Sammy Terry*

October 25, 2012

The other night, the cable offerings were rather uninspiring, but, as it was after dark, I stopped on the remake of The Hills Have Eyes.

The flick wasted little time getting to the carnage, opening with a group of scientists clad in protective gear being torn apart by some savage creature. It was gruesome but hardly shocking.

What has stuck in my head is a scene that came later, after the vacationing family had broken down taking a shortcut through the same remote stretch of desert.

It wasn’t the family dog getting gutted or the patriarch being beaten to a pulp then set aflame. No, it was a scene in which one daughter in the family gave the finger to her sister.

The defiant digit was blurred out.

Pondering the interesting choices in censorship aside, the movie made me miss the horror flicks on which I had grown up in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.

I’m not referring to the movies of that time but rather the late-night television fare in a world without cable on our local independent station (usually the only one still on air after midnight).

These were mostly B-movies from the ‘50s, ‘60s, and early ‘70s and often in black and white. Sometimes they were surprisingly eerie, rising above their budgetary limitations, but, often, they were laughably shoddy or dated – bobble-headed alien invaders, puppet creatures and hippie vampires.

It was the latter which held the most entertainment value for me and and my buddy Will who lived a few houses down. Not yet old enough for cars, girls, or guns, we’d hang out in his living room on Saturday nights for appointment television.

Saturday night was the night for Nightmare Theater, hosted by the ghoul/zombie Sammy Terry (pictured above), who would add his commentary during commercial breaks or banter with a fake spider named George who “spoke” in squeaks.

We’d howl with amusement at every bad pun Sammy would deliver and yell, “George!” in unison the first time that rubber spider would descend into the scene.

As we reached high school, life was suddenly about cars and girls. There weren’t as many viewings of Sammy, but it was always fun to catch the show on occasion.

Years later, crashing out and watching Nightmare Theater was an incentive to make the trek home from college.

(I hadn’t seen the show for twenty years until discovering a trove of clips here)

Here are four songs for Halloween that Sammy might have enjoyed…

The Ramones – Pet Sematary
from Hey! Ho! Let’s Go: The Anthology (1999)

Not long ago, a client was giving me his last name. “Ramone,” he said. “Like the band. Do you know who I’m talking about?”

He was surprised and duly impressed as I explained that I not only knew his reference, but that Paloma has a framed poster autographed by Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, and Marky hanging in our treehouse which she had received from the seminal punk rockers.

The Hooters – All You Zombies
from Nervous Night (1985)

All You Zombies, with its reggae hitch and portentous lyrics, hooked me first time I heard it in late winter/early spring of 1985. Though Nervous Night left me mostly underwhelmed, the Philadelphia band’s debut had several hits over the next year or so.

Their second record came and went pretty quickly (though I thought it had a couple of decent tracks), but main lyricists Rob Hyman and Eric Bazilian have certainly received some nice royalty checks over the years for penning Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time.

Oingo Boingo – Dead Man’s Party
from Dead Man’s Party (1985)

Though apparently having quite a following in Hollywood, Oingo Boingo was nothing more than a band with a cool name to me in the early ’80s. The one time I ever heard a song by the band was hearing Dr. Demento play their song Insects on his radio show.

Then Oingo Boingo notched a near hit in 1985 with their title song for Weird Science. I don’t recall hearing Weird Science on the radio, the flick was a cable staple for me and my buddies, so I was well acquainted with the song.

Back To School, with Rodney Dangerfield and Sam Kinison, was a staple for us a year later during our last summer before we headed off for college.

And there was Oingo Boingo performing the übercool Dead Man’s Party at a Halloween party in the movie.

The Shaggs – It’s Halloween
from Philosophy of the World (1969)

The tale of The Shaggs is quite a ripping good yarn, beginning in the hinterlands of New Hampshire in the late ’60s and seeing the Wiggins sisters become cult heroes, lauded by Frank Zappa and Kurt Cobain decades later.

Hearing The Shaggs for the first time is a memorable musical experience. At one large record store where I worked, it was tradition to play The Shaggs at some point during the closing shift on Halloween.

(thus exposing hundreds of people to the charms of It’s Halloween and The Shaggs)

Advertisements

They Were Going Where No Man Had Gone Before But They Were Going Without Me

January 20, 2011

I would be in my teens before cable television was available and, thus, my first experiences and earliest memories of the medium were limited to a handful of channels.

There were the three major networks, PBS, and two independent channels.

Of those two independent channels, our reception for one was so poor that most of the time it was just possible to make out shapes that might have been people.

Or possibly trees.

The station – from across the river in Northern Kentucky – taunted me when I’d leaf through the TV Guide, searching for something to entertain me. There, next to the small box with a nineteen in it, something would be listed that was far more interesting than the offerings on the channels available.

Channel 19’s line-up was heavy on syndicated kid favorites like Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch with late night reserved for horror/sci-fi b-movies.

It was as though I had a ten-year old doppelganger programming an independent television station.

So, I’d optimistically flip to the station, hoping that it was one of those rare nights on which reception was good and I could try to watch The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant through snow flurries.

Usually, I’d find myself staring at a full-blown blizzard.

But the one show that the station aired which I wanted to experience more than any other was Star Trek. The show had ended its network run before I could read and, though it hadn’t had the resurgence it would by the end of the ’70s, I was somehow aware of it.

(I think that a classmate, Kate, with whom I was quite smitten, was a fan)

I had to see it.

And the only station airing Star Trek was the one that I was unable to watch.

I tried, making efforts on a nightly basis, hoping against all hope that the reception might be good enough for me to meet Kirk, Spock and the rest of the crew of the Enterprise.

It didn’t happen.

It was maddening.

Soon, channel 19 would amp up its signal and Star Trek would be a staple on other channels, but, as kids at such an age are prone to do, I had lost interest.

I’d eventually see the first five movies that the series spawned, but, to this day, I’ve never seen an entire episode of the television show or any of its spin-offs.

During the time that I was not watching Star Trek on channel 19, I witnessed Capt. Kirk perform Rocket Man on some sci-fi film award show (which aired on the other independent station).

It boggled my ten-year old mind.

Here are four random songs by acts that, like Capt. Kirk, are from Canada…

k.d. lang – World Of Love
from All You Can Eat

I had never really listened to k.d. lang when I got dragged to one of her shows following the release of (but before the mainstream success) of 1992’s Ingenue. It was a free ticket and I figured what the hell.

Lang turned out to be one of the most charismatic live performers I’ve ever seen, possessing a genial personality and a wickedly charming sense of humor. Though I own a handful of her albums, I often forget what a stellar body of work she’s produced with songs like the lush, sophisticated pop song World Of Love.

Neil Young – Buffalo Springfield Again
from Silver & Gold

It seemed as though every time I looked up in the late ’80s and first half of the ’90s that Neil Young was releasing a new album to rave reviews. I was partial to the grungier stuff with Crazy Horse like Ragged Glory and Sleeps With Angels.

I still prefer the Neil that rocks.

But the mellow Buffalo Springfield Again, from 2000’s Silver & Good, is wistful and endearing as Neil reflects on his first band.

Jane Siberry – Calling All Angels
from When I Was A Boy

A friend at a record store in college introduced me to the eccentric music of Jane Siberry with 1987’s The Walking. Over the ensuing years, I’ve owned most of her catalog and, much like Neil Young’s, Siberry’s oeuvre takes some zigs and zags.

I first heard the achingly beautiful Calling All Angels when it appeared on the soundtrack to the movie Until The End Of The World, one of my favorite movie soundtracks of all time. A year or so later, the track was on her album When I Was A Boy, a record that, if I compiled a desert island list, would certainly make the cut.

And, as further evidence confirming my suspicion that everyone in Canada knows everyone else, the voice heard duetting with Siberry on Calling All Angels is k.d. lang.

Arcade Fire – Wake Up
from Funeral

I’ve become quite loopless to new music since the turn of the century. I’d heard of Arcade Fire and knew that lots of folks were twitterpated over the band. I’d even checked out a few of their songs, but I was only lukewarm about them.

Then I heard Wake Up in the trailers for Where The Wild Things Are and was blown away. It’s an epic that roars to life and soars like a rocket.

I still haven’t delved any further into Arcade Fire’s music – there’s barely time to listen to all of the music I already love – and perhaps I never will, but we’ll always have Wake Up.


The Hills Have Eyes (And They’re Sensitive To Obscene Finger Gestures)

May 6, 2009

The other night, the cable offerings were rather uninspiring, but, as it was after dark, I stopped on the remake of The Hills Have Eyes.

The flick wasted little time getting to the carnage, opening with a group of scientists clad in protective gear being torn apart by some savage creature. It was gruesome but hardly shocking.

What has stuck in my head is a scene that came later, after the vacationing family had broken down taking a shortcut through the same remote stretch of desert.

It wasn’t the family dog getting gutted or the patriarch being beaten to a pulp then set aflame. No, it was a scene in which one daughter in the family gave the finger to her sister.

The defiant digit was blurred out.

Pondering the interesting choices in censorship aside, the movie made me miss the horror flicks on which I had grown up in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.

I’m not referring to the movies of that time but rather the late-night television fare in a world without cable on our local independent station (usually the only one still on air after midnight).

These were mostly B-movies from the ‘50s, ‘60s, and early ‘70s and often in black and white. Sometimes they were surprisingly eerie, rising above their budgetary limitations, but, often, they were laughably shoddy or dated – bobble-headed alien invaders, puppet creatures and hippie vampires.

It was the latter which held the most entertainment value for me and several friends from the neighborhood when we’d hang out on Saturday nights in the early ‘80s. Not yet old enough for cars, girls, or guns, we’d be sprawled out on bean bag chairs in the dark basement of our friend Willie.

(as it was his basement, he had right of first refusal on the ancient couch)

Saturday night was the night for Nightmare Theater, hosted by the ghoul/zombie Sammy Terry (pictured above), who would add his commentary during commercial breaks or banter with a fake spider named George who “spoke” in squeaks.

For a couple years, ours was a ritual gathering most summer nights on Saturdays – Chris would be wired on Mountain Dew, Kurt would be obsessing over the dollar he’d loaned to Chris for the drink. Sometimes there would be a half dozen of us hanging out in that panel-walled womb.

We’d howl in amusement with every bad pun Sammy would deliver and yell, “George!” in unison the first time that rubber spider would descend into the scene.

By ’83, we had access to cars and had begun the pursuit of girls. There weren’t as many viewings of Sammy, but it was always fun to catch the show on occasion.

Years later, crashing out and watching Nightmare Theater was an incentive to make the trek home from college.

I hadn’t seen the show for twenty years until discovering a trove of clips here.

In 1982, the last year my friends and I regularly tuned into Nightmare Theater, I was still coming to the realization that I quite liked music – to an almost obsessive degree. It was still mostly Top 40, but I was venturing to some album rock, too. Some of the songs I remember from that spring…

Hall & Oates – Did It In A Minute
from Private Eyes

Hall & Oates were such a constant presence on radio and MTV in the ’80s, there are songs of theirs which I really wouldn’t miss if I never heard them again (I Can’t Go For That and Out Of Touch come to mind).

Then, there some of their lesser hits from that time – songs like How Does It Feel To Be Back, Wait For Me, Family Man – which are pleasant surprises when they pop up. The breezy Did It In A Minute is in the under appreciated category.

Joan Jett & The Blackhearts – Crimson And Clover
from I Love Rock N’ Roll

Joan Jett’s I Love Rock N’ Roll was a monster in early 1982 and I imagine she could have belched the alphabet and had a follow-up hit. Instead, she opted for a cover of Tommy James’ Crimson And Clover.

Of course, my schoolmates and I had no idea who Tommy James was. It was one of our “hip” teachers who played the original for us in homeroom one afternoon.

We much preferred Joan.

Van Halen – (Oh) Pretty Woman
from Diver Down

Diver Down might have been Van Halen’s fifth album, but as the first four were released when I had little interest in music, it was my first exposure to Eddie and Diamond Dave.

Their take on the Roy Orbison classic isn’t bad, but I wouldn’t even offer it up as the best cover song on Diver Down (and there are several). Instead, I’d go with their version of Dancing In The Street.

John Cougar – Hurts So Good
from American Fool

American Fool was the album that would make Johnny Hoosier (as my friend Bosco called him) a household name. Growing up in Indiana, Hurts So Good was on every radio station from the moment it was released and the rest of the country soon joined us.

I was fairly ambivalent about Hurts So Good at the time. I had no idea that its success would, by the time Johnny Hoosier had become John Mellencamp, literally change the course of my life in ways I could have never imagined as a kid in junior high.