For over five years, Welsh trio the Joy Formidable have been making wonderful, headstrong records that combine hard-rock intensity with shoegaze’s dense trippiness. Wolf’s Law and The Big Roar are the easiest for American types to get ahold of, and if you dig bands like Curve, they’re probably well within your zone (but if I’m in the mood for this kind of thing, frankly I way prefer TJF over Curve). Just this afternoon, the band released a nicely reverbed-out cover of the Twin Peaks theme song, “Falling.” Between the series’ 25th anniversary taking place this year, and the announcement of new episodes coming in 2017, I suppose we should all brace ourselves for a LOT of this sort of thing coming up. The band told the essential Welcome to Twin Peaks blog:
“We had some time during the making of our new album to get excited that a new series of Twin Peaks is on the horizon,” the band told Welcome to Twin Peaks. “Here’s our tribute to that legendary series and it’s beautiful theme music by Angelo Badalamenti.”
They (or someone) also cobbled together a video compilation of scenes from the series. Which is at once quite nice and too bad—a performance video probably would have been a lot of fun.
Kevin Smith has caught a lot of hell for not “maturing” as an artist, but if you go back and watch Clerks, it’s pretty obvious that his strengths have always been juvenile humor with a shot of modern neurosis. And, while Clerks is certainly a product of its time, I maintain that it holds up as a really charming little film about youth, relationships and the absurdity of alienated wage labor under capitalism. Or maybe it’s just about snowballing (hey, six of one...). Highly sexualized semi-intellectual gross-out comedy is arguably the trademark of Smith’s indie opus, which is why it’s so weird that Disney tried to adapt the film for a PG audience. (Spoiler: it is bad.)
It makes sense that Disney would try to capitalize off Gen-X disaffection I suppose, but did they really think Clerks could stand the Mickey Mouse treatment? You’ll notice the 1995 pilot bears no resemblance whatsoever to its source material—Smith wasn’t even told about its development until the actors that played Dante and Randal auditioned for (and didn’t get) their original roles. Smith even tried to help the project by writing a script, but Disney ultimately went with… this. You’ll see no Jay or Silent Bob, just a cast of suspiciously good-looking members of the strip mall proletariat. (They even added a sexy girl who works at the tanning salon next door played by a pre-Felicity Keri Russell).
Needless to say, Smith was not pleased with the end result. Check it out below, if you dare.
I only remember bits and pieces of Slim Goodbody AKA “the Superhero of Health” from my childhood. He had a TV show on PBS in 1980 called Inside Story but I don’t recall ever actually sitting through an entire episode. BUT I do remember pausing on his show for a few moments once just to gaze in wonderment at his his skin-tight anatomical suit and distinctive ‘fro. It’s a memory burned into my brain for some reason.
When I stumbled across this “anatomically correct” sleeping bag—or is this a “body bag” in this case—my mind went immediately to Mr. Slim Goodbody. What a perfect way to pay homage to this childhood “Superhero of Health”!
Now what’s really sad is I can’t find this sleeping available for purchase anywhere. I’m always led back to a Japanese site that gives me a “404” error. Maybe I just didn’t look hard enough?
Several months ago when we showed you Emma Munger‘s wonderful Sailor Jerry-inspired pin up artwork of the women of Twin Peaks, one of our readers posted the comment “Where are all the half naked men covered in logs? We demand equality!” Perhaps the artist heard and heeded that plea, because she’s added the MEN of Twin Peaks to the series.
And there’s a really funny twist: these aren’t beefcake poses. Just like the women, the guys are drawn in the manner of female pin ups. Which is hilarious on Ed Hurley, the Horne brothers, and Pete Martell, but frankly disturbing on Killer Bob and One-armed Mike. And the pin up of Dr. Jacoby? Yeah, that one’s in a class all by itself. Prints of Munger’s work are available from søciety6.
In 2004, Ben Folds produced William Shatner’s album Has Been which included a surprisingly great cover version of Pulp‘s hit song “Common People.” Folds enlisted ‘80s icon Joe Jackson to sing on the choruses of that cover. The Has Been album was surprisingly well received by critics, and many agreed that “Common People” was the “hit” on that record.
Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker even praised the cover version, stating, “I was very flattered by that because I was a massive Star Trek fan as a kid and so you know, Captain Kirk is singing my song! So that was amazing.”
A fan has created a video for Shatner’s “Common People” using clips from Star Trek: The Original Series.
What makes this edit truly incredible is the attention to detail in matching shots with the lyrical content, even nailing specific lines of the song to lines spoken by Kirk in the show. Check twenty-seven seconds in where “I want to live,” or forty-seven seconds in where “I’ll see what I can do” sync perfectly. The amount of work that went into this is apparent and astounding.
It’s no secret that when the New Wave hit, its repercussions shook some unlikely classic rock scenesters (Exhibit A: Neil Young’s Trans; Exhibit B: Everyone from Mick Jagger to Bob Seger dressing up in dayglo and Exhibit C: SYNTHESIZERS!), but witness the little “Snowbird” herself, Anne Murray, of all people, taking a swerve into an edgy career detour in her 1985 TV special The Sounds of London.
Though she was hardly shaving her head or shoving a safety pin through her tongue (the TV audience is left to do that to themselves), Murray’s confusing London travelogue includes a bizarre extended stage segment set at the massive Hippodrome nightclub. It looks like all the Goths, New Romantics, and other subterranean types in London were issued an all-points bulletin to get their asses down for some camera time, and to do the Dark Dance to the newly-crowned Queen of MOR New Wave. Oddly, her “performance” here is pretty much her singing along to other stars’ music videos (in the case of the Police and Eurythmics, Murray is uncomfortably inserted into the videos themselves). That doesn’t seem to stop Anne’s newfound fans (who were apparently dragged here from the Batcave) from dancing up a storm and even invading the stage to join in. Because who wouldn’t want to stage rush an Anne Murray gig, right?
The one-off special, credited as being written by Alan Thicke, also features guests Miss Piggy, Bananarama, and Dusty Springfield, and is clearly the effort of Anne Murray’s “people” to round her square edges a bit. The AM radio-friendly country-pop chart-topper Murray of course garnered her own fanatical suburban housewife following throughout the 70s, and this totally batshit 80s show seems to be aimed at kickstarting her image for a whole new “alternative” fanbase not quite aware of her, uh, crossover potential. Maybe she pulls it off better than Lady Gaga/Tony Bennett?
Personally, I feel a Die Antwoord collaboration is the logical next step to making Anne Murray “relevant” again.
On the Yowp blog, your first stop for Hanna-Barbera stuff, there was a post yesterday showcasing some early concept art that was used in making The Flintstones.
The items had been put up for auction at the Van Eaton Gallery in Sherman Oaks, California, and two of them are listed as having already been sold. No artist is listed. The person who runs Yowp wonders whether the items are “retro” or “actually drawn in 1959 or 1960 in preparation for The Flintstones.”
My two cents: Nobody who was familiar with The Flintstones in its mature state would have drawn anything looking like this. That’s my guess. But I don’t know.
The three images below, you can see a larger image by clicking on them.
“Fred Flintstone, Wilma Flintstone, Barney Rubble”: sold for $4000
Last week, when DM HMFIC Richard Metzger posted about Robert Smith and Steve Severin’s Siouxsie and the Banshees spin-off the Glove, it set me off on a kick. I’ve waxed rhapsodic on DM, probably more than once, but definitely once that I can specifically remember, about the surpassing excellence of the Banshees lineup with guitarist John McGeoch, also a vet of Magazine, The Armoury Show, and P.I.L. before his untimely alcohol-related death in 2004. When I listen to Siouxsie, it’s almost invariably one of the three albums McGeoch played on—Kaleidoscope, Juju, and A Kiss In The Dreamhouse.
But that’s kind of stupid, given that McGeoch’s tenure in the band was bookended by the two stints enjoyed by the Cure’s moonlighting poo-bah Robert Smith. Weirdly, as influential as both the Cure and the Banshees are/were, Smith doesn’t get a whole lot of accolades as a guitarist. Even Cure devotees know him more for his melancholic singing and his trademark hairsplosion. But the guitar stylings associated with that saturnine strain of UK post-punk that would become known as Goth owed as much to Smith’s deliberate and doleful playing as to the aggressive slashing of Bauhaus’ Daniel Ash, the disquieting Morricone-isms of the Birthday Party’s Rowland S. Howard, or McGeoch’s heavily chorused, layered picking. Check out early Cure songs like “Three Imaginary Boys” or “The Figurehead,” and it’s plain that Smith can wring a lot of emotive impact out of comparatively few notes.
And so, after that post last week about Smith’s excursion in the Glove, I started giving more attention to his time in the Banshees, and in the process I found this fantastic TV footage of Smith during his first Banshees go-round, from the BBC2 show Something Else (I love the “Watch Something Else” banners decorating the set!) in 1979. They perform “Love in a Void” and “Regal Zone” from Join Hands, an album on which neither Smith nor the drummer appearing here, Budgie, actually performed. The prior guitarist and drummer left very shortly after Join Hands’ completion, so Smith and Budgie, a refugee from Big In Japan and the Slits, were recruited to fulfill tour obligations. Budgie went on to stay with the band forever, and even wed Siouxsie, but Smith only stayed in for the duration of the tour (the Cure were the opening act anyway), so his first shift with the band was as an interpretive player. Smith wouldn’t write music with the band or perform on a Banshees album until 1984’s Hyaena, but as this was the transitional phase of the Banshees’ career wherein the band straddled punk and goth, Smith makes an apt fit even though the compositions being played aren’t his.
Also, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the reading of a pretty damn funny letter from an unhappy London viewer who wanted his vigorous opposition to all this “punk” nonsense noted for the record.
Dan Rather’s career as a network news anchor was full of memorable moments, but perhaps the single most surreal incident was the time he had to report a crime in which he was the victim. He was walking to his NYC home on October 4th, 1986, when he was accosted and beaten on the sidewalk by men who pummeled and kicked him while repeating the question “Kenneth, what is the frequency?”
It was freakin’ weird, so weird that there were some who thought Rather had lost his marbles and made it up. Most doubts were squashed when a doorman who witnessed the incident and helped thwart the attack corroborated Rather’s version of events, and remaining doubts were put to rest 11 years later, when one of the assailants was at last identified, as an apparently unwell man who thought the news media was transmitting messages to him, and who furthermore was serving time for the 1994 murder of a Today show stagehand. By then, the phrase “Kenneth, what is the frequency” (interchangeably with the misquote “What’s the frequency, Kenneth”) had long since entered pop culture, becoming the title of a cool piece of music by Game Theory in 1987, and a very popular REM song in 1994.
As it turns out, there really WAS a Kenneth, and the incident may have been a monumental case of mistaken identity. Ken Schaffer was a music publicist turned inventor who, during what would turn out to be the tail end of the Cold War, found a way to use TVRO dishes to receive Russian television broadcasts from Molniya satellites, a system he installed at the Harriman Institute for Advanced Studies of the Soviet Union at Columbia University. He even enabled the broadcast of a full week’s worth of Soviet television on the then-embryonic Discovery Channel. An amazing and weird article I found on the SETI League web site illuminates Schaffer’s connection to the Rather assault:
Because Soviet TV broadcasts were generally unavailable in the U.S., the receiver Kenny set up at the Harriman institute drew a number of visitors. Some, such as English rock musician Gordon Sumner (better known as Sting), were there to learn about the arts scene behind the Iron Curtain. (One of the first adopters of a wireless guitar amplifier developed by Schaffer two decades earlier, Sting was moved by the Molniya viewing experience to compose his popular song “Russians,” sung to a theme from the Lieutennant Kijé Suite by Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev.) Some of the visitors were American diplomats, hoping to use the knowledge gained from the screen to ease international tensions. Others, including TV news anchorman Dan Rather, came to do what journalists generally do—learn about upcoming trends so they could later report on them.
Then there were the visitors from the shadow world, all wanting to know how Schaffer was pulling these elusive signals out of the ether. Kenny generally refrained from telling them, likely hoping to capitalize on his technology by keeping the details to himself. When asked about frequencies and modulation modes, he usually changed the subject.
On the October 1986 night Rather was attacked, he and Schaffer had just left the Columbia campus, where they had been watching Molniya video downlinks. “What’s the frequency, Kenneth?” Rather was asked repeatedly while being pummeled by unknown assailants. Kenny Schaffer believes this was a simple (although painful) case of mistaken identity. The muggers followed the wrong man.
Unfuckingreal, right? We not only have Schaffer to thank (or curse, depending on your alternarock tolerance levels) for that astonishingly durable REM song, he was possibly the intended victim of the Rather beating, AND he’s complicit in that monstrous piece of crap Sting song. That last demerit, though large, is more than mitigated by the fact that Schaffer is also responsible for the monstrously awesome guitar sound on AC/DC’s early ‘80s albums. Did you note the mention in the quotation above of Schaffer’s wireless guitar amplifier? That’s a misnomer—Schaffer’s system was not an amp, but a transmitter/receiver.
The Schaffer-Vega Diversity System was an early wireless transmitter for guitarists. Its popularity blew up exponentially after its adoption by Ace Frehley of KISS, who’d been electrocuted during a performance in Florida, when his hand touching a metal guardrail completed an AC circuit with his ungrounded amp. Soon, many, many people began using Schaffer-Vegas (Frehley could easily have died, the incident was no joke), including Van Halen, the Stones, Bootsy Collins, and Frank Zappa. But the device’s moment in the sun came not from any live performance, but its use in-studio, really the last place anyone needs wireless anything.
A bit of oversimplified tech here: the Schaffer-Vega compressed a guitar’s signal before transmission, and expanded it at the receiver end, before feeding the transmitted signal to the amp. While it expanded the signal, it boosted certain frequencies that could tend to be lost to compression. So not only did the device wirelessly transmit a signal, it colored the guitar’s tone in distinctive ways, creating harmonic distortions, but they happened to be pleasing distortions.
Angus Young with Ken Schaffer. Photo: SoloDallas
And so it was that Angus Young of AC/DC began using wireless in the recording studio. Unable to satisfactorily record his ridiculous ball-crunching live sound, he soon resorted to the obvious move, and used his live rig:
George [Young, Angus and Malcolm’s older brother and first AC/DC producer] had suggested that I use the SVDS in the studio in 1978, then when Mutt Lange came in [producer of Highway to Hell, Back in Black, For Those About to Rock We Salute You], he asked me to use the same stuff that I was using for my stage sound, so we used the SVDS again.
The Schaffer-Vega’s unique compression/expansion/EQ scheme turns out to be THE key to AC/DC’s distinctively rich guitar sound, every bit as much as a late ‘60s Gibson SG and a late ‘70s Marshall amp. However, the units had to be abandoned in 1982, victim both to changing FCC regulations on wireless specs, and Ken Schaffer’s changing interests… changing interests which led to a Cold War satellite breakthrough, which led to a really famous reporter getting his ass beat down on Park Avenue. Nutty world, isn’t it?
There’s a happy ending for the Schaffer-Vega, though—this is the news item that got me down into this rabbit-hole to begin with, in fact: the device has been resurrected, redesigned by a company called SoloDallas from Schaffer’s original units and named the “Schaffer Replica.” An early run of the replicas is sold out, but not only is an updated version available, it’ll be featured at this week’s musical instrument industry exposition, Summer NAMM. It’s available both as a wireless transceiver and as a regular guitar pedal. To be blunt, both of the devices are spendy as hell, though either option is cheaper by far than a late ‘60s Gibson SG or a late ‘70s Marshall amp. Angus Young used the newly recreated gizmo on AC/DC’s likely farewell album, the well-received Rock or Bust, making it the first AC/DC album to feature one since 1983. (And I don’t want to goddamn hear about it if you don’t like AC/DC—you’re just wrong. I love them abidingly for the same reasons I love the Ramones and Lungfish: if you keep making more or less the same album over and over again for decades and I love that album almost every time, you’re on to something worthy.)
Here’s some killer footage of AC/DC live on The Midnight Special in 1978. Angus Young is SURELY using a Schaffer-Vega wireless setup here:
Baal was the first play written by Bertolt Brecht, in 1918 at the age of 20 as a student at Munich University. It’s a strange piece of work, a hybrid of the classic nineteenth-century drama of Strindberg and Ibsen and Chekhov and something rawer that belongs to the twentieth century. Brecht had not hit on his radical methods yet, but his basic bitterness and skill with words is already present.
It is my belief that Baal, in addition to whatever other virtues it has, also served as some kind of wish-fulfillment for Brecht. The main character, Baal, is a poet of enormous talent who is irresistibly attractive to women and who also is willful enough to scorn several benefactors in the face of his own short-term self-interest. Here are two lines that illustrate the point. Early in the play a man says to Baal, “I can understand men giving their hearts to you . . . but how do you manage to have such success with women?” Yeah, right. Later on a woman tasked with looking after his garret whines about discovering yet another young woman in his bed: “Dawn to dusk – his bed not allowed to cool off!”
In 1982 the esteemed TV director Alan Clarke filmed Baal for the BBC with David Bowie in the title role; he also sings the songs of the chorus that punctuate the play. It’s fair to say, I think, simultaneously that everyone involved did a fine job and that it doesn’t really work. Baal is part of the distant past, and therefore it requires extraordinary efforts to make it resonate in our age, otherwise you are left with a bunch of senseless declaiming. Bowie has a number of songs in the show, and I think it’s not unkind to say that he succeeds as a singer and not as an actor. The skills required of a flamboyant rock star are antithetical to quality acting—as good as he is, Bowie never quite gets lost in the role.
Additionally, the production is rather stagebound—I presume it was some species of a filmed stage production—and the quality of the transfer ain’t great either. I found it very hard to get into until I downloaded the approximate text of the play (.doc download) and read along as I watched the play, and then it began to cohere far more.
It’s easy to see why Bowie was attracted to the material—it’s a Brecht play in which he’s an artistic genius/super-stud and he also gets to sing and act. In 1982 Bowie released an EP entitled David Bowie in Bertolt Brecht’s BAAL, whose primary purpose in life has been to puzzle crate diggers momentarily as they hunt for a mint copy of Aladdin Sane.