Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Light: Over At The Frankenstein Place

Rocky Horror Picture Show: Over At The Frankenstein Place
[purchase the DVD]

Back in the late 1970s, when I was in high school, going to the midnight show of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at a theater in Nyack became the thing to do on Saturday night. I’m not sure how many times I went, but it was a pretty high number, and while I never dressed up as a character (I’ve never been much of a fan of costumes), I did start bringing props with me. Because there were really three reasons to see the movie, which is actually a bad movie (and the contemporary, pre-cult phenomenon reviews bear this out)—the music was pretty good, it was about some edgy sex stuff that in the pre-Internet, pre-million cable stations days was kind of titillating to teenagers, and, I think most of all, participating meant that you became part of an in-crowd, all of whom seemed to know exactly what to do or say in response to what was happening on the screen.

After I headed off to college, and saw it at least once on campus (where I found out that there were regional variations on the crowd responses because there was no Internet to create a Rocky Horror Wiki and establish a standard canon), I sort of grew out of it. A few years ago, my wife and I went to a Halloween season showing at the Tarrytown Music Hall, and I found myself mostly bored with the whole thing. I’d like to think that growing up hasn’t completely beat the fun out of me, but it isn’t surprising that some things you enjoyed when you were young aren’t enjoyable when you age. (Monty Python, however, is still brilliant.)

One interesting thing about Rocky Horror is how many people who appeared in it moved on to bigger and better things. Susan Sarandon, who played Janet, had previously had some film roles and was in soap operas before appearing in the movie. Right after, she was in a movie with Robert Redford, then was Brooke Shields’ mother in Pretty Baby before her breakout role-and first Academy Award nomination—in Atlantic City. She became a huge star, acting in major movies, on stage and on TV. She has won an Oscar, for her role in Dead Man Walking, and has been honored for her political activism.

Her movie fiancé, Brad, was played by Barry Bostwick, a theater actor who had a Tony nomination as the original Danny Zuko in Grease. Rocky Horror was his first film, and he has gone on to a long, busy career as a character actor on TV (maybe most famously as Mayor Randall Winston in Spin City), in films and on stage.

Tim Curry, who played Dr. Frank-N-Furter, was in the original London cast of Hair before being cast as the lead in the stage play The Rocky Horror Show. The film version was Curry’s first movie role. Afterwards, Curry had a successful career on stage, in both London and on Broadway, in movies and on TV, as well as releasing three albums as a musician.

Nell Campbell, who was Columbia, ended up as a well-known night club owner and restauranteur.

Meatloaf, who played the small part of Eddie, released an album that sold 43 million copies. Something about a bat.

This all is to contrast with the career of the guy who made the Rocky Horror phenomenon possible, Richard O’Brien, who created and wrote the play—music, book and lyrics—and collaborated on the screenplay with the movie’s director, Jim Sharman. (Interesting side notes—O’Brien, an unemployed actor, wrote the play, and showed a draft to Sharman, who had directed him in the original London production of Jesus Christ, Superstar. Sharman decided to direct a small production of the play, then called They Came from Denton High, in a 60-seat theater. The second night audience included Jonathan King, who had discovered Genesis and produced their first album. King produced the original cast recording in 48 hours and rushed it out.) O’Brien, despite writing a few more plays and acting in some mostly cult movies, never repeated the fluke success of Rocky Horror. His greatest fame came as an eccentric game show host in England in the 1990s (from which he was replaced by Edward Tudor-Pole, of the band Tenpole Tudor). O’Brien has been, however, memorialized with a statue of his Rocky Horror character, Riff-Raff, in New Zealand, where he spent much of his youth.

The song, the third in the movie, is performed by Sarandon, Bostwick and O’Brien, and it uses the light in the Frankenstein Place, as a symbol of hope for the stranded Brad and Janet. Little did they know what was in store.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

LIGHT: There's a light, a certain kind of light.......

Yes, you got it, "that always shines on me", fab 60s BeeGee perennial, that struck me as a better response to Andy's excellent Bruce piece below, which had automatically said Richard and Linda to me, before remembering that leads to darkness, and it is light we are celebrating. (Richard and Linda? Thompson? Must I talk you through everything? From "Shut out the light" it is one short step to"Shoot Out the Lights", oui?)

So we are talking about this, from, unbelievably, 1967, the 2nd single from their debut LP. Written by Barry and Robin Gibb, it peaked at 17 in the US and 41 in the UK. And it is undoubtedly a cracking song, but the arrangement? Well, let's say it was 48 years ago...........

So here's a whizz-band hurtle through some other versions that may, or not, have passed you by.

 First off, the Flying Burrito Brothers. Not on either of the first couple of studio LPs produced by the initial Gram Parsons fronted version of this possiblystillgoing (somewhere) band, this appeared on a compilation to commemorate their first break-up and the first few line-ups. I bought this as an incredulous teenager in the early 70s, shocked by the sheer country-ness of it. Lured in by the Byrds, they had seemed the logical next step, but it took me a while to rationalise that against my standard rock fare of the day. It was this song, however, that sealed it, the aching plaintiveness of the vocal stripping the sinew from my unsullied heart, in preparation for the adult world of let down and regret. As well as underlining what a piece of songcraft was the original.

Next, it's Nina Simone, and I confess I was a whole lot older before I could handle her spiky charm. I guess this arrangement hasn't dated that well, but that isn't the point, as she imbues the song with her smoky jaunt, suggesting a devil may care acceptance that doesn't, even for a moment, convince. (I would love to hear this cover covered by Me'Shell Ndegeocello, but it sadly wasn't on her Nina tribute of a few years back, not that I will let such a situation prevent me from promoting it!)

Finally a reggae-lite version by one-time Bronski Beat-er and Communard, Jimmy Somerville. In truth it is a slight interpretation, shown really to display his unusual and exquisite vocal range. And I like the video. And, if I'm not mistaken, it is Sarah-Jane Morris singing alongside him, whose lower register perfectly complements, if somewhat counter-intuitively.

So no room, I am afraid, for the version by Michael Bolton or Micky Bubbles. (In my book there is never any room for Micky Bubbles.........) Hope you enjoyed. And, Me'shell, if you are reading(!), how about a volume 2?

Find 'em all:
Bee Gees
and Jimmy

(Oh, OK and Me'shell)

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Light: Shut Out the Light

Bruce Springsteen, "Shut out the Light"

Originally a B-side to “Born in the USA” but only widely available once 1998’s Tracks was released, “Shut Out the Light” was kind of the Bigfoot of Springsteen songs: many had heard about it, few had actually heard it.

It’s a beautiful, sparse song, with a haunted protagonist and Springsteen does his best storytelling here: imagistic, but short on expository details. The ghosts of the Viet Nam War, drug addiction, and PTSD hang over this short, sad tale, though Springsteen never names any of those problems by name. He lets image, and sensory detail paint a picture of a man who just can’t find his way back home.

The story is perfect in the small details that paint a Hemingwayesque picture where what little is shown is enough to create a much greater picture: the welcome home banner hanging over the door, the newly polished chrome on the protagonists old car, his wife worrying about how she will look after all this time—“Shut Out the Lights” is a moving portrait of a lost soul and a terribly sad song. There is no hope, there is no triumphant, driving percussion or striding keyboards here as there is on the A-side. “Born in the USA” is an angry assertion of the will, a protest, but in the end, the protagonist of that song is never going to give in. The line that declares “I’m a cool rockin’ Daddy in the USA, now” sounds odd, corny in a way, but that always struck me as a way of saying, ‘I might be beat, but I’m not done.”  In fat the whole song is about getting up, no matter how many times you get kicked. “Shut Out the Light” ends with no such declaration.

The song ends with the protagonist in a forest, staring at a flowing cold, dark river and the lights of a city in the distance, dreaming of where he’s been. There is no expression of freedom or the will to overcome what he’s seen—he simply repeats the request to keep the lights on, and to be held. The obvious specter here is a drug problem, though it’s never dealt with directly. That is one of the aspects of the song that make it so touching: we don’t know what is really wrong, but neither does the poor lost soul whose story we are hearing.