Saturday, June 03, 2017

The Autobiography of a Frog, Part VI: Still I Dream of It

Well, here I am: one year old.

It feels weird to look back and be able to see what was going on in the world while I was puttering around and saying "Ernie" for the first time. There was the Libyan-Egyptian War, for example, or the massive flooding that killed 75 people in Johnstown, Pennsylvania on that very day. Lots of stuff bigger than a kid saying his first word. This is part of the way I internalize stuff, the way my mental disorders work, particularly PTSD: I feel kinda guilty looking back because, well, hill of beans in this world and all that jazz. I know, rationally, that you can't feel that way, but I also know it's still there. I guess I don't really feel it anymore, but I know it's something I do. And that's sort of a success.

Moving on into August 1977, the 4th finds President Carter signing legislation to create the US Department of Energy, the 10th sees the capture of David Berkowitz, and the 12th brings the first test flight of the Space Shuttle Enterprise.

August 15: The Wow! Signal. While working for the SETI Project at Ohio State University’s Big Ear, Jerry R. Ehman detected a 72-second strong narrowband radio signal. The location of the signal is determined to be in the Sagittarius constellation, near the Chi Sagittarii star group.

The signal has not been detected since.

Also, on that day, I was given my first haircut.

The two are probably not related.

That we know…

Some other pop culture-y stuff this month: I want to mention one of my favorite songs, "Still I Dream of It," from an unreleased Beach Boys album, Adult/Child. I think this is Brian Wilson’s one true masterpiece from this time period, and his damaged-but-still-crisp vocals here shine through the serious problems he was having at this time in his life. Brian is one of my heroes.

Funnily enough, his brother Dennis released his beautiful solo album Pacific Ocean Blue in August, a damn masterpiece.

Also: Marvel's Godzilla series is first cover-dated in August, and I am very much a fan of Godzy being part of the Marvel Universe.

Also also: Julia Lyndon, Miss August 1977, is one of my favorite Playboy Playmates of all time.

On August 16, Elvis Presley died. My Grandma Davis and my Dad both loved Elvis; my Mom, however, can't stand him. I love a lot of the music. And on August 19, we lost Groucho Marx. A huge influence on what I love in comedy. I probably emulated him a bit too much in my younger days, when I was known for being incredibly sarcastic.

August 20, Voyager 2 was launched. By December, it would reach the asteroid belt.

August 23, VHS was introduced. Here's the beginning on an 80s childhood right here. I want to say we got our first VCR in 1982 or very, very late 1981. I can't remember it, exactly. It was a JVC and it worked into the 2000s. The next day my favorite Peanuts movie, Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown. And that's I movie I watched a lot on VHS. You know, I have no idea how I learned about Charlie Brown. That stuff is so there from an early age.

August 29 was the release of the great Iggy Pop album Lust for Life, which is one of his two masterpieces this year (the other is The Idiot). I love both, but this one's a little sunnier and picks me right up. The Idiot is more about personal demons and tears me up. They really go together.

And let's end August with another post-punk classic, one of my favorite tunes, another Stiff riff, this one Ian Dury’s signature. Excellent stuff, drolly performed with a lifted funk bassline.

Just a little musical intermission.

Oh, hello. Didn't see you come in.

You may be wondering why August was mainly a catalog of stuff I liked that came out at the time. (I don't know why, because there's still going to be a lot of that, but maybe sometimes it seems excessive.)

Anyway, we were basically just packing up. September is the month we left Des Moines, Iowa and moved to Killeen, Texas. Having completed Basic Training, my Dad was now stationed at Fort Hood. Being so young, I don't have a ton of memories of Texas. I think I remember little flashes and images, but health professionals tell me it's impossible. We were only there for a couple of years, and my sister Jayne will be born there in 1979.

I do know that this is the place where I'll become a fearful kid. My Mom unintentionally warped me here by making me afraid of dogs. Apparently, there was a dog that someone had where we lived. Then as now, I had a habit of waking up very early, before anyone else, and I would slide out of bed and through the low, apparently screenless windows we had. Someone, another soldier I assume, had a big dog that was chained up outside, and my Mom, fearful that I would get mauled by this dog, told me that if I got too close, the dog would "get" me. Somehow, in my still-developing brain, this became a fear of ALL dogs. I never knew why I was so afraid of dogs until I was around 16 or 17, but I spent my childhood running from them and avoiding them. Eventually, it transferred over to most animal species, and then to other people, and to literally anything I was afraid of. If I was afraid of it, it must be because it wants to "get" me and that's the end. Doesn't matter what it is, either: could be dogs, could be aliens, could be Skeksis. I still carry a lot of fears around today because that's my inherent response. Today I have my fear of animals mostly tamped down, but sometimes there's that... twinge, you know? And that fear had to become a fear of almost everything, even going out in the world, before I could truly address it, and that was just five or so years ago.


While we take a moment from that, here's a commercial featuring Burl Ives for Buttermilk's Farm.

You go, Burl. He almost makes that horrible goop sound good.

On September 5th, Voyager 1 was launched. There had been a slight delay, so it was launched second. On the 18th, it sent us this picture:

On September 8th, the same day Interpol issued a warning (already!) against copyright infringement on video tapes, another of my great comedy influences, Zero Mostel, passed away. My first experience with Zero was on an episode of The Muppet Show.

The makings of a great 80s childhood continued on September 11 when Atari released the Video Computer System, or Atari 2600. I can't remember when we first got this, either, but it was probably later, around 1982 or even '83, because it did come bundled with that unfortunate Pac-Man port. I still have my system and all my games today. Just can't bring myself to get rid of them. I still have all of my game consoles. At the time, the 2600 was bundled with Combat, one of my fave childhood games. It was one of the most basic games for the console, I guess, but I always returned to it again and again. It was so much fun, and it was so easy to drive my sister crazy with it. Even now, I enjoy playing this game, though I play ports online.

The next day, Steve Biko was murdered by South African police, or whatever ambiguous way we're supposed to say that. And on September 16, Marc Bolan, the glam rock pioneer, was killed in a car crash. He was nearly 30.

A couple of TV events. First, on the 13th, Soap premiered. A fantastic show, until it falters in the fourth season and it doesn’t know where to go and Billy Crystal starts doing his elderly Jewish man persona because he’s just that bored. My Mom tells me I used to watch this show when I was little, but I don’t remember that at all. I somehow always knew who Billy Crystal was, though, even as a kid when he would show up in things like The Princess Bride. Weird. I assume she’s right. (My other favorite new show from this season when I was little was Scooby Doo's All Star Laff-A-Lympics.) And on September 20, Fonzie jumped the shark, and later we'd name it an official TV trope.

This is one of the surprisingly few pics we have of our time in Killeen. I know, because people have told me, that I was always fascinated seeing the tanks.

September ends with the Food Stamp Act of 1977 (and thank you!) and another masterpiece of an album, The Stranger. Billy Joel was my comfort music as a teenager. I identified with a lot of the emotions he conveyed, but I was cheered by the genre of music he chose to do it in. Listen to the lyrics; sometimes he’s downright angry and disgusted and you could miss it because he’s writing pop music. This is one of his supreme achievements, and an album I’ve actually bought three times in my life: once on cassette, once on CD, and again in a remastered CD. It’s just that good. Every song on this is perfect to me. But for me the real high point is “Vienna,” a song I always love listening to when I feel bad. It always reminds me: “Slow down… take the phone off the hook and disappear for a while.” And the hard, but necessary, lesson: “Dream on, but don’t imagine they’ll all come true.”

Then again, I also love Meco's "Star Wars Theme," so you can ignore me if you need to.

October? Well, I don't know what could be more fulfilling than that monster Anita Bryant getting pied in the face by four gay rights activists during a press conference in Des Moines, resulting in her political fallout from anti-gay activism, but I'll press on, anyway.

(Apropos of nothing, here's Queen's "We Are the Champions," which hit the charts around this time and is a deep fave of mine. Oh, and David Bowie's "Heroes," another classic of the time that I adore.)

I mean, it wasn't all great news. The Runaways put out their first album without Cherie Currie. Bing Crosby died.

Huh, I guess most of my stuff about October is music-related... After all, two more great albums, classics in my life, were released this month, different though they may be: Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols and Meat Loaf's Bat Out of Hell. I find that me liking the Sex Pistols album surprises people (not sure why), but me liking the Meat Loaf album surprises no one. But hey, it's a work of pure, bombastic genius, with all of the elements connecting in a way they never really would again for Meat Loaf: his own operatic voice (mixing perfectly with Ellen Foley’s), Jim Steinman’s grand compositions, Kenny Ascher’s enveloping string arrangements, and Todd Rundgren’s production giving the entire show real credibility. It’s big without being pompous, audacious without being stupid, and soaring without reaching too far. A perfect album. Every number knocks it into the stratosphere. And look at that fantastic Richard Corben art on the cover! It's excellent! I stole the cassette from my Dad, and then I stole his CD, and then I bought it remastered on CD.

In non-music news, The Muppet Show had one of my favorite episodes this year (Rudolf Nureyev, then starring in the underrated-but-bizarre Valentino by Ken Russell), Marvel Premiere #38 featured the start of the all-too-short-but-awesome Weirdworld, and on October 26, in Somalia, the world’s last natural case of smallpox is diagnosed. In 1980, the World Health Organization would declare smallpox eradicated. It remains the biggest success of vaccination. Thanks to science, I was part of the first generation in human history who could grow up without the fear of smallpox.

Hopefully, the anti-vaccination crowd won’t end up throwing this achievement away.

Well, Halloween 1977 came. Here's a commercial for Monster Cereals (still love 'em) featuring a pretty flimsy disguise kit. People will still recognize you.

I don’t know why, but there’s no picture of me on my second Halloween. Unless I was going as John Denver, I don't think this is an official costume of mine. I don't even know whose glasses these are... my Mom's, maybe? She wears contacts but she has glasses. I didn't start wearing glasses until I was 16.

Boy, look how much I've grown just from July to October, pictures at the top and bottom of this very post. Wow, kids grow fast.

Next time, we'll do the holiday season and see what's up in '78.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Favorite Movies? Maybe?

A meme going around that asks you to list your favorite films. At nearly 8000 movies and with my memory problems, I don't know how accurate this will be, but I've been looking at Roger's list for a couple of weeks and thinking... why not just do it and see what comes to mind right off?

So, just right off the top of my head...

Most Hated Movie Of All Time: Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice
Movie I Think Is Overrated: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Movie I Think Is Underrated: The Neon Demon
Movie I Love: The Adventures of Robin Hood
Movie I Secretly Love: I can't think of one where I've made a secret of it.

Favorite Action Movie: Die Hard
Favorite Drama: I find this one a little too general to answer... it's not really like a genre.
Favorite Horror: The original Halloween
Favorite Comedy: The Blues Brothers
Favorite Romance: Love Actually

Favorite Fantasy: The Dark Crystal
Favorite Disney Movie: Bambi
Favorite Science Fiction Movie: Time Bandits
Favorite Book to Movie Adaptation: The Lord of the Rings
Favorite Animated Movie: the "recobbled" fan edit of The Thief and the Cobbler

Favorite Superhero Movie: the 1978 Superman
Favorite War Movie: The Big Red One
Favorite Thriller: Vertigo
Favorite Cop Movie: The Fugitive
Favorite Musical: West Side Story

Favorite Chop-Socky: Rumble in the Bronx
Favorite Documentary: Night and Fog
Favorite Bad Movie: I like so many movies that aren't classically, y'know, "good," man.
Childhood Favorite: The Muppet Movie
Favorite Franchise: The Marvel Cinematic Universe

Best Trilogy: Star Wars, original trilogy
Guilty Pleasure: I don't feel embarrassed by what I like, so nothing
Favorite Director: Terry Gilliam
Favorite Actor: Christopher Lee
Favorite Actress: Elizabeth Taylor

Favorite Movie This Year So Far: Get Out
Worst Movie So Far This Year: I really didn't like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. I've only seen a few movies in the cinema so far this year and I liked them all.
Movie I Have Recently Seen: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
What I Thought Of It: Pure magic.
Favorite Movie Of All Time: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Song of the Week: "I'll Get You What You Want (Cockatoo in Malibu)"

Every song I could think of this morning was kind of sad or dour. It's raining softly and dark, and somehow this song came into my head... and it sounds cheesy, but the rain's stopped and it's lighter. So that's the magic of Muppets, man. This is my favorite song from the wonderful (and apparently underrated) Muppets Most Wanted, and it's the official video, which replaces Matt Vogel's performance as Constantine, the World's Most Dangerous Frog, with the song's composer, Bret McKenzie of Flight of the Conchords, hamming it up in a 70s/80s-inspired cheese fest. Have a brighter day, everyone. Son's even brighter since I started writing this!