Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Ed Wood Wednesdays is going on hiatus (and other disappointing blog news)

Yup. That about covers it.

"If I could not earn a penny from my writing, I would earn my livelihood at something else and continue to write at night."
-Irving Wallace (via Michael O'Donoghue)

Yesterday, I went into my Blogger "Draft Posts" folder, where all my unfinished articles and stories reside, and deleted everything in it. It was a sad and profound moment. I knew I was never going to finish these posts, so why should they taunt me? Among the casualties: a very high-concept short story about cartoon characters (specifically, cartoon nephews) getting together in Hollywood; a far-reaching and history-minded analysis of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, one which connects it with such films as Easy Rider, The Big Chill, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas; and a half-kidding, half-serious editorial about how Jim Henson's Muppet Babies was the beginning of the end of everything. They all bit the dust, along with a number of never-to-be-completed reviews of certain movies, including (yes) some titles from my Mill Creek Comedy Classics box set. (I haven't forgotten about it.) I honestly thought I could live like Irving Wallce suggested: earning my livelihood by day and writing at night. Kafka did it. "The Night Writer," some have called him, though that nickname brings to mind talking cars more than talking cockroaches.

Folks, I've tried, but I just can't be Kafka. Not right now, anyway.

Between working and commuting, I have only about two hours every weekday between when I finally get back home and when I have to be in bed. During that two hours, I have to eat dinner, make my daily phone call to my father and patiently listen to every detail of his event-free day, check my e-mail and social media accounts, and maybe try to watch a little TV or part of a movie. That leaves very, very little time for writing. Today, I'm using part of my two hours to write this little update. Was it worth it? You tell me. I suppose I could write on the weekends, and I try to do so, but those are my only days to catch up on laundry, cleaning, grocery shopping. and (oh, yeah) something called sleep. While it's still warm outside, it would be nice to get some fresh air occasionally, too, if possible.

Ed Wood Wednesdays is going to have to go on an indefinite hiatus for the time being, at least until my mind and body adjust to my new work schedule. All other writing projects I may have had are hereby cancelled. As always, I will probably post some brief, informal articles here from time to time, as I have always done. But I don't see myself writing anything research-heavy or complicated in the foreseeable future. This is a very troubling and disheartening time in my life. It feels like I'm putting a well-loved pet to sleep. The creative/silly side of my personality is dying. Maybe it's already dead. I just know that I'm tired all the time now. Tired of mind. Tired of body. Tired of spirit. As Lili Von Shtupp once succinctly put it, "Goddamnit, I'm exhausted."

On the bright side, I discovered a neat little obscure R&B number from the late 1950s, lurking on a compilation I've owned for years. It's called "King of Fools," and it's credited to a singer named Sam Hawkins, who currently does not even merit a Wikipedia entry. Give it a spin.

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.

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!

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, this woman 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 comics 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.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Jon Arbuckle is one sick mutha...

Jon knows how to keep the flame of love alive.

In recent years, Jim Davis' comic strip Garfield has relented somewhat in its depiction of the character Jon Arbuckle as a friendless, antisocial dweeb by giving him a seemingly-normal girlfriend named Liz, a veterinarian. That convention was taken over to the Garfield movies as well, with Jennifer Love Hewitt playing Liz to Breckin Meyer's Jon. This, to me, feels like a cheat, akin to the "bland nice guy" makeover former hothead David Seville got when the Chipmunks franchise was revived in the 1980s. This, too, was carted over to the live-action Chipmunks movies. So Dave is no longer a truly-scary rageaholic, and Jon doesn't necessarily spend his Saturday nights alone with his cat. Well, I say phooey to all this focus-group, audience-placating nonsense. I'm making these characters off-putting again, and I'm starting with Jon. So there!