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Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Without Schmaltz

I've heard more than a few people complain about Christmas music and how vapid and horrible they find it. Some people hate really religious numbers like "O Holy Night" and others hate pop tunes like "Silver Bells" or that thing about chestnuts roasting. I agree about the overwhelming sentimentality, however there are a few tunes that bring up images of Christmas without broaching upon issues of religion or spending money on presents.

A pretty good example is The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds album, which sounds very Christmas-like, songs like "I Know There's An Answer" or "God Only Knows". You could play Pet Sounds all through Xmas and still get the holiday spirit. And old JC or Saint Nick get no mention anywhere in the lyrics.

At any rate, here are a few of my personal selections of music that could convey the Christmas spirit but don't get enough play.

Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in D Minor (Ode To Joy) - Wendy Carlos

Taken from the Clockwork Orange soundtrack album, this particular track definitely conjures images of wintertime solstice and Christmas joy, courtesy of the great mind of Ludwig Van Beethoven. I'm not sure the extremely violent footage from the movie accurately conveys that Christmas spirit, but enjoy the music anyway.

By the way, I remember The Beatles singing Beethoven's Song of Joy in the movie Help! to calm down a wild lion from tearing Ringo apart in a German cellar. Great movie!

On The Rolling Sea When Jesus Speak To Me - Van Dyke Parks

While not a Christmas song at all, but still an inspirational tune written by Bahamian guitarist Joseph Spence, Van Dyke Parks' arrangement is one of the most surreal ever recorded. Parks bangs gospel piano sounding more like a roadhouse saloon, all Elmer Gantry grooves galore while a robust choir sunnily chant the lyrics, the volume of their voices going from fortissimo to pianissimo and then back again, the timbre shifting up and down like the waves of the sea. Salvation Army horns blast away with a strong Charles Ives southern gothic flair, and the whole thing is alternately exhilarating and horrifying.

I remember hearing this first on the Warner Brothers Records compilation "Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies" in 1970 and never forgot it, so hearing it again on You Tube is nothing short of great!

The Man With All The Toys - The Beach Boys

The standout track on The Beach Boys' Christmas album is this merry song about Santa Claus, a very perky little number with a light wintry guitar sound. It's funny how they have Santa Claus on the brain, what with this tune and Little Saint Nick also praising the great toy giver.

Jingle Jangle Jump - Dexter Gordon

A pretty jazzy tune about Christmas for hipsters sung by Gladys Bentley and featuring the great tenor sax playing of bebop icon Dexter Gordon. Bentley's definitely no Dinah Washington, but that's okay, this one's strictly for Gordon fans. Another cool Christmas song played by a legendary jazz giant is It's Christmas Time by The Qualities featuring Sun Ra.

Other songs I could mention is Slade's million-selling "Merry Christmas Everybody", Roy Wood's Wizzard's goofy "I Wish It Was Christmas Every Day", and Jethro Tull's dour message tune Christmas Song. No matter what the genre of music there's no shortage of Christmas music that's bound to be halfway fun to listen to without resorting to depressing maudlinity. Yeth!

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Another tiny pleasure is this brilliant Mad Magazine beatnik takeoff on The Night Before Christmas illustrated by Wally Wood. Mad Magazine, beatniks, and Wally Wood; it doesn't get much better than this:

Friday, December 18, 2015

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Chaos

Normally this time every year I work busily away at an office job, enjoying all the free cookies, candies and cakes my generous co-workers have to offer. Unfortunately this year has been such a shitty wash employment-wise that I've decided to do something I've never done this time of year: I've become a professional runner.

In the past I've been a runner for wardrobe houses and special effects arts teams, but this time I'm a runner for an agency that caters to upper level boutiques across the Westside - mostly Beverly Hills 90210, with clients ranging from movie stars to foreign royalty (a Russian Princess, for instance).

It's an easy job and I get to drive around Bel Air a lot, it's kind of nice, blah blah blah. But then again it is Christmas season and people are more than a little out of their heads with holiday hysteria. One of the perks of the job is getting to watch how terrible people are at driving. The more lousy the driver the more indignant they are at their fellow drivers not giving them the right of way.

The Von Bondies - It Came From Japan

On a good day people get the Christmas spirit and tip - it's not required - it actually happens so seldomly that when I get something it always comes as a pleasant surprise. Wish I had a few more pleasant surprises this holiday season.

I have noticed that people in general are much more courteous to me in my delivery boy drag, opening doors and letting me use their restrooms at the drop of a hat. Try dressing like Ziggy Stardust and find out how nice people can be...not!

Christmas is a nice, pretty holiday, but watching people (mostly men) losing their shit over small stuff like somebody not driving fast enough or passing them on the freeway is pretty fuggin' crazy. Some Xmas spirit!

You can almost hear the All-American Consumer quietly screaming in his head, "IF I DON'T BUY SOMETHING SOON I'M GOING TO KILL SOMEBODY!" Pushing others aside, elbowing them out of the way violently, ready to bite anyone getting too close to any salable item needed or not.

Hopefully I'll score a nice clerical job next year so I can go back to being a runner on weekends only. And I could sell a few more books, too. Just got another royalty check, which is always encouraging.

Tyrades - Let Down

Since next year marks a special milestone in my life (guess) I'll be releasing not one, not two, but three books. One will be a children's book that even adults will like, because the best kid's entertainment should be smart and not talk down to kids; the second book will be a pretty comprehensive collection of my short works, which I'm pretty excited about; and, the third book will be yet another punk rock crime novel. Why not? The boy can't help it.

The Hentchmen - Yesterday's Trash

Friday, December 11, 2015

Broke And Seductive

The holidays always look differently when you don't have a lot of money to play with, and I'm not talking about being homeless. I'm talking about being heavily in debt and pouring all your money into paying all the money lenders off, becoming so bad that all your credit cards have been shut down. Drat. It makes you see ridiculous things in a different way, like emails from the same vendor sent to you three times a day: "SALE!!! SAVE NOW FOR THIS HOLIDAY SEASON!"

Yeah, it's bad: I'm so skint I work two jobs, seven days a week and still not really making a dent in anything. But Best Buy and Nordstrom Rack don't care. There's this constant nagging to spend unlimited amounts of cash which you haven't got. I'm at my poorest in I don't know how many decades: maybe three? It's despairing, but I'll pay everyone off.

This constant banging on the door of our lives making us pay for crap we don't really need:
"BUT THESE SHOES LOOK REALLY COOL!"
"You already have FIVE PAIRS of shoes you barely ever wear!"
And that's me, not my wife.

Being broke allows you the insight to see that your holiday should never be defined to how much crap you get or even how much you buy. As long as you're not coughing out bloody phlegm from an acquired cold or scratching your chapped hands until they're raw then you're having a great holiday.

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Of course nobody's buying books anymore. Actors and rock groups and models and standup comedians are on talk shows every night. How often do you see an author on a talk show? How are books supposed to sell if television ignores the written word and people of letters?

Once upon a time, talk show hosts like Dick Cavett and Merv Griffin(!) had writers on their programs on a regular basis. I vividly remember seeing Henry Miller on the Merv Griffin show in the 1970's, back when people used to read and regularly buy books. He was a pretty interesting guest and I'm not even a big Miller fan.

Television is one of the best promotional tools around, and there's no better proof than when Harvey Pekar used to appear regularly on Late Night with David Letterman, which immensely goosed up sales for his books. Unfortunately, if TV insists on ignoring writers then books will never make money. Would it really kill people to see James Ellroy or Joe Lansdale on a talk show? I think they would be great.

I think the great fear is that many writers would probably punk out these lame hosts and outsmart them and out-talk them, but so what? It wouldn't be the end of the fucking world. So Harlan Ellison told you you were stupid. Control freaks! I hate them all.

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Recently I watched Cecil B. DeMille's Cleopatra, the closest thing to a Ken Russell film not made by Ken Russell. Claudette Colbert pouring on the sexy charm with aplomb, more playful than Elizabeth Taylor's strident performance; Warren William as a cool, very likeable Julius Caesar and Henry Wilcoxon as party boy Marc Antony.

The movie's a 90-minute model of decadence, like erotic entertainment for Marc Antony of leopard-skinned honeys being trapped and tied up by muscle bound brutes. Fish nets dragging more cuties from the Nile River brandishing pearls and gems by the fistful.

Colbert gives a seductive and playful performance as the great Egyptian queen. The film is every inch a spectacle: DeMille liked to take liberties with hoary Shakespeare and Bible classics, making them more erotic and surreal to add an extra dimensions. DeMille's Cleopatra is absolutely dazzling with great costumes, art direction and nutty special effects, but after all is said and done, none of this would be worthy of your attention without the outrageous, seductive charm of Claudette Colbert.