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Archive for the ‘Old Corny Good Things’ Category

Old Things, Corny Things, Good Things, Part 4: Sukiyaki, a few ways

Posted by crowbiz on July 20, 2009

One of my biggest regrets in life is that I have no musical abilities.  I have never received any training whatsoever and cannot read music nor play an instrument, but I can pick out a simple tune by figuring out the notes.  Sheer persistence will not spirit me to Carnegie Hall any time soon.  My biggest claim to fame is that I figured out the famous segments from Deep Purple’s “Smoke On the Water” and Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” – for my son’s sake – and an assortment of other clunky note-after-note arrangements of songs no one would want to hear anyway.  For a short time in my adult life I had a flea market accordian, and as far as a lot of people are concerned, the less said about it the better.  My two songs were “Beer Barrel Polka,” naturally, and a hard-to-detect version of “Wipe Out.”  I’ve been threatening a midlife  drum lesson crisis; the family is rightfully worried yet ambivalent; they know drumming would serve as a general stress/rage outlet which they’d be forced to endure, but it would also mean I’d be less likely to take out my frustrations directly on them.  Life is all about trade-offs.

Singing, however, seems like something I could tackle.  Everyone can sing.  Not well, but everyone technically can do it.  And so I do.  Since the boys were babies, I’ve been singing out loud without embarrassment, as infants and toddlers are very receptive to Nat King Cole standards and other gems.  Now that they’re old enough to be embarrassed by and for me, I’ve upped the mortifaction potential by trying a few songs in foreign languages.  My version of “Sur Les Quais du Vieux Paris” is decent, what with my passing toddler-level French and a lot of gusto.

Next is one I’ve been wishing to master for years:  “Sukiyaki.”  The most famous version was done by Kyu Sakamoto, who saw it become a hit in 1963.  It’s a charmingly mournful song with its xylophone melody (? I told you I have no musical knowledge) and whistling interlude.  Here’s some sort of pre-video version of it that is equal parts dreary, cute, and puzzling.  Though I hardly have to point it out, notice the requisite Godzilla-like lip-asynching.  For a love song, it’s also creepy how Sakamoto dreamily runs his hands along a bunch of filthy 55-gallon industrial drums and walks through what may be chemical run-off puddles.

Unfortunately, this song has been covered many times, and every cover I’ve uncovered is dreck.  Worst are the versions that use the “Sukiyaki” melody with invented English lyrics.  The disco group A Taste Of Honey did a 70s version.  Yep, there’s a rap version.  Most pitiful was a country version I unearthed by a Hank Billy Wayne Bobby Pickens, Jr. or some such.  Why bother?  Aren’t there more important things to do – find a cure for cancer, mow a lawn somewhere?

Even sadder than the misguided covers is Kyu Sakamoto’s untimely death in the deadliest single airplane disaster in history in 1985, in which over 500 people perished.  Adding to this sadness is that as a 21-year-old college swingle, I knew about Sakamoto, “Sukiyaki,” and the crash at the time.  I knew the death count and that there had been a few survivors, including a couple of children.  This blog category isn’t called “corny” for nothing.

So far, I’ve covered a bit of the good, the bad and the ugly.  Now get ready for some awesome.  In my search for lyrics, I found one cover of “Sukiyaki” that, if you have human blood in your veins, should knock your socks off.  Forget the honky-tonk burlesque instrumentation.  Overlook his Nordic-patterned sweater and shocking resemblance to Buddy Hackett.  If this guy isn’t one of the most honest and spirited things you’ve seen online in a long while, then you’re a fool and you should just go back to watching farting dogs, snap dancing and William Hung for your unexamined kicks.  When he stops “la la la”-ing and sits quietly looking dead at you, then adjusts his glasses, you’ll know.

As for my own never-to-be-recorded “Sukiyaki,” progress is going nicely.  Phonetically, I find it very easy to handle and it’s mostly a matter of memory, but in a couple days I ought to have it nailed.  Karaoke night is waiting.

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Some Great Bad Movie Recommendations

Posted by crowbiz on June 23, 2009

Let’s face it, the list of good bad movies could go on and on.  I’ve chosen a mere handful today, not because they represent the pinnacle of good badness, but just because I thought of them.  It’s also important that I’m clear on my criteria:  forbidden are purposely campy films meant to be bad and/or that have developed a recognizable cult following because of this (e.g., “Plan 9 From Outer Space” or Ed Wood movies, etc.)  The ones I adore are efforts that were earnest to begin with and just plain cornball.

Now then, I’m something of an old movie aficionado.  You’ll never find me filling the guest critic’s chair opposite Robert Osborne, dapper host of Turner Classic Movies, but I do know my way around 1920-1960s cinema.  As I’ve always felt I was somehow stuck out of time – born too late, that is – I have a natural affinity for the old stuff.  The habit developed when I was a carefree 15-year-old and enjoying the last summer before the awful realization of the working world.  Back then, of the few channels available on our pre-cable era television, several aired old movies starting after the 11:00 pm news and ran all night.  The first movie started at 11:30 pm, then the next at 1:30 am, and the next at 3:30 am, and dang if I didn’t sometimes stay up for all three, usually drifting off after 4:00 am.  (Mr Crow will be shocked to read this and learn that I ever stayed up past midnight.  Guess I got it all out way back then.)

The following summer, I was a beleaguered working girl in the summer, and dragged myself home from my hellacious restaurant kitchen job usually between 12:00-1:00 am, in that tired but wired way.  After a long shift of sweat, safety hazards, hot water, noise and endless sexual harassment, it felt good to crash in front of a comforting old movie or two with a big iced tea.

These days I only catch an oldie now and then, usually in pieces if the kids are abed and Mr Crow happens to be out.  But it’s still in my blood.  In fact, Mr Crow refers to any maudlin string music as “weee weee music” that signals sappy old-time films, and he sometimes serenades me if he catches me mid-movie; his high-pitched sequences of “weeeee WEEE wee weeeee WEE we weee…” is both a sentimental tweak and a direct mock.  Good thing I’m tough.

Now then, to today’s list, in no particular order:

 

Fluffy and light

Fluffy and light. Couldn't they at least center the band name on the drum?

Cotton Candy  (1978)  Made-for-TV gold!  Ron Howard’s early directorial effort features his bro Clint Howard, Charles Martin Smith, and a host of lesser knowns in a Troika Treat:  tried, true and trite.  A magical cheesefest. Underdog uber-nerds form a band – including a chick drummer! – and struggle to make it to the battle of the bands.  The eponymous Cotton Candy faces their evil rival Rapid Fire, who thrill the high school crowd with their cover of “I Shot the Sheriff.”  Friendships tested, young love, divided loyalties, etc, etc.  Awesome climactic moment in which Clint Howard, as Corky, is barred from the competition and watches, bawling, through the little glass window as the bands rock on.  Exactly two people on this planet have seen this movie:  me and my friend Lisa, whose friendship with me was instantly cemented upon her revelation that she, too, had seen it back in the 70s when it first aired.  Here is the ABC promo, which sounds like it’s narrated by the guy who used to do the Smucker’s jam commercials.  Note – the rival dude is super hot, 70s style – wings of perfection!  If you can stand a 12:30 clip, here’s another sample, including a segment of a Colgate toothpaste commercial at the end.  

 

 

So who applies her lipstick and eyeliner?

So who applies her lipstick and eyeliner?

The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962)  Classic B-movie horror in B & W.  The budget must have been somewhere in the $7.00 range for this gem, what with its wavering audio, cardboard sets and “night” scenes.  Wacky doctor keeps his fiance Jan’s tightly wrapped head alive in what appears to be a roasting pan, with tubes, clamps, and circulating “blood.”  As he searches for the perfect body to re-attach to her, she grows increasingly bitter about her situation.  In her low, breathy, but unsexy voice, Jan communicates with the “monster” kept locked in the basement closet nearby.  After a steady stream of nagging and moralizing from the pan, the doctor tapes her mouth shut, but she manages to telepathically command the grotesque cone-headed creature to break out and attack him.  Way creepy, no matter how you slice it.  This has gained a little bit of a following such that Mystery Science Theater spoofed it, and the head/brain is commonly nicknamed “Jan in the Pan” among devotees, but this doesn’t dim it’s good-badness.  You can’t tell me that the makers and actors of this movie weren’t trying their best.  At the risk of being a spoiler, the final moment is my favorite; as the lab in consumed by flames, Jan hisses through her clenched and now-untaped mouth, “I told you to let me die!”  The lo-fi 1962 trailer.   You can watch the whole darned thing at google.video.

 

Bad photo, but a must-watch clip

Bad photo, but a must-watch clip

The In-Crowd (1988)  *Not to be confused with a 2000 movie “The In Crowd,” which may well be a good-bad movie, but I’ve not seen it.*  My first accidental stumble on this was while recovering on the couch from a bad stomach bug.  It’s just the kind of mindless comfort you need after a night of vomiting.  I’ve stumbled a couple more times, but not in years, alas!  Yet another music-themed bad movie, which teaches us that if a problem can’t be settled with a dance-off, it probably wasn’t important anyway.  In 1965 Philadelphia, Del, played by Donovan Leitch, Jr. (yes, son of Mellow Yellow himself), yearns to break out of the predictability of goody-goody suburbia and get on a popular teen dance show.  He succeeds beyond his wildest dreams, but at a cost; he must re-evaluate his old and new friendships, allegiances and life goals, and a lot of the usual teen yada yada.  Trailer here. Don’t for one second deny that you secretly wish you could dance like these kids.  Way hokey premise and “script,” but a fabulous early 60s soundtrack with many lesser known tunes worked in (Jerry Butler’s version of “Moon River,”  “I Had A Wonderful Dream” by the Majors, and many more).  Hep clip (Del is in the brown suit and blue shirt):  Del’s surprise debut on the dance show! 

You’re welcome.

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Old Things, Corny Things, Good Things: Part 3: Canned Bread

Posted by crowbiz on May 26, 2009

B&M Canned BreadYes, that reads canned bread, also known as brown bread.  How many people have even heard of it?  Have you ever eaten it?  If so, why?  How did this get on my list?  This one I can blame on my kids.

One of my many parental failings is a propensity for allowing my boys to watch hair-raising amounts of SpongeBob SquarePants.  There, I’ve said it.  It’s not easy to admit publicly, and neither is that I find SB SP inordinately hilarious.  If you’re a fan (don’t even pretend you’re not), you know the characters and their idiosyncrasies.  My favorite character is Squidward Tentacles, probably because I identify most closely with him both physically and psychologically.Squidward  Squidward is the centerpiece of my favorite episodes, including the one in which, fed up with SpongeBob’s antics, he moves to an all-squid, gated community.  There, he is free to pursue his life’s joys:  riding his squeaky bicycle, joining an interpretive dance class, playing in a clarinet band, and buying canned bread.  (There is a moral here.  Ultimately, all the predictability and like-minded squids get to be a drag on poor Squidman, and he finally cracks, going berserk with a leaf blower and wreaking havoc through the squid community a la SpongeBob.)

Before I had ever seen this episode, I overheard my boys mention “canned bread” and wondered hard how in the world they’d ever heard of it.  Evidently, it shows up in SpongeBob somewhat regularly.  Imagine their surprise when I told them that canned bread is not just a twisted cartoon comestible, but a real thing you can buy and actually eat!  So off we went in search of it.  It wasn’t easy, but we unearthed it in Wegman’s.  They thrilled as I unloaded it, rippled with machine indentations, out of its can shell and cut into it.

An earnest product, canned bread comes out can-shaped, much like canned jellied cranberry.  It’s dark brown.  It’s flecked with…something.  It’s vaguely sweet.  It’s dense.  It might be the Spam of breads, but like a lot of things, when you think too much about it, you ruin it for everyone. When I was a kid, there were rare appearances of canned bread which we ate with a thin layer of cream cheese or just butter.  Afterward, someone would always say, “Who eats this stuff?”, apparently forgetting that we just had.  Anyway, my boys dug it with a little butter and amazingly, the whole “loaf” eventually got polished off.  If I were some kind of journalist, I’d have looked up the ingredients and provenance of canned bread, but this is the internet age, so you can do it yourself.  What I do know is that it hails from New England and has fittingly unfancy, Puritan qualities about it – plain, dark, heavy, not exactly sweet, and rejecting of anything but the missionary position.  Thou must harken yon blog and try some.

For four of the last five years, we have vacationed on the Maine coast, and necessarily drive through the small slice of New Hampshire between Massachusetts and Maine.  Just next to the highway is ground zero for our brand of (and best known) canned bread – the B & M Factory!   It’s an exciting moment when I spot it, since we’re usually about eight or nine hours into the grueling road trip, and I call out to alert the boys.  With eyes widened and lips rounded into silent “whoa”s, we gaze upon it as the pious view Lourdes, craning our necks until we’re too far past it.  Mr. Crow, not sharing our enthusiasm for canned bread nor Squidward, keeps his eyes and attention on the upcoming toll plaza.

It’s cheap enough, so go get yourself some canned bread.  If you don’t care for it, its consistency makes it easy to cut into amusing shapes, so you’re likely to have greater success moving it among the kiddie crowd.  Just don’t explain too much.

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Old Things, Corny Things, Good Things: Part 2

Posted by crowbiz on May 12, 2009

Today’s recommendation:  AM radio stations that play musicRock-n-roll Radio

The enormous warning that I’ll throw up front is that I do NOT mean any stations doing talk radio.  Talk radio should properly induce dry heaves in any sentient being.  Furthermore, those programs are common and I regard them as I do so many tattoos on so many college students, since they share many of the same properties;  they are enjoyed by the less independently thinking masses, are almost never original, are typically not well-executed, often reflect amateurish taste, and do not age well.

Back to the music.

Who actually listens to the radio at all?  In this age of extremely portable and convenient music technology and highly idiosyncratic musical preferences, radio listenership should by all estimates be dead by tomorrow afternoon. Sure, we can find a few reasons you might run into radio now and then:  the workplace where everyone must agree on a common auditory denominator, or the retail location that is too cheap to buy into a demographically specialized playlist for its clientele.  House painters and roofing crews usually employ one.  But otherwise, why the hell would anyone tune in to hear songs programmed by someone else interspliced with what must be the world’s most annoying form of advertising?

Serendipity.  Control can be overrated.  Don’t you get sick of being master of your universe every moment?   It’s exhausting.  You spend 12 minutes dictating the exact specifications of your morning coffee to the barista-du-jour, agonize over paint swatches, choose from 84 varieties of deodorant (good god, what if you make the wrong choice?), and organize your iPod into dozens of moment-specific playlists (“Dinner with Close Friends Mix” versus “Dinner with People We’ve Known For Less Than a Year Mix” versus “Driving Home from Work on Thursday Mix” versus “Ball-Scratching Beer Blast Mix”…  OK, so a little separation is alright…)  Can’t you %&*#  loosen the grip here and there?   Give it up, turn on the AM – if you can find a radio – and see what happens.

Note that I mean only AM radio, because it’s the last hold-out of any independence on the air.  The FM band is almost entirely corporately-owned by a few media giants.  Dismiss it and move on.  Some AM stations are still locally owned and produced, which makes them the airwave equivalent of local cable access television stations.  Saying they are not slick is laughably unnecessary, and that lack of sophistication is a perfect antidote to a culture that has made irony a religion.  The advertisements that are produced in-house are paragons of earnesty.  A recent one I’ve heard is an announcer-narrated recitation of a local restaurant’s sub and take-out menu, peppered with stock phrases like “truly satisfying” and “great value.”  Behind the narration is the instrumental part of the “Laverne and Shirley” theme song.  It made me want to eat there.

Another joy of AM is that you can discover ethnic programs, sometimes in the native language.  Polonia hour, the Native American beat, the Portuguese program…. dial around and explore, my friend.  Adding to the effect is the tinny, unpredictable quality of AM transmission, particularly for the smaller, independent stations.  Having to shift your radio around to get better reception shows your commitment.

As far as the music you may find, well, that’s best left for you to discover.  Below is a sample of what recently transpired over the course of an hour cobbled from a couple stations I visit now and then.  These are in no particular order, which is the point:

“Fly Me To The Moon” by Frank Sinatra

“Muleskinner Blues” by The Fendermen

“Trains and Boats and Planes” by Dionne Warwick

“Bongo Rock” by Preston Epps

“At My Front Door (Crazy Little Mama)” by the El Dorados

“Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen

“When The Red, Red Robin Comes a-Bob Bob Bobbin’ Along” by Al Jolson

“Tammy” by Debbie Reynolds

“Brown Eyed Handsome Man” by Chuck Berry

Rather than view this as an embarrassing indictment of my musical tastes, I see it as a showcase of the possible.  You could spend hours scouring your digital trove and not come up with that mix, though it’s extremely unlikely you’d have any of the raw material in the first place.  It’s a gamble – you’re not supposed to know if you’re going to like what’s coming.  If you can’t give that a go, then you deserve to waste hours of your life making espresso decisions.

A few AM stations available in the Western New York region to check out:

1400 Solid Gold Soul (does not stream – link is just to the website)

1440 WJJL (does not stream; priceless, and perhaps the last of its breed anywhere)

AM740 (streams; out of Toronto; was good before being taken over by corporate interests, but what the heck; has some good specialty programs such as the 40+ year running “A Little Breath of Scotland”… come on!  Beware – lots of mattress and hearing aid ads) 

Toronto has many specialty and ethnic stations, but they are difficult to pull in, so best wishes.

If you have any other suggestions, add them in comments.  The world needs more AM.

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Old Things, Corny Things, Good Things: Part 1

Posted by crowbiz on May 8, 2009

Here begins a new series, because there’s simply too much to jam into one post.

I’m a gal out of time and not particularly embarrassed by it.  If, like me, you  feel your sensibilities lie in some other decade, century or millennium, you may find a new old, corny, good thing to add to your anachronistic life.  

Warning:  if you read the above paragraph hoping that I’d be a good recruit for your anti-gay-marriage ning group or some such old-fashioned construct, take a hike.  Swear words are old, corny and good, too.

Today’s item:  Fels-Naptha Soap

The bar that never closes

This, to me, is the smell of “soap.”  It’s meant primarily for laundry, not skin (save for its reputed use to treat contact dermatitis from poison ivy, oak, etc.  Poison etc can be nasty.)  Takes out stains fairly well when rubbed on before washing.  Yes, it’s made with chemicals!  So is your toilet paper, unless you went back to using corn husks.  The name “Seventh Generation” toilet paper  makes me not want to use it, if you get my drift.  Organicphiles can beat me senseless, but I’ll not give up my Fels.  

This – from the godsend to the lazy – Wikipedia:

“It should be noted that using Fels-Naptha as a punishment for foul language is considered highly dangerous.”

Here’s my ho-ho-homemaker’s recipe for quickie, cheapie laundry soap.  This is a soap, not a detergent, and it will not gets sudsy, so don’t keep adding more to the water, thinking you’re not getting enough to suds up.  Grate 1 bar of Fels-Naptha, add to 2/3 cup of borax and 2/3 cup of washing soda (Arm & Hammer).  Shake it around to mix and keep in a tub or jar.  About 2 heaping tablespoons will do for a regular sized load of laundry.  

For the best effect, hang the clothes outside to dry.  Line-dried clothing — that’s another post.

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