Waiting For The Howl*

September 9, 2012

The poster creeped me out – the slightly sepia tint that almost gave it the appearance of a photograph and the inhuman creature splashing through the shallow water.

Below the movie’s title was a tagline that, like the poster, was simple but made it truly chilling.

A true story.

I hadn’t thought of the movie in years and years, but, The Legend Of Boggy Creek bobbed to the surface of the subconscious a couple weeks ago. It would seem from perusing the internet that the nearly forty-year old flick has maintained a prescence in the psyche of a lot of people – especially those that were kids – in the early ’70s.

It apparently did most of its business at drive-ins, but it hit our small town’s theater in late summer of ’74. I was six and the movie, despite being G-rated, was declared forbidden the first time my mom saw a commercial for it.

But there was most definitely a buzz surrounding The Legend Of Boggy Creek. The movie purported to tell the tale of a Sasquatch-type creature living in the forests and swamps of a speck of a town in the southwesternmost part of Arkansas.

Filmed for nothing and featuring locals and not actors, the movie was shot primarily as a documentary, making it a precursor to and an apparent inspiration for The Blair Witch Project twenty-five years later.

The commercial echoed the poster’s eerie vibe with a camera panning through remote, isolated swamp terrain before ending with a shot of dense, ominous woods at dusk and an unholy howl as the voiceover offered the stark reminder that the legend was truth.

It was simple and effective, especially as, at the time, we were living in an apartment complex that backed up to a wooded area. That commercial would air as we’d be watching television in the evening and I’d stare out the glass door to the patio, out into the darkness of those trees and wonder what might be out there.

By the following summer, we had moved to a subdivision on the outskirts of town where the slight outpost of civilization that was our town gave way to vast stretches of farmland. There were wooded areas in all directions broken by expanses of fields.

Those woods were a playground for me and my childhood friends, but, as a kid, when the summer faded and the chill of autumn arrived, those woods would also become a far more spooky setting, especially with dusk coming earlier each evening.

There was nothing in those woods more threatening than deer, but they were mysterious nonetheless and the idea that there might be something out there in the thick trees had been planted in my young mind.

I couldn’t help but stare out my bedroom window, across the fields, and to the treeline on the horizon and wonder…

I finally watched The Legend Of Boggy Creek last week and it is most definitely a mixed bag.

However, the first ten minutes are as creepy as advertised and made more so by the schizophrenic music that accompanies the camera gliding through ominous swamplands and open fields as a young boy – about the age I would have been at the time – hears the creature’s scream.

I wasn’t much into music in the autumn of ’74 as I was focused on what might or might not be lurking in the woods. Here are four songs that were on Billboard magazine’s charts that September…

Eric Clapton – I Shot The Sheriff
from Time Pieces: Best Of Eric Clapton (1982)

I can’t say that I’ve ever been devotee of “Slowhand.” Oh, I admire his skills and understand his place in rock history, but there’s just something that never completely resonated with me. Perhaps it’s because when my interest in music was taking root in the early ’80s, Clapton wasn’t exactly at the height of his powers.

However, Clapton’s take on Bob Marley’s I Shot The Sheriff not only became the guitarist’s biggest hit, it also brought the music of the reggae superstar to a new audience.

Stevie Wonder – You Haven’t Done Nothin’
from Fulfillingness’ First Finale (1974)

The funky You Haven’t Done Nothin’ – with The Jackson 5 providing backup vocals – took the political powers at the time to task and managed to reward Stevie Wonder with yet another hit song during his remarkably prolific ’70s output.

Ten years later, he was calling just to say he loved us.

Gordon Lightfoot – Carefree Highway
from Sundown (1974)

I like The Lightfoot (as I’ve noted before).

Brian Eno – Baby’s On Fire
from Here Come The Warm Jets (1974)

OK, Baby’s On Fire wasn’t a hit, but, in September ’74, Brian Eno’s first solo album since parting company with Roxy Music was on the album charts (albeit in the lower reaches of the Top 200). Despite limited commercial success for his own work, few musicians over the past forty years have been as influential as Eno has been as an artist, collaborator, and producer.

I would be in college before hearing Roxy Music or Eno’s solo work. It was my buddy Streuss who threw on Here Come The Warm Jets one day and the album blew me away. It was twelve years old at the time and sounded as though it could have been released twelve years in the future.

(and King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp’s solo is, in a word, wicked)

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Saturday Night Fever

October 22, 2011

The soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever was the first vinyl album I remember owning, a Christmas gift in 1977.

I had little interest in music at the time, but I imagine that lots of folks received that album, that Christmas season, from people who knew them well enough to feel compelled to give a gift, yet not well enough to not what the recipient might truly want.

I received my copy from from an aunt.

(she wasn’t some cool, hip, younger aunt, but, rather, an older widow who swore like a sailor, drove a beat-up Oldsmobile like a lunatic accompanied by a German Shepherd named Odd, and lived in a crumbling, urban neighborhood prone to gang violence)

Of course, even with meager interest in music, I was aware of the first hit from the soundtrack – The Bee Gees’ How Deep Is Your Love – which was the Number One song in the US on Christmas Day.

The movie had been released in November and I do recall the stir it had caused. My best friend Will had a sister in high school at the time who was obsessed with the movie. The poster from the movie adorned her bedroom wall – Farrah Fawcett’s famous poster hung in the room Will shared with his brother.

(I suppose that if future archealogists unearthed such a tableau, it wouldn’t be a bad pop culture snapshot of the times)

I was ten and hadn’t seen the movie.

Not that I had much interest in it, nor would I have been able to get past the box office at our town’s small movie theater. Everyone knew everyone, making underage admittance to an R-rated movie a no-go.

I would somehow avoid seeing Saturday Night Fever for two decades.

It wasn’t a conscious decision, but I also never thought to myself, damn, I’ve received a blessing from the Dalai Lama, but I really should sit down and watch Saturday Night Fever.

One of friends at a record store where I worked had told us during one our usual post-shift drinking sessions of his aunt, who worked on the lighting for the dancefloor in the movie and even appeared in a number of scenes.

During that same time, I traveled through the UK with one of those barroom buddies. In Stratford-upon-Avon, we returned to our accommodations following an evening of toasting Shakespeare.

It was one of the nicer places we had stayed, a small bungalow-type dwelling with a living room and kitchen.

My buddy crashed, but I sprawled out in the living room, working my way through bags of crisps and channel-surfing.

The screen was suddenly filled with Tony Manero, dressed like a dandy and strutting down some grimy Brooklyn street, making a clumsy attempt to pick up some chick and eating pizza.

All as Stayin’ Alive played over the opening credits.

So, I hunkered down, tore into more crisps, and watched.

And, sure enough, there riding shotgun in the DJ booth was our friend from back in the States, dressed in drag and wearing glasses.

Thirty-four years ago, Saturday Night Fever had yet to be be released to theaters and How Deep Is Your Love had been on the charts for a mere five weeks. Within six months, the movie was a smash, the soundtrack was a juggernaut, and thirty or forty Bee Gees songs or ones penned by the Gibbs were on the radio.

About the only music I was hearing then was from our town’s radio station which would be playing in our kitchen as I ate breakfast before school. It was still a Top 40 station at the time, leaning toward light rock.

Here are four songs from Billboard magazine’s Hot 100 from this week in 1977 that I recall hearing those groggy mornings…

Carly Simon – Nobody Does It Better
from Clouds In My Coffee (1995)

I once asked a friend’s girlfriend if people ever noted her resemblence to Carly Simon.

She was unfamiliar with the singer, but a couple of days later, the buddy called and informed me that the girlfriend had looked up Carly on the internet; she was none too pleased with my comparison.

But, wasn’t Carly simply one of the sexiest women of the ’70s? I mean, I was ten when Nobody Does It Better, the theme song from the James Bond flick The Spy Who Loved Me, was a hit and I’d figured that out.

Foreigner – Cold As Ice
from Foreigner (1977)

Foreigner’s debut album makes me think of Lynn, the older brother of one of our friends from the neighborhood, who resembled a young Axl Rose and drove a black Trans-Am, tearing through the neighborhood with Foreigner blaring from the eight-track player.

Though the group received little love from critics, Foreigner put out some great songs, peaking with the mega-selling Foreigner 4 in ’81.

The dramatic Cold As Ice has all of the things – a nifty balance between guitar and keyboards, soaring vocals, and immediately memorable choruses – that made Foreigner a high school staple.

Paul Simon – Slip Slidin’ Away
from Negotiations And Love Songs 1971-1986 (1988)

In 1977, about the only thing I knew about Paul Simon is that I had seen him on television and I thought that he looked like an older, distant cousin of mine.

I quite liked the laid-back and resigned 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.

Steve Miller Band – Swingtown
from Greatest Hits (1978)

Even before I was really into music, I knew a lot of Steve Miller songs from his hits in ‘70s. Fly Like An Eagle, Jet Airliner, and Take The Money And Run were always playing over the public pool’s sound system.

Personally, I much preferred Swingtown which was a staple on the jukebox in the bowling alley during the winter of ’77 where my friends and I would spend Saturday afternoons.


On The Road To Somewhere

September 3, 2011

Paloma got up, less than ten minutes into The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training, to go read.

She muttered something about thinking Jackie Earle Haley was cute in the first movie and walked out before Kelly Leak arriving on his motorcycle kickstarted its sequel.

“It’s one of the greatest movies of all time,” I countered, but she was unswayed and headed off with Kindle in hand.

I don’t think I’d seen Breaking Training since 1977, but that review was the consensus of me and my friends leaving the theater.

(we were mostly nine or ten-years old, thus, our standards for such acclaim were the same as more noted critics)

We were growing up in a small town in John Mellencamp’s country and, at least at our age, playing baseball consumed much of our summer days.

We had embraced the ragtag collection of Bears with first movie. These kids looked like kids we knew and not kids in a movie.

And there was Jackie Earle Haley who, as Kelly was not only the best player on the team, but he was angry, long-haired, smoking cigarettes and hooking up with Tatum O’Neal.

He was as badass as a thirteen year-old could be in the mid-’70s.

The sequel lost the wonderful Walter Matthau and O’Neal, but gained a road trip.

Through the clever use of a dim-witted groundskeeper, the team manages to head from California to Texas in a stolen (and very ’70s-styled) van with Kelly Leak behind the wheel.

These were kids, more or less like us, unsupervised and mobile.

And Kelly Leak had the vision to make it happen.

The setting for their game against the Texas champions was the Astrodome, a stadium that was a favorite amongst us kids as the most spectacular of sporting venues on the planet.

(it was like something from some other futuristic world)

There was also a new kid playing Englebert the burly catcher. Not only was he now supersized, he was pivitol in the scene that elicited the biggest laughs from us.

During a brawl in the team’s hotel room, the bathroom door is knocked open to reveal Englebert, sitting on the can, trousers around his ankles, plowing through a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken while he answers nature’s call.

(high hilarity for nine year-olds and an act of multi-tasking that present-day corporate America would encourage)

Thirty-four years ago, it all made for a most excellent cinematic experience. Here are four songs from Billboard magazine’s Hot 100 chart for this week in 1977 that, had we been in that van, my friends and I might have heard…

Fleetwood Mac – Don’t Stop
from 25 Years: The Chain

In 1977, there was plenty Fleetwood Mac on the radio as their Rumours was in the midst of a run that would see it become one of the most commercially successful albums of all time.

The group had already had hits with Go Your Own Way and Dreams when the jaunty Don’t Stop became the third of Rumours‘ eventual four Top 40 singles.

Ram Jam – Black Betty
from Ram Jam

Paloma gets a bit giddy when she hears Black Betty and the lone hit by Ram Jam does grab one’s attention from the opening guitar riff.

I can’t hear Black Betty and not think of junior high when the song would invariably be blaring from the jukebox of the pizza place where most of our football team would gather to eat before home games.

The song made guitarist Bill Bartlett a two-time member of one-hit wonders as he had previously been lead guitarist for The Lemon Pipers who had topped the charts in the late ’60s with the bubblegum of Green Tambourine.

Paul Davis – I Go Crazy
from Sweet Life: His Greatest Hit Singles

Singer/songwriter Paul Davis’ I Go Crazy was in its second week on the charts thirty-four years ago. The song wouldn’t reach the Top Ten, though, until late February of the following year as it spent a then-record 40 weeks on the Hot 100.

Though I Go Crazy was melancholic light rock at its most mellow, I’ve often wondered if Davis was ever mistaken for a member of the Allman Brothers.

The Ramones – Sheena Is A Punk Rocker
from Hey! Ho! Let’s Go: The Anthology

Not long ago, a client was giving me his last name. “Ramone,” he said. “Like the band. Do you know who I’m talking about?”

He was surprised and duly impressed as I explained that I not only knew his reference, but that Paloma has a framed poster autographed by Joey,Johnny, Dee Dee, and Marky hanging in our treehouse.