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Anarchy on ‘American Bandstand’: When Public Image Ltd. met Dick Clark, 1980
10.20.2014
06:03 am

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John Lydon confronts America
 
American Bandstand with Dick Clark was a staple of American TV. Beginning in 1956, the clean-cut Clark hosted the program, staying at the helm for over thirty years. The show featured teenagers and young adults dancing to pop music, as well as musical acts. As previously acknowledged by Dangerous Minds, Clark had a fair amount of interesting up-and-comers appear on his show, including the Syd Barrett-fronted Pink Floyd, Captain Beefheart, and a young man by the name of Prince.
 
Dick Clark during PiL's performance
 
After the Sex Pistols imploded in early 1978, singer John Lydon would soon shed his “Johnny Rotten” skin, reinventing himself with a new band, Public Image Ltd. In April 1980, PiL were touring America for the first time, supporting album #2, which was a double LP. For Second Edition (originally released as Metal Box), the group abandoned the rock found on their debut, producing a sprawling post-punk opus that was both weird and danceable (think Can meets Chic). It’s an innovative and unique work—in other words, not exactly the kind of stuff that normally makes it onto American television.
 
Second Edition
 
Public Image Ltd’s appearance on American Bandstand aired on May 17th, 1980. Moments after “Poptones” begins, the camera catches Lydon sitting off to the side of the Bandstand podium, seemingly unsure what to do. Soon he’s up and dancing about, trying to involve the studio audience.
 
John Lydon and the audience
 
But the crowd ain’t cooperating, so Lydon takes the next step, heading into the throng (ala Iggy) to force the issue.
 
John Lydon in the audience
 
The timid audience, largely consisting of teenagers, seem both excited and scared by the singer, and they take even more encouraging to break TV protocol, with Lydon physically pushing, shoving, and finally pulling spectators onto the platform. All the while, the former Rotten isn’t even bothering to keep up with the lip-syncing—a very punk thing to do, right? Well, there was a reason for it and all the anarchy, which Lydon later explained in his autobiography:

It all got off on the wrong foot when we arrived and they suddenly informed us that it would be a mimed thing. Our equipment hadn’t arrived in time, apparently, but we soon got even more upset when they said, ‘Oh no, you couldn’t play it live anyway, just mime to the record.’

They’d made up some edited versions of “Poptones” and “Careering,” and gave us a cassette to check it out beforehand. ‘Oh my God, they’ve cut it down to that? I don’t know where the vocals are going to drop. What are we supposed to do?’ None of us knew. Just thinking about trying to sing it like the record was…aarghh! You can fake it with an instrument but you can’t as the singer. ‘Okay, so you’ve cut out the point and purpose, it’s like removing the chorus from the National Anthem, just because it makes for an allotted time slot on a TV show. That’s arse-backways!’

 
PiL backstage
The calm before the storm: PiL backstage

More after the jump…

Posted by Bart Bealmear | Discussion
‘The Finishing Line’: The grisly British educational film that scared kids and shocked parents
10.13.2014
07:58 am

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Movies

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Blood on the tracks
 
In 1977, a short film was produced in Britain to discourage children from playing on the railway lines and vandalizing trains—both problems in England at the time. But the documentary-style production did more than that: it scared the knickers off of kids and riled up their parents. The subsequent controversy surrounding this educational short was so great that it was ultimately banned. Even today, watching it is a shocking experience not soon forgotten.

Commissioned by British Transport Films (BTF) to be shown in schools, The Finishing Line (1977) is perhaps the most notorious educational film ever produced. The 20 minute short is akin to a gory episode of The Twilight Zone, or a Rod Serling-directed fake documentary. The atmosphere is so odd and the child body count so high, that it’s a wonder anyone thought this was a good idea to show to kids (the ages of the target audience was eight through twelve). Put simply, it’s a child’s nightmare come to life on the screen.

The film was directed by John Krish, a BTF veteran; Krish’s The Elephant Will Never Forget (1953), which documented the end of London’s tram system, is still one of the organization’s most popular movies. In a 2013 interview with the magazine devoted to blood spilled on the screen, Fangoria, the 90-year-old Krish said he was surprised BTF even wanted to make The Finishing Line:

I came up with this idea of a sports day on the railway line, and I was absolutely sure they would turn it down so that I could get on with something else, and bugger me, they loved it. They loved it! The psychologist in the British Transport’s employ said, ‘This is exactly what we need!’

The Finishing Line begins in a festive atmosphere of children and adults gathering for what looks like a day of fun, but the mood quickly turns foreboding, when medical personal appear with preparations for the inevitable carnage that will take place.

In the film, various events are staged on or near the train tracks. A kind of dystopian reality is presented, where games of life and death are the norm. At times, it brings to mind the black comedy Death Race 2000 (1975), in which racecar drivers earn points by killing pedestrians, but there’s no laughing at The Finishing Line. Here, children lose their lives in games staged by adults, and there is little mourning for the dead. In this world, there is no such thing as “innocence.”

Krish’s documentary-style filmmaking creates a tone that is completely unsettling. Weirdly, the film is staged as a child’s fantasy (what kind of kid would fantasize about his classmates being killed?!), yet the realistic look of the film could still be misinterpreted by a young person as an event that actually happened. If nothing else, the shear amount of gore and dead bodies is enough to upset any pre-teen viewer.

Though the director claims it was unintentional, The Finishing Line contains elements of the horror genre. For the last event, Krish filmed the kids walking briskly through a dark tunnel, capturing it in such a way that the children approach the camera as shadowy figures. The scene resembles something straight out of future horror films The Brood (1979) and Children of the Corn (1984). There’s no music, just the sound of hundreds of shuffling footsteps coming closer and closer. It’s very creepy.
 
The Great Tunnel Walk
 
Krish wanted the final moments to resemble the carnage of a war zone after a battle, and the sight of adults and teenagers carrying a hundred or so dead kids—symbolically laying them across the tracks, and doing so with a complete lack of emotion—is truly startling.

“The cumulative effect is shocking, and must have been all the more so for the young audiences to whom the film was screened. Not surprisingly, it immediately generated controversy, even becoming the subject of a Nationwide (BBC, 1969-84) television debate following a television screening of the film. Some commentators and parents worried that children would be traumatized, others that it might actually encourage copycat vandalism. Many defended the film as an appropriately tough response to a serious problem. Nonetheless, in 1979 the film was withdrawn and replaced by the much softer Robbie.” (BFI Screenonline)

All told, Krish has had four of his pictures removed from circulation, telling Fangoria, “I’m the only documentary director who’s had four films banned! And I rejoice in that.” In 2003, he was honored with a retrospective, which included the first public airing of The Finishing Line in over two decades.
 
John Krish
John Krish

Though it may have been inappropriate for the audience it was created for, The Finishing Line stands as a fascinating and significant film from a director still getting his due. It’s a disturbing and strange little picture—it’s also unforgettable.

The short is available for purchase via British Transport Films Collection Vol.7 – The Age Of The Train, and as a bonus on the DVD of Captured, another of Krish’s banned works.

Here it is, The Finishing Line:
 

Posted by Bart Bealmear | Discussion
Cognitive Dissonance: Paul Krassner’s ‘Fuck Communism’ banner, 1963
10.10.2014
10:54 am

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History
Thinkers

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Fuck Communism
 
Paul Krassner started his trailblazing periodical of radical countercultural satire, The Realist, in 1959 as a reaction to what he saw as a lack of humorous political commentary targeting the sometimes ridiculous, often ominous issues of the day.  His intention was to create sort of an adult MAD magazine, a publication to which he was frequent contributor.  The Realist became one of the most celebrated underground publications of all time and, with the exception of a hiatus between 1974 and 1985, remained in print until 2001.

Krassner himself was not only the driving force behind the The Realist but was also a child violin prodigy, a founding member of the YIPPIES, a stand-up comedian and an all-around pretty damned funny guy. If you’re not familiar with Krassner’s sense of humor, you could find worst places to start than The Realist’s “FUCK COMMUNISM” poster published in 1963.

The poster in question designed by long-time MAD magazine art director and Realist contributor John Francis Putnam was meant to be not only hilarious, but also a linguistic conundrum to the knee-jerk set.  You know “Better dead than red and all, but the F-word is just so filthy.” 

Here’s Kurt Vonnegut addressing the poster in his forward to Krassner’s 1996 collection entitled The Winner of the Slow Bicycle Race: The Satirical Writings of Paul Krassner:

Paul Krassner …  in 1963 created a miracle of compressed intelligence nearly as admirable for potent simplicity, in my opinion, as Einstein’s e=mc2.  With the Vietnam War going on, and with its critics discounted and scorned by the government and the mass media, Krassner put on sale a red, white and blue poster that said FUCK COMMUNISM.

At the beginning of the 1960s, FUCK was believed to be so full of bad magic as to be unprintable. COMMUNISM was to millions the name of the most loathsome evil imaginable.  To call an American a communist was like calling somebody a Jew in Nazi Germany.  By having FUCK and COMMUNISM fight it out in a single sentence, Krassner wasn’t merely being funny as heck.  He was demonstrating how preposterous it was for so many people to be responding to both words with such cockamamie Pavlovian fear and alarm.

 
Realist Krassner Interview
 
A FUCK COMMUNISM bumper sticker was also released. Krassner said if anyone had a problem with it, the critic should be told to “Go back to Russia, you Commie lover.”

You can find the entire Realist Archive Project, a veritable treasure trove/rabbit hole of underground press glory, here. The site indicates that “The Mothers of the American Revolution,” listed as a contact at the bottom right of the poster, was a fictitious organization deployed by writers at The Realist when they needed to get in touch with individuals that wouldn’t otherwise respond to somebody affiliated with the controversial rag. 

Now in his 80’s, Krassner is currently working on his first novel about a performer modeled after Lenny Bruce. His new book is Patty Hearst & The Twinkie Murders: A Tale of Two Trials.

In the clip below, we find Krassner in an interview with pioneering conservative TV talk show host, Joe Pyne—Bill O’Reilly’s “papa bear” as it were—in 1967. Pyne berates Krassner about his persistent use of the “filthiest four-letter word in the English language,” Krassner’s deep respect for Lenny Bruce, and a front-page headline in The Realist that asks what kind of deodorant Lyndon Johnson wears.  Pyne is beside himself with disgust. Despite the annoying text overlay on the video, it gives a great sense of the kind of visceral hatred that Krassner could inspire amongst those who just couldn’t get down with his unrelenting irreverence.
 

Posted by Jason Schafer | Discussion
Philip K. Dick on sex between humans and androids
09.10.2014
08:22 am

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Heroes
Literature

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In 1981, Philip K. Dick discussed the ideas and themes behind his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? in an interview with author Paul M. Sammon. Dick’s novel about a hired assassin (Rick Deckard) paid to eliminate escaped androids formed the basis for Ridley Scott’s classic science-fiction film Blade Runner. The story had its genesis in research for his novel The Man in the High Castle. Dick studied psychological studies on the mentality of the Germans who became Nazis and read how these Germans were often highly intelligent but emotionally “so defective that the word human could not properly be applied” to them.

This led Dick to a philosophical investigation into “the problem of differentiating the authentic human being from the reflex machine I call an android.” 

For me the word ‘android’ is a metaphor for people who are physiologically human but psychologically behaving in a non-human way.

This was a subject Dick discussed in a lecture on “The Android and the Human” in 1972:

...an android means, as I said, to allow oneself to become a means, or to be pounded down, manipulated, made into a means without one’s consent—the results are the same. But you cannot turn a human into an android if that human is going to break laws every chance he gets. Androidization requires obedience. And, most of all, predictability. It is precisely when a given person’s response to any given situation can be predicted with scientific accuracy that the gates are open for the wholesale production of the android life form.

 
	01pkdpic.jpg
Philip K. Dick.
 
In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Dick developed the idea of “androidization” further when he considered what would happen in a war between humans and androids—would humans become more android-like if they won?

This emotional interplay between humans and androids was also examined in the relationship between Deckard and the android Rachael Rosen, which Dick discussed in “Notes on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” (1968):

And this brings up the whole underlying subject: sexual relations between humans and androids. What is it like? What does it mean? Is it, for instance, like going to bed with a real woman? Or is it an awful, nightmarish, bad trip, where what is dead and inert seems alive and warm and capable of the most acute intimacy known to living creatures? Isn’t this, this sexual union between Rick Deckard and Rachael Rosen—isn’t it the summa of falsity and mechanical motions carried out minus any real feeling, as we understand the word? Feeling on each of their parts. Does in fact her mental—and physical—coldness numb the male, the human man, into an echo of it?

...[Deckard’s] relationship, by having intercourse with her, has melded him to—not an individual, human or android—but to a whole type or model, of which theoretically, there could be tens of thousands. To whom, then, has he really given his erotic libido?

...Here, I think, the crucial questions of What is reality? and What is illusion? come up strongly….The more Rick strives to force her to become a woman—or, more accurately, to play the role of a woman—the more he encounters the core of the unlife within her…his attempt to make love to her as a woman for him is defeated by the tireless core of her electronic being.

Dick postulates that the failure of their lovemaking “may be vital in his determination—and success—in destroying the last of these andys.”

In this interview, Dick discusses some of these key questions about what is reality? what is human?
 

 
Thomas M. Disch once said that his friend Philip K. Dick liked to play-up the image of the hard-done-to artist, struggling in the garret, living off ground-up horse meat (which supposedly led Dick to translate his name into “Horselover Fat”—Philip Greek for horse lover, Dick German for fat), but things were never really that bad. However, he agreed America gave short-shrift to speculative science-fiction writers, and was grateful for the adulation and serious critical appraisal both received in Europe.

In 1977, Philip K. Dick was interviewed for French television where he discussed the problems of being a speculative science-fiction writer in America, as well as many of the philosophical ideas behind his works.
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
The Replacements censored on live awards show (but get the last laugh), 1989
09.09.2014
05:46 am

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Music

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The Replacements
 
The collective hearts of Replacements fans everywhere have been aflutter since the announcement that the reunited band would be returning to the small screen, as they are due to appear on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon September 9th. Naturally, there’s been much talk of their infamous Saturday Night Live performance in 1986, when they got drunk, stumbled around, and generally behaved like one would expect the Replacements to have behaved. Singer/guitarist Paul Westerberg even committed the ultimate TV sin, shouting the F-word during “Bastards of Young.” It was awesome. SNL producer Lorne Michaels was, of course, not amused, and reportedly banned the group for life from 30 Rock (The Tonight Show is filmed at the same address and Michaels is the executive producer).

The Replacements only performed in front of television cameras a handful of times, and while there’s no topping the SNL gig, their appearance on a long-forgotten awards show in 1989 is a close second.

ABC aired the International Rock Awards live on May 31st, 1989. Lou Reed, Living Colour (who took home the “Newcomer of the Year” prize), Keith Richards (there to be presented with a “Living Legend” award), and David Bowie’s ill-fated super-group, Tin Machine, all performed at the event. Winners were handed a bronze “Elvis” award.

The reason I was plopped in front of the family television that night was to see my favorite band, the Replacements. I had watched a crappy videotaped copy of the SNL show hundreds of times and was ready for anything. I was excited, to say the least.

The lights lower and an announcer says, “We apologize; here the are: The Replacements.” Wow, a more hilarious (and ultimately fortuitous) opening couldn’t have been imagined. It’s already a classic clip and the band hasn’t played a note! But then “Talent Show” begins and Westerberg walks up to the mic and manages to one up their introduction: “What the hell are we doing here?” And they’re off!

“Talent Show,” from their then most recent album Don’t Tell a Soul, couldn’t have been a better choice for this event. The song—about feeling vulnerable and scared to get up on stage only to be judged by and against your peers—suddenly becomes more literal than intended. The band were booked on a silly awards show with hip young acts and rock royalty, and the Replacements, a group of outsiders and punks at heart, perversely thrived on these sorts of moments. Instead of rising to the occasion and doing their best to “win,” they instead become the little engine that won’t.

But that’s not to say what transpired wasn’t great. Heck, any Replacements fan knows that half the fun is watching the band gleefully launch themselves off the stage ledge, flipping the bird to showbiz protocol. Bassist Tommy Stinson can barely keep from laughing throughout the performance and Westerberg is at least a couple of sheets to the wind—it’s rough and raucous for sure, but isn’t that’s the way its supposed to be?

Before the show, they were told they needed to change the line, “We’re feeling good from the pills we took.” Well, fittingly, Westerberg did no such thing, and the censors were obviously ready for it, as the tape goes silent during that section of the song. What the censors at ABC didn’t anticipate was this: Near the conclusion of “Talent Show” the lyrics address the time when the band hits the stage and there’s no retreating: “It’s too late to turn back, here we go” is repeated twice on the album version, but here Westerberg has changed the line to “It’s too late to take pills, here we go”—ha! The censors missed it and they’ve pissed everyone off again! To add insult, the line is sung three times.

Paul Westerberg
 
The clip ends with a shot of movie star (and big ‘Mats fan) Matt Dillon enthusiastically whistling and clapping in the audience. Perfect.

I imagine the Tonight Show appearance will be a more orderly affair. Heck, it’s been 25 years since the International Rock Awards, the last time they were seen by a national television audience. People mature. Another famous admirer of the group, Keith Richards, will also be on hand (to promote his children’s book!), so the Replacements will surely be on their best behavior. Or not.

Mr. Michaels just might have to institute another lifetime ban. Fingers-crossed!
 

Posted by Bart Bealmear | Discussion
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