Total Pageviews

Monday, October 31, 2016

Rant #1,773: The Final Dinner With Drac

Well, today is finally Halloween. Happy Halloween to all, even though, as I said on Friday, the holiday is not the same, and has been co-opted by adults.

It simply isn't much of a kids' holiday anymore.

Someone who probably knew that more than anyone was John Zacherle.

Zacherle, the kids' horror movie TV show host who later went on to become one of the earliest progressive rock FM DJs on the radio, passed away on October 27, almost fittingly during the period that he was best remembered from. He was 98, and had only been in ill health for the past couple of months or so.

Most people probably don't remember Zacherle--later changed to Zacherly, as it was easier to pronounce--but to Baby Boomers, this guy was the real deal, seemingly born to live the role he was most famous for.

Whether he was hosting, in ghoulish makeup, "Chiller Theater" or "Creature Features" or dance parties on the fledgling UHF station Channel 47 or making hit records, or behind the mike introducing us to the latest music that was important to our lives, Zacherle lived the life.

He introduced all those cheesy 1950s and early 1960s horror movies to my generation, and we learned how they were so much fun to watch and get chilled by. He would break into the middle of the movies, play with his jello and tell us it was actually brain matter, laugh that evil, but funny laugh, and made it all palatable for us little kids.

But he scared us too. I remember that I watched "Attack of the Crab Monsters" on his show, had some terrible nightmares, and my mother wouldn't allow me to watch any of those movies for months. I watched them anyway, but when I see that movie today, I have to laugh, and laugh some more. And while Zacherle didn't intend to scare me like this, he sure wanted to make me laugh at a movie such as this one, even if the laughs came more than 50 years after the fact.

And let's not forget that not only did he spin the records, he made some too. "Dinner With Drac" was a huge hit, and on "American Bandstand" during his appearance on that show, Dick Clark called him "The Cool Ghoul."

The name stuck for the past 60 years.

Zacherle lived a long life, and it was only recently that he took ill. And to pass during the Halloween celebration ... well, the circle really was completed with him.

He was a one of a kind, and all Baby Boomers will miss him.

Classic Rant #426 (January 19, 2011): “Rock Concert” In the Sky

The music business lost a giant yesterday when Don Kirshner passed away.

Kirshner, 76, was a music mover and shaker in the 1960s and 1970s, and his influence was responsible for numerous hit records, as well as the solo careers of artists such as Neil Diamond and Carole King.

In the mid-1960s, he established Aldon Music, and put together one of the most impressive collections of songwriting talent imaginable, all working out of the Brill Building in New York City: King, Diamond, Carole Bayer Sager, Neil Sedaka, Gerry Goffin Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart ... the list goes on and on and on.

He was the music supervisor for the Monkees project, and eventually, his creation became bigger than he was. On the first two Monkees albums--which both hit No. 1 on the charts on the newly christened Colgems record label and spawned numerous hit singles--the Monkees played, instrumentally, very little of the music on these albums.

Led by Michael Nesmith, the Monkees challenged Kirshner, saying that they wanted full autonomy on their future releases. Kirshner balked, and released the single, "A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You" backed with "She Hangs Out", but it was immediately pulled when Kirshner was either fired or walked out on the project. A new single, keeping the A side and adding "The Girl I Knew Somewhere"--a Nesmith composition featuring the band actually playing on the record--was released, became a hit, and Kirshner nearly became simply a footnote to the whole Monkees' phenomenon.

However, Kirshner was far from done. Sensing that he didn't want to go through the Monkees process again with another actual group of actors/musicians, Kirshner created the Archies, a fictitious band led by more of his talented crew, namely Ron Dante and Toni Wine. He had his own record label, Kirshner, distribute the records, which were tied into the Saturday morning TV show starring Archie, Jughead and the gang.

Once again, his magic touch worked, as the Archies had several hits, including "Sugar Sugar," under his purview.

When this projected petered out, Kirshner once again reinvented himself. He discovered Kansas, one of the biggest FM rock bands of the mid 1970s which had hits like "Dust in the Wind."

And, of course, he became even more visible as the host of "Rock Concert," ironically, based on his Monkees experience, being one of the first shows to allow rock artists to sing and perform their songs live.

He featured many acts on this show, including the Rolling Stones and Sly and the Family Stone (in video below), and even made up with two of the former Monkees, Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz, and had them on as part of their quasi-Monkees Dolenz, Jones, Boyce and Hart grouping.

When that show went off the air, Kirshner pretty much faded from view.

However, the success that the likes of Diamond and King had as songwriters for the Monkees gave them the impetus to branch out into successful solo careers of their own, and their music is still resonating with audiences to this day.

And the hits he had with numerous bands continue to get airplay, from the Monkees to the Archies to Kansas to many others.

Just turn on your radio, and you will hear his influence.

He wasn't a musician, per se, but he had that golden ear.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Rant #1,772: Monster Bash

Today, October 28, is my half birthday.

I am 59 1/2 years old today.

Six more months for the magic 6-0.

Happy half birthday to me, happy half birthday to me, happy half birthday, dear Larry, happy half birthday to me.

Heck, we seem as a society to always be celebrating something, so why not a half birthday?

I mean, Monday is Halloween, yet starting tonight, we will be celebrating the holiday--if that is what you want to call it--throughout the weekend.

There will be parties, get togethers, and all sorts of events planned for this weekend, and I guess that just about all of them--less scary clowns--will be fun.

But just looking at Halloween, and what it has become, irks me.

Halloween was once a real kids' holiday, and nothing more, but it has morphed over the generations into a celebration that has been taken over by adults, and to me, that is just plain wrong.

I remember going from apartment to apartment in my old haunt, Rochdale Village, South Jamaica, Queens, New York, and I would get so much candy that even if I ate it, it would have taken me a year or more until the next Halloween or even beyond that to gobble it all up.

We dressed up, went around to all the apartments with our friends, and that was that.

Today, the holiday has been extended. Kids still go from dwelling to dwelling, but generally only go to houses that they know won't give them a trick.

Adults have taken over the holiday, and adults go to their own parties, but they don't trick or treat in the traditional sense, they just dress up and try to act as if they are nine years old again.

There is nothing like acting young, but I think Halloween bemoans the feeling that we should all grow up.

I am not going to knock Halloween as a money generator--it always has been, even when I was a kid, when our parents spent like $4 each year to buy our costumes, and spent probably the same amount on gobs of candy to give out to the kids--but today, it has gotten ridiculous.

Halloween is a multi-billion-dollar-a-year business, and that is why adults are now way too involved in it.

For me, we might get two or three groups of kids come to our door, but otherwise, we really don't get much of anything. People simply won't bring their kids to houses they don't know, and since there are no young kids in our house, we get bypassed. We have the decorations up, but it doesn't mean anything if people don't know who you are, even if you live in the same neighborhood.

There is that safety factor today, and communities, aware of this, have set up their own Halloween events, so as to keep the kids safe.

And again, we have that scary clowns nonsense this year, which yes, is kind of scary.

So personally, I would much rather wish myself a happy half birthday than to honor Halloween weekend, because the very essence of the holiday has been lost today.

And let me tell you, the kids don't know what they are missing.

They haven't a clue, and that really is a shame.

Speak to you again on Monday.

Classic Rant #425 (January 18, 2011): Not Your Father’s Playboy (Channel)

Word has it that the Playboy Channel has gone soft.

And I mean that literally, not the way you think I mean it.

The channel, which has catered to men's interests for years, is starting to soften up a bit. It is trying to attract female viewers with a mix of very soft core "reality shows" that not only are geared to women, but more geared to women watching with their husbands or boyfriends.

Earlier this month, the channel began to show "TV For 2" programming, and recently debuted something called "Brooklyn Kinda Love," showing the relationships of several young couples who live in Brooklyn.

Evidently, they have several other series geared to women planned for the channel as it morphs from an all-male channel to one where men and their mates can watch together without cringing or getting turned off.

I don't know what the male watchers of this channel will have to say about this change in programming, but it tells me that the channel has gone off the deep end.

Sure, women read the magazine, but Playboy Channel is much more explicit than its print counterpart. Many things are shown on this channel, in original shows and XX-movies (no, that isn't shown), that will never, ever find its way into the publication.

I guess what Playboy Channel is trying to do is to strike a creative balance while expanding its audience.

Boring, boring!

This is a pay channel, mind you, so if you want this channel, you have to shell out the bucks for it.

So, I guess, if you want this type of programming, you give it your thumb's up by paying for it.

I just find this whole thing interesting. Why are they playing with the format now? Are they preparing for the time when Hugh Hefner is no longer with us, and both the magazine and channel will totally get away from his original vision?

I'll bet you that's the reason, and he probably knows it.

All the while, the guy is getting married to a woman who is 60 years younger than he is.

What can I say? The "Playboy" in all of us lives on!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Rant #1,771: Nudie In Disguise

Well, maybe it isn't the end of the world as we know it after all.

Reports are that ailing Hugh Hefner, 90, the scion of the Playboy empire, has stepped down as the magazine's chief creative officer and has been succeeded by his 25 year old son Cooper.

Months back, when Playboy decided that it would rid its pages of nudity, Cooper was seemingly the lone voice of reason, chiming that the charm of the magazine was just that--nudity--and he vowed to fight it tooth and nail.

And with Cooper rising in the ranks of the publication, is it only time before nudes return to the magazine?

When nudes were pulled from the magazine, it allowed the floundering publication to pursue advertising options it never could from companies that would never allow its advertising to grace any publication with nude photos of women.

It became more of what they used to call a "laddie magazine," more leering than anything else, and that turned off a lot of people. It kind of made Playboy innocuous, and just another magazine on the shelf for readers used to seeing beautiful women in the altogether.

But even with the nudes, it had kind of fallen into that chasm, what with rampant nudity and pornography easily obtainable on the Internet.

Unlike previous generations, the millennial's first experience with sexuality probably didn't involve Playboy, but the Internet, stumbling onto something that they could giggle at much like previous generations would get a gander at a nude woman in Playboy and be introduced to the world of the opposite sex for the first time.

With Cooper's pending ascent up the ladder, several executives have resigned, seeing the writing on the wall that the magazine they tried to change is eventually going to go back to its old ways.

Even the web page--which with its redesign to a more PG-centric content, boosted traffic more than 200 percent--is also set for a change once Cooper gets to the point where he can move the magazine back to being R rated.

Although spokesmen for the publication say that there is no truth to the rumors, Cooper appears to have his father's chutzpah, and the writing is on the wall: Playboy will probably return to nudes during the next two years or so.

Ironically, Playboy is not non-nude around the world. Certain Playboy publications in specific countries, including Mexico, never went non-nude, and its Playboy TV pay television channel not only hasn't gone non-nude, it is even more virulently sexual than the magazine ever was, showing everything but 24 hours a day.

So nudity is still part of Playboy, and not only doesn't appear to be going away, but it never really left, depending on what part of the empire you are talking about.

But now, the mainstay, the U.S. publication of the magazine, might just be swaying back to what it once was. Whether that will help keep it afloat in the ever chaotic world of magazines is anyone's guess, but the period that Playboy didn't show nudes might end up being merely a footnote in the publication's incredible history.

And with dad ailing, Cooper might just be the guy to do it. Let's see what happens.

Classic Rant #424 (January 17, 2011): Green Hornet Makes Green

As a huge Green Hornet fan, I went to the movies this weekend with my family to see the new movie.

I have to tell you, I went in with lots of trepidation. All the advance word that I heard about this film was that it was a bomb of major proportions. Any movie that has its premiere put off several times, and then is dumped into the post-Christmas January movie wasteland, can't be too good.

And when the reviews came out, they were so bad in the New York papers that I knew I was in for it, even worse than having to shell out extra bread to see the film in 3D.

I have to tell you that my preconceived feelings about the movie were warranted. Although it is not nearly as bad as some critics said it was, it really isn't such a great film. But again, its two hours sped by pretty quickly, so even though the Green Hornet and Kato to me will always be Van Williams and Bruce Lee, this movie, well, it could have been worse.

Several things were changed around to make the heroes more "contemporary," including that Kato is actually the "brains" behind the duo's success in this film. He is the inventor of all of the gadgets, including the well-stocked Black Beauty.

Why is it that the white guy is always the dummy in contemporary media?

To spell it out, Britt Reid is really nothing but a slacker playboy who gets sucked into his role as the publisher of the Daily Sentinel because of the death of his father, who in this story line, has nothing to do with the Green Hornet.

The DA, who in the TV show was Reid/Hornet's pal, and knew his identity, is one of the evil villains in this movie, and Reid's secretary is more of a love interest in the film, although in the TV show, there were undercurrents of something going on between her and Reid, but nothing concrete.

There are other differences, but I have to say that Seth Rogen, the co-writer and star of the film, definitely watched the TV show, the medium he got his greatest inspiration from, even though the character actually was born on the radio during the 1930s.

The final segment, where Reid/Hornet is shot, is lifted directly from the TV series. And I am happy to say that Al Hirt's memorable theme song is heard briefly at the end, as is the cool 1960s logo used in the ABC show.

What's wrong with the movie is that Rogen seriously miscast himself as the Hornet. He just doesn't fit the role well, even though he slimmed down to take on this character. He is simply not magnetic enough to get across the charisma of the Hornet to the audience.

Much better is Jay Chou, who as Kato, doesn't evoke Bruce Lee's classic performance, but kind of rounds his own portrayal of Kato a bit. He steals the show from Rogen.

But no one steals the show more than Christoph Waltz as the main villain. As he demonstrated in "Inglorious Basterds," he will stand out against most contemporary actors, even when he has to ham it up as he does here.

Cameron Diaz is ... well, Cameron Diaz. She once again demonstrates to me that she is one of the most overrated and over-exposed movie actresses in history. I don't get her bleach blond allure.

So, all in all, I would say that you should see this movie. It isn't great, but it isn't the worst piece of trash out there.

Evidently movie goers agree with me, as it is now the No. 1 movie in the land--of course, that is a phony distinction, as you are paying extra to see this in 3D, a technique which is completely unnecessary in this movie. It gave me a slight headache, which, coupled with all the car crashes, bombs going off, and gunfire, made for a very LOUD film.

So, go see this movie if you have two hours to totally kill--you can bet a sequel is not far behind.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Rant #1,770: Return to Sender

I have a bone to pick with the Post Office.

It is not a new bone, an old one, and it has festered recently.

Our local post offices in my neck of the woods are incompetent. It is a complaint that I have had forever, seemingly, but it has really come to the fore very recently.

First, I received a bill in the mail for an EZ Pass violation. That in itself is odd, because I rarely ever use an EZ Pass thoroughfare, but early this summer, I did, when my family and I ventured to Tarrytown, New York.

The whole situation was really strange. I believe I paid all my tolls to and from the town on the two occasions I went there over one weekend.

According to EZ Pass, one of the thoroughfares I used was a no-pay venue, meaning that either you paid through EZ Pass or your license plate was recorded electronically and you were billed.

Since I went to the same place twice, why did I receive a bill from EZ Pass for only one non-payment?

That is another story for another time, but the fact of the matter is that I did not receive the original payment request, which I later found out was sent in July.

Instead, I received a warning notice that since I did not pay the original request, I would now have to pay a fine which lifted the total from $5 all the way up to $30.

I never received the original bill, and I questioned my local post office.

It is not the first time I have done this.

We are the area which made national news a few years ago when it was found that a letter carrier had dumped our mail in the dumpster for whatever reason, and my father alerted me that while we were away on our cruise, there was another incident where mail was suspected to be dumped.

How much you wanna bet that that notice was in the dumped mail?

Anyway, I called my local post office about this, and they said the familiar refrain that they "deliver every piece of mail they get." Well, they did not deliver that bill, and it goes way beyond that.

For years, we have had problems with the post office, whether it is what zip code we use--we at one time sat on the border of two towns with similar names and we used one town's zip over the other, which caused some problems here and there--and we have constantly received mail that has not been directed specifically to us, and we suspect that other addresses have gotten our mail and never gave the errantly delivered mail to us.

It is a problem that goes back decades, but it has gotten worse lately.

Anyway, the post office said they can't trace anything without a routing number, which I did not have and they said that since we had a regular carrier--news to me, we haven't had a regular carrier in at least 30 years if not more--the carrier would be alerted about our mail situation.

I was not happy, but had to leave it at that.

Funny, the very next day, this past Saturday, which is normally a light mail day, we got more mail than we have gotten on probably the previous 10 Saturdays combined, including something specifically I had been waiting for for several weeks and that I had checked on with the sender about its whereabouts just a day earlier.

This made me remember another problem we had with the local post office that I tried to forget. About a year ago, a letter was redirected to us, and it was a bill. The letter was never delivered, and it was returned to us without an explanation. I went to the post office, and they said that the machine reading the forwarding addresses inadvertently read the return address as the forwarding address, and that is why it was returned to me. As I said, this was a bill that I had paid, and they hurriedly took the letter back from me.

Thankfully, I had paid the bill the moment I received it in the mail, so there was time, even with the error made by the post office, to get the letter to where it should have gone in the first place, and the letter did get to its destination in time, but that really isn't the point; why did the machine foul up like it did, and what would have happened if because of this foulup, my payment would not have reached its destination by the due date?

Further, I had a problem when I used accelerated mail to get my papers into the reporting agency that handled the recent Korea trip that my wife and I went on. I had to mail the papers twice--both at the accelerated rate--to get them where they had to go.

Now comes the next problem.

I am having a supposedly surprise birthday party for my wife in a few weeks, and prior to our cruise, I sent out all the invitations, all at once, at another local post office.

Everyone should have received the invitations at the same time--a few were for different parties at the same addresses--but I found out this week that roughly half of the invitations that I sent out have never reached their destination.

As I said, a few were for different parties at the same address, and one party received the invitation, while the others didn't.

How can that be? It's the same address!

Invitations were received from far away, but some local people did not get their invitations.

When I found out about this, all of those who did not contact me one way or the other about the party were contacted, and everything is hunky dory about who is coming and who isn't now, but the question remains, why wasn't the mail delivered?

Over the years, I know that the mail has deteriorated to the point that technology will probably almost entirely wipe it out in 20 years or so. Email, paying for things, including bills, electronically, and social media is making the mail almost totally useless, even today.

But at least right now, the mail remains essential, especially for a person like me, who does not pay for that much online--certainly not bills--and sends out letters every once in a while.

Our local mail continues to fail me, and is getting worse, and the post office is consistent--whether it was 20 years ago or now, they always have an answer when I make a complaint about delivery.

Heck, I don't even use the local post office mailboxes for my mail, and I go into another town to send out my mail.

The post office by us is incompetent, and it pains me to say this, because my grandfather worked for the post office during the Depression as a postal inspector, and my grandmother lived off his pension until the day she died.

Right now, I am closely monitoring our mail, and if I continue to see any problems, I will have to go to the next level. I don't honestly know what else to do--I have gone the post office box route in the past, by the way, and I don't want to go that route again--but something has to be done.

Go fight the post office. Even in today's day and age, it is like punching the wall. It might make a dent, but you are the only one with bruises.

Classic Rant #423 (January 13, 2011): Full Nelson

Amid all the snow we had in the Northeast yesterday, word came over the wire that David Nelson, the oldest of the Nelson brothers who rose to fame on the "Ozzie and Harriet" sitcom, had passed away. Nelson, in his 70s, suffered from colon cancer.

No other show epitomized the phony smugness of the U.S. in the 1950s as did "Ozzie and Harriet." The show, which started on radio in the early 1950s, starred former bandleader (and future star-maker) Ozzie Nelson, his wife, former band singer Harriet Nelson, and the two Nelson boys, Rick and David.

The show purported to show typical days in the life of the Nelson clan, and many of the episodes were based on the Nelsons' own experiences. Everything was white pocket fence-like, and seemingly the worst thing that could happen on the show was that the boys were stood up by girls they were dating.

The show, which ran on TV into the mid 1960s, really was the original show about nothing. Nobody knew what Ozzie supposedly did for a living, but he always wore the required sweater, even in the hot California sun. Harriet was the bellwether of the family, while Rick and David grew up before our eyes.

The family had music running in its veins, and as Rick grew up, pop Ozzie saw something in him that he decided to mold into something marketable--and he did it to the Nth degree. Rick became one of the first rock and roll idols, and had an incredible recording career that lasted into the 1970s and probably would have continued to this day if he didn't die mysteriously in a plane crash (was he freebasing cocaine?) in 1985.

David was another story. Always portrayed as the more scholarly of the two boys on the show, David lived up to that portrayal pretty much in his own real life. He also tried music, but it simply didn't work with him, and he knew it early on. He got into writing and directing, and many of the later episodes of the show were either written or directed by him.

He also expanded his acting skills appearing in numerous movies well into the mid 1970s, when he decided that directing was his niche.

He was the last surviving member of the original Nelson clan, and while he wasn't the teen idol his brother was, his incredible body of work is pretty much readily available. As long as there are TVs, the Nelsons will have a place in its history.

(Just as an aside, I will be undergoing some routine tests on my eyes tomorrow morning, so my next post will be on Monday. See you then.)