Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Autobiography of a Frog, Part IX: The Other Half of 1978

It's June now, and here I am in Des Moines visiting family. That's my cousin Brandi on the left, with my cousin Adam behind me and my Uncle Terry in the background. I don’t know when exactly this was, but I think it was the summer. That's when it comes up in the photo album, anyway. I don’t know if we just didn’t see my Dad’s side of the family as much or if there just aren’t many pictures, but it’s nice to see one here.

Aside: I wonder if we drove or flew or what. I don’t remember making a lot of trips at this age (nearly 2), but there are lots of things I don’t remember.

The month of June 1978 brought us some awful things (Garfield, Grease), but it brought some of my favorite things, too. For example, Space Invaders, one of the greatest arcade games of all time. Midway brought it to America. What was so great--for me--about the seminal game is that by the time I was old enough to enjoy arcade games (I had to stand on that little platform stool when I started just a couple of years later), the craze was for Pac-Man and Donkey Kong and other games, so there was never a wait to play Space Invaders. (And it wasn’t retired for a long, long time.)

Also: Miss June, Gail Stanton. (NSFW)

And the Speak & Spell debuted at the Consumer Electronics Show this month. Hey, look at what I actually dug out:
As you can see by the membrane keyboard, it’s not an original model. It looks like the 1986 model, but I was 10 in 1986, so I can’t imagine I had one of these then. I had one when I saw E.T., so it might have been one of the 1980 redesigns, but I can’t find any concrete info on when the membrane keyboards were introduced.

Here’s another one for you:
Speak & Math. This was introduced in 1980. Where my sister and I shared the Speak & Spell back and forth, this one was really meant for me and my horrible math grades. Much more on that in upcoming posts in this series.

Also in June: David Berkowitz was sentenced to 365 years in prison, and The Jungle Book was re-released. I don't know if I saw it then, I was pretty young. I think I caught the 1984 re-release. I actively remember seeing that one in the theater.

More importantly: the rainbow flag flew for the first time on June 28 at the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade!

July was pretty slow historically, but I turned 2 years old. I don’t have any pictures from this year that I know for certain are on my birthday, so here’s a picture of me looking happy in 1978.

I was visiting my grandparents then, because my baby book says that I went to the Brookfield Zoo on my birthday. That’s still one of my favorite places on Earth.

Look back there: I’d almost guarantee that shark chart is from National Geographic, which my Grandpa Sage had a subscription to. Wow, I was into sharks even back then. I thought that came later. And I see a Star Wars poster, too.

I’m so small on that bouncy horse. We had that for so many years. I remember the day when I got on it and was just too big for it. That was a sad moment from my childhood. But until then, that thing gave me a lot of fun.

Hey, speaking of Star Wars, the 21st was the first re-release. I mention that specifically to point out this poster:
When I went to see Return of the Jedi (I can’t remember if it was the initial release or the re-release), my Dad bought me a reprint of this poster the theater was selling. I had it on my closet door for years, until my Mom got sick of it and threw it out. That happened to a lot of my stuff when I was a kid.

On July 25, the world's first "test tube baby," Louise Brown, was born.

On July 28, one of my all-time favorite movies was released: National Lampoon's Animal House. This movie is for me the real template of all modern comedy. Many have tried to imitate it, and very few have succeeded. It’s one of my favorites; I think I’ve seen this 287 times (warning: total guess pulled out of thin air), and I’ve laughed every time. It’s perfect.

I have nothing to say about August. Wish I had more personal pics from this year.

Let's head into the fall. There's new TV in the fall. For those of us who were kids at the time, we had the misfortune to be introduced to Scrappy Doo and Godzookie in the same fall season. *shudder* (Not that I was really watching shows that were a ton better: I was watching Yogi's Space Race and The Fantastic Four.) Also that year was a show that would later make a weird impression on me: The Adventures of the Little Prince. It started in Japan this year, but I watched it in the early 80s on Nickelodeon, I believe. That flower was unbelievably mean. I still think about this show when I play Super Mario Galaxy or Katamari.


I also have to mention the DC Implosion. Starting in 1975, incoming DC Comics publisher Jenette Kahn had moved forward with a marketing plan called “The DC Explosion,” which saw the introduction of 57 new titles. By early 1978, DC was experiencing a sales slump that partially had to do with extreme blizzards interrupting shipments. Around 30 titles were canceled in what has been sarcastically called “The DC Implosion,” including (though I wasn’t reading them at the time) what would later be some short-lived favorites of mine: Black Lightning, Kamandi, Firestorm, All-Star Comics, Mister Miracle, The Witching Hour, and Shazam.  Kahn even wanted to cancel Detective Comics! (There’s a fantastic article about it at Dial B for Blog.)

And there's more in September. The entire season of Doctor Who, season 16, is my favorite classic season, featuring the "Key to Time" season-long arc. You bring up Doctor Who, and this is what flashes into my mind first. I didn’t really experience the show until I was just out of high school; I kind of feel bad because I remember, back in the days when there was a definite (and unfair) nerd hierarchy, it was kind of understood in my neighborhood that the Doctor Who fans were the nerdiest of the nerds. Even nerdier than D&D players. Even then, geeks and outcasts could be stupidly cruel to each other.

September 5th through September 17th were the Camp David Accords.

On September 7th, Keith Moon died, soon after the release of one of the great singles of rock: "Who Are You."


Here's some other music from the fall of 1978 that I love: "Can't Stand Losing You" by The Police; Ace Frehley's cover of "New York Groove"; "The Promised Land" by Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band; Queen's "Fat-Bottomed Girls"; Billy Joel's "My Life"; and Blondie's "Hanging on the Telephone."

On September 12, the sitcom Taxi premiered. This was a show I used to watch with my Dad; we both loved Danny DeVito especially, and today I wonder if I got some of my more sarcastic and mean streak humor from him. It's certainly an influence. I still love that show today when I actually catch it. (It's still my favorite TV show theme of all time.) Also, I had a massive crush on Marilu Henner from a very early age that still has not died. Good night, Mister Walters!

I loved my baseball jacket. Kind of surprised I didn't grow up to be more of a basketball kid. Hey, speaking of baseballs, here's this:
I found this little baseball pillow that I had when I was a kid. I don’t know if someone made this or if it was bought for me. This was for when I started losing my baby teeth; I would put the tooth inside the pocket there and then the Tooth Fairy would usually leave me a dollar. Those were always exciting nights for me, but somehow I managed to sleep. I can’t even remember what I would spend the money on… candy bar, maybe, or a comic book. Doesn’t matter. It was the excitement of getting the dollar that was the bigger deal.

I don't care to keep up with papal politics, but it is noteworthy that Pope John Paul I died after only 33 days in office on September 28. On October 16, Pope John Paul II would be elected. My wife's grandmother was a big fan of that guy.

On October 12, Sid Vicious murdered Nancy Spungen.

Here's some more modern reference photos:
Many of the pictures of me that you’re seeing on this series were taken with this very camera. I still have it, in my big trunk of mementos and keepsakes and junk. This one still works, too! If it were possible to find any film for it, anyway. And those big cube flashes.

Late October saw the release of a few of my fave movies. In the US, Sidney Lumet's bizarre and fascinating film of The Wiz; in France, the wonderful La Cage aux Folles; and on October 25, Halloween. I never saw this movie until I was 20 and it still scared the hell out of me. That was back in the days when it seemed like no one owned the copyright and you could get it anywhere on VHS for about five bucks. I bought it on a whim and, a few days before Halloween, turned off the lights, left the window open for an unseasonably nice breeze, and lit a candle. From those amazing credits on, I was rapt with attention and devoured one of the great--and one of my favorite--horror films of all time.

Here I am, two years old and dressed up for my very first Halloween as a trick or treater!

My Mom’s plan was to take me out trick or treating for the first time when I was three. But I was apparently so fascinated by the kids in costumes coming to the door over and over again that my parents just couldn’t keep me from wanting in on this glorious racket. So they dressed me up in the baseball jacket and cap I wore all the time anyway, gave me a beach pail to carry, and took me around the neighborhood.

I wish I could remember it, but I really can’t. I was just a shade too young. Like I said, I don’t remember much more than feelings, images, and the occasional flash of something from our years in Texas. But look at me in this picture: uncertain but determined, and about to begin a lifelong love affair with the greatest holiday in the world.

I wonder if I got any Whatchamacallit that year... it was new for 1978, and it's my favorite candy bar of all time. Also new that year: Reese's Pieces, another favorite to this day. There was a while there where I wouldn’t go see a movie without getting a bag.

Oh, hey, look what's in my trunk:
I never did get rid of that baseball cap. I think I wore that for years, literally until it no longer fit on my head anymore.

The next day, November 1, saw the release of one of my favorite movies to this day: Watership Down.

Oh, this movie.

What an impression this movie made on me when I was very young. At some point, this movie was shown around Easter on network television over two nights. I was blown away by it. This was that time period when animation and films for children still had a dark side to them; the edges weren’t soft, and this is a movie that has a happy ending that you have to go through utter hell to earn. I have seen people watch this movie and need a hug afterward. It doesn’t delight in its hard details--including death, violence, and even the capriciousness of religion--but it doesn’t shy from them either. I love this movie, and even today have large chunks of dialogue memorized.

“All the world will be your enemy, Prince-with-a-Thousand-Enemies. And when they catch you, they will kill you. But first, they must catch you; digger, runner, listener, Prince with a swift warning. Be cunning, and full of tricks, and your people will never be destroyed.”

“There’s a dog loose in the woods!”

“My Chief’s told me to defend this run.” “Your…Chief?”

“Come back, you fools! Dogs aren’t dangerous!”

“My heart has joined the Thousand, for my friend stopped running today.”

“I’ve come to ask if you’d like to join my Owsla. We shall be glad to have you, and I know you’d like it. You’ve been feeling tired, haven’t you? If you’re ready, we might go along now.”

You can not show this movie to my Mom or even play her the music unless you want to see her cry.

God, I love this movie so much.

This movie also started my love for rabbits, long one of my favorite animals. It also inspired me to read the Richard Adams novel, which I’ve read twice in my life. I read it the first time in 3rd or 4th grade, the first book I ever read that was over 200 pages.

November 2 was the US airdate for one of my favorite episodes of The Muppet Show: Season 3, Episode 7, starring Alice Cooper. It’s not that I’m even particularly a fan of Alice Cooper. It’s that this episode shows how much fun the Muppets could be without backing away from controversial material. Remember, for a lot of people (including me), the Muppets were never about safe entertainment for kids, they were about comedy.

Possibly the most genius bit in this episode is the way Alice plays it as having been sent by the Devil to steal the souls of the Muppets. That’s a great through-line. Mixed in with this are some great bits and performances, including “Welcome to My Nightmare,” a great Pigs in Space sketch, and a bizarre-but-wonderful performance of Cooper’s last great song (IMO) “You and Me.” The whole thing is capped by a great, high energy, balls-to-the-wall rendition of “School’s Out.” This was a time when a lot of radio stations still wouldn’t even play the damn thing!

Just a fantastic episode.

November 8 was the death of Norman Rockwell. I guess to some people it’s cheesy to like Rockwell’s paintings, but I love them. He represented an America that was idealized, sure, but it was an America I think he thought we were capable of creating. Not sure I believe that these days, but his paintings are lovely.

November 1978 was Mickey Mouse's 50th anniversary. He got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame this month.

November 17 was the first and only broadcast of The Star Wars Holiday Special. This is one of those things that some people like to say is so bad that it’s good. Those people are wrong.

November 18 was the incident at Jonestown. I don't remember it from the time, of course, being only 2, but this one really shook up my Mom. To this day, she shudders just from hearing about it.

November 19 was the first Take Back the Night march (in San Francisco).

Here's some silliness that I kinda love:

I know, it’s the stupidest thing ever, but I love it. Pure late 70s cheese, served sleazy and stupid, just the way I dig it. The chick in this video was the kind of chick I grew up digging: made up, hair in wings, and dirty-minded. Too bad they only existed in music videos. Plus, you know, I was 2.

Also, since I know my wife is reading this, I have to add, as always: and featuring Rexor on drums. Because the drummer looks like Rexor from Conan the Barbarian.

Also, I bet that bass player is a cool dude to hang out with. Let’s the three of us go surfing and try to pick up some sleazy music video chicks!

What a time to be alive!

Also, another favorite Playmate: Miss November, Monique St. Pierre. (NSFW)

And another favorite movie: Debbie Does Dallas. Seriously. This is quite possibly my favorite adult film ever. It’s just so… innocent. I mean, I know it’s a hardcore skin flick about teenage hookers, but if there’s a hot-yet-innocent way to do that, this flick does it. It’s refreshing in today’s world of dead-eyed, too-toned porn stars to see people that look like actual people just having some fun sex!

Not all fun, though. Sadly, on November 27, San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and City Supervisor Harvey Milk were assassinated by former Supervisor Dan White. There's a great documentary you should watch called The Times of Harvey Milk.

December 3: Christmas Eve on Sesame Street aired. This TV special is still a great watch.

December 11: The Lufthansa Heist, as seen in Goodfellas.

December 13: The first Susan B. Anthony dollars were struck. I still see one every year or five.

December 15: Welcome to the party, Laserdisc. These things were always so cool and remote. “Serious” movie collectors had Laserdisc. The format lasted a long time, too; I was saving up for a Laserdisc player in 1998 when a friend told me not to buy it and gave me the first article I’d ever read about DVDs. I used the money on a DVD player instead.


And before Christmas, here are some more of my favorite movies:

Superman. I still think of this as the most perfect superhero movie of all time; one of the most perfect movies of all time. This is one of the few movies about ideals of heroism and fairness that don’t apologize for what they are and don’t beat you over the head with the whole idea. What the film does is take something that seems very hokey and outdated and deliberately transplant it to another time and say “You know what? When these things come from the heart, they’re not outdated.” People matter. Humanity matters. Goodness matters. I love this movie. And the music! The music!

Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It never makes me popular saying this, but this is my favorite version of this story. I just think the twists and turns are more interesting. Also, Nimoy should’ve been Oscar-nominated for this.

And I see Disney re-released Pinocchio. Again, I can’t say with any realistic certainty that I saw Pinocchio at this age. It was a pretty traumatizing movie for me when I was young… even now, I get the sounds and imagery of Lampwick turning into a donkey and it sends a chill through me. Of course, like many things that scared me as a kid, it’s now one of my favorite things ever.

Here I am on Christmas morning, 1978, with my Mom, who is just a few weeks away from having another baby! Yes, this would be my last Christmas as an only child.

Look at that snazzy robe. I look good.

This is at our house in Killeen, Texas, so I see my grandparents came to spend Christmas with us. Were they there for the birth of my sister? I've never thought about that before. Also, we had that end table for a very long time. We didn't have that rooster lamp for a long time, but seeing it right now sparks something in me. I kind of remember it.

I know this was a long one, but I decided to go through the six months at once because I just don't have the pictures and a lot of it's just listing stuff. I'm too young to have memorable experiences.

1978 ended with John Wayne Gacy getting arrested and the escalation of the war between Vietnam and Cambodia. I had no idea of such things. I was awaiting the birth of my sister and the next round of holidays.

Thanks for reading! Catch you next time.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Song of the Week: "About a Girl"

Nirvana, 1989.