Father came to Minneapolis / On his great white iron pony / Came to see the sights of autumn /came to see if son need loan, he / came with us to park of dog play / where the ground has sand like Baja / Came to see the water flowing / in the place called Minnehaha
Really, Minnehaha Falls, the place from “Song of Hiawatha,” that interminable poem with the maddening meter of the previous paragraph. Today:
It was as perfect a day as you can imagine, almost 70. Seventy! He just drove down for the day, and we went to the dog park to let Scout gambol and watch the planes land, then wandered over to the Falls where he buttonholed two guys wearing NDSU garb to talk about how great the Bison were. Because they are great and undefeated. Go Bison!
After piano on Friday, Daughter wanted to get a sketch book. Maybe we could stop at Walgreens? Nay, child: you should have proper tools. We will go to a real art store. We shall go . . . to DICK BLICK.
I’d never been there, but the name amused me for juvenile reasons, I suppose. She was in awe when we walked in: so - much - paint - so - many - colors. I could tell just by looking at her that she was thrilled by the hues, the canvases, the wonderful potential of everything, all that art just waiting to be liberated from their containers. This Christmas’ gifts will be no problem.
Then: Goodwill. The good Goodwill, which is in the ‘burbs in a place that used to house Seasonal Concepts. They sold patio furniture and the stuff people strew around the house to complete a look or create an atmosphere. Set dressing. No more; tumbled out of existence in the Panic of 08, and was replaced by a Goodwill, which pretty much said it all. She went to look for sweaters. I went to look . . . for records.
Getting the 78 RPM shellac LPs required a turntable. Getting a turntable meant I could play anything. Being able to play and record anything meant . . . a website, right? I mean, I’m not going to throw them up on YouTube and get a copyright ding. I’m not interested in letting YouTube get all the hits and sell ads for something I found and captured. On the other hand, aren’t there thousands of vintage-record sites? Yes: and they all seem to be on blogspot or blogger, with a basic template, and they all stopped updating around 2007. Or so it seems. Some great crackdown, perhaps? Likely. Mysterious deaths, aided by a polonium pellet jabbed in the shin by an umbrella? Less likely, but you never know.
If someone wants to come and get me for posting some tracks from these records, then I will duly comply, but really. C’mon. I'm finding some true gems, and even though I know they're probably all up on YouTube, there's something about handling the old records, getting a whiff of ossified cardboard, putting them up on the site as a weekly treat. But that's next year's site.
Anyway. I have become the Guy Who Goes to Goodwill for Old Records. There was another guy poring over the bins. I did not want to be That Guy. He was about my age, if I had to say, and was pulling out nothing but records from high-school years. And I’m pulling out Mantovani and Dennis Day Sings Christmas Songs with Jack Benny and Walter Schumann. Stuff that came before me. Grandma music, to be cruel, but it wasn’t that at the time. It was music for sophisticated moderns.
Digression: on the comedy satellite radio channel the other day was a Stan Frieberg skit poking fun at Lawrence Welk. I’m not a Frieberg fan; in context I see why he was different, and there’s wit and intelligence in his work. I just don’t care for it much. Whenever he’s on the channel I am reminded of his kid - son? Grandson? - doing encyclopedia commercials on TV. Looked a lot like his progenitor. Nothing objectionable about the kid at all, and if he was my son I’d be proud. But he annoyed the hell out of me. Anyway, Frieberg was lampooning Welk in that parodic style that eschews such predictable things as “gags” or “jokes,” but he did nail the Welk musical style. Growing up I heard it every weekend at the farm, because Grandpa loved Lawrence Welk. (A fellow North Dakota boy, you know.) In my early teens I watched the shows with horror, because they were bright! and banal and horribly arranged, at least to my rock-and-or-Mahler ears. Now I think of those shows, and realize I was absolutely right.
But. The theme song. Bubbles in the Wine. The signal for the kids to leave the room because it was the Geezer Hour, Geritol time. It’s almost impossible to hear it without the baggage: wunnerful, wunnerful; and a one-an-a-two, the bubble machine turned up to 11, sideburn sidemen, lattice columns with plastic vines. But. As a piece of pop music, for the time, this is almost perfection. It’s almost as mechanical as Kraftwerk, and I mean that as a compliment. There’s almost no room for dynamics. But it's almost impossible to unhear all the treacly cliches you read into it . . . possibly because they're already there. It's hard not to think of old people.
It wasn’t always so; in 1939 the tune was a bit more boozy. More to the point: nearly every single frame of this video describes something absent in culture today. The clothes, the instruments, the unspoken imperative to behave, the dances.
Not saying I want to live there, but I’d kill to visit it.
END OF DIGRESSION. I got six records for six bucks. Then we drove to get Friday pizza and went home and ate and had a good conversation, then I started to digitize. I was reminded how much work records are. You can’t just click and hear. Take them out, cue them up, drop the needle. For heaven’s sake you have to go over and flip the platters after five songs. Six records, thirty songs - it’s an inch and a half tall, a foot wide, and it has to go somewhere when it’s done. Unlike digital.
Oh: one of the records made me almost tremble when I saw it. A collection of old-time radio theme songs. Ninety of them. Half the shows I’d never heard of, and don’t show up in the usual sources. Astounding. A lost treasure! I shall bring it back to the world, for the sake of mankind!
Was googling to see if anyone else had it, and yes, of course, it exists elsewhere.
On ITUNES. Of all places. At a buck-and-a-half a track. It would cost about $200 to get all the tracks individually.
I paid a dollar.
Today in the Pumpkinification of Everything, a compendium of cliches:
Victorian home located outside of town for some reason? Check. Pumpkin? Bats? Spiders? Ghosts? Owl? Check. Moon? Check. Bare limbs? Check. Anything new?
A wrought iron spiked fence! All these things make it absolutely Spookylicious, which is exactly the right word for fudge.
Amplification: Frosted fudge.
I don’t know when I fell in love with the Universal Monster Movies, or why I hadn’t been in love with them before. Early on I saw Bride of Frankenstein, and found it fascinating, but I never felt drawn to the rest of them. Oh, sure, “The Invisible Man” would come on, and I’d watch that, and enjoy every frame, but I never connected it to the UMM series, the idea that the studio was the premier brand for chills and spooks and thrills and, when possible, villagers with torches. Just wasn’t interested in monsters per se, and the stuff on afternoon Saturday TV was grim 60s Hammer monster movies, which never appealed.
But then it clicked, for some reason, and now they’re one of my favorite aspects of 30s / 40s culture. I’m no expert. So I had no idea what this next one was about, except that it begins as promisingly as a 1935 chiller can begin:
It is . . .
Huh. Poe. Poe? He had the reputation for being verrry scary, but why? It’s morose and haunted, sure, but you really have to goose the stories up to make them scary for modern audiences. (Except for the pit-and-the-pendulum thing, but we’ll get to that.)
Lugosi is a mad doctor, of course. He is a Poe fan, and as such manages to have raven shadows wherever he might stand.
He is called to fix the neck of a Lovely Young Woman, who was in a car accident. Brilliance being the obvious handmaiden of madness, he fixes her up and she’s just peachy and he basks in the knowledge that she regards him as - as a god! A god among men! Well, she’s just being polite. But won’t you come to my show, now that my neck is healed and I’m dancing again? I think you’ll like it.
Because . . . it’s a dance adaptation of the Raven.
She's Leonore. Or a Raven. Or both!
Irene Ware. Imdb bio:
For her next ten outings with Fox, she was destined for ornamental second leads in bad pictures or barely glimpsed in uncredited bits in average ones. When her contract expired in 1934, she signed with Universal but fared no better. Her single role of note saw her paired with Lugosi once again, this time as a dancer obsessed over by a maniacal Poe-fixated surgeon in The Raven (1935).
Reviews called this "the season's worst horror film", and a tepid affair it definitely was. Irene's performance may have been one of few redeeming qualities, her Jean Thatcher being rather less annoyingly helpless and fragile than the typical heroines of the genre. "The Raven" spelled the end of her career. In its aftermath came B-movies with Poverty Row outfits like Monogram and Invincible. In 1940, Irene Ware called it quits and faded into obscurity, to be seen in pictures ‘nevermore'.
Reviews were wrong, but never mind.
The Mad Doctor is transfixed. He must have her, even though she is betrothed to another swain, but what are such bothers to - to a GOD? Still, there’s the question of how. Oh, his entire house is constructed above a series of torture chambers, but that’s not satisfying enough. Lucky for him, a criminal walks into the house, asking for plastic surgery. He’s done bad things and wants to change his face, because when a man’s told all his life he’s ugly, he gets mean inside.
Karloff. The Mad Doctor says sure, I'll fix your face . But you have to do bad things for me first. . The criminal says he doesn’t want do that anymore. He’s really not that kind of guy.
And there you have what makes this short, tidy little monster movie an delight. Lugosi hams the hell out of every moment, and you can’t take your eyes off him. Karloff underplays and hunches and makes his criminal the sole figure of sympathy in the film. You know when the Mad Doctor says he’ll fix his face he’s got something else in mind: why, if I make him uglier, he’ll do uglier things.
So there is An Operation. There is a tense bandage-cutting sequence:
So how do I look, Doc?
Got a mirror?
He doesn’t take it well. He grabs a roscoe and shoots out the mirrors while Lugosi, observing from a trap door, laughs with sadistic delight. And listen for Karloff’s last utterance:
Well, it’s time to get a bunch of swells over to be tortured one by one, including the Leonore girl’s dad, and her fiancee, and heck, her as well, what the heck, as long as we’re finally using all the torture gear let’s make a night of it.
One of the guests is the father of the hero of Grand Budapest Hotel:
Not really, but I had to smile, because I’m pretty sure he’s the only person in this movie who later appeared in Star Trek.
Well, eventually someone’s strapped to the ol’ Pendulum. I saw one of those in a Hammer film as a kid and it scared the hell out of me.
It’s quite modern, too.
You may ask: are there dials and levers and electrical things? Yes:
Note also that Karloff’s posture anticipates the Lurch of Charles Addams cartoons. If he doesn’t look happy here, it’s because he’s not quite on board with this:
Girl and Swain are put in a room where THE WALLS ARE COMING TOGETHER. Well, you know where this is going, and you’re surprised to find it got there as quickly as if did.
Not in the top UMM tier. Not in the lower third, either. Middle of the pack for the middle tier. Worth it for Lugosi. He’s just nuts.
See you around the usual places; don't forget to hit the Matchbooks. But gently.