At This Time Of The Night…*

October 21, 2012

Maybe it’s the quiet and the rustling of the leaves outside the open windows of our treehouse living room.

(the temperature is surprisingly mild)

Maybe it’s having spent some time checking out blogs counting down to Halloween.

But it’s just past midnight on a Saturday night and the hour is perfect for the glow eminating from the television screen to be from some old horror movie or sci-fi flick.

On such a night – and at such a time in the night – thirty-years or so ago, the channel would be turned to Sammy Terry. Sammy was a ghoul who hosted such movies on an independent television station from Indianapolis.

The movies were rarely great works of cinema, but Sammy was there to empathize, make banter with a rubber spider named George, and crack bad jokes during commercial breaks for Don’s Guns and a used car dealer who would admit that “Old Dave needs the cash.”

Now and then, though, there would be a movie that was genuinely eerie.

(of course, I was a kid, so I recall finding portions of movies like The Deathmaster – some hippie/vampire/biker flick from the early ’70s – to be creepy)

Sammy has been retired since the late ’80s and, though I now have twenty times the viewing options, surfing through those options yields nothing.

There’s no Japanese man-in-a-suit movie or giant, radioactive ants rampaging through the desert to be found.

Apparently it’s too much to ask that one of the stations available be airing an old classic in glorious black and white like a Boris Karloff movie from the ’30s or something starring Vincent Price from the ’60s.

I’d dig finding a ’70s drive-in flick like The Legend Of Boggy Creek or The Boy Who Cried Werewolf or, perhaps, something from Chuck Heston’s oeuvre from that period – The Omega Man, Soylent Green – but no such luck.

Syfy Channel is airing some movie about bird flu that meets that station’s usual standards of excellence.

(the maddening thing about the bad movies that Syfy airs is that they aren’t even entertainingly bad)

It’s ten days before Halloween, but the late-night landscape is littered with little more than infomercials, some reality shows, and reruns of Roseanne and The Nanny.

(all frightening in their own ways, but…)

Sure, there’s DVDs, Netflix, and a number of other options for a fright fix, but there’s something about stumbling upon an old horror movie on television, late at night, that, I suppose, harkens back to childhood.

Here are four songs that will have to substitute for a midnight feature…

The Judybats – Witches’ Night
from Down In The Shacks Where The Satellite Dishes Grow (1992)

The Judybats came together as students at the University of Tennessee and released a handful of albums in the late ’80s/early ’90s, but I don’t believe that I ever heard them on radio or even happened across a video on MTV.

I did get a couple of their albums as promos and hearing them again after so many years makes me curious to go back and relisten to them.

Witches’ Night, about a Halloween party, is engaging, jangly, folk-tinged alternative pop that certainly would have fit well on college radio in 1990.

Ozzy Osbourne – Bark At The Moon
from The Ozzman Cometh (1997)

At the risk of being accused of blasphemy – possibly by Paloma – I’ve never thought much of Black Sabbath. Sure, they might have been influential, but, aside from a handful of songs, their appeal has been lost on me.

And, even twenty-five years ago, I found Ozzy’s Prince of Darkness schtick to be laughable. Would the Prince of Darkness have a paunch?

Seriously?

But I do dig some of Ozzy’s catalog and Bark At The Moon is good fun.

Mazzy Star – Ghost Highway
from She Hangs Brightly (1990)

Mazzy Star rose from the ashes of the band Opal and consisted of the duo of singer Hope Sandoval and guitarist David Roback (who, in the ’80s, had been a member of paisley-tinged rockers The Rain Parade). She Hangs Brightly was the twosome’s debut effort, arriving in 1990.

With Sandoval’s aloof vocals and a sound that was atmospheric and dreamy, Mazzy Star’s artistic slant on psychedelic rock earned comparison to acts like The Velvet Underground and The Doors. The group would navigate a record label bankruptcy to notch a hit with the wispy Fade Into You three years later.

R.E.M. – I Walked With A Zombie
from Where The Pyramid Meets The Eye: A Tribute To Roky Erickson (1990)

It was Paloma who turned me on to the eccentric brilliance of Roky Erickson and The 13th Floor Elevators with their album Easter Everywhere.

That was four or five years after acts ranging from ZZ Top and T-Bone Burnett to The Butthole Surfers and Bongwater paid tribute to the legendary Austin cult musician, covering his songs on 1990’s Where The Pyramid Meets The Eye.

(The Judybats had actually made their debut on the compilation)

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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)


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.