Subscribe Now!
GannettUSA Today


Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Luck was with us that afternoon.

After getting good drum and bass tracks, it was time for me to put on four guitars. I started with acoustic, which I played on the first verse and all of the choruses. Then I played electric rhythm, which we recorded twice to make it feel "bigger." Finally, I added an electric "riffs" track -- pieces that weren't solos per se, but made little statements at certain points such as bridges or to punctuate a vocal line that I already had in my head. Shades suggested I play one of the riffs slightly differently, but I told him I knew exactly how it would fit with the rest of the parts. (I'm a bit of an if-you-want-it-done-right dude, which is why I always write, edit, photo-edit and design my Friday and Sunday pages in the Press.) Surprisingly for me, I layed all these tracks down in one take each.

Next, Brinie and I cut the backing vocals. I wanted to cut the backing "vocs" first, so that I'd have them to play off of when I cut the master. My brother and I stood at one microphone. Brinie stood back a little further because he was singing louder than me. (We could tell this via our headphones.) I only wanted the two voices, but Shades talked me into doubling it up (again, for "bigness"), so we sang it again.

Next came the pivotal moment for me: the master vocal. I didn't plan on cutting it that first afternoon. After singing for three hours the night before and a couple of hours that morning, I didn't think I'd have the vocal elasticity -- especially since I was supposed to give the greatest vocal performance of my life thus far (this being a Real Track and all). But I was feeling strong, and a little lucky, that afternoon.

Shades set me up in front of the mike. He positioned two round, black screens in front of it (to prevent unwanted noise from, say, hard consonants). I told him the vocals are a bit hushed at the beginning, leading to some barnstorming stuff. He instructed me as to the distances I should keep from the mike at the appropriate times. I put my headphones on; he closed the soundproofed doors; he took his place in front of the mixer; and played the song.

I recognized immediately that I had entered The Zone. I'd never before heard my own vocals sound like they did in the headphones, and I played to it. I lived dangerously and sang the song without a "cheat sheet." But there were no lyrical flubs. It was a usable performance throughout. I got it in one take.

Shades came back in. He asked me: "Good?" I said: "I didn't like the way I pronounced one word, but I think I'll live with it."


Tuesday, October 30, 2007


We arrived at the studio, striving to hold onto the arrangement in our heads.

The studio, founded around 1980, was charmingly old-school. Shades, the owner/operator, is staunchly an analog guy, though he’s just now in the process of updating to ProTools. The digital equipment was all there waiting to be installed; Shades was finishing up a spot of remodeling to accommodate it. He plans to offer both analog and digital, simultaneously, to his clients. His theory of recording is that he wants the finished song to sound like “an enhanced live track,” not something that's been manipulated and overdubbed into computerized perfection. No one will deny that analog has a warmer sound -- nor will analog purists deny being tempted by the unlimited tracks and seductive editing capabilities of digital recording.

But for this project, I was thrilled to go analog. Well, you know what a traditionalist I am.

The studio had a palpable aura of tranquility. It was darkly lit, but in a way that you could see everything you needed to see. Indian rugs decorated the walls. Clutter was at a minimum. You just felt comfortable here. Shades sat in front of a mixer behind glass; we were led to a main room; the network of doors were soundproofed; little rooms outside the main room housed amplifiers that were permanently "miked."

Shades gathered bassist Brinie, drummer Jazzy and myself into the main room, where he had a drum kit set up. Jazzy made some adjustments on the kit to suit his own comfort while Shades tuned up the drum heads. He gave us all headphones. On Shades' OK, Brinie and I then played the track with Jazzy, but only Jazzy could be heard in this room. My guitar and Brinie's bass were being recorded in the separate rooms, while the three of us received the feed through our headphones. This way, Shades had each instrument on different tracks for total separation; no instrument was "bleeding through" another instrument's track. Do you follow?

Step 1 was to get a (more or less) perfect take of the song for drums and bass. It was important to Shades that the rhythm section actually play live together, in order to get that "live" feel. My guitar was to be a "scratch" guitar -- I played it just to get us through the take -- but it would not be used on the finished song.

The question now was: How many times would we have to play the song before we got a usable take? The palms began to dampen a might, in anticipation of a potentially long and frustrating afternoon.

Amazingly, we nailed it on the second take! We got a sweet bassline from Brinie and a terrific performance from Jazzy.

So now, all we had to do was add four electric guitars, one acoustic guitar, a clap track, a tambourine, Hammond organ, piano, a master vocal and backing vocals.

Piece of cake.


Monday, October 29, 2007


For the first time in my 49 years, I cut a real track in a real studio.

Call it an opportunity or an impossible dream, but due to circumstances I won't bore you with, me 'n' the guys accepted a challenge: to record a track during two Saturday sessions one week apart -- one long, one short -- with precious little time for preparation.

The song was a cover. I cooked up the arrangement over a two-week period. But the window of time between when I could show it to the guys and when we would record it was a matter of HOURS. It was a take-it-or-leave-it situation. We took it. (Mind you, this was in the midst of rehearsals for our Nov. 2 Mad Jack/Scream double-bill.)

The lineup to play on the track was me (vocals, guitars); brother Brinie (bass, backing vocals); The Kid (guitar solo); Jazzy (drums); plus, the producer (I'll call him "Shades") offered to add Hammond organ and piano.

The big weekend finally came. The schedule was brutal.

On Friday night, we had a Mad Jack practice (three and a half hours); then me 'n' Brinie cut a demo of my arrangement in his basement studio; then he and I worked on his bassline until 3 a.m. (I fell asleep while playing guitar ... I actually kept playing in my sleep); then at 10 a.m. on Saturday morning, we had a Scream practice (two hours); then me, Brinie, Jazzy and The Kid learned the arrangement.

Jazzy was the key. This guy has played hundreds of shows over the past 30 years, so he's quick on the uptake. He's very innovative. He will matter-of-factly insert a snare roll that purrs like a cat. Jazzy and I first played together when we were sophomores in high school, but only in the past couple of years have we been reunited musically. When I ask Jazzy for something, he knows what I want.

For the sake of expediency, we actually named the parts of the arrangement. There was the "Van Morrison," the "James Brown," the "Mott riffs," the climb, the accelerated climb, the descend, the "Redbone riff," the "Roxy riff," the acoustic verse, the "Come Together" verse, the "Dobie Gray."

Once we felt the slightest bit confident, we jumped into our vehicles and high-tailed it to the studio in South Jersey. But our collective grasp on the arrangement was tenuous. Our hope was to get to the studio before the arrangement leaked out of our ears and into the wind.


Thursday, October 25, 2007


For tomorrow's PAGE X, I put together an easy-on-the-eyes, reads-like-silk (if I say so myself) package about the DVD boxed set "Vincent Price: MGM Scream Legends Collection."

Watching those Price movies back-to-back made me reflect on this guy who took over the horror-film mantle from Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone, Lon Chaney Jr., et el. I mean, Price LITERALLY took it over. He made movie after movie with the aforementioned horror stars, so the passing-of-the-torch was a mutually agreeable process. The old-timers got one more day in the sun (in such films as "The Raven," "The Haunted Palace," "The Comedy of Terrors" and "Tales of Terror"), and Price headlined a most distinguished ensemble for much of the 1960s.

Nobody really took Price's place when he died. (Robert Englund? Please.)

Nephew recently asked me to name my favorite Vincent Price flick. I was at a loss. For Karloff, I could name 10 off the top of my head. But I realized that Price's contribution to film is cumulative. Not many of his movies are what you'd call "great." The best of the Roger Corman/Edgar Allan Poe movies is probably "Masque of the Red Death." But unlike the '30s and '40s Universal classics, I could not quote chapter and verse from that movie. (Although, since Nephew asked me that, I did finally pick a favorite: "Witchfinder General," which is on the boxed set.)

With Price, you think of moments. Drowning in wine in "Tower of London." The magic duel with Karloff in "The Raven." The wine-tasting duel with Lorre in "Tales of Terror." His sweet, touching farewell in "Edward Scissorhands."

I miss Vincent Price. He was erudite, witty and he never, ever denigrated the maligned genre we dearly love.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


This time of year, borderline softcore comes right to your mailbox, unsolicited, tucked between the pizza-chain coupons and drug-store-chain flyers.

I'm talking about flyers for "party" and costume stores advertising Halloween costumes.

You can depend on a page or two of what are called "fantasy" or "hot" or even "adult" costumes. These feature many photos of women who look like enhanced exotic dancers in provocative poses, wearing tight and/or flesh-baring costumes.

A girl pirate in a push-up ... a circa-'90s Britney Spears type ... a girl officer in hot pants and fishnets dangling handcuffs ... a naughty nurse ... a naughty Little Red Riding Hood ... a naughty referee ... a naughty cabbie (?) ... and so on.

I'm not trying to sound sanctimonious about this. I know many guys and gals -- myself included -- who get a kick out of these flyers. They make good "water cooler" fodder. Me 'n' some friends were picking our favorites. One pal called this "the most wonderful time of the year." I concur. All this, plus candy corn and scary movies?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


The same gang caught "The Exorcist" (1973) at the same theater over the weekend.

I'm so glad we did. The print was sweet and the movie came alive. Max Von Sydow trembling in the Iraq winds ... Ellen Burstyn chain-smoking and cursing a blue streak ... Jason Miller wrestling with his fading faith and dying mother ... Lee J. Cobb working his old-school magic ... Linda Blair projectile-vomiting ...

Nearly all of the special effects still hold their own in the post-CGI age. (Only the head-spinning now looks cheezy.) The nasty profanity still shocks, even though much of it has indelibly entered our vernacular. ("Your mother darns socks in hell," anyone?)

But I had to ask an "Exorcist"-obsessed colleague to explain a few things.

Q: Did Von Sydow's Father Merrin bring the Devil back with him from Iraq?

A: First of all, it wasn't "the" Devil -- it was Pazuza (not to be confused with Luciana Paluzzi, the smokin' Italian actress). Secondly, Merrin wasn't re-awakening Paluzzi, er, Pazuza in Iraq; he was reading the signs that Pazuza was returning to again do battle with him. (Hence, the reference to Merrin's earlier exorcism in Africa.)

Q: Why did Miller's Father Karras turn into a monster briefly? Did he kill Pazuza by jumping out the window?

A: Pazuza jumped from the body of Linda Blair's Regan into that of Karras, hence his monsterization. As Karras jumped out the window, Pazuza jumped ship. My colleague said the "last rites" scene at the end was very important, because it showed that Elvis had left the building.

Q: Why didn't someone trim Lee J. Cobb's ear hair? Don't they have makeup people on set?

A: The ear hair, however distracting, was part of Cobb's characterization of a curmudgeonly old detective.

I thought it was funny how Cobb's Detective Kinderman was a movie buff, throwing around movie stars' names. (Kinderman mentions John Garfield, Sal Mineo, Jackie Gleason, Lucille Ball and Groucho Marx.) I was half expecting him to mention his real-life self. You can almost hear Kinderman say, "You remind me of Lee J. Cobb from 'On the Waterfront.'"

Thursday, October 11, 2007


Last weekend I caught "Psycho" on the big screen with some friends. Every weekend at Clearview Cinema in Ocean Township, they show classics for a lousy five bucks PLUS they raffle off movie swag. So far, I caught "Citizen Kane," "Goldfinger" and "Psycho."

I was crowing about this to Nephew, who's in his sophomore year at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. I mean, here's a kid who's a subway ride away from Film Forum, the Ziegfeld and any number of revival houses and campus screenings. So I put it like this: "Y'all are used to this in the big city, but to us in the 'burbs, it's a big deal."

"Psycho" really stood the test of time. Saul Bass' opening titles STILL looked modern. The soundtrack was nice and loud, though it sounded flat, since it was monophonic (and we modern movie audiences are so spoiled by booming stereo sound).

Janet Leigh's Marion Crane still looked fantastic in and out of lingerie. The steamy post-coital scene at the beginning held up; none of it seemed faked or softened due to studio pressure. Anthony Perkins didn't play Norman Bates as a psycho, but as a seriously repressed -- but somehow charming and disarming -- young man.

Alfred Hitchcock's storytelling was at its apex. The kills, as often as we've seen them, still punch you in the face. How many times have you seen the shower scene? It still rocked. When Martin Balsam's private eye walks up the stairs, you KNOW what's going to happen, but it still makes your heart race.

"Psycho" only got two unintentional laughs.

At the end, when Marion's sister Lila (Vera Miles) asks the psychiatrist (Simon Oakland) if Norman killed Marion, he says, hammily, "Yes -- AND no." Big laugh. Also, the audience cracked up when Marion's boyfriend (John Gavin) asked, "Why does he dress that way?" and a cop blurts out, "He's a transvestite." Other than that, this movie still kicked.

A co-worker suggested that "Psycho" should be included in the list of films with the best closing shots of all time. I have to say it would be a brilliant addition to that list. The final shot is of Marion's car being pulled out of the swamp. Think about it. She's in there, wrapped in a shower curtain, decomposing. And the $40,000 -- which was a MacGuffin throughout the movie -- is right next to her.


Sunday, October 07, 2007


I'm boycotting the "Death Proof" and "Planet Terror" DVDs. I will plunk down my hard-earned if and when they put out a DVD titled "Grindhouse" that duplicates the experience I had in the movie theater -- the fake trailers, the two movies cut as they were theatrically, etc.

To me, this splitting-up of "Grindhouse" into two DVD sets is like saying: "All you people who got up off your (posteriors) to see 'Grindhouse,' (expletive) you. We're catering to the people who DIDN'T support 'Grindhouse' at the box office. Since they stayed away from the theaters in droves, we're putting it out on DVD the way THEY apparently would have wanted it. AND we'll make more bucks while we're at it!"

Just 'coz I'm boycotting the "Death Proof" DVD at the cash register, doesn't mean I won't watch it if a work friend lends it to me.

It was great to see "Death Proof" again -- but it just made me miss the whole "Grindhouse" experience. As for the longer, re-cut "Death Proof" -- since I went to see "Grindhouse" three out of the three weekends that it played theatrically, it was very easy for me to spot the additional scenes. Besides the lap dance and a sequence that shows Stuntman Mike initially scoping out the Zoe Bell posse, there's not too much here that's different -- except that there's even MORE foot fetish stuff in this cut.

Honesty, the cool-lookin' metal DVD box is the whole reason to buy this thing.

Amazingly, there's no commentary with the movie. The second disc is, to me, just padding. You feel like you need a shower after all those self-congratulatory "documentaries." Which is all DVD extras have devolved into: quick-cut "docs" of talking heads, scenes from the movies and an overall creepy atmosphere of self-congratulation -- like a party that you get to watch through a window, but you're not REALLY invited to.

Oh, AND that you're paying for.


We peons are tired of it, you self-absorbed Hollywood back-slappers.

Thursday, October 04, 2007


BLOGGER'S NOTE: You are again warned that spoily spoilers follow.

I had the same problem with "3:10 to Yuma" that I had with "The Brave One" -- I was asked to swallow implausibilities dry, only to become alienated by a head-scratching "twist" ending.

But I liked the Russell Crowe/Christian Bale Western much more than the Jodie Foster revenge drama. (Neither film suffers from a deficiency of gunfire.)

I've been in a Western phase. I'll watch anything from low-budget '30s "oaters" to '40s singing-cowboy flicks with Roy Rogers and Gene Autry to sweeping John Ford classics to weird spaghetti westerns. A little more than two years ago, I inexplicably fell in love with the genre. (I remember I was forcing Kathy to watch John Wayne oaters; she would laugh at them.)

But I didn't feel compelled to see "3:10 to Yuma" -- that is, until I spotted a still with Peter Fonda. That's all I needed to buy me a ticket.

Fonda was glorious. He looked like hell -- in a good way. I was liking this movie. But then came those pesky implausibilities.

Early in the film, Fonda gets gut-shot. It looks like he's gonna die. A veterinarian yanks out the bullet. The next thing you know, Fonda is right as rain, and riding with the posse. Wha?

And why was Russell Crowe allowed a fork to eat dinner with? Given his character's reputation, they should have Hannibal Lecter-ized this dude!

Still, I was down with this movie.

Then came the near-climactic scene in which Crowe has his hands around Bale's throat, strangling him. Bale croaks out a little biographical anecdote, and Crowe turns sympathetic, suddenly deciding that he and Bale should run a gauntlet of bullets, Newman-and-Redford style. Crowe then whips out his gun and wipes out his own gang -- the one that spent the entire movie trying to liberate him.

I think I'll watch go home and watch "Jessse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter" (1966) to erase the bad taste of that ending.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


BLOGGER'S NOTE: To avoid spoilers, don't read this column. To avoid a lousy movie, DO read this column.

I will always love Jodie Foster for her amazing, flawless Clarice Starling in "Silence of the Lambs," but I don't know if I'd outright call myself a Jodie fan. I wouldn't necessarily seek out a Foster flick. "The Brave One" just happened to be a mutually agreeable film for Marge-in-Law and myself one recent afternoon.

It's a bleak, cynical film. There's not a laugh to be found. Throughout, you're being asked to swallow implausibilities dry.

After the setup (and believe me, it FEELS like a setup) -- in which Foster is beaten within an inch of her life by thugs in Central Park, and her fiance is killed -- it's Revenge Time for Jodie.

In about one minute, with zero underworld connections or savvy, Jodie scores an unlicensed firearm. Without looking for trouble, she stumbles onto a subway terrorizing and a fatal shooting at a bodega. Before long, our girl is regularly blasting away at the bad guys.

The implausibilities soon become even harder to swallow. In her role as a radio host, Jodie begins interviewing the very detective who is investigating HER shootings, played by Terrence Howard. AND -- are you seated? -- Terrence is starting to have feelings for her.

The most ludicrous is saved for the last. Terrence, throwing his ethics out the window, looks the other way as Jodie pumps lead into the final baddie. He then orders Jodie to shoot him in the shoulder, as part of a cover-up he cooks up on the spot.

My idea for a sequel has Jodie and Terrence continue their killing spree, bringing ultimate justice to baddies who probably would have languished in the system. But every time they bag a baddie, Jodie must shoot off another of the detective's body parts -- an ear, a toe, a testicle. The title would be "The Brave Two: This Time it's Personal."