Catching Up

I’ve been away from the blog for too long, so I’ll get everything up to speed:

–Belatedly . . . Happy Easter!

–A big congratulations to this year’s Rondo Award winners, announced just this past Sunday night.  My book I Cannot, Yet I Must did not win in its category but I honestly did not expect that it would.  The competition was stiff indeed, and the winner and runners-up are absolutely deserving.  Myself, I’m still just tickled to be a nominee and that I can forever call myself a Rondo-nominated author.

–With Easter recently celebrated and springtime here, it’s time to post some exuberant music.  And I can’t imagine anything more exuberant than this thundering, brain-melting, blistering performance by Simple Minds from Newcastle, England in 1982.  Enjoy!

It Came from Best Buy

“After you’ve been working out on the desert fifteen years like I have, you hear a lot of things.  See a lot of things too.  Sun in the sky, and the heat.  All that sand out there with the rivers and lakes that aren’t real at all.  And sometimes you think that the wind gets in the wires and hums and listens and talks.”


So saith Ray Bradbury, my favorite writer.

Because I wrote a lengthy book about the making of a very bad but very awesome ’50s monster movie, I’ve seen far too many of these things. But I also have an appreciation for the ones that actually aren’t terrible, and for a few that are actually good. And this is why I’ve seen IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE more than a few times over the years. With Bradbury’s involvement, this 3-D production from Universal in 1953 is one of the best of its kind. The Bradbury in this Bradbury movie was Hollywood-diluted of course, but the movie’s intelligent treatment of contact with alien life makes it unique, as does the sense of mystery and desert atmosphere. The quote above, gracefully read onscreen by actor Joe Sawyer, encapsulates the greatness of this little gem.

So when the news came out that Universal was getting IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE out on Blu-Ray as a Best Buy exclusive, I noticed it was priced like the Wal-Mart bargain bin and knew I had to own it on that basis. It could have been released by Criterion, cost $24.99, and gone into the land of ain’t-buying-because-DVD-is-good-enough. But wiser heads prevailed, despite a lot of trouble going into this release. The 3-D Film Archive did intensive work on the picture and sound, bringing its original three-channel audio to home video for (I believe) the first time.

Old black-and-white movies are tricky for me on Blu-Ray. Some enthusiasts get defensive when someone claims that old movies don’t pop all that much in high definition, the defenders pointing out that 1080p resolution will recreate that silver glow that coats the screen in black-and-white projection. While that is true, I’m not going to pretend. Without color, high definition just doesn’t define that highly to my eyes.

So when I played the disc, I had the same issue I always have with black-and-white Blu-Ray. This looks good, I think to myself, but does it really look that good? But, yes, it does. Comparing it to the 2002 DVD, the Blu-Ray blows it away with significantly more detail and contrast, and an overall brighter image. Atmospheric imagery in a cave late in the movie becomes absolutely beautiful on the new disc, and little visual details like the glittery trail left by the alien shine in a new way.

But having said all that, the audio is just stunning. There is some real channel separation going on, which is a startling thing for my ears to register when watching a movie as old as this one. And the louder moments are downright stunning, like the explosion and musical stab at the beginning.

Extra features to me are extra and not always necessary, but this disc carries a magnificent audio commentary by Tom Weaver from the old DVD. Anyone who has heard a Weaver commentary knows that he not only knows his stuff, but he has specifically prepared it in a pattern that makes sense, and he barely stops talking(!). There’s a good documentary from the DVD too but the commentary is where it’s at.

Based on my limited anecdotal evidence, it seems to be selling. My local Best Buy had three or four copies, and I was surprised to see them sold out later in the week. (Shout! Factory’s outstanding Manhunter didn’t seem to be selling out in the spring.)  Anyhow, I hope Universal goes to the trouble with more classic science fiction. Being me, I have to close with a song, one that sampled this movie:

Always Saturday

There was a musical variety show for hipsters called NIGHT MUSIC somewhere around ’89 through ’90.  I can’t remember if this was syndicated or if it was an NBC show that was on after SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE (which I rarely watched after 1991).  Anyhow, at this point when alternative rock music was still not heard much on the radio and the mainstream explosion of Nirvana was still a ways off on the horizon, there were some rock groups  that fit pretty well into a line-up that included jazz players, old blues musicians, and artsy experimentalists.  The never mainstream Pere Ubu was at their most mainstream right then, and showed up in an episode that I missed at the time.  This is a pretty catchy song for such a weird band, and they perform it well.  The singer’s stomping of invisible, imaginary bugs is a hoot.

To the best of my knowledge, Guadalcanal Diary never showed up on NIGHT MUSIC, but they should have.  By the late ’80s there were a number of alternative jangle bands like The Katydids, Let’s Active, and the sometimes philosophical Guadalcanal Diary, named for some reason after the movie and novel that documented one of the U.S. Marine Corps’ key moments in WWII.  All of these bands were at least as good as R.E.M., with mostly better vocalists, and without the self-pity tendencies that sometimes brought down The Smiths.  Some people claim that this song was borrowed heavily in another song by country mega-band Alabama, but I haven’t explored that and have no opinion.

This is Officially the Greatest Music Video of All Time

This is just creative filmmaking. The barrage of images, almost connected like a story, colors, camera movements, some of it animated and some of it practical, and the images make subtle connections with the lyrics. And the song is seriously catchy too. I haven’t looked up who made this video but, wow, it is amazing.

And just for absurd, Willy Wonka-ish fun, there is this:

Burning Down One Side

I was obsessed with Led Zeppelin from 8th grade through 10th grade, still enjoyed it afterwards, and developed an appreciation for singer Robert Plant’s solo material.  Now and Zen made a big mainstream impact in 1988, and I loved Manic Nirvana in 1990, not so long before a band named Nirvana brought the hair metal era to a close.

1985’s Shaken ‘n’ Stirred was known as the bargain bin album that carried within it the somewhat eerie radio track “Little by Little.”  I admit that I hated this album when I first heard it in mid-9th grade . . . and by somewhere around the end of 9th grade I absolutely adored it.  It was dense, it was weird, time signatures and song structures were unpredictable, but once my brain unlocked this little package of oddness, it was one of my all-time favorites.

Robert Plant’s solo material has been a worthwhile thing all on its own and I was a fan (even seeing him in concert in fall 1990), so how did I avoid hearing his debut album Pictures at Eleven for all these years?  All I know is that I can’t get enough of the opening track:

Let There Be More Blaster Beam

I was once actually going to make one of these.

In 2012, the soundtrack album I had always wanted came out, Jerry Goldsmith’s complete score for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. There had been an expanded edition in January 1999 (“Get a life? No, get this instead!” said a sticker on the album when I bought it at Best Buy) and, while it was an improvement on the original album, it still left out far too much.

So La-La Land Records finally came through and released their magnificent three-disc edition with the complete score, the 1979 original album, early attempts, outtakes of the orchestra being shushed by the conductor, Shaun Cassidy’s surprisingly manly vocals on a pop version of the main theme, a Bob James instrumental, and oh, yes, a track of isolated Blaster Beam.

Seriously, it’s just awesome. The best album ever released. Just buy it already.

Anyway, a year or more later I was able to part with a cruddy old piano that never stayed in tune because thanks to Craig’s List I found a much better free piano. But because disposing pianos is not that easy, I had the old one around for a while and developed a seriously stupid idea. This was to remove the sound board of the piano and try to somehow make it into a blaster beam.

Now, the stupidity comes from the fact that piano strings are very large and tense enough that they can actually be deadly if snapped. I knew that I didn’t want to mess with the strings once I read about them a little, but I thought about removing the sound board whole and attaching bass guitar pickups to it for amplification. But after seeing how thoroughly attached it was to the wood of the piano, I abandoned the idea as impractical and just plain stupid.

But there are some intrepid souls out there who have tried to build their own. And this guy has done a magnificent smaller version with mostly ordinary household items. Check it out: