Joey Ramone on my Atari!

When I was thirteen, me and my friends Jeff and Lonnie started a software company. Not Apple, Microsoft… we were Eclipse Software Productions, and we wrote software for Atari personal computers (not the game consoles, the 800, 800XL, ST, etc). We started by creating images for Broderbund Software’s The Print Shop, which let you print greeting cards, flyers, and so on, on your noisy dot matrix printer. By the end we were writing primitive Word Processing and Check Balancing programs for cheap, selling them all on a floppy disk for $10 when the professional versions cost $49.99 each.

We made a few hundred bucks over a year or so, but we didn’t stick with it, and went our separate ways. As I dive into ’80s nostalgia for a book project, this all came back to me, and one of my favorite memories as a computer nerd in that time was when my hero Joey Ramone appeared in K-Power magazine, a rag for Apple, Atari, TRS-80, and Commodore 64 users and programmers. He gave them an unrecorded demo called “S.L.U.G.” and the staff wrote a BASIC program that would play the tune in all its 8-bit glory, while the lyrics blinked in time to the music. I keyed it in and was overjoyed! The Ramones! on my Atari 800XL! Totally awesome! (that’s ’80s speak for “OMG”). The song is hilariously silly, a love song about a slug, in the ’50s doo-wop vein. It would go really well with a viewing of Slither.

Here are the pages from the magazine with an interview with Joey. If you want the programs to try out on an emulator, the whole issue of K-Power is archived here. Click to embiggen:

Listen to the 8-bit version. But what did it sound like, really? When the Ramones released their “All the Stuff, and More” collections in the late ’90s, the original demo of “S.L.U.G.” was included:

And here’s a video of Joey singing it live in 1998, a few years before he died.

Joey was a hero of mine, a gangly goof who became a legendary rock star by being true to himself and singing about what he wanted, not what was expected of him. And he’s buried in the same cemetery as my grandmother:

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Even Wallflowers can be Heroes

Firecracker and I watched The Perks of Being a Wallflower last night. As many said, it was much better than I expected, especially from an MTV film. It confronts matters of abuse in a realistic manner that doesn’t use them for plot points. I’ve been in a kind of gut-twisted haze ever since watching it. It triggered something, either by capturing the crowded alienation of high school, or by depicting a survivor being hit with a PTSD episode so damn well.

perks of being a wallflower

It uses music to great effect. It’s set in the early ’90s, and I graduated in ’89, so the music was very familiar. And I was very glad that the director–who also wrote the book the movie is based on–didn’t harp on ’80s fashion to evoke the era. It’s all quite subtle, and realistic. Maybe it was a bit too much. I don’t know. The movie isn’t perfect, I never got a three-dimensional feel for Charlie, the narrator. We dive right into the first day of school. But perhaps that is the story’s power, that it left Charlie sketched-in just enough to be a person but also a shell that I could inhabit, and recognize so much of myself in.

Needless to say, I’ll be reading the book soon. I recommend the movie, just be ready for the ending. It is not graphic, it doesn’t have to be. The director affected me more with a simple hand on a knee than books full of detail could have.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Paperback)
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Kindle)
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (DVD)
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Blu-Ray)

Take the Skinheads Bowling

Song stuck in my head this week is a oft-unheard classic from 1985 by Camper Van Beethoven. This song, like many, is a time machine for me. I can remember when my friend Frank Ritacco mentioned it, and it took me a long time to find it and listen to it. No youtube in the ’80s. I couldn’t find the album, so I bought the band’s EP “Vampire Can Mating Oven,” and still love their version of “Photograph.”
If you don’t know the band and they sound familiar, it’s because the lead singer left to join Cracker, the ’90s band famous for “Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)” and “Low.”

80s Trash of the Week: In God We Tru$t

I have a soft spot for Marty Feldman. I can’t say he has puppy dog eyes, unless your puppy is from an alien planet where their eyes grow on stalks, but I saw him in SILENT MOVIE and YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN as a kid and always found him funny. His personal projects tend to be broad spoofs, such as THE LAST REMAKE OF BEAU GESTE, and his take on televangelists, IN GOD WE TRU$T. The problem that kept Marty’s movies from being as big as those of partner in crime Mel Brooks is that his sense of humor is so mild and subtle. He has a bit of Jacques Tati in him, a lot of vaudeville, and he was just too old fashioned for audiences by the time he was allowed in the director’s chair. He’s more famous for broadly comic roles in Brooks’ films, like his immortal Eye-gor, and the like. In his own films he is a less talkative Woody Allen, and while they are great if you like his self-deprecating, nervous milquetoast character, they require rapt attention to get the little details, and that’s something audiences have lacked for a long time.

~Do not walk on water~

The story begins at the Trappist Abbey of Ambrose the Unlikely, where the mortgage is about to be foreclosed upon. They have signs all over the place because of the Vow of Silence, that read “Keep They Trappist Shut.” Puns and PG friendly visual gags abound. Marty plays Brother Ambrose, the monk tasked with going out into the wild world and paying the mortgage so the monastery isn’t kicked out on its holy arse. On the road he meets a crazy, scheming revival preacher played by Peter Boyle who has a refitted school bus that he brings the Word to people with, for donations. Boyle plays the part a lot like his version of Dr. Gonzo in WHERE THE BUFFALO ROAM without the politics. Sometimes he’s funny, but he’s a predictable character, stealing from Ambrose and dumping him in the big city.

If God had not intended for some people to be poor, then He would not have had The Bible published in paperback!  

There we have the most fun, as Ambrose meets Mary- a hooker played by Louise Lasser. Lasser is just a funny comedian and brings a lot to the role of the Hollywood hooker with a heart of gold. She first thinks Ambrose wants to break his vow of chastity, but when she sees he’s an innocent doofus, she helps him out, and introduces him to sinful indulgences like hot dogs and ice cream, which he prefers to mix together. As a ten year old, that was funny. Watching it all again, I grinned a lot nostalgically. The movie doesn’t really pick up until Ambrose sees televangelist Armageddon T. Thunderbird on the TV, played by none other than Andy Kaufman at his scenery-chewing finest. With an enormous pompadour and the showmanship and charisma of a master scammer, he has a religious empire run like a corporation, with suited stooges and everything an ’80s villain needs. He even has G.O.D., a computer of course, played by Richard Pryor.

So yes, God was black here long before BRUCE ALMIGHTY, and Richard Pryor jumps right into the role. Like Ambrose, he’s an innocent- a computer program that is just learning about the real world. I don’t know if Feldman was trying to make an absurdist and atheist comment on God, or making an insightful satirical poke at how computers have become our God, but the scenes with Pryor and Kaufman are the best in the movie, and make it worth tracking down. It’s not available on DVD, nor as a torrent. I got lucky and it was played on cable last February. Between this, THE LIFE OF BRIAN and WHOLLY MOSES, kids with HBO in the ’80s had a lot of annoying questions to ask the Sunday school teachers! This isn’t as great as the Pythons take on the Gospels, but it is fun once it gets going and is a must for fans of Marty Feldman and Andy Kaufman, as they made so few films. In the video clip I uploaded, you get to see God give the finger.

Beers Required to Enjoy: 2
Could it be remade today? Not a chance
Quotability Rating: None
Cheese Factor: Monk’s toe cheese
High Points: Andy Kaufman and Richard Pryor
Low Point: Long, slow start
Gratuitous Boobies: Nun (get it?)

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

The Little Old Raider Who Swallowed the Fly

The first movie goof of sorts that I remember is when Belloq, the amoral French archaeologist and Nazi collaborator, swallowed a fly in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. The scene is the infamous one where Indy is aiming a panzerfaust rocket launcher at the Ark, threatening to destroy it if they don’t release Marian. I had such a crush on Karen Allen for her role here and in STARMAN that I completely understood why he’d obliterate a priceless artifact to get her back, but now, my thoughts turn to when Belloq grabs the Schmeisser burp gun and tells Indy “to blow it back to God.” (which became a short-lived expletive among my fellow schoolmates after we watched this movie)

If you watch closely, you can see a fly land on Belloq’s face and crawl right into his mouth. Now, as a testament to Paul Freeman’s acting ability, he doesn’t even flinch as the insect crawls over his lip and into his mouth, probably getting crunched between bicuspids with a sickening sound and a squirt of acidic goo. Mr. Freeman was recently the priest in HOT FUZZ, in a long string of character actor roles, but I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves for not messing up this take. If I met him at some Indiana Jones-themed fan convention, where I’d go dressed as Sallah of course, I’d ask him “So, did you spit that fly out right after Spielberg said cut? Or did you swallow it? Millions await your answer.”

But perhaps the fly was meant to be there, otherwise Steven Spielberg would have removed it digitally, like he pondered doing with the infamous “Indy shoots first” scene in the bazaar, when he’s confronted by the guy with the big-ass scimitar. The script called for a long, drawn out slapstick fight, but Harrison Ford had a nasty case of the pantsy poops that day (“Bad dates,” of course). So he said “why don’t I just shoot him?” And history was made. I like to think that the fly was supposed to be there, so it was in Belloq’s stomach when he opens the Ark, desecrates it and takes the Lord’s name in vain by mocking it, and brings the wrath of kingdom come upon himself and his Nazi cohorts. Would God destroy the innocent fly? The poor fly didn’t help the Nazis. I think it survived the explosion. We probably just can’t see it because of all the chunks of Nazi dude in the frame. I wish they’d followed the further adventures of that fly, than make that Crystal Skull bullshit.

© 2010 Tommy Salami

God gave rock ‘n roll to everyone

Many years ago, a friend argued that Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey was better than the first movie. Now, other than The Godfather, it’s generally accepted that sequels are never better, but we’ve seen that rule broken many times since. And Bill & Ted did it in 1991, which is especially surprising for an early ’90s movie to beat an ’80s one. Having watched the two movies again, I must concede that the sequel is better than Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
The original film was huge; it affected teen slang, it inspired Wayne’s World, and it catapulted Keanu Reeves’s career- which began memorably with River’s Edge– into super-stardom. If you watch closely, you can see him act in this one; it’s long before he became the great stone face with the great gravelly voice. The first movie is a blast, with the amusing premise that these two Spicoli-esque dolts who can’t play guitar will create a rock band that will spread harmony throughout the world. It all starts when we learn they have to pass History or be expelled, and a trench-coated time traveler played by none other than George Carlin shows up in a phone booth- a cute nod to “Doctor Who”- to tell them he has to help them, so they can save the world. Sure, the time travel is as convoluted as the Terminator (full review) and not as well-planned as Back to the Future, but boy do they have fun with it. By the end of the movie, they’ll be saying “hey, if we go back in time and put the key to the jail in this flowerpot…” and it will magically appear. They end up kidnapping everyone from So-crates to Napoleon to Dr. Sigmund Frood.
It’s all very cartoonish, with their air guitar gestures making music on the soundtrack, but it’s infectious because they are good-hearted doofuses who seriously believe that all we need to do is “Be Excellent to One Another, and Party On.” They aren’t cocky smart-asses like Ferris, too cool for their own good, so we want them to stumble into greatness. And they do. But the sequel manages this same mood and ups the ante with a ridiculous time travel plot where George Carlin’s old gym teacher- Galactic Sit-Up Champion and all-around pismire De Nomolos- creates Evil Robot Bill & Ted’s to kill the originals, ruin the band Wyld Stallyns, and rob Earth of its peaceful, most excellent future.
The robots trick the boys by pretending to be their future selves- which worked in the first picture- and drag them to the desert crag where the “Star Trek” episode where Kirk fights some lizard dude was filmed. I know this because they watch it on TV before it happens, and it’s hilarious when you recognize the same location. Amazingly, the infectious joy and idiocy of Bill & Ted, so perfectly played by Keanu and Alex Winters, doesn’t just hold up for a second film, but even works better. Because they are in fact, dead. And they goof around as ghosts, find out that Hell is exactly like their heavy metal album covers despite their denials, and best of all, the beat Death in a marathon game of Battleship, Clue, and Twister. Because like, they don’t know how to play chess, dude.
William Sadler- one of our best character actors- plays Death and steals every damn scene, even when he’s in the background. Along with Joss Ackland as De Nomolos- he was the bad guy from Lethal Weapon 2 claiming “diplomatic immunity!” after he shoots Riggs- and George Carlin as the restrained Rufus, the small roles really support these goofballs. That, and the writing is just plain clever; hell is truly hellish, and damn funny. You spend eternity trapped in your least favorite moment, which for Ted is having to kiss his warty grandmother, while Bill is pursued by a damn creepy Easter bunny. And Death is even funnier if you’ve seen The Seventh Seal, because here he cheats at Clue! If you went in expecting merely lowbrow humor, air guitar with musical effects, and cries of “bogus!” you get many surprises.

There are so many little touches, like Ben Franklin and Alfred Einstein playing charades in heaven; the boys falling down so deep a hole to hell that they play 20 questions (are you a tank!?) and once again, having strange things be afoot at the Circle K again. Another thing- any time they turn their heads, there’s a little “whip” noise, which gets funnier as the movie goes on. I think what I like most is that like Fast Times at Ridgemont High, the movie remembers that people we consider “cool” now, like Spicoli, were not popular in high school, but outcasts. As much as I like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the more I watch it, the more I side with his sister, and want him to fail. But I’m always on Bill & Ted’s side, no matter how stupid they are, because they hate gym and aren’t cruel to anybody, except maybe the Grim Reaper. They melvin him, after all.
They were wise to never dip into the well a third time, but Mike Myers and Dana Carvey sort of ruined any chances of that with their “Wayne’s World” skits on Saturday Night Live, which were never anything but shallow ripoffs, with Wayne making snide asides. I laughed too, but it always felt like Myer’s reliving high school with wish fulfillment. Bill & Ted don’t believe that they’re great, but Wayne secretly wishes he could save humanity with the power of rock ‘n roll, doesn’t he? Not to slam on them too much, they were amusing enough, and they show how much influence these movies really had. And amazingly enough, if you go back to rewatch them, you’ll find that Bogus Journey has staying power, and the first movie is still fun, but in the end, it was just a launching pad for the great sequel. How often does that happen?

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=plyoto-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&asins=B00094ARHS&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr

The Running Man

SubZero… now plain zero!!

I love bad Arnold movies. This is miles ahead of Raw Deal but behind Commando. In a prescient future, the government depends on reality shows to distract us from the horrible economy, and when chopper pilot Ben Richards refuses to fire upon a food riot, he is framed as the engineer of the massacre, and of course gets pulled in to the biggest game show on TV: The Running Man, where criminals run from maniacal stalkers with flamethrowers, chainsaws and operatic voices, to gain a chance at a jury trial. Arnie’s one-liners are at their worst, some of them barely make any sort of sense, but the TV satire with Richard Dawson from Family Feud is just too good to miss. It’s not a bad movie, but like most futuristic satires it has to wink at the camera instead of playing it straight like the original Rollerball (the James Caan one) or just going with it like Commando. It’s definitely worth seeing once, and bares little resemblance to the Stephen King story it’s based on, but this ain’t Arnie’s best. It’s also a lot far from his worst. This is probably the best example of an Arnie movie, come to think of it- it’s the median.
The movie has a lot to like. Arnie may be running around in yellow tights like Bruce Lee in Game of Death, but he gets to cut a guy’s nuts off with a chainsaw! Dweezil Zappa plays a leader of the revolution! Old grannies say they want to see him kick some ass! And best of all, Richard Dawson plays it completely straight, playing a real sonofabitch of a TV host and loving every minute of it. If you ever wanted him to say Survey Said… FUCK YOU! This is your chance.
It goes crazy to the camp side, with an opera-singing Hunter named Dynamo driving around in a dune buggy covered in Christmas lights. Even Arnold’s jokes on him make fun of how awful this concept is. “Aghgghg!! you big light bulb!” Jesse Ventura has a small role as a former gladiator, but we don’t get to see them really fight; that’s too bad, it would have been awesome. The Running Man remains a guilty pleasure in the Arnold compendium, but it shows that he can make a hit even out of a ridiculous, campy ’80s flick.

All the entries in The Arnold Project

IMPORTANT ADDENDUM: This movie came from Milky’s Netflix, and he watched it with me, and farted on my couch a lot, and did slap my belly with glee. There, now quit whining.