Wonder and Weirdness #1 – Ed Emshwiller

I was familiar with Ed Emshwiller’s science fiction illustrations long before I knew his name or anything about his career. From 1951 to 1979, he created over five hundred covers for many science fiction magazines and paperbacks. In the 1960s, he began making experimental films, which came as a total surprise to me. It was also kind of a disconnect, as I wasn’t used to people crossing over from one discipline go another, both of which I had a strong interest in. I read a lot of science fiction while growing up in the ’50s. I loved Emshwiller’s covers for their realistic detail, imagination, and frequent playfulness. The cover above is a good example of this. Below are some others.

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For Galaxy Science Fiction, Emshwiller did a series of holiday-themed covers over the years, notable for their humor and playfulness, usually featuring a four-armed Santa Claus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It wasn’t all laughs in his art work. One of his most powerful and evocative covers for me was for “Rat in the Skull,” an equally powerful and evocative short story by Rog Phillips in the December, 1958 issue of If Science Fiction. I haven’t read the story since it first appeared, when I was 14 years old. The feeling I had then has stayed with me, if not the details. Earlier today, I found the story online, downloaded it, and plan to re-read it before finishing this post. We’ll see if it holds up to Emshwiller’s depiction. *** Just finished. It’s not great writing, but the concept is still strong, original, and tragic. A rat, strapped from birth in the skull of a mechanical body, gains a “soul,” so to speak, without the awareness that it’s actually a rat. No happy ending here. Has a certain resonance with Flowers for Algernon.

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Emshwiller’s wife Carol was an award-winning science fiction writer. Author Ursula K. Le Guin called her “…a major fabulist, a marvelous magical realist, one of the strongest, most complex, most consistently feminist voices in fiction.” No small praise, that. I haven’t read any of her work, but think I have to now. Emshwiller frequently used her as a model (I that’s her in the “Rat in the Skull” cover above). Below is a photo of Carol with a painting Ed had done of her, which had appeared on the cover of an edition of her collected short stories. She died in 2019 at age 97, having outlived her husband by 32 years, who died in 1990 at age 65.

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In 1964, Emshwiller received a Ford Foundation grant for filmmaking. The result was his 38 minute film Relativity in 1966. In his original proposal to the Ford Foundation (per IMDb), he outlined the film as “something that deals with subjective reality, the emotional sense of what one’s perception of the total environment is — sexual, physical, social, time, space, life, death.”

A description at the Film-Makers Coop website says this: “A man wonders, measures, views relationships, people, places, things, time, himself. A sensual journey through a series of subjective reflections.”

I may have seen Relativity back in the day, but my recall of non-narrative experimental films is sketchy at best. But Emswhiller definitely got attention for this film. During this time, he was also a cinematographer on documentaries and feature films, including Hallelujah the Hills (1963). An interesting detail is that he shot the footage of Bob Dylan singing “Only a Pawn in Their Game” in 1963 that appears in D.A. Pennebaker’s Dylan documentary, Don’t Look Back (1967).

In the 1970s, Emshwiller began working in video. Sunstone, a three-minute work he made in 1979, uses 3-D computer-generated video. This early example of CGI is considered groundbreaking, and is in the video collection of the Museum of Modern Art here in New York.

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I definitely saw an earlier film of his, George Dumpson’s Place (1966). I especially like the evocative title. The running time is just under eight minutes. I just watched it for the first time in many years. It’s great. Here’s a description from the National Film Preservation Foundation website:

George Dumpson’s Place is one of several short films in which Emshwiller explored the worlds of other artists with which he felt strong sympathy. George Dumpson was an impoverished African-American handyman who squatted on land in Long Island. Emswhiller saw him as a folk artist, a scavenger and assembler of found objects in the tradition of Joseph Cornell. “I felt he was an artist because my definition of an artist is a person reorganizing the world, creating a world in his internal likelness.” In the film, Dumpson’s overgrown “place” on Long Island is a densely textured mystery of broken dolls, ruined sculpture, and tangled housewares, a world of uncertain boundaries between rural and urban landscapes, interior and exterior spaces, investigated through the sinuous tracking shots for which Emshwiller was noted. At heart of his maze is Dumpson, glimpsed at the end of a walkway, followed by the startling close-up flash of his face, all white beard and black skin.

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Promotional film for “Dream Dance: The Art of Ed Emshwiller,” an exhibition at the Lightbox Film Center of International House Philidelphia. I don’t know the dates of this show.

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Ed was also an educator. In California, he was the founder of the CalArts Computer Animation Lab and was the dean of the School of Film/Video at the California Institute of Arts from 1979 to 1990. Though I always go back to his science fiction artwork. That’s my earliest and strongest connection to his work. Below are three shots of Ed through the years.

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That about wraps it up. Stay tuned for whatever’s coming next. Be safe. — Ted Hicks

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Posted in Art, Books, Fiction, Film | 2 Comments

At the Heights – Movies since 1926

Last month we traveled to Minneapolis to see friends. Mark Ryan, one of my oldest friends and, like me, an obsessive movie buff, had been telling me for several years about the Heights Theater and how great it is. After going there on a Friday night with Mark and his wife Marge, Nancy and I tend to agree.

The Heights is the oldest continuously operating movie theater in the Twin Cities, showing films since 1926. They run both new and old films, with an emphasis on classics. The schedule below is an example of their eclectic programming.

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The night we were there we saw a new film, See How They Run, directed by Tom George, featuring Sam Rockwell, Saoirse Ronan, Ruth Wilson, David Oyelowo, and Adrian Brody. Good cast. Set in 1950s London during the run of Agatha Christie’s play, The Mousetrap, the film is a farcical mystery comedy that becomes quite meta by the time it’s over. The way everything neatly fits together is clever and satisfying. (See How They Run is currently available for streaming from Amazon Prime.)

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We got there early for the 7:10 show and had a chance to check out the lobby and auditorium. An organ, which rises up in front of the screen, was being played when we arrived. This was very cool. The organ is played before the 7:10 shows on Friday and Saturday nights. It really adds to the mood of the place.

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The lobby and restrooms are decorated with vintage posters, photos, magazine ads, etc. This lends a museum aspect to the theater, which is itself a celebration of Hollywood history.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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John Wayne in The Comancheros holds a place of honor in the men’s room, along with two other Westerns above the urinals. I can’t speak for what’s in the women’s.

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Also on display in the lobby is this vintage 35mm projector.

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When we were there, tickets were being sold at the candy counter. Mark tells me that the original ticket booth is also sometimes used to sell tickets. It’s beautiful. (The view from outside the theater is at left; inside the theater at right.)

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Here is the history of the theater per their website:

“The Heights Theatre is located in Columbia Heights, Minnesota, a Northeast Minneapolis suburb. The theatre was originally constructed in 1926 by Gluek Brewery heir Arthur Gluek as a prohibition real estate venture.

“Built in the Beaux Arts style of the last century, the Heights Theatre building was a simple neighborhood movie house showcasing local talent in stage plays and “High Class Amateur Vaudeville Acts.” The Heights has survived at least three fires, one bombing and “The Big Blow of 1949” when a Fridley tornado twisted the tower sign.

“Tom Letness and Dave Holmgren bought the Heights Theatre in November of 1998. At first sight the theater looked completely different: it was a turquoise box. The original blueprints from the University of Minnesota’s archives revealed that the ornamental plaster of polychromed woodwork and the front windows had been walled-up during World War II. To top it all off the previous owners had slathered the building with turquoise paint.

“Today the theater has been restored to its original glory. A scarlet motorized Grande drape covers the proscenium stage and gilded grills conceal the organ’s pipework. Antique chandeliers are suspended from the ceiling restored with 2600 Egyptian lead crystals. Hand-painted reproduction Edison Mazda bulbs in four colors on separate circuits allow a multitude of effects from 152 lights above four hundred seats. An orchestra pit was discovered under the floor where the mighty Wurlitzer Theater Organ now rises for Friday and Saturday night concerts.

“The Heights has a grand piano in the lobby and an upright piano in the auditorium connected to the organ. The 1926 Williams Brothers steam boiler was replaced with two new high-efficiency hot water boilers and new electrical service as well as plumbing upgrades has been completed over the years. The entire lobby and auditorium were recarpeted, and a sparkling new tower sign crowns the marquee.

“Tom Letness, who became sole owner of The Heights in 2003, specializes in upscale first run films, classic film series and events.”

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Below is a shot of the theater in a previous incarnation with the turquoise paint as described above. Assuming Jerry Maguire is first-run, this would date from 1996.

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Heights Theater Dairy Queen

In addition to concession items, The Heights owns the Dairy Queen next door to the theater and in the, spring, summer, and fall, all theater patrons can purchase items at the DQ and bring them into the theater. The DQ has a full treat line as well as Orange Julius premium fruit smoothies, Hot dogs, BBQ and Grilled chicken sandwiches.

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That does it for this post. Stay tuned for the next one. In the meantime, be safe. — Ted Hicks

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Supplemental – Tech Specs edited from the theater’s website

The Heights WCCO Mighty Wurlitzer

Originally the Heights Theater had a small Robert Morton pipe organ installed in 1927, but this organ was removed in 1936 when the theater was remodeled.

The current organ began its life in 1929 as the WCCO studio organ, back in the days when WCCO had studios located in the old Nicollet hotel at Washington and Hennepin Ave in downtown Minneapolis. It was then a 3 manual instrument with 12 ranks of pipes. Then in the 1960’s it was sold to a private collector and eventually purchased by the Land O Lakes Theatre Organ Society in 1998. Soon after, a deal was struck with the management of the Heights Theater to install the organ, thus making the Heights the first movie theater to have a functioning pipe organ since the Downtown Minneapolis Radio City Theater closed its doors in 1958.

The organ currently has 16 sets of pipes (known as ranks) and also boasts a glockspiel, xylophone, chimes, piano, and marimba, as well as an assortment of rhythm percussions and original theater pipe organ sound effects such as train whistle, bell, birds, and so forth. The section which currently plays is housed in the former dressing room on the right side of the auditorium. The organ’s voices include Tuba, Trumpet, Post horn (the loudest stop) strings clarinet, and a variety of other organ voices to fill out the ensemble.

Organists play a short program Friday and Saturday nights before the 7:10 shows, and also for special movie events and silent movies.

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Projection & General Presentation Information

The Heights Theatre is one of the best-equipped venues for film and Digital presentation in the Twin Cities. In 2012, a complete D cinema installation was done using a Dolby Digital cinema package combined with a brand new BARCO 2K digital projector. Unlike most theaters though, we have kept our full 35mm-70mm Norelco AAII legacy film projectors in place and operational. All film prints are projected reel to reel and not from an automated platter system. The Heights also has one of the best cinema sound systems supporting full Dolby Digital surround sound, DTS Digital as well as excellent mono and stereo optical and magnetic systems.

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“That Shit You Call Music” – Before New York, Part 3

 Minneapolis, September 1973 to January 1977

After being discharged from the Air Force in August of 1970, I returned to the University of Iowa in Iowa City to resume my education and my old job at a local bookstore. After three somewhat erratic years, I emerged armed with a prestigious General Studies degree. An Air Force friend of mine was living with his wife in Minneapolis. Shortly before I was due to graduate, he wrote to say that there was a lot of film work there, and that if I didn’t have other plans, I could come and stay with them until I found a job. This seemed perfect. I had hopes of finding work in the film world, but no practical thoughts on how to achieve that. Staying in Iowa City as a “professional student” had a certain slacker appeal, but I knew I wasn’t ready to give up just yet.

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I’d finally managed to buy a stereo of my own, a portable KLH that packed up into a kind of compact briefcase for travel. I got a lot of use out of this machine and took it with me when I made the move to Minneapolis in the fall of 1973.

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The photo above shows me in my first of three Minneapolis apartments. Note the records on display lined up on the floor against the wall. Easy to flip through. I’m sure I acquired most of these in Iowa City, because at the time of this shot I hadn’t been in the city very long. The Allman Brothers Band at Fillmore East is in front of the first row. It’s a hell of an album. I’ve always loved their version of “Stormy Monday.” When I want to hear something from this album, that’s the cut I’ll play.

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Will the Circle Be Unbroken, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s monumental tribute to bluegrass music, was released in November of 1971. It features an amazing collection of musicians, including Doc Watson, Vassar Clements, Earl & Randy Scruggs, Maybelle Carter, Merle Travis, and Roy Acuff. I got it in Iowa City and it’s been with me ever since. One of my favorite cuts is “Down Yonder,” which starts off with Doc Watson talking with other musicians about what song they’re going to do. They decide on “Down Yonder,” and there’s this incredible moment when they’re getting ready to start and Doc Watson says to Vassar Clements, “How does it go, Vassar?” This immediately kicks off the number in exuberant fashion. It gets me every time.

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Still in Iowa City I came across an album by the Sir Douglas Quintet called Mendocino. I found it in a record cut-out bin in a downtown drugstore for 50 cents. There was something about it that I thought I should check out. Doug Sahm (aka “Sir Douglas”) was from San Antonio. His band’s music was Tex-Mex all the way, but the Sir Douglas Quintet name had been taken to make it sound like a British band. No one who heard them would ever make that mistake. Anyway, the Mendocino album was such a bargain. I especially love the title cut. Listen to Augie Meyers on organ!

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About three weeks or so after moving to Minneapolis, I found a job with a 16mm motion picture lab where the work included TV spots (anyone remember K-Tel?) and medical films for the University of Minnesota. Most of my co-workers were in the same age range and we shared many of the same interests and preferences. We saw each other socially as well as at work. In a way, it felt like being back in college. Music and movies were focal points for us, always topics for discussion and debate.

In a recent blog post on David Bowie, I told how I first heard his music in Minneapolis in the house of friends from work. Another time I remember being alone in the third floor room of a different house, lying on a mattress on the floor with large stereo speakers on either side of my head listening to the Velvet Underground’s “Sister Ray” at high volume. I knew the song and loved it. This seemed like just the thing to do.

“Sister Ray” sounds like it’s punching its way out of a soggy cardboard box. It’s brutal, heavy, and kind of great. Here are a couple of apt comments re “Sister Ray” made on YouTube:

Sounds like they’ve been playing it 12 hours straight the moment it starts.

…the song gyrates between cohesion and chaos like seven different times in 17 minutes. This is like a Formula 1 driver going 225 miles an hour, losing control of his car 7 times, not crashing and still winning the race.

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The Guthrie Theater, with a capacity of 1,437, was originally attached to the Walker Art Center. The years I was in Minneapolis, the Guthrie had theatrical productions and musical performances. The first couple of concerts I attended were were due to a Duke Ellington concert that didn’t happen. I’d seen that Ellington was going to perform at the Guthrie on Saturday and Sunday, January 19 & 20, 1974. My parents were planning to drive up from Iowa to visit that weekend. They loved big band music, especially my mother, so I decided to get tickets for the Saturday concert. My mother couldn’t quite get her head around the fact that they were actually going to see Duke Ellington in person. As it turned out, they didn’t. Ellington was ill and the concerts were cancelled. He was to die that May.

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This was a disappointment, but instead of getting a refund for the three tickets, I elected to get tickets for two upcoming concerts at the Guthrie. The first was Jackson Browne and Linda Ronstadt on February 2. Late for the Sky wouldn’t be out until that November, but Jackson Brown was well known. Linda Ronstadt was giggly and seemed nervous, though this could have been part of her stage persona. She already had released three studio albums. It was a good show.

I saw Miles Davis two days later. This was not the Miles of Sketches of Spain or Kind of Blue, this was more Bitches Brew and beyond that. It was an experience. And it was Miles.

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I then saw Herbie Hancock on May 6, followed by Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen on May 19. I’d completely forgotten about the Commando Cody concert, except I know I saw Hoyt Axton at the Guthrie, so I must have been there for that gig.

That was it for Guthrie Theater concerts until October 6 when I saw Randy Newman and Ry Cooder, and then the Keith Jarrett Quartet on December 22. I filled the time between Guthrie dates at other venues.

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A group of us from the film lab loaded into a van and drove to Eau Claire, Wisconsin for a Mothers of Invention concert at the University of Wisconsin campus on April 26. Dion was the opening act and he had a rough time of it. This was Dion DiMucci of Dion and the Belmonts, whose music includes “Runaround Sue,” “The Wanderer,” “Ruby Baby,” and “A Teenager in Love.” He was accompanying himself on acoustic guitar in this large auditorium space, and many in the crowd were not having it. I was appalled when they began heckling. They’d come to see Frank Zappa and the Mothers, not someone out of rock ‘n’ roll history. Had to wonder what genius had put this booking together. Well, Dion is still standing, still making music, so there’s that.

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I remember seeing Jerry Jeff Walker on May 24 at the Cabooze, a very interesting music venue that I think was built around an actual railroad caboose. I went there frequently, mainly to hang out. That night I’d wanted to go out, drink beer, and hear live music. I’d previously defined Walker by “Mr. Bojangles,” which I thought was pretty light weight. Couldn’t have been more wrong. He ripped the place up and then some.

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My concert attendance slacked off in 1975, though I continued to buy records and play them by myself or with friends. It’s what we’d do, get together and listen to music. I’d show up at parties armed with a stack of LPs I thought everyone should hear. I’d also see local bands in neighborhood bars. Records I bought mostly came from two stores, Oar Folkjokeopus (aka Oar Folk) and the Electric Fetus. I wrote briefly about Oar Folk in the first installment of this music saga. It was only a few blocks from my first apartment and I went there a lot. Electric Fetus was a little further away. Didn’t go there as much, but both stores had an excellent inventory.

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The only significant concert I attended in ’75 was a doozy — Bruce Springsteen at the Guthrie Theater on Sunday, September 21. Born to Run had been released on August 25 to a great deal of fanfare. A month later he appeared in the same week on the covers of Time and Newsweek. He was on his way to becoming a very big deal.

It was a great concert. What makes it even more memorable to me is that the day before had been my dad’s funeral in Iowa. He’d died that Thursday in a hospital in Omaha, Nebraska. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I was glad I was able to make it back to Minneapolis in time for the concert. That probably sounds cold or uncaring to some, and maybe I shouldn’t admit it, but there it is. I miss my dad a lot and wish I’d known him better. Bruce Springsteen was just what I needed under the circumstances.

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Sometime in 1976 I learned that Woody Herman and his band would be doing a concert. I don’t remember the date or the venue, but when I checked yesterday I saw that he’d performed many times at the Prom Center in St. Paul. I’m assuming that’s where it was. My mother had grown up loving big band music of the ’30s. She flew up from Iowa and we went to the show, which she loved. The next day we were on a bus in downtown Minneapolis when I saw Woody Herman in a trench coat walking along the sidewalk. I didn’t say anything to my mom, but I fantasized that we’d rush off the bus after him and have a nice encounter. Didn’t do it, but it was nice to imagine.

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March of ’76 was a triple header for me. I saw Patti Smith at the Guthrie on March 7, The Who at the St. Paul Civic Center on March 14, and Roxy Music at the Guthrie on March 18.

Patti Smith’s album Horses had been released on October 10, produced by John Cale with a cover photo by Robert Mapplethorpe. Horses got a lot of attention and it more than justifies it. Somehow I’d scored a front-row seat at the Guthrie. The stage isn’t raised much, so it felt like I was right there. I saw her perform as often as I could after I moved to New York. Turned out that Lenny Kaye, Smith’s lead guitarist then and now, was living in the building I’d moved into. It was a kick seeing him in the lobby or elevator.

The first cut on Horses is “Gloria,” which tells us with its first words that this is something different, “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine.” The energy in the song builds and takes you in a rush.

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Okay, that does it for “Before New York.” Stay tuned for “New York Soundtrack,” which will wrap up this series. Be safe. — Ted Hicks

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“That Shit You Call Music” – Before New York, Part 2

Couple of  months behind schedule, this is continuing an account of music I heard during previous phases of my life, when and where and how I heard it, music that meant a lot to me then and still does. This is far from comprehensive, but it doesn’t need to be.

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U. S. Air Force – October 1966 to August 1970

I remember being at a USO dance one Sunday (the only day we had off) during basic training at Lackland Air Force Base outside San Antonio, Texas hearing “Reach Out I’ll Be There” by the Four Tops. It’s a great song that has always resonated with me. Hearing it in the midst of a strict training routine and adjustment to a new life had a calming effect on me for that moment, however fleeting. It’s the only song I remember hearing during the six weeks of basic. I obviously heard more, but this is the one that stuck.

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After basic training, I was sent to Lowry AFB in Denver, Colorado for six-month’s tech training in my “career field” of aerial reconaissance film processing. I remember walking into The Hipbone, a store in downtown Denver that sold records and all manner of countercultural paraphernalia, hearing “The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)” from the first Grateful Dead album played at high volume, with a guy at a turntable in the back cranking up the volume to match high points of the cut.

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During that time in Denver, I saw Antonioni’s Blow-Up. The music connection is the scene where David Hemmings goes to a club where the Yardbirds (with Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck) are playing a song that is clearly “The Train Kept ‘a Rollin’,” but with re-written lyrics and re-titled “Slow Down.” It’s an odd sequence, but the music is great.

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After tech training in Denver, I was sent to Beale AFB in northern California. I remember walking into the base education office during in-processing after arriving and hearing the Doors’ “Light My Fire” playing, the album version with the long instrumental break. Not what I expected to hear in such a context. Felt like things were shifting.

I subsequently saw the Doors in concert at the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium on June 15, 1968. The air base was about 50 miles north of Sacramento, which was an easy trip by bus.  What I remember was when they finally came out on the stage, Jim Morrison took his time coming forward to the microphone. After a long time, while he seemed to be  contemplating the audience and finding us wanting, he let rip a belch that had impressive range and volume. I guess he wanted to let us know who we were dealing with.

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Sacramento didn’t impress me as anything special, not like San Francisco, but it did have Tower Records. This was the original location, the very first (records were initially sold out of the drug store at street level). Though I didn’t have a record player at Beale, I was buying albums and hearing them on friends’ players. I remember buying the first Jimi Hendrix album at Tower. Hearing “Purple Haze” for the first time really pinned my ears back. Just listened to it now for first time in a while. Still a bulldozer. So much power.

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In August 1968 I went to the Sound Factory, a Sacramento music venue. Don’t think I knew what to expect, but a band playing that night I hadn’t heard of, Kaleidoscope, knocked me out. Their music had a strong Middle Eastern influence. I think they even had a belly dancer. This cut is an example. It really gets going at the end.

I didn’t know it at the time, but their lead guitarist was David Lindley, who went on to play with Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, Warren Zevon, and many others, as well as a strong solo career. Years later, after running the New York Marathon in 1981, I was exiting Central Park at 72nd Street and Central Park West. I recognized Lindley standing across the street on the corner. Stopped and talked, told him how much I’d liked Kaleidoscope. Nice guy, great guitarist.

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The BX at Beale sold records for about three dollars each. Even without a stereo of my own, my record collection grew. It included Dylan’s John Wesley Harding and Blonde on Blonde, Fresh Cream, and many  more. Also an album called Say Siegel-Schwall. The Siegel-Schwall Band had been formed in Chicago by Corky Siegel and Jim Schwall to play electric blues. Based on the cover, I expected something different from the traditional blues music it was. There was one up-tempo number I liked, but otherwise wasn’t ready for this. I later grew to love it. I might add that John Wesley Harding later eased my landing from a bad acid trip. Those were the days and I was younger then.

Here’s a great cut from that album.

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I went to San Francisco as often as I could afford to, which was usually twice a month when we got paid. It was a two or three hour bus ride from Marysville, the town seven miles west of the base. I’d get off at the Greyhound bus depot and find a room for the weekend. Sometimes this was at the Sheraton Hotel, where a military discount got me a suite for three dollars per night. Hard to beat that.

Bill Graham

Admission to the Fillmore Auditorium, the original location on Geary Street, was only three dollars, if I recall correctly. Went there several times, but the only band I remember seeing was the Steve Miller Blues Band, before they dropped “Blues” from the name. I saw Bill Graham, who promoted concerts at the Fillmore, on two occasions. The first was fairly mundane. I was in an ice cream shop in the neighborhood when he came in, clearly in a rush, and ordered several quarts to go. He pulled out a wad of cash, paid from that, then left. In retrospect, I imagine I thought something like “Well, that was interesting.” The next time was more dramatic. I’d read that he had a temper and I was about to see that in action. I was going up the steps from the street to the Fillmore’s entrance when an alarmed young man rushed past me on the way down. He was followed by Bill Graham, shouting angrily, who was personally throwing this guy out. Had to wonder what the kid had done. It was a moment.

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In either July or October of ’68 I saw the Velvet Underground at the Avalon Ballroom. I’ve found a record of both dates, but don’t remember which one I attended. The only thing I recall from that show is when someone in the audience requested “Heroin,” Lou Reed responded with “We don’t play that anymore.” Funny the things you remember out of all that happens.

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In January 1969, I was reassigned to a base in Northeast Thailand for a year. Officially it was known as the Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base, but at that time it was occupied by the U.S. Air Force. There were two aerial reconnaissance squadrons and one fighter/bomber squadron. I was with one of the recon squadrons, the 11th TRS, processing and printing film.

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Shortly after getting there, I was somehow found the money to buy a used Sony reel-to-reel tape deck from another airman.  Our base was just outside the city of Udon Thani. There was a Thai shop in town that received new record albums from the States. They would transfer the albums you’d pick for a dollar apiece plus a blank reel of tape . I think they could put up to seven albums on a single reel. The store got albums a month or so after their release, so we were aware of what was coming. I was especially eager for Dylan’s Nashville Skyline and the Stones’ Let It Bleed, the title cut of which is truly great, one of their best.

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When I arrived in Thailand, a  new facility was being set up to process and print color recon film. Color would provide more detailed information than black & white, which was currently being used. The lab itself was made up of modular units. These were interconnected trailers, one for processing, one for prints, one for chem mix, etc. Mine was the chem mix trailer. My sole responsibility, six days a week, was making sure there were enough of the necessary chemical solutions in the tanks for the day. This would take maybe two hours at the start of my shift. The rest of the time I did stuff like listening to  Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland on my tape deck and reading Carlos Baker’s massive Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story. Other times I spent flirting with the young Thai girl who ran the Coke shack and throwing peanuts at the monkey in a cage next  to it. I did the work I had to do, it just didn’t take the whole day. War is hell.

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I spent a lot of off-duty time going to Thai bars where local bands played note-perfect renditions of songs by groups like the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. I remember “Hey Jude” got a lot of rotation. These versions were exact copies, but there was one band that was talented enough to do something original with the songs they covered. I became friendly with some of the band members and frequently went to see them. If I went early when there wasn’t much of a crowd, I’d sometimes feel compelled to get on the dance floor close to the stage and accompany the band with a display of what is now called “air guitar.” Why I did this is anybody’s guess, but it must have seemed like a good idea at the time. I don’t claim to have invented the concept, because, per Wikipedia, “…the mimicking of the playing of a musical instrument originated in the 1860s, when it was considered to be a mental disease.” Yes, well. The term “air guitar” didn’t become poplular until the 1980s, but that’s what it was. I think the band was impressed, or at least amused.

Here’s a photo taken in Minneapolis sometime in 1976 showing that I was still at it (apologies to Pete Townsend).

Larger Thai bars had bands at night, while smaller bars had juke boxes. I preferred those bars, and spent a lot of time in one of these on a dirt side street called The Neptoon. I liked the way they spelled the name. The Who’s “Pinball Wizard” and “The Letter” by the Box Tops got a lot of play whenever I was there. Didn’t know it at the time, but the Box Tops’ lead singer was Alex Chilton, who had a later indie recording career with a strong cult following. He was just 16 when “The Letter” was recorded.

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In January of 1970, I was sent back to the States after a year in Thailand. During that year had been the first moon landing on July 20, the Manson murders on August 8 & 9, Woodstock on August 15-18 and its evil twin, Altamont, on December 6. Some year. We had news of all this at the time, but it was in the background. Now I had a 30-day leave before reporting to Davis-Monthan AFB just outside Tuscon, Arizona for my final year in the Air Force.

Always in short of money, I had sold the Sony tape deck before leaving Thailand. I think that machine had already gone through a few owners by the time I bought it. At Davis-Monthan I continued buying albums, despite not having anything of my own to play them on. There was always someone in the barracks with a stereo I could use.

When I was stationed at Beale in California, one of the albums I acquired was The Who Sell Out. A track that got my attention was “I Can See for Miles,” which was the first Who recording that captured the powerful sound I’d read they had live.

At Davis-Monthan, I bought their Live at Leeds album, which definitely delivered on that score. “Summertime Blues” is a good example.

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There was a small club in Tucson I went to several times called Poco Loco. They had a very small stage for live groups and a juke box. I remember hearing, maybe for the first time, “The Loner,” by Neil Young off his first solo album. I immediately loved it.

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Workingman’s Dead was released in June of 1970. I was knocked sideways by how different it seemed from their previous recordings. This was quieter and had an acoustic feel. My favorite cut is “Black Peter,” a beautiful song about mortality that I find deeply moving. I listened to it just now and it always gets me.

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During those months at the base in Tucson, the movie Woodstock was released, which I saw twice. I was perturbed that Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch had been released in 1969 while I was overseas and I hadn’t yet seen it. It would be another year or more before I saw it in 16mm at the University of Iowa.

I got a three-month early discharge to go back to college, where, after only two or three weeks, I managed to get run over by someone driving a Volkswagen and spent five weeks in a nearby VA hospital. During that time, friends brought me a portable record player and a stack of my albums. The nursing staff was not thrilled with all this clutter.

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That’s it for now. Stay tuned for Part 3 of this saga, the Minneapolis years. Until then, be safe. — Ted Hicks

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Serious Moonlight – David Bowie & “Moonage Daydream”

Calling Moonage Daydream a documentary doesn’t begin to cover it. I saw the film two weeks ago on opening day on an IMAX screen and was properly overwhelmed. Directed by Brett Morgan, the film is a dense overload of overlapping sound and image. It seldom slows down to let you catch your breath. It was hard for me to keep up with, to keep everything sorted. Finally I just gave up and let the film rush over me. Moonage Daydream takes us into Bowie’s life and work in a way that seems to randomly ricochet from one point to another, like a pinball game. It can feel chaotic, but I don’t think it’s random at all. This is far from a traditional movie biography As someone said, it’s not about facts and stats. There’s no narration, no on-screen titles or talking-head interviews to guide us. We hear Bowie in voice-over and clips from various interview shows over the years. He tells his own story. There’s a loose progression from the early years to the later, but it’s not strictly chronological. David Bowie was continually changing his appearance, persona, and musical styles. He’s been frquently called a chameleon. Moonage Daydream shows us Bowie as a writer, artist (painting and sculpture), actor, and most importantly, as a musician. There’s always been something otherworldly about Bowie, as though he was just visiting. That’s what made him perfect casting for The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), in which  he was literally an alien from outer space.

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It took me a while to get into David Bowie. I had a slight awareness of who he was, but hadn’t heard any of his music. In 1973, while I was still in Iowa City in the last throes of earning a college degree, I saw Bowie’s Aladdin Sane album in a record store. The cover and especially the inside foldout seemed very freaky to me, and not in a good way. There was a sexuality to it that I didn’t like, or maybe was just imagining, and probably found frightening in some way. I clearly wasn’t ready for this, not at that time. Whatever, based on my reaction to the album cover, I decided I would have nothing to do with David Bowie.

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That September I moved to Minneapolis, where I found work in a motion picture lab. I became close friends with many of the people who worked there. We shared interests and frequently got together outside of work. Later that year or early the next, I went to the house where a few of them lived. Music I hadn’t heard before was playing on a stereo in the living room. It immediately got my attention. “What’s that?” I asked. I was quite surprised when they said it was David Bowie. The album was The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, and the cut that was playing was “Suffragette City.” This album had come out in June of 1972, nearly a year before  Aladdin Sane. In the space of a song, I was totally sold on David Bowie. “Suffragette City” is great. It has drive and energy, and really rocks. It’s still one of my favorites. I especially like the line, “Don’t lean on me, man, ’cause you can’t afford the ticket…”

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At some point after that I picked up Hunky Dory, an earlier album which had come out in December 1971. The first track, “Changes,” is one of Bowie’s signature songs. The third cut, “Eight Line Poem,” has an incredible lyric I’ve never forgotten, “Tactful cactus by the window…” Until working on this post, I’d forgotten the song title and anything else about this cut, but that line had stuck in my head.

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If I found the cover of Aladdin Sane freaky, I wonder what I would have made of the full cover of Diamond Dogs (1974) if I’d been in the same mindset. As it happened, when I did see it, I thought it was freaky, yes, but in a good way, and very cool. The American release, however, removed the dog genitalia, so we were protected from that.

Here are the opening lyrics to the title cut, “Diamond Dogs.”

“As they pulled you out of the oxygen tent
You asked for the latest party
With your silicone hump and your ten-inch stump
Dressed like a priest you was
Tod Browning’s freak you was…”

This imagery reflects the sideshow vibe of the album cover, with some post-apocalyptic science fiction and a reference to Tod Browning’s notorious film Freaks thrown in for good measure.

Also on this album is “Rebel Rebel,” a more straight forward rocker that received significant radio play. It became another signature song for Bowie; he has many.

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While I was still living in Minneapolis, I saw Bowie in concert at the St. Paul Civic Center on October 5, 1974. It was great seeing him live, though I’d been drinking before the concert, so my memory of it isn’t all that sharp. I do remember working my way close to the stage. Don’t recall the song, but when he leaned forward and reached out his hand to the audience, I found myself reaching back. Yeah, I know. I was also sure he’d sung “Young Americans” that night, but the Young Americans album wasn’t released until March 1975, so I couldn’t have heard it in ’74. Young Americans is a great album. It reflected yet another change in his look and music.

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I’d seen Bowie on stage in New York in The Elephant Man in 1980, but the second time I saw him in concert was at Madison  Square Garden on July 26, 1983, where I paid $60 for scalped ticket outside the venue. The guy I got it from assured me it was a “good seat.” The good seat was up in the rafters (of course) where I would have benefited from an oxygen tank. But it was still a great show. Bowie’s sense of choreography and drama was such that even that far away, I felt like I got my money’s worth.

The Let’s Dance album had been released in April ’83. The title cut is the one that everybody remembers. The album also features Texas blues musician Stevie Ray Vaughn on lead guitar. He was not widely known at the time.

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 Heroes had been released in October 1977. Brian Eno collaborated with Bowie on this album. His influence is considerable in this phase of Bowie’s career. The title cut is a standout. It’s  inspirational and feels like an anthem. It’s yet another signature song for Bowie, one of his best known.

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David Bowie died of liver cancer on January 10, 2016, two days after his sixty-ninth birthday and release of his final album, Blackstar. His death came as quite a shock, mainly because his illness has been kept very private. Few knew he was sick. He was working right to the end. I felt a deep sense of loss, in the way that you can for someone you didn’t know personally but who was an important part of your life. At the time, Tony Visconti, a producer and arranger who’d worked with Bowie off and on through his career, said this: “He always did what he wanted to do. And he wanted to do it his way and he wanted to do it the best way. His death was no different from his life – a work of art. He made Blackstar for us, his parting gift. I knew for a year this was the way it would be. I wasn’t, however, prepared for it. He was an extraordinary man, full of love and life. He will always be with us. For now, it is appropriate to cry.” Visconti is also a music producer on Moonage Daydream.

Moonage Daydream doesn’t include Bowie’s death. In the film, he’s still alive. Near the end of the film Bowie says, “I’ve had an incredible life and I’d love to do it again.” This took my breath away, especially after having just seen the evidence of that life for over two hours.

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That’s it for now. I’ll be back. Meanwhile, stay safe. — Ted Hicks

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Supplemental: Interview with director Brett Morgen

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Stuff & Nonsense

I’ve been off the grid too long. Part 2 of “That Shit You Call Music” should have been up weeks ago, but Covid-19, as well as my usual chronic procrastination, got in the way. I went back to Iowa for a high school class reunion on July 16. Returned on July 19 to find my wife had tested positive, which necessitated adjustments to our household life. She tested negative a week or so later. A week after that, it was my turn. Tested positive on August 5 and wasn’t negative until the 23rd. This is no excuse, but while we were in that limbo state, I couldn’t crank up the motivation to do any blog work, or much of anything else. Though I did manage to watch all five Daniel Craig Bond films one after the other (though not in order), as well as I Was a Teenage Frankenstein and I Was a Teenage Werewolf, both enhanced by the presence of the great character actor Whit Bissell. It is what it is.

Part 2 still has to be written, but in the meantime, to get going again, here is another random array of material I’ve accumulated over time. There’s no particular rhyme or reason to this collection, other than that these items all got my attention in one way or another. There’s no theme or message that I’m aware of (you’d have to ask Freud). It doesn’t begin or end anywhere, it just starts and stops. Make of it what you will.

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Below, the young Max Schreck, years before appearing in Nosferatu.

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Laurel & Hardy, Jimmy Durante, Buster Keaton

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Basil Rathbone & Lana Turner.

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Lon Chaney with his make-up box.

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Jeanne Moreau

Fay Wray, publicity shot for King Kong

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Illustrations by artist & filmmaker Ed Emshwiller.

 

 

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Okay, I think that about does it. The delayed part 2 of my music saga is coming up next. Stay safe. — Ted Hicks

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“That Shit You Call Music” – Before New York, Part 1

Before I get rolling, I probably should say something about the title of this post. When I moved to Minneapolis from Iowa City in the Fall of 1973, my first apartment was only five or six blocks from what quickly became my go-to record store, Oar Folkjokeopus, more commonly known as Oar Folk. They had a comprehensive selection of mainstream rock and punk rock records. One day there was a handwritten notice taped to the front door. I don’t remember what it was for, but it may have been announcing an upcoming event, possibly written by Oar Folk’s owner. The only thing I remember of its content was the words “that shit you call music.” I think this was meant as a joke (maybe), but it stuck with me, and at last I’ve found a use for the phrase.

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Getting Primed

I don’t recall precisely when I first became interested in rock ‘n’ roll, but it would have been in the mid-1950s, probably by sixth grade. We didn’t have a record player in my home, though at some point we did get a portable that played 45 rpm singles and extended play 45s. There were two radio stations that played top 40 records – KWMT out of Fort Dodge, Iowa and WLS out of Chicago. When I did get interested – which seemed to happen overnight – I listened to these stations constantly.

“Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and His Comets was released in 1954. I probably was aware of the song then, but when I heard it blasting during the credits of  Blackboard Jungle (1955), it hit me right between the eyes. This was the first time a rock song had been used in this way on film. I knew something had changed (I would have many such moments in the years to come). “Rock Around the Clock” was irresistible. Per Wikipedia, it is “…widely considered to be the song that, more than any other, brought rock and roll into mainstream culture around the world.”

Note that the label above refers to the song as a “fox trot.” Boy, did they get that wrong. The following clip shows Haley and his band doing the song on a television show in 1956. The visual quality is poor, but I think that just adds to the abundant energy and authenticity of the performance. Definitely not a fox trot.

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Should also mention that my folks, especially my mother, loved big band music from the 1930s and ’40s. After we got that 45 rpm record player, they bought Benny Goodman’s 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert on an EP (Extended Play) 45 rpm record set. This definitely broadened my horizons.

Here’s a great cut from that album, “Don’t Be That Way.” There’s a short intro by Benny Goodman recorded for the record, then the number kicks off. I love the two explosive drum solos by the great Gene Krupa. Though brief, they take the piece to another level.

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Going into high school I remember being quite taken with Duane Eddy and his breakout single, “Rebel Rouser.” Eddy’s thing was his “twangy” guitar. I really loved this record.

At some point after getting my drivers license, I learned that he was going to give a concert in Fort Dodge, about 40-50 miles east of us. It was a priority that I be there. I went with a date, though I have no memory of how that came about. The concert was going great when my date announced that she had to be back home by a certain time. She hadn’t told me this beforehand, but what could I do, there it was. The problem was that in order to make it back by her curfew, we had to leave right then, before Duane Eddy had stopped twanging. This wasn’t the first or last tragic disappointment in my life, but I sure remember it.

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Another musician I liked in high school was Sandy Nelson, a drummer who made a series of instrumental records featuring percussion. Per Wikipedia, he “was one of the best-known rock and modern jazz drummers of the late 1950s and early 1960s, had several solo instrumental Top 40 hits and released over 30 albums.” Who doesn’t respond to drumming? It’s primal.

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Cobblestone Ballroom

For at least a couple of years, an important part of my life was the Sunday night teen dances at The Cobblestone Ballroom in Storm Lake, Iowa, about 12 miles north of us. Located in the Lakeside community on the east side of the lake, the Cobblestone opened on New Year’s Eve 1929. In its heyday, musicians performing included Louis Armstrong, Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington, and Lawrence Welk. The teen dances were dry, since beer and liquor could not be sold on Sundays. Lots of soft drinks instead. These dances were often the high point of my week. Many rock and pop acts played there, including the Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, Bobby Vee, The Ventures, Jerry Lee Lewis and many others of the day, some on the way up, some on the way down.

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The photo below shows the dance floor, stage, and a row of booths to the right. Other the other side of the wall next to the booths was another area with two or three additional rows of booths.

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On Sundays, when a national act had not been booked, regional bands filled in. These were usually so-so draws, but the one I remember as being a definite cut above was Myron Lee and the Caddies, a group out of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Here’s what they sounded like. And yes, it’s fairly derivative, but they seemed likes pros to us. (Don’t be mislead by the publicity shot below. Don & Phil Everly were not in the band.)

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A group I saw at least twice here was The Ventures, a guitar-heavy instrumental group that was very popular in the 1960s due to such songs as “Walk, Don’t Run” and “Wipeout.”

If you’re old enough, this will take you back. Of course, they’re not actually playing in this clip, just following along with the recorded song. Their guitars aren’t even plugged in, and this was decades before wireless.

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One of my high points at the Cobb (as it was often called) was the night Jerry Lee Lewis played. This was a big deal for me, and as far as I was concerned, he did not disappoint. At some point, however, he stopped in the middle of a song to say that someone was throwing pennies on the stage and to please stop it. Two or three more times he’d break and say to please stop throwing pennies on the stage, please. Growing angrier every time. Finally, near the end of his set, he swiveled on his piano stool said to someone I could not see, “Little lady, I’ve got eyes in the back of my head, and if you throw one penny on the stage, I’m going to come down and wrap this microphone stand around your neck.” He sounded like he meant it. With that, he finished his set, thanked the audience, and marched off the stage. We knew there wasn’t going to be an encore. I ruahed back to the side of the bandstand where I knew he’d come off. When he did, I thanked him and said how much I’d enjoyed his music. Without breaking stride, he shook my hand and said, “Thank you, son, I’m glad you did.” I meant what I said, but I also think I wanted to make sure he knew we weren’t all small-town doofs who threw pennies at the band. Quite a night.

Below is a video of Jerry Lee giving a somewhat wilder performance than he did at the Cobblestone. Of course, he was playing to a television audience as well as a packed theater. This is from a 1958 Dick Clark special, which would put it probably two to three years before I saw him in Storm Lake.

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University of Iowa, 1962-1966 & 1970-1973

What I remember:

Walking into the student union cafeteria lounge in 1963 and hearing the opening chords of The Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand” on the jukebox. I’d probably heard it before, but this felt different. The instant I stepped down into the lounge, the music kicked in, announcing itself, almost a movie moment. Looking back on it now, it’s like the message was: Things are changing – pay attention!

Catching a ride to Northwest Iowa for a holiday break, hearing one Beatles song after another on the car radio.

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Riding in a car on campus in 1965 hearing the opening chords of the Stones’ “Satisfaction” on the radio. Again, something different had announced itself.

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Going to a loft apartment in downtown Iowa City where this guy played the first Velvet Underground album, the one with Nico produced by Andy Warhol. You knew this was different right off the bat.  I thought this had happened before I went in the Air Force in the Fall of 1966, but I see that the album wasn’t released until ’67,  so I either heard it when I was back on leave or not until after I got out in 1970. The timeline is wonky. Memories are imperfect. Whenever it was, I know their music was really out there, cutting edge – and still is.

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Waiting for the new Dylan album to come out, then gathering in someone’s apartment to hear it, every lyric punctuated by an awestruck “Oh, wow!” from our crowd. Highway 61 Revisited was released on August 30, 1965.

This was when albums were often awaited with great anticipation, especially those of Dylan and The Beatles. Rubber Soul was released on December 3, 1965, Revolver the following year on August 5. I remember walking by a record store in Iowa City and seeing Revolver on display in the window with that great cover by Klaus Voormann. Listening to “Eleanor Rigby” with my good friend Don Pasquella, and marveling at the lyric “Wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door.

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For a few months before I went into the Air Force in October 1966, I stayed in Don’s apartment above a grocery store in downtown Iowa City, sleeping on a mattress in the front room. During that time, Don had taken a trip to New York City. When he returned, he had with him the first two albums by The Fugs. Hearing them for the first time was quite an experience. The Beatles they were not. More like a proto-punk folk rock garage band. They were an important part of the ’60s underground scene and counterculture. As proof of this, an FBI file from 1969 refers to The Fugs as the “most vulgar thing the human mind could possibly conceive.” High praise indeed. Though the early songs were often crude and juvenile, Ed Sanders’ witty sensibility and silliness set The Fugs apart. Below, “Boobs a Lot” is a good example. And below that, “Nothing,” written by Fugs co-founder Tuli Kupferberg, an existentially profound statement if there ever was one. Seriously.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I hadn’t heard Leonard Cohen’s music before seeing Robert Altman’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971), surely one of the greatest films of the 1970s or any other time. The songs fit the film so perfectly that I assumed they’d been written for it. I was surprised to find out that they were from Cohen’s first album in 1967, Songs of Leonard Cohen. You can’t imagine McCabe and Mrs. Miller without those songs. As much any other component, they define the feeling and emotion of the film. I was hooked from the very first moment of the opening credits.

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I remember standing in line at the Iowa Memorial Union at 5:00 am with my girlfriend in the middle of Winter  to get tickets for a Grateful Dead concert at the Field House on February 24, 1973. Our seats were in the upper stratosphere of the arena, so we missed getting trampled when the crowd below us rushed the stage.

I remember the strangeness of seeing Captain Beefheart in the Main Lounge of the Iowa Memorial Union a few months earlier in 1972, though at that time I hadn’t heard his recordings and didn’t know how exceedingly strange he really was or how bizarre appearing in this venue must have been for him. ** The album below was released in 1969. Don Van Vliet, aka Captain Beefheart, and Frank Zappa shared similar sensibilities and the need and skill to go way outside the envelope.

I love the title of the cut below, “Bat Chain Puller.” What does that mean? Who knows? It’s a good example of the Beefheart method. I suspect that if The Fugs weren’t enough, this might be where you draw the line. Then again, maybe I should have more faith.

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 I have too much material to stuff into one post, so this chronicle will be continued when I return next week from a trip home to Iowa for a high school class reunion. The trip will also give me the opportunity to go to Storm Lake and check out the Cobblestone Ballroom to see if anything’s changed. I read recently that someone had bought the property, with plans to restore and reopen. Apparently all the interior furnishings, including dishware in the kitchen, are still there and intact. Makes for a kind of ghostly vibe. Here’s what it looked like a few years ago when I was there.

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That’s nearly all for now. For those who’d like a little more, I’ll close with a video of a Jerry Lee Lewis gig in London in 1964. It runs approximately 20 minutes and is energetic, to say the least. Jerry Lee uncorked in his prime is something to see. Until next time, stay safe. — Ted Hicks

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Movie Poster Potpourri – Take 3

It’s been nearly four years since the last one of these film poster collections (time flies). I’ve found quite a few interesting posters since then, so I thought I’d do another. There’s no particular theme here. I guess what links these is that they all got my attention in one way or another. These are for films both well-known and obscure, foreign and American. It’s a bit of a grab bag, but they’re all pretty cool.

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The Old Dark House – directed by James Whale, 1932.

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Nosferatu – directed by F.W. Murnau, 1922. Without a doubt the creepiest vampire ever, no top hat and tails for this guy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dracula: Prince of Darkness – directed by Terence Fisher, 1966. I think this is a fan-created poster rather than an official one. Regardless, it’s pretty neat. At right is a Japanese poster for Dracula A.D. 1972, directed by Alan Gibson.

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The Duellists – Ridley Scott, 1977. Scott’s first theatrical feature, which he followed up with Alien two years later.

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Top Hat – directed by Mark Sandrich, 1935. The Thin Man – directed by W.S. Van Dyke, 1934. Side Street – directed by Anthony Mann, 1950. Touch of Evil – directed by Orson Welles, 1958.

 

 

 

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Saigon – directed by Leslie Fenton, 1948. I’d not heard of this film before. Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake in one of several films they co-starred in, another noirish tough-guy story set in the “Paris of the Orient,” as the poster puts it. Seems a little weird, but mostly in hindsight, I suppose.

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Swedish poster for The Bride of Frankenstein, directed by James Whale in 1935. Below that is Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, directed by Terence Fisher in 1969. The pink in this poster seems out of step with the subject matter, but I like the overall in-your-face aspect.

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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – directed by Rouben Mamoulian, 1931. Swedish poster at left, with one I’d never seen before at right. Below that is the kind of theater display for movies we don’t see anymore, followed by a pretty dynamic poster on the bottom.

 

 

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Deluge – directed by Felix E. Feist, 1933. In this early disaster movie, a massive earthquake has destroyed the West Coast, followed by huge tidal waves that wipes out much of the East Coast as well. After the impressive destruction of New York City, it becomes an ordinary movie, with a good guy looking for his wife and bad guys who complicate things. But the sequence where New York gets leveled is rather spectacular, even frightening. All the more impressive because this was made in 1933 without CGI or other sophisticated special effects. The miniatures are obvious, but it works.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Drifting and White Tiger, both directed by Tod Browning in 1923 and both starring Priscilla Dean. At top is art work for a DVD release by Kino Classics ,which I thought was really interesting. The image below that for White Tiger is probably from an industry publication.

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An Italian poster below left for A Letter to Three Wives, written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz in 1949. At right a Japanese poster for The Long Goodbye, directed by Robert Altman in 1973. Below those is a graphic Polish poster for the Japanese film Hara-Kiri, directed by Masaki Kobayashi in 1962.

 

 

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Blackmail – Alfred Hitchcock, 1929. This was shot as a silent film, but during production it was decided to add sound, since talkies were becoming all the rage. The film was released in both silent and sound versions because many theaters in England were not technically equipped yet to project sound films. Blackmail has the distinction of being Hitchcock’s last silent and first sound film.

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Adventures of Captain Fabian – directed by William Marshall, 1951. Errol Flynn’s strongest work had been done in the 1930s and ’40s. I think this film is an attempt to maintain his swashbuckling, adventurous image, even though he was somewhat past his prime. The way he’s depicted in this poster supports that notion. Plus, he wrote the screenplay.

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The Mask of Fu Manchu – directed by Charles Brabin, 1932. Hard to top when it comes to promoting racial stereotypes. Myrna Loy is interesting as Fu Manchu’s evil daughter.

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F.P.1 Doesn’t Answer – directed by Karl Hartl, 1932.  IMDb describes it as “A spectacular German science fiction film in the tradition of Metropolis (1927) and Gold (1934), F.P. 1 Doesn’t Answer dramatizes the creation of a massive floating airport serving as a way station between four continents… Produced just as the Nazi government was taking control of the German film industry, F.P.1 was writer Kurt Siodmak’s last film before emigrating to England and eventually America, where (as Curt Siodmak) he would write The Wolf Man, Donovan’s Brain, I Walked with a Zombie, and many other classic Hollywood horrors.” It’s interesting that three separate versions were filmed with different casts: German, French, and English. The casts include Peter Lorre, Charles Boyer, and Conrad Veidt in the various versions.

The artwork in the German poster below is quite stunning. Below that at left is the French poster, with the English at right.

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Italian poster for Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place (1950). It’s unusual in that it uses a photograph of co-stars Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame that’s like a portrait instead of more conventional poster artwork. It’s quite intriguing.

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This post is a follow-up to four previous posts, “Movie Poster Art: Foreign Versions” (6/30/14),  “Movie Poster Art for Art’s Sake” (12/30/16),  “Movie Poster Potpourri” (8/31/17), and “Movie Poster Potpourri – Take 2” (8/20/18).

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That’s all for now. See you at the movies. Stay safe. — Ted Hicks

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Down the Rabbit Hole (Again)

July 2, 2022. It’s come to my attention that a number of images have disappeared from this post, which accounts for the numerous blank spaces. I suspect gremlins. I’ll be restoring these missing images as soon as possible.

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As I wrote in the intro to a previous post made up of random material like this one, when I’ve been looking for film-related material, I almost always come across a lot of other stuff I feel compelled to save. There’s no particular rhyme or reason to this particular collection, other than that these items all got my attention in one way or another. Some are simply weird and bizarre, others possibly offensive, certainly politically incorrect. This doesn’t necessarily make any sense. It doesn’t begin or end anywhere, it just starts and stops. Make of it what you will. I’m refraining from any further commentary, which would probably just get in the way.

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There’s more (a lot more), but this is probably enough for now. Until next time, be safe. — Ted Hicks

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Tip of the Iceberg – Part 2

In yesterday’s post, I said I’d be thinking of films I’ll wish I’d included long after this post is done and gone. Well, it only took until the end of the day. I didn’t intend to do a part two, but I feel that the following films really need to be part of this. This is it for this anniversary post, no more. Otherwise I’ll keep adding films for another ten years.

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A primal experience when you’re six years old. Not only did my mom allow me to see The Thing, but she saw it with me. She’d probably get arrested for child abuse today. But I survived, more or less. Still a great film, holds up well today.

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Saw this first at the Ziegfeld Theater. Coppola had a new sound system installed for the occasion. The helicopter attack – surreal.

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Steve McQueen, iconic and totally cool in a definitive role. Plus one of the greatest car chases.

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Game changers, for better or worse.

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Two films directed by Edgar Ulmer.

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Finally, of course, Peckinpah.

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As Randolph Scott says to Joel McCrae at the end of Ride the High Country, “See you later.” Until then, be safe. — Ted Hicks

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