Sunday, May 31, 2009

Drive-In Saturday

Last night, we joined a tailgate party and saw Sam Raimi's new horror flick Drag Me to Hell at the Mission Tiki Drive-In in Montclair. The movie is a hoot--the trailers make it look like a typical modern horror flick, but once it gets going, it's practically a new Evil Dead film. But obviously, what I want to talk about is the drive-in experience.

Bobbie and I both saw our first movie at drive-ins: mine was Song of the South, hers was Hot Summer in Barefoot County. But drive-ins began disapearing when we were pretty young, so we're left with a heavy nostalgic craving for them, and I imagine many people my age feel the same way. I did see a couple cheesy slasher flicks once at the Ft. Pierce Drive-In in my high school days, but even that seems pretty far back in my memory banks now, so this experience was a blast. There are advantages and disadvantages, and I wouldn't want to see every film this way, but I intend to make sure I see one or two movies at a drive-in every summer from here on.

The disadvantages? Well, as Bobbie noted, you feel a little removed from the movie. This might have been partially alleviated if we'd parked closer to the screen, but there does seem to be a level of absorption that you just don't get with the windshield in the way. There are also a lot of distractions. Cars are moving around, headlights shining, and there's a train track right behind the screen, so twice during the feature a train went by rather noisily. You're also removed from the communal experience of laughing/screaming/cheering in concert with the audience. Plus, it's hard to resist being able to look around and see Terminator to your left, Night at the Museum to your right, and Monsters vs. Aliens hehind you--but that's also part of the fun. And with the VW, we had an extra problem: every time we turned on the car enough to roll down the windows, the headlights came on and shone on the screen.

The advantages, beyond the obvious nostalgic element, mostly have to do with the experience: being able to see the screen under the stars, buffetted by trees. The rules state that you can't bring alcoholic beverages, but nobody would have known if we'd brought a cooler of brew along, and there's no difficulty smoking up in your car. You can pretty much bring any kind of food in, but there's also a pretty nice snack bar with burgers, dogs, and carne asada or chicken tacos and burritos. We ate dinner before going, but got a nice big tub of popcorn, some goobers, a coke and an ice cream sandwich. As an extra bonus, if the movie is too fucking loud, as so many modern action movies are (and as I'm hearing a lot of people say Drag Me to Hell was), you can just turn down the volume!

So I strongly reccomend that everyone spend more time at the drive-in. You may not realize it, but there are a lot of them still in operation.

Job Lock

Conservatives often frame the economic arguments about government social programs in terms of taxpayers having to pay for people to not work, which pretty much shows that they have no idea what government assistance is actually like. You cannot live any kind of decent life off of government assistance. I don't care if we're talking food stamps, disability, unemployment, WIC, AFDC, they pay shit. They also require a lot of time spent jumping through hoops and red tape, so no matter how you slice it, you're always better off having a job. (One guy once complained to me about the hoops he was having to jump through to get disability. "But if I was a n******, all I'd have to do was walk in the office and they'd be throwing money at me." It doesn't matter how obviously stupid that statement is, he knew it was true because it was what Reagan had told him.) Now, don't misunderstand me, I know there are people out there who do it, but I see no evidence that they are the rule. Any sensible person would just get a job, because that clearly gives you a better life.

These programs are not designed to be lived on. They're designed to give you just enough to keep you from being evicted or starving while you move through a crisis. This was certainly my experience in 1999 when I lost my job, and collected 7 weeks of unemployment while looking for a new job. No, I probably wouldn't have been evicted or starved without it. What would have happened, more likely, is that after 2 or 3 weeks, I'd have just taken s job at 7-11 or Taco Bell, and been unable to devote myself to looking for a decent job full time. It's much less likely that I would have been able to find the right interview where I was able to spin certain aspects of my previous job into experience, and for the first time in my life land a job that could not have been done by trained monkeys.

Anyway, conservaitves and libertarians often talk about how higher taxes hold people back from starting their own businesses. I don't doubt their sincerity, and I'm sure the Joe the Plumber scenario happens from time to time, but I would bet that a situation similar to mine is much more common: a person would like to quit their job and go into business for themselves, but without affordable healthcare options, they're pretty much stuck. So this piece from Washington Monthly sounds pretty on the money:

Universal health insurance, far from suppressing entrepreneurship, could be a boon to it.

The main reason for this is a phenomenon known as "job lock," a term coined during the last round of debate over universal health coverage in the early 1990s. Job lock refers to the fact that workers are often unwilling to leave a current job that provides health insurance for another position that might not, even if they would be more productive in that other position. This is because employer-provided insurance is traditionally the only reliable form of fairly priced private insurance coverage available in the U.S. The alternative is to purchase insurance in the nongroup market, where insurance prices and availability are typically not regulated, so insurance companies can drop individuals when they become ill or charge them exorbitant prices. As a result, individuals feel "locked" into less productive jobs.

Over the past fifteen years, dozens of studies have documented the detrimental impact that job lock has on the economy. These studies typically compare the mobility of workers who are at firms with insurance but do not have an alternative source of coverage (such as spousal insurance or COBRA continuation coverage) to those who do have an alternative source of coverage should they leave the firm. The studies find that mobility is much higher when workers do not have to fear losing coverage; job-to-job mobility is estimated to increase by as much as 25 percent when alternative group coverage is available.

Job lock is a serious problem for our society, because one of the bedrocks of our long-term economic success is our fluid labor markets compared to other nations, like France and Germany, that make it expensive and administratively burdensome to hire new employees or to fire unproductive ones. Job lock diminishes our international advantage in this area, since other nations with universal health insurance coverage do not have this problem.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Songs I Used to Think Were Awesome, Part 9

In 1980, Alice Cooper put out an album in the "New Wave" style. Yeah, a total sell-out, but it's actually a better collection of songs than a lot of his hard rock albums. Take this mostly forgotten single. Synthesizers, drum machines, robotic rhythms, futuristic themes, clearly ripping off DEVO, Gary Neuman and Kraftwerk, but man is it ever catchy! You could put it on an 80's mix right next to Gary Neuman's "Cars," and it would sound totally right.

The album is from 1980 (the artist credited as "Alice Cooper '80", I guess to show he was up on some new shit), but I swear I remember this song from the summer of '79, when I first discovered rock radio stations. Well, who knows, it's all a jumble in my mind, but I remember being really obsessed with this song, and even calling up the radio station (WIZD, Wizard 99!) to request it.

What's really strange is that there's no video for this song. I mean, you'd think this would be the perfect song to make a video for! It's from 1980 (allegedly!), it has this whole scifi concept, and it's Alice Cooper, who had been incorporating visual elements in his music throughout his career. Very strange.

The Smashing Pumpkins recorded a cover of the song sometime in the mid-90's, and it goes a long way to demonstrating just how solid the songwriting on this album was. The Pumpkins' version removes most of the "cheesy" elements (the synth line stays, but it's way in the background) and opens the song up, making it sound like a basic post-Pixies indie rock tune with a little Cheap Trick flavor.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Bottoms Up!

Apparantly this corny review of "dirty" one-liners in Laugh-In format ran for over 14 years at the Flamingo in Vegas. I assume there was a lot of semi-nudity involved as well. I can imagine this was popular among visiting conventioneers. "Hey, buddy, you gotta go see Bottom's Up!. You won't be-lieve the stuff they say!" Wink-wink.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Rance Allen

The Rance ALlen Group - Ring My Bell (mp3)

I've been listening to Rance Allen's album A Soulful Experience (I got it off eMusic, but the link goes to Amazon). It's a great mix of soul and gospel from 1975, all sweaty and funky and nice. Apparantly, the guy's still around and still putting out albums. The above song, "Ring My Bell," is the album's opener, and it's fucking EPIC. Almost 10 minutes long. The "Stairway to Heaven" of soul.

P.S. - Got a lot of traffic over the last few days from funk blog Never Enough Rhodes, which posted a link to my Cyrill Jackson post. So if you're looking for more funky soul, check 'em out, they've got some great albums posted over there.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Songs I Used to Think Were Awesome, Part 8

For a while, I couldn't make my mind up about Rush. Sometimes I'd listen to them, and they sounded like the most amazing band I'd ever heard. Other times, I'd listen to the same record and think it sounded dull and sterile. This was when I was around 13-14, and my ideas about music were still crystalizing. Anyway, case in point was hearing the overture from 2112 as part of a Rush set during a "Rock Block Weekend" or something. I couldn't believe how good it was, and I rushed out and found a copy the next day. When I took it home and listened to it, it did nothing for me.

What finally helped me make up my mind--maybe a better way to say it might be "what finally helped me understand these feelings I was having"--was this snarky piece of writing in an old issue of Creem. When I say "old issue," it was one I had had for a couple years, but I didn't really like Creem much in my tweens, wasn't quite ready for their irreverent attitude toward musicians. But I when I reread this piece, not only did I find it hilarious, but I knew that it was correct, and I suddenly understood what I didn't like about Rush (this would probably have been about the same time I started listeneing to punk).

I'm glad someone posted the piece online so I could revisit it. Kordosh is funny, but not a very good writer, and the interview with Peart is preposterously confrontational. Of course, there's probably nobody in rock that I'd rather read such an obnoxious hitpiece on (When asked by another interviewer if he would write an album about Howard Roarke, we get this: "I think I have," Peart said, "I think everything I do has Howard Roark in it, you know, as much as anything. The person I write for is Howard Roark."). And there are some funny lines in there, but it reads a lot like the sort of stuff I wrote in high school (probably because I was immitating Kordosh's style). One of the funnier lines, contrasting pretentious asshole Neal Peart with normal guy Alex Lifeson: "I asked them both why they don't put their pictures on their album covers. "We're not selling ourselves," said Peart. "Well, their inside the album," said Lifeson"

Anyway, truth is, over the years, I've ended up feeling pretty much neutral on Rush. They're not really my kind of thing, but they're good at what they do, and they have some stuff I like ("Working Man," "Bastille Day," "Tom Sawyer," "Passage to Bangcock," "The Trees" (despite it's idiotic political message), "YYZ," and in fact most of Alex Lifeson's guitar solos). But I still think "Hemispheres" is the worst piece of recorded music I've ever heard, and "2112" is probably not far behind.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Sonic Safari

Zane and Jason revive their college radio show as a podcast: Sonic Safari! Two episodes up so far--grab 'em up! Amazing tunes inside!

Stumpin' in the Crates - Jimmy Swaggart vs. The Kennedys

When Bobbie's grandmother died, we helped her dad get things ready for a garage sale. We got first pick of the stuff, of course, and ended up with a 70's yellow plastic ashtray, a weird lamp, and a zodiac wall hanging. I saw she had a record collection, and got excited. I was sure she would have some really cool vintage country albums, hardcore Grand Ole Opry shit, but no...every one of her records was something religious. All these records of preachers and evangelists. This one got my attention, though, and I had to take it just out of curiosity. I just couldn't imagine what sort of angle Swaggart was taking with that. I got it home, listened to it, and found that yes, God had cursed the Kennedy family, because Joseph Kennedy had made his fortune off of liquor. Having been raised a Catholic, this sounded positively insane, but when I started to tell some of my friends who had Southern Baptist upbringings that Jimmy Swaggart said there was a curse on the Kennedys, they immediately chimed in, "Oh yeah, because of the liquor." Apparantly, this is just common knowledge in Southern Baptist households.

I divided side one into two tracks, all the Kennedy stuff is in the second track. I left side 2 as one track, there's some interesting stuff on there (he mentions his cousin Jerry Lee Lewis).

Sunday, May 17, 2009


As usual, from Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule.

1) Favorite Biopic

Most will agree that Biopics don'treally tend to be that great. I personally like biopics of musicians, though, because they have that built-in structure of a musical. As such, it's a shame that last year's Cadillac Records didn't get more love, since it's a more fun and interesting flick than Ray or Ring of Fire.

2) Dyan Cannon or Tuesday Weld?

Tuesday Weld. If nothing else, she's got a much cooler name.

3) Best example of science fiction futurism rendered silly by the event of time catching up to the prediction

I'm watching this old Flash Gordon serial now, and it cracks me up that the Hawk Men's flying city is kept aloft by an anti-gravity beam--that is powered by slaves shoveling radium into an old-fashioned coal furnace!

4) Annette Funicello & Frankie Avalon or Troy Donahue & Sandra Dee?

Oh, Frankie and Annette obviously. Troy and Sandra are so dull in comparison.

5) Favorite Raoul Walsh movie?

White Heat, with a second-place trophy to They Drive By Night.

6) Sophomore film which represents greatest improvement over the director’s debut

Well, George Lucas' first movie was a really dopey dystopia film called THX-115, which I really hate even though I know it has it's fans. So I reckon American Grafitti is a pretty massive improvement over tha. I really had a tough time coming up with any kind of answer to this.

7) Ice Cube or Mos Def?

As a rapper, Cube. As an actor, Mos.

8) Favorite movie about the music industry

I'm going to exclude Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, since it's about the music business that exists in Russ Meyer's fantasy life. Probabloy a Julian Temple/Sex Pistols double feature of The Great Rock n Roll Swindle (giving the industry's side of the story) and The Filth and the Fury (giving the musician's side).

9) Favorite Looney Tunes short (provide link if possible)

My all-time favorite is probably Fritz Freling's Three Little Bops. Beyond that, I've gone through some changes in my favorites over the last decade. For Chuck Jones' stuff, my favorite was always What's Opera, Doc?, but now I'd probably say his masterpiece is One Froggy Evening. But then there's Bob Clampett. 10 years ago, I had minimal knowledge of Clampett, but thanks to the Looney Tunes DVD's, and the advocacy of John Kricfalusi (particularly during the night of his favorite cartoons that he presented at The Egyptian one year) and Jerry Beck, Clampett now looms over all the other Warner Bros. directors. And there are a lot of great Campett cartoons in my mind, but I think my favorite is one called The Hep Cat, mostly for the little song the cat sings near the beginning ("The leans and the fats all think I'm the cat's, I must have an awful lot of Oomph!"). As for Tex Avery...well, I really think of him more in association with his MGM stuff, but Porky's Duck Hunt might be my favorite of his Looney Tunes. Or one of his Daffy shorts, anyway.

10) Director most deserving of respect or upwardly mobile critical reassessment

I've given this answer before, but it seems to me that Ralph Bakshi, for all his faults, is a much more interesting and important filmmaker than he's ever given credit for.

11) Ruth Gordon or Margaret Hamilton?

Ruth Gordon all the way!

12) Best filmed adaptation of a play

Glengary Glenn Ross? That's the only one that really jumps to my mind.

13) Buddy Ebsen or Edgar Buchanan?

Jed Clampett beats Uncle Joe.

14) Favorite Jean Renoir movie?

Well, seeing as I've only seen two, I'm probably not qualified to answer, but Rules of the Game is pretty amazing.

15) Favorite one-word movie title, and why

Baffled! I don't really know why, thta title just always used to crack me up when I saw it in the video store back in the 80's.

16) Ernest Thesiger or Basil Rathbone?

OK, that's a tough one. I generally like wacky character actors like Thesiger better, but Rathbone did so much cool stuff over his career that I have to go with him.

17) Summer movies—your highest and lowest expectations

Meaning this summer? My highest expectation is for Ingloroius Bastards, despite being underwhelmed by the trailer. Soul Power! is pretty high on my list, with Raimi's Drag Me To Hell following up. Lowest expectations are kind of incalculable in this environment, but if Wolverine were to prove marginally entertaining, it would exceed my expectations by a huge margin.

18) Whether or not you’re a parent, what would be your ideal pick as first movie to see with your own child (or niece/nephew)? Why?

God, after thinking about this for a long time, I come back to the obvious answer: The Wizard of Oz. It's the movie I associate with childhood, and I think it makes a great zero-point for children's movies.

19) L.Q. Jones or Strother Martin

I'll go with Stother Martin, since Google can't even tell me who I.Q. Jones is. Google and I are having a failure to communicate.

20) Movie most recently seen in theaters? On DVD/Blu-ray?

Theater, While the City Sleeps at the Egyptian. DVD, The Wrestler, which was much better than I expected (number 2 on my 2008 list, right after Let the Right One In). (It's been about a month since I typed that answer, but I'll let it stay.)

21) Do you see more movies theatrically or at home? Why?

Many more at home. Always been that way, but now days I can honestly claim that it's because I just don't have much time.

22) Name an award-worthy comic performance that was completely ignored by Oscar and his pals.

Well, we could go all the way back. Did Groucho or Harpo ever get a nod? Who got awards the year Duck Soup came out? I don't feel like looking it up right now, but I bet the answer is pretty embarrassing.

23) Zac Efron & Vanessa Hudgens or Robert Pattinson & Kristen Stewart

I honestly have no idea who these people are. EDIT: OK, I checked up on it. I haven't seen any of the movies these kids are in, but just from word of mouth, Zac and Vanessa seem to be in a musical that has actual singing and dancing, while Robert and Kristen are in a vampire movie in which, apparantly, nobody gets killed. So I'm going to give it to Zac and Vanessa.

24) Name a great (or merely very good) movie that is too painful to watch a second time (Thanks to The Onion A.V. Club)

I don't think it's a bad movie (far from a great one, for sure), but there's no way I could emotionally take watching AI again.

25) Beyonce Knowles or Jennifer Hudson?

I have to say, I think Beyonce has more acting chops.

26) Favorite Robert Mitchum movie?

Night of the Hunter. Not even much of a contest.

27) Favorite movie featuring a ‘60s musical group that is not either the Beatles or the Monkees

I like The Rhythm Masters' performance in Get Yourself a College Girl.

28) Maria Ouspenskaya or Una O’Connor?

Ouspenskaya, so great in The Wolfman.

29) Favorite Vincent Price movie?

Theater of Blood

30) Name a movie currently flying under the radar that is deserving of rabid cult status.

The documentary Capturing the Friedmans got a lot of attention when it came out, but has since disappeared from the popular consciousness. It really shouldn't have--it's one of the most fascinating stories committed to film in years.

31) Irene Ryan or Lucille Benson (or Bea Benaderet)?

Oh, I'll go with Irene Ryan. So funny that that's her name, it sounds so odd for a woman that I always think of as a jug-toting hillbilly.

32) Single line from a movie that never fails to make your laugh or otherwise cheer you up. (This may be obvious, but the line does not have to come from a comedy.)

The trick to a great comedy is filling the cast with great comic actors. Then the funny lines aren't just the ones the writers intended to be funny, but every line one of them says. You may not catch them on the first viewing, but if it's one of those comedies that you end up watching over and over, you start to catch them around the fifth viewing, when you're starting to memorize the entire dialogue. I'm sure there are better examples than this one, but John Candy always cracs me up in The Blues Brothers when he is sitting in the club with two cops waiting for the band to come on, and orders drinks for the table. "Orange whip? Orange whip? Three orange whips." There's no reason why that line should be funny, but it just kills me every time.

33) Elliot Gould or Donald Sutherland?

Sutherland by a very narrow margin.

34) Best performance by a director in an acting role

Jim Jarmusch smoking his last cigarette with Harvey Keitel in Blue in the Face (or was it Smoke?)

35) Favorite Barbara Stanwyck movie?

Oh, that's easy. Definitely The Lady Eve. Or Double Indemnity. Or Ball of Fire. Or Babyface. Or 40 Guns (not a very good movie, but she's fantastic in it). Or...

36) Outside of reading film criticism or other literature about the movies, what subject do you enjoy reading about or studying which you would say best enriches or illuminates your understanding and appreciation of life, a life that includes the movies?

Reading about the history of American music in the 20th century gives me a great insight into who we are as a people and a country.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A Brief, Personal Update

Had my gallbladder out Friday. Apparantly it's not that big a deal--done outpatient, and it seems to be pretty common among my peers. The appendix of middle age. So I'm alive. I'm in pain, as you would expect. Apparantly, when they cut you open, they inevitable leave some air bubbles in you, and those bubbles were really causing more pain than the stictches. It was right in my shoulder last night, pressing on a nerve, and it was really killing me. It's amazing how much pain you can still feel after taking two Vicodins. Anyway, I think the bubbles have pretty much worked their way out of me. The staples still hurt, especially when I cough, laugh or breathe deeply. I'll get them out next Thursday, hopefully it won't be as traumatic as it was for Randy the Ram.

The other worrying thing is that I'm having trouble peeing. Not that it's blocked or anything, I can pee, but gravity does most of the work. I can't seem to get the pee muscle to do much pushing, I guess because it's connected to all the other muscles that have holes in them now. Hope that's not TMI.

Anyway, I've been listening to this Gil Evans album a lot (yet another hat-tip to Give the Drummer Some on the WFMU blog.) It's from around the same time that Evans' frequent collaborator, Miles Davis, was making his electric rock albums, and it's sort of the same but completely different. More recognizably jazz, anyway. He does a fine cover of "Little Wing, but the first two tracks really kill me. Gie it a listen.

And here are my top 10 movies I'm looking forward to this summer:

1. Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus
2. Inglorious Basterds
3. Soul Power!
4. Drag Me To Hell!
5. Star Trek (still haven't seen it)
6. Whatever Works
7. The Limits of Control
8. Outrage!
9. Land of the Lost
10. Public Enemies

Monday, May 11, 2009

Stumpin' in the Crates - Sam Erwin

Senator Sam Erwin (D-NC) came to fame during the McCarthy and Watergate hearings (he was on the left on both, but supported segregation). His folksy voice fascinated America, resulting in this album. If you've heard Rhino's collection Golden Throats 2, you've heard his version of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" (he pronounces that last word something like "Wauhltah"), which is included here. He actually comes across pretty entertaining in the storytelling sections, with plenty of wacky bits about Appalachian Moonshine.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Songs I Used To Think Were Awesome, Part 7

Actually, I don't think I ever thought this song was awesome (I had the album, but I had bought it for the other single...not that that does much to exonorate me), but I don't remember it being THIS dorky. The dorkiness probably comes across better in the studio version. Appropriate quote from the YouTube comments: "I remember this song from the early 80s, and it seems like it was yesterday. Todays so-called music SUCKS."

Monday, May 04, 2009

Stumpin' in the Crates - Senator Everett McKinney Dirksen

I'm actually quite enjoying this album of Everett Dirksen reading stories about our nation's history. I might use it if I get to teach American Culture again.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Flash Gordon - Space Soldiers (1936 Serial)

I really thought it would be impossible for a movie to achieve a higher awesomeness quotient than the 1980 version of Flash Gordon. But I've been watching this 1936 serial starring Buster Crabbe in the role, and man...the awesomeness of this thing is just through the roof! Check out these robots:

Obviously, there are a lot of ways in which the 1980 version exceeds. Space Soldiers doesn't have Ornella Mulli or Brian Blessed or Queen. And I never realized how much gravity Max Von Sydow adds to Ming the Merciless until I saw Charles Middleton in the role (not that Middleton is bad, and in fact you have to give some credit to the writers who made 1980 Ming so gleefully evil).

Here's one of three cavemen that Flash has to fight gladiator-style in Ming's court:

Another one (not as funny looking, but the fangs are a nice touch):

Flash dogfighting with the Lion Men's gyroships:

The production values are surprisingly high for a serial. Here's Ming's harem writhing around a giant idol with moving arms:

I love this monster design. Looks like maybe an influence on Eiji Tsuburaya's Godzilla design (come to think of it, it's shot in a style similar to the original Gojira, with high contrast between fiery light and shadow), but it has gigantic lobster-like claws, snake-like scales and a sharp, toothy beak.