“Two Down, Four To Go”

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The world received the sad news of the death of actor/writer/filmmaker/historian Terry Jones a couple days ago, so I decided to interrupt my January hiatus (unannounced, sorry about that) to throw in my few cents worth.

It was sometime in 1974, when PBS television stations across America began playing a very strange, very British sketch comedy program. A story a friend of mine tells of his first encounter with the show is of his father gathering the family around the TV console to watch a new (to America) comedy show from England. The company his father worked for at the time was sponsoring the show, so he figured the family ought to check it out. 30 minutes later there were two adults baffled by what they just witnessed and three kids, my friend and his sisters, completely on board. It was silly, irreverent, and the parents didn’t get it. What’s not to love?

My early recollection of the program was that sometimes women’s boobs could be seen. Even at that tender age, I must have been about ten, I took great interest in those bumps on women’s chests. Any show that would put boobs on display and was silly and funny just had to go onto my regular television viewing list.

I didn’t get everything at first. It was very British and that meant certain references wouldn’t be understood by Americans, especially American kids. However, over the years more and more of the brilliance of the show became apparent to me. The troupe of actors/writers and one cartoonist were educated, intellectual (the cartoonist maybe not so much of an intellectual, but he’s a cartoonist, what are ya gonna do?), and more than willing to attack every convention and institution, all while being completely silly and ofttimes in drag.

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The troupe was Graham Chapman (who died in 1989), John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin. They all came from other British TV comedy shows, through which some met and worked together. Eventually everything led to the six of them getting a comedy sketch show of their own. It was called Monty Python’s Flying Circus (1969-1974). The men would write and perform on what would become the greatest TV comedy sketch program of all time. (Hyperbole!)

Embarrassing fact: When I first started watching the show, I thought John Cleese was Monty Python. He seemed to have the most authority. And he was the tallest. “I’m six foot five!” What else was I gonna think?

spam_waitressEach member of the troupe could play the everyman (or woman) and the voice of authority. They could be the gentleman and the creep. Jones played the everyman (or woman) and creeps very well. He was Arthur “Two Sheds” Jackson and the man with three buttocks. He was the flasher who was fully clothed under that trench coat, but he had the look of a masher and a sign which read “Boo!” hanging around his neck. He was the completely innocent fellow wanting to to go for a swim at the beach, but couldn’t find anywhere to get undressed, until he ended up on a stage with an appreciative audience. “It’s a man’s life taking your clothes off in public.”

In their film Monty Python’s The Meaning Of Life (1983), he was Mr. Creosote, a man so large and with an appetite so voracious he literally ate until he exploded. He was Prince Herbert in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), who just wanted… to… sing… “Stop that! Stop that!” Also in Holy Grail, he was Sir Bedevere the Wise, the knight who knew the best way to determine whether or not a woman was a witch. And he was Brian’s mother in Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979). “He’s not the messiah, he’s a very naughty boy!”

a75ea56f7f2f49d5baadda5d348909f8--fairy-dust-fantasy-artJones not only performed and wrote for Python, he also stepped behind the camera to co-direct with Terry Gilliam the Holy Grail and direct Life of Brian and The Meaning of Life. Later and apart from Python, Terry Jones would write and host several history documentaries for British television. And he was the author of many books. I especially loved his idea of a children’s book. He produced one called Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Book. A book he wrote and Brian Froud beautifully illustrated detailing the various kinds of fairies with examples “pressed” between the pages. Brilliant.

The man did a lot of work. What a legacy.

In 2015, Terry found out he had a form of dementia that would cause him to almost completely lose the ability to communicate. He wouldn’t be able to speak. For a man for whom language and words were so important to his life’s work this most have been especially horrible. My father-in-law suffered from the same illness. It became more and more difficult for him to get the words he had in his head to come out of his mouth. However, Dad’s dementia wasn’t able to get as advanced as Terry’s. My father-in-law would lose his life to lymphoma before he completely lost his words.

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Dementia finally shut Mr. Jones down this past Tuesday. He will be remembered and missed for a long, long time.

Oh! And before you get upset about the insensitive nature of the headline for this blog, you should know I am quoting from a tweet released by fellow Python John Cleese.

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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.

 

A Great Cover By Mort Drucker

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My main duties for Nostalgia Zone is to enter newly arrived comics and magazines into the online catalog. A catalog you should be checking out regularly to find those must have gems you’ve been looking for. The gems that will complete a collection and/or fill a hole in your life. Hey, I know how it is. I collect comic books, too.

OK, shameless plug over.

Oh! And you can sign up for a membership to earn points and receive discounts on those gems. It’s free!

All right. Enough with the shameless plugging, already.

As I go through each week’s new arrivals, I always keep an eye open for great covers for this series. Today I was entering reader copies of DC Comics’ The Adventures of Jerry Lewis. There were several covers produced by Owen Fitzgerald and a few by Bob Oksner. Both fellows are very good and capable artists.

But then I pulled #72 (September-October 1962) from the stack.

I stopped. “Whoa!* Who did this one?!”

I looked it up on the Grand Comics Database and found it was drawn and inked by cartooning/illustration legend Mort Drucker. I mainly know Drucker’s work for Mad Magazine, but he’s lent his artistic mastery to advertising, album covers, and, of course, comic books. His caricature work is fantastic!

On this cover, he needed to comply with keeping the consistent DC Comics’ look for Jerry, which he does, and yet he brings something special to the cover. The poses of the characters are loose and have movement. The young woman is attractive, but not lurid. And Jerry is… well… Jerry. Not to put down Fitzgerald and Oksner, it’s just that Drucker’s style tickles my fancy a little bit more.

It’s a great cover.

*Please note: When writing “whoa” as an expression of awe or surprise, or as a command to stop a horse, it is spelled W-H-O-A. Not W-O-A-H.  “Woah” is never correct. Never!

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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.

 

My Awesome ’80s Mix Tape

Writer’s note: Pulled from the archives of my personal blog at dimland.com, this is my write-up about a series of mixed tapes I made containing what I thought was totally awesome music from the 1980s. I’ve made a few revisions to the original. It should go without saying – this collection is not available in stores, or anywhere else for that matter.

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Awesome? Really?

Remember mix tapes? Sure you do, cassette tape technology isn’t completely dead yet. Like so many of us who grew up through the ’70s and ’80s, I made quite a few mix tapes.

I started making mix tapes while in my second year of art school (1984/85). A fellow student introduced me to the concept of taking blank cassette tapes and filling them with your favorite songs. “What?! You mean to tell me that I can record a variety of songs, songs I like, on a blank cassette, so that I can listen to a variety of artists of my choosing? With no commercials? Why, that would be like having the radio station I’ve always wanted!”

Over the next decade plus, I would make dozens and dozens of mix tapes.

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No. Not this one either.

Sometime in the mid ’90s, I began seeing ads for compilation CD sets filled with the awesome music of the ’80s. Ads like this one and this one. Now don’t get me wrong, not all the songs were awful, but awesome? Weeellll, I didn’t think so.

You see, while in art school, my musical tastes took a decided turn away from the mainstream. I turned toward what has since been categorized as alternative. I found myself getting into punk, post-punk, Goth, industrial, etc. The sort of music that wasn’t getting played on the radio and nowhere to be found on the charts. The collections I was seeing advertised weren’t even close to being awesome. Sure, there would be Whip It by Devo and Burning Down The House by Talking Heads, but those decent tunes would be offset by Kim Carnes, Loverboy, Bananarama, Toni Basil…

Awesome? Hardly!

“How lame!” I thought to myself and got to work creating a four volume set of mix tapes that I would call Awesome ’80s.

I limited myself to one song per artist. However, if a performer was part of a band and also released solo material in the ’80s, one song could be included from each (e.g. Peter Murphy and Bauhaus). Or if one band became another band and both released music in that decade (e.g. XTC and The Dukes of Stratosphear). A few songs may be considered mainstream, but they are still good enough to be included.

Nearly all of these songs can be found on Spotify or iTunes. Others can be found on YouTube, however there are a few songs by local (Minneapolis) bands that I just can’t find on the internets. Sorry.

I will list each volume’s song list without further comment. Rest assured, though, each song is great and worthy of a listen. Worthy of a thousand listens!

Volume I

Eighties – Killing Joke
I Will Dare – The Replacements
To Hell with Poverty – Gang of Four
Death of the European – The Three Johns
In Between Days – The Cure
Spinning Round – Red Lorry Yellow Lorry
Apeman Hop – Ramones
This Damn Nation – The Godfathers
She’s In Parties – Bauhaus
Alice’s House – The Psychedelic Furs
Rise – Public Image Ltd.
One Day in Your Life – 54-40
Give Me Back My Man – The B-52’s
Uncertain Smile – The The
Come To Milton Keyes – The Style Council
Into My Hands – The Church
So. Central Rain – REM
Smooth Operator – Sade
Respectable Street – XTC
Like Wow, Wipe Out – Hoodoo Gurus
How Soon Is Now – The Smiths
Cities in Dust – Siouxsie & the Banshees
Ahead – Wire
Through Being Cool – Devo
Vamos – Pixies
Newest Industry – Husker Du
Jordan, MN – Big Black
Envoye – The Young Gods
Those Who Move – Naked Raygun
No Time to Cry – Sisters of Mercy

Volume II

Once in a Lifetime – Talking Heads
Telephone Operator – Pete Shelley
Driving the Dynamite Truck – Breaking Circus
The High Road – The Feelies
Rescue – Echo & the Bunnymen
Mandinka – Sinead O’Connor
Swamp Thing – The Chameleons UK
Ceremony – New Order
Never Before, Never Again – The dB’s
Wild Blue Yonder – The Screaming Blue Messiahs
Message of Love – The Pretenders
Precious – The Jam
Cruiser’s Creek – The Fall
Marlene on the Wall – Suzanne Vega
Ivo – Cocteau Twins
Another Bubble – Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians
A Song from Under the Floorboards – Magazine
Big Decision – That Petrol Emotion
Marimba Jive – Red Guitars
A Pagan Place – The Waterboys
Say Goodbye – Hunters & Collectors
Love is the Law – The Suburbs
Snake Dance – The March Violets
Emmarita – The Whole Lotta Loves
Let’s Get Married – The Celibate Rifles
Here Comes the Rain – The Cult
Independence Day – Urban Guerrillas

Volume III

Final Solution – Peter Murphy
Canary in a Coalmine – The Police
24 – Game Theory
Scorpio Rising – 10,000 Maniacs
Free Yourself – The Untouchables
True Men Don’t Kill Coyotes – Red Hot Chili Peppers
Garbageman – The Cramps
Let’s See the Sun – The Fleshtones
We’re So Cool – Au Pairs
Nothing Means Nothing Anymore – The Alley Cats
Games Without Frontiers – Peter Gabriel
E = mc2  – Big Audio Dynamite
What Do You Know? – Buzzcocks
Here Comes the Rain Again – Eurythmics
Gone Daddy Gone – The Violent Femmes
Units – Man-Sized Action
Beatle Boots – Love Tractor
Above It Now – Figures
Motorcrash – The Sugarcubes
Go! – Tones on Tail
Everything Counts – Depeche Mode
Sour Grapes – The Descendents
Police on My Back – The Clash
Shut Out the Light – Steve Diggle
Insanely Jealous – The Soft Boys
Cloudbusting – Kate Bush

Volume IV

Well, Well, Well – The Woodentops
The Metro – Berlin
Jean’s Not Happening – The Pale Fountains
Carpathia Girl – Laughing Stock
Party at Ground Zero – Fishbone
Sensoria – Cabaret Voltaire
Ball of Confusion – Love & Rockets
Let My Love Open the Door – Pete Townshend
Love Kills – Joe Strummer
Levitation – The Mighty Mofos
Certain Things are Likely – KTP
Poplife – Prince & the Revolution
Ashes to Ashes – David Bowie
World Destruction – Time Zone
Nemesis – Shreikback
(Kind of) True – Golden Palominos
Date with a Vampyre – The Screaming Tribesmen
Some Candy Talking – The Jesus & Mary Chain
Just for the Moment – Get Smart
TV Party! – Black Flag

That’s more than a hundred crazy good kick ass songs! The 1980s did have some awesome music!

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.

Rankin/Bass Christmas Specials: Two I Love, One I Hate

put-one-foot-in-front-of-the-otherWell, Holiday is upon us again. (Boy! It sure seems to get here faster each year.) And I thought I’d look at three Rankin/Bass Christmas special classics. Two of which I love, one… not so much.

As with most of us younger Boomers, I really looked forward to all the Christmas specials that would grace our television sets each Christmas season in the late ’60s and early ’70s. When they started showing up it meant that we were inching our way closer to Santa’s visit and all those presents. The specials had the same effect on me as those countdown to Christmas calendars, with each day having a door to open to expose a piece of candy and/or a holiday themed scene. The daily routine of opening each calendar door helped to built the anticipation and to make the time seem to go by a little faster. So, when those Christmas specials started showing on TV my excitement grew and grew.

NorelcoSantaI even liked the ads for Norelco products featuring a stop-motion animated Santa gliding along the snow in the head of one of their electric shavers.

I’m just covering Rankin/Bass specials here. I won’t be talking about the Grinch (my all time favorite) and Charlie Brown. Let’s look at those three, shall we?

Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town (1970)

There is something special about the stop motion animation Rankin/Bass would do. The characters and objects took up space. They had presence and substance. It’s not that I don’t like two dimensional animation, I’m a cartoonist, I love that stuff. But the stop motion had a certain something.

af200d4d04ea755b3bc67daab5d404efThis special tells the origin of Santa Claus. It uses a letter carrier, voiced wonderfully by Fred Astaire, answering questions children all over the world send to the jolly old fella. We get all the dope on an orphan boy left to a family of toy makers and how he grew up to be the world’s greatest gift giver.

Along the way he meets his wife, whose cold heart he melts, an evil warlock, whose cold heart he melts, and a penguin that somehow ended up in the arctic. Santa is voiced by Mickey Rooney and that evil warlock is played by Keenan Wynn and they’re both great. Especially Wynn. He does menacing and humble equally well.

I’ve never been big on musicals, but all of these specials contain songs. I like most of them. In this special, Put One Foot In Front Of The Other is the best song. However, If You Sit On My Lap Today, given it has Santa instructing children to get on his lap and give him a kiss in exchange for a toy, is a little creepy.

Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)

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“What the hell is wrong with your son?!”

People have begun to point out, in recent years, the horrible message of this show. A message that strongly implies those who don’t conform with what is considered normal by society should be shunned and shamed mercilessly; unless, that is, the difference can be made use of and the formally shunned had better be grateful for finally being accepted. Even Santa is a complete jerk in his treatment of Rudolph’s parents for having the audacity of having a child that doesn’t fit in. And Hermy the elf is treated harshly for not wanting to make toys. He’d rather be a dentist.

Despite all this, I love the special.

I love its look and the songs. The songs really are great in this one, even the ballad There’s Always Tomorrow. My favorites are Silver And Gold and Holly Jolly Christmas which are sung by the narrator Burl Ives. I also like the Island of Misfit Toys and its king. However, would someone really object to a Charlie in a box? And there’s the great character of Yukon Cornelius.

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“Arrrrrggghhh!”

Also great about this special and Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town is both effectively make the villains-turned-allies (spoilers) very scary when they are introduced. Both the Abominable Snowman and Winter Warlock are so well done when shown as impending menaces to our heroes. They were genuinely scary to me when I was a boy.

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“Arrrrrggghhh!”

As an adult I see the flaws, but I forgive them and enjoy them to this day. This next special is a different story.

Frosty The Snow (1969)

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This is a two dimensional animation special that just hasn’t aged well for me. I like the cartooning style, but the story is pretty thin, especially when compared to my two previous choices. I know it’s for kids, but it’s pretty lame.

My main problem, though, is the song. Song. One song. The other shows on this list half at least a half a dozen songs each. Yes, they are both hour long shows and this is a 30 minute special, but couldn’t they come up with a couple more songs? Instead we get the title song. Over and over and over. The kids sing it, Jimmy Durante the narrator sings it. He sings it at its regular tempo. He sings it slow. There are snippets of it throughout the show. A verse here, a chorus there.

Over and over and over.

And if you don’t care for the song, it’s a chore to get through. I don’t care for the song.

5492a2ba5edb4062e67cff9102ea3719Also, the pedant in me wonders why it was so urgent to get Frosty to the north pole. It’s just before Christmas. It’s winter. There’s snow all over the place, how warm can it be? And it gets colder right after Christmas, not warmer. Frosty has time. There’s no need to risk little Karen’s life and commit the crimes of jumping a train and trespassing in a greenhouse in order to get Frosty to colder climes.

It just doesn’t hold up. Not for me, anyway.

Packing Peanuts!

May you have a terrific holiday season!

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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.

Punching THE Nazi On This Month’s Great Cover

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In March of 1941, Europe was embroiled in another great war. Many Americans, including many American legislators, wanted nothing to do with it. “Let Europe sort out its own problems.” Pres. Franklin Roosevelt, while maintaining America would remain officially neutral by law, if not at heart, found a way to aid our allies of the First World War. It was called Lend-Lease.

Lend-Lease allowed America to become, as Pres. Roosevelt put it, “the great arsenal of democracy.” The US would supply Great Britain, who at that point was virtually alone in standing against Germany, with tanks, ships, aircraft, weapons, clothing, and food. The tools necessary for Great Britain to sustain its fight against the Nazis and Adolf Hitler.

There were members of Congress who believed Lend-Lease gave the president too much power. The isolationists of America believed Roosevelt was trying to find a way to break our policy of neutrality and get our country involved in another bloody conflict over there. “Hadn’t we lost enough of our boys in getting Europe’s fanny out of the fire already?” That attitude may not have been shared by the majority of Americans, but it had a strong influence on America’s feelings toward another European war.

Timely Comics, however, took a bold stance. Lend-Lease may have put a big crack in the neutrality wall built around the United States, but the official American policy was to not get directly involved. And, yet, Timely made its non-neutral attitude known with one of the most legendary punches in comic book history.

The cover date is March, 1941, but issue number one of Captain America Comics hit the newsstands in December, 1940; three months prior to Lend-Lease becoming law and a year before the attack on Pearl Harbor. American isolationists may have been outspoken, but Timely wanted their opinion to be known, as well. So, they created America’s super-soldier.

The cover was done by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, with Simon sketching out the idea and then inking Kirby’s fleshed out pencils, the two artists wanted the world to know that America needed to get involved. Captain America can be seen delivering a powerful smack right in Hitler’s kisser on the cover of this debut issue. Talk about boldly stating their opinion! Not doubt about where they stood. This Hitler guy was an evil force that needed to be stopped, no matter what the we-shouldn’t-get-involved crowd said. A crowd that included some Americans who actually supported the German dictator.

The issue sold very well at close to a million copies and received mostly positive feedback. However, there were some Americans who objected and threats were made to Timely and the book’s creators. Threats that warranted police protection for a time.

The art itself is good, albeit a bit crude. And it delivers its message, along with that punch, loud and clear. It is because of the bold statement being made by Simon, Kirby, publisher Martin Goodman, and Timely Comics that this is a great cover. In fact, it may be one of the greatest cover book covers ever made.

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.

Great Album Retro Review: Night Time By Killing Joke

Killing_Joke_night_timeLooking for intensity? An intensity that doesn’t always need to be over-the-top and shouty, except when that’s just what’s needed? Killing Joke might be what you are looking for.

Killing Joke is a deadly serious Post Punk band originating in London, England. They don’t display much of a sense of humor as they tear into the evils of society, political corruption, and corporate greed. And though this might seem off-putting to some, they do craft some pretty excellent songs. There are good melodies and some mellowness mixed in with their intensity. And lots of excellent guitar riffs. Especially on their 1985 release Night Time.

Killing Joke is led by singer and keyboardist Jaz Coleman. When watching the band play live, Coleman provides about 80% of the band’s intensity. I saw the band a couple times in the mid 80s and it was darn near impossible for me to take my eyes off of him. I’ve seen some more recent video of the band playing live and Jaz still has that intensity coming out his pours.

All nine tracks on Night Time are credited as being composed by the band: Coleman (vocals/keyboards), Geordie Walker (guitar), Paul Raven (Bass), and Paul Ferguson (drums/vocals). When playing live, Coleman is the star of the show, but on this album Walker’s guitar takes center stage.

The Tracks:

Night Time – I always love me a good opening track and this one is awfully good. It’s a hard driving song with the bass and drums locked in together and Walker’s guitar chugging along.

Darkness Before Dawn – This is one of those mostly quiet intense tunes with bursts of energy to pull the listener along. Great riffs by Walker throughout.

Love Like Blood – This was the band’s highest charting song in Europe (#16 in the UK) and it’s a dance track. Sure, it’s still intense and filled with shredding guitar riffs, but it’s got a great danceable beat grounded by a terrific bassline. Coleman’s vocals are more subtle with good range on this track.

Kings And Queens – The dance-ability started by the previous track is present in this song. It’s a little more angry than Love Like Blood. And there’s that great slashing guitar, of course.

Tabazan – The 15 seconds of hyperventilation that start the song gives away to more of that excellent Walker guitar work. Coleman’s vocals for most of this track are strained and edgy. It’s almost an though he’s on the brink of some crisis or maybe an orgasm.

Multitudes – Mellowness, or as mellow as Killing Joke can be, finds its way onto this track. Raven’s bass really drives the song.

Europe – A contemplative track with (surprise!) more great guitar by Walker. It’s a good set-up for the next track.

Eighties – Oh, man! This my favorite track on the album and my favorite song by Killing Joke. This has the most monstrous of monster guitar riffs ever to be riffed. And not just by Killing Joke Name any other monster riff. Any! This one is just as good. Probably better. It’s so good it was rumored Killing Joke sued Nirvana for ripping it off for their song Come As You Are. According to Rolling Stone magazine, no such lawsuit was ever filed. Well, whatever, the song kicks ass!

Night Time is available on Spotify.

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.

My Thumb Was Always Way Up

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Dave Letterman’s stock answer whenever questioned about why there were two guest chairs on the Late Night set was always – “Siskel and Ebert.” It got a laugh every time and, for the most part, was exactly right. Rarely did Dave ever have more than one guest on the set at one time (the infamous Lawler/Kaufman appearance and Penn & Teller notwithstanding), but Siskel and Ebert always showed up as a pair.

In the decade of the 1980s, there were two television shows that I rarely missed: The aforementioned Late Night with David Letterman and At The Movies with Siskel & Ebert. I looked forward to each Saturday afternoon to find out which new movies might be worth seeing. And Siskel and Ebert were my go-to guys.

250px-Sneak-previewsMy earliest recollection of their movie review show goes back to about 1980, maybe 1981, when they were still on PBS and the show was called Sneak Previews. I believe it was my sister who introduced me to the show and there is one particular episode, or I should say review, that comes to mind.

They were reviewing the Wings (that’s Paul McCartney’s band from the days after The Beatles broke up, kids, and The Beatles were a fairly popular rock band in the 1960s) concert film: Rockshow (1980). These two old farts (Gene was 36 at the time and Roger was 38) wanted more than just a concert film. They wanted to know the inner workings of the band. How was it to mount a major concert tour, what was it like for Paul having his wife in the band, and what did the other band members think about being on the same stage as rock legend Linda… er… Paul McCartney? None of these questions was answered by the straight forward concert movie. It was all about the Rockshow.

Gene and Roger both liked the music, but were disappointed by the documentary. They both voted no. That’s right – no. This was early enough along that they hadn’t yet developed the famous “thumbs up/thumbs down” system.

My sister was appalled at their verdict. “You know, Wings fans might just want to experience the concert, you jerks!”

I gotta agree with my sister. I mean at the time I really had to agree with her, if I knew what was good for me. But she did have a point. Wings couldn’t go to every city. A concert film was the next best thing to getting to see the band live.

Despite my sister’s reaction, I kept tuning in each week. Their popularity grew and grew and soon they left the confines of Public Television for the greener (read: more money) pastures of syndicated television. And I followed right along.

primary_siskel-thumb-490x370-14981What was it about these two fellows that was so compelling to watch? Sure, there was their mutual love of movies, but I also think it was the competition between the two and the sometimes barely concealed contempt for each other. Each man absolutely felt he was the better critic and the audience could sense that. And they both strongly believed in giving the other the needle. They would often exchange sharp zingers on the other’s intelligence, artistic savvy, and worth as a human being. Well, that last one might be an exaggeration. But they could really dig into each other. There are outtakes of them getting quite snarly with each other. Insults, name-calling, and swearing were plentiful.

There was a real sense of tension to the show. And I think that brought something exciting to their reviews. Something worth tuning into week after week.

And yet, at the same time, they had a great deal of respect for each other. When they were in strong agreement on a film, they would cheer each other on.

All this was evident when watching the show.

When Gene took ill some months before his death (February 20, 1999), he would still appear on the show as often as his health would allow. He would wear a hair piece on the side of his head to hide the scarring from his surgeries. I recall one show he did from his hospital room via satellite. Such was his love of and dedication to movies.

roeperWhen he died, Roger carried on with a rotating roster of other noted film critics, before settling on Richard Roeper as Gene’s permanent replacement. Gone was Siskel and Ebert. It was now Ebert and Roeper. And it just wasn’t the same. How could it be?

Richard was a good film critic and he and Roger did develop a certain chemistry, but it just couldn’t match what had gone before. There would be disagreements between the two, sometimes heated ones, but Roeper tended to be much more deferential toward Roger, the legend of movie criticism. Gene was Roger’s equal. Richard was Roger’s student.

Then Roger had his health problems that kept him away from the show more and more, until he lost his ability to speak. Roeper soldiered on with a rotating roster of film critics and then he left the show. The show limped on with other hosts, but without the thumbs up/thumbs down. There was a format change to make the review program more like Entertainment Tonight. I was appalled. It didn’t last long after that.

06APPRAISAL-articleLargeRoger Ebert returned to PBS in January, 2011 with Ebert Presents: At The Movies. He didn’t host the show, but he would contribute a film review that either used a computerized voice or it was read by someone else. The show came to an end in December, 2011. Essentially ending movie criticism on television.

Roger died April 4, 2013.

Thanks to YouTube, we can relive many of those great shows Gene and Roger gave us. We can thrill to their excitement over a great work of art and we can chuckle nervously as they apply the needle to each other. Check ’em out.

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.