Nothing Says Easter Like Ravenous, Rampaging Rabbits, Mushrooms And Extra Cheese

April 23, 2011

It’s Easter weekend and people all over the globe will, to paraphrase the late, great visionary Bill Hicks, commemorate the death and resurrection of their professed savior by telling children a giant bunny rabbit left chocolate eggs in the night.

Forget the hunt for pastel-colored eggs. the ceremonial carving of the spiral-cut, honeybaked ham, and religious observances. Several years ago, Paloma and I opted for a more unique way to do Easter – snagging a carryout pizza and watching Night Of The Lepus.

For those of you unfamiliar with this cinematic opus, Night Of The Lepus was born out of the nascent groundswell of environmental consciousness of the early ’70s, a movement that provided inspiration for a number of science fiction films at the time.

I must have been six or seven, when I first saw the movie, sitting in the dark of our living room, on the CBS Late Movie. As the credits appeared on the screen, I asked my dad, “What the @#$%& is a lepus?”

(actually, my vocabulary was less sodium-based at the time and it’s likely all I said was “huh?”)

But, despite my father’s surprising reply to my lepus query, I knew the CBS Late Movie to be a cornucopia of B-movies shown after the local news in the ’70s which often featured nature run amok.

And amok it runs in Night Of The Lepus in the form of rabbits the size of Volkswagens who have developed a taste for humans. Actually, they seemed disinclined to consume the terrified townsfolk, instead gnawing on them as though they were large, pale carrots.

Paloma and I had tentatively planned to make a tradition of a viewing of Night Of The Lepus on Easter, but, alas, one viewing of the film seems to have been enough for her.

So, this year, it’s Chinese take-out and Watership Down.

Night Of The Lepus was in theaters in 1972, so I must have seen the movie for the first time the following year. Here are four songs that were on the Billboard singles chart in late April of ’73…

Lou Reed – Walk On The Wild Side
from Transformer

How can a listener not get drawn into Lou Reed’s tawdry tale of life in the dirty city?

Is it possible to not hear Walk On The Wild Side and not have the colored girls singing “doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo” in your head for the rest of the day?

But, when I think of Lou Reed, I can’t help but remember a summer afternoon in 1986 when I was hanging out with my high school girlfriend, lounging in the den, watching MTV. Her great-grandmother, visiting from the Phillipines, was sitting there with us when the video for Reed’s No Money Down came on.

Great-grandmother had paid little attention to the television until, midway through the song, Reed began to claw at his face as he sang, tearing the skin off and revealing his skull as the old woman – now watching the proceedings for which she had no cultural frame of reference – freaked out.

War – The Cisco Kid
from The World Is A Ghetto

On the mental list which I keep of songs that I’d rather not hear ever again is War’s Low Rider. There’s just something about the song that is like a popcorn kernal caught between my molars.

But the south of the border groove of The Cisco Kid is always welcome.

Stevie Wonder – You Are The Sunshine Of My Life
from Song Review: Greatest Hits

Some love songs are dramatic.

Some love songs are gooey.

And then, there is the occasional love song that captures a feeling of contentment which I would offer as the most accurate vibe of the emotion. Well done, Mr. Wonder.

Roberta Flack – Killing Me Softly With His Song
from The Best Of Roberta Flack

Most of the music I was hearing in 1973 was courtesy of the car radio. So, there are hits from the time that I actually remember hearing and ones with which I would become familiar during the ensuing years as I grew older and music became a part of my life.

Roberta Flack’s Killing Me Softly With His Song is one of the former and, as it was one of the year’s biggest hits, I recall hearing it often. Though it would be toward the end of the decade when I truly became interested in music, there was something about the song that drew me in even in ’73.

Way Out West(ern)

February 23, 2011

I have vague memories of pestering my parents to allow me to stay up and watch Gunsmoke on Monday nights.

That long-running television Western was off the air before I reached grade school. I grew up in what was probably the first wave of kids for who Westerns weren’t an essential part of childhood.

And, instead of John Wayne, I think Clint Eastwood.

(in truth, I’ve never really watched a John Wayne movie of any kind)

Eastwood’s Unforgiven, The Outlaw Josie Wales, and High Plains Drifter, though, are all essential viewing for me as are his trio of Spaghetti Westerns with Sergio Leone.

I vividly recall one of those infrequent nights as a small kid when I inexplicably escaped being sent off to bed well before the late news aired.

The news had come and gone and, yet, there I was, sprawled on the floor with a pillow and a blanket, basking in the glow of late-night television.

I was seven, maybe eight and I knew little of this mysterious world.

My dad was still awake, stretched out in his chair, as up popped the logo for The CBS Late Movie on the television screen in all of its mid-’70s glory and there was For A Few Dollars More.

There we were, me and the old man, watching as Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef tracked the fugitive El Indio with steely-eyed resolve.

There was a crazy prospector, a hunchback, a little person, some odd sound effects, an unending hail of bullets, and Ennio Morricone’s musical brilliance. There were moments and scenes that were not unlike the cartoons I watched.

(except for the bullets and music)

The Old West in this flick bore little resemblence to the one which I’d seen on Sunday mornings when the only options on our handful of television stations was religious programming or an old Western in black and white.

Black and white?! I might as well have read a book.

This had grit and I could all but feel the heat shimmering from the desert plains. When Clint squinted into the glare of the sun on the horizon, so did I.

And sometime before Clint loaded up the pile of bodies into a cart to collect his bounties and Lee Van Cleef rode off alone, my dad explained to me the origin of the term Spaghetti Western.

Westerns named after my favorite meal…

The late-night world held wonders and the music of Ennio Morricone was the soundtrack.

The only Ennio Morricone I own are the soundtracks to Cinema Paradiso and The Mission – both of which are stellar – and a few other odd tracks.

So, here are a pair of songs from Ennio Morricone’s classic soundtrack to The Good, The Bad And The Ugly and a pair from the late ’80s soundtrack to the obscure, twisted spaghetti Western flick Straight To Hell

Ennio Morricone – The Good, The Bad And The Ugly
from The Good, The Bad And The Ugly soundtrack

Ennio Morricone – The Ecstasy Of Gold
from The Good, The Bad And The Ugly soundtrack

Evocative and compelling, it’s impossible to think of The Man With No Name and not hear the music of Ennio Morricone (and vice versa). It was a perfect marriage.

If I could – and I suppose there’s no reason I couldn’t except for obvious financial constraints – I’d hire Morricone to write theme music for me which I would then listen to on my iPod all day as I went about my tasks.

That’s what I’d do.

Pray For Rain – The Killers
from Straight To Hell soundtrack

The Pogues – Rabinga
from Straight To Hell soundtrack

Two years ago, I wrote about Straight To Hell, an odd curio of a movie starring Elvis Costello, Joe Strummer, and The Pogues as well as a pre-fame Courtney Love, Dennis Hopper and Grace Jones.

The tagline for the movie – which was from the same director/writer behind the ’80s cult flick Repo Man – was “a story of blood, money, guns, coffee, and sexual tension.”

The movie was underwhelming, but there was some cool, Morricone-inspired music on the soundtrack.

Pancakes, KFC, And Gwangi

April 3, 2010

The first time staying over at a friend’s house as a kid is akin to being an emissary on a diplomatic mission to a foreign state. Strict instructions were given in a parental briefing to do nothing that would cause an incident.

Like any trip abroad, there were different sights and smells, strange customs and unusual foodstuffs. The first time I stayed over at my friend Beej’s house, I learned that pancakes made for a perfectly acceptable dinner fare – something that was highlighted in my report upon my return home.

The most memorable thing about that trip, though, was Gwangi.

It was late and I think we had just crashed out when Beej’s older brother woke us, leading us downstairs and to the living room. The lights were all out except for the television.

It must have been the second movie on the CBS Late Movie, so it had to be well after 1:00 in the morning and the film appeared to be a Western, but in color, so it couldn’t have been too old.

And suddenly there was Gwangi, a large, carnivorous dinosaur and we were in business. At eight or nine, prehistoric animals held sway over cowboys, but this serendipitous moment in cinema had brought the two together.

The movie was a 1969 flick called The Valley Of Gwangi. I don’t think I knew any of the actors at the time, though it was James Franciscus – who would pop up on television and movies in the ’70s – playing the hero (if you can have a hero named Tuck Kirby).

It didn’t really matter to us. It could have been an actor named Tuck Kirby starring as James Franciscus. This was cowboys, dinosaurs, gypsy curses, forbidden valleys and a small sidekick named Lope.

We stared boggle-eyed as Gwangi feasted on a circus elephant. We were feasting on the remains from a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken that Beej had foraged from the refrigerator.

It was a very successful mission.

There’s a wonderful article on Ray Harryhausen, the legendary animator who brought Gwangi and friends to life, over at Popdose with clips from ten of his movies including The Valley Of Gwangi.

It must have been sometime in the spring of 1975 that I first saw The Valley Of Gwangi (and I’ve rarely come across it since). Here are four songs that I might have heard on the radio during April of that year (had I been listening to the radio – which I wasn’t)…

Alice Cooper – Only Women Bleed
from Welcome To My Nightmare

My all-time greatest arch-enemy has to have been my third-grade teacher. More days than not, the two of us were at odds. She was an Alice Cooper fan. I’m not sure if that was why I never bothered with Alice Cooper’s music or rather because during the ’80s – my musically formative years – he wasn’t on top of his game.

But I’ve gained a greater appreciation for Cooper’s catalog in recent years and the somber Only Women Bleed was not only a big hit for him, but the poignant ballad must have thrown long-time fans when it arrived (though, should anyone been surprised at the time by anything Alice did?)

John Lennon – Stand By Me
from Lennon Legend

Stand By Me is one of those songs that, to me, is simply perfect. If I was creating an Ultimate Jukebox as is being built over at Echoes In The Wind, Stand By Me would definitely be on there (possibly in more than one incarnation).

(and, according to Wikipedia, in 1999, BMI named it as the fourth most-performed song of the 20th century)

Gordon Lightfoot – Rainy Day People
from Gord’s Gold

I’ve expressed my curiousity with Mr. Lightfoot before.

There’s just something about the Canadian singer’s voice that is soothing and Rainy Day People – which I do remember hearing at the time – sounds especially inviting on a rainy, Saturday morning such as it is today.

Ozark Mountain Daredevils – Jackie Blue
from Billboard Top Hits: 1975

The title character in Jackie Blue sounds like one confused girl, but I can’t help but think of pizza when I hear the song. It seems like every trip we made to Pizza Inn when I was eight resulted in one of the patrons putting down their money on Jackie Blue in the restaurant’s jukebox.

I dug the song as a kid. It was catchy and mysterious, though, at the time, I mistook drummer Larry Lee’s falsetto for a female vocalist.