Sunday, January 31, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 123


The Date: January 31

The Movie: Lifeboat (1944)

What Is It?: Alfred Hitchcock makes his first great gimmick picture by dropping the divine Tallulah Bankhead, William Bendix, Hume Cronyn, Henry Hull, Walter Slezak, and the rest (sung to the tune of “Gilligan’s Island”, of course) into a lifeboat for 96 minutes and seeing what happens. There’s a definite reality-show dynamic going on here as the survivors of a U-boat attack decide whether or not to vote Slezak off the boat. Look out for Hitch’s requisite cameo in a diet-pill ad!

Why Today?: On this day in 1902, Tallulah Bankhead is born.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 122


The Date: January 30
The Movie: Let It Be (1970)
What Is It?: People who’ve never seen Let It Be—and people like Paul and Ringo, who probably haven’t watched it in 40 years—think of it as a bitter, bad-vibes fest that depressingly chronicles The Beatles final days. Aside from a soft-spoken, passive-aggressive exchange between Paul and George and a brief scene in which Paul complains to John that George doesn’t want to perform in public anymore, Let It Be is free of bad vibes and full of good music, particularly when George suppresses his qualms and the guys get on top of Apple headquarters to rock— and annoy— the locals.
Why Today?: On this day in 1969, The Beatles perform in public one last time when they play a truncated set on the roof of Apple headquarters.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Farewell, Paul Kantner

The San Francisco hippie scene is the one major nook of sixties rock that never interested me much. I never liked The Grateful Dead or The Youngbloods and never made much of an effort to explore the music of, say, Quicksilver Messenger Service or Country Joe and the Fish. The one huge exception is Jefferson Airplane. Possessing a true knack for pop craft, and a dark, aggressive quality that is punker than anything the other San Fran bands were offering, Jefferson Airplane is alluring, mysterious, exciting, and provocative. Obviously, all of those adjectives could also be used to describe Grace Slick, the face, and often the voice, of the Airplane. However, if that group of five very integral parts could be said to have had a leader, then that leader was probably Paul Kantner, who died yesterday at the age of 74 after suffering complete organ failure and septic shock following a heart attack.

Kantner's presence in the band was never felt more than on the band's signature work. Surrealistic Pillow may have yielded all the hits, but After Bathing at Baxter's was the studio album that best captured the improvisational spirit and all-out weirdness of Jefferson Airplane, and Paul Kantner contributed many of the albums finest songs. "Martha"is a beautiful and celebratory, yet sinister, portrait of a liberated young woman. "Watch Her Ride" is a dynamic, exhilarating shouldabeenahit, and yet, it is also sinister. "Wild Tyme" and "Won't You Try/Saturday Afternoon" are sweeping, mighty (sinister) surveys of San Francisco's famed summer of '67. "The Ballad of You & Me & Pooneil" is...hell, it's just sinister through and through. 

Kantner continued his mesmerizing streak through the next few Airplane albums with more thrilling songs ("Crown of Creation", the terrifying "House at Pooneil Corners", the majestic "We Can Be Together", "Wooden Ships", "When the Earth Moves Again", and "Twilight Double Leader") before the Airplane became the Starship. I'll leave commemoration of that band to someone who knew it better than I.

All this is to say that Paul Kantner made some of the most thrilling, majestic, beautiful, and yes, sinister music of rock's greatest era. He also embodied and subverted the iconic San Francisco spirit in ways that made him an icon too. Once I was taking a flight out of San Francisco International Airport, and who should I see in his flowy shirt and bandana roaming around the ticket counter? Needless to say, I couldn't imagine a more perfect celebrity sighting to have at a San Francisco airport. Fly, Jefferson Airplane.

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 121


The Date: January 29
The Movie: The Raven (1935)
What Is It?: Edgar Allan Poe’s deathless poem is merely the stone in this stone soup that finds Bela Lugosi as a mad doc with a yen for Poe and torture who gives Boris Karloff a cut-rate face lift and everyone else the heeby jeebies. Sadistic fun.
Why Today?: On this day in 1845, “The Raven” is first published in The Evening Mirror.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 120


The Date: January 28
The Movie: I Don’t Want to Be a Man (1918)
What Is It?: Ernst Lubitch’s enchanting romantic comedy about a girl who dresses up as a man to escape patriarchal control is daring in its depictions of feminist defiance and romantic urges that disregard gender specifics. The boundlessly charming Ossi Oswalda will become your new favorite movie star.
Why Today?: On this day in 1892, Ernst Lubitsch is born.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Review: 'Horror by Heck'


Don Heck is best known as a member of the four-man team who created Iron Man and for penciling The Avengers during its Silver Age run, but he also paid the bills by penciling and inking horror stories for Weird Terror and Horrific (renamed Terrific after the comics code crack down). Horror by Heck is a new anthology of these grisly tales edited by Craig Yoe as part of IDW’s “Chilling Archives of Horror Comics” series, and while the utterly bizarre nature of these stories is what stands out the most, Heck’s work is still distinguished by his pan-faced characters and his restraint in illustrating some truly grisly material. I can imagine that his reserve in portraying the rather shocking violence and sex in “Concrete Coffin” is the only thing that made it publishable in Weird Terror back in 1953.

While I wouldn’t dare call Heck a hack, as one wrong-side-of-history critic did in an article that really raised the ire of Kelley Jones in his introduction to this volume, I will say that Heck’s work in the stories, themselves, is not overwhelmingly striking. His covers are another matter, as they fully showcased his trademark big faces. Horror by Heck makes a lot of room for these fabulously confrontational covers, as well as a neat selection of the illustrations he provided for those text stories most horror-hungry kids probably skipped. With a lengthy and informative biography by Yoe, and a cheeky cover that allows you to stick your finger into the bullet wound on the forehead of a typically large-faced Heck victim, Horror by Heck is another sweet package from the Chilling Archives… even if anonymous yet nutso stories about Hitler’s ghost, accident-causing gnomes, and a barber who becomes a vampire after wearing a dead guy’s scalp sometimes upstage this show’s star.

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 119


The Date: January 27
The Movie: The Rapture (1991)
What Is It?: A year before writing the more renowned The Player, Michael Tolkin wrote and directed a film that walks the line between camp and dead seriousness, leaping onto each side at key points along the way. Mimi Rogers is fantastic as a promiscuous woman who becomes a born-again Christian, and does some truly horrible, horrible things for her god. The “fuck you” ending will have you standing on your seat and screaming, “Right on, Mimi!”
Why Today?: On this day in 1956, Mimi Rogers is born.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 118


The Date: January 26
The Movie: Barbarella (1968)
What Is It?: Jane Fonda zips through space in sexy outfits and engages in self-consciously campy antics with David Hemmings, Anita Pallenberg, and Marcel Marceau. Maybe you can’t expect great cinema from Roger Vadim’s comic-book adaptation, but you can expect marvelously dated music and special effects, a truly scary sequence involving killer dolls, and unforgettable turns from Fonda, Hemmings, and “Pretty Pretty” Pallenberg (though, not her voice).
Why Today?: On this day in 1928, Roger Vadim is born.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Review: Sundazed's Johnny Cash Reissues


Johnny Cash’s first recordings for Sun Records weren’t too different from Elvis Presley’s. They were basically acoustic pieces of county music with a bit of twangy, tangy electric guitar and Rock & Roll rhythm, but while Elvis already sounded like he was pitching his star power across the theater, Johnny sounded like he was perched next to a creek serenading the carp. Both made great Sun Records, but there is a special allure to Johnny Cash’s lonesome country boy aura that the pretty boy usually couldn’t match (no matter how spooky Elvis’s “Blue Moon” is). Even the dude who wrote the liner notes to Cash’s debut album, 1957’s Johnny Cash with His Hot and Blue Guitar!, was tuned in to this quality, noting Cash’s “big, hollow voice” and—with no shortage of p.r. hyperbole—suggesting that one might think Cash “invented the word” “loneliness.” However, we shouldn’t cry, cry, cry for Johnny Cash, as he exudes solitary strength across a debut album that surely ranks among the best. He’s already composing seasoned classics like “I Walk the Line” and “Folsom Prison Blues”, while also arguably cutting the definitive version of the immortal and much covered “Rock Island Line”. Not bad for a first go.

Seven years later, Cash was wrapping up his stint at Sun, and the label marked his exit with a compilation called The Original Sun Sound of Johnny Cash, which largely consisted of previously uncompiled items. While it wasn’t as consistently powerful as Hot and Blue—the misogynistic “Two Timin’ Woman” sounds like everyone whacked their instruments out of tune before the tape rolled—it is an excellent commemoration of Cash’s inaugural era, with the sparkling “Always Alone”, a rare interpretation of “Goodnight Irene” that actually sounds like a lullaby, “Wide Open Road”, which sounds like music for swooning under palm trees to, and the disturbingly bleak “Born to Lose”, on which Cash produces his most lugubrious tones.

Sundazed Records is reissuing Johnny Cash with His Hot and Blue Guitar! and The Original Sun Sound of Johnny Cash as part of a larger Cash-reissue campaign, and though the method of these transfers is somewhat mysterious (labels on the covers indicate that they are “the original sun masters,” but no word on whether the process was analog or digital) they sound great, with tremendous depth and clarity radiating from remarkably quiet vinyl. 
At the Sundazed Store:
Johnny Cash with His Hot and Blue Guitar!  
The Original Sun Sound of Johnny Cash

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 117


The Date: January 25
The Movie: Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
What Is It?: Find a comfy chair with good arms for gripping in your sweaty hands. Tobe Hooper’s landmark horror is a complete assault on the senses.
Why Today?: On this day in 1943, Tobe Hooper is born.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 116


The Date: January 24

The Movie: Eye of the Devil (1966)

What Is It?: Dread permeates this proto-folk horror flick starring Deborah Kerr, who tracks husband David Niven to a weird estate where he gets involved in creepy business that includes Donald Pleasance as a sinister minister and David Hemmings and Sharon Tate as evil twins.

Why Today?: On this day in 1943, Sharon Tate is born.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 115


The Date: January 23

The Movie: Chuck Berry: Hail! Hail! Rock and Roll (1987)

What Is It?: Keith Richards gives Chuck Berry a kick up the ass to stage the man’s first carefully planned concert in years. Chuck Berry gives as good as he gets. The music and the sparks are electrifying.

Why Today?: On this day in 1986, the first Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony takes place and the inaugural roster includes Chuck. How could it not?

Friday, January 22, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 114


The Date: January 22
The Movie: The Man Who Laughs (1928)
What Is It?: Not quite a horror film, this adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel still boasts a horror-pedigree few other films share. It came from Universal Pictures and had director Paul Leni (The Cat and the Canary), actresses Mary Philbin (Phantom of the Opera) and Olga Baklanova (Freaks), and Conrad Veidt (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) as a sympathetically grotesque lead character very much in the tradition of the Phantom or the Frankenstein Monster.
Why Today?: On this day in 1893, Conrad Veidt is born.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 113


The Date: January 21

The Movie: The Dirty Dozen (1967)

What Is It?: Robert Aldrich makes a feel-good military caper picture out of such feel-bad elements as war criminals, corrupt military officials, Nazis, rapists, and the near-complete annihilation of a cast that includes Lee Marvin, John Cassavetes, Donald Sutherland, Jim Brown, Charles Bronson, and Telly Savalas.

Why Today?: On this day in 1922, Telly Savalas is born. Be sure to continue the Who-Loves-You-Baby celebration by watching him in the scariest “Twilight Zone” episode, “Living Doll”.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 112


The Date: January 20
The Movie: Blue Velvet (1986)
What Is It?: After his purely experimental and purely commercial early work, David Lynch welds the two poles into the pop-avant garde style that would make him a household-name surrealist. Nancy Drew mysteries with an unhealthy dose of S&M lunacy and Dennis Hopper menace makes for one potent brew.
Why Today?: On this day in 1946, David Lynch is born.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 111


The Date: January 19
The Movie: Masque of the Red Death (1964)
What Is It?: Roger Corman hits his horror peak with this lavish adaptation of two Poe tales (“Hop Frog” is the other). Corman receives A-list support from screenwriter Charles Beaumont, cinematographer Nic Roeg, and stars Jane Asher, Hazel Court, Patrick Magee, Skip Martin, and Mr. Vincent Price.
Why Today?: On this day in 1809, Edgar Allan Poe is born.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Psychobabble's Ten Greatest Albums of 1986


By 1986, the eighties seemed like they couldn’t get any more eighties. Naturally, there was a pushback, and fighting against the tide of Reagan-era conservatism, MTV’s superficial image mongering, synthesizers, and sterile production techniques came the wave of sixties nostalgia that manifested in the year’s big Monkees revival and the Vietnam-era smash Platoon. Within a year or two, there’d be a host of new TV shows (“The Wonder Years”, “China Beach”, “Tour of Duty”) and movies (Full Metal Jacket, 1969, Hamburger Hill, even Batman) indebted to or focused on the sixties, but the decade’s influence was already in full force on wax as touches of Byrdsy jangle and psychedelia could be heard in the grooves of new records by everyone from The Bangles to Prince to XTC to R.E.M. to The Smiths to Love & Rockets. Even the decade’s freshest new music form, rap, started looking back by working some old-fashioned rock guitar into the mix. Sure, Lionel Richie, Peter Cetera, and Mr. Mister still ruled the charts with their pop pap fit for Ronnie and Nancy, but if our look back on the eighties’ great albums has taught us one thing, it’s that the charts were rarely the place to find great albums in the eighties. Here are ten from on and off the charts.

10. They Might Be Giants by They Might Be Giants

There’d been nerdy rockers before They Might Be Giants, but as intellectual or inclined to eat-paste as people like Elvis Costello or Devo seemed, you probably wouldn’t be advised to steal their lunch money or cheat off their math exams. John Flansburgh and John Linnell, two totally geeky Brooklyn Matheletes, however, were the real deal. You know you weren’t going to catch the jock or the glue-sniffing punk in your class toting around their eponymous first album, which abounds in bespectacled cleverness like the tooty hoedown “Number Three” or the Poindexter weirdness of “Put Your Hand Inside the Puppet Head”. Too bad for those jocks and punks, because they were missing out on some wonderful songs, eclectic synthy arrangements, genre-dabblings, and mad humor.

9. Raising Hell by Run-D.M.C.

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 110


The Date: January 18
The Movie: North by Northwest (1959)
What Is It?: In the midst of his darkest run of movies (Vertigo through Marnie), Hitch has a lot of fun by running Cary Grant through a mistaken-identity gauntlet of kidnapping, drunk driving, cornfield stalking, and Mt. Rushmore climbing.
Why Today?: On this day in 1904, Cary Grant is born.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 109


The Date: January 17

The Movie: Dawn of the Dead (1979)

What Is It?: 11 years after Night of the Living Dead, George Romero returns to make the dead walk again, and the shopping mall setting makes room for some truly brilliant satire about our consumerist culture.

Why Today?: On this day in 1983, the world’s tallest department store, Hudson’s flagship store in Detroit, closes for business. I’m not sure if it was closed due to zombies.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 108


The Date: January 16

The Movie: Enter the Dragon (1973)

What Is It?: Sure, Bruce Lee Kung-Fu's a good game in this picture, but it’s his disarming charisma that makes Enter the Dragon truly enduring.

Why Today?: Today is Appreciate a Dragon Day. I have no idea what that means.

Friday, January 15, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 107


The Date: January 15

The Movie: Full Metal Jacket (1987)

What Is It?: Stanley Kubrick constructs a horrifying before-and-after portrait of the military as young recruits are turned into mindless machines of war by a cruel drill sergeant before being set loose in Vietnam to put their programming to work. The first half is impossible to top, but the second half ends with satisfying dread and awesome use of "Paint It Black".

Why Today?: On this day in 1973, Nixon announces the end of America’s offensive action in Vietnam.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 106



The Date: January 14

The Movie: Imitation of Life (1959)

What Is It?: With Imitation of Life, Douglas Sirk wanted it all and he had it all. On one end, it’s an overwrought soap opera with gorgeously overwrought color and fifties aesthetics; on the other end, it’s a subtle exploration of race and racism unusually empathetic for its time. Look out for Mahalia Jackson as a choir soloist.

Why Today?: On this day in 1987, Douglas Sirk dies.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

"Full" Specs and Bad News on the Upcoming "Monkees " Blu-ray

Rhino has released the full specs (or, I guess, as full as it plans to release) on the upcoming "Monkees" blu-ray. I'm disappointed that alternate song tracks have only been included for a mere ten of the 32 episodes that aired with them, but this is till a nice looking package... the "Laugh-In"episode is a particularly groovy addition. 

The biggest disappointment is, as I previously suspected, all the last minute tinkering has resulted in a huge release date change. Oddly, the Rhino press release describes this change as a "few weeks"..,. actually it's a few months, so instead of a January 29 release, it is now coming three months later on April 29. Nice move, Wizard Glick.

So here is everything known so far:

Discs 1-7

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 105


The Date: January 13

The Movie: After Hours (1985)

What Is It?: A rare Martin Scorsese comedy casts Griffin Dunne as an uptight Alice lost in a SoHo Wonderland of thieves, drug overdoses, punks, leather bars, and everything else fun about mid-eighties NYC that would scare the Dockers off the average schmuck. A Teri Garr cameo includes a winking acknowledgement of her appearance in Head.

Why Today?: 10013 is a SoHo zip code, and today is 1/13.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 104


The Date: January 12

The Movie: Apocalypse Now (1979)

What Is It?: Francis Ford Coppola adapts Heart of Darkness as a Vietnam War movie and a demented and immersive metaphor for the insanity of the war, itself. He gives himself and his film crew a taste of that insanity too.

Why Today?: On this day in 1962, Operation Chopper, the first American combat mission in Vietnam, takes place.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Farewell, David Bowie

When talking about David Bowie, it's often tempting to bypass the music and go straight for the cultural impact, and as far as pop stars transforming the larger culture goes, Bowie is in that rare class that includes Elvis and The Beatles. In a lot of ways, Bowie built on a lot of The Beatles' innovations with the way his music evolved radically from disc to disc, how he created and embodied characters (though there was much more commitment behind his Ziggy Stardust than there was behind Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts club Band), and how he blew up gender stereotypes (though, once again, claiming he was gay at a time when that kind of thing was almost guaranteed to ruin careers was even more courageous than men wearing their hair long ten years earlier). These aren't just the kind of things that make biographies and history books fatter; they actually changed the way artists made their art and altered the way people in all walks of life live. 
Still, David Bowie would not have had such seismic effects if his music wasn't so incredible, and as is also the case with The Beatles, it's the music that will continue to have the most profound affect on the world: the storytelling of "Space Oddity" and "Ashes to Ashes", the follow-me-if-you-dare experimentation of Low, the you-have-no-choice-but-to-follow-me transcendence of "Heroes" and "Life on Mars?" There's so much to discover and rediscover in David Bowie's vast catalog of music, and so little of it has aged. Although we have sadly lost the man to cancer at the age of 69, that music remains deathless and timeless. Spin some today. I know I will.

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 103


The Date: January 11

The Movie: The Concert for Bangladesh (1972)

What Is It?: In 1971, George Harrison and Ravi Shankar staged Rock’s first big all-star benefit concert. The proceeds may not have all gone to the Bangladesh refugees who deserved them (perhaps it should have been called The Concert for Allen Klein), but the show did produce a major album and motion picture featuring luminaries such as Harrison, Shankar, Bob Dylan, and Ringo Starr.

Why Today?: On this day in 1972, East Pakistan officially becomes Bangladesh.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 102


The Date: January 10
The Movie: Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
What Is It?: In a turn of events weirder than a Roger Corman horror-comedy, a Roger Corman horror-comedy becomes an off-Broadway hit musical then becomes a major mainstream movie musical starring Rick Moranis and Steve Martin. Ellen Greene makes a smooth transition from stage to screen as Audrey I and Levi Stubbs slays as murderous space plant Audrey II.
Why Today?: Today is Houseplant Appreciation Day.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 101


The Date: January 9

The Movie: The Color of Pomegranates (1969)

What Is It?: Director Sergei Parajanov relays the major beats of Armenia poet Sayat-Nova’s life through a series of beautiful, meticulously organized tableaux. I’d recommend turning down the sound and cranking Their Satanic Majesties Request if I wasn’t afraid that cineastes and Stones fans would club me to death for suggesting such a thing.

Why Today?: On this day in 1924, Sergei Parajanov is born.

Friday, January 8, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 100


The Date: January 8
The Movie: Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1973)
What Is It?: This concert film is a pretty straight forward document of David Bowie’s not-a-bit-straight-forward personification of Rock & Roll alien Ziggy Stardust.
Why Today?: On this day in 1947, David Bowie is born.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

What We Know About the "Monkees" Blu-ray

With less than a month to go before the much-anticipated "Monkees" Blu-ray box set ships, an official list of specs has still not been issued. This may be because the box is still a work in progress, which hopefully won't delay its scheduled January 29 release. However, a wealth of information has surfaced, including: 
  • Audio will be mono... no super-echoy fake 5.1 mixes like we got on Rhino's old DVD set.
  • There will likely be outtakes from several Monkees romps, though no outtakes from the story-portions of the episodes have been located, or at least announced, as of this writing.
  • Some episodes will include alternate songtracks representing how they appeared in reruns or syndication. For a run down of these alternates, see this previous Psychobabble post.
  • The originally aired uncensored version of "Too Many Girls", which includes highly controversial shots of a woman in a bikini without her cleavage blurred out, will be included, as will the censored version.
  • Thirty canisters of Head outtakes have been discovered, and some, much, or all of that footage will be included.
  • Ditto the couple of reels of "33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee" outtakes that have been found, which include the full-version of "Listen to the Band" and an alternate rendition of "Goldilocks Sometime". 
  • Old audio commentaries from the DVDs and new ones from at least Micky Dolenz, Rodney Bigenheimer (Davy's stand-in in "The Prince and the Pauper"), and serial-extra Valerie Kairys (I'm guessing her commentary will be on "The Monkees a la Mode", the one episode in which she has a significant role).
There may be a non-limited edition release in late 2016, but the one coming this month (fingers cross) will include the following exclusive content: 
  • 7" single including TV mixes of "Goin' Down" b/w "Star Collector".
  • A UK promo video for "Randy Scouse Git", which will be released in color for the first time here.
  • Promo video for "Oh My My".
  • Kool-Aid promo film.
  • Tork-less Monkees appearances on "The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour" and "The Johnny Cash Show", as well as Davy's 1969 visit to Dick Clark's "Music Bag" to promote "Someday Man".
  • Exclusive packaging with this lenticular cover: 

Thanks to the fab (not pre-fab) blog The Monkees Live Almanac for all this information. I'll update this post as more is hopefully released over the course of this month.




366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 99


The Date: January 7

The Movie: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

What Is It?: The greatest science-fiction movie ever made is more of a trip backwards and forwards in time than a science-fiction movie. Shut the lights. Get close to the big screen. You’ll munch on twigs and tapirs with ape people. You’ll walk upside down in space capsules. You’ll float in the terrifying emptiness of space. You’ll rocket through a psychedelic star gate and descend to Jupiter’s weird terrain. You’ll sink deeply into the limitless brilliance of Stanley Kubrick’s brain.

Why Today?: On this day In 1610, Galileo announces he has discovered the first three satellites of Jupiter.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 98


The Date: January 6

The Movie: The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle (1980)

What Is It?: The Sex Pistols make a shambling exit by dressing up in dodgy private dick drag, metamorphosing into Looney Tunes, dragging former label EMI over the coals one last time, and taking their metaphorical assaults on their audiences to literal extremes.

Why Today?: On this day in 1977, EMI drops The Sex Pistols.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Review: 'Unprepared to Die: America’s Greatest Murder Ballads and the True Crime Stories That Inspired Them'


Murder ballads are a little like the true-crime reports of the folk music world, though the way their stories tend to transform and take on new shades and shadows depending on the storyteller may place them closer to campfire ghost tales. They are elastic, though they often begin with an actual tragic incident. Paul Slade pulls murder ballads further from the campfire and closer to the periodical rack with his new book Unprepared to Die: America’s Greatest Murder Ballads and the True Crime Stories That Inspired Them. The author goes back to the original newspaper stories and crime reports to detail the true stories behind such often-crooned legends as “Pretty Polly”, “Tom Dooley”, “Frankie and Johnny”, “Stack-o-Lee”, and “Poor Ellen Smith” as accurately as possible.

As each story becomes a musical source, Slade begins folding the ballads into the tale, analyzing their faithfulness as journalism and what they say about the culture of their times. This is particularly fascinating when race is an issue, as it is in “Frankie and Johnny”, “Stack-o-Lee”, and Dylan’s deeply chilling “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll”, which becomes far more horrifying the more we learn about the loathsome “man-slaughterer” William Zantzinger. Slade also tracks how the songs develop from rendition to rendition, sometimes becoming completely distinct from the originals over time, as when “Knoxville Girl” morphed into “Banks of the Ohio” or “Stack-o-Lee” became the pop hit “Stagger Lee”. Sometimes these songs inspired answer or referential songs, such as Billy Bragg’s “The Lonesome Death of Rachel Corrie” or Fred Burns’s “Pretty Polly’s Revenge”.

Slade ends each chapter with his picks for the ten best renditions/reinventions of its featured song, and seasons his narratives with testimony’s and interpretations from artists such as Bragg, Mick Harvey of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, who recorded one of the more celebrated later-day collections of murder ballads, and Kristin Hersh, whose Murder, Misery, and Then Goodnight is one of the finest and most underappreciated ones. As for our author, he editorializes sparingly, mainly maintaining a journalist’s critical distance in his telling, so his book rarely reads luridly or morbidly. Nevertheless, the horrifying nature of these crimes—so often perpetrated against women, and at the height of repugnance, an entire family—and the beauty of the songs they inspired delivers an emotional wallop that will only hit harder if you listen to some of these timeless, troubling ballads as you read.
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