Despite my wife’s overwhelming disinterest, one of my dream vacations involves combing the secondary highways of North America and tracking down the most boisterously benign roadside attractions the western world has to offer. I think it’s fantastic when a small town builds a UFO landing site, a massive ball of twine or the world’s largest collection of business convention name tags. It’s like the town can say, “Here – we offer the world this. Nothing else but this.”
I imagine there’s an inherent pride in curating one of these roadside spectacles. You might print out the tiny two-paragraph page on some obscure website like Weird-Iowa.net, then boast to passers-by about the dozens of hits your page has received, proving that the world is truly ready to embrace the magic of the two-headed squirrel corpse you found beside the highway and subsequently placed behind glass in an accurate Civil War-era Confederate uniform replica.
Some towns have pushed a little harder for their morsel of fame – never quite achieving the cosmopolitan status of a two-theatre town but still achieving enough notoriety to merit a two-minute segment on some show on the Travel Channel. For some, this is the pinnacle of their fifteen flickering minutes, and that suits them just fine.
I’ll start with a town I couldn’t possibly visit because it only existed for a very short time, and only for the purposes of one explosion. William George Crush, a passenger agent for the Missouri-Kentucky-Texas Railroad (also known as the Katy to you blues fans), thought it would be a great idea to stage a head-on train collision. Just for fun. Read more…
It’s surprising how often I find myself stopped on the street by a complete stranger – often a fan of my articles and almost always totally imaginary – asking me why I don’t write an article about the Magna Carta. These folks invariably get my mind-wheels turning; all I know about that particular historic document is that it’s generally taught at the beginning of most modern history courses and forgotten about by the time the final exam is written, and that it had something to do with telling the king to be a little bit less of an asshole.
Well, a little bit of actual reading has taught me that this piece of paper very nearly caused a string of domino-ish events that could have led the crown of England on a permanent (inasmuch as anything in history is “permanent”) road trip to France. These people were so pissed off at their king they almost kicked their kingdom’s entire history square in the proverbial nut-sack.
If there is a moral to the story of the First Barons’ War, it might be that if you’re going to try to mellow out your king, you’d probably be better off just beheading him and starting fresh. Maybe the moral here is that partnering with your enemy will come back to bite your ass eventually. As with many snippets of history, it could be that there is no moral – it’s just some stuff that happened.
On June 15, 1215, King John of England was forced to slap the royal seal on something called The Articles of the Barons. This was a lengthy bitch-scroll penned by a number of wealthy British barons who were pissed off at the king’s rotten leadership and his despot-like iron-fist rule of the land. Screw that – these barons worked hard for their wealth (okay, they inherited it. But it took a lot of long hours waiting for their folks to die), and the king still had supreme control over the land. That wouldn’t do. Read more…
When Hollywood scores a hit, we all know they will run it as far into the ground as possible, often forgoing quality and integrity somewhere within the planet’s crust and plunging deep into the molten core with a hot and hungry grab for easy audience bucks. The current crop of superhero / comic book flicks have been fairly consistent, with few features splatting upon the pavement of suckiness, at least since the era of Daredevil and Spider-Man 3. But it’s probably just a matter of time.
The problem as I see it is that we have just as many superhero / comic movies in various stages of production as we have seen released in the last couple of years. Studios have plunged their hands elbow-deep into the sticky pie of superherodom, and if a run of crappy returns happens to tilt the public’s interest away from the genre, they’re going to be in trouble.
We saw five years between Tobey Maguire’s final Spider-Man film and Andrew Garfield’s reboot. Now we’ve got Ben Affleck re-introducing us to Batman (not to mention a new Smallville-like origin story TV series on the way), and the lights on the set of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy are still warm. These movies are still money-printing magic and no one wants to let a valuable property sit still. But Batman movies have not always been a sure thing – and no, I’m not talking about Joel Schumacher’s unfortunate smiting of the Tim Burton reboot.
I’m talking about Batman Dracula.
In 1964, two years before Adam West donned the menacing cowl and did the Batusi on television, Andy Warhol concocted his own film about the caped crusader. Warhol’s Batman was apparently a true forerunner of the series’ campy approach. Not a lot is known about the film’s content, and it was actually considered a lost film until quite recently. Warhol didn’t have the permission of DC Comics to use the character; he was simply a fan and he thought it would make a fun film. A search online revealed only a few small clips, none of which appear to follow a linear, sensical plot. Most of what I found consists of artsy double-exposed film accompanied by some Velvet Underground music. It’s not particularly good. Read more…
The music that roared through the stucco and plaster of Hitsville U.S.A. to become the Motown sound that defined soul music in the 1960’s was crafted by some of the most formidable talent the music world has ever cradled. Unfortunately, while stars like Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson and Martha Reeves are free to bask in the wondrous afterglow of their landmark careers, some of Motown’s elite suffered a premature closing curtain.
Mary Wells, the one-time Queen of Motown who helped to launch the label into the mainstream suffered from an unfairly tragic end, while the unappreciated fuel that fed the funk-tank, James Jamerson, is anything but a household name today. Both deserve to have their story told, if not within the fiery glow of a major studio bio-pic at least with the delicate and reverent touch of a kilograph written by an eternal fan.
By the time I was born, each of these individuals had already ridden the crest of their relative stardom. That means nothing to me – I grew up in an era when people paid actual money to own “We Built This City” on vinyl. The music industry, which has always been a pit of snakes and scammers, had become a wretched den of Milli-Vanillified lies. That’s why the music that rocked my youth was mostly culled from an era I’d never seen. And it’s fair to say that no one rocked my innards quite as much as James Jamerson.
James moved from Edisto Island, South Carolina to Detroit with his mother when he was a teenager, and he learned to play stand-up bass in high school. On nights and weekends he began playing in local jazz and blues clubs, which led to a steady gig at Barry Gordy Jr.’s studio in 1959. I don’t feel it is any measure of exaggeration when I say that James’ bass playing, which appeared on roughly 95% of Motown’s recordings between 1962 and 1968, was the most fundamental ingredient in the label’s extraordinary, genre-defining success. Read more…