Howard The Duck actually holds pretty great, and is funnier than I remember. Why did people hate it again?
Howard The Duck actually holds pretty great, and is funnier than I remember. Why did people hate it again?
Howard The Duck actually holds pretty great, and is funnier than I remember. Why did people hate it again?
Ooooooo. It’s raining hard, and Howard The Duck is on.
Could this night get any better?
Crimson & Clover.
Lumbersexual Brogrammer is the worst costume I’ve ever seen.
When’s Halloween again?
PDX Folks: a little bird told me that Xiphoid Process is playing tonight, at the N.W.I.P.A. Beer Garden. (facebook.com/NWIPA.beer). Here’s a link to their set back in January. They have some new chops to show off now, and this should be a whole lot of fun.
You can stream the tracks of my Spoken Word album, featuring four ghost stories perfect for this evening’s holiday. And, if you’re feeling generous, pick up a copy and help support the little guy. Namely: me.
Time to watch Killer Klowns From Outer Space.
What do you mean it’s Halloween?
All Right Everybody! Our #HalloweenSpooktacular2015 is rapidly closing for the year, and here’s one more retrocast from 2011, featuring more seasonal novelties, and excerpts from the Rankin Bass classic from the late ’60’s. For stream or download. Pleasant Screams!
Orson Welles has been known for many things in his life, but radio was his first big success, and in the late 1930’s his Mercury Theater performed a number of audio adaptations of classic literature and novels. Welles’ version of “The War of The Worlds” was broadcast 77 years ago, and once you listen to this recording, you’ll know why it caused such a panic, and why it is a Halloween tradition. #HalloweenSpooktacular2015.
Question For Musicians: what’s inside that piece of luggage that you put your gear in, the thing you said you would replace with something else and never got around to it?
I’ll be helping out around this office on Wednesdays, 1 – 5 PM. Feel from to drop by and say hi.
Spike Jones was the king of novelty songs in his heyday, and before “The Monster Mash” arrived on the scene, this album was THE album to put on around the holiday. Tune in for this retrocast from 2011, with monster songs straight and silly, with a little bit of everything to make this a funny and fun occasion. For stream or download. #HalloweenSpooktacular2015
With only a few days until Halloween, I thought it would be nice to do a photoshoot of the decorations we’ve accumulated and put up around our home. We don’t go crazy, but we do like to get into the spirit of the season, and my wife even dressed up her doll for the occasion. There’s even a video of the approach to our house in the dark. #HalloweenSpooktacular2015
We Can Now Move On To Other Subjects.
Whew. What a season! I think I did some of my best work on both The Blog and on The Podcast this year, and the Spooktacular was the tacular-est of them all, thanks to everyone who has been following along. Please, check out All Our October Podcasts and All Our October Blog Posts if you’d like to catch up. But don’t worry too much about the past. There’s lots of cool stuff on the horizon, too, so whatever your relative “now” is, it is always a good time to jump on board with our stuff. To close I will ask, one last time, that you take a look and a listen at The Ways Of Ghosts one more time, and if you’re feeling generous, please pick up a copy. It’s a good way to support what we do, and a great piece of Halloween listening if I do say so myself. (End of plugs section.)
As much as I’ve enjoyed Halloween and the music associated with it for a long time, I have never obsessed too much over what I dress up as, or how I should decorate for the holiday. Sure, I would participate if I was going to a party, or had a pumpkin lying around, but it is only recently that I have gotten into collecting cool decorations for the holiday, and if I were to get very specific, it is only since I met my wife, who is also a big fan of vintage holiday ephemera. We have an aesthetic we’re trying to cultivate, and obviously we fudge things here and there for the sake of nostalgia, but try to keep it within reason. We don’t go all-out with crazy decorations, and “tasteful” is something we are constantly weighing when we put things up. But we do like to have fun, an we’re always looking out for something to add to our collection. To close out the season here on the blog, here’s a photo shoot of our decorations, and some highlights discussed below.
First, here’s a video of walking up to our house in the dark. I think it is rather charming.
We try to keep our lights simple, and limited to path lighting with a few accent strings here and there. Among them are a few strings of these flickering lights, that are supposed to replicate the look of candles. I’m quite fond of them, and the best part is that they are appropraite for both Halloween & Christmas. The path lights are only problematic because we have shitty people in the neighborhood who will stomp on them. Otherwise, they are so easy to install and store if you keep the original packaging, and replacement bulbs are easy to find.
I would also mention that many of the “electronic” candles that you can get in most stores have “timer” settings, where the light is on for five hours, and off for 19. (Some have even further settings to fine tune these times.) These can work really well to accent parts of the room, or light the inside of other decorations (like our stack of pumpkins). Lastly, I have all of my lights on one switch in the living room, so I don’t even have to go outside to turn everything off. I recommend this for anyone who wants to set up decorations. I used to just plug things in where ever I could, and really thought I wouldn’t mind going out to unplug things. Being able to shut it down with one switch is quite a luxury.
When we moved into our house last year, it was Spring, and throughout the summer we got to know our neighbors. But we were still very surprised when they offered this wreath to us last October, just before we were about to put our our decorations, as a gift. It was so incredibly thoughtful, and is such a great addition to the porch. I have since made a special box just for the wreath to store it during the off season, we are very proud of it. While we mostly keep to ourselves, that wreath really bonded us as neighbors.
My wife and I are fond of vintage blowmolds, and every time we’ve found one it’s been worth buying, no matter where you find them. Patience has paid off, and we have found four incredible pumpkins at various thrift stores. Each of these are designed to insert a light that plugs in, creating the effect that the entire plastic item is lighting up (you can see them in action in the video). These things are really awesome, and we get excited when we can put them out. As you can see, the biggest one is clearly sun-damaged with age, but the others are pretty fantastic. We’re hoping that we can find more to flesh out our entire porch as the years go on.
Among the other weird thrift scores that my wife has found was this plastic bag that you can fill with leaves. It is much grosser and harder to fill than you would think, and it is easy to damage or ruin the plastic, too. However, it has a bit of charm to it, and we have enjoyed putting it on the porch this year. There are four other versions of this same kind of thing, made by the same company (Kenley Corporation in Mason, Ohio), so it would be cool to complete the set.
Last year I made this mix of “scary” sounds from a variety of sources, and edited it to fit the length of an audio CD. I made a CD, and play it on my porch from a small, portable CD player that I purchased several years ago (you can see it in the video above). I put the CD on infinite repeat, and it works very well as an atmospheric sound for people who walk up to the porch.
While we have picked up a few things in stores (like these pumpkins that fold out), my wife has scored a variety of vintage cardboard and paper wall hangings, and you can tell by the designs that they are most likely the from the early ’80s or late ’70s. However, we have also acquired a folding witch lantern, a Halloween banner, and a stand up cat. While most of our paper crafts – like the Mummy – are fairly newish, this Pumpkin / Owl Fold-Out item is not only one of the oldest items we have, but by far the coolest. I added a spider to it this year for effect, but it does not need one. It is pretty great.
My mom used to make these tissue paper ghosts when I was a kid, and they are very much something I remember fondly. They’re incredibly easy to make, too. After you wad up a bit of paper or newspaper to create the “head,” wrap a piece of generic tissue paper around it. Tie a piece of thread around the tissue paper to keep the head in place, and cut off the thread at a reasonable length so you can hang it from somewhere (like, you’re ceiling). I call this part of our living room “Ghost Corner,” and I already have plans for creating little floating styrofoam headstones in the future. But for now these twenty are a good start to my collection. These are an easy craft project for kids, too, and is much less messy than carving a pumpkin.
My wife used to have a number of Blythe Dolls, and to this day is connected to a group that still interacts regularly. (She has two that she still keeps). This year she was invited to a Halloween Doll party, where other collectors brought their dolls dressed up in all sorts of costumes. To that end, she made the helmet using a styrofoam pumpkin she bought at a craft store. She cut the bottom out, and covered the surface of the pumpkin with glue, then glitter. Lastly, she added a coat of hairspray to help “set” the glitter. The overall effect was pretty great, as you can see.
* * * * * *
So, while we don’t cover every inch of our house with decorations, we like to have fun, and we like the stuff we have. We’ve only been together for a short time, and just got married, so our collection is pretty young. But given a few more years, we could amass some awesome stuff if we keep looking.
Fortune favors the bold.
I smell wine.
I’m not drinking wine.
But maybe I should be.
The Witching Gif.
“He said he had to check his schedule! I know for a fact his mom irons his Dead Kennedys shirt and puts it on a hanger for him!” screamed a frustrated Bandmate. “What the fuck could he be busy with?”
Pressure of Weekly Practice Becoming Too Much for Unemployed 16-Year-Old Bassist
This is my serious face.
Privately, I want someone to watch.
It’s hard to resist a little more Vincent Price this time of year, and this is why I urge you to check out “The Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall,” by Leah Bodine Drake, and read by the man himself. I serialized this story last year on the podcast, but here’s a round up of links and information about this story, and this excellent actor who can make even a silly story have some gravitas. Enjoy! #HalloweenSpooktacular2015.
With our #HalloweenSpooktacular2015 winding to a close, we still want to deliver some excellent retrocasts to keep you in the mood all the way through this weekend. With that we return to the Punk-In Patch, with Iggy Pop’s rendition of “The Tell-Tale Heart,” available for stream or download. Creepy music, a creepy story, and ready by someone who looks like a horror movie creature in his old age. Enjoy!
The Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall
(A radio serial created from A Hornbook for Witches by Leah Bodine Drake (1950), and read by the incomparable Vincent Price released by Caedmon Records in 1976.)
As Halloween began to get commodified more and more in the ’70’s and ’80’s, the kinds of music and recording that were hitting the market began to dabble in strange little nooks and crannies. Disney had established that narratives could work, and many people stuck with reading Edgar Allen Poe if they wanted a spooky story. But Caedmon Records expanded the scope of what they were willing to release, and with that they contacted Vincent Price to perform for their Halloween releases.
I’ve written at length about both Vincent Price and his relationship with Caedmon Records, so I won’t bore you too much with that, except to say that to me, he really is a Halloween character, through and through. My perception of him as a kid was very much that of a horror creature, and I would get pretty excited when I would hear his voice, or see him in a film. Having Vincent as a part of Halloween just makes sense, and I’m happy to hear him year-round.
Below are five links, that allow you to hear the five-part series I ran last October as part of our Annual Halloween Spook-tacular! These were delivered into the podcast feed on five consecutive days – Monday through Friday – at 11 AM each day. String all five of these together for a 25 minute tale that is a fantastic way to spend an evening if you’re looking for something seasonally appropriate to do.
The Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall (Part I of V)
The Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall (Part II of V)
The Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall (Part III of V)
The Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall (Part IV of V)
The Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall (Part V of V)
There’s something really fun about serial entertainment, as the kinds of people who are prone to binge-watching any TV Show can easily attest to. We like being cut off at the height of the stories’ telling, knowing that we have to wait for the next segment to come a day, week, month or year later.
I’m not sure how many new fans got into the story as it was being doled out in five-minute chunks, but Vincent Price fans loved it, and I had a lot of fun making it, for sure, so much so that I even made a little commercial for the event.
I heart Mission of Burma.
Well well well. Now I have to learn German to read these comics Markus sent me for Halloween. How cool is that? Thanks man. I owe you some Hellboy schwag.
Is it wrong for being a little tempted to see the Peanuts movie?
If you wanna dig past “The Monster Mash” and the other Halloween novelty songs that are common this time of year, then what you want to pick up is “Halloween Nuggets,” an amazing collection of ’60’s Garage Rock with a monster theme. And here’s 1500 words on why you should get this collection from last year. I promise: it is worth your time. #HalloweenSpooktacular2015
In 1936, Bess performed the last of 10 séances that attempted to contact the spirit world, and specifically, the ghost of her late husband, Harry Houdini. Join me for a new broadcast – the last in our #HalloweenSpooktacular2015 series – as we present songs about magic, escaping, and contacting sprits… and what’s that at the end of the show? Only on WTBC Radio in Beautiful Anywhere, Anywhen, available for stream or download.
Hooray. I got a writing gig.
To make writing.
With money and everything.
It is very unglamorous and boring. But I work from home.
What’s your favorite compilation album? It’s hard to choose.
(Originally podcast on 17 October 2014. Expanded for this presentation.)
Once “The Monster Mash” hit the scene in 1962, two things became clear for artists in the 1960’s: the combination of Monsters and Rock Music was perfect for any aspiring artist, and the “Christmas Effect” was now applicable to Halloween as this songs – not even a great song, to be sure – was starting to get guaranteed seasonal airplay. In the same way that cutting a Christmas Tune gave your group some longevity, if only because you would get yearly airplay), then anyone with a guitar and some friends could watch a few horror films late at night and cast around for their own novelty hit that might help launch their careers.
But it wasn’t just people like Bobby Pickett and Don Hinson that were cranking out monster songs, and in the early ’60’s, rock music was changing. Surf had hit the scene pretty hard in the early ’60’s, telegraphing psychedelia by a few years. Surf taught kids that, so long as your guitar player could solo and your rhythm section could play nice with each other, anyone could start one of these bands. Once The Beatles made their epic three week engagement on The Ed Sullivan Show, it seemed as if this version of Rock & Roll was not your parents version from the last decade. Focused on teenagers and their alienation from the rest of modern culture, Rock Music was no longer just about dancing and partying, but had a new range and sound that was electric, and LOUD.
It helped that there was a lot of cheaply made instruments for sale – both new and used – and was thus easy to distribute among the suburbs. Kids everywhere began to create bands with their friends, and by the end of 1964, hundreds of garage bands across the country started, all picking up instruments, picking up cues from the Rock Stars on TV, and picking up on this Monster Vibe that was reverberating through our Culture in Movies and The Late Late Show. Just because these groups were not famous, and were not well known outside of their own home town was irrelevant; if they could get a gig at the local armory, or at a house party, that was fine. And, if one of them had enough savings to sink into pressing up a 45, hey, that was cool, too. Teenagers – distracted by hormones and parties and the War in Vietnam and girls & boys and surfing – had never gotten together and planned to create a music movement. Instead, they were just looking for ways to pass the time.
Lenny Kaye was one of these teenagers, and started his own band in 1964 – The Vandals. As a fanzine writer and music enthusiast, this made sense, and as he got to know other bands and began traveling, he collected records by other garage groups – music that Kaye labeled “punk rock” – and found that many of these songs were in danger of getting lost in the cracks if action was not taken. In 1972 he assembled the original Nuggets compilation, which showcased music by groups that, while not representative of the entire movement, captured those with some pretty big regional hits: The Blues Project, The 13th Floor Elevators, The Amboy Dukes, and Nazz. As some would say, the rest in history: Nuggets has become a sort of cottage industry for Rhino Records, who released 14 sequels to Kaye’s original record in the late ’80’s, and assembled three 4-disc sets of other material, along with other 4-disc localized collections like the LA and San Francisco sets.
It is impossible to say if Kaye knew what was happening when he made that first collection in 1972, but before long he set off not only the modern Rock Record collector market, but a whole genre of compilation albums. The Pebbles series followed in 1978 (which seems to have stopped after 28 collected LPs of tunes), each collecting the lesser-known groups of the Garage Era. Crypt Records‘ very own Tim Warren started Back From The Grave in 1983, as series of comps that focused on some of the wilder, rawer, and crazier records from this same era. (Up to 10 volumes, at this point.)
But more importantly, these (and other) compilations that came out in the years since began to document an era that was beginning to be lost. Classic Rock Radio was the dominant format in America by the ’80’s, and it seemed as if the history of rock and roll was going from Elvis to Led Zeppelin, with little focus on the ’60’s outside of the psychedelic movement (that seemed to map over the political ideology of the counterculture). However, not everyone was into psyche rock. Most people in the ’60’s had grown up on Rock & Roll, and want to make something closer to The Troggs than to Jefferson Airplane. These compilations reclaimed the story of Rock Music from the one that was being heard on the radio, and helped document scenes that had otherwise disappeared once everyone went off to college.
It is ironic that a more complete picture of the ’60’s didn’t come together until the ’80’s, and even then seemed only appreciated by collectors and nerds who enjoyed doing the research. But people who had worked to assemble these kinds of comps also established an entire market for LPs that were not collections of Hit Songs. The idea that you could make a record that documents a time and and a place – wherever and whenever that might be – created the Punk Rock that Kaye had identified in Garage Music. Not only has the Killed By Death series done for punk what these other comps did for the ’60’s, but the larger idea of documenting these fragile (and quickly disintegrating music movements) gave the DIY movement the much needed juice to keep going when things seemed darkest, a tradition that has persisted into the 2010s.
In the early 2000s, S’more Entertainment was just another small record company looking for an angle, and noticed that the reissue market was one place that record sales were not dropping off. They began with re-issues of Black Oak Arkansas and Nazareth records, and hit gold with Dick Dale’s back catalog. They quickly assembled a collection – Surf-Age Nuggets – under the name RockBeat Records, hoping that if it bombed, they could quickly shed the name and keep going. However, Surf was still big money, and this collection (available on both CD and LP) but this new subsidiary on the map. Very quickly RockBeat, and the work they were doing in that office, subsumed the parent company.
RockBeat had hit on a formula, and went on to release collections of The Moving Sidewalks, Little Feat, The Blasters, Albert King, Django Reinhardt, and the very impressive Los Nuggetz Volume Uno, which assembled the previously-uncharted territory of Mexican Rock Music from the ’60’s and ’70’s. Armed with this success, they began casting around for something else they could put in the stores, and hit upon the idea of collecting old ’60’s Monster songs. Plenty of garage bands had recorded stuff like that, and with access to a number of artist’s catalogs, it appeared that they could even release a proper boxed set, music like the comps they were using as their inspiration.
Taking cues from the Wavy Gravy model, RockBeat inserted horror movie trailers into their three-disc set, in-between songs about partying in graveyards and hanging out with vampires. The the concentration (and quality) of the tunes here is what really sets this apart from the stuff you usually find in stores when September rolls around. Foregoing anything close to “The Monster Mash,” they really dug into the Nuggets of the past, and assembled almost 100 tracks of incredibly rockin’ songs, many of which had not been comped elsewhere. (There is some overlap with other sources, but not much.)
As a relatively new compilation – 2014, no less – it remains to be seen if this collection will gain the same kind of notoriety of the Nuggets predecessors that paved the way for this label. And, to be completely fair, RockBeat might not have a long-term future, either. (Having only been around for 10 years, and the increasingly declining state of the Record Industry, might make it hard to build a career on re-issues.) However, in our house, this collection is already a classic, and is absolutely essential listening this time of year. If you want to class up any party you’re throwing – and you still want to be on-point with seasonal treats – Halloween Nuggets is the only way to go.
* * * * * *
You can purchase the album at Amazon.com.
You can stream the entire thing at Spotify. (I think you need to be logged in for that link to work.)
It is also available in a number of other places, too.
Watusi Zombi * Jan Davis * Halloween Nuggets
Graveyard * The Phantom Five * Halloween Nuggets
Scream * Ralph Neilsen & The Chancellors * Halloween Nuggets
Mother Box 034
It was either this or Luke Skywalker riding Godzilla.
Too close to home.
50,000 LPs Stacked in Garage Not Nearly as Warped as Record Collector’s Mind
Now, sit back and kick-start your Monday with another Halloween treat, “Bogey Wail” by Jack Hylton. #HalloweenSpooktacular
While Halloween Music didn’t take off until the late ’50’s, a number of one-off novelty song hit the market, all taking a stab at ghostly themes and spooky notions. In this 2013 retrocast, I collect a number of older songs in my creepy collection, and mix in selections of a ’40’s radio program, “Yankee Yarn,” that delivers the story of General Moulton! #HalloweenSpooktacular2015. For stream or download.
We all suffer from Beauty.
Las colinas están vivas con el sonido de la lucha libre …
Our #HalloweenSpooktacular2015 was spearheaded by all sorts of great podcasts dug up from the record crypt! Tuesdays this month had new drive-in horror-classic podcasts to fill you with fright. And, on the other week-days we retro-casted Halloween shows from all over our checkered past. Follow the link, and check out all our stuff we’ve done so far this month, and remember: there’s still a week of shows left on WTBC. Enjoy!
Every week-day this month I’ve been publishing stories and links to all my favorite treats as part of my #HalloweenSpooktacular2015 (to complement all the podcasts that have been happening at WTBC Radio in Beautiful Anywhere, Anywhen.) Here’s a link where you can check out all our October 2015 blog posts, and remember that we still have a full week of new stuff ahead starting tomorrow! Get the lowdown on this fantastic Holiday, and some of the coolest parts of this eerie time of year. Enjoy!
This is the most important thing on the Interweb right now.
Bumford & Lames are at it again.
And Etc., Of Course.
Woo Hoo! Here’s some snaps from The Record Swap. You can see Marla and I in a few snaps!
You need this in your life.
I think Jesse Ransom and I had an afternoon bonding over how amazing and awful Flipper are. They make me laugh, what can I say?
When they look back, and weigh, everything he’s done, they will realize…
Yesterday we went to ƒ/stop Fitzgerald’s Public House for their record swap (hosted by Sons of Salem at KMUZ 88.5), and met Kit & Lori from Ranch Records – Cds, Lps, Vintage Rock Art, Dvds. Not only did I make a couple of swaps for some extras in my collection (and got a Black Lips colored vinyl, and an actual Surf Punks LP!), but I also recieved a free single from one of the Ranch employee’s old bands, I won a Ranch gift certificate in a raffle, and Kit & Lori bought Marla and I each a beer and told us awesome collecting stories well after the swap was over, to the point where we were up past 10 PM. (Late for us.) It was a great time.
I’m telling you, f/stop, KMUZ and Ranch are all worth your support, and there are some very cool and wonderful people here in Salem, if you search around. On the heels of our amazing Silent Movie adventure from the night before, this has been a very magical weekend so far. Wait, it isn’t even Friday? Fo’ reals?
Rhino Records “Brain In A Box” Sci-Fi Collection is a brilliant set of theme songs from TV & Movies, plus a wide range of music and songs, all about aliens, outer space, and UFOs. In this 2009 retrocast, I present an hour or songs from this set, creating a Radio Science Fiction Classic that is perfect Holiday Listening for our #HalloweenSpooktacular2015. For stream or download!
It’s Sam Raimi’s Birthday today, guys.
I just met a 60 something record store owner who is my spirit animal.
I’m really liking The Flash TV show.
I get so easily excited…
This is from that little-known audition tape Herman Munster submitted for getting a part in Antonioni’s “Blow Up.”
I attended this event last night, and had a huge blast. All three films were fun, but the live musical accompaniment on the Organ was the best part. So very, very cool. (Plus: Harold Lloyd is amazing.)
Wow. Sometimes you just open up your heart to The Universe, and stuff works out in your favor.
But most of the time, you’re just setting off rat traps on your soul’s metaphoric toes when you try to do anything cool.
“Still Haven’t Seen Titanic.”
(Tentative tombstone engraving.)
I know you make things in your free time. We all do. But: do I have a link to the work of which you’re most proud? Possibly not. I try to link to as much as possible on my blog, and want to include your gig. Writing? Bands? Radio? Painting? How can I find out more about your work?
Vampires! Frankenstein! The Were-Wolf! Boss Music! Rock and Roll and Horror Movies go together like Peanut Butter & Jellyfish, and in this 2013 retrocast we combine ’50’s and ’60’s Monster Songs with contemporaneous vintage horror movie trailers, creating a a Wavy Gravy-like atmosphere that is just in time for our #HalloweenSpooktacular2015! Available for stream or download… if you dare!
Between 1964 and 1965, Frankie Stein And His Ghouls released five LPs of chain-rattling, spooky-sound-laced, instrumental rock music with incredible covers, depicting the band as monster musicians taking things further than the Monster Mash ever had. And then, they disappeared into the night without a trace. Who were these actual monsters that cut these incredible records? Find out, as part of our #HalloweenSpooktacular2015!
Frankie Stein And His Ghouls!
(Originally podcast on 14 October 2014. Expanded as a blog post for this presentation.)
Before The Cramps & The Misfits there was another Monster Themed rock band, made up of real monsters, that was blowing the socks off all the cool kids in mid-’60’s: Frankie Stein & His Ghouls! But the story of how these monsters came to be was so secretive that, for many years, it was completely unknown to most. The mystery behind Frankie Stein & His Ghouls is, for some, most of the charm, and in the summer of 1964 when their first record slipped out into stores, unannounced, it was pretty clear that the Synthetic Plastics Company (under the Power Records imprint) had a hit on their hands.
For those of you who don’t want the mystery of these recordings ruined for you, I completely understand. You might want to skip most of the rest of this essay. There is something amazing about the complete package you see in the album above. This was absolutely marketed to kids in every way, but also: to HIP kids. Kids who liked to dance, who understood how cool ghouls really were, and knew that having monsters at your party was the only way to be “cool.” If you grew up like this, you probably don’t want to know the truth about Frankie Stein. Who would? The band is better off as a group of unknowns. In a way, I like to think that these records really were made by the monsters you see on the covers.
It’s sort of lame, in this modern age of instant-information, to think that you have to know everything about everything. It’s the same problem when Jandek went from a genuine mystery to this guy who releases eccentric records that a fair number of people have now met. This group of monsters cutting rock and roll LPs is just as reasonable to any boring truth that would probably ruin the charm of these amazing recordings. So, please, feel free to skip the story below. I won’t be offended.
But, if you want to learn a little more, follow me…
In 1950 the Synthetic Plastics company went from the premiere manufacturer of plastics that were used by the garment industry to the premiere manufacturer of children’s music entertainment, basically overnight. It was not a glamorous or financially solvent field to enter into, but from the perspective of the company, Children’s Entertainment could be produced in the same way that their assembly lines had produced plastic products for clothing. Turn your limitations into strengths, and hire good workers to produce quality materials. Then, find the right store to stock your product, and roll out the advertising. The ideas were basic business practices for decades now, and Synthetic Plastics went about creating a number of subsidiary companies throughout the ’50’s and ’60’s to release one kind or another of children’s LPs as a way to stay competitive.
While the idea that each of these different “labels” all had a traditional staff of record industry analogs is to even give the practice a Synthetic Plastics that much credit or planning. Each staff member at Synthetic Plastics headed “a label,” and they were each in charge of the releases that label put out. The company had a studio, and everyone learned how to run the gear on their own. Once a recording was finished and the covers were designed (again, by the one in-house self-taught design team), the company would ship these off to be pressed, after which the records were sent to their warehouse, where they shipped out their product to every store that carried their stock. Everyone was urged to get as many releases out as possible. Quantity was going to win this battle.
Story albums and collections of children’s rhymes and songs were instant hot sellers, but as the ’60’s began to start rocking, it was clear that the kiddie dance crazes were another market that Synthetic Plastics to fill. Kids were really enjoying these LPs of dance songs, each song catering to a dance that was popular. This wasn’t Rock and Roll per se, just a very watered down and “whitened” form that was popular everywhere now that groups like The Beatles and The Stones were starting to get going. These dance LPs (instrumental, of course) were safe ways that parents could let their children enjoy Rock music, and built in a guaranteed fan base for rock music as the kids got older. Synthetic Plastics began searching for some musicians that “got” this new sound, to produce records for them to release.
The found the perfect Duo in the pair Joel Herron & Fred Hertz. Joel had came out of radio, conducted his own band in the ’50’s, and had made a name for himself as a bit of a songwriter. Joel met Fred working on The Jimmy Dean Show, and they bonded over having grown up on jazz and swing, but having a love of the new R&B and Rock music that came with girls, dancing and drugs. Joel was approached by Synthetic Plastics to assemble an in-house band to record for some of these dance records they were planning, and the money was just good enough that he brought Fred Hertz (and some of his regular players) along with him. Joel and Fred bonded over pop culture, and loved talking about different creature features they had recently taken in, always making obtuse and crude references to bad horror tropes when the got together. Very quickly they developed a sense of humor that made them a perfect working partnership.
The idea was to lay down some tracks that Synthetic Plastic could use as “bed music.” With a set rhythm section recorded, the label could go back and have different “lead” musicians do different solos and bespoke licks over the same bed music. This gave Synthetic Plastics the opportunity to creating a number of “songs” without having to record the whole band every time. The more unique lead parts they could lay over the tracks, the better, and soon one session with a full band was paying off rather fruitfully for the label. Using different themes and cover designs, Synthetic Plastics managed to do very well for themselves with this idea, and by 1963 a number of these Dance Records has been making the rounds in stores, and sold fairly well.
It is hard to say who had the idea first, but after a night of getting loaded and goofing around in the studio, Joel & Fred took the sound effects from the studio archives and laid them over the dance tunes they had recorded, and made a tape for themselves that they would play around for friends. They knew they could outdo “The Monster Mash” in terms of performing, and the way they mixed the tracks, it sounded like real monsters were playing the tunes. Both Joel & Fred were well aware of the Shock Theater! monster book happening around them, and while the tape was started as a joke, once they got a cover mocked up and had made a few copies for friends in the radio industry (pressed under the amusing moniker “Power Records,”) it seemed as if the idea was crazy enough to actually work. In 1964, Synthetic Plastic tested “Introducing Frankie Stein and His Ghouls: Monster Sounds And Dance Music” (The Ideal Party Record!) to an unsuspecting America. It sold out in every store, and thus the “Power Records” label – which had not existed before – was handed over to Joel & Fred.
The next year was busy for Joel & Fred, and in the summer of 1965 they released four new Frankie Stein LPs, and re-issued the one from the previous year, all of which sold very well everywhere they were available. These were easily produced in the studio, again recycling other tracks they had cut for other dance records, then remixing them with the “Frankie Stein Sound,” and it seemed as if Joel & Fred had set up a cottage industry. But they also had other interests in Hollywood, and making kids fare all day, every day didn’t really appeal to them, especially given how cheaply Synthetic Plastics was producing them (skimping on things like studio time, and pay). Fred went on to be relatively unknown afterward, and Joel went back to radio and television, popping up here and there for the remainder of his life. Frankie Stein & His Ghouls would be a nice footnote to a small paycheck they had received from Synthetic Plastics, and wasn’t really thought about by either of them again.
As time went on, these records began to become quite collectable. The original print runs were the only time Synthetic Plastics put any money into the project, and when Fred & Joel left, both Frankie Stein (and Power Records) essentially stopped production, and the company moved on. Until some of these songs were reissued (incompletely) on a two-CD set in 2005, the primary way anyone heard this music was from a friend who had made a cassette transfer, and to this day LP rips float around online. Fans had no way of finding (or confirming) information about these records for decades, and while the value of the original LPs (like much of the Synthetic Plastics releases from their early days) skyrocketed in value on the resale market among people in the know, they were completely unheard of by most everyone else. For a long time, these albums seemed mythical.
This, in many ways, ushered in the modern era of Halloween Novelty records. Frankie Stein took the ideas of scary sounds LPs and “The Monster Mash,” and combined them in a way that punk bands have been doing every year since. And there is immense charm and genuine strangeness to these albums that qualifies as experimental at times, too. And, let’s not forget, they rock and roll was pretty good for 1964, when you get down to the playing. Frankie Stein did not invent the Monster Rock And Roll song, but in five albums over less than two years, he certainly perfected it, codified the sense of humor, and insisted on a good backbeat.
These days, these albums are virtually forgotten by the mainstream, and are rarely dusted off outside of record nerds like me. But the idea of music by monsters is so compelling that these albums deserve a second listen. These are albums made during the golden age of children’s albums, and in many ways, the perfect synthesis of a studio system creating the Casablanca of monster records, almost completely by accident, like some creature born in a lab.
It isn’t required that you know how these kinds of records get made. But it is important that you get to know them, anyway.
* * * * * *
Stoned (Monkey, Watusi) [Excerpt] * Frankie Stein And His Ghouls * Shock! Terror! Fear! (1964)
Mummy’s Little Boy (Monkey, Twist) * Frankie Stein And His Ghouls * Ghoul Music (1965)
Dance Of Doom (Monkey, Watusi) * Frankie Stein And His Ghouls * Monster Sounds And Dance Music (1965)
Their page on discogs.com
Roger’sBasement.com. (A fan site from the ’90’s / early ’00’s that details every scrap of information anyone can find / has / knows about Frankie Stein. This site is now defunct in the last year, but there are archived versions of the site at archive.org.
Amazon.com sometimes has a remastered CD containing most (but not all) of the Frankie Stein songs.
There is a rhythm to everything.
Often on the two and the four.
What other movies have predicted the awful present we all must endure?
I will work for you.
Make an offer. I’ll take it.
We Now Live In The Future.
Halloween Records are a fairly modern evolution in music, and while Horror Punk & Shock Rock are huge business for kids with mohawks, the golden age of Halloween Music really gets going right around 1957. Here’s a short history of monster songs and scary sounds for our #HalloweenSpooktacular2015. Enjoy!
Afraid Of Nothing: The Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of The Haunted House!
(Originally podcast of 27 October 2014. Re-written and expanded for this presentation.)
This is, by far, my favorite Halloween Record. I currently have six copies, and I will usually buy another copy if I see one out in the wild, and at a reasonable price. In a lot of ways, it is the archetype for what Halloween Records became in the ’70’s and ’80’s, and these days this kind of album is a forgotten relic from a time since past. If anything, people are familiar with the dollar-store CD sound collages made to last up to 70 minutes, which was usually a rehashing of an ’80’s album that the CD Manufacturer has a deal with, transferred to digital from the master tape.
Monster Songs From the ’20’s to the ’80’s
But for the real deal, return with us, now, to the post-war Record Industry. As long as there has been recorded music, there have been novelty records, and even songs that could be called Halloween-adjacent in those days. As far back as the 1920’s there was a tradition of weird or funny songs slipping out among the serious endeavors, and scary songs were just as prevalent. An early “spooky” meme in records was a sort of whistle or instrumental “flourish” to indicate a ghost, and there was a fascination with “boogey” men, made for double-entendres when boogie music came about, but also allowed writers to be off-color with regard to racial stereotypes and still get it into a song. You even, occasionally, found scary sounds being added to a record, and most companies tried their hands at kids output from time to time. All the pieces of the puzzle where there, but no one had gone after the idea as relentlessly as they could have.
The 1950’s were a very curious time, and as a number of cultural forces met to mix and mash, the emerging market for records and recordings was aided by the standardization of the formats: the 7″, the 10″ and the 12″ for size, and 45, 78 and 33 1/3 for speed. With formats standardized, the production of records became cheaper and easier, and allowed for more and more experimentation. You could press records in bulk, and small runs of new types of sounds could be made, tested on the marketplace, and re-pressed if sales were good. Sound effects records of all types and shapes began to creep out into the market, as “found sounds” and other novel audio ephemera sold well among the newly-minted “audiophile” market. With the baby boom taking over every aspect of life, music for kids became much more demanded, and records like Spooky Music found their way to the market much more often. But the idea of making a living at Halloween Records was still a few years off, and again, was a result of a bigger cultural movement.
It wasn’t until 1957 – after the introduction of the Shock Theater package, that monster mania began in the US. Kids were dressing up like monsters for fun, horror movies were being acted out on the playground, and Halloween was becoming big business. Between ’57 and ’59, everyone was rushing out Halloween LPs to capitalize on this potentially passing fad: Dean Gitter releases a record of Ghost Ballads, Al Zanino releases his famous “The Vampire Speaks” 45, Hans Conried & Alice Pierce collaborated on their very strange “Monster Rally” LP (with cover art by Jack Davis, no less, and included mostly covers of strange novelty songs from previous years), Bob McFaddon & Rod McKune’s Songs Our Mummy Taught Us went the beatnik route, and Spike Jones with his incredible Spike Jones in Hi-Fi and A Spooktacular in Screaming Sound sort of mixed humor and a narrative for one hell of a record. The stage was set for 1962, when Bobby Pickett scored a hit with “The Monster Mash,” taking all of these ideas and synthesizing them into a band of monsters that was lead by a Boris Karloff impression and contained a Bela Lugosi interjector as a recurring gag, all with rattling chains and moans to seal the deal. Monster songs, for better or worse, were not going away.
Pretty song, rock, doo wop & country music were littered with monster gags, to not only capitalize, but to play with a well-worn metaphor: the monster as an outsider. Frankenstein (the novel) really nailed this idea perfectly, and monsters very quickly became to embody the outsider in every respect. As music was the generation gap for many, and monster became a proxy for someone “cool.” There are endless songs about going to Frankenstein’s party, or a monster ball, or hop. Graveyards became the hang-outs that kids would congregate in, and soon the lure of she-devils and women who could seduce and terrify were a very common theme. Monsters, and being scared, were the perfect stand-ins for teenage libido and the pains of falling in love. After 1962, Monster Metaphors become second only to UFOs and the Atomic Bomb as subjects for songs, and up until the early ’80’s there are hundreds of these songs, by a wide range of artists and songwriters.
The problem, of course, is that of popularity: nothing has “topped” Monster Mash in terms of a hit, with the only exception being “Thriller.” (A tame, and yet Vincent Price bejeweled, version of the same idea.) While many have tried, the archetype of a cool monster party that you have stumbled upon is hard to outdo, so much so that even bands like Whodini and Buck Owens have tried. But after “Monster Mash” and “Thriller,” it was clear that the subgenre has little depth. Once you find that monster party, the only thing left is to let Bob & David make fun of you.
Scary Sounds To Shock Your System
In 1964, Disney was not the place anyone looked for when they wanted something scary. While they had done the occasional scary cartoon, it was not what they were known for, in spite of what you heard about how scary the kids thought the witch was in Snow White. But they were looking for other ways that they could capitalize on the growing children’s market, and a scary record seemed to be in the consciousness of America, and everywhere. They hired Laura Olsher on to do a pair of other records for them (“The Little Engine That Could” and “Learning To Tell Time“), so they offered her the chance to voice “Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of The Haunted House” for them as well. To an unassuming audience in the summer, they released this LP with a nearly Black and White cover, to see how well it did.
With Halloween just around the corner, they sold through instantly. Everyone reordered when the second printing was available.
Side A of the record contained a number of “Adventures In Sound” (as Disney called them) with sounds from their very famous Disney Effects Library. (Any Disney nerd can recognize voices and effects from any number of cartoons and shows.) In addition to title track, there’s “Chinese Water Torture” and “Your Pet Cat.” These 10 recordings are complemented on Side B with the raw sound recordings from the library. “Screams and Groans” or “A Collection of Crashes.” Half story LP an Half Effects Record, it lay somewhere in-between two different genres that were not quite one or the other, and was, in effect, it’s own thing, far from the monster songs that were gaining popularity. With great art that had a fantastic Haunted House on the front and back, the Liner Notes went on to talk about how you could have, “even greater enjoyment in creating sound stories of your own using the effects on this LP plus others you may do yourselves.”
Let that sink in for a moment. Here’s a huge, monolithic company like Disney inviting you to remix their media, with the addition of your own work, to create something new. While this could not have been their intention, it was none-the-less taken to heart by a number of companies in the following years. The ’60’s, ’70’s and ’80’s found a proliferation of “Halloween Sounds” LPs, with a story / narrative on one side, and raw sound effects on the other. In fact, it was such a formula that you rarely found records that were only one or the other. The “Halloween Sounds” genre of LPs was cemented in form and content by that original Disney album, and in the years that followed a number of copycats – including “Sounds To Make You Shiver” (1974) and “Haunted House” (1985) – directly copy this style. Most modern CDs of “scary sounds” are often just combining audio from albums from this era, and I think they have all (more or less) fallen into the public domain. Following the Disney model, a sub-genre of Ghost Stories with sound Effects followed, pioneered by Vincent Price on the Caedmon Label, most commonly with Edger Allen Poe short-stories being read, to great effect.
Much of this was, of course, Disney’s prelude to their interest in designing a Haunted House for Disneyland, which they launched in 1969. Disney finally understood that fun a casual horror was not only a healthy market, but could be taken advantage of in their park. The LP could not only market Halloween itself, but their new theme ride, too. Without this album, that amazing part of Disneyland may never have existed.
The overall decline in the way that vinyl is produced has made Halloween albums only affordable to make on CD, where the quality has dropped tremendously, both in terms of Halloween Novelty Music, and in terms of sound effects recordings. While they are readily available in any store with Halloween Accoutrements, most often they are cheaply made, and don’t sound as robust as the recordings you find in these older efforts. Disney unwittingly opened up pandoras box: by encouraging remixing, other companies realized there was a small market to be had in Halloween records, and people like Wade Denning and The Haunted House Co. found ways to make a name for themselves.
More importantly, this record taught people that you can make your own Halloween.
Here’s the sounds. Here’s the ideas.
All you need to do is have at it, and enjoy.
* * * * * *
This link will remain active for a short period of time.
And this link goes with the former.
A simple Google Search reveals a whole range of other listening options. (And I recommend the image search view to check out the variety of album covers over the years.)
I imagine I will be receiving some e-mail from some of you, so again: email@example.com.
The left side is how I felt for the last couple decades. The whole image is how I should have been feeling.
Here’s how to incite a real reaction:
“There’s a new Star Wars movie coming out? Huh.”
Did you know that you can subscribe to Guitar Shop Radio Show in iTunes? Just search for “DJ Victrola,” or click this handy link below. As new episodes are available, the magic of modern technology will deliver each new show to your device. (And fear not, people using other podcatchers. The link you’ll want is: bit.ly/GuitarShopPodcastFeed.) If you can’t listen live, this is the next best thing.
I know it is silly, but I could listen to people talk very passionately about Star Trek and their favorite Vulcan character every single day.
For most people, 1981’s The Evil Dead is one of the most important pieces of early ’80’s DIY horror movie making. In anticipation of the premier of the new Ash vs Evil Dead TV show that will debut this month, here’s an audio retelling of this classic story, with music and merriment by WTBC Radio in Beautiful Anywhere, Anywhen, as part of our #HalloweenSpooktacular2015! Available for stream or download.
Continuing last week’s discussion of Horror Hosts and local television for our #HalloweenSpooktacular2015, here’s a few thousands words on my favorite TV show of the last few decades, Mystery Science Theater 3000. After 11 years, nearly 200 episodes, and an evolving cast of characters, these strange midwesterners managed to create something unlike anything else you’ve ever seen. All by watching bad movies. Enjoy!
Blood red eyes turn to
In The Not Too Distant Past: The Last Great Cable Access TV Show of The Golden Age
For most of us these days, our exposure to the kind of localized television that Horror Hosts grew out of was an incredibly idiosyncratic, mid-western program that was as difficult to describe as it was to see early on. When I first heard about it in 1994, there was essentially one video tape – Santa Claus Conquers The Martians, recorded by a friend of mine – that I could use as a reference point. In spite of searching (and finding) plenty of people online who each had scores of these kinds of tapes in their personal collections, the idea that this was a show, and was on week after week, absolutely perplexed me.
It wasn’t much later that the local FOX affiliate in Eugene, OR ran The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Hour on Sunday’s, not only giving me a chance to actually see this show, but to become a fan, too. By the time the Movie came out a bit later, I was hooked. But I came into the show nearly at the end. By the time I was seeing new episodes as they were being aired in the late ’90’s, Mike was the host, the voices of all the bots had all changed, and the Mads were a whole new group of characters I was sort of unfamiliar with. And the clock was running out. Their riffs and jokes were not only so insular as to make it slightly impenetrable for people unfamiliar with the show and their many running gags and jokes. (Not to mention the rapid-fire pace they would lob jokes at you. It wasn’t long before they would be canceled, not even able to make it into the 21st Century, let alone to the 2990’s.
Still, MST3K managed to synthesize all the lessons of localized television and brought us a show with that kind of sensibility, which not only made it to cable and, to some degree, mainstream acceptance. It owes everything to the home-spun aesthetic that was pioneered by people like Ghoulardi & Vampire, but with their own sci-fi take on what is funny about shitty movies and TV. The sets were laughable. The robots were made out of junk-store parts. There were essentially three people making the show for most of the time it was on the air, with a handful of writers and crew members to make sure there were scripts and props and whatnot. This hand-made quality not only endeared fans, but spoke to the heart of the show: we are going to evoke huge, sci-fi concepts with a few cheap sets and a whole lot of imagination, just like the movies we show. In a sort of post-modern version of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, MST3K (somehow) managed to last for 11 seasons, almost 200 episodes, and spread out over three broadcast homes. It’s an impressive feat for such a unique show, born directly out of Horror Hosting and late night features.
While MST3K is not a Horror show in particular, nor is it even that scary of Halloweeny (their holiday of choice is Thanksgiving, where you can sit around and gorge yourself on bad movies), there is a long tradition of Science Fiction getting lumped in with horror, and I usually try to squeeze in at least one “invaders from space” movie ’round this time of year. Their dedication to the same kind of aesthetics and ideas of a Horror Host, however, are present in every aspect of the show, and they may well have been the last of their kind to start in cable access and make it to the big time.
For those who have not seen it, it’s premise is a sort of hybrid of Silent Running and Robinson Caruso (in Space). “Joel Robinson” works for Gizmonic Institute, a place largely managed by Mad Scientists, who then launch Joel into space in order to inflict terrible movies on him, in a search for the worst film imaginable, with which they can use to take over the world. Joel, to help beat the loneliness, has built four robots out of various things he found around the spaceship, tenderly named the Satellite Of Love. Joel turned this dire situation into a weekly show for the audience at home, and joining him are Crow, Tom Servo, Gypsy & Cambot.
Each week, the Mads send a movie, and Joel and the bots watch it, cracking wise as the movie plays on from their silhouettes in the corner of the screen, using the occasional breaks they’re given to sing songs, act out skits, or otherwise pontificate on their plight and the movie they’re watching. People like Ghoulardi used to insert himself into movies he was showing, and people like Woody Allen were experimenting with a version of interacting with movies, to various degrees of success. But it was the MST3K crew that developed this style of “riffing” comedy, based on the idea that Joel and the robots would be hanging out together while the movie played, in the same way a group of friends would make dumb jokes as the movie went on in the same room. It was the crew at Best Brains that realized that the Horror Host was there throughout the whole movie, so why not have them joke around with the film? After all, who’s really watching the terrible movie that closely, really?
While certainly inspired by the kinds of Shock Theater! duds that would fall between the cracks of Frankenstein and Dracula, by the time the ’80’s had rolled around, an entire culture of people dedicated to “Bad Cinema” was starting to crop up. Kids raised on the kinds of late-night, drive-in style films that were being made in the ’60’s and ’70’s had grown up into a group of connoisseurs that understood what make movies truly bad. Filmmakers caught on, and production companies would rush something that might get a reputation for being terrible, and thus, might be a back-door into Hollywood for a desperate creator. And, for many, it worked; one only need to look at the work of people like Roger Corman – and the stars that grew out of working with him during his 60+ year history in cinema – for evidence. You might be in a real stinker today, but tomorrow you might be directing The Last Picture Show, and could become a creative sensation.
1980 saw the introduction of both The Golden Turkey and The Golden Raspberry Awards, born out of this same class of filmmakers who were willing to make things on a shoe-string and with no discernable stars, and by the ’80’s had rolled around, the US was steeped in Sci-Fi disasters, monsters where you could see the zippers, cheaply made thrillers, teenage schlock, and everything in between.
While the work of “horror hosts” had an influence on MST3K, there are three specific pre-cursors that are worth mentioning, as they had conceptual bits that this crew would use as the backbone of their work. CBS Children’s Film Festival ran from the late ’60’s to 1984 (in some form, often under a different name), and showed terrible movies (edited, of course), hosted by Kukla, Fran and Ollie (a puppet team). Still, no one was making fun of the movies full-time until Mad Movies with the L.A. Connection in 1985, which used the sort of Woody Allen style overdubbing to mock the duds they found. (Hosts would mock the films between the reels, but the LA Connection made jokes while the film was running). The Canned Film Festival in 1986 managed to feature comedic skits woven into (and between reels) of a longer film, another element that MST3K was particularly good at. But in all three cases, these elements were not used to their full potential, and more pointedly, only CBS Children’s Film Festival was actually seen by any of MST3K creators.
The essence of MST3K was born out of Joel Hodgson’s stand up routines, where much of the background material of Sci-Fi gags and prop-comedy elements were already at work. Joel was building contraptions and robot-type characters to use in his act, largely out of junk store bits he found here and there. When Joel met Trace Beaulieu, Josh Weinstein, Jim Mallon and Kevin Murphy at KTMA, it was clear that his hare-brained comedy might be able to find a home at their station.
Joel had a number of ideas that were difficult to explain, and ultimately shot a pilot with them – The Green Slime – which involved a rough approximation of what he (and, now, they) had envisioned MST3K could be. The station was impressed enough by the cheap budget and the amount of time a show like this could fill, and give them free reign to make 13 episodes, all produced in house, to be shown when there was little else to interfere with their other programming. With a premier on Thanksgiving Day, 1988, there wasn’t much else to compete against, and KTMA didn’t see the harm in letting them air two episodes, back to back, as they had little else to offer. The show was an immediately hit, and grew to be so popular that what started as an experiment was expanded to 21 episodes. By the end of their first year on air, the show was being courted by cable TV.
The Comedy Channel (later Comedy Central) picked up the show, to be retooled for a first “official” season, with a modest budget and actual writers joining the team. As time wore on, Joel and the gang hit on a formula to maximize the jokes-per-episode ratio, and ironed out the production side of things to a well-oiled machine that lasted for a number of years. Their dedication to interacting with fans, keeping everything in-house, and making props themselves added to their reputation as something special, and even after Joel left and Mike transitioned from head writer to host, they managed to keep their grass roots (and fans), becoming one of the hippest shows on TV. Tapes were incessantly traded among fans in a pre-digital world, and with a movie contract on the horizon, it seemed as if they were on their way to an eternal hit.
In 1996 when Comedy Central canceled the show, it was clear that the future of the program was becoming uncertain. Fans rallied, started a letter writing campaign (in the tradition of other canceled Sci-Fi shows), and soon enough the Sci-Fi Channel (now SyFy) showed interest. But this relationship did not start off well. Sci-Fi gave notes on the show – and the changes that they insisted on making signaled that there wasn’t much of a future for the team. Part of the problem was a dedication to the craft; the writers and producers – even at the very end – wanted to keep doing what they had been doing well, knowing a good thing when they saw it, playing to their strengths as the show changed and evolved. The Sci-Fi Channel, however, imposed a number of demands, scheduled the show at strange times, insisted that the bots have story arcs from episode to episode, and in the end made it difficult for the crew to work on MST3K the way they wanted to. When the word came down to cancel the show (again) in 1999, it seemed like a very natural place to end what they had begun, with almost 11 years of work under their belt.
While it has been a tough time learning to live in a world without new episodes of MST3K being made, the influence and impact of this show is immeasurable. We now live in a world where things like Sharknado are not only made, but celebrated, and our culture’s dedication to terrible movies has only increased in the years since. Both Joel and Mike have their own spin-offs – RiffTrax and Cinematic Titanic, and there are even rumors of a MST3K revival at some point. (Fingers crossed.)
More importantly, they kept alive this idea of home-made TV, something that could take a cable access aesthetic and bring it into the rest of the world. This persists now in a number of outlets online, and YouTube is littered with DIY type endeavors that are direct descendants of the chaotic (and charming) world. The technology has changed the way we see and interact with these kinds of shows, and their formats are very different than they used to be, for sure. But without seeing their dedication to both the idea and to the campiness of their craft, these creators and DIY makers would have had few inspirations available to help them see that any idea – no matter how crazy, could work. Your idea may be silly. It might even look ridiculous. But with a little love and care, that thing can be as hilarious as Tom Servo, and that’s an incredible feat for anyone.
I am laughing out loud right now. (Exclamation Point.)
Favorite Ghost songs? Favorite Magic songs? Any genre, any artist. Go!
Well, looks like I better brew some coffee and pack a lunch. I could be here a while.
Hear Seven Hours of Women Making Electronic Music (1938-2014)
Okay, where’s the Avants?
Drop by and get your week started off right, with Betty Boop as she & Cab Calloway discuss Minnie The Moocher.
I want to make a documentary about your heart. I want everyone to see what I see.
The walk up.