The Jack Paar Open

I realize this isn’t a big problem and I’m just being an old crank, but this sticks in my craw. (Actually, this may be a very tiny problem, but my craw gets irritated easily.) There’s a podcast, which I really like, called The Greatest Generation. No, it’s not about the World War II generation. It’s about Star Trek. It’s a humorous look at each episode of the legendary sci-fi institution starting with Star Trek: The Next Generation. TNG is their favorite of the many Star Trek television series, which is why they started there. The podcast, hosted by Benjamin Harrison and Adam Pranica, had wrapped up the TNG series a while back and are now reviewing each episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. If you are a fan of Star Trek, you should check it out.

The Greatest Generation has developed a whole slew of inside jokes and terms over the years, so if you are new to the podcast it would be a good idea to check out this site to get caught up on everything. Or you could start listening from the beginning. They just started season five of DS9, so you’ll have plenty of listening enjoyment ahead.

Oh, yeah. This craw thing. Ben and Adam frequently use the phrase the Maron Open. The phrase refers to the opening segment of their show in which they talk about or do some activity that is otherwise not very related to the main topic of that particular episode. This is something comedian/podcaster Marc Maron does on his very popular podcast WTF. Hence the phrase Maron Open. And it’s not just The Greatest Gen using the phrase! I’ve heard it on other podcasts.

I, being an old crank, became indignant. “Why these darn kids and their thinking they just invented the wheel! Don’t they know the ‘Maron Open’ is almost as old as the talk show format itself?”

For shame!

Look I haven’t been around forever (and I didn’t write the very first song – 10 points if you get the reference), so I don’t know who started that little talk at the start of a show before getting to the guest or the main topic. But I do know that The Tonight Show’s second host, taking over for original host Steve Allen, Jack Paar was well known for it. I kid you not.

He may not have been the first to do it, but he really did set the template that most late night television talk shows follow to this day. Steve Allen’s Tonight Show was more of a variety show with singers, comedians, and sketches. There may have been some interviews, but that wasn’t the focus of the program as it was with Jack Paar.

Paar was an innovator and pioneer in talk shows. He brought a level of sophistication with intelligent conversation, but still added plenty of laughs to the proceedings. He loved to bring on great storytellers such as the actor Peter Ustinov and Paar was quite the raconteur himself, as in when he would tell an amusing anecdote to open the show. Sound familiar?

He was an emotional, temperamental man who could be unpredictable. That helped make for great ratings, but it also led to him abruptly quitting the show. Not ten minutes into the February 11, 1960 broadcast, Paar announced he was upset with NBC and walked off the set, leaving cohost Hugh Downs to finish the program. (Paar had warned Downs beforehand that he was going to quit.) The indignant host was, however, convinced to come back a month later. His first words upon his return to the show were, “As I was saying before I was interrupted…”

Why did he quit?

“There must be a better way of making a living than this.”

It was over what would be considered today to be the mildest of mild jokes. The joke contained the initials WC which Paar made certain the audience understood meant “water closet”, a euphemism for bathroom. He told the joke to the live audience, but, when the show went on the air later that night, the network had cut it and replaced it with a short news item. NBC thought the joke was in bad taste. Paar was not informed the joke had been cut and became angry when he saw it had been removed. He walked off the show the next day.

What was the joke?

“An English lady is visiting Switzerland. She asks [a Swiss resort manager] about the location of the ‘W.C.’ The [manager], thinking she is referring to the ‘Wayside Chapel’ [as in a church], leaves her a note that read ‘the W.C. is situated nine miles from the room that you will occupy… It is capable of holding about 229 people and it is only open on Sunday and Thursday… It may interest you to know that my daughter was married in the W.C. and it was there that she met her husband… I shall be delighted to reserve the best seat for you, if you wish, where you will be seen by everyone.'” (Source Wikipedia)

Pretty tame, eh?

Well, then, what of the Maron Open? As I said, Marc Maron didn’t invent it. Jack Paar might not have either, but it would make more sense to call it the Paar Open or the Jack Paar Open. (I bet you thought the headline meant this blog was going to be about golf, didn’t you?) As I also said, I have heard other podcasters refer to it as the Maron Open. Or I thought I had.

In preparing this blog, I Googled “Maron Open”. I expected to find a Wikipedia page or an entry in the Urban Dictionary providing the definition I gave above. A definition stating it is a phrase popular among podcasters. But, I didn’t. The only reference was to The Greatest Generation podcast as one of their many inside jokes. It is something exclusive to them. And that’s different than a whole bunch of young podcasters thinking they just invented the wheel. My craw is unclogged.

Though, I swear I thought I heard it on other podcasts. I’ll keep my ear peeled.

Packing Peanuts!

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

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In Appreciation Of Artist Tom Sutton

Our old friend Michael Noble returns with a few things to say about one of his favorite artists:

Tom Sutton

Growing up with comic books, there’s something interesting that happens if you keep reading the books. It doesn’t matter how you got into it; whether it’s that first title taken off the spinner rack at the local Five And Dime or if it’s your introduction into collecting with a beaten up lot acquired at some rummage sale, the natural progression of the appreciation for the art goes something like this:

You read a book and you gravitate to a particular character or situation. You seek out more of the same and you become more and more familiar with those characters and situations. And, at some point, you’ll notice the artwork isn’t the same because a different artist is drawing in an issue, one you’re not familiar with.

Boom! Right there, you’ve been bitten by the bug of comic book art appreciation. It might not seem like any kind of acknowledgment right off the bat but what’s happened is you’ve become more ingrained into how the protagonist is rendered, how recognizable the backgrounds are, how you’ve gotten used to a particular style. Upset that comfort level with some other artist and you realize you’ve become attuned to some of the finer points of admiration for the work put onto the pages.

All of a sudden, you have your favorite. You see his or her name on the opening page and there’s a kind of gratification there. And, as your tastes branch out into different kinds of books, you stumble on that same familiar artist doing some other story you’re not used to and a little light comes on above your head: “Well this is cool! I didn’t know Joe/Joan Smith was doing this book!”

In a way (because we all have our different and unique variations on this theme of comic art appreciation) this is how I became a fan, indirectly though it might be, of Tom Sutton.

It had to be in the pages of the Warren Magazines Eerie and Creepy I first ogled his stuff. I was relatively new to comics and didn’t have all that much in the way of a collection, certainly not any of the titles Sutton usually appeared in. The spiffy thing about Eerie and Creepy was the fact you got a healthy helping of varied styles from a gaggle of artists … and some pretty funky stories to boot. Stories that made their art shine. Along with just about every artist under the sun you might recognize, Tom Sutton was generously sprinkled in the mix … and occasionally on multiple stories within a book.

It wasn’t long before my book collecting became feverish I stumbled on my first Charlton books. And there, I discovered, was Tom Sutton strewn across a bevy of different titles. I only had a handful of Charlton books in my stash – Ghost Manor, Ghostly Tales and Haunted (you see where my tendencies skewed) – but within those books was where I really began noticing Sutton. And the thing that really struck me was the way he drew faces. Sutton injected a lot of emotion and depth into the characters he drew and those features were telltale in their expressions. Grim, deep lines in the evil, nefarious ones; shock and awe in the surprised victims; and frightful foreboding in his monsters. Being rather young when I first saw this stuff, I wasn’t privy to all these details right off the bat. But the way he drew conveyed a mannerism that pulled at you, engaged you to the characters and gave them visuals which kept you turning the pages. My simple kid mind just knew this was cool (sometimes forbidden) stuff and it kept me coming back for more.

But I began losing interest in the monsters and creeps (along with Sutton’s art) I so dearly loved. My tastes morphed into an affection for superheroes, more so of the Marvel variety than the DC kind. And I devoured those as readily as I could get my hands on them. That’s when the different art styles really came flooding at me. (That’s an entirely different story.)

Then came the more “sophisticated” comics, mainly Heavy Metal and artsy one-shot magazines showcasing particular artists – Richard Corben, Arthur Suydam, Jean Henri Giraud (Moebius), and many other flamboyant creators.

Additionally, Marvel began putting out its large format black and white comic magazines – Savage Tales, Monsters Unleashed, and Planet Of The Apes among many others. This is where my eyes really opened up to Sutton’s creativity and craft.

In issue #12 of the Planet Of The Apes magazine, Sutton did a story under the banner “Future History Chronicles” called “City Of Nomads.” To put it in no uncertain terms, his artwork on the story simply gobsmacked me. Painstaking pencil work with lush, detail-filled backgrounds and, of course, those familiar emotive characters (apes mind you!) with structure and design in their faces that conveyed exactly, precisely, what they were experiencing without the need of words. And if that wasn’t enough, a few pages into the story came this incredible double spread of an island ship named Hydromeda so chock-full of drawing minutia it wasn’t even funny. What it was was awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping. I mean … even the title lettering was elaborately stippled!

A few issues later? He did the same thing with another chapter of “Future History Chronicles,” this time with another double-page spread for the tale “Graveyard Of Lost Cities.” The time it must have taken to put the piece to paper had to have been days on end. (It wasn’t until years later I discovered not only did Sutton work some of these pieces on art boards the size of tabletops but he often infused them with overlays adding to the feel of enormity in his works.)

I knew the guy was off-kilter when I saw his stuff in some of the horror titles he drew but his Planet Of The Apes efforts were off the rails. (While I’ve enjoyed most of his product, I confess his Apes’ labors are my absolute favorites.)

To date, I’m still discovering all the nifty output Sutton created. My most recent purchase of his is the 9th volume of The Chilling Archives Of Horror Comics by Yoe Books, “Tom Sutton’s Creepy Things,” a nice primer of his works and a terrific little compendium showcasing his macabre style. Highly recommended.

Want to be enthralled by the works of Tom Sutton? (Surely some of the illustrations in this piece have given you an appreciative look, right?) All you need do is visit <a href=”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Sutton#Paradox_Press“>his Wikipedia page and take a gander at all the titles he contributed to over the years. It’s more than impressive – it’s overwhelming.

Just like much of Sutton’s artwork …

Epilogue by Jim “Dr. Dim” Fitzsimons:

I want to concur with Michael that Tom Sutton was quite good at the macabre. I don’t know a lot of his work, but he is responsible for the artwork in my two favorite issues of Marvel Comics’ Werewolf By Night (issues #9 & #10). Mike Ploog, a giant in the comic book industry, had been doing most of the artwork for that title’s early issues and I love it.

However, the two issues Sutton drew and inked for the series (the first page of which you can see on the left) represent my favorite depiction of the Werewolf. I like Sutton’s better than Ploog’s or Bill Sienkiewicz’s or Gil Kane’s. Each of those artists brought something special to the Werewolf, but I like Sutton’s the best. There’s something more sinister to the characters, not just the Werewolf, he drew in that two book story. I blogged about that story here.

Thanks, Michael! You can read more by Michael Noble at Hotchka.com.

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

Great Album Retro Review: The Beat By The Beat

I love ’70s & ’80s pop power. The Raspberries, The Knack, The dB’s all have great catchy tunes with lots of crashing guitars and danceable beats. Out of the ’70s Los Angeles music scene comes this underappreciated power pop band. The band that was responsible for the UK’s popular two tone, ska band being know as The English Beat in the States.

The Beat were led by veteran musician Paul Collins. And I admit it, I don’t know much about this band. I do recall WKRP In Cincinnati having a poster of the album cover in the DJ studio. (Try as I might, I couldn’t find an image showing that poster in the show, so we’ll just have to rely on my memory.) I think it was that show that led a friend of mine to pick up this debut album and share it with me. It may not be as well known as previous records I’ve reviewed on this blog, but it is so filled with great tunes that it had to be included in the series.

It was released in 1979 and its 12 tracks, written by Collins, breeze by in less than 32 minutes. The songs, for the most part, pack quite a pop punch. And when you’re done reading this, be sure to head over to Spotify to give The Beat a listen.

The Tracks:

Rock N Roll Girl – An anthem in tribute to rock n roll and the girls who love it. Collins laments about the popularity of disco and his desire to find a rock n roll girl as the jangly, driving guitars demonstrate this ain’t no disco.

I Don’t Fit In – The song feels like a marching tune inviting all those who feel the same to step in time.

Different Kind Of Girl – Written with bassist Steven Huff, Collins gives us the first of two ballads on the album. It’s the longest track on the album and it showcases the lead guitar prowess of band member Larry Whitman.

Don’t Wait Up For Me – This track starts with quiet pent up energy driven along by drummer Michael Ruiz, but then bursts out with the great three part harmonies that are all over this record. The song pulls back and builds and bursts over and over again. Something the Pixies would later make their signature sound.

You Won’t Be Happy – A nice little breakup song with a touch of ska.

Walking Out On Love – Another breakup song. Coming in at one minute and forty-five seconds, this is the shortest track on the record, but it sure packs a wallop. Best hook of any of the tracks and filled with great harmonies. It’s a blast! And it’s my favorite track.

Work-A-Day World – This one feels a little bit like filler to me, but it’s pretty good filler.

U.S.A. – This track was co-written by Peter Case, who had been a bandmate of Collins years earlier in their band called The Nerves before going on to form The Plimsouls. In fact, three of the songs (Walking Out On Love, Let Me Into Your Life, and Working Too Hard) on this album were originally written and recorded for The Nerves‘ self-titled 1976 EP. There’s a hint of The Beach Boys on this track.

Let Me Into Your Life – This track was co-written with Eddie Money, who received special thanks in the liner notes. The great harmonies are present and well as a bit of 60’s pop.

Working Too Hard – I’m reminded of The dB’s track – Working For Somebody Else – from their excellent 1987 release The Sound Of Music. There’s a little country twang to this track.

You And I – This is the second ballad on the album and it’s the most markedly different song of the collection. It’s piano-based, in fact there are no guitars to be found. There is a hint of what sounds like a mandolin though. It’s an ambitious track that doesn’t quite land for me.

Look But Don’t Touch – Ahhh. The guitars are back. Lots of drive and great riffs on this track. It’s a fun song. The song ends with Collins asking, “Is that enough for ya?” It would have been a great last track, but…

There She Goes – The album ends with this jangly, bouncy love song. Like much of what had gone before it includes the harmonies, riffs, and hooks that make this such a great record. It’s a last track that leaves the listener hanging just a little.

Packing Peanuts!

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

Ernest Nordli

The first Thursday of each month I write about what I think is a great comic book cover. This month I’m going to do it a little differently. I’m going to look at three great covers by one artist: Ernest Nordli.

Ernest Nordli (1912-1968)

There isn’t much information on the internets about this artist, except what I was able to find on Wikipedia. He was born in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1912. He studied art at Santa Barbara School of the Arts and he worked for Disney and animator Chuck Jones. Some of his credits include Dumbo, Fantasia, Sleeping Beauty, and One Hundred And One Dalmatians for Disney; and Broom-Stick Bunny and Rocket-bye Baby for Jones.

In the 1950s, Nordli worked for Dell Comics painting covers for issues of The Cisco Kid and The Lone Ranger. (I have seen Red Ryder Comics listed as having some of his covers, but I’m not sure. I can find only one source crediting one of those covers to him, but I don’t think he did it. The style doesn’t seem right.) The covers are terrific examples of illustration and design. I’ve chosen three of his covers that show what a fantastic illustrator he was.

First up is an issue of The Cisco Kid (#4, July-August 1951). There’s a great sense of movement in this illustration. We can see how much the hero enjoys fighting the bad guys in that expressive face. I love Nordli’s command of clothing, which is not easy to draw. Nor are hands, but the hands in his illustrations are exceptionally good.

I have previously declared the cover of The Cisco Kid issue #3 great in this blog series, but my sources did not know who the artist was. Judging by the similarities of the two covers, I believe #3 was also painted by Nordli. Click here for that previous blog.

Next up is a cover of The Lone Ranger (#39, September 1951) and it is a very intense action cover. Tonto appears to have been wounded (or worse yet killed!) and the Lone Ranger is in a desperate gunfight. The Lone Ranger and his companion are pinned down in the wilderness, will they survive?

The perspective drawing of the hero is expertly done. And the simplicity of the rendering of the rocks is awesome. It’s easy to look past the background, but note how Nordli does just enough to get the point across. Good stuff!

And, finally, I give you The Lone Ranger #41 (November 1951). Obviously, Tonto survived the cover of issue #39, but he and the Lone Ranger are once again in a desperate situation. They are scaling a rather steep rock face while avoiding being hit by falling debris.

The cover has all the same great elements as the previous two. There’s the attention to facial expressions and how clothes fold and move over a body. And those hands. Oh! The hands! They’re incredible. Nordli uses all these elements plus the pose and the lighting to make it really look as though our heroes are valiantly clinging to that cliff.

Three great covers!

Ernest Nordli died young at the age of 55 in 1968. It’s been speculated that his death may have been a suicide.

Packing Peanuts!

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Images used under Fair Use.

Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

We Live In Better Times

I was accused on social media the other day of being a millennial or at least of having the millennial mentality. Putting aside the fact that I am 54 years old, far from being in that generation, that attitude is broad brush painting people born after the previous millennium ended at the close of the year 2000. (The years 1999 and 2000 were so annoying to this pedant as people kept getting the beginning of the new century/millennium wrong. They started January 1, 2001. Get it straight!) It’s a cultural constant, I think, that each generation believes the following generations just don’t get it. When talking about those younger folks, the diatribes are often prefaced by “In my day…” or “My generation…” Just ask my son. Hey, I didn’t say I was immune.

Case in point…

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Yeah, well…

I watched that show when it first aired and… We needed CGI back then, too.

I responded in that way on Facebook and then came the accusation. They accused me of needing high tech to be edgy and cool. They were probably thinking that I lacked the imagination to fill in the gaps that the limited technology left in the old days.

Actually, the show itself attempted to make up for the lack of technology by making the Hulk mute, less intelligent, and much, much, much, much weaker.

The show I’m talking about, of course, is The Incredible Hulk (1978-1982). It starred Bill Bixby who played Dr. David Bruce Banner, a physician and scientist who was searching for a way to enhance human abilities. He had been unable to save his wife after a car accident due to his lack of physical strength, so he obsessed with enhancing his own abilities. So much so, he used himself as a test subject. Boy, didn’t Jekyll and Hyde teach us anything?

Well, the experiment did give him super strength, but it also inflicted a werewolf-like condition on him. Whenever Banner was subjected to extreme stress or anger he would become a large, green monster with super strength and a bad attitude. The creature was dubbed the Hulk. Banner, believed to have been killed by the monster, then drifted across the country meeting people whom he would help out of tough situations. And there was a dogged reporter on the trail of the Hulk to add to his troubles.

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“…You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry. Say, you wouldn’t have a spare belt, would you?”

Right off the bat the superhero show alienated me, a young Marvel Comics fan and budding pedant, by getting the name of the lead character wrong. In the comic books, since 1962, the scientist’s name is Robert Bruce Banner. There was never any David in there. And he was called Bruce by his friends.

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Wrong! His first name isn’t David!

I put a great big black mark against the show the moment someone called him David and not Bruce. How could they get something so basic wrong? There are explanations, but I won’t get into them here. It was just the wrong name and I was not happy about it. The show started off in the hole as far as I was concerned.

In the comics, Bruce was bombarded by gamma rays when he was exposed to a nuclear test blast. A dumbass kid wandered too close to the test area and Bruce dashed out of the bunker to get the trespasser to safety. In the process, being unable to get into the ditch in time, Dr. Banner was bathed in deadly gamma radiation.

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Dr. Banner is probably thinking, “In my day, kids didn’t go hanging out in nuclear test ranges!”

He survived, but was now forever cursed to hulk out whenever under stress.

The TV show changed how David (argh) was exposed. It wasn’t accidental. It was from a machine bombarding him with gamma rays in his experiment to enhance human abilities. I’m guessing it was one of those technical limitations, due to not having CGI, that necessitated the change.

The comic book Hulk could talk. He could think. Sure, he wasn’t brilliant and he wasn’t much of a orator, but being able to do more than just roar, growl, smash through drywall, and knock over empty barrels made for a more interesting character. It opened up the possibilities for more compelling storylines than a drifting doctor who seems to always find people who need his help. And eventually the helpful hand from a growling, roaring, marginally super-strong, green brute to put the beat down on some bad guys.

“Thanks, Hulk! We were thinking of enlarging that doorway anyway.”

And now a short break from the blog for a brief aside:

By the way, the basic plot of The Incredible Hulk is essentially the same as TV’s The Fugitive (1963-1967) and Kung Fu (1972-1975). Both series’ lead characters were also drifters encountering people who needed their help. In The Fugitive, Dr. Kimble would break out his doctoring skills. In Kung Fu, Caine would bust out his martial arts moves. And each of the three lead characters in these shows was searching for something while they drifted from town to town. Kimble was looking for the one-armed man, Caine was searching for his family, and David (gahhh) was trying to find a cure for his hulking out.

Brief aside over, now back to the blog.

The show used all the techniques used extensively in The Six Million Dollar Man (1974-1978). There was the use of slow motion to make the action appear more impressive. Real speed might look silly. There were the foam rubber rocks that were easy to lift and throw, but were a little too bouncy. There would also be shots of the Hulk throwing bad guys 20 yards through the air. And there was the filming of a stunt person jumping backwards off a building and then running the film in reverse to make it appear the monster was jumping onto the building.

These were ways of dealing with the limited technology. And some of the techniques were admittedly pretty clever, but this just wasn’t the Hulk in my eyes. I mean no disrespect to Lou Ferrigno. He was certainly an impressive physical specimen. And he did the best he could with what he was asked to do. It’s just that his Hulk wasn’t nearly strong enough. In the comic books, the Hulk could travel miles through the air in a single leap. He could topple entire buildings. And the madder he got, the stronger he got. But, the TV Hulk, although able to throw a grown man great distances, seemed to struggle lifting a woman who was hanging from a cliff to safety.

Weeeelllll, they’re close, but these costumes just don’t work.

There were other attempts in the 1970s to bring live action super-heroes to television: The very short-lived The Amazing Spider-Man (1977-1979), a made-for-TV movie featuring Captain America (1979), and DC Comic’s Wonder Woman (1975-1979). Spider-Man’s and Captain America’s costumes were fairly accurate to the comics, but looked silly on TV. Wonder Woman’s costume worked much better, but that was probably due to Lynda Carter being in it.

Um. Yeah, that works.

Compare those shows with the super-hero movies we’ve been getting since the advent of CGI. Sure, they aren’t all perfect. Some of the DC Comics movies have been down right lousy. But Marvel Comics movies, for the most part, have been thrilling to this old comic book fan. Visually stunning with the characters being true to their comic book versions. The Marvel Universe films may not be exactly what I had in mind as a kid wishing for an Avengers movie, but they are virtually spot on when compared to those 70s shows.

Maybe that is the millennial mentality, but I don’t think so. Those shows were way too limited. Limited by technology. Limited creatively. Let’s face it, despite their best efforts,  the shows were lame. How many times can we see David (ugh) drift along helping strangers and hulking out? And that wig was horrible! Surely, they could have done better even with 1970s wig technology.

Hulk Of Guilt Models Murder
Hey! That’s Jeremy Brett, my favorite Sherlock Holmes actor, in the background!

No, my generation didn’t have CGI, but it would have been awesome if it did.

Packing Peanuts!

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Images used under Fair Use.

Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

Great Album Retro Review: Skylarking By XTC

skylarking

After The Who, XTC is my favorite band. And their 1986 release Skylarking is my favorite album by them.

Long about the summer of 1985, I discovered XTC in two ways. First was the concert film Urgh! A Music War (1982). Urgh! features lots of the more interesting and entertaining musical acts of the alternative scene from the late ’70s and early ’80s. The Police, Dead Kennedys, The Cramps, Gang Of Four, Oingo Boingo, Wall Of Voodoo, X, Magazine, The Go-Go’s and Klaus Nomi are just a few of the acts involved. And XTC’s performance of their song Respectable Street was one of the stand-outs for me.

Not long after seeing Urgh I purchased a compilation album featuring artists on the Virgin label. It was called Cash Cows and XTC’s Respectable Street was included. I instantly liked that song. Probably because I was vaguely familiar with it having seen Urgh. However, at the time, I had forgotten that earlier exposure to the song.

No matter. I thought XTC was excellent and on the strength of that song I bought the album on which it appeared – Black Sea (1980). Black Sea is a terrific record, produced while the band would still perform live. By the time I bought it, however, XTC had become a studio-only band.

I was bummed that I wouldn’t ever see them in concert, but I was excited to learn more about their music and to know that they were still making records. And in September, 1986 they released the first single for their upcoming album, Skylarking. The song Grass was the A side with Dear God and Extrovert as non-album cuts for the B side. Dear God would soon take on a life of its own, more on that later.

Skylarking was produced by Todd Rundgren and the stories of the difficulties between Rundgren and band leader Andy Partridge are the stuff of legend. This was Andy’s band and Todd was acting too much like the boss. He could also be bitingly cruel to Andy. But, despite the acrimony, or because of it, Skylarking turned out to be a brilliant concept album exploring the stages of life, growth, decay, and death.

And I bought it as soon as it was released. Man! Am I old!

The Tracks:

Summer’s Cauldron – Drowning has never sounded so appealing. Andy Partridge’s imagery evoked by his lyrics is wonderful. This song sounds like a long, hot summer day.

Grass – First of four songs on the album written by Colin Moulding, Grass could have a double meaning. The song, which is linked to the previous track (song linking was one of Rundgren’s ideas), is about the sexual connections two young lovers made on grass. But does Moulding mean the grass they are laying on or the grass they just smoked? The video suggests the non-drug interpretation.

The Meeting Place – Written by Moulding, this song could be about the same couple in Grass trying to continue their affair while dealing with work. I really like the ticking, clomping, steaming sounds that permeate the song. It suggests the industrial presence of machinery.

That’s Really Super, Supergirl – Ever the fan of comic books, Partridge uses the up feeling music to offset the downbeat lyrics of a man who has been dumped. Nice jangly guitars!

Ballet For A Rainy Day – A song about sitting inside on a rainy day, looking out the window and marveling at the beauty of the rain soaked scenes of the street below. Wonderful.

1,000 Umbrellas – This one flows from the previous track, but this time the rain imagery is used to describe the heart-aching pain of loneliness. A nice use of strings and acoustic guitar.

Season Cycle – Andy always had a way of working with metaphor. Here he ponders the turn of the seasons by comparing it to someone riding a bicycle. The beauty of each season is explored, however this song feels more Spring than the other seasons.

Earn Enough For Us – This song opens with what might be the best guitar riff (provided by guitarist Dave Gregory) XTC has ever recorded. It should have been a hit. It follows the desperate determination of a blue collar worker trying to make ends meet with a baby on the way. Work may be tough and humiliating, but it will be suffered to make a better life. This is my favorite track.

Big Day – “Marriage! Marriage is what brings us together today.” Moulding warns that, sure, everything is all wonderful today, but will this last? There’s a slightly unconventional take to the music that suggests both the importance of the day, while hinting at future challenges.

Another Satellite – A song about feeling the pull of another, when already in a committed relationship. It’s my understanding Andy wrote this song in response to being in just such a situation.

Mermaid Smiled – Booted from later pressings of the album when Dear God proved to be a surprise hit, Mermaid Smiled is pure whimsy. It’s a longing for the lost days of youth. It has a beautiful, soaring melody and it should have been treated with more respect.

The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul – Andy’s attempt at writing a James Bond theme. And, damn it, Hollywood! There should have been a 007 flick with this as the title song! This song is the most unusual of the whole album. It sticks out and some might think it doesn’t fit. Hey, it works for me.

Dying – Moulding’s sweet, sad song about death. Similar to the ticking heard in The Meeting Place, there’s a kind of clock sound in the background of this song. In The Meeting Place it was about being on the clock at work, here it’s reminding us we only have so much time to live.

Sacrificial Bonfire – Another soaring melody, this one by Moulding. This closer tells of endings, but that the cycle continues. Life goes on.

Dear God – As I mentioned earlier, this song didn’t make the cut on the original pressing. It was regulated to the B side of the first single. However, an American DJ liked it and decided to play it and it took off from there. Andy wasn’t entirely happy with the lyrics of this atheistic anthem, but its power was picked up on and it became XTC’s biggest hit in America.

Packing Peanuts!

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

The One Cult I Belonged To

Screen Shot 2019-07-11 at 2.52.15 PMI must confess. I was in a cult. Not some religious, mind-control sort of a cult. It was in the early 80s, I had become a member of the small, but devout audience of the legendary and ground-breaking TV talk show Late Night with David Letterman on NBC.

Late Night first aired in February, 1982 in the time slot directly after the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, the time slot that had been previously occupied by the Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder.

Now, I wasn’t part of the cult at the very beginning. I don’t recall when I started watching Dave (that’s what we cult members call him), I think it was probably sometime late in that first year, maybe the second year, but when I did start watching it quickly became the show I could not miss.

ss-140404-david-letterman-CARSON-01-640x417I knew who Dave was before he got that late night gig. He had been on the Tonight Show numerous times as a guest and he had also done stints as a guest host covering some of Johnny’s frequent nights off. I liked Dave. I thought he was very funny.

 

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From the last episode of Dave’s morning show.

Some NBC executives also thought he was funny and offered him his own talk show. In the morning. Weekday mornings. When I found out I was quite chagrined. I was still in high school and going to class when Dave’s show was airing. This was before DVRs or TiVo, and the VCR was still a new innovation that was just beginning to invade every home, so there was no recording the show. What was I to do? Should I quit school?

Fortunately for my academic career, the morning show only lasted 18 weeks. Despite it having been awarded two Emmys, it was just a little too strange for a daytime audience, so it was cancelled. I’ve only seen a few clips on YouTube, but from what I know of the show it got more and more outlandish as it went along. Dave and his crew probably knew it wouldn’t last, so why not get as strange as they wanted?

So, Late Night begins airing and the oddness of the morning show was expanded on, but this time the show found an audience. It was small. Well, small for those days. Today’s cable and streaming shows would love to get that kind of “small” audience. Anyway, that small audience was expanded by one when I joined the cult.

There’s something wonderful about being in such a cult. You feel a certain ownership of the show. “This belongs to me and only a few other special people.” You feel as though you are in on a secret, something a select few people understand much less know about. And you get it. All of it. And this kind of cult doesn’t require members to shave their heads, give up all their money, and leave their families. Losing a bit of sleep is about the only cost to being a member of this cult.

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Larry “Bud” Melman

And Late Night was such an unusual show. The cast of characters included Larry “Bud” Melman, Flunky the Late Night Clown, and all the oddball creations of the very funny Chris Elliott. Paul Shaffer bought his own style of comedy to the show. There was his song Bermuda (it’s a koo-koo place, nutty kinda place), his send up of the hip Vegas attitude, and his acting during the actor/singer gags was fantastically funny. We also got to meet some of the more unusual creative types of the day, including the furious Brother Theodore, the innocent-yet-kinda-creepy-but-funny Pee Wee Herman, and the always bristly Harvey Pekar.

There were the regular bits: Small Town News, Dave’s Record Collection, Fun with an 80 Ton Hydraulic Press, Fun with a Steamroller, and Dropping Items from a 5-Story Tower. And that’s just a few.

He would take the camera outside and interview everyday New Yorkers. Dave even spent time working at a fast food restaurant. He would also call people at random from the phone book. It was doing that in which he discovered Arnie Barnes, a young man who worked at a meat-packing plant in Omaha, NE. That was a special night.

 

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Artist concept sketch of Arnie Barnes.

Then there were Stupid Pet Tricks, Stupid Human Tricks, and the various suits made of unusual items (magnets, Alka-Seltzer, sponges, and, my favorite, the suit of Velcro). I later learned the suits gag was something Dave lifted from Steve Allen when he was hosting the Tonight Show.

And, let’s not forget Viewer Mail. Each week Dave would dip into the voluminous Late Night mailbag to read and answer real letters from real viewers. “If they weren’t real, could I do this?” (Other cult members will understand.) When the segment first started the number of letters varied, but it eventually settled on five letters answered each week. I remember being disappointed when Dave went to just answering four letters. That meant the Pyramid of Comedy would have no top. (Again, other cult members will understand.)

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Biff and the Pyramid of Comedy.

Yes, there were the Top Ten lists. I’m a little ambivalent toward those. Some were pretty funny, most were a little lame. But it became a staple of the show.

By the way, much of the zaniness of Late Night can be found on YouTube. This is as good a place to start as any.

Late Night was the anti-talk show. And Dave was the anti-host. He wouldn’t necessarily be rude, he just had a way of cutting through the celebrity BS that would be featured on other talk shows. He’d ask odd questions, which could throw a guest off a bit, but the good guests would roll with it. And Dave could be very acerbic when he wanted. He gained a bit of a reputation for that. So much so that Cher avoided appearing on his show for a long time. When she finally did, Dave asked why it was so difficult to get her on the show. Cher bluntly answered it was because she thought he was an a–hole. That was a special night.

In those early days, I worked nights at Wendy’s and I made certain when closing everybody’s work was done quickly. All employees had to leave at the same time so that everyone got to their cars safely, so, if I was to get home in time for Dave, I helped my coworkers finish up. I had to get home to watch Dave.

Dave has had an influence on me. I guess that shouldn’t come as a surprise. In 1988, while still working at Wendy’s, the store manager took a week off. When he returned he told me that he was able to stay up late and catch some of the TV shows he’d been missing. He then gave me one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He told me he’d been able to watch Late Night and that he could see a lot of Letterman in me.

Not many people know this, but I do a podcast called Dimland Radio. And, just last month, a friend who listens to my show was describing it to someone. I was listening in, too humble to describe it myself, when my friend said I was a bit like David Letterman.

Wow! I guess it still shows.

However, as you must know, Late Night didn’t stay a cult show for very long. More and more people began to take notice and the show grew in popularity. That’s good in that the show would last, but it lost its special appeal. The show. Dave. They weren’t just mine anymore. I had to share him with a much bigger, less cool audience.

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‘There are way too many people here.”

This was something that hit me when I watched one of his anniversary shows. Each year, Dave would do a special clip show with some special guests, reviewing the best moments of the previous year. The first few of these shows were still recorded in the same studio. (One year the anniversary show was recorded on a plane while in flight. That was a special night.) Then, for the 5th year anniversary, NBC decided to move the show to the larger venue Radio City Music Hall for the special.

 

It was then that I realized I was no longer a member of a select group. The tumultuous cheers that erupted when Dave walked on stage told me the cult was over. Now the riff raff liked him, too. I was crushed. I never looked at the show the same way after that.

I still liked it. I still liked Dave. But it just wasn’t the same.

I stopped watching as regularly as I had before. And when Dave moved to CBS, I watched even less.

But it was awesome while it lasted.

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Packing Peanuts!

Feel free to comment and share.

Images used under Fair Use.

Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.