And Then, There’s A Giant Turtle Hurtling Through Space

June 12, 2011

Searching for late-night movie fare, I still find myself harboring hope that I might stumble upon some sci-fi, B-movie from the ’60s.

It’s something deeply ingrained from childhood. Living within spitting distance of the border of three states, we were within broadcast range of the television stations of two large cities and, as a result, we had a cornucopia of seven or eight channels at a time when most pre-cable viewers had half the choice.

(of course, reception was often determined by the time of day and meteorological conditions)

Late at night, there was often the opportunity to bask in the soft glow of fare that would someday provide reason for Mystery Science Theater 3000 to exist.

Sadly, sleepy-eyed kids of the 21st century escaping the bonds of bedtime for the first time won’t be dazzled by the spectacle of men dressed as prehistoric and futuristic creatures engaged in combat as buildings and cities crumble under the carnage of the combatitants.

(arigatou gozaimasu, Japan)

Instead, pint-sized people huddled under a blanket late in the evening are more likely to find little but hucksters pitching programs to help them lose weight, grow hair, or accumulate riches in real estate.

(arigatou gozaimasu, capitalism)

Pulling up the menu of free movies offered by our cable provider one night, my pulse quickened as I reached those filed under the letter G and a dozen or so flicks with Godzilla in the title appeared.

Unbridled joy turned into disappointment as I pulled up the synopsis of the first one and noted the date – 2000. Scrolling through the rest, each one was a product of the past decade and each had running times in excess of 100 minutes.

It’s Godzilla not The Shawshank Redemption. It’s understandable that two and a half hours would be required to tell the tale of Andy DuFresne and have him tunnel out of Shawshank, but if you can’t destroy Tokyo and have the good monster defeat the bad monster in under 75 minutes…

Of course, coming across a classic Godzilla flick as a kid was like hitting three cherries. More often than not, I’d have to settle for Gamera, the giant, rocket-propelled turtle.

With a nudge from nostalgia, I did a search for Gamera on YouTube and the first result was too intriguing to not click.

I recognized the footage immediately even if I didn’t recall the name of the flick (which happened to be Attack Of The Monsters). I should have remembered the name as I swear it seemed to air once a month or so on Science Fiction Theater, one of our independent station’s Saturday night offerings, in the late ’70s.

The plot, such as it was, revolved around two small boys getting whisked away to another planet by the lone survivors of an alien race – two Japanese women clad in futuristic garb – who intended two eat their brains like pudding.

The lure, of course, was Gamera as he battled some giant, bipedal pteradactyl and another rubbery beast with a ginsi knife for a head to save the day and the cranial contents of the young whippersnappers.

And, in the clip, the heroic battles were set to the music of Men Without Hats’ The Safety Dance.

While Godzilla has been, quite deservedly, celebrated in song, if there is a musical tribute to Gamera aside from those conjured by the obviously twisted mind of a YouTube poster, this office has not been notified.

Instead, here are four songs from the Billboard charts for this week in 1978 when I was ten and about a year or two away from music holding my attention as much as a turtle jetting through the cosmos…

Patti Smith Group – Because The Night
from Easter

I don’t know when I first heard the great Patti Smith’s lone radio hit. It certainly wasn’t in ’78 and I can’t really recall hearing it on the radio at all, ever.

I suspect that I heard Because The Night in college when, having heard a number of acts I loved mention Patti and/or cover her songs, I delved into her (then) relatively scant catelog and was smitten.

Gerry Rafferty – Baker Street
from Right Down The Line – The Best Of Gerry Rafferty

From the opening notes, Baker Street makes me think of the pool as I was often there that summer and the song was always blaring from the radio or a car stereo.

Frankie Valli – Grease
from The Very Best Of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons

Grease was the movie of the summer in ’78 and the music was everywhere. I doubt that I knew who Frankie Valli was or that Barry Gibb wrote the title song, but I liked it and, like Baker Street, it immediately conjures up summer for me.

Genesis – Follow You Follow Me
from …And Then There Were Three…

The first Top 40 hit for Genesis in the States, Follow You Follow Me came after the reduction of the band to a trio and its incarnation that would have considerable commercial success in the ensuing decade. I imagine it caused considerable angst for the long-time fans of the progressive act.

I had a college roommate who tried to indoctrinate me into Peter Gabriel-era Genesis as have several friends over the years. As much as I love Gabriel’s solo work, I’ve yet to really take to early Genesis, though.

Follow You Follow Me is a song that I’ve always adored. It’s mysterious, distinctive, and hypnotic.


February 2, 2011

I’ve noticed that less than half of the things I begin to scribble end up posted here.

Most of these discarded efforts don’t get beyond a few lines and sometimes there is nothing more than a few cryptic words that meant something momentarily important to me.

(for Seinfeld fans, it’s a “flaming globes of Sigmond!” moment)

Then, there are times when something gets lodged in my head like some cranial hairball that just won’t dislodge. No matter how much I might attempt to zig or zag my thoughts to a different subject, they return to that word, phrase, or idea and there’s no moving on until it’s addressed.

The past few days, each time I’ve sat down to scrawl something, the events in Egypt bob to the surface. Most of the reading I’ve done this past week has been done following the Egyptian revolution and I’ve watched plenty of the televised coverage.

I feel comfortable enough to discuss the subject and I know Mohamed ElBaradei from Omar Suleiman and would have no trouble finding Alexandria on a map, but the simple fact is we won’t know how this plays out ’til we get there.

So, I keep thinking of a waterlogged afternoon while I was living in London in the late ’90s. Sitting in a coffee shop, waiting for the deluge to subside, I struck up a conversation with three kids, students, also waiting out the downpour.

The three could have been college kids on a campus in the States – they had the garb and pop culture savvy – but the trio was from Egypt.

I couldn’t have spoken with them for more than fifteen minutes and I couldn’t tell you what we discussed as it was nothing more than rainy day, coffee shop small talk.

But I do remember their thoughts on the US as if the conversation was yesterday. Though they had issues with the meddling of the American government in various countries including their own homeland, there was nothing but affection for the American people.

It seemed important to them that I understood this sentiment and it was reiterated several times.

The rain ended, one of them bummed a smoke, and we parted ways.

And as I watch the throngs of people in footage from Tahrir Square, I can’t help but wonder if any of those three kids might be there.

Patti Smith – People Have The Power
from Dream Of Life

“People have the power
The power to dream
To rule
To wrestle the world from fools.”


June 3, 2009

Not long ago, I was considering what has been the most extraordinary thing that I had witnessed live on television as it happened.

Sadly, most of the events that bobbed to the surface – the shuttle Challenger explosion, the Gulf War, the second plane hitting on 9/11, the US invasion of Iraq – provided credence to the assessment of the medium by one of the characters in John Irving’s novel A Prayer For Owen Meany

“Television gives good disaster.”

And the one event that this viewer would put at the top of such a list began with the gathering of thousands of Chinese students to mourn the death of pro-market, pro-democracy and anti-corruption official, Hu Yaobang.

It was April, 1989 and the name Hu Yaobang meant nothing to me. I had a gauntlet of rapidly-approaching spring finals with which to contend.

I had moved into a house just off campus a year earlier and it was the first time I had ever had cable television. The television in our living room was never off. Even in the middle of the night, there was usually at least one of the six of us watching something or crashed out on the couch.

By the middle of May in ‘89, it was tuned mostly to CNN.

The mass of mourners gathered for Hu Yaobang had mushroomed into a series of national protests in China; thousands of Chinese students from universities across the country were making their way to Tiananmen Square, calling for a free media and government reform.

CNN was beaming us footage ‘round the clock.

For two weeks, it was the greatest show on Earth.

These kids didn’t look like us, but, like us, they were kids. Of course, this kid was working in a record store and the biggest decision I made each day was whether to sleep in and skip my summer classes or to get up, eat leftover pizza, and skip my summer classes.

On the other side of the globe, these kids were changing the world. These kids were defiantly erecting the Goddess of Democracy statue. These kids were giving the middle finger to The (Chair)Man.

And they were winning.

The Communist Party was bumfoozled as to how to handle the situation as the entire planet held a collective breath, watching the history playing out.

The kids were !@#$%&@ winning.

And, of course, it all came crashing down on the night of June 3rd. The Goddess was pulled down and perhaps thousands were massacred.

Two days later, CNN offered us the final image – the iconic footage of one lone student stopping a column of tanks as they rolled out of the Square.

I had a shift at the record store.

And I had a new understanding that the idealism of youth (or the youthful in spirit) would always be the underdog to frightened old men with tanks.

Patti Smith – People Have The Power
from Dream Of Life

“People have the power
The power to dream
To rule
To wrestle the world from fools.”