Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2016 March 30 • Wednesday

2016 March 28 • Monday

You can never have enough John Barry. He'll always be most famous for his James Bond film scores and that's nothing to complain about. And so our 406th Soundtrack of the Week will be one of them, namely Moonraker.

This is the album release, not the complete original score. It's my understanding that to this day nobody knows if the tapes from the original recording sessions exist.

A little over a year ago there was a Kickstarter campaign to fund a re-recording of the complete score but the plug was pulled on it. I forget why. It's a shame because that's a very worthy undertaking.

Moonraker is one of the best of the original Ian Fleming novels. The first few chapters in particular combine an exquisitely wrought comedy of manners with tense and exciting drama on a relatively miniscule scale. Nobody goes into space.

The movie might be a guilty pleasure for some but it's terrible.

But just as Bernard Herrmann didn't let the undeniable crappiness of a movie prevent him from writing some of his most beautiful and moving music, John Barry's score for Moonraker is one of his loveliest, most lyrical and expressive works.

The title song, performed by Shirley Bassey—another genius who will always be remembered for her Bond associations—is gorgeous. I believe that if the movie were better, the song would be more played and more familiar.

For the score itself, what exists on the soundtrack album anyway, Barry created a soaring, richly textured sonic world. The two highlights for me have always been "Bond Lured to Pyramid" and "Flight into Space".

The title song gets worked into the score at various points, most notable in the Rio sequence, where it has a gentle, location-appropriate groove under it.

In keeping with the awfulness of the movie itself, the album closes with a limp disco version of the title song.
2016 March 25 • Friday

Pee-Wee's Big Holiday is a valiant attempt to rekindle the flame that burned so brightly in Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. Paul Reubens can be Pee-Wee Herman as easily as Phil Silvers could be Sgt. Bilko and it's a pleasure to see him again in his too small suit and red bow tie.

The smartest thing about this new movie is that it doesn't lean too heavily on your good will, the emotional investment its target audience has presumably already made in the character and concept of Pee-Wee Herman.

My very short and detail-free verdict is: good but not great.

For all the delightful quirkiness on display, and references to movies such as Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and Glen or Glenda?, the humor and the story don't exactly flow easily and too many of Pee-Wee's lines sound generic, like they could have been spoken by any number of characters.

But it was certainly a pleasant diversion, an effort that should be rewarded and a fine way to spend ninety minutes.

2016 March 23 • Wednesday

The movie Seconds is good enough that I thought I'd read David Ely's original novel.

Okay, so for this mass-market paperback edition, the designers were told to make it look like The Matrix. This is a pretty horrible cover.

Book and movie have the same story. Rich men past their prime can have a second chance at life. An unnamed organization will, for a hefty fee, arrange for each client a fake death and a rebirth, following rigorous surgery and training, as a younger man with a chance to live whatever dreams had been left by the wayside.

The main character is named Antiochus Wilson, but that's his new name. The reader never learns either his real, original name, or the name of the "company" that provides this service, one of several touches that give Seconds a genuine claim to being Kafkaesque, a quality that's oversubscribed but quite apt in this case.

In addition to being a story of paranoia and dread and a disorientingly quotidian surreality, Seconds is also a bleak satire, a Nineteen Eighty-Four for mid-century, white-collar America.

Ely writes with wit and precision and combines remorseless inevitability with a light touch and dispassionate perspective. He reveals the pathos of the situations and the characters with small details and deft understatement.

One company employee is named Davolo, for instance, an "I" removed from Diavolo. (The devil's in the details.) Another one has a PhD in history. His subject was the fall of Rome. When Wilson, in crisis, grabs hold of a statuette of the crucifixion for support, the company's catch-all religion man admonishes him to let go of it: it's plastic and "might easily be cracked".

Wilson turns out to be a dud in his new life as young handsome freewheeling bohemian. His success in American conformist/capitalist society has emptied him of his personhood. He thinks he wants more than his job at the bank and his house in the suburbs and he wants to want more than that—who wouldn't?—but he never really did and he doesn't now.

One poignant moment has him sitting in an airport bar, regretting his new life and missing his old one, and looking into the mirror behind the bar to see that "The mirror's image of an illuminated clock on the opposite wall showed the hands reversed, with time retreating".

Soon every mirror is filled with Antiochus Wilson, the false, young man that Wilson is not and cannot be. He becomes further dissociated from "himself," unable to become this new person or return to the old one.

This kind of identity crisis seemed to have been especially relevant in the 1960s: Eyes Without a Face and Face of Another come to mind.

The kicker is that the company has grown into a corporate monster out of control, gobbling up human souls at a frightening rate with an even more terrifying number of failures like Wilson. It's a diabolical machine but it's ability to suck in wealth suggests nothing other than continuous growth. And its plans for future expansion are chilling. The parallels with actual corporate activities are obvious and Ely doesn't waste our time pointing them out.

The last line is a masterstroke of horror, a soulless and apathetic update of Winston Smith's loving Big Brother. The first line is "It was noon".
2016 March 21 • Monday

The 405th Soundtrack of the Week is a CD with music from three scores by Giovanni Fusco, for the movies Violenza Segreta, La Corruzione and I Sovversivi.

Violenza Segreta begins with an ethereal and atmospheric main theme for orchestra and chorus which recalls the exotica of Les Baxter.

Then it's on to up-tempo jazz for "Star Bar", presumably source music. With vibes, clarinet and electric guitar in the combo it's like a frantic rock and roll version of Benny Goodman's famous groups with Charlie Christian and Lionel Hampton.

There are also a swinging mambo-like tune, a beautiful love theme ("Regina"), a sultry, late-night bluesy number ("Ricordi"), a lounge vocal variation on the main theme ("Un Idolo Nero") and several restatements of the main theme.

Next on this triple feature CD is music for La Corruzione. Not only did I see this movie and think it was great, I noted how good the music was at the time. It's great to hear it again!

The first track is a beguilingly slinky cue with excellent electric guitar and saxophone playing. There's also a pretty sick organ solo.

The organ is a key player throughout, often introducing anxious textural soundscapes with eerie or dissonant drones.

Those apprehensive-sounding cues alternate with groovier more danceable numbers that exploit the potential of various pop and rock idioms of the day.

Some of it was pop enough to warrant a single release, and both sides of that single are included here.

Finally there's music from I Sovversivi. The first track has wordless vocals over an exotica-like stomp, an unusual combination of ideas that works extremely well.

Then Fusco is back to more avantgarde territory with drones and stabs and what sounds almost like a cut-up method of composing, with different musical styles presented in short statements stitched together.

Most of the music here follows one of those two approaches, though "Seq. 6" has a surprising appearance by a minimalist rock and roll cue.
2016 March 18 • Friday

The 60's Garage Disc Guide book mentioned yesterday found a place on the shelf next to this similar Japanese book I got years ago: Comprehensive Data Book on Electric Instrumental Music.

After the title comes "New Eleki Dynamica" and a Japanese character that could mean "compilation" or "editing". Since New Eleki Dynamica was apparently, maybe, the name of a Japanese magazine about surf and instrumental rock and roll, perhaps this book grew out of that magazine.

Up front are several pages of color photos of album covers and the like, while the rest of the book is in black and white.

Probably what I should be doing is searching eBay for most of these records. I'm particularly intrigued by The Five Suns' Russian Melodies album.

Though so many of these records look intriguing. And it's nice to see that I have a few of them already!

I should go look on eBay for some of these right now.
2016 March 16 • Wednesday

We love books at Gutbrain headquarters here. And we especially love specific reference books that zero in on some sliver of pop culture. Somewhere in this apartment, for instance, is a book about villains in Victorian-era science fiction novels. Or something like that.

There's also a special place in my heart for books in Japanese, since they're so often nicely designed and look nice on the shelf and also because they might encourage me to resume the Japanese language studies I suspended years ago.

All of which brings us to this handsome volume, 60's Garage Disc Guide, a nicely designed, Japanese-language reference book about garage band recordings from the 1960s!

Most of the text is track listings for the various records you see in the pictures and I think I could decipher most of the rest of it if I really wanted to.

This is really the kind of book you want to curl up with. Of course you need the right music playing when you do...
2016 March 14 • Monday

The 404th Soundtrack of the Week is Dr. Phibes Rises Again, the sequel to last week's SotW. One difference is that the music this time is by John Gale.

Just as with the first movie, you can watch it on YouTube.

The music by John Gale is very different from the first movie's score, much more lyrical and romantic. The "To Egypt" cue, for instance, is one of the loveliest, with a tender nylon string part.

Gale's use of strings and harp is particularly effective, while the whole orchestra easily navigates the different emotional terrains in the movie, from dramatic underscore to tense action and love themes.

The CD also contains the famous Vincent Price rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" as well as some unused music from the movie.

2016 March 11 • Friday

Something I didn't know about Theodore Sturgeon until I looked him up on Wikipedia was that he wrote the screenplays for two of the best and most unusual episodes of Star Trek, namely "Amok Time" and "Shore Leave".

"Amok Time" is apparently the first episodes to feature "Live long and prosper" as well as the Vulcan "V" hand salute. Also according to Wikipedia, Sturgeon came up with the Prime Directive in an unused Star Trek script.

But I was surprised to read about this subtle moment in "Shore Leave" when Kirk thinks that Spock is giving him a back rub and is surprised and apparently disappointed to find out that a female officer has her hands on him.

I used to know "Shore Leave" and "A Taste of Armageddon" practically by heart since I had them on audio tape and used to listen to them over and over. I didn't remember this from "Shore Leave" and didn't think I could have missed something like that but sure enough, there it is.

2016 March 09 • Wednesday

Here's an interesting book, Theodore Sturgeon's More Than Human (1953).

The back of the book suggested a prototype of the X-Men, describing a team of superhumans with powers such as telepathy, telekinesis and teleportation ( the three Ts).

But the real story is nothing at all like any superhero comic I can remember reading It's a mysterious and unusual book, presented in three very distinct parts that don't immediately reveal how they fit together.

Reading it I wasn't sure what it was actually about until the very end, where its denouement unexpectedly anticipates Nabokov's Transparent Things (or perhaps Invitation to a Beheading, which was published in the 1930s but not in English until 1959).

This is the only Sturgeon I've read but I'm interested in checking out more.
2016 March 07 • Monday

Are you there, blog? It's me, Gutbrain.

We took a couple of months off. Facebook drains a lot of blogging energy. We also moved, which drained every other kind of energy. But I think we're back now.

And we aim to continue with the 403rd Soundtrack of the Week, Basil Kirchin's music for The Abominable Dr. Phibes.

Apparently you can watch this whole movie on YouTube! It's pretty good, as I recall.

Kirchin's score has a recurring theme, a soaring melody that sometimes appears as a waltz but always expresses the romantic longing and deep love of the deranged title character.

The CD contains a couple of source cues and a suite of unused music that's about twelve minutes long. mostly reiterations of the main theme.

The double bass is a prominent voice throughout, played with persuasive high energy and impressive musicality by Daryl Runswick.