Watching Joe Pyne is interesting because he almost seems ahead of his time. Pyne was a broadcaster who had a series of panel talk shows in Wilmington, Delaware, and Los Angeles in the 1960s. He died of lung cancer in 1970 at the age of 45.
Many have cited Joe Pyne as the spiritual predecessor to figures like Morton Downey Jr. and Bill O’Reilly but…. well, I think that sells him a little short. I can’t stand those two guys, but I like watching Pyne. Pyne was cutting and sarcastic but was seldom all that nasty about it. He was host to controversial figures who weren’t appearing in other parts of the TV spectrum…. for instance, he would have KKK members on, or members of the Nazi Party, or people who were followers of Charles Manson. A typical guest was Sam Sloan, at that time a promoter of the Sexual Freedom League. Sure, Pyne had them on to oppose them or ridicule them, and you can see the template there, especially for Downey’s show. O’Reilly has too much psychological baggage and rage to really do justice to the Pyne comp—O’Reilly’s also more of a charlatan than Pyne was. With Joe Pyne there was no pretense.
Pyne represented the Archie Bunker perspective fairly honestly, he was derisive and contemptuous of oddball or extreme things and he understood that he had the ability to turn a decent foil into excellent TV. And somehow the stakes were never that high, the idea wasn’t so much “this is a threat that must be stamped out,” it was more like self-expression. You couldn’t imagine Joe Pyne starting a war over Christmas—but if he stumbled onto one, you know what side he’d be on.
Anton LaVey started the Church of Satan in 1966. On February 1, 1967, he performed a much-publicized “first Satanic wedding ceremony” uniting journalist John Raymond and New York City socialite Judith Case. That was the event that made Pyne think that LaVey belonged on his show.
Whereas I am certainly no admirer of GG Allin—he brought nothing to rock and roll and may his soul rot in Hell—I admittedly LOL’d at this vintage local news clip about one of his shows in Orlando, FL in the early 1990s reported on by none other than future Fox News anchor Shepard Smith!
During this WCPX-News 6 evening news broadcast Smith told viewers about how clubgoers at the Space Fish Cafe had
“... paid $7 to watch a man defecate into his own hand while he was nude. And that is just the beginning.”
Smith is almost comically unflappable at the notion of an asshole throwing his own shit around a nightclub. No wonder Fox News hired him.
But the real star of the show is the guy who was merely an innocent bystander when the feces-covered Allin ran out of the club. The one who makes the LOL comment about “well-to-do white kids.” I’d quote it here but I’d rather force you to watch it.
Near the end of the report, the club’s owner oddly muses that this is “the first bit of the big city that’s come to Orlando.” What does that even mean in this context? Which big city is he referring to?
The 1966 German TV sci-fi cult classic Raumpatrouille – Die phantastischen Abenteuer des Raumschiffes Orion (literal translation: “Space Patrol – The Fantastic Adventures of the Spaceship Orion”) was the very first German science fiction television series, predating even Star Trek’s appearance there by six years. The two shows were developed concurrently, with the German series airing its first episode just nine days after the American program’s first appearance and they have several (accidental) similarities. The Spaceship Orion is supposed to be the fastest flying saucer ever invented. The craft’s commander is a dashing, impulsive American and the plot involves a brewing war with an alien race called—get this—“The Frogs”! (Scriptwriters must’ve been Brits, jah?). Only seven episodes of Raumpatrouille – Die phantastischen Abenteuer des Raumschiffes Orion were produced.
The voice-over intro is similar to Star Trek’s:
“What may sound like a fairy tale today may be tomorrow’s reality. This is a fairy tale from the day after tomorrow: There are no more nations. There is only mankind and its colonies in space. People have settled on faraway stars. The ocean floor has been made habitable. At speed still unimaginable today, space vessels are rushing through our Milky Way. One of these vessels is the ORION, a minuscule part of a gigantic security system protecting the Earth from threats from outer space. Let’s accompany the ORION and her crew on their patrol at the edge of infinity.”
A Polish gentleman by the name of Paweł Zadrożniak has been posting videos on YouTube of sync’d-up floppy drives following a pre-arranged sequence of commands that collectively create music. He’s posted the “Imperial March” from Star Wars, as well as “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
The one that caught my fancy today, however, was the theme song from Game of Thrones.
Warning: Listening to this will make you want to watch the show, and it’s going to be like a year before there’s new episodes, so proceed with caution!
Against all expectations, this 1979 episode of BBC’s Arena program about lead singer of noteworthy punk band X-Ray Spex—titled “Who Is Poly Styrene?”—is remarkably lyrical and sedate. Focusing on the demure and thoughtful singer (born Marianne Joan Elliott-Said) results in about as effective an advertisement for the basic good sense of the punk movement as one can readily imagine. It’s not difficult to picture grandmothers in the U.K. watching this back in the day and not being overly discomfited by it.
The show opens with Poly Styrene applying makeup while we hear her voice intoning the lyrics to the X-Ray Spex song “Identity”—which then segues to the band playing the song on stage. Moments later she says while brushing her teeth, rather in the manner of a TV commercial, “I chose the name Poly Styrene because it’s a lightweight disposable product.” There’s some delicious footage of her in a supermarket, stuffing brightly colored packages containing “DAZ” and “FLASH” into her shopping cart. It goes without saying that her choice of epaulets as a fashion statement is unsurpassed.
Poly Styrene was not only one of the few women stars of the punk movement but also one of its few people of color—her father was from Somalia. The premise of “Who Is Poly Styrene?” is to suppose that Marianne and Poly are two irreconcilably different creatures, which kind of suggests that someone as calm, soft-spoken, and sensitive as Marianne could not possibly also be a punk singer, but whatever. Poly was an artist experiencing anger and confusion, and punk was a perfectly natural outlet for that expression. In any case, Arena deserves credit for even seeing that there was a story worth pursuing in Poly Styrene’s mostly cheerful equanimity.
File under “two celebrity names you wouldn’t expect to hear uttered in the same sentence,” but here we are.
This is fascinating simply because you’d probably not expect the avant-garde performance artist and front-person of Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV to be on the TV funnyman’s radar at all, but in a recent episode of this season’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Jerry Seinfeld and Margaret Cho have a discussion on identity politics which leads to Cho bringing up P-Orridge’s Pandrogeny Project.
In the popular web series, Cho refers to P-Orridge as “punk rock royalty” along with h/er wife, the dearly departed Lady Jaye, and explains to Jerry their Pandrogeny Project in which the pair underwent body modification to resemble one another, in order to identify as a single pandrogynous being.
Jerry takes it all in and suggests that a “new word” is needed to describe what happens when you, in his words, “transgender into your wife… and she…[turns] into him.”
I was in a record store the other day when I noticed an LP I’d never seen before—a sealed copy of a 1977 album called William Shatner Live with a $25 asking price. We’ve all heard about Shatner’s sublime 1967 album The Transformed Man, of course, but this record was another animal altogether. For one thing, it’s “a talking album only,” to quote the disclaimer on Elvis Presley’s 1974 album Having Fun with Elvis on Stage.
One of the hilarious things about William Shatner Live is the back cover, which has some of the most over-the-top liner notes I’ve ever seen. Here it is:
The overwrought, hyperbolic text is credited to Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath:
It is the first time the man has come out, alone to confront his legend.
And the legend has come out to confront him.
The audience, six years old and yet unborn when the ENTERPRISE flew—the rerun generation.
They came, college students—and college professors. Pre-schoolers—and Ph.D’s. Doctors, lawyers, scientists, engineers. Truck drivers, dockworkers, drill sergeants. Both sexes. All ages. Every shade of difference, every degree of diversity. Feeling no generation gap at all.
What is becoming increasingly clear is that the legendary Kirk is finding a place in the history of heroes which is unique, one-of-a-kind, unprecedented.
And the rerun generation is growing up never having known a world in which there was not at least one example of a hero who was profoundly open, willing to be real to himself and others.
On stage now the man who broke that trail a decade ago has gone on, WHERE-NO-MAN… The dramatic performance speaks of the flying, and is the flying. Shakespeare, Cyrano de Bergerac, Galileo on the need for the freedom of man’s mind. Some of the rerun generation may not understand the words fully. It doesn’t matter. Their eyes never leave his face.
He shifts from the dramatic performance. He loves to let the audience reach out to him with questions, with a love which would register on the Richter scale. Now he is fast, funny, light, loving, with anecdotes from the STAR TREK years and now.
Shatner has said, “They’re not the screamers. They’re the people who say ‘thank you.’ They remember something I did many years ago. I’ve grown from a boy to a man on television in front of everybody. And now here they are, turning out in torrential rains to say ‘thank you.’ And I am—moved to tears, many times.”
The response was so tremendous that there will be other tours, other albums. The man will go out to greet the legend again—and undoubtedly astonish it yet again.
Recorded at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, William Shatner Live recalls a time when Shatner’s status as a universally beloved icon of movies and TV was considerably more in doubt than it is today. The original Star Trek series had been cancelled eight years earlier, in 1969, and the 1970s were proving to be a bit rocky for Shatner. Star Trek: The Motion Picture was still two years off, and T. J. Hooker was fully five years into the future. The Priceline ads were two decades away.
Three years earlier, Shatner had appeared in Roger Corman’s Big Bad Mama, and while we’d all think it cool to have a Corman movie on our résumés, appearing in one is probably not a sign that one’s career is heading in the right direction unless it’s your film debut. In 1976 Mark Goodman wanted Shatner to host Family Feud—true story—and Shatner’s most notable acting credit of 1977, the same year William Shatner Live was released, was the tarantula horror movie Kingdom of the Spiders.
Given these facts, William Shatner Live comes to seem like nothing so much as an extended audition reel to send to Hollywood casting agents, as the former and future Captain James T. Kirk shows off his acting skills, reading monologues by the likes of H.G. Wells and Edmond de Rostand, as well as a less expected author: noted Marxist playwright Bertolt Brecht.
To hear Shatner essay the lofty and bracing registers of Brecht’s Life of Galileo is to ponder whether his signature declamatory style is a self-fashioned Verfremdungseffekt, or what we would call an alienation effect.
While the 17th-century scientist Galileo seems an odd choice for the originator of the space-traveling Kirk role, it makes a bit more sense when you realize that Galileo, as the astronomer par excellence, has reason to discuss the celestial bodies of outer space and the possibilities of the human mind. Indeed, it’s probably the most Roddenberry-ish thing Brecht ever wrote.
For those who want to read along, a similar (not identical) translation of the monologue can be found here.
“We want you to be nostalgic about the future again.”
Even I, a man so tight he wouldn’t buy a pair of shorts for a flea, broke down over the holiday weekend and purchased a $35 Roku streaming stick.
And what, you ask, prompted this uncharacteristic liberality? Some athletic contest to be broadcast on a Roku station, perhaps? A Fourth of July H.R. Pufnstuf marathon? Or was it one of those deals where we only had 24 hours to save the orphanage from the wrecking ball and the whole town came together to peddle stolen A/V gear, raising just enough money to foil the evil millionaire’s plans as the old clock tower struck twelve?
No, it was something far more wonderful: the OSI 74 network. Launched last Halloween, Outer Space International brings together all the late-night TV and VHS-collector weirdness that has been missing from my life since public access vanished and I indignantly cancelled my Time Warner subscription. “We’re channeling the great pioneers of UHF, home video, and early cable,” network host Mr. Lobo says in one of their bumpers, and not a moment too soon! As far as I know, OSI’s only rival in this territory is the resurrected Night Flight, also available on Roku for $2.99 a month. (OSI is currently free, and every show has a virtual “tip jar.”)
So far, I’ve only watched a tiny fraction of OSI’s goods. A glance at their schedule reveals a massive hoard of fun: episodes of Criswell Predicts, Friday night movies hosted by GWAR manager Sleazy P. Martini (Sleazy Pictures After Dark), a soap opera starring drag sensation Bunny Galore (Pantry Manor), a Saturday morning rock ‘n’ roll monster dance party (Ghoul A Go-Go), a conspiracy show (Paranoia Magazine Presents), the pilot for a new cartoon series (The Paranormal Idiot), Monster Creature Feature, Cult Movies TV, Monster Madhouse, Cinema Insomnia, Midnight Frights...
But if you want to know what really squeezed the $35 from my wallet, it’s the significant portion of OSI 74’s programming that’s dedicated to the video ministry of the Church of the SubGenius. In addition to classics like the recruitment video Arise, the network’s got deep SubGenius weirdness such as the entire 1984 devival at which J.R. “Bob” Dobbs was assassinated, a compilation of news and talk show appearances called As They See “Bob,” and a retrospective episode of the Dallas public access show The Hypnotic Eye. Perhaps the greatest treasure in the SubGenius collection is The Obvious (Sex and Violence), an absolutely insane one-hour megamix of tits and squibs from 1980s softcore, action, sci-fi, and horror movies that must be seen to be disbelieved. There’s also a weekly feature film chosen by the Church, the “Bulldada Movie of the Weak” [sic]. Recent offerings include Wojciech Has’ The Saragossa Manuscript and The Hourglass Sanatorium and Shaw Brothers’ The Super Inframan.
Some of OSI’s programming is up at Vimeo. If you have a Roku, the station is listed under “Streaming Channels”; alternatively, you can follow these instructions to add it to your home screen. Linked here is a 30-second, very NSFW clip from The Obvious (Sex and Violence)
When The Beatles split-up in 1970 the music press divided the pop world into two camps: those for John Lennon and those against Paul McCartney (who, coincidentally met each other for the first time 59 years ago today). That both camps were basically the same thing meant McCartney had rough ride from “hip” musos over the next decades.
McCartney was painted as straight, safe, vanilla and very very bland—the sort of music yer mom and dad listened to when riding an elevator. It was fueled in large part by his former songwriting pal John Lennon’s vicious public spat with him. Lennon excoriated McCartney in his song “How Do You Sleep?” claiming the only thing he’d done was “Yesterday.”
Lennon was perceived as cool. McCartney was seen as square, fake and lacking any real artistic credibility—whatever that may be. He was the lesser half of the writing partnership Lennon & McCartney. This was how the music press in general and the British music press in particular painted the former Beatles. Of course it was wrong—very wrong. McCartney was the cool one, the smart one, the one who was hanging out with all those avant garde artists on the edge. He didn’t have to try on different party hats to find out who he was—he knew instinctively. The way the music press wrote about him you would never have known. But then again music journalists only write for themselves and their tiny band of fellow journalists—they do not write for the public or really understand that popular music is meant for all—the clue’s in its name—it’s not an exclusive club.
How McCartney weathered it all while starting out on his solo career, raising a family with his wife Linda, then forming the band Wings reveals just how strong and determined a character/a talent is James Paul McCartney.
Understandably, post-Beatles McCartney was always cagey about giving interviews. He knew (and knows) how interviewers turn words to fit their own preconceived opinions and how interviewers like to make themselves the star of the interview.
One of McCartney’s best ever interviews came in 1978, when he was featured in a short film for Melvyn Bragg’s The South Bank Show.
McCartney and Melvyn Bragg, 1978.
The South Bank Show was devised by Bragg as an arts magazine show that would cover high and low art—from TV and films to theater and pop music. This seems utterly run-of-the-mill now but back in the seventies this hi/lo concept was considered shocking. Pop music was in no way comparable to classical music. Television was never in the same class as theater, etcetera etcetera. Bragg was challenging the perceived orthodoxy when he kicked the whole thing off with The South Bank Show in January 1978, creating the kind of mix of high and low culture we take so very much for granted today.
The South Bank Show was originally a magazine program that featured one or two short films, plus a studio interview and usually some kind of performance. During the first series this morphed into one hour profiles of artists, writers, film directors and performers which remained the format.
Paul McCartney appeared in the very first episode in a short insert documentary filmed during the recording of the song “Mull of Kintyre.” McCartney is open to Bragg’s questions and even goes so far as to explain how he writes, giving examples of some of his best known songs. He also discusses the hurt he felt over the bust-up with Lennon and ends by explaining how he gets a thrill from hearing people whistling his tunes—or as he goes on to say, how he once heard a bird whistling a riff from one of his hits.
The following is the whole interview repackaged for Bragg’s The South Bank Show: Originals series recently broadcast on Sky Arts. It opens with Bragg talking about his memory of interviewing McCartney and contains comment from journalist Clive James who rightly describes Paul McCartney as a genius.