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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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.


Nothing Says Easter Like Ravenous, Rampaging Rabbits, Mushrooms And Extra Cheese

April 23, 2011

It’s Easter weekend and people all over the globe will, to paraphrase the late, great visionary Bill Hicks, commemorate the death and resurrection of their professed savior by telling children a giant bunny rabbit left chocolate eggs in the night.

Forget the hunt for pastel-colored eggs. the ceremonial carving of the spiral-cut, honeybaked ham, and religious observances. Several years ago, Paloma and I opted for a more unique way to do Easter – snagging a carryout pizza and watching Night Of The Lepus.

For those of you unfamiliar with this cinematic opus, Night Of The Lepus was born out of the nascent groundswell of environmental consciousness of the early ’70s, a movement that provided inspiration for a number of science fiction films at the time.

I must have been six or seven, when I first saw the movie, sitting in the dark of our living room, on the CBS Late Movie. As the credits appeared on the screen, I asked my dad, “What the @#$%& is a lepus?”

(actually, my vocabulary was less sodium-based at the time and it’s likely all I said was “huh?”)

But, despite my father’s surprising reply to my lepus query, I knew the CBS Late Movie to be a cornucopia of B-movies shown after the local news in the ’70s which often featured nature run amok.

And amok it runs in Night Of The Lepus in the form of rabbits the size of Volkswagens who have developed a taste for humans. Actually, they seemed disinclined to consume the terrified townsfolk, instead gnawing on them as though they were large, pale carrots.

Paloma and I had tentatively planned to make a tradition of a viewing of Night Of The Lepus on Easter, but, alas, one viewing of the film seems to have been enough for her.

So, this year, it’s Chinese take-out and Watership Down.

Night Of The Lepus was in theaters in 1972, so I must have seen the movie for the first time the following year. Here are four songs that were on the Billboard singles chart in late April of ’73…

Lou Reed – Walk On The Wild Side
from Transformer

How can a listener not get drawn into Lou Reed’s tawdry tale of life in the dirty city?

Is it possible to not hear Walk On The Wild Side and not have the colored girls singing “doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo” in your head for the rest of the day?

But, when I think of Lou Reed, I can’t help but remember a summer afternoon in 1986 when I was hanging out with my high school girlfriend, lounging in the den, watching MTV. Her great-grandmother, visiting from the Phillipines, was sitting there with us when the video for Reed’s No Money Down came on.

Great-grandmother had paid little attention to the television until, midway through the song, Reed began to claw at his face as he sang, tearing the skin off and revealing his skull as the old woman – now watching the proceedings for which she had no cultural frame of reference – freaked out.

War – The Cisco Kid
from The World Is A Ghetto

On the mental list which I keep of songs that I’d rather not hear ever again is War’s Low Rider. There’s just something about the song that is like a popcorn kernal caught between my molars.

But the south of the border groove of The Cisco Kid is always welcome.

Stevie Wonder – You Are The Sunshine Of My Life
from Song Review: Greatest Hits

Some love songs are dramatic.

Some love songs are gooey.

And then, there is the occasional love song that captures a feeling of contentment which I would offer as the most accurate vibe of the emotion. Well done, Mr. Wonder.

Roberta Flack – Killing Me Softly With His Song
from The Best Of Roberta Flack

Most of the music I was hearing in 1973 was courtesy of the car radio. So, there are hits from the time that I actually remember hearing and ones with which I would become familiar during the ensuing years as I grew older and music became a part of my life.

Roberta Flack’s Killing Me Softly With His Song is one of the former and, as it was one of the year’s biggest hits, I recall hearing it often. Though it would be toward the end of the decade when I truly became interested in music, there was something about the song that drew me in even in ’73.