Filmstrips And Fire Ants

April 25, 2012

I must have been part of the last generation of kids who got to experience a filmstrip during the course of their education. If I were a teacher, I’d be tempted to show one to trip the kids out.

But as a grade school tyke in the ’70s, few things were more welcome than being in class and having the teacher set up the projector. The anticipation would be palpable.

For fifteen or twenty minutes, you had a reprieve from the monotony of the day. Sometimes technical difficulties might result in a delay, taking more time off the clock.

I recall several filmstrips warning of dire consequences involving the migration of fire ants and Africanized honey bees northward and, thusly, toward us.

Sitting in the dark of the class room in 1978, it looked as though the shit was going to hit the fan in the ’80s and the insects would be taking over.

We’d all have to dress like John Travolta in The Boy In The Plastic Bubble to keep from being stung to death.

There might have been some influx into the Midwest of very angry bugs during the decade, but I don’t recall hearing of any issues.

For years, I assumed that the fire ants were just another filmstrip lie from childhood like the existence of the metric system.

“Oh yeah,” I’d sneer. “Where are the fire ants? How many grams is that?”

But Paloma and I made a recent trek to Texas and, yes, I met some fire ants and even got a couple bites which lived up to the hype.

I was actually hoping to bump into Willie Nelson.

I want a gig.

Not as a musician as, I am not. Just a gig as Willie’s assistant…picking up laundry, walking dogs, answering the phone, opening mail, caddying…

It would be the greatest, most Zen gig ever.

But getting stung by some fire ants was fun, too.

Just as the filmstrip foretold.

Thirty-four years ago, I was far more focused on the impacable march of the fire ants than music, but here are four songs that were on Billboard‘s Hot 100 at the time…

Bonnie Tyler – It’s A Heartache
from Super Hits Of The 70s: Have A Nice Day Volume 21 (1993)

I dig Bonnie Tyler’s raspy-voiced emotional breakdown It’s A Heartache which, until Total Eclipse Of The Heart hit five years later, seemed destined to make the Welsh singer a one-hit wonder in the States.

It’s A Heartache also reminds me of the NBA championship series from that spring as it was played over a montage following the final game. I’d wagered five dollars on the plucky underdog Seattle Supersonics and lost my allowance that week to my brother who had chosen the victorious Washington Bullets.

(and, please, can we jettison the Wizards – possibly the lamest nickname in pro sports – and return to Bullets)

Kansas – Dust In The Wind
from The Best Of Kansas (1984)

So, I’m ten-years old and I’m groggily sitting at our kitchen table, having been rousted out of bed at six in the morning for school.

There’s news coming from the radio and, then, a song – a pretty, acoustic song with soothing guitars and lovely harmonies – is playing. And they’re singing about everything crumbling to the ground and only earth and sky lasting.

I’m pondering whether it’s possible to – just once – get through a bowl of Cocoa Pebbles before they liquified into a slushy mush and Kansas is playing the soundtrack.

Paul McCartney & Wings – With A Little Luck
from Wingspan: Hits And History (2001)

Sure, Sir Paul wasn’t going to match the impact of The Beatles no matter what he did, but there is enough wonderful music in the Wings’ catalog that would have made for a fine career had he never been fab.

Though I wasn’t much interested in music at the time beyond what I’d hear secondhand, I loved the breezy With A Little Luck. I couldn’t go to the pool during the summer of ’78 without hearing it playing over the loudspeakers.

Genesis – Follow You Follow Me
from …And Then There Were Three… (1978)

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.


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.


The Blizzard Of ’78

June 14, 2010

Wikipedia is one site that, if I’m not careful, can suck me in for lengthy periods.

Sure, you have to scrutinize the information, but it’s a good place to start or if you merely want a quick answer.

That’s where things go awry for me.

The other night, I had a question about the movie Hoosiers and, somehow – and I couldn’t quite recreate the steps – I ended up twenty minutes later at the site’s entry for “Great Blizzard Of 1978.”

I remember that storm and, with daily high temperatures that have climbed into the 90s after weeks in the high 80s, the thought of it is refreshing.

(a friend left a message yammering about temperatures in the 100s for July – I’m hoping it’s merely his incoherent ramblings and not actually based on forecasts…)

That blizzard hit the Ohio Valley and the Great Lakes during the last week of January, 1978.

Chicago got sixty inches of snow.

Lansing, Michigan – where Magic Johnson would have been in the middle of his freshman season at Michigan State – got nearly twenty.

Indianapolis had sixteen inches and Cincinnati almost doubled that amount.

We were situated between the latter two cities and I seem to recall we got about eighteen or so inches of snow over those three days. Temperatures on Wednesday, January 25th had climbed into the low 40s – comfortable for that time of year.

In the early hours before I woke for school the next morning, the snow began to fall. I awoke to half a foot of snow blanketing the ground with schools already being announced as closed.

Our school system was not prone to shutting things down for incidental snow of even a few inches and the trigger to do so was usually not pulled quickly.

It continued to snow through the day and, that evening, the local radio station announced that school would also be cancelled the following day. Our town was small and one of our teachers, a good friend of my mom, had broken the news with a phone call an hour or so earlier.

It was one of the greatest moments of my life.

(I was ten – the bar was low)

As the next day was Friday, I was smack dab in the middle of an unexpected four-day weekend that had fallen from the heavens. I’m sure I celebrated by staying up late enough to watch Hawaii Five-O and sleeping in the next morning.

The snow began to taper off by the end of that weekend, but, we managed to snag a few more days off the following week. Having already accumulated a few days prior to the blizzard, there was ugly talk that the snow days would have to be made up.

Suddenly, I feared that summer break would be delayed ’til June.

When we returned to school, there was a mammoth pile of snow that had been cleared from the playground. It sat there in a corner like some iceberg that had drifted in from the Arctic, standing as high as the rims of the nearby basketball goal.

Fortunately, we were required to make up no missed days and summer break arrived on time in late May… just as that iceberg finally disappeared.

The radio was on each morning as we ate breakfast that winter, tuned in to our town’s radio station, WRBI, which, at that time, was touted as a rock station, but which, as I recall, was more soft rock.

From the Billboard charts for the week of the blizzard, there are a number of songs I remember hearing as we awaited word if we could go back to bed or had to trudge off to school. Here are four of them…

Linda Ronstadt – Blue Bayou
from The Very Best Of Linda Ronstadt

Linda Ronstadt had a fairly impressive run of hits in the ’70s including the wistful Blue Bayou, but, I hear her name and I think of a classmate. It was about a year or so after the blizzard and Ronstadt had most recently released her Living In The USA album.

(the one a cover shot of her on roller skates and wearing an inconceivably short pair of satin shorts)

Our teacher asked us to name something of interest to twelve-year old boys.

The classmate raised his hand and replied, “Linda Ronstadt.”

Paul Simon – Slip Slidin’ Away
from Negotiations And Love Songs 1971-1986

In 1978, about the only thing I knew about Paul Simon is that I had seen him as a guest on some television show and I thought that he looked like an older, distant cousin of mine.

I quite liked the smooth Slip Slidin’ Away when it would come on the radio, but it would be several more years before I began to learn of Simon’s place in pop music culture and his classic work with Art Garfunkel.

David Gates – The Goodbye Girl
from Super Hits Of The 70s: Have A Nice Day Volume 21

I didn’t see the movie The Goodbye Girl, though I did recognize Richard Dreyfuss in the television commercials as Roy Neary from Close Encounters Of A Third Kind.

Mostly, I remember seeing Quinn Cummings, a child actress who was my age, on some afternoon talk show – Mike Douglas or Dinah Shore – promoting the movie and being quite smitten.

Kansas – Dust In The Wind
from The Best Of Kansas

So, I’m ten-years old and I’m groggily sitting at our kitchen table, having been rousted out of a warm bed at six in the morning for school.

There’s news coming from the radio and, then, a song – a pretty, acoustic song with soothing guitars and lovely harmonies – is playing. And they’re singing about everything crumbling to the ground and only earth and sky lasting.

I’m pondering whether it’s possible to – just once – get through a bowl of Cocoa Pebbles before they liquified into a slushy mush and Kansas is playing the soundtrack.