Sunday, December 26, 2021

Review: Vinyl Reissue of Joe Jackson's 'Body and Soul'

Joe Jackson started his career as a high-quality Elvis Costello clone, and like his fellow punk-adjacent, angry somewhat-young man, Jackson seemed to tire of rock and roll quickly to suffer a bit of an identity crisis. But while Costello was dithering with flaccid country covers that didn't suit his fiery style and ill-conceived gestures toward mainstream contemporary pop (complete with guest appearances by contemporary pop-superstar Darryl Hall), Jackson went in a much more interesting direction, rejecting any semblance of relevance to set off on the path that classical pop and jazz composers laid down fifty years earlier. Costello did experiment with this style a bit with compositions such as "Almost Blue" and "Shipbuilding", but he didn't commit to it the way Jackson did on his smash 1982 album, Night and Day, which yielded two elegant, adult pop hits: "Steppin' Out" (which went top-five in the U.S.) and "Breaking Us in Two".

Monday, December 20, 2021

Ten Vinyl Releases Psychobabble Would Like to See in 2022

 It’s official: the Vinyl Revolution has been fought and won. 2021 was the first year since 1987 that the vinyl LP outsold the CD. Vinyl pressing plants can’t keep up with demand for new product. Consequently, 2022 should be another boon year for grooved plastic, but there are several platters I’d particularly like to see and hear in the coming year. Here are ten (actually, more than ten) of them: 

1. The Beatles’ Anthologies-Expanded


Despite a bit of a COVID-related hiccup in 2020, a big, beautiful box of Beatles has become a new annual tradition. This year saw the release of an anniversary set devoted to Let It Be, and the vinyl edition is the first of these to completely mimic the CD one, right down to the inclusion of a hardcover book. What will come next is a bit of a floating question mark. Logic dictates that now that Sgt. Pepper’s through Let It Be have received their obligatory deluxe boxes, series-mastermind Giles Martin will next skip back to the beginning and start remixing the early Beatles records. However, Martin has said that the fact that the early Beatles albums were recorded on two-track machines limits the options for remixing them (never mind that he has already remixed a bunch of pre-Pepper’s tracks for projects such as the remixed edition of Beatles 1 and the Yellow Submarine Songtrack). 

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Review: 'George Harrison On George Harrison: Interviews and Encounters'

It's very tempting to begin a review of a 550-page book of George Harrison interviews with mocking cliches about how he was "The Quiet Beatle," yet that tired old label is actually somewhat relevant to what may be the main lesson of George Harrison On George Harrison: Interviews and Encounters. Perhaps it was George's refusal to play the game on his interviewers' terms that got him slapped with that label. Averse to cliches himself, Harrison had little patience for questions about how long The Beatles would last, why they were so great, his feelings about occasional antagonist Paul McCartney, and other well-worn inquiries. He'd answer those questions but not without making his exasperation with them clear. So, for journalists, "quiet" may be a coded synonym for "difficult."

However, when it came to topics he was genuinely invested in, Harrison was anything but quiet. A good deal of these 550 pages, and all of the ones set during the last four years of The Beatles' career, are devoted to Harrison's devotion to Hinduism. This can be wearying to any reader who isn't specifically interested in this topic, but it is key to conveying editor Ashley Kahn's main goal in assembling the interviews and speeches he selects: getting to know the least-knowable member of the best-known band that ever was. I have zero interest in religion, but learning how deeply into spirituality Harrison was, and how informed he was about his chosen one's history and practices, is interesting. It is also interesting to read about how cool he was with his wife getting together with his best friend, his disdain for the music business and stardom, his ventures in movies with his production company HandMade Films, how much he liked to get silly and quote The Rutleshow unfiltered he was when discussing his conflicts with everyone from Paul to Sean Penn and Madonna, how much love he had for Paul even when the media was reporting otherwise, and how much contempt he had for the media in general. Perhaps George would be better labeled as "The Most No-Bullshit Beatle."

Friday, December 10, 2021

Farewell, Mike Nesmith

Where to begin with an artist who spearheaded a genuine revolution in the most corporate sector of the music industry, who helped pioneer jangly country-psychedelic-rock (in conjunction with The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield), who produced such oddball movies as Repo Man and Tapeheads, who wrote one of the few rock autobiographies worth reading, and for all intents and purposes, invented MTV? 

No Monkee defied that group's wholly erroneous reputation for bubblegum weightlessness more than Mike Nesmith. Underneath that green wool hat was a brain that never stopped inventing. From the very beginning of The Monkees' career, he was writing and producing some of the most inventive and exhilarating tracks on their records. He was the dry wit and leader of the group's fictionalized incarnation, but he also led bandmates Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz (as well as a reluctant Davy Jones) in a swift revolution that saw this made-for-TV band wrestle control from old-school music supervisor Don Kirshner to take full control of their own music. It was Mike who hired former-Turtle Chip Douglas to produce The Monkees' new-phase records--and taught Douglas how to produce records!--which resulted in the best albums the group ever made. He sneaked such genuinely weird articles as the Cajun-flavored "Sweet Young Thing", the nightmarish psych-prog "Writing Wrongs", the eerie and poetic ode to the Sunset-Strip riots "Daily Nightly", the lysergic country idle "Auntie's Municipal Court" (co-written with the recently departed Keith Allison), and the 1920s pastiche "Magnolia Simms" (complete with built-in record skips!) onto so-called "bubblegum" albums. His fusion of country-rock and psychedelic-era production techniques and surreal lyricism made his post-Monkees albums with The First National Band truly revolutionary.

Mike was my personal favorite Monkee because of his truly unique music and voice and a demeanor so cool he made wearing a green wool hat not embarrassing (and yet totally, wonderfully dorky). At age twelve, I started combing my hair in a dip in mimicry of his iconic do. I still do. And he was the voice of my favorite Monkees song. Sadly, he died today of natural causes, according to his family. 

Update: Nesmith apparently died of heart failure (he'd had quadruple bypass heart surgery in 2018), and according to Micky Dolenz, he'd entered hospice a few days before his death.

Monday, December 6, 2021

Review: 'The Masters of the Universe Book'

In the early eighties, Kenner's line of Star Wars
¾-inch figures dominated toy store shelves, leaving its competitor Mattel lagging behind and scheming to catch up. The only way to compete with George Lucas's weird wookiees, jawas, and yodas was to get weirder, bigger, and all-around zanier. The braniacs at Mattel inflated their figures to a whopping 5½ inches, pumped their plastic muscles to asinine proportions, oversaturated them with candy colors, and gave them daffy names like Stinkor, Clamp Champ, Buzz-Off, Two Bad, Webstor (not to be confused with the character Emmanuel Lewis originated), and, for the leader of the gang, He-Man. 

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Review: 'Stompbox: 100 Pedals of the World's Greatest Guitarists'

Rock and roll wouldn't be half as vibrant and varied if not for those little boxes that litter the floors before guitarists' Keds. Keith Richards forced his guitar to match the angst of Jagger's lyrics when he stomped his Maestro Fuzz-Tone on "Satisfaction". Hendrix reflected the acid-drenched lyrics of his "Purple Haze" when he filtered his guitar through an Arbiter Fuzz Face. And where would The Edge be without his Korg SDD-3000 digital delay unit? Probably waiting tables in Dublin.

Guitar pedals--or "Stompboxes," as they are affectionately known--aren't just interesting-sounding additions to the musical palette, they are also nifty-looking little gadgets, which photographer Eilon Paz recognized when he put together Stompbox: 100 Pedals of the World's Greatest Guitarists. His luxurious hardcover spotlights the personal doodads of such greats as Hendrix, Marc Bolan, Alex Lifeson, Mary Timony, Graham Coxon, Vernon Reid, Joey Santiago, Thurston Moore, Robby Krieger, and Sarah Lipstate. The artists themselves (or in the cases of departed legends like Hendrix and Bolan, those who knew them) tell the tales of finding that perfect, unique sound and putting it to use. Some of these devices are well worn and well loved, encrusted with rust or little bits of tapes indicating the musician's preferred setting. Some, such as Jack White's Third Man Bumble Buzz and Buzz Osborne's Melvins Pessimiser, are custom made and emblazoned with super-cool custom designs. Editors Dan Epstein and James Rotondi contribute enlightening essays and round up and interview the musicians who use these pedals and the tech geeks who design them for what is not just a definitive history and overview of the guitar pedal, but also damn good looking coffee table book.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Review: 'Gothic: An Illustrated History'

Gothic is a bit like that old pornography rubric: I know it when I see it. Dracula? Gothic. King Kong? Not Gothic. The Cure? Gothic. Metallica? Not Gothic. Gothic isn't just the monstrous, or the dark, or the nihilistic. It is ruined structures. It is shadows. It is urbane yet corrupt. It is beautiful and ugly in such close proximity that it is impossible to decipher which specific features are beautiful and which are ugly. Robert Smith tripping on acid with his jet-black bird's nest, smeared lipstick, and vulnerable pout is Gothic. James Hetfield guzzling Bud in denim is not.

Roger Luckhurst keeps his definitions much more specific and academic in his new book Gothic: An Illustrated History. Yes, he agrees that Gothic involves ruined structures, monsters, and blurred borderlines, but he has no problem defining King Kong or Godzilla as Gothic characters because they're monsters and monsters are Gothic. I don't know where he comes down on the big "Is Metallica Gothic?" question because he completely ignores Gothic music. He does address architecture, art, literature, design, and film, so Gothic: An Illustrated History, so it would be unfair to call the book limited, and the writer does cover these topics with authoritative command and novel organization: the chapters are largely organized according to locations, which allows a great deal of discussion of ethnicity and cultures, revealing the racism at the heart of a good deal of what might be considered Gothic. However, by ignoring Gothic music and fashion, Luckhurst leaves a major gaping hole in his book and fails to complete the definition he valiantly works to construct.

The illustrated format of Gothic would have also lended itself very well to discussions of Gothic music and style, since both of those strands are so closely entwined--after all, Robert Smith and Siouxsie Sioux are probably the Goths most Goths strive to emulate. There are no images of those two Gothic icons, but there are plenty of images of architecture, furniture design, fine art, and horror movie stills that make each turn of the page a thrill. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Review: 'You've Got Red on You: How Shaun of the Dead Was Brought to Life'

After about two decades in the grave, the zombie genre seemingly reanimated when Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later became a smash hit in 2002. Except that movie wasn't really a zombie movie. And it didn't really portend the variety of zombie movies that would soon swarm theater. There'd be movies about Nazi zombies, and sheep zombies, and beaver zombies, and chicken zombies, and stripper zombies, and Regency zombies, and on, and on. All of these movies were quite unlike 28 Days Later. On paper, they were more similar to Shaun of the Dead, though none had the wit, humanity, or sheer originality that Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg poured into their script. Not that anyone was expecting much originality from a film with a title that may have been sufficient for a marquee in the background of a Simpsons episode, but was hardly worthy of a movie that didn't go direct to video, as many assumed Shaun would. As influential and sensational as the film became, it initially seemed like it would be little more than awful. Studio after studio rejected the project. Even participants in its making, such as actor Rafe Spall and cinematographer David Dunlap, had zero faith in the film. Dunlap did a piss poor job of hiding that on set.

The difficult gestation of Shaun of the Dead caused no end of heartaches and headaches for Wright and Pegg, but it makes Clark Collis's new book You've Got Red on You: How Shaun of the Dead Was Brought to Life both engrossing and triumphant. Collis also chose the right film to study for maximum participation of original participants. The makers of Shaun were well aware of the major role fans played in their success--not only dedicating themselves to public appearances upon its opening, but also roping in fans of their previous project, the sitcom Spaced, to play its sundry undead. All these years later, Pegg, Wright, Spall, Nick Frost, Lucy Davis, Kate Ashfield, Jessica Hynes, Bill Nighy, and many other cast and crew members were only too happy to rehash their often happy, often trying experiences making Shaun of the Dead for super-fan Collis. We also get remembrances from more periphery players, such as Michael Smiley, who played a recurring character on Spaced, but only appeared briefly in Shaun as a zombified version of his Spaced character; Coldplay's Chris Martin, who has a cameo in the film as himself; and Gillian Anderson, whom Pegg's Spaced character wanks over in one potentially embarrassing episode. All these people share their memories because they clearly love Pegg, Wright, and Shaun. How could you not?

Published by art-book publisher 1984, You've Got Red on You is also a beautifully designed hardcover with metallic embossing on its cover, a ribbon bookmark, and bloody-red gilt-edged pages. 

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Review: 'Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child'

In the introduction to their new book, Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child, Harvey and Kenneth Kubernik point out that "virtually no one claimed to know Hendrix." This sort of absolves them from digging any deeper than the myriad existing books exploring the life of the guitar genius (at least 300, according to the curator of an exhaustive Hendrix website). However, their oral history approach makes one hope they might uncover something new, something personal, something that sheds at least a little new light on what made Jimi Hendrix so different, so innovative, so remarkable. Yet, even his own sister, Janie, doesn't provide any revelations. More often than not, the book's contributors react to Hendrix, like rubes recounting sightings of UFOs speeding over cornfields. He was shy. He was visually striking. He had trouble with audiences who wanted to put him in a box (more than once he is frustrated with dum-dums shrieking for "Purple Haze" while he has other things to express). He was brilliant. 

This isn't a knock against Voodoo Child, because anyone who has ever seen the special edition of Close Encounters of the Third Kind knows how disappointing it is to go inside the UFO. Some mysteries are worth preserving, and if few got close to Hendrix, that fact ultimately may be the story to tell. And the Kuberniks do interview or quote people who personally knew Hendrix: producer Eddie Kramer, fellow black artist in a white scene Johnny Echols, bandmate Billy Cox, tour-mate Micky Dolenz, friend and rival Pete Townshend, and so on. Even Janie Hendrix says that she has been learning more about her own brother by curating his legacy as president of the Experience Hendrix company. Oddly, there are quotes from neither Mitch Mitchell nor Noel Redding, whom Moody Blue Justin Hayward speculates may be the only people who really knew Hendrix.

Voodoo Child is also a great-looking book, a small-scale yet photo-filled hardcover as resplendent in color as one of Hendrix's outfits or guitar solos. You may not learn anything from it, but you'll love looking at it.

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Review: 'Northern Exposure: A Cultural History'

After Twin Peaks became a sensation on the strength of its complexity, filmic aesthetic, mysticism, quirkiness, and small-town appeal, it was inevitable that other such oddball shows would follow. The first one that seemingly slipped onto a network while clutching Twin Peaks' tail was Northern Exposure, but Joshua Brand and John Falsey actually had their series in the works for a while and had already proved their quirk credentials when they created St. Elsewhere. Northern Exposure also outlasted Peaks' mere season and a half by playing nicer with audiences and not depending on a central mystery said audiences demanded be solved before completely losing interest upon its solution.

While Northern Exposure survived longer as a first-run series than Twin Peaks, it has not survived nearly as long in terms of impact. While there are dozens of books, articles, and doctoral theses devoted to Twin Peaks, Northern Exposure has attracted far less interest. So Michael Samuel's new book Northern Exposure: A Cultural History should fill a void, though there just isn't enough to it to really get the job done. The bulk of the book is a five-chapter, 100-page survey of the series' inspiration, development, content, and legacy. One chapter is mostly made up of short descriptions of characters and bios of the actors who played them and another is a series synopsis, and neither is likely to reveal anything new to NX cultists. By far the most interesting sections are the ones on Roslyn, Washington, the real life setting of Northern Exposure that had a love-hate affair with the series that put it on the map, and the one on the series' background that sheds a lot of light on the decisive role Brand and Falsey played in forcing TV to grow up. 

Beyond page 100, the remainder of Northern Exposure: A Cultural History is mostly an episode guide with brief plot descriptions, script quotations, and occasional explanations of how particular episodes reflect important themes in the show. Samuels also contributes some simple and rather charming line drawings to illustrate his text.

[DisclosureNorthern Exposure: A Cultural History is published by Rowman & Littlefield, which owns Backbeat Books, the publisher of my own books The Who FAQ and 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Minute.]

Monday, November 1, 2021

Review: 'The Essential Directors: The Art and Impact of Cinema's Most Influential Filmmakers'

The auteur theory tends to get overstated when examining the very collaborative art of filmmaking. Nevertheless, the most distinctive directors do tend to have the final say when it comes to the look and philosophy of the films they manage. Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of cinema could identify a film that, say, Fritz Lang, Stanley Kubrick, or Steven Spielberg directed from just a single carefully selected still frame. Other very famous directors, such as Robert Wise and Billy Wilder, are less identifiable by visual style than they are by point of view (Wise: optimistic; Wilder: pessimistic). Plus, directors have flashy jobs that require a certain gregariousness, or at least a big mouth. Hunching over a typewriter like Robert Towne or adjusting a lens like Gregg Toland is not as attention-getting as DeMille shouting through a megaphone in his jodhpurs.

Sloan De Forest's new book The Essential Directors: The Art and Impact of Cinema's Most Influential Filmmakers celebrates these most celebrated people to work behind the cameras. Like other volumes published in Turner Classic Movies' series of film studies, The Essential Directors consists of short entries each with a bit of background history, a bit of critical assessment, a few recommendations for representative works, and lots and lots of fabulous photos. More so than the series' volumes on horror films and summer movies I've reviewed here on Psychobabble, The Essential Directors refuses to rock the boat too much with its selections, mostly only straying from the household-name canon to acknowledge that white men didn't always helm movies with entries on Oscar Micheaux, Lois Weber, Dorothy Arzner, Ida Lupino, and Elaine May. Consequently, those are among the book's most interesting and informative entries. De Forest could have diversified his selection a lot more if he did not limit himself to directors who worked in Hollywood before 1975, but I guess that would have been outside the scope of TCM's programming.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Review: The Rolling Stones' 'Tattoo You' 40th Anniversary Box Set

While Mick Jagger and Keith Richards enjoyed a break from each other, they brought in producer Chris Kimsey to see what he could dig out of the vaults so the Stones could welcome the year of MTV with a new release. The result of his vault raid was the last unequivocally fine work by the Rolling Stones. This is especially strange considering that Tattoo You is a compilation of rejects from some of the weakest albums the Stones’ had yet to release. Three tracks from Some Girls notwithstanding, the rest of the cuts were culled from Goats Head Soup, Black and Blue, and Emotional Rescue. Two of the numbers, “Neighbors” and “Heaven”, were brand new and not as good as the oldies. Fortunately, the only other so-so selections are the bluesy Some Girls-leftover “Black Limousine”, and oddly enough, the riff-without-a-song “Start Me Up”, a remnant of the Some Girls sessions that went on to become the group’s flimsiest classic.


Monday, October 25, 2021

Review: The Beatles' 'Let It Be' Special Edition (Super Deluxe Vinyl Box Set)

As most Beatles fans know, the album ultimately released as Let It Be was not supposed to be The Beatles’ last. A peculiar set of circumstances caused the recordings, mostly made in January of 1969, to sit on the shelf for nearly a year. Consciously aware of how his band was supposed to break new ground with each new project, Paul McCartney envisioned their latest to be a multi-media event. Filmmaker Michael-Lindsay Hogg would document the sessions for the big screen. There would be a high-profile concert—The Beatles’ first in nearly three years—in an exotic location. There would also be an album, of course, but the discomfort of recording in a strange location (Twickenham Film Studios), at weird hours, and under the constant gaze of Lindsay-Hogg’s crew, all while suffering their own personal and business issues, made a mess of the sessions. Trying to hold it together, Paul got bossy. George Harrison quit. John Lennon cracked jokes. 

Friday, October 15, 2021

Review: Expanded Vinyl Reissue of The Church's 'Starfish'

Too far removed from L.A. to be part of the psych-revival scene known as the Paisley Underground, too far removed from the 1960s to be an original psych band, Australia’s The Church were kind of their own thing. At a time when eighties production was so all-powerful that groups such as XTC and The Damned had to don disguises and pretend to actually hail from the sixties in order to make organically retro productions (as The Dukes of Stratosphear and Naz Nomad and the Nightmares, respectively), Steve Kilbey and Marty Willson-Piper owned their era as assuredly as they owned their influences: primarily The Byrds, Barrett-era Pink Floyd, Jones-era Stones, and Love. The results are timeless.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Review: 'The Who: Much Too Much'

I still haven't worked out who wins the Great British Rock Sixties Sweepstakes. Is it The Beatles, Stones, Kinks, or Who? No matter. They all made sublime records. However, when it comes to visuals, the prize certainly goes to The Who, who tended to present themselves nattier than the Stones and more individually than The Beatles. With their pop art shirts and Union Jack jackets, and action-packed snaps of them trashing their gear on stage, I could gaze at pics of The Who all day. 

Its visual component is the main selling point of The Who: Much Too Much as long-time fans are not likely to learn much from Mike Evans's text. The selection of pictures is sharp. Many will be familiar, but the large, colorful layout of Much Too Much is particularly nice and shots of Pete hanging out with his parents while his mom wears a pop art jumper worthy of Keith Moon or Moon abusing his kit while wearing what looks like a tee proclaiming "Jesus Saves" are amusing and new to me. 

Evans also provides a basically fine nutshell history of The Who (with the occasional fumbled date, apocryphal detail presented as fact, misinterpreted lyric, or other little gaffe, such as attributing Entwistle's vocal on "Twist and Shout" from Who's Last to Daltrey) and has the distinction of being the only writer to date to tell The Who's story up through that album they released a couple of years ago. Nearly half the book is set in the period following Moon's death. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Review: 'The Beatles: Get Back'

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was The Beatles' first genuinely self-conscious attempt to claim the crown of pop's highest high artists, and that album's instantaneous and international take-over of the pop scene seemingly justified its creation. It also painted The Beatles as Big-A Artists into a corner and all they could do next was bring it all back home as Bob Dylan and The Band did as 1967 drew to a close. 

"The White Album" was a bit of a transitional project split between big productions worthy of '67 such as "Martha My Dear", "Dear Prudence", "Piggies", and "Good Night" and completely stripped roots returns like "Why Don't We Do It in the Road", "Helter Skelter", and "Your Blues". The Beatles resolved to get back to basics even more emphatically with Get Back, but the project's multimedia nature meant they were actually treading into new waters. They would create their follow up to "The White Album" in an unfamiliar location--Twickenham Film Studios--instead of Abbey Road Recording Studios. They would make their record under the constant eye of director Michael Lindsay-Hogg's film crew, and the results of that work and a planned return to the stage for the first time in nearly three years would appear in an accompanying documentary movie. 

Monday, October 11, 2021

Review: 'The Incredible Shrinking Man' Blu-ray

The sci-fi boom of the fifties produced a lot of flicks that trafficked in the fear of the Gothic-horror era it superseded. Paranoia about communism and the atomic age was paramount. However, certain creators took a more nuanced view of science-fiction to create some of the genre's most thought-provoking items. Writers such as Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson and directors such as Robert Wise and Jack Arnold saw sci-fi's potential to tell us more about ourselves than merely what we fear. One of the most profound picture's of the era originated with a Matheson novel simply titled The Shrinking Man. Matheson assessed his own position as a man transitioning from the action of World War II to domestic life where he spent a good deal of his time hunched over a typewriter in his basement. He channeled those impotent feelings into the story of a man who literally gets smaller and smaller. 

When Universal Pictures recognized the sci-fi craze potential of Matheson's novel, the author insisted on adapting his own work for the screen. When Universal assigned the project to Jack Arnold, the director recognized the human concerns at the center of potential pulp and insisted on treating the material with the utmost respect.

Friday, October 8, 2021

Review: 'Magical Mystery Tour and Yellow Submarine'

Magical Mystery Tour and Yellow Submarine are somewhat less conventional than Sgt. Pepper's or Abbey Road because the former soundtrack was intended to be released as a double-EP set and the latter was split between Beatles recordings and George Martin's incidental music. However, the latest entry in Bruce Spizer's "Beatles Album" series is as worthwhile as any of the others. Perhaps it is more so since Magical Mystery Tour and Yellow Submarine are the rare Beatles projects to actually receive some negative criticism. Spizer allows the critics to speak their piece via excerpts from period reviews (a particularly nasty assessment of the Magical Mystery Tour record comes from Rex Reed, the film critic famous for hating absolutely everything... and starring in the infamous stink-bomb Myra Breckenridge. A-hem). However, the tone is mostly informational and celebratory. 20-pages of fan recollections are suitably rapturous. More worthwhile is the welter of full-color photos of record sleeves and labels, period adverts, promo materials, and magazine covers and the wealth of information about the recordings and releases of the discs Spizer provides. 

Spizer also sweeps the period recordings "Lady Madonna", "The Inner Light", "Across the Universe", and "You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)", as well as all of the singles included on the Magical Mystery Tour L.P. released in the U.S., into the conversation. He even makes room for details about George Martin's Yellow Submarine orchestrations, the incidental music used in Magical Mystery Tour, and the Beatles Saturday morning cartoon that was a somewhat misleading precursor to the far finer Yellow Submarine feature film. Magical Mystery Tour and Yellow Submarine also hosts some guest essays, though I generally prefer Spizer's contributions. He humbly credits himself as "compiler" on the book's cover, but he is most definitely an author and sincerely fab one at that. 

Friday, October 1, 2021

Review: 'Yours Cruelly, Elvira'

Struggling actress/improv comedian/showgirl/monster kid Cassandra Peterson wrapped up all her skills and loves into a single package when she got the chance to become the new Vampira for an L.A. TV station in 1981. Thus was born entertainment juggernaut Elvira, infamous for her sexiness, sassiness, dagger wit, and self-assuredness. 

The woman behind the wig is just as sexy and witty as her iconic character, but she wasn't always completely self-assured, which is what makes Yours Cruelly, Elvira a very unexpected autobiography. Peterson's life was hardly as smooth as one of Elvira's effortless one-liners. Alcoholism and drug-addiction ran in her family. Because Peterson made a career of showing as much skin as possible, it is rather shocking to learn that she suffered serious burns as a toddler that scarred a large percentage of her skin for life. Her mother was often cruel and ridiculed young Cassandra's appearance. 

Yet, Peterson launched her career on her appearance as a go-go dancer and Vegas showgirl in the sixties, and her stunning beauty drew all sorts of unwanted attention. She devotes a chapter to all the close brushes with sexual assault she experienced starting when she was a young child. A huge rock and roll fan, she chased bands when she was a young teen as innocently as possible. Yet she had unsettling encounters with Eric Burdon and Jimmy Page and escaped assault by thinking quick. Despite being known as a groupie during her pre-Elvira years, Peterson remained a virgin through her teen years. She was less fortunate during a nightmarish encounter with basketball superstar Wilt Chamberlain, a man she considered a friend, who raped her at one of his parties. During her stint in Vegas, the likes of Frank Sinatra, Paul Anka, and Andy-fucking-Williams were all total creeps to her.

Things get less horrid for Cassandra Peterson when she gets that horror host audition, and her transcription of her improvised audition makes it clear that the character hit the ground fully formed. Peterson's troubles don't end there, but they're at least less gross. Annoyed that Peterson got the Vampira Jr. gig instead of her preferred choice (Lola Falana), original Vampira Maila Nurmi begins harassing Peterson, starting with a call from her attorney that necessitates the name change to Elvira. Peterson also had problems with the Coors company, Lorne Michaels, a mean-spirited husband, and ghosts. Her eight-year-old niece rescued her from being drowned by a dog. She made a farcical attempt to euthanize an injured pigeon. 

Considering all she experienced, it is amazing that Peterson is so well-adjusted. Even when writing about the worst of times, and explaining how difficult it was to go public about such things for the first time, she seems to have made peace with her life and maintains her wit and charm. That's a relief, because Cassandra Peterson is clearly a damn good person. She used her fame to bring attention to such vital causes as animal rights and the AIDS crisis. She is incredibly brave for writing the book she wrote. And if I didn't already love her for creating such a great character, for being so kind and humble and funny, and for being a fellow rock and roll and horror freak, I'd love her if all she ever did was spit in Frank Sinatra's hat. Because she totally did that.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Review: 'The Rolling Stones Unzipped'

There's no question that the audio side of The Rolling Stones was always their most crucial facet, but they probably would not be quite so legendary if not for their visual one. Much imagery is inextricably twined up with the band: Charlie's natty suits, Keith's pirate costumes and arsenal of flash yet functional guitars, Mick's lips and the ubiquitous logo they seemingly inspired. The Rolling Stones Unzipped is a lavish tribute to that iconography. The big hardcover showcases not only the band's garb and gear but also their handwritten lyrics, pages from Keith's 1963 diary that reveal he was always really self-congratulatory, and perhaps most charmingly, Ronnie's needlessly artful but utterly delightful handwritten/hand-designed set lists of the band's rehearsals.

However, the garb and gear shots are what really carry Unzipped. Mick's wardrobe of the sixties is truly spectacular. The grenadier jacket (by M&N Horne) and gorgeous waistcoat/ruffled silk shirt combo (by Mr. Fish) he wore in 1965 were outrageously individual choices from a time when The Beatles still wore matching uniforms. His outfits start sucking in the seventies with an overabundance of gross unitards and sub-Elvis jump suits, but they tighten up again in the late eighties and nineties with sharp frock coats. Charlie, of course, always looked fab, but his wardrobe is unfortunately underrepresented, and there's nothing at all from the closet of the always well-attired Brian Jones. However, there are some nicely crumpled pieces from Keith Richards' bedroom floor. There are also some choice pieces of equipment, such as the tabla set Charlie banged on Their Satanic Majesties Request and the bizarre toy drum set that packs such a wallop on "Street Fighting Man".

Unzipped is also notable for complimenting the pics with all-new commentaries from Jagger, Richards, Wood, and the recently departed Watts. The most substantial chunk of text is Anthony DeCurtis's nutshell history of the band, which does include a few head scratchers. He claims the Stones found psychedelia "silly" and "confusing," completely ignoring the head-long plunge they took into it with Satanic Majesties, their own prodigious LSD consumption, and the spaced out interviews Mick and Brian gave to the underground press during the acid era. He mostly ignores the band's pre-Beggars Banquet work, but calls the embarrassingly dated and antiseptic Dirty Work "possibly the most underrated album of the Stones' career" that "finds the band at its rawest and most rhythmically charged." Take another listen to "Back to Zero" and get back to me, Tony.

There are also essays from various guest stars, such as Martin Scorsese who assesses the Stones on film, Anna Sui and John Varvatos on their fashion sense, lips-logo designer John Pasche (who drops the A-bomb that he was only paid 50 quid to design that logo that has been pasted on a multi-million dollars worth of merch) on their graphic design, and Buddy Guy (who offers an ever-so-slightly and utterly justifiably begrudging nod to the Stones for introducing white America to blues artists mainstream DJs were too racist to play) on their relationship with the blues. All in all, Unzipped is a very plush, surprisingly eye-opening package, not unlike the Stones' musical body of work.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Review: 'Universal Studios Monsters: A Legacy of Horror' Updated Edition

This year marks 90 years since Universal Studios became synonymous with horror by plopping both Dracula and Frankenstein into theaters. To commemorate that momentous event (and the 80th anniversary of The Wolf Man), Michael Mallory has updated his 2009 book Universal Studios Monsters: A Legacy of Horror. Apparently, no changes have been made to the book's main text, which features synopses and a bit of background information on Universal's monster movies, including less celebrated pictures such as Night Monster and Monster on the Campus, and profiles of significant players from Karloff, Lugosi, and Chaneys Sr. and Jr. to director James Whale, makeup magician Jack P. Pierce, and perpetually shrieking character comedienne Una O'Connor. Short bios on Gloria Stuart and Elena Verdugo imply that these actresses, who died after the book's first publication, are still with us. 

The main changes are in a new introduction from Jason Blum of new horror manufacturer Blumhouse Productions and a 15-page coda mostly focused on Blumhouse/Universal's 2020 update of The Invisible Man. Oddly, there's nothing about Universal's other revivals of classic monsters both successful (1999's The Mummy and its sequels) and considerably less so (2004's Van Helsing, 2010's The Wolf Man, 2014's Dracula Untold). 

Still, it's worthwhile to have Universal Studios Monsters back in print. Serious fans may not learn much from Mallory's text, but the copious B&W and color portraits, stills, posters, and behind-the-scenes snaps of the most recognizable faces since Santa Claus are spectacular. With the additional material, there's also some neat fan art to complete a visually arresting package.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Review: 'Prince: A Portrait of the Artist in Memories & Memorabilia'

Prince was always an enigmatic artist. Check out the mass of speculations he unloads in "Controversy", a song written before he was even a house-hold name. Because it was sometimes hard to find the human behind all his supernatural abilities and purple sex-E.T. persona, reading testimonies from the people who had close encounters with him is always enlightening. Prince often isolated himself, but he could also be generous and disarmingly goofy. His tireless work ethic and the devotion he poured into his own music are legendary, but he was also a music fan and went out of his way to reveal his devotion to such seemingly unlikely artists as Squeeze and Suzanne Vega.

This is the Prince Paul Sexton aims to reveal in his new book Prince: A Portrait of the Artist in Memories & Memorabilia. Across seventeen short chapters, Sexton pulls back the veil on specific incidents in Prince's life as told by the people who knew him well, or in Vega's case, had a less intimate brush with him. There's a chapter on the note Prince sent to her to proclaim his love of "Luka". There are more revealing chapters on how Prince stepped out of a troubled home life to live with bassist and friend André Cymone, how he mentored protégés such as the Family, remade himself as a Jehovah's Witness on the recommendation of Family Stone bassist Larry Graham, and how he and engineer Susan Rogers (who also pens the foreword) called out any co-worker asleep on the job by photographing them with a giant toy penguin. 

Details such as these do not provide a full biography. Rather they round out existing biographies with additional details about Prince's background, beliefs, tastes, and personality. Because Prince was such a visual artist, a dazzling selection of photos of Prince defying gravity multiple times or jamming with Ron Wood, as well as images of his stage outfits, guitars, handwritten notes, and personal Bat-a-rang, further fill in the funky gaps.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Review: 'Peppermint Trolley Co.' Vinyl Reissue

Redlands, California's Peppermint Trolley Company had one wild resume. After getting their start as Mark V in 1966, brothers Danny and Jimmy Faragher formed a light baroque-pop act very similar to Too-era Left Banke. The group made appearances on The Beverly Hillbillies and Mannix, backed Sammy Hagar on his 1967 duo-debut with Samson and Hagar, and cut the original version of the Brady Bunch theme song! (Their voices were later replaced with the kids'.)

The recordings they made as The Peppermint Trolley Company are no less interesting. Along with that late-Left Banke sound that dominates their self-titled 1968 LP, there are flashes of hard psych in "Beautiful Sun", which melds the Who of "I Can See for Miles" with the Who of "Bucket T." and vocal scatting straight off a Manhattan Transfer record. "I Remember Long Ago" sounds like S.F. Sorrow-era Pretty Things stripped of their menace. Among the love songs and tunes about how nice bells sound, there are gently delivered but firm-minded criticisms of war, religion, racism, capitalism, and simple-minded patriotism. Their detractors may dismiss them as bubblegum, but The Peppermint Trolley Company were hardly mindless. "Fatal Fallacy" takes the light experimentation of the rest of the album too far with its meandering structure, dissonance, and lack of a strong melody, but the rest is so breezy, pretty, and imaginative that I think you can forgive the guys one over-reaching folly. And since it's appears at the end of Peppermint Trolley Co., it's super easy to skip.

As reissued on vinyl by Out-Sider Music with Guerssen, Peppermint Trolley Co. mostly sounds superb despite a somewhat off-center spindle hole that doesn't affect the sound. Oddly, only the single "Baby, You Come Rolling Cross My Mind" sounds like it was taken from an inferior source. The rest of the record sounds like the PTC cut it last week. As usual for Guerssen, the package includes a spiffy color insert with extensive liner notes.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Review: 'The Wicker Man: The Original Soundtrack Album' on Transparent Yellow Vinyl

What The Rocky Horror Picture Show is to glam, The Wicker Man is to Wyrd folk, that quaint and creepy strain of Olde English acoustic music that conjures images of Maypole reveries and pagans in animal masks. Robin Hardy's enchantingly eerie 1973 film is the paragon of folk horror pictures, and Paul Giovanni's outrageously bawdy and outrageously beautiful songs such as "Gently Johnny" and "Willow's Song" are as integral to the spell it casts as "Time Warp" is to Rocky Horror's. Any fan of Hardy's film would not be caught in a flaming wicker man without a copy of its soundtrack album. 

A Wicker Man soundtrack album first arrived via Trunk Records 25 years after the film's theatrical debut. The tracks on that version were pulled directly from the film's soundtrack, and though the disc was very complete (right down to the inclusion of lots of sound effects and dialogue bits), the sound quality was hardly optimal. It was not until 2002, when Silva Screen Records paraded out the original master tapes for eleven tracks, that The Wicker Man really sounded up to snuff on CD and vinyl. A clutch of the most essential pieces of music not found on the original master tapes were included as pulled-from-the-film bonus tracks on both editions.

Unfortunately, those bonuses are absent from Silva Screen's latest reissue of The Wicker Man: The Original Soundtrack. Like each reissue since 2013, only the pristine-sounding eleven from the original masters are present. That means you don't get the mesmerizing version of Robert Burns's "The Highland Widow's Lament" that opens the long edit of the film, but you do get such outrageously bawdy and outrageously beautiful things as Giovanni's "Gently Johnny", "Fire Leap", "Corn Rigs", "Maypole", and the utterly spellbinding "Willow's Song", which contains some of the rudest lyrics that do not resort to expletives. You get the voices of Giovanni, stars Christopher Lee and Diane Cilento, and Lesley Mackie subbing for Britt Ekland on "Willow's Song".

Britt, however, does appear in all her own bawdy glory on a newly designed inner sleeve complete with libretto. The gatefold still features conductor Gary Carpenter's notes from Silva Screen's 2002 edition of the soundtrack, but the design of it and the front cover are new. So is the use of transparent, yellow vinyl, which has a well-centered spindle hole and is pretty quiet. The music sounds as warm and unsettlingly inviting as ever. 

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Review: 'Dune' Blu-ray

Dune was the one major outlier when I first fell in love with the films of David Lynch. I hated it. Although I could not honestly say I completely understood Eraserhead (even though I totally said that), complete comprehension didn't matter when it came to such a purely experimental piece. That I didn't understand the byzantine plot of Dune mattered more since it had the bones of a completely conventional film. It is a space opera like Star Wars. It has a hero's journey. There are clearly defined good guys and bad guys and laser guns and made-up planets and giant monsters. Perhaps I was also offended that an ARTIST such as Lynch had played on the blockbuster field at all. That Lynch, himself, had completely disowned the film because producer Dino De Laurentiis insisted on a rather ruthless edit justified my serious Dune aversion and made me feel I didn't need to work to love it as much as I loved Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Fire Walk with Me, and every other non-Dune picture Lynch made.

And yet, I still returned to Dune every few years. And it got a little better each time I watched it, while certain other Lynch movies (The Elephant Man, Lost Highway) drop in my estimation each time I revisit them. After multiple viewingsand still never having read the entirety of the Frank Herbert novel on which the film is basedDune's plot seems so lucid I feel like a dum-dum for not understanding it upon my first viewing. While it seemed to sorely lack Lynch's experimental verve all those years ago, I now can't understand how I didn't always recognize how far-out Dune is, with its disconcertingly fascistic hero and disgusting, pustule-plagued villain, who at one point, tries to force a captive to milk a cat duct-taped to a rat. I mean, did Lynch ever even devise anything weirder than that?

Monday, September 6, 2021

Review: 'The Vinyl Series Volume Two'

With its joyous mélange of ska, reggae, soul, and Spencer Davis Group, the theme of Chris Blackwell's The Vinyl Series: Volume One could be summed up as "Mod Party." Volume Two is a little harder to pin down. On first blush, Blackwell seems to have gone down more of a singer-songwriter alley this time, what with its very personal tracks by Cat Stevens ("Lady D'Arbenville"), Nick Drake (the sublimely somber "River Man"), John Martyn (somber ode to pal Drake "Solid Air"), Jimmy Cliff (lovely "Many Rivers to Cross"), and even Traffic (Dave Mason mumbles "Feelin' Alright" like he's playing to his chest in a coffee bar). 

So then where does Free's Classic-Rock-101 staple "All Right Now" fit in? Or The Heptones' group-effort "Book Rules" or Toots and the Maytals' extroverted "Pressure Drop"? And is it a true singer-songwriter song if the singing and songwriting are split between two individuals, even (formerly) married ones such as Richard and Linda Thompson? And what about that woozily exuberant Mariachi band on "I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight"? Nick Drake never used one of those.

Perhaps Blackwell's theme is "terrific songs from the Island Records archives," which is valid enough from a guy with such fine taste. Each of these songs is a classic, and though "All Right Now" does sound out of place, hearing it sandwiched between the Thompsons' night-on-the-town gem and Cliff's soul-stirrer make it sound fresher than it does between Lynyrd Skynyrd and Foreigner during a musty Classic Rock Radio Rock-Block. 

As mastered by Alex Abrash, The Vinyl Series: Volume Two also sounds pretty fresh. Cat Stevens thumping the hollow body of his acoustic and The Heptones' bongos sound almost disquietingly present on flat, quiet vinyl. I wonder what the theme of Volume Three will be...

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Review: 'Paul McCartney: The Stories Behind the Songs'

Mike Evans's new book probably should have been called Paul McCartney: The Stories Behind Some Songs. With the title Paul McCartney: The Stories Behind the Songs, I assumed the book would go through the entirety of McCartney's substantial post-Beatles body of work, explaining the inspiration behind well-documented hits like "Silly Love Songs" and obscurities like "Monkberry Moon Delight". Instead Evans mainly focuses on the hits, first providing a very swift and general overview of a given album before zooming in on one or two of the more popular songs contained therein (as well as some stand-alone singles, such as "Another Day" or "Wonderful Christmastime"). 

I guess digging deep into songs McCartney usually admits were inspired by nothing more than a decent-sounding yet nonsensical rhyme might not have been too edifying. Evans might not have been the guy to do it either since he is so awed by McCartney's talent. A fair yet critical sort is the ideal chronicler of a catalog that is way better than many critics would have you believe but pretty rich in toss-offs too. Look, I enjoy "Magneto and Titanium Man" as much as anyone, but I'd hardly describe its slight comic-book lyric as "rock solid storytelling" as Evans does. On the odd occasion the author seems to criticize a song, he rarely owns that criticism, prefacing it with phrases like "Some critics believe..." Granted, this book is not called Paul McCartney: Picking Apart the Songs either, but since Evans does offer some personal judgments, his fairly one-track view of McCartney's Wings and solo work is worth noting. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Farewell, Charlie Watts

The Rolling Stones became one of the top rock and roll acts on the strength of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards' songs, Jagger's way with a crowd, and Richards' way with a chord, but none of it would have meant a lick if Charlie Watts didn't hold it all together. Watts is best known for his simple, ever-so-slightly behind-the-beat beat that complimented so many Stones classics. However, he was also stealthily versatile, which will become rather obvious to anyone who ventures into the Stones' mid-sixties albums. More so than Richards' riffs, Charlie Watts's lyrical drum figures provide the main hooks in tracks such as "Get Off Of My Cloud", "My Obsession", and "Complicated" (he really shines throughout Between the Buttons).

In the decadent, often petty world that Jagger and Richards constructed, Watts was also a true gentleman.  There are plenty of gross stories involving The Rolling Stones (don't get me started on Wyman), but Charlie Watts always seemed like a decent guy. And on the odd occasion he lost his composure, he apparently tended to unleash his wrath on deserving parties. Many a Stones fan's fave Stones story (which will surely get repeated a lot in the coming days) is the one that finds Jagger in a rare state of drunken sloppiness, phoning Charlie in the middle of the night to shout, "Where's my drummer?" at an Amsterdam hotel. Watts slipped out of bed, donned one of his natty suits, headed over to Mick's room, and punched him in the face, responding, "Don't ever call me your drummer again. You're my singer."

Sadly, we have lost that beat and that wit. Charlie Watts recently bowed out of an upcoming Stones tour for health reasons. He died today at the age of 80. Specific details are not available as of this writing.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Review: 'Everybody Had an Ocean: Music and Mayhem in 1960s Los Angeles'

A few months ago I reviewed Joel Selvin's Hollywood Eden, an interesting, well-written chronicle of the earliest days of L.A.'s fertile rock scene in the sixties. Because that book halted just as Brian Wilson created "Good Vibrations" and the scene was really about to take off, I described Hollywood Eden as "an extended prologue" and ended the review by suggesting that "further reading is required to learn the complete story of why LA was so important to sixties rock."  

Published four years before Hollywood Eden, Everybody Had an Ocean: Music and Mayhem in 1960s Los Angeles could be that further reading. William McKeen's book covers the same period Selvin's does (though with fleeter feet through the 1950s run-up to the main story and a lot less focus on dopey Jan and Dean), but then he moves beyond the point L.A. really exploded. Selvin cuts his tale short just as The Byrds and Mamas and Papas were getting together. Key L.A. artists such as Buffalo Springfield and The Doors and Joni Mitchell, never get to jump in Selvin's sandbox. However, they're all on board for Everybody Had an Ocean, and instead of Jan and Dean, the far more artistically and commercially pivotal Beach Boys become the track on which the narrative rolls. Natch, that narrative rolls into some pretty dark places as Brian Wilson loses his grip on his group and brother Dennis runs into a certain charismatic psychopath with a grudge against producer Terry Melcher.

McKeen's writing also brims with humor, vulgarity, and the willingness to confront the artists' myriad flaws--all the things a rock writer should bring to the table. I wish he'd given more attention to at least two key L.A. artists: Love, who (with the exception of Brian Wilson, and arguably, The Byrds) made better records than any of McKeen's mostly white main cast of characters, and The Monkees, a massively popular, massively weird group that could not have sprouted anywhere but L.A. Oddly, Selvin's two pages on Mike, Micky, Davy, and Peter are riddled with errors (he states that it took The Monkees a couple of years to take control of their music when it was closer to six months, suggests non-instrumentalist Davy Jones had "musical chops" Micky Dolenz lacked, and repeats Mike Nesmith's line that The Monkees outsold The Beatles and Stones combined as if it was fact, though Nesmith later admitted he was bullshitting). So maybe it's for the best the author didn't devote more time to them. These mistakes also made me question some of the other factoids McKeen lays down, but there's still no question that Everybody Had an Ocean is a highly entertaining read. It's now being published in paperback for the first time.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Review: 'The Police: Every Little Thing'

The Police were probably the biggest band of the early eighties, yet their story is oddly ill served. There aren't a ton of books about The Police even though they have a completely unique story and enduring popularity. As told by Caroline & David Stafford in their new book, The Police: Every Little Thing, that story is one of overcoming odds. The great irony is that the odds The Police had to overcome was being traditionally good-looking industry insiders who wrote classically perfect songs, played extraordinarily well, and sold scads of records. Why were these odds? In a word: punk. Sting, Andy Summers, and Stewart Copeland came up at a time when the British press and fellow artists were suspicious of anyone who played too well, did not exude the appropriate level of intensity, or behaved too nicely. Music listeners were less judgmental and The Police became huge stars despite lacking punk cred. That's because they worked so hard and made strong records with such an individual blend styles. 

Any band with The Police's output would be worthy of close examination, but the worth of Every Little Thing runs deeper than the fact that Synchronicity is a great album that shifted 8 million units in the U.S. alone. The band's background is downright bizarre. Drummer Stewart Copeland's dad Miles was in the CIA, helped orchestrate a coup in Syria, and was apparently a bit of a sociopath. His older brother Miles was a frothing capitalist determined to make his way managing a major rock band. Summers was a thirty-something leftover of the psychedelic age expected to sell himself as a punk. Sting was a Sting (see: "Fields of Gold") expected to sell himself as a punk. There was no friendship among the guys, just a series of power struggles and compromises that resulted in some spectacular records.

So The Police: Every Little Thing would be necessary if it did nothing more than fill a gap in rock and roll history and tell a fascinating story. It also happens to be lyrically written and really funny (David is a former writing partner of Young Ones "socialist comedian" Alexei Sayle)-- a definitive biography of a definitive band worth the wait.

Monday, August 9, 2021

Review: 'Hosted Horror on Television: The Films and Faces of Shock Theater, Creature Features, and Chiller Theater'

In 1957, Screen Gems released a package of 52 horror films produced between 1931 and 1947 to local television stations across the U.S. The "Shock Theater" package arrived with a suggestion that stations might want to employ a host to introduce and comment on the pictures. Every Monster Kid knows what happened next. Vampira popped up on KABC-TV in LA. Roland (soon to be Zacherley) did the same on WCAU in Philadelphia. Chicago's Marvin, San Francisco's Terrence, Indianapolis' Sammy Terry, New Orleans' Morgus, Nashville's Dr. Lucifer, Cleveland's Ghoulardi, Pittsburgh's Chilly Billy, and many others who adopted bizarre, high-camp personas to introduce Lugosi and Karloff pictures followed. Droves of kids too young to see The Invisible Man first time around finally got a chance to revel in James Whale's outre humor. Forry Ackerman fed that love with Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine, as did The Munsters and Aurora's line of macabre model kits.

The horror host phenomenon was so widespread and influential that it's just waiting for someone to write a terrific book about it. Bruce Markusen's Hosted Horror on Television is not the book because it doesn't really attempt to be. It's basically a critical survey of some of the films that appeared in "Shock Theater" and the later packages "Son of Shock Theater", "Creature Features", and "Chiller Theater". Markusen's specific discussions of the packages and the horrors who hosted them come in fitful bursts that spark the book to life whenever they interrupt his fairly insightful yet wordy critiques. 

Friday, August 6, 2021

Review: 'Star Trek: Designing the Final Frontier'

There are plenty of reasons to dig Star Trek, but the thing that hooked me after decades of laboring under the assumption it was boring (I was roughly 69% wrong) was the way it looked. Despite taking place during the 23rd century, the original series is a display case of fab mid-twentieth century design. Between the tulip-style Burke chairs by Knoll on the bridge, sharp John Follis planters in the botany bay, Madison swivel chairs, and shapely Empoli decanters in Uhura's quarters, I would not mind living on the Enterprise at all. And when the crew beam down to Balok's ship, which he controls with a modified lantern by Malcolm Leland, or zip back to 1968 when Gary Seven sat behind a fab Boomerang Executive desk by Osvaldo Borsani, the style got even wilder. 

Dan Chavkin and Brian McGuire pay tribute to the impeccable style of Star Trek in their new book Star Trek: Designing the Final Frontier. They highlight particular items decorating the sets by explaining their roles in particular episodes and giving some background on the items and how Star Trek's set-design crew modified them. Gorgeous full color pictures of the original items, the neat advertisements hawking them, and where they ended up in the given episodes illustrate the entries. An index of these items in the back of the book is titled "catalog," which may tempt you to do a little shopping. I was shocked to see that someone was selling that tulip-style Burke chair on ebay for a very reasonable $250. Alas, local-pick up only! Beam me down to Macon, Georgia, Scotty.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Review: 'Adapting Stephen King Volume 1: Carrie, 'Salem's Lot, and The Shining from Novel to Screenplay'

Joseph Maddrey begins Adapting Stephen King Volume 1 with the statement that Stephen King is in the Guinness Book of World's Records as the guy whose work has inspired more movies than any other writer. That means Maddrey really has his work cut out for him since Volume 1 only covers adaptations of King's first three novels published under his own name, and it covers the scripting processes of Carrie, 'Salem's Lot, and The Shining in great detail. He follows King's debut from its early stages as an apparently disappointing adaptation from revered screenwriter Stirling Silliphant through Lawrence D. Cohen's unquestionably successful adaptation. Along the way he explains where the drafts veer from King's source material, analyzes how those alterations affect the story, and explains how the directors and actors' interpretations of the scripts alter the work further. Maddrey also gets into the reinterpretations as each of King's first three novels have been brought to screens large and small more than once.

Maddrey's approach is as resourceful as his information is thorough and insightful. Adapting Stephen King Volume 1 is mainly a novel-to-script-to-screen study, but it also includes oral history interludes and interviews with the screenwriters responsible for the most significant adaptations (the only screenwriter he does not personally interview is King himself; oddly, he selects an interview from the run-up to Kubrick's Shining in 1979 to illustrate the section on the Shining miniseries King spearheaded in 1997). Clearly, a lot of work went into this book which means it will likely be years before he gets around to my favorite King novel, It. Get cracking, Maddrey.

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