Sunday, November 17, 2013

Learn to Take a Joke: When Satire Becomes Disinformation

Pastor Rafael Cruz.
Do we really have to embellish this dude's bullshit?
Today I was checking my Facebook page and saw a friend linking to an article regarding statements made by the father of Texas Senator Ted Cruz, asserting that atheists should be kept in “camps.” My friend was incredulous. Other friends of his posted outraged comments in response. I checked the link, read the article, and judging from the ludicrous content (“…if they step one foot outside the electrified fence we shoot them between the eyes. Two or three times, just to be sure”), I assumed it to be satire. The fact that I didn’t recognize the site as a reputable news source, and could not verify the story on any sites that were more established, reinforced that belief. It was a cute piece. Not funny enough to be in The Onion (even though The Onion isn’t what it used to be), but topical and humorous.

My friend is a very intelligent man, and I hope he did not feel like I was being condescending when I pointed out that the story was almost certainly a joke, and that in this media saturated age, we all need to be a bit more careful about checking sources and using critical thinking before believing and reposting articles. I’m not sure how he felt. He didn’t respond to my last post.

Maybe he felt embarrassed. I know I would have, but admittedly I am more neurotic than most. Perhaps he didn’t read the whole article. I find with most of these pieces that they begin plausibly and escalate into absurdity.

The thing is that all too often I see people posting links to articles that were clearly written as satire, but
Jesus celebrating Easter? Even Sarah Palin isn't that dumb.
accepting them as fact, and passing them off as such. More often than not, they tend to be political in nature, like the outrageous statements attributed to Senator Cruz’ father (Sarah Palin appears to be another favorite target, with the “Jesus celebrated Easter” story, famously re-tweeted by Piers Morgan, being a notable example), and I have observed that people tend to be suckered in by pieces that jibe with their political inclinations and provide ammunition for their own arguments. People are simply less apt to scrutinize and discredit things with which they agree.

What is more interesting is that I have noticed that people getting called out (usually by someone posting a link to, that famous “debunking” site which has yet to be debunked, as far as I know) tend to shrug it off. On one more than one occasion I have seen the poster of the dubious piece defend doing so because it “sounded like” it could be true. This is not exactly a “eureka” moment,” with a realization that we habitually inundate ourselves with unreliable information and view it with an uncritical eye. There is no understanding that we discredit our own positions when we habitually cite faulty sources.

I understand that there is so much information around us that it has become difficult to sift through all of it, but that does not make it less important to do so. One can argue that the news has become stranger than fiction, and I agree that many public figures seem to be becoming increasingly cartoonish. However, if we cannot discern satire from news, that is a huge problem.  The purpose of satire is to get people to think more, or to think differently. Now, all too often satire is becoming disinformation by being passed on, skipping that whole “thinking” thing.

Here's a link to the original article for those who are interested:

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Kiss them Goodbye

A Campaign to Keep Kiss Out of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

So Kiss has been nominated a second time for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. As their first nomination was in 2009, this marks their first time since the creation of the “fan ballot” which allows fans to have some limited input into the selection process (the five bands with the most votes on the fan ballot will each get one additional vote on the official ballot). I will, of course, be casting a vote to try, in my small way, to keep Kiss out. I urge all people who truly care about music and rock and roll to join me in my efforts.

Sure, they have recorded a good party rock song or two, and I think I might actually like Kiss if they were just some hard working New Jersey or Long Island bar band, but it is their “you wanted the best, you got the best” arrogance combined with a stage show seemingly designed more to sell comic books than albums that makes me abhor their unwarranted combination of mediocrity and bombast.

I do not want the Hall of Fame sullied by their presence.

I recall being at a Springsteen concert in 2009, and while waiting for the Boss to take the stage, I was talking to my friend about the Hall of Fame nominations. I said to him that I thought it would be outrageous if Kiss were inducted their first year being nominated and the Stooges got snubbed again (they were finally inducted that time after seven prior losses). Suddenly, this little guy who had been standing next to us got right up in my face (or as close as he could given his stature) and started making his case as to why Kiss deserved to be honored. It was something like: “Kiss has sold 40 million albums. How many did the Stooges sell?”

I calmly explained my admittedly rather na├»ve and idealistic notions of the Hall of Fame, that nominees should be judged based on a mix of quality, integrity, and influence, and that sheer popularity, while a factor, should not be the only criterion by which a band should assessed. He responded by barking the album sales again, and some shit about the “Kiss Army.” I calmly looked at him and told him that we would “agree to disagree. One of us is right, and one of us is you.”

I know that all Kiss fans are not necessarily as obnoxious as the little creep next to me at that concert (and he liked Springsteen, so his taste wasn’t all bad), but I have had some bad experiences with Kiss fans. I do freely admit that, like many people who dislike the Grateful Dead because of their hatred of the hippies who love them, my disdain for Kiss has a tremendous amount to do with my first encounter with a hard-core fan. You see, years ago, on my first day at a job working at a music store,  my manager, who was a brusque, abrasive, diminutive, goateed, stringy-haired… just straight-up unpleasant little man, subjected me to a lengthy lecture as to why Kiss was the best band on earth, walking me through the catalog and giving me bios of the band members. I can imagine my old boss and this little creep at the Springsteen concert getting into it over stale Budweisers, comparing their collections, talking about how long they had to wait in line at a Kiss convention to get Paul Stanley’s autograph, and giving each other high fives in a ritual resembling a cross between male bonding and ‘roid rage. At any rate, in spite of those events, I will allow that liking Kiss does not make you a bad person.

Yes, I am aware that my reasons for not wanting Kiss to be inducted into the Hall of Fame has a lot to do with my own pretention, idealism and hypocrisy. I am fully aware that I am frequently guilty of subjecting people to pontifications about music similar to that of my old manager. I know that, based on my own predilections, I am trashing something that brings other people joy. I also recognize the fact that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is hardly an unimpeachable organization.

But so what? Sure, it may be a bit perverse, but not surprising that my contempt for Kiss actually brings me a hint of joy, and I’m sure Gene Simmons isn’t crying over it. So I am mounting this campaign purely for fun and with the hope that I can do my small part to make sure that (what I consider to be) more worthy acts are inducted into that (somewhat dubious) institution.

The Meters are good. You should vote for them.
So go to and vote. Vote your taste. Vote your conscience. Or just close your eyes and point. But whatever you do, just don’t vote for Kiss.

By the way, in the end I voted for Chic (brilliant musicians who never get enough credit), Deep Purple (snubbed long enough), Hall and Oates (saw the on the Big Bam Boom tour in 1985), The Meters (legendary funk), and The Zombies (underrated legends). As a prog rock geek, I feel bad for not voting for Yes and Peter Gabriel. However, Gabriel got in with Genesis a couple of years ago and can wait a few years to get in as a solo artist. As for Yes, I’m sure I’ll vote for them next year.

Friday, September 27, 2013

U-Melt Rides Again

U-Melt at Brooklyn Bowl 9/21/13

Last Saturday, the New York based improvisational-progressive band, U-Melt, played their first show in nearly three years to a packed house at the Brooklyn Bowl in Williamsburg. Being a band that had always had a tight connection with its fans, and those fans to each other, it was a reunion in a very classic sense. The night was truly a gathering of old friends, both onstage and off.

In a sense, though, it was considerably more than that. In spite of the fact that it was advertised as a one-off gig, there was a feeling that the band was experiencing its own revitalization and reinvention. This was due in no small part to the fact that the show marked the first time that the band performed with five full members, with founders Zac Lasher, Rob Salzer, Adam Bendy and George Miller being joined by new member Kevin Griffin, a long-time friend of the band. Griffin had filled the role of U-Melt guitarist for a period in 2010 when Salzer bowed out just after completing the band’s final album, Perfect World. At those shows, Griffin’s technical abilities made him more than able to recreate Salzer’s intricately dazzling guitar parts, while at the same time demonstrating his own energetic and somewhat looser style of playing. Now, with Salzer and Griffin playing together onstage for the first time as bandmates (Griffin had often sat in with the band in earlier years), they found a powerful new sound combining Salzer’s fluid, wizardly lines with Griffin’s exuberant style, often featuring breathtaking harmonic lines, often played at breakneck speed, displayed on the show’s opener, “Elysian Fields.”

With an additional member to tackle some of the harmonic parts, keyboardist Zac Lasher now had greater freedom to create the ethereal sonic dreamscapes that have come to be a cornerstone of the band’s sound. Indeed, he had his work cut out for him (or rather, he had cut it out for himself) as the band’s last recordings featured some of Lasher’s most dense and layered parts. Lasher and the band had clearly come a long way from the sparse sounds of their earlier live-tronica influenced jams when the band was in its infancy. This is not to say that from the outset, the band did not always seek to combine danceable grooves with elegant and intricate composition, they simply got better at it.

Drummer George Miller and bassist Adam Bendy showed once again that they had the unique ability to hold down a danceable groove when playing music replete with complex meter and key changes, ensuring that the music would be as satisfying for the body as for the head. As George’s deft, thunderous playing weaved between propulsive and jazzy, Bendy displayed his combination of straight in-the-pocket playing with acute harmonic intelligence

To be sure, it was not a standard U-Melt setlist. One thing conspicuously absent was the occasional throw-in of a classic prog or 80s cover song to contribute to the party atmosphere. But this was not just a normal U-Melt gig. There was clearly a sense of occasion, and they had no time for anyone else’s music. While the setlist included  a few favorites from the early years, including the band’s early rave-up “Schizophrenia,” it largely favored the most recent material composed and recorded just prior to their breakup in 2010, including live favorites such as “The Fantastical Flight of Captain Delicious” and “Clear Light.” Songs wove together with others, and in places where the band might, in days past, have thrown in a tease of a song by The Police or Steely Dan, they would reference a song of their own which they did not have enough time to play in its entirety. These guys had a lot of lost time to make up for, and a lot of material to cram in.
The evening had high expectations and the band delivered. The band was coy about future plans (Lasher: “Maybe we’ll do this again some time”). However, to listen to the tightness of the band, one would never think that they had been apart for three years. To see the anticipation and reaction of the crowd, one would think that they had been apart for much, much longer. One thing is for sure, they don’t want to have to wait that long again.

Photos by Jeremy Gordon (as if you couldn't tell from the watermark)

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Local Man Stops Robbery by Quoting Steely Dan Lyrics

Actually this never happened, but I would be curious to see how it would turn out.

Becker and Fagen: You really want to fuck with these dudes?
See, a number of times on Facebook recently, I have seen people link to this Onion-esque article about some guy who used dialogue from Pulp Fiction to scare off a couple who were robbing a coffee shop (if you haven't read it yet...). I didn’t peruse the piece thoroughly, but I glanced through it enough to digest it as a piece of mildly entertaining absurdist satire (as opposed to those who seemed to think it was a real news story) exploring a geek’s fantasies of badassitude, getting the opportunity to (pretend to) be the menacing man of action he saw in the movies.

It was amusing enough. Obviously (at least to most), something like this would never work. I mean, really, Pulp Fiction? Too well known. Sure, it has somehow retained a reputation as a “cult movie” long after it completely permeated mainstream culture, but let’s be serious. It was a cult movie for about 20 minutes in 1994 in that gap between the indie hype wearing off but before the Oscar nominations. Fine, sure, for a while into 1995, Pulp Fiction was still a favorite and inspiration to film students whose idea of a good time was to watch epic Kubrick and Kurosawa marathons in their dorm rooms until they were so sensory-overloaded and exhausted that they could be completely distracted from issues like student loans for worthless degrees and wondering why they were still virgins. But then I digress. The fact is that I would not take someone quoting Pulp Fiction dialogue seriously unless they had their stiletto blade already sticking half-way into my esophagus. It’s just too common.

Making hardened criminals so shocked and disconcerted that they would just turn and run? That takes some seriously obscure references, man. That requires material so oblique and ironic that the attacker will be forced to ask himself “is this 80 pound weakling crazy in the ‘makes sculptures of his first grade crush out of his own excrement’ way, or the ‘will kill me and carve Philip K. Dick quotes over my mutilated body’ way?” What would have that effect?

The answer to this conundrum is Steely Dan. “But they were mainstream, too,” I hear you say. Sure, they had some hits in the 70s. They snuck a few overly intellectual bits onto the Billboard charts. They also composed some of the most sophisticated and darkly humorous music of the 70s. They wrote songs about Charles Whitman type clock tower snipers, down and out criminals, and perverted old men who show pornographic 8mm films to the neighbors’ children. I mean, they won a fucking Grammy for writing about a guy trying to schtup his cousin. Not to mention that they named themselves after a talking dildo in a William Burroughs novel, for shit’s sake. And I’ll tell you this: Taken out of context, a lot of their lyrics, spoken with a steady gaze, unwavering voice, and ambiguously malevolent intention, can be pretty menacing.

So try this: Next time you find yourself in yourself in the presence of someone who is armed and wishes to use that advantage in the furtherance of a crime of violence or economic gain, confront the attacker and say these words:

I could be wrong but I have seen your face before. Are you with me? Or are you really just a shadow of the man that I once knew? I don't care. A man of my mind can do anything. You got the muscle; I got the news. Anybody on the street, has murder in his eyes. So unhand that gun. There's no one to fire upon. And I don't need that kind of action. Don't you know there's fire in the hole and nothing left to burn? It's Cancellation Day. Yes, the Big Adios is just a few hours away. Be glad if you can use what you borrow. In the end, will you still have a song to sing when the razor boy comes and takes your fancy things away?

I think it will make any would-be assailants think twice before they tried to tangle with someone as cultured as you.

(Note: The author of this piece bears no responsibility for injuries or other repercussions arising from actually trying this stupid shit.) 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The End of an Era, or Something

Another Collector Weighs In on the Closing of Bleecker Bob's

Anyone who reads music blogs has probably seen
this image a lot lately
If you told me ten years ago that the near-legendary New York record store, Bleecker Bob’s, was closing, I would probably be less upset than I am now. Back then, I used to wander around the Village every week on my day off and hit the circuit of record stores in the area around West 4th Street and 6th Avenue, usually dropping about a hundred dollars on old records and bootleg CDs. Bob’s was just another stop on the tour, and I generally bought fewer records there as they were noticeably higher priced than the other places. Still, I’ve found some great things there, and even though in recent years my record collecting has slowed down considerably, I still pop in now and again. (I believe my last purchase was a copy of Something Else by the Kinks. The fifty dollar sticker gave me pause, but it was in such immaculate condition that I couldn’t not buy it.)

Looking back, in spite of its notoriously cantankerous staff and its high prices, I do have some affection for the place and for what it represents. After all, the first LP I ever bought in New York was there. I was working in a considerably less hip chain music store in Boston when I took a trip to New York to see The Who perform Quadrophenia at Madison Square Garden. One of my managers at the store told me that I could get some great bootleg vinyl at a place called Bleecker Bob’s. I will never forget the day after the concert when my friend and I wandered around the Village in the rain trying to find the place. I guess, we were kind of thrown off by the fact that Bleecker Bobs was, by this time, not actually on Bleecker Street. (The record I bought that day was an LP bootleg of The Who at Swansea in ‘76.)

Patti Smith at Subterranian
In the past decade, I have seen so many of my favorite haunts close down, places that I used to spend much more time hanging out in than Bob’s. I used to spend hours hanging out at Subterranean Records on Cornelia Street in spite of the fact that the place was approximately the size of a walk in closet. The owner, Michael, was a decent guy, but it was usually Kenny behind the counter when I showed up. Kenny was one of those rare animals: The quiet, unpretentious music fan who seems to know everything but would never make anyone feel bad for knowing less. Always happy to turn people on to new things, his tastes were so broad that he would play everything in the store from the most obscure garage rock to late seventies Alice Cooper songs when the Coop apparently began to fancy himself a balladeer (he particularly liked the song “I Never cry). The steps that led down from the street were so treacherous and with such low head clearance that anyone over the height of five feet would have to contort one’s body just get in. Every time I was to enter or exit, the thought went through my head: “How do I do this without hurting myself?”  Once in, I would usually stay for at least an hour to postpone the perilous journey up those three steps.

When I first moved to New York, though, I spent most of my time at Second Coming Records. Not nearly the mainstay that Bleecker Bob’s and Subterranean were, I found myself there because, in addition to their vinyl, their CD shop (the vinyl and CD stores were separate, but next door to one another) had an extensive selection of bootlegs. When I was unemployed during the summer of 2001, I spent most of my time there. Usually Adam was behind the counter, a spectacled, diminutive, skinny-jeaned hipster, but in fact was quite good company. We would hang out and argue about music (Adam was of the school that believed that the Who never made anything worthwhile after 1966 and I also don’t think he ever approved of my predilection for prog rock). We would often be joined by any number of other denizens, such as Javier, who was a hardcore and metal freak who looked like the offspring of character actor (and former Sonic youth drummer) Richard Edson and Harvey Keitel’s character in Taxi Driver, and would often come in with hardcore tapes with hand drawn covers (which were pretty damn good, actually).

One day that fall, after a fruitless day of handing out resumes, I stopped by the shop and saw Adam and a few of his friends sitting on the street outside of the store, still locked. The owner had not shown up to open the store, and was unreachable by phone. So we just sat on the street, and began on another one of the epic music conversations/arguments that we typically had inside. As the sun went down, I proposed we continue the conversation in a bar somewhere. I think we ended up at a place on 8th Avenue.

I didn’t see those guys for a while after that. A couple of years later, I wandered into Bleecker Bob’s and saw Javier behind the counter, and he told me that Adam was working there too. After that, I would saunter in from time to time and occasionally get into a somewhat watered down version of the music debates that we used to have. Sometimes I would just buy something and leave. Javier is still there. From what I understand, Adam moved to Texas a while ago, Austin, I think.

Though a lot of them are gone, a few of the other places that I used to hit up years ago are still there and some foolhardy record geeks are even opening new shops in the outer boroughs. Bleecker Bob’s is not the last place to get records, but for some reason, I kind of thought it always would be. It was an institution, the biggest of the independents. There has been enough talk about changing music consumption habits and digital downloads wreaking havoc on brick and mortar stores (places to buy actual albums, even CDs,  are becoming so rare that I even find myself looking back wistfully on the days of the Virgin Megastore), and enough of it has come from me. Still, on one hand, we are losing places to obtain tangible artifacts, but more importantly we are losing the places where people with a somewhat more intense affinity for music could come together. These are places where habits of obsessive compulsive consumption, which might be considered a pathology in normal circles, are met with admiration and respect, and ultimately to admission to that exclusive club of insider/outsiders.

To be sure, those people still exist. They can be found every day in the few remaining record shops, but I also have to assume that these stores also survived over the years due also to the patronage of more casual fans, and they don’t seem to come around as much anymore. New York real estate is too expensive for any business to rely solely on a small group of outsiders. And who knows?  People blame the internet for the loss of patronage of the casual fan, but perhaps it also has, to a lesser extent, effected the patronage of the hard core fans who now have a different place to bitch about music.

So anyway, Bob’s is closing, and I guess it’s sad. There is talk that they may retain a kiosk in the chain frozen yogurt shop, but I can’t imagine it being a great hangout for hipster malcontents.

Anyway, in conclusion, here is a great little joke you can tell a record collector if you really want to really piss him or her off: “What is the difference between a record collector and a comic collector? Record collectors think they’re cool.”

Thursday, February 7, 2013


The Continuing Adventures of Sloth and Chunk

It is a testament to the popularity of the classic 80s adolescent pirate treasure adventure film, The Goonies, that talks of a sequel continued even until the principle cast was in their early forties. However, I do think it was for the best that they avoided the temptation to make a sequel, particularly this far on. I don’t think that the feeling would be the same with an adult cast. I will admit, though, that vicariously partaking of the escapades of that rag-tag gang was a big moment in my childhood, and I know that many of my friends have a similar nostalgic feeling for the movie.  Back then, we certainly wanted a sequel. We would have loved to have been able to revisit that place of adventure and wonder. In addition, though, there were a number of questions that I, at least, would have liked answered.

Everyone remembers the end of the movie, after the search for pirate treasure and the narrow escape from the booby-trap filled cavern. The kids are reunited with their worried families on the beach, while at the same time being besieged by a horde of reporters, who treat the story as if the kids had been missing for 18 years instead of merely 18 hours. Then the Fratellis, the vicious family of criminals who had pursued the kids throughout the movie, inexplicably wander toward the gathering of family members, media, and law enforcement as if they wish to be caught, and the local asshole shows up to complete the foreclosure on the families’ houses to make way for the expansion of his country club. The Fratellis are arrested, except for Sloth, the good-hearted but deformed brother who had saved the kids from his kin. Chunk, the fat kid, who had bonded with Sloth earlier, offers to take Sloth into his home and take care of him. The happy ending is completed when the discovery of jewels in Mikey’s marble bag forestalls the foreclosures, and the previously doubting authorities finally believe the kids’ stories about the search for pirate treasure when One-Eyed Willie’s ship suddenly appears and sails off into the distance to the astonishment of all.

So here are my questions:

What happened to the ship? Didn’t anyone go after it? (In the DVD commentary, director Richard Donner joked that the coast guard went out and sunk it.)

Did an appraisal of the jewels in Mikey’s marble bag ever actually prove that they were valuable enough to take care of the back mortgage payments of the family’s homes? Were there any legal issues concerning ownership of the gems, or did the finders keepers argument prove salient?

I suppose that these are mere trivialities and that a sequel is hardly warranted to address them.  However, there is one thing about the ending that was so bizarre that it agonized me not to know what happened next: The adoption of Sloth.
I was eight years old when the movie came out, and a pretty skittish eight year old at that. And Sloth scared the living shit out me. His horrific, deformed visage was so unsettling that it took a long time after he had been established as an innocent and sympathetic character that I was able to look at him without blurring the screen’s image by peering between my fingers. Of course, by the end I was won over by this sweet-natured freak, whose good heart and considerable strength ends up saving the day.

Still, I was perturbed when Chunk embraced the newly freed and abandoned Sloth and told him that he and his family were going to take him in. I couldn’t imagine myself asking this hideous, foul-smelling creature into my home (Chunk established his pungent aroma early in the film, proclaiming that he “smelled like Phys-Ed”).  Was I the only one who found it odd that Chunk would invite a mentally disabled, psychologically marred, super-strong mutant from a family of criminals that he had known for less that day to live with him without even consulting his parents?

Who knows? Maybe a scene that ended up on the cutting room featured Chunk’s horrified mother and father, berating their son for his impulsive decision, smacking him upside the head a few times, screaming “Bist meshugeh?” (He was the Jewish kid, after all.) This would have been followed by the awkward scene where the parents tell Sloth that they are going to buy him some ice cream and “just to wait right here.”

After all, we have seen the kind of damage that this hulk of a man was capable of, even when well intentioned. Furthermore, Chunk and the audience have had only a thin slice of time in which to discern his overall temperament. We may have been seeing Sloth on a relatively good day. It is not unreasonable to postulate that someone with those kind of developmental disabilities, combined with years of physical and psychological abuse at the hands of his family, could suffer from terrible mood swings. While I have to assume that most psychologists would have severe issues with the Fratellis’ handling of the situation, I can only assume that there was a reason that Sloth was bound in chains and not merely left on a pile of pillows in front of the television. Can a modest one-family home in the Pacific Northwest be an ideal place for such a man?

Forget what happened to One-Eyed Willie’s ship. Forget any other adventures that the gang might have had searching for hidden treasure or holy relics. Forget the legal battle over the jewels. This is what I always wanted to see next: The continuing adventures of Sloth and Chunk. Let’s suppose that the Cohens (Chunk’s family) were so grateful to Chunk for saving their son that they decided to honor his wishes and try to find a way to house this creature somehow. I think that they were biting off more than they could chew.

I don’t want to see a sequel; I want to see a spin-off sitcom. Entitled Hey You Guys!!!,” (Sloth’s quaint version of a war cry from the movie) this show about the hilarious adventures of the Cohens, that rotund Jewish family from Oregon, and the loveable, but clumsy and potentially deadly Sloth, promises to be hilarious, surreal, disturbing, and often just plain gross.

The first episode entitled “Sloth Loves Chunk,” would show Sloth trying to assimilate to his new life. As Chunk is getting ready to go to school, Sloth begins to panic at the thought of being left behind. After several attempts to calm him, including an apparently ineffective dose of horse tranquilizers in his Ovaltine, it is decided that Sloth should accompany Chunk to school. At school, Sloth sees the torments that Chunk is exposed to on a daily basis, mostly from a gang of bullies who ridicule him for his weight. In the end, Sloth comforts Chunk, reminding him that he knows what it is like to be shunned and scorned. Chunk embraces Sloth and tells him that the bullying doesn’t bother him since he knows that he has one true friend. The episode ends happily when Sloth makes the bullies understand the error of their ways, appealing to their previously dormant senses of decency and sympathy with his simple and direct language along with a series of punishing, bone-crushing blows.

I already can imagine other hilarious episodes, like “Sloth goes to Shul,” which would play off of the cultural differences of this odd couple (Sloth is Italian, right?). It would begin with a lengthy scene in which Chunk tries in vain to get a yarmulke to stay on Sloth’s pointy head in preparation to go to synagogue for the Purim service. The episode would, of course, end with Sloth suffering from sensory overload by the loud noises of the groggers during the service, resulting in a tantrum which destroys most of the pews and inflicts some disfiguring, but not life threatening,  injuries to a couple of Rabbis. Coming to his senses, the shocked and remorseful Sloth shrugs, looks at the camera and quietly says “uh ohhhhh.”

Director Richard Donner and Exec. Producer Steven Spielberg
Neither of these men would approve of this spin-off
 I am currently at work on the teleplay for a “very special episode” entitled “Sloth in Heat.” In this episode, Sloth begins to exhibit odd behavior of an amorous nature, cornering Chunk’s mother in the kitchen and licking her face repeatedly. After being felled by a taser and a tranquilizer dart, Mrs. Cohen has a sit down with Sloth during which it is discovered that Ma Frattelli never told Sloth about “the birds and the bees” and thus he never learned the meaning of these strange feelings that laid dormant inside of him. Chunk decides that it will be his job to find Sloth a girlfriend, and sits down with Sloth to write a classified ad to put in the Daily Astorian. However, while Chunk is lost in thought, trying to come up with a euphemism for “hideous,” the twisted hormone-tweaked goliath sneaks off to force his violent, mutated lust at the grandmother, who lives upstairs. Oblivious to this, Chunk finishes the letter and begins to read it to his mother. Then, Sloth, now a man of the world, reenters, coming down the stairs wearing silk pajamas and smoking a Nat Sherman in a diamond studded cigarette holder (the bloody scene and its aftermath of pulverized internal organs splattered on the wall and caked with fist-sized globs of green, puss-like, freak jism is not shown; it is a family show after all). Chuck and his mother share a confused look before Chunk’s sister enters screaming “Mommy, Mommy! There’s something wrong with Bubbe!!!”

“Uh ohhhh!”

Uh, yeah. They’ll probably never make that show.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Spanking the Reese’s Monkey: Sexual Subtext in 1980s Commercials

This thing weighed a fucking ton

When I was a kid, my dad bought one of the earliest VHS recorders, a groovy new toy for a young lawyer and his new family. In a short period of time, we had accumulated an extensive collection of tapes. As this was around the late seventies to the early eighties, the market for home video purchasing was not yet being exploited, so most of our collection had been taped off of television. My parents would tape movies and mini-series for themselves (anyone remember The Thornbirds?) and animated specials for me and my brother.

There were a few classics like It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown and The Bugs Bunny Road-Runner Movie, but there were also some others such as The Berenstain Bears Christmas Tree, and the ponderously assembled Bugs Bunny Howl-Oween Special, that did not become perennial favorites. Still, I held on to some of these, not because Raggedy Ann and Andy's Halloween special aged particularly well, but because of the commercials.

More often than not, my dad would avoid taping the commercials, but he couldn’t always be bothered to hang around and watch the Cat in the Hat with his finger hovering over the pause button just so we would not have to later be subjected to the worst that Madison Avenue had to offer. Consequently, though I could give two shits less about the specials, I held on to these tapes because of the hilariously dated ads for candies and kids’ cereals, board games that no one remembers, and with a political ad for Joe Lieberman’s failed 1980 congressional run thrown in as a bonus.

Emmanuel Lewis will kick your ass
Some of these commercials featured child actors at the beginnings of their careers: a Honey Nut Cheerios commercial featuring a pre-Webster Emmanuel Lewis, a Jell-O commercial with a young Corey Feldman, for example. Some were just amusing for their production values or their ludicrous conceits, like the McDonalds ad which tried to pass off the Big Mac as a seven course meal just because it had two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese… well you know how it goes. Another thing I get from watching these is it makes me marvel at the disappearance of the jingle (for those too young to remember, it used to be the norm that trained musicians and composers would write songs for commercials which were designed to get stuck in your head).

My favorite of all time was the ad for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. It featured a young blonde man eating an over sized piece of chocolate, strutting down the street to the tunes of the day as played on that brand-spankin’ new invention, the Walkman. Coming in the opposite direction is a girl, also wearing headphones, who is inexplicably eating peanut butter out of the jar. The pair collide and, in a moment that would make Freud blush, the young man’s chocolate plunges into the young woman’s peanut butter. They bicker for a bit before discovering how pleasing the combination is, as a strange old man appears and hovers behind them holding up a packet of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, the mass-produced version of the fruits of their tryst.

Am I insane for thinking that the sexual subtext was probably deliberate? After all, it is not as though the young woman plunged her chocolate into his peanut butter. I imagine that the agency involved would try to maintain the innocuousness of their campaign. However, I don’t think it takes a person with a particularly dirty mind (though, yes, I am one) to see right through that. It’s just so blatant. It’s almost as if they are saying “You got your penis in my vagina!” “You got your vagina all over my penis!”

A few years ago, I stumbled upon this earlier version of the ad, apparently broadcast in the 1970s. I could riff on this, but I won’t. With the subtext of the 1980s version pretty much well established, this iteration makes me throw up a bit in my mouth.

I guess I have nothing more to say on this… Oh, my lost innocence…