The Heston

February 17, 2013

hestonAs a kid watching television in the ’70s, it was understood that the future might involve dealing with intelligent apes, urban overcrowding and pollution, or a noctunal clan of mutant cultists.

It was also understood from the regular airings of Planet Of The Apes, Soylent Green, and The Omega Man after school or on late-night television that the one man with the skills to survive in these various dystopian futures – at least until the final reel – was Charlton Heston.

Heston was teaching us about survival well before Gloria Gaynor, Bear Grylls, or Survivorman‘s Les Stroud and, like Stroud, Heston wasn’t bashful about going au naturale.

(watching Planet Of The Apes on an AMC marathon of the movie series, I have already been blindsided twice by Heston’s bare ass in HD)

Over the latter part of his life, Heston was best known for his interest in guns, but, as he had spent so much time battling intelligent apes and mutant cultists as well as trying to avoid becoming finger food for the masses, his desire to be a well-maintained militia of one is understandable.

And no matter how dire the situation around him, Chuck was able to make time for the ladies and, in the case of The Omega Man, he – like the titular character in The Big Lebowski and to paraphrase The Dude – was racially pretty cool.

But, as a kid, it was Heston’s adventures as misanthropic astronaut George Taylor that were most fascinating to me and, fortunately, it was not uncommon to tune into CBS’ Friday Night Movie and find that Planet Of The Apes or, even more so it seemed, Beneath The Planet Of The Apes was the featured flick.

Thirty-eight years ago, I was one bummed out seven-year old as the short-lived (and Heston-less) television series based on The Planet Of The Apes had been cancelled. I might have found solace in music, but that wouldn’t be of interest to me for another four or five years.

However, had I turned on the radio, here are four songs I might have heard as they were on Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart at the time…

America – Lonely People
from History: America’s Greatest Hits (1975)

Though I hadn’t yet developed an interest in music in 1975, I was well aware of the songs of America from the light rock stations my parents seemed to favor on the car radio.

The trio received a lot of comparisons to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and, of the songs I know by America, the lovely, resilient Lonely People captures that vibe to me more than any other.

John Lennon – #9 Dream
from Lennon Legend (1997)

I certainly knew the music of The Beatles, but I wasn’t familiar with John Lennon’s solo stuff or #9 Dream at the time. I would have to catch up years later.

Of course, no one would be hearing new music from John Lennon after 1975, at least not until he ended his self-imposed exile to be a stay-at-home dad five years later with Double Fantasy. I eventually got a cassette of The John Lennon Collection in 1982 or so and was introduced to the (suitably) dreamy #9 Dream.

Electric Light Orchestra – Can’t Get It Out Of My Head
from Strange Magic: The Best of Electric Light Orchestra (1995)

Though ELO had no shortage of hits with upbeat stuff, Jeff Lynne and company were equally adept when they opted to slow things down as on the lovely ballad Can’t Get It Out Of My Head, which was the group’s first major single in the States.

Ozark Mountain Daredevils – Jackie Blue
from Billboard Top Hits: 1975 (1991)

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 during the time that the song was a hit guaranteed one of the patrons putting down their money for Jackie Blue on the 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.

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Take Your Stinking Paws Off My Heart, You Damn Dirty Apes!

April 16, 2011

Several days ago I wondered how audiences reacted upon first hearing Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody and, similarly, I can’t help but imagine what it must have been like to see the climatic scene of Planet Of The Apes in the theater.

I wasn’t even walking when the original Planet Of The Apes was released in 1968, so I ended up viewing it for the first time on television in the ’70s no doubt on the CBS Friday Night Movie.

Planet Of The Apes is a classic flick and the entire film series was fun as a kid. I mean, aren’t most kids fascinated by monkeys and apes?

They’re furry humans with the smaller ones like cartoons brought to life and capable of hijinks and shenanigans.

The larger ones could scale buildings and woo blondes.

The idea of apes running the planet was certainly a thought-provoking one to a kid.

As an adult, I see plenty of upside to the other primates having the chance to call the shots.

Their politicians wouldn’t be bought and paid for by corporations as what value could pieces of paper with images of long-dead humans have for apes.

Environmental issues would be taken seriously if actual monkeys were in charge.

It would also be socially acceptable to work without pants.

Plenty of upside.

But seeing the original Planet Of The Apes as a kid in pajamas sprawled out in front of the television was a riveting experience. I doubt that I stirred, mesmerized immediately by the trippy opening in space and the unusual, evocative and eerie title music by Jerry Goldsmith.

(and, if you saw the movie as a kid, weren’t you creeped out by the mummified corpse of Stewart, the female astronaut?)

The tension built as the astronauts slowly trekked across the desert, Charlton Heston opining on the condition of the world that they’d left behind and the sky flashing with strange lightning.

And then the apes arrived hunting the humans.

By the time that Lady Liberty makes her cameo, I was already wondering why I had to study for a spelling test the following week if the future was going to be spent being hunted by monkeys.

I was thrilled beyond repair to hear that Tim Burton would do a remake of Planet Of The Apes and felt sucker-punched as I watched his (or, perhaps, the studio’s) “re-imagining,” which had none of the suspense of the original.

The nine-year old in me kept a year-long vigil waiting for Burton’s movie to hit the theaters, making the actual viewing of it one of the most anti-climactic moments of my life.

I know that some time ago I had read/heard of another movie in the Planet Of The Apes series, but I banished the idea of another go ’round on the monkey planet to the dim recesses of my mind.

So I was surprised to hear of the August release of The Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes.

I was inclined to want nothing to do with awkwardly-titled flick, shaking my head and pondering if people would even care about it despite the financial success of Burton’s version.

Then I vowed that I would not be drawn in.

And, then, I saw the trailer.

I’m not sure exactly when I finally got to see Planet Of The Apes. I do vividly recall being five or six, seeing a commercial for an airing of it, and being told in no uncertain terms by my parents that I wasn’t allowed to stay up and watch it.

However, I have no doubt that by 1975 the parents had finally acquiesced. Here are four songs that were on the charts from this week in 1975…

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 for Jackie Blue on the pizza joint’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.

America – Sister Golden Hair
from Billboard Top Hits 1975

Paloma has long expressed the belief that our eldest cat, Sam, is fond of light rock from the ’70s, especially America and such stuff does seem to capture her attention when played.

As for America, I do remember hearing a number of their hits – A Horse With No Name, I Need You, Lonely People – when my parents would have the radio on during their ’70s heyday. Though the lyrics are a bit meh and the protagonist comes off as a bit of a wuss, I dig Sister Golden Hair‘s sunny melody and catchy chorus.

Michael Murphey – Wildfire
from Blue Sky – Night Thunder

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 talking apes hunting humans really been that traumatic?

David Bowie – Young Americans
from Young Americans

Though David Bowie’s Young Americans has oft been referred to as “plastic soul” which, according to Wikipedia, is a term coined by an unknown black musician in the 1960s, describing Mick Jagger as a white musician singing soul music, it’s plenty soulful if you ask me.

(undoubtedly aided by the legendary Luther Vandross providing backing vocals)

I was surprised to note the timeline of Bowie’s hits and note that Young Americans was only the singer’s second Top 40 hit in the States at the time. I’d not be surprised if, at the time, the idea of talking apes taking over the planet was less threatening a concept than David Bowie in middle America.


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.