Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2012 April 30 • Monday

We continue with Japanese television music with 70's Television's Hits, the 215th Soundtrack of the Week.

It opens with "Yappon" by a group called Sing Out. It's hard to describe but it sounds like the album cover looks.

This is followed by another maniacally cheerful tune called "V Sign". Perhaps both of these are themes from shows of the same name. I don't know.

The third song is "Attention Please" by a group called The Buzz. It's agreeably swinging and melodically alluring, and sung by a great female vocalist. It seems to be the theme for a show about flight attendants.

The fourth song is the theme for a show called Turn to the Gold Medal!, which was apparently a competitive swimming drama. The female vocalist reminds me a bit of whoever sang the "King Caesar" song in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla.

The theme song for 18-Year-Old Wife is a pleasant easy-listening piece with bossa nova influence and another great female singer. And then there's another one, who sounds a bit like Meiko Kaji, who sings the theme song for I Can't Hate You. It's a groovy song given urgency by the singer's voice.

Beauty Challenger is something of a disco/funk assault with another powerful female voice powering through the song.

When We Fell in Love is hard to describe. A gentle female voice handles the lyrics while the music part of it is 1970s easy listening with a bit of Bacharach and some marimba and wah-wah guitar, among other interesting instrumentation choices.

The theme music for the popular Howl at the Sun is one here, too, and starts out sounding a bit like the theme to S.W.A.T. (which came later) before it becomes an acid jazz number with sax, guitar and organ solos. Here it is.

I don't know anything about the show Viva! Eyeful but the theme song is good. You can hear it here.

Meiko Kaji herself sings the theme song for Hagure Bushi. I love her voice. I guess she's probably the star of the show, too, which means it's probably worth watching. Once again, the track is on YouTube.

The theme song for Riding the Wind is one of the other highlights on this CD, insanely catchy and very '70s.

Also worth mentioning are the country-tinged rock ballad theme for Ah, Youth, the slow-groove instrumental theme for Our Journey and the "Ballad of John and Yoko"-like theme song for Beautiful Sand.

2012 April 27 • Friday

This new EP from The Melvins is really good—and it's a free download!

2012 April 25 • Wednesday

This was first published in 1949 and follows one character's life after a virus kills almost every human being on the planet. The pace is calm and steady and the writing admirably low key. It casts a spell, so smoothly that you might go from thinking you don't really care about what happens to being unwilling to put the book down.

The hero, Ish, starts out with the modest goal of being only an observer to how the natural world will change without people around to influence it. Eventually he meets another survivor, a woman named Em, and then the book becomes something closer to anthropology or sociology as individuals become families, families become a social unit and a social unit becomes something like a state.

Ish feels like it's his duty to restart the civilization he remembers and this part of the narrative generates much of the suspense.

Connie Willis's introduction is very helpful, not least for pointing out that Ish is doubtlessly supposed to remind readers both of Ishmael and also of a real-life Ish who had an experience very similar to the Ish of Earth Abides. She mentions other books with similar ideas but not, curiously enough, M. P. Shiel's The Purple Cloud, which has more of a connection with Earth Abides than does, say the work of John Wyndham. (And I would guess that Richard Matheson's I Am Legend is influenced by Stewart's novel.)

What's the first line? Well, there are two.



If a killing type of virus strain should suddenly arise by mutation … it could, because of the rapid transportation in which we indulge nowadays, be carried to the far corners of the earth and cause the deaths of millions of people.

—W. M. Stanley,
in Chemical and Engineering News,
Dec. 22, 1947


Chapter 1.

… and the government of the United States of America is herewith suspended, except in the District of Columbia, as of the emergency.

2012 April 23 • Monday

The 214th Soundtrack of the Week is 60's Television's Hits Vol. 2!

It's very different from the first volume. There's practically no surf music and the moods that prevail are cheer and militarism: brain-meltingly sunny songs and marches, both likely to feature singing by children. The theme song for Tetsujin 28-go (a.k.a. Gigantor) is a case in point.

But there are exceptions. Two of the songs are sung by The Peanuts, who are always enchanting. There's a swinging pop ballad by I George that's quite good and melodically similar to "La vie en rose".

A surf band does provide the backing track for the theme song to Moonlight Ninja Force and the kind of slightly exotic swing and island sound that you hear in Nikkatsu movies from the '60s dominates the theme song for Toward the Clouds.

There's also the theme song for The Guardmen. The CD has the vocal version but you can hear the instrumental, and get a taste of what the series looks like, here.

There are two Ultra Seven themes and a lovely instrumental piece featuring harpsichord that was the theme for Ooku.

2012 April 20 • Friday

If you're a fan of Donald Westlake who ever wondered what a comic Tucker Coe novel might be like, well, this book could be for you.

Charlie Hardie is an ex-cop who's been numbing himself with booze and a new career as a housesitter ever since accidentally causing the death of his partner and his partner's family. When he shows up for his latest housesitting gig he walks into the middle of a sort-of movie production.

The production isn't actually a movie though it's run that way, with directors, stars, assistant directors, grips, scripts, props, costumes and the all important narrative. The only thing that differentiates it from a movie is that the studio is known as The Accident People and what they do is murder—murder that looks so much like an accident that nobody thinks of it as murder.

For MacGuffinish reasons these people are in the midst of killing washed-up, in-rehab, almost-movie-star Lane Madden, who has, in one of many coincidences, taken refuge in the house that Charlie Hardie is supposed to be sitting.

So now Hardie is dragged into this mess and eventually sees it as a chance of some kind of redemption.

It moves fast, it's funny and much too entertaining to worry about the numerous coincidences and contrivances. I enjoyed it quite a bit.

The first line, more or less, is "She discovered Decker Canyon Road by accident, not long after she moved to L.A.".

Each chapter has a quote from a source related to the tone of the novel, usually a movie but not always. For example:
Guns, guns, guns.—Kurtwood Smith, RoboCop".

This is apparently the first book in a trilogy about Hardie. I might read the other two one of these days. One of the things I like about him is that he's not some superman type of character. He's not especially smart or skilled or anything. The only thing he has going for him is an ability to take punishment, and this makes sense for his character.

2012 April 18 • Wednesday

This Hunter S. Thompson biography in comic-book form first came out in England in 2010 but the first US edition appeared here about a month ago, I think.

After an interesting, affectionate and illuminating introduction by Hunter's editor Alan Rinzler, the book presents an overview of Hunter's life, told in the first person as if by Hunter himself.

It's gratifyingly unsensationalized, concentrating on Hunter as a writer, an observer and a participant in a number of memorable historical and cultural events. Despite the title, the emphasis is not on gonzo behaviour. This is not the place to find story after story about Hunter getting wasted and acting crazy, though neither is this side of him overlooked.

The artwork and writing are both very impressive, the former alternating between cinematic techniques and a visual vocabulary probably unique to comics, while the latter is surprisingly delicate and restrained, attempting a portrait of a mythic figure's soul without being swept away by the myth itself.

2012 April 16 • Monday

The 213th Soundtrack of the Week is 60's Television's Hits, a compilation of theme music for Japanese television programs from the 1960s.

It kicks off with one of my favorites, the theme music for Ultra Q, which was the 190th Soundtrack of the Week.

Second is the Batman theme, but a Japanese version! It begins the way you remember it, with that "Wipe Out"-like riff and the chant of "Batman! Batman!" But then there are Japanese vocals and a swinging jazz section with a sax solo!

This is followed by the theme to Spy Catcher, a surf number with lyrics appropriate to the title of the show. "S… P… Y… Spy! Catch! Catch! Catch!"

Next is a show whose title translates literally as License of Inanimate Nature but is better known as Key Hunter. It has a soaring, yearning vocal that sounds like something Masaru Sato composed.

Number five is the theme from The Guardmen. It's a catchy, surfy instrumental which builds to a Morricone-like climax with brass instruments building in intensity and electric guitar making weird noises.

Next is a sunny and sprightly song for Mama and Fukuro-san. It starts with the classic Dick Dale-like descending line on electric guitar before going into this impossible perky song that will make you think of cartoon kittens dancing around freshly baked cupcakes. The backing band is really good and quite surfy. At some point the male vocalist imitates that descending guitar line, after which the guitar plays it again and then there's a very short organ break.

Surf continues to be the prominent style in the next song, "Yuuhi ni mukatte", which has something to do with sunset. Another male vocalist sings cheerfully while guitar, organ, bass and drums get surfy in the background.

Other highlights include the girl-group shout and stomp theme for Mini Mini Girl, whatever that was.

The great Takeshi Terauchi with his group The Bunnies plays the theme for Taiyo Yaro, which would translate roughly as Sun Bastard or Bastard Sun, I believe. This was released as a single and you can listen to it while looking at the cover here.

There's a swinging song that's something of a change of pace, though it has a kind of lounge Hawaii Five-0 theme quality to it, for a show that might be called The Night I Want To Hold Your Hand.

A group called Pinky and The Colors contribute a sunny pop theme song for a show called Fly Off Into the Blue Sky. (At least that's how I translate it.)

A group called The Wonders do a Japanese version of Barry Gray's Captain Scarlet theme. The melody is exactly the same and the arrangement is very similar to Gray's original.

Amachi Shigeru's theme song for At Night is a heartfelt crooner with a bossa nova beat. If you like Takakura Ken's songs, you'll probably like this. You can check it out here.

Finally, the last tune on the record really stands out. Fast walking bass and drums provide the foundation for very fast scatting in unison with electric guitar for the 11PM theme.

2012 April 13 • Friday

This was a bit of a disappointment. The writing is never better than adequate and there's hardly any original material.

Gallop sets the scene by describing both the role of radio in the 1930s and Orson Welles's careers in both radio and theatre at the time.

For information about Welles's life up to and including Citizen Kane, there probably isn't a better book to read than Simon Callow's The Road to Xanadu, which Gallop mentions at least twice and includes in his bibliography.

The best book that exists about Welles's famous War of the Worlds broadcast must be Hadley Cantril's The Invasion from Mars, first published in 1940.

When Gallop attempts to sketch Bernard Herrmann's biography in a few paragraphs in the book's last chapter, he makes enough errors to discourage me from relying on this volume as a reference. (He wrote that Herrmann "composed memorable music" for The Birds and died in 1965, for instance.)

So what's good about this book? For one thing, it includes a fair amount of material from primary sources: newspaper articles, letters, photographs from the author's collection and even photocopies of some pages of Howard Koch's script for The War of the Worlds. I'll probably keep it on my shelf for those alone.

Gallop also knows a lot about radio and is able to locate Welles in the context of the airwaves. Even if I didn't especially enjoy his book, I'll give him credit for that.

But if you've read The Road to Xanadu and The Invasion from Mars, there really isn't much in this book for you.

2012 April 11 • Wednesday

This graphic novel tells a story of race, class and family tensions leading to violence and catharsis in an Indiana farming community. The trigger is Orson Welles's famous radio dramatization of The War of the Worlds.

The action of the book occasionally cuts away to New York City, where we see Welles and company before and during the broadcast. The purpose of these scenes appears to be to suggest that it was Welles's intention to frighten people, which is too unlikely an idea to take seriously, though I guess it's an irresistible kind of story to many. (The back cover of The Broadcast refers to Welles's "infamous radio play" as a "hoax". I think the real story, that the reaction to the broadcast was entirely unexpected and unintended, is a better story.)

It's well done and entertaining even if it plays loose with what we know of the facts surrounding the broadcast. For instance, Welles tried to take credit for writing the adaptation of The War of the Worlds, which was the work of Howard Koch. This is alluded to in a panel where we see Welles cross out Koch's name on the script and write his own. Welles almost certainly never actually did that—and it wouldn't have made much difference if he had—but he tried to accomplish the same thing in a different way.

2012 April 09 • Monday

The 212th Soundtrack of the Week is Kanno Yugo's music for the Japanese television drama SP (Security Police).

I think that some of the people responsible for Bayside Shakedown also worked on SP. They know how to make good television. SP isn't moving in the way Bayside Shakedown was, but I got into it.

As far as I can remember it takes place a little bit into the future where there's a new kind of police officer, Security Police, whose job is to be a human shield for terrorist targets.

The main character, Inoue, is an unusually gifted member of this special force. In addition to his practically unbeatable martial arts skill, he has a kind of ESP that alerts him to threats before any sign of danger can be seen or heard.

He's got problems, though. The old childhood trauma device is dragged out. His parents were murdered by somebody attempting to assassinate a politician. The politician grabbed the young Inoue and used him as a shield. Inoue's parents died trying to protect their son. Now that same politician is Prime Minister and Inoue will have to volunteer to be his shield. Or is Inoue in fact just planning to kill him for revenge?

His boss is mixed up with their enemies somehow—it becomes clear in the two SP feature films that followed the show—and Inoue's ESP is actually a symptom of some kind of brain damage or disease that's getting worse and will cause his head to explode someday or something.

Okay, so it's not particuarly realistic but it's very entertaining, with impressive action sequences and stories that move too quickly for you to quibble over the contrivances.

And of course the music is quite good.

I bought this CD really just for the theme music, which I love, a kind of pounding techno thing with some surfy guitar and a haunting melody played by strings on top. It's irresistible in the same way that Lalo Schifrin's Mission: Impossible theme is. For the CD it's expanded into a long piece of music, more than seven minutes. Somebody's uploaded it to YouTube here.

"Sudden Panic", the second track, is another mixture of orchestra and electronics, at times suggesting what John Williams's famous Jaws music might sound on the dance floor.

In the show, the woman who dispense tea and sympathy or abuse (depending on the situation) is accompanied by a simple funky beat. This is expanded here into a song, "Serene Parade".

"Shock Proof" and "Sergeant Pepper's" are sort of dance versions of heavy metal. Most of the music is heavy, electronic dance music of one kind of another, as is the case with the Bayside Shakedown score. And once again, though I don't usually get into that kind of thing, I really love it here.

Some of the cues that are more traditional dramatic underscore include "Saturation Point", "Self Protection" and "Sweet Pain".

"Sacred Place" is a sentimental piece for piano and strings. mixes another house beat with ore compelling universal fantasy than the one about how an unimpressive on it.

2012 April 06 • Friday

The scene in this cover painting does occur (though with fewer eyes), but the book itself is not as good as its cover.

The back cover tells you almost everything that happens.

It takes a surprisingly long time to get to the Eyes' demands. As far as invasions of Earth go, this one is rather inept. It's never explained why the Eyes are so lackadaisical in their approach, so I'm assuming that they're just lazy.

In addition to the action described on the back cover, there's also a love story involving a poorly drawn and far from admirable female character. This is more of a shame than usual, since the author of this book is a woman, with a degree in psychology and interests in "American Indian lore, anthropology, philosophy and the arts".

2012 April 04 • Wednesday

Mere months after hauling ourselves out to Newark to see Penn & Teller at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, my brother and I made the same trip to the same venue last Saturday, this time for Cinematic Titanic: The Astral Factor.

It was great.

Before the show started Dave (Gruber) Allen, who's been one of my favorite actors ever since I saw him as Mr. Rosso on Freaks and Geeks, came out on stage and did some great dancing and lip-synching to the music playing in the house. (One of the songs he did was "Little Toy Gun" by honeyhoney.)

Then he introduced Mary Jo Pehl who came out and read an intentionally maladroit and funny greeting and introduction of Dave (Gruber) Allen.

J. Elvis Weinstein came out and did some of his stand up as well as accompanying Dave (Gruber) Allen on the bass while Allen sang a song to the audience about how they needn't freak out. It was to the tune of Monk's "Well You Needn't".

Then Weinstein said he would stick to the MST3K theme by being replaced by Frank Conniff. Frank came out and did some stand up, mostly divided between jokes about New Jersey governor Chris Christie and bits about tweets from famous historical figures (Abraham Lincoln, Anne Frank, etc.) He took requests from the audience and improvised tweets from Helen Keller and, uh, others. A request for a tweet from Torquemada had him baffled and he responded to somebody's shout of "Martin Luther King!" by saying, "Oh, right, that'll be funny!"

Then J. Elvis picked up the bass and Dave (Gruber) Allen played claves so Frank could sing a theme song for his proposed Saturday morning superhero cartoon Convulted Man.

Trace Beaulieu came out next, I think, and he and J. Elvis Weinstein took questions from the audience. Somebody asked if they still talk to Kevin and Mike and Trace replied, "Who?". But it seemed pretty clear that he was just trying to get a laugh and everybody's on good terms. Trace mentioned that they don't make any money from the DVD releases of Mystery Science Theatre 3000, which seemed strange to me.

Mary Jo came out again to plug her new book and read passages from it, which turned out to be not anything that she had written but enthusiastic blurbs about the book.

That might not have happened in exactly that sequence, but I do remember that Joel came out last and, after just a few words to the audience, began the show proper.

That pretty much sums it up. It also had Sue Lyon in it, as well as Elke Sommer, who picks up a guitar and sings Leadbelly's "In the Pines" at some point.

I've watched all of the Cinematic Titanic DVDs and seeing the live show is definitely more fun. The Astral Factor is one of their funniest performances. I would happily go see them again.

2012 April 02 • Monday

The 211th Soundtrack of the Week is Michiru Oshima's music for one of my favorite television shows of all time, Gokusen.

Is there any more compelling universal fantasy than the one about how an unimpressive looking person turns out to be superhumanly powerful? From Greek gods walking among us as mortals to Christ doing the same thing, from Odysseus returning home pretending to be a weak old man to the Bixby/Ferrigno Incredible Hulk TV show and the present day popularity of superhero movies, we love the idea that we might be gods underneath our fatigue and neuroses. And Dr. Banner encapsulated the most basic appeal of this conceit when he said, "Don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry".

The first season of the live-action Gokusen TV show—there were at least two other seasons, anime, manga and a feature film—is one of the most charming and satisfying variations on this basic story.

Plotwise it's similar to the American movie The Substitute or, perhaps less coincidentally, the earlier Japanese TV show GTO, which stands for Great Teacher Onizuka. That show was about a former motorcycle gang leader who gets hired by a short-handed high school. In desperation they give him the worst class, all punks and delinquents on their way to lives of crime.

Of course Onizuka knows more about crime and the street than any of the students, and he's able to outmaneuver them while helping them with their problems.

According to the invaluable Dorama Encyclopedia by Jonathan Clements & Motoko Tamamuro, GTO is itself a remake of an earlier school drama called Kinpachi Sensei, "a fact acknowledged by the program makers in the first episode, when Onizuka turns away from his habitual schoolgirl porn in the video store and asks to rent copies of the famous classroom drama instead".

Gokusen is more or less the same story but with a female teacher. Orphaned at a young age, she was brought up by her grandfather, the boss of a powerful crime family. It's either her dream or her dead parents' dream (or both) that she would become a teacher, so she takes a job at a desperate high school and gets handed the class that nobody wants to touch, a class full of punks and delinquents on their way to lives of crime.

The wonderful Nakama Yukie plays the teacher, Kumiko Yamaguchi, nicknamed Yankumi by the students. "Kumiko" is a feminization of "kumi", which means gang or group and is the term used by actual yakuza organizations. One such organization is the Yamaguchi-gumi ("gumi" being the same as "kumi"). So Yamaguchi-gumi becomes Yamaguchi Kumiko.

"Yankumi" has some similar meaning, but I can't remember it at the moment. It has "kumi" in it again, of course, but I think it was also supposed to suggest Yankee, though I can't remember why.

So she shows up for her class, the students try to intimidate her and she kicks their asses. In addition to knowing all the tricks of the criminal trade, she's also a near-invincible martial artist. Her greatest weapon, though, is her compassion. What wins the students over to her is not that she's tougher than them but that she proves that she cares about them and sticks her neck out for them—every week.

It really is a great show. The other characters are all great and the production is flawless, a mixture of action, adventure, intrigue, comedy and romance so breezily put together that it belongs in the pantheon with Hergé's Tintin and the Diana Rigg episodes of The Avengers.

The first season, anyway. The second season is, strangely, a remake of the first season, and the third season is another remake of the first season. The feature film is also a remake of the first season and by that time I wasn't sure I could sit through it. I'd rather just watch the first season again, since the result of the remakes was little more than a demonstration of the law of diminishing returns.

At least half of the success of the show must go to Nakama Yukie's brilliant performance. A significant chunk rightly belongs to Michiru Oshima's music.

As in every Japanese drama I've seen, the music functions as a cast of characters itself. You have a dozen or so cues and you'll hear them in each episode, always in the same sort of place. You might think this would get boring but it can be very effective, if the music and the show hit it off.

Much of the music is stirring and anthemic and relates to Yankumi's great and sincere effort to gain her students' trust, to protect them and demonstrate the values of honesty, fair play and hard work.

One of the greatest cues is "Yankumi's Visit". The title sounds harmless enough but it's the action cue for the show, when Yankumi is racing to rescue one of her students from danger, probably by running all over Tokyo before bursting through a warehouse door and beating up a dozen yakuza thugs. The startling thing about this piece is that it's in 11/4. How many TV shows have an action theme in 11/4?

There's also a Gilbert and Sullivan type piece and some similarly light and comic pieces of music that usually accompany Yankumi's nemesis, the vice principal. See, like any great superhero, she has a secret identity. If her connections to a powerful organized crime family were known to the school administration, she'd lose her job. This is a real danger as when she gets excited she blurts out rough yakuza slang, to the bewilderment of the other teachers.

Another favorite cue is the haunting and sinuous music for the character of Sawada Shin, the kid who leads the other students.

Such a great show and such great music. I got a new iPod a month or so ago, after a few years without one, and the Gokusen soundtrack was the first thing I listened to on it.

Check it out. There's a ton of it on YouTube. Click here to see the first episode of the first season subtitled in English.