March 11, 2012

A Few Pieces of My Childhood Have Died

Filed under: Books,Movies,Music,Real Life — DB @ 2:19 pm

Actually, many pieces of my childhood have died over the years, but I’m referring to the fact that four famous folk who passed away during the last week-and-a-half had a notable presence during my formative years. I feel the need to pay brief tribute.

First, Davy Jones. I watched The Monkees frequently as a child. It’s been too long for me to remember many specifics other than the opening credits, yet just thinking about the show conjures memories of my first 10 years of life. (Or let’s say, years 6-10. I have no memories of years 1-2, and 3-5 are a blur.) Anyway, I’m not sure what the appeal of the show was when I was so young. What was I getting from The Monkees? Or, now that I think about it, from The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which I adored for some reason? Or The Love Boat? (Actually, I think I know what I was getting from The Love Boat, even at that age).  I suppose Davy, Mickey, Peter and Michael were just silly enough for me to appreciate their antics. And they recorded some pretty great pop songs. I even remember Jones guest starring on The Brady Bunch, my favorite show at the time. (Man, watching the end of that clip – and especially this one – I can’t believe now how many hours of my childhood were spent consuming that show. It is not good…) Needless to say, I was sad to hear last week that Jones died, too young at 66. I cycled through the Monkees songs on my iPod in his honor, and listening to “Daydream Believer,” was reminded of the music video, with its candy-colored striped sets and goofy finale where the bandmates all try to hog the spotlight. Sorry to see you go, Mr. Jones.

Second, Jan Berenstain. I almost didn’t notice this one in the days of post-Oscar hoopla, but I would be remiss not to mention the children’s author who co-created The Berenstain Bears, a favorite of mine when I was little. For some reason, I specifically remember poring repeatedly over The Berenstain Bears’ New Baby and The Berenstain Bears and the Messy Room. Hadn’t thought about these in years, and reading this obituary in The Hollywood Reporter, I was surprised to learn that Jan was still producing new books in the series.

Next, Ralph McQuarrie, the man who designed Darth Vader, C-3PO and so much more of the Star Wars galaxy. He was one of George Lucas’ first and most essential collaborators on Star Wars. The two met a few years before Lucas really began working on the movie, when it was still just a vague idea in his head. According to J.W. Rinzler’s epic tome The Making of Star Wars, McQuarrie had been doing illustrations for Boeing when he met young filmmakers Hal Barwood and Matthew Robbins, who were blown away by his work. When they were working on a sci-fi film of their own, they asked him to do some concept art. McQuarrie joined them for lunch one day with their friend Lucas, and the director remembered him when he started to write Star Wars. He hired McQuarrie to help illustrate a handful of early concepts, and the artist wound up creating some of the most iconic imagery in film history. He based his drawings on Lucas’ script pages, but added his own ideas and details which in turn inspired Lucas. McQuarrie worked on many other famous films and TV shows, and won an Oscar as part of the visual effects team for Cocoon, but his contribution to Star Wars is immeasurable. Here’s a nice article about his passing, from Entertainment Weekly.



Finally, Robert Sherman. Though I undoubtedly heard the name over the years, it wasn’t familiar to me on its own. The headline about his death that I initially read touted him as the songwriter of “It’s a Small World,” but it was seeing he was the man behind the music from Mary Poppins that really got my attention. In reading further, I realized that Sherman and his brother were responsible for tons of great Disney music, including songs from The Jungle Book. I remember the first time I saw Mary Poppins. Couldn’t have been more than five years old (making this one of the few memories from 3-5 that’s not a blur…if my recollection is even correct). It was Thanksgiving, and the movie was playing on TV that evening. My mother told me that I’d really like it, and after dinner she brought me up to the bedroom with the TV, tucked me in and left me to watch while the grown-ups played cards or something and my older brother and cousins did who knows what. And of course, I loved it. What little kid wouldn’t? Flying nannies, chalk paintings you could jump into, rooms that clean themselves (almost), real people walking through a cartoon, and that magical word: supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. I recall my aunt buying me the record album, which had pictures instead of just black vinyl: Mary Poppins and Bert in their “Jolly Holiday” outfits on one side, Bert and the chimney sweeps doing their rooftop dance on the other side. Mary Poppins also taught me an early lesson in the difference between fantasy and reality. My medicine was never delivered with a spoonful of sugar, nor did singing that song help me clean my room. Mary Poppins was a liar…but how could I begrudge one with so sweet a voice?

Lady and gentlemen, I bid you all a fond and grateful adieu.

December 13, 2011

Earworm Attack: Somebody That I Used to Know

Filed under: Music — DB @ 10:32 pm

Friends and family know me as a guy who’s always pretty aware of what’s happening in the world of movies. My annual and insufferable essays about the Oscars are evidence enough of that (only a month or so to go before all that starts up!). But in other areas, I’m quite uninformed or behind the times. Two realms in which this holds most true are music and technology. With technology, I’m usually five years or so behind the curve. Just recently I discovered this nifty little device called the – hang on, let me make sure I have this right – the iPod. The spelling looks wrong, but I guess that’s how they do it. I probably don’t need to explain to you what it is, but I was just floored. I had a great time filling it up with music…mostly the same music I’d already been listening to on compact disc for years. Because I don’t get exposed to a lot of new music either. I rarely listen to the radio, usually just playing CDs in the car, or using this new iPod thing. (“iPod”…that just looks wrong).

Disaster recently struck when the CD player in my car stopped working. I brought the car into the dealer and learned that it would cost between $300 and $400 to replace it. The car is over 11 years old and I’m not putting any more money into it, especially for something non-essential. So I’m now listening to a lot more radio. I basically shuffle between San Francisco’s two rock stations: KFOG and 107.7 The Bone. When one is playing a commercial or something that’s not floating my boat, I switch to the other. I thought it would drive me crazy not having my CD player, but the radio scenario has worked out pretty well. And one silver lining is that I’ve heard some good music that I might not have come across otherwise. Some of it is older stuff that I’d never heard, and some is new.

Now these are mainstream radio stations, so I’m hardly exploring the murky underworld of struggling indie bands. But I recently heard one track that made me feel like I was getting in on something at the ground floor even though I’m probably way behind the times. It seems to be gaining popularity, and has certainly burrowed its way into the depths of my frontal lobe. It’s called “Somebody That I Used to Know,” by Gotye. I’d never heard of this guy. Maybe some of you have. Maybe a lot of you have. Either way, I have to figure that if the song is catching on here, it’s getting play in other major markets as well. Gotye was born in Belgium and raised in Melbourne (the foreign credentials give him instant cred in the music biz, right?). If you want to learn more about him you can visit his Wikipedia page or his website; I’m not gonna do all the work here. Anyway, this song is off his new album, Making Mirrors. It’s available on iTunes (something else iRecently discovered after learning all about the iPod) and his website says it’s out now, though Amazon lists it as due for release on January 31. Luckily it has a video, which I’ve been playing incessantly due to complete inability to expunge the song from my head. This too shall pass, I know. In the meantime, take a look and give a listen. The video is cool and complements the song quite nicely.

One of the things I like about the song is the late, unexpected entrance of the female vocalist, Kimbra. By the time she shows up, you pretty much think you have a handle on the song; that it’s simply a guy’s account of a recent breakup. Then she comes in and makes us reassess what we’ve heard from him. The video finds a cool way to present this visually, not only by revealing her slowly, but by showing her enmeshed in all of his bullshit and then ultimately becoming free of it. Or am I just reading too deep into the pretty colors?


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