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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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    Oscar Sunday is here again, and some of us may have seen a list posted on Facebook called "Ten Films That Have Stayed With Me", but I must admit without some screen caps or the movies' trailers they lose their impact just a little bit. Not all of the movies on my own personal list can be considered "retro" but they all have one thing in common: all weighed heavily on my mind and replayed themselves in my head long after the credits stopped rolling--a sign of truly great filmmaking. They've also given me the occasional craving to watch them again and try to recapture that magic of seeing them for the first time. 




    1. A Hard Day's Night (1964)


    By all accounts, this should have been a flop. You're taking the four biggest musicians on the planet with virtually zero acting experience and plunking them into a movie. Yeah, right. We saw how well From Justin to Kelly did at the box office. (Not that anyone from American Idol compares to the Beatles but you know what I mean.) But fortunately the Beatles had screenwriter Alun Owen--who wisely spent time with the Fabs to get to know them and their accents--and director Richard Lester. The result is an iconic, groundbreaking, rock and roll-themed movie that actually was funny, entertaining, and considered a precursor to the music video. And for those of us swept up in the madness of Beatlemania, it provided a pretty good idea--if a fictional one--of what a typical day in the life of the Beatles was like. 



    2. Doctor Zhivago (1965)


    To be honest, it isn't so much the movie itself--with its doomed romance, bitter cold settings and bleak conclusion--that makes me include it on this list. It's here because it was the first movie that made me appreciate how films are made. I had watched a documentary on PBS about the making of Doctor Zhivago and was blown away by the fact that many of the winter scenes were filmed in Spain in the middle of summer. The "Ice House" that Laura and Zhivago take refuge in was coated with beeswax. Omar Sharif had the skin around his eyes taped back to make him look more Slavic, which he said was painful after a while. And yet the critics were unkind to director David Lean when the movie was released in 1965, calling the set designs "paltry." Are you kidding me? Further insult came when the Best Picture Oscar of 1966 was awarded to The Sound of Music--a movie which I do love dearly, but can't touch the epic effort that it took to get Doctor Zhivago made.  



    3. Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)


    This is my favorite childhood movie ever, and it's shameful that Tim Burton would attempt to trump it years later by giving it a CGI-laden, Johnny Depp makeover. No thanks! There is only one Willy Wonka and he's portrayed brilliantly by Gene Wilder, a man who seems to be hiding something sinister beneath the sweetness of his workplace. This is a movie that every child should watch, as there's a lesson to be learned; one by one, the spoiled kids get their just desserts in a fantastically psychedelic setting. Plus the songs. Plus the Oompa Loompas. Plus the creepy boat ride. It all gives me a craving--not for candy--but to watch this magnificent film again. 



    4. Seven Beauties (1975)

    And this is my favorite foreign language film. I wrote a review about it here on Go Retro a few years ago. Brilliantly written and directed by Lina Wertmuller, it manages to be funny, disturbing, depressing...and completely absorbing. Shirley Stoler's Jabba the Hutt-like Nazi camp commandant is not for the faint of heart--she would have Hans Landa quaking in his boots. (No trailer available; the above clip is a scene from the film, overdubbed in English, but the entire film has been uploaded to YouTube.)



    5. Star Wars (1977)


    Today's kids will never know what it like seeing the first Star Wars (technically Episode IV: A New Hope) in the theaters in the mid-70s. I was five years old and I can still remember driving home after seeing it with both of my parents, who enjoyed it just as much as I did. I still have several Kenner toys from the '70s in storage (that I'm actually thinking of unloading on eBay...if anyone is in the buyer's market for an original remote control R2D2 that still works, email me.) I know everyone is getting psyched about The Force Awakens to be released this year, but for me personally any new film in the Star Wars saga won't be as magical as the original. Then again, maybe George Lucas will prove me wrong. 



    6. Alien (1979)

    A mad Jack Nicholson pursuing his family with an ax? No problem. An extraterrestrial creature that bursts out of the people's chests, however? I'll make sure my bedroom lamp has a brand new bulb in it that won't risk burning out while I sleep. No use crying for your mama, you poor bastards. In space, no one can hear you scream. 



    7. The Sixth Sense (1999)

    It's a shame that M. Night Shyamalan hit a home run with his first film, The Sixth Sense, only to bomb with every project ever since. Nonetheless, the movie is one of my all-time favorites, with a surprise ending that no one saw coming and a heart aching performance by Haley Joel Osment, when he was young and cute. This movie also contains a scene that makes me cry, without fail, and that's the part where Cole confesses his secret to his mother and discusses his dead grandmother with her. 



    8. American Beauty (1999)

    I fell for Kevin Spacey after seeing this movie--but more importantly, I kind of feel like I can relate to his character in it now that I'm middle-aged, even though I'm not married and don't have children. It's hard to believe that American Beauty was released 16 years ago, but it really is kind of a timeless film. Spacey himself had said he could see his mentor, Jack Lemmon, playing the part of Lester Burnham in another era. Something interesting to note--I have yet to meet a married guy who says he dislikes this movie. I'm not sure what that says about the state of American marriages today. 



    9. Inglourious Basterds (2009)

    Quentin Tarantino rewrites WWII history with a lot of humor (and his trademark violence) and introduces the world to Christoph Waltz. That's...a...bingo! It's funny how the trailer focuses on Brad Pitt, the initial draw for the movie...when Waltz's Hans Landa steals the film within the first ten minutes. 



    10. Django Unchained (2012)

    OK, I'll admit it--I'm madly in love with a fictional character thanks to this film and that would be the amazing and painless Dr. King Schultz. Maybe it helped that he was portrayed by Christoph Waltz but still...this man is the epitome of a kind gentleman in every way. Well, when he wasn't popping a cap into a bounty or a slave owner but even then, he does it with grace and style thanks to the Derringer he keeps up his sleeve. A film or series about the backstory of this slightly mysterious character that teams up with Django is sorely needed. Now what number can I call to make an appointment with this bounty hunting dentist?

    What are some of your favorite films that have stuck with you through the years?

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    Congratulations to J.K. Simmons on winning his Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Whiplash at last night's Academy Awards. I had never even heard of the movie until his nomination nor seen the trailer until recently, but I have requested the title from my local library. I have, however, seen Simmons on the screen quite a bit--most people recognize him as the spokesman for the Farmers Insurance commercials--but he's also had roles in Spider-Man, The Closer, and several TV series. 

    In 2011, Simmons also starred in a wonderful but overlooked indie film that I've been meaning to review here on Go Retro for a while, called The Music Never Stopped. Last night's Oscar win was finally the kick in the rear that I needed to crow about it. And in case you're wondering, yes, the movie does indeed have a retro theme to it. 

    This is a beautiful film about the multi-faceted power of music; not just how it can improve one's psychological state but how it can bond people together. 

    Loosely based on an essay written by the acclaimed neurologist Oliver Sacks, The Music Never Stopped is about a young man named Gabriel Sawyer (Lou Taylor Pucci) who is found on the streets in 1986, several years after he went missing. It's discovered that Gabriel has a brain tumor, and his memory is nonexistent beyond anything that took place in the late '60s. Furthermore, he's in a constant stupor and unable to communicate with anybody. 

    Simmons plays Gabriel's heartbroken father, Henry, who used to bond with his son over music--albeit the performers from the '40s and '50s, before the British Invasion and the '60s infiltrated the radio waves. 


    Henry hires a music therapist (played by Julia Ormond) to see if she can get through to Gabriel. At first, none of the classical pieces she plays have any reaction--until she picks the French national anthem, "La Marseillaise." Gabriel perks up and smiles, but once the song's intro disappears into the rest of the composition, so does his smile and he once again becomes withdrawn. 

    This confounds the therapist until she hears the Beatles' "All You Need is Love" on the radio and realizes that Gabriel was probably expecting to hear that song instead when he heard the classical intro. She plays the Beatles' record for him during the next session, and her suspicion is correct. 

    Suddenly Gabriel is alive, communicative, and the words come spilling out of him as he's exposed to his musical heroes of the '60s including Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead. 

    Through flashbacks we get some hints at what eventually drove Gabriel away from his home and his parents--he was a bit of a rebellious hippie who eventually came to blows with his father and decided to split. 


    With Gabriel's reemergence and his response to the music of his teenage hood, Henry realizes that he's been given a precious second chance to reconnect with his son, through singers and bands that a man of his generation doesn't really comprehend, but is open-minded enough to learn more about. 

    The movie culminates with father and son making a pilgrimage to a Grateful Dead concert--a last chance for them to bond before Gabriel's tumor gets worse. Be forewarned--you're going to need a box of Kleenex handy. 

    I can't believe that I hadn't heard a word about this movie until I watched it on DVD, which is usually the case with so many underrated independent films. Everyone in the movie gives a commendable performance, and it was the directorial debut for Jim Kohlberg. Well done. If you love the music of the '60s (and you must be if you're reading Go Retro) this tender movie is not to be missed. 

    Here's the trailer for The Music Never Stopped.


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    Vintage television sets pose a conundrum for the retro lover: they are awfully cool to look at, but require some finagling with a converter box and cables to make them functional in today's high-tech world...that is, if their cathode ray tube is still working.

    But if you have no intention of watching programs on your set or are unable to, you don't have to recycle it or throw it away. It turns out that there are several cool things you can do with a vintage TV that will add some retro grooviness and a conversation piece to your digs.

    1. Retro Style Wet Bar


    For starters, I love this bar idea that a friend on Pinterest spotted and sent to me. The owner added some fabric or decorative paper to the inside of the tube, and the martini glasses and swizzle sticks are a nice touch. I'll drink to that!

    2. Pet Bed

    Image via HausPanther
    I can has bed? Give your pet a groovy pad of their own by converting the set into a cozy sleeping spot. I love that this cat owner decorated the inside with '60s graphics and a shag rug. The only disadvantage is that a kitty on top can't get warm from a non-functioning set.

    3. Chair


    This requires one of those sets that was built into a stand and looks like a piece of furniture by itself. An awesome conversion, although this "chair" may only hold a small child or a very skinny adult. Again, love the shag cushioning!

    4. Fish Tank

    Image via Aquahobby
    Not sure how they access the tank to clean it, but this is another creative idea. 

    Here's some other decorating ideas I thought of for old television sets:

    • Use it to store books or your DVD/CD collection
    • Use it as a planter for those plants that don't require a lot of sunlight
    • Use it as a toy box in a kid's room or to store board games
    Don't you wish you had held onto your parents' old set?

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    I'll be honest--I'm not and never was a Trekkie. The Star Trek phenomenon just wasn't my bag, but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate its rightful place in pop culture history. So when one of its stars, Leonard Nimoy, passed away yesterday at the age of 83 I was not immune to feeling a sense of loss and sadness, particularly for my fellow retro fans who did grow up watching Mr. Spock. The tributes were everywhere I was online yesterday and as it turned out, Nimoy is being remembered for a lot more than his logical, pointy-eared sci-fi character. 


    For starters, Nimoy was a fellow Bostonian. His father ran a barbershop in the Mattapan neighborhood, and Nimoy honed his early acting skills by taking classes at Boston College. Last year my local PBS station aired a special where Nimoy and his son returned to his hometown and Nimoy recalled his memories of growing up in the city's West End, sailing on the Charles River, and visiting his favorite haunts. If you watched a film at the Mugar Omni Theater at the Museum of Science in Cambridge, MA during the past few decades, then you would have heard Nimoy's voice as the sound check opener (he recites a few lyrics from the song "Who Put the Bomp?" and the museum stated today that they will continue to use his vocal introduction.) 



    Something about Nimoy's career that people may not be aware of is that he enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve in 1953 and left 18 months later a sergeant (a year later, he played an Army sergeant in the 1950s horror classic Them!)

    Like most actors, he struggled to gain a steady career, appearing in several plays, TV series, and movies before Star Trek made him a household name in 1966. Years later Nimoy recalled that the show was "the first time I had a job that lasted longer than two weeks and a dressing room with my name painted on the door and not chalked on."

    Perhaps that's why Nimoy always seemed patient and accommodating of the Star Trek fans that he met at conventions. He struggled at times to separate himself from his famous character (publishing an auto biography in 1975 titled I Am Not Spock...only to publish a second volume 20 years later named I Am Spock.) 
    Image via KryptonRadio
    An animal lover, he opened up his own pet shop in Canoga Park in 1969 called Leonard Nimoy's Pet Pad, specializing in mostly exotic animals. It only lasted a year but at home, Nimoy was a doting pet dad to cats, dogs, and even a tortoise.  

    He was a multi-talented, creative man who did it all: besides acting, he directed movies (a couple of the Star Trek films and even the '80s comedy Three Men and a Baby, among others), he wrote poetry, he starred in a music video with The Bangles and recorded music of his own. How great is this performance of The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins, with its gaggle of elf-earred '60s chicks cavorting with Nimoy?



    Mostly, though, I think Nimoy is being remembered this morning for his humanitarian efforts and how he treated other people. Ultimately, no matter how famous you are, that is what you are most remembered for when you pass away. His co-star and lifelong friend William Shatner says Nimoy was a brother to him. It shouldn't be surprising, then, that he was responsible for dreaming up Mr. Spock's infamous Vulcan salute and saying; it was partly inspired by the Jewish kohanim he witnessed during his childhood when they bestowed blessings.

    May the Lord bless and keep you and may the Lord cause his countenance to shine upon you. May the Lord be gracious unto you and grant you peace. "Live long and prosper."

    He will be missed.

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    Man, I'll just be unladylike and say it: this winter needs to go f*** off already. 

    For those of you who live in the warmer parts of the U.S., the rumors you've been hearing about us in the New England area are true: we're on the verge of being taken away to the funny farm in paddy wagons.

    It isn't just the fact that in the the past 40 days or so we've received 7 feet of snow--enough to swallow a basketball player. It's that within that timeframe there's been virtually no melting. We've only had really one day where the temperature made it to 35 degrees--a heatwave! The thermometer taunts us lately, hovering just below freezing. Today it's 30 degrees and overcast. 

    It's now March 1, and we're supposed to receive--you guessed it--more snow tonight. The sun is stronger than ever, the days are longer, and daylight savings begins in less than a week. But where is spring?

    I've experienced some New England winters that had terrible snow amounts, but I've never lived through one where there wasn't some periods of melting--even if briefly--before the next cold wave and snowstorm hit. Fortunately, I live in a suburb of Boston and not the city itself--where many of the already narrow Back Bay streets are making drivers play chicken as they try to finagle their way around. 

    So, what to do until Mother Nature catches up? Listen to music. Here are six songs that make me think of SPRING. It has to arrive sooner or later!

    1. "Here Comes the Sun", The Beatles (1969)



    A no-brainer. No explanation needed. I have the feeling a lot of people are going to be playing this one on repeat once that snow and sludge start budging. 

    2. "On The Street Where You Live", Bobby Darin (1965)



    This is from My Fair Lady but as usual, Bobby Darin brings his trademark bravado to this jaunty arrangement and yes, it does remind me of spring ("are there lilac trees in the heart of town?")

    3. "Daydream", The Lovin' Spoonful (1965)



    I can't wait until "it's one of those days for taking a walk outside." 

    4. "Aquarius (Let the Sunshine In)", The Fifth Dimension (1969)



    From the musical Hair, this song always makes me think of rebirth, new beginnings, and of course...sunshine. 

    5. "The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)", Simon & Garfunkle (1966)



    It's impossible for me not to feel groovy whenever I hear this song. 

    6. "Mr. Blue Sky", Electric Light Orchestra (1977)




    One of my favorite ELO songs. This official music video was released in 2012 and differs slightly from the original 1977 release--the ending has been chopped off. 

    What songs make you think of the new season?

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    A couple of years ago I tried watching that piece of pap that NBC produced and heavily promoted--a live television production of The Sound of Music. I really can't add anything new to the rightful public bashing it received other than say the parody that Saturday Night Live did of it--with Kristen Wiig--was way more entertaining. Hopefully it'll go down in TV history as a reminder never to mess with a classic original. 

    The Sound of Music premiered 50 years ago today in movie theaters and has been enchanting its fans ever since. The staying power of this film is greater than any other movie that was released in 1965, including Doctor Zhivago, The Greatest Story Ever Told, Thunderball, and Help! Why? Is it the wholesome, infectious soundtrack? The captivating storyline that was based (somewhat loosely) on a real-life romantic story? The gorgeous Austrian scenery and sets? The delectable Christopher Plummer?

    All of the above. I would also guess that once in a while it's soul cleansing to watch a heartwarming family film without any swearing or violence and that's what keeps viewers returning to The Sound of Music. People who were kids when the movie was first released have shared it with their kids and grandchildren. 

    A few years ago, for fun, I compiled a little post of fun facts and trivia about The Sound of Music and have recently updated it with some additional tidbits for SOM fans. Check it out and until the next post, so long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye!

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    Music plagiarism has been a hot topic in the news lately, first plaguing Sam Smith and now involving Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams. In my latest feature for REBEAT, I highlighted some music plagiarism cases that involved more retro songs...did you know that the flute melody in "Down Under" was apparently inspired by an Australian nursery rhyme about a kookaburra bird?

    I promise I have some new posts in the works. Here's a look at what is coming to Go Retro this week:

    An Ode to Big Ass Home Audio Systems - Exactly what it is; we'll take a fond look back at the elaborate and super sized home stereo system from the 1960s through the 1980s (hint: there's no room here for a puny iPod docking station and speakers.)

    Studio 54 in the Suburbs - An exclusive look at one Go Retro reader's gorgeous, groovy circa 1970s and how he restored it to its "Swingtown" retro glory while keeping it modern. Trust me--you're going to LOVE this home!

    I hope everyone is having a great week!



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  • 03/28/15--12:56: I'm Still Here!

  • So, Go Retro fell off the track again with the regular postings. Yes, I've been neglecting this site but not without a good reason...I've been making a bit of money the past few weeks via a freelance site. Not a lot, mind you, but enough that I'll be able to pay my car's excise tax next month without having to dip into my savings account to do so. 

    Most of the money I've made so far has been from taking surveys (and believe me, I've contributed more than my fair share by now to academic research on topics that cover everything from black bean burgers to how I feel about the Supreme Court.) But some of the first-come, first-serve quick projects I've snatched up have been copywriting assignments that pay a few bucks. Long story short, I could either make around $15/day on the site with some detective work, or hope for $1/day in Google AdSense revenue here. You do the math. 

    However, I'm now making the effort to put more time into Go Retro in the coming weeks. I'm halfway done with a post about a reader's 1970s house (trust me, it'll be worth the wait!) and I think it's high time that the blog got an updated banner--something much simpler but yet still cries retro. In the past few months I've been striving to make Go Retro look more like a real website and less like a blogspot blog. Something to think about.

    So thanks for sticking around and just FYI, the blog's Facebook page has still been regularly updated! 

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    I'm willing to bet that if you visit sites like Go Retro, one of your dreams is to live in a mid-century modern home of your very own and decorate it with wild retro abandon (I know it's one of my dreams.) Well, allow me to introduce you to the home of Go Retro reader and fan Richard, who recently made that dream his reality. 



    This was Richard's Denver area house from the outside when he purchased it with his husband Gerald in 2014. Very Brady Bunch, don't you think? It's nice enough from its street view, but the real treat is what is on the inside...




    Like most vintage enthusiasts, Richard had a soft spot for 1960s design and architecture that eventually gave him an appreciation for the 1970s as well. The house was built in 1971, one of several in the neighborhood that has a similar style and floor plan. 

    A lot can happen to a house in over 40 years, but the split-level home still had its '70s bones and spirit intact thanks to its previous owners. The beams, wood panels above the brick fireplace, cream-white carpeting. and dark wood banisters are all original to the property. "They updated the kitchens and baths in 1999, but thankfully left the rest of the home in all its original 1970s charm!" says Richard. "We love how the light carpets and dark wood play off each other so we're keeping it all."  

    Now get ready to see what the abode looks like after Richard and Gerald super seventies-sized it...









    If by now you're thinking, "Wow--this house looks like one I've seen in a movie or TV show!" then you know your '70s films and television. Richard got much of his decorating inspiration from the short-lived CBS series Swingtown as well as the classic '70s sitcoms and shows Mary Tyler Moore, The Bob Newhart Show, Rhoda, and Charlie's Angels, and movies such as American Hustle, Boogie Nights, and Anchorman 2. He also owns several interior design books from past decades that provided a slew of ideas, and being married to an illustrator with an eye for colors and patterns helped immensely as well. 


    Richard purchased the vibrant abstract wallpaper for the bar area from a German website called wallpaperfromthe70s.com after seeing it used on the show Swingtown and kept it safely tucked away until he knew he'd use it one day. (You won't find the particular patterns Richard purchased on the site any longer, as they've been discontinued, but several come close.) 

    Some of the furniture items are designer pieces: the dining room table is Milo Baughman for DIA, the chairs are Pierre Cardin, and the mirrored wall unit is Pace. 

    Says Richard, "The kitchen table is an original Eero Saarinen and the chairs are Baughman as well as the club chairs in the living room and white love seat. I'm a huge fan of Milo Baughman's 1970s designs.

    Most everything (except the brown velvet sectional) has been recovered with care...all in lush velvet fabrics, with color tones from the era: rusts, browns, creams and sand (tans). I was looking through a design book I have from 1980 and noticed we have the same brown sectional that Egon Von Furstenberg had in his apartment back then."







    What's that old saying? The disco's in the details! Richard and Gerald scooped up a lot of the finishing touches, wall decor and fun, kitschy accessories seen throughout the home online and at estate sales. 

    "I always heard how people mocked the decade with all of it's earth tones, hippiedom holdovers from the late 60s, and over-the-top design choices...but truthfully...any decade can be mocked in such a way so I didn't let other people's opinions derail my vision for the house." says Richard. "The best comments I've received from guests upon walking through the house are, 'Who lives here...Dirk Diggler?', 'I expected to see Halston and Bianca Jagger at the bar!', and 'It's like a scene from Hart to Hart. I love it!"

    As cool as this place is, it's still not done...Richard and Gerald are looking forward to "retro fitting" several more rooms including the den, upstairs office, and additional bedrooms. They are also planning on upgrading the exterior of the house with new windows and paint. In the meantime, though, the '70s spirit is definitely spilling over into the back deck...(and yes, that's a can of Tab! Can't get more 1970s than that!)




    Thank you so much, Richard, for sharing your gorgeous house with us. Party at your place sometime? I'll bring the fondue pot!

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    Last week on REBEAT I posted a jukebox selection of my favorite songs that have been used in Mad Men. My one regret? Forgetting to include the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction"--how could any of us forget that image of Don Draper standing on the street in his shades as the song played in the background? Oh, well. But with all fairness the motivation for my list was less commonly heard songs of the '60s for the most part--hidden gems unearthed by whomever compiled the soundtrack for the series. Check it out. There's more retro-related posts in the works for this blog, so come again!

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    It's hard for some people to admit that they like Barry Manilow's music, and I am no exception. In my high school, Barry Manilow was considered the lamest singer you could ever idolize, and that was exacerbated by the fact that the nerdiest kid in our school did just that. 

    But I think the cold, harsh truth most of us must face at one time or another is confessing to loving at least one Manilow song. Heck, even Peter and his buddies from Family Guy admitted to it. 

    And for me, that song is "Could It Be Magic" (OK, I also love "Copacabana", too.) I think "Could It Be Magic" is one of the most beautiful, lush, love songs written. Ever. In the entire history of love song making. 


    I heard the song for the first in many years in my car on the Sirius '70s on 7 channel and had to sit in a parking lot until it finished (and wholeheartedly admit to wiping away a tear when that last piano key was struck.) When I learned that it wasn't a hit at first for Barry Manilow, I knew I had to select it for the A Song's Story series. 

    As most of you probably know, Manilow got his start in music writing advertising jingles ("I am stuck on Band-Aid brand 'cause Band-Aid's stuck on me" and "Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there" are among his credits as well as McDonald's trademark "You deserve a break today.") 

    "Could It Be Magic" was written in 1970 or 1971 with lyrics by Adrienne Anderson. Because Manilow was unknown yet as a pop singer in the early '70s, he initially teamed up with session musicians under Tony Orlando's guidance in a pseudo-group with an awful name: Featherbed. 

    Featherbed recorded four tracks, one of which was "Could It Be Magic." It sounds very little like the version that would make Manilow famous; recorded as an upbeat pop track, the lyrics have been changed and the song is missing its integral piano opening and closer which is Frederick Chopin's Prelude in C Minor. In fact, it sounds similar to the Orlando hit "Knock Three Times." For many years Manilow said he detested the record and was grateful it was a flop. 

    Manilow released the intended version in 1973 on his debut solo album Barry Manilow, where again it didn't go anywhere. Two years later, when he was now with Arista records, he released it again as a single where it finally became a well-deserving hit and made it to #6 on the U.S. charts. 



    Why do I love this song so much? I think it's way it's constructed...it has a really slow build-up (as one person on YouTube observed, it's a lot like making love.) The Chopin melody also gives me chills. It's known as the "Funeral March" prelude in classical music and because it entered the public domain decades ago, Manilow was able to compose a song around it without fear of copyright infringement. And it is a true 1970s' love song, incorporating imagery of "where the stallion meets the sun." ("Sweet Melissa", by the way, is a nod to singer Melissa Manchester who was also signed to Arista at the time.)

    A year after Manilow's version became a hit, Donna Summer released her own disco-inspired cover which also did modestly well (Summer changed the lyrics of "sweet Melissa" to "sweet Peter" as an ode to her boyfriend at the time, Peter Mühldorfer.



    In 1992, a British boy band named Take That recorded the song, which sounds a lot like the original Featherbed version. It is considered one of the worst covers ever recorded but if you're into cheesy '90s boy bands, you may just dig it:



    Since then the song has been recorded in Dutch and French, by jazz arrangers and even as house music. But one of my favorite renditions is by The Puppini Sisters, a lovely group of ladies who sing covers of modern music in a style similar to The Andrews Sisters. Their version is stripped of the Chopin chords, but it's still just as lovely. 



    Whenever I hear songs such as "Could It Be Magic" it's a painful reminder that they just don't write love songs anymore like they used to. It's a thing of magic, indeed. 

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    Last week I experimented with flipping my hair out '60s style for a REBEAT Staff Picks feature. The only problem is the editor and I were the only two contributors. Lucky you, Go Retro fans: you can now be blessed with seeing this stunning tutorial in all its DIY glory. 

    Truth be told, the '60s flip is pretty easy to achieve and really doesn't require a tutorial. Basically, anything you want to use to flip the ends of your hair out (curlers, a flat iron, beer cans, etc.) should do the trick depending on how cooperative your hair is. But for the sake of content, here's what I did to coax my hair into this iconic style. My inspiration was Pattie Boyd (please refer to above photo and yes, I know it's hard to tell us apart...especially our noses.) After all, we both have/had straight blonde hair with bangs and a really cute Beatle husband. OK, she was the one with the cute Beatle husband, but who's counting? 

    Besides, I'm crushing on J.K. Simmons these days and he doesn't even have hair. Are you rushing, or are you dragging?

    Huh? Where was I? Oh yeah, hair! Here's the simple steps on what I did to achieve the flip:
    Step 1: The only way I can get the ends of my hair to curve inward (or in this case, outward) is when it's being dried or just after it's dried--so I washed my hair with John Frieda Sheer Blonde Highlight Enhancing shampoo and conditioner--the Sheer Blonde hair product line has been my favorite ever since I began coloring my hair in my 20s.



    Step 2: After towel drying and detangling it with a wide-tooth comb, I ran a golfball sized glop of Fat Hair amplifying mousse through it. For this style, because I was also hoping to get some '60s body, I spritzed my roots with John Frieda Luxurious Volume Fine to Full blow-out spray. (FYI to my fellow fine-haired sisters: I love this product and I've tried many through the years that claimed to add body to hair...but this one, which is heat-activated and contains sea salt, actually does.) Above is a photo of the styling products and tools that I used to achieve the flip look.



    Step 3: Using my medium-sized round metal brush, I dried my bangs first and then my hair in sections, starting with one side and the sections underneath first. Some women use clips, but I just flip the hair on top of my head to access the bottom first. I roll the ends of each section of hair around the brush (so that it will flip out of course) and lift it away from my head, aiming the dryer at my roots first and then down the length of my hair. I have angled layers up the front of my hair, and I dried them under and toward my face as usual, but you could flip these out as well if you like.



    Step 4: Pattie was seen in a '60s teen magazine using little curlers in the bottom of her hair to give her flip extra curl--I have a small metal round brush that does the same job, so I used that before my hair was completely dry, using my dryer's "cold shot" button to cool the ends and lock the curl in place. The ends were definitely flipped, but the curl wasn't quite there for me, so once my hair was completely dry, I used my flat iron to really curl it out. If you like, you can then spritz with hairspray to hold the flip. Then run your fingers through the ends so that they're not sticky, but move and have bounce. Above was my final result, which I loved!



    Step 5 (optional): Give the do a little bouffant by lightly teasing the hair on the top of your head, or pulling some of it back and securing it with a barrette, then pushing the barrette up a bit to make it look like your hair has a bump, or channel your inner Megan Draper by tying a colorful '60s scarf around your head like a headband as I did here. (This also hid the fact that my roots badly needed to be colored.)

    The only difficulty I had with this style was trying to get the back flipped up enough--doing it with a flat iron made me a little nervous about burning myself or my hair. I think a large-barreled curling iron would do the job better. I may also experiment next time with rolling the ends up in medium-sized velcro rollers. 

    Surprisingly, the next day the flip shape was still intact and my hair had a lot of bounce. What I like about this style is that it's just different enough that people will notice you did something new with your hair, but nothing drastic. I also let my hair grow longer all winter so that it's now past my shoulders, and flipping it out make it look shorter. 

    Have fun with your own look and maybe for the next retro hairstyle post, I'll try Farrah Fawcett's wings! 

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    You gotta hand it to Jimmy Kimmel's staff: lately they've been doing a bang-up job of uncovering vintage clips of stars before they were famous. Last year Kimmel embarrassed Christoph Waltz by showing the audience footage of an appearance the Academy Award winning actor made on an Austrian children's show in the late '70s, complete with him sporting a knitted striped unitard and singing.

    The other night, Kevin Spacey became Kimmel's latest victim of vintage goodness as viewers were treated to seeing a young Spacey audition for a 1979 Tiger Beat "Teen Idol Cattle Call" (hey, who says men are never exploited solely for their looks?) and as it turned out, there was a lot to learn from the brief clip.

    Yes, Kevin Spacey auditioned to be a Tiger Beat teen idol--and showed up emulating Humphrey Bogart in a fedora and trench coat! (He would have been taped to my wall, for sure!) In case you haven't seen this gem and the exchange afterwards between Spacey and Kimmel, here it is:


    I've been a Spacey fan ever since I saw American Beauty. One of the reasons I admire him so much is because he didn't become an overnight success. For a two-year period after graduating from high school he auditioned for any kind of acting job available (including the Tiger Beat gig), attended (and dropped out of) Juilliard, and then worked his way through the off-Broadway and Broadway circuit before breaking into films. 

    As someone still job hunting for the right full-time opportunity, the clip affected me personally on a few levels. For starters, the first thing I noticed about it was the difference between the other young men waiting to audition for the magazine and Spacey's motives for being there. All of the long-haired "pretty" boys (and is it me, or does one kid look like Miles Teller from Whiplash?)  showed up for "fun", "money", "girls", "the attention", and because they believe they're photogenic. Then you see Spacey and his response:


    Now that's what you call style AND substance. He wasn't there for the money or quick fame; he was there because he wanted to launch an acting career he was (and still is) serious about. Also, you have to give him kudos for wearing the fedora. It wasn't just because he has always liked hats (and it would be three more years before Raiders of the Lost Ark was released.) It was most likely because he felt he'd be remembered for it after an audition ("oh yeah, the kid with the hat.") Maybe the Humphrey Bogart look wasn't--as Kimmel said--what the teens were eating up in 1979, but it definitely attracted the attention of the NBC producers who were there covering the story! 

    The other thing I was reminded of from this footage and the resulting discussion Spacey and Kimmel had after it is the power of perseverance. Spacey said he was auditioning for everything during this time; even attempting The Gong Show doing his Johnny Carson impression (a trivia bit about him I did know about.) Unfortunately, he didn't make the cut; he got "pre-gonged." The world has been robbed of seeing Spacey on this iconic talent show, but fortunately he went on to accomplish bigger and better things. 

    That's when I realized that life, for the most part, is often an audition. When you go for a job interview, you're on an audition. When you go on a date, you're on an audition. Not every person is going to "get" you and appreciate all of your talents and your uniqueness. And that's OK. The most important part is you have to keep going, you have to keep trying, and you have to keep auditioning until you get your big break and make it. 

    Thanks, Mr. Spacey, for the reminder. 

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    What is about some TV shows that they make you feel like you personally know the characters? 

    In the case of Mad Men, it defies logic that I should be feeling especially melancholy about having to say goodbye to Don, Roger, Joan, Peggy, Pete, Betty et al because let's face it: most of them are assholes. 

    And yet that's exactly why most fans such as myself feel an almost personal connection to these fictional personas. They are flawed, like us. Unlike other series based in the '60s that portrayed the decade through mostly rose-colored John Lennon granny glasses, Mad Men showed us a world a bit more like the one our parents experienced, with its sexism, racism, discrimination, alcoholism, and infidelities. For some of us, the characters on the show were our parents. 

    That's why I can't help wonder what might have become of the men and women of the now-defunct Stanley Cooper Draper Price, as well as their family members, had the storyline gone on. As much as I once longed for Mad Men to take us through the disco years, it seems appropriate that the series is ending with its story lines in the early days of the '70s. It's literally the end of an era--both for the show and on the show. So as I get ready to shed some tears into my martini glass in just a few hours, here's my ode to the most memorable characters (to me) including some who left the show in previous seasons along with some theorizing on what the road ahead has in store for them. 


    Sal Romano

    Ever since the closeted Salvatore Romano was unfairly fired by Don in season 3 for refusing to be a client's whore, I've been secretly hoping that the talented art director would make a triumphant return later in the series, hopefully having climbed the ladder at a competing ad agency. That never happened. But Bryan Batt, who played the role, admitted to Variety that he's glad he was never called back to reprise it, and as it turns out, he also has Sal's fate imagined for us: coming out of the closet, thus "breaking little Kitty's (his wife) heart" and getting caught up in the West Village's Stonewall riots in 1969. I'd like to think he moved to San Francisco and opened up an art gallery with his tony European partner named Fernando, Rudy, or Steffan. 

    Ida Blankenship

    She only made appearances in a few episodes, but Miss Blankenship's presence and comic relief is still missed! Looking and acting like everyone's tipsy aunt, Ida Blankenship became Don's secretary (after years of working for Bert) to prevent any more infidelities between Don and his assistants. Little did most people know that Ida was known as a "hell cat" and "a queen of perversions" in her younger days as revealed by a tape-recorded dictation, with one of her conquests being Roger. Why the producers decided to kill off her character in the middle of her workday, we'll never know. Always leave the audiences wanting more, I suppose. 

    Harry Crane

    Do we really care what happens to the office pig? It's just a matter of time before he finds himself hung out to dry after sexual harassment laws eventually come to the forefront.



    Bert Cooper

    An eccentric older dude with a bow tie, I've enjoyed Cooper's appearances from beyond the grave more so than when his character was alive ("You like playing the stranger" he tells Don as he drives into the night in search of his reluctant girlfriend.) His post-humorous song-and-dance number to "The Best Things In Life Are Free" is among my favorite Mad Men moments and a profound message to Don, which he seems to be taking to heart during the show's remaining episodes. 

    Megan Calvert

    At first it seemed like Megan may have been good for Don--she calmly diverted a meltdown when one of the Draper kids spilled a milkshake in a restaurant. And she did like to sing to Don ("Zou Bisou Bisou") even if it deeply embarrassed him. But not long after the vows were taken, Megan's spoiled brat true colors began to show during the episode "Faraway Places" where she spit out orange sherbet after declaring it tasted like perfume, then shoved it down her throat in an attempt to mock Don during a visit to Howard Johnson's. The only really kind thing I can say about this woman is that she had great taste in hair and clothing, but by the time she divorced, seemed to be on her way to turning into her vindictive mother. She'll probably eventually remarry but will never make it beyond television roles as an actress, making her resentful and bitter towards Don, even in old age. 



    Pete Campbell

    As sleazy, obnoxious, and just plain unlikeable as Pete could be, I have to admit he did have his moments, such as the time he and his wife Trudy impressed everyone with their mad Charleston dance skills. Pete practically begged Trudy to reconsider another go at marriage, and seems to have found a better deal in this new job the slippery Duck practically shoehorned him into. The only crappy part is that he'll have to relocate to Wichita, Kansas but hey, he and Trudy have access to a private jet that will take them anywhere they want to go. I hope he's turned over a  new leaf and put his philandering days behind him. I wish him well. 

    Betty (Draper) Francis

    If you watched last Sunday's episode then you know, sadly, that there's not much to predict here, but even when facing down death the icy blonde never lost her composure. She accepts her fate, refuses treatment, and calmly gives Sally instructions on what to do after she's gone. Her letter to Sally contains the nicest words that she couldn't say to her daughter in person: "I always worried about you because you marched to the beat of your own drum. But now I know that's good. I know your life will be an adventure. I love you. Mom." Rest in peace, ice princess. 

    Joan Holloway

    You gotta feel sorry for Joan, despite the verbal venom that she occasionally unleashed at unassuming victims (Peggy was often the brunt of her jealous backhanded comments, especially after she proved her copywriting skills). She's definitely getting the short end of the stick in this final season; after years of finally being able to convince her male coworkers that she's more than just a busty chest and curves she got the rug yanked out from under her by McCann's CEO, who informed her that her hard-earned accounts didn't mean anything and that she'd better "learn to get along" with her clueless and sexist colleagues. Still, something tells me that Joanie will be alright: she has a rich older boyfriend who knows how to "get people to do things." That, and she did part with her $250K company stake that--while only being half of what she was entitled to--was still a lot of moolah in the 1970s. I could see her working for Gloria Allred or launching her own women-managed ad agency or business. 



    Sally Draper

    Of all the Mad Men characters, the one most likely to get her own spin-off show (if there were ever going to be plans for a spin-off show) would be have to Sally. We've witnessed her arc from a wise-ass pre-teen into a wise teenager, who seems to have gained sympathy for both of her parents and the mistakes they've made. For fans of the show who grew up during the '60s and '70s, Sally is one of us. It's hard to say where the '70s may take her. (Despite her studies in archeology, I can't really picture her as a female Indiana Jones.) One thing's for certain: after witnessing their selfish and erroneous ways, she will definitely not end up like her parents. 

    Roger Sterling

    Roger never actually seemed to do any work for his daddy's ad agency unless it involved schmoozing, booze, and broads--and not necessarily in that order. With the absorption of SCDP into McCann it seems he's fully embraced the f*** it attitude more than ever, playing the organ and finishing off a bottle of Peggy's vermouth as a final sendoff to the old office. With no wife to come home to and a daughter in a hippie commune, I would imagine that Roger soon retires to a bungalow in the Bahamas where he entertains the local beach bunnies with stories of his advertising glory. I just hope he gets rid of the stupid looking pornstache. 



    Peggy Olson

    Seeing a bad-ass, shades-sporting Peggy strolling down the hallways of McCann carrying her belongings and Bert Cooper's octopus porn painting--with a cigarette dangling from her mouth--is an iconic scene worthy of television's history books. She got her wish, which was to essentially become a female Don Draper. If you need a jarring reminder of how far Peggy has come, just look up scenes featuring her from seasons 1 and 2. My guess is Peggy's star continues to rise at McCann and she becomes responsible for creating some of most memorable advertising tag lines in history. But will she finally get the right guy she deserves? And whatever happened to the set-up date she was going to go to Hawaii with? I guess I have to believe that things eventually work out for her in that department, but for now she's too busy basking in her glory. 

    Don Draper

    As for the show's lead character and protagonist, I actually think his fate is the easiest to predict: Don Draper dies. Not literally. We've seen Don's persona stripped from him layer by layer with each episode--first his marriage, his furniture, his apartment, and his lover, then things by his own accord...his job and even his caddy. Who knew that a show that takes place in the 1960s would have me thinking of the Frozen song, "Let It Go"? With nothing left to tether him, Don is primed to assume a new (old) identity, finally embracing the man he tried so hard his entire life to get away from. I picture the ending scene with him strolling into a mid-western dive bar, getting approached by the local hussy and after she asks for his name, the show's final line before fading to black will consist of three simple words. 

    "I'm Dick Whitman." 

    What are YOUR Mad Men predictions? Leave a comment and let's compare notes tomorrow!

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    ***SPOILER ALERT. Don't read if you haven't watched last night's episode yet and don't want to know how it ended!***

    I'm still feeling verklempt this morning. Mad Men is now television history. It's been a long time since the ending of a series made me weepy, but I admit that's exactly how I felt last night, mostly because the 77 minute-long episode, "Person to Person", ended on a satisfying note. 

    For the most part, last night's series finale brought "apple trees and honey bees" to every major character. 

    Pete and his family were seen existing a limo and entering a private jet on route to their new lives in Kansas--or perhaps they were already settled in and taking their first luxury vacation. God love him, Roger married his "mother"--or rather, Megan's mother, Marie Calvet. Even a disagreement in bed with Marie screaming at Roger in French ("All I got was 'suitcase.' Yell at me slower or in English!") couldn't squelch the romance. They celebrated over a meal of the rich food we always assumed would kill the show's resident bon vivant. Shine on, you crazy diamond, you!



    Speaking of romance, fans who have been routing for a "Steggy" coupling finally got their wish last night when Stan and Peggy had a beautiful, revealing office phone conversation which culminated with Stan rushing into Peggy's office and into her arms. Stan had told Peggy that he was in love with her, and Peggy realized that she in turn was in love with a friend--a guy she's had some disagreements with in the past, but only because he always had her best interests at heart. Finally, Peggy got the good guy she deserved after suffering through a string of disappointing relationships with mostly losers. Score for the working woman who can have it all. 

    Things didn't work out so well for Joan in the guy department. Her businessman boyfriend Richard turned out to be "a cad" after all, doing a 180 after Joan revealed her plans to start her own business. This after he had previously told her he'd do anything to be with a woman like her and that her life was "undeveloped property." Eh, who needs the coke sniffer anyway? (Coke as in cocaine, not Coca-Cola, which I'll get to in a minute.) 

    Joan still made out well. Her new advertising/media production company was off to a strong start in last night's episode (she even met with Peggy and offered her partnership, and I'm a little disappointed Peggy turned it down, even if Stan wasn't.) Her little boy Kevin is also set for life, after Roger paid a visit to announce that he was leaving half of his estate to his son. 

    And that leaves us with Don, who found himself on a spiritual retreat in what I assume was the gorgeous Big Sur region of California (an area Bobby Darin hightailed it to in search of inner peace when he was going through his own identity crisis.) He is accompanied by Stephanie, the niece of the real Don Draper, the man whose identity he stole. She's had her baby, but doesn't make the child a part of her life, something she is chastised for by another guest during one of the sessions at the retreat. 

    Emotions run high for Don during this episode. He practically has a nervous breakdown, calling Peggy at one point and revealing all of the bad things he's done during his life that he's ashamed of. Peggy is very concerned by his state of mind after the call and indeed, for a fleeting moment I thought that the Don Draper death rumors were going to prove true. Thankfully they didn't. Stan tells her that she needs to "let him go", which is the harsh reality all of us viewers are facing this morning after as well. 

    After the phone call Don has a panic attack and one of the retreat's teachers finds him slumped on the ground and encourages him to join her next session. There, he listens to a story by one of the other attendees--an average looking man who says that he is a very uninteresting person and that he feels that other people look right through him, including his wife and kids. In a very kumbaya moment, Don is moved to cross the room and embrace the stranger, and begins sobbing along with him. Either Don relates to the man's story for feeling invisible himself, or he suddenly feels grateful that he was, at least in his career at one time, never overlooked by other people. 



    The next morning, Don is sitting cross legged with the other members on a mountaintop overlooking the Pacific ocean. As the instructor reminds everyone that it's the beginning of a new day and leads everyone into an "ommmm" chant, a smirk slowly emerges across Don's--or Dick's face. Has he finally achieved inner peace, or has he found...

    His next big, glorious advertising idea? Because right after that image of Don's zen-like bliss, we're treated to the highly iconic 1971 Coca-Cola commercial that featured a plethora of young people representing various races and cultures singing, "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)."

    We'll never know for sure, but there were clues throughout the show that seemed to indicate that fate. Coke was mentioned several times in previous seasons, and in last week's episode, "The Milk and Honey Route", Don is seen staring at a motel's Coke dispenser in need of repair (a metaphor, perhaps, for a broken brand that needs a refresh.)



    Even more mysterious is that the real ad exec who conceived the commercial was Bill Backer (a name that sounds an awful lot like Don Draper, right down to the same number of syllables...dun dun dun!) He worked for McCann Erickson at the time and was inspired by the idea while he found himself stuck in an Irish airport and witnessed previously irritated travelers bonding over Coke during the layover. 

    And did you notice how the girl at the front office of the retreat was sporting the same braided hairstyle with red ribbons as one of the girls in the commercial? 

    In Don's case, the bonding and coming together of various people during the retreat would have inspired the commercial. It is feasible that he could have made a return to New York and McCann and pitched this in an effort to save his job.

    Or maybe not. Don--or Dick--seemed to have finally found his authentic self as the series drew to a close. Everything about his former life--with perhaps the exception of his kids and friendships with coworkers--had eventually left him unfulfilled. He had declared to his daughter (or was it Peggy?) he was now retired. As I and other fans had predicted, Don Draper pretty much died and Dick Whitman was being embraced. It seems that final (or second to final) message Bert Cooper delivered--that "the best things in life are free" was now fully realized by Dick Whitman. 

    Whatever we are supposed to believe, it's brilliant. Congratulations to Matthew Weiner and everyone who wrote, produced, directed, acted and otherwise contributed to such a fine, thought-provoking series--the likes of which we will not experience again for a long time. Adieu, friends. I think to celebrate, I'm going to go have a Coke. 


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    It's easy to complain sometimes about the multitude of reality TV shows--some of the truly bad variety--that still pepper network and cable listings today. But strange television programming is nothing new. In the early 1950s, with TV still a new form of media and undeveloped territory, networks were still figuring out what types of programming would appeal to the masses and advertisers, occasionally taking chances with quirky shows. One such bizarre series that CBS aired in 1952 was The Continental

    If you're wondering if The Continental has anything to do with the Christopher Walken sketches from Saturday Night Live in the 1990s, the answer is everything! It's amazing to think that someone who worked at NBC at the time knew about this obscure show, because it was short-lived and not seen by many viewers. It was also kind of creepy. 


    Both the actual series and its parody featured only one character: a suave talking man with a foreign accent wearing a smoking jacket who spoke directly into the camera...at female viewers. Each unintentionally hilarious episode gave the viewer the perspective of being in the Continental's bachelor pad, with him pouring champagne and telling the viewer how beautiful they were. Lounge music punctuated by an organ played in the background. Yeah. Swoon, right?

    The man who dreamed up and starred as the Continental was Renzo Cesana, an Italian-born actor, screenwriter, and songwriter who dreamed of making it big on the Hollywood screen. When his American movie career didn't work out, Cesana broke into radio, which is where The Continental got its start. It began airing in 1951 on a Los Angeles station after a program with a similar concept, The Lonesome Gal, which featured a female disk jockey "conversing" with male listeners in a soothing manner. What strange and desperate times for lonely people back in those days!


    Not surprisingly, the radio version of The Continental was cancelled, but Cesana convinced a local TV station to air his filmed version, and eventually it piqued the interest of CBS. The Continental aired on CBS on Tuesday and Thursday nights from 11 PM to 11:15 PM. (Even fifteen minutes of a man whispering sweet nothings into the camera seems painfully way too long.) Occasionally, Cesana would recite the lyrics from a romantic song on the show, later referring to himself as "the only living Italian who can't sing." It ran from January to April in 1952, was cancelled, and then 13 new episodes became, remarkably enough, syndicated in 1954. 

    The most obvious problem with The Continental (well, aside from its odd premise) was its air time: 11 PM. If CBS was trying to reach desperate housewives seeking a bit of self-indulgent fantasy, then it should have aired in the afternoon...preferably before the hubby came home from work and kids hopped off the school bus. And let's face it: the show was the television equivalent of a blow-up doll...for women. A quick fix for truly desperate people searching for self-esteem, but ultimately phony and unsatisfying. Also, how long was the Continental planning on feeding lines of BS to his female audience? After a while, one would expect him to put a ring on it! 

    As strange as The Continental was, in a way it helped launch television's talk show format...which thankfully, relied on the presence of other live people on camera participating in conversations. 

    No episodes or clips of The Continental series exist online, which may be a good thing, but the SNL spoof was not the first time it was referenced in pop culture. Red Skelton performed a parody of it called The Transcontinental and Jerry Lewis performed the character as Marlon Brando. Mad magazine also poked fun at the show. 

    If you want to get an idea, however, of how Cesana channeled the character, you can listen to the "song" below, "You Go To My Head", where he recites the lyrics (remember, he couldn't sing.) It appears on a CD from the Ultra-Lounge series (not one of their best sellers, I'm guessing.) 



    And of course, we'll always have Christopher Walken's version. Pour yourself a glass of cham-pag-ya, and enjoy. 




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    Hi, folks -- I'm still here! Just been busy with the job hunting and day-to-day hustling to make a few extra bucks. A new piece I've written for REBEAT was posted today: The Origins of Rap in 10 Unlikely Places. You may not agree with all of the song choices but you have to admit, rapping as a form of expression and music definitely pre-dates the 1980s. I hope you enjoy it...new Go Retro post coming soon!

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    Do you ever stop to think about what may have become of Elvis' twin brother had he lived? No? Well, not to worry, because someone in Hollywood did, and the result is The Identical, a really awful flick and not-so-thinly-disguised ripoff of The King's life that only earned $1.6M at the box office when it was released last year.


    There's only two good reasons to watch this movie. First, if you're planning on becoming a film maker it makes an excellent study of what not to do when telling a story. Second, if you're an Elvis fan, you may just appreciate Blake Rayne, who portrays both twins. He looks like Elvis, but more importantly, he sounds a lot like him, even when being forced to sing silly fabricated 1950s rockabilly songs with uninspired lyrics such as, "Dance dance dance, everybody now!" and "Bee bopping baby, you know she can go go go!" It made me wish the moviemakers had just forked over enough money for the right to use Elvis' songs, not that it would have improved much. Another song definitely sounds like it was lifted straight out of the '80s, not the '50s, proving that little effort was put into the soundtrack. 

    The movie co-stars Ashley Judd and Ray Liotta. Oh, wait. The same Ray Liotta whose career truly nosedived after he allowed Anthony Hopkins to slice off and cook a piece of his brain in Hannibal. Throw in Seth Green and Joe Pantoliano, because they apparently had nothing better to do, and you've got yourself a rock and roll film. 

    The movie begins in the year 1935. A poor newlywed couple have twin baby boys and knowing that they cannot afford to care for both of them, decide to give one of the babies to a reverend and his wife (Liotta and Judd) to raise because they cannot have children of their own. Reverend Reece Wade and Louise Wade name the child Ryan, while the baby staying with the biological parents is named Drexel...Drexel Helmsley, because the writers couldn't come up with another surname that doesn't sound like "Presley." 



    Ryan's parents soon discover that the boy is gifted with a singing voice, and Daddy Fire-and-Brimstone (Liotta screams every sermon in the film) has plans for Ryan to follow in his footsteps. But when Ryan discovers a mysterious new singer on the rise that looks and sounds just like him, Drexel Helmsley, he decides that he wants to get into the music biz, too. He performs at a local honky tonk which sets his father into a tizzy. 

    What's weird about this movie (among many things) is the fact that we don't see much of Drexel's life and career; mostly only Ryan's, except for a television appearance and a clip from a surfer film (where he sings another lame made-up song while surrounded by girls in bikinis.) Thus, I was confused during scenes where Ryan--or is it Drexel?--enters the Army and plays guitar for his drill sergeant and when Drexel and Ryan's biological mother is dying in the hospital and we see Ryan visiting with her after making a package delivery. But I guess it doesn't matter. 



    Eventually Ryan enters (and of course, wins) a Drexel Helmsley lookalike contest where one of the judges is none other than Helmsley himself (who has been branded "The Dream" by record executives and the media.) Ryan lands the gig and soon becomes nearly as big as Drexel himself, making a fortune playing state fairs and getting mobbed by fans. When Drexel dies in a plane crash in the '70s, Ryan soon learns the truth about his background and comes face to face with his biological father. (I doubt that anyone could be upset with me for revealing the completely predictable ending.)

    The film probably would have worked had the writers skipped the Depression era tale and simply made this a comedy about an Elvis impersonator. Unsurprisingly, the lead, Blake Rayne, is an Elvis impersonator offscreen and was discovered accidentally by one of the movie's producers. A bit 'o trivia for you...according to the IMDB, Rayne's real name is Ryan Pelton but he chose Blake Rayne for his stage moniker because in his opinion it sounds a lot like Bruce Wayne...he's a Batman fan, after all. I swear I'm not making this up! The IMDB also reveals that during one scene he broke down crying so hard his fake mustache fell off. 



    Which sadly, is more riveting than the movie itself. Seth Green and Joe Pantoliano are in this heartbreak hotel hot mess just to fill space in the cast, with Green playing Ryan's goofy friend and bandmate and Pantoliano portraying a mechanic that gives Ryan a job. Erin Cottrell plays Ryan's sweet and supportive wife, Jenny, but unfortunately the only notable thing about her role is her '60s and '70s wardrobe. 

    So, The Identical is so bad it may actually leave you wanting to watch one of Elvis' films, which are a step up in substance. The one good thing I have to say about it is that it's family-friendly; there isn't a single swear word to be found throughout the dialogue. 

    For what it's worth, here's the trailer:


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    Last week I asked my blog’s Facebook followers if any of them had heard of Steven Banks. When all I got in return was the sound of crickets, I knew it was time to enlighten the masses with a blog post about this comedic guy whose short-lived TV show has a cult following (of which I may just happen to be a member.) 

    It also confirmed my thought after all these years that Banks should have been much bigger and famous than he is. Magician Penn Jillette, one of his long-time friends, told the New York Times in 2010 that Banks "should have been Steve Martin; he's that good." Despite not becoming a household name, he has enjoyed a lucrative career in the entertainment industry, and has written books and scripts for children’s television including CatDog, SpongeBob SquarePants, and The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius. In recent years, he's been touring and performing as "Billy the Mime" (a mime who takes on taboo subjects) which is a good thing, because it’s when he’s on the stage or in front of a camera that he and his talent really shine. 


    My introduction to Banks was via PBS. In the summer of 1994, PBS stations aired The Steven Banks Show which was, believe it or not, the first original sitcom the station produced and aired. The late Brandon Tartikoff of NBC fame produced the show, which consisted of 13 episodes. All ran except for one, “Miss Janie Regrets”, because it parodied a PBS children’s show (no information is available about which one.) 

    The Steven Banks Show was pretty much about…well, the quirky Steven Banks and his life revolving around a messy apartment. Banks often came across as a man trapped in a teenager’s body—a guy who puts off doing work in favor of emulating his musical idols of the ‘60s and ‘70s with a comedic edge and deep down, just wants to be a rock and roll star. He had a best bro named Pepper (Michael Kostroff, who recently popped up on an episode of The Blacklist) and had a crush on his neighbor, Mariana (Teresa Parente, who also had a gig on Married With Children.) 

    In the first episode, Banks wins what he thinks is John Lennon’s guitar during a television auction but instead ended up with John Lennon’s guitar case. It’s an embarrassing situation, and everyone thinks he’s a loser, until he discovers that Lennon tucked away lyrics to an unpublished song called “I Miss Paul”, which Banks plays to the tune of “Imagine.” I still remember some of the lines: Yoko's driving me crazy // She’s screaming in the hall // Yoko's driving me batty // With a crazy caterwaul. In fact, PBS offered a CD for sale that contained several of Banks' original songs. 

    Here’s a scene from that episode where Banks reenacts the Beatles’ story using dolls and toys as props. 



    The last episode of the show was truly bizarre: Banks has a crazy dream that includes a scene where he’s on The Dating Game and Mariana is the female contestant; the other bachelors include Caligula and John Merrick, the Elephant Man, and Mariana can’t make up her mind which one she wants to go out with. After the show's run, I kept hoping PBS would commission more episodes but it wasn't meant to be. To this day I still wonder if Steven and Mariana finally got together. 

    One of the funniest clips of this show, which I was disappointed to discover is not uploaded anywhere online, was when Banks used his hands after one of the episodes to reenact a couple getting frisky and having sex…I remember watching this in amazement and wondering how it slipped past the PBS censor committee…especially when they instead had a problem with a parody of one of their programs! If memory serves me correctly, the scene ended with one of the hands holding a cigarette. 

    This actually wasn't the first version of The Steven Banks Show; it had an original run on Showtime in 1991 with Banks playing a guy named Steven Brooks but the concept was the same. 


    A few years prior to his television debut, Banks starred in a one-man theater show that he conceived and wrote: Home Entertainment Center. This has been uploaded to YouTube in several parts and I highly recommend checking it out for some laughs sometime. In it, Banks does spot-on, hilarious impersonations of Bob Dylan and Van Morrison, performs original songs, and delivers an amazing drum solo that would impress even Terence Fletcher of Whiplash. He performed the show 440 times and earned several awards. 

    Maybe it was the fact that Banks' act pretty much followed the same formula, but it's still a little perplexing as to why he was never invited to appear on The Tonight Show or Late Night with David Letterman and offered a show on network television. A funny guy that kind of slipped through the cracks...and got resurrected a bit here on Go Retro. Here's a great clip from Home Entertainment Center. If you're a Dylan fan, skip ahead to the 8:30 mark and enjoy.


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    The Go Retro office, hard at work. Image via FastCodeDesign.
    Just in case any of you want to update a bookmark, goretro.blogspot.com now redirects to goretro.com. A few days ago I finally took the plunge and purchased the domain; something that's been in the back of my mind for a few years now. 

    It wasn't cheap (the main reason I kept putting it off) but I see it as an investment. I've had this blog for about 8 years now (yikes) and I wanted to grab the web address before someone else did. In the coming months I'm going to be exploring redesign and hosting options and hopefully make the site more professional looking and begin pitching it to ad networks. But not to worry; the same groovy retro content you've come to know and love will still be here, still written by yours truly, and the design and posts will definitely NOT become women-oriented. 

    Thanks to all of my readers who have been with me since the early days of Go Retro...I hope you'll stick around to see where this adventure takes us next! (Preferably via a time traveling DeLorean.)

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