“It’s Not the Years, It’s the Mileage”: An Indiana Jones Chronology (Introduction)

Working with the James Bond novels last year got me thinking about compiling another 91XTKfFZ3kL._SL1500_chronology for a great period adventurer of the last century — Dr. Henry Walton Jones, Jr., better known by the name he swiped from the family dog, “Indiana.” If you piece together his entire life story, as the Holy Bee has just done, you know that he’s not just Indiana Jones, professor of archaeology, expert on the occult, and obtainer of rare antiquities. He’s also Indiana Jones, Titanic survivor, World War I veteran, boy-toy of the notorious spy Mata Hari, romantic rival of Hemingway, roommate of Eliot Ness, amateur jazz musician (adept at piano and soprano sax), widower at 26, highly-decorated Army Reserve Colonel, and much, much more.

As we know, the movies, and most other Indy media, generally start off with a year written right on the opening scene, or first page. That has pretty much taken all of the detective work out of assembling a base-level chronology…unlike the James Bond stories, which may only hint at a year once every few books.

There’s also the “Indycron.” The Indycron is a private database maintained and curated by Lucasfilm to ensure story and character continuity across media platforms. Every novel author, every game designer, every comic book writer has to check with the Indycron to prevent contradictions and repetition.

The Indycron is a relatively recent development, however, which makes creating a logical timeline incorporating the massive amount earlier material a bit tricky — and at times, impossible. (Sorry, Marvel Comics.) Sloppy mistakes by the actual creators don’t help, either, particularly the novel authors. (All of them are guilty of facepalm-worthy screw-ups, but I’m especially looking at you, Martin Caidin. Your description of Indy as a “professor of Medieval Literature and Studies at Princeton” — when that was his father’s position — is unforgivable. Did you forget Indy is an archaeologist? I know you’re interested in technical details about vintage aircraft far more than characters or story, but at least give the background packet provided for you by Lucasfilm more than a cursory glance, you weirdo.) These errors, inconsequential as they may be within an individual story, collectively made my task very difficult.

Plus, I’m sorry to say, the Indycron actually does a pretty lousy job even with recent material. Indy meets Belloq under at least three different circumstances, and the Lost Journal of Indiana Jones and Indiana Jones: The Ultimate Guide, both Lucasfilm-approved books released in 2008, contradict each other all over the place.

Also unlike the James Bond novels, you may have noticed that we’re working with more than one medium, which makes for a lot more material to absorb. All of the original Ian Fleming and Fleming continuation novels, along with the “Young Bond” series, numbered around 27 books, all of them pretty slim. It was the work of 4 or 5 months to get through them, and that was at a pretty lackadaisical pace. Yes, watching a movie takes less time than reading a novel, but still — the sheer bulk of the Indiana Jones universe is daunting: four feature films, 22 ninety-minute installments of Young Indiana Jones on DVD, 13 novels, 17 young adult novels, 36 comic books (according to the Holy Bee canon), and various other bits and pieces floating around out there. Even though we’re given a year for almost every story, it can still be a challenge to make it all fit together coherently across all media. It’s enough to make armchair chronologists tear out their hair…but also gives them their rush. I know I’m not alone in this particular pastime. Other websites have attempted it as well.

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So…if the years are already given for pretty much every story at the suggestion of Lucasfilm, and James Luceno’s richly-illustrated coffee table book Indiana Jones: The Ultimate Guide and multiple websites have already assembled chronologies, then what’s the point of doing this? Continue reading

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Video Store Memories

Sorry, misled voters of West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Coal-mining jobs are not coming back in any appreciable amount. Never. Ever. And any presidential candidate of any party who tells you otherwise is playing you for a fool. But that’s the way of the world. Think of the poor harness and saddle makers when those Model T Fords started rolling off the assembly line. Shit outta luck. No one’s crossing the Atlantic on dirigibles anymore either, putting all those patriotic, hard-working dirigible technicians out of business. Industries die when times change. It’s a fact of life.

I can’t recall anyone carrying signs at political rallies when the humble video rental store circled the drain and gurgled out of existence not long ago. Maybe that’s because most video store employees are…excuse me, were…jaded Gen-X youngsters, not people with families to support and hoping for a pension after forty-five years of inhaling coal dust.

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Everyone knows the big video store chains. Blockbuster Video, with twelve locations still open nationwide as of this writing. Hollywood Video, which died screaming in 2010, never collecting the $23.00 I owed them for a way past-due return of I Love You, Beth Cooper. Less remembered are the independents, the hole-in-the-wall mom & pop places that sprang up all over, circa 1985. They occupied every third strip-mall storefront for a while, usually had a beaded curtain guarding access to untold triple-X delights in the “back room,” and were mostly forced out of existence a decade-and-a-half later by the aforementioned big chains and their corporate ubiquity. Even liquor stores and gas stations often had a small video rental section for awhile. But as the twin behemoths of Blockbuster and Hollywood scaled a mountain made up of the smoking corpses of their competitors, their time was running out, too. Streaming services became the order of the day, and with a little practice, even Grandma and Grandpa could pick a flick from Amazon Video without having to put on their orthopedic shoes and leave their house that smells of dishrags and old soup.

Physical media came with a lot of problems. VHS tapes could get mangled (or melted in a hot car). DVDs could get scratched. But streaming has its limitations, too. Your WiFi can get intermittent. It’s hard to casually browse. You have to actively seek out older movies to stream. You can no longer just randomly spot them on the shelves when you’re out with your friends in the video store, and then shame your friends into seeing them:

“Dude, you haven’t seen Mandingo? We are getting that shit and solving that problem TONIGHT.” So you would get Mandingo, maybe Big Trouble in Little China, and whatever the new release of the week was. And odds are, the rabid Mandingo fan would push to watch that one first, possibly to the total exclusion of the other movies, and to the enlightenment of all viewers.

In my multi-part look back at 90s music, I told a few stories about life behind the counter of a video store, but I didn’t go into the detail this vanished way of life deserves. I was an employee of First Run Video in Yuba City, California from August 1993 (age 18) to December 1995 (just turned 21). First Run was not a national chain, nor was it a standalone. It was a mini-chain, consisting of about six locations in the northern part of the Sacramento Valley. Redding. Red Bluff. Weaverville. Oroville, maybe? I know Yuba City was its southernmost location. I started there on its third or fourth day of operation.

I can find no web evidence of First Run Video. It closed its doors in 1999, I think. As far as the internet is concerned, it never existed. No archived local business articles or ads. No old storefront photos on Google Images. No bitmap image files of its logo (a medal that read “1st” with a forked blue prize ribbon dangling underneath). No YouTube video of its one local TV commercial (which featured the back of my head for .002 seconds). Except for those mentions on my own website, First Run Video is — in the truest sense — gone, even from the internet nostalgia machine.

So all we have left is my description of the place, drawn solely from twenty-plus-year-old memories. Take my hand, Gentle Reader, and I’ll guide you through it…

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A busy shopping center at a busy intersection. Anchored at one end by an Orchard Supply Hardware store, and at the other, a Bel Air grocery store. Just around the corner from Bel Air, facing the palm tree-lined side parking lot, is First Run Video…

It’s big for what it is. A lot of square footage. It seems like there’s an acre or more of alternating blue and white tiled floor. Walk in the double doors. On your left is the Children/Family video section, and the video games. On your right are all other genres. Lining the wall running across the back of the store, and curving around to the right, are the New Releases. If you walk straight ahead, you approach the counter where you receive your rented videos after you’d paid for them. There was a slot in that counter that would receive your returned videos. Above you are bright blue buzzing neon letters that spell out MOVIES. (I think. Maybe it said something else. All I know is that it was covered with a shitload of gnats and lacewings every summer.) But you pick up your movies later. Right now, pass by the Disneyland-style popcorn wagon (popcorn is gratis, but we only fire it up on weekends). Rows of little marquee light bulbs on both sides of the entrance lobby channel you to enter the rental floor to the right or left. Either way, you pass through our security gates. Metallic strips of tape stuck to each and every VHS cassette in the store will set those bad boys off, ensuring you don’t pilfer that copy of License To Drive. They’re also fun to stick on co-workers’ backs right before they leave for the day, so they can exit to the sound of a shrieking alarm system. (Best to pull that gag when the store is pretty empty.)

One employee, Doug, who bore a striking resemblance to the “Ogre” character from Revenge328ff3d500bd1af7297f0e2145245ead of the Nerds (but was much more good-natured) was actually simple enough to clean the dust out of an empty marquee light socket using his finger. The crack sound was audible, and Doug’s considerable bulk was sent sprawling. He later showed us the black fingernail and the spiderweb of reddened blood vessels that crept up his arm. Doug also once called in sick after falling off a local railroad bridge. He soon moved on to other opportunities.

The store shelves are not real shelves, they are those rubberized wire racks that you would normally find in a budget-line refrigerator. Light, movable, and above all, cheap. Apart from the Customer Service Counter (and the New Member Sign-Up table just to the side of it), everything in the store seems made out of these modular racks. Most people enter to the right, where they would encounter the New Member Sign-Up table with its stacks of membership info cards, and, for a blessedly short period, the “trailer machine.”

InnocentBlood-Warner1The trailer machine was a big console with a video screen, where customers could cue up a preview for an upcoming movie by pushing a button. If no one was around to push the button, and few people exercised this option, the machine would simply cycle through all its trailers on a randomized loop. The problem was, the machine was loaded with far too few trailers, and each one would crop up every fifteen minutes or so. The first two lines of Sinatra’s “That Old Black Magic,” which opened the trailer of John Landis’ Innocent Blood, became permanently embedded in by frontal brain lobe after four months of hearing it every fifteen minutes of an eight-hour shift. The other problem was that no one ever showed up to change out the trailers. The movies featured went from “Upcoming” to “New Release” to “Saturday afternoon on TNT.” The machine was finally removed in the name of employee sanity.

If you’re like most people, you would head right for the New Release section against the back wall. The VHS boxes shrink-wrapped around styrofoam blocks would be the “display models.” Any actual copies of the movie we have on hand would be behind those. How many people bring the display box up to rent, and leave disappointed? More than I’d care to count, despite the myriad of signs around the store explaining the system. No such confusion in the main rental area, where the videos older than three months go to be pretty much never touched again. The box is cut down and slid into the clear sleeve of a traditional plastic VHS case, and the tape goes right inside. When their time comes, a copy of the former New Release is kept for this area (divided by genre), and the dozen or so others–the ones we could barely keep on the shelves for those heady first few weeks we had them–are kicked to our Used Movies To Buy section. When they inevitably fail to sell after a few more months, they are shipped off to some mysterious video graveyard.

New Releases rent for $2.99, and go fast. People with far too much time on their hands hover around, and snatch them as soon as we put them on the shelf. They ask us to go out to the parking lot and check the dropbox, even though it had just been checked twenty minutes ago. Luck plays a big part in going home with the hottest new movie…unless you are a comely young woman, then your odds go up substantially. We always keep one copy of all the New Releases in the “Pretty Girl Drawer” behind the counter. (“One just came in…I was holding it for myself, but you seem nice…” No employee discount for New Releases, either. Once they are in the old movie section, however, they are free for us, and we can and do bring them home by the carload.)

If you are lucky (or attractive) enough to get ahold of your coveted New Release, then you might turn your attention to our back catalog, which takes up the bulk of the real estate. They are subdivided into an exasperatingly pointless amount of sub-genres, as indicated by a color-coded sticker. Here’s what I remember: Action (green), Adventure (orange), Children (light blue), Classic (light brown), Comedy (yellow), Drama (gold), Family (dark blue), Horror (pink), Thriller (red), Romance (white with pink text), Sci Fi (purple), Western (dark brown). There may be more. Documentaries and foreign films are over by the Family section, and sport a layer of dust the thickness of a rabbit’s pelt. This is Yuba City, after all. Continue reading

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The Holy Bee Recommends, #18: Thomas Berger’s “Neighbors”

To a lot of people, the title Neighbors conjures up fairly recent memories of the raucous Seth Rogen/Zac Efron frat boy comedy. To an older generation, it may trigger a dim recollection of the identically-titled flop starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. To colossal shut-in nerd like the Holy Bee, the go-to is the Thomas Berger novel on which the Belushi/Aykroyd film is based.

Berger (1924-2014) wrote about two dozen novels, but he’s probably best known for SUB-BERGER-obit-master180the picaresque quasi-Western Little Big Man. He also wrote one of my favorite Arthurian novels, Arthur Rex. But it’s this seemingly low-stakes, dark comedy tale published in 1980, set in sleepy suburbia, that I keep coming back to. I’ve re-read it many times since I was about fifteen, and it doesn’t seem to get old.

Earl Keese, 49, and his wife Enid live at the end of a cul-de-sac in a semi-rural area near an unnamed “village” where everything closes by six, and within commuting distance of a large unnamed city. (The setting is Staten Island in my imagination, but it could be somewhere in New Jersey. Definitely East Coast.) Keese works at an office in the city, but beyond that, we never learn anything about his occupation. Enid is a housewife. They have a single child, daughter Elaine, who is away at college. He arrives home one Friday evening to the news from his wife that there’s only leftover succotash for dinner — and that the vacant house that they share the end of the cul-de-sac with is now occupied by a younger couple.

220px-NeighborsWithin minutes, Keese is dealing with the female half of the couple, Ramona, who shows up on his doorstep, seeming to want nothing but to make him uncomfortable. She helps herself to Keese’s wineglass he had left on the coffee table, stares fixedly at his crotch for long enough that he believes his fly must be down, and remarks — after knowing him all of three minutes — that “you’re not so old, but you are too fat.” With old-fashioned politeness, Keese invites the couple to dinner, then goes into the kitchen to discuss non-succotash dinner options with his wife. He raises the possibility of going out to a nice restaurant. Enid is totally passive and doesn’t want to do anything (a recurring theme for her.)  When Keese returns, he finds Ramona has vanished, and her partner, Harry, has let himself in without knocking, and — after knowing him all of two minutes — slaps Keese affectionately on the ass.

From that awkward but sort of harmless beginning, things degenerate. At first it’s just that everything Harry and Ramona do is completely foreign to anything in Keese’s experience, and that they do not observe the social cues and forced inane niceties of late-middle aged suburban life. This culture clash spirals downward quickly. Over the course of the next 24 hours, there is psychological warfare, sexual tension, property damage, physical violence, and not a wink of sleep. What’s worse is that the more Keese tries to expose Harry and Ramona as sociopaths, the more these efforts backfire. When he attempts to verify some of Harry’s seemingly bold-faced lies, they almost — almost — check out. Sometimes Keese actually gets the better of them, but usually he is the one humiliated. The ultimate humiliation is that Enid and Elaine (who has arrived home unexpectedly) repeatedly come to their defense, implying that Keese is close-minded and paranoid. The more harried he becomes, the more calm and dismissive they become.

If it were merely a back-and-forth of retaliatory hijinks, it would be more of a kind with the shallow-but-entertaining Seth Rogen movie. Berger goes darker and deeper. The twist here is that even though the book is not written in the first-person, everything in the story is filtered through Keese’s perception — and that perception is not to be trusted. If the novel were in first-person, Keese would be an “unreliable narrator.” It is revealed in the first few pages that his eyes and mind often play tricks on him, causing him to see things that aren’t really there, or rather, to twist things that are there into bizarre hallucinations. When he first sees Harry and Ramona’s dog, a large wolfhound, he mistakes it for a naked human being on all fours. That sort of thing. How much of this affliction affects Keese’s perception of his neighbors is for the reader to decide. There are moments when Harry and Ramona aren’t around that his wife and daughter admit the new neighbors are indeed creepy people and that they are just trying to placate them. But there are also moments when they are not there that Enid and Elaine continue to defend them, or at least shrug off Keese’s concerns. What is to be believed? What the hell is going on? Continue reading

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The Weirdest Thing I Ever Saw

We all watch stupid shit. Although terms like “golden age” and “peak TV” have been thrown around quite a bit in the last few years, referring to the acclaimed offerings of HBO, AMC, Netflix, et al., sometimes you just want to look at garbage. I’m sure there are people with advanced degrees and high-paying jobs who get through the day just to race home to their tastefully decorated domiciles to gorge on Real Housewives on their DVR.

Me? I’m hooked on paranormal shows. And thanks to the wealth of cable channels, I ghost-adventures_ep_magnolia-plantation.rend.hgtvcom.616.462can feed my addiction on a pretty much constant basis. It’s only a matter of time before there’s an all-paranormal channel. (Destination America comes close, but it’s been having audio problems the last few days. And I’m on my summer staycation! I’m almost ready to put a bullet through the screen, Elvis-style, because the sound keeps dropping when I’m trying to watch Monsters & Mysteries in America.) If there’s someone wandering around in an old abandoned hospital, turning the screen green with their infrared cameras, and asking each other “did you hear that?”…then I want to watch them doing it.

I don’t believe a second of it, of course. But that wasn’t always the case. Where did my abiding interest in this subject come from?

A much younger Holy Bee had quite a scholarly interest in the paranormal, and took it pretty seriously. Maybe because by studying it, I could control my fear of it. I was the kind of kid who always slept with his bedroom door open and the hall light on, when I wasn’t actually bringing my Garfield sleeping bag onto the floor of my parents’ bedroom after a particularly unsettling episode of In Search Of. ISO, hosted by Leonard Nimoy, was the first TV show to seriously investigate mysterious phenomena. Running from 1977 to 1982, it popped up in syndication on Sunday afternoons a lot. 

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My earliest recollection of a non-Halloween “true” ghost story was my grandmother relating a tale involving a friend or relative who late one night observed, through a bedroom window, a spectral woman roaming her front yard and gradually fading from sight. She wasn’t telling the story to entertain or frighten me. She was matter-of-factly telling it to someone else when she thought I was already asleep on the daybed in the living room. That did quite a number on me.

Another big subcategory of the paranormal is cryptozoology — “hidden animals.” Bigfoot/Sasquatch, Yeti, Loch Ness Monster, etc. My first major exposure to this was an old 1970s documentary Bigfoot: The Mysterious Monster, which I saw on TV while staying up way too late when I was about seven. Hosted and narrated by a Very Serious Peter Graves, it was full of dramatic recreations of Bigfoot encounters and presented everything as bona-fide fact. I knew I was watching re-enactments, but the Bigfoot costume that the special effects department created for that low-budget doc joined my grandmother’s front-yard ghost in my Nightmare File.

(For some reason, I had little to no interest in the third major area of the paranormal — UFOs.)

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The local library was about six blocks away from my house, and I pedaled my bike there a lot during summer vacations (scrupulously mashing the crosswalk button at the lone busy intersection that bisected the journey.) The children’s section was in the basement, and boasted powerful air-conditioning and several beanbag chairs. They also had a robust selection of paranormal books for kids like me, who ate this stuff up. It’s still a thriving realm of children’s publishing, if Amazon is anything to go by. Ghost stuff was in the 133 section of the Dewey Decimal System, cryptozoology in the random catch-all section of 001. A lot of them were by a guy named 51PhG2vKz9L._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_Daniel Cohen, who is probably responsible for many grade-school bookworms’ sleepless nights. When I exhausted the children’s section (which took awhile — I had no problem re-reading and re-re-reading), I ventured upstairs and nosed through the adult books on the topic. By the time I was thirteen, I had a subscription to the Time-Life book series Mysteries of the Unknown.

As I grew into my teens, this particular hobby went on the backburner, although I would still occasionally pick up a Hanz Holzer paperback. Continue reading

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The Holy Bee Recommends, #17: The Rolling Stones’ Post-Exile Trilogy

There is a blindly-accepted mythology that began as soon as the 70s ended. The myth goes like this: The Rolling Stones were a scrappy London R&B band that rode the first wave of the British Invasion, had some monster singles, did a classic mid-60s album (Aftermath), stumbled briefly with a psychedelic Beatles knock-off (Their Satanic Majesties Request), then righted themselves, found an excellent producer in Jimmy Miller, and made the Holy Quadrilogy — Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile On Main Street — each an irrefutable cornerstone of their massive legacy and four of the greatest rock albums ever made.

And after that — Some Girls aside — it all went to shit.

The “Ultimate Classic Rock” website, the internet’s click-bait custodian of lazy rock factoids, perpetuates the well-trodden path, describing the first post-Exile album, Goats Head Soup as “the end of the Stones’ classic era, with two more increasingly careless albums following until the band got back on track five years later with Some Girls.” This sentiment has been robotically repeated ad nauseam for almost forty years now.

The Stones themselves even bought into the narrative, self-deprecatingly naming a compilation of their post-Exile material Sucking In The Seventies.

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Supposedly, the three albums between the mighty Exile and the fluke disco/New Wave-era smash of Some Girls represented a trough of mediocrity, but I’m here to tell you that those three albums — the aforementioned Goats Head Soup, along with It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll, and Black And Blue  — are totally underrated. Classics? Maybe I’d stop just shy of that. But they have an adventurous spirit and willingness to mess with the Stones’ formula a little, and an air of breezily coked-up, rock-god Dionysian decadence impossible to replicate in any other era. Every track, even the weak ones, has something at least interesting about it, which is more than I can say for some of their 80s albums (the true trough of mediocrity, in my opinion –buy me a drink and raise the topic of Dirty Work.

And for two of these three albums, the Stones still had the services of “second” guitarist Mick Taylor, a Clapton-esque blues virtuoso, whose jazz-tinged soloing lifted many of these songs to a new level. For the first time since the Brian Jones era, Keith Richards’ slashing, open-tuned riffage wasn’t the dominant sound. Although Keith always claimed his 70s heroin habit did not slow him down much, the instrumental line-ups on these songs frequently tell a different tale. He’s just not there on about a sixth of them, and on several more he’s just croaking out backing vocals, or strumming a single sloppy rhythm guitar buried in the mix, or plunking on the bass (the Stones’ actual bassist, Bill Wyman, was somewhat minimalized on these albums, his role frequently usurped by Richards or Taylor).

NPG P851; Mick Jagger by Laurie LewisFor better and worse (see below), this era was Jagger’s version of the Rolling Stones. His lyrics were some of the best he ever concocted, and the empty space left by Keith was filled by his own guitar work, which grew more confident with every album. Sadly, these albums are tainted in a lot of people’s mind by Jagger’s increasing buffoonery. The whirling dervish of the ‘69 concert stage was now a glam-rock self-parody (this reached its nadir with the “Dancing In The Streets” video of ‘85 before he finally dialed it back for the Stones’ more recent tours.) So…try to hear these albums without picturing Jagger’s eye-shadow and spangly onesies with the necklines that plunged to the pubes, or the band as a whole’s incredibly dated visual aspect during this period (despite the images I’ve gone ahead and inexplicably included.)

Goats Head Soup is often described as the “hangover” after the wild party of Exile On Main Street, and according to the myth, the drop-off between the two is steep. But at the time, Exile was considered something of a sprawling disappointment, and the hazy, bleary sounds of Goats felt much more of a piece with its predecessor. Jimmy Miller was still producing (for the last time), and some of the songs pre-date the Exile sessions.

Britain’s tax laws forced the band to spend a large part of the year outside the country, and the Exile sessions (in the French Riviera and L.A.) began the tradition of recording on foreign shores as much as possible. In November 1972, the Rolling Stones and pianist Nicky Hopkins set up camp at Dynamic Sound Studios in Jamaica. Their chief road manager, “sixth Stone” Ian Stewart, also served as occasional pianist, and he was there too, of course, but he only played on songs he liked. He did not dig most of the Goats Head material. With a major narcotics case against Richards still pending, Jamaica was the only suitably cool country that would give them an extended work visa. 

Although they were all reggae fans (especially Keith), they admitted they were not ready to pull off any real reggae tracks in the same studio where so many of the genre’s classics were made, including the Harder They Come soundtrack and the early Bob Marley records. (Some would say, based on the mixed reception their later reggae-based tracks received, that they never achieved that state of readiness.) Nicky Hopkins departed at the beginning of December, and Billy Preston was flown in to spice things up with his gospel organ and clavinet.

The sessions continued in May and June 1973 at Olympic Studios and Island Studios in London, where they added elements such as brass, strings, the congas and shakers of noted Ghanaian percussionist “Rebop” Kwaku Baah, and additional percussion by mysterious and eccentric electronic music pioneer Nik Pascal.

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Goats Head Soup, 1973

The album, released in late August 1973, opens with “Dancing With Mr. D,” invariably described by naysayers as a tepid, silly sequel to “Sympathy For The Devil.” But apart from name-checking the Horned One himself, the two songs aren’t really similar. The frenzied samba of “Sympathy” is in no way referenced by the grinding party funk of “Mr. D,” and while Jagger doesn’t come close to his “Sympathy” lyrics, lines like “Down in the graveyard where we have our tryst/The air smells sweet, the air smells sick/He never smiles, his mouth merely twists/The breath in my lungs feels clingy and thick” have a certain eerie flow and Halloween-y charm.

This is followed by what may be my favorite song on all three albums — “100 Years Ago.” “Went out walking through the wood the other day/And the world was a carpet laid before me/The buds were bursting and the air smelled sweet and strange/It seemed about one hundred years ago…don’t you think it’s sometimes wise not to grow up…” A mid-tempo quasi-ballad about the power of memory that breaks down almost to a full stop (“Call me lazybones…”) then upshifts into a furious instrumental outro, with Mick Taylor leading the charge. This is right up there with “Tumbling Dice” and “Brown Sugar” for me.

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Nicky Hopkins

“Coming Down Again,” a slow-burner sung by Keith at a snail’s pace over a watery bed of phased guitar and Nicky Hopkins’ moody piano, perfectly captures the feeling of waking up with the dry heaves, alone, confused, and regretful. The mood is quickly shattered by the unfortunately-titled “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)” with its urgent traffic-jam horn section and spine-chilling urban jungle lyrics about “accidental” police shootings and poverty-stricken children OD’ing in the gutter. “Angie” was the big radio hit from the album, and despite the inclusion of lots of down-tempo stuff, this is the only song that could be classified as a traditional ballad. Nicky Hopkins once again shows why he was the most in-demand session pianist of the era, providing tasteful accents to the gently dueling acoustic guitars of Richards and Taylor.

“Angie” closes side one, and side two kicks off with “Silver Train,” the one song on the album that sounds the most like a typical Rolling Stones riff-rocker. It was originally recorded two years before the other songs, and was handed off to Johnny Winter, who recorded a blistering version that spurred the Stones to re-record theirs at the end of the sessions in London and put it on the album. “Hide Your Love” dates from the same late-stage London sessions. The simple, hypnotic number is based around Jagger’s echo-heavy piano vamping, and is built up into a primal Delta blues pastiche, Robert Johnson-style. “Winter” is another one of those tracks that critics of this period in the Stones career have to admit is a beauty. Similar in tone to Sticky Fingers’ “Moonlight Mile,” you can almost feel the chill and see your breath as the song glides along on a stream of orchestral strings.

As much as I like them, each of these albums has a total misfire buried in its track listing. “Can You Hear The Music” is a plodding, discordant mess that uses some world-music/psychedelic flourishes to cover up its lack of direction. The album closes with “Star Star,” a Chuck Berry-inspired, old-fashioned bit of rock & roll that sounds like something the ‘64 Stones would have played (except for the lyrics.) Ian Stewart finally lets loose on the ivories in his trademark boogie-woogie style.

One web reviewer calls the Goats Head Soup “the album that set the Stones on a course of mediocrity from which they have yet to return…” Then goes on to say: “It’s not that Goats Head Soup is bad, in itself…” Well, then, what the hell? “[It] set no musical agenda…did nothing new.” Which is totally incorrect. The Stones were never AM radio balladeers before. “Angie” changed that, whatever you think of the song itself. (I love it.) They were beginning to explore the funk genre, aided by sideman Billy Preston’s churning clavinet and Taylor’s wah-wah guitar (“Dancing With Mr. D,” “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo”). And they crossed the boundaries of what could and couldn’t be stated in a rock lyric with the gleefully sleazy (and brutally explicit) “Star Star” (original title: “Starfucker.”)
Continue reading

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This Used To Be My Playground, Part 24: The Final Countdown

“We have a tendency to want the other person to be a finished product, while giving ourselves the grace to evolve…” — T.D. Jakes.

This is it. The decade, and my interest in the popular music it was currently producing, were both circling the drain. I was about to be a husband and father (in that order, barely.) I had stopped listening to the radio entirely back in early ‘96 (had a CD changer in the car, remember?) MTV was a wasteland by 1997. I had my niche artists that I chose to listen to, and had parted ways with the music currently on the charts…but they were in the cultural air and kind of unavoidable.

So here’s the last batch…mostly unconnected to any specific reminiscences…and a little epilogue…and now I’m thinking of things I forgot over the past 23 entries, and it’s too late to add…oh, God, “Come To My Window” was huge, and nowhere to be found…and “Liar” by the Rollins Band…and why did I pick “Creep” instead of “Waterfalls”?…Oh shit, this whole thing sucks…

#257. “Love Sick” — Bob Dylan

In response to the bombshell she just dropped that early-November night, I did what any panicked unready father would do…I insisted we drive right to the store and buy two more pregnancy tests. Positive. Positive. In the scary days that followed, she decided she would keep the baby and raise it with or without my help. Despite all evidence to the contrary (some of which you have read about), the Holy Bee had a sense of honor. I decided to “do the right thing,” in old-timey 1950s vernacular, and marry the baby-mama.

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Posing with Dylan’s guitar, Hard Rock Cafe, November 1997. My interest in caftan-like cabana wear was clearly growing. My hair was falling out in clumps at this point. The strain wasn’t noticeable in my face, was it?

We told our respective parents of the situation and the decisions we had come to…(except her Religious Dad, who was kept in the dark for a few more months about the reason for the nuptials)…the wedding was set for early January…a certain amount of haste was needed for obvious reasons…I found an apartment for us…just down the block from good ol’ First Run Video, actually…still in business but definitely dying…now entirely ran by the former assistant manager from whom I had only very recently stopped buying Vicodin tablets at ten dollars a pop…Religious Dad would not allow cohabitation before the marriage…I would live there by myself for about two months (Religious Dad did help with the rent)…

I don’t know if it’s coincidence but it’s also around this time that my formerly unruly hair became a lot easier to manage…I was pleasantly surprised at first…where it used to have to be beaten into submission with a blow dryer and a lot of patience, it would now submit meekly to a quick toweling…it seemed wispy…thinner…then I saw some home movies taken around Christmas that briefly showed me from the back and I almost choked on my eggnog…there was a definite patch of empty real estate on the crown of my head…tiny at first but it would grow to the size of a monk’s tonsure by the new century…

We went to see the Rolling Stones on their Bridges To Babylon tour…left early due to the harmful effects the smoky air may be having on the unborn child…

#258. “Bitter Sweet Symphony” — The Verve

#259. “Monkey Wrench” — Foo Fighters

The Future Ex-Wife and I tied the (temporary) knot in Nevada City in January of 1998. It was a pretty nice wedding, actually. I was particularly proud of the sharp-looking tuxes I had picked out for myself and my best man, Will. The religious in-laws raised the subject of having a “dry” reception and were practically laughed out of the room. There would be no compromises on this issue. Frozen margaritas all around!

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Wedding Day, although Allen seems to be the center of attention, flanked by the Holy Bee and a very Tony Soprano-ish Will

#260. “Miss Misery” — Elliott Smith

#261. “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit’ It” — Will Smith

#262. “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” – Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott

#263. “Sex And Candy” — Marcy Playground

#264. “Karma Police” — Radiohead

I really liked our apartment…it had a lofted master bedroom accessible by a narrow spiral staircase, which I had decorated with blue and white Christmas lights…then it was pointed out navigating a spiral staircase potentially several times a night to use the bathroom while pregnant may be a problem…we switched to a more practical unit in the same complex after a month or two…

Religious Dad was finally told of the reason for the wedding (because he certainly knew how to count, and would know the difference between nine months and six months)…he basically shrugged and said something akin to “she’s your problem now”…

Caspar and Audrey came to the wedding reception (late as usual)…and visited the apartment a few weeks later…that was the last time I ever saw either of them…

7cee75f3adec14e28d41ba4601c3b0b4#265. “Smack My Bitch Up” — Prodigy

The fellas in Prodigy insisted they meant the title ironically, and that the song was actually an indictment of obnoxious, overbearing intensity. I almost believed them. But it deeply offended Future Ex-Wife’s staunch feminist sensibilities. (She had only recently stopped writing it as “womyn.”) The Fat of the Land — despite its critical accolades — was a banned album in our new joint household. (When she found out her much-admired older brother owned it, she burst into tears. I don’t know if he got rid of it, or just told her he got rid of it.)

#266. “History Repeating” — Propellorheads

The Sutter Theater was located in the “downtown” area of Yuba City, which being a town and certainly not a “city,” was a just a few blocks. At one end was the Sutter Theater. At the other end was the Underground record store. It was about a ten-minute walk. On a typical Tuesday or Wednesday night at the theater, business was pretty slow and staff was minimal, usually just a manager and another employee. More often than not, it was Will and me. We were already on manager’s salaries ($350 a week for the Holy Bee; more for Will who was now actually Head Manager), so the company didn’t have to shell out for an hourly employee who may cost more than the movies made that night.

With little to do when the movies were actually running, we sat in the office chatting, doing college homework, or reading music magazines. If the music mags tipped us off about something interesting, we could walk down to the Underground on our dinner break, acquire our album, and have it spinning on the office CD player in under thirty minutes. Such was the case with the Propellorheads’ forgotten techno classic Decksanddrumsandrockandroll, which is still a favorite album of mine to this day.

#267. “Closing Time” — Semisonic

To get to Java Retreat and the Underground, you exited the Sutter, turned right, and walked a few blocks. To get to two of the grungiest dive bars in the north valley, you turned left and walked ten feet. The Spur was a classic barfly bar, and its barstools certainly supported the Holy Bee’s ass on more than one occasion. Its next-door neighbor, the Town Pump, attracted a slightly younger and more dangerous crowd. If we ever had a problem with a loud, obnoxious trucker-hatted drunk wandering into the theater (which was often), nine times out of ten, they came from the Pump.

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#268. “The Way” — Fastball

Saw these guys in their pre-one-hit-wonder days back in ‘97, opening for Matthew Sweet at the long-gone El Dorado Saloon in Sacramento. I pegged this song as the stand-out of their set.

#269. “Iris” — Goo Goo Dolls

#270. “Flagpole Sitta” — Harvey Danger

scn_0001#271. “Ray Of Light” — Madonna

My son Cade Carson was born on June 21, 1998 (at Fremont Hospital on Plumas Street, within sight of the theater.) It also happened to be Father’s Day (gifts displayed at left, along with a rapidly-expanding double chin). His delivery was paid for by Medi-Cal, the California health insurance for extremely poor folks, which we most definitely were. I told people “Carson” was an aesthetic choice, having a nice alliterative ring with “Cade.” But it was totally, 100% after Johnny Carson, one of my childhood idols. (Did I mention I was a weird child?) I would actually have done “Cade Letterman” or “Cade Newhart” if I thought I could get away with it. (There’s a slight chance he’s sitting in his dorm room in Denver reading this right now. Dude, I wouldn’t really have done “Cade Letterman”…but if you want to change it to that…I’m OK with it.) Continue reading

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This Used To Be My Playground, Part 23: I Hope You Had The Time Of Your Life

#224. “Killing Me Softly” — The Fugees

#225. “Who Will Save Your Soul” — Jewel

#226. “Criminal” — Fiona Apple

#227. “Macarena (Bayside Boys Remix)” — Los Del Rio

Summer ‘96! (as should be obvious from the songs above)

I floated lazily around most days on buoyant pool chair…I customized the drink holder in the styrofoam independence_day_movieposterchair arm to be able to handle a 40 oz. bottle of malt liquor…Beck’s Odelay played on repeat from speakers perched in my bedroom window…When the sun started dipping, I would wash the chlorine off, put on my managerial shirt and tie, and head for the theater…

The State looked like it might finally turn a profit by opening The Nutty Professor and Independence Day back to back…we had lines around the block…and a total lack of parking which reminded us why the place had to shut down in the first place…Frosted-Tip Douche was fired for stealing from the register…Rodger had long since quit and moved to a nearby town…Smokey quit and moved to Vegas…

Caspar and Audrey returned from Colorado…they had left at the start of the previous summer impulsively with no plan…they spent the first couple of months literally homeless…living in their car and a tent in a campground…they came back to California and moved back into the exact same apartment complex we had lived in before (not the same unit)…Future Ex-Wife and I made up a social foursome with them…Caspar took a job washing and folding clothes at LaundryTime…

s-l400I was usually in charge of changing the marquee at the theater…nothing like being perched on a teetering ladder which was in turn perched on the edge of a building to get you over your fear of heights…My specialty, though, was “build and tear”…movie prints arrived on six to eight individual reels of about 2000 feet each (Braveheart had ten), in battered, Depression-era cans, and had to be “built” up — spliced together into one massive piece of film about the diameter of a tractor tire, which would rest on a platter system that would feed into the projector…(sit still dammit, this is like the parts in Moby Dick that talk about whaling technicalities…I actually liked those parts)…movies that had finished their run had to be “torn” back down into their component reels to be shipped out…the whole process could take a couple of hours at least, depending on how many movies we were turning over, and had to be done after the last showing on Thursday night…so most Thursdays I was at the theater all alone from midnight until two or three in the morning…

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Typical pre-digital platter & projection system. Our projection booth was never that clean.

Of course the State Theater was rumored to be haunted…and of course I did hear footsteps and a few mysterious knocks on the projection booth door when no one was there… I took to wearing my Discman (90s alert!) when doing build & tear…I had an elaborate back-and-forth system of turning on and off all the lights so I was never walking through total darkness on my way out…I took to calling out “good night!” as I locked up, to get on their good side…despite knowing on an intellectual level it was all nonsense, I lived in abject fear of looking up from the auditorium floor and seeing a horrid pale face peering out the projection booth window, which allegedly happened to a late-working employee one build and tear night back in the 70s…

Film prints were in the process of switching from a celluloid base to a longer-lasting polyester 11dc959a2bb7ae2ec88881867e97755cbase…we got some of the older kind, some of the newer…if the projector jammed on a celluloid print, the lamp would just burn a hole through it (remember that?)…the print would break, the fail-safe lever would drop, stopping the system, and it was a mere few minutes’ work to splice it together and get it going again…if it jammed on a polyester print, it would not break, and often pull thousands of feet of film off the platter right onto the floor…movie cancelled…customers pissed…

But it’s all digital now, so none of the above is anything anymore…I’m old…call me Ishmael…

Speaking of old…the World Wide Web was now a thing…at least for me…I plunged in after many, ahead of some… I began paying twenty-five bucks a month for dial-up service in July…

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Pebble Beach, Summer ’96

#228. “El Scorcho” — Weezer

#229. “Santa Monica” — Everclear

At the start of August, Future Ex-Wife moved down to Monterey to attend Monterey Peninsula College. We decided to take a stab the long-distance thing, knowing it was probably futile. I listened to Weezer’s Pinkerton a lot on the three-hour drive I made several times that fall. (I found out later that Rodger was also making that three-hour drive several times that fall. I don’t know what he listened to. Probably something much cooler.) Santa Monica is pretty far from Monterey, but it was the theme song of the separation.

#230. “Everyday Is A Winding Road” — Sheryl Crow

I started the university not long after she left. I stayed living at home, and began life as a commuter, making the hour-long trip up and the hour-long trip back every day (at first — I soon learned not to schedule classes on every day of the week.) My major was Mass Communications. But after years of slacking around community college and not doing much, I had no discipline, and my mind was in Monterey. I did poorly.

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One night in October, Future Ex-Wife came home to visit her family…she came to see me at the theater when I was up in the booth…she told me the long-distance thing was too difficult…we should split up…but would I please continue to visit her as a friend?…it was a quick, clean break…her dad was waiting outside with the engine running the whole time… Continue reading

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