Hidden in plain sight in the midst of his prodigious creative output, there is an unfairly overlooked gem in David Byrne’s discography that I feel is an absolutely monumental masterpiece of late 20th century music, one right up there with Talking Heads’ Remain in Light and his seminal collaboration with Brian Eno, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. I refer to the seamless funk opera score Byrne created for choreographer, Twyla Tharp in 1981, The Catherine Wheel. Unless you were a big Talking Heads or are David Byrne completest, chances are this one might have passed you by.
The Catherine Wheel is, to my mind, the third spoke (see what I did there) of a deeply psychedelic African-influenced polyrhythmic trilogy along with the above-mentioned Remain in Light and My Life in the Bush of Ghosts—all three were easily in my top ten “tripping soundtracks” as an acid-gobbling teenager and all three would still be on my Desert Island Discs list as a middle-aged rock snob. If you’re a fan of the two better-known albums, but have not heard The Catherine Wheel, well, you’ll be in for a profound treat, but especially if you drop some acid beforehand (I’d encourage it, no really!).
Musicians heard on the album include Jerry Harrison, the powerful drummer Yogi Horton, percussionist John Chernoff, Adrian Belew, P-Funk’s resident Minimoog genius Bernie Worrell and Brian Eno. It’s mind-blowing to me that there’s not a deluxe 2-CD set of the album that would include the 12” mixes and live Talking Heads performances of songs from the score, but I feel like this incredible piece of music has always gotten short shrift from whatever major label currently owns it. (The Catherine Wheel is one of the greatest “fuck albums” of all time, too. That’s how they should market it, if you ask me. I toyed with the obnoxious linkbait title of “David Byrne, of all people, recorded the ultimate fuck album” but thought better of it).
Above, Talking Heads performing “Big Blue Plymouth (Eyes Wide Open)” at Wembley Arena in 1982.
After the jump, much more including the full Twyla Tharp ballet as it aired on BBC and PBS in 1983…
In 1967-68 I was office boy at a short-lived magazine that my father published called Cheetah. Of Bar Mitzvah age, I considered myself a man, one who had thoroughly absorbed all tributaries of what is now called the counterculture, especially its music simply called ROCK, having dispensed with its appendage of “…and roll.” In the wake of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper and Bob Dylan, rock music was Gabriel’s electric horn for me and my young hirsute comrades, heralding the emergence of the holy in all God’s chillun, and love and peace and general groovyosity. Cheetah had a two-fold mandate: 1) to present a well-writ and designed, slick-papered mag for hippies and 2) to turn a profit. It usually succeeded in the former, but completely failed at the latter.
Before its demise, some of the best journalistic minds of the ‘60s generation contributed to Cheetah, including Paul Krassner, Ed Sanders, Doon Arbus, Richard Goldstein, Robert Christgau, Ellen Willis – even Tom Wolfe. Original editor Jules Siegel wrote a transfixing piece for the first issue called “Goodbye Surfing, Hello God” that was the first public announcement that Brian Wilson was writing “a teenage symphony to God” that would be the next Beach Boys album called SMiLE and that Brian was veering twixt visionary and paranoiac. Another truly fine scribe named Tom Nolan wrote a profile of a guy named Van Dyke Parks and his new album called Song Cycle.
Months before Nolan’s feature ran, everybody at Cheetah – editors, writers, the art department, and a mannish boy with my name – had flipped their Beatle wigs over a single by one George Washington Brown called “Donovan’s Colours.” It was a (mostly) instrumental version of Donovan Leitch’s melodically winning “Colours,” but it sounded like nothing else in the pop – or any other known – universe. Brown’s piece begins with the sound of a coin fed into a jukebox followed by the most delightfully bright piano that plays the tune of “Colours” and is soon joined by marimbas, a Pet Sounds-ish bass clarinet, swirling organ and castanets that imitate the sound of a music box being wound-up. Indeed the track has a music box feel though the repetition of Donovan’s melody, repeated modulations and tempo changes also remind one of a Chinese box—once opened it keeps revealing other boxes inside—or an unsolvable Rubik’s Cube that can be twisted every which colorful way without ever resolving. A mere seven words from Donovan’s song are sung, followed by an avian Dixieland clarinet: “Blue is the color of the sky.” Like the sky, “Donovan’s Colours” is wondrous, limitless—infinity contained in three minutes and 41 seconds.
In Tom Nolan’s aforementioned Cheetah profile of Van Dyke Parks, he tells a very funny story of hanging in a recording studio with Moby Grape listening to them bandy rumors about the identity of that George Washington Brown fella and the then-ongoing construction of “Donovan’s Colours.” Something about Brown being this wealthy guy who lives in South America and who’s recording bits and pieces and sending it to session man Van Dyke Parks in L.A. who’s splicing it together. All bullshit, of course. Eventually it was revealed that Brown was Parks, the studio musician, composer, producer and arranger who had written the lyrics for the Beach Boys’ “Heroes and Villains” and was Brian Wilson’s designated lyricist for SMiLE. He says today that he didn’t put his name on it because “I craved anonymity, so I adopted a nom de guerre.”
Van Dyke thought it would be a hit and was wary of public scrutiny. We at Cheetah all thought it would be a hit, as did virtually every critic in the nascent rock press. Warner Brothers Records then paid for VDP to record a solo album that would become Song Cycle. It’s The Great Overlooked Classic Of American Popular Music and like “Donovan’s Colours” (which is on the album), it’s a sui generis set of music that emanates from one man and one man only. The sounds of folk songs, Broadway show tunes, film scores, Charles Ives and Erik Satie all naturally blend. It’s psychedelic—not via clichés of electric sitars and fuzz boxes, but in the word’s literal definition of mind-manifesting. The Beatles and Dylan had smashed all the conventions of pop music and were the toppermost of the poppermost. Why not Van Dyke Parks? For all the media yap about The Rock Revolution, neither album nor single fit into commercial radio’s idea of what rock music should sound like – too eclectic, too intelligent – yes Virginia, “too intelligent” was a very real concept then, as now, in the United States Of America. And neither in any way rawked. So for the most part, the hippie hordes – however expansive their consciousness—never got to hear Song Cycle and it sold bupkis.
Van Dyke soldiered on despite the commercial failure, continued to make solo albums (including collaborating with Brian Wilson on Orange Crate Art), produced and/or arranged singular recordings for – among others—Randy Newman, Ry Cooder, Little Feat, Allen Toussaint, Harry Nilsson, Phil Ochs, Loudon Wainwright, Arlo Guthrie, Bonnie Raitt, and The Esso Trinidad Steel Band and The Mighty Sparrow (he loves steel drums and calypso). He still resides in the moment and scouts horizons, championing Rufus Wainwright and producing discs for other young ‘uns like Joanna Newsom and Inara George (daughter of his late friend Lowell George). VDP has scored films and commercials, written children’s books, and acted in movies and T.V.
In keeping with the awry pattern of American cultural illiteracy, he’s more respected in Europe, Japan, and Australia than in his own country. Last year, U.K. label Bella Union reissued his first three solo albums (Song Cycle, Discover America, Clang Of The Yankee Reaper) and will release his “orchestral fantasy” Super Chief: Music For The Silver Screen  on limited vinyl on April 20 and his latest CD collection Songs Cycled on May 6. There’s also many delights available on VDP’s website.
For those near or in Los Angeles, Van Dyke plays at McCabe’s this Saturday, March 30. Inara George will join him during his set and New Orleans piano wiz Tom McDermott is also on the bill. The early show is sold out, but there are still late show tix available.
Van Dyke Parks remains in forward motion despite the fickle tastes of the Entertainment-Industrial Complex. An eloquent raconteur and great wit, he’s philosophical about the vagaries of his life as a working musician. “As Jefferson noted ‘Show men your depths, and they will ford your shallows,’” he wrote to me recently.
One of the most influential bands ever to come out of the Eastern Bloc, Hungary’s legendary Omega have been at it since 1962, the same year the Rolling Stones first got together. Give or take a couple of early members departing and a period of inactivity during 1987-1994, they are one of the longest-running acts in rock history and with one of the most stable line-ups.
Omega’s sound has obviously changed over their five decades, travelling light years from their early Beatles-influenced pop songs towards something kinda like early Status Quo fuzz box guitar meets the Moody Blues classical rock (or sometimes like a Slavic version of schlager), then a prog rock sound in the 70s that gave way to harder rocking wail (and even disco) by later in that decade. The 1980s saw them develop a spacerock thing that continues to be their signature sound.
Since Omega recorded songs in both magyar and in English, and regularly toured in England and Germany (The Scorpions are known to be big fans) they are one of the most popular groups to originate from the Communist bloc.
In any case, it’s more Omega’s early material that I like the best, so that’s what I’m going to post here. I hadn’t thought about this band in years until one of our readers, Kjirsten Winters, reminded me of them. I was shocked by how many amazing vintage clips of this band exist. Feast your eyes and ears on Omega…
Start with the mind-bending “Tékozló fiúk” (“Prodigal Sons”) from 1969. Play it LOUD!
Dangerous Minds, it’s time that introduced you to my good friend, and member of the Tranarchy family, Mr Kurt Dirt. Usually we keep him in the basement so as not to freak out the visitors, but he’s been scratching at the trapdoor lately, so we’ve decided let him loose for a while.
Kurt is a bit of a sick puppy. After years of gigging on the live circuit, Kurt decided to pack all the “band” nonsense in and go it alone (though he still puts on one mean live show, featuring bare back gorillas, dancing demons and women in cages.) He makes music that sounds like vintage late 80s/early 90s Wax Trax, and cites Fad Gadget, Big Black and My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult as his major influences. By some incredible kind of osmosis, though, he somehow manages to take all those influences and make music that’s even MORE camp than the originals, which is surely some kind of magical feat.
Another one of Kurt Dirt’s major influences is the soundtrack to Tetsuo, and on the topic of films soundtracks, Mr Dirt has just finished scoring the upcoming Troma release Return To Nuke ‘Em High and is about to start work on the score for the sequel. Kurt Dirt and Troma films is a match made in heaven (or, rather, the deepest bowels of hell.)
That Troma influence is loud and clear in his new video, “Love Sick”. Taken from his debut solo release, the Rat Burger EP, this clip takes the viewer into a disgusting nether land of licking used diapers and literally fucking skulls. Yep, it’s pretty sick, all the more for the authentic, scratchy, video look. Kurt says:
I just wanted to make the most horrible thing I could really, something that makes you feel like you shouldn’t be watching it. I choose to shoot it on 8mm video8 handy cam so that it would have worn down, tenth generation look of a video nasty era VHS movie. You see horror movies these days like saw etc that are 1000 times more graphic but they just feel way too clean, like your watching an MTV video. Visually I’d say we ripped off Hershell Gordon Lewis, Troma, Tobe Hooper and Harmonie Korine the most.
Kurt Dirt “Love Sick” (NSFW)
You can buy “Love Sick” (and the Rat Burger EP) and get more info on Kurt Dirt at KurtDirt.net.
After the jump, two more Kurt Dirt videos from Rat Burger, “I’m Filth” and “Beat Me Up Buttercup”...
If there is one word that is often synonymous with the work of Radley Metzger, it is, without a doubt, classy. Whether it is his softcore films of the 1960’s, including such classics as The Lickerish Quartet and Camille 2000, or his adult work under the non de plume Henry Paris, Metzger’s art is the champagne of erotic cinema. Champagne is just the term too, since it goes perfectly with Distribpix’s Rolls Royce of a release for Metzger’s most famous explicit work, 1976’s The Opening of Misty Beethoven.
Using George Bernard Shaw’s play, Pygmalion as a loose framework for the story, The Opening of Misty Beethoven is one of Metzger’s lightest films. Our titular heroine, Misty Beethoven (Constance Money), is a hooker working in the City of Lights itself, Paris. Don’t be fooled by the continental decadence, since when we first meet her, she’s bedecked in a bad wig, worse make-up and a tee-shirt slapped with assorted credit card logos. On top of the questionable fashion choices, there’s the fact that Misty is just not very good at her career of choice. While limiting yourself to giving hand jobs to old men dressed up as Napoleon does have a certain old world charm, it is not going to get you far in life.
It is when she, by the sheer touch of kismet, crosses paths with Dr. Seymore Love (the inimitable Jamie Gillis) one night in a porn theater, that her life is forever changed. Along for the ride is Love’s old colleague Geraldine (Jacqueline Beaudant), whom he encounters in a dingy brothel. In Misty, Love sees a delicious challenge. The goal? To take this seemingly passionless woman and transform her into the “Goldenrod Girl,” which is the crowning achievement for all that is female seductiveness and heat. Geraldine’s dubious but game for the experience and is enlisted as one of Love’s guides of sorts.
Along the way, we get a series of cute training sessions, with Misty, her hair pulled back and wearing a jogging suit, training like a champ. Yet, instead of running up stairs, it’s more recumbent bikes, candy colored phallus training and live action demonstrations. She’s slow at first, but soon gets her figurative feet wet when she seduces a homosexual art dealer (played by Casey Donovan, whom also starred in the gay adult ground breaker, Wakefield Poole’s Boys In the Sand, as well as Metzger’s own Score). This starts the wheel spinning for Misty, culminating at famed publisher,Lawrence Lehman’s (Ras Kean) decadent, jet set party. It’s there that Misty not only seduces Lawrence, but his sexy raven-haired wife, Barbara (Gloria Leonard), too, all for the rapt gaze of Lehman’s guests. Misty gets crowned the Goldenrod Girl, but there is a bittersweet tinge, when she overhears Seymour and Geraldine snickering.
It’s true that absence makes the heart grow fonder, which is exactly what happens with Seymour and his protege. There’s a playful twist to the original Shaw work that is a fitting ending to one polished gem of a film.
At the height of the porno chic wave in the 1970’s, there were two films that should have successfully bridged the genre of erotica into the realm of mainstream cineaste acceptance. The first being Gerard Damiano’s 1973 The Devil in Miss Jones and the second being The Opening of Misty Beethoven. The former truly broke ground and paved the way for Misty Beethoven to be highly regarded, not just by the Adult industry but by major critics like Roger Ebert.
Metzger’s work, more so than any other filmmaker of erotica, save maybe Candida Royalle years later, has often been considered to be “couples friendly.” While that kind of categorization depends on the individual couple, given Metzger’s sophisticated eye and touch, the attractive cast, the international locales and characters that are often treated with a semblance of respect, it makes sense. This is doubly so with Misty Beethoven, which is a light pastry of a film, especially compared to some of Metzger’s weightier past efforts, like The Imageand The Lickerish Quartet. Lacking the darker elements that tended to be a hallmark of a lot of the quality adult cinema being made, Misty is more like a delicious, saucy cocktail that is sweet enough to be alluring, strong enough to be heady but not so strong to be threatening.
The cast is top notch, featuring a typically strong performance from the dark prince himself, Jamie Gillis, as the Henry Higgins-esque Seymour Love. Here, Gillis gets to shine bright as the handsome, erudite Professor. He brings a breezy sophisticated charm, lacking some of the violent sleaze that became synonymous with his other roles. Love or hate him, there will never another like Jamie. Jacqueline Beudant, in her only role, is very earthy as the worldly and world-traveled Geraldine. Rounding out the main cast is Constance Money, as the titular Misty Beethoven. Money, whose work prior to Misty, amounted to a couple of loops and the 1975 film, Confessions of a Teenage Peanut Butter Freak, Money is initially not given a whole lot to do, with her character being more of a blank slate. Misty in the beginning has all of the lusty warmth of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, but gradually grows more passionate and comfortable with herself. Money not only conveys this but also displays hints at some good comedic timing. It’s too bad that she only ended up doing a tiny handful of films before retiring in the early 1980’s, because she definitely had the right mix to transcend the cult star status that she has to this day.
One star that emerged just as bright and in fact, even bigger than Money was Gloria Leonard. Any ill informed individual who assumes that women who acted in adult films back then were either victims or bimbos would have their ignorance demolished, if not flat out incinerated by Leonard. In addition to being one of the first notable older women in erotica, she has a background that includes copy writing for a then burgeoning Elektra records, working on Wall Street and serving as publisher for 14 years of High Society magazine. Even better, she is currently a chartered member of the non-profit group, Feminists for Free Expression. This is a whole lot of detail to illustrate the simple fact that Gloria Leonard is an inspirational badass.
Making a suitable companion to the glamorous Leonard is the enigmatic Ras Kean, as the ridiculously handsome and devil-may-care catalyst for Misty’s Goldenrod Girl status. Misty also has some notable actors in smaller roles, including the brilliant Michael Gaunt, who was so incredible in Roger Watkins American Babylon years later, as an escort of Geraldine’s. In a very small, non-sex role is character actor Mark Margolis, who has gone on to act in everything from 1977’s prison film Short Eyes all the way to TV’s American Horror Story.
One trademark of Radley Metzger’s work is how impeccable his films look. It’s not just the attractive cast, international locations and great set design, though all of them have these qualities in spades. But in addition to all of that, there is the cinematography, which is exquisite. When you can make something as wrinkly and awkward as a scrotum look lovely and refined, then you have more that done your job. All low-hangers talk aside, every frame in this film looks like art and really, it is. Not enough kudos can be heaped onto Paul Glickman, whose terrific work as a cinematographer can also be seen in Metzger’s equally lush looking Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann, as well as the Dennis Hopper character study, Tracks.
Speaking of kudos, Distribpix have done another stellar job, giving The Opening of Misty Beethoven every ounce of the love, respect and attention to detail it deserves. The restoration work that went into this transfer is beyond perfect, not to mention the cornucopia of extras, including the highly informative director’s commentary, with the man himself, as well as a separate one for the “cool” aka cable TV ready version of the film with Gloria Leonard. On top of that, there’s trailers, ephemera, a wonderful making of documentary and much more. This release is swanky in all the right places.
The Opening of Misty Beethoven is one fun, light-as-meringue film. While it may lack the plot and character layer that other Metzger films possess, it more than makes up for it with an old world charm, a new world sense of freedom and a polish to be envied.