That time Chris Elliott took a huge crap on artsy mime troupe Mummenschanz on ‘Letterman,’ 1986
07:13 am



In his long career as a giant smartass pretending to be a know-it-all idiot, Chris Elliott has pissed off many, many people, including directors Francis Ford Coppola, James Cameron, and Jonathan Demme. His autobio The Guy Under the Sheets relates those tales in detail, and is well worth the time, but I was bummed that the book contained only a passing (and utterly bullshitfull) mention of one of my favorites of the many stunts he pulled on Late Night with David Letterman in the ‘80s—the time he gigantically took the piss out of the justly venerated Swiss mime troupe Mummenschanz.

Mummenschanz have been around for over four decades—I drove six hours to catch a show on their 40th anniversary tour in 2012, totally worth it as it was founding member Bernie Schürch’s final tour. Their performances conceal the artists’ identities, as they revolve largely around heavy costumery and mask play, sometimes downright pugilistic mask play, actually. A old post by my DM colleague Amber Frost does them justice, and I’d encourage you to have a look at it. (And I had to chuckle when I saw a commenter on that post had mentioned and posted the video I embedded below. Who says you should never read the comments?) They came to attention in the US during the ‘70s with appearances on TV variety shows, including a career-making guest spot on The Muppet Show, and their popularity grew to the point that they could enjoy a Broadway run from 1977-1980.

But it was during a later Broadway run, at the Helen Hayes theater in 1986, that Chris Elliott had his fun with them.

Now, I’m sure there was no mean intent in this jab, but it’s pretty audacious to make such a complete buffoonery of such wonderful and broadly-appealing artists with a golden international reputation. On Sep 30, 1986, David Letterman, brandishing a copy of Mummenschanz’s then-new book, introduced the troupe. In no time flat, it was clear that something was amiss, as the spotlight illuminated only a cheap costume-shop hot dog suit. Then came a fork and a spoon, not even really dancing, just sort of jogging in place and waving their arms like idiot children. Then out came a final dancer—later revealed as Elliott—in a mask of toilet paper rolls, which was a direct shot, as Mummenschanz actually used toilet paper roll masks. The audience is silent save for a few titters as it dawned on them that they’d been had. Someone started shouting “MORE, MORE” at the end—obviously that guy got it—and if a 2008 Rolling Stone article is to be believed, that guy was Screw magazine’s Al Goldstien. If you’re salty with me for spoiling, don’t be, the GOOD stuff is in the interview segment. Enjoy.

34 episodes of Elliott’s amazing and preposterous Adult Swim series Eagleheart recently turned up for streaming on HuluPlus. If you’re a fan of Elliott’s and a Hulu subscriber, I’d vigorously encourage you to dive straight on into that ASAP.

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
‘It Conquered the World’: The sci-fi atrocity that inspired Frank Zappa
07:11 am



“Cheepnis,” from Roxy & Elsewhere, is probably the most upful rock number in Frank Zappa’s catalog, celebrating two of the maestro’s favorite pleasures: eating hot dogs and watching monster movies. The song begins with a short monologue about Roger Corman’s 1956 no-budget classic, It Conquered the World:

Let me tell you something, do you like monster movies? Anybody? I love monster movies. I simply adore monster movies, and the cheaper they are, the better they are. And cheapness, in the case of a monster movie, hsa nothing to do with the budget of the film—although it helps—but true cheapness is exemplified by visible nylon strings attached to the jaw of a giant spider. I’ll tell you a good one that I saw one time, I think the name of the film was IT CONQUERED THE WORLD. Did you ever see that one? The monster looks sort of like an inverted ice cream cone with teeth around the bottom. It looks like a teepee or sort of a rounded-off pup-tent affair, and it’s got fangs on the base of it, I don’t know why, but it’s a very threatening sight. And he’s got a frown, and, y’know, ugly mouth and everything, and there’s this one scene where the monster is coming out of a cave, see? There’s always a scene where they come out of the cave, at least once. And the rest of the cast—it must have been made around the 1950s—the lapels are about like that wide, the ties are about that wide, and they’re about this short, and they always have a little revolver that they’re gonna shoot the monster with, and there’s always a girl who falls down and twists her ankle. [Laughs] Of course there is! You know how they are. The weaker sex and everything, twisting their ankle on behalf of the little ice-cream cone. Well, in this particular scene—in this scene, folks, they didn’t want to retake it because it must have been so good, they wanted to keep it—but when the monster came out of the cave, just over on the left-hand side of the screen, you can see about this much two-by-four attached to the bottom of the thing as the guy is pushing it out. And then, obviously, off-camera somebody’s going “No, get it back!” and they drag it back just a little bit as the guy’s going [gunshots]. Now that’s cheapness. And this is “Cheepnis” here.


It’s hard to believe Peter Graves was ever this young. He plays the wholesome scientist Dr. Paul Nelson, who plays by the rules and approves of the status quo, as against his best friend Dr. Tom Anderson (Lee Van Cleef), the movie’s Promethean/Satanic figure, who wants to improve humanity by subjecting it to the rule of a superintelligent Venusian he talks to on his ham radio. To that end, he helps the space creature land in a cave in the West Valley, which it prefers to the doctors’ neighborhood, Beachwood Canyon (superintelligent, huh?). From its subterranean lair in Agoura Hills, the monster gives birth to space bats that enslave the powerful by biting their necks, and suddenly everyone’s a pod person. See what happens when you try to improve humanity? When will we ever learn to accept things exactly as they are?

Incidentally, Beverly Garland’s character, who Zappa remembers as “the girl who falls down and twists her ankle,” is the only badass in the movie; she tells the space creature “I hate your living guts!” and “I’ll see you in hell!” before she makes it eat lead. Also featured: the most clueless impersonation of a Mexican person in the history of celluloid.

Posted by Oliver Hall | Leave a comment
The Grateful Dead guide to dealing with a bad LSD trip
12:24 pm



This weekend, the Grateful Dead is playing their last shows ever in Chicago, so they won’t be needing these notably square-minded security guidelines as to how to deal with LSD, instructions that were recently “leaked” according to WAXQ-FM 104.3 radio station in New York City, also known as “the Q.”

For a larger image of the guidelines, click here.

According to the sheet, “Guests may ‘see’ images, ‘hear’ sounds, and/or ‘feel’ sensations that do not actually exist.” The flyer breaks down good versus bad experiences, with the latter, a.k.a. an “upsetting experience,” consisting of the following:

May be combative.
Pose a danger to themselves or other guests,”
Disregards the presence and personal space of other people.
Poor judgement, may misjudge distances, height, and strength.
May act on their increased sensuality (removing clothes, PDA, etc.)
Confused or disoriented to their surrounding.


This flyer was clearly intended for security personnel and not regular concert attendees, but even so, it strikes me as a little bit judgy for a Dead show.

Interestingly, the flyer also states that you should not refer to people under the influence of LSD as “tripping”—they are experiencing “IPR” (intense psychedelic response).

I always figured that at Grateful Dead shows, they just showed everyone there President Carter’s solution for dealing with a bad trip, as embodied by Dan Aykroyd on Saturday Night Live in March 1977. Jimmy’s idea was, take some Vitamin B-complex and some Vitamin C-complex and have a beer. Then mellow out to some Allman Brothers or perhaps even….. the Grateful Dead.

via Death and Taxes

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Rare and treasured 1977 LP by heavy teen rockers Midnight to be reissued by Drag City
09:47 am



Into The Night cover
In 1974, four teenage kids from the Chicago area formed the rock band Midnight. The boys, Dave Hill (organ, vocals), Frank Anastos (guitar), Scott Marquart (drums), and John Falstrom (bass), met while taking lessons at an area music store. Inspired by the rock titans of the day (including Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, and Deep Purple), the group developed a raw, heavy sound. By 1975, they were performing at high schools and parties. Fast-forward a year, and they were gigging at colleges and clubs in and around Chicago, even though they were still in high school at the time. Mixed in with covers of tunes by their heroes, Midnight had started working original compositions into their live sets. In the fall of 1977, mere months after they graduated high school, they went in the studio to record the songs that would make up their lone LP.
Labor Day, 1976
Labor Day, 1976

While the songs on Into The Night show the influence of the groups they loved, the guys incorporated the styles of those bands in a way they could call their own—the heaviness of Sabbath, the metallic crunch and acoustic touches of Zeppelin, the organ rock of Deep Purple, and the swagger of Aerosmith. It’s all there, but woven into a sound that’s uniquely Midnight. Interestingly, there are moments when they bring to mind a more obscure outfit, Pentragram, one of the first American groups to show an obvious debt to Sabbath. I recently corresponded with bassist John Falstrom, and he told me that they didn’t know about Pentagram back in the day, so it’s just a case of heavy minds thinking alike.

Naturally, the songwriting has much to do with their distinctiveness, with Dave, Frank, and John all contributing. Lyrically, the ten tunes on Into The Night alternate between straightforward tales concerning girls and the band itself, and more out-there subject matter. John says that one his numbers, the brooding title track, is about “invisible vampires that would come and take you away with their claws and burn you at the stake to rid the world of all of its liars.” A song like Frank’s “Smoke My Cigarettes” may be more standard, lyrically, but rocks with a fire that can’t be extinguished. As for the arrangements, the band worked on them as a unit, cooking up tracks that were all about dynamics. The material is played on a pro level—one that belies their years—yet passionately executed. The actual recordings have a rough edge, resulting in an LP that sounds a whole lot more alive than the polished major label rock albums of the era.
Dave Hill’s choice of organ was another element that made Midnight distinctive. Dave used a Vox, once favored by ‘60s garage rock bands, but its thin sound was out of vogue by the time the ‘70s were in full swing (imagine if Deep Purple had hired the “96 Tears” organist). Dave also sang lead and the group recorded four of his tunes for Into The Night. His mysterious “Auto-Kinetic Illusion” is among those in which the text is difficult to penetrate. It’s also the most dynamic track on the album, with many shifts in mood and tempo. A microcosm of the entire LP in four minutes; as the band moves between their quiet and heavy sides, the lyrics are clear-cut, metaphoric, and indecipherable. John: “The song evolved out of Dave staring at the dark sky at night for hours and images (illusions) would appear.” At times, the words seem to allude to death. Dave’s father was in a state of decline around the time “Auto-Kinetic Illusion” was written, which John believes influenced the content. Dave did not respond to Facebook messages asking for his input with this article.

The group self-released Into the Night, pressing up 500 copies for an early 1978 release, though they didn’t bother to promote it much. This was largely due to the fact that they were evolving as a unit at a fast clip—so much so, that they rarely played the material in a live setting. To the band, the songs that made up Into The Night were already old news.

Midnight called it quits in 1980. Frank and John still play in a band together, and they both teach music lessons at the same store where the boys of Midnight met all those years ago. At some point, collectors became aware of the greatness of their 1977 LP, and in 2012 a copy of Into The Night sold for 200 bucks.
Thankfully, the good folks at Drag City (in conjunction with Galactic Zoo Disk) are re-releasing Into The Night at a much more affordable price on July 17th. In the meantime, check out audio clips and pre-order the LP.

Here’s “Auto-Kinetic Illusion”:

Posted by Bart Bealmear | Leave a comment