Tuesday, February 28, 2006

A Scanner Darkly

I was talking to this guy at a party last week, who works for Warner Independent, and he was talking about the movie he was working on. I can't remember exactly what was said, but I realized what the movie was, and blurted out "A Scanner Darkly?" I told him I was a fan of Linklatter's work (true), that Scanner was my favorite Phillip K. Dick novel (also true, although I've only read 4 or 5 of them), and that I thought it seemed like the perfect match of filmmaker to material (something I'd been saying for a while). So he invited me to a test screening the following (last) Sunday.

The screening was in Santa Monica, and I figured on a late Sunday afternoon it would probably take about an hour to get there if the traffic was bad, but I allowed myself an hour and a half just to be on the safe side. As it turned out, that still wasn't enough. I got caught in traffic and ended up arriving a couple minutes into the picture. Worse, in a late panic, I parked in the $12 parking deck instead of the $3 deck.

Anyway, A Scanner Darkly is a great film. I feel pretty confident that it is the truest adaptation of Dick's writing ever filmed. Certainly, it's the closest to my ideas and associations with his books. It is exactly the book put on screen, and it perfectly captures the confusion and paranoia of prolonged psychedelic use. In fact, there were actually a few little bits that I caught in the film that I think I had missed in the book.

Probably the best standard for a drug movie is whether watching the movie makes you feel stoned, which is certainly the case for Scanner. Much of the film consists of Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, and Rory Cochrane going through paranoid acid freakouts, and they make a hilarious comedy team (with Keanu Reeves as the straightman). Downey in particular is funny as shit. There's also a great sense of place in the suburban tract houses and freeways where all this takes place. The animation is not as wild as in Waking Life, more focused and sophisticated. In some ways, I'd almost say that this is the movie I wanted Waking Life to be. There are a few scenes where they shift from close-ups of faces to wide shots of cars on the freeway or shoppers at a grocery store, and for a second you'd swear it had stopped being animated and become live-action. Then your eyes acclimate, and you see that it's still drawing. Very disorienting, which could probably be said for the whole film.

What's even more remarkable is the subtle shift over the course of the film from comic to tragic tone. The film ends on precisely the same note as the book--a tragic sadness with a faint glimmer of hope.

This was my first time going to a test screening, getting to fill out the questionaire and all. It's a pretty screwy process. A lot of the questions were along the lines of "Did you find any of the scenes confusing?" Which is funny, because the whole point of this story is confusion. In retrospect, I wish I'd written that on the comment sheet.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Wayne Manor Burned Down

this soldier - author - batman for all his commontroyism is just another of those souftsiezed bubbles who never quite got the sandhurst out of his eyes so that the champaign he draws for us is as flop as a plankrieg

-James Joyce
Finnegan's Wake, Book I, Chapter VI

I thought the house you could see on the side of the hill as you come over the "suicide bridge" from Pasadena into Eagle Rock looked familiar, but I could never quite place it until someone pointed out to me that it was used as the establishing shot for Stately Wayne Manor in the old 60's Batman TV show. The house burned down a few months ago...is this the work of The Joker? Anyway, I took this photo yesterday.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

History Loops

In 1938, 1939, we were old enough to hang out and stay out until three, four in the morning on Central Avenue and it was a fun place. There was the excitement of the after-hours spots and the drugstores and things that had the malts and food late at night, where people could meet after whatever job they had. The Fifty-Fourth Street Drugstore was probably the prime place after-hours. It was a big spot. They had all kinds of food there. In the drugstore and places like that they had the jukeboxes and we could hear things like "Jack the Bear" by Duke Ellington and featuring Jimmy Blanton on bass. Jimmy Blanton inspired Mingus. We just played that over and over again. And all the celebrities were out at night, anybody you wanted to see would be there. If the Ellington or Basie bands or a big fighter like Jack Johnson, who was the heavyweight champion of the world, were around on a Friday or Saturday night, they'd probably be hanging out in there. It was great, because you could mingle with them. You knew they were real people, which was always great as a young player. We heard people on records and they're standing there!

-Buddy Collette
Central Avenue Sounds

When I started going to shows, all the punk rock kids in N.Y. used to go to this record strore called the Rat Cage on the east side. We'd all be there or at a club called A-7. All the hardcore bands would play there and all the kids at the shows were in bands. That time and that scene was really important. To go to see bands, friends. To see your heroes, the Bad Brains, just kicking it on the steps outside. To know that they're real people, alive like you. That's what that was all about. Being alive.

-Adam Horovitz
Beastie Boys Anthology: The Sounds of Science (liner notes)

The more you read about music the more it all sounds like the same story. Take the story related in Can't Stop Won't Stop about the moment in 1979 when New York indie labels began trying to record hip hop. They approached all the big DJ's, like Grandmaster Flash, but they were uninterested in recording, probably because they couldn't understand how it could work (hip hop at that time being basically more of a way of partying than a style of music--the DJ spinning records, extending the breaks, maybe cutting and scratching, b-boys dancing, and MC's getting the crowd pumped up and rapping, the whole thing lasting for hours). Instead, Sylvia Robinson of Sugar Hill Records walked into a New Jersey pizza parlor, heard a guy rapping along with a bootleg tape of Grandmaster Caz, and told him and a couple friends to come in to the studio and make a rap record. "Rapper's Delight" was three nobodies with no real rap experience, ripping off most of their rhymes from established Bronx MC's. It seems like an odd story that owes its existence to a fluke in history. But...

Reading Central Avenue Sounds made me want to check out Ken Burns' Jazz documentary from the library. In the first volume, they talk about Freddie Kepard, an important early jazz trumpet player (described by Wynton Marsalis as being next in the lineage of trumpets after Billy Bolden), who moved from New Orleans to Los Angeles, where he was approached by a label who wanted to record him. He would have been making THE FIRST JAZZ RECORD. He turned them down, afraid that the recording would have allowed other musicians to copy his style. This was apparantly an obsession with Kepard, to the point where he would drape a cloth over his hand while he played live so no one could copy his fingering technique (which sounds a lot like the stories of Eddie Van Halen turning his back to the audience when he used to play "Eruption" back in the club days). Instead, the first jazz record is made by The Original Dixieland Jazz Band--a group of white guys from New York--and it sells more than every record pressed up to that point combined. Later, asked about the "negro" origins of jazz music, they deny it! They insist that negroes could not have come up with something so sophisticated, and even claim that the black bands playing jazz had STOLEN IT FROM THEM!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Spittin' Wicked Randomness, Vol. Some-Odd

Re-Animator at the Drive-In! And in March, The Egyptian is hosting a Grindhouse Festival and a program of UPA 'toons. Sweet.

There's a great article about Tiki decorating in today's L.A. Times. I totally want this living room:

More great pics in the article. And in case you missed it, last week's L.A. Weekly has a typically great piece of writing by Jonathan Gold on grilled meats in Los Angeles, including clandestine taco carts of East L.A.:

Does it matter that my favorite stand, set up most evenings in front of an auto body shop, has no name, no license, and may not be there tomorrow or next week? Does the stand’s precariousness, the fact that its lights are powered through cables attached to the battery of a constantly running old car, and the surreptitious nature of the transaction flavor the experience? Or is it the lashings of cumin in the meat’s marinade, the careful grilling and the elegant green salsa that has a family resemblance to a hotly spiced Punjabi chutney?

Damn, that makes me hungry. Oh, one last heads-up: President's Day Weekend sale at Brand Books in Glendale. Everything's 20% off and no tax, and it's one of the best used bookstores in L.A.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


There's a sale going on at Brand Library in Glendale, selling used CD's, records, laserdiscs, sheet music and art books. I kinda wish I was into laserdiscs, because they had a bunch of great stuff for $3 or so. But the only things that would have made me make the leap would have been finding Beyond the Valley of the Dolls or the unfuckedwith Star Wars trilogy (which I'm sure if they had it, it was gone in the first hour). Instead, I dug into the 50-cent records. It's amazing what you'll consider buying for 50 cents--I actually had two YES records in my stack (in fact, I ended up getting one)! But then, at the end, I ended up with something like 40 records, and I didn't want to drop $20 on records I was only vaguely interested in. Hell, at that price, I even bought a record I already had. Well, my copy was in pretty bad shape, and although some of these had worn covers, the records themselves were all in great condition, probably cleaned up by some diligent volunteer. Anyway, the record in question was the Disneyland Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House record, which I'm sure I could turn around and sell on eBay for some insane price if I wanted to.

I got a bunch of comedy records:

Mort Sahl at The Hungry i
Dick Gregory - Running for President
Bill Cosby - To Russell, My Brother, Whom I Slept With
Flip Wilson - The Devil Made Me Do It
Lily Tomlin - This is a Recording
Jonathan Winters and Friends - Laugh...Live

and a compilation called We Are Most Amused: The Very Best of British Comedy, with lots of Monty Python, Goon Show, Spike Milligan, and such.

Other oddball stuff:

John Wayne - America, Why I Love Her(for 50 cents? Are you fucking kiddin' me?)
John Denver & The Muppets - A Christmas Together

Senator Sam At Home (this blew me away that I found this! If you've ever heard the Rhino CD compilation Golden Throats Vol. 2 (the one that has Leonard Nimoy singing Proud Mary and Sammy Davis, Jr. doing the theme from Shaft), this is the southern senator that recites Bridge Over Troubled Water over a harmonica background!)
Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater's original radio broadcast of War of the Worlds.

Music stuff I got:

YES - Time and a Word. I'm listening to this right now. It's from 1970, second album I think, and it's still pretty proggy (I just heard them play a section from Appalachian Spring or something), but more psychedelic than their later stuff.
Hot Tuna Live (disapointing--I thought these guys were a heavy psychedelic rock band, but this is just acoustic blues in the Grateful Dead vein)
Leon Redbone - Double Time
KISS - Rock and Roll Over
(couldn't resist--I love this album cover!)
Cheap Trick - Dream Police
Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66
Heavy Metal Soundtrack
(ah, nostalgia!)

...But the best record I got was Cannonball Adderly Presents Soul Zodiac, Vol. 1, which is a bunch of freaky, funky jazz over which a narrator reads about the signs of the zodiac. Fucking amazing! (I thought Soul Sides had posted some of this a while back, but that was a different record)

Then they had CD's for $2, or 3 for $5. I got:

Pimps, Players & Private Eyes (collection of Blaxploitation theme songs that I've wanted forever!)
Southern Culture on the Skids - For Lovers Only (the one with "Daddy Was a Preacher, Mama Was a Go-Go Girl")
Jellyfish - Bellybutton
Praxis - Transmutations: Mutatis Mutandi
(which I have on cassette, but now I have it on CD too)
Ozric Tentacles - Jurassic Shift
The KLF - The White Room
(I really wish they had had The Chill Out, because that's the disc I really want, but hey...I'm a sucker for Robert Anton Wilson refernces)

Not a bad haul for $20, eh?

Happy Valentine's Day!

Friday, February 10, 2006

Last Arrested Development TONIGHT!

Don't forget, Fox is burning off the last 4 episodes of the funniest sitcom since, like, ever back-to-back tonight opposite the opening of the Olympics. Excellent interview with Mitch Hurwitz on Fresh Air.

P.S. - I just sold the TEAC reel-to-reel recorder for $500, which was a little less than I was hoping for, but should be enough to at least buy Acid and Sound Forge. And the landlord has pissed me off even more than I was 24 hours ago.

Thursday, February 09, 2006


Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Book Revue (1946)

These past few weeks, we've been having an incredible bit of hassle with the landlord and the building inspector. The upside of this is that it's pushed me over the edge, and I'm now willing to do whatever it takes to own my own place. I just can't stand having the landlord hanging around. Good news on that front: I may have a part-time teaching job lined up for Tuesday and Thursday nights, which would be very nice. The other really good news in our family is that it looks like Brandie is going to CCA next fall. Not official, but looking very good. Yay!

Here's some screengrabs from Bob Clampett's Book Revue, off the Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Vol. 2. This is like my favorite DVD. In fact, this DVD has totally changed my mind about the Warners directors--since buying it, I'm now positive that Clampett was the best, over Chuck Jones or Tex Avery (Avery did his best work at MGM anyway). This is one of his wackiest.

My favorite:

Anyone know how I can put some bigger images on the blog without them looking pixilated?

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Louie Louie (Dave Marsh) - A Rambling, Semi-Review

The story of Louie Louie is a more interesting one than anyone would guess. Even sticking to the most basic facts, which Dave Marsh rarely does, the twisted lineage of this tune is as strange a tale as any in American folklore.

The basic facts are as follows. Richard Berry writes the lyrics backstage while working with The Rivera Bros, and hearing them perform Rene Touzet's "El Loco Cha Cha," the intro of which supplies the central riff and beat to the song. The lyrics are inspired by Chuck Berry's "Havana Moon" and Johnny Mercer's "One More for the Road," although Marsh notes that Nat "King" Cole's "Calypso Blues," which inspired "Havana Moon," is actually closer lyrically to Louie. The chorus most likely is inspired by the chant of "Louie, Louie, Louie" in Louie Jordan's "Run, Joe." Berry's version (with The Pharoahs) is released in 1957 on the B-side of "You Are My Sunshine." It's a hit on the West Coast, but never breaks nationally. In 1959, Berry sells the publishing rights to the forgotten, out-of-print song, depriving himself of a steady income over the next 3 decades, until he wins the rights back in an early-90's lawsuit.

Meanwhile, Ron Holden and the Playboys begin including the song in their live sets as they play throughout the Pacific Northwest. "Rockin'" Robin Roberts and The Wailers record the first rock version around 1960, adding the "Let's give it to 'em right now!" and the guitar solo which both The Kingsmen and Paul Revere and the Raiders steal note-for-note. The Wailers' version isn't a hit, but the upcoming Northwest garage bands all include it in their repetoir. The flashy local heroes Paul Revere and the Raiders record it the same week, in the same studio, as the amateurish garage band The Kingsmen. the Raiders' version sounds like a slicker version of the Wailers', but the Kingsmen's version has a straighter rock beat, dropping the rest at the end of the 5-note riff (they didn't have a copy of the record to reference), and a grungier sound.

Marsh's account of the Kingsmen session is hysterical. The mic is on some kind of boom, so that the singer has to yell up to it. They do a piss-take just to get warmed up, and the producer tapes it and decide it's good enough to use. Marsh swears you can hear the drummer say "fuck!" as he screws up near the end of the guitar solo. He also later claims that Keith Moon stole his entire drum style from the fuckups on the Kingsmen recording.

Both versions are making dents in the charts in different regions, but ultimately it is the Kingsmen's version that breaks big. And the reason for it's popularity seems to be inherintly linked to the unintelligibility of the vocals.

There's plenty of intrigue and comedy in the story of The Kingsmen's rise to stardom, but the best part of the book, by far, deals with the FBI investigation of the song. This central chapter is at once a fascinating study of the viral spread of an urban myth, and a wickedly funny satire of authority in 1960's America. Shortly after the Kingsmen record hit, kids began circulating pages with the "real" lyrics written on them, a more-or-less meaningless string of sexual references that seemed to be written by people with no sexual experience. These lyrics can be heard, the legend says, when the 45 is played at 33 1/3, or, in other versions, are "audible to anyone who really pays attention, a conspiratorial touch worthy of Foucault's Pendulum". Discovered by concerned parents and teachers, these lyrics were promptly reported to the FBI in Minneapolis, Tampa, Detroit, all over the nation. The FBI spent 2 1/2 years investigating this without, Marsh points out, ever even considering the possibility that the lyrics WEREN'T dirty! No satirist could make this stuff up! They spent hours listening to the record at various speeds, trying to determine the lyrics, and found them unintelligible, but "The lyrics are only impossible to learn if you're willfully trying to hear what's not there."

Here is the FBI at their most brililant: We don't know what we're dealing with, and it seems to be gibberish, but that gibberish must be presumed guilty until all rampantly paranoid parents and teachers stop believing the fantasies of teenagers suffering from hormonal overload.

The Detroit beurau is particularly tenacious with their attempts to silence the subversive rock song, which Marsh suggests creates the "Instant Karma" that produces MC5, a real-life Communist Revolutionary Rock Band.

Marsh even waxes philosophical about what the dirty lyrics meant to their generation: "Somebody, somewhere, came up with the idea that Louie Louie had dirty lyrics not only as a way of putting on other kids and panicking authority, but as a way of creating something that rock n roll needed: a secret as rich and ridiculous as the sounds themselves."

Marsh writes in an appropriately silly style, but never downplays the importance of the story. He gets a couple facts wrong near the end: Henry Rollins didn't sing on Black Flag's "Louie Louie" (not even the version stuck on the end of later pressings of Damaged--it's Dez Cadenza on vocals), and The Beach Boys sing on the Fatboys' version of "Wipe Out," not "The Twist." But he gets the idea right, and traces the three chords through rock history from the 50's through the 90's. You get a nice, detailed portrait of various obscure rock scenes--Los Angeles doo-wop, Pacific Northwest garage bands--and a fascinating tour of the ins-and-outs of the record industry. All in about 200 pages.

Here's one of my favorite versions, from The Best of Louie Louie, Vol. 2. It's by The Angels, most famous for "My Boyfriend's Back." I love the way they stretch out the words, "Louie Lou-I-A, Lou-ou-I-A, HEY!," and I love how the "Oh!" at the end of the first chorus gradually becomes a much more suggestive "Ugh!" by the end.

The Angels - Louie, Louie

And what the hell, here's Paul Revere's version. Not as good as the Kingsmen's, but it still rocks.

Paul Revere and the Raiders - Louie, Louie

Louie Louie by Dave Marsh

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Aristocrats, Rize

My two favorite documentaries of the past year are not necessarily what I think are the "best" documentaries of the year--Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man is certainly a better film. But these two very different docs, both centered more or less on the performing arts, are the ones I enjoyed the most.

The Aristocrats is an amazing piece of work. The 90 minutes of various comedians telling, discussing, and deconstructing the same stupid joke sounds like an awful concept, but turns out brilliantly, partially due to the strength of the various performers and partially due to the equal artistry with which they are edited together. There are some brilliant tellings of the joke (Sarah Silverman's in particular is pure genius), but it can be more interesting to simply hear all these comics ponder what the joke is about, and why it is (or isn't) funny. There is such coherency in the editing that you forget that these people have all been filmed at different times in different places--they seem to be all in one room having one big, long conversation. Each telling of the joke seems unified to what preceeds and follows it, as the conversation morphs from one theme to the next, and each comic seems to have his or her own idea about what the joke says about show biz.

I'm glad I got to see The Aristocrats at the theater--it was a great film to watch the audience react to--but this is one of those movies that's just MADE for DVD. There's so much great unused footage in the extras, so many great insights in the commentary track, and the movie itself rewards repeated viewings, as the artistry becomes more evident the closer you look.

Rize is not a particularly well-made documentary. In fact, I think David LaChappelle did a rather shoddy job in creating a story out of his footage, and he takes every opportunity to clumsily pull the strings of the viewers emotions. But the footage he shot is so amazing, it hardly matters. The doc traces the development of clowning and krumping, two related forms of hip-hop dance in South Central L.A., and the moves these dancers do are fucking incredible. It's so beautiful watching these kids do these moves against the backdrop of the streets of the hood, it almost made me tear up. Which makes it all the more shameful that LaCheppelle felt he had to try (unsuccesfully, I might add) to force more emotion out of his stories.