The Clicker

March 2, 2013

clickerI was watching Pardon The Interruption the other morning before work when I heard Mike Wilbon mention something that – by his reference and my recognition – dated both of us.

The clicker.

The first people that I knew who were capable of dictating commands to the television by merely lifting their fingers would have been my grandparents.

My brother and I were gobsmacked.

We couldn’t wait to get our hands on The Clicker for a spin through the dial.

With half a dozen channels, it was a short trip, but, with the bulky controller in my grubby kid hands, I was momentarily the master of time and space with the ability to vaporize commercials with a shrug and a click.

(and I seem to recall that there was indeed an audible click)

The clicker meant power – sheer unbridled power. My brother and I behaved like jabbering idiots in its presence, coveting it as Gollum did that ring.

Unlike Gollum, there were two of us.

It would end in a brawl which would earn a swift sentence to vacate the house – as it was “too nice to be inside” – and a ban from playing with the remote as, like everything deemed for adults, it was “not a toy.”

It was sometime later in the decade when the parents replaced the television that I had known my most of my life with a new, modern edition that we finally had a remote control (of the non-click variety) in the house.

(what had seemed to be a glimpse into a Jetson-like future a few years earlier was now merely an expected convenience)

I don’t believe that my brother or I were even school-age when we had our first encounter with The Clicker which would make the introduction forty years in the past. Forty years ago, the television, not the radio, had my interest.

(and so it would remain for a half dozen years or so)

Here are four songs that were in the Top 40 on Billboard magazine’s Hot 100 forty years ago this week…

Roberta Flack – Killing Me Softly With His Song
from The Best Of Roberta Flack (1981)

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 lovely song that drew me in even in ’73.

Carly Simon – You’re So Vain
from Clouds In My Coffee 1966-1996 (1996)

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 query which is puzzling.

I don’t believe that I knew who Carly Simon was until a few years after You’re So Vain when the singer had a hit with her James Bond theme Nobody Does It Better.

Did the speculation regarding who was You’re So Vain‘s subject begin in 1973 or was that something that developed over the ensuing years?

John Denver – Rocky Mountain High
from John Denver’s Greatest Hits (1973)

I seem to recall that Rocky Mountain High also served as a title for one of John Denver’s television specials at the time. I also seem to recall negotiating a cease-bedtime treaty to watch.

There he was – this long-haired fellow in the floppy hat and granny glasses, traipsing around the Rockies, communing with nature, animals, and granola-munching girls in bell-bottomed jeans with long, straight hair…

I was impressed with his style.

And I still dig the wanderlust spirit of Denver’s signature song.

King Harvest – Dancing In The Moonlight
from Have A Nice Decade: The ’70s Pop Culture Box (1998)

It was sometime in autumn of 1972 when I started hearing Dancing In The Moonlight on the radio. The song still changes the atmosphere for me to a crisp October day as it might have been when I was four and would heard the song on the car radio.

It was my favorite song and the first 45 I ever prodded my parents to purchase.

I’m not exactly sure what it was about the song. It is ridiculously catchy and it made me suspicious that I was missing some happening communal event that occurred well after my bedtime.

(I pictured Max and the Wild Things from Where The Wild Things Are having their rumpus under the full moon as the song would play)

I still find the song groovy beyond belief. Is it possible to not be put in a better headspace listening to this song?

Advertisements

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)


Jaws 3 (in 2D)

July 22, 2012

Though I didn’t see the original Jaws in the theater, I did catch the sequel when it came out during the summer of 1978.

Five years later, though, I opted out of Jaws 3 – no Roy Scheider, no dice – and I somehow avoided seeing it until 1989. I watched it sitting at a small bar, poolside, on an island off the coast of Thailand.

I sat there and watched it as I wrote a letter.

It wasn’t dreadful, rather, it was just there, taking up space on the television.

Taking up space here is what we started here – the third and final installment of our running diary of a recent viewing of the original Jaws.

Brody, Hooper and Quint have hit the high seas and they’ve come across the shark for the first time.

Brody had just made his famous take on their situation…

1:28:05 Quint and Hooper drink to each other’s seafaring (and non-seafaring) injuries. All Brody has to hang his hat on is an appendectomy scar, so he doesn’t get to drink. Of course, as he has been drinking for the entire movie, his blood-alcohol level is still higher than that of John Bonham at the drummer’s death.

1:29:12 Quint tells his tale of the USS Indianapolis. Though Robert Shaw was an acclaimed actor and accomplished writer, I don’t necessarily recall seeing him in any other role than Quint. At this point, having seen Jaws so many times, he is Quint to me.

Although I am capable of reciting it almost at will, Quint’s tale of the USS Indianapolis’ sinking hooks me the moment he recounts how a “Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into her side” and I remain riveted until he concludes – “Anyway, we delivered the bomb.”

Shaw’s performance in this scene is simply riveting and the man supposedly knocked it out in one take.

1:38:26 Quint has officially gone Ahab, battering the radio to bits as Brody tries to call for help.

1:43:32 Quint is giddy as a schoolgirl at the idea of having the shark stuffed and mounted for his den.

1:52:16 Hooper descends in the shark cage – something I would have been unwilling to do for all the lithium in Afghanistan.

1:55:06 Hooper magically transforms himself into a “little person” as the shark destroys the cage.

(an actual little person was used to make the shark appear bigger)

And speaking of little people, why does The Learning Channel have so many reality shows featuring little people? Little People, Big WorldThe Little CoupleOur Little Life

The unemployment rate in the US is better than nine percent, but thanks to the efforts of the imaginative minds at TLC, it’s less than two percent for little people and falling.

1:57:16 And Quint is going…going…gone. For years, the scene of Quint’s demise was brief, but, eventually, on one of the anniversary versions of the DVD, there was additional footage. I remember the first time I saw it and how surprised I was at the carnage – a good thirty seconds of Quint thrashing about in the mouth of the shark.

1:58:05 And now there’s just Brody, fending off the shark as the Orca goes down. I imagine that the crime in New York City – which he lamented upon meeting Hooper – probably looks good about now.

2:00:14 Boom!

2:01:12 Hooper resurfaces, normal-sized and he and Brody share a laugh before beginning the swim back to shore.

One thing that has always made me wonder…you’ve just blown up a massive shark, spewing thousands of pounds of shark meat, blood, and other miscellaneous viscera into the ocean. Isn’t this going to attract every predator within several nautical miles?

Well, that’s a wrap and I now can move on to examining the unexamined minutea that has piled up in my head over the past week.

I wasn’t listening to much music at the time, but had I been listening thirty-five years ago – when Jaws had just arrived in theaters – here are four songs that were on the charts during this week in 1975

Elton John – Someone Saved My Life Tonight
from Greatest Hits, Volume II (1977)

There were two acts that I can think of who, in 1975, were such radio juggernauts that even a seven-year old such as myself was well acquainted. One was The Carpenters; the other was Elton John.

If I were to rank my favorite Elton John singles, I suspect that the lovely Someone Saved My Life Tonight would be in the top ten – everything about the song works for me (even if it does remind of a half-witted co-worker I once had who insisted that the name of the song was Sugar Bear).

Glen Campbell – Rhinestone Cowboy
from Have A Nice Decade: The ’70s Pop Culture Box (1998)

I do remember Glen Campbell as a kid, not so much for his music but because he always seemed to be a guest on whatever afternoon talk show – Dinah Shore, Mike Douglas – that my mom would be watching.

And, I do remember Rhinestone Cowboy during its time on the charts as my brother had the 45 and played it constantly.

Maybe ten years ago, I was sitting in a bar, having a few drinks with friends when a melody caught my ear over the din of the crowd. It was a dance mix of Rhinestone Cowboy and – and I’m not usually a fan of such mixes – but it worked spectacularly.

Aerosmith – Sweet Emotion
from Armageddon soundtrack (1998)

I’ve never been an Aerosmith devotee. Possibly because their ’70s heydey was over by the time I was getting into music and their late ’80s comeback came as I had discovered college rock.

That said, there is a clutch of their songs which I do think are rather stellar, Sweet Emotion being one of them.

Janis Ian – At Seventeen
from Between The Lines (1975)

I had no frame of reference for the plight of the protagonist in At Seventeen in 1975.

(again, I was seven)

But, I did understand that things weren’t going well for her.

As for Janis Ian, I used to see her on occasion at a coffee shop where I’d stop and, though I never spoke to her, it appeared that things were much better for her than they had been at seventeen.