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Pianosaurus cover ‘Merry Christmas, Baby’ playing toy instruments, 1987
09:26 am



Pianosaurus were a ‘80s rock band from New York that used toy instruments exclusively. Forming c. 1982, they released a couple of live tapes before putting out their debut studio album, Groovy Neighborhood in 1987. Produced by Peter Holsapple from the dB’s and released by Rounder Records, Groovy Neighborhood could easily be dismissed as a joke if the songs weren’t so damn good and the performances so convincing. Pianosaurus managed to find the sweet spot between silly and genuine, and it didn’t hurt that singer/guitarist Alex Garvin’s songs are super-catchy. All Music summed up the band’s method and appeal nicely in their review of the album:

A gimmick band which transcends its novelty status, Pianosaurus play their light-hearted, pop-oriented material on children’s instruments bought at toy stores, among them tiny pianos, cheap-o organs and plastic horns and guitars. Sincere and enthusiastic, Groovy Neighborhood is sparkling, well-played pop with folk undercurrents.

The band toured extensively, making numerous radio and television appearances along the way, and seemed headed for greater success. But after they completed their second LP, Garvin apparently suffered some kind of mental breakdown and suddenly vanished in 1988. Subsequently, their label decided not to release the record and Pianosaurus were sadly no more.

More after the jump…

Posted by Bart Bealmear | Leave a comment
‘Lost in Space’: Dr. Zachary Smith screams!

Whoever suggested that “in space no one can hear you scream” had obviously never watched or more accurately heard Dr. Zachary Smith shriek in terror at the many alien lifeforms he encountered in sixties’ sci-fi series Lost in Space. Anyone who ever watched this particular show will remember two things: the Robot—apparently a “Class M-3 Model B9, General Utility Non-Theorizing Environmental Control Robot,” and the cowardly, interfering, cunning and comic Dr. Zachary Smith unforgettably played by Jonathan Harris—an actor whose mere appearance on screen could enliven the dullest fair. Though neither of these characters were included in the original unaired pilot, both quickly became central to the show’s success.

Lost in Space (1965-68) followed the (mis)adventures of the “Space Family Robinson,” a clan of astronauts, astrophysicists, biologists and their incredibly smart offspring, whose expedition into space was sabotaged by Dr. Smith, sending them altogether with their rocket (Jupiter Two) into the furthest reaches of the universe.

Jonathan Harris was a damned fine actor who, with his clipped mid-Atlantic accent and refined features, once considered the possibility of becoming another Cary Grant, but sense thankfully prevailed,and Harris knew he was best suited to being a character actor. Harris was originally just a guest star on Lost in Space, but as the series developed, and budgets were cut, he was encouraged to rewrite his dialog (“Never fear, Smith is here!” “Oh the pain, the pain…”) and add mannerisms to his character, as co-star Billy Mumy, who played Smith’s young side-kick the child prodigy William, said in 2002:

“...we’d start working on a scene together, and he’d have a line, and then in the script I’d have my reply, and he’d say, ‘No, no, no, dear boy. No, no, no. Before you say that, The Robot will say this, this, this, this, this, this, and this, and then, you’ll deliver your line.’

“He truly, truly singlehandedly created the character of Dr. Zachary Smith that we know — this man, we love-to-hate, coward who would cower behind the little boy, ‘Oh, the pain! Save me, William!’ That’s all him!”

For those who fondly remember Lost in Space, or just fans of the great Jonathan Harris, this three minutes of Dr. Zachary’s screams are utter bliss.

With thanks to Tim Lucas!

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Robin Williams’ friendship with the Stranglers
07:10 am


Robin Williams
the Stranglers

When Robin Williams died in August, one of the most unexpected eulogies came from JJ Burnel, the bassist and singer in the Stranglers, who says that he and Williams struck up a friendship in the early 80s. Burnel writes that Williams visited England in 1982 and stayed at the house of drummer Jet Black, where the Stranglers were rehearsing the songs for Feline. Williams then stayed at Burnel’s house in Cambridgeshire, where the comedian and his first wife, Valerie Velardi, reportedly conceived their son Zak. Burnel remembers:

It is with great sadness that I woke up on Tuesday 12th of August to learn of the death of Robin Williams, the actor, comedian, musician and all round genius.

The word genius is often too readily used but having known the man I can vouchsafe the term is appropriate in his case.

I met him through a girlfriend of mine in the early eighties. She had met him in Los Angeles through a film cameraman called Dave Stump, a friend with whom he played in a band. At the time he had just become famous through a tv series called Mork and Mindy and the film Popeye.

When the Stranglers were to play on the west coast of the US he had invited me to stay at his house on his ranch in the Napa valley. He was a wonderful host and I soon started to appreciate his fame when I went out to dinner with him in San Francisco and saw the effect he had on a whole restaurant when he entertained them as a distraction to afford us, his guests, a diversion from the attention.

I reciprocated the gesture when he flew over to Europe with his then wife Val and met him at Heathrow. The Stranglers were in the middle of preparing Feline at Jet’s house in the west country and he was going to hang out with us at Jet’s and then come over to my house in Cambridgeshire for a few days.

Every evening we would stop rehearsals to go down to a local pub before resuming work. He would come down with us and that was when we would discover the multiple personalities and the continuous flow of ideas and comic repartee that had us all in stitches. He would literally have conversations with himself and the other personalities he inhabited.

After a week at Jet’s I drove him over to my house. I would like to think that it was the laid back atmosphere on the Fens that allowed him to conceive his son Zak at my house in the summer of 1982. At least that’s what his wife told me later.

After that, as his Hollywood career took off, he would call me whenever he was in London.

Over the years we lost touch but I have nothing but very fond memories of a very talented and genuine person.

If it is true as to the way of his death it is only testimony to his great sensibility and humanity and the world is a much poorer place for his disappearance.

The Stranglers’ original vocalist and guitarist, Hugh Cornwell, devoted two pages of his 2004 book A Multitude of Sins to memories of encounters with singer Robbie Williams, drummer Robert Williams, and comedian Robin Williams. Cornwell’s account would put Robin Williams’ visit with the Stranglers about a year earlier than Burnel’s, but Zak was born in 1983, so Cornwell is either mistaken about which album they were working on or recalling a separate visit.

I’m jogging with Robin Williams in Gloucestershire. John Burnel has met him somewhere at a celebrity dinner and he’s come down to hang out with us while we rehearse before recording the La Folie album. He’s a lovely bloke and expresses a desire to come running with me first thing every morning. He’s in good shape and is keeping up with me, even though I’ve been doing it regularly. He’s a bundle of energy and constantly comes up with funny life observations. Jet’s got a souped-up Fiesta with lots of lights mounted on the front bumper and Robin asks me if he has to pull a trailer carrying a battery for the extra lights.


Posted by Oliver Hall | Leave a comment
‘Tis the season for a serving of sheep’s head?
02:04 pm



In Norway, an old tradition has recently been revived: a meal of a sheep’s head with all the trimmings. Sound weird? It sure does, even more so when you learn that the eyes and ears are considered an especial delicacy.

A serving of Smalahove consists of a half-head, boiled potatoes and rutabagas mashed with salt, pepper, cream, and butter. The most scrumptious parts of Smalahove are the ear and the eye. The reason is that the meat at these locations is quite fatty—and the eyes and ears taste best when they are still warm. Yesterday the German magazine Stern ran a story about Smalahove by Denise Wachter. Smalahove is a dish with strong associations with Christmas. Interestingly, an EU directive forbids the serving of smalahove from adult sheep due to fears of scrapie, a degenerative disease of sheep and goats, even though scrapie apparently is not transmissible to humans. So smalahove is made exclusively from lambs.

Here’s what the OECD Studies on Tourism Food and the Tourism Experience: The OECD-Korea Workshop has to say about it:

[Gyimothy and Mykletun] describe how smalahove (salted, smoked and cooked sheep’s head) has become a part of the destination brand of Voss, a small town in west Norway. The preparation of smalahove involves burning away the wool from the head, leaving the skin intact and brown in colour. The head is then split into two halves by means of an axe, and the inner organs except the eye and the tongue are removed. It is carefully cleaned, salted, and dried for some days before it is smouldered on a cold smoke of fresh juniper, dry oak or alder. Having been both salted and smoked, the head could be preserved in an airy place for some months. The preparation of the dish is simple. The half head is first watered and steamed for three hours, then served with potatoes boiled in the skin and with stewed Swedish turnips.

A couple hours’ drive inland from the city of Bergen on Norway’s west coast, the town of Voss has taken up the cause of smalahove and converted it into a source of significant tourist revenue. In the past, fermented milk or beer was served with the sheep’s head. Today it’s aquavit—cumin schnapps. The sheep was once slaughtered right there on the farm; today it’s the butcher’s job.

With thanks to Thomas Schlich!

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Just a week after Pirate Bay raid, Tribler makes shutting down BitTorrent impossible

When police in Sweden carried out a raid on a server farm in Stockholm on December 9th, seizing servers, computers and other equipment and simultaneously knocking The Pirate Bay and several other prominent torrent trackers (including EZTV, Istole, Zoink and Torrage) offline, it was assumed that they’d struck a crippling blow to the BitTorrent ecosystem.

But before Hollywood and the music industry could celebrate comes the news that a team of Dutch researchers at Delft University of Technology have figured out how to make BitTorrent completely anonymous and remove the necessity of central servers, producing a new client—called “Tribler”—that will keep things alive, even after all torrent search engines, indexes and trackers have been pulled offline.

Tribler’s lead researcher Dr. Johan Pouwelse told Torrent Freak: “Tribler makes BitTorrent anonymous and impossible to shut down.”

“Recent events show that governments do not hesitate to block Twitter, raid websites, confiscate servers and steal domain names. The Tribler team has been working for 10 years to prepare for the age of server-less solutions and aggressive suppressors.”

After last week’s Pirate Bay raid Tribler saw a 30% increase in downloads. The tax-supported team at Delft are confident that their encrypted torrent client can make the Internet safer for downloaders:

“The Internet is turning into a privacy nightmare. There are very few initiatives that use strong encryption and onion routing to offer real privacy. Even fewer teams have the resources, the energy, technical skills and scientific know-how to take on the Big and Powerful for a few years,” Pouwelse says.

You can download Tribler here. There are versions for Windows, Mac and Linux and Tribler is completely Open Source.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
There’s a Dr. Dreidel for Hanukkah
09:42 am


Dr. Dreidel

Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, I made it out of… weed?

I feel like my blogging mission in life (at least for today) is to let you know there’s a Dr. Dreidel for Hanukkah. Yes, a Dr. Dreidel. The concept is by artist Hannah Rothstein, but made into fruition by Chris McCoy. Its laser-etched wooden sides feature four separate images of Dr. Dre, each correlating to a Hebrew letter.

Each Dr. Dre face has been carefully chosen to correlate with the ‘aftermath’ of the dreidel’s spin.

  • ג Gimmel, ‘take all,’ is a dreidel player’s dream. It gets a thumbs up from a happy Dr. Dre.
  • ה Hay, ‘take half,’ is no reason to party, but isn’t too shabby, hence the mildly smug portrait or Dr. Dre.
  • נ Nun, ‘nothing happens,’ is a boring outcome. A dead-pan Dr. Dre affirms this.
  • ש Shin, ‘put one in,’ is pretty depressing; the dreidel player loses an M & M or other such playing piece. But shins are seldom a chronic problem in dreidel. Dr. Dre’s definitely overreacting.

Apparently this was pretty much done for shits and giggles. But the Internet has responded with overwhelming affection for the Dr. Dreidel. Rothstein is now considering making this a thing and it could be available for purchase as early as next year.



via The World’s Best Ever

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
‘The Junky’s Christmas’: The William S. Burroughs short film presented by Francis Ford Coppola

If you have even the most passing knowledge of the life and work of William S. Burroughs, nothing should seem more out of the ordinary than finding the author of surreal heroin tomes nodding pensively at the beginning of this 1993 Francis Ford Coppola-produced short film directed by Nick Donkin and Melodie McDaniel. I couldn’t help but chuckle watching Burroughs appear in a cozy, holiday-themed room complete with a roaring fireplace, tinsel and an amply lit Christmas tree. The film’s opening sequence reeks of an inappropriate wholesomeness, and the former bug powder purveyor looks as innocent as a kind old granddad ready to tell a bunch of rug rats to grab some hot cocoa and gather around for a tale of Christmas cheer. What, exactly, is going on here?

Then, Burroughs pulls a copy of his 1989 collection of short stories, Interzone off of a bookshelf and opens it to the piece called “The Junky’s Christmas.” As the black and white film cuts away to claymation, Burroughs begins to narrate the sad story of Danny, a heroin addicted hustler who finds himself being let out of New York City jail cell on Christmas morning with no cash and no immediate source for his much needed fix. Now we’re in familiar Burroughs territory. 

Well, sort of. If you’ve read it, you know the story, but now try to imagine the bleak, back-alley Christmas narrative read by Burroughs while classic holiday tunes and beats from the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy mingle with his monotone. If you haven’t read it, I won’t spoil it for you entirely, but suffice it to say that Danny the fiending anti-hero shares a holiday gift with an ailing fellow tenant in a shitty rented room after spending the day being kicked around New York City looking to score. Helping the guy out proves to be an act of kindness for which Danny is supernaturally rewarded. 

Burroughs’ story itself is gritty, odd, sad, touching and revelatory in its way. But we’re talking about the short film as a whole here, and the ending, I think, is meant to add something. We cut back to the holiday scene from the beginning, the claymation goes away, Burroughs closes the book and walks into a previously unseen dining room filled with smiling partygoers surrounding a classic holiday dinner spread. In the closing sequence that follows, Burroughs joins the other Christmas revelers in raising a toast. He also helps carve the turkey. The whole thing comes off as kind of silly, but the juxtaposition is perhaps meant a reminder to think about how lucky some of us are. Or, on second thought, maybe it’s just supposed to add a layer of weirdness. Either way, check it out below.

Notably, James Grauerholz, bibliographer and literary executor of Burroughs’ estate, is listed in the credits as one of the Christmas guests.

A different version of this story appeared in Burroughs’ Exterminator! originally published in 1973 as “The “Priest” They Called Him” which itself was read by Burroughs over Kurt Cobain guitar noise and released in 1993.

Posted by Jason Schafer | Leave a comment
Slint and Will Oldham discuss that famous ‘Spiderland’ album cover
08:41 am


Will Oldham

Brashear, Walford, and Oldham treading water
Spiderland was that haunting and evocative bit of early-‘90s indie rock, the second (and final) album from Slint, four fellows from Louisville, Kentucky, the reconstituted shards of Squirrel Bait. It took a long while, but it has emerged as one of the profoundly influential albums of the post-classic era, contributing to the foundations of post-rock and inspiring acts as disparate as P.J. Harvey, Pavement, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Mogwai, and Sebadoh. No small part of the album’s appeal derives from the photograph that graces the cover, a black-and-white, ever-so-blurry pic of the band members bobbing in the waters of a quarry somewhere. The picture suggests the frolics of summer and youth, but the lack of color lends it a foreboding aura—a wholly apt introduction to the bracing, enervating music of the album. The picture was taken by Will Oldham, a buddy of the band’s who went on to record scads of music under the name Bonnie “Prince” Billy, among others.

In the following clip, filmmaker Lance Bangs brought Oldham and Slint members Britt Walford (drums) and Todd Brashear (bass) together to reminisce about the shooting of that cover. There’s some talk of Slint guitarist Brian McMahan cooking up some mayhem with a “sacrificial goat” and the entire band, save McMahan, getting arrested for trespassing. It’s evident that the quarry is the site of a tony residential community of some kind, we catch a glimpse of a billboard for a building development company from southern Indiana called Quarry Bluff, which bills itself as (initial caps and all) “A Unique Development Located on the Banks of the Ohio River in Utica, Indiana Just Across the New East End Bridge!” So it appears that the quarry isn’t in Kentucky at all but in Jefferson, Indiana.

This clip comes from Breadcrumb Trail, Bangs’ recent documentary on the band and the album. The clip ends with Oldham, Brashear, and Walford jumping into the water to re-create the album cover as best they can.

via Biblioklept

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Death defying downhiller nearly skates himself into a bus
08:07 am



I grew up on a skateboard and have intimate, first-hand knowledge about what it feels like to literally slide on my face across unforgiving concrete after taking a hill way too fast. I probably don’t need to tell you that it hurts badly and scares the living shit out of you.

That’s why every time I see footage of longboarders bombing the hell out of insanely long declines spanning miles through no-room-for-error terrain, I watch with a combination of admiration, fascination and straight-up cringe inducing terror. 

The video below takes the cake, though. Really. The guy almost gets hit by a bus. 

It starts with a warning to “NEVER fully trust walkie talkies.” In spans like the one you’re about to see, a person at the bottom of the hill has to communicate to the guy who’s about to take the plunge that the road is all clear of oncoming traffic. Obviously, all sorts of things can get in the way in the meantime.

The raw, not-for-the-faint-of-heart footage appeared recently on the PERROPRO YouTube channel out of Spain which houses a cool collection of videos devoted to the sport of longboarding that you can check out here if you have the inclination. The clip below would be hair raising enough even without its death defying ending (which happens around the 2:35 mark if you want to skip ahead). The pure sound of wind and rolling urethane adds to the tension in my opinion.

Via h/t Jeff Albers

Posted by Jason Schafer | Leave a comment
Charlie Chaplin: Color photographs on set as the Little Tramp, 1917-18
07:55 am


Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin made his first appearance as the “Little Tramp” one hundred years ago when he co-starred with Mabel Normand in the short Mack Sennett silent film Mabel’s Strange Predicament. But as it turned out the public’s first sight of Chaplin’s comic creation was in his second outing Kid Auto Races at Venice, which was made after Mabel’s Strange Predicament but released two days before it. Chaplin later explained how the Tramp came about—he had been asked by Sennett to put on some “funny make-up” for his appearance in Mabel’s Strange Predicament:

I went to the wardrobe and got a pair of baggy pants, a tight coat, a small derby hat and a large pair of shoes. I wanted the clothes to be a mass of contradictions, knowing pictorially the figure would be vividly outlined on the screen. To add a comic touch, I wore a small mustache which would not hide my expression.

My appearance got an enthusiastic response from everyone, including Mr. Sennett. The clothes seemed to imbue me with the spirit of the character. He actually became a man with a soul—a point of view. I defined to Mr. Sennett the type of person he was. He wears an air of romantic hunger, forever seeking romance, but his feet won’t let him.

These Autochrome color portraits of Chaplin as the Tramp were taken by photographer Charles C. Zoller (1854 – 1934) between takes on the set of one of Chaplin’s films circa 1917-18.
Chaplin out of character.
Via Shooting Film.

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
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