Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Yes, today's cartoon is rather shamelessly "of the moment," so I thought I needed something decidedly un-trendy, even anti-trendy to balance it out...
|That'll do nicely, Red.|
Red Sovine (1918-1980) (awesome real name: Woodrow Wilson Sovine) was a popular West Virginia-born country singer of the 1960s and 1970s who specialized in making incredibly depressing songs about death and heartbreak, often involving truck drivers. Many of Red's most famous songs were "recitations," i.e. spoken-word pieces which combined a narrative poem with a musical backing. In fact, Sovine dubbed himself the King of the Narrations. Like many, I discovered Red's unmistakable work thanks to a frequently-aired TV commercial for a posthumous greatest hits album:
You can see how a commercial like that might stick in a person's mind. It's hard to imagine someone like Red Sovine making it in the slick, image-obsessed world of country music today. That's a lot of what I like about the guy, as shamelessly sentimental and hokey as his records might seem. He made more conventional C&W recordings, but to really know Red Sovine is to listen to his recitations. Here's his most famous and successful record, "Teddy Bear," a song whose narrative is so pitiful (handicapped boy with dead trucker father and poverty-stricken mother) as to put Charles Dickens himself to shame.
You think that's sad? Dig this next one. (And listen for a reference to zombies at the 3:20 mark.)
Monday, November 28, 2011
Y'know, unlike our friend Zomby here, some things just improve with age. Case in point: synthesizers.
|A Moog synthesizer from 1964|
Isn't that just gorgeous? That's the first commercially available Moog synthesizer from 1964. Besides looking cool, the relatively primitive Moogs of the 1960s and 1970s had a marvelously artificial, quasi-futuristic sound which has never quite been equaled by later, more sophisticated synthesizers. Paradoxically, the "better" synthesizers got, the worse they sounded.
As an demonstration of what an early Moog synthesizer could do, I'd like to present a few selections from the 1969 album Moog Plays the Beatles by Marty Gold (1915-2011), a New York composer/arranger whose music now falls under the affectionate heading of "space age pop."
"Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds"
"In My Life"
Good night. Good night, everybody everywhere.
Sunday, November 27, 2011
Saturday, November 26, 2011
How's tricks, Mouseketeers?
I'm back from a voyage of discovery into America's Heartland, where I celebrated Thanksgiving with my (fortunately non-zombie) relations. Here are three new Zomby!!! cartoons. Enjoy them or don't. Up to you.
I'm back from a voyage of discovery into America's Heartland, where I celebrated Thanksgiving with my (fortunately non-zombie) relations. Here are three new Zomby!!! cartoons. Enjoy them or don't. Up to you.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
And speaking of medical malpractice...
|Singing Jimmy Drake, a.k.a. Nervous Norvus|
Of all the records ever to hit the Top 10, few have been more unusual -- or delightful -- than 1956's ghoulish novelty song "Transfusion" by Nervous Norvus. A crude home demo never actually intended for release, this outrageous song shot to national popularity after a record executive heard it on a San Francisco radio show and released it as-is. The man behind this one-of-a-kind record was a 44-year-old truck driver turned amateur musician named "Singing" Jimmy Drake, who invented the slangy, jive-talking "Nervous Norvus" persona as a parody of beatnik culture.
Sadly, Drake/Norvus' reign on the top was short-lived: only one more Top 40 hit (the equally wonderful "Ape Call"), followed by years of dwindling fortunes and alcoholism. He died in 1968 of cirrhosis of the liver, and his booze-addled body was donated to science. But his music lives on! John Waters used a Nervous Norvus b-side called "Dig" in his movie Female Trouble, and "Transfusion" and "Ape Call" were both played many times over the years on The Dr. Demento Show. For those interested, there is a marvelous one-disc compilation of Drake's work entitled Stone Age Woo: The Zorch Sounds of Nervous Norvus. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
For newcomers to Nervous Norvus, I present a selection of some of his best work:
Monday, November 21, 2011
So what do I have against Billy Squier? Simply this:
When I was in college, I had a roommate who was an unabashed Squier fan. In particular, he was enamored of Squier's biggest hit, "The Stroke," and would play it at a troubling volume at especially inconvenient times -- like early in the morning or after midnight on a school night. To this day, I can still remember the thunderous sound of "The Stroke" reverberating off the hopeless cinder-block walls of our dorm, and that memory still fills me with dread. Not one for confrontation, I passively enabled this unacceptable behavior. This same roommate was also quite fond of the television show Friends, and his enthusiasm was such that he would periodically inform me throughout the week how many days were left until the next new episode. ("Only two more days til Friends," he might say.) When the episodes themselves actually aired on Thursday nights, my roommate would watch them with the sound at a very low volume or turned off completely. He created his own soundtrack for the show by playing his stereo very loudly while commenting on the physical attributes of the actresses onscreen. Naturally, "The Stroke" was in heavy rotation during Friends.
If you would like to recreate my college dorm experience in the comfort of your own home, simply play the following two clips simultaneously. Mute the Friends clip and turn Billy Squier all the way up.
Sunday, November 20, 2011
And hey, check this out! Yesterday's post about the Dragnet finger puppets actually made it to the front page of the popular website Buzzfeed, which links to cool and interesting stuff on the Internet. Did it generate any traffic to this site? No, not really. But it's an honor just to be nominated. Here's a screenshot to prove it happened:
But enough of that! Today, I want to talk to you about Canada's greatest director. Ivan Reitman? Nope. James Cameron? He wishes! Atom Egoyan? Try again. I'm thinking of... JOHN PAIZS!
"Who's John Paizs?" you say.
|This is John Paizs right over here.|
Born in 1957 in Winnipeg, John Paizs is the writer, director, and star of the darkly surreal meta-comedy Crime Wave, a.k.a. The Big Crime Wave (1985), a film I'd probably count as my favorite of the 1980s and a serious contender for my favorite of all time. Describing this movie is an probably an impossible task, but I'll try it anyway. Paizs plays Steven Penny, a struggling young filmmaker whose last, government-backed movie bombed and who now wants to break into the glamorous world of "color crime moviemaking." Apparently broke, he rents a room over a garage from a suburban family, the Browns, and starts to work on his next script -- a "color crime" epic to be titled Crime Wave. Trouble is, he can think of beginnings and endings for Crime Wave but not middles. ("Middles are hard to think of, as every scriptwriter knows," says one song on the soundtrack.) Time and again, Steven seems on the verge of collapse, but the Browns' young daughter Kim (Eva Kovacs) becomes Steven's #1 fan and cheering section and encourages him to keep going. Through Kim's well-meaning interference, Steven comes into contact with the sinister Dr. Jolly (Neil Lawrie), a supposed "script doctor" (and medical doctor) who is also a homicidal maniac.
Those are the broad outlines of the plot, but they barely begin to describe Crime Wave, a movie which seems composed of equal parts Blue Velvet and Sesame Street. The movie is narrated by -- and mainly told from the perspective of -- young Kim Brown, and there are plenty of dream and fantasy sequences along the way, including supposed deleted scenes from the many, many unfinished versions of Crime Wave. Here, for instance, is the film's opening sequence. At this point in its development, Steven Penny's Crime Wave is going to be about the seedy underbelly of celebrity impersonation:
Later, after many script revisions, Crime Wave is about the seedy underbelly of direct home sales:
And so it goes.
Crime Wave should have been the first of many, many features for John Paizs, but he only made two more full-length films, the 1999 sci-fi comedy Invasion and a 2005 made for TV movie called Marker. Paizs did some TV directing for Canadian series like Maniac Mansion and The Kids in the Hall before winding up as a Director in Residence at the Canadian Film Centre. Sadly, Crime Wave is tied up in rights issues and is not currently available on DVD. But on the bright side, some of Paizs' early short films have been posted to You Tube and are well worth watching.
The International Style (excerpt) (1983)
Saturday, November 19, 2011
Forgive me for double-dipping on the Dragnet nostalgia, but yesterday's post reminded me of something I absolutely must share with you!
|Gannon and Friday from Dragnet 1967; Blue Boy|
Back in 1995, when Nick at Nite was still quite awesome, one of the staples of their schedule was Dragnet 1967, the infamous hippie-era revival of the straightlaced police procedural in which uptight Joe Friday came into contact with the "free love" generation and didn't like what he saw one bit. That series' very first episode, "The LSD Story" (a.k.a. "The Big LSD") from January 12 1967, was also its most beloved and notorious, thanks largely to Michael Burns' character "Blue Boy", an acid casualty who painted half his face blue.
Back in the summer of 1995, as part of its 10th anniversary celebration, Nick at Nite put out a one-time only magazine filled with articles and trivia about some of the shows on its lineup. Easily, the best feature of the magazine was a page of Dragnet finger puppets by artist Chip Wass! For the benefit of you, my readers, I have decided to scan and post these finger puppets along with the original instructions and scripts included in the Nick at Nite magazine from 1995.
|Gannon and Friday|
|Blue Boy and some props (sugar cubes, badge, coffee cup)|
|Joe Friday's car from Dragnet 1967|
ALL RIGHT PAL, cut along the dotted lines, including the small notches on the tabs. Slide or tape the notches together. If you want to use the props, cut a small slot between each character's arms and torso, then insert the tab of the prop. Tape the white band below the car against the edge of a table and your scene is set. Now keep your hands where we can see them.
CUT 'EM OUT, PUT 'EM TOGETHER, AND START TALKING IN A CLIPPED, STACCATO RHYTHM. USE OUR SAMPLE DIALOGUE OR WRITE YOUR OWN... AND DON'T TRY ANYTHING WITH THOSE SCISSORS.
From Episode #1:
GANNON: Stand still.
BLUE BOY: REALITY, man, r e a l i t y . I could see the center of the earth, purple flame down there--the pilot light, all the way down there, purple flame, the pilot light. The pilot light of, of all creation.
GANNON: He's clean, Joe, except for these. (Bill displays five sugar cubes in his palm.)
BB: Reality, r e a l i t y .
FRIDAY: What' s your name, son?
BB: You can see my name i f y o u look ha r d eno u g h.
FRIDAY: C'mon now, what's your name?
BB: D O N ' T y o u k now my name? MY NAME'S BLUE BOY!
GANNON: What do you think, Joe? Cartwheels?
FRIDAY: Sugar cubes. I'll make you book he's been dropping that acid we've been hearing about. All right, son, you're under arrest. It's our duty to advise you of your constitutional rights. You have the right to remain silent and any statement you make may be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to the presence of an attorney. If you cannot afford one, one will be appointed before any questioning. Do you understand that?
BB: T h e r e I a m . I'm over there now. I'm not here anymore. My hair is green and I'm a tree.
If you prefer soliloquizing with your finger puppets, here's Joe Friday's immortal "John Law" speech from Episode #6:
FRIDAY: Sure, it's awkward having a policeman in the house. Friends drop in, a man with a badge answers the door. The temperature drops 20 degrees. You throw a party and everybody's a comedian. "Don't drink too much," somebody says, "or the man with the badge will run you in." Or "How's it going, Dick Tracy? How many jay-walkers did you pinch today?" Then there's always the one that wants to know how many apples you stole. All at once you've lost your first name: You're a cop, a flatfoot, a bull, a dick, John Law. You're the fuzz, the heat, you're poison, you're trouble, you're bad news. They call you everything but never a policeman.
The dialogue you just read was TRUE.
Friday, November 18, 2011
And speaking of bizarre iterations of classic American TV shows...
|Hop hop pioneers Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks|
Admit it. You probably don't think about the 1987 film version of Dragnet with Dan Aykroyd. and Tom Hanks all that often do you? I probably think about it more often than most people, since it was the only Hollywood movie premiere I've ever witnessed. I was an impressionable Midwestern kid on vacation in California with my family, and our tour group just happened to be driving by when the stars were arriving for the premiere. The bus driver stopped and let us watch as the stars got out of their limos and walked to the theater. To me, it seemed like a big deal. As a souvenir, my parents even got me a copy of the movie's soundtrack album. (On cassette, of course. My father complained bitterly about the $6 or $7 it cost.) I think I might still own it. On that very same trip, during our tour of Universal Studios, we got to see a bit of Jaws: The Revenge being filmed, too. That was not quite as exciting, since all they were filming that day was what looked like a very large swimming pool (meant to represent the ocean) with an equally large blue backdrop (meant to represent the sky). Why they needed a fake ocean and a fake sky when the real ones were readily available was beyond me.
But getting back to that Dragnet soundtrack! Certainly the oddest track on it was a novelty rap tune called "City of Crime" by Tom Hanks and Dan Aykroyd. The latter performs his verses in character as Joe Friday, while the former mainly just yells. The background music, which is suspiciously reminiscent of AC/DC's "Back in Black," was created by Dan's brother, Peter Aykroyd.
Anyway, here's a vintage slice of 1987. Enjoy!
Say what you will about "City of Crime," at least it's not as bad as the hip hop output of Tom's son, Chet Haze.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Cheer up, Zomby. You want something to look at? Just keep reading.
|Video remix genius Pogo (a.k.a. Nick Bertke)|
If I were ever called upon to justify the existence of the Internet with just one word, that one word would be Pogo. I don't mean the comic strip or the pogo stick (though both of those are great). Instead I'm referring to self-described "VJ and producer" Nick Bertke, creator of some of YouTube's most ingenious "remix" videos. He started out with videos based on Disney movies, but he has since branched out. It's kind of tough to describe what Pogo does, but it involves taking sounds and dialogue from a particular source and rearranging them into weirdly soothing and eerie combinations.
The videos really speak for themselves. Here are a few of my favorites:
And there are so many more! Just look for yourself. I'm not sure why this guy does this, but I'm glad that he does.
Of course Pogo has a web site!
P.S. For fans of the Pogo comic strip and its creator Walt Kelly, I offer the following:
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
To paraphrase C. Montgomery Burns: Oh, Zomby, will you ever win?
But speaking of the legends of animation...
|Forty years before the Annoying Orange|
It's strange what sticks with you from childhood. For years, I have been haunted by the memory of a particular stop-motion film from Sesame Street. The clip in question involved an orange who comes to "life" and sings the famed "Habanera" aria from Georges Bizet's 1875 opera Carmen. A little research turns up the fact that this clip dates back to Episode 277 from November 9, 1971 -- almost exactly 40 years ago. A YouTube clip attributes the film to Jim Henson, but I could find no confirmation of this. In any event, the film aired regularly on the show for years, warping the minds of several generations in the process.
Here's the notorious clip:
There's an eerie, David Lynch-eseque quality to this film, heightened by the quasi-futuristic synthesizer music. I personally remember loving this as a kid, but also being sort of scared of it.
Others, meanwhile, were apparently scarred for life by this clip. (Warning: NSFW language!)
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Today I heard someone say, "I know LL Cool J mostly as an actor." Coincidentally, I had been planning to do a post about Mr. James Todd Smith (his stage name means "Ladies Love Cool James") for some time now, but hearing this statement made it a priority for me. I think people have almost forgotten about LL's music, especially his great early stuff, which is a shame.
|Two views of LL Cool J as a young man|
Of course, there are virtually two different LL Cool Js. The one I first knew was a skinny, scrappy kid who favored Kangol hats, jumpsuits, and gold chains and who rapped with a raspy, hungry-sounding voice. Somewhere along the line, though, Smith morphed into a smooth-talking, muscle-bound loverman and his delivery got deeper and less urgent. This is the LL who became an actor. LL's 1987 album, Bigger and Deffer (or BAD) is fascinating in retrospect because it sort of marks the beginning of the metamorphosis. A track like "I"m Bad" is indicative of that first LL, while "I Need Love" is virtually a blueprint for everything LL became. And BAD is only his second album!
I thought I'd give you a selection of a few of my favorite LL Cool J tracks, the same ones I listened over and over to as an adolescent:
Let's start with a couple of seminal tracks from LL's debut album, Radio:
And here are a couple of selections from Bigger and Deffer:
And for good measure, here's a track from LL's groundbreaking performance on MTV Unplugged (there had never been a hip hop act on the show before):
BONUS ROUND! No one does a better LL Cool J impression than the oft-overlooked (yet brilliant) Aries Spears. Here's Aries doing his LL thing on Mad TV.
Monday, November 14, 2011
Sorry, readers. I saw that parrot hanging upside down from its perch and my mind could only go to one place. Here's a version of the "Dead Parrot" sketch you maybe haven't seen a dozen times already, one recorded live at a Secret Policeman benefit concert for Amnesty International:
And here's a lesser-seen live iteration of the famous "Cheese Shop" bit:
Meanwhile, the idea of doing the punchline for today's Zomby upside down put me in mind of director David Lynch. (And did you know Lynch totally had his own comic strip? So we have something in common! Sort of.) Lynch's directorial style is so distinctive and familiar that he can be fairly easily parodied by anyone who knows how to edit. Here are two of my favorite ersatz Lynch trailers. Please do enjoy them, perhaps with coffee and donuts.
Sunday, November 13, 2011
This punchline may register more strongly for those of you who have seen the ending of 1968's Night of the Living Dead.
But speaking of classic American cinema...
|Richard Roundtree as Shaft|
Who's the black private dick that's a sex machine to all the chicks?
Who's the Caucasian author and journalist who first conceived the character of John Shaft and won an NAACP Image Award for his troubles?
|Ernest Tidyman, creator of Shaft|
Yes, it may seem difficult to believe, but the indelible character of John Shaft was actually created by Cleveland-born novelist, reporter, and screenwriter Ernest Tidyman (1928-1984). A writer for the Cleveland Plain Dealer and New York Times, Tidyman also penned the scripts for The French Connection (which won him an Oscar), High Plains Drifter, and the TV movie Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones. But what Tidyman is probably most famous for today is his series of Shaft novels. The first one became the basis of the famous 1971 film, but Tidyman authored numerous sequels as well. I invite you now to browse through a mini-gallery of Shaft paperback covers. While you peruse these cultural artifacts, please listen to Isaac Hayes' indelible theme, which also won an Oscar. (Tidyman himself was apparently no fan of the music and found the movie too tame and sanitized, but I'm guessing he cashed the checks anyway.)
Shaft (April 1971)
Shaft Among the Jews (June 1972)
Shaft's Big Score! (August 1972)
Shaft Has a Ball (April 1973)
Goodbye, Mr. Shaft (1973)
Shaft's Carnival of Killers (September 1974)
The Last Shaft (1975)
Saturday, November 12, 2011
Believe it or not, jokes about bearded gurus who live on mountaintops used to be a mainstay of American humor, as I've pointed out before. It's kind of nice that Ziggy is keeping the tradition alive and reminding us that the character is a product of the 1960s.
And speaking of that tumultuous decade...
I thought it was time for a good old-fashioned pop culture list. So here (in no particular order) are...
THE TEN CUTEST ACTRESSES FROM 1960s TELEVISION SHOWS
Elizabeth Montgomery (Bewitched)
Yvonne Craig (Batman)
Barbara Feldon (Get Smart)
Beverly Owen/Pat Priest (The Munsters)
Tuesday Weld (The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis)
Barbara Eden (I Dream of Jeannie)
Tina Louise (Gilligan's Island)
Carolyn Jones (The Addams Family)
Diana Rigg (The Avengers)
Mary Tyler Moore (The Dick Van Dyke Show)