Pop Culture Gadabout
Saturday, June 06, 2009
      ( 6/06/2009 03:52:00 PM ) Bill S.  

"THE NEW PHONE BOOK IS HERE! THE NEW PHONE BOOK IS HERE!" This afternoon, we received a box stamped "Media Mail" from our publisher, Pearlsong Press. Inside were ten copies of the Rebecca Fox & William Sherman romantic novel, Measure By Measure. First thought I had after scissoring open the box (careful, don't wanna cut into the book cover!), was "Funny, I thought the cover was gonna be a darker blue!" Second was, "Holy shit! I'm actually holding our novel in my hand!"

I remember Neal Gaiman once writing about receiving author's copies of a new book: first page he opened to, he'd immediately light on a typo. I tried the same thing, but my bedazzled eyes were incapable of being so acute. The whole package looks pretty damn good to me. Excuse me while I continue to bask in the good feelings. . .

(Oh yeah, and the Amazon link is over on the right column!)


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      ( 6/06/2009 06:53:00 AM ) Bill S.  

WEEKEND PET PIC: Ziggy Stardust continues to keep two cautious eyes on the in-house herd.

THE USUAL NOTE: For more cool pics of companion animals, please check out Modulator's "Friday Ark."
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Friday, June 05, 2009
      ( 6/05/2009 07:28:00 AM ) Bill S.  

CARRADINE: Like most movie lovers with an affinity for psychotronic cinema, I have an ongoing affection for David Carradine: the guy was in so many low-budget obscurities -- some great, many more dubious -- that you can't help but marvel at the man's career-long productivity. Wasn't personally much of a fan of Kung Fu, though I can understand how a younger generation than mine might've hooked into that teleseries. For me, the work I remember best (as from Kill Bill, of course) was from the drive-in: Death Race 2000, Deathsport and Q in the early eighties, though it's long amused me that Carradine also made The Serpent's Egg with Ingmar Bergman. Ain't a lot of actors who can claim both Bergman and Larry Cohen on their resume, but Carradine could.

R.I.P., David.
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Wednesday, June 03, 2009
      ( 6/03/2009 08:38:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"SOONER OR LATER, WELL, ALL THE LIGHTS GET DARK." Though I hadn't known a thing about Tom Laverack before I unexpectedly received a copy of his newest CD, Cave Drawings (Sojourn Records), two facts about him immediately caught my fancy. First was his involvement in the soundtracks of two independent horror flicks, Wendigo and The Last Winter, the first of which I'd actually seen on Sundance Channel one late nite; second was the biographical detail that the man has made his living as a social worker in New York. Harder to gauge which is the more difficult avocation: laboring as a singer/songwriter or working in social services.

Laverack's newest reportedly took over four years to complete and includes three tracks that appeared in the apocalyptic Winter. None too surprisingly, these three cuts ("Precious Little," "Running Out of Road," "No Shame") all share a fatalistic tone -- as do many of the other tracks, which tend toward rootsy mid-tempo rock or more mournful balladry with an occasional country soul lick tossed in for good measure. Listening to the mid-tempo opener, "Coney Island Heart," I found myself flashing on both Springsteen and Lou Reed, though Laverack's country-folkish delivery may get you thinking more of Steve Earle.

To these ears, the more energetic tracks are the album's highpoints, though the insertion of soul sax by moviemaker Larry Fessenden on a track like "Running Out of Road" is a particularly neat touch. Most striking of the slow 'uns turns out to be "Dead Dog," wherein the singer comes upon a boy mourning over a dead pet hit by a truck. "I'd give it all up if I ever made it," Laverack sings, "just to save this dead dog," even if he knows he just singing into the wind.

Laverack's lyrics can be merciless when considering the state of nation ("Blinded by our entitlement, our dollar signs read 'In God We Trust,'" he notes on the lopingly soulful "Precious Little"), but he can also be sharp on a self-castigating track like "Foolish Enough to Think," where he laments his inability to change his own self-destructive habits. This willingness to shift from the blisteringly social (check out his nursing home rant, "No Shame") to the equally self-critical proves one of Laverack's strengths as a lyricist.

Laverack's back-up is provided by group of steady sidemen: Marc Shulman, who has worked with Suzanne Vega, and Joel Hoekstra on guitars; bassist Jeff Langston and label co-president Mark Ambrosino, who provides a suitably strong Max Weinberg-y beat to it all. Hoekstra's stinging work on "Foolish Enough to Think" is a particular stand-out, though his thoughtfully hooky licks on "Coney Island Heart" are also worth noting.

"You don't know if you'll leave behind anything after you're gone," Laverack sings on the disc's title song, adding that he's content to leave little memories of "how this world did feel" for those who are willing to listen. After regular plays of this evocatively grown-up set of rootsy vignettes, count me among the willing.


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      ( 6/03/2009 06:05:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"LAST NIGHT EVERYTHING BROKE." Reading that Exene Cervenka has been diagnosed with MS got me pulling out the old classic X albums this week. Here's a classic live performance from The Decline of Western Civilization, "We're Desperate," a song that could definitely be part of the soundtrack for today.

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Sunday, May 31, 2009
      ( 5/31/2009 10:41:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"LADY RUN! HE'LL END UP PUSHING YOUR FACE INTO A BELT SANDER!" Though I remain an avid admirer of Mystery Science Theater 3000, I've pretty much stayed away from the RiffTrax website starring three of the show's alumni. The concept is clever enough: veteran movie riffers Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett (a.k.a. Mike, Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot from MST3K) serve up MP3 commentaries of past and present movies that you can download and play alongside your DVDs of the same flicks. A pretty sharp idea, provided you don't have a computer with the memory capacity of Dory the regal tang.

Though the website has been off and running for three years, those of us with antique computers have had to wait until now to embrace the riffy goodness. This June, ten RiffTrax DVDs are being released by Legend Films. Unlike the website -- where the boys spend as much time vivisecting recent blockbusters as they do low-budget oldies -- most of the films offered here are the kinds of public domain standards you can usually buy for a buck at your local Dollar Tree. Six of the ten selections will be familiar to s-f/horror fans (Plan 9 from Outer Space's the most notorious); apart from two collections of educational shorts, perhaps the least well-known entry is the 1946 Monogram musical Swing Parade.

Recently watched RiffTrax's take on this Poverty Row musical showcase. To get in the proper MSTie frame of mind, I sat down and viewed it on a Saturday morning, much as I used to when the series aired on Comedy Central and Sci-Fi Channel. Unlike the original show, the RiffTrax commentaries are presented sans story context -- just three smart-ass disembodied voices (plus the occasional guest) cracking wise at the expense of a riff-worthy flick -- so there are no silhouettes, puppetry or interstitial sequences on the DVD. Fans of the original MST3K are divided on the merits of these aspects of the original show: for some, the sequences featuring Mike and robots on the Satellite of Love were often the weakest parts of the show. Me, I rather enjoyed 'em, though once Nelson, Murphy and Corbett started verbally bouncing off Swing Parade's opening credits on the DVD, I quickly stopped obsessing about the lack of a back-story. These are still very funny guys.

The movie itself proves ripe for commentary. An indifferently plotted show biz musical, Swing Parade is billed as a Three Stooges feature on the DVD cover, though the boys strictly play a secondary role to a tepid back stage romance between singer Gale Storm and the good-look-for-radio lead Phil Regan. ("How does this guy not have a mono-brow?" the RiffTraxers ask.) Parade was one of the last films made by Curly Howard and was filmed after the Stooge had suffered a series of small strokes. As a result, there isn't a lot of physical comedy in their sequences, though the movie's riffers regularly play on the possibility of somebody getting their nostrils assaulted with a crowbar -- which in some ways proves even funnier.

In addition to the Stooges sequences, we're also treated to musical numbers by Louis Jordan and Connee Boswell (formerly of the Boswell Sisters). The Jordan numbers are a treat by themselves, but the commentary over "Don't Worry 'Bout That Mule" (a Number One hit for Jordan in '45) is priceless, as all three riffers imagine fates-worse-than-death for the title creature. ("My mule's gonna go blind, I just know it!") Ingenue Storm also performs two numbers, though neither proves as fertile as Jordan's durable jump band nonsense. There's also a markedly unfunny sequence featuring the Michael Winslow of his day, Windy Cook, auditioning his sound fx shtick before durable character actor Edward Brophy. The performance, Mike notes, is as "if Mickey Rooney had gone off his anti-psychotic meds." The guys also manage to use Cook for a crack at the expense of Comedy Central, the net that once stupidly cancelled MST3K -- and good for them!

Legend's DVD also features an enjoyable ditty on the disc's menu: a smooth love song about the Stooge in the Middle with a chorus that sez, "I don't know about you, but I think Larry's fine." It's the kind of clever musical bit that they used to regularly fit into MST3K's host features (particularly during Mike's tenure), and I'm glad they found a way to slip it onto this DVD package. Makes me wonder what else these jokesters have stuck as extras on the other Legend DVDs.


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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

On Sale Now!
Measure by Measure:

A Romantic Romp with the Fat and Fabulous
By Rebecca Fox & William Sherman

(Available through Amazon)

Measure by Measure Web Page

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