Thursday, May 29, 2008

"The Missing Piece": The "adult" career of Shel Silverstein

Shel Silverstein was one of the most schizophrenic figures in pop-culture history. He is best known these days as a children’s book author (a deceased children’s book author), and his kiddie books are bestsellers that seem destined to remain in print for a long time to come. For information on them, check out the official website. I would heartily recommend one of the items NOT mentioned on that site, his "ABZ Book," which is actually a humor book leading the kids into some very dire predicaments indeed (ah yes, but Uncle Shelby could be a playful ol' man....)

However… (as Professor Irwin Corey would say) Shel had a whole other career, in fact several other careers, that were not so wholesome — and that’s why we love him so! His lyrics for hit tunes by Johnny Cash, The Irish Rovers, Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show, Marianne Faithfull, and countless country artists are well-remembered, but his ribald work, both in illustration and poetry, has not been as well documented. Since I consider it the Funhouse’s function to fill such voids, I here with offer someone’s uploading to the Net of his BRILLIANT epic poem “The Devil and Billy Markham.” The poem comes straight from the 25th anniversary issue of Playboy — and to my knowledge was never anthologized in any book. Shel did turn it into a “play,” which is a way of saying he had it performed in public settings (two other lives: as a playwright with works performed by Mamet’s Atlantic Theater Company, and as co-screenwriter with David M. on Things Change). I saw the piece as part of a presentation called “Oh, Hell!” at Lincoln Center, and man, was it amazing to see Dr. Hook’s lead man, Dennis Lecorriere, recite the whole fucking thing (and I do mean fucking — this poem’s got a lovely Heaven-Hell orgy scene). At one point, it was noted in the Playboy letters column that it should have been turned into a movie starring Kris Kristofferson, but I think it would play best as a piece of animation, perhaps narrated by the selfsame KK.

The poem is truly one of Shel’s finest and bugfuck-craziest works, and deserves to be in the public eye, even as much as The Giving Tree (in fact, I think they belong on the same shelf!) Read it in all its glory HERE. I don’t know if this MySpacer named Corey actually typed this all out (I’m betting he cribbed it from somewhere), but regardless, he deserves our thanks. Otherwise, you’d have to shell out for a Samuel French edition!!!

And just in case you wanted a peak inside the mind of this Renaissance Man of whimsy, sadness, and the freak-out, here is a biographical portrait that includes interview quotes from him (he rarely ever gave interviews).

Wanna see so-called “hidden” drawings by Shel? Here is someone’s posting of pics from a private notebook (now being sold publicly).

He's mad as hell — and one of the best things on TV

Though I consume an untoward amount of media every day, I had until very recently avoided watching “the pundit shows” on the 24-hour news networks. A few months ago I fell under the spell of the fast-paced Countdown with Keith Olbermann, and now count myself a camp follower. The main bone of contention with the show is Keith’s tendency to really let loose during his editorials (called "Special Comments"). I find this endlessly entertaining, on-target, and most importantly, true. The right-wing pundits are given to downright lying in their editorials, and if it comes down to a choice, I will take some histrionics to a barrage of made-up bullshit. Too much of the Left discourse these days is comprised of making people comfortable, of being “nice” to those we disagree with (I know that absolutely no mainstream Lefty, including Keith for that matter, is going to tackle McCain's record as a trained killer and POW in the Vietnam war, for instance; must we proclaim this borderline case a "hero" — did you see his demented wink the other day as he proclaimed how he'll never allow "defeat" in Iraq?). Since the right is composed of folks who basically pull out the traitor card every time they confront a person with a different viewpoint, I think it is essential to have at least one media personality on the Left who is really, really angry about the duplicity, the treachery, and downright genocidal impulse that rules our country (plus the stupidity… oh god, the stupidity… we are a nation PROUD of our stupidity).

Plus, Keith O. has shown a preference for extremely excellent comedians from the past in his obituary and tribute segments. He’s publicly proclaimed his allegiance to Bob and Ray, has “greeted” viewer Sid Caesar, and did a really welcome birthday tribute to the mighty, mighty Spike Milligan! The guy’s okay in my book. People forget one thing about the Howard Beale character in Paddy Chayefsky’s wildly prescient Network: he actually saw all too clearly what was going on in the TV news biz and government. He may have seemed unhinged but was telling the truth during his on-air meltdowns. More power to the "unhinged"!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

You *still* doesn't has'ta call him Johnson...

Glad to see that Bill Saluga is still in the game. Saluga has fascinated me for years because his main bit of shtick is so specific that it requires someone else setting it up, it spins into a coil of words, and then it's done (usually in less than two-three minutes, if that). For those who have never heard of Bill and his "Raymond J. Johnson Jr." character, he began as a member of the comedy troupe the Ace Trucking Company. Their ranks included Fred Willard, Patti Deutsch from Laugh-In, and the late George Memmoli (the "mook" guy from Mean Streets). All of the troupe were very talented, as is evidenced by their sketches available on various DVD boxes (they also appeared on the Lennon-Ono-hosted week of The Mike Douglas Show), and in the underrated Sixties montage-pic Dynamite Chicken. Saluga established his Johnson character rather early on (if a recent This is Tom Jones DVD box is any indication), and yes, is still doing it to this day on YouTube!

The bit started as a sketch performed by the ATC on variety shows, then it graduated to simply Saluga doing it on variety shows, then he began doing it on TV commercials, and he even wound up cutting a disco single, "Dancin' Johnson" (which is sadly not represented on YouTube, but is available on a blogspot blog for download, huzzah!). The bit is: someone calls him Mr. Johnson, and he responds with a long list of things you can call him, but you "doesn't has'ta call me Johnson." The bit became so ubiquitous at one point in the late '70s that Bob Dylan referenced it during his Xtian period in "You Gotta Serve Somebody." His line "you can call me RJ/you can call me Ray" was a nod from On High to Saluga's bit, which is as good as any way to remain a pop icon for the rest of yer life.

The one thing that has always been the coup de grace of the bit is the character's out-of-date get-up (which veered into zoot-suit territory at various points in the past). Given the amount of vintage TV on YouTube, I'm amazed there's only one or two small bits of vintage "Johnson." But it does appear like old "Raymond J." has decided to join us in the digital age.

Bill also now has an an official website, which features the above vid-sliver.

Pure pop: "Music to Watch Girls By"

We salute you Andy Williams, oh Tiki-headed god of easy listening. Andy had a big-time string of hits in the early ’60s, but what I have been endlessly fixated on was the number of times he “sang” instrumentals — as in, they wrote special lyrics to popular instrumentals for ol’ Anj to warble (or he just wound up warbling them). By the time I became aware of his existence (around the time I became aware of existence itself, in the early 1970s), Williams had sung a big number of songs to which they had added ridiculous lyrics. Probably the most memorably pointless example from the Seventies was his version of Barry White’s “Love Theme,” for which they simply added some feeble rhymes with the phrase “love theme” thrown in a bunch’a times. Andy had his own easy-lis’nin’ tracks that did blow me away in terms of their pure bubblegum spirit (”Happy Heart” being one of the highwater marks), but this little ditty, a lyricized version of a popular instrumental, is one of the catchiest of all. The lyrics are ridiculously grafted on but, hey, that’s the way it goes when you’re “making music to watch girls by….”

In searching for a proper link to “Happy Heart” above, I came up with an Andy impersonator (didn’t know there were any!), who mostly specializes in Fifties and Sixties rock impressions (it also turns out that venerable Eighties warbler Marc Almond tried the song on for size).

And because I’m daydreaming about the urban fantasies of the time in which I was born, lemme pass on this commercial, which became a hit instrumental (which, unfortunately, no one — even Andy! — wound up singing)

Here’s the instrumental, which was a hit for the T-Bones, accompanying somebody’s home-movie footage of L.A. in 1965 (scope out Sonny and Cher at the end):

A tad subtler than Musique's "In the Bush"

Been down a little lately, and there is nothing, and I do mean nothing, better to perk up a shameless mediaholic than some dippy tunes from the benighted Seventies (see posts below). This particular masterwork of silliness comes from the kitsch-fest to end all kitsch-fests, the Eurovision song contest. We never heard anything from Fredi and the Friends over here, but their “Pump-pump” is sheer genius. I do like the fat man — dubbed here el corpulento by the Spanish announcer — surrounded by two babes (it has the old burlesque seal of approval), but admit I prefer the leftover couple who had to sing the song to each other — it has that forced-duet quality that made so many variety show mini-musicals so blissfully embarrassing. The proto-Broadway show piano trills don't hurt any either:

Credit for discovering this goes to John Walsh (and his niece) over at the new site Bush League. John is truly a master of the “Web-find.” Regular viewers of the Funhouse will remember my journey through the land of the Furries, an odyssey that began with links provided by John.

Listening to the pump tune, I came in mind of this sweeter-than-sugar tune, which I heard again about two years ago on the Digital Choice music channels available on my cable service. I hadn’t heard it in over three decades, but found I could sing along with it. That bubblegum is some powerful stuff:

Hillary: the new-model Nader (or, the reason the Dems lose elections)

In this most busy of political seasons, I’ve been ingesting way too much punditry (the left-wing and MOR kind; I can’t abide conservatism in any of its guises). Why has no one made the comparison yet: our own N.Y. State Senator, the one who voted to go to Iraq, is clearly playing the spoiler, a la the once awesome Mr. N, and serving as just one more reminder that the reason the Repubs/rightwingers win elections is because they are organized and speak with one voice. Lefties like diversity to the point where nothing is agreed upon, and it all tumbles down into the current economy, the current war, and the current Chimp in Charge of all our fates….

NYC “unabideable”: the marbleized streets of the city

I’m a fast-walkin’ sonofabitch. I like to get where I’m goin’, and if I’m delayed for any reason, I don’t mind breaking into a sprint. The only problem with doing that these days (and, no, I have not taken a tumble on these fucking things, I just recognized it’s the most distinct of possibilities): many of Manhattan’s streets are no longer the grey, gritty-looking concrete of yesteryear, but are instead this pretty-ass marbleized surface that, in any type of precipitation becomes a sheet of slippery hell that will indeed cost ya a twisted ankle, a broken wrist, or at least, a humiliating dive. I became aware of the wild slipperiness of NYC’s streets — you knew it — when I had no health insurance for a long stretch of time and did take a dive on a Manhattan sidewalk in the snow (simply walking). Now, in order to not reproduce said instance, I am constantly watching where I’m going, and have noticed that the more “prestige” areas of the town have become slippery sheets of curbage, thanks to a super-pretty (pretty=bad in my lexicon; utilitarian=good) substance called terrazzo.

I found that this problem started a number of years back through a very old New York Times article that hails from the disco era, but just one look down as you walk in the rain, and you can tell that, once again, those who have insurance and want things to look nice are fully in favor of this faux look. This material now makes up large portions of the Grand Central area, Park Avenue, and other tonier vicinities (through which we peons must move as we migrate to our daily attempt to pay bills). I don’t expect this trend to decrease — in fact, as is evident from the fact that the above link connects to a 27-year-old article, the situation will become far worse as time goes one, as this is now a city of extraordinarily rich people and extremely poor ones (each highrise erected=merely a pied a terre for a foreign or domestic dignitary who has a few mil layin’ around). If you have insurance and tumble on a terrazzo surface, you can get treated and be good as new; if you don’t, you can do what I did and use ice packs and Ace bandages (as the laser surgery wasn’t even an option) and have a joint that’s a nice viable candidate for premature arthritis. As Hubert Selby used ta put it (mocking an ad campaign of the time): New York, it’s a fuckin’ summer festival.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

NYC Public Access in the early ’80s: a look back

This little gem was posted by Coca Crystal, but deserved its own entry in this blog. It comes from a program hosted by NYC radio and TV fixture Richard Bey, and seems to be the “2 on the Town" segment that Coca refers to in the opener clip linked to below. It reflects the trend in coverage of access to focus solely on the sex-related programming, as Coca is the only non-sex show included in the round-up. As an access producer, I can’t tell you how many pieces I’ve read about NYC cable-access that mention Robin Byrd, who hasn’t been on public access for years (and hasn’t done a new show in eons), but has been making mucho dinero on leased access Channel 35, which was Time Warner’s way of distancing itself from the emerging adult content on “Channel J” (the old public access channel on Manhattan Cable) and has become a mind-deadening corporate-controlled station filled with nothing but faux-erotic 1-900 crap advertising since Goldstein’s Midnight Blue signed off the air several years back.

Anyway, this clip harkens back to the salad days of Manhattan access, starting out with the full range of shows, but settling on interviews with Byrd, Goldstein, Ugly George, and the rather-tame-by-comparison Coca.

Public Access Hall of Fame: Coca Crystal

Long before there was YouTube, there was… public access. I would love to present the cream of the access crop on this here blog, and hope that in the future I have the time to digitize the many oddities I’ve collected on tape just since the early 1990s (I was a latecomer to this gorgeous medium, starting the Funhouse in 1993). For the time being, I can point to the wonders that have already been posted on, yes, the access-usurper that is the mighty YT.

Coca Crystal did a wonderfully free-form variety/talk program on Manhattan access from 1977 to 1995 called (in the paraphrased words of Emma Goldman), “If I Can’t Dance, You Can Keep Your Revolution.” The best thing about pure access is that it’s hard to believe that it ever existed — if you watch the recently released DVDs of Midnight Blue (particularly Volume 2), you’ll see a world that seems imaginary: a television program that had ads for hookers and hustlers, traveling orgies (with buffets!), porn mags, and beaucoup massage parlors and gay swing clubs (in major NYC apartment buildings and hotels). Similarly Coca’s program is a record of a MUCH more liberated time: her range of guests, her loose attitude to interviewing and show structure, and, most importantly, her lighting of a joint on the air at the outset of the program. She even included “review” segments, where she and her cohosts would discuss the grades of pot being sold around the city. Oh man, a very, very different era….

Check out her opening here:

And there’s a cool closer where everyone just dances here.

Of course, the thing that will sustain interest in these programs are the “name” guests that appeared on them, like Debbie Harry and Chris Stein.

And a little piana player named Phil Glass
(listen to the roster he gives out with at the opening of the clip—take a flying trip back to ’80s NYC, man).

But of more interest to me are the truly radical and yes wonderfully weird folk who guested on Coca’s show. This list includes another access host and NYC citizen emeritus, a man who was a Beat, a hippie, a Fug, and a goddamned troublemaker, the blessedly strange Tuli Kupferberg:

And if you like Tuli’s form of revolution, but you need to have your mind warped even further, please do sample the immortal Tiny Tim discussing veteran’s day with the show’s cohost, a writer named Renfreu Neff. I used to review for a magazine that published writings by Ms. Neff — I was sure that the name was a pseudonym, but was assured by the editor that it was a real person. I was interested to learn (you can loin so much from YouTube) that this lady was indeed named Renfreu, and used to cohost Coca’s show, which I caught the last few years of.

And if Tiny was a bit too run of the mill for ya, let me introduce you to his finest discovery, singing/songwriting granddad Izzy Fertel, who had a singular fascination with women’s liberation.

I thank Rich Brown for leading me to Coca’s trove on YT. Rich was the host and co-producer of another legendary Manhattan access show, Beyond Vaudeville. There are only a few BV clips on YT, but let me assure you, it was the very cream of access. A good representative clip can be found here.

Goddamn, New York: Where on the Dial is Joe Franklin?

I know, I know, Big Joe retired several years back and can still be found doing short “flashback” segments on a local AM station. But the Joe that diehard New Yorkers remember was a man that kept us company in the early morning and late evening hours, a man whose guest roster was surreal in its eclecticism — literally every profession was covered on his panel at some point. The low-budget genius of Joe’s program has been brilliantly summed up elsewhere — please treat yourself to Nick Tosches’ wonderful “Memories of Joe” which originally appeared in the Village Voice, can now be found in The Nick Tosches Reader, and can be read here.

But of course to know Joe was to watch him. There are some samples of Franklin at his finest on YouTube, and I have a whole raft of short little moments of wonder on tape that I desperately need to transfer, but here are three good slices. First, Joe’s amazing intro, circa the ’80s-’90s when he had a Joe-poses-around-NYC montage to start things off.

Then this bizarre interview with mighty Joe by the late club promoter/gossip maven Baird Jones. Here we get into the area of Joe-legend, one of the many celebrity-studded (and utterly undocumented) tales that he has unleashed upon us in recent years. I still recall his description of what seemed to be a makeout session with Marilyn in his last autobio (he also sampled Jayne Mansfield’s charms, according to the book): they were writing a Marilyn autobio (not the one that did circulate called My Story, some other one), and I believe the way it is put in the book is that both MM and Joe were in an amorous mood, and it quickly descended into a haze “of Chinese food and Garry Moore.” (Gar was on TV at the time.) His story here concerns JFK and Nixon helping him tend to a dead man. No shit.

And how could I not succumb to the charms of this short promo for Joe’s show, back from the era where he was using “Axel’s Theme” from Beverly Hills Cop as his theme (I, being a hardliner, really missed the “Twelfth Street Rag”). Please dig.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Powers That Be: New album and videos on YT from Tony Powers

A few weeks back I wrote a blog entry about my decades-long fascination with Tony Powers’ great song and video ”Don’t’ Nobody Move (This is a Heist).” I should note that Tony’s latest album is a welcome return for this “mystery” figure whom I had thought of as a “character actor who occasionally makes music,” but is really a one-time million-selling pop tunesmith who has been doubling as both an actor and a singer-songwriter who’s equal parts bright and literate, and streetsmart wiseass.

The album, called Who Could Imagine, finds Powers working in a number of pop genres, from old-fashioned ballad (“Lorraine”) to proto-Calypso (“Goin’ into Space”). As such, the album functions almost like an actor’s “demo reel,” showing how Tony the songwriter can channel his talent to fit a number of different moods. In reading about Tony online, I found that some of the songs were in fact written a few years back (and, yes, the classic “Don’t Nobody Move” gets an ever-so-slight update here), but they fit right in with these ever-so-fucked-up times. In line with the current era, Powers aims for the jugular with a few socially-conscious songs, including “Sadly.” (lyrics here)

Powers is working in the same vein as Carole King, Leonard Cohen and (especially) Tom Waits throughout, but I have to aim my focus squarely one more time on his ability as an urban sketch artist. His “Cartoon” offers a very nice and quite accurate review of livin’ in this very burg (although I hear that now TP inhabits the car-choked climes of L.A.): “The train is late 'n the/air-conditioning’s broke./And I’m wedged between/these two fat fucks whose/clothes are soaked./Is this the life?/All the people in Commercials/have so much fun,/a bunch of happy baboons/Is this the life?/Or are we just in rehearsal?/Excuse me — is this the feature/or is this the cartoon?”

Powers is a cult figure and, from what I’ve been reading, a “musician’s musician.” As such, I guess Who Could Imagine confirms that he is indeed a very cool tree falling in a very hip forest. Yez all should give a listen — the lyrics are on Tony’s site, and you can hear the first 2 minutes or so of each song on via the CD Baby site.

And just because this is a visually-oriented blog, I’m happy to report that the other two music-vids that Powers made back in the Eighties are up on YouTube. The first is a whole ’nother slice of NYC location shooting: Tony in a romantic mood with actress Lois Chiles on the Staten Island Ferry for the song “Odyssey” — which was later covered by KISS!

“Midnite Trampoline” is a two-part gem (at least on YouTube) that finds Powers playing a gigolo who isn’t quite… up to the demands of his profession (check out his ginzo buds, one of whom is played by a very young and svelte John Goodman). The video may not be as much of a shock to the system as “Don’t Nobody Move,” but it’s a nice piece’a lightly comic filmmaking that harkens back to the time when videos could be unpredictable in wonderful ways:

Forgotten '60s sitcom gem 2: He and She

Courtesy of the same poster who put up the item below, who calls himself “Mr. Retro” (thank you, Senor!) we have another lost Sixties sitcom gem, a one-season wonder called He and She starring the real-life married couple Richard Benjamin and Paula Prentiss. The show ran from ’67-68, and revolved around a cartoonist and his cute-as-hell wife who were young cosmopolitan folk along the lines of Rob and Laura Petrie, and Anne Marie and Don Hollinger.

Benjamin is an unusual performer who was very good as the filmic alter-ego of Philip Roth in two films (Portnoy’s Complaint must be seen, it is fucking amazing!), but he is better remembered by fans for his sci-fi turns in Westworld(1973) and the cult sitcom Quark (1977). I think he actually gave his best performance as the scumbag husband in Frank and Eleanor Perry’s Diary of a Mad Housewife (1970). He has worked as a director for the past quarter-century, but hasn't ever really lived up to the promise of his first two pics (My Favorite Year and Racing with the Moon). Prentiss made her debut as an attractive ingenue in Where the Boys Are but is best known for The Stepford Wives (1975).

The show features one of my all-time fave character guys, Kenneth Mars, who was the once and future Teuton from Mel Brooks’ classic Producers and Young Frankenstein, and the best-ever guest from the tip-top Fernwood 2-Night (the only guy who made the unflappable Martin Mull and Fred Willard start to break up on camera).

The whole damn thing is stolen, though, by Jack Cassidy as uber-ham Oscar North, a preening TV actor playing “Jet Man,” the character created by Benjamin. Cassidy was quite a show-biz pro, who is seen to best advantage in this clip from Dinah! doing a song used on SCTV as a theme for the Jackie Rogers Jr. character, “She Loves Me,” from the B’way play of the same name. It’s often been noted that Cassidy’s turn on He and She was the precursor to Ted Baxter on MTM.

Aaaaaaand, just in case you were wondering how was behind such the show, it’s the exact same team that did The Good Guys: producer/scripter Leonard Stern (also writer Arne Sultan, his cohort from Get Smart; Jerry Fielding did the music and Reza Badiyi put together the cute-as-hell opening and closing credit montages.

Forgotten '60s sitcom gem: The Good Guys

Fifties sitcoms are the blueprints for the genre (borrowed liberally from the radio and certain master comedians like Fields), while the Sixties sits moved into the very high-concept area with flying nuns, talking cars, goofy castaways, and sea-captain ghosts. This find is a low-key buddy comedy that I remember watching as a very tiny kid, but had no clear memories of. I’m happy to report it’s cute as hell, with some decent gags. The Good Guys ran only a season and a half (1968-70), and involved the dynamic between a down-on-his-luck diner owner (the blessed Herb Edelman) and his cabbie friend (uber-sidekick Bob Denver, fresh from his stint with the Skipper and Mary Ann). The show is charming and simple — Edelman tries to avoid the stupid plans hatched by Denver, while long-suffering spouse Joyce Van Patten puts up with it all. This particular episode finds Denver getting involved with a heartsick young musician and Edelman trying to avoid a rich rival (played by the priss exemplar William Daniels).

The show was created by veteran scripter Jack Rose (who worked on Bob Hope pics in the Forties and wound up doing things like A Touch of Class in the Seventies), and was produced by Leonard Stern (who produced comedies from Get Smart to Grace Under Fire). It's 40 years old this year. DAMN, I wish the “classic TV” networks would put stuff like this on.

Check out the pilot episode here:

Or just sample the super-’60s theme song here. The credits sequence was done by the long-unheralded director/title designer Reza Badiyi, who directed countless TV episodes of classic shows, was once Jennifer Jason Leigh's stepdad, and helped craft many credits montages, among them Hawaii 5-0 and The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Loving You Has Made Him Bananas: Guy Marks

It may appear that I am wholly and completely bound up in the past from the entries on this blog, but I will note that I’m actually functioning in the present tense, I watch contemporary TV shows, follow present-day political developments (much to my chagrin), and am just as happy as the next fan when musicians “drop” their albums online for free, as has been the case this past week with Trent Reznor of that ol’ Nine Inch Nails. That said… I must indicate my joy at discovering nuggets from the past on this here Net, and so I present yet another mind-bender, a novelty tune by a comedian that most people forgot and even more never even hear of.

Guy Marks is best known by me for his appearance on a Dick Van Dyke Show episode where he performs at one of Rob’s house parties (damn, they had fun in the imaginary Sixties show-biz suburban environment). He was better known as an impressionist (click here to see him doing his shtick on The Dean Martin Show). Someone has uploaded him doing his novelty song “Loving You Has Made Me Bananas,” a parody of old big-band ballads, that contains the amorous phrase “Close cover before striking.” Yes, it’s goofy as hell, but I’m glad someone recorded the damned thing (and someone in the U.K., actually, check out the v.o. comment at the end). Guy is gone but not forgotten by those who remember goofy melodies.

(Don't) take the S train

Rather than rail on about the current dire political situation (where stupidity trumps substance each and every time--please god, no McCain), I’ve generally kept my Funhouse rants local, and focused on NYC concerns… like the subway. I am now currently earning dough in an office position that does indeed put me right back in the thick of the rush hour, which I’d been fortunate enough to have been missing for the past few years (come in late, leave late, no fuss, no muss).

Ah, so I’m back in the sardine-can misery that comprises the commuter’s daily journey, with the MTA undergoing what is clearly a slowdown (they recently got a fare hike—it’s time to find reasons to slow the trains down to convince us we “need” them). I have been trapped in two trains so far that could’ve been outrun by a little kid on a tricycle (going a total length of 10 blocks from stop to stop), and have been very disappointed that the list of excuses the conductor used to use for the arbitrary and downright sadistic slowdowns/stops has not been trotted out. As I remember it, the usual wildly ambiguous and carefully-worded-for-obscurity alibis for the fact that train has no intention of going ANYWHERE anytime soon used to run like this:

-“signal lights are holding us”
-“police action”
-“sick passenger”
-“passenger on the tracks” (rare one, everyone wants to see)
-“track work” (this one covers workers on the track—an extremely rare sight—or the fact that they’re rerouting things a few hours before said work begins)
-“train in front of us”

These days, only the last-mentioned is being used (c’mon, guys, imagination, use some imagination while wasting minutes/hours/passages of our lives!). We all of course know what that means—the train left the terminus point too late, the motormen did the three-in-a-row strategy that has worked so well to make NYC buses the utter winter nightmare they are.

So, I’m left wondering: if the all-pervasive excuse is “train traffic in front of us,” why in fact is the S train, which goes merely between Times Square and Grand Central Station (read: one fucking stop), not run on anything approximating a regular schedule? It used to be (yes, even during the nightmare Seventies and Eighties there were indeed small bright spots in the evil MTA’s horrid, wretched empire) that the S train could always be counted on to be at both stops, one filling up at TS and then leaving, the same at GC.

These days two are in service (mind you—there are three tracks for these hunks o’crap) only at rush hour, and the rest of the day, it’ll a good ten-minute wait to get into a crap-train that goes exactly one stop. A fast walker can clearly make the distance in the same time, and be spared the sardine experience.

In Thomas Pynchon’s classic novel V, the proto-beatnik/nihilist character Benny Profane spends his down-days “yo-yo-ing” around NYC, just ridin’ that S shuttle train back and forth, zoning out and checking out who’s going between the two major stations. Benny would long ago have been put in a straitjacket with the functioning of today’s S train (which doesn’t even run 24 hours a day, last I checked).

Yes, NYC sucked in many ways back in the good old bad old days (the charming past), but now in the high-tech, no-possible-reason-why-things-should-fuck-up-except-for-apathy 21st century, it’s much, much worse.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Color Him Lurid: George Kuchar

Some filmmakers deserve our constant gratitude and admiration. Two of these are the Bronx’s own Kuchar Brothers, George and Mike. I have to admit that while I enjoy Mike’s movies (Sins o f the Fleshapoids is genius), I have a better knowledge of, and a diehard fan-fascination with, the warped, no budget creations of his twin, George. I think it’s an absolute shame the Brothers aren’t better known, and each time I see their best-known fan John Waters paying tribute to the exploitation filmmakers who inspired him, I wonder if he couldn’t throw just a little spotlight their way, as they are without question the first great no-budget genius-trash filmmakers (yes, he’s acknowledged their influence, and no, they didn’t have any actors the like of Divine, Mink Stole, or David Lochary — although their Bronx babes were mighty cute in a homegrown way — but it’s inarguable how much their work is the natural precursor to Waters’ classic midnight-movie classics). In other words, they need the press at this point — as much as I love and worship the work of Russ Meyer and H.G. Lewis, I think their reputations are safe as this point; the same with the great Kenneth Anger. It’s a tragedy that the sum total of their work on DVD is the sole release of Mike’s Sins….

In searching the Net for evidence of George’s crazed and wildly influential underground cinema at this exact point in time, you find that the Video Data Bank website has wonderfully lurid write-ups of the pics by George himself.

A bunch of the Kuchars’ films had been up on YouTube, but are now down. This could be due to the Brothers themselves or their copyright holders (VDB?) asking that the films be removed. OR it could be the most annoying aspect of YouTube, the ridiculous “three strikes” rule — wherein if you get three complaints or removals, all your videos are taken down (as ridiculous as the no-nudity-cuz-we-in-’Merica-ain’t-mature-enuf-ta-handle-it rule). For the time being only two GK pics are up:

Wild Night in El Reno (1977)

and I, An Actress (1977)

Someone has put up the very end of George’s perfect Hold Me While I’m Naked (the sound is loud, turn your computer down!):

Ten of George’s films, including the above trio, are available for viewing and downloading on the Ubuweb site. My advice is to download the files (right click and you’ve got ‘em), as watching them on the site always freezes up my computer. As the Brothers’ films continue to be restored in an ongoing project run by UCLA to preserve the greatest American underground films, I’m looking forward to SOME KIND of DVD releases of their finest, exquisitely gonzo work.

Here’s the UbuWeb URL. Have a lurid feast for yourself:
Click here