That Was Pop: Relistening to XTC, Part 4

XTC enjoyed a resurgence in popularity building up to their biggest radio hits in the late 1980s, only to retreat back into niche-cult band status by the early 1990s and then nearly vanishing altogether. An interesting thing happened… they unleashed what Andy Partridge describes as their pent-up love of 1960s psychadelic rock and it altered them artistically, somewhat. It burst out all at once in 1985 for what seemed like a gag EP record, but then continued to flow intermittently across their catalog afterwards.

After the commercial (but certainly not artistic) flop of their 1984 disc The Big Express, they switched gears and put out an April Fool’s novelty record, pretending to be a long-lost 1960s psychedelic band called The Dukes of Stratosphear. Andy & Colin either wrote newly designed ’60s style psychedelia or retooled rejected songs to fit the bill and came up with a wonderfully fun 6 song EP released on April 1, 1985. Their actual names were nowhere to be found, and only the familiar sound of their voices and the tell-tale sign of their early producer John Leckie at the helm were the clues as to who they really were.

It’s a great record, where they knock off the styles of The Electric Prunes or Syd Barrett and others. Sound effects, backward tracks, random spoken recordings and whatnot dropped into the production evoke the sorts of pot and acid induced studio wizardry from 1967 that they’re going for. Bottom line is that the songs are catchy and fun. They sound like they’re having fun, too – what a mood/vibe 180 turnaround from the PTSD feel of Mummer or the bargaining/reckoning stage of The Big Express. Listening to “My Love Explodes” or the Lennon-esque “Mole From The Ministry” made me think that that maybe Andy Partridge actually enjoyed being a musician again.

Continue reading “That Was Pop: Relistening to XTC, Part 4”

That Was Pop: Relistening to XTC, Part 1

I got treated to the 2017 documentary XTC: This Is Pop via a free promo weekend of Showtime. It’s a solidly made doc following the history of the band from its earlier Helium Kidz incarnations to its 1977 album debut, personnel changes, rise, fall, re-rise, strike, sputtered comeback and eventual demise. It’s a great intro to the band if you’re not at all familiar with them or only know them via “Dear God” or wonder whatever happened to that offbeat sounding band with the odd sounding lead singer who sang “Senses Working Overtime.” Lots of music and old wonderfully cheap-styled circa 1980 rock video is presented, along with interviews with musicians, critics, and principal band members, notably Dave Gregory, Colin Moulding, and Andy Partridge.

The band’s history, song by song, is covered in Neville Farmer’s authorized 1998 band bio XTC Song Stories (a book evidently later trashed by Partridge, can’t say I’m surprised for reasons I’ll go into shortly). A lot of the same material is covered in the film visually, but the film adds one amazing scene that’s a true revelation for longtime fans of the band like me.

Andy Partridge has synethesia, where perceptions get mixed up – colors become tastes, sounds become pictures and so on – and this mixed up/associative way of seeing the world is how he writes songs. He strums a guitar and finds a strange sounding chord he claims he’s never heard before…. starts strumming it… says it makes him think of the color brown, but sad, like a brown puddle… and then comes up with lyrics about a sad brown puddle and it all comes together. And all at once the seemingly limitless styles of arrangements, sounds and tones of the vast catalogue of XTC’s music suddenly made perfect sense to me. This scene alone makes the movie worth seeing.

So I thought I’d go back and listen to it all again, bearing in mind Partridge’s synesthesia and seeing (well, hearing…. I don’t have synesthesia) if I could pick elements of it out of his songs. The Moulding songs? No problem, I’ll go along for the ride with ’em… I always liked his stuff too.

Continue reading “That Was Pop: Relistening to XTC, Part 1”

Must-See TV

Vic Tayback racing Dune Buggies AND The San Diego Chicken??


Not to mention Cathy Lee Crosby, Erin Gray, Jayne Kennedy, Connie Sellecca, Victoria Principal and a bunch of soaking wet LA Rams cheerleaders, I’m pretty positive high school me would’ve been front row center back when this monstrosity aired, wondering where Adrienne Barbeau was.

Now, of course, the years of feminist enlightenment have taught me not to objectify women celebrities. I’ll be switching over to the Lifetime Movie channel instead.

Yeah, right.

I’ll be downloading this off some Ukranian torrent and watching it in slow motion with the sound off until I pass out. And that should take about fifteen seconds at my age.

I’m old and tired.

Perhaps I need Robert Conrad to be my coach. Now you & I know damn well he must have taken this WAY too seriously and screamed at those guys on his team for not pushing harder.

Well, maybe not that should-have-been-a-buddy-cop-show teaming of Louis Jourdan and Pat Harrington. See? Jourdan is the suave police detective on loan from Paris, while Pat plays his wacky informant who is a master of disguise…

This fall on CBS! We’re looking good!

But scream at Leif Garrett? Well, shit, who wouldn’t scream at Leif Garrett? Even the San Diego Chicken screamed at Leif Garrett.

It’s all cool in the end.  Conrad ordered up a big round of drinks at the bar afterwards and stuck Jamie Farr with the bill when he didn’t believe Farr’s “half the family dying, other half pregnant” story.

And is it just me, or is Connie Sellecca as a pool hustler the sexiest thing on there?

My pool cue is “Flying High,” Bevis…


Wonderful Behind The Scenes TV Stories From Prolific Director Ralph Senensky

I’d forgotten that Don Rickles once played a villain on The Wild Wild West, and rewatched that episode today. And then in looking up some stuff about it online, hoping to find perhaps links to outtakes and blooper reels where he became Don Rickles and commented on the mystical evil magician dialogue he’d been given or on Robert Conrad and Ross Martin, I came across this behind-the-scenes story on the filming of the episode written by its director, Ralph Senensky.

Senensky directed TONS of television from the 1960s thru the 1980s, logging episodes of so many of yours & my favorite shows that’s there’s too many to mention here – and it turns out he’s been blogging for years on his memories of them, and has a fantastic website containing all that material, organized by show and episode.

This site is a GOLD MINE! Senensky writes beautifully about what working in television was like back in the days of my favorite old reruns. He brings to life assorted names you’d see on numerous credits of numerous shows – Gene Coon or Quinn Martin and so forth – as well as including interesting stories dealing with both the technical limits & possibilities of the industry all those years ago.  His entries on specific episodes (and check out that sidebar menu for the sheer volume of ’em) include scans of script pages with rewrites & director cues…. amazing stuff, especially for photographic memory geeks like me who can replay the episode in my mind while I’m reading.

And not just the Star Treks he did, either. I can do a lot of the others because ALL I DO IS WATCH TV.

For anyone interested in TV history, or just the old shows & stars & writers you follow in your little nerd-heart-of-hearts, this stuff is indispensable. I can’t believe I didn’t know about it until now.

To quote Spock: “Fascinating.”

Oh, and Rickles? He didn’t disappoint…. Senensky tells us that inbetween takes, he went the full Vegas act on everyone, even making Billy Barty jokes about Conrad’s height. Rickles remains my fuckin’ hero.

And it looks like Ralph Senensky celebrated his 95th birthday a week ago. Happy Birthday, Director!



It Would Have Been….Glorious

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

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’ll let him apply his comedy genius somewhere.

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


Welcome to all the B3TA people who found this post on your board!

Feel free to look around the rest of this blog. Check out the topic menu. Or just keep scrolling & enjoy. Lots of film & TV articles on everything from film noir to Punk Rock Quincy to The Oscar, cat pictures, stupid jokes, you name it.

And MOST DEFINITELY click on the “Buy My Books” tab and check out my comic detective novels on Amazon. Help feed me, or so help me God, I’ll summon the spirits of Karl Malden and George Kennedy to wreck YOUR toilet. You’ve been warned.

(Truly) Random Baseball Card Of The Day: 1989 Fleer Rick Sutcliffe

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

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 slam danc 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

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!

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