Tuesday, June 29, 2010

June 30

Today is the birthday of Matisyahu, a Hasidic Jewish reggae artist, and probably one of the artists I most admire today.

He's the most vital reggae artist since Bob. He expresses and sings about his faith without hesitation, but he's not trying to convert the world to his way of thinking. He's more like Youssou N'Dour or Johnny Cash: musicians sharing their own spiritual journeys, and pointing out the common ground between all souls, regardless of church or musical preference.

He's probably bigger than I need to feature here, but I really think the world is just beginning to discover him. "One Day" got lots of play in the Winter Olympics and the World Cup, but his best is yet to come.
Meanwhile I found a clip from this reggae compilation of Disney songs. I'm even going to run out and get this album:

Monday, June 28, 2010

June 29

Here's to Colin Hay, a trobadour who didn't let a bit of good luck near the beginning of his career be the end of it. Colin was the lead vocalist and primary songwriter for the Australian band Men at Work, an essential ingredient to any 80's New Wave party.

Eventually, the tide went out on New Wave, and Men at Work called it a day.
Hay got a few solo albums out by the end of the decade, but no chart traction. That would be it for most people, but he kept recording and releasing his own material. Chad Fisher, a musician that worked outside the music industry with his band Lazlo Bane, recruited Hay for a cover of Men at Work's "Overkill"; Fisher records and tours with Hay to this day.

One of Lazlo Bane's fans, actor Zach Braff, persuaded the producers of Scrubs to use Hay's songs in the show; Hay even appeared on the show several times.
His most recent album, American Sunshine, came out in 2009; several of his solo albums have also been re-released. All indicators suggest that his best work's yet to come...
Here's a promotional performance of "Waiting for My Life to Begin", alongside his wife and frequent singing partner, Cecilia Noel:

June 28

Now that the Karate Kid has been successfully re-invented for another generation, it's a good time to remember Pat Morita. After all, it was his Oscar-nominated performance that elevated a teen movie into a signpost for a decade, and cemented his title as the most popular Japanese-American actor in history.
He managed quite a few firsts in his career. Morita was the Arnold that ran Arnold's on "Happy Days". He became the first Asian-American sitcom lead in "Mr T and Tina"; the cancellation of that show and "Blansky's Beauties" would make him one of the few actors to lose two shows in one season. In the wake of "Karate Kid", he got his own cop show, "Ohara":

Yup, that's Catherine Kenner,from "Being John Malkovich", as a junior detective. "Ohara", the first drama with an Asian-American lead, didn't do much better in the ratings; it lasted two seasons.
Morita's enthnicity was a double-edged sword, but he used it adeptly through the decades. He played at least as many roles in his native California drawl as he did laying on his Migayi-think accent. He was just as comfortable lampooning his iconic sensai character as he was reprising or ripping it off. Whether he was earning an Emmy nod (for the Kirk Douglas TV-movie Amos) or starring in a buddy cop movie with Jay Leno:

[Take THAT, Prince Humperdink!]
Morita schooled us all. Happy Birthday, Sensai...

Saturday, June 26, 2010

June 27

Here's to Lisa Germano, another legend along the outskirts of popular music. Lisa's career began as a violinist; she was good enough to join John Mellencamp's band.

Besides her seven-year run in Mellencamp's band, she became an in-demand session player for scores of artists, and not just for her violin playing.

She began to get notice for her singing - and her songwriting. In the 90's, she signed with Capitol Records, then 4AD; 4AD would release several of her critically acclaimed releases. But one very bad year (1998) nearly discouraged her from performing altogether: she was invited to join the Smashing Pumpkins, then fired the night before their US tour, then she did a solo tour for her most recent album, only to learn mid-tour that her label dumped her. She quit music after the tour, and got a job at a bookstore.

But she couldn't give up writing songs, or singing them, and returned to the game, but found better partners. Today, she's signed with an indie label (Young Guns) and has resumed her prolific tendencies. That's good; we need more songs as beautiful as this...

Friday, June 25, 2010

june 26

Today, it's the birthday of Georgie Fame, which is as real a name as you'd expect it to be. Born Clive Powell, he started as a piano player on the early rock n' roll circuit in Britain, inheriting his backing band when they were all fired from backing up 50's rocker Billy Fury. Absorbing the beats of ska, blues, jazz, and Motown that he played in Soho nightclubs, he gave up piano for a Hammond organ, and found his sound.
He hit his stride as a solo artist in the Mod 60's, with three Top 10's; he even got them across the pond. In the 70's, he got the wife of a Marquess pregnant; she divorced, and her marriage to Fame lasted 20 years, until her death.
In the 80's and 90's, he played with artists like Bill Wyman and Van Morrison; today, he still plays out, alongside his sons.
Since it's summer, I'll throw in a clip of "Yeh Yeh", the song that ended the Beatles' 1964 streak of number 1's. A jazzy number, great to dance to on the road...

yeh yeh

June 25

If you've read the entries earlier this week, you might have noticed the pattern: everyone I wrote about was a birthday girl. I was wondering if I hadn't featured enough females in the blog (considering the planet's about 50/50 gender-wise, why wouldn't a random sampling of undercelebrated celebrities be the same? Discuss...) so I intentionally searched for females to write about. I made it to 6 in a row; why did I stop?
Because I can't let by the birthday of Peyo, Belgian cartoonist and the father of the Smurfs. Smurfs were a major toy phenomenon in the decade of major toy phenomenons, the 80's. But before that, they were a spin-off from a comic strip that Peyo created after World War II, called Johan et Pirlouit (in the 80's cartoon, that's Johan and Peewee[or Peewit?]) About ten years into Johan's comic strip adventures, he meets the Smurfs. They were immediately popular, and received their own newspaper strip. The plastic figurines also started in the 50's, and hasn't stopped production since.

The most fascinating aspect about the Smurfs, to me, is how one of the most popular children's shows in the Reagan administration could look so... communist. I mean, what are Smurfs? A bunch of little blue men barely distinguishable from each other, most of them named by their role in the community(Brainy, Jokey, Hefty, Handy, etc.) Replace "smurf" with "comrade", and see how well it fits.
Also consider: Papa Smurf, the leader dressed in Red, with the Karl Marx beard and the French revolution hat.
Also consider: Gargamel, the wanna-be wizard that keeps trying to capture Smurfs so he can melt them into gold. In the Smurf world, he's a greedy giant, a Capitalist. Think that's a stretch? The producers actually changed his motivation in the last two seasons: apparently, it was more acceptable for the kids to think that he wanted to eat them! There's even umblings that Gargamel's design is consistent with anti-Semetic caricatures(bald, big nose, greedy), which would make the Smurfs Stalinists, I guess...
Anyway, they're about to experience a resurgence; they're a tentpole movie for the 2011 summer season, and that song will be in my head for another decade. But then, I can always turn to that Unicef ad they did a few years ago, to bring attention to the inscription of children in partisan fighting throughout several African nations.

I'm sorry; I can't end this article on such a low; here's a full episode of the Smurfs, which you can find at thewb.com:


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

June 24

Siedah Garrett was a protege on Quincy Jones' Qwest label in the 80's. She made her career singing backup vocals for acts as diverse as Aretha Franklin, Starship, Madonna, and Michael Jackson.
During the recording sessions for 'Bad,' Michael didn't have a vocal partner for a duet he had written (Barbara Streisand, then Whitney Houston, had been offered, but schedule conflicts prevailed.) Siedah was ushered up to the mic, and the duet, "I Just Can't Stop Loving You," was the album's leadoff single, and its first #1.
But her most popular song might be the one she wrote for Michael: "Man in the Mirror". "Mirror" would top the chart for two weeks.

This version was recorded for Siedah's 2004 album.

In her own time in the spotlight, she would end up placing in several charts: a dance hit here, an R & B hit there... Here's a song she put in the Adult Contemporary chart, from the movie "Baby Boom":

But in her time at Qwest Records, the label only produced one album of hers, and that was to capitalize on the success of "I Just Can't Stop..."

In 1991, she became a TV host, counting down the charts on America's Top 10. She continued her studio session work and backing singer gigs for Michael Jackson and Madonna. In 1996, she became the vocalist for the Brand New Heavies - for one album.

She continues to concentrate on her songwriting for others, although her singing voice still gets her in the spotlight: for the 2010 World's Fair, she sang for the US at the fair's opening ceremonies in Shanghai.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

June 23

Today's birthday girl is a request: Duffy, part of the wave of 21st century blue-eyed soul girls, was inspired to sing from watching Sister Act, starring Whoopi Goldberg. Her 2008 debut was 2008's biggest album in the UK. She made her inroads in the rest of the world, too, although I don't understand why they used the song "Mercy" to hype the American Gladiators show when it was on; oh, well. She
Here's another of her tunes, a fave of a friend of mine, "Rain on Your Parade." She's performing on Jools Holland's stage, which is where she made her breakthrough:

In 2010, she's recorded album number 2, aiming to release it before year's end...

Monday, June 21, 2010

June 22

I've got a category called "Japan" that I don't use very much. It's a designation I cribbed from other blogsites to signify those things that come off as so mind-bogglingly weird, something must have been lost in translation... Basically, it's another way to say "WTF?"
I haven't used it as much because:
1) it's kinda racist
2) a lot of the Japanese stuff I end up finding isn't that weird.
3) the Koreans have been much weirder, but who's gonna say "That's So Korea..."?

I've kept the label, because it's a flaw of mine worth learning from. Case in point: Emmanuelle Seigner, the current Mrs Polanski. Polanski's only directed her in 3 of her 29 films; she's been nominated for France's version of the Oscar, and best known to American audiences for The Diving Bell and The Butterfly.

Seigner also sings in the band Ultra Orange and Emmanuelle, which sounds like Nico singing shoegazer music:

But the 'Japan' moment for me was her starring role in the Death in Vegas video "Hands Around My Throat":

Because who knows "WTF" better than the French, right?

Maybe I haven't learned anything...

June 21

I can't help but post up about Marcella Levy, a.k.a. Marcy Levy, a.k.a Marcella Detroit... She's got a fistful of reason to write about her.
Marcella Levy was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1952.
Her first songwriting credit is shared with the other writers of "Hungry", which was a hit for Paul Revere and the Raiders in 1966. Her singing and her songwriting skills in the early 70's were good enough to get her in Bob Seger's band and out of Detroit. She played with several bands throughout the 70's in touring and session musician capacity: she wrote several songs for Eric Clapton, including "Lay Down Sally". She even recorded a duet with Robin Gibb, which almost cracked the top 40:

Now, here's someone I didn't expect to write about again: she was introduced to Siobhan Fahey, fresh out of Bananarama and recruiting people for her solo album. They began writing songs together, and their partnership turned her solo project, Shakespeare's Sister, into a duo.

The partnership lasted two albums, before Fahey called it quits. Marcella managed to get one solo album in the charts from the fallout.

By the mid-2K's, she had left the synth-pop sound (and the Marcella Detriot name)behind her. Today, she performs blues numbers with her own band, releases them on her own label, and writes songs for others. She was also a finalist on a British reality show, Popstar to Operastar. Who knows what she's going to do with her next decade?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

June 20

Tress MacNeille is one of the most prolific character actors today, having been in more than 200 TV shows over 30 years. You know her voice: Babs Bunny [Tiny Toons], Agnes Skinner [Simpsons], Chip [when he was a Rescue Ranger], Mom [Futurama], Daisy Duck [since 1999...] every other cranky woman in an English dub of a Studio Ghibli film...
One of her most popular characters is Dot Warner, one of the Animaniacs. It's a good starting point, if you want to figure out what characters she's done in your favorite cartoons. I know it's probably the least wacky scene Animaniacs ever did, but it's a good spotlight.

Voice-over artists tend to be invisible to the audience, so let's rectify that. Here she is, in a Designing Women parody (sorry it's more clever than funny.) She's the one in the glasses, for people who don't know the show.

Of course, if there's any kind of Weird Al connection, I'll exploit it. So here's Tress MacNeille's assist on Weird Al's "Ricky":

Happy Birthday, Ms MacNeille. Can't wait to hear what's next...

June 19

Here's to honorary doppelganger Elaine "Spanky" Macfarlane. In the 60's, one of her bandmates said she looked like Spanky from the Little Rascals; just like that, the band became "Spanky and Our Gang". I guess they're doppelgangers times two, because their songs and performances tend to get lumped in with the Mamas and the Papas.
But let's be clear: "Lazy Day" belongs to them. "Sunday Morning" and "Give a Damn"- the Gang. And their biggest hit, "Sunday Will Never Be the Same":

Before their third album, the band guitarist died, and the band essentially dissolved by decade's end, although they would reunite several times. In fact, the band got back together a few years ago, to record an americana-style album.
Here's a performance from the Smothers Brothers show. It's not one of their chart climbers, but it's just too much fun.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

June 18

Happy Birthday to my globe-trotting cousin. She's only a few chapters in her story, so it's a little premature to celebrate it in these pages. But she's a legend in the making, assuredly...
Meanwhile, let's talk 21st century troubadours. I've written about a few in this blog, but I even admit there's a peril of sameness to the genre. I mean, a guy with a guitar? Hasn't that been done?
But, Ray LaMontagne... He's the Marvin Gaye of the genre. First of all, he sings. He's got an ethereal tone, rough on the edges, that sounds like a scuffed-up soul. And he can roar with it.
Give a listen to this piece of a BBC4 performance:

UPDATE: apparently, he's got a new album coming out this summer, so here's a song from it. See if you like it:

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

June 17

Why does Paul Young get an honorary holiday today? Because Wikipedia's got 10 Paul Youngs. And particularly because the Paul Young that comes to mind of the average person on the street is the singer of such hits as "Every Time You Go Away" and "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted." But this is a different Paul Young. Today's Paul Young has had an uphill battle, particularly since he passed away in 2000.
He first made a go of it when he joined the Toggery Five, a British Invasion-era band. Two of the five would eventually join Jethro Tull; Young, meanwhile, would end up struggling for another decade before he would end up at the Sad Cafe, who offered straight-ahead rock songs in the late 70's post-punk era. They put a few songs in the UK charts, before calling it a day in 1981:

By 1983, Young and his family were almost penniless, when he got offered a job as a Mechanic. Genesis guitarist Mike Rutherford suddenly found the time for a solo project, so he began recruiting band members. He needed a proven, talented singer; he chose Paul Carrack. Then he decided he needed another one, and his drummer recommended Young.
Here's my favorite Mike and the Mechanics track, and its epic video:

The success of Mike and the Mechanics was the ultimate turnaround for Young; it even allowed a brief resurrection of Sad Cafe. He died in 2000, shortly after his sixth Mike and the Mechanics album. Jason Young, Paul's son, curates the Forever Young website, offering historical notes and re-release updates on the approximately twenty bands that featured the Paul Young he knew best.

June 16

Today's undercelebrated celebrity is that soft-rock Samson, Gino Vannelli. He's an Italian-Canadian that hit the charts on the 70's/80's border, with songs like "People Gotta Move", "I Just Wanna Stop", and "Living Inside Myself". If you had a dentist appointment in the 80's, you heard this song:

So, how the heck did Michael Bolton steal this guy's career? It wasn't the U.S. music industry that turned its back on Vannelli; Vannelli turned his back on the chart machine. When he signed with A&M in the 70's, he was a 21-year old genius singer/songwriter, using his three-octave vocal range and his brother's experimentation with a new technology called the synthesizer to take over the charts and make his TV debut on the most un-Canadian of TV programs, Soul Train. When his record label wanted a disco album, he jumped labels, held fast to his yacht rock-ish sound, and went higher up the charts. He even did the theme for a James Bond film:

He kept label hopping through the 80's, which may account for his lack of traction. Although he was still making signature 80's music, Vanelli was finding more success in Canada and Europe. By the end of the decade, he was married, touring the world, and giving up on the music industry almost entirely.
Since then, he's been walking his own path: starting his own label in the 90's, recording jazz albums, then operatic albums that got him invited to perform for the Pope...
He still has a North American following, enough for a series of sold-out Katrina benefits and a blockbuster Vegas run a few years back.

Apparently, he's still taking second billing to his hair, too...

Monday, June 14, 2010

June 15

As Twilight's next movie prepares to rear its head, and the Harry Potter film series approaches its final chapter, Hollywood continues looking for the next literary gold mine. The landscape's littered with efforts in vain (Vampire's Assistant, Lemony Snicket, The Seeker, etc...) but I think I know what the next book-to-film dynasty will be: the 20-volume (so far) series of Redwall novels by Brian Jacques. It's such an easy sell these days, too: Lord of the Rings meets Alvin and the Chipmunks!
The closest this series has come is a British animated series from ten years back:

If Ralph Bakshi's Tolkein movies didn't stigmatize Peter Jackson's, this cartoon shouldn't be a problem.
So who's got the film rights? Apparently, that's been a complicated issue since the era of the animated series, so when the world of Redwall will hit the big screen is anybody's guess. Meanwhile, does this look like it would be worth the wait?

June 14

I've talked about emo as a misused appelation before, but I just realized that I have yet to demonstrate what emo is. Today, I can rectify that, thanks to Bob Nanna. After the dissolution of his first band Braid (which fans and critics would either call emo or post-hardcore), he formed Hey Mercedes, which comfortably wore the emo badge on the arm where its sleeve was supposed to be. It's all there: the soft-loud-soft rocksong structure, the sentence fragment songtitles, the replacement of cockrock bravado with confessional yearning...

It's not hard to see what some people don't like about emo: confessional intelligence in the wrong hands sounds like a bunch of whiny smartasses. Which is probably why emo resonates so well with teenagers, then tends to get outgrown fast.
Bob Nanna moved on, too. He now plays in the band Certain People I Know, and has his solo project The City on Film. Plus, he's got a day job, at Threadless.com. Among other duties, he's written songs about several of the ubiquitous T-Shirt. Over 150 of them. Each song is linked under its inspiring t-shirt, but there's links to all the songs on his profile page.
Meanwhile, here's footage from the first public performance of Certain People I Know...

Saturday, June 12, 2010

June 13

David Gray is experiencing something of a reboot in this decade -
[pardon the detour, but we're still in the 00's, right? There's never been a year zero, has there? so each decade starts with 1 and ends with 10... but wouldn't that put 2000 in with the 90's?]
-anyway, David Gray is experiencing something of a reboot these days. He crossed the pond in 1998, the first artist signed to Dave Matthews' record label, and he made a big splash with "Babylon", a post-electric folk song that scaled the pop charts.
This year, he's releasing "Foundling", a double album, picking up where last year's release, "Draw the Line", left off. The band lineup's had a shakeup, he changed record labels, and he's had a chance to build up a reservoir of songs, after spending half a decade on the road. He's also re-releasing "Draw the Line", so it's a good chance to immerse yourself in the new David Gray.
To see if you like it any better than the old Gray, here's a song from "Draw the Line":

June 12

Today's featured artist is a Giant to me, no question. John Linnell is the skinny, slightly quieter half of They Might Be Giants, the band that plays those songs that seem silly enough for kids, all the while planting little intellectual C4 charges that go off in our mind as we grow up and study all those things we're supposed to learn in school, college, and real life.
I didn't have a favorite John (Flansburgh is the other one) until they took a group hiatus and put out their solo stuff. Flansburgh actually put together a band named Mono Puff, while Linnell released "State Songs" as his solo project. He only managed 18 of the 50 states, but I've got a couple of favorites, while I can't name any Mono Puff songs. (I still need some Flans action for a proper TMBG song; he brings the savoir faire...)
Fortunately, they resumed business as TMBG, eschewing radio charts for multimedia success with all ages. (They learned a lot from Malcolm in the Middle.) Not sure if State Songs will ever be completed (They Might Have covered that with their Deranged Millionaire series.) For today's blog, I've chosen a bootleg recording from an in-store "State Songs" performance:

Thursday, June 10, 2010

June 11

Happy Birthday to That Guy Peter Dinklage. In the industry, he's beaten Danny Devito and Tony Cox for front runner status for any role requiring a short guy (Elf, Underdog, Prince Caspian) Fortunately, he's carefully cultivated a career that asks for more than a lack of height (The Station Agent, Death at a Funeral, Penelope). He got a heck of a gift with his debut film role: here's his rant in "Living in Oblivion."

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

June 10

Has anyone ever pointed out that Eliot Spitzer and John Edwards have the same birthdays? Maybe it's a coincidence, but it's just the kind of thing I watch out for with this blog.
See, one of the underlying questions of this blog is, do people that share the same birthdays share any characteristics? That's the basis of horoscopes, right? Let me tell you, if someone had told me that my future babymomma shared a birthday with Hitler, I might have paid attention...
But that hasn't been proven yet, despite thousands of years of observation. Not everybody born on Elvis' birthday is gifted to sing or dance or seduce a generation... So maybe the Spitzer-Edwards alignment is a Feynman Point in this blog; all I'm saying is, Mrs Bobby Jindal better keep her man on a tight leash...

This was from a Valentine's Day episode, but it's SNL's version of Eliot Spitzer with greeting cards for special occasions...

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

June 9

I'm working a twofer in here: first, let's throw out a Happy Birthday to Johnny Depp, who is probably the best paid character actor today. Between his collaborations with Tim Burton and his turn as Captain Jack Sparrow, he's making A-list money while being allowed to play unpredictable roles, which is an anomaly. Million-dollar actors don't get millions of dollars to deliver unpredictable product. You know who Ben Stiller's character is the moment you see his face in a movie; same with Will Smith or Robin Williams. The further the actor wanders away from that type, the more confused the audience tends to get. Johnny Depp appears to be that exception; he's developed his taste and talent over the years that enough moviegoers trust wherever he's taking them. Plus, he's got genetics on his side.
Here's one fan's top 20 Depp movies list:

While I'm at it, let's throw in a trailer for a Johnny Depp movie, directed by fellow birthday boy David Koepp (I think that rhymes!):

While I'm at it, let me shine a light on Mr Koepp, the guy I wanted to feature today. He's not a movie star, I know - he's just written some big movies (the Jurassic Park films, the first entries in the Spiderman and Mission Impossible franchises, Angels and Demons, Panic Room, Carlito's Way,...) I'm in a scriptwriting mode this month, so I'm really digesting stuff like these tidbits Koepp offers about the process.

If you've made it this far, you're probably a writer, too. So I'll tell you what I'd want someone to tell me - get back to staring at that page!

June 8

Bonnie Tyler wasn't born with the voice that would make her famous.
This is her in 1976, singing her first UK top 10 single, "Lost in France":

The next year, doctors discovered nodules on her throat so severe that her ability to speak was in jeopardy. Surgical removal was successful, but she resumed using her voice before rehabilitation was complete; she developed a rasp to her voice that changed her voice forever.
Here she is, performing the same song in 1977:

Instead of becoming the girl that sounds like Tom Waits, she became the girl that sounds like Rod Stewart. Her first single with the new voice, "It's a Heartache," became her first worldwide hit.
She didn't like the country-pop direction her sound was taking, so she found Jim Steinman, the man who helped Meatloaf develop his rock opera sound. That turned out to be the perfect fit:

That is so 80's Action Hero...

You may have noticed, if not outright laughed, at the music video style. Hey, it was the 80's. They made videos with whatever was lying around, you were lucky if the concept had anything to do with the chorus.
Here's a video for her biggest hit, "Total Eclipse of the Heart," if the lyrics actually were about the video:

Anyway, when the 90's rolled in, she stayed in Europe and settled into a soft rock mode, and continues with a successful music career to this day... in Europe.
I'm holding out for her re-collaboration with Jim Steinman. They started recording new songs in 2009; here's hoping they get enough time to finish an album's worth...

Monday, June 7, 2010

June 7

Today's another discovery for me: Harry Crews. He's a writer in the Southern Gothic style, and the impression I receive of him is that he is at least as interesting as his own characters. He has an e.e.cummings quote tattooed on his right arm; probably the most effective testimony of his literary roots. I'm hunting up his books now (half of them are out of print since the 70's, and only one of them so far is a movie: The Hawk is Dying.) I'm also hunting up Flannery O'Conner, who he frequently cites, and who may be responsible for the way I write as well (another story for another time.)
I wouldn't post a writer here unless I had some visual aid to attest: here's the first part of 'The Rough South of Harry Crews', a documentary about the man and the world his stories come from.

It's an interesting watch in general, and as an aspiring writer ('aspiring' seems more descriptive than 'struggling' or 'unpaid'), I find his story particularly stirring.
I have a feeling I will learn a lot by reading him.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

June 6

Happy Birthday to Dwight Twilley: he's a practicioner of power pop, a genre that always loved the radio more than radio loved the genre (see: Badfinger, Big Star, The Knack, OK Go.)

Raised in Tulsa, OK, Twilley met fellow Beatles fan Phil Seymour at a screening of "A Hard Day's Night" in 1967. They started writing songs together and playing them out as the band Oister. They made the trip to Sun Studios, ingesting the rockabilly rhythm into their sound. They moved to LA and signed to a label that renamed them the Dwight Twilley Band. Almost without trying, they got their first top 20 single "I'm On Fire". That turned out to be the apex of the band's success; label interference (they didn't release the second single "Shark" because they didn't want to piggyback on the success of "Jaws"... what?) and difficulties (first album delayed almost a year, second never released, label sold and resold) wore the band down to pieces.
By 1978, the band was broken, and Twilley had a solo career... and it's his return to the charts that I remember. In 1984, I was 10 years old and a bit of a troll, which didn't bother me so much at the time. And yet there was something missing which I couldn't explain, until I discovered cable television, and MTV, and Night Flight, and Dwight Twilley's "Girls" (this might be the NSFW version:

I can't be certain if I actually saw the unedited version or not; the only copy I have on VHS is the 'dialectic' version, which re-edited the video with clips from Eisenstein and 30's exploitation films. Also, don't remember the video using a girl to lip-sync Tom Petty's vocals in the video. But that video got me on the road to years of late night viewing, whether it was all-night Marx Brothers marathons, weirdo cartoons, schlock sci-fi or the vibrating Rorscach tests that were unscrambled Skinemax broadcasts...
As for Dwight Twilley, "Girls" was his last top 40 hit. The digital revolution finally rolled things his way, with most of his recordings finally seeing daylight in the 00's. In 2009, he even released a Beatles covers album.
Here's a couple of other tracks. The first is "Why You Gonna Break My Heart", his other top 20 hit (released just before "Girls".) The audio is the studio recording, overlaid on a performance on "American Bandstand"...

...and this is just one more song I liked.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

June 5

I've got family in town this weekend, so here's a quickie (and that's no innuendo):
Happy Birthday to Aesop Rock, an alt-rapper in a scene that sorely needs re-invention. Eminem and Kanye are the only distinct artists in commercial hip-hop at the moment; practically everyone else sounds the same, even before they're auto-tuned. But out in the frontiers of music, there are folks like Atmosphere and Aesop Rock, who are making the sounds that are coming up next, hopefully. This is what tomorrow sounds like:

Friday, June 4, 2010

June 4

I do not have a one-track mind. It just so happens that today's the birthday of Dr Ruth Westheimer, who's kind of the Yoda of sex. Literally, she's a short, funny-talking guru who seems to know everything you ever wanted to know about the powers you have inside you, and beyond. Growing up in the 80's, before I even knew what sex was, I knew who she was. (Something about the 80's really liked people with funny Germanic accents.)
But her work on TV and radio transitioned American sexuality. Before she became part of the pop culture, sex was largely discussed in innuendo, focused primarly on the acquisition of such, and otherwise treated like a dirty secret. Dr Ruth allowed people to listen to, and begin to talk about, all aspects of sexuality in a mature manner.
She's still dispensing advice, on top of simultaneously teaching at Princeton and Yale. Here's a clip she did for a cable channel:

Thursday, June 3, 2010

June 3

Today's a good day to remember the most famous woman in Montreal, Lily St Cyr, the burlesque star that taught Marilyn Monroe how to be sexy. Born Willis Marie Van Schaack, she studied ballet in her youth, which led to work on the chorus lines of the Hollywood stages. She hustled for her time in the spotlight, accumulating a collection of creative stripping routines like "The Wolf Woman", "The Flying G", and "Jungle Goddess".
She became a major sex symbol in the 40's and 50's, at the height of the burlesque scene. She was a frequent feature in the tabloid, for her romantic exploits as much as her scandalous performances (she married six times.) After she retired from the spotlight, she established a lingerie business for strippers and strippers-at-heart; she personally modeled most of her products in the store's catalogs and magazine ads.
(Elvira established her trademark look with the support of a Lily St Cyr undergarment.)
St Cyr passed away just before the 20th century did, but her good vibrations continue to inspire the sexuality of today. How out of place would she be today with an act like this:

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

June 2

Happy Birthday to the perennially underestimated Wayne Brady. Dude has more skills than he knows what to do with. That's probably why he first got the world's attention on "Whose Line is it Anyway?" It could change from episode to episode whether Ryan Styles or Colin Mochrie was funnier, but nobody could keep up with Wayne Brady on on sheer talent.

Since the show ended, he's been everywhere, seeing what sticks. The powers that be tried to give him his own show, which started as a variety show (like all those 70's celebrity specials) then became a Regis-style talk show. He kept winning Emmys, but the show got cancelled, anyway.
He's started and stopped enough projects for a dozen stars. He's had his share of TV pilots, TV movies, and guest appearances in practically every genre on TV. He's recorded several albums, plus a weekly Vegas show. He's on his third (or fourth, I've lost count) game show hosting gig, doing the relaunch of "Let's Make a Deal."
One I didn't know was him: he wrote and song the theme to one of the better cartoons of the last few years, "the Weekenders."

So why isn't Wayne Brady taking over the world? Is it because everybody's expecting him to sing, dance, and be funny every time they see him? Or is he so cool to everybody that it's not cool to like him? Does he just seem too, well, nice?
Maybe he's holding back...