King Kong, Hippie Empowerment And The Towers*

September 11, 2012

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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.


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)


Oh Canada

July 1, 2011

It’s Canada Day today.

The older I get, the more often I consider Canada and think, yeah, now that seems like a country that has its act together. There’s football and rock bands and rivers and streams of pure maple syrup.

Paloma and I were watching episodes of The Kids In The Hall last week when she suggested we move to the land that gave us Bruce McCulloch.

“I don’t think that they want us.”

Not that we’re trouble. We’re quiet, well-behaved and have both seen Rush live.

Hell, I’m watching the Lions and Alouettes in the opening CFL game at this moment…seriously.

(no billionaires fighting with millionaires for the last dollar there)

But Canada doesn’t want us.

(and this is a country that put out the welcome mat for the Quaids!)

But it’s cool, Canada. Paloma and I still think you’re swell and we thank you for all of the groovy stuff you’ve exported to us.

Here are four fairly random songs by Canadian acts…

Rush – Subdivisions
from Signals

I quickly realized upon entering high school that Rush was the only band that mattered for the stoners in band. At the time, I might have known the Canadian trio’s Tom Sawyer but likely little more.

But the group had a hit from Signals New World Man – that was getting played on all the stations and, upon hearing the album, I became a devotee of the band, eventually owning most of their catalog, and catching them a couple of times live.

The pulsating Subdivisions, which chronicled the pressures to “be cool or be cast out,” seemed awfully deep at the time and, if it might sound considerably obvious now, it’s still pretty stellar.

Gordon Lightfoot – If You Could Read My Mind
from Greatest Hits

I’ve read that If You Could Read My Mind is about the break-up of Gordon Lightfoot’s first marriage and it certainly is a somber affair. Of course, it also might be a good example of the smooth-talking ways of Lightfoot, as I imagine he was fairly suave when it came to the ladies.

Leonard Cohen – Democracy
from Leonard Cohen

Management at the office where I slave has a penchant for using the term “rock star” as praise.

There are no rock stars where I work.

Acerbic, witty, literate, and with a delightful hint of menace in his lyrics and vocals, Leonard Cohen has had his songs covered by everyone from Elton John and Billy Joel to The Pixies and R.E.M. He spent the early ’90s linked to actress Rebecca DeMornay (who was half his age) and the latter part of the same decade living in a Buddhist monastery.

That is a rock star.

Bruce Cockburn – A Dream Like Mine
from Nothing But A Burning Light

Though Bruce Cockburn has achieved iconic status in his native Canada, the literate folk rocker remains mostly unknown south of his homeland’s border, though one with a devoted cult following.

The ghostly-sounding A Dream Like Mine found Cockburn well matched with producer T-Bone Burnett with the latter’s wife – the wonderful Sam Phillips – adding background vocals. The song just keeps trucking along with the same resilient spirit that runs through a lot of Cockburn’s prolific catalog.