A young Steven Morrissey contemplating the state of punk rock
Recently, I spent some time collecting for you my dear Dangerous Minds readers, numerous amusing pieces of personal correspondence (adorable typos and all) from a young, pre-Smiths Morrissey. Even back then, Morrissey was busy cultivating the melancholy persona that we all know and love today.
The home address of a teenage Morrissey
Part of a letter from a young Morrissey to his pen pal, Robert Mackie, October 22nd, 1980
In addition to excerpts from many of his pen pal letters to Robert Mackie, I’ve included a few of Morrissey’s letters to various magazines and several of his reviews of bands like Depeche Mode and The Cramps that appeared in the weekly British newspaper, the Record Mirror from 1980.
I’m especially fond of the then teenaged Morrissey’s review of a live gig in April of 1980 by The Cramps at Manchester Polytechnic (which you can read below) that he wrote for Record Mirror in which he muses “Is it true that guitarist Ivy Rorschach sets fires to orphanages when she’s bored?” If only. What follows makes for some fantastic reading, enjoy!
A review of a live show of The Cramps at Manchester Polytechnic that appeared in the Record Mirror, April 4th, 1980 written by a 21-year-old Morrissey
In the ‘70s, Warner Brothers records released an amazing series of compilations. They were officially dubbed the “Loss Leaders” for exactly-what-it-says-on-the-box reasons; for a paltry $2, you’d get a double LP (some were single-platter, at least one was a triple), packaged with an ample book of liner notes and stuffed with songs from superstars, cult artists and new signings alike. The idea was that though you bought it for the huge hit or rare track by Neil Young, Fleetwood Mac, Rod Stewart, or whoever, you’d also end up hearing left-field stuff by the Fugs, Deaf School, Talking Heads, Wild Man Fischer, Captain Beefheart, et al ad infinitum. If any of the lesser-known tracks connected with listeners, that would translate into more records sold at full price. They made dozens of those comps, and a great many of them were compiled and liner-noted by Barry “Dr. Demento” Hansen. They were available by mail-order between 1969 and 1980, when the campaign abruptly and sadly ended.
(It merits mentioning here that the final Loss Leader, 1980’s Troublemakers, features Gang of Four, PiL, DEVO, Wire, and John Cale, and so might be of extremely high interest to a hell of a lot of this blog’s followers. I’d even venture to guess that that very comp could be the very record that made a few of our readers realize they were mutants to begin with.)
Warner resurrected the “Loss Leader” idea in name only for a couple of giveaway comps in 1995 and 1999, but the cheap-o label sampler idea was such an obvious winner that indie/underground labels began to take up that torch the ’80s, and some of those collections have become legendary. In 1997, Matador records released a ridiculously generous 2XCD comp called What’s Up Matador, which sold at a very low retail price. The idea was the same; Teenage Fanclub, Pavement and Guided By Voices would sell the comp to people who would hopefully then get hip to quality lesser-knowns like Bardo Pond, S.F Seals, and Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 (and by the way, getting hip to Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 wouldn’t be such a terrible use of your time), and hopefully those smaller bands enlarged their audiences.
That comp came out when I was neckdeep in my college radio years, and naturally it got a ton of spins during my airshift, but what I wasn’t aware of—because I was a dumb dipshit who never even once bothered to read the liner notes—was that What’s Up Matador was also a completely bonkers video compilation. No mere digest of promo clips, the video was shot as a fake children’s TV show, with preposterous “educational” segments by the label’s roster of weirdo musicians, hosted by the then-renowned TV smiler Bill Boggs (I recognized him from a late night satellite dish infomercial). Segments include a pedalboard demo by Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan, a marvelous storybook history of Matador illustrated by Railroad Jerk’s Marcellus Hall, a damn near obscene theremin demonstration by Jon Spencer, and a hilariously stilted fake interview with Liz Phair. The video was written and directed by Clay Tarver, guitarist for the Matador band Chavez (one of my top-tier favorite overlooked ‘90s bands, as it happens), who was kind enough to take some time to talk with me about it.
CLAY TARVER: I had been doing some video work, and when Matador was going to put together this compilation, I pitched this video idea because I wanted to do more of that. I really racked my brain about what would be the most ridiculous thing to do, and the idea I started with was to do a sort of Reading Rainbow type show. It seemed funny to me to have someone like Jon Spencer sitting down reading to a bunch of kids, but to do it in a way that made more fun of Jon Spencer than it did the kids. Then it all came together when we cast Bill Boggs with the idea to make it as straight as possible. The guiding creative principle was to make it not winking or campy, but to do it like a real show. Bill knew Matador was a hip thing, and while we didn’t want to fuck with him or make him the butt of the joke, we also didn’t want to correct him in those moments when he wasn’t entirely clear on how sarcastic this would be, that we were making fun of indie music as much as we were making fun of kids’ shows.
I also got an illuminating earful from Matador label honcho Gerard Cosloy…
GERARD COSLOY: We wanted to do a Matador compilation similar to things like the Warner Brothers Loss Leader comps, Blasting Concept, Wailing Ultimate, as a cheap introduction to the wonderful world of Matador, and we needed a concept. We had the idea to do an accompanying video just cobbling together a bunch of videos from the period, but that wasn’t very ambitious, so we wanted to have a narrative to it. We kept thinking about infomercials and instructional films, and we also thought about very awkward situations, like how this could be for children, like a child’s primer on the world of Matador, or record manufacturing and whatnot, just to add to the incongruity of the whole thing. Clay understood the idea right away. Some of the vague inspirations included the WOR TV show Wonderama, Uncle Floyd, Major Mudd, these sorts of kids shows with very poor production values, that are a little too earnest and a little wrong.
We were initially thinking of going for the laugh factor instead of playing it deadpan, and one of us—meaning me—had my heart set on Richard Bey, who was a shit-TV fixture on the East Coast from that era, who had a very exploitative, silly show. I thought he’d be perfect because he was so smarmy and creepy and weird, the least hip human being in the entire world. Having him in front of a room full of kids talking about music would be wrong in every conceivable way. His casting agency wanted some astronomical amount of money for him, they wanted something like $15,000. I think we budgeted something closer to $3,000. The agency suggested Bill Boggs, which was kind of incredible, because in a lot of ways he was a much bigger coup with a way more respected resume. He’s hosted daytime TV, he had a late night show in New York, I think he was the original executive producer of The Morton Downey Jr. Show. His credentials a both a totally generic host and as a guy who’d worked on really wacky TV was impeccable. He was just perfect for the job, because he was so deadpan that it made for much better comedy. Bill gave it a measure of gravitas—and it doesn’t make any sense, because there’s no way you could watch this and think it was real!
In conjunction with the launch of a new “This Day In Matador History” web site that seeks to engage music fans with the label’s now 27-ish years of output, the What’s Up Matador video is being released online for the first time ever today. Until now, it’s been a VHS collectable, and it was bundled as an add-on to the later Everything Is Nice DVD. As it happens, the mechanics of the cassette format led to a fucking hilarious manufacturing error in the video’s initial run.
Here’s that story in Gerard’s words, it’s pretty amazing:
GERARD COSLOY:The video duplication company that was in charge of manufacturing and packaging the VHS tapes was also handling the Michael Flatley Lord of the Dance videos, which were very very popular, he sold hundreds of thousands of those—God knows to who. There was a manufacturing error, and I don’t know exactly how many, but a good portion of the early shipments of What’s Up, Matador, people got their videocassettes, put them in their VCRs, and instead of seeing Bill Boggs, Ira Kaplan and Liz Phair, they were seeing Michael Flatley dance routines! We had a number of kinda angry consumers, and I hope that we got them all the right videotapes once the dust eventually cleared, but it was a long time ago. There was some ill will over that which probably cost us some word-of-mouth. I think we tried to explain to people that the Flatley tape was like $60 and they only paid $15. Our customer service back then wasn’t very sophisticated.
“He Touched Me” sure was a popular theme back in the day. I had no idea it was this popular, though. Whoever this “He” is—if that is, in fact, his real name—he apparently touched just about everybody. This asshole knew no boundaries either, whether it be male, female, adult, child, the elderly, couples and even… entire families, he’d touch ‘em! These album covers are heartbreaking cries for help. Why didn’t anyone pay attention?!
Here’s a visual guide to show you just how many people He has “touched.” F*ck this guy!
Probably the most hazardous double act to appear on TV during the 1980s was the aptly named Dangerous Brothers—a frenetic pairing created and performed by Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson. Mayall was the pretentious but sycophantic Richie Dangerous and Ade was the gullible yet blase Sir Adrian Dangerous.
The act was an offshoot of their original pairing in 20th Century Coyote. The Dangerous Brothers carried on with the same kind over the top violent slapstick they made famous through Rik and Vyvyan in The Young Ones and later as Richard “Richie” Rich and Edward “Eddie” Elizabeth Hitler in Bottom.
Mayall and Edmondson first met at Manchester University where both were studying drama. According to Mayall their introduction was across a crowded classroom:
It was our first lecture and the professor swept in with his flowing hair and gown and I stood up because that’s what I’d been taught at school. No one else did. And this one bloke – with long hair and John Lennon glasses and a fag in his hand and his f-ing feet on the table – just laughed at me and said, “Tosser!” That was Ade.
Maybe I always wanted to be as cool as him. Maybe that’s why I took great satisfaction in him going bald. He was always so strong and quick and self-assured. I wanted him to be my friend. I got a 2:2 in the end, which Ade won’t f-ing shut up about because he got a 2:1.
The pair shared a similar taste in cartoon comedy (Roadrunner) with a large dash of Python and a twist of Tommy Cooper. They became involved with the improvisational theater group 20th Century Coyote which soon became just Rik and Ade. By the late 1970s, they were part of the new roster of stars appearing at London’s Comedy Store. Together with Alexei Sayle, Peter Richardson and Nigel Planer (The Outer Limits), Arnold Brown and French & Saunders, they set up The Comic Strip—the foundation stone of Britain’s Alternative Comedy, blah-de-bloody-blah…
Anyhow…after conquering the known universe with The Young Ones in 1982, Mayall and Edmondson returned to the small screen with The Dangerous Brothers. They appeared on a UK version of Saturday Night LIve—imaginatively titled Saturday Live in 1985. Compered by comic in a shiny jacket Ben Elton, Saturday Live hosted “a veritable Who’s Who of Alternative Comedy.” Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Morwenna Banks, Harry Enfield, Craig Ferguson and even Emo Phillips all appeared, along with too many others to mention. However, one of the highlights, nay, the highlight of the series was Richie and Sir Adrian Dangerous.
While the bulk of the show was broadcast live Mayall and Edmondson’s insert sketch as The Dangerous Brothers was previously recorded. Thankfully as it would turn out. For in their opening skit Rik set fire to Ade with near fatal consequences—as Edmondson later recalled:
I did set myself very badly on fire in a Dangerous Brothers sketch. They put this special gel on my legs, which was only supposed to go up to my knees, but I must have been feeling particularly confident that day because I told them to go all the way to the groin. I said, “If the flames come too high, I’ll shout out the special emergency code word.” The trouble was I forgot the word, so they let me burn like kindling.
Mayall was supposed to set Edmondson alight for the sketch “The Towering Inferno”—the title gives a big clue. But as the flames took hold no one noticed “that Sir Adrian’s convincingly pained expression was because the flames had started burning through his protective clothing.” Just before Edmondson was engulfed in flames, the filming stopped and the fire extinguished. Yet like real pros, they kept the fire in the final edited package… Edmondson’s legs were badly burnt and his eyebrows singed. Don’t try this at home….
More manic mayhem from the Dangerous Brothers, after the jump…
Recently a meme has been passed around on social media purporting to be a stuffed plushie with actual children’s teeth sewn inside its mouth. Click here to read it. I’m seeing it everywhere and yes people are falling for this. I’m here to tell you that’s not the case. What you’re actually looking is a stuffed toy called a Fuggler. It’s a toy that sports human-looking teeth. And not actual kids’ teeth for Pete’s sake! Fake teeth!
Of course this meme is being spread faster than a photoshopped pic of Obama with a bone through his nose via a Tea party mailing list…
Former half term-governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, was in the news twice last week—with her assertion that President Barack Obama is the reason why her son, Track, hits women, and with her endorsement of GOP presidential hopeful Donald J. “I could ‘shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters” Trump.
Her bizarre, rambling, right-wing-talking-point word salad endorsement of Trump has been cleverly used as source material for a short 26-second video featuring Looney Tunes’ popular angry cowboy, Yosemite Sam. The edit syncs quite well and leaves no question that Palin, herself, is essentially a cartoon character.
The ‘80s actually started in November of 1980, when doddering, happy-talking lawbreaker Ronald Reagan rather brutally defeated Jimmy Carter’s bid for re-election. Culturally, that event was the final nail in the coffin of what remained of late ‘60s counterculture (they put a lot of those nails there themselves, to be fair), and politically it marked the dawn of the vulgarian/reactionary empowerment that still poses an existential threat to the country.
They were far from the only ones to see Reagan’s rise as doom for the left and the man himself as the fourth horseman of the twilight of the hippies, but ABC’s live late night sketch show Fridays did a spectacularly hilarious job of addressing it.
Fridays, it its day, was seen as a weak attempt at catching the lightning in a bottle that was Saturday Night Live—sort of an early ‘80s Mad TV, except Fridays was actually funny. In the rear-view it holds up pretty admirably, as it often went even edgier than classic SNL. In three seasons starting in the spring of 1980, Fridays kicked off the careers of Rich Hall, Larry David, and—you can’t win ‘em all—Michael Richards. And in the wake of the Reagan election, the show’s writers and cast pulled of an extraordinary stunt: an ambitious 20 minute sketch, performed live, parodying both the incoming Reagan administration AND The Rocky Horror Picture Show!
The sketch stars Richards as Brad, and Janet duties fell to the wonderful Melanie Chartoff, who’s best known now for voice acting in kid’s cartoons. It imports VP-elect George H.W. Bush into the Riff Raff role, played by Mark Blankfield, who was the show’s breakout star at the time. John Roarke handles Reagan/Frank N. Furter duties, and Larry David…well, if you don’t know, I’m not going to ruin that one for you, it’s pretty fucking great. Paralleling Dr. Furter’s creation of ultimate sexual boy-toy Rocky, Reagan here endeavors to create the perfect conservative, but it doesn’t go as planned. The sketch was well-written and pretty superbly executed for a 20-minute live extravaganza with musical numbers, and it nails all of its marks but one—it ends optimistically. But it does offer a prescient warning to posterity in this dialogue exchange between Richards and Chartoff:
Janet: Oh Brad! Don’t you see what these people are doing? These people are…
Brad: Janet, relax! This is a great chance to have an intelligent conversation with these right wingers!
Tom Baker is an actor, writer, wit, bon viveur and raconteur. He is best known as the fourth Doctor Who—if not the best Doctor Who. Tom Baker has one of the most recognizable voices on the planet. His sonorous tones can be heard on innumerable voice-overs, adverts and hit TV shows like Little Britain.
Baker is adored by millions. And there are many who believe Tom Baker walks on water and turns it into wine. For them, Tom Baker is a god.
Thankfully, Mr. Baker doesn’t disabuse such people of this opinion. Why should he spoil their fun? But even gods have an off day especially when dealing with idiots. How do we know this? Well, take a listen to this delightfully amusing recording of Baker discussing the merits and demerits of a voice-over script for some advertising jingle and all will become apparent. I won’t spoil it by quoting some of his choice phrases, but suffice to say it becomes quickly known that Mr. Baker is right about everything. Which will be further proof of his godlike status—for only gods are ineffably right.
A fuzzy MTV clipmaking the rounds advertises the 1991 “SACRIFICE YOUR DAUGHTER TO GWAR!!!” contest, and it’s so good that it might give the very young a mistaken impression of what MTV’s programming used to be like. In fact, before that terrible Ugly Kid Joe song came out, the network showed almost nothing but the videos for “Janie’s Got a Gun,” “Silent Lucidity,” “More Than Words” and “Every Little Step.” In other words, it was a fat, sad sack of shit, and you would have been waiting a long time if you were waiting for Downtown Julie Brown to cue up live video of GWAR doing “Sick of You” in Antarctica. No, the GWAR contest was not part of MTV’s regular programming, but a sketch on the network’s best original show to date, The Idiot Box.
Even if he had never achieved fame as Bill S. Preston, Esq. in the Bill & Ted series (part three now in the works!)—even if he was not currently slated to write and direct the official documentary about the life and work of Frank Zappa—Alex Winter would still be deserving of two Kennedy Center awards, a statue in every town square and a place in every American heart, because he is the director of the Butthole Surfers’ immortal Bar-B-Que Movie, for which John Ford would have gladly schlupped out both his and John “Duke” Wayne’s prostate glands and let them splat upon the floor, proclaiming, as he prised out both organs with one fluid motion of two callused hands, that’s cash on the barrelhead, son. Nor do Winter’s contributions to our culture end there.
Bar-B-Que Movie surfaced in 1989 on the first (and only?) issue of Impact Video Magazine, directed by Winter and his frequent collaborator Tom Stern. (The pair met as film students at NYU, where they directed the short Squeal of Death.) I haven’t seen much of Impact, but the roster is unimpeachable; along with the Buttholes short, the video included interviews with Public Enemy and Robert Williams, comedy from Bill Hicks, and footage of Survival Research Labs. Armed with this small triumph and the success of the first Bill & Ted movie, Winter and Stern scored a sketch show on MTV: the six-episode run of The Idiot Box.
Though some of the show’s references are now ancient, it holds up quite well on its own. What is hard to communicate is how demented, sick and bad it seemed in the context of the time. Back then, some citizens complained that The Simpsons was obscene and harmful to children, and the vice president of the country inveighed against the corrupting influence of a sitcom for the elderly called Murphy Brown. It was in this inhospitable cultural environment that Eddie the Flying Gimp took wing. Who can say how much higher he might have soared in friendly skies? (This analogy falls apart because Eddie the Flying Gimp is from outer space, but I had a long day and I did my best.)
Hideous Mutant Freekz: Alex Winter and Tom Stern on the cover of the June 1993 issue of Film Threat
After The Idiot Box, Winter and Stern co-directed their gut-busting first feature, Hideous Mutant Freekz, released as Freaked in 1993. Twenty-three years on, I have yet to meet the person to whom I would not recommend this movie. Visit the Freekland channel on YouTube for more Winter and Stern video madness. (The first episode of The Idiot Box is here.) And even if you never got a chance to be baptized by Oderus’ body fluids in person like I did, you can still purify your soul with days of long-formGWARvideos.
Below, in the last episode of The Idiot Box, the GWAR contest appears at 1:43:
The good people at Welcome To Twin Peaks have shared a wonderful web widget with which you can kill some quality time today—”David Lynch Doodle.” It’s a caricature of Lynch (who turns 70 today) with his epic haircut lopped off, and you get to draw it in, with eleven simulated brushes to choose from. (While you justly make fun of my shitty efforts, bear in mind that I went to art school. And graduated. In lots of debt.)