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I Watched Every Episode March 24, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in 1980s, Television.
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Franz & Jurasik were brilliant together.

It “wasn’t tea with the freakin’ queen,” but it was entertaining.


It Would Have Been….Glorious February 27, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, Television.
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They added a new channel to my satellite, another one of the “let’s run everything in the library” old TV rerun stations.

In other words, something else I’ll be wasting time on. This one runs EVERY version of Star Trek EVERY GOD DAMN NIGHT!!!

They even run the Star Trek Saturday morning cartoon on Sunday nights! The animation is Space Ghost Coast To Coast level, but the scripts are pretty good, and lots of ’em are by original series writers.

“Heroes And Idols” also runs a ton of old cop shows and westerns, albeit during the day when I WORK FOR A LIVING, FELLA. But it’s nice to sporadically watch old reruns of Hill Street Blues again. The show manages to hold up & give me ’80s nostalgia all at once.

“Family Entertainment TV” is another one I found. They run Hart To Hart & TJ Hooker up the wazoo, along with Maude reruns, but they also run Barney Miller & Peter Gunn.

“MeTV” rounds out the pack, maintaining my Rifleman and Hawaii 5-0 interest. They’re putting all of their better sitcoms, now relegated to a late-night Sunday junkyard, into the vault, alas. I’m hoping they rotate stuff they own like Dick Van Dyke, all the MTM ’70s shows, Bilko, The Honeymooners, Get Smart and The Odd Couple into their prime time slate and finally put Andy Griffith and Hogan’s Heroes to bed for a while.

Yes, this is what I spend my time thinking about.

I’d like to see them add Antenna TV and Decades to pretty much take care of all the other old crap I like being put back on, although for the life of me, I have no idea who owns “Burke’s Law,” a marvelous bit of 1960s Madmen-era silly detective cool that’d actually make a great pairing with Peter Gunn. The episodes posted on youtube will have to suffice.

I realize we’re living in what can be accurately called a new golden age of TV, with upper-end shows like The Americans, Game of Thrones, Curb Your Enthusiasm and so forth being produced with cinematic quality, and writing/character development far superior than most feature films.

But I’ll never get tired of watching those old shows. They retain their honor and glory. Just ask Commander Kor. (Or wait a few years for him to be Baltar.)

Let’s Hear It For Cris Shapan February 25, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, Art, Movies, Music, Television.

Perhaps while surfing online,  you’ve come across some amazingly campy magazine cover, or album cover, maybe it was a pulp book from a long-ago celeb and couldn’t believe it existed…

Well, that’s because it probably doesn’t, except in the work of graphic artist Cris Shapan.

I highly recommend following Shapan’s Facebook Page where he regularly posts this stuff, as well as his Funny Or Die page.

The style of humor reminds me a lot of Drew Friedman, who loves to pick out his favorite childhood celebrities and illustrate them all too realistically in bizarre settings. Check out “Jimmy Durante Boffs Young Starlets” for example.

I’m surprised he doesn’t maintain some sort of regular website containing all this stuff, it looks like he’s content to use Facebook. My other theory is that this guy clearly gets his jollies posting this stuff & then kicking back to watch people repost it thinking it’s real. Shapan’s handle on the recognizable & realistic graphic designs of the stuff he’s goofing on from yesteryear is amazing. The colors, fonts, details of wear & tear, etc. are absolutely wonderful. Look at the wax paper lighting effects on that Avery Schreiber bubble gum pack (I wish I had one of those!) giving it real texture and depth. Great stuff.

Nice to see he gets work in Hollywood, hopefully they’l let him apply his comedy genius somewhere.

“They don’t write like that anymore…” – Greg Kihn

(Truly) Random Baseball Card Of The Day: 1989 Fleer Rick Sutcliffe October 13, 2012

Posted by Jim Berkin in 1980s, Baseball, Baseball Cards, Books.
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The true randomness comes from where this card turned up – face up, next to my car as I got out in a Trader Joe’s parking lot.

For a moment, I wondered how it got there. Did someone drop it out of their car after visiting some yardsales? Did the wind, or magical cardboard messenger birds or some other mysterious force of nature carry it to that spot after lifting it out of someone’s collection put to the trash curb by mom?

It’s funny how I find interesting things in grocery store parking lots. Some years back, I headed back to my car and discovered a brand new pair of Ray-Bans sitting next to it.

On another occasion, I found a near-mint copy of the paperback photonovel of “The City On The Edge of Forever” from Star Trek after nearly running it over when I pulled into the space.

And yet another time, I found a brand new Ferrari that someone left behind. I hung around for a little while to see if they’d return to get it, but then I gave up, hotwired it, and drove it home. Finders keepers!

Today, the magical forces of fate brought me to Rick Sutcliffe. I guess if I really did believe in synchronicities like my alter-ego in Cut To Wagstaff, I’d have found some sort of significant thing about Sutcliffe in 1989 that would have determined my actions for the rest of the day & I would have found myself on some sort of off-the-wall mysterious adventure. But my life really doesn’t work that way. I put the cheap wine & TJ’s knock-off cereals into my car, drove home, played with the cat, and watched the Yankees tragedy unfold.

Sutcliffe certainly had an up and down career. There’s really no other way to describe a guy who wins the comeback player of the year award TWICE, once in each league, after winning Rookie of the Year and a Cy Young. Sutcliffe has been a mainstay at ESPN for the past several years, as well as MLB network.

I’m still not sure why a 23 year old card, beat up pretty badly, should be waiting for me while I ran some weekend errands. I had even made a small detour to a yardsale earlier – and it was being run by a couple of toy collectors cleaning out their stash. They had some old board games and tons of Barbies and Hot Wheels, all e-bay priced which made it nearly a total waste of time – I was saved by finding this compendium cookbook of chicken recipes for only a dollar.

But no baseball cards. I guess you have to troll Trader Joe’s parking lot for that, although the other day I coughed up serious thrift store bucks (meaning more than singles) to get the 40th Anniversary Topps Baseball Card picture book.  Granted, having the actual cards is always better, but the book has been fun to browse through, and I can even see all the ones that got away.

Bad TV To Love: Punk Rock Quincy – An Appreciation June 19, 2012

Posted by Jim Berkin in 1980s, Television.
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Deep from the bowels of arguably the preachiest decade of American television comes the astounding “Next Stop: Nowhere” episode from the final season of Quincy, M.E,  the original forensic cop show & antecedent to the current crop of procedural/CSI type mischigoss.  Quincy‘s original hook may have been how murders can be solved through autopsy science, clues pursued by a lovable curmudgeon Jack Klugman bulldog who is always a step ahead of normal police bureaucracy… but by its final 8th season, Quincy had become a message show – with some different social ill relating to a guest-star murder that needed to be examined anthropologically.

So for the week of December 1, 1982, the societal “time bomb ticking under our very noses,” as someone in the episode states, is evil PUNK ROCK MUSIC! It turns normal suburban kids into DRUG ADDLED KILLERS! And what’s worse, it only feeds their SELF-DESTRUCTIVE NIHILISM! So, Oscar Madison to the rescue, armed with his psychobabbling shrink girlfriend (Anita Gillette), who’ll try to save the rebellious Abby (Melora Hardin) before she sinks too deeply into the punk world…

Thoroughly entertaining & unintentionally hysterical, “Next Stop: Nowhere” ranks as heir apparent to such earlier television gold as the baby in the bathtub episode of Dragnet (“The Big High”) in the tv-designed-to-scare-parents genre, as well as reaching the same camp levels of humor as Streets Of San Francisco‘s “Mask of Death,” featuring John Davidson as the schizoid Carol Channing impersonator/murderer. There’s even a similar “mirror scene,” this time of our wayward lost girl singing along with her punk album in the mirror and growing angrier and angrier until she’s a near homicidal maniac. (I only manage this with “Run Joey Run”)

As we open on the punk club, aptly named “The Ground Zero,” we’re reminded  of the cause of all this angry youthful ennui: the looming threat of nuclear war.  Ah yes, the pop culture of the Reagan years, loaded with either “be afraid, be very afraid” anti-nuke material like The Day After or Wargames, or loaded with “America KICKS ASS!” ’80s Cold War cheese like Red Dawn, Amerika, or Rocky IV. But at the Ground Zero, the hydrogen jukebox these kids are slam dancing to only adds to the anger & fear. You’ll know you’re watching an ’80s show when you see the hair and makeup on the crowd of extras – not as bad as perhaps the way mainstream middle aged TV execs depicted flower children and hippies back on The Lucy Show, but clearly the depiction of the audience and especially the band featured in the hour come from an older & parental POV.

“Mayhem,” led by guest star Richard Dano (son of old time character actor Royal Dano) as “Fly,” launch into their big hit “Give Up” which features the following lyrics: “Get a job working for the man/blow his brains out if you can/tell the judge you didn’t like his face/no garbage like the human race/Give up!/ You know you’re gonna die!/ Give up! /I don’t know why you even try! /Give up! /I wanna see you choke! /CHOKE!/CHOKE!”

Granted, the faux punk songs concocted for this episode pale in comparison to the “I Dig Pain” number from the “Battle of the Bands” episode of CHIPs that ends in victory-over-punk-violence illustrated by Erik Estrada singing “Celebration,” but they’re still worthy of modern covers.

So here’s where our story begins: Abby gets “punked up” by her friend Molly (Karlene Crockett) when meeting her runaway punker boyfriend Zak at the club – but when the music gets goin’ and the slam dancin’ gets more and more violent, Zak decides to get into the mosh pit and start slammin’ away his angst. He gets stabbed in the back of the neck with an ice pick for his trouble, and from there we dissolve to the saner world of Quincy’s lab table, where he and Sam (Robert Ito) dig out the broken tip of the ice pick and tsk-tsk over the punk lifestyle.

But then things really get going when the shrink GF Dr. Hanover shows up with all the exposition on Abby, along with a tirade on how “that violence-oriented punk rock music” is the key to Abby’s self-destruction.  She schools Quincy on the danger of the phenom out there and even takes him down to the Ground Zero to witness the fist fights in the moshpit:

LOVE the shot of broken-nose boy coming up to us with that “I….I… only wanted to dance!!!” bloody pout, illustrating Dr. Hanover’s earlier speech on “children coming off the dance floor with bloodied noses and crushed ribs… like soldiers fighting some insane war!” Jack Webb couldn’t say it any better.

When Quincy lists punk rock as a contributing factor to the murder on his report, it hits the papers & this leads up to the high point of the episode – a face off between punks & parents on a Jerry Springer-type talk show, featuring Abby & her long-suffering mom (Barbara Cason, who you might remember as Garry Shandling’s mom on the great It’s Garry Shandling’s Show), Fly, Quincy & Dr. Hanover.

There’s the sparring between the punkers who call themselves artists, parents who wanna whip some sense into ’em and so forth, but the most telling moments come first when Abby announces her future plans to “get blown away in a nuclear war” and the punkers yelling at Quincy that the entire world is about to get blown apart and all the punk music does is rub your nose in the world’s horrors… and that’s when the camera slowly zooms in on Quincy when he gives the central speech of the entire episode – comparing the punks to the hippies unfavorably – “Not so long ago there was another young generation angry at the world… angry at injustice and a war they didn’t believe in… only they worked their tails off to fix it… when all you do is gripe!”  I believe this is the first “diss” of Generation X from the Baby Booomers in the popular culture, a dynamic described very well by Neil Strauss and Willam Howe in their excellent book on the subject, a dynamic of “we were/are better than you when it comes to youthful idealism” that would show up later in such boomer icons as Doonesbury (a series depicting “Megaphone Mark” slackmeyer’s disgust with the politness of ’80s campus activists, let alone Reaganites), the “sensitive hippie parents with Reaganite son” bit on Family Ties,  or “we were/are more fun than you” that would turn up in  stuff like Flashback.  While writer Sam Egan is clearly the prototypical boomer (he would later make a movie celebrating John Lennon, lest ye think he hates rock and roll) Egan’s clearly personal views are spoken here via Klugman, who is part of the boomer-parent “GI” generation, born in 1922. But the message is clear: hippie era protest good, ’80s era protest stupid and whiny. Never mind that the entirety of the punk rock music genre is misunderstood in this episode, dismissing the political messaging of a band like the Dead Kennedys or the social satire of Black Flag – the entire focus is on the supposed call to violence as opposed to a more honest portrayal of how images of violence are used in the lyrics of high-energy punk of the period to get the critical point across, whether it’s “Police Truck,” “Holiday In Cambodia” or “TV Party.” But don’t tell that to the boomers – you kids and your music… it’s just noise! (Though as an aside, now that I too am an OLD FART, I must admit I don’t see the appeal of much of the music of the current day younger generation – it really is just people screaming, or it’s endless gangsta rap profanity, or on the other end of the scale, it’s “American Idol” – Justin Bieber-“Friday” style saccharine addled pablum. Give me Little Steven’s Underground Garage, FAST, Dr. Quincy!!!)

Whatever. Mainsteam network television exists to miss the point. So when the murder plot of this thing plays out as an afterthought to the social messaging, things get wrapped up pretty quickly. At first, Abby is suspect because her fingerprints are on the weapon, but AH HA! Wonderful 1982 Commodore 64-era computing technology eventually saves her, despite her best friend Molly trying to set her up! She’s even trying to give Abby a codeine overdose by feeding her pills (this foolproof plot could be foiled if Abby… oh, I dunno… READ THE LABEL ON THE FUCKING BOTTLE.) But remember, the murder plot isn’t important here – it’s showing us how Abby COULD have been the murderer Molly actually was all because of the music. And it’s for showing us Quincy standing up on stage at the Ground Zero to appeal to the punkers to find Abby before she does OD, only to be shouted off the stage with “YOU’RE the killers! You’re whole sick society! We’re just your lousy escape goat!”  An even better line comes a bit later when Molly’s roomie Skip, who believes Quincy, shows Abby the bottle label and says “Dr Quincy was right! You are trying to kill her” and Molly replies “This man’s been zapped by the brain police!” (An unlikely homage to Zappa, but there you are!)

And yes, Abby comes home, safe – sans punk make-up and hair, but unlike the ending of one of my favorite Dragnets when hippie writer Gary Crosby and his wife show up laughably “cured” and clean cut at the end as if a vampire curse has been lifted, Abby still wears her “DESTROY” ripped shirt – suburbia welcomes the rebel! It’s just like the end of “The Maypole of Merry Mount”, the Hawthorne tale of young merrymakers absorbed like Borg into stiff necked Puritan society, yet never regretting their wild youth… a common theme in American culure, really. Why should Quincy be any different? Why shouldn’t it have fallen into the same 1980s television trap of the dreaded “very special episode,” a la Alex P. Keaton meets Samuel Beckett when his friend drunk drives and dies, or when Arthur Carlson stopped dumping Thanksgiving turkeys from airplanes and became the bicycle shop molester? I guess I could go on to an analysis of how the American sit-com recovered from this awful descent into morality plays thirty odd years ago, but I think I’ll just enjoy the endless nerd jokes from Big Bang Theory and be glad it did.

All in all, “Next Stop: Nowhere” remains a must-see item. Universal has been issuing the Quincy M.E.  series on DVD, so this would be on the final volume – I’d like to see them devote special attention to this episode in terms of commentary or VH-1 pop-up balloons, or something – it’s really the treasure of the series.

As Quincy says to Dr. Hanover as they dance to Glenn Miller at the episode’s end, lamenting the loss of that ballroom world… “Why would anyone listen to music that makes you hate, when you can listen to music that makes you love?”

And in that spirit, I offer this… which makes me say…. I’M IN LOVE!!!!!

Smithereens 2011 April 22, 2012

Posted by Jim Berkin in 1980s, Music.
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Oh, this is a good album. A very, very good album.

I’ve been a fan of these guys since their 1986 debut Especially For You, and this recent effort of original material (the first from them after a few years of cover CDs) succeeds admirably in getting back to the sound ‘n’ feel of that first great record of theirs from 25 years (gasp!) earlier, also produced by Don Dixon.

They mix up the rock styles very nicely with layers of Rickenbackers, from blues (“Goodnight, Goodbye”) to rockabilly (“All The Same”) to powerpop (“One Look At You” and my fave track on the album, “Sorry”) to mellow (“Bring Back The One I Love”)… and the songwriting is still strong. Pat DiNizio’s vocals & lyrics continue to sing best about disappointment & heartbreak to catchy melodies & hooks just like back when both of us were a lot younger. Outside of Frank Sinatra at his ’50s peak, I can’t think of another act that consistently sings of wistful male loneliness in the wee hours of the morning like these guys do.

Aww…. don’t cry for me, though. I HAZ A KITTY!!!! (Feel free to click on the “Cat Thoughts” category to see)

Big, big thumbs up! Get it!

Joe Jackson July 12, 2008

Posted by Jim Berkin in 1970s, 1980s, Blogroll, Books, Music.

This week I read the excellent A Cure For Gravity, Joe Jackson’s memoir/autobiography of his life and career that leads up to the release of his first album Look Sharp in 1979. What makes the book especially notable (besides its good writing) is how the book is really about the meaning of music in Jackson’s life, and how he listens to it, composes it, and generally reacts to it. It’s as much a book about the place of music within the mind as much as it’s about Jackson’s education, upbringing and experiences playing in various bands before finding and developing his own ever-expanding eclectic styles of music composition and performance. Jackson’s tastes range from classical through jazz to ’70s-era British New Wave. Now while (like many others) my favorite material of Jackson’s comes from his first 2 albums, I also liked his later jazz/crooner influenced Night & Day, and his more recent regrouping of his original band, Volume 4.

To someone only glancing at Jackson’s career, it’s easy to say that he only followed the same path that his contemporary Elvis Costello did – starting out with energetic, often angry pop/rock, experimenting with jazzier styles and crooning, and then returning to his roots – but Jackson is actually more complex than that, and I think the parallels between him and Costello are merely the result of them coming out of the same foundry of British music at the same time. Unlike Costello, however, Jackson has classical training via the Royal Academy, and as much as I’d expect a book by Costello to be as insightful as to the meaning of music, reading Jackson’s book shows you how much of a musicologist and professor he really is, especially in the passages where he describes listening to various pieces by Beethoven, Stravinsky or Mahler and how he interprets them.

Jackson is an excellent writer, and has very definite opinions on various topics associated with music. He was never crazy about making videos for his songs, and elaborated on those thoughts very well in this piece back from the mid 1980s.

Much of my record collection is filled with Jackson and his British contemporaries of the 1970s – Graham Parker, Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, XTC and so on… all of whom seem to followed similar trajectories in the ways in which the amount of what I can only describe as urgency & aggression in the sound of their music mellowed over the years. Funny, I like a lot of the brand new material from Jackson, Parker & Costello, but Nick Lowe (always a favorite of mine) has lost me with his recent country/mellow/loungue type sound. Ah well.

I saw Jackson live at the small Rhode Island College auditorium way back in 1979 (I was barely out of my crib, really… ) when he was touring for Look Sharp and dropping in a few new tunes that would turn up on I’m The Man. It was a great show to be sure, and here’s a taste of it, a video someone made on that very tour at some other venue, with Jackson & the band performing an early version of “I’m The Man”

Notice how the song’s tempo is slower than on the album or on later live performances. The band was still learning it, I guess!

Good stuff.

Bad Movies To Love III: Death Wish III (1985) April 10, 2008

Posted by Jim Berkin in 1980s, Movies.

What’s more entertaining than Charles Bronson killing people?

Charles Bronson killing LOTS of people!

Death Wish 3 comes smack in the middle of Charles Bronson’s urban vigilante action pentad, precisely at the moment when any sense of reality attempted by the first two movies in the series is totally abandoned. 1974’s Death Wish depicted comfortably liberal architect Paul Kersey’s (Bronson) gradual and often guilt-ridden evolution to vigilante urban avenger after his wife and daughter are attacked by muggers (led by the unlikely Jeff Goldblum of all people). By the time we get to Death Wish 3, any sort of character development is thrown aside in favor of Bronson becoming an indestructible action hero who travels from city to city looking for street criminal scumbos to blast apart in a variety of cinematically entertaining ways.

This time, Bronson fights a gang of urban thugs who look like a cross between wanna-be breakdancers and rejects from the casting call for The Road Warrior. There’s really no point in describing the plot in great detail, since it makes little sense and doesn’t really need to. The story kicks off with cockroach-crushin’ police chief Shriker (the great Ed Lauter) locking Charlie up after IDing him as the legendary vigilante Paul Kersey & leaving him to the mercy of the perps du jour in the violent psycho bin. This gives Bronson the opportunity to get into some bone-crushin’ fights with the crazies, culminating in him horsecollaring a big scary dude who looks like Curly Howard on steroids and ramming his bowling ball-sized fat bald head through the bars of the cell. Ouchie!

After this, Bronson makes an enemy of the main villain of the film, coincidentally the leader of the gang who offed his old friend, and Shriker sets him loose upon the gang’s turf to clean things up while his cops look the other way. From then on, the film is basically violent eye candy with villainous street nasties’ scumbaggery exhibited and then said scumbags positioned for Charlie’s target practice, culminating with a face to face showdown between Bronson, Shriker & the lead baddie, where Chuck gets to blow him away with a handy mail-order rocket launcher that must have been the one thing Wile E. Coyote forgot to order from the Acme warehouse before Bronson snapped it up. The main villain Fraker is played by Gavin O’Herlihy, who you may or may not recognize as Richie Cunningham’s long-lost and eventually forgotten older brother Chuck. See what happens when you don’t have Howard Cunningham’s fatherly wisdom or the coolness of the Fonz to look after you? You become a reverse-mohawked street thug complete with Rothko-esque war-paint (that is if Rothko is a nickname for one of the “slow kids” in a First Grade finger painting class), and your destiny is to be in Charles Bronson’s crosshairs. If only it had happened to Chachi.

But I digress.

As much as I don’t place Death Wish 3 into the same league with Road House in terms of sheer shit-as-entertainment value, it has a lot to offer.

We have Bronson killing people with assorted guns, but also with bizarre boobie-traps that embed teeth and shred feet. We have gun-wielding old folks inspired by Bronson shooting back and catching on fire. We have Martin Balsam taking out his old World War 2 machine gun and going after the muggers, only to fall down the stairs (you’d think he would have learned to avoid stairs back in Psycho.) We have Bronson shooting purse snatchers in the back and getting applause from people at their windows, in sort of a reverse-bizarro-universe tribute to Kitty Genovese.

We have a God-awful music score by Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin that sounds like a cross between John Carpenter’s keyboard-on-the-cheap music for Halloween and porn synth slowed down and played backwards.

We have a nonsensical romantic subplot where too-hot-to-be-a-public-defender Deborah Raffin spots Charlie as a possible murderer in lockup and thinks “Gee, there’s a guy old enough to be my father accused of murder who won’t tell me anything about his past!” so she takes a taxi up to terror town to randomly look for him & ask him out on a date. She finds him, they have dinner, she confesses her disgust at her job and they bed down for some Chuck lovin’ before Mohawk McMayhem gets back at Bronson later that night by bonking her on the head and rolling her and her car in neutral down a hill into traffic, knowing full well that in a movie like this, a 20 mile per hour fender bender will assuredly become the equivalent of Dresden when it blows up real good into a flaming inferno of efficient cinematic girlfriend disposal.

We have Fraker, pre-Bronson-battle, getting on the phone and saying “I need more reinforcements” before we smash cut to a biker battalion riding into town whirling chains into people’s heads and throwing grenades through shop windows that, like Deborah Raffin, also blow up real good. Think about this for a moment – who the hell is he calling? Rent a riot? Bikers ‘r’ us? Leftover extras from the set of The Born Losers next door on the lot? And did he put it on account or promise to pay them in cash afterwards?

We have the repeated unsubtle motif of gun-as-wang from director Michael Winner, whether it’s the series of bizarre angles and quick cuts during Shriker’s interrogation of Kersey when one shot places a trophy handgun where it appears to come out of Shriker’s fly, or later on when Bronson repeatedly fires his machine gun at crotch level into a veritable supermarket of disposable mugger meat.

Ah, Michael Winner! He used to be a half-decent director, and made earlier films with Bronson such as Chato’s Land or The Mechanic that are far, far superior to this one. And he was also capable of astounding levels of shititude with material like The Sentinel, where hottie model Cristina Raines needs to leave her fashion model fastlane life and guard the gates of hell in order to save her soul. If you’ve ever wanted to see Burgess Meredith play the demonic ghost of a child molester who can summon up armies of intestine eating deformed midget goblins at will, then this is definitely the movie for you! After all, if he had done that for Rocky, Clubber Lang would have never had a chance! He’s a wreckin’ machine!

But I digress.

Looks like Winner has rediscovered his British sense of humor, in this piece about how he’s no longer a big fat slob. Bon appetit!

Action and idiotic violence aside, my only reason for knocking Death Wish 3 down a few notches from Everest-level heights of anti-genius remains its lack of moronic dialogue, an element that my earlier choices of bad films to love have in abundance. Except for the deeply moving moment where one of the thug army mourning one of their fallen comrades lets loose with “They shot the Giggler, man!” there really isn’t much else to chew on here. But I’d still recommend this one for anyone in the mood for good old mindless violence, despite a depressing “we need to show some tits” rape scene – where the victim is Marina Sirtis, otherwise known as Counsellor Troi – No dialogue from her throughout the film, by the way, since she probably hadn’t lost her British accent and is supposed to be playing Puerto Rican from what I can tell – in any case, it spoils the surreal quality of the rest of the film’s violence and undermines our ability to kick back and mindlessly enjoy the entire thing as a comic book-gone-wild depiction of New York as if David Dinkins were mayor-for-life.

Stupid beyond belief! Thumbs up!

Fuzzy Warbles From The Swindon Beatles March 24, 2008

Posted by Jim Berkin in 1980s, Music.
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The long and bumpy story of XTC, one of my favorite bands, is certainly filled with drama. Most of it hinges on the immense talent and immense self-destructive streak running through Andy Partridge, who suffered a nervous breakdown from overwork in 1982 and refused to tour afterwards. The band confined itself to the studio and continued to turn out great (probably a lot of its best) material, but endless fights with management and their-then Virgin record label ground them down, all without concert gate to make it up. Tensions within the band grew over the lack of commercial recognition, despite a seemingly endless period on the cusp of such a breakthrough around the time of hit singles Dear God and The Mayor Of Simpleton. An EXCELLENT journey through all of this can be found in XTC: Songs & Stories, which gives accounts on the background of every XTC song and also a very revealing look inside the studio battles that Andy always seemed to win – and little by little, we can see almost a subconscious desire by Partridge to sabotage the greater possibilities of success for the band, as if he’s avoiding the same path of quickly rising and mega-touring that led to his 1982 breakdown (which was supposedly also attributable to his then wife throwing out his valium – Partridge’s domestic problems and joys also figure heavily into his music).

In any event, XTC put out a shelf load of material during their time together, all of which is wonderfully catalogued & OCD’d over at the wonderful Chalkhills fan site maintained by John Relph. And in keeping with my own OCD, I have finished listening to the must-have-for-fans Fuzzy Warbles Collection, nine CDs worth of home recordings from Partridge from over the years, including demos of songs eventually recorded, songs eventually given up on & thrown away, and assorted fragments & ephemera.

This collection is a rich & wonderful assortment of the wide gamut of musical stylings that XTC produced over the years – from their rough/industrial/clangy sound through softer, often Brian Wilson-esque material, through their knock-offs of psychadelia and bubblegum, and through an assortment of ear candy from some of the best Brit poprock of the past thirty years.

I’m interested in listening to the demo versions of slickly produced songs Partridge originally recorded in his garden shed, since it provides a window into the actual process of putting a record together, a subject that the Songs & Stories book tackles very well, and can also be glimpsed in the wonderful Chuck Berry documentary Hail Hail Rock & Roll by Taylor Hackford. Sometimes lyrics get changed, bridges get re-arranged, songs are restructured, and so forth. It’s basically the rock and roll version of comparing the early & revised versions of symphonies. But what mystifies me when listening to a lot of this material is just how damn good the songs they threw away are. I remember someone reviewing a previously released collection of forgotten XTC B-sides Rag & Bone Buffet remarked “The songs these guys throw away are better than some bands’ careers.” I heartily concur, especially now that I’ve heard a boatload of material Partridge gave up on for whatever reason and wonder why. Partridge’s commentary on this material can be found here, and while it provides some insight into this, I guess there’s really no way to truly explain artistic temperament, especially with someone as volatile as Partridge.

Listening to all of this material, however, makes me wonder if Andy is done cleaning out his mental closet. There always seems to be news of new recordings in the works (most recently with Robyn Hitchcock) that never seem to materialize. With the present day technologies allowing him to record, mix & distribute his music without the money boys or record company weasels intervening, I’m hoping that someone who has been as prolific in the past as Partridge has been will continue to pump out top-notch material, with the clever lyrics and mix of musical styles to fit the idea behind each song. My eager ears await more!