Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Della & The Detectives - "Drake On the Move"

"Donald Dearest" b/w "Drake on the Move" - 7" single
Della & The Detectives
(Travesty Records, 1984)

White hair, checkered coat, bulge on his cigarette pack
Shadowing the shadows at the corner of the depot
And chasing through the railroad track
Cut out, put your butt out, music up and dissolve
Drake on the move...

This past weekend, I busied myself getting a bunch of my vinyl records digitized so I could make some mix CDs. One of them was this 7-inch B-side written by P. O'Leary and credited to Della and the Detectives about Perry Mason's right-hand man, Paul Drake (played by Hedda "the Hat" Hopper's son William Hopper in the television series based on Erle Stanley Gardner's mystery novels) - the rakish P.I. with the silver hair and pinky ring who always checks and rechecks "every possible lead, every possible angle, and every possible possibility" for Perry so he can once again humiliate Hamilton Burger (TV Land's losingest district attorney) in court. (The Dave Nuttycombe-penned A-side "Donald Dearest" is a tabloid confessional spoof in which a bitter Huey Duck accuses his uncle of abuse.)

William Hopper as Paul Drake

As the Eccentric Roadside blog raved, "Paul Drake is REALLY cool. A big, barrel-chested P.I. with prematurely silver hair in a checkered sportcoat smoking a Winston and driving a T-Bird. He's got his own private back entrance to Perry's office, always sits on the edge of Perry's desk and greets Della with an ever so suave "Hiya, beautiful" (she usually just rolls her eyes back at him)." And (like Warron Zevon's pina colada-drinking werewolf of London), his hair was perfect.

Yet, as the folks at the Thrilling Detective web site lament, despite being "one of the most enduring hardboiled private eyes of all time...he has never been the lead, always playing second fiddle to his famous client." Della and her Detectives try to right that slight, and it's the only musical homage I've ever heard to the legendary head of the Drake Detective Agency.

"Drake on the Move" was a Dr. Demento favorite, though "Della and the Detectives" was actually the work of Washington, D.C.'s Travesty, Ltd comedy ensemble. If my memory serves me well (it usually doesn't), I believe this 7-inch single came inside Travesty, Ltd.'s Teen Comedy Party LP (Used Records, 1983), which featured the final performance of the Starland Vocal Band (famous for 1976's #1 one-hit wonder "Afternoon Delight").

Travesty, Ltd.'s "Teen Comedy Party" album

Out-of-print copies of the original '80s album sell for as much as $45 on the Internet, though in 2000 Travesty, Ltd. released an updated, 40-track CD version of it. One of the skits from this album, "Rock and Roll Doctor," ended up on two Dr. Demento albums and the box set The Greatest Novelty Recordings of All Time.

I think I got my album courtesy of Dave Nuttycombe back in the days when I reviewed music for various publications. The Wheaton, MD-based Nuttycombe was a Travesty alumnus (he wrote "Rock and Roll Doctor," for which the Travesty boys still receive royalty checks from Rhino Records), as well as a Langley Punks/Travesty Films alum (P.G. County's legendary screwball guerilla filmmakers who screened a retrospective of their works at the AFI Silver Theatre as recently as last June 2011 - not to mention previous screenings on Count Gore De Vol's Creature Feature television show - see "Gore Meets the Langley Punks"), Washington City Paper webmeister, and curator of the award-winning ("Best Humor Award," Washington Post) cassette tape Cheap Stories, which featured the best parts of the worst "adult" novels of the '40s, '50s and '60s, read to the accompaniment of "smokey bongo jazz" and the tenor sax stylings of Ron Holloway (veteran sideman with Dizzy Gillespie, Root Boy Slim, Susan Tedeshi, among others).

Speaking of Ron Holloway, his sax is put to great use on "Drake On the Move," as his wild solo riffing at the end plays a clever variation on the Perry Mason theme song. There is no information about any other musicians appearing on "Drake On the Move"; the Teen Comedy Party album credits Jane Raftery, Laura First and Mary Forbes as The Travesty Singers, so I wonder if they were also the voices behind Della and the Detectives (or was it the gals from Starland Vocal Band? Anybody know?)

I also wonder if the writing credit for "P. O'Leary" is a typo for B. O'Leary, as Bill O'Leary was one of the Travesty, Ltd. comedy ensemble.

The song samples some great Perry Mason soundbites, ending with Raymond Burr saying "Paul Drake just left" followed by Paul Drake's quizzical response, "I did?"

Watch & listen to "Drake on the Move."

Paul Drake Lives!
According to the Travesty-Brand Fine Products web store, you can still buy this 7-inch vinyl single (as well as other products) by sending a check or money order in the amount of $5.00 + $2.50 payable to: West Production Services, Inc., P.O. Box 2810, Merrifield, VA 22116.

"Paul Drake just left." "I did???"


The Langley Punks/Travesty crew (Pat Carroll, Jim Phalen, Bob Young, Larry Zabel, Bill O'Leary, Tom Welsh, Rich West, Don Hogan, and Dave Nuttycombe) clearly knew their classic cult television history, and not just Perry Mason. Back in 1984, they made a cable TV pilot for The Travesty Show, a period throwback to The Honeymooners replete with gag commercials and black-and-white kinescope video look. DC's Wanktones (a Slickee Boys rockabilly side project) even made an appearance on the show, as shown in the YouTube clip below:

Mark Noone of The Wanktones on "The Travesty Show"

Watch The Wanktones on "The Travesty Show."

Root Boy Slim and Ron Holloway also made cameos on The Travesty Show, as shown in the video clip below:

Watch Root Boy Slim on "The Travesty Show."

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

I only have eye for you

The Lazy Eye All-Star Band

Welfare mothers may make better lovers. But does amblyopia ("lazy eye") make better musicians? You decide.

Colin Hay (Men at Work) - vocals & guitar

Kevin Godley (Hotlegs, 10cc, Godley & Creme) - drums & vocals

Thom Yorke (Radiohead) - vocals, guitars, keyboards

Jonsi (Sigur Ros) - vocals, guitars, synths, etc.

Chris Martin (Coldplay) - vocals, keyboards, guitars.

Tone Loc (aka Tony Smith) - vocals

One eye is a "Wild Thing," a funky cool retina

Biggie Smalls/Notorious B.I.G. (aka Chris Wallace, R.I.P.) - vocals

Paris Hilton - vocals

Gregg Michael Gillis (Girl Talk) - Laptop computer

John Lydon/Johnny Rotten (Sex Pistols, PiL) - vocals

David Cassidy (Partridge Family) - vocals

"C'mon Get Lazy!"

Lorraine Feather - vocals

Jazz singer Lorraine even wrote a song called "The Girl with the Lazy Eye"

Related Lazy Eye Links:
The Gang That Couldn't See Straight
More Views Askew

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Monday, February 20, 2012

Rockin' Out On Presidents Day

Among its many notable days (Black History Month, Groundhog's Day, Valentine's Day - the latter occurring in the month also designated as National Condom Month and National Mend a Broken Heart Month), "Festive February" marks the birthdates of American presidents Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and George Washington (February 22), the latter purportedly the "Father of Our Nation" - albeit in the days before paternity testing. And while cynics like me tend to view President's Day (February 20) as more of a capitalist pretext for a shopping spree than a real holiday, a number of musicians have found inspiration in these guys.

President's Day: a time to KISS you money goodbye?

So, in the spirit of the day, here are my favorite Presidents Day Tunes!

*** ABRAHAM LINCOLN (February 12) ***

The Skeptics - "Ghost of Abraham Lincoln"

Frederick, MD's own Skeptics (guitarist Andy McCutcheon, bassist Dennis Crolley, drummer Stephen Blickenstaff) pay homage to The Great Emancipator, "honest Abe, long tall Abe, good old Abe" - whose ghost is out to find John Wilkes Booth and kick his conspiratorial thespian ass.

Abe has a bone to pick with John Wilkes Booth

This video was directed by local boy-made-good Chris LaMartina, who as director of the horror-gore-galore film President's Day (2010) knows a thing or two about Mr. Lincoln! (See City Paper's "The Golden Abe of Horror," 2/10/2010.)

*** GEORGE WASHINGTON (February 22) ***

Cox & Combes - "Washington"

"Cox & Combes" is the alias of Brad Neely, a comic book artist and television writer/producer (South Park). Though we've all heard the mythic tales of our first Prez who couldn't lie when he cut down cherry trees and who single-handedly won the War of Independence, it's refreshing to learn that these deeds were merely the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. Neely informs us that no only was George six-foot-eight (bigger than life!) and blessed with "two sets of testicles so divine" (you need hefty hydraulics power to be able to father your country), but he also ate redcoats's brains and invented cocaine. (Knowledge is power, kids!)


Though Presidents Day officially associates itself with Washington’s Birthday (and thus is celebrated on the third Monday of February, which is closest to George's February 22nd birthdate), it's still regarded as a day to honor all former presidents of the US of A. Here's a good way to remember the other chiefs we once hailed.

The Animaniacs celebrate "The Presidents" up through Clinton.

Nickelodeon sings "Presidents Song" up through George W.

Thanks to They Might Be Giants, President James K. Polk ("The Napoleon of the Stump"!) gets his due in song, too.

Watch TMBG's "James K. Polk."

Of course, Robert Smigel's Saturday Night Live videos have ensured that we don't forget about the superheroic exploits of the more recent X-Presidents: Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush.

Watch the "X-Presidents."

But for a definitive list of Presidential Pop, I kowtow to A.V. Club's definitive "Hails to the Chief: 70 songs about American presidents" that lists everything from The Blind Robins' "That Goddamn Herbert Hoover"/"We'd Like To Thank You Herbert Hoover" (from the Annie soundtrack) and The Ramones "Bonzo Goes To Bitburg" (not to mention Zappa's "Reagan at Bitburg") to Ashford & Simpsons' "Solid (As Barack)." Their list even credits Devo's "Whip It" - ostensibly about sex and masochism - as being a call out ("When a problem comes along, you can whip it!") to a beleaguered Jimmy Carter, who was was at the time beset by the Double Whammy of the recession and the Iranian hostage crisis.

But one of my faves is The Legendary K.O.'s "George Bush Don't Like Black People," one of the many George W. Bush ditty-disses.

Watch "George Bush Don't Like Black People."

*** More Festive February Working Holidays Songs ***

OK, on a related note...Festive February made me think back to Simple Machines Records' great "Working Holidays" series of 7" vinyl singles from the early '90s. One of these was the split single for February that featured two local bands - Lungfish 's "Abe Lincoln" and The Tinklers' "James Brown" (an homage to Black History Month by the whitest of white boy bands!). I remember it had a wraparound picture sleeve with the month's calendar on the reverse side. According to Charles Browawn, The Tinklers wrote the poetic intro to "James Brown," but the song itself came from a 1970 Folkways LP called Ghetto Reality by Nancy Dupree and her elementary school class.

Watch The Tinklers' "James Brown."

Listen to Lungfish's "Abe Lincoln."

The rest of SMR's "Working Holidays" releases are shown below:

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012


Lost in the Stacks #2: Hard-to-Find Video Gems from Pratt Central

It's only rock 'n' roll - but I like it, love it, yes I do!

Rock & Roll
directed by David Espar and Robert Levi
(PBS WGBH/BBC, 1995, 10 hours)

This 10-part documentary mini-series, co-produced by the BBC and WGBH and narrated by Liev Shriever, originally aired on PBS in 1995. (It was released in the UK as Dancing in the Street: A History of Rock and Roll.) The series had a companion book, Rock & Roll: An Unruly History, written by Robert Palmer. It traces the history and evolution of rock and roll music, from its rhythm and blues, country, gospel and jazz roots in the early 1950s, through the advent of folk rock, soul, psychedelia, heavy metal, glam, funk, punk, and reggae, to the emergence of rap in the early 1990s. Used copies of the five-volume VHS and DVD editions list for $60 and up on Amazon and eBay. Good thing, then, that it's still available for checkout in the collection of the Enoch Pratt Central Library!

Since I'm currently reading Will Hermes' riveting history of the New York City music scene from New Year's Day 1973 through New Year's Eve 1977, Love Goes To Buildings On Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever, I decided to backtrack and watch some episodes that I recalled had good footage of New York bands from that period, like the excellent "Punk" episode. And the Pratt videos are in pretty good condition, I'm glad to report.

Note that the BBC/WGBH Rock & Roll is not to be confused with Time-Life's similarly themed five-disc DVD series, The History of Rock 'n' Roll (2004). Though I haven't seen the Time-Life series, Internet user comments allege that after a promising start, it "drops swiftly into a meandering, lightweight and very unsatisfying, poorly edited mashup that's not worth the time to watch."

The nature of Rock & Roll's mission - attempting to document the evolution of R&R over the course of almost 50 years - limits its scope to selected themes and clips, but what really sets this series apart from other similar efforts is the quality of its shot-on-film archival footage. As Current magazine writer Stephanie McCrummen observed, "The look of the interviews themselves is enhanced by producers' decision to shoot on Super-16mm film. To a much greater degree than typical video, Super 16 captures intense colors and subtle shifts in lighting. Even on the tiny screening-room monitor in WGBH's studios, the look is grand."

And then there's the quality of its interviews and their mis-en-scene settings: Iggy Pop is interviewed in a Midwest cornfield, Lou Reed in a New York City boxing gym, and so on. I especially liked the episodes "The Wild Side" and "Punk." "The Wild Side" featured choice clips of Wayne County, the transexual musician whose appearance in the 1971 London theatrical production of Andy Warhol's Pork wowed David Bowie so much that he started wearing makeup and embarking on his androgynous Ziggy Stardust look after seeing the show; we also get to see rare footage of Julian Beck's interactive experimental Living Theatre in London, which so influenced Jim Morrison of The Doors and his confrontational stage style that culminated in his infamous Miami concert arrest for profanity and indecent exposure.

Watch a clip from "The Wild Side."

The "Punk" episode featured great archival clips of Patti Smith (from footage that had been stowed away in a fan's refrigerator for 14 years until the woman who shot the film died and her heir gave the film to the BBC), Television with Richard Hell, and a pre-Blondie Debbie Harry dancing around with The Stilletos. I think the "Punk" episode - which goes into great detail about the influence of Jamaican dub, rocksteady and reggae on Brit punk groups like The Clash and Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols, was directed by Don Letts (who knows a thing or two about reggae!).

Watch a clip from "Punk."

As Dale Cooper commented, "the extraordinary, insightful moments are too numerous to even begin to catalog, but highlights that come immediately to mind - even now, years after seeing this for the last time- - include: Iggy Pop describing how he realized that the sounds of pistons in the machine shop he worked in were so simple that even his band could imitate them; Rufus Thomas pointing out how WDIA led to white teenagers buying Rhythm & Blues records in the late 40s and 50s in increasing numbers due simply to its extraordinary geographical reach resulting from its uncommonly high wattage - i.e. the demographic changes wrought by technology; the thoroughly brilliant "Shakespeares in the Alley" episode, which weaves together Dylan, the Beatles, the Byrds and others into one folk-rock tapestry that illuminates the complex cross-influencing of this era (particularly notable is the restoration of skiffle to its rightful place as the spark plug for British rock and David Crosby's subsequent comment that he heard folk changes being used in "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and other Beatles tunes and that this simply had not existed before--new musics resulting, he says, in his inimitable way, from previously unrelated forms being "smooshed together")."

Stephanie McCrummen's excellent review of the series is reproduced in its entirety below.

PBS's big fall series looks at the music from artists’ perspective

by Stephanie McCrummen (Current, May 29, 1995)

From the beginning, the producers of Rock & Roll, PBS's biggest program event of fall 1995, envisioned a history of the music without reference to obvious names, footage and lore. The central idea throughout the 10-hour series, which debuts over five nights beginning Sept. 24 [2005], has been to tell the story of rock from the perspective of its innovators.

The resulting documentary skips over many Top-40 bands to spend time with more than 200 new interviews with artists, producers, musicians and others who made music rock.

"We were very determined that it should not be a 'clip show'," says Hugh Thomson, co-executive producer for the BBC. "We thought that there should be an attempt to understand and explain continually." Concert footage and music are interspersed with old and new interviews with the goal of demonstrating particular sounds or musical influences. Often music is layered under narration, location footage and interviews.

Each of the 10 segments, five produced by the BBC and five by WGBH, is directed to convey a strong sense of place, explains WGBH Executive Producer Elizabeth Deane. With no on-camera host, the films use narration and on-location interviews to tell the story of rock, evoking connections between the music, the artists and such interview sites as a Mississippi church and a Memphis recording studio.

"We wanted each episode to tell a story, not to just be a summary," explains Deane. "What holds people . . . is to be in the grip of a story which is unfolding, with a beginning, middle and end," she says. "It's very hard to do with a subject as encompassing as this, but that was the objective."

The approach is necessarily intellectual, because telling the story involves exploring connections between rock and other forms of music and writing. Producers seem unworried that the final product will be stodgy, however. "It's rock and roll," says Deane. "We wanted to be intelligent, but we didn't want to kill it."

Promotion plans are still in nascent stages, though several special events already are in the works, says WGBH publicist Betsy Higgins. One will be a one-hour screening at the opening of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, two to three weeks before the PBS debut.

A companion book, Rock & Roll: An Unruly History by rock critic Robert Palmer, will also be available from Harmony Books after the PBS debut date. Palmer, the chief consultant to the series, has covered rock for Rolling Stone and the New York Times.

Rock & Roll is only the second prominent series of this scope to document rock history. Last year, Time Warner produced A History of Rock & Roll, a 10-hour documentary hosted by Gary Busey, which had a play in broadcast syndication this year and is now available on videocassette.

Audiences should find few similarities between the two series, however. "Time-Warner themselves have said that theirs is very performance-driven," says Deane, "whereas ours is a deeper look at the history." The Time Warner film "missed some kind of overview," says Palmer. "A lot of ideas and conclusions were sort of dropped because there was no narrative to tie it all together," he says. "I was happy that what was wrong with it was stuff we did right."

By all accounts, Deane, Thomson and Palmer have shared similar visions of what was "right" for the film. Palmer, a musician himself (but not the suave, semi-famous rock singer of the same name), says he was "totally skeptical" when Deane first approached him in 1993 about writing the companion book and serving as consultant.

"I thought [the series] would be boring," he recalls. When he met with Deane and Thomson, production and writing teams were already assigned to do 10 roughly outlined shows, and some interviews had been shot. But Palmer saw that Deane and Thomson were treating rock as an art form with a great history.

"It's usually treated as a succession of rock stars," he says. "I'm much more interested in the musical collaboration behind rock and roll, [and] everyone was pretty much agreed to going that way."

Unbeknownst to each other, Thomson and Deane had been developing similar documentary ideas for several years before former PBS programming chiefs Jennifer Lawson and John Grant brought them together in 1992, Deane says. Thomson recalls that the BBC "wanted an authoritative history of rock" and was willing to "spend the time and trouble to do it properly." The British were also actively looking for a co-producer for their series, then called Dancing in the Streets.

In Boston, Deane had by 1992 won a PBS/CPB grant of $100,000 to research the series, and also realized the need for a co-producer. Ultimately, WGBH and the BBC split the responsibility for raising the $8 million budget. The Boston station received grants toward its half from CPB, PBS and the National Endowment for the Arts. WGBH is still seeking a corporate underwriter.

When the two executive producers first met in 1992, Thomson recalls, they quickly established that they shared similar ambitions for a series. "We both wanted the same broad sort of scope to the series and the same tone to it," says Thomson, adding that in his view, the history of rock and roll "has been a history of interaction between the U.S. and Britain . . . so there is an actual logic" for an Anglo-American coproduction.

Notably, WGBH is producing the segment that includes the Beatles, while the BBC tells the story of rap music. The task of dividing the segments between WGBH and BBC production teams "went easily,'' Deane says. "I was wondering, as we approached that, how we would decide," she says, but "by preference our people had more of an interest in the earlier programs and they in the later ones."

The style and content of the 10 segments emerged from a full year of pre-production planning, a constant flow of footage and treatments across the Atlantic and what Deane describes as "huge summit-style screenings" between WGBH and the BBC, where producers worked out major editorial decisions. The editing has been "arduous," says Deane. Decisions about what to include have been guided by producers' determination to focus on the innovators, explore the collaboration behind the music, and, to a certain extent, go with what works stylistically.

Ultimately, producers have not been seriously limited by the costs and logistics of obtaining rights clearances for music and footage, which could have been prohibitive. "We did a lot of work . . . to make sure we understood what this was going to cost," says Deane. Part of the decision to begin production, Deane says, was the feeling that it would be possible, if complicated, to obtain rights to the material they wanted. Though clearance has yet to be granted for some footage, Deane says that generally their efforts in this regard have been successful. "It helped that so many musicians . . . respected the program," adds Thomson. The fact that the project was for public TV, adds Palmer, also undoubtedly gave the series a certain amount of legitimacy.

The BBC archives have proven to be a "tremendous resource" as well, says Palmer, with many performances and interviews that have never aired in the U.S.

Luck has been kind. Thomson says that segment on punk rock contains footage of singer Patti Smith that had been stowed away, undeveloped, in a fan's refrigerator for 14 years. When the woman who shot the film died, her heir gave the film to the BBC.

Location interviews set the tone for each segment. Artists typically appear with instruments in hand, in settings significant to their music and their lives. Jerry Lee Lewis is interviewed at a piano in a Dublin nightclub where he was living "when he had a difference of opinion with the IRS," Deane says. The soul singer Martha Reeves speaks for the camera in Detroit's old Fox Theater, and Lou Reed, following his own suggestion, was interviewed in a New York City boxing gym.

The film strives to be "a sort of rock and roll pilgrimage," says Thomson, "so that you felt like you've visited certain key places" in the history of the music.

The look of the interviews themselves is enhanced by producers' decision to shoot on Super-16mm film. To a much greater degree than typical video, Super 16 captures intense colors and subtle shifts in lighting. Even on the tiny screening-room monitor in WGBH's studios, the look is grand.

Each interview is carefully crafted to evoke the artist's personality. For example, the BBC-produced program on ''glam rock,'' opens with Iggy Pop in silhouette at a distance, slumping gracefully as a classical statue in a sprawling yellow corn field on the outskirts of Detroit, where he was raised. As the camera glides toward Iggy Pop, he slowly turns and stares into the camera. Again, the setting was the artist's suggestion, Deane recalls. "He said, 'they always want to film me in front of a brick wall,' but he's a kid from the country so . . . the notion of growing up roaming around in the corn fields, thinking of stuff and hiding is very much Iggy Pop and it is sort of surprising."

By subordinating their personal views about rock, the producers have allowed the artists' own insights to surface. The interviews are both probing and compassionate, the result of interviewers' attempt to pose intelligent questions and understand the artist, rather than extract preconceived responses. "There's always a danger that if the show is too well conceptualized you are putting words in people's mouths," says Palmer, who conducted a number of interviews for the film. "We were real sensitive to that."

The reward for producers has been that some of the "more recalcitrant" performers, as Palmer put it, have acquiesced to interviews. "I think what [the artists] appreciated is that we were being serious about the past music history," says Thomson, who also conducted a number of interviews for the BBC segments, and, unlike Deane, directed some. "Many of [the artists] are used to doing 'push-the-button' interviews," he says, "which made it nice [for them] to sit back and actually reflect on when they began and talk about the music [and] not so much the sort of sex-drugs-and-rock-'n-roll side of things."

Though the 10 segments are roughly organized according to musical genres — blues, Motown, folk rock, psychedelia and so on — the stories in each segment converge, overlap and diverge, laying out an intricate matrix of creative influences. To a large extent, producers have taken to heart Palmer's dictum that "any chronological history of rock and roll is doomed to failure." The "glam rock" show, for example, begins with Lou Reed, former leader of the Velvet Underground, talking about how the writer Raymond Chandler influenced his lyrics. From that point, the segment expands to other major innovators like David Bowie, the Doors and Alice Cooper, the involvement of Andy Warhol, and theatrical influences.

One sequence on the Doors, for example, shifts from footage of Julian Beck's experimental Living Theatre in London, which band leader Jim Morrison followed closely, and the Doors' famous concert in Miami, where Morrison was charged with indecent exposure. The sequence intersperses the recollections of Morrison's friend from film school at UCLA, explaining that Morrison had gone to six Beck performances within two weeks before the Miami concert, and was trying to bring Beck's ideas of theater into the realm of rock. The footage from a Living Theatre footage and Morrison's performance are strikingly similar.

Rock & Roll bares the creative process by homing in on sounds and styles of the music. An interview with David Bowie's pianist reveals the tune of "Jean Genie" to be a riff from an old Muddy Waters song. David Bowie's set designers are interviewed as the story turns to Bowie's revolutionary theatrical productions, and later in connection with the '70s band Kiss. In a segment on West Coast musical influences, Dick Dale, innovator of the "surf guitar" (a sound undergoing a renaissance since its use in Pulp Fiction) is interviewed on a California desert with guitar in hand. A surfer himself, Dale describes his fascination with the jazz drummer Gene Krupa, explaining the driving rhythm of his own guitar as an attempt to emulate both Krupa's relentless beat and the sound of waves crashing in the surf. As he explains this, a bright blue wave breaks against the sound of Dale's guitar.

Even well-known archival footage is are revitalized by interspersed fresh interviews. In one sequence, Maxine Powell, founder of the Motown Finishing School, which groomed young Motown artists for the Big Time, discusses how she gave Marvin Gaye advice on matters of style: "I said, 'Marvin, you don't need as much as some of the other artists, but you do sing with your eyes closed. It gives the illusion that you're singing in your sleep. At No. 1 places around the country, you have to have your eyes open."

She observes, "Everything had to be done in a classy way. So if they were doing the Shake, or whatever, we didn't do it in a vulgar way."

For all its emphasis on the sound and look of rock, the series does not ignore socio-political contexts; they emerge subtly through the artists' own intriguing stories, rather than a filmmaker's self-conscious attempt to add weight to the subject.

The interest, says Palmer, has been to "tell the social part of it and all of the other parts of it from the point of view of the music."

"The context is in the background and comes into the foreground when it is appropriate," adds Deane. Motown musician Beans Bowles talks about his troupe touring the South by bus and being mistaken for Freedom Riders.

For Deane, it was in part the connection between political protest and rock music that led her to do the series. "Rock and roll music has been in the background of a lot of stuff I have done," she explains, referring to her work as a producer on Vietnam: A Television History, and the American Experience bio of Richard Nixon. "What were they listening to in Vietnam? Jimmy Hendrix, the Doors, Motown . . . what were protesters listening to when Nixon showed up at the Lincoln Memorial?"

Deane says that she was also drawn to the project because she thought there was a "fascinating history" to be told, adding that she prefers to think of herself as a "history-teller" rather than a historian, borrowing a phrase from documentarian Henry Hampton.

"Rock and roll can seem like a series of random explosions," she says, "but there are stories that connect those moments—that connect the people who made the music, the people who took the risks and pushed the boundaries, and took us into a world we might never have known without the music."

TV has not always given respect to those performers for their earlier work. Thomson tells a story of David Bowie sitting in a hotel room in the U.S. and hearing his famous song, "Changes" transformed into a diaper-commercial jingle.

"The thing is that these people have got all the money they need," Thomson says. "All they care about now is what history is going to make out of them, so this series is important to them, and they wanted to be put in the right place."

Production teams at WGBH and BBC are still making final cuts, and considering how to end the series, a decision that will reflect their approach and understanding of the music and the purpose of the documentary itself. The final segment pays relatively little attention to current artists, though the form of current music is explored. Palmer says that it is difficult to name today's great artists. "Ultimately the worth of what is happening is going to prove out with the changing musical generations," he says. "Basically it's the music that lasts and influences other musicians ... and it takes a while for that to become evident."

Deane says the last program focuses on rap, techno and electronic music. At the end of the pilgrimage through rock history, Deane hopes to leave a feeling — not a message — "that the same kind of freedom that has always been part of this music is still very present."

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CINEMA EUROPE: The Other Hollywood

Lost in the Stacks #1: Hard-to-Find Videos Gems at the Pratt Library

Cinema Europe: Where the art of filmmaking all began

The DVD of edition of this six-part series chronicling the birth and rise of European cinema during the silent era has gone out-of-print due to rights issues, but the three-volume video edition is still available for checkout at the Enoch Pratt Central Library. Produced by British film historians Kevin Brownlow and David Gill and narrated by Kenneth Branagh, each of its six parts highlights a theme and a country (France, Sweden, Britain, Germany, Denmark) to show the enormous contributions they made to cinema in the early days of the movie industry. Viewers are treated to a smorgasborg of footage from early movies - including the work of Abel Gance, Afred Hitchcock, Max Linder, Sergei Eisenstein, Fritz Lang, and G. W. Pabst - along with interviews with film pioneers and luminaries. The finale episode ("End of an Era") looks at Germany, where by 1933 the jig was up as Adolf Hitler came to power and the potential of a Pan-European cinema was squandered with the mass exodus of Jews and freedom-seeking artistic talent to France, England, and the United States. As reviewer Sean Axmaker commented, Cinema Europe "captures a vital period when films readily crossed borders and distinct national cinema styles flourished. It was a cinematic garden in full bloom and it cross-pollinated through ambitious and inspired filmmakers around the world. When the lure of Hollywood and the rise of fascism pulled much the talent from Europe and the coming of sound created new language barriers, the garden went into a frosty winter."

Kevin Brownlow and David Gill previously produced the 13-episode 1980 epic Hollywood: A Celebration of American Silent Film. They had originally planned to make this another 13-part series, but David Gill died shortly after Cinema Europe was completed in 1995.

Used/stock copies of the DVD series list for $450 and up on Amazon; used copies of the video edition go for $65 and up.

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Friday, February 10, 2012

Shorts Circuit

Some of the Best Shorts from Pratt's 16mm Film Archives

Saturday, February 18, 2012 @ 2 P.M.
Enoch Pratt Central Library
400 Cathedral St.
(410) 396-4616

Starting this weekend, the Charles Theatre will be screening "Oscar Shorts" - a two-part program featuring the 2012 Oscar-nominees for best live action, documentary and animated shorts - continuing the annual Academy Award-nominated shorts roadshow started by ShortsHD (a cable TV network specializing in short films) seven years ago. Among this year’s nominees are Pixar’s longest theatrical short, a live action film by Hotel Rwanda director Terry George, and a documentary about Japan's tragic tsunami disaster of 2011. I highly recommend taking advantage of this rare opportunity to see some of the best short films in their ideal environment - a movie theater (as opposed to viewing them on TV or YouTube) - in this, the appropriately "shortest" of months, February.

For those who long to see even more shorts - or who simply don't want to pay to see the ones at The Charles - I recommend checking out the free "Shorts Circuit" film program next Saturday at the Enoch Pratt Central Library. This 82-minute program features nine of the best live-action and animated shorts from Pratt's extensive 16mm film archives and includes four Oscar-nominated shorts and two Oscar-winners in Norman McLaren's Neighbors (Best Documentary, Short Subjects, 1952) and Chuck Workman's Precious Images (Best Live Action Short Film, 1987). All of the films featured at this free screening are available for loan from Pratt’s Sights & Sounds Department; call (410)396-4616 or check Pratt’s Web site at www.prattlibrary.org for more information.

Many of Pratt's 16mm film shorts are commercially unavailable (or extremely hard to find) elsewhere, including Muppets-creator Jim Henson's early live-action student film Time Piece (1965), Stan VanDerBeek's influential but rarely seen collage-montage Breath Death (1964), and Workman's Precious Images (1986). Part of the explanation why has to do as much with the nature of the format as with the market for such films; unlike Hollywood feature films (which are typically produced by a single studio), short films come from various sources and are rarely compiled into anthologies, though Pixar has released a few over the years.

"SHORTS CIRCUIT" Program Guide

(Juliet Stroud, 1980, 2 minutes, color animation, 16mm)

We open our program with macabre humor in the vein of Godzilla Meets Bambi in this unlikely encounter between a baby dragon and a baby bird.

(Jim Henson, 1965, 8 minutes, color, 16mm)

UNAVAILABLE ANYWHERE ELSE. This early live-action film produced by and starring Jim Hensen (of Muppets fame) documents a day in the live of one man in the urban rat race. While he is in a hospital bed, the typical day of a young executive flashes before his eyes. Realistic scenes cut to wild dream sequences that comment on the reality they interpret. Anticipates the free-form editing style Bob Rafelson would later employ in his Monkees cult film Head (1968). Nominated for an Oscar (Best Short Subject – Live Action) in 1966. Produced by Jim Henson, photographed by Ted Nemeth with music by Don Sebesky.

(Stan VanDerBeek, 1964, 15 minutes, b&w, 16mm)

UNAVAILABLE ANYWHERE ELSE. Stan VanDerBeek, an early experimenter with collage-animation, creates a surrealistic fantasy based on 15th century woodcuts of “the dance of the dead” by cutting up photos and newsreel footage to produce images that are "a mixture of unexplainable fact ... with inexplicable act”; he dedicated the results “to Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton." Artist/director Terry Gilliam has cited this film as an early influence on his collage-style animation with Monty Python. In 1975, VanDerBeek became an instructor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), where he founded the digital media center. He died in 1984.

(Norman McLaren, 1952, 8 minutes, color, from 16mm)

In 1952, Norman McLaren was credited with introducing the technique of pixilation with this ground-breaking film that won a 1953 Oscar for “Best Documentary, Short Subjects.” Described as “the most eloquent plea for peace ever filmed,” it’s an anti-war parable that shows how a dispute over which neighbor owns a flower escalates into territorialism, war, and genocide. The film’s climax, in which the men’s wives and children are killed, was originally cut from prints (including the one shown at the 1953 Academy Awards ceremony) because the sequence was considered too shocking to the sensibilities of the time. Animator Grant Munro also acts in the film (he’s the neighbor on the right side of the picket fence.)

(Chuck Workman, 1986, 8 minutes, b&w/color, from 16mm)

UNAVAILABLE ANYWHERE ELSE. No one captures "the moment" - iconographic images that define a film, an emotion or an era - better than montage master Chuck Workman (pictured at left), the Eisenstein of celluloid flashcards. In this Academy Award-winning film (Best Short Film, Live Action, 1987), Workman presents the greatest scenes from 50 years of film - from Citizen Kane to Star Wars – in eight breakneck minutes of skillful editing. Over 500 images appear in rapid-fire cuts of roughly a second each, presenting the “defining moments” of great films of half a century. Precious Images went on to become the most widely-viewed short appearing in schools, museums, film festivals and movie theaters worldwide. Precious Images is one of five Workman films in the collection of The Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Rosebud is just one of Workman's "Precious Images"

Workman’s montages of Hollywood films are visual highlights of each year's Academy Awards telecast and his 100 Years at the Movies (1994) is frequently shown on cable TV’s Turner Classic Movies channel. Though editing dozens of images a minute became his trademark, Workman ironically also made a feature-length documentary on Andy Warhol (1987’s Andy Warhol: Portrait of An Artist), a man whose own specialty was using only a few images and keeping them there for up to eight hours. He also directed a feature-length documentary on the Beat Generation, 1999’s The Source, and has created movie trailers for Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Paris, Texas.

(Ted Parmelee, 1953, 8 minutes, color animation, 16mm)

Director Ted Parmelee’s animated adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's classic horror tale of a man who is driven by an old man's "vulture eye" to kill him (only to be forced to confess his crime by the loud, insistent beating of the dead man's heart) comes from UPA, the studio most associated with Mr. Magoo, Gerald McBoing-Boing and Woody Woodpecker. It’s considered a classic in the development of the animated film because of its unusual subject matter, its use of dramatic visual techniques (created by Paul Julian and clearly indebted to the German Expressionist style featured in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), and the effectiveness of its soundtrack, which includes narration by the great James Mason – reason enough to see this film. Incredibly, it was the first cartoon to be X-rated (adults only) in Great Britain under the British Board of Film Censors classification system! Oscar-nominated in 1954 (Best Short Subject, Cartoons) and added to National Film Registry in 2001. For some reason, this short was included on the 2-disc edition Hellboy DVD.

(Robert Maier, 1975, 14 minutes, color, from 16mm)

"I like being a star," says Edith Massey, in this tongue-in-cheek film "biography" which traces her life from a foster home, to a career as a B girl on the Block, a barmaid at Pete's Hotel in Fells Point, owner of the "Miss Edith's Shopping Bag" thrift shop at 726 S. Broadway and to the career which has made her famous across the U.S. - as the "glamorous" star of John Waters' underground films. Written, produced and directed by Robert Maier (line producer of Waters’ Desperate Living, Polyester and Hairspray), it won an award at the 1975 Baltimore Film Festival. Great period footage of 1970s Baltimore shops, bars, and people (including John Waters, Pat Moran, Mink Stole, Mary Vivian Pearce, Vincent Peranio, and LA showgirl Delores Delux).

We end our program with two psychedelic experimental films from the ‘60s...

(Scott Bartlett, 1967, 9 minutes, color, from 16mm)

From Treasures IV: American Avant-Garde: “OffOn is a landmark avant-garde film, the first to fully merge video with film. Scott Bartlett’s goal was to ‘marry the technologies’ so that neither would ’show up separately from the whole.’” Made by feeding film loops into a color television channel and filming the results off a TV monitor (at 30 frames a second to eliminate flicker), Bartlett then optically printed much of the footage frame by frame, adding additional complimentary images solely on film. Then, to intensify the weaker colors of video, he dyed the film strips with food coloring.

Bartlett later commented, “There’s a pattern in my film work that could be the pattern of a hundred thousand movies. It is simply to repeat and purify, repeat and synthesize, abstract, abstract, abstract.” Significantly, OffOn opens with a close-up of an eye as if to suggest a new way of seeing. Interesting both for its technique and the implication "of the reality behind the reality we normally perceive",” this film is part of the National Film Registry.

7362 (1967)
(Patrick O’Neill, 1967, 10 minutes, color, from 16mm)

“I was interested in making something that was neither a negative nor a positive but an amalgam of both,” says filmmaker Patrick O’Neill of 7362, which takes its name from the stock number of the high-contrast black-and-white Kodak film commonly used for titles and mattes; this stock became the building block for the film’s special effects, which start with machine-like imagery and gradually merge into abstracted forms of the human anatomy. From Treasures IV: American Avant-Garde: “As they swing to the electronic throb of the sound track, the shapes grow more complex, refracting the oil pump and a dancer into mirrored patterns as they divide and mutate with strobe-light urgency...eventually the line between human and machine becomes impossible to determine. Black/white, negative/positive, man/machine, yin/yang – neither can exist without the other. In 7362, the unity of opposites enters the psychedelic age.” The soundtrack features music by Joseph Byrd and Michael Moore (no, not that Michael Moore!).

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Thursday, February 09, 2012

"Get Ready To Boink with the Boynks"

Or: The Musical Genius of Randall Peck

The Boynks
Get Ready To Boink with the Boynks
(Mr. Basement's House of Hidden Agenda, 2011)

*** Just who are these Boynks who wish us to boink with them? ***

The Backstory: Back in the early '80s, I had the pleasure/privilege of playing drums with Randy Peck, Jay Ludwig, Rick & Stephanie Eney, and Katie "Katatonic" Glancy in a pop music group called The Boatniks. We wore silly sailor caps and Hawaiian shirts and celebrated middle class life in our 'hood, the azalea- and rhododentrum-covered suburbs.

Boatniks' '81 World Cruise

Katie and I were freshly departed from punk band Thee Katatonix, and emerged from the rough-and-tumble sonic wilderness of the Marble Bar Scene to serve an apprenticeship under the song-writing workshop that was the Boatniks - an ensemble in which Peck, Ludwig and the Eneys all wrote songs (Jay and Randy even helped me out, like Beatles Paul and John with Ringo, on my "Bake You a Bundt" and "Teenybopper" songs).

Boatniks songwriters Jay Ludwig & Randy Peck

But it was Randy Peck's "pure unadulterated pop music" song stylings that most impressed me; influenced in equal parts by the lyrical inventiveness of Elvis Costello and the melodic, harmonious musical leanings of his beloved Brian Wilson-led Beach Boys, Randy's songs pointed to all the signposts Katie and I loved in pop music: British Invasion, The Beatles, The Zombies, The Raspberries, Badfinger, 10cc. It was Pure Pop for Then People, Old School pretty three-minute melodies in an era of harsh-sounding punk rock and the cold synth-heavy sang froid of postpunk music. In a word, it was kinda corny compared to what was on the MTV and radio airwaves then. The words were clever and humorous, if you stopped to listen to them, and the melodies were unabashedly pretty. And the "middle eights"! These were a revelation to Katie and I, accustomed as we were to the one-note simplicity and repetitive three-chord onslaught of punk. The songs even celebrated love without irony - OK, maybe some irony in lines like "I bought some pizza and I saw your face in it" from Peck's masterpiece "The Honky Tonk Is Over" (which won a songwriting competition and landed us free studio recording time and a gig at Washington, DC's The Bayou). Which is why I liked it. Plus, I learned how to play drums in the Boatniks, after years of faking it (though few were fooled!) in Thee Katatonix.

The little drummer boy became a man - thanks to the Boatniks!

Post-Boatniks, Randy Peck played for a while in Saddle Soar, went to culinary school, became a chef, got married, and became Randall Peck. But he never stopped writing songs and recording them in his basement (on analog tape, the dominant medium of the time) with the most rudimentary of instrumentation (Randy was never one for fancy tech gear - back then he'd just as soon use chopsticks and an ashtray for drums rather than buy a beatbox!). The only change since then has been technology; he's gone digital, invested in a few electronic gizmos, and now records onto CDs instead of tape. But his studio is still his basement, where he retires after a hard day at work to record his musings about life and love. And, like his muse Brian Wilson, he can create a whole mini-orchestra of sound working at his own pace in the comfort of his home.

On a recent visit to Randall's workplace, he gave me a copy of one of his latest home productions, which was called Get Ready To Boink with The Boynks. Though the attractively packaged CD attributed the music to The Boynks - specifically "Chad Boynk" and "Gordon Boynk" on guitar, "Kirby Carlisle" on keys, "Christian Velcro" on bass, and "Nigel Tripper" on drums - they are merely Brit Invasion Boy Band standins for one-man band Randall Peck himself.

RP: The One-man Band

Randall explained, "I figured you would 'get' this one because we like the same kind of stuff that no one I work with, these kids, appreciate. You know, Raspberries, Beatles, 10cc, Badfinger..." Yes, the usual pop suspects. He added, "And it's real poppy and uptempo, unlike some of my other stuff, so I had a feeling you'd appreciate it."

It's official: I'm a Fan!

Well, I do appreciate it - and I think others will too. Too bad Big Deal and Not Lame and those other power pop labels aren't around anymore, because Randall Peck's Boynks CD could be released on them as is. It's that good and that pro. For, like Mark Harp and Mark O'Connor (another former Towsonite, who made his "mark" with OHO, Food for Worms, Dark Side and B.L.A.M.M.O.), Randall is another local songwriting genius I've had the privilege of knowing (and wish more people knew about); Harpo is gone (well before his time - Goddammit!), but like Mark O'Connor, Randall is one of those creative-type dreamers (and full-time romantic, to boot) who will never stop plugging away, making home recordings of his music (a genre I hereby christen "Basement Beat"). To be Randall Peck is to create, whether it be cookin' up food or sounds. And if music be the food of love, as Shakespeare said, play on.

And speaking of play on, play on we shall...

*** OK, Now Get Ready To Boink with the Boynks! ***

I played the Boynks CD on my way home and was so excited that I played it next for my classic pop-loving girlfriend Amy. She loved it as well, and we both agreed that two things stood out almost immediately: 1) Randall loves the Beatles (whose influence is everywhere) - not to mention Elvis Costello (listen for the Steve Nieve-styled keyboard riffs) and The Zombies (all those harpsichord sounds and minor keys) and The Beach Boys (Brian Wilson was and will always be his Obi-Wan Kenobi mentor) - and 2) Randall loves kissing. In fact, we couldn't remember an album that so celebrated kissing, the lip-smacking phenomenon known alternately as "First Base" or "Oral Sex" to our Baby Boomer generation. (Alas, I believe today's cut-to-the-chase, 4G-speed cream-on-demand generation considers cunnilingus and fellatio "First Base.") At least a half dozen songs either specifically mention kissing ("Wake Up Baby It's Time To Kiss") or are orally fixated on the mouth and bussing. I, for one, find oscullation incredibly sexy, as did wrestler-turned-politician Jesse Ventura when he likened the act of face-chewing to "Two carp goin' after the same piece of corn." (A beautiful image for a beautiful act of intimacy, no?) But to Randall, kissing is as romantic as it gets and he's far from tongue-tied in celebrating the elation that comes when two tingles intermingle.

Randall Peck: Bitten by the Kissing Bug?

And, with my flair for the obvious (it's a true gift), I would add a third glaring observation: 3) Randall loves being in love. Following is the evidence to support my case:

Tuned In: Track by Track


"There she is full of fizz, just about to pop/All the while I just smile and I cannot stop/Hey Gwendolyn, you make gray skies blue/Hey Gwendolyn, I'm so turned on by you."

Things kick off with a blast of irresistably catchy fun (and yet another song to add to my A-Z List of Girl's Name Songs) flavored with Zombies-styled harpischord sounds and lyrics celebrating the Zen of Gwen. "Smartly dressed, she's the best you will ever find." In Arthurian legend, Gwendolyn was Merlin the magician's wife; in modern times, she's simply the girl who's cast a spell over RP.

Oral Fixation Factor: "To the lips takes a sip, spills some on her blouse/After tea, nuzzles me, plants one on my mouth."


Romance Downy Ocean

A poignant and uptempo break-up song that unfolds at a Beach Boys setting, Downy Ocean ("You went off on vacation/I'm alone at the beach"), but while Brian Wilson preached that the girls on the beach were all within reach (if you knew what to do), Randall instead finds himself out of his depth: "Now I'm drowning in sorrow, and my beach towel is wet/You have taught me a lesson I will never forget..." but seems resigned to his plight. He had his thrill and got stung by the jellyfish of love. "There will be no tomorrow, I know that we are through/How could I fall in bed with a girl like you?"

Oral Fixation Factor: "You are sweeter than sugar/When you melt in my mouth..."


Only shallow non-romantics forgo kissing

To paraphrase Mssrs. Hall & Oates, this "Kiss" is on my list of the best things in life. (Quite a different take on rising-with-the-sun morning fun from Ian Dury's "Wake Up Make Love with Me"!) Personally, the first thing on my mind when I emerge from the Land of Nod is peeing and gargling with mouthwash, but Randall's a romantic who's allowed poetic license.

I am a fool for you, I love you through and through
I only go to be bed to wake up next to you

Wake up, roll over (sha la la) and join me in my bliss
This is one of those moments (sha la la) that I refuse to miss
Hello, good morning (sha la la) - wake up baby it's time to kiss


Another girl crush song, this one finds Randall obsessively pining every minute and every hour for someone he sees in every bouquet of flowers and even in his "toast with jam and tea." She's "one too many, all too much, one of a kind," small wonder that "once again that girl is on my mind."

Oral Fixation Factor: "Even when I lay my head, her name's my final breath/I dream about her every night, kissing me to death."


If she knew...

Randall's variation on The Beatles' "If I Fell." But the classic heart-felt ballad structure isn't limited to just the Fab Four, as I also hear the love-smitten inclinations of Brian Wilson circa "God Only Knows."

Oral Fixation Factor: "If she knew that I really want to kiss her/She may even laugh, if she knew."


Exhilirating upbeat ditty that walks on sunshine, regardless of weather advisory.

"She look so good, she looks so cute
She's on the town in her electric suit
She plugs it in and does a twirl
She's my All-Weather Sunshine Happiness Girl"

"She knows her Bach, she knows Chopin
She knows that shit like the back of her hand
She's an endless string of cultured pearls
She's my All-Weather Sunshine Happiness Girl"

Oral Fixation Factor: "Well she kisses hard and she kisses deep, and still makes love when she's half asleep."


Got a Thing - for you!

A finger-snappin', toe-tappin' honky-tonkin' good-time romp. Randall may have honed his Country & Western chops during his stint in Saddle Soar, but the country-flavored pop in this song is more of the Beatles variety circa "Act Natural."


As a survivor of one too many heavy metal crashes in my wayward youth, I'm greatly amused by this clever, fast-paced pop song. Maybe Randall the Dad is anticipating the not-so-distant future when his kid will get his license - and become an insurance liability. (Ah, the Parent Trap.) Junior not only laments wrecking the car while out driving with a girl from outer space, but also wrecking the house (he was just doing his homework when somehow a party boke out), and finally wrecking his mind:

"My mind, my mind, Daddy I wrecked my mind
I took a little something I don't understand
That I got last week from the Ice Cream Man..."

Ha! I remember back at college the ice cream man was the campus drug dealer (was it that way everywhere? Has the Drug-Dealing Ice Cream Man become a counter-culture stereotype?).

Nice freakout - and guitar solo - during the middle jam. As Freakbeat revivalist Dave Cawley says, whenever you're rockin' out and run out of words, just scream "Wahhhhhhh!" and wail, baby! Works every time!


Window shopping for love

Very Zombies-like neo-psych. I can easily imagine Colin Bluntstone singing this over Rod Argent's farfisa organ; in fact, the song has a '60s Swingin' London feel with lines like those below evoking images of whatever Brit "It" Girl - Julie Christie, Twiggy, Jeannie Shrimpton, Marianne Faithful, Jane Asher - tickles one's retro fancy:

"When she purses her lips and starts to flirt - Girl in the Window
In her go-go boots and miniskirt - Girl in the Window
Well she's just the coolest thing I've ever found
So bear with me, while I expound: Girl in the Window."

Oral Fixation Factor: "She can play it cool, she can play it hard/As she blows French kisses to the Palace Guard."


There's a vacancy I have inside, and it's where true love resides
Without warning, weeping quietly, a gentle wave sweeps over me
And I feel a sudden sorrow in my heart when I think about losing her

A remembrance of past love lost, l'amour perdu. Don't we all have one (or two, or three)? Bury those memories as we might, they still come back to us at unexpected moments - during a rainfall, looking through a photo album, passing an old dating haunt. Not an uptempo toe-tapper, but then sorrow isn't supposed to be.


"Hot tub love, come join me in the jets/Hot tub love, let's make it a duet."

The album mood changes instantly from "Sudden Sorrow" to wet-and-wild fun in this sonic splash about really hot love. "Hot tub love, I miss you when you're gone/Hot tub love, the meter is still on/So crawl back in, and let the fun begin, with your hot tub love."


Ships pass in the night and trains pass in vain, with barely time for fledgling flirtations to form ("You were gone just as fast as when you came"). But a glimpse of a girl with hat and gloves and bonnet on - looking "sweet in the gentle London rain" - is enough to fill the narrator with regret:

You were passing on a train that was stopped for a moment in the dark
Just long enough for that face to break my heart (doesn't it figure?)

I love the opening train sound effects, as well as the delightful nod to the Beach Boys at the end of the middle passage that recalls their acapella chorale showpiece "Our Prayer." It's only a snippet, but it's yet another reminder of Brian Wilson's pervasive influence on RP's songwriting. Paul Westerberg never travels far without a little Big Star; Randall never leaves ground without his Pet Sounds.


"I'll take you where the stars light your hair
It's almost time - we're almost there, on Planet Love."

This dreamy ballad closes the album of a leisurely, lilting note and sort of reminds me of Santo and Johnny's "Sleep Walk" (which was famously covered by another of Randall's favorite '60s artists, The Ventures) as crooned (with an occasional hiccup) in his best emo-Elvis P. voice. It's meant to sound corny with the ice-rink organs and such, but I find it charming as Randall sings of love taking flight at the speed of light before reaching the final destination: "We'll crash, we'll burn, we'll land on Planet Love."

*** Final Thoughts ***

This is easily the best new music I've heard all year, with more melodic hooks and catchy choruses in one album than some songwriters manage in their whole careers. It's also one of the greatest feel-good discs you could ever pop into your CD player and immediately feel like you're walking on sunshine. It's already taken the edge off my normal road rage during the morning commute downtown to work. Lennon & McCartney...Bacharach-David...Elvis Costello...Brian Wilson...Bob Dylan...Graham Gouldman...Ray Davies...Todd Rundgren...Dee Dee Ramone...Randall Peck. Yes, that's right - I mention him in the same breath because he can take his rightful place alongside these legends as a fellow popsmith extraordinaire. I'm not kidding. In my musical wonderland, he goes toe to toe with the heavyweights and more than holds his own.

And yet I wonder how many people will ever hear his back catalog. He's so modest about his talent that Randall reminds me of those non-traditional "outsider" artists whose work is only discovered after the fact when it's displayed at the American Visionary Art Museum. You know - the unheralded artist who works a day job and comes home at night to create a secret cache of awe-inspiring works that remain unseen by the public until he dies and the landlady cleans out his room and donates them to a museum. So too does Randall create these recordings that are only known to a select few cadre of friends and associates. But that seems to be just fine by him. He loves making music and these songs are like his day journal, his diary, an audio scrapbook of who he was and what he was thinking at a certain point in his life.

Back in the Boatniks days, our "Ahoy Maties" press kit said this about Randall: "Randy's been happy lately...The happiest day of his life just might be tomorrow." Going by the sounds on Get Ready To Boink with the Boynks, it looks like that day is here - and how!

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