Monday, November 28, 2011

Charlie Louvin Meets Jello!

In February of 2007, country music legend Charlie Louvin released a new solo album on Thompkins Square Records. It would be the first of several new releases leading right up to his death in January 2011 from pancreatic cancer, and the start of Charlie’s official “re-discovery” by the Americana crowd.

One lucky result (for me, anyway) of the promotion for the new album was getting Charlie as an in-studio guest for my radio show, The Hipbilly Jamboree, on the now sadly deceased WRVU  91.1 FM. 

But it got even better.

No.1 on Jello's want list!
My co-host on the show, Kels Koch, was working for the local record store The Great Escape at the time. A few years earlier, he had met punk rock icon and former lead man of The Dead Kennedys, Jello Biafra. Jello was in town and looking for Louvin Brothers albums, in particular the 1959 classic Satan is Real. He left Kels his telephone number in case a copy of Satan is Real did turn up, and a few months later, one did. Kels hooked Jello up with an original Capital pressing of the Louvin’s harrowing tales of sin and salvation and all was right.

Charlie was scheduled to appear on our show for February 20, 2007 and it just so happened that Jello would be appearing at the Belcourt Theater in Nashville on the same night. That morning, Kels received a phone call from Jello to let him know about the show and that he had put Kels on the guest list. When Kels mentioned to Jello that Charlie would be appearing on our show that evening Jello got really excited and asked if he could drop by the station.

Like we were going to say no…

And so about 50 minutes into the show Jello showed up at the door and the meeting between one of the men responsible for Satan is Real and one of the men responsible for Frankenchrist began. Jello had stopped off at a record store and snagged a couple of Louvin Borthers LPs for Charlie to sign. No copy of Satan is Real, but Jello was still mighty happy.

My favorite off-air moment was when Jello asked Charlie to inscribe the records to him, and Charlie said, “I’m sorry, what’s your name again?”


“Jello!  You mean like the dessert?”

Here's a clip of the on-air portion of the meeting.  Things were pretty chaotic in the studio as you can tell, not only from Jello showing up, but also the various other WRVU DJs that had stopped by to meet Charlie. The “one line story” that Jello mentions is a off-color joke that Charlie told him that he didn’t want to repeat on the air, and that unfortunately, I have forgotten.

And to hear more about Satan is Real check out the audio archive of my story for Nashville Public Radio about the new reissue of the LP on Light in the Attic Records.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Of Rippers and Creapes!

I'm honored to be the guest writer?, captioner?, weirdo?, on this week's "Dilation Exercise" over at Alan M. Clark's supremely cool Imagination Fully Dilated Blog. And while you're there, be sure to follow the links to Alan's website and check out his new novel, Of Thimble and Threat: The Life of a Ripper Victim.

And while I'm here let me go ahead and plug my latest story for Nashville Public Radio, which aired on Halloween -- Sir Cecil Creape: Nashville's Hometown Ghoul!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

12 Hours of Terror – 119 Syllables of Horror Haikus!

For those of you coming in late, every October I watch horror films and write haikus about them. Just got back from the 12 Hours of Terror at the Belcourt Theater – so away we go!

Night of the Creeps – 1986
Directed by Fred Dekker
Frat party tonight!
With slugs’n’blood and formal,
Flamethrowers – thrill me!

Abby – 1974
Director by William Girdler
She got extra soul!
Big bass voice battle, who wins?
Whup that demon ass!

Anguish – 1987 (aka  Angustia)
Directed by Bigas Luna
Eyeball collector,
For mommy. is it real, girl?
Kino comes to life!

Zombie – 1979 (aka Zombi 2)
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Zombie bait, big fish!
Wifey gets a woody,
Doh! There goes New York!

Squirm – 1976
Directed by Jeff Lieberman
Zapity Zap worms!
Not from around here are ya?
Dig that worm face, y’all.

Lady Terminator – 1989 (aka Pembalasan ratu pantai selatan)
Directed by H. Tjut Djalil

Need a thesis got,
An eel! Shoot that bitch, boys!
Bring in the mullets!

Return of the Living Dead - 1984
Directed by Dan O’Bannon

Canned goods - out of date,
Leg warmers warm no more for
Trash and party dead.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Horror Haikus 2011 - Part 5

Here's a quick one for a movie I hadn't seen since it's original release.

Fright Night - 1985
Directed by Tom Holland
Say howdy, neighbor!
Give my girlfriend a big grin.
Roast Bat for Breakfast!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Horror Haikus 2011 - Part 4

Two great ones this time! (The movies, that is, not necessarily the haikus...)

Dr. Phibes Rises Again - 1972
Directed by Robert Fuest

Off to Egypt, Phibes!
Boy, does he have toys and a,
Babe to row the boat!

I've been wanting to see this one since I saw a still from it in Famous Monsters nearly forty years ago. It was worth the wait!

It! – 1966
Directed by Herbert J. Leder

Pimm’s got a golem,
A dead mama, a hot blonde,
And an A-bomb – BOOM!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Mystery of the Muhlenberg County Masks!

Like just about any kid obsessed with the magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland in the sixties or seventies, the ads for Warren Publication’s merchandising arm, the Captain Company, held about an equal attraction to me as the articles and photos in each issue. The Captain Company sold everything the well-heeled monster kid could want and certainly far more than one could afford on an allowance of two bucks every two weeks.

Many an issue of Famous Monsters would fall into my hands, and before long I’d be filling out the order form in the back for books, back issues, monster models, Super 8 horror films, and more.  And just as often those order forms would never get mailed, since my wants always exceeded my budget even after making carefully considered choices in an attempt to narrow it down to just those items that “I had to have.”

Quite certainly the holy grail of Captain Company merchandise had to be the deluxe Don Post Masks. Not only did these masks of Frankenstein!, The Creature from the Black Lagoon!, The Mole People!, The Werewolf!, and others look to be the best from their pictures and descriptions, but they even sold monster hands, and in some cases feet (!), to go with the masks. And with an astronomical price tag of $39.95 each for the masks and $19.95 for hands or feet the quality of said masks could not be doubted. In fact, while I can’t remember consciously thinking this, I’m pretty sure my assumption was that say, the Creature from the Black Lagoon mask would be virtually indistinguishable from the version in the movies. I mean, technology had advanced since the fifties, and it was forty dollars for gosh sakes!

The ads that caused thousands of kids to annoy the crap out their parents!

But while actually owning a Don Post mask remained an unattainable dream, dreaming of what I would do with them was another matter. I spent many an hour at school, home, and during church services daydreaming up ways to produce my own 8mm epic monster rallies with a legion of latex-masked monsters enacting tales of melodramatic fury.

By the late seventies, I was drifting away from reading Famous Monsters. In the wake of Star Wars, the magazine had lost its way, and a new generation of fantasy film magazines like Starlog, Fantastic Films, and then Fangoria had stolen its thunder. While the Captain Company may have been a thing of the past, Starlog knew a good idea when they saw it and started their own merchandise company that carried the Don Post Masks. Even though their ads may have lacked the superlative hyperbole of the Captain Company, they did have really nice color printing in most of their ads which showed off the masks really well. Especially the awesome new Human Fly mask and claw that Don Post introduced in the late seventies and which immediately caught my fancy in a big way.

Don Post in Color!

The masks were still tempting, and there was the fact that I was gradually coming into more income, especially when I started working part time after school at the IGA in the fall of 1978. But becoming a teenager also meant there were more varied interests and places to spend my money. So while the idea of owning a phalanx of Don Post masks, all arranged in rows on styrofoam heads in my bedroom, may have still had its appeal, it was not a  dream that I spent any real time pursuing. I mean, I had never even seen one these masks.

And then came Halloween of 1979.

The last half of 1979 was a really good time for me. I had turned sixteen in May, gotten my driver’s license as soon as possible after my birthday, and with a used 1976 Pinto in my possession, I had freedom of movement for the first time in my life. That October, word got out that the Central City Fire Department was running a really good haunted house. So one night, probably a Friday or Saturday, I and a bunch of friends headed out to see it.

Now, I had never been to a haunted house attraction before. Perhaps there had been some in Central City previously, but since it was 17 miles down the road from me, I had no easy way to go until I had my own means to get there. And that year, it was a very good haunted house. Someone with a knowledge of horror movies had obviously put a great deal of thought into its production. It was held in an old funeral home and each room presented a tableau drawn from one horror movie, including all the standards by that point – Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolfman, The Exorcist, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and more. 

But the first thing that caught my eye was the Don Post Masks. They were everywhere!  After years of lusting after tiny black & white photos, there were all the masks, right in my face – and worn by someone screaming their lungs out at me. Including the capper -- the awesome fly mask and claw that showed up in the last room of the tour.

"Help me!!!"
While my friends were all impressed with the haunted house experience, I was even more impressed with the masks, and I remember saying as we left, “Someone spent a LOT of money on this!”

The next year, when October rolled around I made sure to hightail to the Central City Haunted House as soon as it opened, mainly because I really wanted to see those masks again. But I was in for a big disappointment. Not only were Don Post masks nowhere to be seen, but the haunted house was a pale shadow of what it had been the year before. The planning and staging just wasn’t there. The mastermind behind the 1979 haunted house was obviously not involved in the 1980 offering.

I’ve often wondered just where all those Don Post masks came from. Who in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky could have had such an incredible collection? Perhaps they were rented, but from where?  I suppose if I had followed up at the time I may have found out, but it was awfully hard to stay obsessed about one thing for very long (excluding girls and being generally pissed off at the world) at the age of sixteen.

Whatever the answer to the mystery, I do know that a bunch of latex rubber and fake hair made one Halloween very special for me.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Bits of Seventies Goodness!

Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s “Monster Mash” was re-released as a single in 1973 and became a Billboard chart hit for the third time. I loved the song, and when I spotted this cheap LP (probably at the Woolco in the Bowling Green Mall) it had to be mine! Of course, I knew nothing about the low-rent “Pickwick Records” label at the time, and the version on this album was a re-recording of the song by some unknown studio schmuck.

But I also didn’t really care, because I got such wholesome tracks as “Screams of the Torture Chamber,” “The Victims of the Guillotine,” and “Attack of the Incredible Crab” along with it. I spent many hours destroying the grooves on this LP with dull needles on my stereo. Good times, great oldies!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Horror Haikus 2011 - Part 3

Time to revisit a classic.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers - 1956
directed by Don Siegel

The pods have arrived,
Foamin'n'Poppin'-- you're next!
Load up the truck, boys!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Horror Haikus 2011 - Part 2

Today's entry is about a British rarity that just about overloaded the WTF meter and that was obviously inspired (ripped off from?) the French horror classic Les yeux sans visage (Eyes Without a Face).  Boy, the things that seemed like a good idea in 1967...

Corruption – 1967 (aka Carnage)
Directed by Robert Hartford-Davis

Peter hunts for glands,
To de-wafflefy wifey,
Look, a laser show!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Horror Haikus 2011 - Part 1!

Every October I watch horror movies, for the whole month, and I write haikus about them.  Sometimes they’re “reviews” of a sort, sometimes plot descriptions (with “spoilers”) of a sort, sometimes they’re something else.

This year I’m starting a week early because it was a really nasty summer in Tennessee and because I just want to (so there!)

Cry of the Banshee – 1970
Directed by Gordon Hessler

Vincent hunts witches
Roderick is a rascal
Dance, pagan girls, dance!

Master of Horror: Deer Woman – 2005
Directed by John Landis

Hot Indian Babe,
Dances on your giblets,
With two tiny hooves!

More to come!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Bits of Seventies Goodness!

In the summer of 1973 7-Eleven stores began a promotion for DC Super-Hero Slurpee cups. Of course, there were NO 7-Eleven stores in Muhlenberg County. The closest were in Nashville, 75 miles (!) away.

Fortunately, my Dad had an old friend in Nashville that we would occasionally visit. On the next visit, I begged to stop at a 7-Eleven store and brought home three cups. (A Slurpee each for me, mom and dad, but of course I would have been willing to drink 30 Slurpees if they would have let me!)

I snagged the incredibly cool Wildcat cup, the awesomely swank Vigilante cup, and the fantastically lame “Dick Grayson” cup (Really? Robin without a mask? Really?) Which only became more irritating when some slightly older cousins visited and got a whole evening of guffaws from a fact that I had a cup on display in my bedroom with a character on it named "Dick."  (Obviously, they were from the intellectual wing of the Fox family...)  Oh, Slurpee, you know not what you spawned.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

So it goes...

I went to see Nick Lowe at the Country Music Hall of Fame last weekend. The show was part of the “Songwriter’s Session” series – which consists of a short interview followed by an acoustic performance. Nick was smart, funny, and very entertaining – a great show.

The first place I heard of Nick Lowe was when the song “Cruel to Be Kind,” off his second solo album Labour of Lust, hit the American charts in 1979. But at that time, musical geekdom had not over taken me – I was still pretty much just devoted to science fiction, comic books and old horror and comedy films.  So even when a hit single would grab my attention I pretty much stuck with buying the single, and I didn’t pursue the artist any further. (The same thing would happen with the first Bruce Springsteen song that came to my attention, “Hungry Heart” the next year. There’s a long story that goes with this, but I’ll get to that one eventually.)

Young Nick - Pop Star (with a great jacket!)

Of course that would all change in the fall of 1981. My first semester of college was when I added full-fledged music geekdom to my portfolio of manias. From the moment I started college I was suddenly bombarded with all manner of rock’n’roll that I had missed out on growing up in Muhlenberg County with my head stuck deeply into sci-fi paperbacks. During the period of September to December of 1981 I either had my first exposure to, or bought my first LPs by The Clash, Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen, The Sex Pistols, The Ramones, R.E.M., Wreckless Eric, Warren Zevon and many others including, or course, Nick Lowe and Rockpile.

Even though Lowe’s first two solo albums, Jesus of Cool and Labour of Lust were acknowledged classics, the rest of the eighties saw him releasing a variety of albums that slid up and down the critical scale. As typical for artists who are the critic’s darlings for their first couple of records, Lowe’s albums from this period are really better than they were usually given credit for at the time. But despite the sometimes poor reviews, I remained a Nick Lowe fan all through the eighties, only losing track of him as the nineties dawned and my interest turned more to exploring older music.

Around 2001 I found Lowe again through his album, The Convincer. Although all the building blocks of Lowe’s music – the wit, the country and blues influences, the clever turn of a phrase – was there, Lowe had dramatically reinvented himself, dropping the intellectual court-jester of rock he had been and instead emerging as a deeply introspective and savy songwriter who still understood the basic absurdity of human life and love.

In his interview last weekend, he talked about going through the process of reinventing himself.  How he had realized one day that his days as a “pop star” were gone, and that he was faced with the choice of fooling himself into thinking that he could recapture the past or to move on and find a new voice that could appeal to an audience of both young and old music fans that appreciated music beyond the “hot new thing.”

This self-awareness about his talents and the fickleness of his chosen career is something that has always impressed me about Lowe. It was right there on his first album, Jesus of Cool, in several of his songs, including “Marie Provost” – a pop ditty about the sad fate of the eponymous former silent movie screen star. But it’s one thing to be able to say our successes in life are fleeting, but quite another thing to grapple with the fact directly and know when it’s time to move on to the next chapter.

Old Nick - Songwriter Sage (with great hair!)

This is something I’ve thought a lot about this last year.  After 12 years at one career, to suddenly have it all end and your future be uncertain can be a pretty heavy blow. But even after nine months I continue to be excited every day about what the future will bring me. I may still be in the period of sorting out the next chapter of life, but whatever it may be I’m looking forward to it, and in fact, really enjoying it. As I’ve said many times, “Other than the fact that I don’t have a steady paycheck right now, I’m happier and enjoying myself more than I have in years.”

Looking back there have been definite periods where the course of my life has changed  -- when I was nine and discovered comic books, that first semester of college when I discovered my mania and passion for music and many other interests, and other times since then. But uncertainty about the future is not really bad thing. It’s when we can’t let go of the past – that’s the real destroyer – that unwillingness to turn the page. Because hanging on to the past is the act of trying to cling to something that no longer exists.

A couple of years ago I ran into an old friend from college that I hadn’t seen for 20 years.  It didn’t take me long to realize that although he might be married, and have a daughter he was still pretty much the exact same person that I knew in college. He still read the same type of books, watched the same type of movies, played the same role-playing games and still thought about and looked at the world the exact same way he did when he was 21. While living in a state where nothing ever changes may offer security of a type, for me at least, it seems a terribly boring way to live, and furthermore how does one cope when the inevitable big change does come along?

For me, and Nick Lowe apparently, jumping in and struggling with that next big step and figuring out that next change of direction is the only choice.  For winners or not, we’re all destined to eventually become the doggie’s dinner, but it’s the choices we make and the different paths we travel before we face that “hungry little dachshund” that make all the difference.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Of Werewolves and War...

It’s very interesting to see how memories from our childhood get so intertwined with current events of the time and the strange bedfellows these connections create. Here’s a good example, a couple of weeks ago I was in McKay’s Books here in Nashville -- the local supermarket/dumping ground of used and no-longer-loved books. Now while the majority of what shows up at McKay’s is of recent vintage, some really oddball items can turn up at times, and so it was with this little gem that I found on the shelf for a mere six bucks.

The Book of Werewolves – Being an Account of a Terrible Superstition by the Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould is a collection of European folklore and legends concerning werewolves (well, duh…) that was originally published in 1865. This edition, a facsimile reprint of the first edition, was published in 1973 by Causeway Books, a small press out of New York who’s other publications included (according to the back of the dustjacket) such titles as Your Psychic Powers and How to Develop Them, The Book of Vampires, and Oragenitalism: Oral Techniques in Genital Excitation – all the fun stuff in other words.

Although Causeway Books were not carried on the spinner paperback racks of the drugstores I frequented as a kid, I did see this particular book for the first time around the start of 1975 when we would shop in Bowling Green or some other city that had an actual bookstore with a remainder/discount books section.

I was, of course, immediately drawn to the book, both by its title and the spectacularly creepy illustration featured on the dustjacket. Plus the 19th Century text contained within made it look just like a book that Carl Kolchak might have consulted on Kolchak: The Night Stalker, my favorite TV show, which was then limping toward the end of its first and only season. After all, what would I do if a werewolf showed up in Dunmor, Kentucky? I needed to have knowledge and be prepared!

But despite these rock-solid reasons for purchasing the book, the creepiness that attracted me also worked against me, and the price tag, probably a whopping $2.99 or so after the markdown, also held me at bay. So even though I saw it on more than one occasion I continued to pass it by. However, fate had other plans…

In April of 1975, we left Kentucky for week’s trip to Connecticut to visit my dad’s brother and his family. When we got there I was to stay with the youngest  of Uncle’s kids, Andy, who was already a teenager and a horror fan. Andy had a collection of Warren Comics magazines Vampirella, Creepy, and Eerie, and for me, being just a few weeks away from turning 12, staying in his room in the basement was awesome indeed. But best of all, Andy also had a certain yellow and black book – The Book of Werewolves.

So here was my chance to read this intimidating tome with absolutely no cash outlay. Over the three or four days we were there I spent time in the mornings and evenings plowing through as many pages as I could.
"You mean the movie lied?"
The first thing I discovered was that traditional werewolf legends were quite a bit different from the “facts” as presented by the spinning, neon Universal globe. There were no tortured souls, cursed to become ravening wolves when the autumn moon is bright. Instead the stories I read dealt with no-goodniks who donned the skin of wolves for transformations or wanton females who rubbed their naked bodies (hot-cha!) with magic wolf grease before their murderous rampages – with their main victims being, more often than not, babies(!).

But while I devoured the tales of lycanthropy, real world tragedies were about to intrude upon me. I can distinctly remember sitting in my cousin’s bedroom the morning of the last day we were there and reading about werewolves with the radio on. When the radio cut to a newsbreak the main story of the day was the end of the war in Vietnam and the fall of Saigon -- forever cementing in my mind a link between the end of the Vietnam War and tales of bestial and murderous transformations.

Of course there’s probably a great metaphor here about the transformation of the American psyche in the wake of Vietnam. Or perhaps the shattering of illusions about Hollywood werewolf lore and the American self-image of righteousness,  but for right now I think I’ll just settle down with the good Reverend for tales of wolfish horror and baby-eating and finish reading the book I started over 36 years ago.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

In Praise of "Uncle" Gardner!

From the start of my comic book obsession in 1972 I was almost equally fascinated by the history and creators of funny books as I was with the four-color creations themselves. At that time my favorite comic book was the Justice League of America. Also, DC Comics was reprinting tons of comic book stories from the “Golden Age” of the 1940s right up through the “Silver Age” of the 1960s. (In many ways it was the “Golden Age of Reprints,” but that’s a topic for a future essay.) So even though Gardner F. Fox had left the employ of DC Comics in 1968 (over a dispute about him and other long-time creators wanting DC to pay for health benefits –thank you, greedy corporate bastards…) I pretty quickly became familiar with his name and work.

Of course I would notice his last name, since it was the same as mine, and I couldn’t help speculating at times if perhaps there was a relation between us.  Perhaps he could even be a distant Uncle, how cool would that be! (But, as far as I know, there is no relation…)

Gardner F. Fox by Gil Kane

As for his work, Gardner Fox was definitely one of the most prolific writers to ever work in comics.  Some historians have estimated that he wrote over 4,000 comic book stories. In addition to the sheer numbers he was also a co-creator of the original Flash; Hawkman; the original Sandman; Starman; Dr. Fate; Zatanna; the first super-team, The Justice Society of America; its successor, the Justice League of America (for which he wrote the first 65 issues); one the greatest science fiction series in comic books, Adam Strange; and the list goes on and on.

Fox’s best stories were tightly plotted little gems, often with puzzles to be solved by his main characters that involved some scientific fact or esoteric knowledge. But although his writing may have been “old school comic pulp” that didn’t engage in the soap opera histrionics that Stan Lee and others employed at Marvel Comics, the comic book stories that Fox was writing for editor Julie Schwartz in the 1960s displayed a far more subtle and solid characterization than they are usually given credit for.

Yes, the characters in his Justice League stories could be rather interchangeable since the plot was king in that book, but on the solo series that Fox wrote – The Atom, Hawkman, and most of all, Adam Strange, he would drop little bits of character into stories that over time would build a really strong picture of his protagonists’ personalities. John Broome, the main writer on The Flash and Green Lantern during the sixties followed this same pattern, and it’s interesting to note that when Fox would script the occasional issue of those two series (usually the ones that would introduce BIG science fiction concepts) you would see no “personality writing” in the stories. Like he was holding back on purpose so as not to “mess with” Broome’s characters. (And it's also interesting how jarring the occasional fill-in by Robert Kanigher on The Flash would be since he would ignore and often contradict all the characterization that Broome had constructed.)

But in addition to all those funny book stories, Fox was also cranking out paperback novels. Between 1944 and 1982, he wrote at least one novel a year, sometimes more, in the genres of historical adventure, science fiction, fantasy, mysteries, spy fiction and more -- under his own name and a variety of pseudonyms.  A few years ago I started picking up novels by Fox when I find them in decent condition, and all the ones that I have read so far have been well-written, entertaining and imaginative.
Frank Frazetta on the left, Gray Morrow on the right, what's not to like?
Right now I’m finishing up the two books in Fox’s Llarn series, a neat little planetary fantasy series that is of course, a John Carter of Mars imitator, or perhaps you could say Adam Strange with more sword fights and no worry about being whisked back to Earth when the time comes for the hero to get down with his space sweetie.

Reading these books and seeing the disappointing (though still fun on some levels) Green Lantern movie got me to thinking about Gardner Fox so I naturally looked him up on Wikipedia and also this really fine bio on the Hawkworld website. The result is that I found out two interesting facts. One is that 2011 is the 100th anniversary of his birth, something I’ve seen no mention of on the Internets, and two is that his birthday is one day after mine, May 20th! So a belated Happy Birthday to my “Uncle” Gardner and thanks for all the great adventures!

"Essentially a story should be entertaining. It should lift you out of the fact that you're sitting on a brownstone stoop, as I was when I read The Gods of Mars for the first time. Or the subway; the subway should disappear, and you're living in the world of the story. That is the ideal of the story." -- Gardner F. Fox

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Zoinks! I'm Back at Last!

Wow, getting back on that blog horse is a lot harder than I thought it would be. When I (finally) started blogging I swore to myself that I would never write blogs about the problems of trying to write blogs – no tail chasin’. 

So, no excuses, whys or wherefors. I’m back, even if I have to write short stuff to get there.

And short stuff it is. Here’s a link to my old school professional wrestling article that just appeared in this week’s issue of the Nashville Scene. It was a blast to research and write!

"Lords of the Ring"

Nashville wrestling fans, rejoice — it's the return of Jerry Lawler, Bill Dundee and the fabulous Jackie Fargo:

And if you're looking for more stuff to read by me that's printed on actual paper hurry(!) to your newstand in case they still have the Summer issue of Twisted South magazine with my column on the Louvin Brothers' Satan is Real album.  Also, get ready to head back there in a couple of weeks for the Fall issue of Twisted South which will have three, count 'em, three articles by me appearing in that issue. But more on that later.

More to follow, soon, I promise, really, for true…

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Big Show Time Machine

This week's post is a look at the past, in two ways. The article below was originally written back in 1998 for the third issue of John Hudson's excellent video fanzine, The Rewinder.   (You do remember when you had to "rewind" movies don't you?) Due to complicated circumstances issue three never saw the light of day, so here it is at last.

I had originally wanted to write a full history of The Big Show, but I couldn't find anyone that worked in programming for WLAC in the seventies. My only sources were memory and microfilm (remember that too?) of TV schedules from the Tennessean.  Still, I think the piece turned out rather well and hopefully, can be enjoyed by anyone that grew up with a weekly afternoon movie on local TV. So grab a can of Pringles and a grape Nehi and enjoy!


            Okay, here's the deal. The bell rings at three o'clock on the dot. Fifteen minutes to get on the bus before it pulls out, that is if they don't hold it up for some stupid little kid that's messing around. The ride home takes about 35 minutes -- in the house throw the books down, ten minutes to go. Mom bugs you about your chores and you promise her to do them later. She's in a good mood, so she lets you slide. A big glass of Kool-Ade, some chips, and on the couch, shoes off -- crank the volume up. It's four o'clock and time for The Big Show.

            For more than twenty years, The Big Show was a weekday ritual for kids in the Nashville television viewing area. Growing up in the sixties and seventies meant rushing home from school to catch the latest showing of Son of Frankenstein, Commanche, Tarantula, Pinocchio in Outer Space, A Night at the Opera, Tickle Me, or any of the other hundreds of movies that would come blasting out of WLAC-TV, Channel 5 every afternoon at four.

            While syndicated movies were a staple of most local television programming -- filling up time on weekends and late nights -- WLAC did not begin programming weekday afternoon movies until October 29, 1956 with Screen Hit Theater. The afternoon movie continued under that title until February 18, 1957 when it changed to the name it would carry for the next twenty years, The Big Show. Unfortunately, the Tennessean and the Nashville Banner did not list the titles of individual movies in their programming guide at that time, so the debut title of The Big Show is lost to history. Judging by the movies listed in 1958 and 1959 it's likely the first Big Shows were comedies, dramas, and musicals from the thirties and forties -- titles like Words and Music, Damsel in Distress and A Likely Story. Add to these, series films like Henry Aldrich and the Bowery Boys, and various horse operas.

            As the sixties began, movie producers learned what a valuable market television presented, and more and more films poured into syndication. WLAC also seemed to learn that its main audience in the afternoons was kids, and kids wanted to see action. Westerns, gangster films, and horror and science fiction epics soon became the mainstay of The Big Show. The comedies, musicals and dramas didn't disappear from the schedule. They were mixed in, making for some breathtakingly eclectic weeks of viewing. A look at one week's worth of Big Shows from October, 1966 reveals the 1958 Fred MacMurray western Day of the Badman on Monday, followed by 1959's monster and hot rod epic, The Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow on Tuesday. The Jeff Chandler 1958 adventure yarn, Raw Wind in Eden, followed on Wednesday, with Hedy Lamarr in the 1958 drama The Female Animal on Thursday. Closing out this already mixed-up week was the 1959 Roger Corman beatnik-horror classic, A Bucket of Blood.

            Of course, rare was the kid that watched all these movies, every day. But part of the charm of The Big Show was its demonstration of the diversity of American film. Can't stand Lucille Ball in the Fuller Brush Girl?  Well, tune in tomorrow for Brando in The Wild One. Can't handle Doctor Blood's Coffin?  Just come back the next day for The Miracle of Morgan's Creek.

            As The Big Show moved into the seventies, the size of WLAC's film library continued to grow and, despite the occasional theme week, like John Wayne, Frankenstein, Elvis, etc., the bulk of The Big Show's programming remained wildly diverse. One new wrinkle was WLAC's weatherman, Bob Lobertini, becoming the host of the show. First appearing as a kiddy host in the guise of "Captain Bob," and later hosting the "Dialing for Dollars" segment during the movie, Lobertini became a face and name known to every kid in Middle Tennessee and South Central Kentucky. You had to trust the forecast given to you by the man that had just introduced Gamera that afternoon.

            Probably one of the most exciting experiments with The Big Show's format came in the seventies when WLAC aired the complete 1944 Republic serial, Captain America, showing one episode after each movie for three weeks in a row. While the experiment may have not been successful, since WLAC never showed any other serials in this manner, I can testify from personal experience that kids at my grade school were hooked. Even if the movie was boring, you just didn't miss Captain America.

            The end was coming for The Big Show, however. In the fall of 1976, WLAC moved The Big Show from its traditional 4:00 time slot up an hour to 3:00. This made it impossible for most kids to make it home for the start of the movie. After one year in this new time slot, The Big Show came to an unceremonious end on August 12, 1977 with the 1958 Van Heflin Western, Gunman's Walk. The following Monday, WLAC began showing standard afternoon rerun fare -- The Munsters, Gilligan's Island, Gomer Pyle USMC, and The Doris Day Show.

            The Big Show may be gone, but it left an indelible imprint in the hearts and minds of the kids that grew up with it. Not only did its eclectic schedule introduce a wild mix of American movies, but it was a lesson in creative anarchy. Where else could you see a movie like The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies on the day after Thanksgiving, or rest assured that Christmas would bring another showing of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.

            For many people in the Nashville viewing area, The Big Show fostered our love of movies, and we felt a loyalty to it. I remember watching the 1966 Batman movie on late night television several years after the demise of The Big Show. I was shocked and dismayed to find out there were several scenes that I had never seen on The Big Show presentations. How could The Big Show have betrayed me?  But of course, with only ninety minutes minus commercials to show movies, The Big Show frequently cut films to ribbons. Another failing was it tendency to show the same films over and over. Frankenstein week almost always consisted of Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, Son of Frankenstein, Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. The other Universal Frankenstein films were seldom seen even though WLAC held the syndication rights to show them.

            Despite its shortcomings, The Big Show still served up fun movies every day, and for that, a lot can be forgiven. There was a specialness in having random access to a variety of movies every day after school. When I started researching this article I called WTVF, the successor to WLAC. No one I contacted had any information on The Big Show or programming from that time, but Mark Benda, the current programming manager, described in affectionate terms the afternoon movie show he grew up watching in New Jersey.

            Today, with cable, satellite TV, and videotapes, The Big Show may seem like quaint nostalgia, but it was an important part of many kids' lives. You knew if you missed The Curse of the Fly on The Big Show, you were looking at least a year before you would see it again, if then. But even if you did miss it, you knew the next day there'd be another movie probably as equally cool and as equally unmissable.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Message from the Department of Shameless Self-Promotion

Just a quick post to plug the new issue of Twisted South that has my feature article on Wanda Jackson and the first installment of my new column - Hillbillies, Hepcats & Honky Tonkers – “Charlie Feathers and the Sound From Another World." For a list of stores that carry Twisted South (nationwide!), just check out their website at:

Friday, March 11, 2011

My Autumn of Aliens, or Why a Swiss Hotel Clerk Owes Me $1.25 (Plus Tax!) – Part 3

So as the seventies rumbled on my interest in UFOs and all manner of weird stuff continued. But along with my interest in the “weird stuff” came my growing interest in “slightly less weird stuff,” such as more conventional science (mainly astronomy and space exploration) as well as science fiction. While I was still a comic book collector, the number of titles I was buying began to slack off as I turned more of my budget to buying science fiction novels and magazines. Not to mention the explosion of movie magazines that began to appear in the aftermath of the release of Star Wars and the growing popularity of Star Trek.

In the fall of 1977, I started high school, and one my best friends was a big time science and astronomy geek. This association would only push me more in the direction of “conventional” science. Also, that fall the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind was released. At the time absolutely loved it, in some ways even more than Star Wars. It struck me as great science fiction with a really positive message about “man’s place in the cosmos.” (I should interject here that my opinion now is less glowing, but no need to get into that...) So I was rather surprised when one of my main literary heroes of the time, science and science fiction writer Isaac Asimov, came down so hard on the movie – criticizing it for promoting “pseudo-science” over “true science.”

And Asimov wasn’t the only one. I had also discovered astronomer Carl Sagan through his many appearance on television talk shows and documentaries, and he was fast becoming a hero of mine. Sagan was not only a brain, but he had a lot of natural charisma and really understood how to use television to his advantage. He was a staunch supporter of the probability of the existence of extraterrestrial life, but could also be an incredibly harsh critic of UFO reports and many of the self-proclaimed “experts” in the field.

So for a while I was torn between two masters. Even though what people like Asimov and Sagan were saying made sense in a logical way, flying saucers and all the other associated weird stuff were just so darn cool. I finally settled on a middle ground where I felt it was good that someone was too skeptical, because that would be the only way the real truth could eventually come out. Yeah, that's the ticket...

"Just the facts, ma'am..." 

And Close Encounters had done its job well on the pop culture scene. Following the movie there was an immediate explosion of UFO books, magazines, documentaries and even TV shows. One my new favorites was the Jack Webb produced Project U.F.O., even if the show was a bit of a cheat at times. The typical episode would start off with some person witnessing an incredibly detailed sighting, often with occupants, but by the end of the episode Major Gatlin and Staff Sgt. Fitz would demonstrate how they had actually seen a flock of birds, swamp gas, or maybe a runaway balloon animal. Still, the Dragnet-just-the-facts formula worked for the show, and eventually the writers starting ending most episodes with some small bone that seemed to show what the person had seen really was unearthly.  (They just needed a big “THE END?” before the credits to make it complete.)

But the end to my days of high strangeness was approaching fast. As part of my new fascination with hard science I had discovered the truly excellent PBS documentary series, Nova. In March of 1978, Nova produced the special episode, “The Case of the Ancient Astronauts.”  While I expected some serious debating of von Däniken’s theories, I was not prepared for the epic smack-down that Nova delivered.

Point by point, the calm, collected narrator ripped the arms off ancient astronauts and beat them to death with their own detached limbs. The one that still stands out in my memory, and what I think was the tipping point for me, was the examination of the famous “spaceport” photo.  In Chariots of the Gods? von Däniken had presented the photo with the caption, “Another of the strange markings on the Plain of Nazca. This is very reminiscent of the aircraft parking areas in a modern airport.” Nova showed the lines from the exact same angle and then had someone walk down the “landing strip” to show that it was about two feet wide, and then pulled back to show that the lines were plainly the leg of a giant drawing of a bird!

What the TV Guide had to say about the smack-down of the millennium!

I was furious. This wasn’t just a matter of debating the interpretation of evidence. This was out and out fraud. And I had sacrificed six comic books for this? After the episode concluded I yanked my copy of Chariots of the Gods? off the shelf and took a black magic marker to spine in order to black the “Non-“ in the word “Non-Fiction.” Take that you lousy Swiss hotel clerk!

But my fury wasn’t totally reserved for ancient spacemen. Even though I didn’t take the magic marker to the rest of my library, the fun of UFOs, bigfoot, ghosts and the like seem to have vanished. Although there was not as clear of dividing line for the rest as there had been for ancient astronaut theories, the old thrill and appeal, not to mention the creepiness, just wasn’t there anymore.

Skip forward to the late nineties. Although my interest in weird stuff was occasionally sparked by episodes of Unsolved Mysteries or Fox’s incredibly goofy Sightings, not to mention the “Alien Autopsy” shell game or The X-Files, I never experienced a real temptation to return to my UFO “research.”  The skeptic in me was pretty hardened, not to mention the mythology that had developed since the seventies – abductions, the elevation of "Roswell" to scripture, “Grays,” government conspiracies, anal probes and the like – struck me as boring for the most part, and quite frankly, just not any “fun.”

It was on a road trip to Chicago in 2002 that my friends Jack Daves and Dave Conover got into an extended discussion about John Keel’s classic tome of weirdness, The Mothman Prophecies and the movie that had just been released based on the book. At the first mention of the word “Mothman” they had my attention – the old favorites never fail, and even though the book had been published in 1975 I had never encountered it.

When we got back from the trip I tracked down a copy and made several great discoveries. Keel was one of the first researchers to completely reject the extraterrestrial theory in regards to UFOs. Instead he postulated the UFOs were merely the latest “form” of a phenomenon that has been going on since the dawn of recorded history – and the way the phenomenon is perceived is determined by the culture and prejudices of the time. Of course this is a much oversimplified version, but the point is that both the skeptic and, even more important, the 10-year-old boy tucked away inside of me could accept this as a possibility.

But even better than a palatable theory was the fact that the book scared the crap out me.  Now, I love horror fiction and horror movies, but I’ve reached a point where they don’t scare me.  Maybe a small scare at the time I’m reading or watching, but not of the good old lying-in-bed-at-night-staring-at-the-ceiling-waiting-for-the-boogerman-to-get-me kind of fear. What I discovered was reading books about UFOs, bigfoot and the like really got under my skin – even in a case when I knew what was written was mostly B.S. It still gave me that old exquisite feeling of irrational terror.  And so my hobby of collecting pre-1980s UFO and bigfoot books began. And fortunately, I also found that a new generation of weirdness writers, who probably cut their teeth on books with “the font,” are rejecting the anal probes (can you blame them?) and conspiracies of the eighties and nineties and writing some fun and funky stuff.

But when it comes to von Däniken’s books, I won’t touch ‘em!  Us crackpots got to have some standards!