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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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  • 04/21/13--06:19: The Milkman Cometh
  • Image via Antique Automobile Club of America forums
    The milkman: for those of us born after a certain time in America, we never got a visit from fresh, cold milk waiting for us in glass bottles on the doorstep or in the milk chute every morning. But there was a time for many decades when regular milk delivery was a given. Milk delivery goes so far back that milkmen first delivered the goods by horse and wagon, before the automobile and milk trucks came along. Many people who did have milk delivered recall how the fat (cream) would rise to the top of the glass milk bottles and would be scooped out and eaten (yum!)

    There was even a milkman-themed board game produced in the 1950s, called Merry Milkman by Hasbro. As you can imagine, the object was simple: the first player to deliver all of their milk to the neighborhood won the game!

    Via image Northwest Leeds Tumblr
    By the time I was born in the early 70s, the milkman had practically disappeared from American neighborhoods. It's not difficult to understand why--milk first got delivered at a time when homes didn't have refrigeration and needed to be consumed fairly quickly before it spoiled. In the 1950s and 60s, not only did households have refrigerators, but the first paper milk cartons were being produced, which were cheaper than the heavy glass bottles milk was first carried in. It also cost more money to have milk delivered then buying it at the local store. 

    But the milkman may be making a comeback: in recent years I've seen news stories here and there about how the nostalgic love for milk (and food) delivery is keeping the milkman alive and well in some parts of the country. In Louisville, KY, Ehrler's Micro Dairy delivers milk, cheese, eggs and jam to customers three times a week. In one month alone, they delivered over 800 gallons of milk. 

    A.B. Munroe Dairy of Providence, RI, is another company that provides milk delivery, mainly to the Southern New England area. They've been in business for over 130 years. 

    And what about bigger city dwellers who crave home delivered milk? Manhattanites are in luck; Manhattan Milk, owned and operated by Matt Marone and Frank Acosta, deliver hormone-free milk and other goodies around the New York City vicinity. 

    Interestingly, the milkman never faded away in Britain, where milk delivery remains a trend. As in the States, British milk producers/transporters have diversified their offerings to include yogurt and other foods available for home delivery. In India, milk delivery has never gone out of fashion. 

    I'm not sure if I'd ever use a milk service myself--it's still pricier than visiting a store--but I do like the idea of a milk truck making early morning deliveries and keeping a small bit of nostalgia alive. 

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    Image via Mamecade

    A computer/technology pioneer and the cast of a sitcom that never showed a single PC on the set during their run…a match made in advertising heaven!

    According to an old L.A. Times article, the cast of M*A*S*H* replaced the Charlie Chaplin lookalike that IBM was previously usingto promote their computers in the late 80s. The president of the agency that created the campaign said that M*A*S*H* was a natural fit for the new strategy because they represented teamwork. By the time these ads aired/ran, the popular show had been off the air for five years. Maybe theexecutives also felt that American consumers would appreciate seeing familiar faces to shill computing products. Then again, lots of celebs were showing up in computer print ads and commercials around this time...Bill Cosby for Texas Instruments, Bill Bixby and Tandy and William Shatner pitching Commodore were just some of the celebrity endorsements for computers during the 80s. Whatever the reason, the second commercial spot here looks like a M*A*S*H*/The, mashup:

    A few years before this campaign, Alan Alda was the spokesman for Atari computer products. Is it just me, or is this commercial a little unsettling? What the heck is Alda doing dressing in a college boy's room, if he isn't his father? Shouldn't Hawkeye be checking out the girls' dorms?

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    Today I'm launching a new post theme for Go Retro: A Song's Story. We'll take a look at some songs from music history that have an interesting history behind them. 

    The reason for my first choice, "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down," is because I have a confession about it: until yesterday, I never knew that Cher was the original artist to sing the song and that Sonny Bono wrote it! Hard to believe, but I always thought Nancy Sinatra took the credit. Quentin Tarantino is responsible for my personal gaffe--like most people of my generation, the first time I heard it was during the opening credits of Kill Bill Volume 1. After the film was released, its exposure inspired a lot of bands and singers to cover it--most notably was "Shot You Down" by Audio Bullys who sampled the Sinatra version in what became a top ten UK hit. 

    However, after hearing Cher's original version which was released in 1966, I'm sold on it and prefer it over Sinatra's. I'm puzzled that I've never heard it on the radio, not even on oldies stations. It's already a haunting, depressing song--the singer is telling about her love who used to play with her when they were children and would pretend to shoot her while they rode on "horses made of sticks." They grow up and she marries him--complete with dancing and church bells--but then he leaves her. She's been shot down again yet again by the creep and it's devastating. But there's something about Cher's version that literally gave me chills as I listened to it twice--first of all, it has a Western/Spanish/gypsy theme running through it. No doubt Bono was inspired by the spaghetti westerns that were gracing movie screens in the mid-60s. It also seems to foreshadow the ultimate demise of Sonny and Cher's marriage in the 70s.  

    The song was released as a single and on the Cher album The Sonny Side of Cher. It reached number two on the U.S. Billboard chart in 1966. Sinatra's version was released the same year and pretty much hid in obscurity until it was chosen for the Tarantino movie. It has a more melancholy tone and an opening tremolo guitar effect. 

    Since its release, the song has been covered by Stevie Wonder, The Beau Brummels, Petula Clark, Vanilla Fudge, Lil' Wayne and Italian, French, German and Japanese artists. Cher herself updated the song in 1987 with a rock feel--but I prefer the original (unfortunately I don't think the audio is synched with this video, but it's the only clip of the music video available on YouTube):

    One cover of the song that I came across the other day and love is this version by a Polish singer named Ania Dabrowska. It was released in 2010 and features some pro drumming as well as a scorching sax solo--this right after I posted about how you don't hear saxophones so much in pop music anymore.

    And there you have it. The song will no doubt shoot me down for many more years to come. 

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    Up until not long ago, I long detested beards on men (well...and on women, too. Ha.) I can't even explain why--I just thought guys looked sexier and more professional when clean shaven, with nothing standing in the way of any food that might fall from their face while eating. But now, I think a short, well-groomed beard is devastatingly sexy on the right man. What flipped the switch for me? It was watching Christoph Waltz play Dr. King Schultz in Django Unchained. That beautiful old timey facial hair is as much Schultz's trademark and accessory as the derringer he uses to blow to hell outlaws and abusive slave owners. Waltz has said in interviews that the beard was like a pet, and throughout the movie he cannot resist twirling his 'tache and smoothing it into shape...a character mannerism, I'm sure, he dreamed up himself. Plus he looks dashing with the right length of whiskers in a debonair brown and gray pattern which calls to mind a 1970s Kris Kristofferson. What I wouldn't give to feel those bristles gliding across certain parts of my body, but I digress...

    We're talking about RETRO beards here! And they are sexy and masculine if done right. 

    Beards have definitely been making a comeback on the celeb circuit in recent years--Ben Affleck, George Clooney, and Jon Hamm are just a few of the men who have been sporting them off camera on a regular basis. However, gentlemen need to take care--and clippers--here, because once a beard grows past a certain length it ventures dangerously into ZZ Top, Ted Kaczynski, Grizzly Adams, biker dude, Santa Claus and crazy hippie guy territory. Also, neck beards are never--NEVER!--ever sexy. I don't care what your hipster friends tell you. 

    With that in mind, I rounded up a collection of dudes from back in the day who I think looked good with a certain amount of beard. Emphasis on good. Jim Morrison looked terrible with that caveman beard of his, as did Mick Jagger. George Harrison's Jesus look above is quite fetching, but then he turned into Rasputin the Mad Monk by the time All Things Must Past was released. So you won't find those examples here. Instead I present...

    Jeff Bridges

    Most of us are accustomed to seeing Bridges sport a goatee as "The Dude" in The Big Lebowski. But how hot was he in Against All Odds with his short, trimmed beard? So hot that Rachel Ward could not resist his charms among the Mayan ruins of Mexico. 

    Clint Eastwood

    The good, the bad, and the beard, which is a little bit of both and not ugly (and by bad I mean BADASS.) 

    Harrison Ford

    After finding this photo, I'm surprised that Harry never really was seen with a beard in his younger years. This is really a quite flattering look on him. Indy, leave the razor at home on your next adventure.  

    Paul Newman

    I don't think anything could have made Paul Newman look bad. Something about this beard...perhaps because it's bringing out his blue eyes even more. 

    Paul McCartney

    All of the Beatles had beards at one time or another, particular by the time Let It Be came out--I'd like to think they started the hairy trend, after all. Around the time the Beatles broke up, Paul looked like a stoned Neanderthal which is what happens when you get lazy about your beard grooming habits. But here in this photo, with a very short beard, I think he looks absolutely love me do-able. 

    Bruce Springsteen

    While I think The Boss looks better without the fuzz, he can still rock a beard--quite literally.

    Steve Jobs

    It was a bit skimpy in its younger incarnations, but I cannot leave Steve Jobs off a list like this. He did indeed look pretty good with a beard...even better than Ashton Kucher. 

    Robert De Niro

    One of the few times we've seen him with a beard--here with his Oscar for Raging Bull

    Eric Clapton

    Not very nice to the women in his life, but I'm guessing they couldn't resist Slowhand's whiskers. He did look very sexy throughout the 80s with the neat, trimmed beard. 

    Billy Crystal

    How cute was Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally when he had the beard?

    Christoph Waltz

    Well looky who we have here! Dr. King Schultz, the early years I presume. Yeah, I had to end it with that.

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    Image via bayswater97 flickr
    I'm sure that the lack of good customer service in today's society is something that everyone can relate to. I've held off on ranting about it for so long because I used to work in the hotel industry and a grocery store, and having been on both sides, can tell you that the customer is not always right--nay, sometimes they can be downright douchebags. I've also seen people treat perfectly nice retail salespeople horribly and have actually spoken up on more than one occasion and made off-hand comments, within earshot, about how rude they were when it was my turn at the register. 

    But lately the tables have been turning, and it's the people working in retail stores who truly have this I-couldn't-give-a-shit-about-you attitude. In the past few months, here are four scenarios I was part of:

    1. I was waiting at the counter to buy a blouse at a local consignment shop but the teenaged salesgirl behind it ignored me for a good 2-3 minutes as she was transfixed by her boss, who was assisting another customer as she set off the alarm trying to walk out of the store. She finally said to me without any greeting, "All you all set?" It took all my strength not to say something sarcastic but I did what any good customer does nowadays--I unleashed a bit of my wrath on Yelp. And I was not the only one which tells me there's a problem with the employees in that store. 

    2. I was in a local Sephora and asked one of the salesgirls if they had a new black eyeliner pen in stock called Punker. She said she would check and went to another girl and asked her, who just looked at me, shook her head and said, "No, we don't have any left." No mention of when or if it might come back in stock, no mention of looking up another Sephora to see if they had any, and no mention of ordering it on the website. I walked out. 

    3. I was getting gas at a station location I don't usually go to, but had no choice as the other location is closed for renovations and they have the best gas prices in town. The guy in the booth was on his phone and didn't even look at me when I told him how many gallons worth I wanted. He did, however, look at the money like he was confused and couldn't subtract $45 from $60. So I repeated myself, he gave me the change, and I took it without saying a word. Pardon me for interrupting your personal phone call, asshat. 

    4. I went out to eat with a Meetup group and we were instructed to sit anywhere in the upstairs area. After being ignored by several waitresses walking by, one of them told us the table we were at was reserved, despite the fact that there was no sign on it. After we grabbed another table, the waitress asked what we were going to have for drinks. I said we hadn't received menus yet and politely asked for some. When she bought them out, she dropped them so hard on the table on purpose that they made a THUNK and walked away. Things seemed to go downhill from there. 


    This is such a departure from customer experiences I had growing up. I can still remember the managers of the shoe store and art supply store I visited as a kid, and the name of the kind man who ran the video store in town, Mr. Zappala (how many store owners today do you know by name?) When Mr. Zappala passed away from cancer, there was an outpouring of support in the local paper because everyone adored him. There were so many smaller mom-and-pop businesses around in the 70s and 80s, run by people whose livelihoods depended upon how happy they could make their customers. They couldn't afford to ignore people who walked through their that would eventually lead to theirs being shuttered. I can understand that working service jobs does not always deliver the greatest paycheck...but you know what? Neither was my hotel salary, but it was a job that paid my way through college, and therefore I had to respect it and the guests whether I liked it or not. If I didn't, I'd be out of a job. 

    So, I think part of the problem here is they're hiring nitwits who just don't care. And with a lousy economy, if a big store like Walmart loses workers, there's ten more out there desperate to replace them for a piddly paycheck. 

    Call it part of our increasingly isolated society where no one makes an effort to connect with other human beings. I won't even get into the rise of customer service hell, where you're stuck in "press this for that" purgatory trying to get ahold of a live person. It stinks, and there's not much we consumers can do except take to Yelp and other review sites. 

    I came across this 1970s McDonald's training video (gotta love that opening ditty, "the greatest gift you give is the smile you give to your brother...") Nowadays Grumpy Cat doles out more smiles than the workers at McDonald's, but the reason I'm showing it is because there's a segment about a young man who goes to an auto supply store and how he's treated. 

    If any of you have some great customer service horror stories to share, please do. 

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  • 05/20/13--17:00: Happy Birthday, Cher!
  • Cher turns 67 today, and to help celebrate the folks at Can't Miss TV invited me to post this groovy infographic showing the history of Cher's career. I'll always remember Cher's impressive movie career, especially as she hit her stride in films in the 70s and 80s, the decades I grew up in. Moonstruck remains one of my favorite romantic flicks, ever. Happy 67th to Sonny Bono's better half!

    Images under CC BY-SA 3.0& CC BY 2.0.  Additional data from Wikipedia and DirectSpecialTV.

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    Through early morning fog I see
    visions of the things to be
    the pains that are withheld for me
    I realize and I can see...

    That suicide is painless
    It brings on many changes
    and I can take or leave it if I please.

    The most amazing thing to me about "Suicide is Painless" (actual title: "Song from M*A*S*H (Suicide is Painless)" is that the hard hitting lyrics were written by a 14 year-old, Mike Altman. A 14 year-old! He's the son of Robert Altman, who directed the 1970 movie M*A*S*H. Altman needed the "stupidest song ever written" for the scene in the movie where Walter "Painless Pole" Waldowski fakes his suicide after suffering a bout of impotence with a visiting nurse. Altman tried his hand at writing the lyrics but didn't think they were stupid enough, so he handed the job to his 14 year-old son. Johnny Mandel composed the music.

    The result was anything but moronic: Suicide is Painless is one of my favorite TV/movie themes of all time, not because it's depressing but because it's so damn poetic and beautiful. If I ever get around to practicing my guitar again, this song is on my must-learn list. Since most people are accustomed to hearing the cheerful, instrumental version that was used on the series, I highly recommend checking out a cover where the words are sung. I know I included her in the last song's story post, but I really like Ania Dabrowska's version:

    One other tidbit about this song to save for your next trivia competition: Robert Altman told Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show that his son received over a million dollars in royalties from writing the lyrics, while he received only $70,000 for directing M*A*S*H.

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    Photo vis ThinkNice
    Phil Collins seems to be a pop culture conundrum to me--in the grand scheme of music history, is he terrible...or terrific? 

    It's a question I've struggled with ever since the 1980s, when I first became aware of who Phil Collins was. On the one hand, he's a tremendous drummer...and I know at least one drummer who admires his skills, particularly on projects outside of Genesis such as Brand X, which was a jazz fusion group active in the mid-70s and later again in the 1990s. On the other hand, Collins can be downright irritating--his sappy solo hits evoke strong emotions and usually not of the sympathetic variety; he's been called "The Most Hated Man in Rock and Roll." I found his 1989 hit "Another Day in Paradise" among a blogger's worst songs ever written list, who so aptly described the reasoning for his choice with five poignant words: "Shut the f*** up, moron." 

    So this post is my half-assed attempt at determining if Collins is painfully uncool...or You know what I mean. No offense to the Collins fans out there; this is purely my opinion. Here we go.

    Terrific: He appeared as an extra in A Hard Day's Night. That's pretty cool, right? He was 13 at the time and is sitting in the audience during the television concert sequence, and also narrated and added commentary to the documentary You Can't Do That: The Making of A Hard Day's Night.

    Terrible: "I Can't Dance." Collins' whiny vocals in this song really grate on my nerves ("'Cause IIIIIIII can't dance, IIIIIIII can't sing") as does the "dancing" by the group--they just look like dorks. And seeing Collins on a beach with a pink tank top, baggy jeans and long hair (despite a receding hairline) is really unsettling. I don't care if it was the early 90s--this is just awful. 

    Terrific: A little 1988 movie starring Collins called Buster. Buster was about Buster Edwards, a petty crook who was involved in England's Great Train Robbery of 1963. I was truly prepared to hate this movie and thought that it would be yet another misguided attempt to turn a singer into a movie star. Surprisingly, it's not all that bad and costars Julie Walters. 

    Terrible: "Sussudio." What does su-su-sudio mean anyway? Collins admitted in the 80s during its release that the word has no meaning. And yet it manages to stick in your craw all day like lint to velcro. So. Damn. Annoying.

    Terrific: "In the Air Tonight." No need to go into much detail why. It will forever be associated with Miami Vice.

    Terrible: "Illegal Alien." Without a doubt, one of the worst pop/rock songs ever written, accompanied by an awful racist video. Collins tries to sing the song with a Mexican accent and the band wears mustaches and sombreros. One verse in particular was so controversial that it was omitted for radio play and from the video:

    "Keep your suspicions, I've seen that look before
    But I ain't done nothing wrong now, is that such a surprise?
    But I've got a sister who'd be willing to oblige
    She will do anything now to help me get to the outside"

    Yeesh. Phil, what the hell were you thinking? Can you imagine if they tried to release this song today? 

    Terrible: "Don't Lose My Number." This song makes about as much sense as a gorilla wearing a ballerina costume. The lyrics throughout are addressed to some dude named Billy--who the hell is Billy anyway? It's as if Collins assumes we should know. The video is even worse, mixing Western and Mad Max themes. 

    Terrific: The video for "Land of Confusion." Featuring the puppets of Spitting Image, this one will give you the heebie jeebies. Creative and unsettling.  

    Photo via A Blumes With A View
    Terrible: This photo. Something about his baldness and shorts reminds me of George Costanza's Art of Seduction pose from Seinfeld

    Terrific: "Easy Lover." I love this song. 

    Well I guess the conclusion we've come to here today is...Collins is both terrible and terrific!

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    It wasn't long ago that I was thinking about posting a new giveaway on Go Retro. Luckily, the universe delivered my manifestation when the owner of Shabby Applereached out to me with a giveaway offer for my readers! If you're not already familiar with Shabby Apple, let me just tell you they have the cutest vintage clothing around for retro loving ladies (sorry, gentlemen--I plan on hosting another giveaway soon that will appeal to you.) Their fashion lines always seem to get updated on a regular basis, too. 

    You can great a sense of Shabby Apple's vintage clothing styles. 

    Here's the details of this summer giveaway. One lucky Go Retro reader can choose a dress or skirt from a selected list of styles that Shabby Apple has set aside for the giveaway below. Do a search on the site to see each item.

    Heart of Me
    Grand National
    Cut the Cake
    At last
    At first site
    My vow to you
    Maid of honor
    Together forever
    Ever after
    Save the date
    Moon River
    Ski Bop
    Some like it Hot
    Andes Skirt
    Jetty Skirt
    Boogie Woogie
    Marigold Skirt
    Lime Ricki Skirt
    Park Picnic Skirt
    Hully Gully Skirt
    Newcomb Skirt

    To enter, just leave a comment saying any ol' thing. The giveaway will run from today through next Wednesday, June 26 ending at midnight EST. I'll announce the winner on Thursday, June 27. Good luck!

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    A lot of folks who grew up on 70s and 80s television often mention the infamous "Monroe Rape" episode of Too Close for Comfort, but I wonder how many people know that Jack Tripper once unintentionally flashed part of his scrotum on Three's Company?

    It was an "oops" moment that went pretty much unnoticed in syndication until one eagle-eyed viewer caught the episode titled "The Charming Stranger" on Nick at Night in 2001. In one scene, John Ritter as Jack Tripper plops down on his bed wearing a pair of blue boxers, which apparently were a little too loose fitting in the crotch area. The viewer froze the frame on his recorder to make sure he wasn't seeing things, then notified Nickelodeon, whose representative was quoted as saying "Yes, his scrotum falls out of his shorts."  

    Snopes has a screenshot of what the viewer saw, above. Granted, it's one of those things that you would miss if you blinked your eyes, but Nickelodeon took no chances--promptly editing the episode for future airings. The entire season of Three's Company is now available on DVD; I have no idea if the scene was edited out before the release.

    The late John Ritter had the last laugh. When asked by the New York Observer what he thought of the controversy he simply said, "I've requested that Nickelodeon air both versions, edited and unedited, because sometimes you feel like a nut, and sometimes you don't."

    I'm thankful that it was Ritter flashing the camera and not Don Knotts.

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    Tabathia! Congratulations and I'll be sending you an email with info on how to claim your dress. Thanks to everyone who entered and I hope to hold another giveaway soon.

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  • 07/05/13--10:59: Monty Python's Safe Sex Tips

  • I know this blog has been rather quiet lately--maybe dead is the proper term. 
    I'm working on a few posts that are taking longer than I thought to complete. In the meantime, here's something short and sweet and frankly, a riot--that I came across on the Monty Python Italian Page on Facebook. It's Eric Idle's take on "The Joy of Sex", called "The Vatican Sex Manual"--and it's guaranteed to "add zest to your abstinence." I sincerely hope it doesn't offend anyone but if it does, you have no sense of humor. Something tells me George Harrison got a kick out of this. Click for larger image and be prepared for a few laughs. 

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    You would think that in 1950s Americana, teenagers were a happy lot. They had drive-in movie theaters, rock and roll, their dad's Oldsmobile, and Clearasil. Yet the post-WWII era was responsible for launching a music genre that persisted for several decades: the teenage tragedy theme. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, young characters in songs met untimely deaths through car and motorcycle crashes, drownings and even suicide--and these songs routinely topped the U.S. music charts. 

    The question is why were these songs so popular? Teenagers sure weren't dreaming them up--it was the songwriters and record companies. Why did so many hits kill off the subjects of the songs? Who knows...but at least we can trace the beginning of this macabre trend to one event in pop culture history.

    Image via The Song Blog
    On September 30, 1955 the actor James Dean died after crashing his Porsche 550 Spyder nearly head-on into another car near the intersections of highways 46 and 41 in California. Just a week before Dean's death, a little rock and roll vocal group called The Cheers had released a single called "Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots", written by the famous lyrical/composer team Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. (Cool bit o'trivia for you: one of the members of The Cheers was Bert Convy, who would go on to be a game show host for Tattletales, Super Password and Win, Lose or Draw.) "Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots" is a snappy little number that tells the tale of a motorcycle lovin' fool that was the "terror of Highway 101", losing his life after colliding with a diesel truck. Most likely its inspiration came from the 1953 Marlon Brando biker film The Wild One.

    Black Denim Trousers by The Cheers on Grooveshark

    "Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots" might have faded into pop music obscurity if it weren't for the timing of its release. It climbed to number six on the U.S. charts. (Alas, The Cheers were not so cheerful, it seems: t
    heir follow-up teen tragedy song was "Chicken", which is about a disastrous hot rod race; it sounds almost exactly the same as "Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots.") After its popularity came the funeral march of teen tragedy hits for songwriters and singers.

    There was "Endless Sleep" (1958) by Jody Reynolds, "Teen Angel" (1959) by Mark Dinning, "Tell Laura I Love Her" (1960) by Ray Peterson, "Ebony Eyes" (1961) by The Everly Brothers, "Last Kiss" (1962) by Wayne Cochran and the C.C. Riders, "Moody River" (1961) by Pat Boone and "Dead Man's Curve" (1964) by Jan and Dean, just to name a few. 

    One of my favorites from this period is Johnny Preston's "Running Bear" (1959) which I first heard when it was featured in the 1989 movie Scandal. Perhaps the "uga uga" chanting is a bit politically incorrect by today's standards but it's classified under the genre (due to its Romeo and Juliet theme) and I love its saxophone and rockabilly sound:

    Ironically, "Running Bear" was written by J. P. Richardson ("The Big Bopper") who died in the same plane crash as Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens--another event which could be attributed to the genre, along with teenage car culture and the rise of the Motor City, Detroit.

    The radio waves got a little more cheerful when Beatlemania swept the world. But then a girl group named The Shangri-Las scored perhaps the biggest and most well-known teen tragedy song of all, the 1964 hit "Leader of the Pack." With its ominous opening piano strikes and motorcycle sound effects, it tells the tale of a girl whose rebel boyfriend dies in a motorcycle crash after her father tells her she must break up with him. It was banned for a while in the UK and became a hit there after the ban was lifted. The Shangri-Las seemed to be the queens of songs that dealt with teenage heartbreak at the time; their earlier hit of 1964 was "(Remember) Walking in the Sand" and in 1965 they topped the U.S. charts again with a somber song about a girl who runs away from home to be with a boy, causing her mother to die from loneliness called "I Can Never Go Home Anymore." 

    Here's The Shangri-Las performing "Leader of the Pack" on the TV show "I've Got a Secret"--with Robert Goulet providing comic relief:

    The hits continued throughout the 1960s with songs such as "A Young Girl" (1966) by Noel Harrison, "Green, Green Grass of Home" (1966) by Tom Jones, and "Ode to Billie Joe" (1967) by Bobbie Gentry. The 1974 hit "Billy Don't Be a Hero" by Bo Donaldson and The Heywoods is mistakingly thought to be inspired by the Vietnam War, but is really about a Civil War soldier. 

    I also think that Skeeter Davis' hit "The End of the World" should be lumped into this category as well--even though there's no direct mention of suicide in the song, it seems to me the main character's point of view is that she can't go on living after a breakup. Sylvia Dee, one of the song's writers, drew inspiration for it after her father's death. 

    Probably the best thing to come out of the teen tragedy genre were the parodies. Even Lucille Ball got in on the act. While preparing for a 1965 episode of The Lucy Show called "Lucy in the Music World" she was advised that "Today's youth aren't happy unless they're miserable." She sings a song with Mel Torme in the special called "The Surfboard Came Back By Itself" about a surfer who's eaten by a shark--thus taking a playful swipe at two music genres of the time at once. (As an aside, I believe Ball was in her 50s in this clip yet looks like she's 22!)

    In the 80s, I distinctly remember the Julie Brown parody "The Homecoming Queen's Got a Gun"--a song written years before school shootings became tragic recurring events (I think it's safe to say such a song could never be released today, even though I admit my friends and I found it funny at the time.) 

    But the best parody, in my opinion, was the one recorded by Jimmy Cross in 1965 called "I Want My Baby Back." This sick, twisted song became a staple on the Dr. Demento radio show and was voted the World's Worst Record in the UK, but that's only if you take it literally. Cross "sings" (or rather, speaks most of the song) in an accent reminiscent of Gomer Pyle, from the point of view of a distraught necrophiliac boyfriend whose lover was killed by the Leader of the Pack himself, leaving her dismembered body all over the place ("over there was my baby...and over there was my baby...and way over there was my baby.") By the end of the song, the singer decides that he simply can't live without his girl, and digs up her grave and crawls inside the casket (accompanied by a creaking special effect that seems to go on forever.) 

    Fortunately, it does seem like the teen tragedy theme has died down (no pun intended) in recent years--but then again, I don't generally listen to the usual pop and hip hop stations, so I'm blissfully out of the loop. Would anything they could dream up today anyway have quite the same impact as these songs did? 

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  • 07/12/13--14:15: Movie Reviews: Them! (1954)

  • "When man entered the atomic age, he opened the door to a new world. What we may eventually find in that new world, no one can predict." - Dr. Medford in Them!

    Them! is an awesome movie and I loved every minute of it. I could end my review right there and then, but of course you deserve more. You may think that a horror movie about giant mutant ants is best viewed during Halloween season, but the summertime is perfect for watching this flick. After all, insect populations are at their highest right now and so is the temperature. So get the popcorn ready but don't bother with the bug spray--there isn't enough Raid in a store aisle that can kill off the creatures in Them! After viewing it for the first time, I can understand why the movie is considered a classic and a favorite among sci-fi/B horror movie fans. 

    Them! was released in 1954--during the Cold War era--and was one of those horror movies that played upon the fears of what nuclear technology could do to planet earth and its species; most often, that animals and humans exposed to radiation could grow to unnatural sizes and in grotesque ways. It was the first of the "big bug" movies (titles that were released after the success of Them! include Tarantula, Earth vs. The Spider, Beginning of the End and many more) and is routinely considered one of the best of the genre. 

    I'm always hesitant to give a boring scene-by-scene synopsis of movies in my reviews, but I think the first half hour of the film is worth describing. 

    The movie opens with two police state troopers--Ben Peterson (James Whitmore) and Ed Blackburn (Chris Drake)--traveling through the New Mexico desert when they receive a call about a little girl wandering by herself nearby. When the officers pick her up, she's in a catatonic state, staring straight ahead and is unresponsive. They put her in their cruiser and continue on to investigate a trailer home--belonging to the girl's family--that has been ripped into. No money has been taken, and there's no sign of the other family members. A bag of sugar has been broken into. 

    At first, the baffled policemen think this is the work of a "homicidal maniac." But then they visit the local general store which has been ripped apart in the same manner. The cash is still in the register, but a barrel of sugar has been ransacked. The policemen discover the store owner's body and his twisted rifle. Peterson walks out of the store to file a report, leaving Blackburn to guard the store. Blackburn hears a strange sound outside of the store, goes out to investigate, and is killed by one of the giant ants (which we don't actually see.)

    A large, strange footprint is found in the sand and at this point authorities are called in to help with the case: FBI agent Robert Graham (James Arness) who is unable to identify the footprint, Dr. Harold Medford (Edmund Gwenn; you know him best as Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street as well as many other roles) and Pat Medford (Joan Weldon), a father/daughter team of entomologists from the Department of Agriculture. 

    Dr. Medford has a theory as to what is going on, but is hesitant to reveal it yet. Instead he performs an experiment with the little girl that was found and is recovering in a hospital. Since it was reported that the general store's owner's body was discovered to contain "enough formic acid to kill 20 men", he waves a bottle of formic acid under her nose. Suddenly, she awakens from her zombie-like state, is terrified, and starts screaming "Them! Them!"

    It isn't long after this before Dr. Medford's theory and fears are confirmed: nuclear bomb testing done in the area in 1945 has caused house ants to grow to hundreds of times their size, with a taste for human flesh (as confirmed by one amusing scene where an ant drops a human ribcage from its mandibles.)

    The crew locates the entrance to the ant nest and throws cyanide into it with the hopes of eradicating the colony. For me, this was the creepiest part of the movie--who the hell would go investigate a giant ant nest, even if they had to?  At this point, I will say no more for those who haven't seen the movie. 

    One of the reasons Them! succeeds so well is the amount of suspense that is built up before the ants appear on screen, which isn't until a half hour into the film. If you watched the movie without seeing the poster or knowing anything about it first, it would definitely add to the mystery. We hear them a few times before we see them--and the high pitched, pulsating, echoing sounds they make are truly creepy. It's the perfect build up! 

    By far I think the most impressive performance in this movie is by the little girl, Sandy Descher (although everyone is good and there's an amusing scene involving Dr. Medford trying to communicate via radio headphones.) A child actor who also appeared in The Last Time I Saw Paris and The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, Descher was 8 or 9 when Them! was filmed and her brief but pivotal role as a girl terrified out of her wits really adds to the suspense. 

    Now, about those ants. I'm sure many CGI enthusiasts would scoff at the mechanical ants in this movie, but I can definitely appreciate the work that went into creating them and would imagine they looked menacing on the big screen at the time the film was released (and trust me, they do look cooler on film than the screenshots make them look.) Their construction and operation (they were really purplish-green in color, by the way) was overseen by a man named Ralph Ayers and helped earn the movie an Oscar nomination for its special effects. I think my only disappointment is that we don't get to see them "flying" as reported by several characters in the film.  

    Many elements prevalent in Them! reminded me very much of the Alien franchise, particularly the second film, James Cameron's Aliens (1986.) The orphan girl wandering around in shock, the inhospitable, windy environment, creepy dark passageways and creatures that emit a deadly acid (not to mention egg laying queens) are found in both movies. The scene where the crew finds hatched eggs in one of the ant farm's chambers was straight out of the 1979 Alien for me. 

    Plus, there's something about seeing a movie such as this one in black and white that really adds to the creep factor. The cinematography over the desert scenes is impressive. 

    Another giant ant movie was released in 1977: Empire of the Ants starring Joan Collins. It was based on a short story by H.G. Wells and frankly, looks and sounds terrible. However, for a creepy and crawly good time, you can't beat Them! and those prophetic last words as spoken by Dr. Medford in the movie's final scene will haunt you long after the screen fades to black. 

    Here's the official trailer to Them! and you can watch the entire movie for free, online here at Mevio

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    Man, it's been hot! It's days like this that remind of something my parents used to say...that nudists have the right idea! And that statement always makes me think of the 1964 Peter Sellers movie A Shot in the Dark. This was the second film in The Pink Panther series, and definitely one of the funniest. The best scene in this movie is the nudist colony sequence--it's physical comedy such as this that would inspire Mike Myers' Austin Powers series later on. Careful usage of props and scenery prevent anything from being revealed and yet it was groundbreaking for its time. 

    Just check out the 10 minute sequence below (unfortunately, I don't think the audio is synched with the video; I hate it when that happens.) Clouseau is on the trail of Maria Gambreli (Elke Sommer, who publicly admitted to visiting nudist colonies off-screen.) I watched it for the first time in many years and honestly, found it funnier than most of the "comedies" Hollywood puts out today.

    Stay cool and safe, my Go Retro readers!

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    Ah, yes--The Carpenters' hit "(They Long to Be) Close to You" is the quintessential 70s love ballad, is it not? It was even Homer and Marge's love song on The Simpsons when they're shown meeting each other for the first time in the 70s. 

    But the song's roots go back to before Beatlemania, and had already been recorded by a few artists before Karen Carpenter's vocals and brother Richard's new arrangement turned it into solid gold in 1970. Written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, it was first recorded by Richard Chamberlain--yes, the actor--and released as a single in 1963 as "They Long to Be Close to You" (no parenthesis.) Chamberlain's version is now considered a "Golden Throat" recording; however, I don't think he sounds all that terrible. You can judge for yourself below. The song just didn't have the secret sauce yet to turn it into a hit. 

    In 1964, Dusty Springfield recorded a version of the song that wasn't heard until 1967, when it was released on her album Where Am I Going?

     Bacharach and David's composition made its way to The Carpenters a few years later when it was first suggested to Herb Alpert as a follow up to his number one hit, "This Guy's in Love with You." Suggested as in a song to sing to. I love me some Herb Alpert, but I'll be the first to tell you that he's better suited as a trumpet musician and not a singer. Alpert apparently felt the same way, as he tried recording "(They Long to Be) Close to You" but was unhappy with the results (the recording later appeared on a 2005 Tijuana Brass record called Lost Treasures 1963-1974.) So he gave it to the new act that had just signed with A&M Records, The Carpenters.

    The Carpenters definitely put their own twist on the arrangement of the song. Richard Carpenter said of the experience, "(Herb Alpert) just gave me a lead sheet, and he said, 'I have a recording of this, but I don't want you to hear it. I don't want anything to influence what I may come up with. Just keep, at the end of the first bridge, two piano quintuplets.' That record, that song, the arrangement, all of it, is misleading to the uninitiated, because it sounds simple. And it's anything but simple."

    Because of the Herb Alpert connection, a lot of people think he played the trumpet on The Carpenters' version, but that honor went to Chuck Findley. Carpenter wanted a layered sound for the middle of the song, and tried having multiple trumpet players perform it in unison, but each instrument sounded slightly different. Findley played all the parts himself, then layered them together to get the sound Carpenter wanted.

    Karen also played drums during the first few sessions, but Alpert didn't like her technique, and gently suggested that Hal Blaine replace her as drummer.

    That was probably a wise move, because it allowed her vocals to shine on what would become the brother and sister act's first and most famous hit. An instant classic was born.

    "(They Long to Be) Close to You" earned The Carpenters a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Performance by a Duo, Group or Chorus in 1971, the first of three Grammy Awards they would win during their careers. Of course, it's been covered seemingly hundreds of times to this day--even The Smashing Pumpkins recorded a version of it. Harry Connick, Jr. released a nice track of it on his 2009 album, Your Songs

    But I doubt anyone will ever be able to top The Carpenters.

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  • 07/28/13--11:56: Ms. Go Retro Answers All

  • You know what's amazing? Go Retro has been live for 6 years now and averages around 1,000 page views a day; that's nearly triple the amount it was getting just over a year ago. And that means people like to write to me. Most of the time the messages are cool--accolades for the site or information that folks thought I would find useful. But with "fame" (ha ha; I use that term loosely) comes a price: a few times a week I now get unsolicited email that often have some off-the-wall motives behind them. You wouldn't think so, seeing as how this blog is all about peace, love and Happy Days, but it happens. I thought I'd take a moment to show you some of the messages that I get on a regular basis. Some of this has been improvised from memory, but I think you'll get the drift in a hurry. I'm thinking some of this may be best digested into a "Contact Me" section of the blog eventually, so that we can hopefully stop some of the stupid before it gets to me. 

    Dear Go Retro,

    I write a blog where I gush about Robert Pattinson's chest hair pattern, debate whether Amanda Bynes is truly insane, and share as many One Direction photos that I can get my mitts on. Can we exchange links on each other's blog rolls?

    Generation Zzzzzzz

    Dear Zzzzzzz:

    Well, I think you and others emailing me similar requests need to ask yourself a question: does my own blog/site have a retro/vintage theme to it? I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I think it's a safe assumption that most of my audience doesn't really give a shit about Robert Pattinson, let alone his chest hair. 

    Dear Go Retro,

    Can you tell me where I can buy retro/vintage style clothing, like the ones I see on Mad Men?

    Miss Clueless

    Dear Miss Clueless:

    A word of advice here: Google is your friend. That's pretty much what I have used to find some interesting sites that sell retro style or actual vintage clothing. Before then, I knew no more than the average person on good resources for retro clothing. 

    Dear Go Retro,

    We publish a magazine about serial killers, the PREMIER publication about serial killers, and it's supplemented by a calendar featuring the serial killer of the month. Would you pretty please link to us and give these soulless heathens of society some free publicity?

    Psychotic Phil

    I really, really, REALLY wish I could say that I am making this one up. Granted, the interpretation above is slightly different than the actual inquiry I received, but I was absolutely nauseous that such a publication (and calendar) exists. I really was tempted to write this guy back and give him a piece of my mind on what I really thought about the theme of his magazine, but I held myself back because God only knows what would have happened to my personal never knows when you're dealing with whackos on the Internet. I just deleted it, but if there was ever an email that gave me the heebee jeebies, that was it. 

    Dear Go Retro,

    I write a blog about the latest technological gadgets and my reviews of them. Would you like to be a guest author for it?

    REALLY Clueless Nerd

    Dear REALLY Clueless Nerd,

    Sure, if by the latest technological gadgets you mean VHS and Walkman.

    Yeah, this happened, too...and what's really maddening is that when I wrote the guy back and explained that my blog was about retro pop culture, not the latest technology, he clearly didn't even pay attention to my message and asked me yet again if we could post-swap. That's when I lost it a bit by asking if he even READ my blog, pointed out that the name of the blog was Go RETRO and that the LAST thing I'd be writing about would be the latest piece of technology invented to separate people from the real world. Needless to say, I never heard from him again. Go figure.

    Dear Go Retro,

    I'm selling my parents' home and wish to get rid of the mid-century modern furniture. I heard that movie studios like to buy this stuff to use in films. How do I go about doing that?

    Movie Set Mary

    Dear Mary,

    Um...look some up and contact them? Why not just put the stuff up for sale on eBay? Good luck. 

    Dear Go Retro,

    I really enjoyed your post about go-go dancing. Are you a go-go dancer?

    Dancing Fool

    Dear Dancing Fool,

    Only if you count my past lives. Tip: just because someone writes about something doesn't mean they work that profession. Thought that seemed pretty obvious but I guess not. 

    Dear Go Retro,

    Hi, how are U? Do u have any 60s-80s tv shows or tv specials? write

    Dear I Have No Clue,

    "U" need to be more specific here. What do you mean, do I have any 60s-80s tv shows or specials? Do you mean do I have any on DVD? And why do you want to know? So you can buy them? Information (and communication) is key.

    Sigh. For the record, I'm still waiting for this email to come in:

    Dear Go Retro,

    We've been reading your blog for a while, and we think you'd make the perfect talk show/TV variety host of your own retro morning show. It'll be Retro . You'll kick off every show doing a dance of a particular era along with your background dancers. You'll get to interview notable celebs and people with connections to the pop culture past. Singers from every decade want to perform for your audience. You'll highlight retro fashion and will show people how to throw groovy retro themed parties. Did we mention we'll pay you $250,000 per show? What do you say?

    Big Joe the Network CEO

    Well, one can dream, right?

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    We're more than a week into March, but someone needs to get that memo to Old Man Winter: it's snowing to beat the band in New England today. It's days like this that make me daydream about summer and to help me along, I'm listening to Miami Sound Machine. I loved Gloria Estefan's band in the 80s. Estefan met the band's leader, Emilio, in 1976 and they're still married today. They're also still performing although the band's name was dropped altogether in 1989 (when they were called Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine.) I guess it's all about Gloria now, but that's OK.

    This group had so many hits that it's impossible to just pick two to highlight, but "Dr. Beat" was their first from the 1984 album Eyes of Innocence and just doesn't get radio play anymore. As far as videos go, it doesn't get much cornier than this, but it's catchy and helped set the band on its way to fame. 

    "Bad Boys" is another favorite of mine--two versions of the video was created. The original is remembered for the cast of Cats, but there's an alternative version showing Gloria chasing a movie star which I like better, except that only half of the video got uploaded to YouTube (but I'm embedding it anyway.)

    To my fellow East Coasters dealing with this storm, hope you stay safe and warm!

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    Ad via AdClassix
    Man, remember how thrilling it was to get your driver's license? When I was in high school, entering your 16th year was an exciting time because it meant you'd get to drive. You'd savor the sweet feeling of freedom behind the wheel, as you no longer had to be shuttled everywhere by your parents, an older family member or a friend.

    This is a feeling that was shared by teens when they became legally able to drive over the past 50 years or so. But lately, something has changed, as I found out via a few news reports last year. Teens and young adults are no longer in love with cars, driving, and auto culture. In fact, they'd rather own a smartphone or a tablet than an automobile. And many aren't even bothering to learn how to drive. In the 1950s, we would have called these kids "squares." But today it's the norm, and understandably, auto makers are a little concerned about it. 

    The way I see it, there are a few reasons why today's young adults simply don't dig cars as much as previous generations did...

    Image via Classic Style Preservation

    1. Buying/Owning a Car is Expensive. 
    From this point of view, I can understand why today's kids don't want a car: they're expensive, especially when compared to the bang you could get for your buck in the 1960s and 70s. A VW Beetle, for example, retailed for about $1,700 during the 60s. Today's version starts at around $20,000. Even a four cylinder Kia with just the basic features will run you about $14,000. Not to mention there's the on-going cost of maintaining a car--and paying for gas (which is hovering in my area around $3.65.) The price of everything has gone up--except for the average American family's income, or at least not enough when compared to the jump in inflation. Teens and 20-somethings were hit hard by this recent downturn in the economy, and they simply cannot afford to own an automobile.

    2. The Car is No Longer a Means to Freedom 
    Where my generation and others viewed the car as a symbol of freedom, the Internet has become the new path of escapism from school, parents and other responsibilities. I find this ironic considering I feel downright confined after being online for too many hours in a row and nothing else feels more refreshing than shutting down the devices and connecting with people in person--or even reading a good book.

    3. Things Can Be Done Online Instead of In-Person
    Society also doesn't have to rely anymore on having a car to get things done--shopping and so many other tasks can be accomplished by going online instead of physically driving someplace.

    Photo via Life archives/AllPosters
    4. Lack of Car-Centric Places Where Kids Can Take Their Wheels
    Drive-ins, diners, car-hops, and other cool hang out places were synonymous with car culture in the 50s, 60s and 70s. When's the last time you saw one of these places? This begs the question of where do kids make out these days on dates, if not in the back seat of a Toyota? 

    This indifference towards car ownership is hard for me to wrap my head around. How my friends and I loved driving once we were all able to do so--I have many fond memories of trips to the movies, fast food restaurants, the mall, the beach, the prom, (my friend borrowed her father's Lincoln Town Car at the time--we felt like big shots!) each other's houses, and even just back and forth to school. 

    During the warmer months, I still love to get in my car and drive someplace--there's nothing like going to the beach with the sunroof and windows open, the wind blowing through my hair and my favorite music playing. I've owned exactly three cars to date since I got my license 25 years ago, and I've loved all of them--my first car was a 1985 Pontiac Firebird; the second, a 1998 VW Beetle and my current mode of transportation is a 2003 Honda Accord coupe. Since my dad was a big car guy, I've saved all of the vintage brochures he collected on various models around the early 70s and while I'm hardly an auto expert, I usually keep up with the latest models and trends. I've gone to auto shows and vintage car shows (I guess it should come as no surprise that the majority of men you see at vintage car shows are older, retired dudes who scrimped and saved their whole lives to buy the classic vintage beauty of their dreams. You don't see too many 20-somethings as the owners at these events.)

    The muscle cars of the 60s through the 80s catered to the younger crowd...but this is no more. The auto manufacturers aren't making many muscle cars due to lack of interest. I guess it's not the worse thing in the world, since a new driver in control of a 300 hp machine is enough to make anyone nervous, and America's roads are pretty congested as it is. Add in the fact that a lot of people like to text or use a phone while they're behind the wheel and frankly, I'd rather those folks never learn to drive. 

    But as far as I'm concerned, teens and young adults don't know what they're missing...and this constant need to be online and communicate only via text and Facebook isn't doing anyone any favors. I hate to borrow the title of a Rihanna song here, but instead of "shut up and drive" maybe we should be saying "shut it off and drive." 

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    I'm very pleased to announce my participation in a special event taking place next week--a Valerie Harper Blog-A-Thon! From March 19th-22nd, several cool bloggers and myself will be posting all about the lovely lady who won our hearts over on 1970s and 1980s American television. A big shout-out and thank you go to Amanda from the awesome blog Made For TV Mayhem for putting together this blog-a-thon to celebrating the life and career of Valerie Harper. Want to know who else is participating? Here's the list--be sure to give these blogs and sites a visit!

    Christmas TV History
    Craftypants Carol
    (Not all posts suitable for office viewing!)
    Daily Grindhouse
    How Sweet it Was
    Michael's TV Tray
    Moon in the Gutter

    My post will be going up on March 19, so stay tuned. Are you a blogger yourself who would like to participate? Just visit Made For TY Mayhem and leave a comment for Amanda with a link to your Valerie Harper post!

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