Locals Only!!! #2 – The Myddle Class – I Happen To Love You

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The Myddle Class

Listen – The Myddle Class – I Happen To Love You – MP3

Howdy.
Welcome back to Iron Leg, and the second installment of Locals Only.
As I said in the first installment (Motifs), this would be dedicated to NJ (and when possible Monmouth/Ocean County) acts.
Today’s selection comes from one of the better NJ garage punk acts, from a little further up the Parkway in Summit.
The Myddle Class recorded three 45s for the Tomorrow label (one later reissued on Buddah) in 1966 and 1967. The group featured vocalist David Palmer – later with Steely Dan, he’s the guy singing ‘Dirty Work’ – and Charlie Larkey who would go on to play bass for (and marry) Carole King.
In addition to recording demos of Goffin/King tunes which were later redone (very closely) by the Monkees themselves, the Myddle Class had the distinction of having the coolest opening act of all time at a 1965 high school gig, that being the Velvet Underground. I used to have an old fanzine with a repro of the flyer from the concert, but it has long since been swallowed the huge, heaving pile of junk that has followed me around for most of my adult life.
Their first 45, a brilliant version of Bob Dylan’s ‘Gates of Eden’ (which I’ll feature sometime in the future) is, like their other two discs not all that hard to come by at a reasonable price and is highly recommended for fans of folky garage.
Today’s selection was the b-side of their second 45, the a-side of which ‘Don’t Let Me Sleep Too Long’ was pretty much stolen from the Blues Project (though the Myddle Class version is outstanding).

‘I Happen To Love You’ (also written by Goffin/King) , a tour de force of moody, atmospheric garage punk whine is by far the superior effort. Featuring reverbed tremolo guitar, a snotty vocal and a complex melody (I love the chords in the chorus), the tune was later covered by the Electric Prunes.
Dig it.
Peace
Larry

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PS It’s my youngest son Sean’s first birthday today (Tuesday). Happy Birthday little dude.

Baby’s (Odd) First Words / Ian & the Zodiacs Reprise…

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Pink Panther

Greetings.
Myself, the wife and the little Grogans are preparing to hit the road for a little mid-summer mini vacation, but I couldn’t leave without posting something.
At the risk of boring the crap out of you (“Hey! Who wants to see the slides of me cleaning out the garage?”), I must relate to you the story of my youngest son’s (he’ll be 1 net week) first words.
This isn’t some cutesy baby blog, so you know I wouldn’t recount something like this unless there was some kind of an “angle”.
Herein lies the rub.
Sean’s first words come directly from a 1969 Pink Panther cartoon.
As I’ve mentioned before, I watch a lot of old cartoons with my older son (who’s 3 ½), and one of his favorites is the old DePatie/Freleng ‘Pink Panther’. Though we watch stuff together at home, he gets to watch videos in the car as well, and the Pink Panther has been in heavy rotation for some time.
One of the funnier shorts is 1969’s ‘In the Pink of the Night’ (every single one of the scores of Pink Panther shorts has a similarly pun/pink based title). In this one, the Pink Panther – much like the rest of us – is caught between the need for more sleep and the inability to make it to the train on time. He has a couple of wake-up methods and for each one a shutdown solution (i.e. an alarm clock and a monkey wrench with which to smash it when it rings).
He finally goes out to get a cuckoo clock.
The first time it’s set to go off, the cuckoo (a live bird, as is often the case in the world of cartoons) emerges from the clock, cuckoos once, then once again louder and eventually a third time where he pretty much screams.

“Cuckoo…CUCKOO!!….CUCKOO?!???!”

Miles thought this was hilarious, and started to repeat it, even miming the Pink Panther tying the bird’s beak shut.
So…the other day we’re all sitting around, probably feeding one of the boys while the other played, and out of the blue Sean utters what sounded like ‘cuckoo!’
Neither my wife nor I paid much attention, until he did a few more times, and we realized what he was saying.
Then, after a few minutes, he did it.

“Cuckoo…CUCKOO!!….CUCKOO?!???!”

We looked at each other in disbelief and started laughing.
I’m still not sure that this is a good thing, but I have no doubt in my mind that it is funny.
I’m also filled with relief and gratitude that his first utterance was not a rehash of one of the more, how do you say ‘colorful’, elements of his fathers vocabulary (many of which are also heard in the car…).

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Anyway, to add an edge to the anecdote above, I’m going to make good on my earlier promise to post the two punky Ian & the Zodiacs tracks I referenced in an earlier entry.

Listen/Download – Why Can’t It Be Me – MP3

Listen/Download – Na Na Na Na Na – MP3

See you next week.
Peace
Larry

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Buy  – The Pink Panther Classic Cartoon Collection, Vol 3: Frolics In the Pink – at Amazon.com

Six O’Clock…Twice…

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The Lovin’ Spoonful

Listen – The Artie Schroeck Implosion – Six O’Clock – MP3

Listen – The Lovin’ Spoonful – Six O’Clock- MP3

Greetings.
I hope the end of the week finds you well, and prepared for some pop.
This story starts an eon ago, the first time I heard a song by the Lovin’ Spoonful.
I can’t say with any certainty when that was, but in all likelihood it was sometime in the late 60’s, around the time I was first exposed to pop radio (having grown up in a house dominated by jazz and classical music).
I only mention this to make note of the fact that John Sebastian and his songs have been a part of the musical wallpaper of my life for a very long time.
Initially – and for many years afterward – all I ever knew were the big hits like ‘Daydream’, ‘Summer In the City’ and ‘Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind’.
Then, sometime during my teen years I saw ‘Celebration at Big Sur’*, the great documentary of the 1970 Big Sur Pop Festival, which featured a couple of performances by Sebastian (along with great stuff by CSNY, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez and others). The best of these was a supremely blissed out version of ‘Rainbows All Over Your Blues’ which included what was perhaps the all time great stoned out (“Heeeeeyyyy maaaaaannnnn….”) rap, about a tire swing at the Grateful Dead ranch (I shit you not).
In the years to come, I actually got to see Sebastian play live a few times, and was always impressed with his good humor and performing style.
It wasn’t until the late 80’s, when a guy I worked with passed on a box of LPs from his older brother that I discovered that the Lovin’ Spoonful were a wee bit more sophisticated than I knew.
One of the songs that blew my mind – along with ‘Darling Be Home Soon’ and ‘Coconut Grove’ – was ‘Six O’Clock’.
I think one of the reasons the Spoonful weren’t a much bigger deal – or at least aren’t regarded as such 40 years on – has a lot to do with their relatively short existence. Troubled by drug busts, deportation and rumors of police collaboration that killed their rep in the underground, the Spoonful, like the Buffalo Springfield, only kept it together for a few years. During that short time they managed to record everything from jugband blues to sunshine pop to Beatle-esque marvels like ‘Six O’Clock’ (which was actually a Top 20 hit), yet today, due no doubt to the extremely narrow scope of “oldies” radio, all anyone ever hears are those few hits I mentioned before.
Anyway, sometime after I got hip to the deeper side of the Spoonful, I was out digging, and happened upon a couple of LPs that looked to have serious “Now Sound” potential. Only one of these paid off, that being ‘A Spoonful of Lovin’ by the oddly named Artie Schroeck Implosion. This LP was an easy/soft pop reworking of highlights from the Spoonful catalog, but unlike many such records (and I can assure you there were hundreds) ‘A Spoonful of Lovin’ was actually pretty good.
Artie Schroeck – who a cursory Google shows to have settled in Las Vegas – spent the better part of the 60’s working in New York as an arranger and keyboardist on a wide variety of session, which just happened to include stops with a lot of pop/Now Sound artists like Kenny Rankin, the Left Banke, Cowsills, Spanky & Our Gang, Jackie & Roy and oddly enough, the Lovin’ Spoonful themselves.
I have no idea how he ended up arranging an entire LP of Lovin’ Spoonful songs, but I suspect it had a lotto do with the Verve label attempting to cash in on the success of the band. Where ‘A Spoonful of Lovin’ differs from so many similar projects, is that Schroeck appears to have had an affinity for rock and pop sounds. The lush “easy” sound of many of the tracks is regularly spiced with fuzz guitars, electronic keyboards and the like.
My fave track on the LP is the ASI’s cover of ‘Six O’Clock’. Schroeck adds some nice baroque pop touches here and there, including what sounds like a flute played through a Leslie speaker.
The original version by the Lovin’ Spoonful is really a marvel. There’s a rawness to Sebastian’s normally buttery voice (especially in the chorus) that contrasts nicely with the psyche-pop vibe of the instrumental backing. The tune hails from the bands fourth album ‘Everything Playing’ in 1968, after which Sebastian left the band and headed for that tire swing in Marin County.
Hope you dig it.
Peace
Larry

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*Anyone out there know of a source for a DVD copy of this film? Drop me a line if you do.

Buy the Best of the Lovin’ Spoonful – at Amazon.com

The Animals – I’m Gonna Change the World

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The Animals

Listen – I’m Gonna Change the World- MP3

Howdy.
I hope everyone had a cool weekend (literally and figuratively) and your ready for a little bit of heat.
One of the first records I ever sought out back when I was round about 13 was the mid-70’s Abcko ‘Best of the Animals’.
Like a zillion other people, the first Animals tune I heard and fell in love with was of course ‘House of the Rising Sun’.
A little bit further down the road I was watching a French movie on PBS (the title of which has long since slipped from my fevered brain), in which a group of teenagers gathered in a friends room to play records. The first record they put on blew my mind, and it wasn’t until weeks later – while listening to WCBS-FM – that it was identified for me as ‘It’s My Life’ by the Animals.
That was the song that I was searching for when I grabbed the ‘Best of…’ from a stall at the Englishtown Flea Market (known locally as ‘The Auction’). Oddly enough, if memory serves I bought that record from a weird old hippie dude (with a dog named Satan) who I ended up working for briefly a few years later.
Anyway….
That LP became – along with the old Best of Cream (the one with the vegetables on the cover), and my Beatles albums – a cornerstone of my musical growth.
Some years later, during my 80’s garage punk period I became acquainted with the later period, psyched out Animals of ‘Sky Pilot’, ‘Monterey’ and ‘San Franciscan Nights’.
Flash forward 20 years, and aside from a few old 45s and the CD re-ish of the ‘psychedelic’ Anmals stuff, I realized that I didn’t have any of their old-school bangers, so I went looking. I ended up grabbing a cool 2-CD EMI comp* which included the best of their bluesy stuff, as well as their early pop-slanted singles like ‘It’s My Life’.
The biggest surprise for me in that set was a tune that I had never heard before, which it turns out was the b-side of the song that made me seek out the Animals in the first place some 30 years before.
That tune – and today’s selection – was ‘I’m Gonna Change the World’.
This is one of those tunes that just about lit my ears up and required immediate multiple replays.
The best Animals records – for me anyway – are those cuts where they still have roots in the John Lee Hooker covers of their breakout 45s, but are reaching into the pop void and – like so many pickup bands in garages all over America – were stumbling upon the fusion that would become known as 60’s punk.
Written by Eric Burdon, the tune has a great guitar riff, pumping combo organ and gruffly delivered socially charged lyrics.
It’s a killer.
Peace
Larry

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Buy – the Complete Animals – at Amazon.com

*By the sound of the MP3 you may surmise correctly that I have since gotten a copy of this particular 45….

The Genius of Droopy Dog (and the wolf, man….)

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Tex Avery’s Droopy Dog

Greetings all.
I come to you this evening, tired after another week strapped to the wheel, yet ready and raring to drop the gospel of Droopy Dog.
As I mentioned previously, I’ve spent a good deal of time watching old-school animation (sometimes very old, i.e. Ub Iwerks) with my 3 ½ year old son. This has included a wide variety of “golden era” Warner Brothers – including Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Daffy Duck etc – Friz Freleng’s Pink Panther and Ant & the Aardvark, Bullwinkle and Rocky and Mr Magoo.
Some of these, the WB and Pink Panther shorts have had an instant appeal for my son, not to mention my own enjoyment, partly nostalgia but mostly appreciation of a bygone art form in its greatest days.
Others, like Bullwinkle (not physical enough, humor too cerebral/hip) and Magoo (an abstract premise lost on a toddler) have been less popular.
One recent acquisition – one I was waiting for eagerly – that has been a big hit with both of us, is the reissue of the MGM ‘Droopy’ theatrical shorts.
The brainchild of the brilliant Tex Avery, ‘Droopy’ was not only a great showcase for Avery’s post-Warner Brothers work, but also hilarious (would you expect any less?).
The set (two DVDs at a great price) has been a revelation for a few reasons.
I had seen many of the Droopy shorts over the years, but never enough to witness the evolution of the character, and the animation styles in which his exploits were framed.
The earliest shorts, dating from the mid-40’s are filled with Avery’s innovative visual comedy, gags layered upon gags, upon gags, so many that it takes multiple viewings to pick up on them all. The character of Droopy is a touch undeveloped (more in the visual sense, as his actual character is pretty rudimentary and changed little over the course of the series, which lasted until 1958.
The plots basically involved the laconic Droopy driving a much more animated nemesis (two different wolves and a bulldog) insane with frustration. As the series progressed, the first wolf – an encapsulation of the male id with his eyes and tongue flying out at the sight of a dancing girl – gradually disappeared, to be replaced by the Irish brogued bulldog (usually Spike or Butch) and one of my all-time favorite animated characters, the nameless, perpetually non-plussed wolf (often punctuating his sentences with a dry “..man.” )with a civil war kepi on his head, his hands in his pockets and a drawl like molasses on a cold day.
When the southern wolf appeared, the manic flavor or the earlier shorts was dialed down a notch, fine-tuning an already amazing cartoon.

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Listen to a sample of the wolf from ‘Blackboard Jumble’

The wolf – voiced by the legendary Daws Butler (who would take a variation on this voice and turn it into Huckleberry Hound) – became the axis on which these cartoons turned. He would saunter into the frame, whistling the Civil War folk tune ‘Jubilao’, stop, drop some dry observation and continue on, heading for almost certain doom.
Unlike the original wolf, this character is much more sympathetic, acting as the victim more than a villain. No matter what he does (and it is rarely done with malice) he is confounded by Droopy (or as is the case in a few cartoons like ‘The Three Little Pups’ and ‘Blackboard Jumble’, multiple Droopys), often to the point of physical injury.
The cool thing is, no matter how many times he is blown up or otherwise assaulted, the wolf (almost) never loses his cool, trying again and again.

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Occasionally – as in ‘Blackboard Jumble’ – the wolf is presented as a sympathetic character. He arrives at a one room schoolhouse, just as the teacher – driven insane by his charges – is running away. The wolf decided that people are too tough on kids, and all that is needed to remedy the situation is a little understanding. Of course, soon after he enters the classroom, chaos ensues until at the end of the cartoon, the once patient wolf is also driven insane and bounces off over the horizon.
All told, the “southern” wolf only appears in three of the shorts, but they are some of the finest things that Avery and his lead animator Michael Lah ever did.
Lah, who worked with Avery on most of the shorts, and took over after Avery left MGM, directing (or co-directing) the series from 1955 to 1958 (this period coinciding with Hanna/Barbera taking over as producers from Fred Quimby).
Many of these later Droopy cartoons are absolute works of genius. The look of the shorts is beautiful (they were presented in Cinemascope) and the animation style has a much smoother feel.
I’ve always loved the Disney “look” of the 50’s and 60’s, and I would go as far as to say that these Cinemascope ‘Droopy’s are better looking than almost anything from Disney or Warners in the same period. There are moments in these shorts where the richness of the color is positively lysergic (BRAVO! to whoever restored these for reissue). Watching these feels like seeing them on the big screen.
The end result is that in this set – the second disc especially – are some of the finest cartoons ever made, by anyone, period.
I plan on spending some more time watching them this weekend.
Peace
Larry

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The Holy Mackerel – Love For Everyone

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The Holy Mackerel

Paul Williams 2nd from left (as if you didn’t know…)

Listen – Love For Everyone – MP3

Greetings.

I hope everyone is well, and digging the new Funky16Corners Radio mix.

If you -like me – are in the Northeast US, I also hope you’re staying cool. I work late on Mondays, and on my way home tonight it was still 86 degrees. JEEBUS!

Today’s selection is a bit of Sunshine Pop from the early years of a very talented cat, who, if you are less than 35 years old, may be unknown to you. That man is Paul Williams.

Now, if you’re my age (44…cough, cough…) Williams was all over the place during your childhood, as a singer, songwriter and actor. An unforgettable physical presence – he was the very essence of elfin – Williams was all over the pop culture landscape, but was first and foremost a songwriter. He co-wrote (with Roger Nichols) ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’, and on his own penned ‘Fill Your Heart’ (recorded first by Tiny Tim, and later by David Bowie) as well as ‘Just an Old Fashioned Love Song’ for Three Dog Night, and…wait for it….here it comes….’Evergreen’ for Barbra Streisand.

Williams early years are less well known, but musically well worth checking out. He had been signed to (and dropped from) a composers contract with White Whale records. In the wake of that misadventure, he formed a band (which included his brother) called the Holy Mackerel.

The Holy Mackerel recorded one full length album in 1968 for A&M, which is a lost gem of late-60′s, LA-based pop. Their eponymous LP – which is available as a reissue – was a great mix of pure pop, psychedelia, and Laurel Canyon hippie country.

Not long after I picked up the reissue (and kept it in heavy rotation for a while) I managed score an OG copy of the LP, and soon after that the 1969 non-LP 45 that included ‘Love For Everyone’. The mixture I described above is distilled perfectly in this tune, which includes twangy guitar, rich harmonies and even a touch of psyched-out whimsy in leading into the chorus.

Oddly enough when the Lp was reissued they omitted this excellent tune, so here you have it.

If you dig the vibe herein (late 60′s pop/soft rock in general) I highly recommend Williams 1971 LP ‘Someday Man’ (also in reissue) which includes a number of excellent songs, but especially his own version of ‘Trust’, which had previously been recorded by the Peppermint Trolley Company, and Roger Nichols and a Small Circle of Friends (Nichols co-wrote every song on ‘Someday Man’).

Dig it.

Peace
Larry

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PS I haven’t really gotten together a backlog of material for inclusion at Iron Leg yet, thus the absence of a label scan. When I carve out a little work time, I’ll stockpile some stuff for future use, and get a scan for this one posted. – L

Buy – The Holy Mackerel – at Amazon.com

Buy – Someday Man – at Amazon.com

Locals Only!!! – The Motifs – If I Gave You Love

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The Motifs

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Listen – The Motifs – If I Gave You Love – MP3

Greetings.

I hope everyone is having an excellent summer weekend.

Today’s post is the first in a series (of no set interval) of local (i.e. confined to NJ) music, mostly of the 60′s garage variety.

I decided to start off with one of my faves by a local (very, I grew up one town over) band, Freehold, NJs Motifs.

The Motifs were one of the bigger local bands (one of the few to actually record and release a 45), playing local teen clubs, dances etc. Their ranks included bassist Vinnie Roslin (an original member of the Sierras, later to morph into the Castiles, a group that featured one Bruce Springsteen), singer Walter Cichon (and his brother, I think) and Murray Bauer.

Managed by local musician/entrepreneur Norman Seldin, the released their sole 45 for his Selsom* records in let 1965/early 1966. Seldin would also record with his own band, The Soul Set.

‘If I gave You Love’ is textbook garage defiance with wailing (slightly off kilter) harp, an inspired/shambolic guitar solo and heavily reverbed vocals. The flip ‘Molly’ is more of a novelty effort, but is not without its own rough, Central Jersey charm (I’ll feature it in a future post).

This was comped back in the 80′s on ‘Open Up Your Door Vol2′.

So, I hope you dig it, and watch for more in the coming weeks.

Peace
Larry

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*Selsom released 45s by local soul groups the Valtairs (later the Street People) and the Uniques, who later recorded a couple of 45s for MGM as the Broadways. One of their members, Billy Brown went on to record with the Moments.

PS If anyone has a line on a copy of the Storytellers 45 on Trystero (or at least a recording of its b-side), drop me a line. The same goes for the Hallmarks 45 on Smash.

The Racial Politics of Mr. Magoo

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E Tu Magoo??

Bet you never thought you’d see a blog post with a title like that.
I’m actually only half serious dropping a line like that, but allow me to explain.
In the last few years I’ve had a lot of fun introducing my son (who’s now 3 ½) to the joys of classic cartoons.
As you might expect, a toddler approaches cartoons from a sort of primitive perspective, in which verbal comedy generally takes a back seat to physical humor, and even then some of that is lost on him:

Miles: “Daddy, what happened?”

Me: “Um, the roadrunner just blew up the coyote with a bomb.”

Miles: “???”


Despite the communication gap, he loves Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig and Daffy Duck, which says something about the timeless quality of the Warner Brothers canon.
Here we have cartoons, some of them well over 60 years old, filled with what in 1940 were timely jokes/references, as well as a host of meaningful musical cues that although the tunes are ingrained in our collective memory, the musical puns behind them are lost on all but the senior citizens among us*.
But they’re still funny as hell.
It reminds me of watching the better Marx Brothers films, which are so heavily layered with visual and verbal gags that it’s nearly impossible to catch them all on the first viewing. This has the benefit of providing comedy nourishment through multiple sittings, but also widening the appeal of the film for audiences applying varied levels of scrutiny, i.e. little kids (with limited context) will find something to laugh at, as will seasoned adults to whom the comedic archetypes of Groucho, Harpo and Chico have become familiar.
One of my favorite cartoons when I was a regular Saturday morning cartoon viewer was the ‘Pink Panther’.
Created by the DePatie/Freleng studio (that’s ‘Friz’ Freleng, one of the cornerstones of golden era Warner Brothers animation), the Pink Panther – along with it’s companion features ‘The Ant & the Aardvark’ and ‘The Inspector’ – which started out as an Oscar-winning theatrical short, went on to a couple of brilliant, largely dialogue-free, TV seasons**.
When these were first released on DVD (a tip here, avoid the boxed set and pick up the first three individual volumes which are available for around $10 each) I picked them up, and Miles promptly fell in love with them (‘Pink Pink Panther Daddy!’). Thanks to tons of great sight gags, as well as the pronounced absence of dialogue, they work as well for a toddler as they do for a case of arrested development like me.
So why am I telling you this?
On a recent trip to the Gigantico-Enormous Warehouse Store, my lovely wife spotted the recently released DVD boxed set of the early-60’s ‘Mr. Magoo’ cartoons.
Magoo first appeared in a 1949 short, and repeatedly through the 50’s in similar shorts (one of which one an Oscar) until UPA created a TV series in 1960.
The shorts from this series were repeated liberally through the 60’s and early 70’s, as well as the slightly later and longer form ‘Famous Adventures of Mr Magoo’ cartoons in which Magoo popped up in a bunch of literary and historical contexts (i.e. as Ishmael in ‘Moby Dick’, or as Robinson Crusoe).
One of my longtime pals – who is a half decade my senior and shares my love for 60’s pop culture – and I have often discussed the humor of these Magoo cartoons, and have never failed to marvel at the broad racial caricature (that’s the kindest way I can find to put it) of Mr. Magoo’s houseboy Charlie.
Let me take a moment here to address the brilliant comic premise of Mr. Magoo.
He can’t see very well, so he finds himself on a constant state of visual malapropism (i.e. he thinks he’s somewhere he’s not, and, as expected, hilarity ensues), as well as narrowly averting physical destruction over and over again (walking off of girders etc.).
If this were the sole aspect of the UPA Magoo cartoons, all would be well.
However, someone decided that it was necessary to add all kinds of peripheral regulars into Mr. Magoo’s world, including a rich uncle Tycoon Magoo, his butler, Magoo’s Mother and two nephews (one of whom, Waldo did appear in some of the theatrical shorts). However, the only additional character that added any real comedic value was Charlie.
As I said before, Charlie appeared to be Mr. Magoo’s houseboy, driver and Man Friday. Charlie was pretty much there to get clobbered while Mr. Magoo sailed along blissfully unaware that he had been in danger. Unfortunately Charlie, was portrayed as a coolie out of a 19th century penny dreadful about the building of the railroads, with a queue, sandals, hideously pronounced buck teeth and to top it all off (as if this wasn’t already bad enough) an accented pidgin English affect that would have (should have) been considered offensive 50 years earlier.
Case in point (and I have to say, as broad as this dialect is, it gets worse):

Charlie: “OOOOOOH Meesah Magloo, a forring pliano!”
Magoo: ‘Oh, Charlie….”
Piano: BANG!!
Charlie: (crushed under piano) “Awwww Meesah Magloo….”
Magoo: (chuckling warmly) “Oh Charlie, what are you up to now?”

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Charley

When I was six or seven, this was, of course, hilarious. Cartoons (especially older ones, which filled up much of my viewing time) were filled with broad racial stereotypes, including lazy Mexicans (Speedy Gonzales), a wide selection of simian-featured, thickly brogued Irish cops (any number of Warner Brothers cartoons ex. ‘Ooohh, he’s hidin’ in the stove, is he??’) and inscrutable Orientals (or all three as in the 1960’s Dick Tracy shorts).
These days, my buddy and I can only look back in disbelief at how this was ever considered acceptable.
Herein lies the rub.
Does the Charlie character being funny, make up for the fact that he’s a broadly drawn racial/racist stereotype?
In the long run, not entirely.
There are similarly egregious examples in Bugs Bunny cartoons. In one of the recent boxed sets of ‘Looney Tunes: Golden Collection’, there were a couple of shorts (‘Mississippi Hare’ in particular) in which there were shocking (I’m no shrinking violet, but in context these were shocking) instances of Bugs in blackface, bowing and scraping.
Say what you want about “the times” (the Looney Tunes collections all include a video disclaimer featuring Whoopi Goldberg explaining why these cartoons were offered in their unedited state, offensive elements intact) , and how things have changed, but this stuff was ugly and backward, and unlike a lot of the Mr. Magoo cartoons with Charlie, decidedly unfunny. They were also – fortunately – by and large an aberration in the Warner Brothers canon.
So how do you deal with stuff like this, especially with a little kid?
I’m not sure I do quite yet.
I get something of an easy out, because Miles – as was the case with Bullwinkle & Rocky – doesn’t find Mr. Magoo all that enjoyable because the basic concept that provides the humor is lost on a 3 ½ year old. He just doesn’t find it that funny, and right now (for different reasons) neither do I.
Somewhere down the line, when concepts like racial differences and the ridicule some people found/find in those differences can make any sense to a child (and I wish they didn’t have to), maybe we’ll revisit the topic. Right now, until my DVD of ‘The Inspector’ arrives (as well as the upcoming set of 1930’s Fleischer ‘Popeye’ cartoons) , I suspect we’ll keep the non-offensive WB cartoons, as well as the Pink Panther, and the Ant & the Aardvark in circulation.

Peace

Larry

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*One of the many great experiences growing up with my Pop, was his explanation that many of the musical cues in Warner Brothers cartoons (courtesy of Carl Stalling) were in fact themselves jokes. Much of what kids my age thought of as incidental music, were in fact old Tin Pan Alley tunes where the titles (or unsung lyrics familiar to a 1940’s audience) were part of the on-screen joke. I still run songs by him.

**The later, mid-70’s ‘Pink Panther’ shorts show a decided drop in quality.

PS I should note that the ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection’ box sets (four four-disc sets so far) are all worth picking up, with wonderful prints of the cartoons as well as a ton of extras. Another cheap(er) investment for the cartoon lover are the two volumes of ‘The Cartoons that Time Forgot: The Ub Iwerks Collection’. Iwerks was an original Disney animator (‘Steamboat Willie’ era) who went on to make his own shorts in the 30’s, with musical direction by a pre-Warners Carl Stalling. His ‘Flip the Frog’ shorts are very reminiscent of early Disney, and filled with great sight gags.

Ian & the Zodiacs – The Crying Game

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Ian & the Zodiacs

Listen – The Crying Game – MP3

Greetings.

I figured that for the first music post here at Iron Leg I ought to grab something out of left field (and that I already had digitized…). That selection is a rather uncharacteristic number by one of the (unjustly) dim lights of the British Beat era, Ian & the Zodiacs.

Formed in Liverpool, Ian and the Zodiacs – like the Creation a few years later – were much bigger on the continent (especially Germany) than they were in the UK.

I first got into them back in my garage punk days because of two particularly intense, punky sides, ‘Why Can’t It Be Me’ (an absolute proto-punk epic with a monumental guitar riff) and ‘Na Na Na Na Na’.

It was years later when I happened upon their version of ‘The Crying Game’, which coincidentally happens to be one of my favorite ballads. I – like most people – first became aware of the song when it was used in the movie of the same name (and rerecorded, not too shabbily, by none other than Boy George). The original hit version of the song was by Dave Berry, another Beat era cat who was fairly huge in the UK and Europe but never really hit over here in the States.

My favorite version of the tune (which I have to dig out and digitize) is a cover by Brenda Lee (I shit you not), which takes the built in melodrama of the song and ratchets it up exponentially to the point where it seems as if the turntable is about to burst into tears.

The Ian and the Zodiacs version is a little rougher around the edges than the Berry original, and actually bumps up the tempo a little, edging into slow-dance territory.

Either way it’s a great record.

A few years back there were a bunch of reissues of Ian & the Zodiacs LPs for the Star Club label, but as far as I can tell they appear to be out of print.

Peace
Larry

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Stardust The Super Wizard!

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Greetings once again, or more likely for the first time, since I doubt anyone’s been here except for little ole me….
I have to start this entry by stating that I was never a comic book kid. This is not to say that I never read comic books, but rather that I never developed any lasting connection to comic books or the characters therein, like so many people I know.
Back in the day, when I was in those prime “comic book years” – right on the cusp of adolescence – the stuff I was drawn to was on the oddball end of the spectrum, with either a supernatural bent (like the Twilight Zone comic digests) or oddball stuff from the bigger publishers like Power Man & Iron Fist.
Now – as two of the tattoos on my arms will attest – I was enamored of comic book characters (i.e. Batman), but only via their video incarnations. When I checked out Batman comics later in life – both the early Bob Kane stuff as well as modern incarnations – I was shocked to discover that they lacked all of the pop art genius and campy fun of the TV series. When I think of the Joker I prefer Cesar Romero’s wild card as opposed to the criminally insane villain of the comics (same goes for all the stock Batman bad guys).
As an adult (using the term as loosely as possible) I got into comics, but only in the artsy, post-modern underground stuff (like Dan Clowes genius ‘Eightball’, and Peter Bagge’s ‘Hate’) and the reprints of the dark Japanese ‘Lone Wolf & Cub’. These allowed me to experience high quality cartooning (a “profession” I once yearned to follow) and retain my own version of alt-slack snob appeal, where I got to sit back and chuckle condescendingly at guys my age that were still reading Spiderman.
Years went by – in which my prized collection of ‘Eightball’s disappeared during some move or other – and I started to wander by the “graphic novel” section of the local book barn. If memory serves this was spurred on by a review of a graphic novel (I don’t remember which one) in which the book in question had been hailed as a kind of ‘anti-comic’, i.e. a book, illustrated in a comic book style, but with a much heavier story (non-superhero in nature) and a more adult storytelling style.
The first graphic novel I remember really digging was ‘Blankets’ by Craig Thompson, and then a little later Chris Ware’s ‘Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth”. Both of these were at least as “heavy” as any non-pictorial novel, and I found myself captivated by authors who were able to deliver a plot in both words and pictures.
Since then, I’ve made an effort to check out new graphic novels when I can find them (the local comic book emporium, where I used to grab ‘Eightball’ and other like books pretty much only features slick “novelizations” of Marvel/DC superhero stuff, wherein the graphic novel’s co-optation of the comic world had been re-co-opted).
Some of these, like Warren Ellis’  ‘Fell’ have delivered excellent storytelling along with edgy visuals. Others, like ’30 Days of Night’ (both beautifully illustrated by Ben Templesmith) read more like an inflated screenplay fragment.
Last month, completely on impulse I picked up Joann Sfar’s ‘Vampire Loves’, which led me to pick up ‘The Rabbi’s Cat’ (amazing) ‘Little Vampire Goes to School’, ‘Klezmer’ (all written and illustrated by Sfar) and ‘The Professors Daughter’ which was written by Sfar but illustrated by Emmanuel Guibert.
Sfar’s loose and wonderfully inked visual style is paired with real talent for storytelling.
Anyway…here I am in the middle of a major graphic novel “phase”, really digging the interesting things that artists are doing with comics these days, when I happen upon a strange and twisted relic of the early years of comic book art.
Thanks once again to the folks over at Boing Boing, I was hepped to a new collection of the long-forgotten work of the twisted mind (and pen) of Fletcher Hanks.
Not much is known about Hanks, other than he wrote and drew some of the weirdest comics ever committed to low quality newsprint back in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s.
The best of his work is collected in the new Fantagraphics collection I Shall Destroy All The Civilized Planets’, edited by Paul Karasik.
To say that Hanks’ worldview was “unusual” would be a drastic understatement. Had this not been originally published commercially, I would go as far as to classify him as an “outsider” artist. His artwork, while unlike much of what we consider to be ‘classic’ comic art, isn’t exactly crude, but has a kind of grotesqueness to it that sets it apart. While the likelihood is that Hanks was trying to work in an accepted style, there’s a real weirdness to his drawings (of heroes and villains alike) that looks like someone took one of those back page novelty ads (selling x-ray specs, hot pepper gum and the like) and expanded it into an entire comic book.
That said, Hanks was not an untalented artist, as there are many examples in his stories or beautifully designed panoramas in a single frame.
Now, if Hanks’ art was the only issue here, he would have probably remained in the dustbin of comic history. Because as odd as his pictures are, they pale in comparison to the twisted nature of his stories.
It helps to start with his “main” character, one Stardust the Super Wizard, whose name alone would be enough to draw most people in. Stardust, “whose vast knowledge of interplanetary science has made him the most remarkable man that ever lived” (I shit you not) is a giant from space that bears an uncanny resemblance to Buster Crabbe as ‘Flash Gordon’, is Flash had been a professional wrestler instead of a spaceman. The plots of the Stardust comics (eight of which are included in the collection, along with Hanks lesser creations like Fantomah: Mystery Woman of the Jungle – coincidentally the “most remarkable woman that ever lived” – Big Red McLane – a massive avenging lumberjack (?!?) and Buzz Crandall) bear the marks of what I would charitably call a monolithic imagination.
The plots can be broken down as follows:
a. Some gang of internationally minded racketeers (many of whom, including ‘Slant Eyes’ seem heavily ethnicized) cooks up a cockamamie plot to take over the earth, or more specifically the wealth therein, by either disabling, or completely doing away with literally everyone else in the world.
b. Their dastardly plot is set in motion, wherein multitudes of innocent folk are annihilated
c. Stardust the Super Wizard (safely tucked away on his private asteroid) gets wind of the plot and hurtles toward earth in his “transparent tubular special”, never before the huge casualty count, but always just before the completion of the evil plot
d. Stardust manages to concoct some unbelievable convoluted (but surprisingly apt) punishment for the lead villain that usually includes a truly odd and often sadistic twist (note the Dick Cheney-esque visage of the manrat below…)

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The writing, which is stilted but wholly original is really the best thing about these comics. The world domination plots all presage the James Bond vibe by decades, with each gang of evildoers in possession of some ray, bomb or superweapon, that they always take the time to explain in excruciating detail before putting it into use. The stories are filled with expository asides that boggle the mind, such as:

“Stardust carries artificial lungs that enable him to breathe safely, under any condition – He uses new spectral rays, that can make him invisible, or as bright as the sun –He wears a flexible star-metal skin, controlled through rays from a distant sun and rendering him indestructible by chemicals, or by electrical or violent force.”

That, and the fact that Stardust the Super Wizard (it’s fun saying the whole name, n’est ce pas?) seems – in the style of Courageous Cat – to have a weapon up his sleeve for any occasion, including a suspending ray, fusing ray, gravity control ray, disintegrating ray, panoramic concentration unit, simplified television unit and the eerily Nietzschian “superiority ray” (also used by Fantomah).
This is heavily weird stuff, and I recommend it highly to fans of all strange things.
Weirder still is the afterword (in comics form) where Karasik tracks down Hanks’ son, who reveals that the artist (the son was unaware that his father had ever drawn comic books) was a psychotic, wife-beating drunk who froze to death on a park bench, sometime in his 90’s (?!?), and oddly enough never worked in comics again after 1941.
Crazy stuff.

Peace
Larry

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PS That’s Stardust the Super Wizard in the logo up on top….

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