King Kong, Hippie Empowerment And The Towers*

September 11, 2012

King%20Kong%201976%20poster%201
Happening across the movie King Kong on cable the other night, something occurred to me – it might have been the most influential movie of my childhood.

I’d seen the original version watching it on the late, late show when I slept over at a friend’s house in second grade. Not long after, the hype began for the remake.

It was nothing compared to the hullabaloo for some movies now – no cable, no internet – but it seemed to begin a year before and the scope and duration was something I’d never seen at the ripe old age of eight.

I vividly recall a poster in our small-town theater of Kong, astride the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center with a Santa Claus hat perched on his noggin’.

The tagline read “Guess who’s coming for Christmas?”

I knew that it would be months after the national release before it would arrive in our town. That poster should have shown him wearing a leprechaun’s hat and clutching a bottle of Guinness.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to learn a lesson in patience. My dad was kind enough to drive me and several friends into the city to see the movie during our Christmas break.

I did learn a lot of other things. I learned that oil company board rooms were populated by the ruthless, the kind of men who might twirl their moustaches as a train headed down tracks to which a distressed damsel was detained.

Of course, Charles Grodin as a petroleum executive had far more panache than the corporate officers I know. They burp up banalities like “sweet spot,” “drill down,” and “bring to bear.”

Grodin uttered things like “If that island doesn’t produce huge, I’ll be wiping windshields,” “Sweet Jesus! Dear Rockefeller!” and “It’s some nutty religion – a priest gets dressed up like an ape and gets laid.”

(you don’t get such rich fare in a business meeting)

The lush island scenery and the underlying message of the movie certainly made me receptive to an environmental consciousness in a way that a Native American crying over litter in a television commercial couldn’t.

As much as Christopher Cross, viewing King Kong likely fueled in me the desire to travel. I haven’t been to Indonesia – from where Grodin and company began their voyage – but I have been to Borneo and, in Malaysia, some friends and I scaled hundreds of steps, monkeys roaming about us, to reach some cave.

Jessica Lange was fetching enough as Dwan, but blondes have never held me as entranced as they apparently do most males of the species.

(although I have been known to be drawn to vacuous girls with unusual names and a flair for the dramatic, so she must have made some impression)

King Kong was also the first movie I think I ever saw with Jeff Bridges whom I’d argue might be the most underrated actor of his generation.

Not only was Bridges the dashing man of action in the flick, he was a hippie.

(of course, at eight, any guy with long hair was a hippie to me)

It was Bridges, as a long-haired paleontologist from Princeton, who taught me that a guy with long hair could grow up to be a paleontologist from Princeton, able to tangle with large apes and woo Jessica Lange.

Years later, in my twenties and en route to London, I first visited New York City and saw the Twin Towers.

I’ve seen some things in my time.

I’ve been to Bangkok.

There are few things that have left me as jaw-droopingly stupefied as standing in front of those buildings. For me, it inspired the same sense of wonder as seeing King Kong in the theater as a kid.

It was during the first few days of 1977 that I saw King Kong. I hadn’t discovered music, yet, but there was a lot of music on Billboard’s chart in early January of that year that would someday be quite familiar to me…

Elton John – Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word
from Blue Moves (1976)

I can’t claim to have intimate knowledge of Elton John’s entire catalog as it does encompass four decades. I do know his extensive string of hits and I own a number of the classic albums, though, and I’d have to choose the wistful Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word as my favorite of his ballads.

Boston – More Than A Feeling
from Boston (1976)

For some reason, even though it was apparently a hit in the winter months, I think of More Than A Feeling as a summer song. Although I’m not rabid about the song, it does conjure up a good vibe for me and I’ve never quite understood the venom reserved for Boston.

Also, I find it amusing that Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit echoes the song.

Manfred Mann’s Earth Band – Blinded By The Light
from The Roaring Silence (1976)

When I saw Blinded By The Light on the chart, I realized something – this song was likely my first exposure to Bruce Springsteen’s music.

10cc – The Things We Do For Love
from Deceptive Bends (1976)

Since Paloma and I started collecting vinyl a little over a year ago, we’ve snagged several 10cc albums and they’ve been a revelation of musicianship, craftsmanship and quirkiness.

The Things We Do For Love is a breezy and flawless pop song.

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Cue John Williams…

July 14, 2012

(upon reading of the death of movie mogul Richard Zanuck, it seems timely to dust off a three-post running diary of a viewing of Jaws – which Zanuck produced – that appeared here a couple years ago…)

Thirty-fiveThirty-seven years ago, almost to the week, Jaws was released. Had Paloma known of this milestone and, given my fascination with the film, she would have likely baked a cake for me.

I was seven when the movie became a national phenomenon and, the first time a commercial aired, my mom adamently declared that I wouldn’t be seeing it.

(my younger brother was the one that had been traumatized by some horror movie, yet I, too, was subject to this edict)

It undoubtedly would have wigged me out, but, knowing that I now can watch it any time I wish proves that living well is the best revenge.

The movie is one that I’ve often popped into the DVD player on hot, summer evenings to feel refreshed by the images of beaches and surf.

So, as my recent plea has gone unanswered and I know of no virgin to hurl into a volcano, it’s starting now…

0:39 The names Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, and Richard Dreyfuss appear on the screen. I tell myself to savor this moment as those names will be Keanu Reaves, Will Farrell, and one of those Disney kids when the inevitable remake arrives.

(here’s hoping December 21, 2012 arrives first)

3:02 If you go for a pre-dawn swim out to a buoy in the ocean, you have now put yourself square in the path of natural selection.

7:16 Just watching Brody cruise along the ocean on his morning drive to work is refreshing. I can almost feel the cool, clean air. This is merely one reason that this movie is infinitely watchable to me.

8:32 Skinny-dipping girl’s remains are found on the beach. I finally saw Jaws a year after it was in the theaters. It aired on CBS on a Sunday night and this scene inspired the popular joke with my second-grade friends which asked, “How do you know that girl had dandruff?”

The shark left her “head and shoulders.”

10:21 There’s something about an octogenerian wielding a bicycle tire, yammering about karate that makes Amity a place that I think I’d like to live.

12:13 The mayor is wearing a sports jacket adorned with a pattern of tiny anchors and is decidely pro-business.

(probably to be expected when you elect a mayor that wears a sports jacket adorned with a pattern of tiny anchors)

17:13 The Kintner kid goes down in a gusher of gore. Paloma walked into the room, simply said, “That’s a lot of blood,” and went back to bed.

20:45 And we have Quint – who was fixed in my second-grade brain as the image that would come to mind when hearing the phrase “crusty, old salt.”

24:30 My friend Rob always worked in our record store’s video department on Sunday nights where he would play Jaws repeatedly his entire shift. The scene with the two codgers fishing for the shark using a pot roast was always a favorite…

27:43 …but not as much as The Harbormaster. The Harbormaster wanders out of his harbormaster hut, smoking a pipe and carrying breakfast, sits down, and digs into a bowl of Corn Flakes.

(all for little apparent reason)

30:52 The regatta of idiots is on as fisherman from everywhere come to hunt the shark, including one dynamite-wielding fisherman that resembles Liam Gallagher.

34:33 Richard Dreyfuss sets the villagers straight – including one who looks like ex-football coach Bill Parcells – on the shark that they’ve caught. In a span of two years, Dreyfuss would battle a great white shark and chase aliens to the hinterlands of Wyoming in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.

This cat was more badass than Shaft.

43:26 After plying Scheider with a bottle of red, Dreyfuss and the Chief perform, to quote Mayor Tiny Anchor, a “half-assed autopsy” on the shark. I held my breath as a kid, expecting, like the mayor, “that Kintner boy to spill out onto the dock.”

He doesn’t.

And so, Brody, Hooper, and I head out for a nighttime cruise to search for the shark…

Had Hooper turned on the radio for a little mood music, here are four songs that were on Billboard ‘s chart during this week in 1975

Michael Murphey – Wildfire
from Blue Sky – Night Thunder (1975)

I wasn’t listening to music in 1975 aside from what I’d hear on the radio in the car, but I do remember hearing Wildfire. How could I not?

Before the first chorus, a young girl is dead and “the pony she called Wildfire” is lost in a blizzard.

Oh, the carnage.

Between hearing this song and seeing Old Yeller, would my parents letting me see a movie about a killer great white shark really been that traumatic?

Pilot – Magic
from Have A Nice Decade: The ’70s Pop Culture Box (1998)

I don’t remember hearing Magic back in the day, but I do recall that it seemed to pop up on every K-Tel Records compilation that I’d see advertised on television before that label went bust.

Written by one-time Bay City Roller David Paton, the perky song – which is easy to imagine blaring from transistor radios on the beaches of Amity – was produced by Alan Parsons.

(years later, Paton would provide vocals on a number of songs by the Alan Parsons Project as well as playing bass)

Ace – How Long?
from Sounds Of The Seventies: 1975 (1990)

I must have heard this song during the summer of ’75 as I hear it and immediately associate it with summer. It’s a classic pop song and its laid-back melody and Paul Carrack’s soulful vocal performance is perfectly suited for lazy summer days.

And knowing that the song is actually about a band member who was secretly performing with other groups and not about a romantic relationship gone sour makes the song a bit more lighthearted.

10cc – I’m Not In Love
from Have A Nice Decade: The ’70s Pop Culture Box (1998)

Over at Echoes In The Wind, one of our favorite reads, they’ve been compiling the selections for their Ultimate Jukebox. If I were to do the same, I suspect that I’m Not In Love would be a strong contender to make the cut.

Dreamy and lush, it’s a beautiful song that’s also borderline creepy, a vibe which The Police would successfully conjure up not quite a decade later with Every Breathe You Take.


“I Don’t Want To Make Money, Folks…I Just Love To Sell Guns”*

March 1, 2012

Recently, Paloma and I caught a late-night showing of a movie called Equinox, a sci-fi flick from the early ’70s which has a cult following due to the fact that it began as a student film by Dennis Muren

(Muren would earn acclaim for his special effects work on numerous films, including the Star Wars series)

Equinox was a familiar feature from my childhood as it seemed to be shown every other week on WTTV’s Science Fiction Theater. Seeing it again also brought back vivid memories of a personal bogeyman spawned by consumerism run rampant…

…Don, erstwhile proprietor and namesake of Don’s Guns.

Don was a regional phenomenon, his advertising reach relegated to central Indiana where his lone storefront/armory was located. His budget allotment for marketing apparently only great enough to purchase face-time in the wee hours on an independent television station, but his leering mug made quite an impression as I have learned from fellow Hoosiers, few of whom seemed to have escaped seeing Don hawking his wares.

His commercials were like an ambush. One minute, I’d be sitting there, a nine-year old in pajamas, huddled under a blanket, watching Channel 4 only to have Don practically burst from the screen and into the living room. If Equinox or Night Of The Lepus wasn’t frightening enough, there was Don.

Don epitomized snake-oil salesman, approaching a level of smarm that would be the envy of any elected official and doing it so effortlessly.

Perhaps it was his resemblance to an extremely dodgy Kenny Rogers.

Possibly, it was the sheer, unadulterated glee with which he made his pitch.

Most likely it was the manner in which he closed every commercial – Don gazing maniacally from the screen, toothy grin flashing as he delivered his mantra, “I don’t want to make money, folks. I just love to sell guns.”

(this clip is of more recent vintage)

And then he’d be gone.

DeForest Kelly would return – battling the bunnies in Night Of The Lepus – but somehow it lacked the punch to follow-up the spectacle of Don.

And where is Don now?

Googling him, my computer screen was filled with results, most of which sullied my fond memories of Don as many alluded to numerous alleged improprieties involving his business. One item feted him as “the nation’s sixth-worst dealer” based on the number of firearms sold that were used in criminal activity.

And all the daffy bastard wanted to do was sell guns.

Thirty-five years ago, I was a third-grader and far more interested in late-night horror flicks than music. And I was certainly already well acquainted with Don and steeling myself for him popping up onscreen.

(I’m not sure if Don listened to music or not)

Here are four songs that were on Billboard magazine’s Hot 100 this week in 1977…

ABBA – Dancing Queen
from Thank You For The Music (1994)

I stumbled upon an unopened copy of ABBA’s four-disc box set for six dollars and couldn’t pass it up. Not that I really need that much ABBA.

(few people do other than a buddy who was fanatical about the band long before revisionism and a hit Broadway show made such adoration socially acceptable)

I enjoy the hits from the bell-bottomed, sequined Swedes more dispassionately, but I’d have to offer up S.O.S., The Winner Takes It All, and Dancing Queen as transcendent.

Eagles – New Kid In Town
from Eagles Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 (1982)

My relationship with the Eagles is complicated, but even with little interest in music in 1977, I was familiar with the group. The radio station in our small town was light rock with a bit of pop-leaning country thrown in and the wistful New Kid In Town was a perfect fit.

10cc- The Things We Do For Love
from Super Hits Of The ’70s: Have A Nice Day, Volume 19 (1993)

I know little more of 10cc’s catalog other than a handful or so of songs, but those I do know have impressed me with their musicianship, craftsmanship and quirkiness.

The Things We Do For Love is a breezy and flawless pop song.

Steve Miller Band – Fly Like An Eagle
from Greatest Hits 1974–78 (1978)

I seem to recall hearing Fly Like An Eagle constantly blaring from radios at the pool during the summer of ’77. It struck me as a bit strange and unsettling.

The song still has a trippy vibe though it’s no longer strange and/or unsettling, but I’d have to think the stoners of 1977 were digging the song’s groove.