Monday, February 14, 2011

The theah-tah, the theah-tah. What's happened to the theah-tah?

  Among my mother’s favorite stories is one in which we, as a family, decided to watch The Shining.  I was probably about 12 years old when my dad brought home the VCR from his office for the weekend and among the movies rented was the Kubrick classic of what happens when you trap a borderline personality in a Colorado hotel with Shelly Duvall.  As the horror unfolded before us there began an unspoken conversation, a Shine if you will, between my sister, father and I.  Among the three of us it was decided that we had better things to do than watch this, so, toodles!!  My mom is not sure when in the movie that it happened, but she turned to say something to us and we weren’t there.  Scared out of our wits Laura, Dad and I had gone upstairs to watch a "Facts of Life" rerun, I am sure.  It would be a couple of years after this incident that I finally saw the entire film and realized what I had missed.  By then I had a subscription to Fangoria and was immersed in the finest of splatter reels.

 Nothing going on here....

  Had we all been in a movie theater watching the film, I am sure that we would not have walked out.  Things are different when you go to the cinema.  Concern about the money spent to go to the movie in the first place notwithstanding, there is a certain cinema macho that is not strictly male.  Walking out on a movie in front of all of those other people is just plain embarrassing.  The very thought of walking out on any movie (With the exception of How the Grinch Stole Christmas with Jim Carrey, or anything Will Farrell related that is not Elf .) has never even occurred to me.  Even the suckiest of suck-fests can usually hold my wandering attention.
  As much as I like slugging it on my couch with the fam and streaming countless, mind-melting films, I prefer going to a cinema.  The smell of over-salted popcorn and Jr. Mints getting smashed into the front of my shirt are but two of my favorite things about going to the movies.  (In case you didn’t know, Jr. Mints are the greatest movie candy ever.  You can argue with me, but you will be wrong.).

 The haven of much of my misspent youth

  Maybe it was Star Wars.  To this day, I can remember the first time I saw it in theaters.  Explosions, flashes of light, guys in bad-ass Stormtrooper outfits and Darth Vader.  Darth FREAKING Vader.  Remember being a little kid and seeing him for the first time.  Actually, hearing him was worse.  That asthmatic tyrant of the galaxy slowly walking down a corridor, casually asphyxiating from across the room those who annoyed him.  The greatest nightmares of my youth starred him.
  Or maybe it was The Wizard of Oz.  While I don’t remember this, my mother enjoys telling the story of taking my sister and me to see it in a theater when I was very young.  Apparently, we both cowered beneath the theater seats whenever the Wicked Witch made an appearance.  Who could blame us?  Perhaps the Jr. Mints I found some stuck to the bottom of the chair are the reason I so associate them with movies today.

Said haven as it appeared in the
1958 classic "Some Came Running."
 
  In actuality, I don’t think that it was any one movie experience, but the experience of being in the theater itself that made me grow to love it so much.  When watching a movie at home it is too easy to change the channel of walk to the fridge in order to get away from whatever is on the screen.  In a theater, where are you going to go?  When the witch came out my sister and I hightailed it for the floor, but that did little to help.  We could still hear the cackles and evil deeds, I am sure.  When Darth Vader wheezes into the scene I had no choice but to go fetal in my seat, scrunched between my mom and dad.  The theater makes you see what you may not want to, but will be better for in the long run.
  Of course, I am romanticizing.  Cinema etiquette today has reached an all time low.  Cell phones, ceaseless talking, young kids screaming and crying at horror films (I don't blame the kids, but the "parents" who are telling the to "Shut up!  I'm trying to watch the movie!"  And yes, that is an actual quote.) and the various other distractions generally infect me with a case of kill-everyone-in-the-theateritis.  Not that all noise in a theater is bad.  Laughing at funny parts, screaming at scary parts, even the occasional, veeeerrry occasional, verbal warning from an audience member to the Final Girl in a slasher film is welcome.  When watching a horror film (Something I do in the theaters less and less both due to what passes for horror now and the aforementioned "parents" who bring toddlers to watch torture-porn.) an uncomfortable laugh or even the loud guffaw at a particularly righteous death-scene is a great moment of sitting in a cinema.  (After all, who didn't want Jason to bag that whiny lady and slap her against a tree?)  However, most audiences today treat every film as though it were The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Speaking of RHPS, this is where
I would watch it in Louisville, KY

  My family and I have now found the best times to go to a show and have the fewest other people there so we can watch a film in relative peace.  And even now when I walk into a theater, I am that little kid I used to be.  Ready to cover my head and hide from the witch or stare, gape-mouthed at Monsieur Vader as he eclipses the screen.  Sitting next to my son and getting more pleasure out of watching him react to what is happening on the screen than out of the film itself is the new unexpected award.  It is a bittersweet feeling to have as the cinema house goes the way of the Dodo.  Knowing that my son is likely the last generation in our family who will know the feeling of going to the cinema.  If my younger brother ever has kids of his own I am almost certain that the movie theater will no longer exist, and no amount of 3D action is going to save it.  With any luck, there will still be the occasional  "nostalgia house" that will run classic films, but even those will be few and far between.  Movie making is already changing to accommodate the small screen, so the thought that an epic of the scale of Lawrence of Arabia could ever exist again is very much out of the question.  While I would like to sit here and pontificate on whether this development is good or bad, I am afraid, as is very much evidenced, that I am too strongly biased to give a balanced view.  I would much rather be slouched in a squeaky, Ju-Ju-Be stained chair between my wife and son than in front of my television.

 Yeah, I laughed the first time
I saw this.  Don't you judge me.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

If music be the birth of friendship....


  I have stated many times that I like all types of music except any country\western that was released after 1978ish and I doubt that many who have heard me say it take it quite as literally as it is meant.  A quick peek at my iPod might convince them of how true it is.  Currently my playlists includes, but is not limited to, the following:
-Oklahoma-Original Movie Soundtrack
-The Dead Kennedy’s
-Willie Nelson
-Kurt Weill
-The Cramps
-ABBA
-Pink
-B-52’s
-Siberian Tuva Throat Singing
-The Pogues
-Madness
-Beastie Boys
-Sleater-Kinney
-Ray Charles and Betty Carter Duets
-Britney Spears
-Public Enemy
-Kelly Clarkson
-Tom Waits
-Hoagy Carmichael
-Ken Nordine
-Nine Inch Nails
-Wizard of Oz-Original Movie Soundtrack
-Buffy’s Once More with Feeling Soundtrack

A little nutty sound just for fun

  Well, you get the picture.  I like a lot of flavors in my party mix.  While I may not like everything that Britney Spears has done, I think that there is a lot of merit to be found in the average pop song.  I use these songs either as time killers, mood pacifiers or mood setters.  That music makes most things in life a little better has been a point proven everywhere from the high school prom to the trying-on-dresses-for-the-high-school-prom montage scene from any 80’s film.  Many of my best memories are associated with specific songs, genres and bands.

 Best.  Music break.  Ever.
 
  I have already written about how music helped me to escape small town doldrums in my youth, but it also helped me to embrace life there.  I was involved in the school choirs from elementary school through graduation and after.  My appreciation for choral harmonies lead to an appreciation for Opera to an appreciation for Musicals to and appreciation for a-tonal melodies such as found in Tuva Throat Singing, etc, etc, etc….
  However, the most compelling influence that music has had on my life is the friendships that have come out of a common interest in a song, band, genre, et al.  There are many yarns I could spin on this topic, but the one that stands foremost in my memory is from my first week at college.
  The week before I was to leave for college my sister was killed in a car accident leaving behind a one year old son and a devastated family.  The week was filled with angst and teeth gnashing and eventually, with the funeral.  I went to college a week late and with a soul full of venom against the world for the injustices it held.
  When finally left to my own devices I made my way around the campus trying to figure out where I was going and what I was doing.  The usual existential crap that we all go through at that time.  I had no friends on the campus and knew no one that was there.  I felt more lost at that time in my life than I have ever felt since.  On my second day there the college had an event of some sort, and I honestly don’t remember what it was.  A play?  A concert?  Something.  I do remember that it was an outdoor event and as I made my way through the throng of students trying to figure out where to sit, or if I even wanted to stay I saw a guy wearing a t-shirt with a Husker Du logo on it.  (Husker Du, um, band, er….. if you don’t know, just google it.)  While they had never been my favorite band, I had listened to enough of their music to know that that I had spied a kindred-spirit, so I went over and sat with him and that began one of the best friendships I have in my life.  Believe me when I say that music had EVERYTHING to do with it.  Had I not branched out musically and listened to all the music that had come my way I would have never known who Husker Du was.  Had Matt not been wearing that shirt I have no doubt that I would have wandered a bit more, and then made my way back to my dorm room.  I also have no doubt that I would not have lasted more than a month at school.  That friendship that began with a simple band logo carried me through my freshman year.
  To top it off, Matt introduced me to what are now some of my favorite bands.  Highest on the list is The Pogues.  Hell, if nothing else I owe him in scads for that.

Playing live like they oughta'

  I continued to study music in college and since have always had my hand in it.  Matt and I still play music together whenever we can find the time and he remains the one person I have played with who can understand what I am going for without me having to draw it out for him.  I think, and I am sure that he will agree with me, that music is not only our common bond, but what has always kept our friendship vital even when we have long stretches in which we don’t see each other. 
  All music deserves at least a little listen.  Even if you can’t find anything about it that you like initially, if you really listen closely you can find something of worth within it.  If nothing else, like the music or not, being aware of it can make for a good talking point when you meet someone new.  If you are very lucky it can change your life.

 Go on, give it a try

Sunday, February 6, 2011

How Roller Derby and Neil Gaiman Saved my Soul

  This is a slightly edited\updated reprint of a post that I put on Facebook the day after I met Neil Gaiman.  In a slight breech of convention I will sum up the title at the beginning as the rest will explain itself.  Essentially, after the events described below, I did something that I hadn't done in several years.  I began writing in earnest.  Serious writing which I had all but given up.  In other words, after a hot streak of selling works, I had been pouting for several years due to a couple of rejections.  I am now polishing two short stories to begin the submission process again and all credit goes to four people:  My wife Amanda, my son Yeats, Joan of Dark and Niel Gaiman.  Now, to the story:
   This was supposed to just be about meeting Neil Gaiman, but it has turned into so much more. A love letter to my wife, to Roller Derby and to Geekdom. Please bear with me as I ramble.
Background:
   It was well over two years ago that my wife, Amanda, and I went to a Naptown Rollergirls bout together. We screamed and drank and rowdied with the crowd until we lost our voices. We hung with the ladies at the after-party and screamed and drank some more.  For the uninitiated, modern flat track derby is not the roller derby of ESPN Classic.  There is no flinging of bodies over rails and certainly no elbows to the face or skates to the groin.  League sanctioned bouts have strict rules and regulations.

The way real derby is done*

  Upon waking the next morning we nursed our respective hang-overs, each in our respective manners. (Me= Orange Gatorade and Gordetto’s snacks, Her= water and coffee.) We then recapped the events of the previous night and she said, with no trace of irony, “I think I am going to try out for the team.” Just weeks later she was suited up and doing work-outs with other hopefuls. She would come home tired and achy, but excited. It is important to point out here that she was older than many of the other “fresh meat” (A derby term for newbies.) by some years. I do not do this to paint a picture of a 40ish woman going through a mid-life crisis. (We both believe that mid-life crises are for people who have not bothered to live fully.) I mention this because, at 41, my wife told convention to piss off and strapped on skates for the first time in 20 plus years and busted her ass with people 20 years her minor.

My Roller Derby Queen
 
   So, buckets of sweat later and her skin a canvas painted in bruises, she makes the team under the derby moniker, Joanie Loves Debauchery. She went to every practice and, literally, worked her ass off. Yeats and I supported her by having baths of Epsom salt waiting for her after each practice and the occasional back\neck\leg massage to ease her tired, sore muscles. The toughest thing was dealing with the time that the sport takes. Each lady is not just responsible for being fit and making the practices. They also take stake in the league, working on committees, performing community work and helping wherever help is needed. Bear in mind, this league was built and is now maintained in the DIY\Punk Rock Ethic. As large as it has grown, it is still very much driven by the people who volunteer time to make it happen. So, there were some weeks that we saw very little of each other, though she always made time for Yeats and I between all of the things going on in her life. (She had also just received a promotion at her job which required even more of her dwindling time.) Yes there were frustrations, but overall, the adjustment was good and I was, still am, a proud husband.

My inked dedication to my JLD.
 
   The plus for me in all of this is that I have made many great new friends and have had the opportunity to reconnect with some old ones. (My days in the sideshow and doing the Secret Cabaret encompassed a lot of the same people who are now involved in Roller Derby. Great minds.) I have been able to get involved volunteering time to help with setting up for bouts and I have become intimately familiar with the sport and grown to love it so much more.
   As mentioned, I got to make a lot of new friends. Two of those friends are a married couple known in the derby world as Joan of Dark and Dill Hero. They both run Strange Brew Coffee House in Greenwood, (http://www.thestrangebrew.net/) and are genuinely good people. I once spent an evening with Dill and his friends having serious discussions about who could beat Buffy in a fight. (Of course, to me she was undefeatable, but Dill, Brownie and the rest felt that the DC Universe might contain a few contenders who could hold their own. The feud continues.) It was remarkable to me in that, again, here I was, an aging punk rocker with a tie-down job, and they invited me into the fold that night with no judgment other than my taste in fictional female heroines.

Joan of Dark and Neil, jus' chillin'.
 
  Back to the story.  Lat year the Indianapolis Public Library announced that the speaker at the annual McFadden Memorial Lecture was to be Neil Gaiman. Tickets were first come, first serve. Immediately I made plans to take that day off from work, pull Yeats from school early and he and I were going to have father\son bonding waiting in line with a bunch of other geeks to see Gaiman speak. Within minutes discussion was boiling on Facebook. Joan let me know that she wasn’t going to be able to get there early and asked if we could hold a space. It was a no brainer. If I am a fan of Neil Gaiman (I have been reading his stuff since his first Sandman came out on the Vertigo label. I rank him in my top five favorite writers, and, as those who know me know, while numbers 6-10 in my Top Ten are constantly changing, my top five, Vonnegut, Faulkner, Gaiman, Douglas Adams and Wille the Shake have not waivered in years.) then Joan is a disciple. If Yeats’ and my excitement could have been converted into energy we could have powered a small dairy farm for a week. Joan could have kept Vegas going for a year.

A Nerd on the hunt, just minutes
before meeting his quarry.
 
  Yeats was beyond excited when I told him of my plan for the day. He immediately started a list of questions that he wanted to ask him about books he had written, the companies he had worked for and what kind of animals he owned. (We are a family who derive a lot out of the non-human company a person keeps.) So it was even more of a boost when just a few days later I got an e-mail from Joan stating that we didn’t need to worry about waiting in line anymore. We were going to be joining she and Dill at the VIP Reception for Neil at the Mariott. Now, I knew that Joan had been corresponding with Neil to some degree, but I had no idea that it went so far as to garner a meeting. (For more on that see here: http://joanofdarkknits.blogspot.com/2010/04/meeting-neil-gaiman.html) Yeats was now about as excited as a child can be without literally exploding.
  The week of the event was filled with Taxes and a huge, half-of-your-grade and you-are-out-of-this-school-if-you-don’t-do-well-on-this school project for Yeats. We had been working on this project since the fall, but, as it was due on that Friday, we were really killing ourselves to polish it and wrap it up. That Thursday I get another message from Joan. Apparently, Neil would like for us to join him for dinner after his lecture. Neil. Dinner. Us. Eating. Talking. Well, that’s when my brain broke. Luckily, it had broken before and I knew how to fix it. One Smithwick’s later I was good to go. Telling Yeats was better than anything that had happened up to that point. He was ragged from late nights working on his project and with it being due the following day he knew he had one more rough night ahead. However, when I told him about the dinner plans he screamed and jumped up and down and generally made as much noise as possible. It was one of those moments that makes you feel like the greatest parent in the world. (And even better as I really hadn’t done anything to deserve it, but, as parents know, you take the accolades whenever you can.)

Meeting The Man
 
The Happening:
  That Friday was tough. Amanda had an eye appointment that morning. I took Yeats to school and he and I both made a pact to not think about it until that afternoon. (Yeah, right.) 3:30 seemed to never come. When it did, I raced from the office and picked Yeats up from school. He and I giggled and jostled all the way home. Amanda was already there, dressed and ready to go. A few minutes later we were back in my truck and heading to the north side.
  We got to the Mariott and saw the group of folks we were meeting with, Joan and Dill, of course, then there was Jocelyn Hoes, Deadie Page, Lizzie Killmeister, Tom Klubens, Blue Messiah, Joan’s dad, Greg, Jane Ire (and if I missed anyone, I am sorry, but I was in a bit of a daze.) and over on the other side of the lobby was Neil Gaiman being ambushed by some fanboys from a horror fan group. (At least that's what we think they were from.) Eventually, we made our way to the reception room.
  Now, Socrates believed that the key tenant to all knowledge and growth is “Know Thyself.” Well, I know myself and myself is a loud, obnoxious, speaks-without-thinking kind of guy who comes on very strong, especially when he finds himself nervous. I am also overly-knowledgeable, annoyingly so, of all things pop-culture and can very easily fall into know-it-all mode. (Hey, I am working on all of these things, but it takes time to change. Just ask Peter Brady.) I was determined to be none of those things this night. I wanted this to be all about Yeats and I was going to do everything that I could to make sure that he walked away with a night he wouldn’t forget. So, when Neil came over and introduced himself to us I mustered all of the self-control that I could and shook his hand then stepped behind Yeats.
  It was then time to go to the lecture. It was awesome. We got to sit in a reserved section, very near the front of the auditorium. Our neighbor, a librarian, was sitting near us with her daughter who attends school with Yeats, and they were as excited as us. The atmosphere was alive. It reminded me a bit of the crowd at a Roller Derby bout in that it was so eclectic. There were distinguished older patrons of the library, there were young children, there were fanboys and fangirls, there were aging hippies and young punks. Neil gave an inspirational lecture on the power and importance of stories. He reminded us that libraries are as much a refuge from the outside world as they are repositories for books. He read three of his pieces and handled the Q & A with class and grace.  Then back to the hotel to meet him again and take him to dinner.
  The restaurant we chose, Shanghai Lil’s, was the result of a flurry of e-mails exchanged between Joan and I that, upon seeing it that evening, Amanda said looked like it was written by two seventh grade girls. Neil showed up back at the hotel where we were all waiting in the lobby. “I do not have a car here, so how am I getting to this place,” Neil asked. As music played and a tumbleweed rolled across the lobby we all looked at each other through slitted eyes and tickled the ivory handles of our six-guns. Somewhere in the distance a coyote howled. Actually, as luck would have it, we were the ones that had room for him in my truck. Amanda and I spoke a lot the next day about the looks on Yeats’ face that evening, but none were so memorable as the one he wore when he found out that Neil would be riding with us.
  Neil sat in the passenger seat then turned to face Yeats and answer his questions with a thoroughness that is still staggering to me. Not only did he show Yeats respect, he took the time to make sure that he fully answered his questions. When we arrived at the restaurant, I parked and turned off my car, but he made no motion to get out. Instead he continued to talk with Yeats until he was satisfied that he had fully answered him.
  We went into the restaurant and they had a table waiting for us. We were joined by Deadie’s BF, Mr. Page, Valerie Hurtinelli, and Jane’s wife, Kerri K. (Another old friend with whom I was reunited thanks to Derby.) and a couple of Blue’s friends. Neil was a gracious guest who talked of bee keeping and what projects he was currently working on (He’s writing and episode of “Dr. Who!!!!!!!!!”). He also told of how he met his fiancée, Amanda Palmer, which made all of the ladies swoon and all of the men feel inadequate. We sat for about two-and-a-half hours talking and having a better time than could have been hoped for. I got to know a few other people with whom I had only a passing acquaintance previously. Yeats was so tired that he fought to stay awake and listen to everything being said. He also learned a new word via Joan…. but that’s a story for another time.

It was a lot like "My Dinner with
Andre," but with more talk about
Bees and Dr. Who than Existential thought.
 
  After dinner Neil took a few more minutes to have his photo taken with Joan and her father. Then hopped back in my truck and we ferried him back to his hotel. Yeats again asked questions and Neil answered fully. When we got to the hotel I thanked him and gushed only a little. He asked if we would “like for [him] to scribble on something for us.” Yeats just happened to have his hard-back copy of “The Graveyard Book” with him. Neil took it and spent a couple of minutes drawing a picture on the inside cover of a gravestone that said, “Yeats, R.I.P.”, then signed and dated it. I shook his hand once more, he gave Amanda a hug then went into his hotel. We drove home in awe of how truly classy and gracious someone of his stature is. He conveyed both the hipness his legend portends and the classic demeanor of the English Gentleman. Yeats will not forget this night should he live to be 100 and Amanda and I will forever be grateful to not only him, but to Joan as well.
  I owe a great deal to my wife. She constantly makes me strive to be a better person, a better father and a better husband. She does this not with force, but simply by being her. She is such a good person and wife that she makes me want to improve just to keep up with her. There was talk that night of the high divorce rate in Roller Derby. I feel sorry for those husbands who begrudge their wives’ self-empowerment to the point of divorce. To think of all of the wonderful things they are missing all because of some misguided jealousy and good old-fashioned misogyny.
  While meeting an idol was great, and I will not soon forget it, it is more of a side effect of something greater. That is that the love of my life and I have been together after all of these years, and the friends old and new that have been in our lives. We all feed each other, intellectually, emotionally and in some cases literally, and I am thankful beyond words for all of you.



*Note:  All photos in this post were taken by the inimitable Tom Klubens, (http://www.flickr.com/photos/tomklubens/) with the exception of the derby action photo of Amanda, which was taken by King Photography of Lexington, KY and the photo of Niel's autograph which was taken by me using my Droid and 440x80 telephoto lens.)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Can your band do The Cramps?

  There are very few real rock and roll bands left in the world.  Unfortunately for me, when life is at its worst, I need rock and roll.  Real rock and roll.  Jack Scott, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison and the like are great, but as a horror movie loving child of the 80's they didn't quite cut it for me.  Roy was busy making pop music with a band that included a member of the band that composed the soundtrack to "Xanadu."  No rock and roll to be had there.  Luckily for me there was The Cramps.


  A band that takes hyper-sexuality mixed with 50's couture, a hybrid of punk and rockabilly, then add a dash of B-movie horror.  Just what the doctor ordered.
  I first heard "Bad Music for Bad People" when I was working at a record shop in a mall.  I was sitting in the storeroom of NRM noshing on a chili-cheese corndog and flipping through the boxes of marred CD's that were pulled from the shelves.  These unsellables were basically a perk for the employees that we could purchase at a "discount."  (Said discount was an unspoken rule of getting them out of the store without Phil the manager seeing it.)  While thumbing past cracked cases entombing Wrex N' Effex and Belle and Sebastian I happened across one with torn, yellow liner notes.  The half of the cover that remained revealed an evil eyed cad with a huge coif and skeletal nose.  Something in me stirred in a deja vuey sort of way.  I knew this band.  Across the top, The Cramps was scrawled in a dripping, horror-movie poster font.  With a smile of glee as I realized that Phil was off that night, I put the CD in my backpack.

 
  Listening to that CD was unlike any other music experience I had before, and I have had very few like it since.  Drums, guitar and vocals.  Who needs bass?  Raw and real and adorned with flecks of amp gain viscera it was beyond just rebel rock, it was something all it's own.
  Poison Ivy's guitar licks mixed simple fret walks with grainy power chord slams with rockabilly scaling with reverb with sex.  The vocals were the real magic of the band, however.  I have written elsewhere that Lux Interior's vocals were "precursive parody of the ejaculatory vocal gymnastics of a Christina Aguilera."  Yeah, that's about it.  Check it out:


  While The Cramps wrote their own songs, they did many, many covers.  The Way I Walk, Her Love Rubbed Off, The Goo Goo Muck and others were high-jacked by Lux and Ivy who owned them by the final chord.  The originals of the band went from the obvious, I wanna' get in Your Pants, to the obscure, Naked Girls Falling Down the Stairs (Referencing Duchamp's painting, Nude Descending Staircase.), to the grotesque, TV Set.  (I should mention that they also did a song, The Surfing Dead, specifically for the classic horror-comedy, Return of the Living Dead.  You can see a naked Lennia Quigley strut her zombie stuff to it.)
  The bands live shows were the stuff of legend.  The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has on display the shattered bass drum head that Lux's head went through during a concert.  For many years they were a Halloween mainstay at the Fillmore in San Francisco.  Playing yearly to a crowd dressed as monsters, I guess it felt like home to the band.   Ivy strumming her stuff in baby doll style and Lux looming across the stage like a scar-less Frankenstein Monster.  Perhaps the bands most famous concert occurred a few years before they were really known at all.  In 1978 they played a concert at the California State Mental Hospital in Napa.  To them, it's just another show for more adoring fans.  Oh, and need I mention that they appeared on an episode of Beverly Hills 90210?


   Lux died of an aortic dissection in 2009.  While the band had many members in the 30 plus years that they played, Lux and Ivy were they core.  They had been married for about as long as they had been playing together and I seriously doubt that she will do anymore as The Cramps without him.  And one less true rock and roll band will hit the stage.
  Still, my iPod is riddled with their music.  I can wash away a lousy day by cranking Bikini Girls with Machine Guns and doing as Lux instructs and "stay sick."  It does give a lad some perspective to do so.  So, the next time life has you by the throat and you just need a little R&R to save your soul, crank on some Cramps and surf with the dead.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Dr. Strangelove is my favorite movie, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Dark Humor


  I grew up in a house with a group of people who reveled in laughing at things at which polite society hath deemed not ought to be laughed.  Humor could always be found in things both dark and disturbing.  My mother being an RN in obstetrics and later a surgical nurse would generally provide dinner time conversation revolving around the latest rectal hernia case they worked.  My father was the county director for Special Education and after dealing with many of the “parents” of emotionally and physically abused children, I think that finding humor amid such horrors kept him from losing his mind.  Living on a horse farm also made us keenly aware of the harsh realities of nature.  (Whoever says that birth is a beautiful process has obviously never seen a tractor drag a colt from a mare’s prolonged vagina.)  So my sister and I gravitated easily into the orbit of guffawing during horror films and snickering at funerals.
  Thus when I first read “Cat’s Cradle” by Vonnegut I laughed myself to tears as the world came to an end.  I would watch Harold hang himself in his Mother’s parlor and find no end of amusement.  A sketch wherein a man repeatedly attempts to convince a shop owner that the parrot that he purchased not half an hour ago was indeed dead?  Hysterical!
  The key to good dark humor is to get the audience to see the absurdity in something that would normally be terrifying.  What could be funnier than the end of all civilization and human-kind as we know it?  That’s right, nothing.  And no work of art tickles that particularly sinister part of my funny bone quite as well as the Stanley Kubrick masterpiece, Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

 The War Room

  While many of the technical aspects are far outdated the sentiment is timeless.  The U.S. has an enemy with whom the politicians dance the diplomatic tango, despite the fact that said enemy would gladly see us all dead and burned.  In this case the enemy is the U.S.S.R.  (Bear in mind that this movie was made in 1964 when Cold War tensions were high and the Bomb we learn to love is the Atom Bomb.)  The Ruskies have invented a Doomsday Device which will destroy all plant and animal life on the planet should any of their key targets be attacked.  It is intended as a deterrent, but fails as such as the Soviet Premiere was saving announcing its existence at a U.N. meeting the following month.  Unfortunately, Gen. Jack D. Ripper (Just one of the many great character names.) has lost what was left of his marbles and decided to save our drinking water from Soviet fluoridation by launching a first strike against the Godless, cowardly, pink bastards.  A group of the best military minds, including the unabashedly scene-chewing George C. Scott as Gen. Buck Turgidson, a brilliant Peter Sellers as President Merkin Muffley (One of three roles he plays in this film.) and Peter Bull as the Russian Ambassador Alexi de Sadesky are hard at work in the War Room coming up with a plan to stop what the mad General has started.  Meanwhile, up in the clouds flies a plane piloted by Slim Pickens as Maj. “King” Kong who serves up his lines with a side of fried Okra and hominy grits.  He and his crew are carrying their nuclear payload right to Ivan’s front door, and cannot be recalled because the only person with the recall code is our demented Gen. Ripper.  Hysterical, right?

There's no fighting in the War Room!

  Many parts of this film make me laugh from the broad, obvious jokes such as the line, “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here.  This is the War Room,” to the more subtle nuances such as the choice of closing song.  (We’ll get to that in a minute.)  However, the parts that always makes me cramp up from insane giggles are all of the scenes in the War Room.  While the world is leaning over the brink of destruction this team of leaders squabble like a group of 12 year old boys playing Dungeons and Dragons in a suburban basement.  In possibly the greatest moment of the film, President Muffley makes a phone call to the drunken Russian Premiere to let him know that we are about to inadvertently drop a bomb killing many of his citizenry.  Go ahead and watch.  I dare you not to laugh:

 
*Spoiler Alert*
  Not really a spoiler, because even if you haven’t seen it, surely you have figured out how this all ends.  Slim Pickens rides the A-Bomb as if it was a buckin’ bronco all the way to ground zero and the Doomsday Device becomes enabled.  As we watch mushroom clouds engulf the planet under the closing credits, Vera Lynn sings “We’ll Meet Again”.  Now that’s a funny ending.

I am required by law to include
this shot when writing about this film. 

  The film’s source material is the novel Red Alert by Peter George.  George’s novel is a thriller and was meant to raise awareness of a very real flaw in the then military chain-of-command.  Kubrick did with it what he always did with source material, he took the parts he liked and changed the parts he didn’t, even character names.  Thus, he took what was intended as a serious look into the complexities of arms management and turned it into a satire mocking not only the military and politics, but our own fears which had been trumped up by the media.  Maybe now you see why I find the film so universal.  Today the enemies may have changed, but the same social environment abounds.
  So, if you are one of those folks who can’t read the obituaries without stifling a giggle, this may be the movie for you.  If not this one, I have a list of many, many others that may suit your particular tastes.  Believe me, when watched from the right perspective Sophie’s Choice can be downright rib-tickling.