Happy Independence Day

“Star-Spangled Banner” films were a regular fixture of local TV stations, before infomercials gave them an excuse to broadcast 24-7. The ones I see on YouTube seem all recorded from the sign-off at the end of the day, but my strongest memory of them is from one that was played as a morning sign-on.

The video below is a sign-off from New York City, and I’m reasonably sure this is the same video we had in my corner of the Midwest when one of the local stations signed on at 6:00 in the morning on the Saturdays when I was up. The close-in on the flag at the end with that exciting high note (sounded like a pipe organ from a little TV speaker), followed by a whooshing rocket-into-space noise is the part I’ve always remembered.

But wait, there’s more. Notice that the entire video is a series of still photos with zooms and pans and fancy edits. This style is the true essence of the late ’70s and early ’80s, and it was everywhere. I’m continually amazed that anyone associates it so much with Ken Burns documentaries–remember the opening credits of The Rockford Files, Days of Heaven, anything on public television back then?

Neil Peart

The music of Rush is supposed to be a love-it-or-hate-it thing, but somehow I managed to fall in the middle.  Long-term, devoted fans don’t always love their early ‘80s material but I think the Permanent Waves-Moving Pictures-Signals era was magnificent. Alex Lifeson’s guitar had a lovely chorus pedal sound which meshed with the synthesizers that the band was experimenting with, and brought out the best in some of their best songs.

It’s thanks to Neil Peart that I learned something about music.  A couple of high school jazz band friends had whatever the current Rush concert video was at the time, and could not say enough about Peart’s drumming.  One of these guys was a drummer, and the other a serious Rush fan, and I realized that some folks like music not for any song by that artist, but because of the sheer musicianship.

And I hope Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson keep going in some form.

Rest in peace, Neil Peart.

Stan Lee, Rest in Peace

A big, big part of my childhood and those of so many others.

I know I’m not the only one who read “Stan’s Soapbox” in the Marvel Comics “Bullpen Bulletins” and hung on every word like it was cosmic wisdom, at least up to a certain age.  And there was the narration he did for that Spider-Man cartoon in the early ’80s, and all the other appearances.

Since I was such a nerd about reading credits in the comics, I knew that he didn’t write them all by the time I was reading the comics of the late 70s and early 80s, but he was still this benevolent presence in the background of everything Marvel.  And then I found the reprints of old Amazing Spider-Man and others more interesting at some point, and then really discovered Mr. Lee’s talent for cranking these stories out, month after month.  Anyone who can write at that level–regular, little time in between, always entertaining–is a great writer.

And this video takes me back to those days when Stan was Marvel Comics (and see the very insightful writing question from an audience member at 1:30).  Rest in peace, Stan, and Excelsior!

La-La Land Records Has Had Enough of Vinyl

I read over at Film Score Monthly this comment from M.V. Gerhard of soundtrack label La-La Land Records:

It’s not worth our time, space, resources or money.

[Star Trek: The Motion Picture] is our last vinyl. Don’t get me wrong — it did incredibly well (will most likely sell out by year’s end), but we would rather focus on many other cd, blu-ray and film projects.

It’s gratifying when someone in the know confirms one of your pet opinions. I’ve long believed that the decade-plus vinyl revival is a hipster affectation, motivated by the democratizing effect that high-bandwith Internet had on the availability of rare music.

To put it another way: when I was growing up, you had to pay $20 for that imported Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians CD single just to get a weird bonus track. Now those rare tracks are all over YouTube, and it’s very hard to be cooler than the other cool people. But thanks to vinyl, large amounts of money can be flushed on a cumbersome, expensive, and fragile format that takes dedication to collect.

Whatever, I still feel like it’s 1987 and visions of a large CD collection are dancing in my head.

And if you want to experience Jerry Goldsmith’s majestic and mysterious score for STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, get La-La Land’s magnificent 3-CD release.

Best Ever Advice

Rudyard Kipling’s “If” has been raked over many coals for supposedly reeking of class privilege, and for its associations with having an English stiff upper lip.  In truth, it is universal in its message and ignoring its advice would be a perfect way to fail in life.

My maternal grandfather was a rancher and a completely able man in all areas and, when I graduated from high school, I got a card from him with the text of “If.”  With a strong Irish background in his family, I can guarantee that he did not love the poem for its Englishness.  He loved the poem because Kipling distilled goodness and success down to its essence as few ever have.

 

If

by Rudyard Kipling

 

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make a heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

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.

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:

Wunnerfullerest

And here’s another very well-edited compilation of Lawrence Welk video with a rock song.  As it happens, both today’s song by the Velvet Underground and yesterday’s by The Dandy Warhols are about being a junkie.

While I’m guessing that this is because the humor factor is greater in matching the square Welk with music about the drug culture, it seems strangely appropriate.  I remember Welk’s show from my youth because my mom always turned it on and I could never get over the weird, fake smiles of the dancers and singers.  Add in the fact that the show was relentlessly sponsored by Geritol, and the drug association is hilarious.