2019 May 20 • Monday

Music from the movie Fletch is the 570th Soundtrack of the Week. It's a mixture of score and songs, with most of the score and at least one of the songs by Harold Faltermeyer.

Not only did I see this movie but I also read some of the books it was based on. I have no memory of any of it.

But it's fun to listen to the soundtrack album. It’s all very '80s and upbeat.

First up is Stephanie Mills's theme song, "Bit By Bit (Theme from Fletch)", which is a really good song. If it didn’t address Fletch by name ("Have you heard the news / Coming through the grapevine / Fletch is running out of time"), it might have had a longer life on radio.

Next is another great pop song, "Fletch, Get Outta Town" by Dan Hartman. It starts with a Miami Vice-like synth drums fake out but settles into its own pounding sound and groove. While they put Fletch in the title, they left him out of the lyrics, so the song works just fine on its own. "Get outta town / Get outta town / Go north to Alaska / Or south to Rio."

Of course there's a love theme and it's delivered by John Farnharn's "Running for Love". There’s that classic '80s saxophone in it. I wonder if it's David Sanborn. Another solid song. I'm guessing that the movie wasn’t nearly as good as the music. "When you live like there’s no tomorrow / You always run away / When you live with an open heart / You give up more than you take."

After this comes another Dan Hartman song, "Name of the Game". It's surprisingly long at about six minutes, but a really good song. "That’s the name of the game/ It’s not about money / It’s not about fame / You are what you are."

Then we get to a cue from Harold Faltermeyer's score for the movie. "Fletch Theme" is very reminiscent of Eddie Murphy's theme music from Beverly Hills Cop and tha’s probably not a coincidence. It's got enough of its own thing going on, though, and a really great groove as well.

But then it’s song time again with "A Letter to Both Sides" by The Fixx. This had a softer energy than the other songs here though it’s still very pulsating and groovy. It's just harmonically a little sneakier and more sinuous. "Some don’t have time to see man and his wrongs / Others just expect to lose / You don’t have belief to take ahold of yourself / How can you expect to choose?" Or something.

"Is It Over" by Kim Wilde comes next, another classically '80s-sounding track, a little more subdued than the others, with a bubbly arpeggiated background to the pulsating synths and swelling vocals. Phil Collins might have been a reference point and maybe Kate Bush, too. "Is it over / Is it over / Or is it just begun?"

The last three tracks are from Faltermeyer’s score. "Diggin' In" is a bright and peppy instrumental with echoes of "Fletch Theme" in it.

"Exotic Skates" has a really cool groove that starts off in a way that sets up the listener to be surprised when the drums come in. A little later on this kind of electro-percussion stuff happens that might make you think that the macarena was inspired by this.

And then finally there’s an instrumental version of "Running for Love". Nice song and all but I don’t know that we needed to hear it twice.
2019 May 17 • Friday

When I first met Reuben Radding, he was managing the now legendary East Village zine shop See Hear.

Shortly thereafter he hired me to work at the cash register.

Now, 25 years later, Reuben is one of the best street photographers in New York City, perhaps in the US, perhaps in the world.

And he's put out a zine!

There's no text, just 24 brilliant black-and-white photographs that display Reuben's considerable range and depth.

It's hard to pick a favorite but it's definitely the man eating while surrounded by billboards for food. Runers up include the upset child by the stuffed animals, the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the woman in the chair on the sidewalk.

This is a limited edition so get it while you can!

2019 May 15 • Wednesday

There's a new Chris Moore record!

The cover art is by him, too. In addition to being an amazing drummer, guitarist, singer and songwriter he's also a brilliant artist. I have several pieces of his in my home.

Sunday Painter is an EP, so it's only five songs. But these five songs are fantastic.

It begins with the title track, a lush and lovely song that sounds intimate and vulnerable to me, as most of Moore's work is in some way. "Imagination won't run dry / Save your comments 'til I'm through / I've taken hits before / Same as you."

It has a quality of uplifting melancholy. Life is a balance of the potential and the actual, what we dream and what we do. A song like this helps you to keep going.

And if you need energy, the next song, "Boost", has it for you. It's a driving rocker that'll make you want to get out there and run. Chris's soaring and sometimes doubled vocals alternate with inspired electric guitar solos over some pleasantly surprising chord changes.

"Threads" is another lush piece, with numerous layers, including flute and strings, a pop masterpiece in waltz time. Incredibly, with the exception of the flute on this track, Chris Moore and Gary Langol played all the instruments on this release.

"I've been climbing the walls all day / And I've yet to travel far", Chris sings on "Late Entry", which is maybe a Neil Youngish sort of song that creates a deep and relaxed groove that's nonetheless propulsive and haunting.

The last song, "Strung Along", begins with sombre electric guitar arpeggios and more lyrics about taking stock of one's place in life: "Some wear and tear / Yeah, we all got stories / About last night's battle / How it should have been glory". This one is stripped down and exposed, just guitar and voice. It's also really short, just about a minute and a half.

It's the perfect coda to this gem of an ablbum, though. Like everything Chris Moore does, this is heartfelt, powerful and always worth the wait.

2019 May 13 • Monday

The 569th Soundtrack of the Week is this CD of music by Krzysztof Komeda for three films by Leonard Buczowski: Smarkula (The Teenager), Przerwany Lot (Cancelled Flight) and Perly i Cutaty (Pearls and Ducats).

First up on the CD are 28 cues from Smarkula.

The dominant voice is the flute, played brightly and airily and with a lot of energy. At times it might make you think of the flute playing in the episode of The Prisoner called "The Girl Who Was Death".

While many of the cues are short and peppy and have a "library music for short educational films" quality to them, "Smarkula IV" is a fast walking jazz number with some strong saxophone playing.

The next cue delivers more of a '50s rock sound in 6/8, again with the saxophone as the main voice.

There’s also a delicate love theme-sounding cue with a hearfelt melody that’s whistled.

These are the main ideas that Komeda works with in various arrangements and voicings. There are other instrumental rock cues, jazz cues and a waltz, also some solo piano music that’s occasionally reminiscent of Nino Rota.

The music from Przerwany Lot is much different, centered around a mysterious-sounding arpeggiated figure and using very few instruments, among them acoustic guitar and plucked violin. It sounds like the guitar is playing in unison with harpsichord in spots and there’s very subtle use of horns.

After six cues like this, the medium tempo and swinging straight-ahead jazz of "Przerwany Lot VII" is startling but agreeable.

This is followed by what might be wedding music, an up-tempo polkaish number followed by a slower, more plaintive one.

"Przerwany Lot X" has a doomy feel to it as dissonant guitar notes trade statements with snare drum. When other instruments come in they add to the feeling of dread.

Much of the music from Perly i Dukaty is a swinging jazz waltz featuring some kind of electric keyboard instrument and a smooth fluctuation of meter or temperature.

The next theme is expressed by electric guitar, double bass and trumpet against a background of eighth notes on piano.

The next theme is a chirpy and seesawy piece for jazz combo and you hear it in a few different feels and moods.

The next shift comes with the thirteenth cue, another jazz combo piece that’s weirder and has less of a form.

And that’s pretty much the territory covered here!
2019 May 10 • Friday

There's a new Coin-Op book!

This is the latest addition to their accordion book series. It's kind of like a miniature folding screen contained between book covers. These are lovely pieces of art that you can keep on a book shelf and share with people as the mood strikes you.

The subject is classics of film noir. I've definitely seen almost all of these. I'm not 100% sure about The Narrow Margin and The Blue Dahlia, but it's more likely than not that I've seen them. The others I've seen at least once. I re-watched Kiss of Death just last week. (Nice wheelchair, Hoeys.)

Just as home video releases of movies contain deleted scenes, American Noir included a bonus in the packaging.

Suitable for framing! (Which is also the name of an episode of Columbo.)
2019 May 08 • Wednesday

Judith Merril's first novel, published in 1950, was called Shadow on the Hearth. It's brilliant in a number of different ways.

In her autobiography, as she recalls the intense and loving relationship she had with Isaac Asimov, she reprints some of his adulatory review of this book and remarks that, "I should have been overwhelmed by his praise but I was only pleased that someone who understood precisely what I meant to do had access to a major newspaper".

Further research is required. This book is so unusual and so well done that I'm curious to know more about how it was received.

The story centers on Gladys Mitchell, a happily married woman in Westchester, NY, with one son in college, a 15-year-old daugher at home and another daughter aged 5.

The enthusiast of mid-century suburban home drama will find much to relish here. But Merril is a master of the narrative time bomb.

When we first meet Gladys, she's stressed out about her first invitation to an exclusive ladies' luncheon. In this particular part of the world, it's a make or break type of thing.

Alas, her housekeeper calls in sick and the teenaged daughter, Barbie, needs clothes washed for the babysitting jobs she's lined up.

So Gladys has to forfeit the luncheon invitation, which destroys her social life. On the plus side, the time she spends in the basement with the laundry saves her actual life. Because atomic war happens that day and the United States is bombed by an unnamed enemy.

Manhattan is a primary target, of course, and that's where Gladys's husband, Jon, is. His fate is unknown to her. She's on her own with her children.

Both kids are at school during the time of the attacks. They come home but it's a different world now, and Merril is superb at revealing this world to us through the eyes of her protagonist, a reasonable and reasonably satisfied person whose fear of war and militarism (having already endured World War 2) is now joined by the realization that many people, especially those in charge, enjoy this new reality of authoritarianism, paranoia, austerity and danger.

Shadow on the Hearth stands in the middle of two other literary works. Elizabeth Sanxay Holding's The Blank Wall (1947) was about women fighting a war at home on their own as the men were overseas fighting in World War 2. James Tiptree, Jr.'s Houston, Houston, Do You Read? takes place in a future where there are no men, only women.

In these books, women don't start wars or fight in them. Men do that and women and children suffer as a result. This is put most succinctly by Tiptree (pen name of Alice Sheldon), when a female astronaut points out that the only protection men ever gave women was protection from other men.

Gladys Mitchell's husband is missing in action and her son, who doesn't live at home anymore anyway, gets drafted into the military now that there's a war on.

She's actually managing just fine, though not at all happily, and her biggest problems are strange men who try to break into her house—for looting or perhaps worse— and the man who lives next door, who has apparently been lusting after Gladys for a long time, despite being married himself and recently becoming a father.

This guy is a big wheel in the post-atomic war world, a squad leader with power and pull. Merril very subtly paints a portrait of him as an establishment creep and more of a nuisance and a menace than anything else.

Every page of this book is deftly rendered and the pace is unerringly smooth and measured.

Incredibly, despite a brief trip to a hospital, which offers both the reader and the characters a view of how much worse things were than previously thought, the entire novel takes place inside the Mitchells' house.

(If Ozu were ever going to make a sci-fi movie, this would have been it. Though perhaps the material would have been better suited to Naruse. And is this even science-fiction anyway? I guess? It's the kind of question that isn't really worth asking.)

One of Merril's achievements is to question the post-WW2 world and anticipate the dilemmas and sorrows of the cold war to come.

Politicians are shown to be useless and conformists, those obedient to authority before morality, to be more dangerous than anybody else.

The most helpful people Gladys encounters are two men who are more or less considered enemies of the state, mostly for being against war in general and nuclear war in particular.

Merril makes a sharp point early on, one which should still resonate today, as many Americans are shocked—shocked!—by reports of interference with elections and acts of terrorism.

"l guess I should have read more about it before," Gladys said diffidently. "I … well, I just couldn't believe it. I never really believed any nation would use it this way."

"We did," he said harshly. "We used it in 1945. In Japan. Why wouldn't somebody else use it on us?"

Later, another character explain that he can't go to the hospital to be treated for radiation poisoning "Because I kept saying this was going to happen. Worse yet, I tried to prevent it. That makes me a public enemy".

But most incredible is how a book about a small group of characters almost entirely housebound for five days can zip along like this.

Merril's writing is perfectly balanced, shifting between domestic drama and comedies of manners as well as neo-fascistic post-apocalyptic horror.

There are numerous small touches that enhance the book as a whole, such as a possible reference to Poe's "The Raven" ("Gladys sat bolt upright. Her wath said one-twenty. She ducked around swiftly, to the peeping window, but there was no one on the porch. Thud, rattle. Not a man knocking. No one banging at the door. Just the tree and a window, nothing more.") that's answered twenty pages later by Glady's robin-adorned tea kettle leading her to the discovery that all real birds appear to be dead ("three sparrows on their backs with toothpick legs pleading to the sky; another across the lawn; a few more farther away").

It's not clear how well this story ends for the people in it. There are some vicious sucker punches in it. And the ending, while entirely satisfactory, can hardly be called happy. And why should it? How could a story like this possibly have a happy ending?

But it does conclude solidly and with exactly the right amount of ambiguity. So far there hasn't been a nuclear exchange between hostile powers. Shadow on the Hearth is one of many reminders that nothing at all good could come of such a thing—and, by extension, presumably, any armed conflict.

The first line is "Veda was sick that day".

2019 May 06 • Monday

More than ten years of writing about soundtrack music on Mondays and it’s only now that we stumble upon Patrick Cowley. Thanks to Dusty Groove in Chicago, where I found this CD.

Cowley is apparently known for music he made in the San Francisco dance club scene in the 1970s. This isn’t surprising, because this collection of music for he composed for gay porn films, is devastatingly groovy and deeply funky.

It’s called Muscle Up and it’s the 568th Soundtrack of the Week.

It starts slow, with a track called “Cat’s Eye”, almost all wind sounds and some spare, hypnotic drumming. Atmospheric synth and piano come in and create a lyrical but pensive atmosphere with occasional bursts of electronic weirdness.

Sounds of birds and a low, throbbing bass groove create a rich ambient soundscape for the 13-minute long “The Jungle Dream”. Eventually the bird calls, which are sometimes electronically manipulated, are joined by otherworldly human vocals. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that this influenced people like William Orbit and bands like Massive Attack. Long as this track is, and basically consisting of one groove and one idea, it’s mesmerizing.

“Deep Inside You” continued the low and slow nature of the music so far, with another in the pocket drum groove and very simple but richly textured bass synth part. Ethereal electronic voices float above and there’s what sounds like a lead electric guitar part, though it could be a synthesizer.

After this things start to get more dancey. “Somebody To Love Tonight” has a simple but irresistible groove with a hint of Stevie Wonder to it. The tempo has been picked up only a bit and the melodic line is laying back. The feel is of things picking up, though, unable to be held back much longer.

A harder edge comes in with “Pigfoot”, which uses electric rhythm guitar to great effect on top of a Clyde Stubblefield-type beat. The synth soloing suggests both prog rock and minimalism.

“5oz of Funk” is the next piece and that seems like a low figure. The drums are hitting hard and rough and enhanced by cowbell and other percussion. It’s another huge groove for various synth voices to play over. All of this music is fascinating and presumably less known than it deserves to be.

Things calm down a bit with “Don’t Ask”, which leaves out drums and percussion entirely and lets guitar and synth create the groove. There’s a bit of it that flirts with the “Hang ‘Em High” melody but otherwise there’s various soloing and bursts of music that suggest funk or prog or even church music.

The next track, “Uhura”, is completely different, with no groove at all to speak of but instead a sequence of different avant-garde electronic music ideas. This is another example of soundtrack music being at least as advanced as concert music or conceptual music or what have you.

The didjeridoo, of all things, or at least an electronic approximation thereof, anchors the 11-minute “Timelink”, another spacious and atmospheric piece. It’s not quite as exciting as “The Jungle Dream”, since it lacks that piece’s irresistible pulse, but it is hypnotic and fascinating.

This collection ends with “Mockingbird Dream 2”, a swirly, New Agey sort of piece that has a surprising intensity to it. About halfway through it switches gears into a spacey sort of groove and wraps up with some lush synth pads.

This CD was a wonderful surprise and an encouragement to keep taking chances on music unknown to me. There are some other Patrick Cowley soundtrack collections out there and I’ve got some of those, too, now.
2019 May 03 • Wednesday

We've fallen behind on our reading here. It's taken us 115 years to get around to this issue of The American Woman!

What was this? I have no idea, but I came across it on eBay, browsing old magazines and such. It cost $1.25, which seemed like the bargain of the year!

Turning to the first page and seeing this wonderful illustration only reinforced this impression.

And another nice one:

The contents are a mixture of fiction and non-fiction, advertisements and letters from readers.

There's a piece on the importance of radium and Marie Curie's role in its discovery as well as an item on "Woman Doctors in Russia".

The centerfold is dedicated to needlework.

Home remedies are a big deal. There's a lot of talk about one woman's "simple remedy for deafness":

It is a simple thing, but has cured my little daughter, who was deaf for more than a year, and sometimes dumb three or four days at a time. The doctors were about to perform an operation on her ears, when by chance I learned o this, and decided to try it as a last resort before permitting the operation. To my surprise and that of the doctors, it cured her, and she has never had any trouble since—noe more than two years: Take four tablespoonfuls of fresh goose-oil and put into a bottle with a piece of gum camphor the size of a marble. Set the bottle in a warm place until the camphor dissolves, add five cents' worth of peppermint-oil, shake thoroughly, and put three drops of the mixture in each ear night and morning. Place a bit of cotton in the ear to keep the oil in and the air out.

This cure was submitted by Mrs. H. E. Church of Angus, Minnesota, who also notes that home-made goose-oil is better than the goose-oil carried by "any drug-store".

Another reader, "G. B." in Shellbourne, Nevada, wrote in to ask for "the exact quantity of oil of peppermint" as "Five cents' worth may be more or less in different localities", which is a very good point.

G. B. was also concerned about a remedy for "catarrh" of the head. A few pages later, an ad for a catarrh reliever features these intriguing drawings:

Other letter writers offered anti-bedbug advice ("paint or varnish mixed with a little corrosive sublimate and turpentine … a sure exterminator") and the suggestion "To freshen cucumber pickles pour boiling water over them; this makes them crisp and nice, beside freshening them much quicker".

The latter writer adds, "I wish some one would suggest a remedy for superfluous flesh other than going without breakfast; when I work hard all day I get weak, if I eat no breakfast".

It took a hundred years or so, but the advice these days seems to be to go without dinner.

Even in 1904, readers of The American Woman were being told that smoking causes cancer.

Other ads of notes:

"We as that you show it to your neighbors who have cows."

That's a startling image for heart disease.

And there's always a little room for odds and ends.

2019 May 01 • Wednesday

The big news around here is… Twinkle!

"Terry" was her first hit, written in her high school French class when she was sixteen years old, inspired by motorcyclists she saw out the window.

Jimmy Page plays on it, apparently. The song is about the singer's boyfriend dying in a motorcycle crash and its popularity freaked some people out. A member of the House of Lords denounced it in Parliament and Melody Maker urged readers to "Drop the Death Disc"!

It was all good publicity and years later the same Lord who had fulminated against it asked Twinkle out to lunch. She turned him down.

This information comes from the liner notes to a recent two-CD set of Twinkle's complete recordings: Girl in a Million.

I listened to it several times and love a lot of these songs. One of them is actually a Serge Gainsbourg song with new English-language lyrics.

A few of the songs are about a serious boyfriend Twinkle had, a factory worker who was orphaned and abused by foster parents. He ended up becoming a male model and dying in a plane crash.

The liner notes are by Twinkle's older sister, a music journalist who used to take Twinkle out to shows with her. Since Twinkle had to be in school the next day, George Harrison used to do her math homework for her.

While Twinkle's originals are really the highlights—The Smiths covered one of her songs, "Golden Lights", and an adoring postcard from Morrissey is reproduced in the CD booklet—there are some noteworthy covers as well, such as "The End of the World" and even a new wave synth version of "I'm a Believer".

This is a great new reissue and I might not ever have known about it if it hadn't been in the window at Dusty Groove in Chicago!