Austerity, repression, police brutality and skyrocketing unemployment—young people the world over have so much to fight for, but it’s the protesters of Bolivia who have stolen my heart. A few days ago an estimated 2000 Bolivians—most of them appearing to be under 30—took to the streets in a multi city defense of The Simpsons. No, the show was not canceled, nor was it censored—but the timeslot was changed, and the people were not having it. Perhaps even weirder than the mobilization itself is its success—a few hours of marching in the rain and not only did the network reverse the scheduling change, they bumped up the airtime from 45 minutes to two full daily hours of Springfield’s favorite family!
If it seems like a shallow crusade, it’s worth noting there may be more to this action than meets the eye. Latin Times ran this story under the decidedly bitter old man headline of “Don’t They Have Jobs?”—but likely, they do, as the Bolivian youth unemployment rate is less than half the youth employment rate of the US. The network that made the scheduling change however, Unitel Bolivia, is recognized as right-wing, so it’s possible “The Simpsons” are a sort of semiotic stand-in for other values. Either way, always nice to see civically engaged young people winning their battles, right? Viva Bolivia! And viva Bart!
On October 5th, 1979, King Crimson leader and sometime Brian Eno collaborator Robert Fripp made a demonstration performance of his “Frippertonics” system of live instrument looping on NBC’s late-night music series The Midnight Special. The song he performed was “The New World,” which would eventually appear on the 1986 LP Robert Fripp and the League of Crafty Guitarists: Live. Amusingly and somewhat puzzlingly, the tv.com entry for the broadcast misidentifies the song as “musical experiment (possibly titled ‘God Save the Queen’),” citing a slightly later song which sounds absolutely nothing like “The New World.”
Frippertronics was a form of tape delay, not terribly complicated to set up but which could lead to richly layered and complex results, wherein two reel-to-reel machines recorded and played back loops of live guitar back and forth between one another. The length of the delay was dependent on the distance between the two tape machines, and the system created much longer echoes and decays than were possible with electronic delay units at the time, though Electro Harmonix made a valiant effort. (If you click on that link, you’ll notice that the ad’s small print actually calls the unit a “Fripp-in-the-Box!” I hope they at least gave him a free one.) Fripp explained the system in this truly fantastic interview—seriously, read the whole thing if you have some time—with the Canadian journalist Ron Gaskin, published just a couple of months before the Midnight Special appearance:
RG: Could you simply explain the process of Frippertronics?
RF: Yes. I record on the left machine, the guitar is recorded on the left machine, the signal passes along the tape to the right machine where it’s played back to the left machine and recorded a second time.
RF: The signal recorded the second time passes along the tape to the right machine where it’s played back a second time and recorded a third.
RG: And at what point is it released into the room?
RF: Oh, straightaway. Unless, what I could do if I wanted to be crafty, would be to build up a chord which no one could hear and then turn the chord on, but, in fact, that doesn’t happen. I’ve only done that, I think, on a couple of occasions. You hear it happening.
Lovely, was that not? I love Fripp’s commendation of the show’s bravery for having him on to experiment for broadcast. While the four-minute duration was generous by television standards, that was less than half of the piece as it was eventually released. Here’s the version from on the League of Crafty Guitarists’ album, with a nice slideshow that even purloins some of the Midnight Special footage.
There’s not really much to say here because no one’s saying anything. An evil genius who goes by the name of “Bill Smith” took a segment of the Dr. Phil show and removed the dialogue so all that’s left are awkward reactions. It’s very Andy Kaufman-esque, and gets funnier the longer it goes on.
I can’t stand Dr. Phil, so I see this as a thing of beauty.
Like a modern day Lazarus, disgraced evangelist and ex-con Jim Bakker has risen from the dead. The Howdy Doody from hell has a new base of operations in the Ozarks. It’s called Morningside and is a smaller version of his gaudy, ill-fated, Christian theme park Heritage USA. Morningside’s not far from Branson, where the rotten egg smell of meth labs mingles with the Old Spice and lavender scent of sexagenarians lining up for “Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede Dinner & Show.” The oleaginous huckster’s proximity to hillbilly Vegas is perfect - kind of like finding crab lice in a commune.
Morningside has a TV studio that airs a handful of programs, most of which feature Bakker and his new wife Lori. Now Lori ain’t no Tammy Faye by a long shot but they both share the same startled expression in their eyes - a wide-eyed, caught in the headlights look, that comes from years of staring at a husband who looks like a demented sock puppet.
The Jim Bakker Show has its own hard hitting investigative journalist named Zach Drew. As you can see in the video below, Zach is a pretty excitable guy. When he lands a major scoop, like cows with mystical hairdos, he practically wets himself. You got to admire his enthusiasm even as you wonder what’s crawled up the reporter’s bunghole to make him so damned giddy.
Anyway, here’s some “Breaking News!” from The Jim Bakker Show that somehow managed to fly under the radar of all of the major news outlets. It’s the mystery of the red-haired heifer - what Jim Bakker calls “a supernatural event.” I’m a bit bewildered as to why the heifer’s markings (it looks like the number 7) qualify as supernatural. Maybe it’s because I’m a non-believer when it comes to follicle-related miracles involving cattle. A red-haired cow with a massive rockabilly quiff or Afro might grab my attention. But the markings on this little lady doesn’t really do much for me. And I’m currently tripping on 400 mics of pure LSD.
If after viewing the video, you’re at all curious about the Biblical significance of the number seven click here. Otherwise, do what I did - drop another tab of acid.
In the book of Revelation there are seven churches, seven angels to the seven churches, seven seals, seven trumpet plagues, seven thunders and the seven last plagues. The first resurrection of the dead takes place at the 7th trumpet, completing salvation for the Church.
The heifer harbinger of the end times doesn’t appear until around the ten-minute point in the video but the lead-up is worth viewing just to witness Zach Drew’s delusional notion that this is the scoop of the century.
Even the most passionate of Kinks fans will be forced to admit that the 1970s saw a few too many failed experiments in the rock opera direction. Taking all of the grandiose Kinks Koncept albums (see what I did there) after, what, Lola Versus Powerman And The Moneygoround, Part 1 perhaps (Muswell Hillbillies doesn’t count), one of the ones that probably stands up best today is The Kinks Present a Soap Opera from 1975. I’m none too fond of the central idea of the all-powerful musical demigod Starmaker masquerading as regular-bloke Norman for a day so that he can go off and imbue the lives of ordinary folks with his magical anthems, no sir I am not. But the songs are pretty decent and there’s at least some humor in it, which some of Ray’s other big concept albums sorely lack.
What I didn’t know until recently was that Ray Davies starred in a live staged version of Soap Opera taped for Granada Television about eight months before it was released as an album, with Ray playing the double role of Starmaker/Norman. In a rather demanding role, June Ritchie played Norman’s wife. It’s a full-on production with the Kinks acting as the backup band, and a whole host of singers and dancers. It was taped in front of a live audience on July 25, 1974, and broadcast on September 4 of the same year. The Soap Opera album wouldn’t come out until the following May.
One of the problems with Soap Opera is that the central conceit of the Starmaker is just waaaay too close to Davies himself for my taste. The staged version of the play suggests an uneasy mashup between kitchen-sink drama and a big, heavy-handed, idea-driven satire à la Network. And in fact Soap Opera probably would have worked better if Starmaker was a TV executive rather than a big rock star—it fits naturally, a soap opera is after all a genre designed for TV/radio to begin with. What you’re left with is Davies trying to say something about the entertainment industry and ordinary life but in fact seems to really be all about Ray’s ego, and that’s a palpable flaw.
In any case, the Starmaker Granada show wasn’t a big success, but it’s surprisingly watchable and entertaining. For one thing, they’re almost always singing, and the songs are pretty good, as I said earlier. The staging is almost “theater in the round,” which was fashionable in the 1970s but for darn good reasons has stopped being a common method of presenting drama. Davies is remarkably fluent as an actor, and he’s required to do a whole hell of a lot here.
A little later, Ray reveals that he was too self-conscious to watch Starmaker on TV. “I just didn’t want to know. I knew it was going to be bad. It wasn’t the producer’s fault. That guy [Dennis Wolfe] is suffering, trying to use rock bands, trying to break new ground, and his Light Entertainment department don’t wanna know. So we got squeezed into some late-night slot, and we got the guy who does the drama sound. … We always get resentment from those kind of people because we’re a rock band trying to do something on a theatrical level. Theatrical people don’t like us infringing on their territory.
According to Hinman, Dave Davies wasn’t too thrilled about the Granada appearance, especially “how poorly the band were treated by the crew” as well as “his feeling of being reduced to a sideman in what he sees as a vehicle for Ray alone rather than a Kinks project.” It really does seem like a 100% Ray project, so it makes sense that Dave saw it much the same way.
A dedicated alt-rock fan on YouTube recently uploaded some choice clips from 120 Minutes, and the best find in the bunch is most likely this extended clip with Philadelphia indie rock mainstays the Dead Milkmen, in which they played one quite rare cut and one track they almost certainly only played during this appearance.
In early 1989 the Dead Milkmen were riding high indeed, thanks to the biggest commercial success they’d ever have, the well-nigh irresistible “Punk Rock Girl,” which had become a major crossover hit off of 1988’s Beelzebubba. This clip lasts nearly 22 minutes, skillfully editing out all of the videos and commercials and leaving just several solid minutes of vintage Dead Milkmen banter as well as two striking live performances. The second song they played was called “The Puking Song,” which eventually ended up as one of the miscellaneous tracks on the Smokin’ Banana Peels EP, which was released a year later. Host Kevin Seal makes a big deal about that “The Puking Song” is “unavailable in any store” so it’s my supposition that they may have written it for this appearance. In any case, it’s gross and funny in a way that only the Dead Milkmen did so entertainingly and so often.
The other song is billed as “Save the Rainforest,” but that title is pretty clearly a bit of sneaky subterfuge because—the song is actually about not wanting to appear on 120 Minutes! I’ve seen this song listed on Dead Milkmen forums and stuff as “Save the Rainforest,” but that’s sheer silliness, that is not the title of the song. The true title of the song is (if anything) “We Don’t Want to Be Here.” Actually, judge for yourself, here are the lyrics, which I believe you won’t find anywhere else on the Internet.
We don’t know what we’re doing here!
Trapped inside of your TV
Forced to host 120 Minutes
For some free publicity
There’s no Debbie Gibson or Tiffany
But you might have to sit through some Morrissey
We don’t want to be here
We don’t want to be here
We’d rather be at home!
Stick your head into the toil of tomorrow
Become one with the cosmic head
Stay up late, call in sick
Tune in, turn on, drop dead!
You won’t have to look at much Kevin Seal tonight
But you’ll have to look at us instead!
We don’t want to be here
We don’t want to be here
We’d rather be in bed!
There’s no Debbie Gibson or Tiffany
But you might have to see the Cowboy Junkies
We don’t want to be here
We don’t want to be here
But it’s better than drinking alone! (several times)
Of course, the title could be “Save the Rainforest” if you accept that the subterfuge is part of the song or something like that. As far as I can tell, this track, which obviously makes sense only if you’re actually performing it at MTV for a taping of 120 Minutes, doesn’t appear on any Dead Milkmen albums or EPs. As you can see (or hear) for yourself, they went out of their way to make fun of Morrissey in the song, but they weren’t done with His Holy Pompadour just yet.
During one of the interview segments, after Joe Genaro had finished demonstrating a drum-playing panda toy to everyone, Rodney Linderman tells a story about walking into a bar and seeing a guy eating a steak, drinking beer, and punching a guy in the face and then stealing his best gal, with the punchline being that it was Morrissey, who clearly “eats steaks, drinks beer, and chases women,” har har.
Before John Lennon began his self-imposed exile in 1975, he had a few professional obligations to fulfill, ending with an appearance at a tribute show for the man he had been battling in court for years. Why did Lennon even perform at such an event? What’s with the masks his mysterious backing band is wearing on the backs of their heads? And why in the world did the former Beatle wear a red jumpsuit?! Even now, nearly forty years on, the reasons are cloudy, but it clearly resulted in Lennon’s weirdest performance as a solo artist—it was also his last.
Sir Lew Grade was a powerful media mogul with roots in cabaret and variety shows (he was initially known for his super-fast Charleston). To many, this British tycoon was a larger-than-life figure, known for his cigar smoking (he was once told by his doctor to cut down to seven a day) and for climbing on top of tables—even past age seventy—to show off his dance moves.
Lew Grade and his ever-present cigar
Grade was knighted in 1969, and that same year his entertainment company, Associated TeleVision (ATV), purchased a majority stake in the rights to Northern Songs and Maclen Music—the songs of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. In the ensuing years, Grade filed separate lawsuits against both Lennon and McCartney (with Lennon countersuing). In the McCartney case, the court sided with Paul, but John ended up settling, with ATV becoming the co-publisher of all new Lennon songs in 1974.
The Salute to Sir Lew took place in the Grand Ballroom of the Hilton Hotel in New York City on April 18th, 1975. This shindig was very much a star-studded affair, a variety show (Sir Lew wouldn’t have had it any other way) featuring performances by such notables as Julie Andrews, Tom Jones, Peter Sellers, and John Lennon. A who’s who of the old Hollywood elite were in the house to pay their respects, with Lauren Bacall, Kirk Douglas, Gene Kelly, and Orson Welles amongst those in attendance.
Playing acoustic guitar and singing live to backing tracks, Lennon performed three songs at the Sir Lew tribute: Little Richard’s “Slippin’ and Slidin,’” and Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me,” both from his recent covers LP, Rock ‘n’ Roll, closing with his signature solo tune, “Imagine.” His band that night was a little-known group called BOMF (a/k/a Brothers of Mother Fuckers). Perhaps the censors weren’t comfortable with this moniker, so the ensemble is credited as “John Lennon, Etcetera” during the broadcast (though “BOMF” can still be seen on the bass drum head).
When Lennon comes out from behind the curtain for “Slippin’ and Slidin,’” his attire is head scratching to say the least. Since the late ‘60s, he was generally in casual dress both on and off the stage, so to see him waving to the crowd in a fashionable red jumpsuit (did he raid David Bowie’s closet?) is pretty startling. Perhaps this was his attempt to come across as more showbiz, but he and BOMF—with their shaved heads and “two-faced” masks (believed to have been designed by Lennon to reflect his view of Grade)—look more like aliens compared to the conservative acts on the rest of the bill. I can’t help but think the mischievous Lennon just wanted to ruffle the feathers of the stuffed shirts—and that includes the guest of honor.
So why did Lennon play a tribute to a man he had been embroiled in lawsuits with? In his journal, John wrote of looking forward to the event, and on an audience recording can be heard dedicating “Imagine” to both Yoko and Sir Lew (surprisingly removed for the broadcast version), so he must have had at least some affection for the man, but I didn’t unearth any definite reason. Perhaps it was nothing more than a diplomatic gesture towards his new business partner.
Salute to Sir Lew – The Master Showman aired on June 13th, 1975 (“Stand By Me” was also left for the cutting room floor). Though he re-emerged in 1980 with Double Fantasy, the Grade tribute would mark the final time the public saw John Lennon on a stage—red jumpsuit and all.
Here’s a nice composite of the show’s intro, the two Lennon clips, a dancing Sir Lew, as well as John’s curtain call:
More of John Lennon’s final public performance after the jump…
Dangerous Minds has written before about Neil Young’s enthusiasm for model trains, his investment in the Lionel model train company and his development of (and design and engineering for) the Liontech corporation, who really changed the game for model train hobbyists (don’t laugh! It’s true!). Despite Young’s relative openness on the subject (and his full candor in the fantastic memoir, Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream), many of his fans aren’t aware that he has two sons with cerebral palsy, a permanent physical disorder, often with an intellectual component. His techy train obsession actually evolved from a series of hacks he designed to make the set-up usable for his son Ben Young, whose limited mobility was aided by large buttons and controls he could operate by pivoting his head.
While all this information is out there, Young still hasn’t really advertised his innovations’ home-grown roots, which is why I was so pleased to find this 1994 interview with him and his family from Nick News W/5. Now known as Nick News, the Nickelodeon news show is actually a pretty fantastic program (or at least it was, when I remember watching it). Covering controversial subjects like presidential elections, same-sex couples and their families and gun control, host Linda Ellerbee never condescended to her young audience.
You’ll notice Neil does not dominate the piece, with daughter Amber and wife Pegi given a voice as well. It’s actually an incredibly sweet and intimate look at their family life, and the Youngs are clearly supportive and conscientious advocates for Ben. The fact that Neil and Pegi chose a children’s show (and not some earnest display of daytime TV pathos) to open up to really underscores their commitment to their kids.
When I comes to trash TV, I don’t play around. If I’m going to watch some shit entertainment, I want it to make me feel like I’ve been drowned, poisoned, and lobotomized. I want my IQ to decrease by one-half to three-quarters; I want spinal fluid to leak from my nose; I want to exhibit three or more symptoms of severe head trauma. To a person of my tolerance, an episode of The Brady Bunch is the TV equivalent of a wine cooler. I can only regard its partisans as effete, middle-class mama’s boys slumming in the lower reaches of the VHF dial, “experimenting” with brain damage. No, give me “the hard stuff”—give me Gilligan’s Island and its many authorized sequels and spinoffs.
Producer Sherwood Schwartz was not one to let go of a good thing. Following the initial three-season run of Gilligan’s Island, Schwartz sold Dusty’s Trail, a new series with Bob Denver that was just Gilligan’s Island in the Old West; a Saturday morning cartoon produced by Filmation called The New Adventures of Gilligan; and three TV movies that reunited the original Gilligan’s Island cast, minus Tina Louise, who hated the show. After all this, Schwartz knew the idea still had some life in it. You can almost feel the excitement of the original pitch as Schwartz outlines the idea for the second animated series, Gilligan’s Planet, in his revealing book, Inside Gilligan’s Island: From Creation to Syndication:
In 1982, I developed another animated series called Gilligan’s Planet, based largely on [Filmation founder] Lou Scheimer’s idea. In this series, the Professor on Gilligan’s Island manages to reconstruct a spacecraft that had been aborted by N.A.S.A. and had landed on their island. All the Castaways crowd into it, expecting to contact N.A.S.A. and return to civilization. Unfortunately, the spacecraft goes back into space and lands on an uninhabited tiny planet far removed from Earth. The Castaways are still cast away, but instead of an island somewhere in the Pacific, they are cast away on a little planet somewhere in space.
Bob Denver devoted two sentences to the animated Gilligan shows in his memoir, Gilligan, Maynard & Me. I quote them in full from my own tear-stained copy. You can almost feel the excitement in the voiceover studio as Denver reminisces:
In the 1970s, I did the voice on two animated series: The New Adventures of Gilligan and Gilligan’s Planet. All the old cast—except Tina Louise—did their character’s voices as well.
You’ll notice a few things about life on Gilligan’s Planet. There’s a laugh track. There are colorful forests of giant Stropharia cubensis fungus everywhere. And, as you’ve already guessed because you remember Glomer from the Punky Brewster cartoon and the Great Gazoo from The Flintstones, Gilligan has a mischievous alien buddy, a space lizard named Bumper.
Though “Gilligan in space” might seem like the last possible iteration of the Gilligan’s Island premise, Schwartz, writing in 1994, left the door open to further exploitation of the franchise:
Is there a possibility of another animated series? Like Twenty Thousand Leagues Under “Gilligan’s Island”?
As Mr. Howell would say, “Heavens to Jules Verne, why not?”
Larry Wallis is not pictured in the UFO image on the left. He never recorded with the band.
Check out this rare footage of Larry Wallis (Entire Sioux Nation, Shagrat, Bloodwyn Pig, Pink Fairies, Motörhead, “Police Car”, etc.) playing with UFO on the French TV music program, Rock En Stock from 1972. It’s a fantastic, fuzzed-out, raw mini-set featuring three tunes: “Galactic Love,” “Silver Bird” and a righteous version of Eddie Cochran’s “C’mon Everybody.”
Wallis was only with UFO on a 1972 European tour from February to October after original guitarist, Mick Bolton left the band in January of that year. Wallis never recorded with the group and this has to be one of the very few performances of the proto-punk guitarist jamming with UFO ever captured on film.
UFO 1972 from left to right: Singer Phil Mogg, drummer Andy Parker, bassist Pete Way, and temporary guitarist, Larry Wallis.
Here’s Wallis in a 2002 interview with Tony Rettman discussing his brief relationship and rather hilarious separation from the band:
TR: After Bloodwyn Pig, you answered an ad in the Melody Maker that read ‘Gigantic Rock Band, No Names, Needs A Guitarist. You’ve Got To Look Great.’ Am I correct?
LW: It was all very secretive for some reason. Eventually I found out it was U.F.O. It was the winter of 1971. I toddled off to the audition. When I got there, Andy Parker (drummer for UFO) and Pete Way (bassist) were there, along with a video camera. No Phil Mogg (singer). He probably had a plumbing job that day. Now, at the time I had the full set up… the long hair… the cool hippie garb. When I came in, Pete said ‘He looks like a star.’ We plugged me in and the day before I heard Hendrix on the John Peel radio show and he’d whacked out something called “Drivin’ South,” so I just started playing my version of that. And that was that. I had never heard of UFO, but I didn’t tell them that. Mark Hannau was our manager. He had just parted ways with the successful Curved Air. We thought the Curved Air pedigree was great until we figured out they must have fired him for a reason. He signed us a publishing deal for 8000 pounds, which was a respectful amount in those days. We were about to go off on a tour of Germany, so naturally we spent the money on a sound system bigger than anyone else’s and a second hand Bentley. The tour ended when the German gangsters running one of the shows nicked the Bentley. Apparently Mark Hannau made them believe we were going to stay in Germany and tour for them. It was then we figured out Mark wouldn’t be giving Peter Grant (Zeppelin manager) any sleepless nights.
When we got back, Chrysalis got involved and gave us a chap named Wilf Wright to look after us. They kept us busy touring Italy and these were great times. One night, I got drunk and told Phil Mogg what I really thought of him and he kicked me out. Pete and Andy were real upset, but whatcha gonna do? The roadies hated me leaving so much they dropped my amps off at my parents’ house. This caused Wilf to have a meeting with me where he said the amps weren’t mine and I would have to give them back. I said ‘No’ and Wilf pointed out it would be a great shame if the police were told anonymously that dope was kept and smoked at my parents’ house. I called him a string of names that I felt suited his behavior and made an exit. Fuck him and the stolen horse he rode in on!
TR: And right after that was when you were asked to join The Pink Fairies.
LW: I wanted to be a Pink Fairie more than anything in the world.
After Pink Fairies (for whom Wallis wrote the majority of the tunes on Kings of Oblivion), Wallis would go on to become a founding member of Motörhead and, as a producer at Stiff Records, a seminal figure in the late seventies transition between heavy rock and punk in Britain.
After working even more briefly with Bernie Marsden, UFO would find a slightly more long-term guitarist in Michael Schenker who stayed with the band until 1978 before taking a long break and returning in 1993.
It’s almost criminal that the Rock en Stock commentator couldn’t have waited until after Wallis’s killer sounding guitar solo on “Galactic Love” to do his spiel!