The 1983 animated rock and roll movie Rock and Rule was a failure at the box office but found its audience on cable TV a couple years later. Produced by the Canadian animation studio Nelvana, the movie is a sci-fi rock and roll allegory between good and evil, pitting a rock band of cute mutants called the Drats against an ageing, Mephistophelian rock star/sorcerer named Mok who is intent on securing a special voice capable of unleashing a powerful demon from another dimension who will make Mok immortal. Rock and Rule had a similar look and feel to Heavy Metal, which came out in 1981.
Heavy Metal, true to its title, used music by Blue Öyster Cult, Journey, Grand Funk Railroad, Nazareth, Sammy Hagar, and, er, Donald Fagen, and similarly, Rock and Rule benefited from the contributions of Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire as well as Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, and Chris Stein and Debbie Harry of Blondie.
Nelvana released a 25-minute promo documentary about the making of the movie. “Making of” documentaries of animated movies always have the potential to be dreadfully dull (due to the exacting and painstaking process involved), but in this case, since the subject matter of the movie is so much about rock and roll itself, it’s only appropriate to feature a lot of interviews with the musicians, which is the strategy adopted here.
Interestingly, both Maurice White and Chris Stein separately offer the perspective that they like writing music for movies because the overall artistic direction is already decided. Producer Michael Hirsh notes that Debbie Harry and Chris Stein were good choices as musical contributors because it was so exceedingly likely that they would give so much of themselves to the project.
Lou Reed, composer and singer of “My Name Is Mok,” had this to say about the movie’s heavy:
I felt very positive towards Mok because there are many things to work with, with him, I could identfy with him up to a point, but he was—the way he looked, the things he said, the kind of things he believed in, there were a lot of ways I could relate to that, and even though I don’t necessarily think that way I could really bite into his character and become that way with him, you know, and make him live and breathe like a real person.
One of the major challenges for comix artists in our digital era has been to figure out how best to exploit the intriguing possibilities afforded by the new medium of the internet, browser comics, and so forth. Scott McCloud, author of the essential book Understanding Comics, was among the first to exploit an obvious feature of browser-based comix, namely the vertical bias imposed by the scroll bar.
After 10 or 20 years of experiments and a good number of successes, comix artists today have established a far stronger footing in how to make the most of the browser. Case in point, Stuart Campbell’s recent work “These Memories Won’t Last,” a short web comic about the difficult final years that his grandpa endured due to problems with dementia.
There may be more to it, but “These Memories Won’t Last” exploits three aspects of online comix that the printing press could never accomplish. The first is a soundtrack, and “These Memories Won’t Last” features a subtle, almost aquatic sound design, executed by Lhasa Mencur, that features some of the aural gestalt of a dial tone mixed with a subtly creepy scene from a David Lynch movie or a flashback sequence from an immersive video game.
The second is the ability of online images to fade right before your eyes, which printed images can’t do. “These Memories Won’t Last” is about how fragile and evanescent our memories can be, and fittingly, the frames in his comic frequently fade away to the point where they are hard to make out. This ties into the third tool that online comix can use, which is scrolling. “These Memories Won’t Last” uses an ingenious scrolling convention whereby the drawn images (in blue) scroll in one direction while the captions (in red) scroll in the other direction. The two membranes slide past each other in a way that suggests a fleeting connection between the two.
More to the point, the sliding vertical motion the reader instigates by scrolling and the tendency of the images to fade actually addresses one of the most salient qualities of memory, which is that memories that are more frequently accessed tend to fade faster. (In effect, eventually you begin remembering the act of remembering rather than the original event.) So in “These Memories Won’t Last,” after you’ve moved some of the images up and down across the screen a couple of times, it starts to fade, and the more insistently you scroll to find the sweet spot where you can see it, the more it fades. (At least that was my experience with it.)
As Campbell writes, “I also had the idea that as the reader navigated through the story it would deteriorate, just like grandpa’s memories.” It’s an ingenious way to evoke the frustration of not being able to access information that translates directly to memory loss, which is after all what dementia is about.
Click here to start reading Stuart Campbell’s powerful animated narrative.
Last year DM writer Marc Campbell alerted readers to two excellent animations by British animator Neil Williams of “Chainsaw” by the Ramones and “Pay to Cum” by Bad Brains. As he wrote at the time, “I wish there was one of these cartoons for every Ramones song ever recorded.”
I’m happy to report that there are more Ramones cartoons by Williams, and they are well worth a look. On this page you can watch full cartoons for “I Don’t Wanna Go Down To The Basement” and “Listen To My Heart” off of the Ramones’ first album as well as “Commando” from Leave Home.
All three of these videos have a distinct theme. “I Don’t Wanna Go Down To The Basement” is a fun and spooktacular Halloween romp, placing the punk quartet alongside the gang from Peanuts, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Lugosi’s Dracula, Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein’s monster, and zombies from The Night of the Living Dead. “Listen To My Heart” pretty much inserts the, ahem, “Ramonestones” into an episode of The Flintstones, while “Commando” takes inspiration from the song’s military imagery, incorporating Boris and Natasha, Sgt. Bilko, Apocalypse Now, and so on.
If nothing else, the videos clearly make the case that TV executives missed a great opportunity back in the day. There actually was a TV cartoon that featured the Jackson 5, but most of that group were ciphers compared to the distinctive personalities of the Ramones. No band was ever more fun than the Ramones—they pretty much were cartoon characters anyway! They totally should have become a staple of the Saturday morning rotation of cartoons and groovy children’s classics, alongside Scooby-Doo, Capt. Caveman, Wacky Races, H.R. Pufnstuf, and Land of the Lost.
“Bow bow bow bow bow, bow bow bow bow, I wanna be an-i-mated.”
“I Don’t Wanna Go Down To The Basement”:
Great cartoons for “Listen To My Heart” and “Commando” after the jump…...
Of all the 110 Betty Boop shorts made by the Fleischer Studios between 1932 and 1939 (she was also seen in many of the Fleischer brothers’ earlier “Talkartoons”) only one of them—Poor Cinderella—was made in color. Although in the 1980s several Betty Boop cartoons were colorized—quite sloppily I might add—of her “classic era” it was just Poor Cinderella that was actually planned from the start to be a color film.
And. It. Is. Just. Amazing. Jaw-droppingly so. If it came out in 2016 let alone 1934, Poor Cinderella would be considered an absolute masterpiece. That animation was then still a pretty young field—Max and Dave Fleischer were leaders in animation production, giving Walt Disney his first real competition—the insane amount of technical prowess that went into making Poor Cinderella (produced by Max, directed by Dave) reveals it to be all the more impressive.
A celebrity cameo from famous crooner and radio personality Rudy Vallée, the Justin Bieber of the time.
First off, the film was made with the two-strip Cinecolor process. Walt Disney had locked up the rights to use Technicolor’s new 3-strip process from 1932 to 1935, but this limitation just makes the art direction look even better. It’s not so much a full color production, as one rendered in shades of black, white, blue and red. Again, it looks all the better for this, as you will see. Poor Cinderella has been in the public domain for many years, but always in scratchy, crappy-looking, less impressive versions. A recent HD transfer—part of the Betty Boop: Essential Collection 4 Blu-ray—gives us a clear glimpse of what a perfectly cut diamond this artistically and historically important short animation truly is. It’s like watching a moving stained glass window.
Second, Max Fleischer was the inventor of the Rotoscope—he patented the process in 1915—which aided in animating movement by tracing frames of live action film. One of the really impressive elements of Poor Cinderella—besides every single thing about it—is the way they did the backgrounds. Yes, with all the other near-psychedelic eye candy going on here, pay careful attention to the backgrounds. What they did was use their own proprietary in house “Stereoptical” camera—called the “Setback”—which was developed that year. Three-dimensional miniature sets were built to the scale of the animation artwork. Then the animation cels were placed within the setup so that the action could go around and among the sets. An ingenious tabletop animation process, in other words, at least partially.
For those of you reading this who are proficient in AfterEffects or 3D animation, imagine having to work like this! Clearly the Fleischer brothers were complete maniacs.
Trust me, you don’t have anything better to do for the next ten minutes than to watch Poor Cinderella. I’m quite sure of it:
I don’t think this post will exactly break the Internet like Kim Kardashian’s ass or anything, but I do predict that it will become pretty popular today. Perhaps we’ll see this same clip later today on Huffington Post. I certainly think that it’s going to get around once unleashed. But I’m starting it here and now. Remember: You heard it here first.
Nope. Actually, that’s probably not true. You probably heard it for the very first time when you were in the first or second grade…
If you are—ahem—“of a certain age” and went to school in the United States in the 70s or 80s there is very little doubt that at one point or another you were shown a filmstrip in music class that (ridiculously) explained how reed instruments came about via their discovery by a mythological creature. (I saw it in a “library class” in the second grade—and if memory serves, it was my very own mother, who was a library volunteer at my grade school, who showed it to the class.)
What am I talking about? I am talking about “The Pipes Of Pan.”
As I read this one tweet, a song began to play—over and over and over and over and over again—in my still groggy brain:
“Pan, Pan, Greek god Pan—One half goat, the other half maaaaan!”
Do these lyrics ring a bell for you? I’ve had that dumb ditty stuck in my head for well over 40 years now. Your mileage may vary, but like I say, if you went to school in America in the 70s and 80s—and probably even into the early 90s—there is a very, very strong likelihood that you not only have been exposed to this earworm of a song at a very young age, it’s also probably taken up residence in your noggin permanently.
“Pan, Pan, Greek god Pan—One half goat, the other half maaaaan!”
It’s not like it would be as familiar to a generation like a “Schoolhouse Rock” number would be, but it’s close. This isn’t the first time that it’s occurred to me to blog about “The Pipes Of Pan” but in the past I was always thwarted by a lack of a video clip. Until now. Someone kindly posted it in 2014.
It is exactly how I remembered it.
Apparently I wasn’t the only person who has been looking for “The Pipes Of Pan” online. By the time I typed “Pan, Pan, Greek…” Google happily filled in the rest of it.
We get a fair number of questions asking about filmstrips from readers’ school days, and they pose a unique identification challenge. On one hand, filmstrips aren’t exactly a mass medium. Any particular one might be used in hundreds of schools across the country without ever achieving the saturation level of even the lowest-rated basic-cable TV show. So web searches for the lyrics you quoted, Erica, as well as subsets and variants thereof, turn up scattered references on bulletin boards and blogs in the form of offhand comments—no discussion of the source. (The Internet turns out to be great at locating dozens of people posting “Oh yeah, I remember that! What the heck was it?” and zero people who actually know what it was.) On the other hand, unlike songs and TV shows, filmstrips are actually kept in the collections of libraries—whose catalogs can be searched with tools like OCLC WorldCat. There don’t seem to be any cartoony filmstrips about Greek mythology that fit the bill, but one of those bulletin-boarders recalled that the academic subject matter was music. Paydirt!
“The Pipes Of Pan” is part of the Once Upon A Sound collection, five strips produced by the venerable Jam Handy corporation in 1971 to teach elementary-school students about musical instrument families—horns, drums, strings, and in this case, woodwinds. Since filmstrips became an outmoded technology, some companies have been repackaging them on DVD, and luckily for us, Clearvue & SVE did that for the Once Upon A Sound series in 2005. There’s even a brief streaming preview, and although it’s limited to the new framing video the Clearvue folks have packaged around the filmstrip, it includes a few screenshots of the filmstrip itself, confirming the “cutesy” and “cherubic” character design of the nature god. While I couldn’t locate an mp3 of Pan’s theme song, I’m confident that this is your memory. And if those bulletin-board posters are any indication, the memory of thousands of ‘70s-era third-graders like you.
And I’m pretty confident that many of our readers will remember it, too (although admittedly, my wife told me that it did not ring a bell for her).
Pamela Des Barres was the original rock and roll groupie, a founding member of the GTOs (which, as Stanley Booth wrote, could stand for “Girls Together Outrageously or Orally or anything else starting with O”), and lover to Mick Jagger, Jimmy Page, Keith Moon, Gram Parsons, Waylon Jennings, and many others.
The woman can obviously spin a tale, what with several books to her name; her 1987 memoir I’m with the Band is essential reading for anyone interested in the sex lives of major 1960s and 1970s rock stars. (Kirkus called it “a classic account of rampant narcissism among guitar egomaniacs,” which seems about right.)
In this amusing short animated by Evan York, Des Barres tells stories of her sexual adventures as a groupie, including encountering a naked Mick Jagger (she was still a virgin at the time), coaxing Waylon Jennings into his long-haired outlaw phase, and watching as Keith Moon perpetrated an epic prank on a major hotel.
A week before Christmas, Netflix posted F is for Family, a new animated series based on the politically incorrect outlook of acerbic stand-up comedian Bill Burr. Co-written by Burr and frequent Simpsons scribe Michael Price, the show also features the vocal talents of Laura Dern, Justin Long, Sam Rockwell, Phil Hendrie and others. F is for Family is set in 1973, a time of prog rock, when dads were kings of their castles, kids were left to play unsupervised on construction sites and “the Japs” were beating our asses with their cheap imported cars. Burr plays Frank Murphy, a rant-prone typically angry blue collar 70s dad—we all had one—who works in baggage handling at the local airport and watches a lot of TV.
I liked it a lot, but then again I get all the jokes since I was seven the year it supposedly takes place. If you like Bill Burr—and who doesn’t love a man who can do THIS—it doesn’t disappoint. It’s smart and funny, somewhat self-consciously playing like a Norman Lear comedy with a fuck of a lot more swearing.
The show has an opening title sequence that is set to 1974’s AM radio hit “Come and Get Your Love,” which I think is one of the best songs of like all time. It’s an unbelievably catchy earworm that evokes a nice summer day, with the wind in your hair, just being young and carefree and this is what we’re grooving along to as we see a young Frank graduate from high school, optimistic and flying through the clouds, ready to go out and conquer the world before a draft notice smacks him in the face. Before our eyes we see him get paunchier, a pair of glasses and a bald spot along with the nagging responsibilities of his wife and three kids (“They’re animals”). It’s the most perfect way to introduce the character of Frank—or any father of that generation.
The reason I mention this is because if you’ve seen the show—you might know the song (or have heard it elsewhere, such as Guardians of the Galaxy) but do you recall the group who did it? Probably not. They were called Redbone and billed themselves as the first Native American/Cajun rock group. They were really amazing musicians who are worthy of “rediscovery” by rock snobs.
Redbone (not to be confused with Leon Redbone, the idiosyncratic Canadian Tin Pan Alley-style singer-songwriter) was formed by brothers Pat and Lolly Vasquez-Vegas in 1969. Previously they had been hotshot LA session musicians known professionally as the Avantis and later as the Vegas Brothers—their paths crossed in the studio with the likes of Glenn Campbell, Snuff Garrett, Sonny & Cher, Delaney Bramlett, Leon Russell, Elvis and many other notables—but two Mexican guys playing surf rock wasn’t really something that they felt the entertainment industry wanted at the time, hence the switch to the more overtly Native American image with a bit of Cajun spice. They had two big hits, the first being “The Witch Queen of New Orleans” (about 19th century voodoo practitioner Marie Laveau) in 1971. By the time of Cher’s “Half-Breed” in 1973—“Redbone” being Cajun slang for someone of mixed heritage—it must’ve felt like the right moment for the group to take advantage of this nascent Native American chic.
At the end of 1984, I moved to NYC and all I had to listen to was a cheapy Sony Walkman and a few cassettes—Nick Cave’s From Her to Eternity, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s greatest hits, Nina Hagen’s Nunsexmonkrock and the first Madonna album were my soundtracks to walking around and discovering New York City when I first got there. But there was one album in particular, that to me at least, was THE SOUND of the city and that record was the first solo effort from B-52s singer Fred Schneider, called Fred Schneider and the Shake Society. I listened to this album constantly then. One early morning just a few weeks after I got there, I saw a totally trashed-looking Fred walking down 6th Avenue—he’d obviously just come from a party gone out of bounds—and I’m not ashamed to admit that I was thrilled, totally starstruck and satisfied that I’d made a good move. Seeing a hungover Fred Schneider was akin to the universe smiling at me and New York was the best place in the world to be in 1984.
But back to the music: “Monster,” the single from the album, was one of those songs that was only really famous in nightclubs, but that was about it. HOW is it possible that a song with a hook this unstoppable, not to mention the over-the-top double entendre of the lyrics, wasn’t a massive, massive hit single, something that today would be justly celebrated as an iconic 80s novelty song??? It was even released twice and barely scraped the top 100 either time!
Actually, maybe it was the boldly double entendre lyrics. Come to think of it, that’s probably, uh, exactly what the problem was. Thirty years later, who would give a shit about something so innocuous?
Below, the original mix of the song as it was released in 1984 (The 1991 remix is a travesty and I was pissed off when I bought the CD and got the new version). Featured in the video are Talking Head Tina Weymouth, Kate Pierson, Keith Haring and the late, great drag performer Ethyl Eichelberger as the maid.
Terry Gilliam’s Christmas card of 2011, as posted to his Facebook page.
Terry Gilliam moved to London in 1967 after having paid his dues on a cutting-edge satirical magazine in the United States called Help! that was run by former MAD honcho Harvey Kurtzman. Gilliam actually met John Cleese while at Help!, having created a fumetto (photographic cartoon) featuring the gangly Brit. While in London, Gilliam worked as an art director for London Life and eventually—famously—transitioned into doing cutout animations for TV shows.
As Gilliam described it to Paul Wardle in an interview included in the informative volume Terry Gilliam: Interviews, he was lucky to meet a TV producer with an acute eye for illustrating talent:
John [Cleese] had established himself in television, and he introduced me to a guy named Humphrey Barclay, who was a producer. What he was producing at the time was a show called Do Not Adjust Your Set, a children’s show that Michael Palin, Terry Jones, and Eric Idle were writing and performing. The great thing was that Humphrey was an amateur cartoonist. What he liked more than the written material that I was offering him were my cartoons. So he took pity on me and bought a couple of my written sketches, and forced them on Mike, Terry, and Eric, much to their chagrin, because it was their show. Then this loud-mouthed loud-dressing American turns up and starts invading their pitch.
In The Pythons: Autobiography by the Pythons Gilliam described his strategy for the assignment—important because this may have been the initial spark for his method, which would become much more widely known and admired when his animations turned up as the transitional bits in the Monty Python’s Flying Circus TV shows as well as essential elements of all of the Python movies:
I went down to the Tate and they’ve got a huge collection of Victorian Christmas cards so I went through the collection and photocopied things and started moving them around. So the style just developed out of that rather than any planning being involved. I never analysed the stuff, I just did it the quickest, easiest way. And I could use images I really loved.
It’s astonishing how mature the style seems—almost fully formed, one might say. It’s difficult to detect any real difference between this animation, executed in 1968, and the many he did for Monty Python’s Flying Circus from 1969 to 1974.
The Snowman is an Academy Award-nominated animated short based on the wordless 1978 children’s book of the same name by beloved British author and illustrator Raymond Briggs.
In The Snowman, a lonely boy makes a frozen friend who comes alive and the pair get up to mischief in the boy’s house, trying not to awaken his sleeping parents. Then they go to meet Santa Claus. Or was it all just a dream? Over the past 30 plus years it has become a Christmas tradition in Britain in the same sense that A Charlie Brown Christmas has become one in America, with annual Yuletide broadcasts.
Although the original animation, directed by Diane Jackson for Channel 4 in 1982, featured Briggs himself introducing the cartoon, the following year a second version was aired featuring a live action introduction by none other than David Bowie, who, it is implied, was the little boy in the story, with the “proof” that it all really happened being an old scarf he pulls from a drawer. It’s amusing to consider that an entire generation was introduced to David Bowie first and foremost as the adult version of the kid in this story.
A word about the soundtrack music: It’s lyrical and utterly gorgeous, the best known work of composer and pianist Howard Blake and was recorded with his orchestra, the Sinfonia of London. I have this on CD and it’s wonderful, a classic in its own right. Blake later turned The Snowman into a long-running holiday theatrical play.