The End?

November 28, 2012

As a kid in the ’70s and a teenager in the ’80s, I lived in that world of limited entertainment options unfathomable now.

Our small town in the hinterlands had an old movie theater and the movies of the day usually made it to the screen, but it might take a month or two.

Most of the movies that I watched were ones that I’d catch on one of our half-dozen television channels late at night or on Saturday afternoons. These were often flicks from the ’50s and ’60s and, at the conclusion of the movie, “The End” appeared on the screen.

The message might be in a block-like font or perhaps some more sweeping script.

If it was science-fiction or horror flick the notification might be accompanied by a question mark.

(of course, depending on the hour, I might have missed that exit sign, waking to a television full of snow)

At some point over the recent holiday, I watched some old movie – it might have been something on Mystery Science Theater 3000- and, at its conclusion, “The End” appeared on the screen.

Movies no longer end with “The End.” It’s straight to the credits.

(and, if you’re watching a flick on ‘TBS, the credits scroll by in a dizzying, time-compressed fashion in a fraction of the screen as the announcer is queuing up the next film – it’s like they’re rushing an unwanted house guest out the door )

At some point, during my lifetime, filmmakers no longer felt the need to inform the audience that the movie was over.

But was such a message ever necessary? Did people simply sit in the theater, confused by the credits and unsure of what to do, not knowing whether or not the characters which they’d been watching would return?

So some innovative mind invented “The End” and, from that point on, there was no confusion.

And somewhere in the last few decades, we as a species have advanced enough that, when a movie ends, we no longer need to be told.

And that’s a small step forward on the evolutionary trail that we all should feel good about.

Here are four movie songs…

Elton John – I’ve Seen That Movie Too
from Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973)

Elton John produced a staggering amount of amazing music in the ’70s and his classic album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road has a little bit of everything that made him a superstar for the ages.

It’s not difficult to picture Elton playing the resigned I’ve Seen That Movie Too in some piano bar at an hour when the crowd has dwindled. Personally, I connect the song to Guns N’ Roses’ as Axl Rose has claimed Elton as an influence and “I’ve seen that movie, too” popped up as a line in the band’s You Could Be Mine.

The Auteurs – Underground Movies
from Now I’m A Cowboy (1994)

The Auteurs received kudos and even moderate success in their UK homeland but little notice in the States. It’s unfortunate as the quartet garnered comparisons to The Kinks and The Smiths for their literate pop.

Underground Movies is a lovely song with a light, baroque pop feel accented by cello.

The 6ths – Movies In My Head
from Wasps’ Nests (1995)

I snagged a copy of The 6ths’ debut as a promo when it came out in ’95. The album was a collection of songs written and performed by Stephen Merritt of The Magnetic Fields with an array of guests handling the vocals.

Movies In My Head is a perky bit of twee pop featuring Yo La Tengo founding member and percussionist Georgia Hubley who finds the visual vignettes showing widescreen in her head to be more interesting than a would-be suitors’ efforts to gain her attention.

Stan Ridgway – Beloved Movie Star
from Holiday in Dirt (2002)

You might not know the name, but, if you’re familiar with ’80s music, the adenoidal vocals of Stan Ridgway might be recognizable. A founding member of the band Wall Of Voodoo, he sang lead on a trio of albums including Call Of The West, which spawned the iconic Mexican Radio.

(and I still think Wall Of Voodoo is one of the coolest band names ever)

Following Call Of The West, Ridgway opted for a solo career. He’s never equaled the success of Mexican Radio, but he’s produced some engaging, offbeat music often with a strongly cinematic vibe such as the noirish Beloved Movie Star, a song about a faded film star which evokes both sympathy and amusement.

Where Have All The Astronauts Gone?

September 15, 2012

I entered school a mere half-decade after humans first set foot on the moon and, at the time, astronaut was a trendy career aspiration for kids our age.

Astronaut was a very cool gig.

You worked in space.

(the job sold itself on that alone)

Sometimes you returned home and found a bottle on the beach where you landed with Barbara Eden trapped inside.

Sometimes you ended up on a planet dominated by talking apes.

Space was the final frontier and it was full of possibilities.

In the early ’70s, we kids were led to believe that the future would resemble the world of the Jetsons.

Alas, the last moon landing had occurred in 1972 and the most important walk on the moon in our future was the one which The Police would sing about.

(it’s a great song, but not quite as cool as day shuttles to the moon while sophisticatedly and futuristically sipping Tang)

Being mobile but still diaper clad in 1969, I have no recollection of Neil Armstrong stepping onto the lunar surface. It had to have been mind-boggling.

My only memory of the Apollo missions was hearing about a deranged, elderly aunt in Florida who had been to a few of the launches, an accomplishment that elevated her to quasi-celebrity status within the family.

By the ’80s, everyone was preoccupied by Rubik’s Cube, Jell-O Pudding Pops, and MTV and space was forgotten.

None of us became astronauts.

Here are four space-age songs…

Elton John – Rocket Man
from Honky Château (1972)

Sir Elton didn’t exactly do the profession of astronaut any favors with Rocket Man, making it sound about as appealing as working the fry station at a fast food joint. It’s cold, it’s lonely, and he readily admits he doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing.

But, as a song, it’s a classic.

The Police – Walking On The Moon
from Reggatta de Blanc (1979)

Sparse and chilly, with a reggae vibe that was elemental to the sound of The Police, Walking On The Moon indeed captures the mood that I can imagine would be fitting for a stroll on the lunar surface.

If the next human to set foot on the moon is a music fan who lived through the ’80s, will they be able to do so and not have this song playing in their head?

A Flock Of Seagulls – A Space Age Love Song
from A Flock Of Seagulls (1982)

Even folks who lived through the ’80s probably remember A Flock Of Seagulls for no more than their debut hit I Ran (So Far Away), which was a Top Ten single, and lead singer Mike Score’s gravity-defying hair.

That’s too bad as I thought that the band’s blend of spacey synthesizers, effects-laden guitar, and sci-fi lyrics made for an engaging and interesting sound that stood out from a lot of their contemporaries and merited more than a footnote.

Though it wasn’t as successful as I Ran, I favored A Space Age Love Song from the moment I heard the full album. The song is breathtakingly wooshy and, at the time, it had a sonic vibe that sounded as if it might indeed be perfect for a romantic encounter in a future filled with jet packs and laser blasters.

Peter Schilling – Major Tom (Coming Home)
from Error In The System (1983)

In the autumn of ’83, I had opted to take German in hopes of a trans-Atlantic trip. That autumn, I had also discovered 97X, which had recently taken to the air as one of the first modern rock stations in the US.

So, my ears pricked up when the station began playing Major Tom (Coming Home) by the German musician Peter Schilling.

(I seem to recall that there was a German version which they would play)

Months later, Major Tom – a loose continuation of the tale of the character from David Bowie’s Space Oddity – was released in the States and became Schilling’s lone Top 40 hit and one of the more fondly remembered tracks of the period.

King Kong, Hippie Empowerment And The Towers*

September 11, 2012

Happening across the movie King Kong on cable the other night, something occurred to me – it might have been the most influential movie of my childhood.

I’d seen the original version watching it on the late, late show when I slept over at a friend’s house in second grade. Not long after, the hype began for the remake.

It was nothing compared to the hullabaloo for some movies now – no cable, no internet – but it seemed to begin a year before and the scope and duration was something I’d never seen at the ripe old age of eight.

I vividly recall a poster in our small-town theater of Kong, astride the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center with a Santa Claus hat perched on his noggin’.

The tagline read “Guess who’s coming for Christmas?”

I knew that it would be months after the national release before it would arrive in our town. That poster should have shown him wearing a leprechaun’s hat and clutching a bottle of Guinness.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to learn a lesson in patience. My dad was kind enough to drive me and several friends into the city to see the movie during our Christmas break.

I did learn a lot of other things. I learned that oil company board rooms were populated by the ruthless, the kind of men who might twirl their moustaches as a train headed down tracks to which a distressed damsel was detained.

Of course, Charles Grodin as a petroleum executive had far more panache than the corporate officers I know. They burp up banalities like “sweet spot,” “drill down,” and “bring to bear.”

Grodin uttered things like “If that island doesn’t produce huge, I’ll be wiping windshields,” “Sweet Jesus! Dear Rockefeller!” and “It’s some nutty religion – a priest gets dressed up like an ape and gets laid.”

(you don’t get such rich fare in a business meeting)

The lush island scenery and the underlying message of the movie certainly made me receptive to an environmental consciousness in a way that a Native American crying over litter in a television commercial couldn’t.

As much as Christopher Cross, viewing King Kong likely fueled in me the desire to travel. I haven’t been to Indonesia – from where Grodin and company began their voyage – but I have been to Borneo and, in Malaysia, some friends and I scaled hundreds of steps, monkeys roaming about us, to reach some cave.

Jessica Lange was fetching enough as Dwan, but blondes have never held me as entranced as they apparently do most males of the species.

(although I have been known to be drawn to vacuous girls with unusual names and a flair for the dramatic, so she must have made some impression)

King Kong was also the first movie I think I ever saw with Jeff Bridges whom I’d argue might be the most underrated actor of his generation.

Not only was Bridges the dashing man of action in the flick, he was a hippie.

(of course, at eight, any guy with long hair was a hippie to me)

It was Bridges, as a long-haired paleontologist from Princeton, who taught me that a guy with long hair could grow up to be a paleontologist from Princeton, able to tangle with large apes and woo Jessica Lange.

Years later, in my twenties and en route to London, I first visited New York City and saw the Twin Towers.

I’ve seen some things in my time.

I’ve been to Bangkok.

There are few things that have left me as jaw-droopingly stupefied as standing in front of those buildings. For me, it inspired the same sense of wonder as seeing King Kong in the theater as a kid.

It was during the first few days of 1977 that I saw King Kong. I hadn’t discovered music, yet, but there was a lot of music on Billboard’s chart in early January of that year that would someday be quite familiar to me…

Elton John – Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word
from Blue Moves (1976)

I can’t claim to have intimate knowledge of Elton John’s entire catalog as it does encompass four decades. I do know his extensive string of hits and I own a number of the classic albums, though, and I’d have to choose the wistful Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word as my favorite of his ballads.

Boston – More Than A Feeling
from Boston (1976)

For some reason, even though it was apparently a hit in the winter months, I think of More Than A Feeling as a summer song. Although I’m not rabid about the song, it does conjure up a good vibe for me and I’ve never quite understood the venom reserved for Boston.

Also, I find it amusing that Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit echoes the song.

Manfred Mann’s Earth Band – Blinded By The Light
from The Roaring Silence (1976)

When I saw Blinded By The Light on the chart, I realized something – this song was likely my first exposure to Bruce Springsteen’s music.

10cc – The Things We Do For Love
from Deceptive Bends (1976)

Since Paloma and I started collecting vinyl a little over a year ago, we’ve snagged several 10cc albums and they’ve been a revelation of musicianship, craftsmanship and quirkiness.

The Things We Do For Love is a breezy and flawless pop song.