Monday, January 31, 2011

Happy Birthday To Me!

Jan. 30, 1957 - Jan. 30, 2011...And Still Counting!

I was born on January 30, 1957 - The Year of the Monkey in Chinese Astrology, The Year of the Sputnik (and Muttnik - R.I.P., Laika!) in Space Race Years, and the Age of Aquarius in Hippie Musical Years - and all I can say is What A Long Strange Trip It's Been! Anyway, another b-day has come and went and I begin the New Year old, if not wise, beyond my years. But enough about me...

First off, thanks to all my friends who wished me well either in person or via The Internets and the social networking marvel we call Facebook!

Secondly, thanks to the lovely Amy Davis Linthicum for the lovely presents and meals, especially those delicious Oatmeal Raisin Bars that are like Oatmeal Rasin Cookies but even heavier with goodness (insert Homer Simpsonesque sound of *drooling transcendence* here). (I have already put on 4 pounds and gone through an entire roll of toilet paper - and I'm only halfway through the box!)

But I gotta say my fave gift has to be the birthday card I got from Amy's talented mom, Mrs. Kimi Davis. For one thing, it depicted a ginormous elephant ass on the cover (I love elephant asses, though it took me a moment to figure out what it was beneath all those wrinkles!)

...and I loved the accompanying inside salutation of "Have a big-ass birthday!"...

But more than anything, I loved her great monetary origami that was Scotch-taped inside:

The buck stopped here on January 30

It's so well-dressed and spiffy that I'm loathe to unfold it, and I'm not even sure what denomination it is (though I'm hoping it's a 20!). I suspect that, like all origami "paper currency" craft gifts from Mrs. Davis, I'll store it away as art until I'm skint and have to convert it to cold cash. At which time, I will detach the little pink tie and start wearing it to work; I may even contact the Guinness World Record people to see if it qualifies as World's Smallest Clip-on Tie.

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Friday, January 28, 2011

Yet Another Top 10 Movie List for 2010

Your humble critic (L), with Scott Huffines (R) at the 2010 Academy Awards ceremony (where Atomic TV received the honorary Analog Anachronism Award in the category "Best Dead Medium: Public Access TV")

2010 will go down for me as the year I cut back on movie watching and bulked up on reading - all part of my DIY approach to dealing with my increasingly annoying ADHD. I don't go out to theaters to see new movies nearly as much as I used to, anyway - blame it on NetFlix and cable TV's surfeit of movie options, from On Demand to my tried-and-true channel trifecta of Turner Classic Movies, IFC, and Sundance (not to mention Indie, Retro, and Flix!) factor in the fact that I'm a Cineplex-hating film snob who refuses to go anywhere but The Charles, The Senator, or The Landmark - but after seeing all the end-of-year Top 10 Lists on the newsstands and on the Internet, I checked my film log (yes, I'm the type of nerd who keeps a film log!)(and yes, it helps me keep on top of the attention deficit!) and this is what I came up with. Plus another 10 or so, making this the Lane Bryant of extra large Top 10 Lists - basically a Top Twenty with love handles taking up the 21st and 22nd slots. These are in no particular order after the first five or six titles...

(David Fincher, US, 2010)

"Flawless," I recall saying after seeing this at the Landmark Theater last January. Much as I love Fincher's cult classic Fight Club, I believe his latest goes one better and makes a mainstream movie that sets a new bar for measuring his critical and commercial success. The timing couldn't have been better; in a year in which Facebook founder Mark Zuckerman was Time's "Person of the Year," The Social Network really was the movie of the year - I mean, who isn't on Facebook (OK, except Dave Cawley, King of Old School Social Networking at The Club Charles, Reaction & Soul Night)?

And Aaron (The West Wing) Sorkin's script is true to Ben Mezrich's best-seller The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, which sacrificed nitpicking facts-we-may-never-know for the overall feeling/motivation of the players involved; I know, because seeing the movie inspired me to read Mezrich's book immediately afterwards. Perpetually young-looking Jesse Eisenberg (Roger Dodger) has never been better in what I'm sure will be a career-defining role. Breakout performances as well from Justin Timberlake as Napster founder Sean Parker and Andrew Garfield (Red Riding Trilogy) as Zuckerman's erstwhile college buddy Eduardo Saverin. And how about Fincher turning actor Armie Hammer into onscreen twins (yes, Hammer plays both Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss!) - still wondering how he did that.

(Juan Jose Campanella, Argentina, 2009; released in US 2010)

When I saw this at the beginning of the year, I remember telling my girlfriend, "I think we've just seen the best movie of the year!" This was before we saw The Social Contract. (OK, admittedly Amy liked the UK film Harry Brown better because all women love Michael Caine - and Colin Firth and Viggo, too, for that matter - and who can argue with that?) I would only qualify it now by calling it the best foreign film I saw all year. (It already won the 2010 Academy Award for "Best Foreign Film" and was the highest-grossing film in Argentina and Spain.)

It tells the story of a retired legal counselor who writes a novel hoping to find closure for one of his past unresolved homicide cases and for his unreciprocated love with his superior - both of which still haunt him decades later. But what made director Juan Jose Campanella (a regular director on House, Law And Order, 30 Rock)'s film particulary noteworthy was the way the film juxtaposed the rise of fascism during the 1970s Junta years, with its rapist-murderer villain's return to favor in the wake of right-wing nationalistic fervor. Also, it makes great use of Argentina's passion for soccer in unraveling the mystery (using names of players for Racing Club de Avellaneda), not to mention a subplot in which newlyweds meet each day at lunch for an "afternoon delight" - that involves watching The Three Stooges!

Any rape-murder-and-repression film that references the Junta of Joy known as "Larry, Moe & Curly" gets my vote of confidence!

The hauntingly beautiful soundtrack by Emilio Kauderer and Federico Jusid is worth picking up, as well.

(Tom Hooper, UK, 2010)

Detractors may call it this year's tea-and-crumpets import for Masterpiece Theatre-doting old ladies, but there's no arguing with the cast (anchored by Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush), clever script, and Tom (The Damned United, John Adams) Hooper's assured direction. A winner all-around. (And I like tea and crumpets!) (Actually, tea and digestive biscuits are even better!)

(Christian Carion, France, 2009; released in US 2010)

The French intelligence service alerts the U.S. about a Soviet spy operation during the height of the Cold War, which sets off an unfortunate chain of events. Based on true events. Notable for winningly utilizing two auteurs-behind-the-camera as actors-in-front-of-it: France's Guillame Canet (Tell No One) and Serbia's Emir Kusturica (Underground). Plus the Brit rock band Queen plays a significant role in getting Kusturica's Russian mole to betray his country for the West's decadent rock and roll - you can't make this stuff up, I swear it's true!

(Roman Polanski, France-Germany-UK, 2010)

Everyone seems to have forgotten this classy little international Polanski thriller - starring Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Olivia Williams, Kim Cattrell, and Timothy Hutton - but me. That is, me and the juries at the Berlin Film Festival (where Polanski won a Silver Bear) and the European Film Awards (where the film won just about everything) - but stateside, there's been barely a pip said about it. A ghostwriter (McEwan) hired to complete the memoirs of a former British prime minister (Brosnan, who's an obvious stand-in for Tony "I Kiss George W. Bush's Ass" Blair) uncovers secrets that put his own life in jeopardy. The first movie I've seen in which a car GPS helps solve the mystery. Go GPS!

(Lee Unkrich, US, 2010)

Funniest movie of the year! I saw it in 3-D at the Landmark Theater, but its story has the depth of creative vision to stand up just as well in 2-D. Basically a melding of two narrative arcs about "Empty nesters" (i.e., the toys when they lose their boy to college) and a "great prison escape" arc in which the prison is a daycare center where toys are abused by hyperactive toddlers. Thrice proves more than nice in TS3 under the assured direction of Lee Unkrich (who co-directed Toy Story 2, not to mention Finding Nemo, and Monsters, Inc. ).

(Sharon Maynon and Erez Tadmor, Israel, 2010)

2nd funniest movie of the year! To paraphrase the Asian gangsta guy in The Hangover, "They funny 'cause they fat!" (Low blow!) Actually, the characters in this Israeli comedy aren't only big-boned but big-hearted, as well (insert obligatory "Awwwwl!" here). Seriously, this is a film heavy with goodness about Livin' Large in a world obsessed with body image. (Amy and I liked it so much, we went out for pizza and beer afterwards!)

Read my Rehoboth Beach Film Festival review of A Matter of Size here.

(Debra Granik, US, 2010)

An undaunted Ozark Mountain girl hacks through dangerous social terrain as she hunts down her missing drug-dealer dad while trying to keep her mentally ill mom and crumbling family intact. Call director Debra Granik's adaptation of Daniel Woodrell's novel what you will - an Ozark Opus, a Methamphetamine Melodrama, or A Hillbilly Noir Whodunnit...all I know is that in a year of great performances by female actors, Jennifer Lawrence's "Ree" vies with Noomi Rapace's "Lisbeth Salander" (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy) for Toughest Onscreen Chick honors (maybe the Academy should call this the "Joan Jett Award"). This is a breakout performance by Lawrence, who made her big screen bow in The Burning Plain (2008) by director-screenwriter Guillarmo Arriago (Amores Perros, Babel, 21 Grams). And I really liked seeing John Hawkes (Deadwood, Lost) as Ree's Uncle "Teardrop," not having seen him in any films since starring in Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know.

The killer folk mountain music soundtrack is worth picking up as well, featuring local Ozark musicians that Daniel Woodrell recommended to Granik - folks like Marideth Sisco, Blackberry Winter, White River Music Company, Linda Stoffel, Lee Ann Sours, Billy Ward, Dirt Road Delight, and Bo Brown & Dennis Crider - as well as an original song by actor John Hawkes ("Bred & Buttered") and an original song and incidental music score by Dickon Hinchliffe (formerly of the British rock band Tindersticks).

Director Debra Granik has local connections, having grown up in the D.C. suburbs. Winter's Bone is her second film and continues her award-winning ways, winning Best Picture at the 2010 Sundance Festival and having just been nominated by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for its Best Picture of 2010. Her 2004 debut Down to the Bone (a tale of drug addiction) won Sundance's Dramatic Directing Award and she also won Best Short at Sundance for 1998's Snake Feed.

(Ethan and Joel Coen, US, 2010)

I really liked the Coen brothers return to form after A Serious Man (which I hated!) with their remake of the 1969 John Wayne movie (for which the "Old Hollywood Guard" threw Duke a better-late-than-never bone as Best Actor). It's nothing jaw-droppingly great, but it's thoroughly enjoyable and as US Marsall Rooster Cognurn, Jeff Bridges outshines Wayne, though his hard-drinking cantakerous coot is a character Bridges has essayed before - he could basically phone in a part like this. And Matt Damon as the righteous Texas Ranger La Boeuf is hilarious. All the characters speak with formal diction which, as the New Yorker's David Denby concludes, is probably "the Coen's little joke that the formal talk merely decorates the savage moral incoherence of the old West."

But the real star here is Hailee Steinfeld, whose performance as Mattie Ross is one of the year's other breakout performances, one on par with Jennifer Lawrence's in Winter's Bone. She's reason enough to see the film. But while nothing here is cinematically earth shattering, it's a very enjoyable way to spend two hours (though I can't wait for the "new" Senator Theater, where I saw the film, to get those seats with the slippery cup holders fixed!). I agree with Denby's assessment of True Grit: "Nothing very startling happens, but the Coens have a sure hand, and Bridges, in the old John Wayne role, plays a man, not a myth; you can sense Rooster's stink and his nasty intelligence, too."

(Joon-ho Bong, South Korea, 2010)

Another masterpiece from an Asian auteur to be reckoned with. Food, sex, birth defects, and murder all figure in the mix in this hot pot of a Korean mystery-drama from Joon-ho Bong (The Host, Memories of a Murder, Barking Dogs Never Bite) that defies viewers' expectations (what you see isn't necessarily what you get) and showcases the acting chops of Hye-ja Kim, whose performance garnered Best Actress wins from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, Asia Pacific Screen Awards, and Asian Film Awards. Kim plays an indigent middle-aged woman who becomes her retarded son's only champion when he is charged with the bizarre murder of a young girl. In this, the year of controversy over the Asian "Tiger Mother" approach to child-rearing, Mother goes Amy Chua one better. Or as my girlfriend Amy summed up this film when we left the theater: "Didn't I tell you all Asian mothers are crazy?"

(David Michod, Australia, 2010)

Released stateside October 13, I missed this Aussie dysfunctional gangsta family drama (not to be confused with 1932's RKO production The Animal Kingdom starring Leslie Howard, Myrna Loy, and Ann Harding) when it played at Baltimore's Charles Theatre, but managed to catch it at the Rehoboth Beach Film Festival last November. It tells the story of a 17-year-old boy J (aka Josh, played by James Frecheville) who, after his mother's death, is taken in by the Codys - an explosive criminal family headed by matriarch Janine "Mama Smurf" Cody (Jacki Weaver) and her boys Barry (Joel Edgerton), Darren (Luke Ford), and sociopath Andrew "Pope" Cody (Ben Mendlesohn). J is a waffler, a mellow fellow in a hot-headed, hard-living world where only the strong survive. Guy Pearce (who, in a busy year, also put on his best posh accent to portray Colin Firth's bro the Duke of Windsor in The King's Speech) is the detective who thinks he can save J. Michod's feature debut was loosely based on the 1988 Walsh Street killings, in which two police officers were shot by members of Melborne's infamous criminal Pettingill Family.

Animal Kingdom won the Grand Jury Prize: World Cinema Dramatic at the Sundance Film Festival, and has earned critical acclaim such as few other Australian films have in recent years. But my favorite part in this relentlessly tense and ominous, edge-of-your-seat film was the instructional hygiene bathroom scene wherein Barry's advise to Josh - "Your hands go anywhere near your arse or your cock, you wash ‘em after...make sure you use soap and work up a good lather!" - served as comic relief and elicited a titter of nervous laughter from the four gay guys sitting in the row in front of us, one of whom who added, "Got that right!"

(Nobuhiko Obayashi, Japan, 1977, rereleased theatrically 2010)

The re-release of this 1977 film was the cult film event of the year, even though I saw it with only a handful of devotees when it played ye olde Senator Theater. This convention- and genre-defying film also defies description, so I won't even attempt to do so. Trust me, you've never seen anything like it. Insane in the membrane, yes - but also fun beyond belief! Good times.

(Jean-Francois RIchet, France, 2008; released in US August 2010)

As notorious '60s and '70s French gangster Jacques Mesrine, Vincent Cassal grabs and kicks a ton of ass in the first installment of Jean-Francois Richet's two-part biopic (Mesrine: Public Enemy #1 is the sequel) .

Read my Rehoboth Beach Film Festival review of Mesrine: Killer Instinct here.

(Sam Taylor-Wood, UK, 2009; released in US 2010)

Like The Social Network being released the year Mark Zuckerman was named Time's "Person of the Year," Nowhere Boy's timing was rather fortuitous as well - it opened at The Charles Theater the week of what would have been John Lennon's 70th birthday (October 9, 1940). Nitpickers and purists argued over its historical accuracy, but the point of this film was understanding the broad emotional evolution of John Lennon during his alternately vulnerable and angry formative years. It inspired me to finally tackle reading Bob Spitz' mammoth 992-page tome The Beatles: The Biography.

Read my Nowhere Boy review here.

15. Os & 1s
(Eugene Kotlyarenko, US, 2010)

This was my favorite film at the 2010 Maryland Film Festival, but it remains unreleased. It kinda reminded me of that Aqua Teen Hunger Force computer virus episode in which pop-up windows kept opening up until they completely covered the screen - a great visual concept to deliver its message about communication and social networking in the digital age. Or, as MFF programmer J. Scott Braid described it:
"0s & 1s is a comedy that tells a simple story in a wholly new and visually compelling way. Recognizing that our lives are increasingly centered around computers and the language of computer use, 0s & 1s uses our familiarity with that language as a platform for telling a story....The entire movie appears on our screen as though on a laptop running on a fictional operating system. The screen bursts with chat bubbles, system-warning windows, MP3 applications, email messages, web browsers, and anything else you can think of that might pop-up on your laptop monitor." (J. Scott Braid)

In a word: brilliant.

Yet, as filmmaker Eugene Kotlyarenko said afterwards when asked how he came up with the idea for his film, he was surprised no one had thought of it before. The Internet and Social Networking and all the little apps-driven devices and portals into modern Telecommunication - why hadn't someone done a film about how it impacts and drives the lives of today's young people. Other people have parodied aspects of the Internet, like Crossroads' hilarious "Facebook in Real Life," but this is the first film I can think of that covers it all. And the medium truly is the message, as well as the true star here, as pretty much all the characters are jerks.

Kotlyarenko's first feature-length film tells the story of an LA poser separated from his beloved computer, who "is forced to use the operating system known as real-life interaction, only to discover a generation of users and losers worse off than he." As Scott Braid concluded, "It is an approach to filmmaking that is totally fresh, and provides a real treat for the eyes."

I agree. Watch the Os and 1s trailer to see what we mean.

The most amazing thing about this film? In a room filled with the very people representing the youth demographic depicted onscreen, no one turned on their electronic devives! Not one iPhone flicked on. Not one Droid. Not one Blackberry. And no one texted or got news updates. This is a first for me at the Charles Theater!

(Daniel Barber, UK, 2009; released in Us in May 2010)

Michael Caine is old but still cool. Therefore he appeals to all of us who feel old but still cool. Plus his titular Harry Brown character kills young, drug-addled, hip-hop-listening thugs with too many bad tats and piercings and not enough manners who are rude to their elders. We like that, as well. (Actually, we love it!) In a nutshell: the British Death Wish, only with better acting and accents.

Segregated at the end, I've put six 2010 docs that rocked in a banner year for the genre....

(Charles Ferguson, US, 2010)

Charles Ferguson's fair-and-balanced examination of the 2008 Wall Street meltdown and near Capitalism Apocalypse was the best - and most timely - documentary of 2010. Just as Ferguson's previous documentary, No End in Sight, was the best doc of 2007 - and the best analysis of the misbegotten Iraq War to date. See it back-to-back with Alex Gibney's Client 9 and Casino Jack and the United States of Money (and throw in Gibney's Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story for good measure) and you get the Big Picture about who really runs the country (into the ground, periodically). These docs, taken collectively, round up The Usual Suspects: the Robber Barons of unregulated Free Market Capitalism and the lobbyists and pols who carry water for them. As they said on the X-Files, the Truth is out there. We just need to stop watching sports and reality TV and stare it in the face.

(Alex Gibney, US, 2010)

I really wanted to see this when it came out because I'm a fan of both Eliot Spitzer (and his new CNN show Parker Spitzer - which I tend to watch more than MSNBC for news now) and director Alex Gibney.

"Parker Spitzer": Co-hosts Eliot Spitzer and Kathleen Parker

OK, the so the former New York Governor and State's Attorney turned political-talk-show-host had sex with prostitutes - and Clinton got a blowjob in the Oral Office - big fucking deal, right? Who cares? That's just a matter between him and his family. Forgotten is how Spitzer predicted the 2008 Wall Street meltdown and tried to correct its unregulated excesses when, as "the Sheriff of Wall Street," he prosecuted crimes by some of America's largest financial insitutions and most powerful executives. Who's laughing now? Not the American public. Not dispossessed homeowners. Not wiped workers whose 401Ks were wiped out by the stock market crash. Long after his tawdry tart sold her stories to the tabloids, Spitzer's insights to a problem that won't go away are still valuable, while the scandal sheets have returned to the next Page 3 Girl or disgraced politico. But in America, sex and politics are a toxic cocktail, whereas in Europe this mixture is elixir - and might actually get you elected! Ah well, New York's loss is CNN's gain.

Client 9 was one of three new films directed by the prolific Alex Gibney that this year (the others were Casino Jack and the United States of Money and his sumo wrestling segment in Freakonomics). (He's also currently working on docs about Ken Kesey, Lance Armstrong, and Al Qaeda - read more about Gibney's busy year in Jon Anderson's excellent New York Times profile "Not Afraid To Follow the Money.") And this one may be his best yet, though it's doubtful that its sophisticated subject matter - I'm talking Wall Street derivatives (a concept even more complicated than NFL quarterback ratings) and sub-prime mortgages, and not the sex! - will translate into box office success. But as Gibney himself has said, he thinks documentaries today are not only better made, but have taken over the truth-telling function our increasingly polarized free press (e.g., Fox News on the right, MSNBC on the left) has largely abandoned. He doesn't care about box office; he cares about spreading the word, which is why he founded Jigsaw Productions in 1982 to produce just these sort of films. My hero!

(Alex Gibney, US, 2010)

I'm sure Kevin Spacey is great (as usual) in his Hollywood biopic Casino Jack, but trust me, Truth is always stranger than Fiction - so save your money and rent the real deal instead. I missed this when in played at this year's Maryland Film Festival (fool that I am!), but luckily caught in on the rebound at this fall's Rehoboth Beach Film Festival - which was appropos, because Gibney's doc has a very Rehobo Connection!

Abramoff, through his cohort (and erstwhile staffer for former Speaker of the House and Dancing with the Stars contestant Tom DeLay) Mike Scanlon - who is still a part-time Rehoboth Beach lifeguard - used the city to establish a fake corporation (American Independent Council) in which to filter money.

Seems that beachcomber David Grosh, a former lifeguard (Rehobo's 1997 Lifeguard of the Year, in fact!), was paid $2,500 by his friend Scanlon to head a phony "research organization" in Rehoboth, but it only functioned to funnel large sums from Indian tribes back to Mr. Abramoff and his law firm. A few shots of Rehoboth Beach are used and a few interviews with the incredulous Lifeguard CEO Grosh ("I asked him what do I have to do and he said, 'Nothing'!") are conducted there, as well. No wonder Gibney sported his Rehoboth Beach Lifeguard t-shirt at the Maryland Film Festival!

Alex Gibney, in Rehoboth Beach lifeguard t-shirt, at the Maryland Film Festival

Of course, the other great part of Gibney's Casino Jack documentary is seeing clips from one-time Hollywood writer-producer Abramoff's Cold War proxy action film, Red Scorpion (1988), which starred Dolph Lundgren as a Soviet KGB agent sent to Africa to assassinate an anti-Communist revolutionary leader, who was based on Abramoff's real-life warlord pal Jonas Savimbi, notorious leader of Angola's UNITA rebel group. (Watch the Red Scorpion trailer.)

Oh, and there's also a Baltimore Connection to Abramoff because, post-prison term, he got a rehab marketing gig selling pizza - instead of political access - at Tov Pizza in Northwest Baltimore (see "Disgraced Lobbyist Jack Abramoff Working in Baltimore Pizza Shop," Huffington Post, June 23, 2010). From slimey to cheesy, Jack's making progress!

(Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, US, 2010)

Directors Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing have some major gravitas in my book, having previously helmed the Oscar-nominated The Boys of Baraka (2005) and the frightening Christian brainwashing doc Jesus Camp (2007). They don't shy away from tough issues, and no topic of debate is tougher than abortion. Well, maybe Oasis vs. Blur. Or Beatles vs. Stones. Boxers vs. Briefs?

Read my long-winded review of 12th and Delaware in my "2010 Maryland Film Festival Wrap-up" blog posting. Or not.

(Jeff Zimbalist and Michael Zimbalist, US, 2010)

After seeing this on ESPN's "30 for 30" sports documentary series in June 2010, I immediately went on Amazon and ordered it. It's the best doc on Colombia's once-glorious soccer team, as well as the best doc I've seen on Pablo Escobar. The film illustrates that nothing in Colombia was safe from the reach of the drug gangs in general and Pablo Escobar in particular.

30 from 30 website description:
"While rival drug cartels warred in the streets and the country’s murder rate climbed to highest in the world, the Colombian national soccer team set out to blaze a new image for their country. What followed was a mysteriously rapid rise to glory, as the team catapulted out of decades of obscurity to become one of the best teams in the world. Central to this success were two men named Escobar: Andrés, the captain and poster child of the National Team, and Pablo, the infamous drug baron who pioneered the phenomenon known in the underworld as “Narco-soccer.” But just when Colombia was expected to win the 1994 World Cup and transform its international image, the shocking murder of Andres Escobar dashed the hopes of a nation.

Through the glory and the tragedy, The Two Escobars daringly investigates the secret marriage of crime and sport, and uncovers the surprising connections between the murders of Andres and Pablo."

(Matt Whitecross and Michael Winterbottom, UK, 2009; aired on Sundance Channel 2010)

Though based on Naomi Klein's best-selling book The Shock Doctrine - which argues that America's "free market" policies (pioneered by economist Milton Friedman) have come to dominate the world through the exploitation of disaster-shocked people and countries - Klein has since disavowed Michael Winterbottom's film version due to creative differences (she wanted more interviews, less polemic), which is a shame because I liked what I saw when it aired briefly on the Sundance Channel. The film alternates scenes of Naomi Klein talking at seminars with choice historical footage of 50's shock treatment, military coups in South America, the fall of the USSR, Iraq and Afghanistan, New Orleans after Katrina. Now it looks like it may never seen the light of day in an officially sanctioned released. Oh well, at least I've still got the book! Together, the book and movie have made me a believer in ALL the conspiracy theories. Now I can finally feel comfortable at Red Emma's Bookstore Coffeehouse!

Naomi Klein

Watch The Shock Doctrine trailer.

Read Christopher Campbell's "Sundance Review: The Shock Doctrine."

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Kraig Krixer, R.I.P. (1951-2011)

Kraig Krixer (right) with Accused frontman Dave Cawkwell

According to CBS/WJZ news reports, Baltimore musician Kraig Krixer and his friend and roomate John Gurkis were found dead, and somewhat decomposed, inside Krixer's condo at the Red Fox Farm Condos in Nottingham (Perry Hall), Maryland, on January 21, 2011. After the bodies were discovered, the fire department tested for carbon monoxide to see if that could be the cause of the two men’s death, but that came up negative. Krixer was 59; Gurlis was 58.

“Right now, we’re investigating as a suspicious death. The bodies have been taken to the medical examiner’s office and the outcome of the investigation will be pending the autopsy,” said Lt. Rob McCullough.

It's all pretty shocking to me. I remember Kraig "Trixy" Krixer from my days hanging out in the late '70s at Baltimore's Marble Bar on W. Franklin Street, where Kraig played with "New Wave" bands like The Accused, smoked those skinny brown More cigarettes (like Kojak), and was a fret-shredding guitar hero.

The Accused's 4-track EP

The Accused opened for Adam Ant

Krixer also played with such late '60s and '70s/'80s bands as Orange Wedge, Black Foot Smoke, OHO , Poobah, Weaszel (where he was billed as Fritz von Krizler on "Attack guitar"), Razor (with his brother Cris Krixer on bass), Blue Car (with former Aux vocalist Charlie Klingenstein and future Berserk & Garage Sale bassist Dave Cawley), Riff, Mission/When Thunder Comes (where he re-teamed with The Accused's Dave Cawkwell) and Trixy & The Testones. The latter, an OHO- and Dark Side-associated musical ensemble, released a single in 1978 that included punked-up covers of The Gong Show host Chuck Barris' "Palisades Park" and the Dave Clark Five's "Bits and Pieces."

Kraig "Trixy" Krixer (third from right)

Back sleeve of Trixy & The Testones 45, which thanks "the city of Baltimore for allowing its most talented citizens the luxury of remaining anonymous"!

Trixy & The Testones also recorded "a punky yet Spectoresque" version of "Then She Kissed Me" that appeared on The Best of Baltimore's Buried LP (Balto-Weird Records, 1979).

"The Best of Baltimore's Buried" LP

They also performed a number of times as part of "The Gohog Review," playing short sets at such Maryland venues such as the Marble Bar in downtown Baltimore and The Oddfellows Hall in Towson throughout 1979-80, often sharing the bill with Dark Side and The Weaszels.

Trixy & The Testones. From right: Jay Grabowski, Kraig Krixer, Mark O'Connor (aka "Vic DeMize," seated), David Jarkowski ("David Wylde," in aviator shades, standing behind O'Connor)

Aside from Krixer, the Testones were usually Jeff (drums/perc) and Jay Graboski--rhythm guitar & backing vocals (aka Jeff Jamm and Johnny Love respectively), David Wylde (bass, vocals), Vic DeMize (keys, synthesizer), Steve Simcoe on sax (aka Shemp Averagio) with guests Bill Phelan on 12-string electric guitar on "Then She Kissed Me" and, of course, Bob Tiefenwerth (Lao Lewd), who played glockenspeil on "Palisades Park."

"Palisades Park" charted in the top 15 singles both at radio KFJC in Los Altos Hills, CA and WIRC in Buffalo, NY, and was favorably reviewed by rock music journalists. A sampling is included below:
"Trixy & the Testones have released an intense version of the old Chuck Barris hit, 'Palisades Park'. It is rock in its most primitive incarnation. 'Where The Action Is' carried to a frenzied extreme. The 45, both sides in total, comes to over two hundred seconds of aural stimulation." --Patti Rosenberg (City Paper)

"As far as Trixy and the Testones go, their only bow to the past is in the mix, which sounds vaguely like Phil Spector working out of a phone booth. I won't go as far as to say that the performance reminds me of the Gong Show, but the wacky enthusiasm is the same. Is this a good single? Well, don't go looking for it on Casey Casem's American Top Forty, but don't dismiss it either. It's fun, tight and rocky, and neatly avoids the obvious traps of pretense and camp. Probably the best local party record I've heard."--J.D. Considine (Baltimore News-American)

"I always wished the Ramones would pick up on this song, and failing that, these boys have done a credible job with just the sort of arrangement I had in my head (and even once tried to work out on guitar!). Better produced, it might sound like a hit."--Greg Shaw (Bomp! Issue #21)

"Forget the Ramones comparisons, this high-energy romp is influenced but beyond. The arrangement is Sixties sublime, Trixy's delivery is hysterical, and you will not believe the pace. Two minutes of pure teen fun, no harmful additives. --(Unicorn Times, August 1979)

"And from Towson, Maryland, Trixy & the Testones pulverize 'Palisades Park' to interesting effect."--(New York Rocker, April-May 1979)

The Ramones references are interesting because apparently Joey Ramone himself was a fan! OHO (and Dark Side, Food for Worms, and various other "Gohog" bands) guitarist Jay Grabowski, who maintains the OHO music web site (, which is probably the best source for information about Krixer's musical career), writes that Krixer became a huge Ramones fan sometime around 1975:
Shortly thereafter, Trixy (aka Fagen de Razor - a pen name he assumed during a brief stint as a writer for the Port City News) became a huge Ramones fan and I suspect patterned The Testones loosely upon their band model and strictly upon their approach to arrangement (with a tip of the hat to Phil Spector) and the execution of their material; what with the rapid, crunching 1/8 note guitar down strokes, snotty/nasal vocals and racing tunes often ending under the 2-minute mark (note that the Testones' version of "Palisades Park" clocks in at 1:58).

I do not, however, recall how Trixy made Johnny Ramone's acquaintance but the late band leader/guitarist did send Kraig a postcard after he was serviced with and had apparently listened to our recording of "Palisades Park." It reads as follows: "I liked the record alot (sic). Palisades Park came out really good. We always had wanted to do that song but never did." - Johnny Ramone. (The Ramones eventually did record a version of this Chuck Barris' tune made popular in 1962 by Freddie "Boom-Boom" Cannon, releasing it 27 years later on their 1989 LP, Brain Drain, & 10 years after the Testones' 45 rpm, 7" version.)

Grabowski also recalls how he and OHO first came to be associated with Kraig Krixer:
I first became aware of Kraig Krixer's existence as lead guitarist for local Baltimore band, Orange Wedge, in the early 70s. By 1973 Wedge had dispensed with the "Orange," Joe Farce took over as sole guitarist and Kraig switched teams over to OHO contemporaries, the glam-rock band Poobah, assuming a transexual persona and taking the moniker of "Trixy the Space Queen," ala Ziggy (Bowie) and Roxy Music. Most Poobah members went by similarly androgynous stage names (e.g. Crystal Chandelier, Steptoe the Magnificent). Our acquaintance furthered when Kraig & I found ourselves working in the same bureau at SSA during the mid-to-late 70s, where and when the idea of the Testones project arose, was incubated, then spawned.

Kraig additionally played blistering guitar on both the 1979 and the 1985 versions of The Weaszels' "I'm Still Wild," the former a track on the 1st Baltimore's Buried LP (opere citato above), the latter on their Whack 'n' Wild CD, independently released in 1992. The BBB version provoked one rabid DJ/fan to compose a 5 page, hand-written paean to the song/band that I intend to transkey to this journal when it's time to address the KZMU question posed regarding The Weaszels . Suffice it to say at this point that we had never before or since received such enthusiastic praise from anyone. Another advantage of dealing with this list of questions, where we have the chance to tell the untold stories of the incidental musical one-offs of and tangents to our "career," is this opportunity to root through our archives, artifacts and testimonials, urging nebulous memories to re-surface to a more clearly conscious level, then relate them in this forum.

In 1979 Kraig formed the band Razor & I was invited to play as the 2nd guitarist on a track later included on the 1st Best of Baltimore's Buried LP. In Spring 1985 Kraig guested as lead guitarist on "Ethiopa" & "Change In the Wind" showing up either together or individually on the following OHO releases: Audition (1989), OHO (1990), UP (2003), The Oriency Anthology (2004) & Bricolage (2008). (David always felt Kraig's guitar soloing to be his strong suit, his ideation being that Trixy dance in from stage right, across the proscenium over to stage left licks a blazin', then fading out of view behind the curtain while wailing his final bended note.) "Wind" ranked OHO among 4 finalists in Musician Magazine's "Best Unsigned Band Contest" in 1986 (for which we were awarded a pricey JBL sound system), providing enough momentum to carry the band two years hence to late Summer 1988 when we were chosen as finalists for that year's Yamaha Soundcheck Competition

One of my favorite Grabowski recollections about Kraig Krixer is the one about the video Grabowski's band Food for Worms made for a song called "It Needs a Haircut." I am tangentially involved in this story, because the song was inspired by a conversation I had with Food for Worms keyboardist Mark O'Connor about my barber, this guy named Charles, who used to groom corpses for funeral viewings. I was fascinated when Charles told me how he once cleaned up a long-haired biker dude so that he'd look like choir boy when viewed by his mom in the casket! As Grabowski recalls, the song was orginally included on The 98 Rock Album before being made into a video for MTV:
"It Needs a Haircut," built around a catchy David Reeve instrumental hook/riff and based on a true story overheard by another band member about a corpse that required the attention of a hair stylist, was our contribution to this LP. "Haircut" made the final cut as the closer for the album's music program and every song received a substantial amount of airplay on 98 Rock, WIYY-FM, and for a significant period of time...All this was during the MTV "music video" heyday and David insisted that our band invest in making a video. Bratt Studio engineer, Bill Pratt, had received some national exposure on that cable network with a video by his band at the time, The Gents. Finalists in the MTV "Basement Tape" competition, the Gents were bold enough to have had their ambitious video shot on film stock with its classy "look", easily making it to the last round of the competition.

We hired a video producer, picked a tune ("Haircut" of course--it was under 3 minutes--less filming and editing time/expense), created a storyboard and rented some costumes and cheap props. The most expensive prop we purchased for $80 from an undertaker who had converted a coffin-like cadaver transporter into a more convincing coffin substitute by staining it and affixing budget line casket handles. (We eventually gave this to Trixy & The Testones guitarist, Kraig Krixer, who somewhat coveted it and upon delivery to his home put it to practical use for towel and linen storage.)

According to Grabowski, OHO's "Change in the Wind" (which featured Krixer on guitar) was also featured as incidental soundtrack music in 1998's Edge of 17, an independent film that was an unexpected hit at that year's Sundance Film Festival and was listed as being among the "100 Best Gay & Lesbian Features" ever in the 2003 edition of the Facets Movie Lovers Guide. It also placed in the final 3 of the "Music for Film and TV" category of the 2003 Independent Music Awards sponsored by The Musician's Atlas. "Kraig certainly contributed to all of this and the time is nigh to give him his propers," Grabowski wrote on the ohomusic site. "Thanks, Kraig."

Jay Grabowski worked with Krixer at the Social Security Administration facility in Woodlawn from the mid-1970s until Kraig retired from SSA in the early 00's due to health issues. In a November 2009 "What's Up" update to the ohomusic web site, Grabowski's wrote "[Kraig Krixer] currently lives quietly and simply in Perry Hall, a northeast Baltimore suburb, with his collection of unique electric guitars that includes a coveted white John Thurston-made "tear drop," a Vox inspired guitar, modeled after the one Rolling Stone Brian Jones played during the 2nd British Invasion in 1964."

Jaguar Bytes, a former bartender at the Marble Bar, had the following recollections of Kraig Krixer:
A cute little guy with black hair. The pretty boy type. Always wore a black leather jacket... not that that helps much considering that we all did!

His brother Kris was about the same height (maybe 5'8"ish) with white blonde hair. He too always wore a leather jacket except he eventually had this thing where he was always buying all sorts of different colors. Originally, he always wore a black one but eventually you'd never know if he'd be wearing his red one, his white one or some other variety.

The two were both very close and lived together on Elm Ave. in Hampden. Both smoked those More cigarettes and played guitar though Kraig was more active on the music front. Kris often hung out with this guy you may know named Carl. (Forget his last name right now.) A very good looking tall and slender guy with perfect dark hair. Between the 3 of them, they had that typical rock star pretty boy look down that often made its presence at the Marble. The kind of guys who would wear girls jeans and tops and get away with it without looking like they were in drag. They pulled it off well and we all ate it up like we did with all the other peculiarities at any of the local cool scenes.

Another guy that Kraig often hung out with was Charlie Klingenstein (some last name like that). Another good looking guy with dark hair. Had the Bryan Ferry thing down. The two of them were in a band called Blue Car for a short time and played the Marble on occasion. Maybe in '81 or '82.

Not sure what else I can say that might jog your memory. If I run across any clear pictures, I'll try to post them here.

Though I haven't seen either for years, for some odd reason, I had been thinking about both of them a lot lately. Sorry that I will never again get to see Kraig. He will be missed.

As Jaguar Bytes observes, not only did both Kraig and his brother Cris have that "rock star pretty boy look" down, but I recall that Cris Krixer used to work at Noxell Corporation in Hunt Valley and would always bring make-up and Noxzema skin care accessories to the Marble Bar to give as gifts to the young ladies, which made him extremely popular with the X Chromosome Set. (C'mon, what woman can resist getting swag bags of Cover Girl, Max Factor, and Olay products?) Cris used to wear a shiny red leather jacket just like the kind The Romantics wore on their first album. And I remember that when you called the Krixer brothers' phone number, the answering machine message said something to the effect of "Sorry to miss your call, but Kraig and Cris are out on another mission..."

By the way, a number of Kraig Krixer's bands (Orange Wedge, Razor, Trixy & The Testones, OHO) get mentioned in Joe Vaccarino's book Baltimore Sounds: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Baltimore Area Pop Musicians, Bands & Recordings 1950-1980 (MJAM Press, 2004).

*** KRIXER UPDATE (1/31/2011) ***

Subsequent to this post, Dave Cawkwell (Accused, Mission, When Thunder Comes) replied:
Nice tribute about Kraig. You missed the several years that Kraig was with Mission/When Thunder Comes where he recorded his only full length album with us called The Last Detail. The song "Dreaming" charted #1 on several college radio stations. Kraig was also on most of the second album cuts called When Thunder Comes which we sold the name Mission to get the funds to finish the album. These 2 records Kraig and I both thought showed his very best work. We also opened for The Ventures, Hot Tuna and Lords of the New Church where Stiv Bator was really impressed with Kraig. Look up on itunes (WTC)and find a song called "Make the Man" and hear the greatest lead from Kraig that will soar and break your heart at the same time.

Thanks Dave!

Related Links:

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Black Cherry

by Michael Dougan

Seattle artist Michael Dougan's graphic story of the oddball characters he encountered while working as a minimum wage slave reminded me so much of the unusual people who come into my workplace, the public library, that I just had to share. These pages are taken from An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons & True Stories (Yale University Press, 2006), edited by Ivan Brunetti. Dougan is the author of I Can't Tell You Anything.

If, like me, your eyesight is for shit, click on the images below to enlarge as necessary.

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Saturday, January 22, 2011


Ayako (1972)
by Osamu Tezuka
(Vertical, 2010, 704 pages)

I just finished reading this latest English translation of The Old Master from the folks at Vertical Books (thanks again for the loan, Chris Schatz!) and it may be my favorite by the Father of Japanese Manga, Osamu Tezuka. Like Adolf and MW, it's one of the dramatic social commentaries he produced later in his prolific career, one that may be - along with Yoshiro Tasumi's A Drifting Life - one of the best-ever mangas about life in post-War Japan; or, as the Tezuka in English site describes it:
"Ayako specifically treats the social impact of the American occupation of Japan after the conclusion of the war, and the damage done to traditional Japanese families, particularly wealthier families, by the dramatic land redistribution enforced by the government during the last stage of the war and afterward. It examines a single large landholding family of samurai descent, and shows how the war and the American occupation served to foster the seeds of decay and ruin already present in the depths of traditional Japanese family structure."

Ayako is no bare-boned character

Of course, there's also the usual graphic sex, violence, and complex dysfunctional relationships (incest, in this case), that we've all come to expect and love in Tezuka's works. But what really impressed me was the way Tezuka's story, covering the fortunes of the Tenge family between the years 1949-1972, incorporated so many real-life events in Japanese history, from the 1949 "Shimoyama Incident" involving the the disappearance and death (murder? suicide?) of Sadanori Shimoyama (first president of the Japan National Railways, who disappeared on his way to work and whose mangled body was found on train tracks the next day)...

Removal of Shimoyama's remains from the Jōban Line

...through the Korean, Vietnam and Cold Wars, and right up to the 1970s Yakuza gang wars (such as Hiroshima's 1972 "Yamamuragumi Incident") that culminated in the so-called "Battles Without Honor and Humanity" that inspired Kinji Fukasaku's documentary-styled film series The Yakuza Papers: Battles Without Honor & Humanity (a series often called "the Japanese Godfather").

I subsequently dug out Mark Schreiber's excellent (and rare) true crime tome Shocking Crimes of Postwar Japan and re-read the Shimoyama chapter "Murder or Suicide? The Mysterious Death of a Railway Executive." Like Ayako, it is interesting not just for the stories it recounts, but for explaining why these events were of such importance to the Japanese people in the wake of the cultural revolution that followed defeat in the Second World War.

Ayako page spread

Originally serialized in 1972 in Big Comic magazine, Ayako is considered one of the best early examples of a seinen (young adult) narrative, as well as Tezuka’s answer to the gekiga (dramatic comics) movement of the 60’s. I can't recommend it highly enough!

Related Links:
"Ayako" (Tezuka in English web site)
Shimoyama Incident (Wikipedia)
Shocking Crimes of Postwar Japan by Mark Shreiber
Battles Without Honor and Humanity (Wikipedia)

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The Unrewarding "Big Lots Buzz Club Rewards" Incident

Harvey Pekar understands the Art of Checking Out

Yesterday Amy and I hit the Parkville Big Lots store off Perring Parkway (Big Lots Store #5103) to see what bargains lay in store for our fiscally conservative thrift agenda, with Amy heading straight for the food aisles (natch!) while I predictably made a beeline for the two huge DVD bins (today's special - all $3 dollar movies were now 2-for-$5 dollars!).

On my last Big Lots shopping spree at the Dundalk store (Big Lots Store #1595), I scored some good foreign films (the French thriller Red Lights, Wong Kar-Wai's Ashes of Time, and the Iranian arthouse film Secret Ballot), and today I found another Audrey Tautou collaboration with director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amelie), A Very Long Engagement, the Oscar-nominated Brazilian drama Central Station (directed by Walter Salles of The Motorcycle Diaries fame), the wickedly hilarious Matthew Broderick-Reese Witherspoon comedy Election, and Saturday Night Live: The Best of Commercial Parodies (which included personal fave "Colon Blow" but, alas, no "Shimmer Floor Wax/Dessert Topping"!) - all for $10.

But before we could check our items out, we made the mistake of allowing a woman to get in front of us with a shopping cart overflowing with sundry items. Thus began a descent into a sort of living Hell known as the "Big Lots Buzz Club Rewards Incident." Apparently, people can join Big Lots' "Buzz Club Rewards" program so that they earn points for purchases of certain items and ultimately get something free after so many purchases. It all starts with registering online, reading through a veritable slew of rules and disclaimers, and getting a card which, of course, this woman did not have on her. So naturally, this turned into a time-insensitive encounter in which the woman (aka "Time Vampire") railed against the cashier, demanded to see the manager, and (oblivious to the ever-growing line of shoppers behind her) started screaming that "I should get this free!" even when the manager interceded and told the lady she had to register online and he couldn't do anything for her until she had done so. In other words, she was working the Bargain Bullying Technique to see if Making a Scene would get the manager to back down. It didn't. But the spat went on for a good 15 minutes before she finally (and angrily) stormed off, threatening to take her business elsewhere.

"What's the big deal?" I muttered to Amy under my breathe (not wanting to chance the ire of She Who Must Be Satisfied, aka "Bargain Bitch," who was still arguing with the poor manager). "I mean, aren't things cheap enough at Big Lots that you don't have to barter over further discounts?"

"There is an art to shopping when it comes to picking the right checkout line and the right checkout opportunity," I continued, adding, "And we missed it!

Harvey Pekar has documented this art in his American Splendor comics collaboration with R. Crumb, though in his case his "Complicated Hassle with the Cashier" experience involved getting behind Old Jewish Ladies in Checkout Lines:

Harvey Pekar on Old Jewish Ladies in Checkout Lines

Paul Giamatti reprised Pekar's checkout dilemma in the "Old Jewish Lady" scene from the live-action film American Splendor:

The Big Lots lady we encountered wasn't Jewish, but she sure had a lot of chutzpah!

Not to mention a lot of time on her hands.

As our nation debates whether civility between polarized politicians will return to the U.S. Congress in the wake of the recent Tuscon massacre, it's obvious that civility in checkout lines is still a work in progress.

Related Links:
"Justice - Wait for It - on the Checkout Line" (WSJ, 8/19/09)

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Sugarloaf - "Don't Call Us, We'll Call You" (1975)

Claridge Records, 1974; Polydor 1974

I was listening recently to one of those Rhino Records Superhits of the '70s: Have a Nice Day compilations of (mostly) one-hit wonders, and came across Sugarloaf's 1975 hit "Don't Call Us, We'll Call You" (US #9, Billboard Top 100). It brought back instant memories of an incredibly dated era in pop music (one that I lived through) when terms like "mama" and "child" were the descriptors of choice to denote women in the sexist-tinged, patronizing rock patois of the day (think Slade, Free, T. Rex, Led Zeppelin, Stories, Raspberries, and virtually any '70s band appearing on Midnight Concert or Don Kirschner's Rock Concert - the list goes on and on).

Sugarloaf was a Denver-based band that took their name from the Boulder, Colorado, ski resort (having changed their original moniker from Chocolate Hair). "Don't Call Us" was a follow-up hit to their biggest ever success, "Green-Eyed Lady" (US #3, Billboard, 1970). Keyboardist/vocalist Jerry Corbetta later moved on to enjoy minor success with Disco-Tex and the Sex-O-Lettes ("Get Dancin'") and as one of the Four Seasons with Frankie Valli.

Anyway, I love this song and can't get it out of my head, enjoying everything from its attempts to be lyrically outre ("Could you relate to our quarter-track tape/You know the band performs in the nude") and hip ("We got percentage points and lousy joints/And all the glitter we can use, Mama") to its Argent/Stevie Wonder/Edgar Winter Group keyboard sound that was so popular at the time. As one fan commented, it's the kind of song you listen to while driving around and smoking joints in a souped-up Camaro (maybe on 8-track, to boot!)

I can't find an official music video of the song (there weren't many back then!), but somebody did a nice synch-up of the tune with stop-motion footage from a 1947 AT&T/Bell System educational short called Just Imagine, in which animated character "Tommy Telephone" builds a telephone out of 433 separate parts (you can view the original in its 10-minute entirety at Prelinger Archives)!

Watch "Don't Call Us, We'll Call You" (YouTube)

According to Wikipedia, "Don't Call Us, We'll Call You" contains a practical joke at the expense of CBS Records, which had turned Sugarloaf down for a recording contract. "The song includes the sound of a touch-tone telephone number being dialed near the beginning and ending of the song. Those numbers were an unlisted phone number at CBS Records and a public number at the White House, respectively. In addition, the recording includes snippets of the guitar riff of The Beatles' "I Feel Fine," Stevie Wonder's "Superstition," and a line of dialogue from Wolfman Jack stating the call sign of a radio station; numerous tracks of this line were cut to match local markets."

Curiously, when the lyrics refer to the Beatles ("...Yeah, it sounds like John, Paul, and George"), they leave out Ringo. I wonder if that was intentional or simply for line scanning purposes. Poor Ringo - he could have been associated with the greatness that was Sugarloaf!

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Sunday, January 16, 2011

My Inexact Exacta

Kick Me Hard!!!

From my railbird days at Pimlico Race Course. This stills pains me. I coulda been a contender!

Tom's Inexact Exacta

Final Thoughts: I, Tom Warner am an idiot. Not just for blowing this potential $718.60 exacta in 2001at Pimlico Race Course, but for wearing those preppy white slacks. What WAS I thinking?

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Tom & Amy's Delightful Dundalk Daytrip

Saturday, January 14, 2011

With the whole city seemingly wrapped up in food and booze preparations for watching the Ravens play the Steelers later this afternoon, I figured it was a good time to head down to Rainbow Car Wash off German Hill Road in Dundalk and get my salt-and-grime slopped Honda Civic cleaned up. For her part, Amy (who had just visited Dundalk the day before to have lunch with her parentals) wanted to go back to the Goodwill Superstore across from Eastpoint Mall, where she had scored a preppy green J. Crew sweater and a pair of mod-looking gray pinstriped pants the day before.

Amy models her Goodwill Superstore clothes, as well as the new Queen bio (a belated Christmas gift from me)

The pants were so form-fitting that Amy had spent the night before gyrating, jumping up and down, and kicking herself in the butt - all to show me how stretchy her "Dundalk Goodwill Superstore Super Sexy Slacks" were, as captured in the videos below that prove these slacks are no slouches:

Amy models her Goodwill Superstore Super Sexy Slacks

Amy kicks herself in the butt

Amy is double-jointed and also incredibly flexible from years of doing yoga, but this new talent impressed me beyond belief.

Amy also wanted me to see a pair of stunning gold pumps that someone had left in the alley behind her parents' house across from the Logan Village Shopping Center.

Pump It Up! Solid Gold Action behind Logan Village Shopping Center

Upon closer inspection...all that glitters in Dundalk IS gold!

Could these be "storage locker" pumps left behind by some Dundalk street (alley?) walker?

That's Amy's childhood home in the background; if her folks ever sell it, the realtors should list the house with this photo

"I can't believe no one's taken these yet!" says a bewildered Amy

"What is it about Dundalk and gold wonders?" she wondered. "They even match our twin towered-shit plant, the Golden Eggs!"

Dundalk's Golden Eggs: The Back River Waste Water Treatment Plant

Anyway, it sounded like a plan for a lazy Saturday afternoon, so we headed down Merritt Boulevard on our merry way, Amy regaling me with the highlights of her previous day's lunch with her mom and dad. As we passed Denny's, where a recent lunch with her parents had escalated into a "domestic dispute" over the (lack of) sausage in Amy's otherwise delicious Ultimate Skillet entree (as previously reported in "Fast Food, Slow People in Dundalk," Accelerated Decrepitude, January 8, 2011), Amy recounted how her eccentric, "conversationally challenged, food-obsessed" mother always repeats the same stock comments whenever the family dines together. I have noticed that while Amy's Dad can talk effortlessly about Russia (he's fluent in Russian), his beloved Burke's Restaurant (which recently closed ), or his days in the Army and Merchant Marines, Amy's mom can't seem to think outside the plate; any chatter always comes back to the food before her.

"My mom always comments about everybody else's food whenever we eat out," Amy reflected, adding that, "But if she complains about her food, she'll complain about it the entire meal."

I later organized her mom's Dining Mantras into the list reprinted below.

Amy's Mom's Dining Mantras: Things Said Every Meal

1. "Itadakimasu!" (Ee-ta-da-key-mas)
(She's Japanese, so she says this grace expression whose meaning in English would be equivalent to either "Bless this food" or "Let's eat!" depending on one's piety.)

2. "That meat look TOUGH!"
(Said every time Mr. Davis orders a steak.)

3. That tea WEAK, it look like water!"
(Said every time Mr. Davis orders an iced tea.)

4. "That cole slaw SOUR!"
(said every time she orders a crab cake or seafood platter.)

5. "That squid not SPICY enough!"
(Even though Amy explains that calamari isn't supposed to be spicy.)

6. "Hmmmpft! Not enough MUSHROOMS!"

7. "That bread - it COLD!"
(Even after Amy comments how oven-fresh the bread is.)

8. "Crab cake JUNK! Not enough LUMPS!"
("My mom has a High Lump Standard when it comes to Crab Cakes," Amy says. "There are never enough lumps. To her, Crab Cakes should be nothing but lumps.")

9. "My French Fry JUNK! Everybody else French Fry GOOD!"
(She always looks at other diners' French Fries and believes there is some sort of conspiracy to give her the smallest, most mishapened, burnt, and bottom of the pan fries.)

10. "We go now!"
(After she finishes her food.)

Now, if Amy excuses herself to go to the bathroom and doesn't come back quickly enough, her mother always assumes she's making a "Number Two" and will embarrass her upon her return with one more comment:

11. "You long time. Make BIG ONE?"

Amy's Dad's Top 10 Responses to Her Mom's Dining Mantras:

1. Ignores her.
2. Ignores her.
3. Ignores her.
4. Ignores her.
5. Ignores her.
6. Ignores her.
7. Ignores her.
8. Ignores her.
9. Ignores her.
10. "I knew you were going to say that at some point."

Also, during certain "domestic disputes" such as the Denny's Sausage Incident, he has been known to intervene with an occasional: "Will you stop going on about the damned SAUSAGE!"
Before we got to the car wash, we stopped at the Big Lots store on Merritt Boulevard, where we both scored some nice finds.

Amy picked up a crafts book by former Breeder Kelley Deal (twin sister of the Pixies' Kim Deal), Bags That Rock: Knitting on the Road (2008), for $3. "I don't even knit," Amy said, "But I think this is kinda cool. Maybe I'll give it to a Breeders fan."

The needle and the darning done

Accordng to Wikipedia, Deal turned to knitting as part of an effort to stay sober. Ah, just as I suspected: Crafts Rehab - the needle and the damage done turns into the needle and the knit bags done! Apparently, Kelley Deal specializes in knitted handbags, which she sells on her official website: She has also appeared on the DIY Network knitting show, Knitty Gritty (episode DKNG-401, Rock Star Bag).

My biggest score was paying $3 for the Andy Kaufman and Bernadette Peters movie Heartbeeps (1981), a film about two robots who fall in love and decide to strike out on their own.

Heartbeeps tanked at the box office, giving its producers heartburn

Critics called "unbearable" and "dreadful," while Andy Kaufman felt that the movie was so bad that he personally apologized for it on Late Night with David Letterman. (When Kaufman promised to refund the money of everyone who paid to see it, Letterman quipped, "You'd better have change for a 20!") Hey, even if it's bad, it's Andy Kaufman. Plus Christopher Guest, Bob Zmuda, and Jerry Garcia are in the cast. In other words: essential. I also bought a 20-pack of Hefty Trash Bags there for $3; time will tell which was the better value.

At the Rainbow Car Wash, we noticed that every car wash jockey seemed to be covered with bad prison-quality tattoos and wondered if all car wash employees were either ex- or future- cons. That's not a criticism - these guys do great work and I tip them handsomely!

Next store was Poor Boys Garden & Hearth, which despite its name seems to be nothing but a one-stop shopping center for all things related to the Baltimore Ravens, from "Shitsburgh, PA" t-shirts and purple flamingo lawn ornaments to big styrofoam purple fists that purportedly were for holding beer cans and bottles (I suspect these would sell well in Rehoboth Beach for a different purpose!). You can even check out their online Poor Boys Ravens Store for more merchandise at But I was struck by some unusual artifacts with in the store, like the politically incorrect "pickininny" doll hanging atop one shelf and the equally un-PC framed reproduction of the sheet music for "The Darktown Strutters Ball."

"What's that all about?" I asked Amy, not realizing that the place actually sold items NOT related to the Ravens. The picture reminded me of the classic 1975 blaxploitation film Darktown Strutters (aka Get Down and Boogie!) - one of my all-time favorite possessions. It starred Trina Parks (the first African-American female to star in a James Bond movie - she was Thumper in 1971's Diamonds Are Forever) as the leader of an all-female biker gang battling a racist fast food tycoon (and Colonel Sanders lookalike) who's invented a machine that creates exact replicas of black leaders who are programmed to get their followers to "Eat Mor Chikin" (as the Chick-fil-A cows would have it) - and ribs! And the soundtrack was highlighted by The Dramatics performing "What You See Is What You Get." I only have it on video, but my friend Mike Hughes managed to score a DVD of this curioddity fora buck at a Dollar Store!

"Super sisters on cycles - better move your butt when these ladies strut!"

It's still a pretty rare movie, but thankfully somebody uploaded the entire film on YouTube (yeah!).

Watch "Darktown Strutters."

But, if you have ADHD like me, you might just wanna watch the "Darktown Strutters" trailer.

The whole time we were in Poor Boys, the in-house satellite radio station was playing 80s Britpop gems by Squeeze, The Jam, and Madness, leading Amy to comment that the only Ravens gear she would consider purchasing would be the (Terrell) Suggs cap she spotted because "I'd wear it in honor of Suggs of Madness!"

The "other" (nutty) Suggs

Amy's Suggs also is a football fanatic, but his footy is of the Chelsea Blues soccer variety. She ended getting a Pumpkin Voodoo Keychain Charm she spied by the cash register because it completed her Fall Pumpkin Mania craze that saw her consuming every conceivable pumpkin-flavored comestible (cheesecake, cream cheese, bread, ad infinitum).

Pumpkin Voodoo has its charm

We left Ravens Central and on our way back to Merritt Boulevard, some yahoo in a souped-up purple Honda Civic (a spoiler on a Honda? Ridiculous!) rolled down his window, held up a Joe Flacco jersey and shouted "Ravens! Wahoo! Ravens!"

"Yes, I've heard of them!" I replied. Then, lest he think I was a wise-ass, I added (faux enthusiastically), "All right! We just came from Poor Boys!" In Dundalk, Poor Boys is synonymous with saying you just went to Ravens Merchandise Headquarters. He honked his horn in response and sped off. I was cleared on the Ravens Booster Front. In the back of my mind I could hear the cast of Tod Browning's Freaks singing, "We accept you, we accept you! One of use, one of us!"

Ravens Freaks: I'm with the program and they accept me!

We finally made our way to the Goodwill Superstore across the street from the Eastpoint Mall, passing the Hibachi Grill on the way.

"Let's see if there are any more law enforcement incidents going on here involving the county police," I said as we drove past Hibachi Grill - for it was only last week there was a "food fight" here that reported in the Dundalk Eagle's police blotter.

But all was quiet on the all-you-can-eat Chinese Buffet Front, so we parked at the Goodwill and spent the next hour looking for more scores. Amy got a nifty brown suede jacket, while I almost purchased a pair of Old Navy "rock star" leather pants; they were women's size 4's, but they were actually a little too loose on me. But boy did they feel nice and soft. (OK, I think I'm starting to get hellbent for leather!)

In the end I spotted this $2 dollar t-shirt that sums up everything I think about the Internet - and which was like holding up a mirror to myself! (Except for the stalking bit; I honestly have never had the Work Ethic required to be one; I'm too lazy!).

My life story capsulized on a $2 t-shirt!

And with that, we headed home to pick up some Seasons Pizza the Ravens game! Yes, believe it or not I was won over by the enthusiasm of the dude in the tricked-out purple Honda Civic. Not really. No, we were just bored after an exciting day in Dundalk and were ready to watch anything, even football - which is an excellent background viewing activity whilst eating Seasons white vegetable pizza. Even when the home team loses in such a pathetic manner, blowing a two touchdown lead. Wonder if that yahoo's still driving around hoisting his Flacco jersey out the window?

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