Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and the Joy of Watching and Rewatching a Movie You Love

By now, most people who want to see Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood have made a trip to the theater, some of them several times.

The film’s 2 hours and 41 minutes long, and every plot point and scene has been analyzed and discussed online for the last month No one’s going to spend so much time nitpicking over a boring movie. Even people who didn’t like the movie (except for the ending) will still talk about it.

The film is intensely personal to some, a unique film for movie nerds to ponder, or a nostalgic trip for others. OUATIH is a favorite of QT fans (at least the ones who don’t expect non-stop violence) and people in their 50s and 60s were alive in 1969, or younger folks interested in 20th Century pop culture, or anyone interested in the Manson family. 

 I’ve read about people seeing the movie at a theater eight times, though two or three seems to be the most prevalent number of return viewings. (I've seen it twice; going for #3 at the New Beverly later this month.)

Regular movie goers who just choose a random name from movie listings for their weekend entertainment will not like this film. Most people see movies as escapist entertainment; they don’t care about plot or acting or historical accuracy. They want constant action, sex or gore, two hours of bish-bam-boom before going back to the job and family.  

Alternate History

The second time I saw the movie, the audience was too quiet  - not a gasp or “Oh, my God”, during the ending. No laughter. I didn’t see anyone rush out or give the finger to the screen, either.

I was worried about screaming or making noise during the ending the first time I saw it. Maybe I should bring a piece of gauze with me and bite down on it near the end, I thought

I wasn’t alone. Most people at the sold-out screening I attended gasped, laughed and clapped during the end scene. Those last 20 minutes have even made their way onto YouTube two months before the DVD release. Several other scenes that appear to have been filmed right off theater screens are on YouTube as well.

The best five seconds of the film for just about everyone, including the impatient and undiagnosed ADD crowd, occurred when Rick walked out with the flamethrower. The element of surprise left the audience laughing and gasping.

 Here’s a round-up of audience reactions.  

There’s a lot to see in second and third viewings.  Los Angeles in 1969- what’s not to love? The music, the TV shows, the commercials, billboards, and marquees. Even minor details that would go unnoticed by most moviegoers were authentic to the era. One newsstand contained copies of magazines from 1969 (or thereabouts). The newsstand, much less the magazines, would go unnoticed by all but the most eagle-eyed viewer.

This is a hangout movie, a bromance, that girls can love. (You should have heard the women next to us hoot their approval when Brad Pitt took his shirt off.)

The Cliff-Rick bromance is all good. It doesn’t have any cliché arguments, fights over girls, etc., common as plot twists in lesser films. It’s nice to have real human characters to root for, instead of the half-human, half-infallible superheros.

Oh, No! Not Another Western!

I almost forgot how prevalent TV Westerns were even in the late 1960s. Bonanza, the Wild, Wild West, Gunsmoke, the Big Valley and Lancer (yes, it was a real show) shared the TV Guide schedule with Laugh-In and the Smothers Brothers.  

“Oh, no,” I remember thinking before seeing the movie “How am I going to get through the Western scenes? It’s going to be excruciating. I’ll have to go out for popcorn.” Leo’s performance drew you in, and there was "Don't cry in front of the Mexicans" for comic relief.

The first two hours flew by, Westerns and all, and before you knew it, Tex, Sadie and Katie showed up – only to be quickly dispatched by our heroes.  

Driving Music 

Anyone who has who has lived in California can identify with the driving scenes. Everything was easier back  in '69, even driving on L.A. freeways. There was no road rage, texting, drive-bys, or distracted driving. You could drive with the windows down, the radio blaring, and the wind blowing through your hair.

I don’t think people have done that with abandon since the early ‘90s. Yeah, you can ride in your air-conditioned Porsche listing to the shoegaze station on Sirius, but it’s not the same.

There are snippets of several lesser-known pop songs in the movie. “Summertime” by Billy Stewart, “12:30 (Young Girls are Coming to the Canyon”) by the Mamas and Papas, “Baby It’s You” by Smith, even a snippet of Robert Goulet singing MacArthur Park on a TV. And plenty of Paul Revere and the Raiders.(Terry Melcher and Mark Lindsay lived at 10050  Cielo Drive before Sharon and Roman moved in.)

The film creates an atmosphere, a time and a place that you can soak in and lose yourself in. I wouldn’t say there’s no plot - it just a plot that simmers along on low heat.

It’s fun to catch glimpses of old-timey TV shows like Mannix and The FBI. Notice Paul Revere and the Raiders were on the TV at Spahn Ranch when Cliff walks in to see George.   

And feet!! How many pairs of many bare, dirty female feet do we need to see? I haven’t done a count yet - maybe once it comes out on DVD. Sharon takes her go-go boots off – to put her feet on the back of the seat in front of her, Pussycat puts her bare feet on Cliff's dashboard, etc. Now, lots of hippie girls were barefoot in LA in the late 60s, so we’ll let Quentin slide this time.

And of course, there’s the quotable dialogue -

“I’m the devil, and I’m doing the devil’s work.”

“No, it was dumber than that.”

“And you, you were on a horsie”

“Are you real?”
“Real as a donut, motherfucker.”

“Is everything all right?”
“Well, the hippies sure aren’t.”

And it's never revealed if Cliff  killed his wife on purpose. His wife (played by Rebecca Gayheart) seems like a garden variety nagging wife in her five seconds onscreen.  Perhaps the subplot was inspired by  DJ Humble Harv (of radio station KHJ) who shot his nagging wife dead in 1971.
(Humble Harv appears on the soundtrack introducing songs and reading commercials.)

You want a happy ending for all the good people and you get it here. The comic book violence of the last 20 minutes is even more satisfying if you’re familiar with the Tate-LaBianca murders. It’s cathartic to watch Sadie get burnt to a crisp. The head-banging times 12, is cringe-inducing, no matter how many times you watch it.  

Right after all that violence, we see Rick's dream come true (he gets to hanging out at Roman and Sharon's house), and sweet, pregnant Sharon greets him. And now everyone gets all misty-eyed after cheering during 10 minutes of hardcore gore.

Now leaving the theater feeling happy isn’t usually the sign of a great film. Art films are supposed to leave you dazed and pondering. Blockbusters and superhero movies leave viewers feeling like they just got off an intense, 120 mile per hour roller coaster ride –and they forget about it by the next day.      
But giddy and excited to the point where you say “I have to see that again,” the moment you walk out of the theater?. That doesn’t happen too often, at least not to me.

It’s not so much that you rewatch the movie for thrills – it’s to find tidbits you missed out the first time. There’s the sound of the canned dog food plopping into the bowl is familiar to anyone raised on supermarket food in the late 20th Century. (It took a second viewing to notice the rat and raccoon flavors.) The marquee on of the Van Nuys Drive-In (Lady in Cement starring Frank Sinatra and Raquel Welch), the quick shots of Rick involved in a DUI on Hollywood Boulevard, or taking a  swig from a blender full of margarita while telling off the dirty hippies.

Margot Robbie gives us a chance to see Sharon Tate as a real person. Too many people know her only as a murder victim. This film humanizes her. She doesn’t have a lot of dialogue, but her luminous presence is the heartbeat of the film.

The other non-Manson Family female characters are tougher.  Julia Butters’ Trudi character gives us a glimpse we get of the new, liberated woman – or girl. She prefers to be called an actor instead of an actress and corrects Rick’s pronunciation of a character’s name. Zoe Bell (as a stuntwoman) gives Cliff a verbal beatdown, truncating his best two out of three with Bruce Lee.    

Cliff’s visit to Spahn Ranch  turns tense the moment Pussycat (Margaret Qualley) gets out of the car. The long shot of Cliff walking away as the girls boo him made you think something horrible would happen.

Cliff beating up Clem was especially satisfying to those of us who lived through the summer of '69, and it’s a precursor to the tables-turned ending. 

People can be emotionally invested in TV series characters; we see them for years, week after week. It’s harder to get attached to a movie’s characters, unless they’re superhero or franchise characters.

Many people on YouTube and elsewhere wonder about what would happen to the characters after this movie ends. Would the police go to the ranch and arrest Charlie and the Manson girls before they could commit more mayhem? Would Rick work on a film with Polanski?

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood will probably be the Tarantino film I watch and enjoy the most over time. However, I don’t think it’s his best film. I’d have to go with Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown and Inglorious Bastards as the Top 3, with the True Romance screenplay getting an honorable mention.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is fun – the music, the cars, the clothes, and the alternate ending where everyone lives happily ever after, except the murderous hippies. Given the state of the world now, we need some alternate history before going back into an ever-worsening reality.

Monday, July 22, 2019

CD Review: The Old Testament of Love by Steve Hooker

Prolific rockabilly musician Steve Hooker is back with another CD, The Old Testament of Love on Pimphouse Records. The seven-track CD  begins with the country-western-flavored instrumental “Necktie Party”. “The First Ones Always Free” is seven minute of  made-to-order lowdown blues, with  guttural vocals from Hooker. The title track is lighter and poppier; it’s a dance track for the club floor, while “Don’t Let the Deal Go Down” is 50s/early ‘60s raunch ‘n’ roll. The crunchy instrumental “Tighten It” has a hard rock edge, while “Crows Legs” has a steady, mid-tempo groove. “Mister Mojo Man” closes the album with some dirty, old-school blues rock. 

The players are Steve Hooker on guitar and vocals, Vic on bass, Dave on piano, Brian on drums and background vocals, and Dee on background vocals. The CD is available from Raucous Records.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

The Dirt and the Resurgence of Mötley Crüe

It’s 2019, and lots of people are talking about Mötley Crüe. Who could have guessed an ‘80s heavy metal band that retired in 2015 would set the internet ablaze in 2019? It’s been a month since The Dirt premiered on Netflix and I’m still seeing posts from people who are watching for the second or third or fourth time. (The Crüe's resurgence is no fluke. The band was featured in a 2014 Fast Company article 5 Brilliant Business Lessons from Mötley Crüe- Seriously.)  

All kinds of people, not just Crueheads or heavy metal fans, like this film. The reviews usually read something like “Yeah, there were timeline problems and it was cheesy, but it was entertaining and I watched till the end.”

The raves, unsurprisingly, come mostly from long-time fans.

All types of people liked the movie, even folks you think would have no interest in even watching it.

People in industrial bands, intellectuals, people who lived in L.A. in the early ‘80s but didn’t like the metal scene, and many under 30s with a cursory knowledge of the band, liked the film. Most people took the Netflix movie at face value. This is a biopic about Mötley Crüe, based on the 2001 best-selling book “The Dirt”, not a somber candidate for the Criterion Collection.       

Snobs who believe that only certain types of music and entertainment are valid, or that anything from the past that wasn't politically correct should not be remembered or chronicled, hated the movie.

The Timeline, Actors, Fact-checking, etc.

A little fact-checking with the book version of “The Dirt” shows that the movie’s a bit more authentic than apparent at first sight. The fight during the band’s first show at the Starwood happened pretty much as portrayed in the film. Vince Neil did bang Tom Zutat’s girlfriend, but it was in a trailer at the US Festival, not in a dressing room at the Forum. 

McGhee never brought Nikki’s Mom into the picture. The band fired him after the Moscow Peace Festival in 1989, when Bon Jovi, another band McGhee managed, played a full set with pyro, while the Crue play a truncated opening set.

The fourth wall narration in the film explained that the Crue actually had two co-managers, that McGee didn’t really meet the band at their shitty apartment, and allowed the celluloid “grouchy” Mick provide some counterpoint to the rock ‘n’ roll excess.

And it was Thaler, not McGhee, who got the ill-fated Entertainment or Death tattoo.

Tommy, as played by Machine Gun Kelly, is a likeable, hyperactive kid in the movie. In the book, Tommy comes off much cruder, unless he’s in love - then he becomes a total teddy bear.

Nikki, as played by Douglas Booth, was pretty spot-on most of the time. He even nailed Nikki’s distinctive speaking voice, although it did waver from the original here and there.  

Vince (Daniel Webber), had the swagger of the pre-fame Vince down, and handled the tragic scenes well, especially the emotional scenes with Skylar. The young actress who played Skylar was so heartbreaking in those scenes. “Daddy, don’t let them cut me again.”

Mick (Iwan Rheon) stole the film with his snarky, fourth wall comments. Mick Mars as Motley Crue’s voice of reason. Well, it’s a thankless job, but somebody had to do it.

The Dirt clocked in at an hour and forty eight minutes. You didn’t have to see the movie  to know it would be a quick cut, “best of” – all the  major scenes from the book, punctuated by the band’s music, with everything tied up in a neat package at the end.

Sure, the band’s history could have worked as a series, including more in-depth scenes from the Japanese train fiasco, Vince’s trial, Tommy and Pamela,etc., but then the trolls would complain it was too long and boring! A series would have given the filmmakers more room to humanize the characters and show them as “grown-ups”.

The Groupies

The women who gave bands blow jobs under the tables at the Rainbow accounted for a small percentage of the young women in 1980s Los Angeles. They were mostly upper middle class girls from the Valley or Orange County trying to outslut each other to see who could do the most guys in bands. These young women wanted to be there. They weren't victims. 

The movie version of The Dirt opens with a raucous party at the band’s Hollywood apartment in the early ‘80s. Vince is banging some guy’s girlfriend in the bathroom (an event which occurs with alarming frequency, as we find out later).

However, the main event takes place in the living room, where Tommy pleasures a girl as a crowd parties around them. Then the money shot occurs as the girl squirts across the room.  The woman, known as Bullwinkle, opened the book, too. When you begin a movie with female ejaculation, where do you go from there? Hold my beer (or heroin or coke spoon), the Dirt replies.

There’s enough sex, drugs, and tragedy in this hour and 48 minute film to fit in a series

Nikki’s on H (with lots of close-ups of needles entering veins)
Nikki’s temporary death and revival with two adrenaline shots to the heart 
Everyone’s banging everyone else’s girlfriend
The obligatory hotel-bashing
Young Nikki slices his arm open and blames it on his Mom
Vince kills his friend Razzle in a drunk driving accident
Vince’s young daughter dies of cancer
Mick’s Ankylosing Spondylitis (arthritis of the spine) gets worse; he has hip replacement surgery
Heather kicks Tommy out because of his dalliance with a porn star

 And, of course, who could miss the Pearl Jam Ten album cover on the side of the rehearsal studio on a rainy day? That was a harbinger of doom for all ‘80s metal bands, not just Mötley Crüe.

Guest Appearances
Ozzy (Tony Cavalero) snorting ants had to be included in a film at some point. Even though you know what’s going to happen, the “ugh” factor is strong when viewing the reenactment. (The peeing part probably didn't happen, however.)

David Lee Roth (Christian Gehring) makes a blink and you’ll miss it appearance. Yes, DLR would be so out of it in the early ‘80s – a mirror would crack over his head without him noticing it.

Heather Locklear (Rebekah Graf) only makes a few appearances, and it’s uncanny how much Graf resembles '80s Heather. Tommy did mistake her for Heather Thomas, but they met at  an REO Speedwagon concert, not Vince’s party.

Tom Zutat (Pete Davidson),  the A & R rep who signed Mötley Crüe to Electra, is portrayed as somewhat of an earnest klutz. I’m not sure if that jives with his real-life persona. 

 Also, the biker chick who asks Mick if he’s in the band during the opening party sequence is played by Brittany Furlan, Tommy Lee’s new wife. (They got married on Valentine’s Day 2019.)  

Nostalgia and a Personal Take

When I first moved to L.A. in 1983, I didn’t know anyone. I hung out at the Troubadour – until I discovered the local punk rock scene and my whole life changed. Of course, I’m not sure that would have happened if Vince Neil hadn’t guest-starred with Top Jimmy at the Cathay de Grande one night.

I remember the accident that killed Razzle. I was living in L.A, at the time, looking forward to seeing Hanoi Rocks in L.A. at the Palace – or was it the Whisky? I had a copy of “One Step from the Move” displayed by my stereo. The onscreen Vince’s dialogue about “it could have been any one of them” driving drunk and killing Razzle rang true. L.A. rocker dudes in the ’80s were rarely sober. Any combination of hard rock/metal dude passenger/driver could be deadly at any given moment.

I was back home in Chicago for Nikki’s death and reanimation. By this time, my beloved rebels were now Enquirer fare, with everyone from my younger brothers to random teenage girls listening to Girls, Girls, Girls. By 1988, even Satan had gone mainstream. Teen girls on the bus had pentagrams drawn on their PF flyers along with the names of their favorite bands (Poison, Bon Jovi, Mötley Crüe).

When Dr. FeelGood, the band’s only number one album, was released, I was in New York, working for a music publisher. Then Mötley Crüe defected to the alternative/grunge sound with their self-titled album. Vince had quit/gotten fired, and John Corabi replaced him. It didn’t sound like classic Crue, sold over 500,000 copies, but was considered a flop. (Many fans now consider the album to be one of the group’s best.) I always liked it.

Throughout the ‘90s the band became mainstream celebrities, and appeared on many talk shows. I saw them many times on Regis and Kathy Lee. Now, it didn’t hurt that Tommy was married to Baywatch babe Pamela Anderson and Nikki to Donna D'errico. That aspect took main stage in the press, with the music secondary. 

I found out I liked a lot more songs than I thought, even lesser-known ones. We’re not talking the greatest rock songs ever, but fun party anthems. “Bad Boy Boogie”, “Same Old Situation”, everything from the first two albums, even “Saints of Los Angeles”.

The Critics

Metacritic.com gave The Dirt a 39 per cent score, based on 64 reviews. “Rock bad boy lore as endless bore”, writes Rolling Stone. “An ill-advised remake of Spinal Tap”, says the New York Times, “painfully dated and pointless”, says another review from The Playlist. “A terrible movie about terrible people,” says Stereogum.( 95% of  6124 audience reviewers liked it.)

Critics never liked the Crüe’s music or persona so it makes sense that they wouldn’t like a movie based on their exploits. The first batch of reviews was especially brutal out of the gate, and seemed to criticize the subject matter as much as the actual filmmaking. How dare you even make a movie about an out-of-control 1980s rock band in politically correct 2019?

Somehow, the neatly-tied up ending the meeting at the bar (the real meeting took place in an office with lawyers present) fit in with the fast-paced movie. A more complicated ending (and character arcs) would have only made sense in a fleshed-out series.

The Calm After the Storm 

I searched in vain for a download of one of the Sixx Sense shows on my hard drive. I’d saved the show because Nikki had said something really profound. And now I can’t remember it, or find the file. He talked about looking up at the night sky with one of his kids, that’s the only part of the show I remember.

Years ago, I read an interview with a rock star (Don Henley, I think, but it was so long ago I could be wrong) who talked about how hitting rock-bottom changes people, allowing them to survive and prosper.

People who succumb to drugs and/or depravity and then come out the other side, often have an understanding of life’s true meaning  that others lack, the interviewee (whoever it was) said.  Maybe that’s why I find a lot of Nikki’s comments today to be so profound.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Remembering Peter Tork 1942-2019

Peter Tork died on February 21 of complications from  adenoid cystic carcinoma, a rare form of cancer. He was 77, and the second Monkee to pass away. (Davy Jones died in February 2012,). He had battled cancer on and off for ten years. Peter died at his family home in Connecticut.

When Davy died,  it was a total shock. I sought solace with other fans through social media. I started a Monkees blog with two Millennial girls and learned more about my childhood idols than I’d ever imagined.

Now, with two Monkees gone, there's more of a numb resignation to the passage of time, and a tendency to celebrate the past and have more of a rock version of a "jazz funeral" along with traditional  mourning. We were so lucky to have Peter, and the rest of the Monkees, as part of our lives for so long.

Peter was known to the general public as the Monkees' lovable, dim-witted bass player, but  loyal fans knew him as an accomplished musician, free spirit, intellectual, and a constant, low-key presence in the Monkees-sphere.

When we were kids, everyone had their favorite Monkee (Micky was mine), but we loved ‘em all.  After watching two seasons of episodes, we appreciated them all and knew everything about all four Monkees from the fan mags.

Peter was third in line as a teeny-bopper idol after Davy and Micky. That’s hard to believe when you see his beautiful dimple and big doe eyes – shows you the wealth of looks and talent in that group.

There was so much more to Peter than being the Monkees’ third (or fourth) wheel, depending on your tastes.) There were several stages of Peter’s career, in and out of the Monkees.


Peter made a short film in college (circa 1962) called “The Love Potion”. 

Music was his first creative love, though.  He moved on to Greenwich Village and tried his hand as a folk singer. He first met Stephen Stills in the Village. Later, they both auditioned for the Monkees. Stills was passed over due to his bad teeth, and suggested Tork audition for the role.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Peter was cute as a button and sharp-witted, as evidenced in this clip of his audition.

Pete’s auditions starts at 8:58

During the first season, Peter’s character (‘the lovable dummy”) was always getting in trouble. He was kidnapped by gypsies in search of the Maltese Vulture in  “Son of a Gypsy.” As a six year old, I was very worried about Peter in those early episodes, “Mommy, is Peter gonna be all right?” I would ask my Mom. I would always root for him when he couldn’t fly in the sky like the other Monkeemen “C’mon, Peter, you can do it,” I’d say.

In “Monkees Vs. Machine” Peter becomes flustered when a computer (DJ-61) interviews him for a job at a toy company. (Mike steps in to save the day and causes the computer to overheat.)  Peter’s character steals a portrait of Valerie the debutante in “One Man Shy” and the guys teach him the proper way to woo a lady.

 And look at his adorableness in this clip featuring "For Pete's Sake".

He was always wore his belt buckle to the side and often sported mismatched socks.  His most well-known musical contribution on the TV show was the wacky “Auntie Grizelda”. In the real world, Peter played the banjo, guitar, harpsichord, piano and organ as well as the bass.  

I liked the second season of the shoe better than the first..The clean-cut boys of the first season had turned into hippies! Davy and Peter dressed in Nehru jackets and love beads and Micky had an Afro. Mike wouldn’t have any of that nonsense. He still wore his wool hat occasionally, but favored brighter shirts.

We loved the way hippie Peter dressed, in his two toned leggings, flowered tunic, suede boots, and love beads. And, oh that beautiful, sandy blonde hair! He didn’t just dress like a hippie, though, he was one. At the end of one episode, he explained the difference between hippies and free people in San Francisco.

Peter’s comments about free people start at the 17:46 mark

During the second season, Peter (unknowingly) sold his soul to the devil for a harp in “The Devil and Peter Tork”. Considered the best episode of the series by most people, it ends with a moving speech by Mike about the power of love.

Peter  has his paintings snatched by gangster security guards, trades his guitar to a con artist for a treasure map, and becomes involved with a professor’s kidnapping. Davy only had to  fall in love, Micky had to be kooky, Mike had to be sensible and stoic, but Peter had to act dumb and/or disappear.. Sure, most of the episodes had repetitive, one-note plots, but they worked because of the boys’ charisma and chemistry.  

We remembered every bit of Peter’s obscure dialogue, just like we did with the others When my boyfriend an I saw a sign directing us to go down the alley to a punk rock club, we looked at each other and said, “Down the alley?”, imitating Peter in “Monkees Blow Their Minds.” as he walked to the storefront of Oraculo, the charlatan mentalist. 

That episode, the second to last one broadcast, had Peter walking around as Oraculo’s catatonic assistant. Even in the last episode “Mijacogeo (The Frodis Caper),”, he spent much of the story catatonic again, this time from watching the Frodis eye on the TV.

Post TV Show, Pre-Reunion

When I was in college, a friend of mine had a framed photo of Peter on her dresser. I didn’t recognize him at first. He had long, unkempt hair and had a “Jesus” look. When she told me who it was I felt a tinge of sadness. Could this be our sweet, goofy Peter?

Peter was the first one to leave the Monkees. After the TV show ended, he
had a band called Release with his second wife, Reine Stewart, on drums. He played CBGBs and other rock clubs as a solo artist. None of his post-Monkees musical projects met with much success.   

The early ‘70s were a hard time to be an ex-Monkee. Micky was a hard-drinking Hollywood Vampire, along with his buddy Harry Nilsson.  He appeared in a few B movies, including the infamous “Night of the Strangler. Davy appeared on “The Brady Bunch” and released a bunch of nondescript singles.

Mike didn’t need to deal with it, though. He forged ahead as a country rock trailblazer before inspiring MTV with such projects as “Elephant Parts” and “Pop Clips”.   

This 1979 video shows Peter holding his own against a smarmy interviewer. (Only a guy this smart could play a convincing dummy.)

 Peter joined Dolenz, Jones, Boyce and Hart onstage at Disneyland in 1976, released singles that went nowhere, and played shows at CBGB’s and other clubs. (Chrissie Hynde, Joan Jett, and Tommy Ramone were allegedly present for some of the recording sessions, according to Wikipedia.)

Peter worked as a teacher, baseball coach, and even a waiter before the Monkees reformed in the ‘mid-80s, He was his bouncy, joke-cracking self on the “Win a Date with Peter Tork” skit on David Letterman’s Show in 1982.

The '80s and '90s

Peter and Davy toured Australia just before the official mid-1980s reunion, when MTV reruns reignited the Monkees’ fame. The Monkees made the covers of teen magazines -four 40-something guys competing with the likes of Duran Duran, Kirk Cameron and Corey Haim for a Tiger Beat cover. But this time it wasn’t so much about being heartthrobs as it was about being everyone’s kooky adopted uncles.

Mike rejoined joined briefly in the mid-90s, with the release of “Justus”, the 1997 TV special. He joined Peter, Micky and Davy for a handful of shows. The ‘90s version of the Monkees gets short shrift in the history of the band, but the album Justus had a few bright moments, including Peter’s song “Run Away From Life.”

His longest ongoing band, beside the Monkees was Shoe Suede Blues. Ever the rapscallion, he had a lot of fun with post-Monkees songs, like “Milkshake” (from  his 1994 solo album Stranger Things Have Happened and “Dress Sexy for Me” from 2002’s Saved by the Blues with Shoe Suede Blues.  

In 1996, Peter released the album “Two-Man Band” with James Lee Stanley, a collection of blues and acoustic numbers that Allmusic.com selected as an Album Pick. 


Peter was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer of the salivary glands in 2009 After successful surgery, he continued touring with Mike, Davy and Micky.

Davy’s passing took everyone by surprised. The 2012 tour was a heartfelt tribute to Davy and Mike’s return to the stage with as a Monkee.  Micky was the consummate show biz professional, Mike had a dry sense of humor, and Pete was the quirky, sensitive one.  
In 2013, Peter went on a solo tour where he reminisced about the Monkees and his career and played an acoustic set (with lots of his trademark banjo.)  He performed lesser-known and unreleased songs, such as Come on In.

During an interview to promote the album Good Times! and 2016's 50th anniversary tour, Peter teared up when mentioning Davy. They’ve removed the video from the CBS YouTube channel, but here's an article based on the interview. 

Davy and Peter two were the sensitive, sweet ones, even in real life. Peter’s difficulties seemed to be encapsulated in one span of time in the ‘70s, Davy’s hard times were scattered on throughout the decades. (Read his book “They Made a Monkee Out of Me” for more details.) 

 In an interview with the St. Petersburg Times in 2000, Peter remarked that “Micky's the best pal, but my heart connection is biggest with Davy. Davy is capable of as much heart as anyone I've ever met. I kind of had a crush on Davy for a while.”

After the 2016 tour, Peter played occasional shows with Shoe Suede Blues and made personal appearances at fan conventions with Micky.  He released his last album with Shoe Suede Blues, “Relax Your Mind”, a tribute to Leadbellly, in 2018. It included a musical appearance by his brother, Nick Thorkelson  (Nick is a cartoonist and illustrator by trade.)

Peter  always had a few creative surprises up his sleeve, even in his golden years.In 2015, he composed "Moderato ma non troppoa" a classical piece for piano and orchestra, which was performed by the Orchestra Kentucky of Bowling Green, Kentucky. In a total non-sequitur move, he acted in a 2017 indie horror movie called“I Filmed your Death”.

He stopped by The Institute for The Musical Arts in Goshen, Massachusetts in 2010, and played a set to raise funds for the non-profit. IMA is dedicated to helping girls and women succeed in the music business. The IMA was established by June Millington of the rock group Fanny and Ann F. Hackler. 

Peter sang lead vocals for “Angels We Have Heard on High” for the Monkees “Christmas Party” album, which was released in October 2018. You could hear in his voice that something was seriously wrong. The song is Peter’s last released recording.

People can contribute to The Institute for The Musical Arts’ scholarship fund in Peter’s name, per his family's wishes. Read more about IMA here.


Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Book Review: Beat Me Til I'm Famous by Billy McCarthy

If you’ve read Motley Crue’s The Dirt or seen the Penelope Spheeris documentary The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years, you probably have a good idea what it was like to be in a hair metal band in L.A. in the late ‘80s.

But you didn’t learn about the day to day drudgery, desperation, and infighting that the struggle for a record contract entailed.

Billy McCarthy’s Beat Me Til I’m Famous follows the career of a third-tier (or fourth-tier, depending on your criteria) hair metal band called D’Molls. McCarthy was the band’s drummer, and he went by the name Billy Dior. The book offers a blow-by-blow description of what it was like to be in a hometown band (or bands), and finagle your way out of the Midwest to make in big in mid/late 1980s L.A.

McCarthy joined the D’Molls in the mid-'80s in Chicago, and they soon moved to L.A. to vie for a recording contract with hundreds of other bands. By the time they signed to Atlantic Records, the public’s appetite for guys with big hair and makeup who sang about sluts was fading. And, of course, there were the usual management and record company screw-ups that added to the band's bad fortune.

The side characters in Beat Me Til I’m Famous are often as interesting as the main players. There’s Rodney’ Dangerfield’s songwriter son, Brian, various shady record company people, managers, groupies, professional rock star girlfriends, sneaky, cutthroat band members, drug dealers, and pushy hangers-on. In fame-hungry Hollywood, there was always someone willing to give a band money and a place to crash, and hope to get a piece of the action if the band made it.

Beat Me Til I’m Famous captures the sleazy minutiae of the hair metal era with an intelligence and self-awareness you wouldn’t expect to find from someone in that scene. 

In 2011, McCarthy sued Poison over authorship of "Talk Dirty to Me" and some other songs. The D’Molls Wiki entry says the lawsuit was settled with McCarthy receiving an “undeclared sum”, but this is the only mention I’ve found online about any settlement. (McCarthy played in a band called Screamin’ Mimis with C.C. Deville  in 1984.)

Buy Beat Me Til I'm Famous on Amazon.com

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Book Review: Surviving Agent Orange: And Other Things I Learned From Being Thrown Under the Partridge Family Bus By Gretchen Bonaduce

Surviving Agent Orange: And Other Things I Learned From Being Thrown Under the Partridge Family Bus
by Gretchen Bonaduce
Rare Bird Books,  264 pages

Most people recognize Gretchen Bonaduce from the reality series “Breaking Bonaduce” with her ex-husband, ex-child star, and current DJ Danny Bonaduce. Her new book, Surviving Agent Orange: And Other Things I Learned From Being Thrown Under the Partridge Family Bus summarizes the good, the bad and the ugly from her 16 year long marriage to the erratic redhead.

Gretchen met Danny when she was a promotions assistant for one of the guests on his radio show in Phoenix. A day (or so) later, they were married in a civil ceremony. They toasted their new life together with champagne from a local 7-11.

 Shortly after the wedding, Danny managed to encounter and assault a tranny prostitute.  Well, Gretchen stayed with Danny even after this snafu. It didn’t take long, however, before Danny’s crack addiction became evident (Pieces of aluminum foil started appearing around the house, for example). And we all know the trail of shenanigans that followed until the couple divorced in 2007.

Why did Gretchen stick with Danny so long? (Remember, he was always an on-again, off-again pain in the ass with everyone.) Gretchen admits that she always seemed to attract men who were fixer-uppers, and Danny was the most challenging fixer-upper of all. 

 A few people I know refused to read this book because it has a suspicious subtitle  “And Other Things I Learned From Being Thrown Under the Partridge Family Bus”,  but would anyone read the book if  it had a boring title like” My Life with Danny Partridge?”

 The author’s self-deprecating humor and earthy take on life can be refreshing. She writes about a TV director who critiqued her acting ability by saying,“That was the most unnatural walking through the door I’ve ever seen.”

 There are bits in the book about Gretchen’s pre and post Danny life, and some of them are pretty funny, too. She had a stint as a bar band singer and worked a day job at a Pizza Hut between gigs. There’s also a heartbreaking bit about an ex-roommate whose life spiraled out of control, and a section about Gretchen’s early life as an Army Brat.     

It’s been almost a decade since the chaos of Breaking Bonaduce and the divorce, and both Danny and Gretchen are doing pretty well.  Danny has remarried and has a radio show in Seattle. Gretchen is the singer for a 1980s cover band, Fatal 80s, and has worked on several reality TV shows and pilots.

Bonaduce’s writing style is stream of consciousness, like conversing with a friend who has lots of funny stories and can’t wait to tell you all of them. The book doesn’t have a straightforward chronological framework and skips around occasionally. Some readers may find this casual style disconcerting.   

Another reality show star, former “Top Model” Adrianne Curry wrote the introduction.  She refers to Gretchen as the “Mother Teresa of Hollywood” and credits her with helping her through her divorce from her first husband, Brady Bunch actor Christopher Knight. (Curry left showbiz and now lives in Montana with her second husband, voiceover artist Matthew Rhode.)

Despite the sub-title, Surviving Agent Orange is no hatchet job. It’s pretty even-keeled, and alternates between complimenting Danny’s good points and exposing his devious side. Danny often credited Gretchen with putting him on the road to redemption, both on-air and in his 2001 autobiography,  Random Acts of Badness.

For its honesty and humor,  Surviving Agent Orange: is a fun read for anyone who is curious about Danny Bonaduce, the Partridge Family, wacky B-list celebrities, or any dispatches from the outer edge of pop culture .

Buy the book here.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Why Do So Many People Hate the Eagles?

Some of the most hated rock groups of all time are also the most loved. People can’t hate you unless they know you, and they’re not gonna know you unless you’re successful. Look at that modern-day phenomenon, Nickelback. Many people who have never heard Nickelback’s music know that they are the most hated band of the 21st Century.

Even after Glenn Frey passed away, many writers couldn’t help but lambaste the Eagles as the most hated successful band of the 20th Century.

Yacht Rock is hip now,so how can Eagles music be “horrific”, as a NY Daily News article described it after Frey’s death? “Hotel California” is more horrific as compared to what, “Feelings” or “Afternoon Delight”, two other songs that shared the chart with Eagles hits in the mid-70s ?

People hate the Eagles because:

  • Songs are overplayed
  • An unlikable duo helmed the band (Henley and Frey)
  • Songs are too wimpy
  • It’s hip to hate them, gives you street cred
  • Lebowski hated them 
The popularity of the “The Big Lebowski” was the deal-breaker that turned the public reaction to the band from, “They’re OK,” or “Meh” to “I hate the Eagles, man.”

But a lot of music fans aren’t quite as cynical. Marc Eliot’s beautifully written article about Glenn Frey’s passing reminds us that youth has long gone for fans who liked the band and their music in the ‘70s. ( Read Eliot's book "To The Limit: The Untold Story of the Eagles" for an in-depth look at the band.)

YouTube commenters tend to come up with the most poignant assessments, though, as Baby Boomers move closer to that Great Gig in the Sky.

“Makes a grown man cry... Everyone is so happy. Everyone in the building is young, in their prime, and full of life. I wish every day could be half as perfect as these moments.”

Imagine the World Before Sirius, the Internet, MTV or Walkmans!

I can’t listen to the ballads, because like everyone else, I heard them too many times in the ‘70s. Even though I haven’t heard some of the songs for decades, I still get out of earshot when I hear one start to play. Everybody bought Eagles records in the ‘70s, which meant your irritating, non-musical classmates and co-workers, including the squarest of the square, counted the Greatest Hits 71-75 among their albums.

I bought the single “The Best of My Love” in high school, but I listened to the flipside, “Ole 55” instead.

Despite being crazy about bands as a teen, my friends and I never got into the Eagles that way. We didn’t care about their personalities, looks, etc., just the music. I studied the Hotel California gatefold sleeve with my friend Mary, (before we made fun of my John Travolta album and after I proudly introduced her to the Runaways’ first album).  We did like Joe Walsh, however. He was the only animated person in the band, and we appreciated his sense of humor and hotel-trashing skills.

I was particularly intrigued by the lyrics to “Life in the Fast Lane” and wrote a novel based on it in my senior year of high school. Thankfully, the only manuscript I had is long gone now, but it would have fit right in with the exploitation flick craze of the 70s/early 80s.

You think “Take It Easy” is overplayed on classic rock radio now? Ha! Were you even alive in 1972? I was. The summer between sixth and seventh grade holds many fond memories for me.  I identify it with that transitional period in my life, so I like the song, no matter how many times I hear it. (The song reached #12 on the Billboard  Top 100 in July 1972.) The Eagles songs were popular when I was in junior high and high school, and their music just happened to be everywhere.

However, Eagles songs don’t rate that high on the list of the offensively overplayed. “Take It Easy” is number 19 on this list. The worst offenders, to my ears, are “Black Water,” “Old Time Rock n Roll”, “Stairway to Heaven”, and “Don’t Stop Believing”. Enough already!

  On my Bucket List: A trip to Standin’ on the Corner Park

In the ‘90s, I watched the Hell Freezes Over tour on MTV. I was more interested in hearing the Henley solo songs, but I did watch the whole concert. I didn’t know, however, that the band included original material on the Hell Freezes Over album. I also had no idea the Eagles released an album in 2007 – sold exclusively at Walmart!  

Eagles Songs I Listen to On Purpose

Rock and Rock-ish

Witchy Woman
Outlaw Man
Already Gone
James Dean
Victim of Love
Too Many Hands
Those Shoes


The Last Resort
King of Hollywood
Try and Love Again


Doolin Dalton
Seven Bridges Road

 If You Never Heard It before, You’d Like It

Hotel California
Life in the Fast lane
Take It Easy
I Can’t Tell You Why
Take It to the Limit
Tequila Sunrise

With all the emphasis radio and mainstream media place on just a handful of songs, it’s probably been years since you’ve heard “Outlaw Man” or “James Dean” and maybe decades since you’ve heard “Too Many Hands”.  

“Witchy Woman” hit #9 on the charts in November 1972, and it was played almost as much as “Take It Easy”. It had that sinister vibe which was intriguing to a junior high girl. It’s the closest the band had to a sexy song. Ugh! I said Eagles and sexy in the same sentence.

Waiting for Randy Meisner to hit that high note on “Take It to The Limit” or Timothy B. Schmidt on “I Can’t Tell You Why” is a lot more pleasant than listening to “Best of My Love”  yet again. 

Also, “Desperado”, later covered by Linda Ronstadt, is dismissed as country rock tripe by idiots who don’t listen to the lyrics.


I read Don Felder’s book, and he comes off as a really thoughtful guy. Of course, he seemed too nice and a bit of a push-over in some situations (well, that is until he sued them), but when you’re up against Azoff/Henley/Frey, you don’t have much bargaining power. One non-lawsuit subplot in the book involves a male stalker and is a reminder that weird, overzealous fans can make life hell for even less-conspicuous celebrities. 

The facts, as laid out in Felder’s book, state that the band had an agreement in the early days wherein monies would be split between the members equally.  Of course, then things changed, as Henley remarked in the History of the Eagles. The fact that there was a pesky legal document in the way was a minor inconvenience, and Azoff took care of it, with only Felder putting up a fight. 

This brings to mind the same situation that occurred when Van Halen cut Michael Anthony out of their original agreement. Once the band reached a certain point, the main songwriters figured they should get a bigger slice of the pie, regardless of any agreements made at the beginning of the band’s career.

The Eagles’ business choices may not endear them to many people, though. Here’s an entertaining bit from Letterman, where Dave wants to play an Eagles song but the show can’t afford it.

As I look back, I’ve always been more interested in “New York Minute” and other Henley solo songs than Eagles songs because of the lyrics. Yes, the lyrics are more mainstream than New York intellectual, but more haunting because of their simplicity. “Sunset Grill”, “Boys of Summer”, “I Will Not Go Quietly” are undisputedly well-crafted and poignant. I wore out my cassette of The End of the Innocence in ’89 and ’90.

I managed to make it all the way through a Youtube video of Billy Joel interviewing Henley at the 92nd Street Y. A few minutes in, I thought, “Ya know, Henley has so much Virgo in his chart, it’ll make your head swim." I checked his horoscope and yes, his Ascendant and Moon are in Virgo and he has three planets in moody Cancer.  Frey had his Sun in Scorpio (like you couldn’t tell from his facial features) and Moon in Capricorn. That’s a match made in hell if you’re on the wrong side of the twosome. And I don’t even want to know Azoff’s chart.

Henley made a comment about seeing a Lawrence Welk concert as a kid. He said he saw Welk backstage with two groupies – nuns. His delivery and expression were so deadpan it took me awhile before I realized it was a joke. It’s hard to tell with those Virgos. Roger Waters is another classic rock Virgo (Sun sign and Venus) who is not known for his rollicking sense of humor.

The Eagles in 2018 consist of Henley, Walsh, Timothy B. Schmidt, Travis Tritt and Frey’s son, Deacon. 

The band (such as they are) will be playing three nights at the Forum in September. Ticket prices range from $59 for nosebleed seats to $700 for main floor, according to a recent look at Ticketmaster and StubHub.

Verdict: No, the Eagles aren’t horrific. Bland maybe, when compared with some of their overplayed contemporaries. (Which group has more interesting songs/personalities, Fleetwood Mac or the Eagles?) Try listening to one of their lesser known songs if you can’t stand the overplayed ones. Don’t be afraid. You won’t lose your coolness factor by listening to a few Eagles songs.