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Preserving the people, places, and things from the pop culture past...because some of us still believe in yesterday.

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    OK Mr. Pharrell Williams, we get it--your song "Happy" is going to go down as THE proverbial song of 2014. However, long before your cheerful earworm took over the airwaves there were other feel-good, chin up songs that had the same effect, at least on me personally. Here are five songs that were "Happy" to me before "Happy" existed.


    1. "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive" by Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters (1944)



    Composed by Harold Arlen with lyrics by Johnny Mercer, the original version of this song mimics a sermon (its inspiration), which is why I prefer Bing's cover of it. What you focus your attention on is what you attract, so this ditty to me is the law of attraction set to music. The song became an anthem during WWII for millions of families, mostly in America, whose home lives were affected by the war. 

    2. "Get Happy" by Judy Garland (1950)



    How can I stay in a bad mood when I hear--or better yet--see the fabulously talented Ms. Garland (accompanied by her awesome gams) belt out this gospel-inspired tune in the 1950 film Summer Stock? I'll take this one over Somewhere Over the Rainbow anyway. 

    3. "Good Day Sunshine" by The Beatles (1966) 



    This song is quintessential peace-and-love Beatles. Featuring a piano that gives it an old timey feel, Good Day Sunshine was mainly composed by Paul McCartney who was inspired by The Lovin' Spoonful's Daydream. 

    4. "Walking on Sunshine" by Katrina and the Waves (1985)



    Yes, "Walking on Sunshine" will definitely go down in music history as one of the world's most overplayed songs; it continues to earn the band $1 million in year in royalties from its use in advertising. But there's a reason for its overplayed popularity; its upbeat tempo and lyrics about being in love just make you feel good. I can appreciate it more knowing that it was originally intended to be sung as a ballad, but fortunately the lead singer Katrina had other ideas. Ironically, the band apparently picked the dreariest day in England to record the music video. 

    5. "Smiley Faces" by Gnarls Barkley  (2006)



    OK, "Smiley Faces" is not exactly retro in that it was released less than 10 years ago; however, the music video has CeeLo Green and Danger Mouse performing with legendary musicians and participating in notable cultural events from the 1920s through the 1990s in a clip from a mock documentary discussing a mysterious musical figure named Gnarls Barkley. The song has a retro feel to it, and when I first heard it I couldn't get enough of it. 

    What are your favorite happy songs?

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    They breed. 
    I did a blog post on this topic some years ago, but thanks to the proliferation of these photos on Pinterest and Flickr, it bears repeating. There's something really unsettling--but also very cool--about vintage Halloween costumes. Decades before we had our choice of any overpriced, cheesy comic book character costume made of cheap vinyl online, everyone had to get crafty and make their own (gosh--the horror!) or choose from the limited designs that were available through mail-order catalogs or from the local five-and-dime.  The fact that many of these photographs are black-and-white also adds nicely to the heebie jeebie factor. So let's take a trip back in time to the days of Halloween past...if you dare. 





    Is this a girl or a boy? I can't tell, but this cross-gender skeleton's top hat (I think that's a hat) adds a nice touch. 



    There's something about lining up a group of kids and putting them in the same or similar masks that is truly creepy. 



    Just what on earth is going on this photo? Did these little demons set fire to that car behind them? Am I seeing unearthly forms in the flames and smoke? I know you had something to do with it, Popeye!



    Behold, it's the Killer Rabbits of Caerbannog! Someone get the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch!



    Oh, rats. Agnes, I can't see a darned thing with this mask on!



    Eye, on the other hand, see just fine.
    Maybe if you don't breathe or move, he won't see you. 



    Oompa-Loompas! Hands down the best costume of this collection. But what makes it actually scary is I can't tell if the one on the left is a child or a little person. 



    They eat the children first. Gives the grown-ups a little more time to try to escape. 



    Come and play with us, Danny. Come and play with us. 



    Make. It. Stop. 



    Maybe no one will notice that some of our costumes are kinda racist. 

    I think I've had enough for now. Time to go flood my eyes with cat videos. 

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    I recently contributed to REBEAT Magazine's staff picks for guilty pleasure tunes, and while I went with the giddy, upbeat "My Boy Lollipop" by Millie Small, I was sorely tempted to list "Superstar" by the Carpenters. There's something about the feeling of angst and unrequited love in their 1971 hit that is oddly satisfying during the right mood, but it's also just a beautiful melody. 

    This isn't the first time I've covered a Carpenters hit in the Song's Story series; I previously wrote before about the history of "Close To You" which originally was covered by other singers before the brother and sister Carpenter team turned it into pure gold in 1971. They replicated that success with their cover of "Superstar" the same year. Like "Close To You," "Superstar" was attempted by several artists before it found the right fit. 



    The song was written in the late '60s by Leon Russell--a highly-regarded session musician who has played with everyone from Gary Lewis to Glen Campbell--and Bonnie Bramlett, of Delaney & Bonnie and Friends (sometimes also known as Delaney & Bonnie, a husband and wife musical duo when they recorded songs without their "friends.") The composition was originally called "Groupie (Superstar)" and referred to as "The Groupie Song" and as the title suggests, it's about a girl who has been lucky enough to have a sexual rendezvous with a famous musician but is now left alone with nothing but his voice on the radio, despite his empty promises that he loves her and will be touring and coming back her way again soon to see her. 

    Throughout the years there's been speculation if "Superstar" was written about an actual encounter with a performer at the time. A video of Delaney & Bonnie's version on YouTube shows images of Jim Morrison but claims that the song was about Eric Clapton, which is ironic because he actually performs on the track as one of the "Friends" in the band. Some sources claim that singer Rita Coolidge either suggested the notion of the song to Russell or inspired it. Whoever it's supposed to be about, I feel that it resonates with anyone who's ever had a crush on somebody or been blown off by someone they thought they had a start with...which would be virtually everybody at one time or another. 

    Delaney & Bonnie weren't exactly household names at the time and as a result, their version of "Superstar" didn't chart at all when it was released--it was the B-side to the single "Coming Home" (which reached only 84 on the U.S. pop singles charts)--but it's still a quality rendition of the song, with a gospel-inspired chorus and slightly different lyrics then you may be familiar with on the Carpenters' version. 



    Joe Cocker and his band then covered the song during his 1970 Mad Dogs & Englishmen concert...with, coincidentally, Rita Coolidge performing the vocals:



    Then there was Bette Midler's version which she first performed on The Tonight Show. If you didn't think it was possible to make the song even more somber, the simple piano arrangement, soft vocals and slow-as-molasses pace render it nearly impossible (at least, for me personally) to get through. Embedding is disabled, but you can view her cover of it (for a Burt Bacharach special) here. It had me begging for an ending that is nowhere in sight.

    But the early covers don't stop there. Cher recorded "Superstar" in 1970 shortly before launching her solo career. It didn't make a blip on the U.S. music charts, either.  



    Finally, in 1971 the Carpenters took an interest in the song. Actually, it was Richard Carpenter who became enamored with it after watching Midler's performance of it on The Tonight Show. He strongly wished to rearrange and record it, even though his sister Karen had previously heard the Mad Dogs & Englishman recording but didn't think much of it at first. Richard added the oboe opening, as well as horns and strings, backed by session musicians called The Wrecking Crew. To preserve the Carpenters' squeaky clean image, he also changed the lyric "and I can hardly wait/to sleep with you again" to "and I can hardly wait/to be with you again." Karen's perfect vocal recording needed only one take. 

    That simple lyric change may have been the reason why previous versions of the song never went anywhere--the publisher later told Richard that singers shied away from the controversial line. "Superstar" was a massive hit for the Carpenters; it reached number 2 on the U.S. music charts in 1971 and the new arrangement earned Richard a Grammy nomination. When interviewed about the subject matter of the song, Karen said "I've seen enough groupies hanging around to sense their loneliness, even though they usually don't show it. I can't really understand them, but I just tried to feel empathy and I guess that's what came across in the song." I think the fact that Karen died so young and tragically makes it impossible to listen to the song today without feeling sadness. 



    Making "Superstar" into a monster hit seemed to open the doors for other musicians and bands to tackle it. It's been covered by everyone from Dwight Yokum to The Motels. One of the more...ahem...interesting interpretations was done by Sonic Youth in the mid-90s for the Carpenter tribute album "If I Were A Carpenter." Richard Carpenter is not a fan of their rendition, telling NPR “At least when it comes to something like this, I will say I don’t care for it but I don’t understand it. So, I’m not going to say it’s good or it’s bad. I’m just going to say I don’t care for it.” I don't care for it, either...but if you're curious, here it is:



    Then of course, there's Chris Farley and David Spade's cover of the song...


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    Kramer called it years ago on Seinfeld...

    KRAMER: ...And you're the manager of the circus.
    JERRY: A circus?
    KRAMER: Come on, this is a great idea. Look at the characters. You've got all these freaks on the show. A woman with a moustache? I mean, who wouldn't tune in to see a women with a moustache? You've got the tallest man in the world; a guy who's just a head.
    JERRY: I don't think so.
    KRAMER: Look Jerry, the show isn't about the circus, it's about watching freaks.
    JERRY: I don't think the network will go for it.
    KRAMER: Why not?
    JERRY: Look, I'm not pitching a show about freaks.
    KRAMER: Oh come on Jerry, you're wrong. People they want to watch freaks. This is a "can't miss."

    To quote REO Speedwagon, I just can't fight this feeling anymore; I'm feeling massive schadenfreude these days knowing that the inappropriately-named network The Learning Channel finally pulled the plug on the massive gravy train wreck called Here Comes Honey Boo Boo (and there goes Honey Boo Boo...buh bye!) after evidence surfaced that the mother was cavorting with a child sex offender. 

    I never saw a single episode of the show, but the biggest problem I had with it is that for a while you couldn't get through a typical day without seeing that obnoxious brat and Mama Jabba the Hutt receive unjustifiable media publicity somewhere. Those of us who weren't fans of the show couldn't avoid it. For reasons unknown even Steve Harvey, a man usually known for doling out common sense, interviewed the family on his daytime talk show--where they farted and brought down everyone's brain cell count. Viewers took to his Facebook page in droves to question and denounce his decision...and to be honest, my own interest in his show dwindled after he stooped to that low. 

    I also can't help but feel glee that The Learning Channel has some massive egg on its face to clean up thanks to this mess. The network that has built an empire on pap such as Jon & Kate Plus 8, 19 Kids and Counting, and My Strange Addiction finally learned a harsh lesson: when you're dealing with real people and reality TV, you're taking a huge gamble that anything they do in "real life" will hurt your own reputation. Like when Duck Dynasty "star" Phil Robertson made anti-gay comments to GQ Magazine and A&E, which airs the show, suspended him (a "punishment" that ended far too quickly.) 

    It's just bizarre to me how different television has changed in a span of 10-15 years. There was a period shortly after Survivor premiered that I really thought reality TV had run its course. Instead, it's gotten far worse. At least shows like The Amazing Race is a competition. Now we have shows about vapid women who are famous because they are famous, and women who didn't know they were pregnant until they went into labor. 

    I grew up on series like AliceOne Day At a TimeHappy Days, Laverne & Shirley, and ALF. Maybe they were't exactly intellectually stimulating, but at least they made me laugh and they didn't show people doing asinine things that made me want to throw up. But what I miss more are the family dramas--shows like Judging Amy. They've been replaced by the CSI franchise (do we REALLY need another autopsy show set in yet another city?) 

    The cancellation of Honey Boo Boo is a good thing, and not just for the most obvious reasons. I'm hoping that it starts a trend away from reality TV and back towards programming that requires creativity and has something viable to offer viewers. These reality TV buffoons need to keep up their off-screen bad behavior, because I'd like to see every single one of these shows canned (but please not Masterchef and Masterchef Junior; as much as I dislike reality TV at least I learn something from these shows about cooking techniques and food.)

    Unfortunately, as one of my friends recently commented on Facebook, Honey Boo Boo will probably be replaced on TLC by another show that's just as awful. These shows are cheap to conceive and produce; there's no writing, costumes, or sets really required. And for reasons I'll never be able to understand, they manage to attract an audience. (At this point I'd love to toss in the old saying "only in America" except the Brits apparently have an awful show called Sex Box which is going to make its way across the pond here soon.) I'd love to see variety shows make a comeback, but I know that it will never happen. For starters, we just don't have the variety of talent that had mass appeal in the '60s and '70s, and they just cost too much. Everything always comes back to the mighty dollar. 

    In the meantime, at least I have PBS and TV Land. 

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    I was sludging my way through writing a blog post about 1980s TV stars who fell from grace, partly inspired by the Bill Cosby sex scandal, until I got to Ken Wahl. 

    Reading about Wahl's story, I realized he didn't deserve to be lumped into the same category as those actors that let drugs and other demons take over their lives and eventually drive them to their deaths. Wahl's rags-to-riches-back-to-rags story is mainly due to plain old bad luck, and it's even more troubling considering he's a stand up guy who would do anything to help animals.


    You may remember that Wahl was the star of the excellent CBS crime drama Wiseguy, which aired from 1987 to 1990. He played the young undercover operative Vinnie Terranova, who helped a fictional special division of the FBI bring down criminal organizations. The series launched Wahl into sex symbol status--he was crowned "The Sexiest Man on TV" by US Magazine. It also raised the profile of another budding actor, Kevin Spacey, who played baddie arms dealer Mel Profitt, a mastermind criminal with an addiction to painkillers and an unhealthy fixation on his sister. Other notable actors who made appearances in Wiseguy included Stanley Tucci and Tom Curry. 

    Wahl was one of the lucky few who hit it big in Hollywood practically overnight, and with little acting training and experience. He was born Anthony Calzaretta in Chicago sometime in the mid 1950s (sources differ on his actual age.) In 1978, after working odd jobs, he set off for California in his Dodge Dart with $300 in his wallet. He only intended to stay in Hollywood for a year, collect any earnings, and then pursue his real dream which was playing professional baseball. 

    He worked as an extra in several movies before he arrived on the set of The Wanderers for a bit part. Director Philip Kaufman, seeing untapped potential and perhaps struck by his brooding Italian good looks and presence, instead cast him in the lead. 

    It turns out that Wahl was a natural. He was soon working alongside Paul Newman in 1981's Fort Apache, The Bronx. The two became friends and Newman even wrote a letter of recommendation to the Chicago White Sox's manager requesting that he let Wahl try out to be on the team. 



    Baseball never came calling, but Hollywood continued to offer him work. Then in 1987 he landed the lead for Wiseguy, without even having to audition. By 1990 he had earned a best actor Golden Globe for the series, and had to hire bodyguards to keep women from tackling him. 

    He left the job by his own accord in 1990 to pursue movie work, although the press at the time tried to say that Wahl had been fired. Two years later, his life and career took a turn for the worse. 

    Wahl was divorced and dating a woman named Joan Child...who happened to be involved with comedian Rodney Dangerfield, and later married him. One morning after spending the night at Child's residence, Wahl fell down a slippery marble staircase in the home, breaking his neck and injuring his spinal cord. Child begged him not to tell the truth to the press--lest Dangerfield find out--so Wahl blamed his injuries on a motorcycle crash. The rehab and operations he underwent (which Wahl says were botched) got him addicted to alcohol to self-medicate the pain and he found it difficult to get through acting projects.

    Wahl was a guy affectionately known as Santa Claus to family members and friends; he'd think nothing of helping someone out financially, even strangers. He's also a staunch animal lover and supporter of animal rights. In 2010 he offered up his Golden Globe to whoever had information leading to the arrest of a soulless cretin who glued a young cat to a Minnesota highway and left it to die. As a child, he rescued and helped animals in need and adopted and fostered many after he became a successful actor. He also credits pets with helping him recover from his injuries. 

    Wahl more or less had to give up acting in the mid-90s. By 2009 he found himself nearly bankrupt, mostly due to deceptive financial managers and an ex-wife who swindled him out of a trust fund he left to his son years earlier. In another strange turn, his agent was found murdered in 1993 and the case, which Wahl believes to be mob-related, has never been solved. 


    Photo via The Anipal Times
    There is a silver lining to Wahl's story, however. He seems to have met his kindred spirit in Shane Barbi, one of the Barbi Twins of Playboy fame. Both are crazy about helping animals, and neither was completely comfortable with the Hollywood lifestyle when the met each other. They married in 1997 (the magazines affectionately referred to them as Ken and Barbi) and though both have struggled with and beat alcoholism, they're still married today. Wahl says he was impressed by Barbi's down-to-earth persona and hands-on volunteer work with animals. Barbi even turned down the chance to appear at the Academy Awards one year because it would have interfered with her volunteer slot at a local shelter. 

    These days Wahl is devoted to helping struggling military veterans cope with PSTD and other psychological and physical injuries by placing pets with them through his program called "Pets for Vets." He told the Huffington Post in an interview last year that he's found his second calling. 

    The only recent photo that I could find of Wahl shows a gray haired man with a mustache and sunglasses who has clearly put on some weight since his television heyday, but his spirit and passion for animals is still intact. 

    Score one for the good guys. 

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    You may remember a few years ago I posted about my horrific earliest experiences with the Epilady--an epilator hair removal gadget that looks a little bit like a torture device. Epilady was the first company to introduce hair removal products that tweeze or pluck body hair from its roots, and the Epilady Trio was on my wish list from Santa in the late '80s. If I'm not mistaken, I saw it listed for sale in a Spiegel catalog, and it seemed like the proper way grown up women removed hair from their legs. 

    Only I couldn't get used to the stinging this thing caused each time a leg hair was murdered as it was ripped by the roots from my dermas, and my memories are what spawned my original blog post. Actually, that and the fact that I attempted to use it properly a second time, thinking that my older age had made me less of a wimp. I was wrong.

    And then last night, feeling inspirational (and too lazy to shave) I braved the Epilady once again. This time, I succeeded in completing both of my legs. Smooth as silk. And here's the weird part...this time it actually didn't seem that bad. 

    Yes, it's true. I am an Epilady convert. And I'm not using one of the newer Epilady models--I'm using the original one--the Epilady Trio--that I've had in my bedroom drawer for the past 25 years. Considering I've barely used it up to this point, it's like brand spanking new. Yep, I'm using an epilator made in 1987 or so to remove hair from my legs. 


    I now feel guilty that I referred to the Epilady as a Retro Product Fail in my first post about it. It wasn't a fail at all; in fact, the demand for the original model with the coil system which is the one I have was so strong that the company brought it back and call it the Epilady Trio Classic. In all fairness, I think it looks less menacing then the newer Epilady epilators which look like they have teeth. 

    I think what finally got me acclimated to the Epilady sensation is that I've been tweezing parts of my legs for the past few years, to catch the spots the razor missed. I started doing larger areas, then got the niggling feeling that I should really give the Epilady another chance. 

    The real question is if I'm brave enough to attempt to use it on other parts of my body...namely, my underarms and the bikini area. Reviews I've read have mixed reactions to pain in these areas...and some women ironically felt that using the devices on their legs was actually more painful then other areas. But we must get comfortable with walking first before we can run. 

    Maybe it's the Teutonic blood deep in my lineage that has given me this new strange threshold for pain. Whatever the reason, my Epilady is here to stay. The $100 (or whatever Spiegel charged for it at the time) has finally paid off for my parents. 

    Here's a great retro commercial for the Epilady Trio that aired in the late '80s:


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  • 12/03/14--06:14: Cos and Effect

  • Bill Cosby, we hardly knew you. 

    At least it seems that way as one allegation after another has surfaced the past few weeks from women who claim Cosby sexually assaulted them, usually while they were under the influence of alcohol and/or a drug. The 21 (and rising) women range from a girl barely out of her teens at the time who wanted a part in Cosby's movie Ghost Dad to Kristina Ruehli, who knew Cosby from his days starring in I Spy

    It's just so hard to believe after growing up as a Cosby kid so to speak during the 1970s and 1980s. Besides The Cosby Show, which I watched diligently in the 1980s, Cosby was everywhere: on those JELLO pudding pops commercials, Sesame Street, stand-up appearances, and talk shows. I'm sure I watched Fat Albert once or twice. One of my friends in the 6th grade had a vinyl record of Cosby's infamous stand-up routine of Noah's Ark which we listened to and laughed at during a sleepover night. Cosby was one of the few comedians whose humor was completely safe for kids to partake in.

    When Cosby gave interviews in the ‘80s and ‘90s, we got the impression at the time that he wasn’t that much different than his on-screen character Cliff Huxtable. The Cosby Show, after all, was based on comedy routines from Cosby’s stand-up act, where he drew material from his home life; a devoted husband and father doling out common sense parenting with a sense of humor to his real-life clan. Plus in his senior years, Cosby got rather preachy with the way kids in black neighborhoods dressed, spoke, and conducted themselves as well as the decline of family values. I applauded his infamous Pound Cake speech that he gave during an NAACP awards ceremony in 2004, when he admonished parents for allowing their children to become petty crooks and teenage mothers, and to wear droopy pants. Of course, in light of what has happened, that speech seems rather hypocritical now. 

    When his only son Ennis Cosby was murdered in 1997, fans across the country including myself ached for him. 

    But I guess we were duped. Today, I'n not so sure I want to watch an episode of The Cosby Show, and I feel funny watching him shill pudding pops alongside tots in those archived commercials. It's an icy reminder that everyone has a private and a public side, and that just because someone plays a devoted husband on TV does not mean he's he same way in real life. 

    Maybe it's something about TV dads. Robert Reed, the patriarch of The Brady Bunch, was gay but kept it under wraps because he feared it would have ruined his career (not that I have anything against homosexuality or that I think there's anything wrong with keeping it hidden to protect a career; just that it was a bit of a surprise.) Stephen Collins, the reverend father on 7th Heaven, was recently revealed to have admitted on tape that he had a thing for underage girls and molested and exposed himself to two (the case was dismissed because of how long ago the incidents occurred and the statue of limitations.)


    Then there's the bizarre tale of Max Wright, who played the nerdy, chin-challenged adoptive dad of a furry space creature named ALF. As Willie Tanner, you couldn't find a dorkier guy on television. He's been married since the 1950s to the same woman. But a few years after ALF ended, the National Enquirer ran an expose that showed Wright in video footage screen caps smoking crack from aluminum cans and engaging in sex acts with homeless men he'd picked up moments earlier. He's also been arrested twice for drunk driving. Wright revealed in an interview that he hated his role on ALF, where he played second fiddle to a puppet that got all of the good lines. Maybe that's what drove him to have unprotected gay sex and do drugs?

    But Cosby's legacy definitely trumps them all. I'm not sure what to make of it, except I can never think of a chocolate JELLO pudding pop as just a food item ever again. 

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    It's the holiday season, and nothing puts me in the Christmas spirit like seeing an Austrian art house film about someone thrown into a mental institution. 

    Got your attention, didn't I? Actually, what I meant to say is that when there's an actor I really like, I'm curious to watch his earlier roles to see if it satisfies some of my inward questions. Was he always so talented? Do these parts give any hint of Oscar success that would come decades later? And perhaps the most important, burning question...was he always so hot, beginning with back in the day?

    In the case of Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz, the answer to all three of these questions is a resounding yes. A few weeks ago I viewed his first ever film, Kopfstand, on Vimeo complete with English subtitles (a big thank you to the person who uploaded it, as it wasn't previously available on YouTube.) Waltz recently appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live! (to promote a very un-Oscar worthy film, Horrible Bosses 2) when he told Kimmel that a lot of his early stuff was heavy. (At that point Kimmel showed everyone a clip of a younger, adorable Waltz singing a song about the new year on a 1970s children's program, wearing a knitted striped jumper that didn't exactly hide the contours of his wiener schnitzel.) Heavy, indeed! 

    Kopfstand (the German word for headstand) is also pretty heavy. It's also dark, depressing, and thoroughly confusing, since the scenario of the plot is really far-fetched (although entirely possible, I suppose, given the imperfect and immoral world we sometimes find ourselves living in.) "This film is based on facts" the austere, Teutonic opening credits tell us--although I couldn't find any backstory to the film to find out if it were true, but to be honest I didn't do much digging...I'm sure some Austrian or German readers and sites out there have the answers. We do learn, however, that the film is dedicated to Franco Basaglia, an Italian psychiatrist who proposed that mental hospitals be dismantled after witnessing first-hand the horrors that took place in the institution he worked in. 

    And for a serious movie, the music played over the opening credits is ironically funky and upbeat--a jazz number called "Going Crazy" (ha, of course) by an Austrian musician named Karl Ratzer. I was so disappointed that I couldn't locate more music by Ratzer uploaded online--it's a great sounding tune. (Although "Mad World" by Tears for Fears might have been more appropriate here, but whatever.)

    In Kopfstand, Waltz plays a young man named Markus Dorn. We don't know exactly how old he is...one might presume late teens except that he works as a hairdresser and how many 17 or 18 year-olds do you know who have learned professionally how to cut and style hair? I'm guessing that Markus is in his early 20s, and Waltz himself was 23 when the movie was released. The movie opens with Markus in an arcade (ah, nostalgia!) where he spends a good part of his time because he has a crush on the cashier girl. 



    When he returns to his apartment late at night, and tries to enjoy his meal (which is precluded by a strange ADD-like percussion sequence of slamming each food item onto the table) he is interrupted by die mutter...or maybe we should say die mutterf*cker. She is one nasty, despicable, delusional, chain smoking nightmare of a woman, immediately launching into accusations that Markus is clearly taking drugs because he stays out late and that the papers are writing about it. There must have been some really slow news days in Vienna in the early '80s. (Dad either died or divorced and left Markus to suffer with this crazy bat.) 

    The only thing that Markus is guilty of is backtalk, and it's not like his mother doesn't deserve it. He is only acting out and being sarcastic like anyone in his situation would--mom has a boyfriend who is just as awful as she is, and she has clearly chosen him over her son. After she slaps him across the face, he retaliates with physical force and threatens to "finish her off" before retreating to his bedroom. It isn't long after that that he's awoken, placed in a paddy wagon, and taken to the local police station where he's interrogated relentlessly. If you didn't know beforehand that this movie was taking place in Vienna, Austria, you'd swear it was happening on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall. Despite not having a shred of evidence, the cops are convinced that Markus is into pot, LSD, heroin, you name it..."whatever you (kids) use to kill yourselves." Markus is told to name names, at which point the movie gets its (really) only laugh when he answers, "John Lennon." 



    And just like that, poor Markus finds himself in a mental institution, signed over by his own heartless mother. The place is a house of horrors. Markus is drugged, and given shock treatment, which puts him into an emotionless stupor. At one point his mother has the nerve to show up for a visit, to which a post-shocked Markus has no reaction. The doctor in charge of the hospital is just as brutal and delusional as Markus' mother, and the cycle of abusive and unnecessary treatment continues with no end in sight. 



    Despite the suffering, Markus manages to makes friends with other men in the hospital, one of whom meets a tragic fate. He also escapes twice from his hell while doing outdoor work (which seems strangely unsupervised) only to be caught and returned. During one of his bouts with freedom, he stays the night with the girl from the arcade, only to be kicked out the next morning without being given even a cup of coffee because she's afraid of what her jealous boyfriend would do if he caught him there. 

    Redemption does arrive for Markus when the head doctor is replaced by a sympathetic woman, who takes an interest in his case and decides to release him. It becomes pretty evident, however, that things are not going to work out between Markus and his mother. He ends up living with a widower in a large house. She's not exactly warm and fuzzy at first, but the arrangement allows Markus to slowly get acclimated back into the free world. And then the film ends kind of abruptly, and we're left wondering if there was a point, other than the fact that mental hospitals really sucked back in the day. I would have liked to see crazy mom be declared insane and strapped onto the shock treatment stretcher. 



    It's a downer of a film, made even more eerie by the fact that it's in black-and-white (which recalls some of David Lynch's earlier movies.) One thing I noticed is that the inside of the apartment that Markus shares with his mother always looks so dark, while the scenes shot inside of the institution are much brighter...symbolizing, I have to suppose, the darkness of this young man's home life. 

    It goes without saying that Waltz is the only reason to watch this movie, especially if you're a fan of his like I am. I read on one fan site that if this movie had been released in the States the year it came out, he would have been nominated for an Oscar award back then. I don't think that's entirely true...the movie had a really limited release in Austria and its subject matter and style wouldn't have appealed to most American film audiences. The only reason it's been unearthed now online is because of its star. His character is sympathetic and while he appears passive throughout most of the running time, there are a few moments during his stay in the hospital where the bottled-up rage becomes too much. The part where he got practically kicked out of the arcade girl's apartment made me want to cry. Geez. What female Waltz fan wouldn't want to console that sweet boy after all he's been through and keep him hidden from the police, boyfriend be damned?


    Also, I can't hide my opinion that Waltz was...so...damn...freakin' gorgeous to look at in this film...beautiful eyes, hair pulled back in a ponytail, his full lips and prominent chin more noticeable here (although I think he got even better looking with age and certainly consider him handsome at any phase of his career.) He's just very European and different looking than young American actors at the time. He also looks nothing like a young Ryan Gosling in my opinion, so can the Internet please stop with those annoying side-by-side comparison photos, already? 

    Recalling his Dr. King Schultz character from Django Unchained, there's a great scene of him in his hair salon, wearing a vest and running his fingers through his hair to pull it back in a ponytail. He wears jeans, cowboy boots and a leather jacket in the film...not to mention striped hospital PJs and a bathrobe that call to mind the Beatlejuice suit that Robin Thicke wore at that failed VMA performance. Guess who can rock stripes way better?

    All shameless swooning aside, Christoph Waltz has something to be proud of here as his first movie role, even though it's miles away from Quentin Tarantino's imagined worlds and the red carpet of the Academy Awards. Kopfstand's unanswered questions hang in the air long after the movie is over. 

    Here's part 1 of the film on Vimeo (the movie is uploaded in five parts.) 

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  • 12/13/14--19:49: Why I Detest Yankee Swaps

  • One good thing about being unemployed during the holiday season is that I don't have to participate in the obligatory office yankee swap. I hate to sound like a scrooge, but this antiquated gift giving custom has got to be kicked to the curb already. The major problem I have with it is that it's only guaranteed fun for one person. Let me explain...

    In case you don't know what a yankee swap is, it works like this...everyone brings in a wrapped gift, and picks a piece of paper with a number on it...the numbers correspond with the number of participants. The person who picks number one gets to choose the first gift and they hold onto it. The person who chose number two picks and opens up another gift. Now they have the option of keeping said gift, or swapping it with number one. And so on and so on until all of the gifts have been opened. The person who picked number one now has the option of making a final swap with somebody, or keeping their gift.

    Do you see why this system is so flawed? There's only one person who makes out during a yankee swap, and that's the lucky person who was number one!

    Now before you shout at me, "But GoRetroPam, it's the thought that counts!" I'm going to cut you off right there and tell you that that's exactly the problem--a lot of people are just NOT thoughtful when choosing a gift for a yankee swap that anyone could like, and use, and that has a value of around $25 (or whatever the specified amount was when the email went around.) I've seen absolute classless crap offered at yankee swaps--Chia Pets and items that are-so-obviously re-gifted junk (like brass elephants, Tupperwear, etc.) that someone wanted to unload. Some people bring in gag gifts, and others offer gift certificates worth $100, or scratch tickets that could either be worth a fortune or a giant goose egg.

    By the way, Amazon actually has a section of suggested gift ideas for yankee swaps on their site. Here's just a few of the items they suggest: a nice wine opener, a set of martini glasses, a subscription to the Food Network magazine, a Kindle (!) and a Toastmaster coffee mug warmer.

    How many of these gifts have I ever personally seen at a yankee swap? Zilch.

    I've seen upper management swap entry-level employees for the most luxurious and generous yankee swap gifts, snatching them right out of their hands when these people probably made $30K a year and could have enjoyed treating themselves and their significant others to a selection of Omaha Steaks, or a visit to a local spa.

    Then there was the year I got stuck with a page-a-day desktop calendar that couldn't have been worth more than $10. The donator was our department's only man, and a very socially awkward one at that, who asked me as he walked past my desk, "You don't like my gift, do you?" WTF?

    After getting burned at too many of these things, I decided not to participate in the last one my last company held, which was a wise decision. We then got a new HR manager who discontinued the yankee swap in favor of an ugly sweater contest...which I also never participated in, since being the fashionable woman that I am, I do not own any ugly holiday sweaters. And why would anyone buy one, when the cash prize was for less money than what they paid for the sweater at Walmart?

    Bah humbug!

    Readers, I'd love to hear from you...do you love or loathe yankee swaps? And what's the best and/or worst gift you ending up with at one?

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    Looking for a holiday gift idea for your retro music fan? I recently reviewed three new album releases for REBEAT...

    First up is Neil Diamond's new record, "Melody Road."This is classic Diamond; one of his best albums of original tracks in years, and I found myself replaying the songs over and over again in my head by the time the last track ended. 

    There's also a new Peter, Paul and Mary CD to enjoy as part of their 50th anniversary, which is being celebrated on public television stations across the U.S. this month. "Discovered: Live in Concert" is a collection of live songs that were previously not released to their fans with the exception of one. Like most PP&M albums, you'll giggle, get a tear in your eye, and feel uplifted by the various song selections of this iconic folk trio. 

    And for those looking to add a touch of 1970s funky soul to their Christmas music collection, Earth, Wind and Fire released their first seasonal album, simply titled "Holiday." 

    While you're at it, other staff members and I gave our picks for retro-themed holiday gift ideas...so check them out and happy shopping!

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  • 07/12/14--16:19: REBEAT Magazine is Here!

  • I have some exciting news to share with my dear readers. Earlier this summer, a friend and fellow blogger/writer reached out to me and several other writer friends about a new digital blog/magazine that she was launching. The destination would cover the music spectrum from the 1950s through the 1970s (give or take a decade on either end of the spectrum) but also pop culture, movies, and lifestyle--you name it--from the mid 20th century. Best of all, my friend Allison wanted us writers to each have our own voice and viewpoints that would help make her online magazine unique. That new magazine, friends, is called REBEAT!

    In case you're wondering if REBEAT is going to overtake Go Retro, no need to panic. Rest assured, Go Retro isn't going anywhere. There are always going to be pieces that will seem more appropriate for this blog and the wonderful wide world of retro pop culture has given me plenty of fodder to write about. I will, of course, be sure to let you know here when a new REBEAT article has been posted, and my bio on REBEAT mentions this blog, so it's a win-win situation. 

    Eventually we hope that REBEAT will have its own little "rec room" of sorts (complete with shag carpeting to sink your toes into) that will be like a spinoff of Go Retro. Right now, our goal is to attract an audience and build readership. I'm excited because it's additional writing experience that I can add to my resume. 

    Please have a look at my very first piece for the magazine, Paul is Alive...Kiss Him, Kiss Him...in which I dispel the Paul McCartney death hoax that sadly, is still believed today. Let me know either here or there what you think! REBEAT also has a Facebook page so give us a like while you're at it. 

    More retro fun and insights coming soon, both here and at REBEAT!

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    Happy New Year! I know things have been a bit stagnant on Go Retro lately, but I am working on a longer post, I promise. I'd love to make it a New Year's resolution to post more on the blog but the thing is, I'm just not that into the holiday and even less into resolutions. Let's face it, there's nothing magic about the change of the calendar year that causes people to break bad habits. They can and should be done at any time of the year. But with that in mind, I thought I would post the New Year's resolutions (or rulin's as he calls them) of legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie. (Click the image to enlarge it.) These have been circulating the web for some time now, and I only just came across them a few years ago. But they have stuck with me because they are resolutions that anyone can stick to; a blueprint for common sense but fulfilling living, if you well. Heck, they even apply to me. Let's have a look at just the first ten...

    1. Work More and Better

    2. Work By a Schedule

    3. Wash Teeth, If Any
    A very good idea.

    4. Shave

    5. Take Bath
    Another very good idea.

    6. Eat Good - Fruit - Vegetables - Milk

    7. Drink Very Scant If Any

    8. Write A Song Every Day
    That I can't do, but I can write something for the company I do social media work for or myself every day. 

    9. Wear Clean Clothing - Look Good

    10. Shine Shoes

    Other notable ones include "Love Everybody" and "Keep Hoping Machine Running." From what I understand, Guthrie was 31 when he jotted these down. What I find the most charming are the little illustrations included with each resolution. 

    Have you made any resolutions for 2015? I look forward to a grooving, prosperous year and wish the same for all of my readers!

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    The day after Christmas I went to see the new Tim Burton film Big Eyes starring Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz as Margaret and Walter Keane (you can read my full review here on REBEAT!) In case you're not familiar with the Keanes, they were an artistic phenomenon in the late 1950s and early '60s, churning out paintings of forlorn looking children with large, penetrating, extraterrestrial-type eyes. Sometimes the kids would also be holding a kitty cat or dog. Walter Keane became famous when he decided to mass produce the portraits onto prints, calendars, and postcards. There was just one problem: not a single "big eye" was actually painted by Walter himself but by his wife, Margaret.

    Basically, Margaret was an artist while Walter was a con artist. He was a real estate agent who passed himself off as a struggling artist and wined, dined, and seduced Margaret with tales of artistic training in Paris. According to the movie, Walter didn't even paint a single canvas of the street scenes that bore his name--and he also never told Margaret when he married her that he was divorced and had a daughter with his first wife. While Margaret locked herself away in her studio producing the paintings, Walter took all of the credit and the glory. After he started to get even more controlling and abusive, Margaret summoned the courage one day to take her daughter and leave in much the same way she had to leave her first husband. 

    A few years after the Keanes divorced, Margaret--who was living in Hawaii by then--revealed to a local DJ that she was the artist of the big eyes all along. A few years after that, Margaret had a showdown in court with her megalomaniac ex-husband to sue him for the rights to all of the work that she had done. Walter acted as his own attorney, cross-examining himself in a display of larger-than-life showmanship that had made him famous when he started promoting his wife's art. The judge decided that the only way to determine who was telling the truth was to give each party one hour to produce a big eye painting in the courtroom. Margaret had no problem. Walter stalled, saying he was waiting for his creative muse to show up, then pathetically faked a shoulder injury. Margaret still paints today, while Walter passed away some years ago "broke and penniless" according to the film. 

    Margaret's work when the Keanes were married was alienating--people either loved it or hated it. Many celebrities actually wanted the Keanes to paint their portraits, while art critics and gallery owners despised the big eyed children and dismissed them as a gimmick. It's a funny thing, though--as tacky as I think the paintings are, I will admit they kind of grew on me as I did research before the movie was released. Margaret's heart is in the right place; while the children she painted during the time she was married to Walter look hopeless, the work she's been producing in recent years shows optimism with her little boys and girls set in paradise, surrounded by wild animals. 

    Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in a scene from Big Eyes. Image via the DailyMail.co.uk
    As for the movie itself, I really enjoyed it and thought it was more entertaining and deserving of compliments then many harsh critics made it out to be. Yes, as Walter Keane, Waltz is a little over-the-top and turns in a borderline hammy performance, but as Margaret Keane recently told People magazine, watching Waltz was, to her, like seeing Walter alive again and she found it a bit stunning. This latest film from Burton is pretty much devoid of his usual trademark weirdness, except for a scene where Margaret is grocery shopping and every person in the store sports the same big eyes as her paintings. (Burton has long been a fan and collector of Keane's artwork.) Visually, the movie is gorgeous to look at and drips with the colors of the time period, which is why I recommend seeing it in the theater if you can. 

    Here's some of the big eyes paintings that celebrities commissioned from the Keanes...creepy, no?


    Jerry Lewis and his family (and fur children) were immortalized by Margaret Keane. 


    Dean Martin's is really unsettling to me. The kid lurking behind his shoulder looks like an alien. 


    Joan Crawford's crazy Mommy Dearest eyes lend themselves naturally to a big eye painting. Crawford was so enamored with the rendition that she put it on the cover of her book, "My Way of Life." 


    I like Natalie Wood's portrait the best...it's extremely flattering and shows Margaret Keane's talent. 

    What do you think about Margaret Keane's artwork? 

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    You've probably seen or heard by now that Kanye West and Paul McCartney recently collaborated on a song called "Only One." But it wasn't the song itself that sparked a flurry in the media; it was that so many of West's fans apparently don't know who Paul McCartney is. (The bigger question everyone should be asking is why Macca decided to work professionally with West in the first place. Then again, this is a man who married Heather Mills. Some questions can just never be answered, folks. We just have to learn to deal with it and move on.) 

    Yes, a lot of teens and 20-somethings took to Twitter after "Only One" was released to flex not only their grammatical muscles but show off their intelligence to give the public these tweeted gems that will live on for all social media eternity:

    "This Paul McCartney guy gonna be huge."

    "who tf is paul mccartney???!??! this is why i love kanye west for shining light on unknown artists"

    "Who is Paul McCartney? He boutta blow up thanks to Kanyer!!!"

    To quote Charlie Brown, good grief. This is what's known as parenting fail, moms and dads. If you never introduced your kids to the music of the Beatles, then you deserve a slap across the face. On the other hand, maybe this revelation stings because it means that I and others are more painfully aware now that we're no longer young nor immortal like we thought we had it pegged all these years. We have finally reached a moment in history where NOT EVERYONE KNOWS WHO PAUL MCCARTNEY IS. But, when the Beatles hit it big in 1964, no everyone knew who Benny Goodman was, either. Call it the circle of life in the music world. 

    By the way, this failure of the younger crowd to recognize Paul is not exactly new. These sort of tweets were being squirted out a couple of years ago, when McCartney appeared at the 2012 Grammy awards. 

    Also, it would be really unfair to stereotype every young 'un as ignorant of the Beatles. The Beatles still have lots of younger fans who are discovering them everyday...there are tons of video compilations on YouTube made by teenage girls, for example, that are dedicated to their favorite fab, most often accompanied by comments gushing about how sexy and cute said fab is, and how they're even cuter and more talented than Justin Bieber and One Direction (there's hope for us, after all!)

    But just in case you're one of the people who has never heard of Paul McCartney or know anything about him, here's ten basics about Paul I think everyone should know (all together now--pun intended--"Thanks, GoRetroPam!")

    1. He was one of four members of the Beatles, the biggest band of the 1960s. His bandmates were John Lennon, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr. They had tons of hits--"She Loves You", "I Want to Hold Your Hand", "Daytripper", "Here Comes the Sun", "Something", and "With A Little Help By My Friends" just to name a few. Understatement of the century. 

    2. He was born in Liverpool, England in 1942 and his father was a trumpet and piano player who led a jazz band in the 1920s, which Paul surely inherited his musical talent from.

    3. He mostly played bass while with the Beatles, but plays guitar and is left-handed. 

    4. He came up with the concept for the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, an album released in 1967 which is considered an epic, groundbreaking record for its psychedelic sound and experimentation with unusual instruments and audio engineering. 

    5. He was nicknamed "the cute one (Beatle)" because well, he was cute. 

    6. He married Linda Eastman in 1969 and had three children with her (you may have heard of the fashion designer, Stella McCartney--that's one of them) plus Linda's daughter from her first marriage. They remained married until Linda's death in 1998 from complications due to breast cancer and their relationship is considered one of the strongest in rock and roll history. 

    7. After the Beatles broke up in 1970, McCartney started a new band with Linda as one of the members called Wings. Wings was very popular throughout the 1970s, with several hits. 

    8. Paul was recently considered the richest musician in the world until it was revealed that Madonna overtook that title in 2014. 

    9. Paul's songwriting has sold over 100 million albums and 100 million singles throughout the course of his entire career. 

    10. Paul is a vegetarian, animal lover, and staunch supporter of animal rights (as was his first wife, Linda.) He was also knighted in 1997 for his musical contributions, making him officially Sir Paul McCartney. So you must bow down to him (just kidding.)

    And that's not even the tip of the McCartney iceberg, but a good start. Seriously, go to Google if you need to know more. 

    Now, who is Kanye West? 

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  • 01/17/15--13:22: GoRetroPam's Year in Review


  • The headlines read, ‘these are the worst of times’
    I do believe it's true
    I feel so helpless, like a boat against the tide
    I wish the summer winds could bring back paradise

    Styx, “The Best of Times”

    My readers know that it isn't that often I venture away from the retro pop culture musings to talk about what's going on in my personal life, but it does happen on occasion and as it turns out, today is one of those occasions. Just like what Austin Powers went through in Goldfinger, I lost my mojo this past year. Maybe it's because 2014 just happened to be one of the worst years of my life (second only to when my father and a really good friend both died within 5 months of each other) and I am more than happy to kick it to the curb. Reviewing the year here also seems like a good way of cleansing it from my psyche--it'll get the bad stuff off my chest and out of the way and help me stay positive as I head into 2015. And, as it turned out, the year wasn't completely horrible--there were some good things that came my way in 2014, and I'll get to those in a minute. So, where to begin?

    *I'm still job hunting


    Well, I think some of you read my Labor Day post about checking in with my job search. On that front I'm still hitting the pavement, so to speak. Some days it hasn't been easy, and I wonder if I should be taking a temp or retail job that I loathe just to make some cash until I am offered the ideal full-time job. I keep reminding myself that my unemployed status does not define me as a person and I am definitely not alone.

    But, there is a silver lining. Since I wrote that post I started to get interviews for jobs that I could actually envision myself doing--and even more importantly, enjoying--that focused on writing, social media marketing, or both, which happen to be my fortes. In the last quarter of 2014 I interviewed for a marketing writing position, a copywriter opening, and a social media manager job. I felt that the manager for the marketing job really liked me and was going to make me an offer, but the company and some other things about the position were not the right fit. At the time I worried that maybe I was making a mistake, but my gut felt strongly it wasn't the best match. I was turned down for the copywriter role and I have yet to hear back on the social media position. If anything, at least I'm getting interviews and this means my revamped resume is definitely getting positive attention. Also, each position and company I've met with has been a better prospect than the previous one. If I continue to focus on exactly what I want and how I want to feel in a job, then I'm bound to manifest it in 2015. Plus I made a New Year's resolution to read/watch an article, tip, tutorial, webinar, etc. every day to learn something new to improve my copywriting and social media management skills. 

    *You know that modeling thing I wanted to do? Yeah, it didn't work out. 


    Namely because I got stuck first with a psycho photographer, then another one who took very bad pictures. The first photographer offered to take them for free if I was willing to drive almost an hour to a studio that she often rents. I agreed, and the pictures were beautiful. I loved them. But she took barely any full-length shots, which I had told her beforehand I needed. When I asked her via email if there happened to be any on her camera that didn't get uploaded to the site, her ego inflated and she suddenly got very insulted. She said since she did the session for free, she didn't understand how there could be ANY disappointment on my end and she didn't return my phone call (where I said I wanted to purchase the pictures.) She did, however, continue to argue with me over email. I ended up telling her I wasn't to fork over any money to anyone who could be so unprofessional over an innocent question, and that she was lucky I wasn't rehashing the whole surreal experience on Yelp. 

    The second photographer and his makeup assistant were just plain terrible. I didn't recognize myself in the photos and didn't think any of them authentically represented me. He took lots of photos crouched on the ground angled up at me that were unflattering, and the makeup girl didn't use enough makeup for one outfit, then made me look like a drag queen for my final change. And this is coming from a guy that supposedly photographs for the modeling industry. I regret parting with over $500 for that experience. 

    In the end I ended up submitting a few good photos I already had to some agencies and not surprisingly, never heard back. And I also discovered that I don't care. Both times that I had my photos done, I quickly got bored during each session. Turns out modeling is really boring work, folks. I only wanted to explore it with the hopes of getting a commercial job here and there to pocket a few bucks. I'd much rather have a full-time job with benefits where I actually get to use my brains. 

    *A psychotic woman with a drinking problem hijacked my Meetup group for a while.


    OK, she didn't exactly hijack it. I stepped down late in the year as organizer temporarily because I didn't want to pay Meetup for another 6 months of fees that were due soon, and I just needed a break from dealing with no-shows and late cancellations. A woman who called herself Barbi stepped in and took over the group so it wouldn't be shut down...initially I was referring to her as "Good News Barbi" but it soon became evident that she was "Bad News Barbi." After a movie and dinner event I planned the day after Christmas (I was still an assistant organizer) she stepped down and told me that everything about the event was a disaster (because her friend, who showed up at the restaurant more than a half hour late, was "left out of the conversation.") She also went on my Facebook page and publicly chastised me and other women who came for ordering non-alcoholic drinks and peppered the Meetup event page with non-sensical comments. Fortunately, I've gotten pretty good at dealing with crazy people and not adding to their drama, so I took my group back over and quietly but promptly removed her, saying I was sure she knew the reasons why. Needless to say, I unfriended her from Facebook as well.  

    But like I said, the year wasn't a total wash.

    *For starters, I got this (non-paying) gig y'all probably are aware of, writing for a groovy 'lil site called REBEAT.

    *I ran my first 5K in just a hair over an half-hour, lost the spare tire around my waist, and toned up my abs. 

    *I bought a new car (a 2014 Volkswagen Jetta, which I love.)

    And uh, well, admittedly there's not much else. But there's also not much to complain about. I just have to keep my intention and attention pointed in the direction I want to go. 

    And that kind of brings me to this blog. It needs a rejuvenation--a revised look and new banner, maybe a tweaked layout, and I'd sure like to post some giveaways on here again soon. The pitches and topic ideas being thrown around at REBEAT are definitely feeding me inspiration, and I should really get the site revamped before I end up returning to work full time.

    This is the year I am getting my mojo back, baby!

    How was your 2014, and how is your 2015 going so far?

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    When was the last time an instrumental song became a hit? It seems like no one is writing or playing them these days, and that's a shame. I have a soft spot for instrumentals and perhaps no other decade spawned as many, and with such musical variety, as the 1960s. These ten are my personal favorites. Although certainly not the only instrumentals from the decade, some of them proved that often a song can be a greater hit when the vocals are sweetly absent. 


    1) "Walk Don't Run," The Ventures (1960)



    It was tough to choose between "Wipeout" and "Walk Don't Run" for this list. Both have equal musical merit and contributed to the surf rock legacy but ultimately, "Walk Don't Run" has the edge because it's more difficult to play on the guitar vs. "Wipeout", which is an actually easy riff after you've been playing for a while. Jazz guitarist Johnny Smith composed the song in 1954 with chords based on "Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise." For the Ventures, it was their first single and the song that catapulted them into notoriety in 1960. 

    2) "Green Onions," Booker T & the MGs (1962)



    It's a no-brainer that any list of great instrumentals is going to include Booker T & the MGs' classic, "Green Onions." As I noted on REBEAT, the song isn't even my favorite by this group (that would be "Time Is Tight") but I don't think there's any other rock instrumental that is more quintessential 1960s with its hypnotic Hammond organ and bass riffs. And as a cat aficionado, I love the bit of trivia revealed by the group's guitarist Steve Cropper that the song and title were inspired by the funky feline strut of a cool cat named Green Onions. It's impossible for me to ignore my inner go-go girl when this song gets going. Let's face it--they don't make 'em like this anymore. 

    3) "Miserlou," Dick Dale & The Del-Tones (1962)



    We can thank Quentin Tarantino for a lot of things...for example, Christoph Waltz, Christoph Waltz, and Christoph Waltz. Oh, and for reintroducing "Miserlou" to the public's ears via the soundtrack of 1994's Pulp Fiction. But ultimately, we must thank Dick Dale & The Del Tones for taking a 1920s' song with Greek/Middle Eastern roots and making it an anthem of the 1960s' American surfing scene. The above clip is from the 1963 film A Swinging Affair--and doesn't the blonde look like she's having fun?

    4) "A Taste of Honey," Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass (1965)

     
    I'm not the least bit ashamed to admit that I absolutely love Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass...why should I be? Yes, their music was considered a little cheesy and often used on The Dating Game, but they were an enormously successful group, as evident by their six Grammys, fifteen gold records and fourteen platinum disks. Four of those Grammys can be attributed to "A Taste of Honey" which appeared on an album with infamously risqué cover art, Whipped Cream & Other Delights. With its lyrics, the song has seen coverage by everyone from the Beatles to Chet Baker, but not too many groups attempt an instrumental version. There's a reason for that; it would be pretty hard to beat the Brass.  

    5) "Music to Watch Girls By," The Bob Crewe Generation (1967)



    Whenever I hear this song I automatically think of Don Draper and Roger Sterling of Mad Men. Even though the song has never been used on the series (to the best of my memory) it would have been perfect to include on the soundtrack. Bob Crewe first heard the song as a jingle being demoed for a Diet Pepsi commercial, decided to cover it, and it became a hit. Andy Williams recorded the vocal version, which landed at number 34 on the U.S. music charts. Leonard Nimoy also recorded a cover of the song, aptly named "Music to Watch Space Girls By."  

    6) "Flying," The Beatles (1967)




    The Beatles didn't record too many instrumentals which is one of the reasons why "Flying" has always stood out to me as an underrated song by the Fab Four. It wasn't released as a single, it didn't chart, and to this day it's a Beatles song that I'm pretty sure I've never heard on the radio, but that doesn't mean it can't have a place among a top instrumental list. Appearing on the Magical Mystery Tour soundtrack it's a great chill-out tune and judging from the psychedelic period of the Beatles' career it was composed in, I don't think the title necessarily refers to flying in an airplane. 

    7) "The Horse," Cliff Nobles (1968)




    I love that there was an official dance for "The Horse" as demonstrated in this video clip from a locally produced music show called Groove In (I also love that the host refers to himself as "the boss with the hot sauce.") "The Horse" is actually an instrumental version of Nobles' "Love is All Right." Both were released on the same single in 1968, but it was "The Horse" on the B-side that shot up the charts just shy of the number one spot which was being dominated by Herb Alpert's "This Guy's In Love With You." No offense to Nobles, but the song works better as an instrumental--the vocals get overpowered by the rhythmic horns, and without them, the appropriately named instrumental definitely calls to mind a jaunty cantering horse. For those that love to compare, here's the vocal version:



    8) "Soulful Strut," Young-Holt Unlimited (1968)



    My ears were actually first introduced to the "Soulful Strut" melody in the 1980s--thanks to Swing Out Sister's hit, "Am I the Same Girl." Then I heard the Young-Holt Unlimited instrumental on an oldies radio station and loved it equally as much. Little did I know that Swing Out Sister's version was a cover of Barbara Acklin's 1968 recording, written by Eugene Record (Acklin's husband) and Sonny Sanders. For reasons unknown, music producer Carl Davis had her vocals scrapped, added a piano played by Floyd Morris and credited the result to Young-Holt Unlimited. Stranger still is that the actual recording is by studio musicians; neither Eldee Young nor Red Holt contributed to the track. Nonetheless, it became a hit, reaching number three on the U.S. music chats, while Acklin's version--released in 1969--reached number 33 on the R&B chart. Dusty Springfield recorded a cover of the song, and there's even a '70s disco version that became a hit in Peru. 

    This is a song for a sunny spring or summer day--or a snowy one in winter (like the one I'm experiencing as I write this) when you're longing for a warmer season. Also, there's not a thing wrong with Acklin's version:



    9) "Classical Gas," Mason Williams (1968)



    A common misconception is that Eric Clapton composed "Classical Gas." He's actually never even recorded it, but I have no doubt that he could play it with complete ease. That's because this song is considered one of the holy grail compositions for acoustic guitar players to learn; a true masterpiece even without the symphony backing it up. It was a one-hit wonder for Mason Williams, who was the head writer for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and would often perform it on the show. A music video requested by Williams that set the song against the evolution of 3,000 years of art helped push it onto the music charts where it reached number two. 

    10) "Grazing in the Grass," Hugh Masekela (1968)



    There must have been something about the year 1968 that made it turn out so many great instrumentals. "Grazing in the Grass" was composed by Philemon Hou and recorded by South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela. It hit number one on the U.S. music charts and charted again in 1969 with the Friends of Distinction, who recorded a vocal version. Grazing in the grass is a gas, baby, can you dig it? Needless to say, I can and I do. 


    There were so many awesome and notable instrumentals recorded during the 1960s--which ones are your favorite? 

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    In 1986 Neil Diamond proclaimed, "We're headed for the future and the future is now!" During the '80s the future was indeed the here and NOW, thanks to the gadgets at our fingertips. In addition to the music and the fashion, I think the one thing that best defines the 1980s is the sheer volume of consumer technology that was made available to us during the decade. Sure, none of it compares to the tablets, iPods, and smartphones of today--but it was exhilarating to experience a lot of these devices for the first time at a young age, as I did. Here's a look at the technology I remember and enjoyed the most from the period...



    Sony Walkman/Personal Music Listening Devices

    When a kid begins to morph into a pre-teen and eventually a teenager, what do they crave more than anything else while stuck inside the house? Privacy. The Sony Walkman and other small, portable radios/cassette players with earphones provided that, blocking out the world and allowing me to keep up with the latest pop music acts. Not to mention I could keep my listening choices private and not risk embarrassment if my parents disapproved of them. It was a beautiful thing.



    VCRs

    Considering my father worked as a RCA repairman shortly after WWII, it's not surprising that he kept up with the latest in television technology long after he left the industry. I still remember our household's first VCR in the early '80s and the steep price he paid for it (I want to say it was around $700 or $800; it wasn't uncommon for VCRs to retail for nearly $1,000 when they were first introduced to the public.) Was it worth every penny? You betcha--we marveled at being able to not only tape a channel, but watch a different one at the same time, schedule recordings ahead of time, and get to watch our favorite movies at any time by renting them. But that's not all! If you had TWO VCRs you could make a duplicate copy of a tape! Believe me, I still consider the VCR one of the top technological wonders ever, and I think our first one latest us just under ten years. Some folks opted for Sony Betamax recorders (which was actually the first hoe video recorder on the market) but lost out to the popularity of JVC's VHS machines since the tapes could hold more recorded content. And remember the vinyl record-sized LaserDisc, which didn't record but was a precursor of the DVD? Yes, the ability to record TV programming in these days was huge and a giant step towards the modern home entertainment system of today. 



    Video Gaming Consoles

    I also remember accompanying my parents to Sears when they bought an Atari 2600 for me. The first game I played after hooking it up to the living room TV was Pac-Man; by the time it got hooked up to a TV of my own in my room I had amassed a nice game collection that included all of the classics: Space Invaders, Donkey Kong, Adventure, Frogger, Pitfall, and several others. The primitive, one-dimensional graphics would not win any design awards to the say the least, but the Atari 2600 opened the doors for more sophisticated video game consoles by Sega and Nintendo. I played with the thing so much I got callouses on my left hand from holding the joystick control. Good times. 



    Personal Computers

    The computers of the 1980s were a long way off from the technological wonders of today, but they still brought a sense of amazement to the average household. Like most kids of my generation, my first computer was the Commmodore 64--not so much a computer but a very smart keyboard with built-in RAM memory that you could hook up to a TV and supplement with a tape or floppy disk player to run programs. I actually got my first exposure to coding and creating computer graphics by following one of the exercises in the instruction manual, which resulted in a pixelated hot air balloon floating across the TV screen to a sample of Mozart's Allegro. Pretty heavy stuff for a 12 year-old to accomplish. I also enhanced my typing skills with a typing program made for the system, and one of my favorite video games (that easily trumped anything running on the Atari 2600) was a flight simulator that unfortunately, often froze up on me. It wouldn't be until the late '90s that I bought myself a proper computer with dial-up Internet access, but the Commodore 64 will always have a special place in my heart.

    We also had an Apple II in my elementary school's library, and I secretly wished I had one at home--there was an adventure game installed on it that we kids loved to play. Years later I would learn graphic design software on Macs.   



    Interactive Toys

    My mother often says that today's kids have so many incredible toys that they make my generation's look like crap by comparison, but I don't think that's entirely true. Besides the slew of handheld electronic games that we enjoyed (such as Merlin and Simon) we also had Teddy Ruxpin, an animated, talking teddy bear that exceeded at storytelling, Speak & Spell, and several other toys that attempted to raise a child's intelligence level. I received a Speak & Spell for Christmas one year and loved it, later purchasing a plug-in module that expanded its vocabulary. I also had a Big Trak, a rover-looking vehicle made by Milton Bradley whose movements could be programmed by its built-in keypad. But I think one of the coolest interactive toys I had at the time was a big red Corvette without a remote control that responded to simple voice commands...and unlike the Verbot, a voice responsive robot that used the same technology, the car actually worked properly. I don't feel deprived compared to today's kids, to say the least. 



    TVs - One Size Does Not Fit All

    Along with its popular Walkman, Sony also produced a line of small, portable TV sets in the '80s called the Watchman. Most of their screens were only centimeters across and aired in grayscale. Unfortunately, if you still own one of these beauties they're useless without a digital converter box, and are now collector's items. But because the '80s were all about excess and spending money, electronic stores also saw large screen TVs start to fill their showroom space. So no matter how you preferred to take in Miami Vice, there was a screen size to fit your needs. 



    Video Camcorders

    This was actually one 1980s electronic staple that we didn't have in the house and that was fine with me, since I couldn't stand my recorded voice on tape or appearance in photos at the time. I also think there were too many downsides to it. For starters, although portable, they were big and clunky and made the user look like they were toting an automatic weapon. The picture quality was also poor compared to today's superior digital recording devices. But the 1980s video camcorder was a pretty big revelation since it was portable and you could play the footage back right through your VCR without the need for a screen and other equipment that home movies made in earlier decades required. Plus it did help inspire a movie featuring a young, hot James Spader--Sex, Lies and Videotape--so who's complaining?



    Mobile Phones

    I can't conclude this post without paying homage to the world's first mobile phones, which began selling in 1984. Big and chunky (like holding a shoebox up to your ear) they were also expensive, and therefore seemed reserved for yuppies and the elite, but we would soon see their size shrink practically each year, yielding the small smartphones we take for granted today. 

    Honorable mentions include the digital watch (with an alarm!) synthesizers and boom boxes. What gadgets from the '80s do you look fondly back on?

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    Rick Astley gets a bad rap. He's been the subject and punchline of a "Rickrolling" trend which started in 2007 as an online bait and switch technique that invites people to click on a link only to find themselves watching the video to Astley's hit "Never Gonna Give You Up." 

    But as disrespectful as that sounds, with all fairness the trick revived Astley's career and made younger generations aware of his music. Not that those of us who grew up with Astley's music in the 1980s and '90s needed reminding of who is he. He was 21 when "Never Gonna Give You Up" was released and looks absolutely baby faced in his music videos and live performances. Yet the voice coming out of this handsome ginger was anything but child's play--it was (and still is) soulful, deep, and unique. He sold millions of records during the earlier part of his career, and you never, ever heard of Rick Astley doing anything in public that would jeopardize his career or reputation. He remained humbled by his success, married young, and is still married today to a film producer and former RCA promoter. A few years after their daughter was born, Astley retired from the music industry at only 27 years old to focus on his family (but resumed performing and recording music after the Rickrolling trend took off.) Here's an interview of Astley on The Alan Titchmarsh Show in 2012 talking about why he decided to return to the spotlight:



    Today is also Astley's 49th birthday which is another reason I'm devoting today's Two Forgotten Friday Favorites to him--even though he really doesn't look much older than he did in the late '80s. Now, I'm not going to post "Never Gonna Give You Up" as much as I like the song. This recurring series is about forgotten hits, so here's "It Would Take a Strong Strong Man" and "She Wants to Dance With Me"--the latter composed by Astley himself. Happy Birthday, Rick! 







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    Have you ever envied the spouse of your favorite celebrity crush and wish you could trade places with her (or him)? Well, don't. At least not until you've read The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin. 

    This book is about the life of Anne Morrow--a name which may not mean much to the public today, but Morrow was married to Charles Lindbergh, the world-famous pilot who made history when he became the first person to fly across the Atlantic ocean from New York to Paris. 

    The narrator of The Aviator's Wife is the subject of the title herself. You could say that the book is an effective mash-up of fiction and non-fiction. Virtually all of the events as described actually took place; Benjamin did extensive research into Morrow and Lindbergh's lives but imagined the conversations they must have had throughout their marriage, which spanned from 1929 until Lindbergh's death in 1974. 

    The result is a fascinating pseudo-autobiography made human--teaching me way more about the Lindberghs that my history classes ever mentioned. Most notably, I learned a lot of Anne Morrow herself, a remarkable woman who deserves her own chapter in the history books. 

    After Lucky Lindy's fateful trip across the Atlantic--in 1927--Lindbergh became even more famous than today's biggest Hollywood A-lister actors. A massive 5th Avenue parade was held in his honor, songs were written about him, and applications for pilot's licenses tripled. 

    Morrow's background wasn't anything to sneeze at. She was the daughter of Dwight Morrow, a partner of J.P. Morgan & Co. as well as the U.S. ambassador to Mexico and eventually a U.S. Senator. But the 21 year-old college senior was a little intimidated by the introverted Lindbergh when her family invited him to stay at their Mexican residence. She was also surprised to receive an invitation to go for a ride with him in his airplane. Self-concsious about her looks and social skills around men, Morrow assumed that Lindbergh was taken with her taller, blonder, more flirtatious sister, Elizabeth. 

    And thus began a partnership that made the Lindberghs one of the most recognizable couples of the 1930s. A relationship it is, but not exactly a romance. Morrow soon learns--after a brief period of barely any courtship before marrying Lindbergh in 1929--that her new husband is controlling, demanding, and unable to express his emotions. The public and the press follow them everywhere, forcing the couple to don disguises on occasion. 

    Morrow was more than just a supportive wife; she learned how to fly and became Lindbergh's navigator (learning her positioning by the stars, no less) and aviation co-pilot, accompanying him on several flying excursions all around the globe. She was even the first American woman to pilot a glider. Yet at public appearances she didn't always get the proper credit, instead having to stand in the shadow of her husband's spotlight. 

    Then there was the horrific tragedy of 1932, when the Lindbergh's first and only child, Charles Jr., was kidnapped and found dead a few months later. The crime was a media sensation and brought all kinds of crazed fans out of the woodwork; if you think today's social media heavy society is celebrity obsessed, it pales in comparison to what the Lindberghs endured at the time. Years later, Morrow continued to receive letters from strangers claiming that they were her grown son. 

    Benjamin gives minimal attention to the arrest and trial of Bruno Hauptmann (who some believe was innocent) for the baby's kidnapping and murder and instead focuses on the emotional trauma Morrow had to endure. I had tears in my eyes during the part of the book when Morrow learns about her baby's fate. As a way of dealing with his loss, Lindbergh scolded his wife for shedding tears and kept the first-born a secret from their subsequent children, who later learned about their murdered sibling in school.

    Needless to say, The Aviator's Wife doesn't gloss over any of Lindbergh's negative traits, which includes his implied anti-Semitism. Once an American hero, his vocal political views and close friendships with the Germans compromised his aviation career for a while after WWII. He also kept a secret from his wife...a secret that may have remained that way if it weren't for the interception of Lindbergh's nurse during the last few weeks of his life. 

    Benjamin's book reminded me an awful lot of Loving Frank by Nancy Horan, about the love affair between Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick. Both reveal how being involved with a famous man is not always what it's cracked up to be and how every hero has his flaws. I highly recommend it for any history buff or anyone curious to learn more about the stronger half of the Lindbergh marriage. 

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    Did you watch the Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary special the other night? For the most part it was a fun, frolicking trip down memory lane with homages to our favorite characters and sketches. It was also bittersweet remembering the many deceased cast members who could not physically be there: John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Chris Farley and Phil Hartman, to name a few. 

    But a sobering moment also came for me when Mike Myers and Dana Carvey reprised their characters Wayne and Garth for a Wayne's World skit, presenting the Top Ten Things About SNL. They reminded us that three Beatles had performed on the show. That's when I realized that, remarkably, the one Beatle who should have had the greatest chance of appearing on SNL never actually did: John Lennon. 


    It really is amazing to me--and somewhat shameful--that Lennon never added himself to the long list of SNL's musical performers. Unlike Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, he made New York his full-time, permanent residence. And never mind merely performing--he would have made a great host for the show, with his natural comedic tendencies. 

    It did almost happen, when Lorne Michaels half-jokingly offered the Beatles $3,000 to reunite on SNL during its first season. Paul McCartney happened to be in town when the show aired. Both he and John Lennon saw it and nearly went to the NBC studio to take Michaels up on his offer, but decided it was too late and that they were both too tired. Besides, it wouldn't have been a true Beatles reunion unless all four Beatles had actually been there. 

    Lennon had no real reason to perform on SNL, anyway. He had pretty much retired from music in the mid-70s to focus on being a house husband and taking care of his son Sean. There was no new album to promote until 1980's Double Fantasy

    SNL instead "interviewed" Lennon and Yoko Ono (as played by Malcolm McDowell and Denny Dillon) during an amusing "Weekend Update" segment in 1980, in anticipation of the new album...which contained (according to "John" here) "love songs and a few oven cleaning tips." 



    It's quite possible that Lennon would have been considered to perform a couple of songs from "Double Fantasy" on SNL had it not been for the tragic end to his life in December 1980. As it is, we're left with George Harrison performing a duet with Paul Simon on "Homeward Bound" and "Here Comes the Sun", Ringo Starr on Fernando's Hideaway and Paul McCartney being interviewed by Chris Farley. Can't really complain. 

    Here's some clips of the individual Beatles appearing on SNL through the years. You may have to click on the last video to get it going but trust me--it's worth it. Watch for Paul's bizarre cameo in the middle of the "Stumbling" song. 










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