Monday, June 30, 2008

June 30, 1908--BOOM!

Today marks the 100th anniversary of what has become known as the Tunguska Event, "a massive explosion (probably 10-15 megatons) that occurred near the Podkamennaya (Lower Stony) Tunguska River in what is now Krasnoyarsk Krai of Russia, at around 7:14 a.m. (0:14 UT, 7:02 a.m. local solar time) on June 30, 1908 (June 17 in the Julian calendar, in use locally at the time)" (and thanks for that, Wikipedia!).

Its exact cause remains a mystery, though each generation seems to come up with its own set of Zeitgeist-ly explanations: herald for TEOTWAWKI, an extremely pissed-off shaman, (gotta love that one!), a UFO crash, collision with a stray bit of antimatter or a very tiny black black hole, the leavings of ancient astronauts... almost as many as (and often overlapping) those for the extinction of the dinosaurs*.

And the debate still rages (lots o' way-cool pics!).

By the way, and to my surprise, the TE has played a significant role in popular culture. See Tunguska Event in Fiction and note that equally anomalous literary light Thomas Pynchon has used it as a plot device in Against the Day (New York Times review here).

I love this stuff. If I were a party-throwing kind of creature I would so use this as an excuse to gather like-minded individuals, get 'em drunk, and blow up stuff.

* You knew there was going to be a footnote somewhere in this post, didn't you? Seriously, did you really think I could get through an entire post without a David Foster Wallace-esque footnote? Shame on you!

Anyway, dinosaur extinctions... damned if I can find my copy, much less recall the title, but the textbook I used for my college evolution class (taught by the late Perry C. Holt) had this great quote** by...someone...listing a slew of hypotheses for the extinction of the dinosaurs ranging from the quite plausible to the patently absurd ("hunted by little green men..."), which I found gut-wrenchingly funny at the time.

** Incidently, the quote was used as the caption to a small, seemingly irrelevant, illustration. We in the class learned quickly that anything, absolutely anything in that particular book, no matter how marginal, might form the basis for an exam question*** and so you'd better believe we read it all. Dr. Holt believed in academic rigor.

*** We used to come into class and find mysterious quotes from a fellow named "Poire" (with an accent aigu over the "e") on the blackboard which I, ever the OCD candidate, dutifully copied into my notebook. Sure enough, the content often appeared as semi-humorous yet point-worthy exam questions and on the final I won big-ass bonus points on one of the essays for deducing who, exactly, "Poire" was****.

**** Take a wild-ass guess. It was the final joke in a series of subtleries that almost made me wish I hadn't started the rumor that Dr. Holt had boinked Charles Darwin's wife.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

"I Did NOT Make This Up!"

My friend Lynn is a wonderful human being--kind, thoughtful, supportive, able to leap tall metaphors with a single bound--but she has never, ever believed me when I've told her about the latest Weird Thing* I've encountered.

"You made that up. Or you were drunk. Or hallucinating. You didn't really (hear/see/read) that!"

To which I've only been able to reply, "Lynn, I did NOT make this up. I'm not that smart."

And I'm not. What I am is a Weirdness Magnet, which can be terribly, terribly inconvenient** since no one ever believes me!

Halloween 1980 found me holed up in my wretched little Boston apartment with a bottle of cheap bourbon, a bag of potato chips, and my sole source of entertainment besides books:

No stereo system, no television set, just a portable radio my parents had given me for Christmas several years before. Needless to say, I spent a lot of my non-working hours listening.

Though there was a slew of decent FM stations in Boston, I listened to WCOZ (now WJMN) for "When You Need... KICK-ASS... Rock 'N' Roll..." (album-oriented rock mostly from the 'Seventies) and WBCN, "The Radio Station That Flogs Dead Horses!" (featuring a more varied format but especially emphasizing the then-emerging punk and New Wave scenes). WBCN's late night DJ, Jerry "The Duke of Madness" Goodwin, was a favorite of mine for a number of reasons, not the least of which was his intro which could easily last a half-hour, but also because he played some seriously demented stuff.

Quick example: "Stairway to Gilligan's Island" by some group whose name I didn't catch at the time***, a brilliant mash-up of "Stairway to Heaven" and the theme song from (duh!) Gilligan's Island, which demanded an immediate late-night (drunken) call to Lynn.

Her response? The standard, boilerplate "You made that up. Or you're drunk. Or hallucinating. You didn't really hear that!"

And with no witnesses and no supporting evidence there was nothing I could say to convince her otherwise.

So, back to Halloween 1980, WBCN, the Duke of Madness, and heard. A country/western ditty (which was pretty damned strange for WBCN to begin with) about this psycho killer and no, it wasn't "Psycho Killer"; no amount of alcohol could warp "Psycho Killer" into a country/western ditty. It was weird and wild and wacky and weird, so of course I had to tell Lynn about it.

"You made that up. Or you're drunk. Or hallucinating. You didn't really hear that!"


I spent years trying to track down those two songs because I knew, I knew what I heard was real and not some psychotropically-spawned fantasy; unfortunately, no luck. In the early days of the Intarweb I tried again, but no luck; there wasn't yet sufficient critical mass to encounter something that offbeat and that obscure.

Until I ran into Wayne Allen Sallee.

Ah, Wayne. Writer of horror, denizen of Chicago, worshipper of John Agar, repository of all things obscure, twisted, and weird. Our interests overlap in frightening ways and while we were talking about strange and unusual music I asked him about this song I was beginning to think I really had hallucinated.

"Oh, yeah! That's "Psycho," written by Leon Payne and performed by Jack Kittel.***** It's been covered by Elvis Costello (Almost Blue) and I'll be glad to send you a tape!"

And friends, you would have thought he'd handed me the Keys to Heaven, so delighted I was to receive this confirmation/affirmation! A few weeks later he sent me the Promised Tape (filled with all sorts of other suitably offbeat stuff****) and lo! I was rocketed into a Fourth Dimension of Obsessiveness! However, as Fate would have it, by this time I had lost contact with Lynn and thus was I deprived of my chance to perform the Vindication Dance (pat. pend.).

And "Psycho--the Song" references abound on the Web.*****

So here we go, the song I didn't make up:

Let's do it one more time with those Masters of Australian Swamp Rock, the Beasts of Bourbon:

See G. W., reclining smugly in his chair.

* I like Weird Things. I have an amazing affinity for them and actively seek them out, which is why the Intarweb is such a godsend for me, filled as it is with maximal amounts of High Weirdness by like-minded individuals.

** "Strange and bizarre things happen to you with alarming frequency. You are the one with whom demons will stop and chat. Magic items with disturbing properties will find their way to you. The only talking dog on 20th-century Earth will come to you with his problems. Dimensional gates sealed for centuries will crack open just so that you can be bathed in the energies released... or perhaps the entities on the other side will invite you to tea. Nothing lethal will happen to you, at least not immediately, and occasionally some weirdness will be beneficial. But most of the time it will be terribly, terribly inconvenient."
--the GURPS "Weirdness Magnet" disadvantage from Steve Jackson Games

*** Little Roger and the Goosebumps, as it turns out.

**** songs by Zacherley, "Throbbing Python of Love," "They Drive Me Brady," a rapping Andy Griffith, etc.

***** Psycho
Can Mary fry some fish, mama
I'm as hungry as can be
Oh lordy, how I wish, mama
That you could keep the baby quiet
'Cause my head is killing me

I saw my ex- again last night, mama
She was at the dance at Miller's store
She was with that Jackie White, mama
I killed them both
And they're buried under Jenkin's sycamore

You think I'm psycho, don't you, mama
Mama, pour me a cup
You think I'm psycho, don't you, mama
You'd better let 'em lock me up

Don't hand me Johnny's pup, mama
'Cause I might squeeze him too tight
I'm havin' crazy dreams again, mama
So let me tell you 'bout last night
I woke up in Johnny's room, mama
Standing right there by his bed
With my hands around his throat, mama
Wishing both of us were dead

You think I'm psycho, don't you, mama
I just killed Johnny's pup
You think I'm psycho, don't you, mama
You'd better let 'em lock me up

You know that little girl next door, mama
I believe her name was Betty Clark
Oh, don't tell me that she's dead, mama
'Cause I just saw her in the park
We were sitting on a bench, mama
Thinking up a game to play
Seems I was holding a wrench, mama
And then my mind just walked away

You think I'm psycho, don't you, mama
I didn't mean to break your cup
You think I'm psycho, don't you, mama
Oh, mama, why don't you get up?

***** From Beyond "Monster Mash"--The A.V. Club's Definitive Mixlist:
Penned by Leon Payne (the songwriter behind "Lost Highway" and others) and recorded by Michigan country singer Jack Kittel in the early '70s, this song was made semi-famous when Elvis Costello cut it as a B-side. But the straight-faced original is even more chilling than Costello's version. There's something about the way Kittel deadpans lines like "Don't hand me Johnny's pup, mama / 'Cause I might squeeze him too tight" that really sends chills up the spine.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Could This Make Me Rich?

My friend Preston (currently a grad student in clinical psychology at the University of Maryland but we'll forgive him for that) sent me a MySpace message today...

"There's a cinema here in Baltimore that reminds me a lot of the Byrd except it's more expensive and has more than one screen. They even show a little film at the beginning of the movie, like the Byrd, but instead of urging patrons not to litter, theirs says this: "

Jeebus bless John Waters! I chortled and snickered and executed a little nasal reflux maneuver with my Diet Pepsi and then wondered why it was no one has developed the technology to play back YouTube videos on a t-shirt. Can't be that difficult and you know there's a market for such a thing (I'm looking at you, ThinkGeek!).


Damn it.

Just...damn it.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Jeebus Forgive Me, MORE Baconpunk!

I swear to you I thought I was through posting Baconpunk links; I really, really did, but damn, dudes and dudettes, this is BACON we're talking about!

Or in this case, Baconhenge.

"Let Baconhenge be the site of your seasonal celebration! Let bacon stand in for the sacrificed Year King, French toast for the Grain Goddess, the eggs in the frittata for the Cosmic Egg, and the vegetables for the bountiful Earth on which we live."

It's a recipe! It's a craft project! It's Celtic Baconpunk!

It's another fine link from MetaFilter.

And I'm a sick, sick man.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The "New Weird"

I'll never buy anything with Fantasy in the title. I have an irrational near-allergic reaction to the genre. I start seeing elves everywhere, and then I have to kill a puppy just to feel normal again.
--Warren Ellis

So I just finished reading/slogging my way through Ann & Jeff VanderMeer's The New Weird , a collection of stories attempting to define... uh... The New Weird.

I may have to kill a puppy.

The problem with being a fan of genre fiction is that certain practitioners feel a periodic and overwhelming need to establish their own little fuckclaves. I've watched "Horror" spawn "Dark Fantasy" and "Splatterpunk"; I've seen Science Fiction go from hard to soft to social and then get hard again. I've silently screamed as it masturbated and spewed forth "Speculative Fiction," "New Wave," "Cyberpunk," "Steampunk," "Slipstream," and an entire slew of other sub-sub-categories of which I'm simply unable to keep track.

In the immortal words of Butters, "Ow. That made my brain hurt."

And now there's The New Weird.

It's not a bad book...for people of a certain disposition. The introductory material flops and dances around whether there really is such a thing as "New Weird " and whether anyone cares, then refuses to settle the issue beyond "here's an anthology of similar stories; make of it what you will." Included is an entire online message board's worth of discussion, but, I dunno; it's not that "Weird" and it's not that "New." It seems to me that it's magical realism made palatable for people who can't or won't commit to (or be seen reading) more traditional fantasy but would rather not struggle with the MR Gang of Four (Jorge Luis Borges, Italo Calvino, Laura Esquivel, and Carlos Fuentes).

All the stories seem to require a joyless neo-medieval urban setting with some form of alternate technology, possibly magic-based, and Chimeric characters who go out stuff, usually while some sort of Festival is occurring (I got really, really tired of seeing the word "festival") and usually to no good end.

Again, yeah, it ain't all that new and it ain't all that weird. Go read Blindness by Jose Saramago instead. Or, even better, Cordwainer Smith/Paul Linebarger, especially "A Planet Named Shayol."

Monday, June 9, 2008

I Just Don't Know WHAT To Think Anymore, Part 3

Creature From the Black Lagoon: The Musical

I'm not kidding.


Some of you may know I collect skulls, especially human skulls:*

The (unfinished) painting in the back is one I did several years ago, that's a vintage embalming fluid bottle beside it, the round thing to the left is a hand mirror, and the glowing brain matter in the crystal skulls is a purely serendipitous artifact of the flash photography.

So, anyway, I was cruisin' around Boing Boing this evening (original post here) when I spotted an entry for this nesting box for birds...

...which is just delightfully creepy! I so want one!

* Relax, not real ones. Okay, part of a real one: the calvarium. Oh, and at one time I had a human fetal skull, but I gave it this one particular semi-goth woman in the hope she'd be impressed enough to sleep with me. She was impressed--she was the first and only woman I'd ever met who thought The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 was the funniest thing she'd ever seen--but not, uh, that impressed.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Drive-In Memories

The Drive-In Oath
We are Drive-In Mutants*
We are not like others.
We are sick, we are twisted.
We believe in Blood, Breasts, and Beasts
We believe in Kung-Fu City.
If Life had a vomit meter, we’d be off the scale
As long as one single drive-in remains on the planet earth
We will party like jungle animals
We will boogie ‘til we puke
Heads will roll
And the drive-in will never die!

--Joe Bob Briggs, the greatest drive-in movie critic of all time

On June 6, 1933, a day that will live in infamy, Richard M. Hollingshead, Jr. opened the first drive-in theater.

"Uh, Uncle GW? What's a drive-in theater?"

"Oh, my, you are a bunch of ignorant ankle-biters, aren't you? Well, kiddies, a drive-in theater is like a movie theater except you get to see movies outside under the stars in the comfort and privacy of your own vehicle just as God intended. But not just any movies--we're not talkin' indoor bullstuff, nosiree bob--we're talkin' Drive-In Movies, films saturated with the Eternal Drive-In Triad of Blood, Breasts, and Beasts. We're talkin' slashers. We're talkin' giant lizards. We're talking invaders from space. We're talkin' half-nekkid women with improbable expanses of boobage and ridiculously revealing jailhouse attire all locked up together in one big-ass prison cell a-dancin' and cavortin' with sadistic guards sporting Schwarzenegger physiques and enough firepower to enforce peace in the Middle East. We're talkin' chainsaw-wielding, surfboard-ridin', kung-fu Nazi zombies with bad skin, bad haircuts, and a penchant for kidnapping bikini-clad bimbos having the collective I. Q. of a sessile sponge. We're talkin' low budgets and bad effects and cheap sets and wretched dialog. We're talkin' movies where the plot never gets in the way the of action."

"We're talkin' fun stuff!"

I grew up in a small Southern factory town during the 'Sixties and 'Seventies, the kind of place where a teenager not into sports (bowling being a "sport"), pool halls, slot car racing, underage binge drinking, or drag racing had to generate his or her own entertainment. The choices were severely limited. Remember--this was before personal computers, electronic games, DVD players (even VCRs!), cell phones, big screen TVs...hell, cable TV was just beginning to make inroads. In a place surrounded by mountains we were lucky to pull in three broadcast stations and those allowed, at best, marginal reception (one learned to live with, nay, embrace snow and ghosting). If there was a thunderstorm between us and the transmitter site...oh, never mind. If there was a storm anywhere in the continental United States our mothers made us unplug the TV and detach the antenna connection anyway.

The take-home message is to people of a particular mindset--my friends and me--movies were A Very Big Deal.

The area had several walk-in options available: the Wayne (which catered to the indoor bullstuff crowd), the Cavalier (torn down in the 'Sixties, so it really doesn't figure in this discussion but I mention it as a historical aside**), the Visulite and Dixie in nearby Staunton, VA (and, later, the Staunton Plaza Cinema), but all of them had fairly rigid rules of conduct which served to squelch our teenage enthusiasm and render the experience...uh...non-participatory. Believe me, as wound up on hormones and energy and angst as we were, we needed whatever outlets we could find.

Enter the drive-in, of which we had two: the Skyline...

...and the North 340, located conveniently on (surprise!) North 340 just outside of town.*** Here we could indulge our burgeoning boisterousness free (up to a point) of societal and parental restrictions.

Here's how it worked: once we divined that something particularly trashy and, therefore, immensely attractive, was playing we'd load up a couple of cars with as many people as we could cram into them (including the trunk for those who were short of funds), maybe pick up some Malt Duck or Rolling Rock beer**** (depending upon the crowd, their views on alcohol, and whether someone was able to score such things), some snacks (no one, I mean NO ONE trusted the on-site snack bar unless we'd downed all the Malt Duck and Rolling Rock, at which point both our judgment and taste buds were a little fuzzy and pizza dough topped with bacon grease didn't seem a particularly bad idea), then head over to whatever drive-in we felt we needed to grace with our presence.

And certain movies guaranteed our presence: Billy Jack (and its prequel, The Born Losers--"Kitten on Wheels With Her Bike... Her Boots and Bikini!")*****, Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster (with its catchy little psychedelic anti-pollution song-and dance-number "Save the Earth" and, yes, by the third viewing we knew the lyrics and sang along, much to the amusement or disgust of neighboring cars who, usually, were less concerned with environmental issues and more concerned with exploring the basics of human sexuality), The Trip (a cautionary film about LSD with the message "Don't do drugs, kids, or you'll wind up writing a screenplay like this!) any horror film by Hammer Film Productions or American International Pictures, the occasional "Bimbos Behind Bars" extravaganza, oh, the list goes on and on...

But the real fun of the drive-in came through generating a running commentary on whatever film we happened to be watching, points being awarded to whoever caused the biggest spit take. Yes, kiddies, we anticipated Mystery Science Theater 3000 by almost twenty years and though I'd love to recreate those moments for you, that would require some serious electrical stimulation of my temporal cortex. Trust me, it went something like this.******

Random Drive-In Memories
--in an almost ritualistic response, whenever anyone got out of the car for whatever reason (bathroom, Dr. Pepper refills--THE drink of choice for the hardy drive-in theater patron, foolishly braving the snack bar pizza) all occupants would make a mad scramble for the dome light, shouting (duh!) "LIGHT!"

--the mens' bathrooms resembled the worst toilet in Scotland. Well, maybe not quite that bad, but it was pretty bad. One toilet only and in lieu of urinals there was a six-foot, continuously flushing trough.

--after a couple of experiences with drive-in theater popcorn, we decided the "butter" was actually lubricating oil for the projectors or, if it wasn't, should be.

--once during a Labor Day Dusk-Till-Dawn horror movie marathon, in the middle of (I kid you not) Billy the Kid Vs. Dracula, the projectionist must have discovered the distributors had sent the wrong reel--a car chase sequence from some unnamed action/adventure film--but he played it anyway.

--during the same Labor Day Dusk-Till-Dawn horror movie marathon one of the films (my friend Sam might recall which) had a sequence where an ersatz Dracula indoctrinated us into the Count Dracula Society or somesuch with a solemn oath (which we recited at the top of our lungs) that ended with " help me, Bela Lugosi." Cue spit take.

--during a showing of Gone With the Wind (yeah, yeah, indoor bullstuff, but what the hell) the following issued from our window-mounted speaker:

"As God is my witness, as God is my witness they're not going to lick me. I'm going to live through this and when it's all over, I'll never be hungry again. No, nor any of my folk. If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill. As God is my witness" "THE SNACK BAR WILL BE CLOSED IN FIFTEEN MINUTES!"

--frequently during double- or triple-features we would perform Chinese Fire Drills.

Ah, me. Those days are gone forever. Still, "they can knock down that drive-in screen, but the drive-in in our hearts will never die."

--pic from The Drive In Theater Turns 75

* Typical Teenage Drive-In Mutants (as opposed to casual film-goers) carousing in the park. I'm the guy in the middle (and thanks are due Cathy VP--standing to my right--for the photo).

** The Cavalier tended to show movies of a, uh, less respectable nature--"B"-level horror and sci-fi, exploitation films of all stripes and varieties, the kinds of things my parents would never take me to. I was so jealous of my friend Sam when I was in elementary school because his parents took him to the Cavalier on a regular basis, thus giving him in-depth knowledge of the things I could only read (and dream) about in the current issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland. Ask him sometime about how I regaled our first grade class with the plot of The Head I derived entirely from a 30-second TV spot.

*** I've looked, but I can't find any pictures online and I don't have any of my own. Incidentally, during the heyday of Joe Bob Briggs one of my numerous alter-egos formed the North 340 Memorial Drive-In Society (with a membership of 1) and offered him a life achievement award (bottom of the page). The North 340's death was hastened when Eastside Speedway, the local drag strip immediately adjacent to the drive-in, began holding really noisy (as in decibel levels capable of rendering toads sterile for 2000 yards) competitions during showtime.

**** Malt Duck was this noxious grape-flavored malt liquor (think Kool-Aid-flavored beer) that was something of a cult fave in the 'Seventies and certainly made low-budget movies seem more entertaining than they actually were. The manufacturer had some amusing radio commercials as well:

Voice: "Uh, I'd like to offer this lady a delicious Malt Duck?"
Announcer: "YES, IT'S JUST THAT EASY!"

Rolling Rock was beer that, at that time, came in 8-packs of tiny little green bottles any one of which could be swilled in a single gulp, thereby speeding up the process of making a low-budget movie more entertaining than it actually was.

***** It was through repeated viewings of both Born Losers and Billy Jack that I learned the importance of having a decent continuity person as part of the film crew--rifles changed makes from one scene to another or magically disappeared and reappeared, shoes changed style within scenes, mirror reflections didn't match, panties remained where they shouldn't be... oh, and I became an expert at spotting boom shadows. Sing it with me now: "I'm being followed by a boom shadow/boom shadow, boom shadow..."

****** Yet another example of how I'm often ahead of my time. I'd seen Bride of the Monster as a 10-yr. old at which time it totally terrorized me because it just didn't make sense! When I saw it again as an adult, long before MST3K, I thought it was hysterically funny and at a critical juncture made the aside "Oh, no! Now (Bela Lugosi's character) has the strength of twenty heroin addicts." Note what is said at the five minute mark.

Monday, June 2, 2008

I Just Don't Know WHAT To Think Anymore, Part 2

Evil Dead: The Musical

Yeah, you read that right: Evil Dead: The Musical (Bender sez "Aw, crap. Singing.")

Didn't The Book of Revelation warn us that such things heralded the End Times?

Is there such a thing as an overdose of irony?

Jeebus wept.

And I'm just crotchety as all get-out tonight.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Diet Pepsi Spew O' the Week

Every so often while cruising that "series of tubes" we call the Internet I run across something that makes me do yer basic spit take all over my monitor. My most recent entry:

She (Ashley Scott as Gigolo Jane) almost makes watching A.I. tolerable, except she only has about 30 seconds of screen time (not nearly enough for us to take our pants off), and then Haley Joel Osment makes a face like a sad puppy dog for 120 minutes and we begin drinking gallons of water whilst Google Mapping directions to Stanley Kubrick's grave.

--5 Hot Lady-Bots You Probably Shouldn't Have Sex With

This, on the other hand, was just...disturbing.