Friday, August 31, 2007

"Baby, Let's Be Methodists Tonight"

What the early 1990s wrought, in addition to the Clintons and the Internets, was a plethora of satirical, acoustic alt-rock parodies of Christianity. Among them: "No Resistin' a Christian" by the litigious Violent Femmes bassist Brian Ritchie, which appeared on the late 1991 SST Acoustic compilation and the far more amusing "Baby, Let's Be Methodists Tonight" by Fish Karma, from 1991's Teddy in the Sky with Magnets. I first heard Fish Karma's tune on a college radio station sometime in the early 1990s, although I never caught the name of the artist. Time was, when a radio listener would catch a snippet of an interesting song on the radio, he could not simply race home, Google the lyrics, and determine the tune's title or artist. I assumed though, from its refrain, that the song's title was "Baby, Let's Be Methodists Tonight." I remember laughing with a friend as we heard the following over the car stereo:
M is for the meat loaf I'll eat every Wednesday,
E is for entropy, I don't know what that means,
T is for the tempo I'll drive to work,
H is for the hours I'll spend working on my putt,
O is for oat meal, orange juice and oregano,
D is for the dishwasher singing in the morning,
I is for the ice cube maker in my freezer,
S is for the spice wracks nailed to the wall,
T is for the trump card that I'll play, when I'm doing contact bridge with all my friends and neighbors, AAAH!
We referenced the "entropy" line for weeks and weeks until it ultimately fell from our memory, as such things inevitably do. Years later, the lyrics resurfaced in my mind, and I turned to the search engines to discover the band that had years earlier released the song. The Internets offered little information on Fish Karma, but I managed to determine the album on which the song appeared and somehow found a copy on eBay for an acceptable price.

Unlike Jethro Tull, "Fish Karma" is the name of a guy in the band, albeit it an alias for Terry Owen. Produced by Mojo Nixon and released on Triple X Records, Teddy in the Sky with Magnets managed to snag a single paragraph review in the November 1991 issue of Playboy:
Fish Karma intermittently suffers from obviousness on teddy in the sky with magnets (Triple X). Anyone who ridicules working-class culture by mentioning K mart, as in Swap Meet Women, can make no claim to unadulterated originality. I nonetheless like his song titles (e.g., Baby, Let's Be Methodists) and his free association: "Love is like a large piece of cheesecloth attached to a revolving bowling ball covered with fructose and postage stamps."
(Far be it from me to correct sixteen year old typographical errors, but the Playboy review, by one Charles M. Young, misnames "Swap Meet Woman" and truncates the final word from the title of "Baby, Let's Be Methodists Tonight," oversights which were probably noticed that year only by Fish Karma himself.). In the album's very brief liner notes, he offers special thanks to Ronnie James Dio (to whom he would later pay tribute in "Poodlecide" [MP3 excerpt from Deep Shag Records] in 2001) and Jello Biafra, who would later describe Fish Karma's music as "your basic FUGS-style electric grunge folk, and his lyrics feature some of the meanest put-downs of American consumer culture I've heard in years." After two more albums in the 1990s, Fish Karma released Lunch with the Devil on Deep Shag Records in 2001 and The Theory of Intelligent Design on Biafra's Alternative Tentacles label in 2006.

Fish Karma dabbled at blogging, apparently, but his blog is now long deceased. A email to him asking about the "Baby, Lets Be Methodists Tonight" went unanswered.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

"The Ballad of Alice Cooper"'

Above: The cover of Alice Cooper's 1989 "Trash" album.

Any indie credibility I may still retain will be forever lost with this admission: In 1990, I bought, and very much enjoyed, Jon Bon Jovi's Blazy of Glory, the album of music released in conjunction with and "inspired" by the film Young Guns II. I was fourteen years old.

There is a story to the album. Originally, the producers wanted to use Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive" (from his band's 1986 Slippery When Wet album) for the soundtrack of the Brat Pack cowboy sequel. This was not to be. In a 1990 interview, Jon Bon Jovi recounted how his soundtrack-album came to be:
Though I was quite flattered, I realized that the lyrics didn't fit this movie, and that I would have to write something that was lyrically correct . . . When our tour ended in February, I went to the set (of 'Young Guns II' in Santa Fe, N.M.) with the song, 'Blaze of Glory' in hand and played it for the stars of the movie as well as the producers and director. Then, they gave me the script and I wrote nine more songs.1
Thus was born "Blaze of Glory" (a song still in the popular memory and which was recently performed by contestant Phil Stacey on "American Idol"). Mr. Bon Jovi would consistently deny that this was a solo album (although this was perhaps said only to preserve harmony in his band). During this period, Mr. Bon Jovi fielded many questions about his then-feud with his guitarist Richie Sambora (who earlier in the summer of 1990 had contributed a cover of Jimi Hendrix's "The Wind Cries Mary" to The Adventures of Ford Fairlaine soundtrack and was to release his own solo album, Stranger in this Town, the following year).

On August 13, 1990, Mr. Bon Jovi appeared on the radio program, "Rockline," to promote the new album and presumably, his cameo in the film, which had been released only twelve days before. I remember listening to this broadcast. During the show, he also played an unreleased song he had written about Alice Cooper, who at that time was still riding the waves of success from his 1989 album, Trash, and its hit single, "Poison." Never released commercially, and little known, the song Mr. Bon Jovi played was called "The Ballad of Alice Cooper," though for years, I misremembered its title as "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore," the song's final lyric. Self-referential, and featuring allusions to Cooper's past work, the song stuck in my memory:
Used to be a billion dollar baby
I used to be the eyes that made you scream
Used to be the one that I could talk to
But now there's something else [Alice?], there's you and me
I used to think I really didn't need you
But I used to think that only women bleed
And I ain't gonna cry no more
I've been to hell and back before
Watch me as I walk out the door
Because Alice doesn't live here anymore
(Lyrics courtesy of SickThingsUK). SickThingsUK quotes "Renfield" (actually Cooper's personal assistant Brian Nelson, according to the SickThingsUK webmaster) as saying that both Bon Jovi and Cooper recorded demos of "The Ballad of Alice Cooper."

A number of years ago, I Googled the few lyrics I remembered and rediscovered the tune (an mp3 bootleg of which lurks somewhere on the Internets). During a July 1991 interview with Hot Metal (transcribed in its entirety here at the Alice Cooper eChive), Cooper, promoting his album Hey Stoopid, was asked by an interviewer about the song:
I asked after a song called The Ballad Of Alice Cooper which Jon Bon Jovi once told me he'd written for Alice around the time of Trash, but which didn't make it onto the album.
"It didn't make this album either!" Alice answered, laughing heartily. "And every time I see Jon, he gives me one of these 'Hey, how's the song doin'?' looks and I go...(catches his breath). And it really is a good song! But you know the reason why I can't do it? 'Cause he's talking about me and I really can't do that! I told Jon, 'Jon, it's such a great song, you do it about me, but it's hard for me to sing The Ballad Of Alice Cooper about myself!' We laugh about it every time I talk to him - and for the rest of my life, every time I see him, he's going to ask me when I'm going to do that song!"
One would think that in the era of bonus tracks and repackaged editions of old albums that the demos of this song would have resurfaced as a bonus sometime in the past few years. There is little reference to the tune on the Internet, save for the stray references one would expect on Alice Cooper and Jon Bon Jovi fansites. Someone has posted an mp3 of the song, presumably from the "Rockline" radio appearance, online, but it is of low audio quality. I would say that it is forgotten, but the song never really entered the public imagination, as it was apparently only played publicly the once on a nationally broadcast radio program seventeen years ago.

1. Paul Willistein, "Career Guns Are Blazing for Rocker, Jon Bon Jovi," The Morning Call (Allentown, PA), August 3, 1990.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Iraq War Caused Rush Hour 3?

Jeannette Catsoulis of The New York Times may be overreaching when she speculates why, exactly, American movie-goers seem to flock to atrocious big budget sequels:
Fans who tolerate the repetitiveness and ideological bankruptcy of the “Rush Hour” franchise, for example, may be testaments to the power of hope and a need for familiarity at a time when the Iraq war continues unabated, pensions and polar ice disappear, and Al Qaeda videos enjoy wider distribution than Sundance winners.1

That hardly explains the success (or existence of) Rush Hour II, released in August of 2001 or, for that matter, the sequel summer of 1989, during which we bore witness to new installments of the Indiana Jones, Lethal Weapon, James Bond, Back to the Future, Star Trek, and Ghostbusters franchises. (Perhaps those films were the result of some lingering feelings of resentment for Vietnam?) Really, there's no meaningful reason to associate the current war fatigue with Hollywood's incessant desire to produce unnecessary sequels unless, of course, you are the type of writer who must find causative association in all such things.

1. Jeannette Catsoulis, "Sequels: Stay Fresh or Die Hard," The New York Times, August 26, 2007.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Violent Femmes Lawsuit

Do you think that in 1980, when the Violent Femmes were formed, that its members ever wondered if they would reach such a level of success that they would be suing each other like the Beatles had only a handful of years beforehand? Earlier this month, VF bassist Brian Ritchie sued vocalist Gordon Gano in what has now become typical for bands of that era: a dispute over royalties. This was widely reported in the music press and on the Internets.

Not skimping on the legal expenses, Ritchie has retained the services of three big firm Texas lawyers to file a federal lawsuit in New York. They are: Stacy Allen, Lawrence A. Waks, and Emilio B. Nicolas of the Austin office of Jackson Walker, L.L.P. (Nicolas, pictured on his profile on the JW website, looks young enough to have been but a toddler at the time of VF's self titled debut album in 1982). Attorney Daniel Scardino is also assisting with the prosecution of the case.

The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero (who has addressed more important issues of the day but is, in fact, no stranger to music industry lawsuits). However, preliminary matters will be addressed by U.S. Magistrate James C. Francis.

Violent Femmes completists (of which there are many, presumably, after all of these years) can review Ritchie's complaint and supporting evidence as follows:

1. Brian Ritchie's Complaint for Declaratory Relief, Equitable Relief, Injunctive Relief and Damages and Demand for Jury Trial (1 of 2) [PDF].
2. Brian Ritchie's Complaint for Declaratory Relief, Equitable Relief, Injunctive Relief and Damages and Demand for Jury Trial (2 of 2) [PDF].
3. Exhibits A and B to the Complaint (Exhibit A is an 11 page list of "Disputed Compositions and Recordings", while Exhibit B is an October 14, 2001 agreement between Ritchie and Gano/Gorno music which Ritchie claims is null and void).
4. Exhibits C, D, and E to the Complaint (Exhibit C is the United States Trademark Registration for the mark "Violent Femmes," Exhibit D is a November 30, 2006 email from Alan N. Skiena to Howard Comart, and Exhibit E is a letter from Skiena to Daniel Scardino).
5. Rule 7.1 Corporate Disclosure Statement of Brian Ritchie d/b/a Violent Femmes [PDF]

You've got to love the fact that Brian Ritchie, who is identified in his complaint as a member of a "folk-punk" outfit, was required to file a "corporate disclosure statement." The real question presented by this lawsuit is not whether Ritchie is greedy or whether Gano is withholding royalties from his longtime bassist. The real issue is whether the judge (or rather, his law clerk) can insert as many references to VF songs in his rulings a la this 1987 judicial opinion in which the same was done for songs by the Talking Heads.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Mission Statement

Will this site's mission be accomplished? Of late, when nostalgia has prompted me to Google this band or that television program, I have found little or no information about the subject at hand. This may be because no one is interested in that particular cultural artifact, or it may be that it was forgotten before the Internet became the repository of all knowledge, including the most frivolous. Perhaps I'm just trying to make myself feel cool and cultured by seeking out the most obscure of things.

These days, most events in popular culture are captured on the Internet, and for those that are poorly received, terrible, or sometimes just not adequately promoted, the evidence of them remains long after they are dismissed and forgotten. But what of those pre-Internet things that were poorly received or dismissed before they had the chance to be preserved on the net?

With this site, I will not merely comment upon my favorite songs, shows, and films. If there is little of note on the Internet about my subject, I plan to perform some original research into the matter and discover what I can about it. On some level, this is what I do for a living at the office with respect to far more tedious topics, so I might as well use those skills here, as well. Even if a subject is adequately discussed elsewhere, I may dig a bit deeper and see what else I can learn about the origins of a particular film or song. I'll probably also reference or review some current albums or programs that are being discussed elsewhere.

But the central purpose of this site will be to seek out information on the artifacts of popular culture that I remember that haven't been adequately covered elsewhere.