THIS JOURNAL DOCUMENTS MY INTAKE OF ONE BOOK, ZINE, CD OR DVD A DAY. RATINGS ARE: ***** = Godhead, **** = Great, *** = Good, ** = Fair, * = Why Bother?

Monday, November 13, 2023

Stop! In the name of loving The Monuments

 Our World's Been Empty Without Them

The Monuments "Supreme" CD single (art by Russel Stone)

Originally hailing from the Baltimore/Annapolis area, The Monuments have been working off and on for more than 40 years, from their early `80`s heyday (when they played regularly at venues like The Marble Bar and the Parrot Club/Trenton Street Stop) to the present, such as their recent "Last Picnic of the Year" performance at founding member William "Lump" Sutherland's Dundalk abode on November 5, 2023.

The Monuments then (1983)...

...The Monuments now (2023)

Like Washington, DC's The Catholics (remember their "James Brown Brown Medley" single?), they were known for their rocked-out arrangements of  Motown, Stax & Soul classics - especially '60s Girl Groups such as Diana Ross & The Supremes, Martha Reeves & The Vandellas ("Dancing in the Street"), The Shirelles ("Baby, It's You"), Aretha Franklin, Lulu ("To Sir With Love") - and early Rock & Roll (Buddy Holly's "Rave On," Bobby Day's "Rocking Robin"), Rhythm & Blues (Rufus Thomas' "Walking the Dog"), and anything by The Rolling Stones. 

Though a number of players have come and gone over the years, the nucleus remains frontwoman Cindy Borchardt (Bobby Sox, The Beaters, Silver Birches) on vocals, William Sutherland (Judie's Fixation) on guitar and vocals, Russel Stone on guitar and vocals, and Jay Turner (Judie's Fixation, Tom Principato Band, Leah Simmons) on bass, with Richard King now providing the rock-steady beat on drums.

The Monument's live streaming concerts were one of the few highlights of the recent Covid-19 pandemic, as the band turned home isolation and boredom into an opportunity to dust off their chops while providing a creative outlet for themselves and their fans. After all, the last time any of us in Baltimore had the opportunity to catch them live was a pre-pandemic show at Raven's Inn in Loch Raven back in January 2018 (where Cindy and Lump pulled double duty on a triple-bill that featured both The Monuments and Judie's Fixation - with Cindy filling in for their late-great front man Vaughn "Ben Wah" Keith) and another Sunday afternoon cookout at Casa de Lump back in 2022 (billed as "Two Blondes and a Bum," with Cindy and "Queen of the Marble Bar" LesLee Anderson proving blondes have more fun, while Lump represented the Bum - though the late Adolf Kowalski was there in the audience to lay claim to that title, as well.)

Alas, my wife Amy and I missed the Two Blondes and a Bum gig, which is why we were excited when we heard the Monuments would reprise their appearance at Lump's place on Sunday. It was a perfect sunny afternoon in Dundalk that opened with acoustic sets by The Silver Birches (Cindy's other group with her sister Sue Borchardt) and Mt. Airy's Fruit Jar Howlers. The Silver Bitches presented an eclectic playlist of classic '60s & '70s pop tunes (Bonzo Dog Band, The Monkees, Hollies, Queen, Velvet Underground), as well as more recent fare like their lovely dulcimer and ukelele-strummed take on First Aid Kit's "Emmylou."

Cindy & Sue Borchardt are The Silver Birches

And what a treat it was to discover the Fruit Jar Howlers, purveyors of Americana, bluegrass and hillbilly music at its finest! (I suspect their name is a nod to Uncle Dave Macon's Grand Ole Opry staples The Fruit Jar Drinkers). No doubt Lump knew them through his association with similar Mt. Airy string bands like his old outfit Darla Jean & The Something or Others. The Howlers - Adrienne Kelley (fiddle and vocals), her brother Paul Kelley (bass), Mark Dickinson (guitar and vocals), and Greg Fury (mandolin) - were augmented that day by their banjo-plucking friend Brad Feldhaus. I was impressed that fiddle player Adrienne not only went to Towson STATE University when I did, but actually remembered Thee Katatonix! "I don't remember anything from the '70s, '80s, '90s, or early 2000s," she confessed, "But I do remember THEE Katatonix!" (Of all things to remember!)

The Fruit Jar Howlers

The Monuments then electrified the proceedings, plugging in the guitars to light up the day with a set that was hot enough for a bonfire (appropriately enough, it was also Guy Fawkes Day for all you Anglophiles marking your calendars!). A special highlight was Lump stepping to the mic to sing and solo on the Merseybeats' classic "Sorrow." 

A Sorrowful Lump steps to the mic (photo by Patti Codd)

Watch "To Sir With Love/Sorrow" ("Sorrow" starts at 4:12 mark):

After the performance, Cindy B. handed out copies of  The Monuments' first-ever CD, Supreme, which is available to stream or purchase on CD (yes, old-school, touchy-feely physical media still exists!) from Bandcamp. As the title suggests, the single features two Supremes covers, "Stop! In the Name of Love" and "My World Is Empty," both written by Motown's hit songwriting team of Holland-Dozier-Holland. Check out The Monuments channeling The Supremes live and with some bite below:


Many groups have covered the Motown songbook and countless female singers have tackled Diana Ross' vocal stylings, but Cindy Borchard's pipes are more than up to the task. Sharon Jones, Amy Winehouse, and Gloria Gaynor have got nothing on Miss B.'s confident singing on display here, which takes a classic and makes it her own. (I love the way she ends the song with an imperative "I said STOP!".) In addition to Cindy's fantastic vocals on "My World Is Empty" (a challenging song for any vocalist not named Diana Ross!), she was joined on backing vocals by none other than William Sutherland, whose gritty basso profundo rekindled memories of Barry White.

But what really makes The Monuments' covers a Supreme achievement is the arrangements. They retain Holland-Dozier-Holland's soulfulness, while the twin guitar attack of Stone and Sutherland add a hard-edged punk vibe to the classic soul melodies, like The Jones Brothers (the Pistols' Steve and The Clash's Mick) sitting in with The Funk Brothers. But don't tale my word for it, check them out for yourself at their Bandcamp page: monumentz.bandcamp.com (Yes, it's Monumentz spelled with a "z" because there are other bands using that name! Same deal with their email, it's TheMonumentz@gmail.com.)

The Supreme sessions were recorded at Hudson Street Sound by Noel White and mastered at Mobtown Studios by Matt Leffler-Schulman, and I have to say the mix is well-balanced to perfection. Cindy's vocals are upfront but so is everyone else - the guitars growl, Jay Turner's fluid basslines are masterfully captured (especially on Stop!"), and Richard King's crisp beat is razor sharp. It couldn't have been better produced by either Rick Rubin or Sir George Martin.

Jim Moon (blue shirt) goes to talk to the police

But amplified rock & roll, no matter how soulful, is not to everyone's taste. That's why The Monuments November 5 backyard show was eventually shut down by the cops, who answered a neighbor's call and delivered a noise citation to Lump (as captured on video here). But as audience member Jim Moon put it, "It's not a successful party unless it gets shut down by the cops!" What he said!

Related Links:

Monuments on Bandcamp

Monuments on Facebook

Monuments playlist (YouTube)

"Stop in the Name of Love" live (11-5-2023)

Monuments/Judies Fixation @ Raven Inn (2018)

Monday, March 21, 2022

Tomology: March Movie Madness

DEEP WATER (2021) **

DEEP WATER (2021) is a disappointing Patricia Highsmith novel adaptation played all wrong as just another "erotic thriller" by Adrian (Fatale Direction) Lyne. Another stolid Affleck performance, gratuitous objectification of Ana de Armas' body (admittedly, it's a hot little bod) and an unsatisfying ending. Kinda like BenAna's offscreen relationship. At least the little kid was cute. Plus snails! But left us feeling...meh.

 Watch DEEP WATER trailer 

 NIGHTMARE ALLEY (2021) ****

I was born for it: the Nightmare Alley experience. I had put off watching Guillermo del Torro's 2021 remake of the 1947 Film Noir classic because I loved Edmund Goulding's black-and-white Tyrone Power-starring original so much, but having just reread William Lindsey Gresham's novel (and wanting to get my money's worth out of Hulu after running out of LETTERKENNY episodes), I gave it a look and, well, it's masterful! Both films are great and the source novel is a masterpiece from start to finish. And who doesn't love a carny? Step right up and geek out on the NIGHTMARE ALLEY Experience!

Nightmare Alley by William Lindsay Gresham (1946)

Nightmare Alley (Edmund Goulding, 1947, 20th Century Fox)

Nightmare Alley (Guillermo del Toro, 2021, Fox Searchlight Pictures)

BLACK OUT (2012) ****

BLACK OUT is THE HANGOVER merged with Guy Ritchie's LOCK, STOCK & TWO SMOKING BARRELS, but set in the Netherlands instead of Las Vegas or London. 

Watch BLACK OUT trailer

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Hipster Queen Supreme: Lisa Petrucci

Something Weird Boss Lady Lisa Petrucci

I first met Lisa Petrucci over 25 years ago at the 1996 Chiller Con in Jersey City, NJ, where she was manning the Something Weird Video dealer's table alongside her late husband and soulmate, SWV founder Mike Vraney. Vraney passed away following a valiant fight against lung cancer in January 2014, but Lisa has been carrying on Vraney's mission of bringing access to the forgotten world of  '60s and '70s exploitation films to the masses by continuing to run Something Weird Video's film distribution business during increasingly challenging times. 

First, there was the sea change in technology that saw SWV's catalog of analog physical media (VHS videotape transfers of 16mm films) make the transition to digital media (DVD-Rs, Blu-rays and digital downloads). Then there was the handwriting on the wall vibe for all physical media resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, when streaming video content became the dominant viewing experience for a world in lockdown. And then there's the current challenge of today's progressive left-leaning Cancel Culture landscape, in which all exploitation and sexploitation films are taken out of their historical context and seen as racist, sexist  and patriarchal trash without any redeeming cultural value. Through it all, Lisa has stayed true to Mike Vraney's original vision and maintained SWV's legacy, even putting her own artistic endeavors on the back burner. 

And make no mistake about it, Lisa is a bonafide artist in her own right, one with a legacy that can stand on its own, even before she met Vraney and added the yin to his Something Weird yang-dang-doodle. As her bio on her web site The Art of Lisa Petrucci: Home of the Kickass Kuties (lisapetrucci.com) attests, Lisa studied at the New York's School of Visual Art and the Art Institute of Boston before embarking on a peripatetic career as a gallery curator and director in Boston, New York, Portland and Seattle, where she met and planted roots with her soulmate Vraney. Lisa’s Pop Surrealism paintings have been exhibited and seen all over the world and have been featured in many diverse publications, including her own deluxe art book Kickass Kuties – The Art of Lisa Petrucci, published in 2009 by Dark Horse. She’s also considered to be one of the Grand Dames of Lowbrow Art.

So why am I blathering about Lisa Petrucci now? Because of a fairly recent interview she gave to The Phantom of the Movies' VideoScope contributing writer Rob Freese in 2020. When I spied this wonderful mag ("It's videoactive!") founded by the late great Joe Kane (Joe passed away in 2021 but, taking a page from Lisa Petrucci, his widow Nancy Naglin continues to publish his beloved "all-things-movies" mag) at Barnes & Noble, I knew I'd have to purchase it, if only for the Something Weird feature.

Videoscope #115 Fall Horror Harvest Edition (Oct 2020)
Lisa made a number of astute observations about the Something Weird business and genre films in general, as highlighted below.

Today's pearl-clutchers detest grandpa's porn!

Everything is informed by what came before it

And seeing her name in print made me harken back to when my friend Dave Cawley and I first encountered her at Chiller Con '96 and documented the historic meetup in COUNTEROID fanzine, as seen below:

The first and only issue of COUNTEROID (Spring 1997)

I would run into Lisa and Mike Vraney with my Atomic TV cohort Scott "Unpainted" Huffines at subsequent Chiller Cons, where we eagerly stockpiled Something Weird Videos!. The formats may have changed, but the legacy remains!

My Something Weird Video Home Library

Monday, January 4, 2021

Equinox (Netflix) ****


If you love Norse folklore and cults and are a fan of THE WICKER MAN or its most recent incarnation MIDSOMMAR, the new 6-part Danish Netflix show EQUINOX is for you. Based on Tea Lindberg's EQUINOX 1985 podcast, and directed by her, it stars Danica Curcic as Astrid, a young girl who was traumatized by the mysterious disappearance of her sister Ida and her school class in 1999. 20 years later, when she finds out that the only survivor from 1999 mysteriously died, Astrid sets off to discover what really happened. Curcic plays traumatized well - she's so tense she suffers from TMJ and is always rubbing her jaw, which even her mouthguard doesn't help.

It's downright creepy with a STRANGER THINGS vibe (especially as per The Upside-Down) even though you know all along what's coming - any time you have a pretty blue-eyed blonde cutie in the cast (this is Scandinavia, after all, Casting Central for Blue-Eyed Blonde Sex Appeal, a la those Noxzema "Take It Off, Take It All Off" shaving cream ads I grew up on!), you know we're talking about (spoiler alert!) Pagan Virgin Sacrifice. (Full disclosure: I'm a fan of PVS.) The blonde object of desire Ida is played beautifully by Karoline Hamm, who comes off like a sexy Anna Joy-Taylor in THE WITCH if she was raised by liberal Danish hippies instead of Protestant Bible-thumping killjoys.

And like THE WITCH, animals here take on a macabre aura - little Easter bunnies may be cute but anthropomorphic Hare Kings are NOT! Along the way we get schooled about the goddess of spring/dawn, Ostara (aka Eostre or "Easter," y'know?). (By the way, you will never think of Easter Egg Hunts the same again after this. I will now always associate Easter it with pagan sex rites and not milk chocolate bunnies and Peeps).

My only quibble was the unsatisfying ending. It's just too soft and sudden after all the intense build-up. Like Peggy Lee sang, "Is That All There Is?" Unless it is meant to hook us into signing on to a second season, I just thought the ending was anti-climatic and all too quick a cut to the end credits. That said, Viola Martinson as the nine-year-old Astrid is amazing - a young actress of exceptional presence to keep one's eye on. And fans of the "House of Cards"-style Danish political drama BORGEN will recognize a few cast members from that series here, as well, most notably Lars Brygmann as Astrid and Ida's dad "Dennis" and Hanne Hedelund as their mom "Lene."

Jack Irish (Acorn TV) *****


Three movies and two seasons streaming on Acorn TV

JACK IRISH is probably the best show Amy and I enjoyed in 2020. 

You've never seen pretty boy Aussie actor Guy Pearce like this before - he's an anti-hero in the mold of Philip Marlowe as played by Elliott Gould (or James Garner in his Jim Rockford persona). And funny! Based on the books by Peter Temple but even better as adapted for the screen for Acorn TV in 3 telemovies (based on the first 3 Jack Irish novels: BAD DEBT, BLACK TIDE and DEAD POINT) and 2 TV series (Season 1 based on plot elements of the late Peter Temple's final Jack Irish book, WHITE DOG, Season 2 an original, standalone screenplay), with a great supporting cast, including the old codgers in the Fitzroy Football Youth Club, Marta Dusseldorp (PLACES TO CALL HOME, JANET KING) as Jack's Sheila love interest Linda Hillier, Bob Hoskins clone Ray Billings as racetrack gambler "Harry Strang," Aborigine actor Aaron Pederson (MYSTERY ROAD) as Harry's sidekick muscle "Cam" and Shane Jacobsen as Jack's belching-farting-junk food-binging detective pal Barry Tregear! 

Jack's 1959 Studebaker Silver Hawk

A third season is promised, and it can't be too soon. Jack Irish is perhaps the coolest antihero lawyer-detective-gambler-debt collector-cabinet maker-Aussie Rules football club supporter in history. And did I mention he also has a cool ride - a 1959 Studebaker Silver Hawk? Oh, and he's not Irish! He's the great-grandson of I. Reich, a German-Jewish immigrant to the Down Under. All the more Oy to the World! Watch it, it's great!


Monday, December 28, 2020

Bogus Bookcase Backdrop Boors

 Who Do You Think You're Fooling?

Illustration by Cari Vander Yacht

Wall Street Journal columnist Joe Queenan recently posted one of my favorite articles of the year: "It's Time To End the Bogus Bookcase Backdrops." He calls out what has now become a Zoom cliche - talking heads seated in front of a large bookcase studiously purged of the usual comfort trash "literature" (books about vampires, sharks, David Lee Roth, Pablo Escobar, Fifty Shades of Grey, everything by James Patterson and all sports books) and instead boasting gargantuan biographies of Winston Churchill or Stephen Hawking's A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME, or political tomes stating which side of the aisle you lean toward (the vast archive of anti-Trump books vs THE ART OF THE DEAL or Bill O'Reilly's latest). What a crock! Even worse is having your own book on display, cover face out in an act of shameless self-promotion! Or journalists or politicos with a copy of the Constitution conveniently behind them. These are variations on what New York Times reporter Amanda Hess calls the "Credibility Bookcase" of serious thinkers whose unspoken motto seems to be "What you say is not as important as the bookcase behind you.” Ack! Quit frontin,' Bogus Bookcase Backdrop Boors!

My own backdrop is a 3D Beatles YELLOW SUBMARINE poster and a well-stocked bar of masterpieces from my learned colleagues Evan Williams and Johnny Walker. It just happens to be behind where my laptop sits on the dining room table, because I get bad WiFi connection in the room where most of my books are upstairs, otherwise you'd see me perched in front of Dian Hanson's BIG BOOK OF BUTTS IN 3D (I read big butts and I cannot lie!) or JACK KIRBY'S OMAC: ONE MAN ARMY CORP. These would still be an improvement over that one Zoom work meeting when I used the "Golden Eggs" (the Back River Waste Water Treatment Plant Anaerobic Digesters) as a backdrop; my not-from-around-these-parts boss thought it was an Epcot Center extension!

Eggs Over Queasy: "You smell that?"

One final note: in her non-fiction essays collection Coventry, Rachel Cusk comments "I have often looked at photographs of writers in their elegant studies and marveled at what seems to me to be a mirage of sorts, the near-perfect alignment of seeming with being, the convincing illusion of mental processes on public display, as though writing a book were not the work of someone capable of all the shame and deviousness and cold-heartedness in the world." To me, all those backdrop bookcases strive to present that very illusion of "seeming" with all the deviousness of "being."

Sunday, December 27, 2020

150 Glimpses of the Beatles

150 Glimpses of the Beatles by Craig Brown (2020) ****

150 Glimpses of the Beatles by Craig Brown (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, October 2020)

I'm really enjoying reading Craig Brown's 150 GLIMPSES OF THE BEATLES, a Christmas gift from my wife. (150 GLIMPSES is the American retitling of Brown's ONE TWO THREE FOUR: THE BEATLES IN TIME, which was released in the UK in April 2020). It's a pop cultural snapshot of the Fabs that cherry-picks the labor-intensive research of Beatles musicologists like Bob Spitz, Mark Lewisohn (TUNE IN) and Tim Riley (TELL ME NOW) to present "glimpses" of their legacy in 150 short chapters for the word-count conscious Twitter Generation. As a result, you can open the book at random and dive into any chapter, willy-nilly, kind of like throwing the I Ching, and still come away with memorable facts and anecdotes from the sprawling, all-encompassing legacy. 

I'm at the age when all I can retain is "glimpses" - general impressions rather than exhaustive details - so it's perfect for me and my peanut-sized brain. And, at the end of the day, you have to ask yourself: would the Beatles themselves have had the patience to slog through all those telephone directory-thick tomes the indefatigable biographers and long-winded critics penned about them? I think not. (Therefore I ain't, Mr. Descartes!) Sure, it too is thick at 600-some pages, but like my favorite Beatles book, THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF THE BEATLES anthology (edited by Sean Egan, Running Press, 2009)...

The Mammoth Book of the Beatles (Running Press, 2009)

...it's designed so it can be read in bits and pieces, like clicking through various Google sites, as opposed to chronologically turning page after page (though you can try it on that way, as well - reader's freedom of choice!) By now, we all know the mythology behind what Brown calls "the chance fusion of the four key elements" that made up the Beatles - fire (John), water (Paul), air (George) and earth (Ringo) - it's been handed down through the ages, generation by generation; it's these capsulized anecdotes that will warm us as we settle down around the campfire to share enjoyable reminiscences.

Case in point...I randomly opened the book to Chapter 148 and did a double-take reading the first sentence - "The most successful pop group of the twentieth century was formed in Liverpool in 1959 by Gerry Marsden and his brother Fred" - before realizing he was taking the piss! What followed was a delightful "What If?" bit of speculative fiction musings, as excerpted below:

The Fab Four: Gerry, Fred, Les and Arthur

The most successful pop group of the twentieth century was formed in Liverpool in 1959 by Gerry Marsden and his brother Fred. Together with Les Chadwick and Arthur McMahon, Gerry and the Pacemakers built up a huge following in their home city, while fine-tuning their talents in Hamburg, West Germany.

Many books have been written about Gerry and the Pacemakers, their origins, their influence, and their sociological and artistic impact on the 1960s. Different periods of their lives - from their early days rehearsing at the Campbell Laird shipyard at Birkenhead to their eventual break-up - have been turned into movies, the most recent starring Ryan Gosling as Gerry Marsden.

Why did Gerry and the Pacemakers succeed in overtaking musical rivals like the Dave Clark Five, the Searchers, the Beatles and the Swinging Blue Jeans to become four of the best-known faces in the world of pop?

For a start, their repertoire was broader than their rivals: by 1960 they had built up a repertoire of 250 songs, from rockers like “What’d I Say” to ballads such as “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” Contemporary Merseybeat groups like the Beatles, who met with similar success in the early years, never possessed quite the same range. Moreover, the Beatles lacked a front man, so had no focal point. It’s hard to imagine, but had things gone differently, the world might now be talking of John, Paul, George and Ringo (the first names of the Beatles) instead of Gerry, Fred, Les and Arthur.

Their success was rapid. In January 1962, Gerry and the Pacemakers were voted number 2 in the Mersey Beat readers’ poll when the Beatles were number 1, but this proved a blip. Historians now see the Beatles decision to turn down the hit song “How Do You Do It?” as their greatest mistake. It had been offered to them by record producer George Martin, but instead they insisted on releasing one of their own songs, “Love Me Do.” This left “How Do You Do It?” to be snatched up by Gerry and the Pacemakers. And the rest is history…

But what became of the Fab Four’s early rivals, the Beatles? George Harrison died of cancer in 2001, following a successful career as a session musician. John Lennon and Paul McCartney toured Britain last year with their “Tribute to Gerry and the Pacemakers” show, thrilling audiences up and down the country with their exact rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Touchingly, they still perform one or two of their own numbers - “Yesterday” and “A Hard Day’s Night” - in each set. “We sneak ‘em in, even if no one wants to hear ‘em,” quips John. Ringo Starr retired from the music business in 1966 to pursue an earlier ambition. He now owns and manages a successful chain of hairdressing salons throughout the North-East.”
When I posted the above excerpt on Facebook, both my wife Amy and my friend Scott Wallace Brown recommended the similarly-modeled speculative fiction of Mark Shipper's novel Paperback Writer (Fred Jordan Books/Sunridge Press, 1978), which is loquaciously subtitled The Life and Times of the Beatles: The Spurious Chronicle of Their Rise to Stardom, Their Triumphs & Disasters Plus the Amazing Story of Their Ultimate Reunion. 

Paperback Writer by Mark Shipper (1978)

The Village Voice critic Greil Marcus hailed it as "the finest novel ever written about rock and roll...there's a real empathy for the Beatles and anger at what we, as fans, may be doing to the Beatles by refusing to let them drop their old identities." Hey Dullblog commentator Alexander added, "The value of the book is in how 'accurately' it satirizes its past, and how perceptively it propels the Beatles into unexpected (for us) positions in its future." As critic Alex Bledsoe commented on those "unexpected" positions, "The date of publication is significant. John Lennon was murdered in 1980; after that, any book like this would’ve seemed tacky, if not downright heartless. But in 1978, with Paul and John both still vital presences in the music world, it seemed reasonable to poke fun both at their excesses, and at the fans who would never let them forget their past." The novel's clever premise is that in an exclusive interview for the book, Ringo Starr recounted the entire Beatles story to Mark Shipper, who lost his notes on the way home. As a result, the author decided to make up his own version of their story. And that, as they say, is his history...I can't wait to read this book next! Curiously, the author vanished off the grid following one more book, leading Hey Dullblog critic Devin McKinney to christen Shipper the "J.D. Salinger of rock writers." Shame, that.