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Stan Getz on Jazz, drugs and robbery: ‘I’m sorry for the crazy thing I did’
09.10.2013
11:22 am
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In April 1954, Stan Getz wrote from the jail ward of the Los Angeles General Hospital to the Editor of DownBeat magazine explaining how he had been busted in Seattle for (as Popsie Randolph put it) “holdin’ up a drugstore to get money to buy some stuff.”

Getz was one of the most talented saxophonists of his day, and had been a featured tenor sax since he was sixteen-years-old. He was also addicted to heroin, which caused the various behavioral antics that led Zoot Sims to describe him as “a nice bunch of guys.”

According to drummer Don Lamond, Getz’s early career success had never allowed him “a chance to grow up.”

“And you know how it was during the war. There weren’t any bands. There was nobody for these kids to dig except for a few guys who happened to be around, and some of those guys were on junk. And you know how kids are. Everything their idols did was right. So the kids did it too.

“Stan was an impressionable kid like many of them. And he was a spoiled kid, coddled all his life. The tragedy is that I can’t think of anyone who has more talent. Stan is a natural musician. He has a fabulous ear, imagination, a retentive memory. What else do you need?”

At a loose end in Seattle in 1954, Getz needed junk.

In his letter to Down Beat, Getz began by declaring he had many things to say, “excluding excuses, regrets, and promises.”

Promises from me at this point mean nothing; starting when I am released is when my actions will count.

His actions in Seattle was what he wanted to explain, and to understand.

What happened in Seattle was inevitable. Me coming to the end of my rope. I shouldn’t have been withdrawing myself from narcotics while working and traveling. With the aid of barbiturates, I thought I could do it. Seattle was the eighth day of the tour and I could stand no more. (Stan you said no excuses.) Going into this drugstore, I demanded more narcotics. I said I had a gun (didn’t).

The lady behind the counter evidently didn’t believe I had a gun so she told another customer. He, in turn, took a look at me and laughed, saying, ‘Lady, he’s kidding you. He has no gun.’ I guess I didn’t look the part. Having flopped at my first ‘caper’ (one of the terms I’ve learned up here), I left the store and went to my hotel. When I was in my room I decided to call the store and apologize. In doing so, the call was traced and my incarceration followed.

The woman behind-the-counter was Mary Brewster. When she asked to see Getz’s gun, he fled the drugstore, and ran directly to his hotel across the street, as other customers watched. When Getz ‘phoned Mary to apologize, a policeman was listening in. Gettz said:

“I’m sorry for the crazy thing I did. I’ve never done anything like that before. I’m not a stick-up man. I’m from a good family. I’m going to commit myself on Wednesday.” Brewster asks “Why don’t you commit yourself today?” “I can’t. If I don’t get drugs, I’ll kill.

The cop on the phone spoke up, pretending to be a doctor and asked if he can help. Stan blurted out his life’s story. The “doctor” said he was coming right over to help. Locked in his room, despairing and ashamed, Stan tried to kill himself by swallowing a fistful of barbiturates. The police knocked on his door minutes later, and run him in for booking. A photograph of Stan in the back seat of a patrol car, looking sick and scared, was flashed over the news wire services. The overdose of barbiturates took effect minutes after he was locked up and he collapsed.

In his letter to Down Beat, Getz explained explained his attempted suicide.

My ‘dope poisoning’ was sixty grains of a long-acting barbiturate that I swallowed en route to jail. I’d had enough of me and my antics.

An emergency tracheotomy was carried out to save Getz’s life. When he came round from his drug coma three days later, he found himself lying on a hospital bed at the Harbor Haven County Hospital, with a breathing tube in his throat.

Getz was sentenced to six months in jail, and three years probation. In his summing-up, the judge said:

“You have talent, family and a good background, but despite an income of a thousand dollars a week, you are not only broke, but your family is living under deplorable conditions. They are sleeping on the floor while you travel in luxury spending money on yourself - and doing what comes naturally.

“You’re a poor excuse for a man. If you can’t behave yourself, someone else is going to have to look after you… It’s time you grew up.”

Getz was admitted to the jail ward at the LA General Hospital, where his detox began. At the very moment he was being processed to the prison ward, his addicted wife was downstairs, giving birth to their daughter Beverly.

In jail, Getz received incredible support (through letters, telegrams and ‘phonecalls) that helped him through his moment of despair. Though he was not a religious man, the experience showed him that “there was a God, not above us but here on earth in the warm hearts of people.”
 

 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher
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09.10.2013
11:22 am
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Discussion
Before the punk rock comedy of ‘The Young Ones’ Rik Mayall was investigative reporter ‘Kevin Turvey’
09.06.2013
10:24 am
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Rik Mayall was fearless. In the early 1980s, when British stand-up comedy was chubby blokes in too tight dinner jackets telling jokes about wives, mother-in-laws and ethnic groups, Rik Mayall would walk on stage, looking like a Bowie-fan circa Heroes and recite poetry about his love for Vanessa Redgrave and the theater. Audiences were aghast and unsure whether Mayall was genuinely an angry socialist poet ranting about theater or some kind of bizarre amateur stand-up comic taking time out from his sociology degree.

Mayall was part of the disparate group of comics who were filed under “A” for “Alternative Comedy.” Ye olde comics didn’t like these cheeky young comics, because they didn’t have punchlines, and couldn’t understand why younger audiences found them funny.

From the Comedy Store in London, these Alternative comics made their early appearances on shows such as the rather excellent Boom Boom Out Go The Lights, which launched Mayall, Ade Edmondson, Keith Allen, Alexei Sayle, Nigel Planer and Peter Richardson, and (the sadly forgotten) late-nite-live entertainment series, Friday Night, Saturday Morning, hosted by amongst others, the avuncular Ned Sherrin, the man responsible for That Was The Week That Was and producing musicals like Side-by_Side by Sondheim. Friday Night, Saturday Morning gave air time to Mayall and Edmondson (as Twentieth Century Coyote) and The Outer Limits (Planer and Richardson). These four would later regroup with Keith Allen, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, and Robbie Coltrane as The Comic Strip Presents… for Channel 4 in 1982.

Yet, before all that, and even before Rik and co. “kicked in the doors of British comedy” with The Young Ones in 1982, Mayall starred as intrepid investigative Redditch reporter Kevin Turvey on A Kick Up The Eighties—the show which launched Tracy Ullman, Robbie Coltrane, and Mayall, alongside more established actors/performers Miriam Margolyes, Roger Sloman, Ron Bain and Richard Stilgoe. Produced by comedy supremo, Colin Gilbert for BBC Scotland, A Kick Up The Eighties was a mix of Alternative and traditional comedy, which set the tone for other sketch shows such as Naked Video, and (to an extent) even Ben Elton’s Alfresco (with Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson, Siobhan Redmond and Robbie Coltrane).

The stand-out segment of A Kick Up The Eighties was Mayall’s superb “Kevin Turvey Investigates” which presented one of the most brilliant, original and hilarious comic creations of the 1980s. The character’s success led to a one-off “mockumentary” The Man Behind the Green Door in 1982, which starred, Mayall as Turvey, with Coltrane as Mick the lodger, Ade Edmondson as Keith Marshall, and Roger Sloman as the park keeper. The story-line is simple: Kevin investigates what’s going on around in his hometown, Redditch. The answer is “not a lot.”

It’s an astonishingly original piece of television that prefigures the style of shows like The Office, and it still retains its comic brilliance more than 30-years later. Enjoy!
 

 
Bonus clip of Rik reading his angry poetry, after the jump…
 

READ ON
Posted by Paul Gallagher
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09.06.2013
10:24 am
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Discussion
The Credibility Gap: The roots of modern political satire
09.04.2013
03:23 pm
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Woodschtick and More

The Credibility Gap isn’t referenced all that much anymore, but in its day it was a very important comedy troupe. Its members included both Lenny and Squiggy of future Laverne and Shirley fame (Michael McKean and David L. Lander) and Harry Shearer. With two members of Spinal Tap, its pedigree needs no defending. There had been political humor, of course, including Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl, but something about The Credibility Gap was different—it was political satire created for and by the hippie generation, and it was mainstream-ready. It took sardonic scorn at the political powers that be for granted. Its very name, a signifier for the difference between official explanations and the truth, was, as Paul Provenza pointed out, about as succinct a definition of satire as you can get.

The troupe started at Pasadena’s AM radio station KRLA, and none of its early members are today famous. It didn’t take long for young McKean, Lander, and Shearer to show up with resumes and put their ineffable stamp on the proceedings. KRLA had thought of The Credibility Gap as a hipper version of their normal news programming, but the troupe’s edge began to wear on the more conservative news directors there, and the station steadily reduced their spots until finally dropping them in 1970. At the crosstown FM station KPPC, they were given more time and freedom to pursue their demented sketches, but KPPC dropped them in 1971 as well. By that time they had worked up a reputation solid enough that they could take their act on the road.
 
The Credibility Gap
 
In 1971 they released their first LP, Woodschtick and More, but their peak was probably 1974’s A Great Gift Idea, in which they poked fun at figures like Johnny Carson and Sly Stone. In “Kingpin” the concept was to imagine a Shaft-style movie about Martin Luther King Jr., as in “He’s got a plan to stick it to the Klan”:
 

 
None other than Robert Christgau himself gushed about the album even as he (rightfully) complained about the obvious imperfections of the LP as a medium for political satire (i.e. you can’t see the performers’ faces): “If its humor isn’t unprecedented—and although I am no historian of humor, I think it may be—it is at least radically different from Jose Jimenez, Mort Sahl and the First Family. Its content is different, because it avoids gags, and its form is different, because it is molded to the phonograph record. In other words, it is new comedy—post-FS. … FS refers to Firesign Theater, who if they didn’t invent this kind of humor were the first to get it on record.”

Years later, in Paul Provenza and Dan Dion’s Satiristas: Comedians, Contrarians, Raconteurs & Vulgarians, Michael McKean reminisced about the group:

The Credibility Gap really started in the wake of the RFK assassination in 1968. Everybody was pretty on edge in those days. There was the Democratic Convention in Chicago, Woodstock, and by 1970, when I got there, everybody was pretty politicized, and there was something every day. We’d wake up one day to find out we’d just invaded Cambodia, so we’d do a sketch about that. We were all pretty political, and we did little stuff and big stuff. It was fairly radical for AM radio in the sixties and early seventies. In 1971, we moved to KPPC FM in Pasadena—the other English-language station in Pasadena then—and we got a little bolder. I think we broke the word “asshole” on FM radio. That was ours. A true legacy.

The truth is, The Credibility Gap may have been bracing at the time, but the material has dated, and frankly it doesn’t hold up that well. The humor was “sophisticated” but at times surprisingly obvious—gags like referring to PBS as the “Paid Broadcasting System.” The sensibilty was miles ahead of the material itself—you could import the sensibility lock, stock, and barrel to South Park and scarcely notice the difference.

Shearer, of course, would go on to work on such illustrious projects as Fernwood 2-Night and The Simpsons and his radio program Le Show, while Micheal McKean would have a varied career in the movies and on stage, working frequently with Christopher Guest post-Spinal Tap.

In this video, which dates from 1975, late-night talk show host Tom Snyder himself generously introduces Harry Shearer’s dead-on impersonation of Snyder contending with a mismatched pair, a CIA whistleblower and the investigative reporter for Hustler magazine.
 

Posted by Martin Schneider
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09.04.2013
03:23 pm
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Discussion
Hong Kong Fooey: Bill Milling’s ‘Vixens of Kung Fu (A Tale of Yin Yang)’
09.02.2013
09:38 pm
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Poster Art for Vixens of Kung Fu
 
Who doesn’t love a great combination? Whether it is Dolly Parton with Porter Wagoner or peanut butter and chocolate, a meeting of two good elements can be a beautiful thing. But what happens when you take two separately intriguing ingredients and yet, when they meet, you get a whole lot of head scratching muck? Welcome to The Vixens of Kung Fu (A Tale of Yin Yang).

The Vixens of Kung Fu is a film that I had heard about for years. Mind you, never from anyone who had actually seen it, but it was noted in cult film circles as the 70’s sex film with kung fu. It’s fantastic on paper, with two titanic fringe film subgenres meeting in the middle, complete with a classic adult era cast that includes C.J. Laing, Bobby Astyr, Jamie Gillis and Bree Anthony. Nudity, martial arts and cinematic ridiculousness—it’s the ultimate dreamsicle but like the old adage goes, be careful what you wish for.

Title Screen for The Vixens of Kung Fu
 
The film begins with some fortune cookie narration, including lines like “..he would conquer the land, the sea and the dragon.” Well, it’s certainly good to be ambitious! Somewhere in what looks like rural upstate New York, a dark-haired young lovely (Bree Anthony) is hiking when she encounters a group of brain damaged and unfortunately randy hunters (Astyr, Gillis & according to the semi-reliable IMDB, Douglas Wood.) The woman manages to flee but it’s a bad day to be in the woods since the head goon possesses an “anesthesia gun,” which looks exactly like a regular pistol. The key difference is that instead of killing or maiming someone, the bullets are basically roofies. You can put two and two together on what happens next. Inexplicably, the soundtrack goes from Chinese buffet to Hee-Haw to eerie silence and then to some stunningly inappropriate notes of whimsy. The one good thing about that, though, is that between the wonky soundtrack, Astyr’s insane giggling and Anthony’s questionable acting, the scene is more goony than creepy. And guess what? It’s only going to get more goony.

A lithe kung fu Master (Laing) is holding court outdoors with her students, lecturing them on how “Yin and Yang are the principles of Heaven and Earth.” They look mildly confused but appreciative, in a Valium-laced sort of way. Master ends up taking a peaceful walk on the beach and discovers the passed out, nude form of the woman. Taking a cue from the Linda & Abeline school of rape counseling, the Master gives her an oily massage. Learning both about the assault in the woods and the woman’s former career as a prostitute, she promises the woman to teach her kung-fu, so no man ever uses her again. The Master proclaims that “We women can hold up half the sky” before seducing her. As far as seduction lines go, it’s a little weak but it does get the job done.

The Master & her students meet up
 
After that, The Master and her students take part in some nude deep breathing exercises that results in smoke emitting out of their quims?!? That is maybe the last orifice you want smoke coming out of, but it is definitely a striking visual. The soundtrack, keeping with the pure spirit of randomness, switches to experimental sounding synth music. Finally, around the forty minute mark, we finally get to see some kung fu moves with the Master and one of her students finding a monk clad in yellow, wandering around the woods. They fight him, poorly, capture him and then the rest of the ladies have their way with him. This would be zero of a problem for most people that are into lovely, amorous female martial artists, but this event propels the Monk to seek out higher learning.

The Monk seeks help…in the kitchen.
 
He travels to a Chinese restaurant in a strip mall, which is kind of fabulous. The place, House of Wong, has the female Master of “Golden Dragon Raising Head,” Ha Tien Sau (Peonies Jong), who is working covertly as a short order cook. He begs her to teach him this mythical form of martial arts and in the end, she agrees and has him meet her, where else? In the woods. They begin their training, which as far as I can tell, mainly involves him breathing hard, flailing his arms and ultimately, spanking it. There must be a legion of dudes out there who are masters of Golden Dragon Raising Head and don’t even know it.

This Monk is the Yang to the former prostitute’s Yin, resulting in the two matching one crappy martial arts form with another until they end up both practicing the ancient art of boots knocking. The film then ends with Yin’s Master approaching Ha Tien, asking her for guidance and then leaping in the air with a high kick. Does Yin get to avenge her rape? Do the two dubious Masters get to have the epic battle of who is worse at their chosen martial art? Spoiler alert, we never find out, leaving the viewer slack jawed and wondering who dosed their kool-aid.

The Vixens of Kung-Fu is so nonsensical that it borders on the transcendent, but is neither self aware nor completely over the top enough, to quite cross over. The story and pacing plays out like someone got incredibly baked, watched some Times Square quality chop-socky flicks and then got suddenly aroused. The best thing about this film is the highly creative editing implemented during the fight scenes. Presumably the fast cuts were used to enhance the puce belt level karate antics, but they are entertaining.

Yang practices.
 
Thanks to the hard work from the folks at Vinegar Syndrome, Vixens has never looked better. The picture quality is gorgeous, with the early Autumnal woods looking postcard lovely. They have paired this title along with director Bill Milling’s (billed here as Chiang, seriously) superior Oriental Blue. (The latter was made around the same time and features most of the same cast.) When you think of Vixens of Kung Fu, as I know you will, think of fortune cookie dialogue, the most random musical soundtrack ever and creative character decision making.

Posted by Heather Drain
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09.02.2013
09:38 pm
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Discussion
David Frost R.I.P.
09.02.2013
12:39 am
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Oh dear, David Frost has died. What a lovely man. Dead at 74 of a heart attack.

There will be a lot written about David Frost in the next few days. He was at the center of major political and social events for several decades as both a commentator and brilliant interviewer. His death has triggered many personal memories of cultural touchstones that populate my life. Among them, his encounters with The Beatles. He had an ongoing relationship with John Lennon that was vital and shot through with the kind of energy that animates many friendships defined by respect and curiosity.

Here’s Frost interviewing John and Yoko in 1968 on British TV show Frost On Saturday. Kind of a Jungian mindfuck with Lennon struggling to communicate what sounds like some insights he received while tripping. Frost goes with the flow.
 

Posted by Marc Campbell
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09.02.2013
12:39 am
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Discussion
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