ONE OF THOSE DUDES
I caught Billy Hector at the Wonder Bar in Asbury Park on Friday night. It was wild. The gig was billed as the "Billy Hector Big Band," and the extra personnel indeed lent a big sound to the proceedings. Billy had a bass player, two drummers (one of whom occasionally switched to timbalis), a saxophonist and a trombonist.
The horns really kicked in for "Soul Man"; those dudes were PUNCHING it up. The show was very jammy, but a musician's ears could identify the riffs that signaled the boys from part to part. Good music, and a good time.
I was there with my brother, sister-in-law and a friend. My sister-in-law is a Billy Hector freak. This guy has a devoted following here at the Shore and down in South Jersey, from whence I sprang. Billy is friendly with my sister-in-law, and my brother is friendly with his sometime drummer, Sim Cain, one of the two dudes pounding the skins on Friday. (I think my brother must know every musician who plays in South Jersey.)
Affable and amazingly talented, Sim is the longtime drummer for Rollins. My brother remembers watching Rollins play at Woodstock '94 live on pay-per-view. Brinie once said to Sim, "It doesn't get much more high-profile than Woodstock." Sim replied, "We played the Grammys that same year." It was amazing to think that a dude who played Woodstock and the Grammys was up on that cramped Wonder Bar stage having a ball (and wearing a Fantastic Four T-shirt).
I'm not a Shore native -- I moved here in '84 -- so I'm not the kind of dude who saw Bruce before he was Bruce and keeps a scorecard of all the hep Asbury cats and all of that. But this dude playing sax for Billy Hector just had a face that I seemed to recognize. Not like I ever saw him before; he just looked like one of those dudes you hear about from the old Asbury days. His worn saxophone had obviously logged many, many stage hours (as did Billy's SUPER-worn guitar).
Brinie and me rapped to the dude after the show, and sure enough, he WAS one of those dudes. Tommy (I didn't jot down his last name, but you Asbury freaks probably know who I'm talking about) played with Tim McLoone's Holiday Express for years (though not in recent incarnations); played gigs that Bruce jumped onstage at; and played with Bobby Bandiera at the Jersey Shore Rock 'N' Soul Revue's Phil Spector tribute, for example.
And the sax? "It's a '59; I've had it about 30 years," said Tommy. You could just tell.
Coining-a-phrase time, folks. I'm identifying, and naming, a film genre of relatively recent vintage:
The "mustache movie."
I'm sure "Reno 911!: Miami" is hilarious. (I'm in no rush to see it; I'll probably catch it at my brother's in six months after rehearsing with The Burners.) I really don't know a thing about it. But when I saw the trailer with all those guys in sunglasses and mustaches (and even one guy in what looks like hot pants), it reinforced a pattern I'd been noticing for a few years.
That movie "Anchorman"? That movie "Dodgeball"? They're all about the bad hair and the uncool clothes.
So this is how I define a "mustache movie": Comedies of the '00s About Guys Who Think They're Cool But Are Really Dorks Who Wear Bad Hair and Clothes Vaguely Reminiscient of the '70s and '80s.
The clothes: sunglasses, wide lapels, tight shirts, flared trousers, clog shoes. The hair: kinky perms, mullets, hairy chests, sideburns and, usually, mustaches. The kings of the genre: Ben Stiller and Will Ferrell.
So here's a list of "mustache movies": "Zoolander" (2001), "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story" (2004), "Starsky & Hutch" (2004), "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" (2004), "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" (2006), "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" (2006) and the aforementioned "Reno 911!: Miami" (2007).
Are they funny? Only when they're written well. A bad mustache cannot carry a movie. ("Anchorman," for example, STUNK.) Any good movie, any good television series, any good anything -- first and foremost, it's thanks to the WRITING. Valerie Harper once told me something I have quoted ever since: "If it ain't on the page, it ain't on the stage."
WHERE I CAME IN
First impressions can be lasting, they say, but I was able to shake my first impressions of three giant artists.
My first exposure to Elvis Presley was his 1969 hit "In the Ghetto." I was in grade school and had just received a transistor radio as a gift. To grade school kids in the '60s, I suppose transistor radios were the equivalent of i-Pods. Anyway, this thing was glued to my ear. I was learning all about Tommy James and the Shondells and Gary Puckett and the Union Gap. And in the middle of all this was some guy named Elvis Presley singing this slow, depressing song in a bizarre (to me) vibrato.
Around that time, I was thumbing through a teen magazine one day, when I came across an article about Elvis Presley which called him "The King of Rock 'n' Roll."
All I could think was: THE GUY WHO SINGS "IN THE GHETTO" IS THE KING OF ROCK 'N' ROLL?
Then there was Johnny Cash. My introduction to Cash was most ignominious: His 1969 novelty hit "A Boy Named Sue." THAT'S what I thought Johnny Cash was all about. I had a lot to learn on that score. It took me a lifetime, in fact. Just this week, I feel ready to declare "American Recordings V: A Hundred Highways" the most beautiful album I've ever heard.
The third artist was Chuck Berry. My first exposure to Chuck Berry came when I was a freshman in high school. There was a jukebox in Cafeteria 2 at Cherry Hill High School East in 1972-'73, and four songs were then in heavy rotation: "Get on the Good Foot" by James Brown, "Roundabout" by Yes, "Jim Dandy to the Rescue" by Black Oak Arkansas and "My Ding-a-Ling" by Chuck Berry -- an eclectic mix by ANY musicologist's standards.
Some time later, I was visiting my dad at Dan McShea's Rustic Tavern, where he tended bar on the weekends, wearing a red vest and playing host to a colorful cast of characters. My dad was friendly with the keyboardist who was performing there. I actually heard the keyboardist mention the name Chuck Berry.
All I could think was: WHY WOULD A FRIEND OF MY DAD'S HAVE HEARD OF THE GUY WHO SINGS "MY DING-A-LING"?
MY FAVORITE THINGS II
Favorite supermodel: Laetitia Casta.
Favorite actress: Pam Grier.
Favorite Pam Grier movie: "Coffy" (1973).
Favorite possession: My stuffed Boo Boo (Yogi Bear's sidekick) from babyhood.
Favorite shopping center: The Berlin Farmer's Market in Berlin, NJ ("Where shopping is an adventure").
Favorite store: The Book Garden in Upper Freehold, NJ.
Favorite comic book: "Metal Men."
Favorite comic book artist: Ross Andru (when inked by Mike Esposito in the 1960s).
Favorite superhero: Batman.
Favorite cartoonist: Charles Addams.
Favorite underground cartoonist: R. Crumb.
Favorite monster: The Frankenstein monster.
Favorite toy: Captain Action.
Favorite Aurora monster model kit: "Phantom of the Opera."
Favorite Hardy Boys book: "Secret of the Old Mill."
Favorite magazine: The New Yorker, that liberal rag.
Favorite Kevin Smith film: "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" (2001).
Favorite meal: Spaghetti and meatballs.
Greatest day of my life: Dec. 12, 1986.
Worst day of my life: Sept. 18, 2005.
Favorite place: The Manasquan Inlet.
Favorite day of the year: Christmas Eve.
Favorite season: Summer.
Favorite color: Black.
My hero: My dad.
Favorite ice cream flavor: Vanilla.
Favorite junk food: Frosted Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop Tarts -- damn them!
MY FAVORITE THINGS I
Favorite movie: "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" (1948).
Favorite TV show: "Leave it to Beaver" (1957-1963).
Favorite animated series: "The Flintstones" (1960-1966).
Favorite actor: Boris Karloff.
Favorite Boris Karloff movie: "Targets" (1968).
Favorite comedy team: Laurel and Hardy.
Favorite Laurel and Hardy film: "The Music Box" (1932).
Favorite Christmas movie: "Scrooge" (1951) starring Alastair Sim.
Favorite band: The Rolling Stones.
Favorite album, traditional: "Exile on Main Street" (1972) by the Rolling Stones.
Favorite album, modern: "Perfect Strangers" (1984) by Deep Purple.
Favorite Johnny Cash album: "Unchained" (1997).
Favorite Bob Dylan album: "Nashville Skyline" (1969).
Favorite song: Studio version of "Under My Thumb" by the Rolling Stones.
Favorite singer: Paul Rodgers.
Favorite guitarist: Paul Kossoff.
Favorite pedal steel player: Pete Drake.
Favorite pianist: Nicky Hopkins.
Favorite organist: Jon Lord.
Favorite bassist: John Entwistle.
Favorite drummer: Ringo Starr.
King of Rock 'n' Roll: Jerry Lee Lewis.
Would the aforementioned eight musicians make a great band? Probably not.
Favorite concert: A.R.M.S. at Madison Square Garden (1983).
Favorite theatrical performance: "Jesus Christ Superstar" at the Mark Hellinger Theater (early '70s).
Favorite book: "The Complete Sherlock Holmes" by Arthur Conan Doyle.
Favorite author: Arthur Conan Doyle.
Favorite actor as Sherlock Holmes: Basil Rathbone IS Sherlock Holmes. Everyone else PLAYS Sherlock Holmes.
Favorite actor as Dr. Watson: Nigel Bruce. (Expletive) all you Conan Doyle purists.
Favorite Sherlock Holmes movie: "Sherlock Holmes in Washington" (1943).
THE TITLE TELLS ALL?
A while back, when Marge-in-Law wanted to go to "Little Miss Sunshine" after seeing little Abigail Breslin on Jay Leno, we all figured the movie was going to be a sweet, Dakota Fanning-ish bit of fluff. We were surprised -- pleasantly so -- when all that dark humor started pouring from the screen. The proof is in the pudding in the form of a Best Picture nomination.
The title fakeout reminded me of two or three times when a movie title has misled people I know -- WITH HILARIOUS RESULTS.
Like that time in 1968. I believe the story goes like this: My parents and two other couples would get together once a month on a Saturday night to see a movie. It was my parents' turn to pick the film. My mom saw a newspaper ad for a new movie titled "Rosemary's Baby" starring Mia Farrow. This sounded something like a Doris Day movie to her -- the kind of movie with a madcap scene in which Mia's hapless hubby runs around like a maniac, yanking the telephone out of the wall and knocking over lamps, when Mia says, "I'm having the baby!" And then he's getting a faceful of baby powder or sticking himself with a safety pin the first time he tries to diaper the baby.
I can't even imagine my father's reaction when Mia was impregnated by Satan as the cult members watched.
Then there was the time in 1972 when my family was visiting my aunt in Long Island. I guess our folks wanted to get us kids out of their hair for a couple of hours, so they picked out a movie for us. My cousins, sister, brother and myself -- ranging in age from 9 to 14 -- were unceremoniously dropped off at the mall to see "Pete 'n' Tillie" starring Walter Mattau and Carol Burnett. Sounds like a zany comedy, right? "Pete 'n' Tillie" with those clowns Walter Mattau and Carol Burnett! Surely a movie with a climactic pie fight!
It was a deadly dull film about adultery and divorce. We little kids could only sit there scratching our heads.
I also heard that my niece's Girl Scout troop went to see "Riding in Cars With Boys." But that title would have set off my red flag. YOU know what happens when you ride in cars with boys.
"FOR LOVERS ONLY" #63
Last week at my local comic shop, there was a bunch of tattered, early '70s Charlton Comics for 50 cents apiece. For fans of cheezy comics, this was a SCORE.
For you non-comic-book-geeks out there, Charlton was the distant, decidely poor cousin to DC and Marvel Comics. Charlton art wasn't as good, the stories weren't as good, the printing wasn't as good.
You know how Avis tried harder? Charlton DIDN'T.
The Charlton genres my shop had were romance, war and western. I bought 'em all. Today, I brought "For Lovers Only" #63 (1972) to the office. A girl I work with read every story! She said, "If you have any more, bring 'em in." I said, "I've got a stack of 'em!"
The stories are so laughable.
"More Than One Love" is about two couples who kind of flirt with each other, and then suddenly decide to swap. ALL FOUR people are cool with it! "There's nothing to stop you from kissing me now," says the trampy blonde in the final panel.
"What Do Parents Know?" is about a girl who rebels against her parents, gets in a car with a boy who drives too fast, and survives an accident in which a father of five is killed. "I really messed things up, didn't I?" she says from her hospital bed, her head swathed in bandages. Answers her wise daddy: "We all make mistakes, honey . . . We only hope you'll be wise enough not to go on making them!"
"The Ones That Got Away" is about a bickering couple who keep throwing old lovers in each other's faces. But when they MEET UP with those old lovers -- who, incidentally, have married EACH OTHER -- they are shocked to see that both of them have gained about 50 pounds. "Let's face it baby . . ." says hubby. "We're the greatest!" says wifey.
"Everything Wrong But the Kissing" examines professional ethics. A groovy young chick in a matching green miniskirt and go-go boots happens to be the quality inspector for a chain of motels. She is torn when the studly young manager of the Grand Tepee Lodge kisses her -- and she likes it!
The icing on the cake is that "For Lovers Only" #63 features a pinup page of SUSAN DEY.
"BEAT THE DEVIL"
I just caught "Beat the Devil" (1953) for the first time. I'd always wanted to see it, because I adore just about everything Humphrey Bogart did in the '50s. I say "just about" because I rather doubt I'd enjoy "The African Queen" (1951). The idea of a long boat ride with a middle-aged Katharine Hepburn doesn't do it for me.
I really enjoyed "Beat the Devil," which divides the Bogie cult -- and which Bogie himself famously called a "mess."
"Beat the Devil" has been called a spoof of "Maltese Falcon"-type films. That's wishful thinking. Even to call it a comedy is a stretch, I believe. This is a movie with a lot of comedy, yes, but one that doesn't consider itself a comedy as such. Just compare it to, say, "We're No Angels" (1955), which also had Bogie, and you'll see what I mean, even if you don't agree.
In Italy, Bogie is an American married to an Italian (Gina Lollobrigida, whose figure leaves no doubt why Tony Quinn's Quasimodo was so smitten). He is to take part in an African uranium scheme with four at first scary, but ultimately bumbling, criminal types (led by a hilarious Robert Morley, and including Bogie's old punching bag Peter Lorre). This group attracts the attention of a British couple (Jennifer Jones and an actor named Edgar Underdown, a master of stuffiness who later showed up in "Dr. Terror's House of Horrors" and "Thunderball," both 1965).
Obviously, the star-o-meter is on high.
About halfway through the movie, though, it becomes apparent that the central premise is beside the point. "Beat the Devil" devolves into something like a travelogue with some dear old friends trading witty banter -- and lubed with hootch.
I don't know if I've ever seen Bogie as charming as he is in "Beat the Devil" while wooing Jones. (Nor is his smoker's laugh more pronounced.) And it's heartwarming to see Bogie and Lorre take a final bow together -- in another John Huston film, yet.
I consider myself to be at least on the fringes of the Bogie cult, and if this designation is deserved, then put me on the side that applauds "Beat the Devil." Maybe it IS a bit of a mess, but it's a damned fun mess.
"My, what a gentleman," a woman said to me when I held a door open for her.
I became a gentleman when I was 5 years old, in one traumatic lesson.
It was at a birthday party. Birthday parties in the 1960s were different from today. The kids wore their Sunday best. The parents would drop us off and return later to pick us up.
This particular party was held at either the Moorestown or Cherry Hill Mall. (This was rare. Back then, birthday parties were usually held at the birthday child's home. There was no such thing as Chuck E. Cheese or organized parties at movie multiplexes or McDonalds.)
There was a small amusement ride at this mall. Four or five little cars rode around on a track. The final activity at this party was that every kid got a turn on the ride. When I was a kid, I loved cars. Loved, loved, loved 'em. My turn was next!
It was near the end of the party, and I hadn't noticed that my dad walked in to take me home. The car ride stopped, and kids started getting out of the cars to make way for the next group of riders. In my excitement, I put my leg into a car before a little girl had a chance to get out of the car. (I can still see her flouncy party dress.)
The next thing I knew, I was being lifted OUT of the car by my collar.
"Don't you know that you were supposed to help that young lady out of the car and make sure that she was OK before you got into the car?" my dad said firmly, one inch from my ear, as he ushered me into the mall parking lot -- toward HIS car. I never did get on that amusement ride. I bawled my eyes out. But I learned my lesson. I became an instant gentleman.