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Bittersweet, small-town nostalgia from Okkervil River
10:27 am



Austin indie rockers Okkervill River’s new album The Silver Gymnasium, their seventh, just might herald the return of the storytelling singer-songwriter.

Singer-songwriter Will Sheff is fond of concept albums and introspective, intelligent lyrics. The Silver Gymnasium is about his hometown of Meriden, New Hampshire. There is a canon of songs by artists aching to get out of their little burgs and native cities (“One Story Town” by Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen’s “Born To Run” come to mind) and move on to something better. But this is an album from a mature songwriter looking back on his life and remembering his hometown fondly. In fact, Sheff began to write about Meriden not long after leaving it.

Meriden is a tiny rural village that had a population of less than 500 in the 1980s, a little blip on state highway NH Route 120, and slightly over two hours from Boston. I was unable to find anyone from New Hampshire who had have ever heard of it. It’s home to an expensive (nearly $50,000 a year) private co-ed boarding school, Kimball Union Academy, where Sheff’s parents taught and Sheff and his early bandmates were students.

Pitchfork describes Sheff as “one of indie rock’s most ambitious thinkers: a romantic anti-romantic weighing highly literate lyrics against an endlessly bleak worldview.”  He sings about leaving hometown friends behind to go away to college, adolescent longing, local landscape, and artifacts of ‘80s pop culture: Atari video games, cassettes, VCR’s, and Roald Dahl books. Influences like Jackson Browne, Springsteen, John Mellencamp, and Tom Petty are woven throughout the songs. “On a Balcony” could have come from an early Springsteen album.

Veteran producer John Agnello has worked with artists such as Kurt Vile, Sonic Youth, Andrew WK, Patti Smith, and Son Volt. He also mixed the ‘80s FM hit “Your Love” by The Outfield. “Your Love” is seldom played now, but that song saturated the airwaves during the summer of 1985. Sheff wanted a similar sound for The Silver Gymnasium. The guitar on “Where the Spirit Left Us,” “Stay Young,” and “All the Time Every Day” is extremely reminiscent of The Outfield.

Agnello told me recently:

In reality, not many people can tell a story these days like Will. His lyrics are top notch and he has the ability of telling a story while adding a twist at the end. His lyrics on “Friend” are a perfect example. He sings about someone who he’s not friends with but by the end of the lyric the whole emotion has turned completely around. Super poignant. But there are other examples. “Down, Down The Deep River” is an epic journey through his childhood with the great recurring line, “But it’s not alright. It’s not even close to being alright” which leads into each chorus. Simple, yet devastating.

These songs also really stand up on their own. From, “It’s My Season” right through, “All The Time, Every Day” there is a cohesion that doesn’t suffer from separation anxiety from the rest of the record.

Artist William Schaff’s drawing of a map of Meriden, NH circa 1986, used as the gatefold sleeve for ‘The Silver Gymnasium.’ There is an interactive version here:

Will Sheff answered a few questions about his small town experiences and musical education via e-mail this week.

Kimberly Bright: Did you feel that you fit in pretty well in Meriden as a teenager or were you eager to leave the place when you went off to college in Austin?

Will Sheff: My childhood was kind of a weird and specific case. I grew up in a kind of rural paradise that was completely isolated. The woods were my playground and everything felt safe and crime-free. There were two TV channels in the whole town and our dog would sleep all day in the middle of Main Street because no cars ever came down the road. At the same time, I was a very sickly kid and when I was very young a couple of my physical ailments had almost killed me; I grew up feeling very fragile and very much immersed in my own inner world. When I started going to school, this became a liability before too long. I was this weird spazzy kid with coke-bottle glasses and completely messed-up teeth and severe asthma, and I had never been hunting and wasn’t into sports and didn’t know how to relate to other kids and kind of had no social skills to speak of. I got picked on constantly, got into a lot of fights, was called “faggot” fairly regularly, was spit on. I fucking dreaded to go to school. Around junior high I made the conscious decision to remake my identity and join the bullies - and I somehow made it work! - but becoming a bully myself made me feel even worse than being bullied had. I relished the chance to meet new people when my graduating class split off two go to two different local high schools.

In high school I was picked on just as bad or worse, but I fell into a group of like-minded artsy kids like me: theater nerds and kids of who were obsessed with music and kids who weren’t all there mentally and kids who wanted to be writers. And I even had a small handful of teachers who took my ambitions seriously. One of them, Simon Harrold, who has long since passed away, used to have me swing by to grab anything I wanted from his bookshelf; he’d advise me on what to read next and had me reading Joyce, Faulkner, Proust, Dylan Thomas and Laurence Sterne. I barely understood what I was reading but I loved it and I loved that he respected me enough to give it to me. I’d bring him writing I’d be working on and we would sit in his living room and drink home-brewed beer he made and he would chain-smoke and give me very honest and no-bullshit adult advice about my writing. So even though I was still getting a pretty hard time from everyone at my school I think I developed a “fuck you” attitude rather than the beat-down one I’d felt when I was younger. I left Meriden really angry and really ready to do art for a living somehow. At the same time, I always knew I loved the town and that it was a special place, and I was already writing about it even then.

Kimberly Bright: Did you keep in touch with anyone in Meriden after you moved to Austin?

Will Sheff: I didn’t keep track of a lot of the people in Meriden. The person I stayed in touch with the longest was actually one of the kids who had done a lot of bullying in my junior high school, who in his very early 20s began writing poetry and then became a practicing Buddhist. But eventually I fell out of touch with even him. My parents had moved to Massachusetts - my father had gotten a new job at a Catholic university—and when I went back to visit them it was to a strange town where I didn’t know anyone. Meriden was so far out of the way and not near anything, and it became kind of exclusively locked in my memory. The longer I went without going back and the longer I lived in more prosaic or depressing urban and suburban places the more I started to question whether Meriden had ever even really been the way I remembered it. During the making of I Am Very Far I drove up very briefly and didn’t tell anyone I was coming or say hi to anyone. I just kind of lingered around the town like a weird creep. The town has changed a bit - more rich people have moved in, and there are a couple of depressing prefab neighborhoods here and there now. A little tiny bit of the local flavor has bled out ever so slightly, but in many respects it is very much the same, kind of locked in time. It was amazing to see the town again and apprehend that it was actually a real place and looked the way I remembered it. It really opened the emotional and creative floodgates for me. I kind of got wrenched away from the world of the I Am Very Far material and into this very deep and primal place, and every day I felt like I was falling deeper in. I think I made The Silver Gymnasium (and The Lovestreams record) as a way to exorcise some of the painful, almost morbid nostalgia I was feeling, because I felt like I was going to drown in it.

Kimberly Bright: I was wondering what media you had access to out there. How did you learn about new music in such an isolated town? What magazines did you read? What radio stations did you listen to?

Will Sheff: As I said, in Meriden we got two reliable TV stations—the local PSB and NBC affiliates. We kind of got a fuzzy version of ABC on days that the weather was good. To this day I don’t know what people are talking about when they make reference to 80s shows that aired on CBS. There were two main radio stations I listened to; one was a nearby college station whose programming was too eclectic for me to stay with the channel for long, although I do remember that that’s the first place I heard Squeeze’s “Pulling Mussels From a Shell” and the Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the Sun,” and that the college station would run the wonderful New Age program “Music From the Hearts of Space” in the evening, which I still have tremendous affection for. The main station I listened to, though, was Q106, which was the standard-issue station that played all the hits and had the cheery jingle where a bunch of ladies sing the call letters and end up on a high sustained note. That’s where I heard all top 40 from Joe Jackson to Deniece Williams. Every Sunday my dad would drive us forty minutes to church and I would study Casey Kasem’s Top 40 Countdown. And then there was my parents’ record collection - Dylan and Motown and a ton of soft rock like Loggins and Messina, Hall and Oates, and Dan Fogelberg. Hall and Oates was my favorite band in the world in the fifth grade. I wasn’t one of those kids who had a cool older brother, so I didn’t know about punk rock except images of guys with safety pins through their noses in Mad magazine, which miraculously got delivered to my village general store. I definitely knew about metal from unsupervised evenings at the trailers of my more hesh friends, but not punk really. In high school, I got really into whatever random stuff fell in my lap that resonated with me. I really desperately loved old Irish ballads and started buying CDs by bands like De Dannan. My friends used to tease me about that mercilessly, but I couldn’t stop. At around the same time I fell madly in love with the Incredible String Band, and that was fun because in a pre-Internet age you had to track down whatever records you could get on a long protracted treasure hunt to see a guy who taught pottery in Keene or to rendezvous with some friend’s stoned uncle. A very very cool burnout-y guitar player who transferred in from another school turned me on to the Velvet Underground. I thought he was the coolest dude I ever met. Somehow I learned about Big Star and bought Sister Lovers. I can’t remember how that happened. 

Kimberly Bright: Do you identify as a New England songwriter in the way that listeners associate Springsteen and Bon Jovi with New Jersey, Dave Alvin with California, Mellencamp with Indiana, etc., or do you now consider yourself a Texan songwriter?

Will Sheff: I have never, ever considered myself a Texan songwriter. This is not to say I don’t like Texas, because there’s a lot to love, but my move to Austin was pretty arbitrary. I was trying to convince my high school friends to reunite our old band and the bass player lived in Austin, so we all moved there. I’ve never really been able to shake the “alt-country twangy singer songwriter” title ever since, and it drives me nuts. I’m a Yankee. Not necessarily cool to say, but take it or leave it. I love New Hampshire in a way I can’t fully articulate. I know it’s an imperfect place (many people don’t even really have associations with it or associate it with Vermont, which is an insult!), but it’s my place where I grew up and where almost all of the joy and suffering I experienced up until the age of eighteen took place, and it’s beautiful and genuine and even though I went away for a long time every single time I come back to NH I feel like it remembers me and is glad to have me back. I wouldn’t say a New England songwriter - I would say a New Hampshire songwriter.

Will Sheff and childhood friend Aaron Johnson performing Sheff’s new material at small town New Hampshire open mic nights this summer, below

“It Was My Season,” filmed at the historic Plainfield Town Hall, in New Hampshire, below:

Posted by Kimberly J. Bright | Discussion
The Lost Art of Flying Saucer Rock & Roll: ‘The Ghastly Love of Johnny X’
03:51 pm



Ghastly Love of Johnny X Poster Art
As someone who is admittedly ¾ a retro girl, I can be a little leery of any current filmmaker trying to recreate the silver nitrate, tinfoil spacecraft, pony-tailed vixens and all of those wondrous things that populated the cult cinema of 1950’s America. However, when I saw the trailer for The Ghastly Love of Johnny X, all of my cynicism immediately melted. This was a film that I absolutely had to see and write about. Luckily for me, the trailer was just a cherry cordial for a film that is ripe with all sorts of cult-y goodies.

Filmed in glorious, in fact, downright sumptuous Eastman Plus-X black and white, The Ghastly Love of Johnny X begins with our titular character, Johnny Xavier (Will Keenan), being put on trial by The Grand Inquisitor (Kevin McCarthy, in his last film appearance) on his home planet. In a utopian-by-way-of-Milquetoast standard, Johnny’s transgressions, which include the low crimes of “civil disobedience” and “petty theft,” land him and his motley gang of alien JD’s on one of the most tumultuous planets in the universe—Earth. The only thing that can bring him and the gang back home is a truly unselfish act.

Late, Great Kevin McCarthy
One year later, Johnny and his gang, “the Ghastly Ones,” are stalking the desert, trying to track down former cohort and his ex-flame Bliss (De Anna Joy Brooks). It ends up not being too hard of a task, thanks partially to her weakness for an ice cold coke (glass bottle, of course). The trail leads hot towards an exquisitely box-like diner in the middle of the sticks. Sitting in the same diner is King Clayton (Reggie Bannister), a down-on-his-luck music impresario who is on the lam after his insurance from the loan sharks disappears under mysterious circumstances. The insurance in question is in the form of rock god and “the man with the grin,” Mickey O’Flynn (Creed Bratton), a long haired guru and, coincidentally, a hero to Johnny.

Before Johnny and the other Ghastlies arrive on the scene, Bliss flirts heavily with overgrown soda jerk, Chip (Les Williams). There’s only a short amount of time to confuse and arouse the good natured Chip before her ex shows up. And show up he does, breaking into a large musical number that transforms the diner into a Caligari-meets-The Forbidden Zone set. The music ends up doing nothing to better Johnny’s mood. Bliss has something of his that he wants. The object in question? His “resurrection suit,” a device that can force control on others. He starts to menace her, but before he can further the interrogation, one of Chip’s testicles drops and he rescues the sexy, mysterious lass.

Johnny & his fellow Ghastly Ones
King, seeing a golden goose opportunity, strikes a deal with Johnny. He’ll bring him the girl, if Johnny can help him out with Mickey. Along the way, villains become heroes, heroes become undead, an abandoned drive-in pops up, more musical numbers than you can shake an ice cold bottle of Coke at, a cat fight and the Paul Williams appearing as a ghoulish chat show host named, appropriately enough, “Cousin Quilty.” (Lolita no-no!)

The first thing that stands out about The Ghastly Love of Johnny X is, without a doubt, the visuals. It has been a long time since I have seen a recent black & white film look this good. Something that may get lost on a lot of folks is that the technique needed to properly light black and white film can be vastly different than lighting color. In some ways, color can be a lot more forgiving, so to make black & white really pop, you have to have a crew that a 100% know what they are doing.

Paul Williams as Cousin Quilty
The second thing that stands out is what a fun film this is. It’s cheeky, silly and most importantly, sincere. You cannot pull this kind of movie off, especially in this day and age, if you do not truly love, know and honor the genre. Director Paul Bunnell, who also made the equally 50’s-esque film, That Little Monster, back in 1994, rules this material and never lets the film get too serious or sink under the weight of its own kitsch. It’s not the easiest balance in the world, but he manages it just fine.

The cast is equally great, with the three standouts being Keenan, Bannister and Bratton. Will Keenan, who first came into my periphery back in the late 90’s for his standout work in Troma’s Tromeo & Juliet and Terror Firmer, is perfect as the handsome, extraterrestrial hood with a heart, Johnny. In lesser hands it would be complete caricature, but Keenan adds an impressive amount of depth to the role. In my world, Will Keenan is A-list in the true sense of the term.

Speaking of awesome, Reggie Bannister is one of the absolute kings of character actors, so getting to see him in a substantial role in such a good film was a huge joy. Like everything the man has done, he’s great as the likable, slightly seedy, complete with white fedora and omnipresent cigar, King Clayton. It’s too bad that he does not get to sing more, especially given his musical background, which includes playing with guys like Van Dyke Parks. Reggie Bannister should be in everything.

Johnny talks with King Clayton
Creed Bratton, thankfully, does get to sing quite a bit, including one of the best numbers, the flying saucer rock & roll song “Big Green Bug-Eyed Monster.” Most will be familiar with him from his work on The Office or being a member of the legendary 60’s group, The Grass Roots. Whatever you know him from, he’s terrific as this burned out yet charismatic rock star. If anyone can live up to the phrase “decayed swagger,” it is Bratton as Mickey O’Flynn.

The rest of the cast is great too, with Brooks being one powder-keg of a dame as Bliss and Williams every inch of earnest square Chip. It ‘s very sweet seeing the late Kevin McCarthy lending gravitas to his role as the Grand Inquisitor, all the while wearing a very glam cape and a glittery approximation of Devo’s energy dome. Kate Maberly deserves some notice as the fresh-faced devotee of Mickey’s. There’s not a bum rat in the cast.

The music is mercifully terrific. (Remember, the only thing worse than a painfully bad comedy is a painfully bad musical.) The soundtrack in general is quite good, with The Moon-Rays delivering the goods with the “Ghastly Love Theme.” (For the record, they also do a killer cover of Glenn Miller’s “Swinging at the séance.” It’s not in this film, but still worth checking out.) Speaking of modern, retro-cool bands, The Ghastly Ones, the name of Johnny and his gang, is also the name of one uber-cool, groovie-ghoulie surf rock band. Of course, it could also be a reference to cult-exploitation director Andy Milligan’s 1968 opus, The Ghastly Ones. Either way, it’s a good thing.

If you love science-fiction, rock & roll, a bonanza of brilliant character actors, dungaree dolls with knives and a film with some heart, then you will be thrilled to the gills with The Ghastly Love of Johnny X.

Posted by Heather Drain | Discussion
Ask a Homosexual: Historically important call-in TV show from 1972
06:31 pm



This is one hell of an extraordinary document of the immediately post-Stonewall gay rights movement. It was posted by Randolfe Wicker himself, the very fellow you see here speaking so articulately, intelligently and engagingly about homosexuality for a mainstream Pittsburgh audience that, for the most part, were pretty unlikely to have had much of an idea of “what” a gay person really “was” or “did.”

In 1972, gays answering blunt questions on television was new territory. I was the first homosexual to appear on television, full-faced & undisguised, in NYC on The Les Crane Show in 1965.

I went to Chicago to be on the Kupcinent show in the 1960s because there was no homosexual willing to appear on TV in Chicago.

I used the first money I made in the hippie-oriented anti-war slogan-button business to buy the first portable Sony CV video system. Using that equipment saved this one Pittsburgh appearance from the trash-bin of history. TV stations didn’t save tapes of even nationally broadcast shows, so virtually none of the early appearances by LGBT activists even after Stonewall and into the 1970s have survived.
I consider this my best appearance as an early activist—taking on all callers. I always could talk grin. Even the Hotline host made a joke about that.

The first thing that most people would say about Randolfe Wicker and this clip is that he was “brave” to go on television and represent his community in this way, and at that time. It surely was, but it’s more than that. What’s so fantastic about this and seeing it some 40+ years later in a vastly different context really brings this quality to the fore, is this young man’s open, engaging and generous attitude towards gently and respectfully educating people about homosexuality, a topic most folks were probably blissfully unaware of at that time. [Few people wondered if Elton John was gay then, I remind you. The thought simply did not occur to most people.]

This is an absolute must-see, I thought. Really incredible. It belongs in a museum’s collection. (Wicker’s papers are at the New York Public Library. Aside from his longtime activism, he was the co-author, with Kay Tobin Lahusen of The Gay Crusaders, an influential collection of in-depth interviews with fifteen homosexual people.).

Note that when the host asks Mr. Wicker what the gay rights movement wants, he lists a lot of things—like simple respect, as homosexual acts were still outlawed in many states at that time—but being able to be married and all of the legal protections (and tax breaks) that come along with that aren’t mentioned. It probably seemed almost inconceivable back then, even to most gays.

I also love the anecdote he tells about the article that no one else would publish save for the great hero of the underground press Paul Krassner in The Realist. You can hear that bit at about 7:30 in.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Neil Innes on The Rutles, ‘working’ with Lennon & McCartney and being impersonated by Elvis!
03:36 pm



Neil Innes as “Ron Nasty,” right. There will be a partial Rutles reunion later this month in the UK.

Because this interview already runs quite long, I don’t want to burden the text with much of a preamble. I think my feelings about the music of the great Neil Innes are pretty clear from the opening question (and if you want to know how I really feel...), but if they aren’t I’ll point you in the direction of an earlier Dangerous Minds post that I wrote about him that has lots of video clips.

The following, wide-ranging interview was conducted via email back and forth primarily while Neil and his wife Yvonne were visiting some of her relatives in Norway. As anyone who has gotten an email from me since 2009 knows, I have a quote from an Innes-penned Bonzo Dog Band song as my sigfile [“There are no coincidences, but sometimes the pattern is more obvious.”] so we used the secret word “Groucho” in the subject line so a search through my Gmail didn’t bring up 60,000 results.

As there is a newly released “Le Duck’s Box Set” of Neil’s three CD Recollections anthology, which includes a bonus DVD of sixteen videos from his Innes Book of Records TV series of the late 1970s and early 80s, that’s more or less where we started:

Richard Metzger: As a big fan of your music since I was very young, I will unashamedly state that I think you’re one of the greatest songwriters that Britain has ever produced. As a fan, I also find it frustrating that your work doesn’t really get the attention it deserves, but it must come down to the fact that you’ve effortlessly mastered so many musical genres that you just can’t be pigeonholed. “Le Duck’s Box,” the new retrospective of your Collections collections available from your website roams all over the place stylistically—an Elton John pastiche, country and western, dub reggae, punk, “New Wave,” Eurovision cliches, Stevie Wonder—and it’s absolutely pitch perfect every time. You’re not a parodist like Weird Al, but neither are you a “wry” songwriter in the mold of Ray Davies, either—compare your idea of “Shangri la” to his—or Loudon Wainwright III.

Your music is as beautiful as it is funny, but it’s an art form that stands apart. Where do you see yourself fitting in or are you perhaps more properly viewed as a genre consisting only of yourself—as many, myself included, would argue?

Neil Innes: Wow! What a question! Is there a short answer? No.

Yes I am different. I don’t try to “fit in.” The Music Business is well known for it’s systematic cultivation and exploitation of sentimentality for financial gain. We all know that. I am an observer. I am more like a painter than a songwriter, more of an artist than a salesman. I am an idiot.

My work gets all the attention it needs. Those who come across it seem to understand it – and even enjoy it – it is successful in its own small, one to one way. True - it is not easy to “pigeonhole” or describe - but I like that.

Why? Because I believe History has proved that Naming and Measuring does not necessarily mean understanding. Aristotle wrote 3 books on Physics – then a 4th - all about what could NOT be named and measured. He called it “Metaphysics.” I’ll settle for being “a far cry from anything you can put your finger on.”

It’s the same with “genres.” Whether it’s a likeness or a shared feeling, Art can only parody Nature because Parody is the nature of Art. Art is a make-believe game that runs through the centuries, from cavemen to CEOs. Never quite the real thing or the whole story because the whole story is forever beyond human experience.

We are once upon a time things. As sociable creatures we strongly feel the need to follow rules of conformity and the desire to accumulate wealth and be admired by others would appear to be top of the list. But I would argue that we all too easily forget that each one of us consists of as many cells as there are stars in the Milky Way. And that’s just one galaxy. Hollywood? Fame? Don’t make me laugh! Oh all right – go on then… once upon a time there were two Irishmen – now look how many there are! Thank you Abbott and Costello… wait a moment - there IS a short answer - “Absolutely!”

Richard Metzger: Maybe you’re the last vaudevillian?

Neil Innes: Maybe I am. Glad I wasn’t the first Vaudevillian - it must have been terrifying!

Richard Metzger: The box set is from the era of your Innes Book of Records TV series and there’s a DVD of several clips from that. Until YouTube and bit torrenting came around, that material went largely unseen for decades, even by your biggest fans. I feel like IBOR is really your magnum opus—you’re carrying the whole thing creatively, musically and you’re in practically every shot as a performer— in a sense, IBOR is kind of like your take on Vaudeville, isn’t it?

Neil Innes: Well, if by Vaudeville you mean “Variety” – then yes – I’m guilty as charged. When Ian Keill, (the producer of Rutland Weekend Television), expressed a desire to make a kind of Rutland Weekend Songbook, we naturally followed in the best BBC tradition and had lunch.

Over soup we heartily agreed that putting pictures to music is a lot of fun, allowing, even demanding, a more abstract approach to entertainment than mainstream television. Over Mains, with a good wine, we discussed how Television has always sadly lacked the basic confidence that viewers are indeed sentient individuals with some kind of emotional equilibrium and that this is why it is constantly “in your face.” Dessert brought the euphoria of a title: “The Innes Book of Records.”

And so it was decided. We would make “Songs and Pictures about People and Things.” But we also agreed that if anyone began to wonder what on earth it was all about – then we would have failed. I suppose there is a lot of “me” on screen but the truth is we didn’t have that big a budget. Michael Palin was a guest and only got the minimum Actors Union rate! IBOR depended on variety, surprise and the unexpected. It was a little “in your face” – but in a laid back way. It was only television after all…

Richard Metzger: I noticed that you’ve got a petition to get the BBC to rerun IBOR on your website. They should! I’ve only seen it myself in recent years and it’s still totally fresh. Surprisingly so—a parody of punk rock from 1979 effortlessly achieves greater authenticity in 2013! (Lucky for you, the same can be said of virtually every genre that you’ve dabbled in.) IBOR would go over great with a generation raised on things like The Mighty Boosh.

Neil Innes: I suppose we were blazing a trail back then – the Music Business was just about to discover “videos” – but I have always loved all kinds of music. As a child I used to conduct the radio with a ruler – and a bare bottom - just before my bedtime diaper. And as “Bonzos,” we reveled in every kind of music. “Pop” music is totally about all kinds of music – much of it very silly! You can’t let all that silliness go prancing by without a little hoot or a catcall!

Yes – I’ve put up a petition – because people are forever asking me if the BBC is going to show it all again – or put it out on DVD. But the number of signees is not all that encouraging, considering we had a peak of 7.5 million viewers in the second series. By the third series, the BBC did me the honour of treating me like Monty Python – changing broadcast times and even cancelling because of snooker. Maybe THEY don’t like it – too weird? It could be that the petition is in the wrong place – my IBOR website is the poor cousin to – 15 years old this month! Thank you Bonnie Rose and Laurie Stevens! Anyway, what will be will be – there’s an idea for a song – I’m with Duke Ellington when he said: “There are two kinds of music – good and bad.”

“How Sweet to Be an Idiot” Sound like something else you’ve heard before, perhaps?
Richard Metzger: That makes for a very easy segue to the next question: “So what was it like to collaborate with Oasis?” I found it delightfully ironic that the world’s most flagrant Beatles… well, wannabes, got sued for ripping off the world’s finest forger of Lennon and McCartney!

Neil Innes: Ah! First of all let me say that Oasis were perfect gentlemen and no one actually got sued! Yes, they had to part with money but that was all sorted out by EMI Music Publishers Ltd. “Their people” were hung out of the window by “my people.” I got “whatever” scraps they threw me! (Ha!)

It was the same with The Rutles. The Music Business is like a school where Big Boys come and take your candy away. No other business in the world gets away with Stealing like the Music Business – apart from Banking.

Yes – on second thoughts – Banking AND the Music Business are the only enterprises in the World that are actually based on Stealing. There ought to be a law against taking stuff that does not belong to you. It should be written in stone.

What gets me is the Denial! Did you know there are 14 songs hidden away in the vaults of International Copyright that are credited to “Innes, Lennon and McCartney”? It’s all there – in black and white! However - under no circumstances am I to be credited for writing any “part” of these compositions. What’s more, I am forbidden to tell anyone this! Yes! It’s all there – in the so-called Settlement Agreement. So – if anyone wants to cover one of the first Rutle songs – like Galaxy 500 did with “Cheese and Onions” – remember - it has to be just “Lennon/McCartney” on the cover or the label.

Now, working with THOSE guys was a blast! I’ll never forget it…

Richard Metzger: Whoa, wait a minute, back up, there… What exactly happened?

Neil Innes: You mean with Lennon and McCartney? Nothing happened! That’s my point. But according to the legal eagles of the music industry I must have collaborated with them in order to write those first 14 Rutle songs. That’s the real irony – people have been copying the Beatles ever since they became the most acclaimed haircuts in the world. No other beat group has influenced popular music more than the Fab Four.

They were famous for being “inventive” – playing with all kinds of genres – and “experimental” - keeping their “creativity” alive and fresh by openly celebrating a vast variety of musical influences. You could argue that not one Beatles song is like another – certainly not in the later years.

But when you imitate them deliberately – whether for comic effect or to simply demonstrate how much you admire their craftsmanship – the music industry throws the book at you. Yet I had no “Criminal Intent” – I should have been allowed to walk free – just like those Banking Fraudsters of 2008. Bradley Manning’s Defense Team take note! “NO CRIMINAL INTENT”!

What actually happened was, when ATV Music [then owners of Northern Songs] threatened my publishers with legal action, my “people” were advised that they would certainly win but it was unlikely they would be awarded “Costs.”  ATV Music had a “slush fund” of a million dollars to file lawsuits against Beatles copyright “infringements.” It’s always about the money. I really wanted it to go to court - so my publishers opted for a “Settlement Agreement.”

Two years later, after my deal with them was over, my publishers demanded an extra album from me because they claimed I had delivered an album of non-original material! The nerve! I told them to “fuck off”… and they did.

Richard Metzger: That’s astonishing. What a shitty act of corporate intimidation. I presume this means a Rutles musical on Broadway would be unlikely? I’ve read that Paul McCartney was “chilly” to All You Need Is Cash at the time. I wonder if he gets the joke by now?

Neil Innes: I don’t think Paul has any issues with me, or Ricky or John. We pretty much just did the music. I think a bit of teasing is OK if you do it in a “nudge, nudge, wink, wink,” way – but Eric did make quite a few cheap shots in the movie – maybe that’s why Paul was a bit chilly and didn’t see the funny side of it. 

The Rutles on Broadway is about as likely as a new musical based on old Monty Python sketches called “Hello Polly”!

Richard Metzger: So the odds are better than I’d have thought… fifty/fifty?

Neil Innes: Actually, it’s not a bad idea – there have been worse!

Richard Metzger: You’re writing from Norway, what are you getting up to there?

Neil Innes: Visiting some cousins-in-law, Yvonne’s relatives. This place is another planet. Huge mountains, some above the tree line. Still plenty of snow on the tops, dribbling into long thin waterfalls… No sign of a Norwegian Blue, so stop that now!

We have a small cabin by the side of a lake-sized fjord that leads into a bigger fjord that stretches all the way to the North Sea and then to the Atlantic and the rest of the World and the surrounding Universe. We have a small boat that takes 15 minutes to get to the shop. It’s a great place to write.

Richard Metzger: Sounds lovely!

Neil Innes: It is.

Richard Metzger:  What sort of material does such an idyllic location inspire?

Neil Innes:  Wool. Thick wool.

Richard Metzger: What are you writing about?

Neil Innes:  I thought you’d never ask! ME! The full working title is: “How Sweet To Be An Idiot – An Exploration of Human Consciousness – featuring the Life and Times of Neil Innes – Ego Warrior, Style Guru and Fantasist.”

Richard Metzger:  Will there be at least a partial reunion of The Rutles at the Edinburgh festival in August?

Neil Innes:  Yes – and no. The Edinburgh Festival ends the day before we play – and yes, Barry Wom will be there and he’s quite partial as far as reunions go. He was a noisy part of the original Rutles on Rutland Weekend Television. He invited me to gig with his band called Fatso and we went out as Neil Innes and Fatso. Then they became the RWT “house band” - known as “The Alberto Vasectomy Five” until the BBC objected – then they were called “The Alberto Rewrite Five”.

But going back to the “Le Duck’s” Box Set for a moment, there is a FREE DVD with 16 top quality clips from Innes Book of Records and if you care to visit the website, you can click on “free dvd” and check out whether or not “Elvis and the Disagreeable Backing Singers” is on there – if not it’s definitely on YouTube – John Halsey [Barry Wom] is wearing a blonde wig.

And talking of Elvis, a friend of mine who is researching a book just told me Elvis was a huge Monty Python fan and adored Holy Grail. Apparently he knew every word and could do all the voices. Now, since I played the “Obnoxious Minstrel” that makes me one of a very select few to have been impersonated by “The King.” I am very happy to be inducted into that Hall of Fame.

This is my jam: “Angelina” by Neil Innes & The World. Download an mp3 file here

Richard Metzger: What are you currently listening to or what are your DIDs?

Neil Innes:  I’m not sure what you mean by “DIDs” – Dissociative Identity Disorders? But then you would have asked; “Who are your DIDs?”…

Anyway, I’m not sure “Dissociative Identity” is a Disorder. According to Wikipedia: “No systematic, empirically-supported definition of “dissociation” exists.” And you can’t get round it by calling it “Multiple Personality Disorder either. Multiple Personalities make up the entire Human Race – “The Apes Who Play With Fire” - and inside each and every one of us is a Baby, a Toddler, a Schoolchild, a Teenager, a Binge Whatever, a Wannabee – we are all like Russian Dolls. These people never go away – even when you ask them to - where can they go?

I suppose what I’m saying is I find it really difficult to answer simple questions like “What are you listening to?”

Music most listened to lately: Django Reinhardt - vintage recordings from the 30’s (Jazz that Hitler tried to stop) and Ry Cooder’s “Mambo Sinuendo” – brilliant “Easy-Listening” virtuosi stuff that Hitler would also have stopped - if he could… What else? A French compilation CD of music chosen by Woody Allen for his movies – “de Manhattan a Midnight in Paris” – from Duke Ellington to Josephine Baker with a little Enrico Caruso in between…

But what has pushed all my buttons in the last week or two is a “Comedy Drama” TV series called Breaking Bad. For a start, I’m SO pleased that “Comedy Drama” has become a genre at last! This program elevates television to where it should be – exploring morals and human values around the Social Media campfire. I love the elegant writing, invisible acting, editing, directing, inspired Music, the EVERYTHING! Fabulous anti-characters flailing about in coincidental flux – talk about the “Empathy Strikes Back”! Is this the new Folk Art?

Is this what Woody Guthrie would have been doing today? I truly hope so…

Thanks to the miracle of Apple TV and Netflix – Yvonne and I are working our way through Season 2 – and Season 3 is about to begin…

Does this answer what my “DIDs” are?

Richard Metzger: I think so!

Purchase the 3 CD, 1 DVD “Le Duck’s Box Set” at Neil Click here for information of the upcoming Rutles tragical history tour.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
America’s abandoned insane asylums
10:11 am



buffalo asylum
H. H. Richardson Complex/Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane, Buffalo, New York

In the U.S. prior to the early 1960s there was a government-run system of mental institutions, some housed in grand Gothic Victorian buildings with impressive grounds. Following changes in psychiatric treatment and the deregulation and privatization of the mental health industry, many of these structures were simply abandoned. For decades they have stood empty, too expensive to demolish. The Kennedy administration planned to act on recommendations from the National Institute of Mental Health to replace these asylums with 2000 outpatient community mental health centers (one for every 100,000 people) by 1980, only a fraction of which were ever built.

Photographers have captured these old asylums in varying states of decay.

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kingston trenton asylum
Trenton Psychiatric Hospital, Trenton, New Jersey

According to The Kingston Lounge blog:

Many of the patient rooms in the central wing [at Trenton Psychiatric Hospital] still contain beds and furniture, and in the northern wing, many still contain belongings. This suggests relatively rapid abandonment, and the fact that apparently usable beds, refrigerators, and other furniture and appliances were not removed for use in other buildings or state facilities helps to confirm this.

Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, Weston, West Virginia

This West Virginia asylum is now a tourist attraction, hosting ghost tours, historical tours, an asylum ball, and stage production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. According to the official website, “The Asylum has had apparition sightings, unexplainable voices and sounds, and other paranormal activity reported in the past by guests, staff, SyFy’s Ghost Hunters, Ghost Hunters Academy, the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures and Paranormal Challenge.”

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Overbrook Asylum/Essex County Hospital Center, Cedar Grove, New Jersey

Weird New Jersey describes Overbrook Asylum:

The hospital was laid out at the bottom of a hill atop which sat the Mountain Sanatorium – a facility used at various times to treat tuberculosis patients, wayward children, and drug abusers. These two facilities, and the many abandoned buildings associated with them, became Essex County’s most legendary location, home to escaped lunatics, troubled ghosts, and roving gangs of ne’er do wells. For a generation of North Jersey teens, a visit to the Overbrook site was a rite of passage – going to “The Asylum,” “The Bin,” or “The Hilltop”, as it was called by various gangs of teens, was a surefire way to test your mettle and impress your friends.

Unlike other abandoned asylums with patients’ personal possessions scattered all over the building, the Willard Asylum for the Chronic Insane in New York unwittingly maintained a goldmine for historians. The hospital kept the unclaimed suitcases of all patients who passed away there from the 1910’s to the 1960’s. When the facility closed in 1995 hundreds of intact suitcases were discovered in a locked attic space. These have been preserved by the New York State Museum and added to its permanent collection. Photographer Jon Crispin was permitted to document each suitcase’s contents, resulting in a fascinating but melancholy series of photos of patients’ personal items. You get the feeling most people assumed they would only be staying at the asylum temporarily.

suitcase asylum
Preserved suitcase of a mental patient at the Willard Asylum for the Chronic Insane, New York

Crispin said:

Originally, doctors thought that all you had to do was remove people from the stresses and strains of society, give them a couple of years to get their life together, and they’d get better. Eventually people realized they needed facilities where patients could come and never leave. There’s some question as to whether or not the patients themselves packed their suitcases, or if their families did it for them. But the suitcases sent along with them generally contained whatever the incoming patient wanted or thought they might need.

Overbrook Asylum, Cedar Grove, New Jersey, below:

Via io9, Kingston Lounge, and Collectors Weekly.

Posted by Kimberly J. Bright | Discussion
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