Saturday, May 30, 2009

T.V. Party Tonight!

So, the other day, my lovely Polish bride is reading “Splendor In The Grit,” an article in the June 2009 issue of Vanity Fair by James Wolcott about New York City in “the crumbling anarchy” of the 1970s “when artists’ lofts were inhabited by actual artists, every subway car held potential drama, and legends -- Lennon, Warhol, Garbo -- walked the streets.”

At one point in the article, Wolcott talks about “the advent of cable-access programming,” which, long before the Internet, allowed commoners (as well as plenty of uncommon fringe dwellers, like pornographer Al Goldstein and NYC stripper emeritus Robyn Bird) unprecedented access to mass communication and local notoriety. And one of the most successful and influential programs to emerge from the new DIY-TV scene was “Glenn O’Brien’s TV Party (with a guest list that included Blondie, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and the Clash),” which ran from 1978 until 1982 in Manhattan and, eventually, L.A.

After reading that O’Brien’s show had been preserved and released on DVD, my better half Netflixed several episodes, as well as TV Party: The Documentary by filmmaker Danny Vinik, which traces the evolution (and eventual dissolution) of the coolest televised cocktail party of all time.

Taking his cues from Playboy After Dark and the Rat Pack days of the Carson-era Tonight Show, O’Brien (a handsome, martini-dry New Wave bon vivant) invited his artsy Village friends to come to the studio, hang out, smoke pot, and play with the equipment -- and since they were young, creative and weird, the results were funny, chaotic, and pretty much unlike anything else on TV, before or since.

For one thing, O’Brien’s friends included the likes of Fred Schneider, Fab 5 Freddy, Robert Fripp and an adorable pre-fame Debbie Harry (who, in one segment, bounces on a pogo stick to demonstrate the nuances of punk rock dancing). Meanwhile, familiar faces like David Byrne and Klaus Nomi pop up in the house band, while Basquiat is in the control booth, typing absurdist poetry on the Chryon.

David Letterman, back in the “anything goes” phase of his career, was a kindred spirit and professed fan of the show, and as the notoriety of TV Party and its regulars increased, it began attracting ever more famous scenester guests, from Bowie to Mapplethorpe, until the rising wave crested and, like all good things, the party came to an end: O’Brien got married, Harry’s bandmate Chris Stein caught a nasty case of pemphigus vulgaris (contributing to the breakup of Blondie), the yuppification of Manhattan drove the bohemians out and eventually everybody just moved on.

But Vinik’s documentary brings it all back, and those with fond memories of the early ‘80s may feel like they’re watching old home movies of their younger selves in a far funkier time, only with more famous faces and a freakier soundtrack. Rent it’ll dig it the most!

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

A Very Somerville Memorial Day

The parade had already been going awhile by the time Amy and me got back from hiking in the Blue Hills. Broadway and both Teele and Davis Squares were closed for the event, so we had to sneak in the back way...the wrong way down a few one-way get to our neighborhood, then we parked and joined the scattered crowd of townies along the route.

Now, I know a lot of governments like to celebrate national holidays by rolling all their niftiest tanks and missiles through the capitol, but that kinda thing just makes me nervous.

On the other hand, what makes me feel downright patriotic in the least ironic way possible is an event like the Somerville Memorial Day Parade, from the tiny old man playing trumpet in the American Legion marching band and the Sons of Italy color guard hanging out with friends on the sidewalk during pauses in the procession to the young Asian girl marching along stone-faced in minuteman regalia and the black kids and Albanians and Greeks and Lebanese hanging out on the sidewalks in lawn chairs, buying SpongeBob balloons from vendors and firing bubble guns into the soapy musket smoky air.

Ah, but ain’t that America for you and me? Ain’t that America something to see baby? Ain’t that America, home of the free?

Yes, I just spent the afternoon in a John Mellencamp video.

Ooh yeah.

But, really, for me it was all about the Shriners, or whoever those guys in the Aleppo fezzes were, and there were scores of them, possibly hundreds, taking up easily half the parade with their flags and weird Arab trumpet noodling and fake goatees and turbans and their candy-tossing...and forget about tiny little cars: the Somerville Shriners had tiny little 18-wheelers, not to mention tiny golf carts, tiny buggies, pop-wheelie clown cars, horses, horse cars, Segways and a trailer broadcasting a Shriner quartet as they sang “Yankee Doodle went to Baghdad riding in a Humvee” into dangling CB radio handsets.

Given the median age of most of the Shriners seemed to be about 78, I began to worry that someday there would be no one to drive the tiny little cars along future parade routes...but then I started noticing some tattooed hepcats under the occasional fez, so maybe there’s hope.

And ever since this past November, I’m all about Hope.

God Bless The Troops!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Sock Pox & Welcome, Screengrabbers!!!!

Hey, there! So, is discontinuing the Screengrab blog I've contributed to for the past year or so, and at some point before they pull the plug, Scott Von D. and/or myself will be posting a list of links to the blogs of all the various Screengrab refugees...

...which means a few more people than usual may conceivably be checking out this poor, neglected blog in the near future, so I suppose I oughta get on the stick and start updating with a little more regularity.

In the meantime, as I recently noted on the aforementioned Screengrab, I participated in the 2009 Boston edition of the 48 Hour Film Project a few weeks back, and the resultant short movie ("Sock Pox") is posted below. Enjoy!

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