Big Fish*

May 8, 2011

How far is it from a relatively obscure, failed ‘70s feature film by an Oscar-winning director to a thirty-foot, fiberglass catfish?

Thirty-five miles.

Paloma and I have taken advantage of the fact that, here in the 21st century, people will deliver movies to your doorstep because we enjoy movies and…well…going to a theater requires leaving the couch and venturing into an often rude, zombie wasteland.

I’ve been delving into grainy movie memories from my childhood (several of which I’ve mentioned of late). One which I wanted to check out was Sorcerer, a 1977 film directed by William Friedkin (of The Exorcist fame) and starring Roy Scheider, who was fresh off the boat from his fishing excursion in Jaws.

I’d been fascinated by the poster for Sorcerer as a kid and the viewer comments on The Internet Movie Database touted it as an underappreciated gem.

The story revolved around four dodgy characters from various locales around the globe that end up hiding out in some South American village. Through a chain of events, they become mercenaries, driving two trucks laden with nitroglycerin through the jungle at great peril.

(Paloma was intrigued by this concept as a potential career opportunity)

Inspired by the viewing of Sorcerer, I decided that we should take a trek of our own, sans nitroglycerin, to a small town in the middle of nowhere where a restaurant boasted their catfish to be the finest in the state.

Paloma, ever supportive of my random whims – and won over by my assertion that such a place would certainly have pie – agreed to the venture, so long as I knew where we were going.

(leading to my assessment, halfway somewhere, that “we should be going west…or maybe south.”)

Thirty-five miles from our front door, there it was, a giant fiberglass catfish, perched majestically atop the roof of a roadside shack, proclaiming to all passers-by, here be catfish!

In the end, the catfish was serviceable, the Mississippi mud pie was, in the words of Paloma, “divine,” the thirty-foot catfish sign was the most life-like thirty-foot catfish sign I’ve ever seen, and Sorcerer was gritty, suspenseful, slightly surreal and well worth the walk to the mailbox.

There’s a lot of stuff under the sea. Here are four songs titled after some of the things that might be found in the briny deep…

The Other Two – Tasty Fish
from The Other Two & You

New Order were college radio darlings when I was in school and a lot of my friends loved the band. I was much more a casual listener.

In 1993, Gillian Gilbert and Stephen Morris – half of New Order – released an album as The Other Two. I liked it enough to file it away, but I couldn’t have named a song by the duo until Tasty Fish popped up.

It’s totally charming electro-pop, a pulsating, shimmering three minutes or so that would have been enough for me to hold onto the album to be rediscovered one day.

The B-52’s – Rock Lobster
from The B-52’s

I know that I wasn’t familiar with Rock Lobster in ’79. I can’t imagine that I heard the song until 97X went on the air four years later.

Then, Rock Lobster was a staple for the station and a burst of fun from the radio when it would come up.

Hooverphonic – Tuna
from Blue Wonder Power Milk

Like a lot of people, I was mesmerized the first time I heard A New Stereophonic Sound Spectacular by the electronica/trip hop of the Belgian band Hooverphonic. It was a hypnotic listening experience.

Unfortunately, that album as well as Blue Wonder Power Milk and The Magnificent Tree didn’t make the transfer from harddrive to iPos explaining why I hadn’t heard the band in awhile.

Chilly, stately, and dreamy, Tuna, like most of Hooverphonic’s oeuvre, is perfect music to drift away to while listening on headphones.

Heart – Barracuda
from Greatest Hits

Though Heart might have had a lull in the early ’80s, the band remained popular on radio stations in our part of the Midwest. Then, the band notched a string of massive hits and platinum-selling albums in the mid-’80s that took the band to new heights.

I quite liked some of those latter ’80s hits, but I preferred Heart’s less-varnished ’70s stuff. The ubiquitousness of that later period made it easy to forget how much raw energy the band possessed.

Barracuda – driven by Ann Wilson’s piercing banshee wail – was as fierce as a band could hope to be.

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The Chicken Baron Of Devil’s Tower

November 13, 2010

As Paloma will attest, I will drive into the hinterlands for fried chicken.

And though I saw them on what seemed like every corner of Kuching while traveling in Borneo, visiting our nearest Kentucky Fried Chicken is a trip into the urban hinterlands – a twenty-minute drive to a dodgy part of town.

About two or three times a year the lure will be too strong and I’ll make the trek.

It’s also seared into my memory to hear The Drunken Frenchman quite drunkenly hoist a glass to toast, “Colonel Sanders – a great American!”

That inexplicable, wholly random declaration – completely unrelated to any conversation at our table of friends that night – has baffled me for nearly twenty years.

Perhaps it was a message from the cosmos that I must unravel to achieve enlightenment.

Perhaps the Frenchman was merely very, very drunk.

So when I happened across a bio about the chicken mogul, I watched.

I don’t think that I would have wanted to have a drink with The Colonel.

He seemed like a bit of a douche.

But, that aside, there’s no debate that the man made a pretty strong bird.

The universe, through The Drunken Frenchman, might have been telling me that the path to enlightenment is to become a fried chicken mogul.

Perhaps I was just craving fried chicken.

I’m going to put aside the need for perfecting a strong bird of my own for the moment. Obviously a culinarily masterful, palatte-pleasing recipe will be integral to achieving moguldom, but I turned my attention to another important element.

Location.

Col. Sanders first restaurant was located strategically on a highway in a rural part of Kentucky. That left forty-nine states and howevermany territories and protecterates from which to choose.

A few nights later, I finally popped in the DVD of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind that I’d purchased several weeks before. As I watched the breathtaking classic film, the universe nudged me again.

The volcanic outcropping known as Devil’s Tower – where the climax of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind takes place – is located in a national state park in the northeastern corner of Wyoming and nearly half a million tourists visit each year.

There would be no shortage of travellers wanting nothing more than to finger lick chicken from their phalanges.

And, if the aliens do show up at Devil’s Tower as they do in the movie…well, I’d have to think that fried chicken favored by our interstellar overlords trumps eleven herbs and spices proffered by a Colonel who wasn’t even a colonel.

Perhaps somewhere on US 90, leading to Devil’s Tower, is my Kentucky and my shot at fried chicken moguldom.

One more sign from the universe and Paloma and I will be packing up the animals and heading for Hulett.

Perhaps I should get started concocting a recipe.

In December, it will be thirty years since The Colonel hung up his mortal apron and headed for some kitchen in the afterlife. Here are four songs from albums that had recently been released and might have been added to his collection…

The Police – De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da
from Zenyattà Mondatta

Three albums in and the British trio broke through with Zenyattà Mondatta which took them to the Top Ten on the album chart as well as the singles chart with the deceptively insightful and ridiculously catchy De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da.

I know that, at the time, I was unfamiliar with earlier hits that The Police had notched with Roxanne and Message In A Bottle, but I took to De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da the first time I heard the song. It wouldn’t be long before I was a devoted fan and knew their catalog inside and out.

(I’d like to imagine The Colonel singing along as De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da blared from a transistor radio in the kitchen)

Harry Chapin – Sequel
from Sequel

I knew little of singer/songwriter Harry Chapin’s music aside from a few songs (one being, obviously, his enduring hit Cat’s In The Cradle, a song whose bad rap I never quite understood).

However, the late singer is a favorite over at The Revue Review, though, and over the course of a number of posts there, I’ve become far more familiar with Chapin and increasingly fascinated by both the man and his underappreciated music.

I don’t recall hearing Sequel when it became Chapin’s final hit in 1980 – a year before his tragic death – but the song is a poignant and satisfying follow-up to the tale Chapin had recounted almost a decade earlier with his hit Taxi.

Suzi Quatro – Lipstick
from Rock Hard

Leather-clad rocker Suzi Quatro, who had portrayed leather-clad rocker Leather Tuscadero on the television series Happy Days, is another act that has existed mostly under my radar. I knew the name, but I had heard nothing by the singer aside from Stumblin’ In, her smash duet with Smokie’s Chris Norman from 1978.

In Lipstick, I hear an engaging fusion of Blondie, Joan Jett, and Them’s classic Gloria . I also hear a scorned woman whose affections I’d be hesitant to trifle with.

Dire Straits – Skateaway
from Making Movies

Other than Sultans Of Swing, this was the second song I think I ever knew by Dire Straits. I’m not sure where – as we didn’t have MTV in our town at the time – but I saw the video. Probably on Night Flights which we got a year or two before MTV.

Anyhow, Skateaway has always been one of my favorites by them.


The Headless Maiden*

October 23, 2010

moonGrowing up, there was no house in my hometown that the kids passed warily, whispering amongst themselves as they eyed the dilapidated structure and weed-riddled, overgrown yard reined in by nothing more than a decaying wrought iron fence.

However, I know from the television and movies I’ve consumed over my life, that everyone else had such a landmark in their life.

In fact, I can think of nothing in my small hometown that had a paranormal bent to it – no legends, no lore, no creatures lurking in the woods. There was simply no sinister goings on and never had been.

(perhaps the townsfolk lacked imagination)

The closest thing to the macabre I recall was one grave.

On the southwest edge of town, one street led to a small, non-descript bridge which sped travellers into a vast stretch of sparsely populated farmland. There were fewer homes as you approached the bridge, even though it was no more than a twenty-minute walk from the center of town.

It was dark out that way at night.

A classmate lived in a large two-story house which was one of the last homes before reaching the bridge. Running past their home, off that main street, was a tree-lined lane which led to,a half-mile or so from the street, a cemetary.

The trees grew more dense as you walked deeper into the grounds, culminating in a woods, separated from the cemetary by a small ravine. There, under a canopy of thick trees, was a rectangular, stone slab, with weather-worn scripture quotes and no name.

At one end of the slab was a small stone lamb with no head.

The story our classmate had told us was that, a hundred years or more earlier, the property had been owned by a vicious racist. One day, as he was hunting in those woods, he spotted a young Native American girl on the far side of the ravine.

Then, like Roland did to Van Owen in Warren Zevon’s Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner, the racist land owner raised his gun and blew off the Native American girl’s head. I remember our classmate saying, “Her head popped off and rolled into the ravine.”

It was the Native American girl supposedly buried beneath that slab.

It would make the tale more eerie I suppose if I could tell you that townsfolk had claimed to have seen a headless spirit or heard mournful wails from those woods. But, as far as I know, there no such stories.

There was little reason to go back there. There were a number of places for the high school kids to escape from supervision, so that cemetary wasn’t even a gathering place where minors might smoke or drink.

I might have to trek back there the next time I visit.

Curve – Horror Head
from Doppelganger

Curve caught my attention when Doppelganger arrived in our record store at the time and a few of us played the hell out of it. The British duo’s music was dense and cacophonous, but there was also melody underpinning the towering layers of guitars and swirling electronics and Toni Halliday’s vocals were provocative and sensual.

Queen – Don’t Lose Your Head
from A Kind Of Magic

My friends and I remained devoted to Queen throughout high school, even though their popularity in the States cratered following the massively successful The Game and that album was released while we were still in junior high school. A Kind Of Magic hit stores just weeks after we graduated and we were stoked to check it out as it featured a number of songs from the movie Highlander which we had seen months before.

For the most part, I was disappointed in the album, but the dance rock workout Don’t Lose Your Head was one track I did dig. And, the song features a cameo by singer/songwriter Joan Armatrading that’s always struck me as anu unusual union.

Rage Against The Machine – Bullet In The Head
from Rage Against The Machine

I didn’t immediately gravitate to Rage Against The Machine. I thought their politics to be somewhat half-baked. However, seeing them live, opening for U2 – a band against whom the same accusation could be made regarding politics – made me a fan of the sheer sonic force of Rage’s music.

Concrete Blonde – Your Haunted Head
from Concrete Blonde

I didn’t truly fall for Concrete Blonde until their third album Bloodletting, but I quickly went back and grabbed their two previous albums. Both Bloodletting and the trio’s eponymous debut were staples in college and the band was also much beloved on alternative radio.

Though Concrete Blonde was quite adept at producing quasi-gothic tracks with crooned vocals, there were also songs in their catalog like Your Haunted Head that brought the grit and the snarl with equal aplomb and harkened to the band’s punk roots.

*reposted – with some alterations – from Halloween ’09