Waiting For The Howl*

September 9, 2012

The poster creeped me out – the slightly sepia tint that almost gave it the appearance of a photograph and the inhuman creature splashing through the shallow water.

Below the movie’s title was a tagline that, like the poster, was simple but made it truly chilling.

A true story.

I hadn’t thought of the movie in years and years, but, The Legend Of Boggy Creek bobbed to the surface of the subconscious a couple weeks ago. It would seem from perusing the internet that the nearly forty-year old flick has maintained a prescence in the psyche of a lot of people – especially those that were kids – in the early ’70s.

It apparently did most of its business at drive-ins, but it hit our small town’s theater in late summer of ’74. I was six and the movie, despite being G-rated, was declared forbidden the first time my mom saw a commercial for it.

But there was most definitely a buzz surrounding The Legend Of Boggy Creek. The movie purported to tell the tale of a Sasquatch-type creature living in the forests and swamps of a speck of a town in the southwesternmost part of Arkansas.

Filmed for nothing and featuring locals and not actors, the movie was shot primarily as a documentary, making it a precursor to and an apparent inspiration for The Blair Witch Project twenty-five years later.

The commercial echoed the poster’s eerie vibe with a camera panning through remote, isolated swamp terrain before ending with a shot of dense, ominous woods at dusk and an unholy howl as the voiceover offered the stark reminder that the legend was truth.

It was simple and effective, especially as, at the time, we were living in an apartment complex that backed up to a wooded area. That commercial would air as we’d be watching television in the evening and I’d stare out the glass door to the patio, out into the darkness of those trees and wonder what might be out there.

By the following summer, we had moved to a subdivision on the outskirts of town where the slight outpost of civilization that was our town gave way to vast stretches of farmland. There were wooded areas in all directions broken by expanses of fields.

Those woods were a playground for me and my childhood friends, but, as a kid, when the summer faded and the chill of autumn arrived, those woods would also become a far more spooky setting, especially with dusk coming earlier each evening.

There was nothing in those woods more threatening than deer, but they were mysterious nonetheless and the idea that there might be something out there in the thick trees had been planted in my young mind.

I couldn’t help but stare out my bedroom window, across the fields, and to the treeline on the horizon and wonder…

I finally watched The Legend Of Boggy Creek last week and it is most definitely a mixed bag.

However, the first ten minutes are as creepy as advertised and made more so by the schizophrenic music that accompanies the camera gliding through ominous swamplands and open fields as a young boy – about the age I would have been at the time – hears the creature’s scream.

I wasn’t much into music in the autumn of ’74 as I was focused on what might or might not be lurking in the woods. Here are four songs that were on Billboard magazine’s charts that September…

Eric Clapton – I Shot The Sheriff
from Time Pieces: Best Of Eric Clapton (1982)

I can’t say that I’ve ever been devotee of “Slowhand.” Oh, I admire his skills and understand his place in rock history, but there’s just something that never completely resonated with me. Perhaps it’s because when my interest in music was taking root in the early ’80s, Clapton wasn’t exactly at the height of his powers.

However, Clapton’s take on Bob Marley’s I Shot The Sheriff not only became the guitarist’s biggest hit, it also brought the music of the reggae superstar to a new audience.

Stevie Wonder – You Haven’t Done Nothin’
from Fulfillingness’ First Finale (1974)

The funky You Haven’t Done Nothin’ – with The Jackson 5 providing backup vocals – took the political powers at the time to task and managed to reward Stevie Wonder with yet another hit song during his remarkably prolific ’70s output.

Ten years later, he was calling just to say he loved us.

Gordon Lightfoot – Carefree Highway
from Sundown (1974)

I like The Lightfoot (as I’ve noted before).

Brian Eno – Baby’s On Fire
from Here Come The Warm Jets (1974)

OK, Baby’s On Fire wasn’t a hit, but, in September ’74, Brian Eno’s first solo album since parting company with Roxy Music was on the album charts (albeit in the lower reaches of the Top 200). Despite limited commercial success for his own work, few musicians over the past forty years have been as influential as Eno has been as an artist, collaborator, and producer.

I would be in college before hearing Roxy Music or Eno’s solo work. It was my buddy Streuss who threw on Here Come The Warm Jets one day and the album blew me away. It was twelve years old at the time and sounded as though it could have been released twelve years in the future.

(and King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp’s solo is, in a word, wicked)

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Jaws 3 (in 2D)

July 22, 2012

Though I didn’t see the original Jaws in the theater, I did catch the sequel when it came out during the summer of 1978.

Five years later, though, I opted out of Jaws 3 – no Roy Scheider, no dice – and I somehow avoided seeing it until 1989. I watched it sitting at a small bar, poolside, on an island off the coast of Thailand.

I sat there and watched it as I wrote a letter.

It wasn’t dreadful, rather, it was just there, taking up space on the television.

Taking up space here is what we started here – the third and final installment of our running diary of a recent viewing of the original Jaws.

Brody, Hooper and Quint have hit the high seas and they’ve come across the shark for the first time.

Brody had just made his famous take on their situation…

1:28:05 Quint and Hooper drink to each other’s seafaring (and non-seafaring) injuries. All Brody has to hang his hat on is an appendectomy scar, so he doesn’t get to drink. Of course, as he has been drinking for the entire movie, his blood-alcohol level is still higher than that of John Bonham at the drummer’s death.

1:29:12 Quint tells his tale of the USS Indianapolis. Though Robert Shaw was an acclaimed actor and accomplished writer, I don’t necessarily recall seeing him in any other role than Quint. At this point, having seen Jaws so many times, he is Quint to me.

Although I am capable of reciting it almost at will, Quint’s tale of the USS Indianapolis’ sinking hooks me the moment he recounts how a “Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into her side” and I remain riveted until he concludes – “Anyway, we delivered the bomb.”

Shaw’s performance in this scene is simply riveting and the man supposedly knocked it out in one take.

1:38:26 Quint has officially gone Ahab, battering the radio to bits as Brody tries to call for help.

1:43:32 Quint is giddy as a schoolgirl at the idea of having the shark stuffed and mounted for his den.

1:52:16 Hooper descends in the shark cage – something I would have been unwilling to do for all the lithium in Afghanistan.

1:55:06 Hooper magically transforms himself into a “little person” as the shark destroys the cage.

(an actual little person was used to make the shark appear bigger)

And speaking of little people, why does The Learning Channel have so many reality shows featuring little people? Little People, Big WorldThe Little CoupleOur Little Life

The unemployment rate in the US is better than nine percent, but thanks to the efforts of the imaginative minds at TLC, it’s less than two percent for little people and falling.

1:57:16 And Quint is going…going…gone. For years, the scene of Quint’s demise was brief, but, eventually, on one of the anniversary versions of the DVD, there was additional footage. I remember the first time I saw it and how surprised I was at the carnage – a good thirty seconds of Quint thrashing about in the mouth of the shark.

1:58:05 And now there’s just Brody, fending off the shark as the Orca goes down. I imagine that the crime in New York City – which he lamented upon meeting Hooper – probably looks good about now.

2:00:14 Boom!

2:01:12 Hooper resurfaces, normal-sized and he and Brody share a laugh before beginning the swim back to shore.

One thing that has always made me wonder…you’ve just blown up a massive shark, spewing thousands of pounds of shark meat, blood, and other miscellaneous viscera into the ocean. Isn’t this going to attract every predator within several nautical miles?

Well, that’s a wrap and I now can move on to examining the unexamined minutea that has piled up in my head over the past week.

I wasn’t listening to much music at the time, but had I been listening thirty-five years ago – when Jaws had just arrived in theaters – here are four songs that were on the charts during this week in 1975

Elton John – Someone Saved My Life Tonight
from Greatest Hits, Volume II (1977)

There were two acts that I can think of who, in 1975, were such radio juggernauts that even a seven-year old such as myself was well acquainted. One was The Carpenters; the other was Elton John.

If I were to rank my favorite Elton John singles, I suspect that the lovely Someone Saved My Life Tonight would be in the top ten – everything about the song works for me (even if it does remind of a half-witted co-worker I once had who insisted that the name of the song was Sugar Bear).

Glen Campbell – Rhinestone Cowboy
from Have A Nice Decade: The ’70s Pop Culture Box (1998)

I do remember Glen Campbell as a kid, not so much for his music but because he always seemed to be a guest on whatever afternoon talk show – Dinah Shore, Mike Douglas – that my mom would be watching.

And, I do remember Rhinestone Cowboy during its time on the charts as my brother had the 45 and played it constantly.

Maybe ten years ago, I was sitting in a bar, having a few drinks with friends when a melody caught my ear over the din of the crowd. It was a dance mix of Rhinestone Cowboy and – and I’m not usually a fan of such mixes – but it worked spectacularly.

Aerosmith – Sweet Emotion
from Armageddon soundtrack (1998)

I’ve never been an Aerosmith devotee. Possibly because their ’70s heydey was over by the time I was getting into music and their late ’80s comeback came as I had discovered college rock.

That said, there is a clutch of their songs which I do think are rather stellar, Sweet Emotion being one of them.

Janis Ian – At Seventeen
from Between The Lines (1975)

I had no frame of reference for the plight of the protagonist in At Seventeen in 1975.

(again, I was seven)

But, I did understand that things weren’t going well for her.

As for Janis Ian, I used to see her on occasion at a coffee shop where I’d stop and, though I never spoke to her, it appeared that things were much better for her than they had been at seventeen.


Jaws 2: The Three Amigos

July 18, 2012

It’s summer and that means sequels. So – not because it was extraordinarily well-received or critically acclaimed – but simply because…here is the follow-up to some observations about the movie Jaws

When we left off, Chief Brody and Hooper had performed a shark autopsy and headed out into the night in Hooper’s sloop, hoping to find the shark.

Brody was liquored to the gills and Hooper was munching down pretzels like he had an endorsement deal…

49:55 As Brody continues to hit the sauce, he and Hooper get to know each other. Then, they come across Ben Gardner’s partially submerged boat.

I don’t know if any scene was discussed more the next day at school by my friends and me than Ben’s head drifting out of the hole in the boat’s hull.

(none of us probably admitting how much the scene had freaked us out)

50:30 The mayor’s back! And he’s wearing the sports jacket adorned with a pattern of tiny anchors. If I was the head of state for some small, island nation, I would strongly consider making that jacket the national garb for state functions and our Olympic team.

1:01:32 The shark arrives. And this time, it’s not some chick skinny-dipping that meets a briny demise but a Kennedy. I mean, the fellow in the rowboat with the tousled hair, ruddy complexion, and Boston accent made me think of pictures, news footage, and movie portrayels I had seen of John and Bobby.

Of course, I was in second grade when I first saw Jaws and had never known anyone from New England. I associated that accent with no one but the Kennedy clan.

1:05:12 The mayor signs off on contracting Quint to kill the shark. He’s in a different sports jacket (no less garish) and he’s chain-smoking Pall Malls…in a hospital.

The ’70s were truly a madcap time.

1:07:40 “I’m talkin’ about workin’ for a livin’ – I’m talkin’ about sharkin'”

Quint serves Brody some homemade hooch – I never realized what a boozehound the Chief is – and quizzes Hooper on knot-tying.

Quint is awesome.

I had an Uncle who, as a kid, put me on edge the same way Quint does in this flick.

Uncle Bud had a boat, but he spent his time “catfishin'” and pounding beers like he was Brody, punctuating every sentence with a point of a finger and his repeated mantra, “Know what I mean?”

I rarely did.

10:09:25 As the gear is loaded onto the Orca, I wonder what happened to the stubby, little fellow that was Quint’s sidekick earlier in the movie.

(he probably pissed Quint off and Quint had him keel-hauled)

1:11:16 Brody might have a drinking problem, but he’s got cajones going out to sea with Quint.

1:13:19 Brody’s chumming the water and Quint is pounding back a can of Narragansett. This was of particular interest to me when I first saw the movie as I had the same can in my beer can collection.

(seriously, the ’70s were zany)

1:20:53 “Hooper drives the boat,” Quint bellows, ending Brody’s whining about being ordered to throw out more chum. Hooper, meanwhile is playing solitaire, provoking Quint to bark at him to “stop playing with yourself.”

I’m going to have to check if there is a deleted version of this scene in which Quint clinks Brody and Hooper’s heads together like it’s a Three Stooges short (and, then, he keel-hauls the two).

1:21:22 “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

I wasn’t listening to much music at the time, but had I been listening thirty-five years ago – when Jaws had just arrived in theaters – here are four songs that were on Billboard ‘s chart during this week in 1975

Alice Cooper – Only Women Bleed
from Welcome To My Nightmare (1975)

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?)

Paul McCartney & Wings – Listen To What The Man Said
from All The Best (1987)

I know McCartney got a lot of flack in the ’70s for putting out fluff. Do people toss Listen To What The Man Said into that bin?

Maybe it is fluff, but so is cotton candy. And who doesn’t love cotton candy?

Actually, I don’t. But, I do love this song. It’s charming, sweet, sunny, and utterly delightful. It’s hard to be bummed out if it’s playing.

It also makes me think of the summer of ’75 when Listen To What The Man Said is one song which I do remember hearing and hearing often at the pool.

Melissa Manchester – Midnight Blue
from The Essence Of Melissa Manchester (1997)

I think I know Midnight Blue and You Should Hear How She Talks About You, if asked to name songs by Melissa Manchester. And, she did a song a friend had written on one of her ’90s albums.

Still, I’ve noted that there seems to be a lot of her albums in used vinyl racks I’ve trolled. And I did hear Midnight Blue on the radio in ’75, usually during breakfast when my mom had tuned into our small town’s station.

Mike Post – The Rockford Files
from Have a Nice Decade: The ’70s Pop Culture Box (1998)

Mike Post has written about a billion television themes.

I don’t recall watching The Rockford Files as a kid, at least not more than an occasional episode. Finding some old television schedules from the years on I see that there were shows that aired opposite that got the television time in our house – shows like Hawaii Five-O and The Incredible Hulk.