 9 from Outer Space. "Method to the Madness" quoted this exact same passage a few tracks earlier. The song begins with Eddie on the cusp of Plan 9's premiere, a scenario also seen in Tim Burton's Ed Wood.  Poor, naive Eddie is certain that Plan 9 is the movie which will bring him lasting success, but we in the audience know better. This is, by my count, the third song to name check Orson Welles, by the way. After the opening segment with Ed at the premiere, "Plan Nine" segues into ominous techno music, and we get a song-ified, condensed version of the basic story. Pilot Jeff Trent of American Flight #812 gets his say in the matter, as do aliens Eros, Tanna, and the Ruler, plus air traffic controller "Mac" from the famed Burbank Tower.

Sample lyric: "Orson Welles had his Citizen Kane. Plan 9 from Outer Space will bring me critical acclaim!"

21. "The Golden Turkey" (1:59) - This is the surprisingly modest valedictory song from EW:TM, and it covers a potentially uncomfortable but necessary chapter in the Ed Wood saga. Arguably, the reason we are still studying Ed Wood and his movies today is Harry and Michael Medved's The Golden Turkey Awards (1980). Without that book, which brought Plan 9 to widespread public attention, the fledgling Wood cult which had been struggling to life in the 1970s might never have gone supernova in the '80s. Therefore, it stands to reason that such byproducts of the Wood phenomenon as The Worst!, Ed Wood, and, yes, EW:TM owe their very existence to the Medveds. In this song, Rick Tell imagines the book as an honest-to-goodness awards ceremony and has Ed Wood show up to claim his greatest "honor," i.e. the trophy for "worst movie director of all time." This is not entirely without real-life precedent, since such stars as Bill Cosby and Tom Green have insisted upon fetching their Golden Raspberry Awards in person, too. The difference is that Ed had been dead for two years when the book was first published. No matter. He gives his speech anyway, and he demonstrates the tough lesson he has learned about fame. Ed Wood's final monologue gives the show an almost Shakespearean sense of closure (here's what the story was all about and what you should take away from it), so I will end this review by quoting it directly:

For this award, I thank you all, but I don't know what to say.
I never thought that you would choose to honor me this way.
And though I had a strategy, my career has been a tragedy.
But I never gave up hope, so if you find yourself on the ropes,
You gotta hold your head up, reach for the stars!
Doesn't matter if your spaceship crash lands on Mars.
I chased my dream. I captured fame. 
Throughout the world, they know my name!
They say it's an unwritten law to be careful of what you wish for.
And though I escaped oblivion, it was a blessing and a curse,
For I am remembered. Yes, I am remembered.
I am famous for being the worst.

In two weeks: Folks, I have been procrastinating far too long. The ghost of a certain film has haunted me for months now, and I have not yet heeded its call. Yes, if there is one major, glaring gap in my exhaustive and exhausting coverage of Ed Wood's career, it is that I have thus far neglected a strange motion picture which was produced in 1998 (with an all-star cast, no less!) and based on a script that Eddie started writing back in the 1950s and held onto even during his darkest days in the 1970s. The fact that the embattled screenplay survived at all is nothing short of miraculous, and the fact that it was eventually made into a real, honest-to-goodness motion picture twenty years after its author's death is likewise improbable. So I have decided to take this film for a test drive and deliver unto you my judgment of it. Along the way, I'll probably also be discussing why this particular bit of Wood-iana disappeared from public view nearly as soon as it had debuted. Make sure to be back here in two weeks when I (finally) review I Woke Up Early the Day I Died.

2 comments:

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    1. Bunny's character, the Ruler, is heard in the song "Plan Nine." But that's it.. at least for the music.

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