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.

All written content of Psychobabble200.blogspot.com is the property of Mike Segretto and may not be reprinted or reposted without permission.