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IN 1985, Tipper Gore’s Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) released their “Filthy 15” – fifteen songs they felt were the most objectionable on the planet. Prince’s “Darling Nicki” topped the list, Sheena Easton’s “Sugar Walls” came in at #2, and Cyndi Lauper’s “She-Bop” rounded out the list at #15.
Not surprisingly, the PMRC only managed to increase sales for all 15 songs, and made the US government look even more like an overbearing nanny state. Far from holding back the tide of explicit music, you might say the dam burst not long after. Indeed, the songs on Tipper’s Filthy 15 look quaint by today’s standards.
Well, it’s been almost twenty years, so I think we’re due for another Filthy 15, don’t you? It would be much too easy to draw from contemporary music (Where does one even begin?). So, rather than shoot fish in a barrel, let’s look at the 1960s-80s, when artists couldn’t be so direct– when they had to lay it between the lines. These aren’t necessarily the raunchiest, just some great moments in filthy songwriting. Please feel free to add your own – if a Filthy 15 is good, a Filthy 50 is even better!
15. “Penny Lane” by The Beatles (1967)
“A four of fish and finger pies”
For shame, McCartney, for shame! Most listeners interpreted this as a charming recount or memories at “the shelter in the middle of the roundabout”; not realizing a “finger pie” isn’t something from a dinner menu. I’ll leave it to you to extrapolate this one.
14. “Love Gun” by Kiss (1977)
“You pull the trigger of my love gun”
It’s painfully simple and obvious, but what makes it special is that it was such a popular song among the grade-school set. There’s something very, very special about millions of 1970s pre-teens singing along to a song about Paul Stanley’s penis.
13. “House of Fun” by Madness
“Sixteen today, and up for fun.
I’m a big boy now, or so they say.
So if you’ll serve, I’ll be on my way.”
I’ll admit, I’ve heard this song a thousand times, but never made the obvious connection to what it’s all about. Like Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax”, you get so caught up in the hopping beat, you don’t stop to think about the meaning of the words. While Frankie’s song is about graphic sexual advice, this one is much more innocent:
“To this day I can barely mention the title onstage without wanting to throw up. It’s about the embarrassment of going to a chemist’s shop to buy a condom for the first time.”
- The Daily Mirror, September 18, 2009
12. “Pearl Necklace” by ZZ Top
She was really bombed, and I was really blown away,
Until I asked her what she wanted, and this is what she had to say:
A pearl necklace.
Maybe not the most romantic song ever written, but what do you expect from the boys who brought you “Tube Snake Boogie”? And if I have to tell you what a pearl necklace is, it’s probably past your bedtime.
11. “Like a Virgin” by Madonna (1984)
“Like a virgin, Touched for the very first time”
According to Mr. Brown in Reservoir Dogs (1992), this song has a very explicit connotation (too explicit to recite here, in fact). Suffice it to say, the theory is that the singer has seen her share of action and can no longer be stimulated… that is, until she meets a “John Holmes” whose girth makes her feel like a virgin all over again.
10. “My Sharona” by The Knack
Never gonna stop, give it up, such a dirty mind
I always get it up, for the touch of the younger kind
Fieger (the lead singer) wrote this about a girl he’d just met at a clothing store, Sharona Alperin. She was only 17 (8 years younger than him) and had a boyfriend, but no matter. The man was obsessed, and it shows through in the manic vocals.
9. “Little Red Corvette” by Prince
I guess I must be dumb
‘Cause you had a pocket full of horses
Trojan and some of them used
There’s a fine line between innuendo and stating it plainly. For instance does Marvin Sease’s plainly stated “I Ate You For Breakfast” (1987) qualify as innuendo? How about the ribald “Hot Nuts (Get ‘em from the Peanut Man)” by Georgia White (1931)? It’s in this erogenous zone where Prince’s music falls, with one foot in radio-friendly innuendo, and one foot in the gutter.
8. “Brand New Key” by Melanie
Well, I got a brand new pair of roller skates
You got a brand new key
I think that we should get together and try them out you see
I been looking around awhile
You got something for me
Back in ’71 there was a lot of hoopla over what this song actually meant; it even got banned on radio stations. Melanie insists it was completely innocent, but admits she can see the Freudian symbols throughout.
7. “I’d Really Love To See You Tonight” by England Dan & John Ford Coley
“I won’t ask for promises
So you won’t have to lie
We’ve both played that game before
Say I love you, then say goodbye”
I love it when soft rock gets dirty. It sounds deceptively light and radio-friendly; however, the wholesome veneer is just a disguise. This song is basically one long argument to get into a woman’s pants. Even worse, he’s promising no commitment – just one screw and then he’s outta there.
6. “Turning Japanese” by The Vapors
I’ve got your picture, I’ve got your picture….
You’ve got me turning up and turning down and turning in and turning ’round
I’m turning Japanese I think I’m turning Japanese I really think so
It’s supposedly about masturbation (the title references the face men make during “the process”); however, this may be just urban legend. Either way, it’s a schoolyard myth that’s kept going for a couple decades – a distinguished accomplishment in the annals of music history. And speaking of annals….
5. “Knocking at Your Back Door” by Deep Purple
“Feel it coming
It’s knocking at the door
You know it’s no good running
It’s not against the law”
A nice little ditty 100 percent about anal sex.
(awkward silence) So, there’s that information. Queue the next song.
4. “The Lemon Song” by Led Zeppelin
“Squeeze me baby, till the juice runs down my leg.
The way you squeeze my lemon, I’m gonna fall right out of bed.”
Zep combined a Howlin’ Wolf song called “Killing Floor” and Robert Johnson’s “Traveling Riverside Blues” to create this R rated classic. This and “Squeeze Box” by The Who were the first instances where I became aware that something dirty was going on in my record collection.
3. “More, More, More” by The Andrea True Connection
“But if you want to know how I really feel
Get the cameras rollin’
Get the action goin’”
This disco classic is made all the more illicit by the fact that Andrea True was an actual porn star.
2. “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” by Meatloaf
“I can see paradise by the dashboard light
You got to do what you can
And let Mother Nature do the rest”
The song was so over-the-top that it was initially labeled a novelty record and the studio musicians thought it was a practical joke. Indeed, the sexual innuendo is laid on thick for eight straight minutes. If this doesn’t deserve a place on this list, nothing does.
1. “Afternoon Delight” by The Starland Vocal Band
Thinkin’ of you’s workin’ up my appetite
Looking forward to a little afternoon delight
Rubbin’ sticks and stones together makes the sparks ingite
And the thought of lovin’ you is getting so exciting
What has always made this so disorienting is the benign delivery coupled with its pornographic lyrics. It’s one thing to hear Aerosmith sing about their “big ten inch”, it’s altogether another when a folksy, seemingly family-friendly band gets in on the action. We expect it from Aerosmith, but when an EZ Listening folk rock quartet dips into the gutter, it’s downright magical.
PEPPA Pig was in the news again this week, and once again the news wasn’t good. Following previous complaints about her disrespectful and naughty behaviour, there are now claims that one of the characters in her DVD used the f-word, and that this has caused a young Welsh child to use the same foul curse.
In the event, it turned out that the actual word in question was ‘rocking’, but the pronunciation left enough ambiguity to cause mischief. Judge for yourself…
Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: Stolen By Pirates And Other Batshit Mental Theories In The British Tabloids
WHAT happened to Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 is exciting the British tabloids:
She told the Mirror: “I first heard about the website at 9.30am and looked at 867 images before I had a break. My partner thought I was mad, but I just had to go back and after looking through three more images I found this. I just went, ‘Oh my God, I think I’ve found the plane!”
Ms Eyre has tagged the image to bring it to the attention of the website, although it is thought the image might be of a plane in flight.
And the winner is:
But wait a moment…
And the news that the plane is…behind you!
Glenn O’Brien’s TV Party – When Manhattan Cable Television Went Punk And Debbie Harry Taught Us To Pogo
GLENN O’Brien’s New York TV show TV Party ran from 1978 to 1982. Before we get to the episode where Blondie’s Debbie Harry taught the cool kids how to pogo like the British punks, Glenn explains what it was and why it happened:
Glenn O’Brien writes:
In 1978, I was writing a column called Glenn O’Brien’s BEAT for Andy Warhol’s Interview Magazine. I was also contributing to High Times, art magazines and foreign music magazines. I had no ambition to write for the square press, I had already been through Rolling Stone and Esquire and Playboy and I was trying to do something more artistic.
It wasn’t hard to make a living as a freelance writer then. My apartment on St. Mark’s Place cost $100 a month, and I was able to pay my rent by selling unwanted review albums to St. Mark’s Records. I had a white Toyota Corolla, with out of state plates and no insurance. Every night I drove around town, hitting all the clubs. I got in and drank for free. The Mudd Club was my living room. Danceteria was my rec room. I was the Damon Runyan/Walter Winchell/Ed Sullivan of the new wave scene.
Ed Sullivan was the benchmark. As Steve Dollar notes, another man was the Ed Sullivan of the underground:
As the host of “The Live! Show” on Manhattan Cable Television’s Channel J, Mr. Davidovich appeared in the guise of “Dr. Videovich,” presiding over a Vaudevillian enterprise “that was like a combination of Ernie Kovacs meeting Cabaret Voltaire,” he said. “I was the Ed Sullivan of the avant-garde.” It was 1979, and Manhattan public access television was hitting its eccentric stride.
THE Internet has certainly done its fair share of mockery when it comes to vintage album covers from America and the UK. How about we spread the snarkiness to a less traveled geography – say, the Netherlands? Yes, I know Dutch singles are a ridiculously small niche, but there are some ridiculously bad covers to explore. Take a look.
Was there a social program in Amsterdam which allowed the city’s homeless and insane to make records? I’m just curious.
THE found-footage horror film genre is one that isn’t often appreciated. The late Roger Ebert himself once wrote that movies of this type often consist of “low quality home video footage,” are “usually under-lit,” are “lacking in pacing” and seem “intentionally hard to comprehend.”
Indeed, there seems to be the pervasive misconception that a found-footage horror movie is somehow easy to shoot and produce. You don’t need a star, for example, or much of a budget either, to make such a film. You don’t even need expensive equipment.
All an intrepid film crew needs is a good concept, and a whole lot of shakin.’
None of this is true.
A good found-footage horror film — while cut-off in large part from the elegance, structure, and language of traditional film grammar — nonetheless has its merits.
For one thing, found-footage films ramp-up the experiential or immersing aspects of the genre. The hand-held camera-work provokes a brand of immediacy and urgency that other horror sub-genres can’t necessarily emulate.
Horror movies in general concern situations that are impossible to escape, set in isolated locations. The found-footage genre runs with this idea, landing its stars in frightening landscapes and then charting a kind of pressure-cooker intensity as terror boils over.
For another thing, the compositions in found-footage films must appear spontaneous and on-the-fly, all while simultaneously capturing crucial action. This balancing act requires quite a bit of legerdemain.
A unique development of cinema-verite documentary techniques, the found-footage horror film thus requires patient preparation of shots, split-second timing, long takes, and a certain brand of non-theatrical or “naturalistic” performance that not every actor can easily master.
The overt critical dislike and disregard for the found-footage genre reminds me very much of the critical hand-wringing that occurred in the 1980s over the slasher movie formula, or in the mid-2000s over so-called “torture porn.”
Basically, movie critics are always finding some reason to object to horror’s latest trend, even as audiences are ahead of the curve, and excavating reasons to appreciate the new format.
In short, a good found-footage film — such as the genre’s classic, The Blair Witch Project (1999) — isn’t just a case of point-and-run film-making. In The Blair Witch, for instance, artistry can be detected in the escalation of the film’s throat-tightening terror, and there is even a clever sub-text about the camera operating as a “filter” that occludes reality.
The found-footage film genre has many undisputed highs, from [REC] (2007) to Trollhunter (2008), but the five found-footage horror films featured below have generally been dismissed by critics, even though they possess abundant virtues not necessarily associated with this derided sub-genre.
1. Apollo 18 (2011)
You know your movie has been poorly received when it is the butt of a joke in another found-footage horror movie (Grave Encounters 2 ).
But reception aside, Apollo 18 boasts a value that found-footage movies aren’t supposed to reflect: excellent production design.
The movie is actually a period piece, set in 1972, during the last days of NASA’s Apollo program. The film concerns a failed space mission to the moon, and the discovery of terrible creatures on the lunar surface.
In this case, tremendous attention has been paid to making certain that the film’s sets and wardrobes are appropriate and correct to the disco decade epoch. The film grain is right too, and the result is that Apollo 18 looks very much like footage of a real space program venture. The retro (low) tech wonders of the film are actually quite remarkable, from the Lunar Lander interior and astronaut spacesuits to the Rover mock-up. There is no hint in the visuals that this is modern fakery.
Similarly, if the game of the found-footage movie is to find an inhospitable or dangerous terrain, and then chart the mental and physical disintegration of the characters’ trapped there, then Apollo 18 must represent an apotheosis of sorts. The whole movie is set on Earth’s moon. The vast, desolate landscape is recreated ably on a low budget, and viewers understand immediately that this is a realm of a million dangers, and virtually no sanctuary whatsoever.
With convincing mock-ups and locations, Apollo 18 asks its audience to dwell, essentially, in an extended moment of fear and isolation, with no genuine hope of escape. One touching moment involves an astronaut – knowing he shall never see home again – playing a recording of his wife and son over and over; reaching out for something, anything human and comforting.
Again, critics want to tell you the characters in the film are indistinguishable and you never care about them. But this scene of human longing and separation puts truth to that lie.
2. Grave Encounters (2011)
Again, this is a found-footage movie that received largely negative reviews, but a positive audience response. And again, it boasts an intellectual or aesthetic quality that found-footage movies supposedly don’t possess: satirical insight.
In this case, the filmmakers mercilessly and humorously roast reality-TV conventions, and especially those of the Ghost Hunter-type show variety. In programs of this type, every little cold spot and door squeak is made into a paranormal event of historical proportions. Accordingly, Grave Encounters involves a team of reality-star wannabes, led by Lance Preston (Sean Rogerson), as these actors investigate a purportedly haunted mental institution.
In short order, the audience sees Lance pay a gardener on the sanitarium grounds twenty-dollars to claim that he’s seen ghosts. And the group’s psychic, Houston, is worried about possibly missing an important audition. When Houston goes “big” and suggests that there’s a demonic presence in the asylum, he asks — after the take — if was “too much.”
What Grave Encounters tells audiences is that everything you see on reality TV is phony.
Of course, horror movies must punish those who transgress, and these narcissists in Grave Encounters soon find themselves in a hospital where there is no escape. The asylum seems to rewrite reality itself, and the blasé actors – who have used real life tragedy as the source for their “drama” and stardom – are suddenly faced with a true understanding of madness.
Grave Encounters bucks all the stereotypical criticisms of the found-footage genre, and meaningfully (and scarily…) critiques an aspect of our culture: the quest for fame at all costs.
3. Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)
The best of the durable Paranormal Activity films, Paranormal Activity 3 is simply a superior scare machine.
It features some of the best jump scares in the franchise, and more than that, does so by generating the rare quality of attention, or patience. Again, critics of the found-footage format want to convince audiences that these films are slap-dash cash grabs that appeal to the lowest-common denominator. They’re cheap and gimmicky!
If that’s the case, how does one account for a film like Paranormal Activity 3, which possesses long stretches of silence and stillness, and demands engagement on the part of the viewer? Here is a film that instead of rewarding a short attention span, rewards patience.
So much of this sequel’s running time is devoted to a camera panning back and forth in a room, or the quiet recording of apparently vacant areas of a suburban house. This technique not only generates suspense, it encourages one to look closely at absolutely everything, to make a mental snapshot in your head of what item is where, what light is turned on, and what, if anything, is moving in the frame.
In a way, this very technique mirrors how it feels to wake up, sleepily, in the middle of the night (after hearing a noise) and scanning the environs. Paranormal Activity 3 is all about the potent idea of sleepy twilight, of being awake at 3:15 in the morning, and not quite having an accurate sense of what is going on. The world is at slumber — or should be — but something insidious lurks just at the edges of perception.
We’ve all experienced this feeling, and can relate to the characters’ situations.
4. V/H/S (2012)
The first found-footage anthology, this omnibus film is a social commentary on the fact that the home video revolution of the 1980s — now thirty years old — has transformed all of us into directors, actors, historians, journalists…even porno stars.
Imagine for a moment millions of people possessing home movie tapes, and then imagine what becomes of those tapes after three decades.
In whose hands to they end up? What purpose do they serve? What value do they possess?
V/H/S explore five unsettling genre stories vetted from a first-person perspective, and the wraparound narrative device involves a group of small-time miscreants desperately searching for one particular video tape in the house of a (presumably) dead tape collector.
Several tapes are viewed, and all are recordings of dark, sinister events. In virtually every situation, the video camera is used to hurt someone: to trick a gullible woman into sex, to record a carefully-plotted murder, to convince a scared girlfriend not to seek help when something strange starts happening to her, and so forth.
I once called this film “America’s Scariest Home Videos,” but it’s more than that: V/H/S is s chronicle of the weird turn that the home video revolution has taken.
Today, we have cameras on our phones and on our tablets, and we have the capacity to record our entire lives. But what if we are recording something else too? What if all the recording technology of the last thirty years is merely creating a tapestry of suffering and inhumanity? What if we are simply documenting our cruelty?
Again, it’s all too easy to dismiss this film (and its good, 2013 sequel as well…) as a gore-fest, but V/H/S explores – in horrifying fashion – the nexus of modern technology and modern morality.
5. The Devil’s Pass (2013)
This found-footage effort from Renny Harlin starts out as a meticulous exploration of the (still-unsolved) Dyatlov Pass Incident in Russia. A group of hikers died under mysterious circumstances in 1959, on the so-called “Mountain of Death.”
A film that seems in danger of being a simple Blair Witch Project knock-off, however, instead showcases something else that found-footage movies are often accused of lacking: imagination.
Before The Devil’s Pass is over, the movie has devised a (crazy…) solution to the real-life mystery, offered up a unified theory of conspiracies and the paranormal, and even had the grace and literacy to wink at Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5. The movie incorporates Indian cave drawings and the Philadelphia Experiment, and ends with an audacious final twist that will leave your jaw agape.
Sure, the actors aren’t great, and the early scenes are clunky, but The Devil’s Pass’s final act runs on pure, unadulterated, gonzo imagination. The movie goes courageously for broke, breaking out of format conventions and generating a lingering horror that lasts long beyond the end credits.
Each one of the aforementioned films is worth watching, and each one puts truth to the lie that the found footage genre is running on empty.
Apollo 18 is an accomplished period piece, Grave Encounters a satire of reality TV culture and ethos, Paranormal Activity 3 a waking dream that requires active participation on the part of the audience, V/H/S a dedicated critique of our modern technology, and The Devil’s Pass is the most imaginative and daring horror film to come down the line in quite a while.
ONE hundred and one years after the evangelist William Booth preached his first open air sermon outside the Blind Beggar Public House on the Whitechapel Road – a sermon which ultimately led to the establishment of the Salvation Army – Ronald Kray walked into the very same pub. Or at least it would have been the same pub had it not been rebuilt in 1894 by the Mann, Crossman and Paulin’s Albion Brewery at the same address. It was 8.30pm on 9 March 1966 and Kray was accompanied by his right-hand man Ian Barrie, while his driver, John ‘Scotch Jack’ Dickson, was told to wait outside in his Mark 1 Cortina.
A pub had been on the same spot in Whitechapel since 1673 and it was named after Henry de Montfort, the son of the Earl of Leicester, who is said to have posed as a blind beggar to escape detection after the battle of Evesham in 1265. Of course Ronald Kray wouldn’t have been the first villain, big-time or otherwise, who had found themselves in that infamous East End pub. Before the First World War the Blind Beggar was the meeting-place of a gang of pick-pockets and ne’er do wells. One of them called ‘Bulldog’ Wallis got into a fight with a Jewish couple and ended up killing the man by pushing the tip of his umbrella through one of his eyes. The East End code of silence prevailed and ‘no one saw nuffink’ and Wallis had to be released from police custody through lack of evidence. Accompanied by his cheering supporters he returned to the Blind Beggar a hero.
SO. What did X Factor winner Sam ‘ScrewBo’ Bailey do next? A Hollywood biopic? A number one album? A chair on Loose Women?
ARTHUR C. Clarke once wrote that “two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe, or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.”
In terms of television programming, however, the idea of alien life existing in the universe has far and away proven the more dramatic and oft-depicted “terror.”
AS hard as it may be to imagine that the dark and intense meth maker of Breaking Bad was once a teen heartthrob, it’s true. In the mid-1980s Bryan Cranston was a dreamboat for teenage girls. So, when I came across the March 1985 issue of Teen Talk magazine, I couldn’t help but share his wonderfully cheesy pictorial. In light of the hardcore image Cranston acquired from Breaking Bad, it’s all the more humorous to see him described as an affable Prince Charming.
The issue also featured the likes of Duran Duran, Ralph Macchio, Prince, and Menudo. Poor Cranston didn’t have enough celeb status to get a mention on the cover. But the future Heisenberg did warrant a two page spread entitled “Bryan Cranston: He’s a Good Sport”. The article begins:
If you’re a fan of ABC-TV’s “Loving” you’ve probably fallen in love yourself – with actor Bryan Cranston. His character, drama professor Doug Donovan, is the resident good guy: sensitive, vulnerable and more than a little good-looking. So when Bryan recently called TEEN TALK and invited us to join him in his work out in Manhattan’s Central Park, we jumped at the chance.
The article continues:
To our delight, we discovered that the real-life Bryan is every bit as nice as Doug, and he’s a great athlete, too. “Growing up, I always wanted to be a baseball star,” he told us. In high school, he played baseball, football and tennis. Now acting is his major passion, but as you can see, he spends plenty of time keeping in shape. “I take an hour-long aerobics class that I really enjoy, “he says. (So do all the girls in his class!) “I also love to play sports.”
Last spring, Bryan organized a soap star football game – “Loving” vs. “All My Children.” “It was fun,” he jokes, “but unfortunately, ‘All My Children’ cheated, so they beat us!” Bryan’s next project is organizing a soap star baseball game, with good guys pitted against bad guys. “I’d like it to be for the public,” he says.
We can’t wait for the game, but meantime, these exclusive pictures of our day with Bryan should score high with you.
And so ends this lovely bit of journalism. I never knew Cranston was such an all-around athlete. One minute he’s jumping rope (“Bryan’s got such great legs!”), the next he’s juggling, and the next he’s creating the purest methamphetamine on the planet…. well, that last part comes later.
Hey, actors have got to start somewhere. It’s not uncommon for actors to rise up through the ranks, starting in soap operas and ending up critically acclaimed superstars. However, there’s just something particularly amusing about seeing Walter White as a young buck, hamming it up for a teen magazine.
MARK Driscoll is a Christian preacher at Seattle’s Mars Hill Church. He is billed on the megachurch’s website as a “Preaching and Vision Pastor”.
Pastor Mark Driscoll is the founding pastor of Mars Hill Church—based in Seattle, Washington—and one of the most popular preachers in the world today. In 2010, Preaching magazine named him one of the 25 most influential pastors of the past 25 years…
Pastor Mark is the author of over 15 books, and has also written for CNN and The Washington Post, and been featured as a columnist for The Seattle Times.
He values media. And:
Most importantly, Pastor Mark is a husband to Grace and a father to the “fab five” Driscoll kids. He’s grateful to be a nobody trying to tell everybody about Somebody.
BELIEVE it or not, it was a hard sell in the early 1980s to convince people to buy a computer for the home. The contraptions were insanely expensive, and they simply couldn’t do a whole lot. Something as simple as filing recipes was a tall order for an ’82 PC. Of course, we were happy with terrible graphics because we knew nothing better – yet, as enticing as having Pong in the living room did sound, the expense was simply out of the ballpark for most families.
Subsequently, it was time for advertisers to play hard ball. No longer were they selling you something that would be a nice asset to your home office or entertainment center. Those days were over. Now, it was being sold as a piece of equipment that was quite literally going to gob smack your very soul. This wasn’t a simple piece of hardware like a microwave – this was a trans-dimensional gift from the gods, and you will never – I repeat, NEVER – be the same.
The tactic worked, and the masses lined up to splurge their life savings on computers and games. Here are some of the images and adverts during the height of the digital penetration….
Behold the Answer to All Our Prayers. It’s reminiscent of the apes surrounding the 2001: A Space Odyssey obelisk. And notice the Holy Aura surrounding this gift from the Heavens. Never mind the fact that they haven’t figured out yet that it’s facing the wrong way. No matter. Timmy’s college fund was well spent.
IN 1975, Mel Brooks appeared on Imperial College’s TV station Stoic to talk about his 1975 films Blazing Saddles andYoung Frankenstein. He sat opposite Mark Caldwell. He offers the insight that cowboys “do not make love to women in Westerns”:
“People say I am in questionable taste, you know what I mean? Well, I must tell you that I used the utmost discretion [and] I did not tell the whole truth about the Western, because they do not make love to women, you know that. They are very straight, very Christian and very with it, you know. They do make love to their horses. They do, they do. They don’t marry them, there is no formal ceremony, but they go off somewhere in the night with their horses.”
Colin Grimshaw writes on this video:
You can see that I have left the original countdown clock at the front because he couldn’t resist being funny even before we had started to record.
WE’VE heard enough about The Avengers, it’s time for another group of superheroes to get some recognition. The Legion of Regrettable Comic Book Superheroes is a motley group consisting of the lamest and oddest heroes ever put to print. You can keep your Iron Man and Captain America; I like my heroes with a touch of stupidity. So, bring on Aqua Melvin, Matter Eater Lad, and the rest of the gang – The Legion of Regrettable Comic Book Superheroes has come to save the day! (or embarrass themselves trying.)
Origin: Adventure Comics #242 – Nov. 1957
Aquaman responds to a distress call from a ship and discovers an unconscious Vaudeville clown onboard. If that wasn’t strange enough, the only way to save him is for Aquaman to give him a blood transfusion. Naturally, this imbues him with Aquaman’s powers for 24 hours and insanity ensues.
Failed political photo-ops
DAVID Cameron is facing ridicule once again. His latest gaffe was to tweet a picture of himself looking serious and statesmanlike while having a serious statesmanlike phone call with Barak Obama. The problem, aside from the typically patronising pomposity of the gesture, was that he looked singularly un-statesmanlike. In fact, he resembled nothing do much as a perplexed pudding.
Of course, he has plenty of competition in the failed phot-op stakes.
Here’s George Osborne, Chancellor and Chelsea fan, in ‘man of the people’ pose, manfully working late while snacking on a burger and fries. His tweet backfired when said burger was identified as coming from posh nosh joint Byron.
Oh, hello! Talking of burgers…
Hey presto – instant ridicule. What a Gummer.
But frankfurters are even more risky. Republican Presidential nominee Michele Bachmann has been dubbed Palin 2.0 thanks to her numerous factual and logical gaffes. On this occasion, however, she was guilty of nothing more than innocent naivety, and chomped on a corn dog in full view of the press without considering the consequences.
Best to stick with a beer. In Nigel Farrage’s case almost literally so, as he clings to his pint prop as tenaciously as Tony Blair clung to his ubiquitous ‘ordinary guy’ coffee mug. Asked about it, he replied: ‘I’ll tell you something. I work an 18 hour day most days and I think I’m entitled at lunchtime to a pint.’
William Hague famously claimed to have regularly drunk 14 pints a day as a schoolboy, and he wasn’t averse to being pictured pint-pot in hand. But his most risible moment was this fashion faux pas which was intended to make him look cool, but didn’t.
Even without the banana, David Miliband achieves the extraordinary feat of making his brother look normal.
But what the hell – normal’s overrated, right? Just ask Francois Hollande. Actually don’t ask him, as he appears to be a bit sensitive about it. In fact, two French press agencies even took the unusual step of withdrawing this unflattering portrait of the French president.
Ask former US Congressman Chris Lee instead. Or better still, just admire this picture of himself that he utilised in the services of his reply to a sex ad on Craigslist.
Of course anyone can have an off-day. But for one man, it happened to be Groundhog Day.
In the end, you just have to laugh along and rise above it.
THE problem with songs about food is that, well, they’re never really about food. Tasty as brown sugar is, the Stones weren’t really singing about sucrose. And when Robert Plant sings “Your custard pie, yeah, sweet and nice. When you cut it, mama, save me a slice” he’s not talking about pastries. You might say it’s a time honored tradition for rock and pop musicians to use food as symbols of sex and drugs.
We certainly can’t go through them all, so let’s narrow it down and focus just on songs with fruit in the title. Here’s a playlist that not only is interesting and fun, but also rich in Vitamin C.
1. “Apples and Oranges” by Pink Floyd
The setting is the produce section at the grocery store; however, apples and oranges are also an allusion to the differences between Syd and a girl he sees there (who, according to Syd himself, he’d been stalking for hours).
In this video, Floyd makes an appearance on American Bandstand. Syd looks absolutely stoned out of his mind, and you can tell the cameraman takes care to avoid him as much as possible.
2. “I Am a Tangerine” by Tommy James and the Shondells
Tommy has admitted that he was hopelessly wasted when he wrote this song, and that it makes no sense whatsoever. Don’t go reading clever allusions and metaphors into this one, folks. When Tommy screams “Hello Banana”, he was genuinely introducing himself to a piece of fruit.
3. “Peaches’ by The Stranglers
“Peaches” is a simple song about walking up and down the beach staring at the ladies. However, the fruit acquired a gynecological connotation by the line:
“Will you just take a look over there. Is she tryin’ to get outta that clitares?
“Clitares” being a French word for bathing suit, and I’m sure The Stranglers were well aware of how the word would get misinterpreted. Clever bastards.
4. “Tangerine” by Led Zeppelin
Led Zep were no strangers to fruity music – let’s not forget “The Lemon Song”. Page wrote this one during his Yardbirds days, purportedly about singer-songwriter Jackie DeShannon. The false start at the beginning begat an interesting urban legend – that the intro was the remnant of the “the greatest song ever recorded” but the tape was destroyed, and both Plant and Page couldn’t remember how it went. This snippet at the beginning (not in the video above) is all that remains.
It’s total bulls**t, but nonetheless it’s an urban legend that should be fostered and encouraged. Of course, when it comes to fruit-centered urban legends, nothing will compare to the “Cranberry Sauce/I Buried Paul” conspiracy.
5. “Raspberry Beret” by Prince
Theories abound regarding the meaning of this song. Many feel it’s just a simple story about a young nobody who becomes captivated by a woman who enters the store where he works. Prince was under fire from Tipper Gore over his racy lyrics for “Darling Nikki”, so he wanted to tone things down a bit. But the fact that the store is owned by “Old Man Johnson” belies a dirty subtext. After all, this is the same guy that brought you “Soft and Wet” and “Cream”.
So, what does it mean? Some think the “raspberry beret” refers to an uncircumcised penis. Others say it’s menstrual blood. I say this is may be best left unanswered.
6. “Blackberry Way” by The Move
Very much in the vein of “Penny Lane”; sort of a downbeat answer to the peppy McCartney classic. Personally, I cannot get past the “ooh-wah” bridge (at about the 1:45 mark in the video) which is lifted directly from Harry Nilsson’s “Good Old Desk”. It’s stolen so exactly, the song is ruined for me.
7. “Cherry, Cherry” by Neil Diamond
Speaking of plagiarism, “What I Like About You” by the Romantics features a guitar riff pretty damn similar to Diamond’s “Cherry, Cherry”. Of course, there’s always some borrowing and cross-pollination in pop music. In fact, you could argue “Cherry, Cherry” owes some of its melody to “Dirty Water” by The Standells.
Whatever its roots, I’m inclined to agree with Rolling Stone in calling this one of the greatest three-chord songs of all time. You’ll notice no horns or drums; that’s because this hit was actually a demo version. Adding drums, horns and other polish detracted from the energy, so they kept the original.
8. “Dear Delilah” by Grapefruit
I could have ended this playlist on top with “Strawberry Fields”, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” or “Blueberry Hill”. Instead, I’ll invalidate the entire premise of this article and offer up a song without any fruit at all in its title. The band’s name is certainly fruity enough, though. Grapefruit was of the hallowed 60s tradition of bands naming themselves after fruit (ex. Moby Grape, The Lemon Pipers, Strawberry Alarm Clock… not to mention Apple Records). In Grapefruit’s case, John Lennon actually named them after Yoko’s awful 1964 book.
Grapefruit’s singer is a member of the amazing Young family – the same clan that spawned AC/DC (Malcolm and Angus Young) and The Easybeats (George Young). Grapefruit had the full support of The Beatles, but couldn’t achieve the success they no doubt expected.
You might say that everything was going peachy keen at Apple, but they wanted to be top banana, and ended up with sour grapes.
(insert sounds of crickets chirping)
Sorry. A fruit pun was bound to happen at some point. My sincere apologies.
ANORAK’s new distraction is the Tumblr Casting Call Woe:
REAL CASTING CALLS FROM REAL CASTING WEBSITES BROUGHT TO BY THe EGLE-EYEDE @PRORESTING
Ready for your close up? Here goes:
BEAVIS and Butt-head are two boys so stupid they once forgot how to wee, who treat dog bites by pouring sports drinks into them, and who believe it’s possible to get yourself pregnant. They’re the best. Mike Judge’s sniggering fartknockers are easily dismissed, but they rule hard. Huh huh. We said “hard”.
THEY COULD DESTROY A BAND
1980s glam-rock also-rans Winger were frequently the butt of jokes on Beavis & Butt-head – the boys’ weenie neighbour Stewart wore a Winger shirt, and they described the band as “wussies”. Apparently this all came from when Mike Judge heard that frontman Kip Winger had insisted that MTV not let Beavis and Butt-head mock his band – Judge got annoyed and made fun of them loads. Winger ended up blaming the band’s break-up on the cartoon, but it turned out he’d actually been misquoted the whole time. Sore.
THEY CHANGED THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE
As well as beautiful catchphrases like “I need TP for my bunghole” and “I have seen the top of the mountain, and it is good”, Beavis and Butt-head gave the world insults like dillhole, assmunch, buttmunch, ass-goblin, asswipe, dickweed, dillweed, fartknocker, turd-burglar, pecker-butt, bunghole and chode-smoker.
THEIR MUSIC REVIEWS WERE SPOT-ON
On Vanilla Ice: “They’re always putting this guy down and making fun of him and saying he sucks and stuff. But you know, he really does suck, and this is one of those times where everybody’s right.”
On Radiohead: “Sometimes, if I have a boner that won’t go down, I listen to this type of music”.
On Type O Negative: “I think they’re a cross between Megadeth and my butt. I mean that as a compliment. My butt rules.”
On Scatman John: “They should have a name for this type of music.” “They already do have a name for this type of music, Beavis – it’s called crap.”
THEY MADE PEOPLE PROUD TO SUCK
After featuring a video by heavy metal band Grim Reaper, Judge ran into several of the members backstage at an Anthrax concert. “I thought I was gonna get my ass kicked,” says Judge, “But he said ‘I love your show. You trashed my video, but wait til you see the next one – it sucks even more’”.
THEY COULD MAKE A BAND HUGE
White Zombie were releasing their song Thunder Kiss ’65 for the third time, and not making a huge impact with it, when Beavis and Butt-head discovered it and decided it ruled. “Beavis and Butt-head thought Thunder Kiss ‘65 was cool and played it a lot” said White Zombie bassist Sean Yseult. “I hate to say we owe a lot to two cartoon characters, but we really do. That show was really cool. Everything that Beavis and Butt-head liked, I liked too so it was cool. It was kinda cool to be in company with the things they approved of.” They also championed the hell out of Gwar (who are THE BEST), and had Snoop Dogg (back when he was Snoop Doggy Dogg) on the show a bunch of times.
THEY PAVED THE WAY FOR SOUTH PARK
Until Beavis and Butt-head came along, animation for adults consisted of The Simpsons and bugger-all else. Matt Stone and Trey Parker had started making rudimentary cartoons by the time Beavis and Butt-head was broadcast, but there’s no way they’d have ended up with a prime-time slot on a mainstream channel without Judge’s show. When South Park blew up, Mike Judge got in touch with Stone and Parker to warn them that success brings a backlash with it. Parker told Playboy in 2000 “He said, ‘There’s going to be this big rise, and then everyone will hate you. You just ride it out and do your job, you’re just a show.’” He also gave them the advice “Don’t let people take advantage of you, because they’re dumb.” Judge voiced Kenny for his sole unmuffled line in the South Park movie, Bigger, Longer & Uncut.
MIKE JUDGE DID IT PROPERLY DIY
“I always wanted to do animation – I did flip books as a kid” Mike told an interviewer in 1996. “But I always thought you needed all the equipment and the money for film and all the sound equipment. I thought, maybe if I’m rich someday. Then an animation festival came to town, and I saw the cels in the lobby and realized a local guy actually did it. So I figured out ways to make films with a $300 camera. I did the lipsynch tracking with a stopwatch and a four-track cassette recorder, and did the music as one piece.”
WITHOUT THEM THERE’D BE NO OFFICE SPACE OR IDIOCRACY
After finishing Beavis and Butt-head’s first run, Judge wrote and directed box-office-flops-turned-cult-hits-on-DVD Office Space and Idiocracy (as well as Extract, which to be fair is a bit rubbish). Office Space is possibly the best movie about work ever made, while Idiocracy manages to combine really intelligent satire with a lot of people getting hit in the nuts. The dad from Everybody Hates Chris plays the future US President in it, and he’s completely amazing. He’s a wrestler who keeps grabbing his crotch.
This is the trailer for Judge’s new show, Silicon Valley. Does it look good? Yes, it does, it looks really really good.
THEY KNEW HOW TO TURN A CUSS INTO A GAG
When Senator Ernest Hollings, who had never watched an episode, badmouthed the show during an interview, he mispronounced it as “Buffcoat and Beaver” (which is incredibly weird, and sounds really rude, and suggests Senator Ernest Hollings has a dirty mind). This immediately became a running joke, with almost every adult that the boys encountered pronouncing their names differently (“Travis and Bob-head”, “Crevis and Bung-head” etc).
MIKE JUDGE HAD A BAD TIME
This isn’t really a thing to celebrate, but he’s not having a bad time anymore, so that’s something. When a five-year-old set fire to his family’s trailer, killing his two-year-old sister, his parents claimed he’d been influenced by Beavis and Butt-head’s obsession with fire (he hadn’t been – the family didn’t have cable TV). The ensuing controversy led to Judge being banned from having Beavis say the word “fire”, which he hated because it implied some responsibility for the incident on the part of the show. He also had a pretty rubbish deal with MTV, with one director later recalling “MTV robbed that guy, he got nothing”. When the show returned in 2011 though, Judge was in more of a position of power, and the full title of the show was Mike Judge’s Beavis And Butt-Head. Dude did good.
THEY SPAWNED DARIA AND KING OF THE HILL
Beavis and Butt-head’s monotonal classmate Daria ended up getting her own spin-off series, which was awesomely 90s and beautifully observed (plus several of the characters in it were weirdly alluring). Mike Judge also morphed Beavis and Butt-Head’s neighbour Tom Anderson into Hank Hill, lead character of King Of The Hill, which ran for thirteen seasons, won tons of awards and was ace. Judge also created The Goode Family a few years ago, about a family of politically-correct liberals, which was sort of rubbish so let’s not dwell on it.
THEIR ANIMATION SUCKED BUT RULED AND THEN RULED WHILE STILL SUCKING
The animation in the first series of Beavis and Butt-Head was properly rudimentary – it was hand-drawn, rushed, and the character models took a while to be properly solidified (a bit like the way early Simpsons episodes look like they were drawn in real-time). When the show came back in 2011 they had full HD, really lovely-looking animation, but for the bits where they were commenting on music videos, they re-used the rubbish old animation. Christ knows why, but hey, recycling’s a positive thing, right? The poor animation was also a source of inspiration to Matt Stone and Trey Parker, who applied the same DIY aesthetic to their cut-out construction-paper films.
MIKE JUDGE IS A LOVELY DUDE
A lot of people that work in telly are vicious sods, but Mike Judge seems to not have a bad word to say about anyone. Describing Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s Team America script, he said “I’ve never laughed out loud as much reading anything”, he’s described Family Guy as “great”, Simpsons creator Matt Groening as having “started it all”, and equates old Road Runner cartoons with the moon landing. He also put together a touring festival, The Animation Show, designed to showcase work by lesser-known artists. What a nice dude. Plus he’s friends with Johnny Knoxville, and that guy seems to have pretty good taste.
THEY CAN HELP BROKE-ASS ARTISTS BY LAUGHING AT THEM
In one episode of the 2011 season, Beavis and Butt-head comment on a video called It’s So Cold In The D by T-Baby. T-Baby is broke as hell – she’s not got a record contract or anything, and her song was just a no-budget YouTube video that people thought was funny. She got US$4,000 to let her video be used on Beavis and Butt-head, and will get another $4,000 every year that the show’s repeated. She told TMZ “People have been making fun of me my whole life, so Beavis and Butt-head laughing at me is no big deal – I’m laughin’ all the way to the bank. It’s been the biggest kickoff to my career.”
THE mid-century palette was vastly different than it is today. Much of what we find advertised in vintage cookbooks and magazines seems nauseating by today’s standards. I’m sure the same will be true of our current tastes when viewed fifty years from now. This gastronomic sea change certainly makes for an interesting browse through recipes and food adverts from yesteryear. Here are a few exceptionally foul examples.
MEALS IN A MOLD
As a general rule of thumb, I prefer my meats not to be suspended in a freakish mold of gelatin and psuedo-mayonnaise. But I’m funny that way. However, I will say the pimiento used for the fish eye is a stroke of brilliance.
BIOPICS are problematic at the best of times, but get it right and you can cement a person’s place in history forever. Especially tricky are rock biopics because, half the time, the person or people they celebrate, are still alive. Or at least, they were around not that long and you can remember if they were horrible or not.
However, some rock films are better than the actual careers of the artist they pay tribute to.
Have you seen The Doors film? That’s a daft romp through 60s fluff and nonsense with some hilarious mystical sequences and leather trousers. 10,000% better than actually having to sit down and listen to anything The Doors ever committed to record. We can whip the horses eyes? C’mon! You’d much rather see one of Meg Ryan’s boobs and laugh at Billy Idol in a hippie wig!
With a biopic of Jimi Hendrix due to drop any minute now, played by Andre 3000 from Outkast, it seems like a perfect time to look at some of the finer performances in the oeuvre.
Let us start with the newest and most exciting biopic in a while. ‘All is By My Side’ features Andre Benjamin as the late Hendrix. We knew he was a man who could pull off Hendrix’s wild attire, but the footage doing the rounds shows that Benjamin is more than adept at doing an impression of Jimi. Have a look.
GUY Burgess woke at around 9.30 on the morning of Friday, 25 May 1951 in his untidy, musty-smelling bedroom. Next to his bed was an overflowing ashtray and lying on the floor was a half-read Jane Austen novel. Since his return from Washington DC three weeks previously, where he had been second secretary at the British embassy, he had been rising relatively late.
IN the disco era there began a phenomenon of immense historical insignificance: the emergence of all female musical trios. Sure, there had been The Supremes, and there were various disco/soul trios that genuinely kicked ass (etc. The Three Degrees, Labelle), but these bands were different. This new breed was basically talentless, and exuded an overt sexuality (i.e. they couldn’t sing, but at least they were hot). Every song in their entire catalog (with 0.00 exceptions) was about sex, and every performance and music video operated unflinchingly to the “sex sells” approach.
The trend extended into the 1980s, paving the way for groups like Destiny’s Child (who were less one-dimensional). Largely forgotten in the annals of pop history, all that remains are the vinyl relics which I hereby dub “Three Chick Discs”. Here are a few examples
“Make Love Whenever You Can” by Arabesque
Make love: Do it today, don’t wait until tomorrow
Make love: The only way to wipe away your sorrow, love
ALTHOUGH Alfonso Cuaron’s blockbuster film Gravity (2013) earned a whopping seven Academy Awards last Sunday night, one crucial supporting player didn’t pick up the Honorary Oscar it so clearly deserved: NASA’s space shuttle.
For thirty-five years now, this durable “space truck” — known officially as the “Space Transportation System” — has appeared in many space movies of the contemporary or realistic variety.
THERE are a lot of people who will go on and on and on about the amazing theme songs of ’80s and ’90s cartoons. While they have a point (who can resist the Willie Fogg theme or indeed, M.A.S.K. and Thundercats?), they pale in comparison to those cartoons brave enough to get a full orchestra on the go.
From the birth of music and animations, right up to the ’60s, studios – notably those brilliant people at Warner Brothers and Disney – created some of the most brain-popping and often side-splitting moments of music ever committed to a TV or cinema screen.
While Disney were the kings of the big, soaraway song or killer ditty, Looney Tunes were the undisputed champs of chaotic, inventive and playful classical and jazz.
Between them, both camps created so much iconic music that it defies belief. However, much of it is sorely, sorely undervalued. So here, let us praise the dazzling and daft songs that will forever light up your life.
Let us begin with the beginning. From the opening bottlenecked guitar to the galloping brass, the opening credits of any Merry Melody or Looney Tunes cartoon, this piece of music is immediate sunshine. Vitamins for your soul. Let’s not forget Mel Blanc’s contribution with his machine gun, rat-a-tat Porky Pig stutter of “that’s all folks!” for the outro music too.
The Wonderful Fotoplayer
As chaotic as the music itself is the instruments invented to keep up with old animations. Watch one of these brilliantly bizarre contraptions being played and imagine the scene it dictates.
For the nerds among you, here’s a breakdown of the Fotoplayer. Yes. We all want one now.
It is easy to ignore the complexity and deftness of the music behind a cartoon, because you’re too busy laughing at someone’s teeth shattering in the mouth after they’ve been hit full in the face with a frying pan, or you’re rolling around laughing an anvil turning someone’s body into a concertina. However, at the 2013 Proms, everyone got to see how furiously busy the musicians had to be to keep up with the score. Better yet, as this video shows, the much forgotten percussion section really gets to shine. Observe as they throw plated into a bin and chase each other off-stage. Absolutely incredible.
We all know that classic music is an absolute drag for the most part. However, Looney Tunes can make anything funny. Often, they would take a tedious opera and turn it inside out. Here, Bugs Bunny conducts and, wonderfully, all hell breaks loose.
Raymond Scott was a composer and experimental electronic music pioneer and his work ‘Powerhouse’ was a favourite of the animated short. You can read up on Scott’s genius here. Or, if you prefer, you can watch the video below, which shows off the use of the iconic ‘Powerhouse’, which you inevitably didn’t know the name of until now. You can here the music on its own, here.
No-one can write about music in cartoons without including the outstanding Cat Concerto featuring Tom & Jerry. Watch Tom play the right notes below.
The Sherman Brothers aren’t household names, but their tunes are. They wrote a fantastic amount of songs that we could all sing. Working for Disney, they wrote ‘A Spoonful Of Sugar’, the music from Bedknobs and Broomsticks’, ‘Lets Go Fly A Kite’, the Winnie The Pooh song and, the incredibly memorable ‘I Wanna Be Like You’. And more.
More recently, Danny Elfman’s theme for The Simpsons recalls those glorious golden days of animation. He got a full orchestra and created something grand, silly and complex and filled it with witty asides (the car horn and such), giving us perhaps the most memorable theme tune of a generation. Just perfect.
There are few shows that are as entwined with music, more than the Pink Panther. One look at the title character and your entire brain is flooded with Henry Mancini’s hip jazz. As the Pink Panther didn’t talk (well, he did, but the less said about that the better), the music became his language. The way he put a skip in his walk. The way he tried to style out calamitous accidents. The way he came out of that spin dryer looking like candyfloss. Everything is ticked with the beat of some of the most perfect music any TV show could hope for.
Feel free to add your own favourites in the comments. Everyone loves cartoon music!
ROBERT Ashley (1930-2014). The composer was 83.
Kyle Gann, who recently wrote a biography said of the Michigan-born composer, who in 1958 created the Cooperative Studio for Electronic Music , a pointer to his eperiments with audio synthesis.
“Bob was one of the most amazing composers of the 20th century, and the greatest genius of 20th-century opera. I don’t know how long it’s going to take the world to recognize that.”
Thanks to the internet, the past never goes away. You can hear some of Ashley’s work in full.
In 1997, he spoke to Furious:
PSF: How did you decide to make your works as all being operas?
In 1975, there were no operas in America. I was interested in opera and it seemed to me that the only possible theatre for contemporary opera would be television. So I started working towards a kind of television kind of opera. I started designed the work so that it would be usable on television. I think it’s still true.
PSF: How did you see television as an ideal medium for operas?
It’s contemporary. It’s new. Many more people watch television than go to opera houses. There aren’t any opera houses in the United States. The possibilities for contemporary opera are very small. I thought when I started, it looked more promising (to work with television). Now, in the last few years, television has become much more conversative. But I still think there’s going to be a marriage of television and some form of opera. It might not happen in my lifetime but I still think it’s inevitable. The whole idea of the opera house is so dated anyway. It’s such a nineteenth century idea. Because of that probably, there aren’t any to speak of (maybe 3 or 4). It doesn’t really allow the idea of opera to really grow. I thought if I could get television interested in opera, it would make a kind of new thing that would allow composers to build a whole new repertoire.
It was more promising fifteen or twenty years ago than it is now. The first opera I did, Music With Its Roots in Ether (1976), has been broadcasted a lot. The next one I did, Perfect Lives (1980), was produced by Channel 4 in Great Britian and was shown there for two years and then throughout Europe but only parts of it have been broadcast in the United States. Now in ’97, television is so conserative that it doesn’t look promising. But I think it’ll change back. I think it’ inevitable that there has to be some new genre in television. Television goes through these periods of incorporating new things. First there was live comedy then there were soap operas then there was news and now there’s a lot of television about sports. We went through a period of MTV with pop music videos too. Television always needs new materials and it’s just a matter of time until there’s the right audience for new work that’s not just pop music. When that happens, it’ll be a very good time for composers to do serious big, narrative pieces.
PSF: Why do think there has been resistance to this kind of idea in American television?
Because they’re stupid I guess. Opera on television in Europe is very important. If you think about it in the broadest sense: a lot of the dramas made in India with music are practically operas. They’re not sung but they have a very big appeal. I don’t know why American television people are so stupid but at the moment, they just seem to have some sort of a block. They just do what they do and they do it for a certain number of years. Then it wears out and they try something else. It’s just a matter of time I think.
Brian Robison, of Cornell University, has posted on YouTube 4 American Composers, directed by Peter Greenaway in New York in 1985.
Compared to Meredith Monk and Robert Ashley, John Cage and Philip Glass are household names, yet their relative fame frequently turns on the persistence of misconceptions. All too often, even scholars who might be expected to know better portray Cage as either charlatan or nihilist. Critics in the 1980s tagged Glass’s music as “classical music for people who don’t like classical music,” suggesting his shrewd exploitation of the yuppie market. Director Peter Greenaway and producer Revel Guest weave representative musical excerpts with interviews to present the personalities more accurately, and, in so doing, establishes a broader context for listening. Perhaps the most striking revelation of these documentaries is that such notorious iconoclasts are so soft-spoken in person (compared to the shy, halting Ashley, the loquacious Monk seems downright assertive).
Ashley’s TV opera Perfect Lives was reviewed by Frieze:
As living and breathing musicology in practice, Perfect Lives explores how storytelling creates music and – tangentially – how American social models grew in tandem with musical forms from Europe and Africa. Built into the very structures of how it was written and is performed – there is no definitive score, only the libretto, some diacritic and harmonic indications, and a set of intricate time signatures to follow – Perfect Lives is about the sociability of music. Ashley realized Perfect Lives over a period of years with a number of close collaborators. (‘I only work with geniuses,’ he says. ‘In the end it pays off.’5) In a documentary made by Peter Greenaway in 1983, as part of his ‘Four American Composers’ series, Ashley said he wanted to ‘allow the performers to make musical statements as unpremeditated as speech itself’.
Ashley spoke with Alex Waterman:
What distinguishes traditional opera from any other form of narrative—like religious dramas, for example—is that most operas have a political landscape. This is especially true in Italian and German opera. You get a version of a landscape that has political meaning. I thought about that when contemplating the architecture of the opera house and how it makes those landscapes possible. Of course, that architecture is not available to me, nor would I want it to be. But the landscape has to be there however the opera is presented.
In the best of circumstances, the architecture and the music–for the people—match. But what’s happened in the last 50 to 100 years is that the music has outgrown the architecture. The instruments are old, the ideas are old—everything’s so old; it’s boring, you know? There is no architecture to deal with what we’re talking about here. I thought, There’s got to be one. And it occurred to me that our architecture might be the imaginary space behind the surface of the television screen. In other words, when you watch TV, you see whatever you see, but behind that there’s an imaginary space and maybe that’s the place for the music of our time.
It’s interesting how you can manipulate landscapes with television so that they have meaning. It’s different from having a person singing here, in my living room, which is something of a landscape. If you go outside of the personality of this room, the landscape is all of a sudden dramatically political—it’s a visual demonstration of how things work for everybody. That’s what opera is about. You’re trying to put the story in an appropriate place so that when you see it you say, Oh, that’s what the story is about!…
The landscape in Perfect Lives starts as big as possible, in The Park, and it’s described quite precisely in political terms. And then it goes to The Supermarket, which is not totally indoors. Then you get the ride through the landscape with the lovers eloping and the bank robbers driving to Indiana in The Bank episode, where you are dealing with mixed outdoors and indoors. Next, you enter the most close-range landscape, in The Bar with Rodney and Buddy talking. Then you move out again to a bigger space in The Living Room, which has more imaginary space. At the beginning of that episode, the characters talk about the Sheriff’s Wife as if she were on the South Pole and the Earth were revolving around her.
It is relentless. And mesmeric.
I.The Park (Privacy Rules)
II. The Supermarket (Famous People)
III. The Bank (Victimless Crime)
IV. The Bar (Differences)
V. The Living Room (The Solutions)
VI. The Church (After the Fact)
VII. The Backyard (T’Be Continued)
7. The Backyard