Monday, July 28, 2008

The Happening (1967)

This one is mostly for the benefit of a few old friends who may have an interest in vintage Floridiana. I basically took the first 30 minutes of this film and put it up on YouTube in 5 little chunks. It's a wacky hippy comedy that turns more poignant as it goes on, but my primary interest in it is the location footage of 1967 Miami.

After the colorful credit sequence, the film opens on a camp of young vagrants living in the pine woods (I can't tell if this is actual location footage or if it's shot on a backlot, but it looks pretty authentic). When the police raid the camp, a small group escape on a stolen boat, giving us a glimpse of the Florida waterways and beachside condominiums. The group includes Sureshot (Michael Parks, the actor that plays the Texas lawman who keeps showing up in Tarantino and Rodriguez's movies), Sandy (a smokin' young Faye Dunaway in possibly her first film role), the quiet Herby (Robert Walker, Jr.), and Taurus (George Maharis), a character who seems to have watched Breathless a few times two many.

EDIT: Jason adds: "I think the hippie forest scene was probably filmed in Pine Tree Park. The main characters run out to the boat, which is moored in Indian Creek that runs through Miami Beach, and you can see the Fontainebleu hotel on the other side of the creek when they take off."

OK, this second part has a really great scene: cruising down a canal, the boat is attacked by kids playing war games. These kids have an amazing set up! In the description of the video, I joked that Coppola had ripped this scene off for Apocalypse Now, and I'm not sure that I'm joking. Anyway, somehow the hippies end up kidnapping gangster Roc Delmonico (Anthony Quinn).

In part 3, they get into a traffic jam and an altercation with a cop. Michael Parks really goes off the leash here, and seems to be auditioning to replace Mickey Dolenz.

In part 4, they end up in an abandoned, old mansion surrounded by palmetto bushes and Florida pines. More wackiness from the gang.

In the final part, they lead the police on a high-speed chase, and you get a good glimpse of old bridges, fishing spots and a lighthouse.


I do hope this film eventually finds its way to DVD. As silly as the tone is, Anthony Quinn actually gives a good performance as the film goes on. The twist is that nobody will put up the money for his ransome, so he ends up taking over the operation from the kids, blackmailing everyone he knows to come up with the money. It's a surprisingly dark and resonant comedy for something with such silliness going on.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Lagos Jump

Various Artists - Nigeria 70: Lagos Jump

When this album showed up on emusic, I got all excited thinking they'd finally reissued the original Nigeria 70 compilation, which I've never heard but has been on my list for a long time. Instead, this is a sequel, and it's a great collection of funky Nigerian tunes with great song titles like "Hot Tears" and "Wetin De Watch Goat, Goat Dey Watcham." Dig the awesome chicken-scratch guitar on "Ezuku Buzo"--how fucking hot is that?

Bola Johnson & His Easylife Top Beats - Ezuku Buzo
Sir Victor Uwaifo & His Melody Maestroes - Dododo (Ekassa No. 1)

"Dododo" is great lying-in-a-hammock-sipping-a-drink music, but then that horn flourish comes out of nowhere and you comically fall out of the hammock, spilling your drink all over yourself. These records have a nice ramshackle sound, with often-excessive amounts of reverb, and sometimes (like those horns on "Dododo") the levels seem to be mixed a bit unevenly, but that just makes the songs sound more "earthy."

EDIT: I had the track listing wrong on that first song. It's fixed now.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Patton Oswalt

From The Comedians of Comedy, which we watched last night. No other comment necessary.

The Dictators Go Girl Crazy!

The Dictators - Master Race Rock
The Dictators - Teengenerate

As I said earlier, I picked up The Dictators first LP, Go Girl Crazy! when I was back in Florida. The album came out in '75, and while they're not exactly punk, they are in some ways kindred spirits with bands like The Ramones. They're a sort of heavy metal joke band with a professional wrestler (Handsome Dick Manitoba) on lead vocals. But while punks (even the Ramones) were mostly self-identified weirdos, the Dictators seem like the most normal, all-American kids you could imagine, almost jocks ("We play sports so we don't get fat"). They're not pissed off at the world in any way. They're like the kids in Dazed and Confused, just enjoying teenage life and delinquency. A decade or so later, the License to Ill-era Beastie Boys ripped off their act completely (the back cover even includes a note that the Dictators hang out at White Castle).

When I heard this album back in high school, I mostly focused on the two stand-out songs, "Master Race Rock" and "Two Tub Man." Both are hilarious send-ups of the macho, self-mythologizing school of rock lyrics that goes back at least to Muddy Waters' "Hoochie Coochie Man," but filled with silly non sequitirs like "Take my vitamin C/Know what's good for me" or "Gasoline shortage won't stop me now." This was hugely influential on me, still a recovering metal head at the time. I can safely say that it had an adverse effect on my own lyric writing. It's just too easy to string together a bunch of silly boasts, and it gives you the ego stroke of casting yourself as a larger-than-life action stud without having to convince anyone that you're serious.

But listening to it now, there are a lot of great songs that I had never paid attention to. The rest of the album doesn't quite have that heavy metal sound, many of the songs seeming more like 70's AM radio music, but they're great tunes. A song like "Teengenerate" (with the brilliant opening line "Who's that kid with the sandwich in his hand?") really benefits from them putting the focus on the melody. It brings out the best in the band. I'm actually regretting that I uploaded that one, though, as my fascination has moved to "Weekend" over the last couple days. "Weekend" sounds exactly like an obscure cut off some Alice Cooper album, with even more poignant lyrics about being a teenager. Alice was more "punk" than these guys, his teen characters always angsty, pissed off and defiant. The characters in "Weekend" are just...matter of fact teenagers who get grounded, have to work at McDonalds, and live for the weekend. And "(I Live For) Cars and Girls" sounds like a song that would have been written if the Sweathogs from Welcome Back, Kotter had formed a rock band.

It's not exactly a solid album, and I've been skipping over the first few songs more often than not. Their cover of "I Got You Babe" is good for maybe one listen, and "Back to Africa," even if you put racial and cultural sensitivity concerns aside, is pretty dumb. In Please Kill Me, Adny Shernoff (the band's rhythm guitarist/songwriter/mastermind--and yes, he spells his name "Adny") admits that they didn't quite nail the tone they wanted: "It was supposed to be funny, but it wasn't supposed to be a joke." Their third album, Bloodbrothers, seems to hit that tone better (again, when you get past the classic "Faster and Louder"--one of the best metal songs ever recorded--you discover some great pop tunes like "Stay With Me" and "What It Is"), and now I regret that I got rid of their second album, Manifest Destiny (another victim of the great record collection purge of 1994), which was actually the first one I bought. I never liked it much, but maybe I need to hear it with these new ears. Still, for all its shortcomings, Go Girl Crazy! stands as a great summer album and a classic documentation of teenage life in 1970's America.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Let's Move to Portland!

Pat Saperstein has a two-part post that makes the idea sound awfuly tempting. You're thinking "Oh, cuz the brewpubs, right?" Dude, that's so last millenium! They've moved onto bars that serve premium baroque cocktails. And L.A. has the taco trucks, but Portland has trucks serving "Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, Middle Eastern, Czech, vegetarian and even soup dumplings!" And that's not even mentioning the Bikini Coffee Co.!

Monday, July 14, 2008


I have today off, but I have to teach tonight, so these are the last hours of my vacation, which has turned out to be more relaxing and well-needed than I expected. I'm tanned, rested and ready to return to work (well, as ready as possible). I finally finished the Carl Hiaasin novel I've been trying to read for over two months (and started on a John D. MacDonald book). I'm caught up (somewhat) on my Netflixes and TiVo's. And I feel really relaxed. Got to catch up with friends and family, and spent a lot of time lounging poolside. My Dad's condo overlooks the inlet, so you can stand on the balcony and watch ships go by all day. On the first night, I had a couple beers with dinner (after having gotten up at 4 in the morning to catch the flight) and then went to lay down around 7:00. Bobbie woke me up around 9, and we went out on the balcony. It was July 5, and apparantly there had been a big storm the night before that had put a damper on the fireworks, so Saturday was a redo day. We could look south along the whole coastline towards Miami, and could see 4 seperate fireworks displays.

A few hilights from my trip to Ft. Lauderdale:

Tom Jenkins' BBQ: This place has a strong reputation, and it's right around the corner from my Dad's condo, so we got take-out from their the first night. It's a small place, and when you walk in, it's filled with smoke. In the open kitchen behind the counter, you can see them chopping up BBQ. The walls are lined wiht old concert posters, the kind that had the performer's names in huge letters. Otis Redding, Miles Davis, Billy Holiday, Roy Orbison with special guest Willie Nelson, Muddy Waters vs. Howlin' Wolf, and my favorite, in order of the bill, Jimi Hendrix, Three Dog Night, Steppenwolf, Led Zeppelin. Must have been early '69. And the food was, of course, pretty damn magnificent.

Laspada's Original Hoagies: My Dad claimed these were the best subs he'd ever had. They were very good (I got an Italian combo with pickled peppers on it), but maybe I'm a bit spoiled by Dave's.

The Mai Kai: My first trip to what is rightly considered the best tiki bar in the world. It's certainly well beyond any of the L.A. places. Drinking in the lounge is like being on the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride. This place is crazy. Had a couple mai tais, bought a couple mugs and Hawaiian shirts in the gift shop. I kinda fucked up by not checking the prices on the shirts first--I eneded up spening $60 on one shirt! But fuck it, it's a vacation.

The Aruba Cafe: Left the Mai Kai to meet here for dinner. A noisy tourist place on the beach. I had a burger with teriyaki sauce and grilled pineapple just to stick with the night's theme. They had a lame cover band playing, and you really couldn't tell when the band was playing and when it was piped-in music between their sets. The big excitement was when the couple at the table next to us started making out, lapdancing, and generally coming way too close to having sex in their seats. The management eventually threw them out, and the girl had to be carried out (she almost knocked over a computer on her way).

Radio Active Records: I picked up some good vinyl here. Dictators Go Girl Crazy! for $15, a couple Ike and Tina LP's for around $5 each, Yma Sumac's Voices of the Xtaby for $3 (cover a little beat up, but vinyl looked good).

Conchy Joes: One night--I'm having trouble remembering which--we drove up to Stuart to visit Zane. Went out to Conchy Joe's, one of my favorite places in Jensen Beach. This place is the essence of the South Florida experience, however contrived: A wooden shack overlooking the river selling reasonably priced seafood and drinks (when they opened they used to have a guy with a guitar who went from table to table singing calypso songs). Later, Zane loaned us the Nathan Barley DVD, a pretty hilarious British sitcom.

The Happening (1967): Silly hippy movie that I TiVo'd while I was gone, but I'm willing to bet it's better than the Shyalaman movie of the same name. Anthony Quinn is a gangster who gets kidnapped by some wacky beach bums (including a hammy Ray Park, a young Faye Dunaway, and another guy who seems to be spoofing Jean-Paul Belmondo from Breathless). It's filmed entirely on location in Miami!

Hellboy II: I dunno, this was a good summer action flick, but it wasn't really exceptional. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it just seemed kind of commonplace. Probably better than the first one, but I have to say, of Del Toro's popcorn movies, my favorite is Blade 2. Maybe it's because the goals of that film are so simple (just to be a cool, dumb action movie), but it works for me better than either of the Hellboy flicks.

Pictures may be coming.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

I Feel So Dirty

I bought an REM album at Starbucks. That's what a vacation will drive you to!

Friday, July 04, 2008

Let's Active

A couple weeks ago, I went to the cool record store down the street from my house, and started thumbing through the discount bins. I came across the first Let's Active EP, Afoot, in the 25 cent bin. I vaguely remembered this being a hard to find item, possibly semi-collectible back in the day, so I figured, what the hell, picked it up. Right behind it was their second LP, Big Plans for Everybody, which I'm more familiar with, and even though I'm not a huge fan, it did have a few nostalgic associations (as my friends were pretty into it when it came out, and I saw them open for REM around that time), and again, 25 cents, so I grabbed that too. Let's Active was fronted by Mitch Easter, who produced the first few REM records, and, at least on the first EP, he had a couple female musicians backing him up (all three were afflicted with tragic 80's hair, as the back cover reveals). I also picked up the first album by the DC hardcore band Government Issue, just because I thought I ought to support the record store by buying something for more than a quarter (listened to it at home, not that into it). Anyway...

The Let's Active EP is a very nice bit of mid-80's college radio jangle pop. The opener, "Every Word Means No," is pretty great, but I really like this last song, "Leader of Men."

I love how the guitar (or maybe it's a keyboard) imitates the sound of James Brown horn stabs, and the song actually has the same basic rhythm as the Stooges' "Funhouse." I also spun the other record, and it's enjoyable, but didn't really seem worth digitizing.

Salvation Symphony

I don't have any special Happy Birthday America post prepared. Tomorrow morning I'm leaving to visit my family in Ft. Lauderdale for a few days. But here's something I want to leave with you.

I got the first "disc" of the three-disc version of Wattstax: The Living Word off emusic last week (I intend to get the other two discs over the next two months). This album is filled with amazing performances of funk, soul, blues, gospel and even some funky jazz, plus a speech by Jesse Jackson and some comedy from Richard Pryor. Half the stuff on here is not in the movie. But somehow, this piece is the one that's been killing me. It's called "Salvation Symphony," performed by Dale Warren and the Wattstax '72 Orchestra. I don't know where it plays in the movie--the opening credits are on YouTube, and it's not there. Maybe it's over the end credits, maybe it wasn't used, but man, what an amazing piece of music.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The Coming Utopia

SO LET'S SUM UP what America would look like in an age of Obama.

To start there would be no more driving SUVs. No more Rush. For God's sake absolutely no driving your SUV while listening to Rush. No more eating whatever you want. Definitely no keeping your home as warm or as cool as you prefer. No capital gains cuts because they are unfair. Your guns will be banned. And if you have a different opinion on global warming? All those lofty supporters of rights for terrorists are going to strip every oil executive in America of theirs in a heartbeat, live and in living color.

Did I hear you correctly? No more Rush? Oh, what a happy life! To never again hear "The Red Barchetta" or "By-Tor the Snow Dog!"* To never have a bemulletted enthusiast urge me to "check out this drum fill, dude!" Sign me up!

*Or is it "By-Tor and the Snow Dog?" Whatever, it'll be banned soon anyway.