Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Why that "Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" song gave me nightmares

Brian Hyland and the song completely misinterpreted as a kid.

You know which song scared the hell out of me as a kid? "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini." This will sound ridiculous, I realize. How could anyone be frightened by this totally innocuous, slightly risque 1960 novelty number about a young woman who comes to regret her choice in swimwear? Answer: because I was a kid at the time and kids' minds work in weird ways.

I'm not sure how exactly I heard this song at first, but I'm guessing it was because my mother had a 45 of it in her collection. While the rest of the world heard a fun little bubblegum pop tune about good times at the beach, I heard a song about a girl freezing to death in the ocean. The fact that the song was so light and upbeat only made it more horrifying: not only was the singer totally unconcerned about the girl, but he was actually making fun of her with this record.

Here are the lyrics that bothered me so much back then. (To recap the "plot" of song to this point, a young woman has come to the beach wearing the rather immodest garment of the title. Concealing her shame with a blanket, the damsel at first timidly progressed from the locker room to the shore. Now, having shed the blanket, she has secluded herself in the water and seems to be suffering from hypothermia.)

Now she's afraid to come out of the water
And I wonder what she's gonna do.
Now she's afraid to come out of the water
And the poor little girl's turning blue.

Two, three, four, tell the people what she wore!


It was an itsy bitsy teenie weenie yellow polka-dot bikini
That she wore for the first time today
An itsy bitsy teenie weenie yellow polka-dot bikini
So in the water she wanted to stay

From the locker to the blanket!
From the blanket to the shore!
From the shore to the water!

Guess there isn't any more!

The two lines that really bothered me were "The poor little girl's turning blue" and "Guess there isn't any more!" I cannot tell you the impact these lyrics had on my then-developing mind. Just so you know, this song no longer bothers me. I have it on my iPod, and it comes up in shuffle mode occasionally without causing me any stress. I can even now appreciate the cleverness of the lightly Latin arrangement, with the interplay between Brian Hyland and the sexy-sounding, flirtatious female vocalists -- not to mention the record's supreme use of cowbell. But when I was 4 or 5 years old, this song was a total nightmare to me. Kids, huh? Try to figure 'em out.

P.S. - This song was Hyland's first and biggest hit, and he was only 16 at the time. He'd go on to have other Top 40 smashes in the 1960s and 70s, including more serious tunes like "Sealed With a Kiss" and "Gypsy Woman," but none were bigger than "Bikini." So massive was the song's success that Hyland shamelessly copied himself with a sound-alike follow-up record that totally bombed. Here's that one. It's kinda fun, I guess.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Two unhappy actors

Hey, I'm not charging for this material! What do you expect?

Et tu, Stretch? Another Armstrong admits doping.

Armstrong in his '70s heyday, when he served as a disturbingly pliable role model to a generation of children.

In retrospect, we should have all seen it coming. The freakishly elongated limbs capable of extending to many times their normal lengths, the ability to contort himself into elaborate, pretzel-like configurations, the mysteriously smooth and hairless skin, the apparent lack of a skeleton -- these were not traits which Stretch Armstrong acquired naturally through genetics or learned through years of practice.

And now, finally, the truth has come out. In a highly-publicized TV interview with Color Purple star Whoopi Goldberg, Mr. Armstrong has admitted to his use of a whole battery of performance-enhancing drugs, including Rubbernol, Stretchabunch, Twistophan, and an extremely dangerous bone-softening hormone known only as "Twang." During the course of the hour-long chat with Goldberg, Armstrong also owned up to dozens of cosmetic surgeries in order to maintain his youthful appearance. Despite Stretch's repeated denials in the past, fans had long suspected the muscleman of going under the knife, especially when he re-emerged in the 1990s with an alarming new look. A simple side-by-side comparison makes it obvious:

Armstrong in 1976 and 1993 respectively. Years of plastic surgery had clearly taken a toll.

"What can I say?" Armstrong told Goldberg when asked for his motives. By means of explanation, Stretch spoke of his humble upbringing as the son of a Wisconsin mill worker:

A gateway drug.
I was insecure. My parents named me Stretch, thinking I was going to be tall like my dad, who was All State in basketball when he was in high school. But I was this runty little kid, you know? I was never good at sports or anything. I mean, for one thing, I had these freakish, blobby hands and feet without fingers or toes. I couldn't even hold a football, let alone throw one. Then, one day, my parents took me to the circus, and there was this contortionist on the bill. I think he was from India or Pakistan, one of those countries. Anyway, I was transfixed. I knew then and there what I wanted to do with my life. Every day after school, I'd practice my contorting. I actually did get pretty good at it -- enough to be hired for birthday parties and car dealership openings, stuff like that. But then one day, a man from the Kenner Corporation caught my act and told me that if I was ever going to make it big, I'd need some extra help. That's what got me started on the whole doping thing. I mean, I'm not blaming Kenner. I was the one who first injected Elmer's Rubber Cement into my calves and forearms. No one put a Nerf gun to my head.

The news has saddened Armstrong's fans around the world,  particularly those in France, a country where he is known as "Monsieur Extensible" and has been widely hailed as an artistic genius. The L├ęgion d'honneur is one of many honors of which Mr. Armstrong has been stripped in recent days, along with his 1976 Toy of the Year Award, his Nobel Prize for Achievement in Contortion, and a Nickelodeon Kids Choice Award he nabbed during his 1990s comeback. Because the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has no integrity whatsoever, though, Stretch will be allowed to keep the Golden Globe he won for appearing opposite Pia Zadora in 1982's Butterfly. He may need to sell it in order to pay the rent on the one-bedroom apartment he currently occupies in Pomona, California -- a far cry from the palatial Malibu estate he once shared with now-ex-wife Tawny Kitaen.

Indeed, the flexible image of Stretch Armstrong will likely never return to its original shape after these shocking admissions. But he is hardly alone in his use of performance-enhancing substances. Let us not forget, for instance, Underdog and his infamous "super energy pills."

Then, of course, there is Popeye and his so called "spinach."

And Captain America? Trust me, you don't even want to know what that guy has taken. It would be easier to list which performance-enhancing substances he hasn't used.

That guy's testicles? Like raisins.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

My Martha Plimpton dream

Martha Plimpton: girl of my dreams?

I had a dream about Martha Plimpton once.

I don't know why exactly. It's not like I'm a huge Martha Plimpton fan or anything. I mean, sure, she's a delightful character actress whose quirky, offbeat presence has brightened many a film and television program. But I haven't actively followed her career. I don't even watch Raising Hope, although I've heard the show is pretty good. But, nevertheless, I had a dream about Martha Plimpton.

In the dream, I was at a restaurant, and you'll never guess who I met there. Martha freaking Plimpton! No shit. She was just sitting at the bar, waiting for a table like everyone else. I recognized her immediately. She has a pretty distinct look, after all. I debated whether or not to approach her, but only for a second or two. I figured, "What the heck? When am I going to meet Martha Plimpton again?" So I went up to her and said something clever like, "Are you Martha Plimpton?" And she said, "Yes, I am." "I love your movies," I replied. (This dream was a few years ago, before Raising Hope.)

Naturally, I started off by mentioning Parenthood and The Goonies, but the movie I really wanted to ask her about was Pecker, a John Waters film from 1998. She was really happy to be asked about that movie. I think she gets a lot of Goonies questions because people grew up with that movie and have such fond memories of it, but she's really hilarious in Pecker as the title character's remarkably gay-friendly older sister. I don't know what the real Martha Plimpton is like, but the dream Martha Plimpton was very down-to-earth and friendly. Anyway, when I woke up the next morning, I was very disappointed to realize that I had not really met Martha Plimpton.

So that was my Martha Plimpton dream. What did you think of it?

Oh, Yahoo News, you big tease!

There's no new mail for me because I'd just cleared out my Inbox, not because I'm a social outcast.

Life's full of little disappointments, isn't it? Take Yahoo's obviously-Twitter-inspired "Trending Now" list which occupies the upper right hand corner of the site's homepage. The keywords on the list often look intriguing but lead to very dull topics. Today, for instance, I saw that the #1 item was the delightful-sounding "300-pound Romney." I figured that, following his unsuccessful bid for the presidency, Mitt Romney had locked himself in a wing of his mansion and was scarfing down Krispy Kremes and milkshakes by the truckload while playing "Make the World Go Away" on constant repeat. But, no, the topic turned out to be the fate of a 300-pound Romney campaign sign. Snoozers! Ah, well. Can't have everything. Where would you put it?

P.S. - New Wayne song on YouTube.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A song which summarizes my mood today

Sorry I haven't posted much on the blog lately. Too many tasks to perform, too little time. Don't worry, though. I have some ideas on the back burner. Stay tuned! In the meantime, if you want to know how I'm doing, just listen to the song above. It says everything I'd want to tell you today. And it's what I'd tell myself today, too. I'm not sure why, but those early Talking Heads songs have been on my mind a lot lately. Meanwhile, there's a new installment in the Joe's Terrible Songs series on YouTube. I plan to do more with this in the future, too.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Year's resolutions? Sure. Why not?

If nothing else, this post has at least capitalized on your residual affection for Calvin & Hobbes.

This is the time of year when people traditionally make unrealistic promises to themselves that they cannot and do not intend to keep. We get a new calendar and temporarily feel we can press the "reset" button on our lives. Lose 20 pounds? Sure, champ. Learn a foreign language? Whatever you say, sport. Finally get out from under that crushing credit card debt? Stranger things have happened, pally. But let's be honest. The surest predictor of future performance is past performance. In 2013, you will all but certainly continue to be whatever it is you were in 2012. If that's a good thing, then relax and enjoy it. Keep up the good work! If that's a bad thing... well, there's always alcohol and television, right? Me, I'm setting a goal which is just vague enough to be attainable. My New Year's resolution is to suck less.

Where are Lazy and Resentful?
That's right. I will admit here and now to you readers that I (often) suck as a human being. I don't take pride in that. In fact, my goal for the new year is to reduce that suckage by some measurable percentage. How does 3% grab ya? One percent seems too skimpy, but five would be pushing it. Three is doable. So what are my suckiest traits? Uh, let's see. I'm judgmental, short-tempered, impatient, resentful, self-absorbed, lazy, cowardly, gluttonous, materialistic... wow, this list is a bummer. It also sounds like a list of rejected dwarfs from Snow White, doesn't it? Anyway, I think I'll stop the list of adjectives right there. You get the idea. You'll notice I didn't mention any physical attributes -- health, appearance, etc. Frankly, I can't deal with that stuff right now. We'll table that for the time being and get back to it in 2014. For now, let's just concentrate on the personality and behavior. Looking back on 2012, it was kind of a momentous year for me. After trying (unsuccessfully) to deal with the anxiety and depression which have ruled my life for decades, I finally got help for myself, and I'm being very good about it, too. You should be proud of me. I'm taking the meds every day and attending therapy once a week. And though it hasn't magically made my life "perfect," it's helped in measurable ways. I sleep easier now, for instance, and get sick less often. Like anyone else, I still experience fear, uncertainty, disappointment, and sadness, but I'm no longer plagued by the panic and depression which once took full possession of my body and mind. When I'm especially weak, I almost miss those feelings. As unpleasant as they were, they at least lent a little drama to what is otherwise a very monotonous, uneventful life.

There's a minute or so just about every morning when I regain consciousness and remember who I am, what I am, and how I live. Usually, that's not a good moment. My normal pattern of thought is something like: "Oh, jesus. Not this bullshit again. You mean I have to live this guy's life another day? Drive his car? Do his job? Eat what he eats? Be afraid of the things he fears? Oh, lord." I get impatient with myself, remember? It was on the list. Most mornings, when I look in the bathroom mirror, I want to be able to aim a remote control, press a button, and just change what's there instantly. ("I'm a 50-year-old Chinese lady now? Okay. Let's see what that's like.") I'm not at all pleased with it being 2013 either because this year will mark the twentieth anniversary of my graduation from high school. I feel like I haven't achieved much of anything in the ensuing two decades. I've squandered that time and have nothing to show for it. Does that mean I want a home of my own, a family, and a meaningful career? Hell, no! I wouldn't have the slightest idea what to do with any of that shit. I get tired of most things after about 20 minutes. If I had a wife, kids, a corner office, and a mortgage, I would most likely fake my own death and move to the Himalayas. What do I really want, then? If I were being truthful, I'd say that I want other people to fail, particularly my former classmates. (Apologies to my former classmates. I'm just being brutally honest.) I want to them to be broke, divorced, imprisoned, hopelessly addicted to smack, or some combination of those. That's a terrible thing to wish for other people, but that's how my brain operates. I just can't understand that phrase "I'm happy for you." How can you be happy for someone? Let them be happy for their own damned selves. Frankly, if I either know you or know of you, there's a good likelihood that I hate you... at least a little. It would be nice if my blanket hatred of humanity were replaced by a more selective, sensible hatred of humanity.

Okay, this article has been a lot more negative than I had originally intended. See? That's exactly the kind of thing I'm trying to fix in 2013. Maybe some uptempo music will help. Maestro, if you please...

Huh. How about that! Chubby Checker was doing the "invisible horsey dance" 50 years before "Gangnam Style." I think it's time we paid the man the respect he deserves. Okay, even if I don't achieve any of that other crap I mentioned in this article, I want to be able to do the pony by January 1, 2014. You can hold me to that.