10 THINGS ON MY MEANDERING MIND - March 2020
1. Nippon Girls 2: Japanese Pop, Beat & Rock 'n' Roll 1965-70 (Ace Records, 2014)
Another great Ace Records collection featuring detailed liner notes by Girl Pop (especially J-Pop and French Pop) connoisseur Sheila Burgel (music writer, record collector and DJ of Cha Cha Charming and WFMU's Sophisticated Boom Boom fame)!
Of particular interest in this anthology is the appearance of Anne Mari, the half-Indian, half-Japanese teen pop star who went on to portray an ice-cold assassin Misako Nakajo in director Seijan Suzuki's cult classic Branded To Kill (1967).
|Anne Mari in Branded To Kill (1967)|
Sheila Burgel notes of her striking entrance in that film - where she announces, "I despise men, and my dream is to die" - ""The image of Anne Mari as a vicious femme fatale is hard to reconcile with the finger-snapping, fresh-faced teen on the cover of her 'Wild Party' single, released on King Records in 1966."
|Anne Mari and Kazuya Nishikawa duet on "Wild Party" (King Records, 1966)|
She adds, "That 'Wild Party' is so wonderfully whacked out - a dizzying mish-mash of shambolic surf-rock, questionable vocal ability and a whole lotta wah-wahs and go-go-gos - is a testament to the wildly unpredictable, carefree, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink spirit of post-war Japanese pop."
2. Gillian Hills - Zou Bisou Bisou: The Ye-Ye Years 1960-1965 (Ace Records, 2017)
This 22-track collection of "Ultra-chic yé-yé" from the Cairo-born cult movie star (Beat Girl, Blow-Up, A Clockwork Orange) - who was billed as "the new Bardot" when discovered as a 14-year-old by Roger Vadim (who should know from Bardots!), who cast her in 1959's Les Liasions Dangereuses - comes with an outstanding booklet (as expected from Ace Records - the "Criterion Collection" of eclectic vinyl/CD compilations - and surprisingly not penned by Francophile Sheila Burgel), including a new exclusive interview with the artist.
As a teenager, she recorded everything from ballads to ye-ye novelty songs ("Tut Tut Tut Tut" is a personal favorite), as well as her own compositions, for the Paris-based Barclay label in the '60s, where she worked with musicians like Paul "Love Is Blue" Mauriat and Yank ex-pat guitar maestro Mickey Baker. Yet by the time Gillian was 21, her recording career was all but over and she returned to acting. But a revival of sorts began in 2012 when this anthology's title track, "Zou Bisou Bisou" (literal translation: "Oh! Kiss Kiss") was featured in a Season 5 episode and ending credits of AMC's Mad Men - later covered by actress Jessica Paré (Don Draper's tres sexy French-Canadian wife, Megan Draper). Pare's rendition has also been used for an international L’Oréal shampoo campaign.
3. Action Time Vision: A Story of UK Independent Punk 1976-1979 (Cherry Red Records, 2016)
A birthday present from my ever-loving wife Amy (who always knows what I like!), this 4-CD box set of 111-tracks with an indispensible 64-page booklet of liner notes (including authoritative band bios by Andy Davis and a foreword by Kris Needs, then editor of Zigzag magazine - which produced the first directory of Indie labels - and later frontman of the Vice Creems) may just be the best-ever 1st generation punk compilation. Released in Autumn 2016 to coincide with the 40th anniversary of "the British musical revolution that was Punk Rock, fan-fared by the release of ‘Anarchy In The UK’ by the Sex Pistols and ‘New Rose’ by The Damned," it focuses on the "independent punk scene, which was born with Punk and thrived outside of the major label framework." That means a lot of one-and-doners, artists that had one moment of vinyl glory, as well as some folks later to move up to fame and fortune, among them Killjoys singer Kevin Rowland (later of Dexy's Midnight Runners), Riff Raff singer-songwriter Billy Bragg, Nipple Erectors frontman Shane McGowen (a future Pogue). Similarly, Johnny and the Self Abusers evolved into Jim Kerr's Simple Minds, while Demon Preacher turned into Goth darlings Alien Sex Fiend and The Pack became Theater of Hate. (Oh, speaking of Demon Preacher, Nik Demon's ditty "Little Miss Perfect" celebrates Joyce McKinney, who was accused of kidnapping a Mormon missionary in 1977 and forcing him to have sex with her, as documented in Errol Morris' 2010 film Tabloid; in 2008 McKinney gained additional notoriety for being the first person to have a pet cloned - her deceased pit bull!)
There's so much good stuff here - from big names like The Damned, Stiff Little Fingers, The Ruts, Angelic Upstarts, 999, UK Subs, Sham 69, The Rezillos, The Adicts, Alternative TV (from whose single the collection takes its name), et al - that I may only make it through Disc 1 for all of March! See for yourself - here's what's on offer:
And not all of it falls under the generic genus of "punk," as evidenced by the inclusion of such melody-friendly ilk as The Only Ones ("Lovers of Today"), The Rezillos (""I Can't Stand My Baby"), The Wasps ("Teenage Treats"), The Stoats ("Office Girl"), and The Carpettes ("Radio Wunderbar").
Just a few tracks in, I heard The Lurkers' "Shadow," which I had always thought was a Judies Fixation (an Annapolis, MD punk band) original! (Both versions are great!) Amy and I agree that our faves so far are of the more obscure-but-hilarious in nature, to wit: The Sniveling Shits, The Jerks and Puncture, though Amy also is keen on The Flys' "Love and a Molotov Cocktail" (which sounds like The Clash in everything but name).
The Sniveling Shits were a "shady punk conceit" rather than a proper band, consisting of three rock journalists - vocalist Giovani Dadomo (who co-wrote two Damned songs, "I Just Can't Be Happy Today" and "There Ain't No Sanity Clause"), guitarist Pete Makowski, bassist Dave Fudger and Eddie and the Hot Rods drummer Steve Nichol. Their "Terminal Stupid" is kind of like what Pere Ubu would sound like if they had a sense of humor (and is also the term I use to refer to many of the glass-eyed library patrons I've encountered over the years), with raucous guitars, verbal vitriol and farty synth toots and squeals as Giovani sneers something along the lines of "You're a damp squid" (the kind I prefer to ingest) at the end...
The Jerks' "Get Your Woofing Dog Off Me" is rather self-explanatory, but they printed the "Woof Woof Woof Woof Woof Woof" lyrics on the back cover, just in case the point was lost on their audience)...
|The Jerks - "Get Your Woofing Dog Off Me" (Underground Records)|
|Lyrics included for Open Mic Poetry readings!|
Puncture's "Mucky Pup" (the A-side of a single whose flip was the hard-to-argue-with complaint "You Can't Rock 'n' Roll (In a Council Flat)") is sung in an accent so strong both Amy and I thought they were singing "I'm a lucky punk" instead of "mucky pup" (whatever that is), Puncture celebrate the bodacious ta-tas of English news presenter Angela Rippon (who must of been dear to their heart, and other vital organs, back in the '70s).
"I pick my nose and I eat it up/I'm a real humdinger, I'm a mucky pup...I don't take drugs, I've given glue up/But I sniff people, I'm a mucky pup...I see pretty girls and I hitch it up/Then the nipples go poink poink, I'm a mucky pup...The nine o'clock news is something to trip on/I bleedin' lover 'er, Angela Rippon."
|Buxom Beeb broadcaster Angela Rippon|
4. The Red Balloon (Le Balon Rouge, Albert Lamorisse, 1956).
House cleaning recently, I came across my video of this childhood classic that every Baby Boomer of my generation grew up seeing in the classroom on 16mm film. And you know what, it stills holds up over 60 years later! Amy and I enjoyed watching it again this morning, though I couldn't convince her to watch another French short, An Occurrence At Owl Creek, after it. "That film creeped me out," she said. (She probably saw it when it aired on The Twilight Zone in 1964.) But Amy did enlighten me about director Albert Lamorisse, when, after finishing a book about the history of board games, she informed me that he was the only Oscar winner (Le Ballon Rouge, Best Original Screenplay, 1956) to have invented a board game: Risk (1957)!
By the way, The Red Balloon was a "family film" in many ways: the boy was Albert's 6-year-old son Pascal and the little girl with the blue balloon was his daughter Sabine. Pascal Lamorisse appeared in two more of his father's productions (Stowaway in the Sky and White Mane) and, after Albert was killed in a helicopter crash while shooting a documentary near Tehran in 1970, Pascal took over his father's film company (Films Montsouris), dedicating himself to restoration of his films.
5. Diary of a Bookseller by Sean Bythell (Melville House, 2018, 320 pages).
"Would I like to be a bookseller de metier? On the whole - in site of my employer's kindness to me, and some happy days I spent in the shop - no." - George Orwell, "Bookshop Memories," London, November 1936
Ginger-haired bibliophile Shaun Bythell runs The Bookshop in Wigtown, which is Scotland's largest second-hand bookshop, with over a mile of shelving supporting over 100,000 books.
|The Book Shop in Wigtown, Scotland|
Since I work in a similar environment - a library (yes, we still have books, too!) - I browsed through this book to see what shared experiences we might have and immediately discovered my Scots alter ego ("impatient, intolerant, antisocial" - me, me, me!), for, like me, Shaun loves books but loathes his customers! I purchased the book immediately after reading this passage and sensing a kindred spirit:
"Orwell's reluctance to commit to bookselling is understandable. There is a stereotype of the impatient, intolerant, antisocial proprietor - played so perfectly by Dylan Moran in Black Books - and it seems (on the whole) to be true. There are exceptions, of course, and many booksellers do not conform to this type. Sadly, I do. It was not always thus, though, and before buying the shop I recall being quite amenable and friendly. The constant barrage of dull questions, the parlous finances of the business, the incessant arguments with staff and the unending, exhausting, haggling customers have reduced me to this. Would I change any of it? No."Alas, I too and drawn to the library, despite its inhabitants and their aggravations. Books and other physical media have this allure I find irresistible, in spite of the challenges their preservation entail. Horror and joy, in equal measure.
|That Look: Dylan Moran as Bernard Black of Black Books|
Oh, and as to the Dylan Moran analogy, here's a typical comment about customers:
"One of the shop's Facebook followers came in to buy books today. She and her boyfriend want to move here and I overheard her whispering 'Don't say anything stupid or he'll post it on Facebook.' I will write something mean about her later." LOL!
And here's the bookseller's "no hard feelings" reference for a former employee that showcases his dark wit:
6. Hooked by Frank A. DeFilippo.
In addition to being the best political writer in Maryland journalism during a storied career at The News American and Baltimore City Paper - and now online at Maryland Matters.org- Frank DeFillipo was a creative artist and lover of low-brow local color. Hence, I was delighted to come across his lone foray into fiction, 2005's Hooked, one day when I was down in the stacks of the Enoch Pratt Library. Described as "a roman a clef that juxtaposes two evils - Baltimore's randy Block and Maryland's comic-opera politics," DeFilippo's protagonist Richard Dart is a modern-day Damon Runyan, an "ace hunting-dog reporter and all-around wiseacre" working the city's gutterscape erogenous zone as he rubs elbows with "bimbos, misfits, trenchermen, ladies of the night and accidental tourists" to solve a mob-related murder on the "primeval bog known as the Eastern Shore." But what I love best is DeFilippo's hard-boiled language and shout-outs to landmarks familiar to native sons, such as this description of downtown Baltimore: "Its harbor was now decorated with municipal Tinker-toys - mirrored hotels, million-dollar condos, needle-nosed fish tanks, world class yachts, twin ballyards, expensive restaurants and America's largest yogurt stand, Harbor Place."
7. TD Ameritrade's "Get Smarter" commercial.
The Old TV Nostalgia Commercial Trick! In case you missed it (by that much)...Just when you thought only GEICO and Progressive could pull off great commercials, my wife turned me on to this smart blast from the past. It reminds me of all the secured doors I have to swipe my access card at just to reach my desk at the library (a future commercial I will call "Get Irritated!").
8. The Cowsills retrospective in Retro Fan magazine (March 2020).
I had to buy this Baby Boomer magazine after I saw it had one of my fave pop bands, The Cowsills, on the cover. The real-life family band that spawned The Partridge Family (and no hard feelings - they were fans of David Cassidy, too) had great early success - Bill and Bob's early (pre-Mom and Susan), raggedy garage-rock "All I Wanna Be Is Me" single for Johnny Nash's Joda label actually topped Simon & Garfunkel's "Sounds of Silence" in a radio listener's poll - only to be undone by their dysfunctional family dynamic. Namely, patriarch Bud Cowsill, who was to the Cowsill boys (and lone gal Susan) what Murray Wilson was to the Beach Boys: an abusive, unloving, violent, destructive force.
A paranoid, alcoholic control freak, Bud Cowsill was a Navy man who tried to discipline his family like Humphrey Bogart's Captain Queeq tried to discipline the USS Caine: by making anyone stepping out of line walk the plank. Along the way, he sabotaged many lucrative deals (a 10-episode, million-dollar gig on the Ed Sullivan Show) and essentially killed the group when he fired no. 1 son Bill for smoking pot and giving dad the finger. It's all covered in Bill Filipiak and Louise Palanker's 2011 documentary Family Band: The Cowsills Story (now streaming on Amazon Prime Video and YouTube). All was not as wholesome (or as safe) as milk...
Of the seven Cowsill siblings, three boys (Richard, Bill and Barry) are dead, while Bob and Paul continue to play with Susan and little drummer boy John now splits his time touring with The Beach Boys and playing alongside his wife (former Bangles guitarist) Vicky Peterson and Lost In Space TV star and music vet (America, Barnes & Barnes of "Fish Heads" fame) Billy Mumy in The Action Skulls.
Still, the music lives on. The Cowsills had great voices and they all, after the initial LPs, played their own instruments. Their melodic, soaring harmonies ("The Rain, the Park and Other Things," "Hair," "Indian Lake," "What Is Happy?", "Love American Style") still provide my earlobes, as their famous American Dairy Association Milk ad once proclaimed, with "the big lift that lasts."
9. Criterion's Polyester Blu-ray/DVD (2019) Supplements.
I recently bought the Criterion Polyester DVD when they had their half-price sale, mainly for the supplements - the special feature extras. Basically, these represent most of the extras that were included on Criterion's excellent 1993 laserdisc edition of the film (Criterion Collection #210), with the addition of the 20-minute Dreamland Memories documentary and a new interview with critic Michael Musso, but the unfortunate omission of Robert Maier's Love Letter To Edie (1975) - the latter probably because Maier sells his film on his own website .
Among the treasures are John Waters' famous "No Smoking in This Theater" PSA (familiar to anyone who saw arthouse films at Baltimore's Charles Theater back in the 1980s!); the 1993 short documentary Dreamland Memories, which begins with raw video footage of a scraggly-looking John Waters and assorted Dreamlanders at the 1976 grand opening of Edith Massey's thrift store "Edith's Shopping Bag" at 726 S. Broadway in Fells Point and includes scenes of a young Dr. Ron Israel (looking like a blond version of Deep Throat star Harry Reems and later to become a filmmaker, producer and manager of NYC's "Naked Cowboy," not to mention Atomic TV's mentor during our brief reign on Baltimore City public access channel), who made Edie a new set of false teeth after hers were stolen by a purse-snatcher; a WJZ-TV People Are Talking segment promoting the production of Polyester; another local TV profile called John Waters In Charm City, wherein the director takes viewers on a guided tour of his favorite haunts, including the pre-Club Charles bar The Wigwam ("Studio 54 for bums!"), Jonestown (Baltimore's slum area between the Inner Harbor and Fells Point that was named after the Jones Falls waterway but also makes Waters, thinking of Jim Jones, quip "It's embarrassingly named 'Jonestown' - can you imagine seeing a sign 'Welcome to Jonestown. If you lived here, you'd already be dead'?") and East Baltimore ("home of teased hair"); a 1978 WJZ-TV Evening Magazine profile Edith: Queen of Fells Point (in which Waters perfectly captures his star Massey's appeal: "Beauty is looks you can never forget. In that sense, Edie to me is truly beautiful."); footage from Baltimore's Craziest Entertainers supplied by Siobhan Hagan of MARMIA (Mid-Atlantic Regional Moving Image Archive); and Waters on Tomorrow with Tom Snyder, which I haven't had the courage to watch because, well, it features chain-smoking megalomaniac Tom Snyder!
|Edith's Shopping Bag (1976), directed by Laurel Douglas, Peter Koper and Charlie Ludlow|
|A long-haired Waters interviews Edith Massey at her grand opening|
|Dr. Ron Israel fixes Edie's chompers|
|Four more extra features "From the Archives"|
|A 1978 WJZ-TV profile of Edith Massey for Evening Magazine|
|Before the Club Charles, there was The Wigwam, Baltimore's "Studio 54 for Bums"!|
10. Twinkle, "Tommy," from Golden Lights anthology (RPM Records, 1996).
Though Tommy is my name, I've always hated the Who song about the deaf, dumb and blind kid who plays a mean pinball, and have had to suffer through years of people humming it whenever I tell them my birth name. Thanks goodness, then, for The Talented Ms. Ripley (Lynn Annette Ripley), the Swinging '60s songbird who recorded as "Twinkle" on Decca Records. Though best known for her maudlin teen biker tragedy "Terry" (a UK #4 hit, thanks to being banned by the BBC!) and "Golden Lights" (which fanboy Morrissey loved so much he had The Smiths cover it), as well as her signature thigh-high kinky boots and leather "John Lennon"-style chapeau (as pictured above), it's Twinkle's "Tommy" that I claim as my go-to theme song. For, like me, this Tommy, while initially a real charmer ("Tommy would always send me pretty flowers/Tommy would call me on the phone and talk for hours"), turns out not to be "the same boy I knew back when" but at times a right bastard. It truly is the story of my life, profiling an emotionally vacillating initial charmer who can turn into quite a cold-blooded prat as time goes on ("He's not so sweet and he's far from polite/Hardly ever calls me, and goes to pick me up late every night").
I've had "Tommy" on constant auto-play in my car CD player ever since I rediscovered a mix tape I made for my wife during our courtship phase over 15 years ago. Apparently, there's also a German-language version of my namesake as well, which gives the song a smidgen of added schadenfreude. Regardless of the language, Twinkle admits that she can't seem to keep him off her mind and, although "he's not the same boy I knew back when," professes "I love Tommy more than I did then." Poor Twink. A glutton for punishment!