Monday, January 28, 2013

Events in Mali: Willful, Happy and Sad Amnesia

A major (but entirely related) digression.  (In which the blogger reaffirms the "Happy Place" of the Monkees in her and in many fans' lives when faced with unbearable sadness.)

This morning, a Monkee fan who had lived in Mali posted to FB about fleeing terrorists set fire to a library as they were retreating.  40,000 manuscripts dating from 1204, in a variety of languages, were lost.   It's discussed further on the first segment on this podcast:  Q with Jian Gomeshi about "Beyond Terrorism" Destruction in Mali & Timbuktu. Music is outlawed, destroy the soul of an area's past.  Only a fraction had been digitized.  Ironically, it was Islamic insurgents who ended up destroying great works of Islam out of the desire to eradicate and inflict as much damage as possible.  It's painful to hear, but a very vivid sense of what is going on in Timbuktu.  A word that I used to associate with an unknown, mysterious land.

"the manuscripts were important because they exploded the myth that "black Africa" had only an oral history. "

==
The destruction of libraries is not a new concept, nor is it a rare enough event.

To set the scene for the amazing art scene culminating in Paris in the 1920's, a group had formed in 1909 and called themselves the "Futurists". You can find their history and quotes from their Manifesto here.  And the famous quote:

"We want to demolish museums and libraries, fight morality, feminism and all opportunist and utilitarian cowardice."

Artists, who have very little to no power, and certainly very little muscle power for violence in larger terms, can create manifestos of grandiose ideas.  Artists can imagine.  The very context of Italy at the turn of the last century points to people who wanted to wipe the slate clean.  To use the act of destruction to make way for the new.  (I don't agree by any means, but I always find it informative to delve into the minds of the opposing forces).

To bring it to the level of the mundane, the movie "Footloose" addresses the topic of what a town becomes when dancing is completely outlawed.  And when art is oppressed, people will dance in the darkness.



I see it also happening now, in a larger scale by the rise of the internet.  Sweeping away of knowledge, collecting more data than ever, and burying wisdom through sheer ignorance.  In today's digital media culture, we are obsessed with the New.  We are so busy pushing forward, we don't know what we are eliminating from our view.  It's not a discussion, or even a conscious choice, and hopefully not a permanent one.  But our pasts are being erased through the simple act of being ignored.

When nothing can be done, when you are mourning the loss to humanity of a large swath of knowledge, all you can do is focus on something in the world that makes you happy.  For me, it is working on this blog.  For others, it is listening to favorite songs.  A lot of Monkee fans seem to find such amazing solace in the music and tv show.  Or focusing on the future.  BTW Mike Nesmith announced his Spring Tour today. And more than 230 people died in a nightclub fire in Brazil when pyrotechnics started a fire.  And there was only one exit.

Did I mention Nesmith will be playing in Northampton and Boston and NYC and Philly?  That is what I choose to focus on.  I can't ignore history or news, but I choose to spend my time in selective amnesia.



==
UPDATE: Most of the manuscripts in Timbuktu were preserved by an illiterate caretaker of the collection who smuggled them out over the course of a year.  Read more here.  Great news!!  Victory for the cause of librarians, historians and humans everywhere!!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

#22, At the Circus

Circus Episode!!

Opening contains 3 quick elements to set the scene:
1) The Monkeemobile on the road (i.e. we're not in the Pad this week, and they had to drive for an undetermined distance. There are trees, so at least we are out of the city)
2) Stock footage of circus & workers tending to elephants, etc. (Where is Bimbo for the rest of the episode, huh?)
3) Micky's line: "Man, I haven't been to the circus since I was a kid,"
What he didn't say:
"When my stage name was Micky Braddock and I played a kid named Corky on a show called "Circus Boy" and the set was a real live circus and . . . "
You'll notice how easily he juggles while walking on barrels, etc.

They apparently are there to see a show, but find a small sign on the ground which says "closed". (Although it is not imposing and seems to be an afterthought of the Prop Department)
Peter suggests a word, "snik", Mike corrects him with the word "sneak" and conjugates it. ("I sneak, you sneak, he sneaks) The Peter character then makes a joke which is based on a literal reading (hearing?) of what Mike said. "Great, then we can all get in!" As if he might have been baiting him from the beginning by mispronouncing a word.

As an aside, this made me think of Jean Berko Gleason, famous Psycholinguist, who created the "Wug Test".  It demonstrates that anyone (especially small children) can learn and conjugate words they have never heard before.   (Thus the joke could have gone in the direction of "I snik, you snik, he sniks")  This essentially refutes the theory that children (and adults for that matter) learn solely through imitation. If this stuff really turns you on, investigate what Chomsky has to say about Universal Grammar. Kids are essentially born with the brain software to learn language, they just need to learn the data sets (vocabulary) and rules (grammar/syntax) to plug in. Fascinating stuff!!

Back to our story, they walk right in and begin playing with the "toys"/props of the circus, like kids.  It's a common example of a director turning on the camera and telling the actors to wander in, without giving them specific lines or actions. Mike has nothing specific here and just ends up wandering, looking at stuff. Peter turns a megaphone into a machine gun (made more effective by a sound effect) and cracks a whip (ditto exaggerated sound effect). Micky's juggling and it's a setup to Davy getting into position to deliver his line about how the circus gives you a feeling that "everyone likes one another". And then the irony of the knife act starts. Davy and Mike (especially) offer great fright faces before the theme hits.

Another stock shot of circus horses, but cut to the inside of the tent and everyone (except the guys feeding the horses) are at what looks like a union rally. The knife thrower complains about not being paid and a lack of audience. (He should mention that Peter is scratching his back) A guy in a Fonzie leather jacket ironically wants to blame it on those crazy kids and their "discotechques". (That spelling is a joke, folks).

Davy gives a rousing speech about circus life, hope, etc. There are several fantasy sequences involving comedic circus tropes (Mike as the lion, makes Micky jump through the hoop, in a reversal of power) And later, when idealism isn't enough, they all lie and convince the pretty girl that they are a circus act.  

Madagascar 3 anyone? That movie involves a gang of animals from the first 2 films in the series, and in order to get home, they need to pretend that they are an amazing acrobatic act. (Although they DO consider themselves performers, at the NY City Zoo). Most of the movie is spent on a variation of this Monkee episode, where the fake performers "become" exactly what they said they were, although through luck rather than actual talent. Continuing with the asides, this movie comes up with new words to the universal circus theme (Da da circus/da da afro). Chris Rock has claimed that he came up with that phrase in improv, even though the writers appropriated & crafted it into a major recurring theme & gag. But he didn't get writing credit for it. The line between performing talent and "writing" talent blurs again!

But borrowing/appropriating/stealing and paying "homage" is subtle and common. When the Peter character picks up the megaphone to introduce the fantasy sequence, he turns it directly towards the camera for an edit. When he pulls it away, he's in full ringmaster costume. Compare this to a montage scene in "Singin' in the Rain" (film, 1952) The more famous clip of a megaphone turned to the camera appears during "Should I reveal/Exactly how I feel?" with a Busby Berkeley twist. The movie itself is a "trunk" musical for the songs of Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown, written by Betty Comden and Adolphe Green. The Jazz Singer is a major plot point. See it.

Micky begins singing the theme song to his old series, "Circus Boy". “It’s great, it’s terrific, it’s the best show on earth”. (This is him doing it in the series, with fellow cast members. "Calliope" is pronounced here as "cally-O-pee", vs the more acceptable (i.e.high-fallutin') "KAL-i-o-pee". Maybe it's a circus thing.) There seems to be a man winding a prop, which may or may not be representative of a calliope, maybe it's a hand cranked record player?

They appear as the French acrobats, the Mozzarella Brothers. How you Americans say it, "Help a lending hand?" Terrible accents and all. Even the fantasy costumes are outfits from the 4 Martians (who only added pantyhose on their heads) from a previous episode ("Find the Monkees")

Special attention is given to the practice/rehearsal/fantasy sequences of balancing on the high wire and on each other's shoulders, including a double-exposure effect used in an obvious, but surprising way. There is a lot of romp-type scenes, used without benefit of a song or directly relating to a realistic plot.

The 2 musical sequences come off sweetly, if a bit odd. "Sometime in the Morning" as a sincere love song done in clown outfits. "She" as a formal performance, with the 4 Boys in (Beatle-like) suits, performing for the circus crowd. The song itself is actually a mean-spirited breakup song, as opposed to a cheerful uptempo number for a family crowd. As if the Music Supervisor (yes, I'm looking at YOU, Donnie Kirshner!) expects to throw any old song into an episode without any actual consideration for dramatic sensitivity. Yes, we are eager to see whatever you throw at us, but we'd like it more if you paid more attention to your curating job,

The acrobat/performer lie belies the motivation of having the circus people be the real heroes. Davy does an act where he clowns with the knife-throwers' name & reputation, until he is compelled to perform. Audiences being directly lied to here is not an issue which really gets addressed. Davy claims the audience didn't even miss the Mozzeralla Brothers, which is maybe more of a comment on the uselessness of Marketing more than the ultimate quality of the show. The main theme is for the performers to raise their game, which returns you to the main theme of the entire Monkees project. It doesn't matter how these 4 Boys got onstage, in front of a microphone or on camera. Just enjoy their exhuberant performances and the positive energy they give off.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Circus Boy Number Two: "The Fabulous Colonel Jack"

Full Second Episode is here.
The full link is this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n2Kdl_EDlfU

(I could only find the first 2 episodes on Youtube, and found them through "Monkeemaniaheads" on Facebook. Many thanks to that page for the heads up!!  Please let me know in the comments if you find more links!!)

I'll note here that Noah Beery Jr. is "Uncle Joey" the clown.  He had an incredible career, starring in everything from John Wayne movies to "The Rockford Files".  His father, Noah Beery Sr. and uncle, Wallace Beery (Oscar winner!), were both huge stars of the silent screen.

In fact, the setup for the series, that Corky is an orphan being raised by circusfolk, is the same premise that "Laugh, Clown, Laugh" (film, 1928) used.  It starred Loretta Young in her first big role (at 15!).  And Lon Chaney, the man of 1000 faces, in a great dramatic turn (especially the end!!!).  Trust me, you've seen his work, even if you don't recognize him.  HE is the face of most silent movie horror monsters.  His son, btw, was Lon Chaney Jr., who was in #7, "Monkees in A Ghost Town".  ("You ain't goin' nowhere!") He also played Lennie in "Of Mice & Men" 1939.  With Noah Beery Jr.

Historical Contexts:
There was a great decline in live theater & family events like circuses in the 1950's and many were struggling or going out of business in that period.  "Circus Boy" actually purchased the entire contents of a real circus instead of having to build and collect all the authentic elements for the studio.

The plot of this show involves the businessman who technically owns the circus, getting bored with his "real" job and wanting to get back into the circus life.  He brings all sorts of acts, including an Ostrich and a Kneeling Bull, but there are serious consequences when he's away from his job.  From the perspective of today, this is actually a lesson in business on the fine art of "delegation".  But within the context of the show, it's supposed to be a lesson about the virtues of sticking to your own job, no matter how boring it is.

Mining:
The idea of actually going down into a mine shaft as a job was more common 50 years ago.  But still pulls at the heartstrings of any audience today.  Especially the nobility of poor people, especially trusting rich people with their lives.  And the claustrophobic idea of being trapped when there is a collapse.  Looking back, this is kind of a scary choice for a children's show.

Other works which feature the difficult conditions of mining include:
How Green was My Valley (Welsh novel 1939, and movie, 1941 with a young Roddy McDowell)
Coal Miner's Daughter (1980 bio of Loretta Lynn, country singer)
It's still done today, but machines & techniques have made things safer.  But not entirely.  Baby Jessica rescued from a well in 1987 and the 33 trapped Chilean Coal Miners (2010)

Pay special attention to the beauty of the lyrics to "How Glory Goes"  from "Floyd Collins", an Off-Broadway musical about the greatest cave explorer who ever lived.  The song is about his last moments being trapped in a cave, wondering about death.  Audra McDonald's recording should be played at every funeral.

Etymology & Historical Linguistic Digressions:
Avis Strouthion (Bird- Ostrich)
For a gag, the writers include the Ancient Greek name for an Ostrich!!

"Avis strouthion, it means 'Ostrich', it comes from the Greek."/
"I wish the Greek would come and get it!"
(When was the last time you heard a random Classical vocabulary word on tv??)

Colonel/Kernel 
Note the difference between the spelling and pronunciation of the word:
The L comes from Italian, but the French turned it into an R (through dissimilation).

As a child, I heard [Coy-Nel] on Bugs Bunny and was convinced that they were 2 different words entirely.  Therefore, "Colonel" should be pronounced with an exaggerated Brooklyn (Bugs) accent.  And that there really were people who had reached the rank of "Kernel", maybe a higher rank-defined by to the costume in the cartoon.

There seems to be an Indian dialect phrase used, which translates roughly to "Pull, Bimbo, pull!".  Apparently Colonel Jack believes that Bimbo would remember his native language.  (Let me know what the spelling is for the phrase, if you can figure it out, and if anyone speaks Hindi or Tamil or recognizes it at all)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Circus Boy: Episode Number One

Micky Dolenz was born at a young age. (Don't blame me, I quoted that joke from his biography!)

His first tv show named him Micky Braddock and bleached his hair blonde (what was it with his natural hair??),  "Meet Circus Boy", full episode one here.

The show is in glorious black & white, has lots of animals and 3 separate fight scene.  As well as lots of GREAT exchanges between the grownups and Corky, Micky's character:

"The circus life is not the easiest in the world"/
"I guess not, but it's the best!"

Spoken by a true actor.

"Life isn't just one big circus, Corky"/
"Maybe it'd be better if it was!"

Just wait til you hit the swingin' 60's.

"This is my home.  The circus people, they're my folks.  I can't leave them.  I'm a Circus Boy!"

The plot is essentially based on the same lines of #6, "Success Story", involving taking a member of the "family" away from their "home environment".   Davy would be saying lines like this 10 years later, to his British grandfather who wanted him to go back to England.  When you have found a home and family, no matter how kooky, you need to fight to stay. Also a good start to questioning authority and anyone who wants to place themselves in a paternal role that doesn't have any merit (also see the "Agent" character who disappeared in the first edit of the Monkees Pilot).

"If I can't grow up in the circus, I don't wanna grow up at all"  (Peter Pan reference?)

"When someone does something that you think is wrong, you have to do something right.  Because 2 wrongs don't make a right!"

My favorite is his first line:  "Up, Bimbo, up!".  And look for the "Sausage Reverser".

Of course, #22, "At the Circus" has a direct reference when Micky enters the big top and begins singing the theme song to his old show.  But that was way too obvious to mention.

==
Visually, especially the scene on the road leaving the circus looks like Fellini's "La Strada" (1954).  Full film here.
This is the original Italian trailer, if you can't commit to the full 1:46 yet.  But do yourself a favor and watch it all!!  And the Italian is beautiful, even if you don't have subtitles.

If it looks as if the entire movie is dubbed into its original language, it is.  The Italian studios of the 50's  were especially poor (still recovering from WW2) and many were based near airports where the land was cheapest to rent.  They found it cheaper for the actors to dub all the sound in later.

So much for the idea that lip-syncing is "fake". (Beyonce at the inaugural, et al.)

Just because I'm a nerd, Rogert Ebert's review is here, classic Cinema Italiano.  Fellini referenced the circus many times, also notably in "La Dolce Vida" (1960) and "8 1/2" (1963) which was upgraded in America to "Nine".  It was a Broadway musical in 1982, and remade into a movie in 2009 (see "Cinema Italiano").

That Guy Who Wrote "I'm a Believer"

It's Neil Diamond's birthday  (1/24/1941).

He is credited with writing 4 songs for the Monkees. And it is rumored he can kinda be heard singing backup on the one mentioned above.  Biggest selling single, 7 weeks at #1, 1966.

Honestly, I am/was/am a HUGE fan of ND. (off and on, I prefer him when he's not so popular.  And not dressed in sequins.)

In 1980, ND acted & sang in "The Jazz Singer" film.  Oddly enough, Bob Rafaelson's uncle (Sam) wrote the original short story and play back in the 1920's.  The property had been remade several times before (once starring Danny Thomas).  The original 1927 film (which Uncle Sam did not write!) is a landmark in film history.  And not just because Al Jolson was in it (although according to his legendary ego, that's all you need).

It was the FIRST SOUND MOVIE.  'Nuff said.

You may have seen a clip of him saying his famous line:"You ain't heard nothin' yet!".  And he sings to his mother.  (Of course)

The plot is about a Jewish Cantor who wants to make it in show business.  He has to leave behind his religious tradition and of course becomes a big star.  Laurence Olivier plays ND's father and does a great job as an old Jewish man.  Compare that performance to his role in "Marathon Man"  (as a former Nazi, masochistic dentist).

Oddly enough, the play is almost a template for most of the songwriters who came out of Tin Pan Alley, and then of the 50's and 60's generation, the Brill Building.  Neil Diamond and Carole King and Gerry Goffin and many others came from Brooklyn or the Lower East Side and worked their way up.  The 1980 movie shows the contrast in temperatures as another aspect of the two different worlds.  NYC is shown as cold and rainy and old fashioned.  Sunny LA is a place of easy success and easy morals.  A cautionary tale whose stereotype still holds up (superficially) today.   (As of this night in January, the wind chill in NYC, outside my window, is supposed to hit -1.  Personally, I would gladly sell out to LA. "If only they were buying"-a joke stolen from Peter Tork)

==
Back to More Monkees Songs That ND Wrote:
"Little Bit Me, Little Bit You"  If you see this in person when Peter is doing it with Shoe Suede Blues, you MUST hold up 2 fingers when he sings, "Little Bit You, too".  It's a visual pun.  Also, Peter will sometimes sing "Three" or hold up 3 fingers when he sings "too".  Just to make sure you are paying attention.

"Lookout, Here Comes Tomorrow" (which I happen to love, because of its fun lyrical quality and rhythm. And my first name is Tamara)

"Love to Love" Not really released, included as bonus material (I have no idea how this goes)
NOT to be confused with the disco hit by Donna Summer, "Love to Love You Baby"
17 minute version here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V5AztWseIdU


==
Not to get off topic (which I LOVE to LOVE to do), but here's a list of the Top 10 Hits:
http://www.billboard.biz/bbbiz/genre/rock-and-pop/the-monkees-top-10-billboard-hot-100-hits-1006318552.story

You can easily guess the first 5:
#1 I'm A
#2 Daydream
#3 Clarksville
#4 Little Bit
#5 PVS

But the next ones are kinda surprising:

#6 Valleri
#7 That was Then, This is Now (1986!!!)
#8 Words
#9 D.W. Washburn
#10 Steppin Stone

Leave it to Billboard!! I wonder if ND ended up with more money from the recordings than the 4 Boys.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Learn Dutch: Ja Zuster, Nee Zuster

Once upon a time (in 1966) in the Netherlands, there was a wacky tv show.  It was about a bunch of wacky people living together.  Every show had a few songs and many singles were released and hits to be had.  20 Episodes and 58 songs!!!

Sadly only ONE EPISODE EXISTS!!!!  The type of film used was more expensive than the actors and sets put together, so it was REUSED for other shows.

It was considered "A Resting Home Full of Noise", the title itself translates as "Yes, Sister, No, Sister".  Nuns being nurses in the Netherlands.  Plenty of older people, although there seem to be plenty of strange young people on the show as well.  The plot seems a little thin, but it is kind of like watching a version of the Monkees in an alternate universe.  Same spirit, same time, different culture.

There was a movie done in 2002, trailer here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ywp3Xfp8nb0.  Fabulous and kooky!!

If you like the idea of Dutch songs from the 60's, go to:
http://www.jazusterneezuster.nl/hits and try to find a song called "De Twips".  IT IS FABULOUS!!!  There is no direct translation of the title, but it is a great dance song!

If you liked that, navigate to the full list of their songs:
http://www.jazusterneezuster.nl/liedjes
"He He Wordt Wakker"  (Hey, hey, wake up, here is the baker)


Go to the Official site (in Dutch, ask Google to translate it for you, if you are afraid to click randomly)
http://www.jazusterneezuster.nl/

Or get wikipedia to translate its page.
http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ja_zuster,_nee_zuster

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

#35, Everywhere a Sheik Sheik

Title references "Old Macdonald" children's song, which epitomizes the idea of the American farm and is taught in every preschool in America, at least from the post war-period (think pre-Howdy Doody) to probably the modern day. It is the opposite of the Middle Eastern setting of this show, but consistency was never a main selling point.

We are introduced to Monty Landis, who brings in the idea of arranged marriages (also a common practice in the country of Harmonica and countries which have princes & paupers). The princess, who had raided the "I Dream of Jeannie" wardrobe closet, points to a "fan" magazine and picks Davy. (If the Monkees within the show are so poor, how come they are in fan magazines? And how did they work that camera technique where a static image suddenly comes to life?)

Note here Hollywood's version of the Middle East: bellydancing costumes for women (see also what the girls wore in the film, "Head") and Nehru jackets & headscarves (Keffiyeh, of the Lawrence of Arabia style)for men. Monty Landis doing an accent which seems to come from India and "strange customs", such as the villain wearing one half of a beard. There is so little consistency that the word "stereotype" doesn't even come to mind. "Do not question the strange ways of our people" because we can't be bothered to do real research or even get past the first of "1001 Nights".

VAUDEVILLIAN GEMS:
"Why does the camel sleep with one eye toward the desert moon?"
"To keep his pants up?"

(Cf: Why does a fireman wear red suspenders?)

Pay special attention to the scene where Peter is dressed in a lab coat, supposedly holding a Geiger counter, which clicks when it approaches radiation. (Is he holding a microphone and some sort of primitive recording device?) He, of course, has a hand held clicker in his pocket. Listen as Mike gives the cue, "What's that I hear?", which P intentionally muffs up. Peter is directly quoting Harpo Marx (using a sound instead of voice). Mike was quoting Phil Ochs, a protest songwriter (whether he realized it or not).

Micky & Mike are dressed in button down uniforms. Mike with a Bicorne hat, with white feathers stapled to it. During WW1, this was a practice of indicating someone who had pleaded "Conscientious Objector" and didn't fight. In other words, a chicken. Here, perhaps, it was done as a protest against the war in Vietnam. Or just because it was a funny sight gag, like Micky's helmet which is so small, the chinstrap goes through his mouth like a horse's bit. It's also fun just to watch Micky knocking off Mike's hat every time he salutes.

"This king, he wants me to marry his daughter"
"Nice looking?"
"Well, he's not bad . . ."
(Vaudeville technique of using surprise and vague nominative referent (using Syntax to make a funny!) to turn it into a question about the attractiveness of the king, not the potential fiancee)

Note how the boys harmonize, like a barbershop quartet (on the "Hello/Hello/Hello" bit) and Monty Landis conducts. Compare this to Hans Conreid's reaction in a blooper off the "Monkee's Paw"

Pun: "Secretary of Defense. /I'll be sure to keep it mended." (The fence) Linguistically and for non-native speakers of English, [The] and [Da] and [De] are close enough phonetically to be mistaken for each other, and close enough to be misinterpreted, to rare comedic effect, as seen here. In songs, the mistaking of one word for another is called a "Mondegreen". In speech, it is just called a mistake.


"Peel me a grape!" This is a reference to a terrific jazz song, written by Dave Frishberg in 1962, recorded by Dusty Springfield, Anita O'Day, Blossom Dearie, and Diana Krall. ALL are recommended (Blossom is my favorite, in general, but Dusty's video was the best of this song)


Paperweight. Mike is actually terrific with predictable dialogue! "What is this number with the concrete block?" Breaking 4th wall!! He knows the dialogue and plot are silly, so he overacts. We know that he knows that it's all fake, and so he turns to us and breaks the illusion fully, essentially addressing the guys who put him up to it as an actor. He's talking to the camera, and the literal people behind the camera (director, writers, prop guys, etc) as well as the audience.

"Golden Grecian Goblets Guarantee Graves!" Refer back to the post about Danny Kaye and the "Pestle" routine


Suddenly, the villain rips off his half beard and claims he is American (much more evil) and is a wildcatter from Oklahoma, only there to steal the oil. Prescient, indeed, about America's greed for oil in other countries. Not that we go to war over it or anything.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Danny Kaye Connection

The team on Facebook behind "The Real Peter Tork (Official)" page posted this clip as

"This past week saw what would have been the centennial birthday of Danny Kaye, an amazing actor, singer, musician and humanitarian. Peter was once asked about some of his influences as a performer and he listed Danny Kaye high among them. His movie, The Court Jester, is a particular favorite of Peter's (check out the "Vessel with the Pestle" routine!). We found this clip below that really shows some of the comedic timing our boss learned from marvelous man. Stick with this clip to the end and also learn about what a sweet, gentle, caring soul he also possessed. RIP and thank you, Danny! ~ptfb team"


Danny Kaye (January 18, 1913 – March 3, 1987) reminded me of Gene Wilder ("Young Frankenstein", it must have been the hair).  My favorite songs of his is "Russian Composers" and "Tongue Twisters".  The "Vessel with the Pestle" routine is a direct forefather of "Grecian Goblets Guarantee Graves!"  There's also a great guest turn he does on "The Cosby Show" (the audience doesn't seem to recognize him when he first appears, but they warm up quickly, even if he is doing a silly German accent).

There's a story (often told by Jonathan Schwartz) about Kaye and an autograph seeker. Kaye was in the middle of a spaghetti dinner and after much careful business, managed to twirl a perfect forkful.  Just as  he opened his mouth, the eager fan shoved an autograph book onto the table and begged for him to sign it. He took one look at the fan and then one look at his spaghetti.  Without missing a beat, he then handed the fan his forkful and asked them to hold it while he signed.

MONKEE TV:
Peter was not the only one influenced by Kaye; his humor was big for the Developers of the show-Paul Mazursky and Larry Tucker (the reporter and "Man on the Street" in the Pilot).  They had both worked on "The Danny Kaye Show" as writers in 1963.  After 2 years as "Developers" on the entire Monkees series, they went on to do movies together.  "I Love You, Alice B. Toklas" (1968) and "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice"(1969).

SIDE NOTE:
Alice B Toklas' name was borrowed on several occasions.  In literature circles, "The Autobiography of Alice B.Toklas" by Gertrude Stein (her lesbian partner), was Stein's bestselling book.  Even though Toklas was willed Stein's estate, including many paintings by their mutual friend Picasso, as a lesbian couple their partnership had no legal standing (even in Paris in the late 1940's!!).  To make money, Toklas eventually published "The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook", which contained a recipe for "Haschich Fudge", which is presumably why everyone (Tucker, Mazursky and even the star, Peter Sellars) is in love with her.


Full Links:

PTFB: Danny Kaye at the NYPhilharmonic, 1981, sincere speech about orchestras
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8P_5TG_DZpI

Danny Kaye's Radio Show, "Tschaikowsky (and other Russians)"
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PkJdmTrlTYk

"Vessel with the Pestle"
http://movieclips.com/F8HW2-the-court-jester-movie-the-pellet-with-the-poisons-in-the-vessel-with-the-pestle/

On the Cosby Show
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h1GbKQuVP0I

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Astaire and Dobilina and Funkee

Compare and contrast the evolution of a name repeated.

Fred Astaire singing, "I'm dancing and I can't be bothered now,"

The drone of "Telephone call for Mr. Astaire.  Paging Mr.Astaire"

A number from the movie, "Damsel in Distress", 1937

with

"Zilch" by the Monkees (Headquarters, 1967)

"Mr. Dobilina, Mr. Bob Dobilina"

Which is a name the Monkees SWEAR they heard at an airport, on the intercom.

And now, just for fun:

Mistadobilina

recorded by Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, 1991, Elektra Entertainment.
(direct sample of Peter Tork's voice in a rap video)

==

Full transparent links:

Astaire:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9iMEoyrlV1U

Monkees:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5XdT8lnJL38

Mr. Funkee
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dFieSQHmQT0

"We're the Young Generation"


Doing a quick survey of interviews about the most recent tours of the "threesomes" (2011 and 2012); the question of the band's ultimate "authenticity" seems to come up repeatedly.  Are they a "real" rock and roll band or not?  Were they ever?  Are they now? As far as I can tell, the interviewers who appear to be male and of a generation to have witnessed the phenomenon, dismiss the whole thing as a entirely commercial attempt to capitalize on the British Invasion.  Because of the context in which it was first presented to them, they cannot remove themselves from these immutable judgments.

I was born a full decade after the phenomenon and am entirely emotionally removed from that context.  The interest for me is not about the original intentions of the formation or day to day issues of the band.

I could not care less.  (Warning: subjective and personal rant ahead. I'm only including it because I there are many others out there like me)  My entire initial impressions are based entirely on the TV shows and music themselves.  And later, the movie "Head". All commentary and subsequent productions (starting from the filming of "33 1/3") seem a distant set of secondary materials having little to do with the main corpus of work.

What I do care about is what and how I have LEARNED at a very early age through the exposure (and genuine love) for the show.  I understand it was shot to be intentionally accessible and addictive and even fetishizes the styles, music and actors.  Even putting all that aside, it has done something amazing to my neural pathways.  It has piqued my curiosity for the world it portrays in a way that nothing else has done for me.  I certainly have had similar experiences with books and movies and tv shows, but never as vividly.

It taught me to investigate all the jokes and references I didn't understand.  As a grownup, I can now point and blame this particular phenomenon as the starting point for the "curse" of my Insatiable Curiosity.

Oddly enough, I would not even identify myself as being "Obsessed".  I have certainly gone years without intentionally listening or watching or thinking about the band or tv show.  Only recently (since the December 4th, 2012 concert) have I decided to really begin exploring the topic of the influences and impact on the 20th century and beyond, and how it relates to me and my worldview and view of history.  I am certainly not alone.  See the (upcoming) post about Rachel Maddow.

As a writer of fiction and former PhD gradual student (in Linguistics), I had come up with an idea for a novel.  The main character would be a writer of fiction and a current PhD gradual student.  Her thesis would be called "The Influence of the Monkees' Television Show on American Popular Culture Prior to 1965".  Which is a joke.  Which her advisers and dissertation team would never accept as a serious defense.  Even though you'd think any "Popular Culture Studies" department would be agnostic, but they are all Beatles fanatics.  Eventually, she goes mad trying to complete her degree and can no longer distinguish media from reality and rejects Time as discrete moments on a mutually accepted-upon continuum.  (I escaped from the Linguistics program because I did not want all my hard work on a paper to culminate on a presentation given to an empty lecture hall.  And I did not want to be poor.  Not that I imagine this project could turn into anything that will make me famous and/or rich.  But it's a hell of a lot more fun than "The Effects of Lexical Aspect and Perceptual Salience".  (Which see)

I've been watching random episodes with an 8 year old (okay, doing my best to actively recruit/initiate him into the cult), but I find myself wanting to explain ALL the references.  Which is rather annoying to him. One of his first questions is, "How come they keep showing Peter's name when it's not him?"  I keep wanting to answer, "You've got a lot to learn about humor, kid."

So instead, I've started this blog-thing.  I keep wanting to name it, "Everything I've Ever Learned Came From Watching the Monkees".  I'll get back to discussing the episodes.

Soon.

I promise.

John ("Daydream Believer") Stewart Remembered

John Stewart, the musician and songwriter, died almost exactly 5 years ago (January 19, 2008).  

I just heard him on the radio singing a Nanci Griffith tribute song, "Last of the True Believers" on WFUV (Sunday Breakfast with John Platt).  Doing just a little research, I am constantly astounded at how many connections the radiate out from the songwriters who just happened to be involved in the Monkees' project.



Start here, with his recollections about writing the song: 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FtOYNwhG0kQ&feature=share

The most famous anecdote is about the producers not wanting to include the word, "funky" and replaced it with "happy".  "Now you know how funky/happy I can be"

But the phrase that stands out for me in this is "I went to bed that night and thought, 'The only thing I did today was write 'Daydream Believer,' ' ".  Talk about an overachiever.

HIS HISTORY:
He joined the Kingston Trio, LEGENDARY folk music group of the 50's, when Dave Guard left in 1961.  Oddly enough, the group (3 Boys playing folk music and gaining sudden and widespread fame) is sometimes attributed to the commercialization of Folk music in the 1950's.  

HISTORICAL ASIDE:.  
Keep in mind that Pete Seeger (b.1919) and the Weavers (active 1948-1955) had been successful, but had been victims of McCarthyism.  A group of "kids" taking over the reins of the spirit of the movement-but not all the political baggage was the inheritance of acts like Joan Baez, Dylan and even Peter, Paul & Mary.  As of 1965, there were actually a few pilot scripts floating around, one of them being a folksinging trio, 2 guys and a girl.



HIS WIDOW:
Read this touching interview with Buffy Ford on No Depression.
http://www.nodepression.com/profiles/blogs/buffy-fordstewart-keeps-john

RELATED INFORMATION:
His brother was Michael Stewart, we founded the group, We Five.  ("You were On My Mind" was their biggest hit, originally done by Ian and Sylvia).  He eventually became a record producer whose biggest hit was "Piano Man" by Billy Joel.

IN SHORT:
"Daydream Believer" came out of a larger folk music legacy.  When he wrote it, Stewart was heavily involved in the songwriting scene in California.  This one song out of his entire writing output allowed him to continue writing for the rest of his life. Except for a 2 year stretch of writer's block when his wife, the singer Buffy Ford, had a brain tumor.  He even wrote  after he learned he had Alzheimer's. If a creation can give back to its creator, this one certainly has.  Not just a matter of a seed being fruitful, but a way for it to keep giving.  Some art is like a seed which grows into a fruitful plant.  Some art is like HeLa cells.  Immortal and constantly growing.


More Links:

The Kingston Trio "official" website is here (I always "skip intro", no offense)
http://www.kingstontrio.com/html/home.htm



But I'd recommend Wikipedia for better linkage and better perspective.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Kingston_Trio

Aside:
As a researcher, I'd always rather go to primary resources and am not always loving Wikipedia.  When I find better resources, I will update.
Also, as a Geek Blogger, I want to recommend a tribute site, which has started posting a few good pictures, but the "depositfiles" links somehow didn't allow access to songs.

"The John Stewart Appreciation Society"
http://daydreamdeceiver.blogspot.com/

His obit is here: 
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/john-stewart-maverick-singersongwriter-771412.html

HeLa Cells:
http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/Henrietta-Lacks-Immortal-Cells.html

Friday, January 18, 2013

Audition Reel, Micky and Peter (Scenes Cut from #10, The Pilot)

Just keep in mind that the pilot was shot almost 6 months before the rest of the show officially began filming on a regular basis. It was essentially the "audition" piece for the networks, to see if they would sign on for a full tv series. 

And it got rejected.  

At least the first time it was shown in front of test audiences, it got the LOWEST ratings ever!  But then Ray & Bert went back and re-edited.  They included Davy's & Mike's screen tests (At the beginning!!  On the DVD and in syndication, these appear at the end).  And they cut the scene in the record shop, where they talk to their "agent".  

The Micky and Peter screen tests were nowhere to be seen on any kind of compilation video or DVD.  Now, through the magic of hyperlinks, you too can watch the full screen tests.  Includes silent profile poses and black & white versions of 2 scenes that resemble ones from the pilot.

There is some great tragedy in the making when we first see Micky talking. "Wasn't that on film?"  His first great vocal performance for the Monkees and they forgot to turn the cameras on!  Ray (or Bert) apparently loves to question out of work actors/musicians about their lack of steady work or pay.  Go for the jugular. Here, Micky laughs it off.  "Box boy at Forest Lawn" (cemetery).  Later, getting into conversation about Barry ("Eve of Destruction") McGuire, he quotes him as not being provocative but wanting people to assess their own beliefs.  And thus ends Micky's political speeches for the next 5 years.

Peter's screen test is almost uncomfortable to watch and almost always leaves me scared that he won't be cast.  There is something vulnerable about him (especially compared to the other guys) that makes you worry that the mean voice off camera will dismiss him.  He walks in with his guitar and uses it as easily as his smile to charm his way through the conversation.  When told to talk sensibly, he recites the alphabet as one word, years before Sesame Street made it pronouncable in a song.  Oddly enough, the two words sound completely different.  (Compare PT at 9:40 and Big Bird at 1:23 seconds in).

He knows he's supposed to be saying lots of cool and clever lines and stumbles a little without a script.      If you've ever seen his live act, you'll know that this piece of his personality hasn't changed a bit.  Once he actually starts talking he says lots of interesting things and even begins pounding on the table self righteously.  And then misses the table.  This kid is funny.  And interesting to watch.

"The Scene in the Pad"
Which here is a plush living room set.  This would be the ONLY time in the entire series where the Monkees would have a matching living room set. It looks as if the scene is being played out in someone's parent's house.

Listen for the great 60's lingo, "She GOT hung up, you didn't hang her up" and "groovy chick".  

There is also the use of the word, "feebleminded", which may or may not be pointing in the direction of a "dummy" character.  Regardless, it didn't make it into the final edit (thankfully).  Even from the perspective of 2013, it seems like a word that might have been used by the older generation of the 60's. Homes for the "Feebleminded" were named and founded at the turn of the century (late 1800's-early 1900's).  People were placed in these institutions for a wide range of diagnoses, or for a lack thereof.  Someone could be deaf or have a brain injury or dyslexia.  By the sixties, they were using much more politically correct words.  Like "Retarded", in the sense of being held back or not fully developed:  "Mentally retarded growth".  

There is a slight undercurrent of bullying in the dynamics of the 4 Boys throughout the show.  Watching the audition scenes with the 4 boys who weren't cast, is a bit like watching a cartoon with the wrong voices dubbed in.  The characters they play are subtle and here we can watch scenes from an alternate universe.  It is actually very common in the casting process to have actors switch roles, to play with chemistry among the others.  Here, it is actually interesting to imagine a time when the 4 Boys would be cast in different roles, or are even in danger of NOT being cast.  

The "Record Shop Scene"
Direct digs at the Beatles (also note the mention in both Micky's and Peter's screen tests).  The setting also brings in an overt opportunity to make fun of commercialism, and the supposed poor sales of their own Monkees records.  Had the series incorporated this as a regular setting, a different slant might have encroached on the series, constraining the material. Every show might have seemed like "I've Got a Little Song Here" or "Find the Monkees", where the situation is rooted in the music business, rather than everyday adventures.  Like Jeannie always returning to her bottle, the show might have been pulled  in this one direction endlessly.

PS Updated 3/2/16
Thanks to Melanie Mitchell, please note the connection to Kurt Russell. How, you may ask? His dad, Bing Russell played the role of the agent. Kurt could've been their little brother!!




International Monkee Holiday and Nez's Electro Swing

We modestly propose an International Monkee Holiday to be celebrated every year on December 30th. Chosen because it is the birthday of half the Monkees (Mike: 1942, Davy:1945). Highly recommended is a day spent listening to the entire Monkee playlist while cleaning out for the New Year.  Or just chillin' with the substance of your choice (we'd pick chocolate).  Better yet, gather together with fellow Monkee friends and find (or CREATE) an event.  In Northampton, fans were treated to a tribute concert/70th Birthday Party of Nez's music covered by a collection of AMAZING local musicians.  If you were there, or know about future plans, please share and spread the word!!

Almost 50 years later, this songwriter still has his ears up for excellent sounds and is offering his own beautiful interpretation.  For those of you not (ahem) "a Friend" of Nez (at least on Facebook), you might have missed out on this gem of a post.  He discusses Electro Swing and his first memories of bopping around in the backseat of his mom's car.

And he brings in THIS!  A clip of Ginger & Fred (and sometimes Rita and Fred) dancing to Electro Swing.  Fun and anachronistic.  And what he thinks they must have ACTUALLY heard in their heads.  (I'm a fan of the original music they were dancing to, and my only argument with the clips is the non-structured element to the music.  House Music for Swingers.  The speed was also jerky and inconsistent, which also ruins the fluidity, but I'll blame that on the quality of the download speed, not the editors.)

==

His full FB post as of noon, EST, 1/18/13:

Dancing for me is as close as I get to flying. I love it -- but I am not so good at it. 

Some music is better than others for getting me up and going. I have been known to dance in the yard when the music is right.

I've been listening to Electro Swing for a few years now -- the early stuff -- 2009 -- pales in comparison to this newer stuff but it all sounds great to me.

Parov Stelar is my go to Electro Swing "band" when they work as a band-- mostly it is Marcus Fureder doing the main mixing. There are some great mixers out there.

But where it all comes together for me is when I see 30's movie dance footage synced up 2013 Electro Swing.

What resonates for me here is the sense that the actual music I hear now as they dance is probably close to what F&G, for instance, were only hearing in their heads.

Electro Swing was not possible in the 20's and 30's. Krupa probably heard this in his head. And Goodman. Basie. And the rest -- and when I watch the footage of them I smile with a feeling I know now what they were hearing in their heads.

I am swept away by the power of the latest music making gear and the way it can make traditional music sound.

I remember sitting in my car waiting for my mother to finish painting a mural in a theater and I was listening to the radio and heard Carl Perkins Blue Suede Shoes and Chuck Berry's Johnny B. Goode. They were new records -- just out -- and the sound of them was so new and exciting to me I couldn't sit still.

So I just danced in the car. When Mom came out for a just second she saw me thrashing -- bobbing up and down in and out of the view. I think it freaked her out a little. Of course I couldn't explain it.

Years later when making records on my own I came to understand the sound I heard then was not actually there. It was in my own mind. The internal sound was what the recording only implied.

Recording and performing became a quest for me to find this actual sound.

Electro-Swing uses the sonic range and the loops and clips of the great big band charts driving the dances -- so when I saw this clip on wimp.com this morning:

http://www.wimp.com/fredginger/


I thought of dancing in the car --a 1951 DeSoto -- thought of the sounds in my head then -- implied sounds -- that I can now actually hear. I think this is a particularly good sync/montage -- and I think I really see Fred and Ginger flying -- Ginger doing "everything Fred did but doing it backwards and in heels":)

Sunday, January 13, 2013

#57 Monkees Blow Their Minds

For you Monkee fans who are also in geek-love with "This American Life", you will totally understand the connections in this post.  If not, start by skipping the next paragraph (at your own peril).

TAL did a show on "Doppelgangers". Fred Armisen does an uncanny impression of (and also echos) the show's omniscient narrator, Ira Glass during the intro and also in a (cut) sketch on Saturday Night Live.   (Watch it, seriously. If you are like me, you will not only love reading an obscure blog about a 60's tv show/rock group, but you will also love that your NPR crush is famous enough for Portlandia, but is not famous enough/ready for prime time.)

Now, when I think of doppelgangers, I think of Frank Zappa.

Near the end of the run of the show, the Boys brought musicians onto the show, to give them some interesting exposure. (People on this list also included Tim Buckley & Charlie Smalls. Liberace appeared during an episode, as a bizarre piece of performance art. Jimi Hendrix was their opening act on tour. But we digress.)

Nes called Zappa. Except Frank had a much better idea than just appearing. If he was going to be on a show, then he wanted to play Mike Nesmith. And vice versa, Nesmith would play him. Zappa also "played" a car by trying to smash it with a sledgehammer. Apparently, at one point in history, cars were made out of durable materials, such as metal. The prop guys had to rig the car to fall apart and explode; the sledgehammer only worked on the pieces of the car made of glass.

It was filmed in April of 1967, and aired March of 1968. The actual plot of the show involves the Peter character once again being in a trance, this time due to the magical powers of someone named "Oraculo", played by the familiar character actor/villan, Monty Landis. Instead of playing the bass, the Peter character goes onstage and crows like a rooster. Keep an eye out for "The Penguin", Burgess Meredith, sitting by himself at a table in the audience. He probably wandered over during a break from filming "Batman". He did many episodes of "Twillight Zone", as well as tons of legit theater work.

Louie Shelton can be heard playing the best guitar licks on "Valleri", a Boyce & Hart tune. He is an incredible session musician who is essentially a Zelig of most of American Rock & Roll. He's played on tons of hit records in the 60's, 70's & 80's. "Session musicians" are the anonymous & often completely uncredited, yet incredibly talented people who essentially support the big name acts whose names appear on the record. It happens all the time folks, not everybody plays all their own music. And the whole public perception and debate of who is the genuine article vs. who is a doppelganger, is essentially an extended version of performance art perpetrated by promotional side of the art, music, film and TV industries.

What is real, what is an imitation? What is the difference? What if the Monkees project (the music, plus all 58 episodes of the tv show and the film, "Head") is a grand experiment in comparing reality & artifice? 4 actors playing characters who happen to have the names of the actors. 4 unknowns in a band, played by 4 suddenly famous kids who aren't allowed to play on their own records.  

The difference here is no longer important; the best entertainment is based on an illusion of reality.




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