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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Teacher Of The Year

May 22, 2012

Miss Chisolm is the teacher of the year, so sayeth the plastic-letters on the marquee of an elementary school I pass each morning on the way to work.

I don’t recall any of the schools which I attended awarding such an honor.

The students, of course, had teachers who were deemed as favorites.

Mrs. Winston in seventh grade was popular as she was young, good-natured, and the closest any of us had ever gotten to a woman who could have been one of Charlie’s angels.

Z was held in high regard with us as freshmen and sophomores in high school. He was a lanky cat in his early thirties with a well-played moustache who was a coach for some of us and entertained all of us with his irreverant attitude, colorful language and affection for rock and roll.

Not surprisingly, the young and the hip were often among the top draws.

There were, though, veteran teachers who, as the result of years of service, teaching generations of the townsfolk, were beloved.

Mrs. Sulley was amongst that group and was retiring at the end our freshman year in high school. She was kindly enough that the worst thing we did was blow soap bubbles in the back of class.

After several days, Mrs. Sulley finally decided to come back to investigate, leading my buddy Beej to suggest that the bubbles had emanated from his socks which he had pulled from a soapy washer that morning.

(she seemed amused by his inventiveness)

At the other end of the spectrum was Mr. Haynes, an emaciated doppelganger of Gene Shalit, clad in plaid polyester pants and sweater vests who taught senior English.

He had the reputation of being a bully.

Me and my friends were bright, bored, and creatively disruptive when we had Mr. Haynes for senior English.

It had all the makings of Thunderdome.

The year was devoted to Greek mythology and Mr. Haynes did indeed seem to relish his power.

And we drove hard to the hoop, antagonizing him as much as possible, daring him to follow through on his threats of impossibly difficult tests.

(as an added bonus, some of our classmates – some of the insufferably studious types – genuinely feared the threats which proved to be mostly bluster)

By Christmas break, the antics from both he and us were more like performance art than mere classroom shenanigans.

By the time the school year ended and we graduated, we would occasionally pop in on Mr. Haynes at home.

He was a bachelor in his ’60s living in an apartment complex. One of our buddies was a neighbor and he’d gruffly let us in when we’d show up at his door. Then, he’d gruffly question us on what mischief we were up to that evening before we’d make our exit to get started on finding some mischief.

Years later, home from college, my brother’s girlfriend recounted that Mr. Haynes – whose class she was taking – spoke often of me and my friends and how much he’d enjoyed the banter we brought to his class.

Yeah, he had been a bit of a bully, but it seemed he more so that he was simply bright, bored, and lacking in creativity.

Here are four songs that I know (or suspect) some of those teachers from the past might have enjoyed…

Stevie Wonder – Send One Your Love
from Stevie Wonder’s Original Musiquarium I (1982)

I had few music classes in school as a kid and not so much as a single class in high school. I’ve recounted the impact of the music that I heard in Mrs. Winston’s homeroom class in junior high school.

And I remember another teacher that same year, Mrs. King, had brought in Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through The Secret Life of Plants and played it to us over the course of a few classes, having us be still and simply listen.

I recall being spellbound, though I haven’t heard the album in thirty years aside from a few stray tracks. Journey Through The Secret Life of Plants was the soundtrack to a little-seen film on plants and though the album was apparently a musical curveball in 1979, it seems to be rather well-regarded in retrospect.

Swan Dive – Moon River
from June (2002)

I could certainly imagine Mrs. Sulley, the teacher who saw soap bubbles, enjoying the lighter AM pop music of the early ’60s. She likely shook her head at the racket of The Beatles.

She probably grooved to Henry Mancini’s Moon River, but, instead, I’m opting for Swan Dive’s version from forty years later because anyone with a yen for lush, ’60s-styled pop should check out the breezy and brilliant catalog of Bill DeMain and Molly Felder

Golden Earring – Twilight Zone
from Cut (1983)

Now Z was about fifteen years older than we were in 1983, so he likely would have dug Golden Earring’s Radar Love which would have been a hit when he was not far removed from being a high school student. But, a) I vividly recall him being a fan of Twilight Zone, and, b) if you turn on a classic rock station right now, you probably would hear Radar Love within the next twenty minutes.

Split Enz – I Got You
from History Never Repeats – The Best Of Split Enz (1987)

I’m going to cheat here as I can’t imagine Mr. Haynes liking anything much but classical music and the little I own I’ve not taken the time to rip to mp3 form.

However, during that senior year, our buddy Streuss took an instrumental from Split Enz’ True Colours album called The Choral Sea and recorded lyrics about Mr. Haynes over the track, including his famous declaration “I don’t care what I said last week and it has no bearing on what I’m doing today.”

I don’t have The Choral Sea, but I do have I Got You, Split Enz lone US hit, which also originally appeared on True Colours.


September 25, 1982

September 24, 2011

As the contents of my head need to settle back into place, I’m pulling up a Billboard magazine Hot 100 chart from the early ’80s – a period of my initial infatuation with music and radio – and checking out the debut songs for that week.

So, here are the eight songs making their first appearance on the chart during this week in 1982…

Billy Preston – I’m Never Gonna Say Goodbye
from Pressin’ On (1982)
(debuted #90, peaked #88, 3 weeks on chart)

For a man known to some as the “Fifth Beatle,” I know surprisingly little about Billy Preston.

I knew that Preston performed on the Apple rooftop with the band, had some legal and health issues, and passed away several years back. As far as his music, all I know is Nothing from Nothing and With You I’m Born Again – the ballad sung with Stevie Wonder’s then-wife Syreeta.

I’d never heard I’m Never Gonna Say Goodbye, but it sounds like a song that James Ingram might have done a few years later if you added a twist of stalker and a bit more melodrama.

Karla Bonoff – Please Be The One
from Wild Heart Of The Young (1982)
(debuted #85, peaked #63, 7 weeks on chart)

Singer/songwriter Karla Bonoff had a hit during the summer of ’82 with Personally. I didn’t really like the song at the time – and it got a lot of airplay – but now I find the catchy song’s bounce and playful vibe appealing.

Bonoff sang back-up for Linda Ronstadt and Please Be The One has a slow, sultry vibe that is reminiscent of Ronstadt to me. I didn’t remember the song until it reached the chorus and rarely heard it on the radio in ’82.

Jeffrey Osborne – On The Wings Of Love
from Jeffrey Osborne (1982)
(debuted #83, peaked #29, 18 weeks on chart)

I would come across Jeffrey Osborne’s On The Wings Of Love often during the autumn and winter that year when I got to the lighter rock stations on the dial. I’d stop long enough to identify it, but would only sit through it when it appeared on American Top 40.

I liked the light-funk feel of Osborne’s I Really Don’t Need No Light, and, though, On The Wings Of Love is pleasant enough, it just doesn’t appeal to me.

The Go-Go’s – Get Up And Go
from Vacation (1982)
(debuted #82, peaked #50, 9 weeks on chart)

The Go-Go’s were seemingly everywhere overnight in 1982. Their debut Beauty And The Beat had topped the album chart in the US with two massive singles – Our Lips Are Sealed and We Got The Beat – becoming instant classics.

Vacation was released toward the end of the summer with Beauty And The Beat still on the album charts. Vacation was an immediate success and the infectious title song was a hit, but both seemed to fade quicker than that summer.

The band seemed to vanish overnight – gone as quickly as they’d arrived – and I didn’t hear a new song by The Go-Go’s on the radio until Head Over Heels two years later.

(an eternity in that era)

Get Up And Go has a nifty opening that echoes Bow Wow Wow and, like most Go-Go’s songs, it is fun, but it isn’t in the same class as the earlier trio of hits by the band.

Survivor – American Heartbeat
from Eye Of The Tiger (1982)
(debuted #79, peaked #17, 16 weeks on chart)

Survivor had had the song of the summer of ’82 with their mammoth hit Eye Of The Tiger and American Haertbeat was culled as the follow-up to the band’s theme from Rocky III.

American Heartbeat was sleeker, built around pulsating keyboards, but still retained a rock edge and, though it certainly fit alongside stuff like Journey and Foreigner hits of the time, the song – not surprisingly – was unable to replicate the success of Eye Of The Tiger.

I dug the song, not that I think I heard it more than a few times on the radio at the time despite it reaching the Top Twenty.

Stevie Wonder – Ribbon In The Sky
from Stevie Wonder’s Original Musiquarium I (1982)
(debuted #76, peaked #54, 7 weeks on chart)

Stevie Wonder had released the double-album retrospective Stevie Wonder’s Original Musiquarium I in the early months of 1982. During that spring and summer, two of the album’s new songs – the yearning That Girl and joyous Do I Do – had become sizeable hits as well as Wonder’s duet with Paul McCartney, Ebony And Ivory.

Ribbon In The Sky was tapped as Original Musiquarium‘s third and final single. Unlike the previous hits from the set, the song was a gentle, lovely ballad that might not have found similar radio acceptance but has endured as a favorite among fans.

Chicago – Love Me Tomorrow
from Chicago 16 (1982)
(debuted #74, peaked #22, 15 weeks on chart)

If Survivor’s Eye Of The Tiger was the song of the summer in 1982, Chicago’s Hard To Say I’m Sorry was arguably the season’s biggest ballad and a commercial comeback for the venerable band.

But, as Survivor would learn, it’s difficult to follow up to such a radio juggernaut without the song getting lost in the wake of its predecessor. I heard Love Me Tomorrow plenty and still feel that the song is the best of the group’s ’80s ballads, but it failed to resonate with the public as Hard To Say I’m Sorry had.

Billy Joel – Pressure
from The Nylon Curtain (1982)
(debuted #72, peaked #20, 17 weeks on chart)

When Billy Joel released The Nylon Curtain in autumn 1982, the singer was coming off a trio of albums – The Stranger, 52nd Street, and Glass Houses – that had sold nearly thirty million copies and made Joel a radio fixture.

The Nylon Curtain was edgier and darker, but received glowing reviews and praise for its mature subject matter. The manic, paranoid Pressure also reflected the burgeoning influence of synthesizers becoming prevelant at the time and, even though accompanied by a stylish video clip, the song and album would be a commercial lull before Joel returned with the massively successful An Innocent Man a year later.