Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A Batch of Monkees Videos for a Wednesday Evening

Watching Mike Nesmith's recent Q&A at the 2014 Monkees Convention sent me down a rabbit hole of Monkees-related videos. The most interesting one brought Davy Jones (who treats us to a terrifying Joe Cocker impersonation) together with a member of another favorite group when he appeared on "Pop Quiz" as part of John Entwistle's team in October 1984. Rounding out the Ox's team and serving as trivia secret weapon is Feargal Sharkey of the great Irish pop-punk group The Undertones. The opposition unites Cheryl Baker of Bucks Fizz and Tony Butler of Big Country (who also worked with John's band mates Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey and also does Cocker), on a team helmed by Dave Dee.

As a bonus, here's Nez's talk at the convention:



...and here's an extra bonus--Peter Tork taking a member of David Letterman's audience on a date in 1982 before sitting down and chatting with the host:
Anyone have a cool Micky Dolenz video they'd like to recommend?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Review: '33 1/3: The Beach Boys’ Smile'

There are two excellent books about The Beach Boys’ “lost” masterpiece SMiLE, both very different and both by Domenic Priore. Look! Listen! Vibrate! Smile! is a scrapbook of period articles and more recent essays chronicling the anticipation leading up to a release that never happened and the cultish (though deserved) fan obsession that followed. SMiLE: The Story of Brian Wilson’s Lost Masterpiece is a more straight forward biographical look at the record that takes us up to Wilson’s solo recreation of it from 2004. Since the SMiLE story didn’t end there—The Beach Boys have since did the once unimaginable by sanctioning the release of a wealth of the original sessions in a deluxe box set—a third book on this particular record is not necessarily unnecessary. The SMiLE Sessions opens the story further by providing a more thorough portrait of the music and its making than most people previously heard and finally providing some closure to this uniquely open-ended story. However, Luis Sanchez doesn’t get into that in his installment of the 33 1/3 series. In fact, his Smile doesn’t really deal with SMiLE much at all, at least not for the first 88 pages of his 118-page book. Those pages are spent with each Beach Boys record leading up to SMiLE. They are discussed with light criticism and basic history most fans will already know. When Sanchez finally gets around to the ostensible subject of his book, he gives SMiLE a bit more attention than Surfin’ USA or The Beach Boys Christmas Album but not nearly enough to satisfy. I applaud the writer for not falling into the worst traps that 33 1/3 writers sometimes tumble into. His book is not preciously personal. It is not inaccessibly academic for a book on pop music. It does not eschew The Beach Boys for tangential discussions on agrarian economics or Vampire Weekend. However, this simply is not a book about a single album, which is supposed to be the purpose of the 33 1/3 series. It’s a brief history of The Beach Boys on record from 1961 through 1966 finished off with a decent but general essay on SMiLE that touches a little on the album’s troubled history, a little on Van Dyke Parks’s consequential contributions, a little on its themes and sounds, and a little on its more recent rebirth. While it is not satisfying as a 33 1/3 book, Smile certainly isn’t bad as an early-Beach Boys primer. I don’t think Domenic Priore is going to lose any sleep over this one though.

Get 33 1/3: The Beach Boys’ Smile on Amazon.com here:


Monday, May 19, 2014

The Mother of Sci-Fi Movie Franchises Was Also the Darkest


Warning: The Spoilers will damn you all to hell.

Star Wars gets all the credit for being the first major science-fiction movie franchise, segueing off into a plastic avalanche of every product imaginable from the ubiquitous toys to clothing, house wares, books, hygiene products, food, and so on and so on. First appearing a decade before George Lucas’s juggernaut, Planet of the Apes wasn’t quite as over-commercialized as its successor (what is?), but kids could still get their paws on a plethora of Apey action figures, mugs and bowls, t-shirts, comics, puzzles, piggy banks, Ben Cooper Halloween costumes, and so on. They could also get a healthy dose of harsh reality by actually watching the movies. Forget Darth Vader’s traumatizing revelation in The Empire Strikes Back and even all the skin-charring nastiness and off-screen “youngling” killing of Revenge of the Sith. The Planet of the Apes series is by far the darkest, downright cruelest film franchise ever pitched at kids.

 
Nice try, but not dark enough.

A spoiler warning is barely necessary for the first film, since the quintessentially Rod Serling “it was earth all along” twist is so widely known. Much as it does with “I am your father,” that familiarity dilutes the trauma of realizing that the very real threat of global nuclear annihilation actually came to be in this alternate reality. No, this is not handled in as disturbing a manner as Fail-Safe, a straight faced Dr. Strangelove, or the brutally graphic British mockumentary The War Game. Yet for those who manage to come to Planet of the Apes fresh, it remains a potent and disturbing reveal that makes anything in the Dark Knight movies positively merry in comparison.

 
FYI: It was Earth all along.

Moving beyond the superior original film, Taylor’s discovery regarding his Earth’s fate is a mere hors d’oeuvre to the dismaying courses that follow. Taylor’s rocket-mates are all dispatched in somewhat gruesome ways in the first film, but all of our major characters are allowed to live on. Most wouldn’t survive Beneath the Planet of the Apes, though. One gets the sense that the filmmakers were desperate to kill the burgeoning series with a film that off-handedly slays all of the human characters in the final minutes of a rather dull and depressing picture. It also puts a final period on the entire affair by reenacting the bomb-detonation that apparently made Earth go ape in the first place when Charlton Heston’s Taylor uses his dying energy to explode a nuclear device worshipped by a cult of telepathic freaks. Heston, who really didn’t want to return even for one sequel, was probably the only person happy to see his character come to such a brutal and cynical end.

Fortunately, the two most likable apes manage to use a refurbished rocket to escape with pal Dr. Milo right before Earth goes boom. Some sort of time warp sends them back to early-seventies Earth for the third installment made necessary by the confounding commercial success of Beneath. Escape from the Planet of the Apes is a much less dull and desultory creature than its predecessor. Like such great sequels as Bride of Frankenstein and The Mummy’s Hand before it, Escape fully embraces the camp potential of its talking ape premise by having Zira and Cornelius interact with old-fashioned human society, dressing up in the height of 1971 fashion, guzzling wine, and being genuinely cute and charming. Dr. Milo, however, is quickly killed off by a gorilla. Our two favorite apes are allowed to live to have their various contemporary adventures and make a little ape they name after their slain comrade. Things go wrong when a drugged Zira spills her guts about the inevitable devolution and enslavement of humankind. She, her husband, and her darling offspring end up on the hit list of one Dr. Hasslein. In an attempt to thwart the end of his own species, Hasslein shoots Zira and even more horrifically, the ape we believe to be baby Milo. The revelation that Zira switched her super-intelligent child with an ordinary baby chimp at Ricardo Montalban’s circus may make another sequel possible, but—Jesus Christ!—we’ve still seen a cute baby chimp get plugged in a largely good-humored movie marketed towards kids. Oh, and Cornelius gets murdered too.The deaths are played coldly, and despite the outlandish nature of the creatures in question, realistically. The melodramatic acting and music of similar genre films provides an emotional buffer. The ending of Escape from the Planet of the Apes, in contrast, makes me feel really bad.

 
R.I.P.
And so follows Conquest of the Planet of the Apes with its wicked fascists, racial politics, riots, slavery, suicide, torture, and bloody revolution (in fact the original cut of Conquest was so intense that the revolted reaction of a test audience caused it to be reedited) and Battle for the Planet of the Apes with its—ahh, who cares? Isn’t there already enough evidence for how cruel that planet is?

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Mysteries Solved! 'Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery' is Coming to Blu-Ray Soon! Pre-Order Now!

After way too much speculation and non-news news items, we finally have all sorts of details about the much anticipated "Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery " blu-ray box set, and the news seems very good indeed. Not only is the wait nearly over with a release date of July 29, but the set will contain Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, plus--and here are two huge ones-- an epilogue that gives a taste of what happens after the series' cliff-hanging final episode and close to 90 minutes of the prequel's fabled deleted scenes! Get a taste of them in this two-minute trailer from Entertainment Weekly!


 The set is now available to pre-order on Amazon.com here:

 
Check out the FULL SPECS from Paramount's official press release after the jump...

Monday, May 12, 2014

Dylan Makes U.S. Debut at NYC Art Gallery

Bob Dylan's side line as an artist has been known for decades with his work featuring on album covers such as The Band's Music from Big Pink and his own Self Portrait. Now you can see--and if you're sufficiently loaded, purchase--originals of the man's work. The Ross Art Gallery in Manhattan is currently hosting the "Drawn Blank Series" featuring forty pieces of Dylan drawings and water color and acrylic paintings. The pieces range from $2,500 to $400,000, so don't forget to bring your piggy bank. According to news.discovery.com, "A portion of proceeds will go towards leukemia, cancer and AIDS research."

This is not the first time Dylan's art work has been displayed publicly. In 2007, they were on show in Germany. However, this is the first time the singer's home country has hosted his work.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Review: '33 1/3: Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville'


When the term “women in rock” became an inescapable buzz phrase around 1993, the women to which that label applied—Polly Jean Harvey, Kim Deal, Tanya Donelly, and Juliana Hatfield, to name a few—often reacted to questions about it with irritation, bugged that lazy journalists were reducing their considerable musical achievements to gender matters. Their irritation was completely legitimate, yet the Rock scene was becoming more gender-balanced than it ever had been before, and to ignore that would have been to pass on a pretty noteworthy story. It was a frustrating inevitability for the talented musicians who had to field the same tired questions about their gender over and over and over again.

Liz Phair was one artist whose gender was actually relevant beyond the big “women in rock” scoop, because unlike a Deal or a Donelly, she often wrote about what it’s like to be a woman and that perspective was a key factor in the sensation Exile in Guyville stirred. Critics gawped at her use of profanity and her sexual explicitness. One might expect to hear these kinds of things spew from Mick Jagger’s puffy lips, but not from a woman. Gasp! So once again the discussion was reduced to a buzz phrase. Liz Phair was “Miss Potty Mouth” and way too much ink was wasted on her choice of words instead of the insight behind the cussing or the spine-tingling atmosphere of her lo-fi music. Another frustrating inevitability.

Gina Arnold’s new study of Exile in Guyville for the 33 1/3 series is frustrating too. Exile is arguably the best album of the nineties, and as stated above, for reasons that aren’t always entwined with Phair’s gender. The best 33 1/3  books flip albums over from every possible angle, getting into their historic importance and potential meanings, but also their creation, quality, and aftermath. Arnold is only concerned with Exile’s place in the sexist indie rock world—not inappropriate since that world is precisely the Guyville in Phair’s record’s title. I have no issue with Arnold’s analysis of the record as a reaction against that scene even if Exile often seems to be floating around her discussion instead of standing at center stage (the most satisfying part of the book is definitely her track-by-track look at Phair’s “conversation” with the Stones’ Exile on Main Street… an album Arnold loathes, incidentally). However, Exile in Guyville is an album with a truly unique story, the product of the kind of gritty home recordings one can’t make anymore (full of songs that didn’t make it to Exile and receive no mention in this book) then distributed through an underground tape network that can’t exist anymore, leading to her signing with Matador records and the creation of a quirky album the artist seemingly disavowed when she then went courting a strange concept of mainstream success. I’d suggest that Arnold could have gotten much deeper into that fascinating historical by honing down her thesis or reining in her more indulgent flights—the extended introduction in which she goes on about how she wrote this book in a Starbucks in Seoul for example— but she makes it very clear from the very first page of her book that she isn’t concerned with anything as prosaic as a straight history. Fair enough, but I can’t help but feel a little sad that this great album has now received its 33 1/3 book and it is this. No doubt Arnold wrote the book she wanted to write. Too bad someone else now can’t write the 33 1/3 book on Exile in Guyville I wanted to read.

Get 33 1/3: Exile in Guyville at Amazon.com here:


Monday, May 5, 2014

Turn Left at Greenland, Part 5: ‘Beatles ’65’


In this monthly feature on Psychobabble, I’ve been looking at how The Beatles were presented on long-playing vinyl in the United States.

1964 had been a fortune-making year for The Beatles, but that doesn’t mean it was easy. They’d been screamed at, prodded, poked, sleep deprived, denounced, and deified. The experience was often more exhausting than exhilarating. While The Beatles maintained their cheerfulness on stage and for the sake of the press, their final album of the year betrayed the weariness creeping into Beatlemania. Beatles for Sale saw the guys backsliding after the all-original onslaught of A Hard Day’s Night with the usual half-and-half ratio of covers and originals. The originals turned down the excitement of the previous album with less electricity and more cynicism. Here was Lennon entering his supposed “Dylan” phase, though the American folk hero’s influence was mostly felt in the reliance on acoustic guitars. Bob’s zesty word play and stoned humor would not really be detectable in John’s songwriting until the next album. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that Beatles for Sale fully found John in his “Lennon” phase, as he began brutally self-analyzing/self-pitying with songs such as “I’m a Loser” and “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party”. He even manages to turn McCartney’s love-struck “Every Little Thing” into a statement of despondency with a vocal that sounds like it was recorded in the midst of mourning.

As has often been pointed out, The Beatles even looked exhausted on the cover of Beatles for Sale. Capitol would do its best to mask that weariness with the goofy, men-for-all-seasons cover of Beatles ’65, but the music inside couldn’t hide how the Fabs really felt.

Because of its preponderance of cover songs, Beatles for Sale has often been painted as a lesser Beatles album. That the covers aren’t among their strongest are a blow to the record too. Perhaps the most interesting interpretation is the zany juxtaposition of a particularly crazed Lennon vocal over Muzak backing on Dr. Feelgood and the Interns’ “Mr. Moonlight”, though a lot of fans also rate this track as one of The Beatles’ worst. It certainly has more going for it than a fatigued reading of Carl Perkins’s “Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby” that provides the most listless finale to any of their albums (The Beatles do much better by Perkins with a fun, Ringo-led take of “Honey Don’t”).

However, the richness and emotional depth of the album’s originals really find the band progressing exhilaratingly forward to the maturity of Help! and Rubber Soul. The joyful “Eight Days a Week” is the only original song that sounds like it could have fit on an earlier Beatles record. That was one of the songs clipped when Capitol went to town on Beatles for Sale to refashion it as Beatles ’65 (a title that seems to explicitly anticipate Help! and Rubber Soul if only in hindsight). Instead it was held aside for single release (coupled with another casualty, “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party”). Commercially, the move paid off when “Eight Days a Week” became The Beatles’ seventh number one hit in the U.S. in early 1965. In its stead on the latest Capitol record were both sides of the band’s sixth number one, “I Feel Fine” / “She’s a Woman”. The inclusion of these two souped-up walls of electricity might have made Beatles ’65 a less dour affair than Beatles for Sale if the very Beatles for Sale-style Hard Day’s Night-leftover “I’ll Be Back” had not been included.

Capitol scored The Beatles another well-deserved number one hit with “Eight Days a Week”, a track that was originally under consideration for single release in their home country too.

Ultimately, it’s a bit of a case of six-of-one/half-dozen-of-another. As different as the lineups of Beatles for Sale and Beatles ’65 are (the 14 track Parlophone album and the 11-track Capitol one only share 8 songs in common) they still share the same shadowy feel. Because “I Feel Fine”, “She’s a Woman”, and “I’ll Be Back” are all such strong tracks, Beatles ’65 ends up being a strong album in its own right and a much preferable equivalent to its UK release than UAs A Hard Day’s Night or Something New had been to theirs. Of course, Dave Dexter, Jr., still had to ruin those particular tracks with some of the heaviest application of echo you’ll hear on any Capitol Beatles LP. Had the mass of covers been set aside to allow “Every Little Thing”, “Eight Days a Week”, “What You’re Doing”, and “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party” to find homes on Beatles ’65 instead of “Rock and Roll Music”, “Mr. Moonlight”, “Honey Don’t”, and “Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby”, it most certainly would have been a better album than Beatles for Sale... and possibly their best pre-Rubber Soul album, period. But then that would have left The Beatles’ next Capitol LP in pretty sorry shape.

How's this for a line up?

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Ten Outstanding Performances in David Lynch Works


David Lynch a master of conjuring uncanny, dreamy atmosphere, of terrifying viewers with films that aren’t quite horror movies, of blending genres into swirling nightmares that defy pat analysis. This is the stuff of which the term “Lynchian” is made. But let’s not forget that he is also an expert conductor of actresses and actors, and he has superb taste in them despite his cheeky use of specimens like Billy Ray Cyrus every now and then. The emotional and logical demands of a David Lynch script require remarkably talented interpreters and very often result in thoroughly unique, flat-out stunning performances. Here are ten of the greatest.


1. Jack Nance as Henry Spencer in Eraserhead


Jack Nance would deserve a place on this list if for nothing but his commitment. Eraserhead famously took five years to make as Lynch kept running out of money. That meant Nance had to both remain in character for five years and wear Henry Spencer’s—ummm—distinctive hair style for five years. Nance’s work in the film is far more than that though. With a bare minimum of dialogue, he relies on his subtly expressive face and masterfully controlled body language to convey the real emotion roiling away beneath Henry’s placid surface as he contends with his monstrous, mocking baby. The slightest smile conveys a flash of fatherly pride, the upturn of eyebrows conveys his despondency with his lot in life, his restful expression at the end of the film let’s us know that he finally feels loved, and it is a most moving climax. And when Nance does speak, his choked delivery draws out the film’s humor and sadness with expert balance. Lynch regards Nance as one of the most expert actors with whom he’s ever worked and handed roles in almost all of his films to Nance until the actor’s death in 1996.



2. Freddie Jones as Bytes in The Elephant Man
Control is also the dominant acting style in Lynch’s second and first truly mainstream film. The Elephant Man is home to several truly fine performances of carefully calibrated emotion and steadfast dignity. Anthony Hopkins is great as the mentoring Dr. Treves, and John Hurt accomplishes the nearly unthinkable by transmitting all of John Merrick’s humanity from under a face-paralyzing makeup job. Yet Freddie Jones is the actor most likely to steal a scene by essentially parodying all the stiff-upper-lip-ness of The Elephant Man. Carnival curator Bytes is an utterly undignified man desperately attempting to emit dignity, trembling with anger, drunkenness, and desire. As cruel as he is to John Merrick, we also get the sense that he may love him a little too, that he harbors a deep fear of being left alone by the man he so wickedly mistreats. This does not forgive Bytes’s villainy, but it helps us understand him a little and humanizes a character that does unthinkably inhuman things. Some of that was probably on the page, but so much of it is due to a brilliant, brilliant performance by Freddie Jones.


3. Dennis Hopper as Frank Booth in Blue Velvet

In Blue Velvet, Lynch created a villain even more repellant than Bytes. As embodied by Dennis Hopper, Frank Booth is a truly vile individual: rapist, murderer, torturer, drug dealer, noxious gas huffer. But even more explicitly than Bytes, he is driven by a twisted notion of love. He does much of what he does because he is in love with Dorothy Vallens. We see this in the tortured expression on his face while he listens to Roy Orbison’s powerfully romantic “In Dreams” and in the lovelorn look he gives Dorothy as she serenades the patrons of the Slow Club while he strokes a piece of blue velvet clipped from her robe. Of course, that twisted love does not excuse the horrible things he does to Dorothy and her family, which make Frank a Lynch villain only trumped by Killer BOB in terms of pure evil. Hopper fully committed to both the wayward romanticism and the evil of Frank Booth, making him a fully complex villain.


4. Isabella Rossellini as Dorothy Vallens in Blue Velvet
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