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tracy landecker on the shangri-las: mwah!

Rhino has a series of digital books they call “Single Notes” that, as far as I can tell, are meant to resemble an extended version of liner notes for albums. Are You There God? It’s Me, Mary: The Shangri-Las and the Punk Rock Love Song by Tracy Landecker looks at the musical and cultural impact of the Shangri-Las, arguing effectively that they were precursors to a lot of different music in the 70s and beyond.

Landecker offers fairly detailed commentary on the Shangri-Las’ hits. Those comments are especially welcomed for the lesser-remembered songs that don’t show up on every 60s anthology: “Out in the Streets”, “Past, Present, and Future”, “He Cried”. But the heart of the book, and of the band, lies in the classics: their first hit, “Remember (Walkin’ in the Sand)”; their most famous song, “Leader of the Pack” (for me the one time camp overwhelms the band); my personal fave “I Can Never Go Home Anymore”; and “Give Him a Great Big Kiss” with its immortal opening happily stolen by the New York Dolls, “When I say I’m in love, you best believe I’m in love, L-U-V!”

I may be misjudging the audience for this book, but for me, Landecker spends too much time in a relatively short essay connecting the band to the events of the day. They seem perfunctory, but then, if you’re reading it and have no idea who the Shangri-Las were, I suppose the brief summary of the 60s is necessary.

What Landecker does best is make the band, and in particular lead singer Mary Weiss, into icons that would ring true to future fans like Landecker herself. As I read, I thought she was stretching it a bit, making a bigger case for the Shangri-Las than they deserved. But reading the book sent me to the music, and it took barely a minute for me to realize Landecker was right: the Shangri-Las really were great. And Landecker makes all of the group’s songs seem like a coherent whole. This was not just a “hits” band.

So if you have an e-reader, get yourself a copy, read it, and crank up the music. Rhino has even provided a Spotify playlist from Landecker to accompany the book.

Here’s “I Can Never Go Home Anymore”:

music friday: a buncha bruce

Last week’s Music Friday featured Bruce Springsteen, this week’s Music Friday features Bruce Springsteen, next week’s Music Friday will feature Bruce Springsteen, and the week after that? I’ll be seeing Bruce in concert for the 35th time. Which makes me a rookie, compared to many fans.

First, here’s a video of “Shackled and Drawn” from two months ago, shot by the remarkable MagikRat, who posts these amazing YouTube videos that are so far above the usual “I got a video with my cell phone” that you can’t believe what you see.

The Other Band, just because everyone likes to pretend they never existed, with “Light of Day”:

And for those who want to wallow in the greatness that was Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band in 1978 … “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)”:

basil rathbone forgets his lines

I first posted this in 2006, and dragged it out today for this week’s Blast from the Past on Google+.


As I noted back in ‘06, this is probably from 1966, since the first two films were released in March of that year. I posted it mostly without comment then … this time, perhaps a bit of detail about the movies is in order.

I highly recommend Glenn Erickson’s review of Queen of Blood. In short, Queen of Blood was one of a series of Roger Corman movies where Corman bought the American rights to a Russian film and had one of his pool of directors (in this case, Curtis Harrington) make a new movie out of the old, with Corman’s usual bargain-basement budget. Erickson likes the film quite a bit, and gives plenty of details. Besides John Saxon and Basil Rathbone, listed on the ad, the cast included Dennis Hopper. I have to quote a paragraph from Wikipedia about this movie:

Basil Rathbone was paid $3,000 to act for a day and a half on this film, and half a day on Voyage to a Prehistoric Planet (1965), which was another film based on Russian footage. Rathbone ended up working overtime and missed a meal. The Screen Actors Guild demanded overtime pay plus a fine for the meal violation but producer George Edwards produced footage showing that the delay was because Rathbone did not know his lines and insisted on skipping lunch.

This clip shows how nicely Harrington made the process work (and how the Russian special effects made the movie look a lot more expensive than it was):

And here is how it was marketed:

Blood Bath featured a few cult figures (William Campbell, Sid Haig, Jonathan Haze) and was co-directed by a couple of other cult figures (Jack Hill, who made a few Pam Grier movies in the early 70s, and Stephanie Rothman, who followed Blood Bath with It’s a Bikini World and The Student Nurses). Wikipedia claims it “had possibly the most convoluted production history of any horror movie ever made.” While it wasn’t lifted from a Russian film, Blood Bath did have a longer version to fill TV slots (titled Track of the Vampire) which included a long scene with Campbell taken from Portrait of Terror, which was the American dubbed version of a Yugoslavian film.

Finally, The Black Torment was a 1964 British horror film that filled out the triple bill. As far as I can tell, it’s the only movie ever made “in Diabolicolor”. While I doubt anyone reading this is interested, you can watch the entire movie on YouTube:

if i were a villain

A few years ago, just before Daniel Craig helped revitalize the James Bond franchise, I wrote an essay on Bond Villains that was published in a book titled James Bond in the 21st Century: Why We Still Need 007. That essay, “If I Were a Villain, But Then Again, No”, is available for free on the Smart Pop Books website until Monday:

My assignment was to write about the best Bond Villain. I chose Klaus Maria Brandauer in Never Say Never Again. Here’s a brief excerpt:

As the film progresses, it’s hard not to imagine Brandauer in the hero’s role. Connery’s return is decent enough; he’s in great shape, and the maturity of his passing years fits well with his performance. But Brandauer is like a better, blonder Roger Moore, or even, to project forward in time, Pierce Brosnan, and his presence works off Connery’s, gives us the opportunity to simultaneously examine the original and a rather kinky alternate version, one that is just as suave and witty and worldly as Connery, but off-kilter enough to suggest new possibilities for the character of 007.

the cards you were dealt

Not long after the end of the Rising tour in 2003 Bruce started taking antidepressants. Within days he felt like a shroud had been lifted from his shoulders. “It was like, get me this stuff now, and keep it coming,” he recalls. …

And yet Bruce knows his particular brain chemistry will never leave him completely in the clear. “You manage it, you learn and evolve, but another recognition you gotta have is that these are the cards you were dealt,” he says. “These things are never going to be out of your life. You gotta be constantly vigilant and realistic about these things.”

Peter Ames Carlin’s new biography of Bruce Springsteen, simply titled Bruce, does a good job of simultaneously showing why Bruce is a hero to so many, and reminding us that Bruce is just another human with all of the imperfections that implies. In the course of his long career, Bruce has made very few mistakes once he hits the stage; he rewards the audience’s faith. Since we don’t know him personally, many of us imagine that the artistry and camaraderie and energy all carry over once the show has ended. So it’s a bit surprising to find that Bruce has a temper, or that the reason he gives his all as a performer is because music always comes first, at the expense of personal relationships (although this may have ebbed somewhat once he had kids).

I don’t identify with Bruce Springsteen. Well, there’s 1978, when I was five years into my life as a steelworker and I felt at the least that I was at one with the narrators of many of the Darkness songs. But for the most part, I identify with the situations and characters Bruce describes, not with the author himself. As his fame grew, I often wondered how he could still find a way to put into words and music things that I thought he no longer had to feel. The darker songs on The River, and all of Nebraska, hit home for me, but I didn’t think of them as particularly personal for Bruce. He had never been a singer/songwriter in the James Taylor mode, had never written about navel-gazing, and so I saw the doomed couple in “The River” as just another in the large array of characters Bruce had written about.

Still, one of my favorite of all his lyrics comes in “Backstreets”, when he admits that he is like all of us, stranded, forced to confess that he is hiding. I should have understood that no matter how his fame grew, he was also always that guy in “Backstreets”.

Carlin’s book gives us a peek at that guy. It’s not that the book is filled with gossipy stuff you can tell to friends. It’s that we learn the downside of being so dedicated to your art. I’m reminded of an artist I once knew, a man of some fame in various parts of the world. “I’m an asshole,” he said. “All artists are assholes.” I don’t know … I bet Jean Renoir wasn’t an asshole. But I got my friend’s point: art mattered more than anything else, which meant eventually, the artist would have to be an asshole. Sometimes in the biography, Bruce is a bit of an asshole. Not often … the truth is, he seems like a pretty good guy for someone as rich and famous as he is. But it expands our sense of him and his art when we know some of what happened when the stage lights went out.

Which takes me to the quote at the top of this post. I knew a lot of the things in Carlin’s book, and we all know that Bruce has used therapy to get himself through rough times. But to find that his chemistry didn’t always allow him to be his best, and that he finally figured out there might be a way to control that … I had never heard that story. And since one of my fears since I started taking bipolar meds was that I’d turn into a zombie, it’s reassuring to know that the person who has so much commitment and energy is, if anything, more productive than ever now. Yep, Bruce is like all of us, stranded and hiding on the backstreets. He’s done something about it. And so did I.

music friday: bruce springsteen and the seeger sessions band, “oh mary don’t you weep”

I’m going to keep calling this period in Bruce’s musical career his most underrated, until enough people get the picture and it becomes overrated.

Much of the Seeger Sessions album was recorded with musicians who hadn’t worked much with Bruce in the past, although in many cases they had worked with each other. Bruce was looking for a lively spontaneity in the performances, and so allowed a certain near-sloppy feel that rarely appeared on his studio recordings.

Wikipedia tells us that “Mary Don’t You Weep” is a Negro spiritual from before the Civil War. The Swan Silvertones had a hit with it in 1959 (and inspired Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”). Pete Seeger often sang it, of course. Aretha Franklin recorded it for the Amazing Grace album. Bone Thugs-n-Harmony featured it at the beginning of the video for their hit “Tha Crossroads”.

And then there was Bruce.

Here’s the official video, which gives a feel for the sloppy fun the Sessions Band was having. I especially like the way Patti and Soozie pal around as they sing backup vocals … they’d been singing together since the 70s, and it shows:

The tour that followed the album was a delight, although it was hard to convince people to go … all I had to say was “Old Dan Tucker” and they were scared off the project.

As the tour progressed, the band got tighter and tighter. The results were amazing (check out Live in Dublin), but the sloppiness was missed by some. Not to worry: it returned this year, when the E Street Band gave it the old college try:


You could say that in politics, as in sports, there are winners and losers. Some would argue that everyone in a democracy wins when we have free elections; I don’t suppose the Republican party is feeling too good right now, just the same. Sports is more clear: the Giants won the World Series, and last night, I watched the San Jose Earthquakes’ delightful run to the MLS championship come to an end. Goonies never say die, but that doesn’t mean someone else can’t kill them dead.

There was a proposition on the California ballot that “my” side won. It turned out that 53.1% of my fellow Californians agreed with me on this issue. Yet I feel like I’m in the minority, because most of the people I know disagreed with me. And I don’t know if they realize this, because when the topic came up, I shut up. An election helps you understand that most of your friends and family are like-minded … most of them vote for the same candidates from the same party, most of them agree on ballot issues. Discussions are amiable, because no dissent pops up to ruin the mood. Well, if I’m any example, one reason is that amiable seems more important than dissent, when you’re just shooting the shit with friends. That is, dissent exists, but it isn’t always expressed.

My silence isn’t a good thing, though. It’s like being in a group of white men who start bashing minorities or women … if you don’t say anything, you’re part of the problem. And meanwhile, everyone else amiably assumes that we’re all in agreement.

So I’ll out myself here: I voted against Proposition 37, which would have required labels on foods with genetically-modified ingredients.

And hey, I “won”.

I’ve always made it a practice with the Giants, that the day after they are eliminated in a post-season series (if they make it that far), I wear Giants gear in public. You have to represent with pride, even after a loss. So, here are the people and ballot measures I voted on where my candidate/preference lost:

  • Proposition 34 would have repealed the death penalty. I voted yes, 52.8% voted no.
  • Proposition 35 increases prison sentences and fines for “human traffickers”. I voted no, finding it poorly worded, unnecessary, and potentially damaging to, among others, sex workers and their families. 81.1% voted yes.
  • Proposition 38 was a substitute for Prop 30, which raised money for public education (and perhaps helped save my job). I voted a cover-my-ass yes, 72.3% voted no, the passage of Prop. 30 made it all irrelevant.
  • For the city council representative from our district, with a ranked system, I left the incumbent off my ordered list of three (there were only three candidates), favoring Denisha DeLane. He won without my help, with 60.27% of the votes.
  • Same system for mayor, the incumbent, who wasn’t one of my three choices, got 55.44%. My first choice was Kriss Worthington.
  • For rent board (always a heated item in Berkeley), I voted for a slate of four that I found more pro-renter than the other slate of four. One of my four, Igor Tregub, lost … I wonder what separated him from his fellow slate members?

Other than that, I was a winner. Why don’t I feel better?

a vote for barry is a vote for fun, part 64

In 2008, 140 of my blog posts were tagged with “Current Affairs”. This number is inflated a bit, since 2008 was the year I spent posting about 1968, which added a lot of Current Affairs posts that weren’t actually “current”. Still, that’s about three times a week that I had something to say about current affairs.

This is the 12th post of 2012 that has gotten a Current Affairs tag. About once a month, rather than thrice a week.

Where did those 128 posts go?

I can think of a couple of reasons for why my posts on politics have all but disappeared. The primary reason is that I no longer feel qualified to speak on the subject. My specialty, as it were, has always been cultural studies, which often and perhaps always includes some measure of politics, but I know more about Bruce Springsteen and Citizen Kane than I do about the high and low points of politics. I’m not any less qualified now than I was before to write about these things. But I’ve come to the realization that my contributions are almost entirely of the “my opinion is” variety, which aren’t particularly useful.

There’s another reason why I tread lightly in this area. In 2008, and in fact for the first seven years of this blog, George Bush was president. I hated him so much, I made “fucking dickhead” into a minor-league meme. Whenever I needed to fill space, I could always count on the Bushies to do something worthy of my wrath.

Now? We’re finishing a fourth year with Barack Obama as president. I find a lot to like about Obama, but much of that pleasure comes from what he does when he’s being Barack rather than Mr. President. I’ve never understood the complaints that he doesn’t seem to blend in well with “regular” folks. I don’t see that. I see a man who can switch from Leader of the Free World to Guy Having a Burger or Guy Playing Hoops without a hitch. One of my fondest memories of the first four years of Obama’s presidency is when he had Willie Mays as his guest on Air Force One.

But what about that Mr. President guy? I’m not going to say there is no difference between the two major parties. I think the Republicans have done a terrific job of defining themselves out of the center, where the two parties might come together. And while I might find Obama less able than FDR or LBJ, the two presidents who helped form my vision of the possibilities of the presidency when I was a kid, I understand that times are different, that Obama faces different hurdles than did those other presidents, and that Roosevelt and especially Johnson weren’t what you’d call perfect.

And I admit that one reason I voted for Obama in the past, and will vote for him again later today, is because I think it is massively important, in cultural terms, that we finally have a black president. I’ve voted for many African-Americans for president in the past, as well as women, Latino/as, and other minority categories I can no longer recall … I have, as my mom used to say, “wasted” my vote plenty of times. But Obama is the first one who actually had a chance to win.

So why are there only 12 posts about politics this year, compared to 140 four years ago?

Because I get no pleasure from pointing out that Obama’s record on civil liberties has been shockingly awful. I think his continuance (and at times expansion) of his predecessor’s actions in this area will prove to be the most long-lasting of his policies. I think that he is helping to make outrageous intrusions into our lives into something “normal” and acceptable. And I think that one day we’ll have a president who isn’t as likable as Barack Obama, and he’ll take the powers that Obama has solidified and do frightful things with them.

I don’t know why I enjoyed beating up on Bush, but have pulled back for the most part from beating up on Obama. I suppose it’s a combination of the above: I don’t often know what I’m talking about, there is much to like about Obama, and I don’t want to bring up old fights about third-party possibilities. (It was one thing to hear people tout the greatness of Bush. It’s much more bothersome for me on a personal basis to hear my friends tout the greatness of Obama.) I feel for a lot of Obama’s constituents (my neighbors, to pick an obvious example) in ways I never did for Bush’s (i.e. not my neighbors).

So I’m not quite doing the “holding my nose” procedure when I cast my vote for Obama. But I don’t have much enthusiasm for that vote, which is ultimately as confused as this blog post.


This is more an "I haven't posted this weekend" post than anything. Truth is, it's been a nice weekend, and I didn't feel compelled to write anything. I'm reading a biography of Bruce Springsteen, I got a new toy/early Xmas present (Nexus 7 32 GB), Goonies Never Say Die (meaningless to most of you, I know), and Sara, Ray, and Félix are spending the night, which they will a couple of nights a week for awhile because Ray will be working in Berkeley for a few months.

To be honest, the best thing I saw all weekend was my son Neal playing with little Félix. Neal's got the magic touch, and he's pretty goofy. It's the greatest.