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LL Cool J, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul and others strut their stuff on ‘Yo! MTV Raps Unplugged’

The Yo! MTV Raps edition of MTV Unplugged dropped in May of 1991, featuring the considerable talents of De La Soul, MC Lyte, A Tribe Called Quest, and LL Cool J for a glorious half-hour of bootylicious rhymes. It was a very interesting moment for a show of this type to run. A lot was happening in the world of hip-hop right around then, including increased respectability among mainstream critics—but ironically, in the years to come the very rappers who had earned that reputation were about to become marginalized. Just a year or so earlier, one of the biggest rap-related news stories was the obscenity trial of 2 Live Crew, who while wonderful in their way may not have been the most ideal poster children for the budding artform. One would have been forgiven for ridiculing the notion of an “unplugged” rap show in 1991; the music was strongly associated with sampling and scratching (not to mention cursing), and its R&B roots, which had been there all along, had been somewhat obscured.

The rap world was in a massively sampladelic phase at that point, what with recent masterpieces like Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, the Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique, and De La Soul’s Three Feet High and Rising. However, practitioners must have been aware on some level that the days of rampant sampling were about to come to an end. Sure enough, six months after this episode of MTV Unplugged debuted, a judge named Kevin Thomas Duffy began his ruling in a court case in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York called Grand Upright Music, Ltd v. Warner Bros. Records Inc. with the biblical commandment “Thou shalt not steal.” Duffy held that Biz Markie had infringed on Gilbert O’Sullivan’s copyright when he used O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again (Naturally)” for his own song “Alone Again,” which appeared on his third album I Need a Haircut. The hip-hop world was about to learn how to do without sampling as a primary component of the music. (For an insightful reaction to this case from the time, check out Robert Christgau’s article “Adventures in Information Capitalism: Gilbert O’Sullivan Meets Biz Markie” from 1992.) The performers here may not have known it, but an exhibition of the musicality of rap was about to become a key part of the defense of the artform.

When this was taped, Arrested Development was right around the corner, but their time in the spotlight wouldn’t last. The music here sounds a bit like the Roots, no? Black Thought and Questlove had formed the band already, in 1987, but were still two years away from releasing their first LP, Organix. The lineup of A Tribe Called Quest, MC Lyte, LL Cool J, and De La Soul was highly NYC-centric, and another influence that was in the process of defining hip-hop in the 1990s was gangsta rap, led by the musicians associated with N.W.A., out of Los Angeles, who released their first album, Straight Outta Compton, in 1988. (The East Coast/West Coast battles between rap factions would soon become an unfortunate staple of the hip-hop scene.) Putting it mildly, the gangsta revolution in rap would serve as one solution to the sampling ruling, while also marginalizing acts like De La Soul and Tribe for the time being.

The centerpiece of the show here is clearly LL Cool J’s galvanizing rendition of “Mama Said Knock You Out,” which he performed shirtless. The rampant booty-shaking that is evident during that cut should serve as the rebuttal to anyone who ever thought that an unplugged rap show was a silly idea.

A Tribe Called Quest, “Can I Kick It”
MC Lyte, “Cappucino”
LL Cool J, “Jingling Baby”
LL Cool J, “Mama Said Knock You Out”
De La Soul, “Ring Ring Ring (Ha Ha Hey)”


Thank you Joe Yachanin!

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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Psychedelic ‘Sesame Street’: Grace Slick’s free-jazz counting songs & ‘The Tomato’
08:33 am


Grace Slick
Sesame Street

Years of evolution has all-but-erased Sesame Street‘s psychedelic foundations. It was conceived as a much, much weirder show than its current incarnation, which is so often merely a vehicle for that cloying furry menace, Elmo and whatever flavor-of-the-week celebrity is looking to expand their fanbase to the preschool demographic. This is not to say Sesame Street never trafficked in star power—from the very first season in 1969, the show boasted among its visitors Burt Lancaster, James Earl Jones, Carol Burnett and… Grace Slick.

Yes, the voice of Grace Slick, of Jefferson Airplane (and other, less noble projects) was featured in nearly every episode of Sesame Street‘s debut season in 1969, singing absolutely deranged counting songs over psychedelic free jazz and groovy animation. I’m not sure if it taught any kids their numbers, but it’s sure as hell hypnotic. Slick’s role in the show was preceded by her recent participation in the Jim Henson-produced documentary, Youth 68—a study on the exploding 60’s counterculture.

Something even weirder after the jump…

Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
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World’s Greatest Sinner on public access: Cult actor Timothy Carey on ‘Art Fein’s Poker Party’

Timothy Carey in The World's Greatest Sinner
In the landscape of television, public access has always been the equivalent to the wild, wild west. You will see and hear things that you would never see on “regular” or “for pay” television. It’s a field that many an artist and personality has created and prospered in. One man that fits this bill oh so nicely is Art Fein and his long running Los Angeles access show, Art Fein’s Poker Party. Billed as a “rock & roll talk show” and running since 1984, Fein’s likable personality coupled with a history of stellar guests, including Brian Wilson, Jeffrey Lee Pierce, Richard Carpenter and the Legendary Stardust Cowboy have all helped make Poker Party a cult favorite. But like a Cajun dancing Elvis from Hell, it was one guest in particular that made Art Fein’s Poker Party history.

On June 12th, 1989, along with Paul Brody, Richard Blackburn (director of Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural, a film I cannot recommend enough) and host Fein himself, was the man, Timothy Agoglia Carey. Carey, famous for his unforgettable turns in films like Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing and Paths of Glory, as well as John Cassavetes’ Killing of a Chinese Bookie, had already long-earned the reputation of wild card by the time of this episode’s taping. This nearly six minutes of pure brazen gold plays out like a gift for anyone in the know of this not nearly heralded enough artist and true blue genius. In fact, it is so good that it is also a great introduction to the charisma and beautiful madness that was and forever is Timothy Carey for the uninitiated.

Here, Carey talks about his work with Cassavetes, as well as briefly his own film, the incomparable rock & roll religious parable of sorts, The World’s Greatest Sinner. Even better is Carey’s recollections of his work in both the campy AIP (American International Pictures) classic, Beach Blanket Bingo, as well as his last mainstream feature film, Echo Park. While neither description is entirely accurate, both actually would have made said films even better, between his talk of murder-by-bongos or women literally weeping from the painful indigestion after eating his character’s pizza. It makes one yearn for an entire universe as seen through Timothy-Carey-Vision. Dreaming is free but in the meantime, we at least thankfully have this great clip courtesy of Art Fein’s Poker Party.

Bonus video after the jump with Timothy Carey talking about missing out on being in The Godfather Part II.

Posted by Heather Drain | Discussion
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Nick Cave, Chrissie Hynde & John Cale playing together on the BBC, 1999
07:04 am


Nick Cave
John Cale
Chrissie Hynde

The songwriters’ circle is very nearly as straightforward and intimate as an evening’s entertainment can get—a handful of musicians take turns discussing and performing their songs, one at a time, almost invariably acoustically, in a round-robin. The long-running BBC program Songwriters Circle is a straightforward take on the concept, but the participants are big names, and the show adds a tantalizing dash of collaborative elements. So when, in September of 1999, the show featured John Cale, Chrissie Hynde and Nick Cave, they were all in superb form, and it was full of fine performances. (When the show went badly, it could be pretty amazing too; Ryan Adams acting like a sullen tween on the episode he shared with Janis Ian and an increasingly frustrated Neil Finn is pretty legendary.)

Cale’s contributions drew largely from his 1974 album Fear, though “Dying on the Vine” from 1985’s Artificial Intelligence gets a lovely treatment here, as does “Ship of Fools,” on which Hynde and Cave accompany him. Hynde, for her part, also leans heavily on classics, with a guitar assist from the Katydids’ Adam Seymour, himself a latter-day Pretenders member. The newest song she performs is her 1996 ballad “I’ll Stand by You,” which became better known later for a cloying pop-country makeover by an American Idol winner. Cave jumped around his ‘90s catalog, performing “Henry Lee” from Murder Ballads, “The Ship Song” from The Good Son, and two songs from The Boatmans Call. It’s interesting to note that NONE of the three artists participating had new albums to hawk at the time of this broadcast. I wonder what the show’s curatorial criteria are—I have trouble imagining an American television show spending an hour with three musicians who have no new product. The program ends with all of them doing the Velvet Underground’s “Waiting for the Man.”

You can watch the entire broadcast here. I’ve indexed it for you so you can skip around if that’s your thing. The times mark the beginnings of the introductions, not the songs.

00:00 Ship Of Fools (Cale, rehearsal footage)
01:07 Thoughtless Kind (Cale)
03:33 Talk of The Town (Hynde)
07:21 West Country Girl (Cave)
09:31 Fear Is A Man’s Best Friend (Cale)
14:05 Kid (Hynde)
17:45 Henry Lee (Cave)
21:14 Dying On The Vine (Cale)
25:19 I’ll Stand By You (Hynde)
29:44 Into My Arms (Cave)
34:30 Ship Of Fools (Cale)
39:33 Back on the Chain Gang (Hynde)
43:32 The Ship Song (Cave)
46:54 I’m Waiting For The Man

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Discussion
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Stephen King: ‘I sleep with the lights on’
11:35 am


Stephen King

I find it reassuring to know that Stephen King has sold over 350 million books—not because it’s a sales target young hopeful writers might choose to aspire to or because the earnings probably keep Mr. King in a lifestyle the vast majority of us can only ever dream of, but because this incredible number means that most of us have probably read at least one Stephen King novel or story—or at worst have seen one of the numerous films based on his work.

350 million in book sales make Stephen King an ice-breaker, a conversation starter, a shared interest that connects people with whom we may have thought there was no common bond. Unlike the pitfalls of talking about politics or religion or whether your team is going to win the league (of course they will!), talking about Stephen King, or rather talking about books, brings us together through a shared pleasure of reading.

I was late to Stephen King but quickly made up for the lost time and have now read everything he has ever published. And like the other 350 million I have remained one of his “Constant Readers” through all his seasons whether good or fair or poor.

I’ve often posited the suggestion that Stephen King should win the Nobel Prize for Literature, which may cause some to be aghast, but why not? He has created a gallery of memorable characters; has written some of the more imaginative stories of the past five decades; and perhaps most radically King’s tales of terror have encouraged people to read, which in turn has nudged his readers towards other authors, other books, other ideas. Who knows—maybe one day it will happen—and wouldn’t that be a positive endorsement of those 350 million + readers?

For a man who has terrorized many an imagination it may be comforting to hear that Mr. King himself sleeps with the lights on to keep monsters away, as he explains in this his first “up close and personal” TV interview with Henry Nevison for UMO (University of Maine Orono) in 1982.

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Rod Serling explains how censorship led to the creation of ‘The Twilight Zone’
10:17 am


The Twilight Zone
Rod Serling
Mike Wallace

By 1959, Rod Serling had had it with the dumbing down of American television by what he saw as overly sensitive TV sponsors who forced writers to edit scripts with impunity during the boob tube’s early years. Most sponsors wanted zero controversy and nothing to appear in a script that might incline viewers to think “improperly” about a particular brand of cake batter, or car or whatever else was being promoted on a given show. In the fiery discussion below, which aired (according to IMDB) on September 22, 1959, we find Serling on The Mike Wallace Interview talking about his early writing career and the heavy hand of corporate sponsorship that led to his creation of a soon-to-debut science fiction and fantasy television series called The Twilight Zone (the first episode would air a little over a week later on October 2, 1959). A passionate exchange about early TV’s potential, thoughts about what Wallace calls “the battle of the writer to be his own man” and copious on-air smoking ensues.

After spending a few years writing promotional testimonial letters for a Cincinnati television station and making $700 during his best year, Serling was bored out of his mind with the “dreamless occupation.” He set out with his wife for New York City in 1951 to try to make a name for himself as a freelance television scriptwriter. By 1959, Serling had done just that, winning three Emmys and distinguishing himself as being possibly the first television author in history to have a live TV drama (1955’s Patterns) aired twice due to rave reviews and audience demand. 

By the way, Patterns is worth checking out.  It’s not a great copy, but you can watch it here on YouTube. The Kraft Television Theatre production addresses an episode panic-inducing jealousy brought on by the hiring of a new upstart corporate employee while promoting light and fluffy Kraft cream cheese during the station break. 

In the interview with Mike Wallace, Serling discusses being shut down by sponsors for trying to address the Emmett Till case, and receiving many complaints from a “lunatic fringe of letter writers” about an episode of Lassie wherein the iconic collie has puppies. Some wacko viewers felt that the episode promoted sexuality. The complaints lead the station to shy away from presenting the birth of puppies in the future according to Serling. He goes on to talk about the backlash caused by writers using the term “gas chamber” in a Playhouse 90 production of Judgment at Nuremberg (an early version of the 1961 film of the same name) by a sponsor who sold gas stoves. “This, I rebel against,” Serling forcefully declares.

Despite some critics being worried that Serling’s insistence on writing for television (and the money that it provided) was holding him back from making important art (a contention that Wallace brings up on a few occasions), Serling comes across as being deadly serious about his belief in TV’s possibility for greatness. Serious enough, in fact, that he was in the process of trying to get out of a quarter million dollar (obviously big money at the time), three-year writing contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer so that he could devote all of his time to The Twilight Zone where he claimed to have more direct control over the relationship with sponsors. Serling indicates he was only guaranteed 26 episodes of The Twilight Zone, and that he would stand to lose a lot of money if the show didn’t carry on beyond that.  Ultimately, it ran for five seasons and 156 episodes were made. 

Posted by Jason Schafer | Discussion
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Garage Rock Madness with The Muppets first Ed Sullivan appearance, 1966
08:30 am


Ed Sullivan
The Muppets

Garage rock and Muppet history was made on September 18, 1966 as this date marked the first television appearance on CBS-TV’s The Ed Sullivan Show of Jim Henson’s Muppets. This is long before the Muppets became an institution, this is back when they were just an act. They were thereafter featured on the show regularly until it ended in 1971. For this first appearance, Henson chose a demented and pretty savage pure 1966 garage rock song called “Rock It To Me” by a teen band comprised of four actual brothers (Alf, Frank, Mike, and Joe Delia) from Pearl River, New York, amazingly called The Bruthers. The Bruthers had a great 45 on RCA Records this same year called “Bad Way To Go” backed with “Bad Love.” The A-side was included on influential, early 80’s garage compilation LP Pebbles Volume 8 and was a big hit with the new generation of sixties garage fanatics.
The Bruthers were managed by famous New York promoter Sid Bernstein, and also rumor has it, Ed Sullivan himself. Either way it couldn’t have been more perfect. This insane song has never surfaced outside of this clip, not even on the compilation of unreleased Bruthers material on Sundazed Records.

Sullivan introduced the sketch by showing the audience a present that the Muppets had given him, an instant rock and roll group in a box. He takes it out and places it on a table where the group grows from a small fuzzball into the three-headed rock and roll monster (with built-in guitars and drums). After the monster plays the song, it shrinks back to its original form and is eaten by the character Sour Bird.

In the original footage, Ed Sullivan intro’d this as “Jim Newsome’s Puppets,” but this was later overdubbed.


Posted by Howie Pyro | Discussion
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High as shit journalist giggles helplessly in front of a big pile of burning drugs
08:37 am



Here’s something they don’t teach in journalism school: How to report on the impromptu disposal of high-grade narcotics while you have the biggest contact high on the planet Zartron-9. This exact situation happened to respected BBC reporter Quentin Sommerville four years ago while taping a report in front of a burning pile of “eight and a half tons of heroin, opium, hashish, and other narcotics.” As you’ll see in the video, his conduct was as professional as one could possibly expect under the circumstances.

On Monday he tweeted the clip with the following message: “Dear tweeps, it’s been a year of bullets & bloodshed. You’ve earned a xmas laugh, at my expense.” In the video Sommerville repeatedly tries to tape a news report on the burning drugs but can’t keep a straight face. He later took the video down, probably due to copyright issues, but the video has since surfaced elsewhere.

According to a BBC spokesperson, “The video of Quentin corpsing, which has now been deleted, was posted in the spirit of a blooper. ... It was filmed four years ago—it hasn’t been seen before and was never broadcast.”

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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The Ho Ho Horror: Patton Oswalt’s amazing ‘Rudolph’ meets ‘Apocalypse Now’ parody

I can vividly remember growing up and watching those Rankin/Bass holiday specials every year. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, The Year Without a Santa Claus, Rudolph’s Shiny New Year. The New Year’s one I recall best, because I had, shall we say, “prominent” ears as a child, so I felt the Baby New Year’s pain when everyone cried “Those EARS!!” It was still a great program. And who can forget the Heat Miser and the Snow Miser from The Year Without a Santa Claus?

In Silver Screen Fiend, his forthcoming follow-up to his 2011 memoir Zombie Spaceship Wasteland, comedian and actor Patton Oswalt discusses in great detail his twentysomething years as an addict of cinema, and part of the tale involves his stint as a writer on MADtv in the mid-1990s. Oswalt excoriates himself for being a terrible employee of Rupert Murdoch, pitching abstruse sketch ideas and then not bothering to try to execute them properly and sneering at anyone in his orbit who didn’t happen to be swooning over Sam Peckinpah that very minute. He’s very hard on himself, but I suspect he threw in more useful writing ideas and was easier to get along with than he remembers—there’s a reason he stayed there for roughly two years, after all, and a reason The King of Queens wanted him as a featured player even though his acting chops were still being honed.

In any case, one of his cinephile pitches was to do a version of Francis Ford Coppola’s fractured 1979 masterpiece Apocalypse Now in the form of a Rankin/Bass Christmas special. It turns out they did it, but only after Oswalt was no longer on staff. Here’s a brief excerpt from Silver Screen Fiend on the subject in which he spreads the credit around as widely as possible:

There I was … at MADtv, struggling to explain to a network suit what Apocalypse Now was, and how it could be funny if done through the prism of a Rankin Bass special.* 

* They eventually shot my idea—a year after I left the show. Well, I really didn’t leave. They didn’t have me back. And with good fucking reason. I was a judgmental, sour asshole of a writer. Quick with a criticism and never with a fix. A comedy and film snob who rolled his eyes half the time and turned in typo-filled scripts. But they shot it. And put my name in the credits. Misspelled. Revenge? They were entitled. The sketch was called “A Pack of Gifts Now,” and it was lovingly animated by a stop-motion genius named Corky Quakenbush. An elf [actually a reindeer—Editor] is sent by toy makers to the North Pole to terminate “the Kringle” and his cultlike operation of toy makers “with extreme prejudice.” And, ironically enough, one of the producers I clashed with, Fax Bahr—who codirected the documentary Hearts of Darkness, about the making of … Apocalypse Now—shepherded the sketch through, with all of my visual jokes and references intact, and plenty of his own, which made the sketch even better. Even got a mention in TV Guide. Thanks, Fax. Sorry I was such a dick. Part of being in your twenties is not knowing an ally when you see one.

Not too surprisingly, given Oswalt’s status as a passionate consumer of comic books, movies, and TV shows, the details of the sketch, also executed to perfection, are what make it work—the use of eggnog as a substitute for scotch, the substitution of “Saskatchewan” for “Saigon” and “the Kringle” for “the colonel.”

For more on those early Rankin/Bass TV specials as well as “A Pack of Lies Now,” check out The Enchanted World of Rankin/Bass by Rick Goldschmidt.

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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Punk rock is coming for your children! Arrogant talk show host blows an easy one

The alarmist punk-rock-is-coming-for-your-children episode of everywhere’s local talk show was practically a genre unto itself around 1980. They typically followed a template: a safe, comfortable, grinning suburbanite moderator projects his or her values onto a movement s/he doesn’t understand at all, and expects a handful of alienated, hobo-looking kids that the producer dug up somewhere to represent punk as a whole, as though a couple of random petulant runaways should shoulder the responsibility of justifying the existence of a broad international musical and cultural movement. On better shows, they found bright kids, and the hosts at least made an effort at understanding the new weirdness, instead of just hectoring their guests about their negativity, as though all art was invalid unless it existed solely to entertain them personally.

This is not one of the better shows.

Stanley Siegel was an interviewer of some repute, who fancied himself audacious and uncompromising, but was often really just kind of a showboating dick. In one infamous episode, Siegel physically restrained Timothy Leary before sandbagging him with a surprise phone call from Art Linkletter, who blamed LSD, and by extension, Leary, for his daughter’s suicide. So yeah, THAT kind of showboating dick. On his obligatory punk rock scold show (IS IT A DEATH TRIP OR A RITE OF PASSAGE?), he managed to book credible guests and proceeded to treat them with amazing condescension. In addition to the usual few aimless kids, Siegel landed Penelope Spheeris, director of the canonical L.A. punk documentary The Decline of Western Civilization, and artist Gary Panter, whose logo for the band Screamers is such an elemental piece of punk art that it’s probably much better-remembered than the band itself. He’d become even better known as a cartoonist for RAW and as the set designer for Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.

Spheeris, right out of the gate, is just not having any of Siegel. At first it seems like she’s trying a little too hard to affect disaffection, but soon enough, what looked at first like brazen posturing (“I’d like to be a hooker?” Really?) becomes more than justified by Siegel’s smug, curt patronization. Real quote: “This woman actually produced and directed a film!” Spheeris would go on to make the cult classic Suburbia and the mainstream classic Wayne’s World, and is still directing. Not sure Siegel’s career was quite so storied, but whatever. It’s all pretty eminently watchable.

More after the jump…

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Discussion
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