Way Out West(ern)

February 23, 2011

I have vague memories of pestering my parents to allow me to stay up and watch Gunsmoke on Monday nights.

That long-running television Western was off the air before I reached grade school. I grew up in what was probably the first wave of kids for who Westerns weren’t an essential part of childhood.

And, instead of John Wayne, I think Clint Eastwood.

(in truth, I’ve never really watched a John Wayne movie of any kind)

Eastwood’s Unforgiven, The Outlaw Josie Wales, and High Plains Drifter, though, are all essential viewing for me as are his trio of Spaghetti Westerns with Sergio Leone.

I vividly recall one of those infrequent nights as a small kid when I inexplicably escaped being sent off to bed well before the late news aired.

The news had come and gone and, yet, there I was, sprawled on the floor with a pillow and a blanket, basking in the glow of late-night television.

I was seven, maybe eight and I knew little of this mysterious world.

My dad was still awake, stretched out in his chair, as up popped the logo for The CBS Late Movie on the television screen in all of its mid-’70s glory and there was For A Few Dollars More.

There we were, me and the old man, watching as Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef tracked the fugitive El Indio with steely-eyed resolve.

There was a crazy prospector, a hunchback, a little person, some odd sound effects, an unending hail of bullets, and Ennio Morricone’s musical brilliance. There were moments and scenes that were not unlike the cartoons I watched.

(except for the bullets and music)

The Old West in this flick bore little resemblence to the one which I’d seen on Sunday mornings when the only options on our handful of television stations was religious programming or an old Western in black and white.

Black and white?! I might as well have read a book.

This had grit and I could all but feel the heat shimmering from the desert plains. When Clint squinted into the glare of the sun on the horizon, so did I.

And sometime before Clint loaded up the pile of bodies into a cart to collect his bounties and Lee Van Cleef rode off alone, my dad explained to me the origin of the term Spaghetti Western.

Westerns named after my favorite meal…

The late-night world held wonders and the music of Ennio Morricone was the soundtrack.

The only Ennio Morricone I own are the soundtracks to Cinema Paradiso and The Mission – both of which are stellar – and a few other odd tracks.

So, here are a pair of songs from Ennio Morricone’s classic soundtrack to The Good, The Bad And The Ugly and a pair from the late ’80s soundtrack to the obscure, twisted spaghetti Western flick Straight To Hell

Ennio Morricone – The Good, The Bad And The Ugly
from The Good, The Bad And The Ugly soundtrack

Ennio Morricone – The Ecstasy Of Gold
from The Good, The Bad And The Ugly soundtrack

Evocative and compelling, it’s impossible to think of The Man With No Name and not hear the music of Ennio Morricone (and vice versa). It was a perfect marriage.

If I could – and I suppose there’s no reason I couldn’t except for obvious financial constraints – I’d hire Morricone to write theme music for me which I would then listen to on my iPod all day as I went about my tasks.

That’s what I’d do.

Pray For Rain – The Killers
from Straight To Hell soundtrack

The Pogues – Rabinga
from Straight To Hell soundtrack

Two years ago, I wrote about Straight To Hell, an odd curio of a movie starring Elvis Costello, Joe Strummer, and The Pogues as well as a pre-fame Courtney Love, Dennis Hopper and Grace Jones.

The tagline for the movie – which was from the same director/writer behind the ’80s cult flick Repo Man – was “a story of blood, money, guns, coffee, and sexual tension.”

The movie was underwhelming, but there was some cool, Morricone-inspired music on the soundtrack.

Straight To Hell, Indeed

March 12, 2009

For several years, I worked in a very large record store. One of the perks of the job (aside from cocooning oneself from reality) was free rentals from our video department.

One night, after working a closing shift, I was perusing the “midnight movie” section, and locked onto a spine that read “Straight To Hell.” I pulled it from the rack and the cast drew me in.

Joe Strummer.

The Pogues.

Elvis Costello.

Dennis Hopper.

Grace Jones.

I recognized the director’s name – Alex Cox. He had directed Repo Man, a strange little film involving aliens, punks, and Harry Dean Stanton mentoring a young Emilio Estevez in the arts of the titular profession. The film was a must-see for teenagers in the ‘80s.

Straight To Hell opens with a botched bank heist by a gang including a pre-celebrity status Courtney Love. They end up fleeing to a bizarre, desert town right out of some Sergio Leone flick which is run by a gang consisting of members of The Pogues and The Clash’s Joe Strummer.

(it’s been well over fifteen years since I’ve seen the movie, so some of my details might be off)

The entire population of townsfolk is all whacked out on caffeine, swilling coffee like whisky which is served by Elvis Costello as some kind of butler.

There was also a hot dog vendor/troubadour.

Supposedly, the movie came about following the collapse of a scheduled tour in Nicaragua by Costello, Strummer, and The Pogues in support of the Sandinistas.

Since everyone now had an open schedule, they headed for Spain under the guidance of director Cox and made a movie.

Though I didn’t know that back story at the time, the surreal, spaghetti Western setting and Pogue Shane MacGowan in all his orthodontically-challenged glory had me expecting much.

I was certain that I would see one of the most entertaining things in the history of cinema or such an unmitigated disaster that it would still be one of the most entertaining things in the history of cinema.

It failed to achieve either inspired extreme.

Instead, I yawned a lot and the movie seemed to last longer than the time Paloma and I decided to watch the entire Lord Of The Rings trilogy in just one sitting (me being pretty much unfamiliar with the Tolkien epic).

And, when Straight To Hell ended, I had pretty much the same reaction I would have years later at the conclusion of Frodo’s road trip (or Mr. Frodo as that sycophantic sidekick kept calling him).

I just kind of stared at the television screen, slack-jawed and inert.

At least Straight To Hell had a cool little soundtrack.

The Pogues – The Good, The Bad & The Ugly
Yes, it’s The Pogues doing Ennio Morricone’s classic theme. Actually, it reminds me more of the style of Big Audio Dynamite (who were led by another member of The Clash – Mick Jones) than The Pogues.

Pray For Rain – The Killers
If I recall correctly, The Killers played over the opening credits of Straight To Hell. The song is stellar, but things went downhill from there.

Joe Strummer – Evil Darling
Evil Darling is one of two songs by the late, great Joe Strummer featured in Straight To Hell.

Zander Schloss – Salsa Y Ketchup
I mentioned that there was a hot dog vendor/troubadour in the movie. Well, that part was played by Zander Schloss of The Circle Jerks. Throughout the movie, the MacManus Gang which runs the town torments him. “Lets make that Weiner Kid sing his song. Wanna?”

"I Don’t Want To Make Money, Folks…I Just Love To Sell Guns."

April 13, 2008

Recently, Paloma and I caught a late-night showing of a movie called Equinox, a sci-fi flick from the early ’70s which has a cult following due to the fact that it began as a student film by Dennis Muren. Muren would find much success later for his special effects work on numerous films, including the Star Wars series.

Equinox was a familiar feature from my childhood as it seemed to be shown every other week on WTTV’s Science Fiction Theater. Seeing it again also brought back vivid memories of a personal bogeyman spawned by consumerism run rampant…

…Don, erstwhile proprietor and namesake of Don’s Guns.

Don was a regional phenomenon, his advertising reach relegated to central Indiana where his lone storefront/armory was located. His budget allotment for marketing apparently only great enough to purchase face-time in the wee hours on an independent television station, but his leering mug made quite an impression as I have learned from fellow Hoosiers, few of whom seemed to have escaped seeing Don hawking his wares.

His commercials were like an ambush. One minute, I’d be sitting there, a nine-year old in Spiderman pajamas, huddled under a blanket, watching Channel 4 only to have Don practically burst from the screen and into the living room. If Equinox or Night Of The Lepus wasn’t frightening enough, there was Don.

Don epitomized snake-oil salesman, approaching a level of smarm that would be the envy of any elected official and doing it so effortlessly. Perhaps it was his resemblance to an extremely dodgy Kenny Rogers. Possibly, it was the sheer, unadulterated glee with which he made his pitch.

Most likely it was the manner in which he closed every commercial – Don gazing maniacally from the screen, toothy grin flashing as he delivered his mantra, “I don’t want to make money, folks. I just love to sell guns.”. (This linked commercial must be of more recent vintage – note the Spanish subtitle – and puts a twist on his trademark closing quote)

And then he’d be gone. DeForest Kelly would return – battling the bunnies in Night Of The Lepus – but somehow it lacked the punch to follow-up the spectacle of Don.

And where is Don now? Googling him, my computer screen was filled with results, most of which sullied my fond memories of Don as many alluded to numerous alleged improprieties involving his business. In fact, one item feted him as “the nation’s sixth-worst dealer” based on the number of firearms sold that were used in criminal activity.

And all the daffy bastard wanted to do was sell guns. Is that so wrong?

Adrian Belew (with David Bowie) – Gunman
A record store co-worker from years ago lived next door to Belew who was, by their account, a model neighbor. Neighbor-wise, Paloma and I are stuck with a crack dealer, a drunk who considers himself an artist (for his sculptures not his drinking), and an extraordinarily mediocre jam band who insist on mistakenly referring to their sound as “trip-hop.”

Pray For Rain – Money, Guns And Coffee
This track comes from the soundtrack to a movie called Straight To Hell, a bizarre, quasi-Western about a town populated by java junkies and starring Courtney Love, Joe Strummer, Shane MacGowan (and other members of The Pogues), and Elvis Costello.

Warren Zevon – Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner
I once had a dream that Zevon, for some infraction, was sentenced to do community service in which he was to take underprivileged kids camping (for some reason, I was part of this expedition). Instead of communing with nature in the great outdoors, Warren had us spread out our sleeping bags on the floor of some posh hotel suite and, as we all sat around gorging ourselves on room service, he repeatedly bellowed, “We’re roughing it now, aren’t we, kids!”

The Connells – Get A Gun