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‘Stairway to Stardom’: The Forgotten Joys of Public Access TV

Before America’s Got Talent, there was Stairway to Stardom, a public access talent show, broadcast in New York during the late 1970s and 1980s. Shot in what looks like someone’s basement, or the rehearsal room for a David Lynch film, Stairway to Stardom offered the young, the old, and even the deluded a chance to achieve the success their ambition suggested was theirs. Clips of this wonderfully bizarre series have popped up on YouTube over the years, and reveal what fans of Stairway to Stardom have known for years - that this camp, fun and rather charming show is still well ahead of Simon Cowell’s smug, corporate juggernaut.

Horowitz and Spector sing “Something’s Rotten in Translyvania”, 1988

Stairway to Stardom - Opening Titles 1984
More joys from ‘Stairway to Stardom’, after the jump…
With thanks to Fernando Caetano

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Patti Smith receives prestigious Swedish music award
03:30 pm


Patti Smith
Polar Music Prize

Jersey punk receives the 2011 Polar Music Prize from Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf.
Patti Smith was awarded Sweden’s highest musical honor this past week.

Billboard reports:

The Polar Music Prize was first presented in 1992 and has gone to pop artists such as Sir Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, B.B. King, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin and classical names such as Isaac Stern, Renée Fleming, José Antonio Abreu and Ennio Morricone.

Smith’s award was presented by one of her favorite authors, Sweden’s Henning Mankell. Speaking without notes, he credited Smith for inspiring women all over the world to write poetry and create music. He then read the citation, which lauded Smith for “devoting her life to art in all its forms” and for demonstrating “how much rock ‘n’ roll there is in poetry and how much poetry there is in rock ‘n’ roll.” Calling Smith “a Rimbaud with Marshall amps,” the citation said that she “has transformed the way an entire generation looks, thinks and dreams.”

In her acceptance, a visibly moved Smith had to stop for a moment to collect herself as she thanked her daughter Jesse Paris and son Jackson, as well as the musicians she has worked with for years, including “Lenny Kaye, who has played guitar by my side for over 40 years.” Smith also acknowledged the late Stig Anderson and “my late husband, Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith,” guitarist for the rock band MC5.

“Receiving the prestigious Polar Music Prize is both humbling and inspiring, for it fills me with pride,” Smith told the audience at the Stockholm Concert Hall. “It also fills me with the desire to continue to prove my worth. I am reminded always how collaborative the music experience is and so I would like to thank the people, for it is the people for whom we create and it is the people who have given me their energy and encouragement for four decades.

No longer outside of society, punk’s elder stateswoman discusses her past, the present and the creative process with Stockholm journalist Jan Gradvall.

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Excellent Sparks live footage from 1974

Man I love Sparks! They are simultaneously the geekiest AND coolest band in the history of rock. We need to be showing more love to the brothers Mael and their highly literate, fun, sexy and intelligent music here on DM - they are California boys after all. This bizarrely brilliant short concert film is the perfect excuse to post about them.

Sparks always move with the times, and frequently they were well ahead of it. In 1974 they took baroque opera-pop to the top of the UK charts, a whole year before Queen did the same thing to more acclaim. In 74/75 they pretty much invented New Wave (the proof lies in this film)  and 4-5 years later when it had caught on Sparks had already moved on to inventing that staple of 80s pop, the synth-duo (through their incredible work with Giorgio Moroder). That’s not even taking into account the theory that 1976’s Big Beat album paved the way for power-pop. By the early 80s the brothers had settled down and repositioned themselves as perhaps THE quintessential New Wave band, hooking up with uber-fan Jane Weidlin of the Go-Gos along the way, and delivering the MTV staple “Cool Places”. Sparks were on the ball with their music videos too, recognising that the moving image was going to be key to music in the coming decades, and hiring a certain director called David Lynch to helm the promo for their classic 1983 stomper “I Predict”.

And that brings us back to this concert film. It is of course a brilliant look at the Sparks live set-up of the mid-Seventies post-glam era, but it also gives us some unintentionally funny moments too. It must have been a bit of a nightmare for the record company to position this brainy, sarky, odd-looking band as being another teeny-bop pop product, but boy did they try. See the over-enthusiastic reaction from the crowd to every single move the band make! Hear the roars that sound like they were from a different concert! Feel the prodding from assistant directors for bored audience members to get up and dance! Still, none of this hides the true, what-the-hell weirdness that shines out of Sparks, and particularly Ron Mael. Just check the moment at 1:40 when Ron gives a wry smile to an audience member and we see her shocked reaction.

This film is pretty short and only features four songs (“Something For The Girl With Everything”. Talent Is An Asset”, “B.C.” and “Amateur Hour”) and pop spotters will also be interested to see that Sparks are given an introduction by none other than Keith Moon and Ringo Starr:
Sparks Live 1974 Part 1

Part 2 after the jump…

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment
More pioneering synthpunk from Futurisk

More early 80s synthpunk madness, this time from South Florida’s Futurisk. These guys are pretty obscure and information on them is limited, but according to their website they formed in 1979 when teenager Jeremy Kolosine won some time in a recording studio, and their music was usually:

recorded by Richard Hess and the band in the rooms of Ron K’s house. The drum sound, gotten in a bathroom, rocks, even today. Reportedly, Futurisk may have been the 1st synth-punk band in the American South…or something, and 1981’s track ‘Push Me Pull You (pt. 2)’ was an early pre-‘Rockit’ excursion into electro-funk.

The revival of interest in the band was sparked when James Murphy included one of their tracks on a DFA mix for the French boutique Colette in 2003. Last year the Minimal Wave label released a retrospective of the band’s work called Player Piano, and earlier this year the band put out a remix 12” of the track “Lonely Streets”, one of whose remixes came from the mighty Chris Carter. Here’s a couple of videos of Futurisk in action:

Futurisk - “Meteoright”

After the jump the original video for the classic “Army Now”, and more Futurisk…
If you like what you hear, and you want to pick up Player Piano, you can get it here.

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment
Classic Covers: Fabulous dust jacket facsimiles to novels by Vonnegut, Woolf, Kerouac and more

Over at Facsimile Dust Jackets you can find (and purchase) an incredible selection of scans of dust jackets from classic novels by Kurt Vonnegut, Philip K Dick, Doris Lessing, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Christopher Isherwood, Norman Mailer, Jack Kerouac, Henry Miller, Agatha Christie, Aleister Crowley, Dennis Wheatley, Robert Bloch, Len Deighton and many, many more. Have a look for yourself here.
More fab facsimile dust jackets, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Allen Ginsberg bobblehead beatnik doll
01:13 pm

Pop Culture

Allen Ginsberg

Forget about your dashboard Jesus, get yerself a bobblehead bard.

Awesome six inch tall figurine of the king poet of the Beat generation, Allen Ginsberg. Comes with Uncle Sam top hat, glasses, beaded necklace, a groovy coat plus a CD of Allen live at the Knitting Factory in 1995! The CD includes five previously unreleased spoken word pieces. The perfect addition to your shrine to the awesomeness that is the Beats! Figure designed by Archer Prewitt of The Cocktails and The Sea and Cake!

From the fine folks at Aggronautix


Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Practical doomsday advice from creepy Christian guy

Some end of the world tips from a man who claims that God saved him from a car wreck and back pain, personally,  in 1990 and now he wants to share his bounty with all of us. Because the end is nigh.

Via Christian Nightmares

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Dream Date Portrait Pillow
11:31 am


Robert Smith
home decorating

This guy is way dreamier than the Robert Smith portrait pillow.

(via Pleated Jeans)

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Olbermann: AZ country GOP chair is a ‘human-shaped pile of feces’

Pima County, AZ Republican Chairman Pro Tem,  Mike Shaw, is the asshole who made the tacky decision to raffle off a Glock handgun for a local GOP fundraiser. Of course, Jared Loughner used a Glock during the tragic shooting spree there in January that killed six people and injured 13 others, including Democratic Representative Gabrielle Giffords. Was there NOTHING ELSE they could have raffled off in Gifford’s own district? A TV? A microwave oven? A box set of Newt and Callista Gingrich DVDs? NOTHING???

Even with this unusually harsh level of invective for television(!), Olbermann’s pretty much right on the money, here. I especially like the part about how the morally repugnant Pima County GOP should secede from the rest of us. They really should! Via Raw Story:

Shaw had defended the raffle Thursday by insisting Jared Loughner was responsible for shooting Giffords and killing six others, not the Glock.

“I could tell Mr. Shaw and the Pima County Republicans that they have ceased to be humans, that the rest of us think it would be a really good idea if they seceded from the country,” Olbermann explained.

Instead, he read a comment from James Kelley.

“It doesn’t mean the Republican party doesn’t have an incredible record of supporting the Second Amendment, but at this point it’s ill-advised and I won’t stand with them on this,” Kelley told the Arizona Daily Star Thursday.

“Mr. Kelley, critical of this crass, heartless, neanderthal gesture from the Pima County Republican Party is the Arizona Legislative District 29 Republican chairman,” Olbermann explained. “Bravo to him and not to this human-shaped pile of feces, Mike Shaw, and his Pima County Republican Party.”

If you want a gander at Shaw trying to defend himself on CNN, click over to Raw Story for the video. What a fucking idiot.



Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Original synthpunk pioneers The Units present ‘Unit Training Films’

The Units were one of the first “rock” bands in America to ditch guitars completely and focus their set-up on drums, vocals and synthesisers. Leaders of San Francisco’s post-punk synth-led music scene (a lot of which is now resurfacing with the current interest in “Minimal Wave”) the comparisons with Devo are clear, but still don’t detract from The Units’ cracking tunes and tangible influence on the new wave generation. Tracks like “High Pressure Days” and “I-Night” are still sought after by record collectors and forward thinking DJs alike, mainly because they still rock.

During live shows, The Units would perform to a video accompaniment of re-edited instructional shorts and found footage called the “Units Training Films”. Some of these films have been recreated and uploaded to Vimeo by founder member Scott Ryser. While still being very much of their time, they are excellent and definitely rank alongside similar efforts by the likes of Church of The Subgenius. Ryser has this to say about them:

The “Unit Training Film #1”, produced by Scott Ryser and Rachel Webber in 1980, was compiled from films that the band projected during their live performances. The films were satirical, instructional films critical of conformity and consumerism, compiled from found footage, home movies, and obsolete instructional shorts. In 1979 and 1980, Rick Prelinger was a frequent contributor and occasional projectionist at the bands live performances in San Francisco. The film was also shown sans band in movie theaters around the San Francisco Bay Area including the Roxie Cinema, Cinematheque, Intersection Theater and the Mill Valley Film Festival .

There was never a set length or definitive “finished version” of the original Unit Training Film. Just the current version. The film varied in length from about 10 to 45 minutes, depending on how long the Units set was on any particular night. Clips were constantly being added and others were deleted and discarded once their condition became too poor to project any longer. The film was constantly breaking, and the projectionists always kept a roll of Scotch Tape nearby for timely repairs.

This 5 minute version, compiled by Scott Ryser, includes some clips of the band playing along with a brief interview by a very young Fred Willard during the period 1980 - 1982.

Who’d have thought Fred Willard was a fan?!

Here is “Unit Training Film 1: Warm Moving Bodies”

After the jump, “Units Training FIlm 2: Cannibals” plus some more classics by The Units…
For a crash course in the awesome synth-punk sound of The Units, check out History Of The Units: The Early Years 1977 - 1983.

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment
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