Sunday, December 29, 2013

From the Archives: Starz - 1970s Hard Rock/ Power Pop

This article was first published in 2001 on

The weathered newspaper clipping still sits in my file cabinet back home – a review of a rock show at the Aargon Ballroom in Chicago in 1977.  The featured bands  consisted of four relatively unknown acts. Angel, Starz, the Runaways and Piper. Piper was fronted by Billy Squire, (we all know what happened to him) , the Runaways were a training ground for Lita, Joan and Cherie, and Angel copied Kiss' costume shtick, except they dressed all in white. All of the acts provided their own brand of  sleazy ‘70s hard rock. It could be said that each had a gimmick. In the Runaways case they were teenage girls (female bands were considered a "gimmick" at the time), Angel had their costumes and fog machine, and Starz, well, they really didn’t have a gimmick unless you counted singer Michael Lee Smith’s lips and pouty demeanor. (A curious sidenote- Michael Lee was teenie bopper idol Rex’s brother) The controversy over their song “Pull The Plug”, a bluesy, sexy song about euthanasia,  got them a lot of mainstream press.

The band consisted of Smith, guitarist Richie Ranno, drummer Joe Dube, bassist Pete Swerval, and guitarist Brendan Harkin. (Swerval and Harkin were replaced by Orville Davis and Bobby Messano, respectively, on Starz’ last studio album.) Visually, Starz were not far removed from the hair bands that proliferated a few years after their demise.  

Their songs were likable in a '70s AOR kind of way – Detroit Girls, Live Wire, Night Crawler capitalized on the preening lead singer sex appeal in vogue at the time, a precursor to the hair band explosion to come. A band like Starz would have fit right in with any of the Poisons and Bon Jovis of the mid/late 1980s.The Starz albums produced by Jack Douglas did not deviate much from this formula. With the exception of their third album, Attention, Shoppers, which temporarily abandoned Kiss-like guitar machinations for a brighter, self-produced pop sound, all Starz’ albums were cut from the same “party all night” cloth. Coliseum Rock, the bands last shot at stardom, flopped, despite good, solid rock songs like So Young, So Bad and Take Me.

Although garnering little airplay and no kudos from critics, the band had a loyal underground following right up to their break-up in 1980. A great retrospective is Brightest Starz:Anthology, released by England’s Heavy Metal Records. The 1970s Starz albums have been rereleased on Metal Blade. Founder Brian Slagel is a Starz fan, as are Tom Kiefer of Cinderella and Jon Bon Jovi. The band still performs, in various permutations, across the U.S.

The band's self-titled debut and their second album, Violation, are included on Kerrang's list of the Top 100 Heavy Metal  Albums of All-Time.

Related links:

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Memories of Christmas Past : Mid-Century Christmas Decorations

                                                        Retro aluminum Christmas tree

With Black Friday behind us, it's now time to concentrate on more pleasant holiday activities. Whether you're buying a fresh tree from the lot across town or setting up the fake evergreen branches from a box, trimming the tree signals the true joy of Christmas. Decorations are a creative outlet and a lot more fun than racking up credit card bills for relatives your barely know.

The most famous fictional Christmas trees of the 20th century - Charlie Brown's lonely little tree with the droopy branch, is now recreated as a bendable plastic tree from several outlets. And Charlie's tree is just one of the examples of a trend favoring vintage, mid-century holiday decorations.

Some people use the terms vintage and antique to refer to any old Christmas decoration or other collectible, but the words aren't interchangeable. According to Palmer Pekarek, Director of Communications for Ruby Lane Antiques, in an e-mail interview I conducted with him last week, "A vintage item is any item that is at least 20 years old. An Antique, per US Guidelines, is an item that is a minimum of 100 years old." That Rage Against the Machine T-shirt you got at Lollapalooza '93? - vintage. Feel old yet?

An eBay search for 1950s and 1960s Christmas items finds abstract paintings and advent calendars, punchbowls with mistletoe and holly painted on them and choirboy candles. People of a certain age will remember cheesy plastic popcorn Santa and reindeer wall plaques. Grandma hung them in the window. The plaques were made of melted plastic scrunched into popcorn-sized pieces stuck together to form a genial looking Santa and his doe-eyed reindeer.

                                         1960s Christmas Ornaments/Pic Courtesey Ruby Lane Vintage
Kitschy plaques aren't the most beloved mid-century decorations, but others are more popular with collectors. "Simple vibrant Christmas bulbs are always in demand on Ruby Lane. Vintage holiday decor items are also popular on the Ruby Lane site," Pekarek notes. Some items are tougher to find than others. "Highly sought after vintage plastic light-up holiday decorations are very difficult to find in good condition," he adds.

With so many reproductions on the market, buyers need to be aware of the difference between imitations and authentic mid-century decorations. "The key indicator is at the top of the decoration - the hanging hardware," Pekarek says, "The hanging hardware on authentic mid-century decorations are made of steel or brass. Reproductions often use stainless steel hanging hardware. Look at the paint used in the decoration. Decorations manufactured in the 1950s and 1960s often use paint that has pieces of metal alloy in it. Thus, authentic mid-century decorations often look a little more dull in luster than reproductions."

You can occasionally find shimmering aluminum Christmas trees on eBay, one of the most recognizable decorations from days past. Vermont Country Store even offers a modern tabletop version for apartment dwellers. The silver Reynolds wrap like shards glittered up living rooms with clear plastic covered couches and console stereos in the 1960s. The trees were commonly decorated with bright red satin ornaments and a pink or red spotlight illuminated the tree as it rotated.

Christmas lights framed all the windows in the house, except for the bathroom. Sturdy, bright reds and blue bulbs encased in green plastic holders were strung along the front room window, eaves and even the evergreen trees on the front lawn. Small, pastel colored lights in clear plastic holders outlined our bedroom windows. On January 2nd, Dad took the lights down. He'd store them in a box in the basement and brought them back out every Christmas for 15 years. Only two bulbs burnt out in all that time.

                                                    Holiday planter/Pic courtesy Ruby Lane Vintage
 Today's sophisticated Christmas decorations are made of safer materials, and just about any premise can be turned into an ornament, (NY taxi drivers, Las Vegas showgirls, cacti, etc), but the homespun warmth of mid-century holiday decor lives on in our hearts. And judging by the number of retro-style decorations offered by retailers including Target, Pottery Barn, K-Mart and craftsellers like Etsy, consumers of all ages are looking to add some of that mid-century charm for their holiday.

What are some of your favorite childhood Christmas decorations? Answer in the comment section.

See more vintage Christmas decorations from Ruby Lane on their Pinterest page

Monday, September 30, 2013

From the Archives: DVD Review: Trilogy of Terror

This review was originally published on in 2006. R.I.P. Karen Black.

Made for TV movies from the 1970s were fertile ground for schlock, horror and the occasional eccentric masterpiece. From Linda Blair being raped with a broom handle in Born Innocent to Bad Ronald to occult movies like Satan's School For Girls and Race With the Devil, made for TV movies have earned a fond place in the hearts of pop culture geeks.

One of the most notorious
made for TV horror movies wasn't a full film, but the last story in Trilogy Of Terror, a 1975 film produced by Dark Shadows creator Dan Curtis and starring quirky, underrated screen icon Karen Black. Ms. Black has appeared in some legendary films (Five Easy Pieces, The Great Gatsby, Easy Rider), but one of her most offbeat and gripping roles co-starred a wild-eyed Zuni fetish doll, not an actor.

The first two segments of Trilogy of Terror dim by comparison to the final one. The introductory vignette, Julie, casts Black as a prim and proper college English teacher who has an affair with one of her students, (played by Robert Burton, Black's husband at the time.) For most of the story, the student is a blackmailing date rapist and Julie is the victim, but there's a macabre twist at the end.

Millicent and Therese
features Black in a dual role as sisters. The repressed Millicent chronicles the sins of evil, slutty sister Therese in her diary. The physical transformation Black achieves as Millicent is amazing, one of the most extreme examples of the spinster ever committed to film. These episodes, written by William Nolan, who later co-wrote Burnt Offerings, (which also starred Black), are taut but predictable psychological horror.

While both of these stories were passable entertainment in 1975, they wouldn't even merit a blink now. The final story in the trilogy, adapted for the screen by Richard Matheson from his story, Prey, is the crème de la crème of made for TV horror, and one of Black's most infamous roles. Amelia begins with Black on the phone with her annoying mother, describing a Zuni fetish doll she's just bought for her anthropologist boyfriend. And this is one angry, fugly doll. I doubt all the
CGI experts at today's studios could conjure up such a demonic doll, even with all the technical shortcuts at their disposal. A modern-day icon like Chuckie pales in comparison to our Zuni friend. The tiny terror, equipped with a spear and razor-sharp teeth, comes with a scroll that warns the warrior's soul will escape if the chain around its waist is removed. You guessed it, Amelia walks away for a minute and when she returns the chain has fallen off and the doll is nowhere to be found. It reappears reanimated and ready to slice and dice hapless Amelia. The manic fight between Amelia and the doll that follows is one of the most frightening sequences in any horror film released in the 1970s. Hell, ask anyone who watched Trilogy Of Terror when it was first broadcast and they'll tell you about the sleepless night that followed. The chilling final shot, where Amelia has assumed the spirit-and the sharp-toothed pose-of the Zuni doll as she waits for her mother to arrive, was not in the original script. In the featurette, Three Colors Black, we learn that Black suggested the ending, fangs and all. An interview with writer Richard Matheson and a full audio commentary track for the film by Black and William F. Nolan are included as special features.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Music Review: Steve Hooker : Smokin' Guitar

The back cover blurb of Smokin Guitar by Steve Hooker (Pimphouse).
 warns prospective listeners:

“Rockin’ Music will get into your panties and may induce lewd behavior, nudity and swearing” And they’re not kidding! This short but sultry collection of rockabilly tunes is definitely designed for after-hours rendezvous and dance floor boogie.

 Hooker is a veteran of the rockabilly, blues and pub rock circuit. He began his career as a ’77 punker with the Heat. He then turned his talents to rockabilly and R & B with Shakers in ’82, establishing his raunchy, blues-infused guitar style. During the ensuing decades, he’s shared the stage with Wilko Johnson, Chuck Berry, Robert Gordon, Johnny Thunders and Steve Marriot, among others.

Still going strong in 2013, Hooker’s latest effort Smokin’ Guitar lives up to its name. Hooker and his Stripped Down Stompin’ Band blast through seven originals and a shakin redo of Inez and Charlie Foxx’s “Mockingbird.” The instrumental “Wolf Farm” opens the CD with  a thunderous crash and boogie reminiscent of Link Wray. This is bare-bones rockabilly at its best. The raspy vocals on “Gospel Ground” complement the track’s down ‘n’ dirty guitar; the rollicking “Devil I Know” tells the feisty tale of a woman out to have fun on the sly. “Mockingbird (Shine Eye Alternate)” has local blues belter Dee Shine Eye trading verses with Hooker on the 1960s soul classic.

Smokin Guitar ends with the straightforward riffs of another instrumental, "Wicked Blues".
You can buy a copy of Smokin Guitar through

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

More Made for TV Madness from the '70s - Nightmare in Badham County

Nightmare in Badham County

ABC TV movie

100 minutes

Original Airdate May 11, 1976.

Nightmare in Badham County is a disturbing and surprisingly well-made TV movie, first broadcast on ABC in 1976. Equal parts thriller, social commentary and exploitation flick, Badham County had more going for it than sleaze and T & A. It. featured compelling lead actresses, a stable of well-loved TV stars moonlighting as sleazy villains and a gritty, unsettling ambiance.

UCLA coeds Diane Emery (Lynne Moody) and Kathy Phillips (Deborah Raffin) are driving cross country when their car breaks down in  the Deep South. A kindly old African-American man stops to help them, but before they can drive off with a repaired tire, racist Sheriff Danen (Chuck Connors) drives past. The fact that Diane is black and Kathy is white doesn’t sit well with Danen. That’s when the nightmare begins.  The corrupt sheriff has the girls take in their car for some unnecessary repairs, and through help from a sleazy gas station attendant and a corrupt judge; the girls are sentenced to 30 days hard labor at a hellish prison camp.

Diane and Kathy are separated in the camp, which divides barracks by race.  Kathy befriends a young girl Emmeline ( Kim Wilson ) who  later meets  a bad end at the hands of sleazy Superintendent  Dancer (Robert Reed). Like the villainous sheriff,  Dancer gets away with his evil deeds due to political connections. Both Reed and Connors went on to play similarly despicable characters in the mini-series Roots.

The producers tacked on nude scenes and more explicit violence to release the film overseas. Badham County became such a cult hit in China that Raffin visited the country and became an unofficial Goodwill Ambassador for Hollywood. She helped arrange for Chinese films to be shown in America and vice versa.  

The tension throughout Badham County never abates. The girls attempt to escape or reach someone on the outside several times, but everyone in town is in cahoots with (or afraid of) the town’s crooked lawmen and polticos.

Diane makes one particularly daring attempt to escape with nail-biting results for the viewer.  Jo Heims’ script is full of twists and turns befitting a more “respectable” subject.  Director John Llewellyn Moxey lends the same foreboding air to Badham County as he did to his more famous films Horror Hotel and Night Stalker.

In the politically incorrect 1970s , TV movies didn’t  resolve all storylines in a neat little bow, and even some sympathetic lead characters suffered grim fates. Nightmare in Badham County was no exception.  There’s a glimmer of hope at the end, but not without tragedy.

While not the sleaziest of the women in chains genre, it does have its moments. A catfight out in the fields ends up with a water hose turned on the prisoners and a few of the girls are ogled as they serve drinks to the rich townsfolk at an outdoor party. Tina Louise, as nasty prison guard Greer, is the antithesis of Gilligan Island’s glamorous Ginger. She shows no mercy to any of the girls, stripping down a prisoner and beating her during a bed check. The other female guards Dulcie (Fionnula Flanagan) and Smitty (Lana Wood), are just as vicious. Smitty coerces a frail inmate into sex in. exchange for food in one scene. This isn’t all  modern day, airbrushed pseudo-lesbian erotica – it’s really grim,  more frightening  than titillating. 

Raffin was nominated for an Emmy for her work.I thought Moody gave the better performance - much more subtle and realistic. Raffin overacted quite a bit, especially near the end of the film.

A watchable combination of story and sleaze, Nightmare in Badham County is one of many lost made for TV gems from the 1970s. You can buy Nightmare as part of the 8-Movie Pack Man-Cave at Amazon. 

The uncut version (NSFW) is available on YouTube

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Book Review: Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Heavy Metal by Jon Wiederhorn and Katheine Turman

Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal 
Jon Wiederhorn and Katherine Turman
736 pages
IT Books/HarperCollins

Louder Than Hell is the ultimate heavy metal reference book, as told through the musicians themselves, plus assorted managers, journalists, roadies, groupies and hangers-on. Divided into thirteen chapters that cover all metal genres including proto-metal (Stooges, Blue, Cheer, Steppenwolf), New Wave of British Heavy Metal (Ironmaiden, Def Leppard, etc.), mainstream “hair” metal, thrash metal, death metal,  black metal and even industrial, which is often left out of journalism on the subject.

Compiled from over 400 interviews and other research conducted by veteran rock journalists Jon Wiederhorn (senior writer for metal mag Revolver) and Katherine Turman, producer of Alice Cooper’s Nights with Alice Cooper, syndicated radio show, Louder Than Hell is a first-hand account of the good, bad and ugly of heavy metal history.

Everything’s here, from tales of the lean days eating Ramen and working telemarketing jobs to the drug and alcohol addictions that almost ended bands - and lives.

All the sex, drugs, alcohol, infighting, and violence are included in detail. So you get to hear everything you’ve always wanted to know (and even some TMI stuff) from the participants themselves.

Interviewees included Lemmy, Alice Cooper, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, Rob Halford, Ozzy Osbourne, Axl Rose, Slash, Rob Zombie, Trent Reznor, Vince Neil, Lars Ulrich, Lita Ford, Courtney Love, Josh Homme, Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Dave Mustaine, Tony Iommi, Dee Snider, Ronnie James Dio, Phil Anselmo, Eddie Van Halen, Dave Grohl, Daryl Jenifer, Mike Muir, et al.

 Here’s just a sample of some of the revelations:

 -The proto-metal chapter examines the origin of the phrase "heavy metal" as applied to music. In Chapter 2 Masters of Reality, we find out the great lengths Black Sabbath's Tony Iommi went to create fake fingertips so he could continue playing the guitar after several of his fingertips were chopped off in a factory accident.

-Sweet Connie (of Grand Funk’s “It’s an American Band” fame) is a trip. “I’ve blown Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson," she says, "but I have not had Neil Peart. That I regret, but Peart doesn’t give it up very easily.” 

- Did Ozzy really bite the head off a dove? What really happened to the chicken a fan threw onstage at an Alice Cooper concert? Ozzy and Alice reveal the truth behind these notorious events.

- Pussy passes did exist. They’re not an urban legend. (Said passes were issued to girls who serviced the road crew and/or others in order to get backstage).

Once the happy-go-lucky hedonism of hair metal waned, violence and the occult took top billing in the metal scene. The post ‘80s genres are full of brutal stories, including the murder of black metal musician Euronymous by Count Grishnakh, another Norwegian black metal musician, various deaths and disfigurements in the mosh pits and the addition of raw meat as a stage show prop (Type O-Negative, Deicide). This is not to say thrash and crossover/hardcore bands didn’t have groupies. Evan Seinfeld showed Gene Simmons his groupie porn photo album and Gene’s face was “somewhere between shock, disbelief, envy and disgust all at the same time.”

Those tidbits barely scratch the surface. Louder than Hell is required reading for metal fans. 

Saturday, April 27, 2013

You Can't Get it on DVD, Made for TV Edition: House on Greenapple Road

The Quinn Martin produced House on Greenapple Road demonstrates three of the made for TV genre’s strong points at their finest. - great acting, tight script and cinematography that adds to the emotional as well as visceral quality of the story.  

Greenapple Road is a detective thriller that will keep you riveted to the screen because you want to find out “who done it.” It will keep you and your friends debating the murderer’s identity throughout the entire movie – and there’s a good chance you’ll keep changing your mind a few times during the film.

In The House on Greenapple Road, the search for a missing mother and housewife in a small California town called Santa Luisa exposes an extramarital affair, doomed love and a woman’s search for eternal youth. The housewife in question, Marian Ord, is played by Psycho star Janet Leigh. Marian's character doesn’t do much for most of the film, which is told in flashback. She wears a one-piece bathing suit, calls out her disrespectful lovers, and looks doe-eyed into the camera. Marian isn't the stereotypical promiscuous housewife, as her affairs never seem to bring her much joy or relieve her fear of getting older.

The film begins with Marian’s daughter ( the Brady Bunch’s Eve Plumb) returning home after a day at school to find no sign of her mom and one messed-up, bloody kitchen. She runs next door to seek comfort with her Aunt Leona  (Julie Harris).

Detective Dan August (Christopher George) and his partner Charles Wiltenz (Keenan Wynn) arrive on the scene. The murder scene has a lotta blood for a 1970 movie. August and Wiltenz even discuss the number of pints of blood in the human body, surmising that no one could have survived such a brutal attack. The detectives schlep around the kitchen procuring evidence without latex gloves. Watch out for those bloody pieces of china! Cops didn’t handle crime scenes delicately circa 1970, on film or in real life.

After a little snooping around in the bedroom, August finds some photos of Marian’s paramours hidden under a dresser drawer. And so the murder investigation begins, with Marian’s secret lovers and her long-suffering husband as the primary suspects. 

There’s the lifeguard turned gas station attendant (Burr DeBenning), who  plays Benjamin to Marion’s Mrs. Robinson, the rich sports club bigwig (William Windom) and his suspicious wife (Joanne Linville),  the leader of a New Age type church, and a  locally-infamous con artist (Peter Mark Richman), who has previously  crossed paths with Detective August.

Her milquetoast husband George (Tim O’ Connor), a salesman, is away most of the time, leaving Marian to seek affection elsewhere. George is the most obvious suspect to everyone except August, who sees much more than a case of cuckolded husband and cheating wife. When one of his alibis doesn’t check out, the investigation spins in a new direction. 

August and Wilteenz encounter a salty old sailor (Paul Fix) and a pot-smoking receptionist played by Christopher George’s wife, billed here as Lynda-Day. After retrieving Day’s character at a pot-smoking party at Big Bear, Wynn’s character, comments “The drive back took 3 hours and she’s still lit up.” (That musta been some good grass!) Greenapple’s cast included Walter Pidgeon as Santa Luisa’s mayor, and Ed Asner as a publicity hungry Sheriff who is only interested in apprehending the murderer quickly, with or without sufficient evidence. 

Based on a novel by Harold R. Daniels, Greenapple Road was so well-received it spawned the short-lived Dan August TV series. The 1970-71 CBS series starred Burt Reynolds, since George was too busy with other projects at the time. 

The few violent scenes in Greenapple Road are intense for a 1970 made for TV movie. Some sources say the  film was originally shot as a theatrical feature, so that may explain some of the graphic subject matter. Although a tightly-woven detective thriller, the movie has little blips dealing with racism, sexual hypocrisy and child predators.

 House on Greenapple Road is available on You Tube, and from a few Intenet sellers of rare videos.  A nail-biting whodunit with many surprise twists and turns, it t will keep you hooked until the final scene. House on Greenapple Road was broadcast as an ABC Movie of the Week on January 11th, 1970.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Music Review: Dime Runner: Race to Nowhere

Race to Nowhere
Dime Runner
Uh-Oh Records

Race to Nowhere is the latest album from Orange County, California punkers Dime Runner. This collection of  11 old-school punk songs combine  the spirit of ’77 with supercharged OC punk attitude.

There’s hardly a breather from the CD's opening riffs, as the title track barrels into your consciousness, the thumping bassline underscoring it all. This CD is 25 minutes of ultra-fast Ramones riffing, but there’s melody underneath - it’s not just a wall of rrrrwarrr. “It’s an Emergency” has a frenetic edge, obviously a result of influences like Broken Bottles and the Stitches.  Crisp, razor-fast guitar and snotty vocals abound through cuts like” Party Song”, the hardcore chant of “No Money, No Home”  and the dizzying amphetamine rush of “Tell Me What You Want.”    Race to Nowhere ends with an unexpected choice - a tasty cover of Joy Division's “Warsaw”.

Dime Runner formed in February 2011. This Fullerton-based band consists of  Brian Schickling (vocals), Rocky Rigs (guitar) Danny Drumkiller (drums, what else?) and Ryan Page (bass). They've  played gigs with Duane Peters’ Gunfight, Throw Rag and Guttermouth, and performed at the Punk Rock Picnic (on the same bill with Fear & Jello Biafra) Dime Runner has a bright future in the OC punk rock scene and beyond. The band's songs might be uber-short but they give you a lot to listen to. - and they’re designed to keep you moving, whether you’re at the club or listening at home.

Dime Runner is playing with the Darlings and the Blackerbys at Alex’s Bar on April 4th

Dime Runner's Facebook page

Saturday, February 02, 2013

From the Archives: A Bang, Not a Whimper: Marilyn Manson/Monster Magnet Concert Review, 1999

This review was published on in 2000. Funny, in 1999, I thought I was too old to go to rock concerts & now it's 2013 and I'm still going to concerts - well, maybe they're a tad more sedate than this one. Just a tad.

When you reach the age where you are, as Jethro Tull once espoused, you are too old to rock 'n' roll and too young to die what can you do? I say, if you're going out,waving the white flag, passing "Smoky Joe's Cafe" on the way to a reviewing a rock concert and thinking, sadly, that you'd rather be at a Broadway show (this actually happened) than at a concert, you know you're finally....old. I say, if you gotta go out, if you gotta cop to your geriatric status, go out with a BANG, not a whimper.

 Nashville Pussy/Monster Magnet/Marilyn Manson Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, N.Y. April 7,1999

 I'm at the age now where I feel stupid inviting people my age (39) to see bands that I really like - the music I listen to is just too bizarre-or LOUD-- for every person over 30 except me. It's kinda awkward to drag along the accountant I dated last week to a concert so he can have a heart attack when one of the performers (allegedly) commits some onstage atrocity. I don't have time to for a trip to the emergency room. The most overwhelming element of the night was the underwhelming amount of fans in attendance. What genius decided that two local NY arenas could be filled by said bands!! And this was announced when Hole was on the bill. There was nobody there. Not a soul in the balcony. A half filled main floor. Empty spaces in the mezzanine. It was pretty pathetic. You'd never ever guess this from all the Satan's minions publicity that actual, lauded music was involved- that two albums that had occupied many rock critics' Top Ten lists for 1998 ..pseudo Ziggy Stardust concept (MM #1) and old school hard rock more popular in Europe than America (MM #2) Even Nashville Pussy, the opening band, ( 2 girls, 2 guys, hyper-rock with a lot of dirty words) was nominated for a Grammy this year!

At the purist end of the spectrum, we have Monster Magnet, an Old School sex and drugs and rock n' roll biker band. Eschewing flashiness in favor of straight ahead rock, this New Jersey based band features guitarists who attack their instruments fervently, a singer with an attitude in black leather pants, strippers onstage for the final song, etc. If you were to leave samples of stoner rock in a time capsule for aliens and all eternity, this would be one of the representatives. This is what rock n' roll was like when I was sneaking Peppermint Schnapps into concerts at the "Arrogant Brawlroom" in Chicago...this is how it should be done more often.

So here we are-Marilyn Manson,the most vilified rock star/group in recent memory-in the South, local politicians go to great lengths to cancel impending concerts, one town even sponsoring an ordinance to ban him from the premises. Is MM really the pied piper for all things malevolent?

No, but he and his bandmates put on a helluva show. A concert of this magnitude is truly a cathartic experience. Once in awhile, it's fun to feel complete joy and abandonment at something insulting to the proper world, to indulge in a Beavis & Butthead moment, such as "He's on a cross and it's made of TV sets!. Look at.that mosquito outfit - it's so cool.". Costume changes in abundance,glitter, lights, fireworks, and fierce, non-stop riffs-you name it, our boy had it Although I spent half the show obsessed with the rumor that lip syncing was a definite possibility and that Marilyn isn't actually singing. But even if that's true, his raison d'etre is as a performer, not as an accomplished musician. And though his music is rarely discussed in the general media, (why talk about music when you can interview the latest protesting politician/religiouso and get a good sound bite for the ten o clock news?) the Mechanical Animals CD has some fantastic songs on it, including one anti-drug song Coma White and I Don't Like The Drugs (But The Drugs Like Me) Of course, we have to see his bare butt at every concert. Does anybody really want to see this EVER? Keyboards were roughed up-but no  major carnage occurred during this performance. Not to say that Marilyn, Twiggy,  etc. are Boy Scouts. A droll,smartass comment such as,. "In my world, Special K is a breakfast cereal. I will not be hanging out with the band", may be inserted here; however, these guys are way too smart to provide obituary fodder or write for the Betty Ford Clinic Newsletter anytime soon.

"Paging Satan. Satan, pick up the white courtesy telephone in the lobby". Paging Satan." Satan was not in attendance at this event. Maybe it was a slow night.. or maybe I don't have the observational gifts of a rural Mississippi preacher. And where are the evil, disenfranchised youth? Don't seem much different to me than when I was a kid, just a bunch of polite suburban kids in Goth garb. And there was less pot smoking than when I was in high school. I bet the copious security detail had more problems with stockbrokers at the hockey game the next night. Hey, it's not a rock band getting drunk and defecating on a drink cart in First Class...its your friendly neighborhood banker.* Some people might consider a guy on a cross (even one made of TV sets) blasphemous,or find it inappropriate for strippers to appear in front of mostly high school kids (see video below) or blanch at "motherf***er" being the most repeated word of the evening..So what do you consider satanic. Porno? The media? Bad Chinese take-out? It's like Mr. Manson himself says in one of his lyrics "Shock is all in your head..."

*This was an infamous news story at the time.

This encore of Spine of God that night was like a dream come true for me....a nightmare for sane people, perhaps, but a dream for moi.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Book Review: Mary Wells: The Tumultuous Life of Motown's First Superstar

Mary Wells: The Tumultuous Life of Motown’s First Superstar
By Peter Benjaminson
Chicago Review Press

Mary Wells, best known for her 1964 hit My Guy, was Motown’s first female superstar. Long before Diana Ross and the Supremes graced magazine covers and TV specials, Wells broke ground with her playful voice and good looks, before a serious of wrong turns dimmed her star.

Peter Benjaminson’s entertaining and thoroughly researched “Mary Wells: The Tumultuous Life of Motown’s First Superstar” (Chicago Review Press) details the Motown great’s life through archival research, interviews with her associates, friends, lovers-and, most notably, four hours of interviews recorded by journalist Steve Bergsman shortly before her death. Benjaminson, the author of two other books about Motown (“The Lost Supreme: The Life of Dreamgirl Florence Ballard” and “The Story of Motown”), handles Wells’ story with compassion. Despite all the twists and turns of her life, (including relationships with two of the Womack brothers), her post-Motown travails turn out to be as fascinating as her ascent to stardom.

Born into an impoverished Detroit family in 1943, Mary hardly knew her father. (She later said he was Sicilian, a claim that was never substantiated.) She sang in several local groups before cornering Berry Gordy at a club with her song Bye Bye Baby., which she wrote her for Jackie Wilson to sing. Gordy, however, was so impressed by her voice he had her record the song instead, and her career at Motown swung into full gear.

Competition from the Shirelles and other early ‘60s girl groups couldn’t end her reign. She held a firm grasp onto the Billboard pop and R & B charts between 1960 and 1964 with You Beat Me to the Punch, Two Lovers, The One Who Really Loves You and other catchy hits, many of them penned by Smokey Robinson. She recorded an album of duets with a newcomer named Marvin Gaye. The Temptations and Supremes occasionally sang backup for her and she traveled with an entourage.

“She stood for all the courage and perseverance that any female should need to enter into show business and have a place in it,” Martha Reeves of Martha and the Vandellas notes in the book’s opening chapter. Mary achieved stardom without the help of later Motown mainstays such as their charm school for performers. She had an English teacher correcting her girly “ummms” and “aah”s, and received little publicity from Motown. They did take time to issue a press release the girl who beat the Beatles when in early 1964 when My Guy eclipsed the Beatles’ long winning streak, replacing them at #1. When Mary opened for the Beatles in the UK; the lads became big fans of hers, standing by the side of the stage watching her perform. She even recorded an album of Beatles songs for 20th Century Fox, but the album didn’t chart.

The first half of the book deals with Wells’ climb to stardom at Motown, and the second half with what happened after Mary left Motown in 1964 after a dispute with Berry Gordy. He implored her to stay, but newly-formed 20th Century Fox Records offered her a $250,000 advance and promised her a movie career. Wells was at the top of her game when she left Motown, but her first husband Herman Griffith encouraged her to accept the offer. “Herman Griffith, her first husband, certainly misled her by urging her to leave Motown.” Benjaminson said in a phone interview, “Of course that’s Monday morning quarterbacking. She knew that other stars of her stature were getting paid more she also knew that the first record she recorded was a hit, it was a top 100 Billboard hit as far as she was concerned it wasn’t the company making the hits. It was her showing up.”

Wells’ love life alone could fuel a daytime soap opera. She married Cecil Womack in 1966 and had three children with him and divorced him in 1977 to live with his brother Curtis. (They had a daughter named Sugar.) She also had dated Jackie Wilson, Otis Williams of the Temptations and Wilson Pickett. Wells never abandoned songwriting or performing, but her success waned after she left Motown for a number of reasons. Always tenacious in her career, she suffered setbacks due to lack of promotion from her post-Motown record companies and bad personal decisions. But this isn’t your usual tale of an artist hitting hard times. Mary’s descent differed from many fallen stars in that her desire to make music never wavered despite the turmoil. “Yes, that’s one of the things that intrigued me about her”, Benjaminson says, “She was totally determined. Apparently that was her personality. She was crippled and in the hospital for two years with spinal meningitis. Then she got tuberculous, which started again in her early twenties after she left Motown. She went to school – junior high, high school, even though she was two years behind. She started looking for a job in the music industry and more or less forced herself on Berry Gordy. There’s a person with a purposeful gait in life. She always wanted to move forward and moved right through her life like that. She made mistakes, obviously, but even at the end on her deathbed she was telling the doctors what she would sing on her next tour. She was always a determined person and I admire people like that.”

Wells smoked two packs of cigarettes a day most of her life, and continued performing even when her voice gave out. Even some of the odder events in her life (including a faked kidnapping and a hotel room shooting) endear the reader to her – at least that was my response.

Bruce Springsteen, Anita Baker, Rod Stewart and Robert DeNiro, among other celebrities, donated money towards Mary’s medical care when she developed throat cancer. She received an undisclosed amount of money from Gordy to make up for alleged underpayment at Motown, but didn’t have much time to enjoy it. She died of throat cancer on July 26, 1992. Gordy paid for the funeral, and Smokey Robinson, Little Richard and Stevie Wonder delivered eulogies at her funeral.

“Mary Wells: The Tumultuous Life of Motown’s First Superstar” is a portrait of a flawed but intriguing musical star. Benjaminson has a background in investigative reporting, and it certainly helped him piece together the twists and turns of Wells’ life. This biography presents a balanced but empathic view of Mary Wells’ life. It humanizes a singer known only to most people as “the girl that sang My Guy.

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