The End?

November 28, 2012

As a kid in the ’70s and a teenager in the ’80s, I lived in that world of limited entertainment options unfathomable now.

Our small town in the hinterlands had an old movie theater and the movies of the day usually made it to the screen, but it might take a month or two.

Most of the movies that I watched were ones that I’d catch on one of our half-dozen television channels late at night or on Saturday afternoons. These were often flicks from the ’50s and ’60s and, at the conclusion of the movie, “The End” appeared on the screen.

The message might be in a block-like font or perhaps some more sweeping script.

If it was science-fiction or horror flick the notification might be accompanied by a question mark.

(of course, depending on the hour, I might have missed that exit sign, waking to a television full of snow)

At some point over the recent holiday, I watched some old movie – it might have been something on Mystery Science Theater 3000- and, at its conclusion, “The End” appeared on the screen.

Movies no longer end with “The End.” It’s straight to the credits.

(and, if you’re watching a flick on ‘TBS, the credits scroll by in a dizzying, time-compressed fashion in a fraction of the screen as the announcer is queuing up the next film – it’s like they’re rushing an unwanted house guest out the door )

At some point, during my lifetime, filmmakers no longer felt the need to inform the audience that the movie was over.

But was such a message ever necessary? Did people simply sit in the theater, confused by the credits and unsure of what to do, not knowing whether or not the characters which they’d been watching would return?

So some innovative mind invented “The End” and, from that point on, there was no confusion.

And somewhere in the last few decades, we as a species have advanced enough that, when a movie ends, we no longer need to be told.

And that’s a small step forward on the evolutionary trail that we all should feel good about.

Here are four movie songs…

Elton John – I’ve Seen That Movie Too
from Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973)

Elton John produced a staggering amount of amazing music in the ’70s and his classic album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road has a little bit of everything that made him a superstar for the ages.

It’s not difficult to picture Elton playing the resigned I’ve Seen That Movie Too in some piano bar at an hour when the crowd has dwindled. Personally, I connect the song to Guns N’ Roses’ as Axl Rose has claimed Elton as an influence and “I’ve seen that movie, too” popped up as a line in the band’s You Could Be Mine.

The Auteurs – Underground Movies
from Now I’m A Cowboy (1994)

The Auteurs received kudos and even moderate success in their UK homeland but little notice in the States. It’s unfortunate as the quartet garnered comparisons to The Kinks and The Smiths for their literate pop.

Underground Movies is a lovely song with a light, baroque pop feel accented by cello.

The 6ths – Movies In My Head
from Wasps’ Nests (1995)

I snagged a copy of The 6ths’ debut as a promo when it came out in ’95. The album was a collection of songs written and performed by Stephen Merritt of The Magnetic Fields with an array of guests handling the vocals.

Movies In My Head is a perky bit of twee pop featuring Yo La Tengo founding member and percussionist Georgia Hubley who finds the visual vignettes showing widescreen in her head to be more interesting than a would-be suitors’ efforts to gain her attention.

Stan Ridgway – Beloved Movie Star
from Holiday in Dirt (2002)

You might not know the name, but, if you’re familiar with ’80s music, the adenoidal vocals of Stan Ridgway might be recognizable. A founding member of the band Wall Of Voodoo, he sang lead on a trio of albums including Call Of The West, which spawned the iconic Mexican Radio.

(and I still think Wall Of Voodoo is one of the coolest band names ever)

Following Call Of The West, Ridgway opted for a solo career. He’s never equaled the success of Mexican Radio, but he’s produced some engaging, offbeat music often with a strongly cinematic vibe such as the noirish Beloved Movie Star, a song about a faded film star which evokes both sympathy and amusement.

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The Remains Of The Day

November 24, 2012

Years ago, while studying in Singapore, a half-dozen of us took off to Thailand for a stretch.

During the last few days of the junket, several of us were verging on cashed, including me and my buddy Vince. To maximize our minimal funds and thus afford passage back to Singapore, we put into effect a plan to not eat before sunset each day.

(any similarities to an observance of Ramadan would have ended hours earlier at the pool’s bar)

We were at that bar late one afternoon, having a pint as the sun edged toward the horizon and anticipating grabbing some dinner. Several nights earlier our group had discovered a pizza place not far from the beach.

Babylon Pizza could have been located in the States. Open to the street, it was filled with wooden tables, checked tablecloths, and lots of brick. They served the only good pizza we had eaten in six months.

The impending feast caused the conversation between Vince and I to become about Thanksgiving. We sat at the bar, stomachs growling, ticking off the dishes that made the holiday a glorious one. One of us would describe an item in detail as the other nodded in agreement, struggling not to drool.

We reached the conclusion, though, that as wonderful as Thanksgiving might be, the best meal of the day was later, often after everyone had gone to bed and the house was still. It would then be into the kitchen to pile a plate high with leftovers from the fridge.

And, this year, I invoked that tradition. With Paloma and the animals slumbering, I shuffled out to the kitchen and prepared a late-night feast.

As I topped it all off with some gravy, I paused and raised the ladle in a toast to Vince before heading into the living room and settling in to watch Gonzaga and Clemson in some holiday hoops tournament.

It was the perfect ending to a lovely day.

Here are four songs by bands who had success as leftovers following the departure of well-known lead singers…

Genesis – Follow You, Follow Me
from …And Then There Were Three… (1978)

The first Top 40 hit for Genesis in the States, Follow You, Follow Me came after Peter Gabriel’s exit and the reduction of the band to a trio, an incarnation that would have considerable commercial success in the ensuing decade. I imagine it caused considerable angst for the long-time fans of the progressive act.

Follow You, Follow Me is a song that I’ve always adored. It’s mysterious, distinctive, and hypnotic.

Van Halen – Why Can’t This Be Love
from 5150 (1986)

Music fans can (have and will) argue about the quality of the Sammy Hagar-led version of Van Halen as opposed to the output of the band’s music when fronted by David Lee Roth, but there’s little denying that the band’s second act garnered them a more mainstream audience and sold a lot of albums.

The pulsating Why Can’t This Be Love served as Van Hagar’s introduction to the world when it hit radio in early 1986.

Marillion – Easter
from Seasons End (1989)

I actually grabbed a copy of Marillion’s Seasons End while on that trip to Thailand, completely unaware that lead singer Fish had left the progressive band until I read the liner notes.

Fish’s departure would have received little mention or been of much interest in the States where Marillion had little more than a cult following. I had only become aware of Marillion from the scant airplay of their song Kayleigh in 1985 and seeing the band open for Rush at the time.

With new lead singer Steve Hogarth, Marillion continued to have success in their native UK into the ’90s including having a hit with the lovely, elegiac Easter.

10,000 Maniacs – More Than This
from Love Among the Ruins (1997)

As a college student in the latter half of the ’80s, I was quite familiar with alternative folk rockers 10,0000 Maniacs who were darlings of the burgeoning college rock scene. Mainstream success eluded the band until issuing their MTV Unplugged set in 1993 and scoring a hit with a cover of the Patti Smith/Bruce Springsteen composition Because The Night.

When lead singer Natalie Merchant set out on a solo career, 10,000 Maniacs tagged Mary Ramsey, who had played violin and viola as well as adding backing vocals on MTV Unplugged, as their new vocalist.

As Merchant was selling millions with her solo debut Tigerlily, easily eclipsing the commercial fortunes of her former band, 10,000 Maniacs notched a second Top 40 hit in the States as Ramsey gave voice to the band’s version of Roxy Music’s More Than This.


Nothing Like The Threat Of Armageddon To Stoke An Appetite

November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving, like the once annual airing of The Wizard Of Oz used to be, is an event.

Yeah, some people make it out to be dysfunction junction (and for them, maybe it is), but getting to watch football all day on a day which usually would be spent slogging through work is a brilliant concept.

And, of course, it is a chance to feast.

It’s like being king for a day.

Bring me gravy! I shall gnaw on this turkey leg in a slovenly fashion as these superhumans on the television perform amazing feats for my amusement!

OK. It’s not necessarily that dramatic and, as the Lions always play on Thanksgiving Day, the feats are not always amazing in a good way.

(though I cannot imagine how empty a Thanksgiving without the Lions playing the early game would be – it would be like a Halloween without a visit from The Great Pumpkin)

One Thanksgiving was spent living in London, eating some take-out pizza in an ice-cold flat.

And, in a cruel twist, my favorite team was making a rare Thanksgiving Day appearance. They would lose, in overtime after a bizarre coin toss snafu to begin the extra period.

It was a game that would have been maddening to have watched and it was maddening to miss.

Thanksgiving hasn’t been brilliant every year, but that year – no food, no football, no heat – is really the lone one I recall as being truly miserable.

As a kid, our parents dragged us off to mass. I mean, you have the day off school and can sleep in and lounge on the couch; the last thing you want to be doing at an early hour is trudging off to church.

When I was fifteen, the priest decided to use his sermon to rattle off a laundry list of accidental nuclear exchanges between the US and USSR that had been narrowly avoided.

(this was 1983 and two months earlier there had been all of the hullaballoo surrounding the television movie The Day After)

I kept having images of an extra crispy bird and excessively dry stuffing.

It was a bit of a bummer.

It was also a year when my team had a Thanksgiving game and Detroit bottled them 45-3.

But, global tensions and football smackdowns aside, I have no doubt that the food was good.

Of course, as a kid in the ‘80s, we had a lot of music with somber themes alluding to the impending nuclear Armageddon. But a lot of those songs managed to be far from sinister. Some even managed to be deemed perky enough to sell Burgers.

Here are four Armageddon-themed songs from the ’80s…

Nena – 99 Luftballons
from Nena (1983)

Several of my friends and I were taking our second year of German in high school when Nena arrived. So, we understood that 99 Luftballoons was a song about red balloons sung by a chick named Nena who didn’t shave her armpits.

Then, when the English version arrived, we knew the full, terrifying truth.

Orchestral Manouevres In The Dark – Enola Gay
from The Best of OMD (1988)

Paloma turned me on to OMD. I knew their hits So In Love and If You Leave, but there was an entire body of work with which I was unfamiliar.

Anyhow, Enola Gay is a sprightly little number about the bombing of Hiroshima.

Alphaville – Forever Young
from Forever Young (1984)

Forever Young will always remind me of a good friend from college. Her boyfriend, whom she had dated for several years in high school, had been killed by a drunk driver and she’d tell me how she would sit for hours playing Forever Young repeatedly as a means of coping with his death.

Modern English – I Melt With You
from After The Snow (1982)

Modern English’s I Melt With You is about as quintessential ’80s as it gets and with good reason. I’m not sure if I’ve read that it’s about nuclear war or it’s my own particular take on the lyric. Sure, it seems to be a nothing more than an extremely melodic, joyously upbeat song of devotion, but there is the whole matter of stopping the world and melting with your beloved which could be interpreted as a more dire scenario.