This year marks Motown Records’ 50th anniversary, and the Detroit Free Press is making 50 short videos to mark the occasion. Motown is also producing a series of podcasts to be rolled out gradually over the year. The first one, a new interview with Smokey Robinson, is pretty standard stuff. The second one, however, is a real gem of an archival interview with Berry Gordy from the summer of 1963. Interesting to hear Gordy sounding so young and talking about what was then a small, family-owned business. (both via the Soulful Detroit forums)
Archive for January, 2009
I was going to post a blog entry today about how I rarely visit the pop culture blog Pop Candy because the author’s “look at me, I’m hip” photo makes me want to hurl, but this is a much more worthwhile subject. My Edward R. Hamilton, Bookseller order arrived today. ERH has a delightfully low-tech way of selling remaindered books. Yes, they have a comprehensive website, but after all these years they still only accept orders written down on paper and sent through snail mail with a personal check (no credit cards, no money orders, and forget about PayPal, pal). Falls Village, Connecticut must be a nutty kinda town.
It’s been a good four or five years since I’ve ordered from them, so I made sure to make the uniform $3.95 shipping cost count. The haul may become part of a mishmash in the future:
- The Complete Peanuts: 1963-1964 by Charles M. Schulz ($12.99). Fills in an important gap, since I actually got the 1965-66 volume for Christmas. Yes, it really made me uncomfortable that I had one volume while missing the earlier one, so sue me.
- Considering Doris Day by Tom Santopietro ($6.95). Although ravaged by Amazon.com customers, this critical overview looks fascinating. Every Day movie, TV appearance and recording gets a thorough appraisal. Potentially toothache-inducing yet marvy!
- The Lives and Loves of Daisy and Violet Hilton by Dean Jensen ($5.95). The conjoined twins of Freaks and Chained for Life fame get their own sympathetic bio. Another fascinating looking portrait (which got a much better reception on Amazon).
- Penguin Special: The Story of Allen Lane, the Founder of Penguin Books and the Man Who Changed Publishing Forever by Jeremy Lewis ($4.95). Good companion to the Penguin By Design book.
- Pirates of the Caribbean: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies by Jason Surrell ($6.95). Deals comprehensively with creating both the Pirates theme park attraction and the first Johnny Depp movie. Luckily the latter subject, of which I care not a whit, takes up only about a quarter of the pages. The rest is filled with wonderful concept art and rare photos of the Disneyland classic. Surrell’s similar book on the Haunted Mansion (ride and film) is equally nifty.
This demo reel from a company called Calico Creations reeks of Eighties. It appears that they specialized in editing together still photos to look like rapid-fire animation, synced to the kind of diabolically cheery music you don’t hear on TV anymore. The Hour Magazine open is a gem. I remember watching that show regularly, wondering how the skanky looking José Eber could create such beautiful hairstyles.
Ron Rosenbaum: The awfulness of Billy Joel, explained. Snooty but rip-roaring piece from Slate. When I was in the 7th grade, for homeroom class we had to do a survey outlining our favorite music, movies, etc. I listed “My Life” as my favorite song, simply because it was used in the opening of Bosom Buddies and I remember sort of liking it back then. Joel has done a few other okay tunes like “An Innocent Man,” “Uptown Girl” and “Say Goodbye To Hollywood” (although Bette Midler’s cover of the latter far exceeds the original), but he really is the Kraft American Cheese of musicians.
Congo Maisie (1940). My second dose of Ann Southern’s bubbly b-movie series was a big improvement over Swing Shift Maisie. This was a fun and silly trifle which doesn’t hold a candle to the movie it remade, Red Dust. Instead of going on any further, I will direct you to Ivan Shreve’s scarily comprehensive run-through of all the Maisie movies. Does Ivan ever get any sleep?
k.d. lang — Ingénue. I’d like to thank the Savers store on Bethany Home Road in Phoenix for having a pristine copy of this CD in their bins for a cheap price. This was a good, mellow, consistent album which makes me want to seek out the other works of the talented Ms. lang (whom Christopher now refers to as my lesbian girlfriend).
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986; neato poster art by Bob Peak). A confession: I’m not much of a Trekkie and never saw a Trek film until The Undiscovered Country in 1991 — so seeing these earlier movies on DVD has been a bit of an education. This one, the “crew time travels back to ’80s San Francisco to Save the Whales” edition, might be my very favorite of the bunch. The cast is obviously having a ball, which casts an infectious spirit over the entire enterprise (or, in this case, the repurposed Klingon ship). The story seems appreciably more human and approachable than any of the other Trek movies, which makes it a lot more appealing to someone like me who enjoys the occasional Trek foray but never gets all fanboyish about it. On a personal note, I loved the scenes filmed at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and couldn’t resist saying “we’ve been there!” every time one popped up.
Super Sleuth (1937). Somebody at TCM just can’t get enough of Ann Southern, since they played an entire morning of her movies this week. Never one to pass up any vintage Hollywood-set film, I recorded this one with Southern a bit wasted playing second fiddle to Jack Oakie’s conceited movie detective. The first half was breezy and light, with a lot of fun scenes of vintage moviemaking in action (it may sound strange, but both Christopher and I have a fetish for anything Old Hollywood). The second half becomes plodding and predictable with Willie Best’s offensive pop-eyed business taking over things. It should be noted that this film was produced by RKO and contains a gorgeous Art Deco office set courtesy of that studio’s legendary designer, Van Nest Polglase.
Stevie Wonder — Signed, Sealed and Delivered. Amazon timed a special deal for the download of this 1970 LP with Obama’s inaguration, and it seemed like a perfect fit for that joyous day (not coincidentally, Obama used “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” in his campaign). Don’t let the crappy cover art fool you, this is actually an excellent album which catches Wonder at a transitional time for him, and Motown in general. Here you still have some assembly-line tracks recorded with the Funk Brothers and the Andantes trilling away in the background — but the LP is dominated by the kind of funky self-produced material that would define him in the ’70s. Not the least of which is the title tune, which would even make Dick Cheney do the Funky Chicken. Digging deeper, I always loved the underrated country-tinged single “Never Had A Dream Come True,” the gospel workout “Heaven Help Us All” never fails to put a chill down my spine, and his version of “We Can Work It Out” trumps the Beatles any day.
The X-Files: I Want To Believe (2008). After ten years, you would think a new X-Files movie would be a bit less blah than this, no? Although it contains a lot of nice moments, both of us were underwhelmed by the plot (which seems more appropriate for a campy ’50s flick). Didn’t it seem strange that this Summer movie was set in the frigid American Northeast?
What were you doing ten years ago? I was busy at The Arizona Republic, mostly designing special sections but also writing a bit on the side. Mostly I did pieces on travel, movies and music for my own department (which uncomfortably existed between the marketing and editorial areas of the paper), but for a short while I was allowed to do regular music reviews for the newsroom. This year-end list was published in the December 28, 1998 issue of The Rep (the paper’s now-defunct weekly entertainment tabloid):
Kind of reads like a Scrubbles.net weblog entry, huh? Writing was a new and thrilling thing for me back then. Basically I was just flying blind and attempting to counterpoint all the bone dry AP-style reportage so prevalent throughout the paper. Although I absolutely loved music and writing about it, the experience was difficult. Most of the newsroom people were apathetic towards the idea of a marketing guy (much less an artist!) contributing to their domain. I got no guidance and very little support from them. Whenever I’d request of the music editor a new CD to review, the response was either “oh, I was planning to review that” (consequently, nothing would appear) or complete silence. It was logical that most of the music I wrote about wound up being lesser-known releases that I wrangled myself.
Being a wannabe music critic was fun while it lasted — but after two years of regular weekly contributions, I got fed up and put a halt to doing anything at all for the newsroom. It was the Spring of 2000, and The Rep was on what must have been their fifth or sixth music editor. En route to meet him, I thought “if this guy doesn’t acknowledge me or even volunteer a halfhearted smile, I will never do anything for them again.” He never smiled.