Sunday, August 29, 2010

Music Review: The Morlocks - The Morlocks Play Chess

In The Time Machine, the Morlocks were freaky, underground creatures who only ventured out at night. For the past 25 years, this could describe one of L.A.’s greatest ever garage-punk bands, who also call themselves The Morlocks. A book could (and should) be written about their turbulent history over the years. A definite highlight would have come in 1999 when Spin magazine reported that singer Leighton Koizumi had overdosed and died. At the time he was actually in the process of reforming the band.

He is still alive and well, as their new album The Morlocks Play Chess shows. There is certainly a ghoulish, subterranean feel to this group. In fact it is as raw and dirty a sound as anything you are likely to hear. Play Chess is filled with filthy guitars and the kind of screams that nightmares come from. Of course it helps that all 12 tunes are classics from the Chess Records archives, written by masters such as Bo Diddley, John Lee Hooker, Chuck Berry and the like. But it took serious balls to attempt these songs, the original versions of which are all in the Hall Of Fame league.

From the first rave-up guitar notes of “I’m A Man,” you know that The Morlocks have brought their A-game. The sound hits you like its 2:30 am, the third keg is being tapped, and the band are just hitting their prime. And that is where Plays Chess stays, all the way through. Skip over to “Who Do You Love,” probably best known these days from the George Thorogood cover. These guys wipe the floor with that Delaware poseur. This is as raw as the early garage-punk of legends like The Sonics or Pretty Things. And it shows just how dangerous music can still sound in the right hands.

The same holds true with “Boom Boom” that wild John Lee Hooker tune that comes across every bit as predatory as ever. “Smokestack Lightning,” and “Killing Floor” are a couple of other standouts as well. But honestly, every song kicks, and the record should just be listened to straight through.

The Morlocks close things out with their take on Chuck Berry’s “Back In The USA.” It’s the perfect ending — a good old rave-up to send everyone home rocked out and happy. For anyone who ever dug the bands on Estrus, the hot rod world of Rat Fink, or just low culture in general, you have got to check out The Morlocks. They have come up with one bad-ass album here.

Article first published as Music Review: The Morlocks - The Morlocks Play Chess on Blogcritics.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Product Review: GG Allin - 1991 Condensed Carnage Throbblehead by Aggronautix

You really have to hand it to the people at Aggronautix. In a little over a year, they have taken what sounded like a somewhat risky venture, and turned it into a thriving business. The company’s main product are “Throbbleheads.” These are the familiar bobblehead dolls, done up with a punk rock twist. They get the details of their subjects down cold, and release all in a limited edition format, making them instant collectibles.

The first Throbblehead was also the most successful to date. It was of the late great GG Allin, and the initial 2,000-piece run sold out almost immediately. Aggronautix followed GG with Tesco Vee (of The Meatmen), a double-headed Throbble of The Dwarves, Joey “Shithead” Keithley (of DOA), and their first female doll, Wendy O. Williams. All of these have done quite well, and have even allowed the company to branch out into other areas such as DVDs and T-shirts.

None of these has done quite as well as GG Allin though. Around Christmastime 2009, Aggronautix revived him with an “Extra Filthy, Bloody” Edition Throbblehead. It featured “added blood, crud, and cuts” to the original, and was a big hit as well. And now Aggronautix have gone back to the well a third time. They have just issued a “Condensed Carnage” edition of the classic GG Allin, and it looks to sell out just as quickly as the others have.

As the tag Condensed Carnage implies, this is a smaller version of the doll. The original stood seven-inches tall, and the new one is five inches. I have both, and in comparison, the details in the Condensed edition seem much more vivid. All of the GG Allin Throbbleheads are based on the look he was sporting in 1991. He was usually a bloody, cut-up mess, and the Throbbles reflect this. He is also wearing nothing but a jock-strap.

The windowed box that the doll comes packaged in is perfect for display. Once again, Aggronautix have come up with a winner. This edition is limited to 2,500 units, so if you want one, you should probably hurry.

Article first published as Product Review: GG Allin - 1991 Condensed Carnage Throbblehead by Aggronautix on Blogcritics.

TV Review: Jimi Hendrix Voodoo Child

The Biography Channel’s Jimi Hendrix Voodoo Child documentary has found a new way to relate the oft-told tale of the guitar legend’s life. By utilizing interviews, letters, writings, and recordings, the two-hour special is being billed as “Jimi Hendrix In His Own Words.” The show concentrates on just four years, from September 1966 to September 1970. It is a unique way of telling the story, and Funkadelic bassist Bootsy Collins “plays” Jimi as narrator.

By working closely with the Hendrix family, the producers have been able to incorporate a plethora of previously unseen photographs and films into the program. This is where Jimi Hendrix Voodoo Child really pays off. Apparently there is great deal of material in the Hendrix family’s archives, and they have pulled out a number of real treasures.

Some particular highlights for me include the trio performing “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” in a small club, and live versions of “And The Wind Cries Mary,” and “Purple Haze” that I had never seen before. There is also a very intimate clip where he plays a solo acoustic version of “Hear My Train A-Comin’” on 12-string guitar. The two festivals that Hendrix is most closely associated with, Monterey Pop and Woodstock, are well represented also.

Most Jimi Hendrix fans are probably aware of his basic story. Born in Seattle, he joined the Army at the age of eighteen, only to be mustered out after thirteen months due to injury. From then on, he devoted himself to music. Nobody in the United States was ready for him at the time however, so he went to London, where the rock music elite embraced him wholeheartedly. He then returned to the US as a triumphant hero.

In so many of the various biographies I have seen over the years, there is a great deal of speculation about him towards the end. Jimi’s drug use and changing music direction are always commented on. But the fact is, nobody really knew what was in his head except for Hendrix. What I liked about the ending of Voodoo Child was the lack of this type of conjecture. The most prescient observation Jimi had at the end was this haunting quote: “I’ll probably never reach 28.”

Sadly, he never did. But his brilliance as a musician will live on forever, and Jimi Hendrix Voodoo Child does great justice to his legacy.

Article first published as TV Review: Jimi Hendrix Voodoo Child on Blogcritics.

DVD Review: Titan Maximum Season 1

Titan Maximum is another twisted animated series on Cartoon Network’s great Adult Swim block of programming. In contrast to fare such as Aqua Teen Hunger Force or Superjail however, Titan Maximum utilizes the incredibly laborious method of stop motion animation for each episode. The results are impressive, and have raised the bar for everyone.

The premise is pretty basic. In the future, our solar system is defended by a team of spaceship pilots who call themselves the Titan Force Five. In the pilot, a member named Lt. Gibbs has become so bitter towards leader Commander Palmer that he quits and becomes the team’s evil nemesis. His replacement is a silent monkey called Leon.

Thwarting the nefarious schemes of Gibbs forms the basis of each episode. Since he is a former member of TFF, he knows all of the strengths and weaknesses of the team. As voiced by executive producer Seth Green, Gibbs is the perfect villain, charming and sophisticated one minute, and diabolically sinister the next. His seduction of sweet TFF pilot Jodi Yanarella is a perfect example. This innocent girl next door is swept off her feet by the suave Gibbs, who uses her as a pawn in his grand scheme.

The other female member of TFF is Sasha Caylo, a self-described “space slut.” Nearly every other expression out of Sasha’s mouth is a double-entendre, but she is far from being all talk. Whenever we encounter a rumbling elevator or closet it is almost a certainty that Sasha will be walking out of it, usually mouthing an insult at the poor chap she just had her way with. Her backstory is perfect. Sasha is a spoiled brat rich kid, whose daddy is president of the world.

Commander Palmer is the young, egotistical leader of TFF. His nerdy little brother Willie idolizes him, and gets the chance to join the team in the pilot episode, after the death of member Spud Cunningham.

Titan Maximum incorporates a great send-up of the venerable eighties classic Transformers. Whenever the team is seriously threatened, they connect up their five ships Transformers-style into one giant robot called Titan Maximum. While the robot is supposed to have a number of various defenses, the team always seem to forget how to engage them, so they fall back on simply punching whatever it is into submission. Luckily for them, this seems to work every time.

The new DVD release Titan Maximum Season 1 contains all nine episodes from the show’s first season, which originally aired in 2009. There are also about an hour’s worth of bonus features, including a behind the scenes segment, table read, and pop-up trivia. These are all worthwhile extras, particularly the pop-up trivia, which I found to be the most interesting. There are also commentaries, stills of the crew, deleted animatics, and trailers included.

As part of Adult Swim, Titan Maximum is obviously not intended for little kids, and neither is the DVD. While some DVD sets bleep out the swear words, Titan Maximum does not. And the language gets a little strong at times. Otherwise, this is another fine entry into the world of Adult Swim, and a DVD worth checking out for those of us who enjoy such prime examples of arrested development.

Article first published as DVD Review: Titan Maximum Season 1 on Blogcritics.

Book Review: Fortune's Fool by Fred Goodman

As chairman of the Seagram liquor company, Edgar Bronfman Jr. was in control of a family fortune. Grandfather Sam Bronfman founded the business in the early part of the twentieth century and took full advantage of every opportunity he found. The result was a Canadian powerhouse who waited out Prohibition before entering the US market. By operating in Canada, Seagrams were fully operational when the ban was lifted and had a huge supply of product for the thirsty Americans. This gave the brand such a head start in the country that they instantly became one of the top sellers in the industry, a position they maintained for decades.

Edgar Bronfman Sr. eventually took over the thriving business and decided to grow it by making blue chip investments. A key one was his purchase of DuPont stock, which was large enough to land Seagrams a 25% stake in the chemical giant. Bronfman Sr. had a taste for the film business as well and produced a few. The most successful of these was a children's cartoon version of the classic Charlotte’s Web in 1971.

Billionaire heir Edgar Jr. had also been smitten by the entertainment business, specifically the music industry. When he succeeded his father as Seagram’s chairman in 1994, he immediately started looking for record labels to buy. To raise the cash, he convinced the board to sell the family’s extremely profitable stake in DuPont.

Fortune’s Fool reads like a Greek tragedy. The billionaire heir wanted into what he saw as a glamorous and profitable business. The problem was the fact that Wall Street was right about being wary of the music industry. It is incredibly unpredictable. In fact, author Fred Goodman rightly points out that the huge success and ultimate failure of the companies was almost a generational phenomenon. Baby Boomers built it up, and their children took it down.

Born in 1955, Edgar Bronfman Jr. is a card-carrying member of the Baby Boom generation. His work ethic and passion for business are undeniable. But his blinding drive towards becoming a major player in music will forever mark him as a failure. Even as he has grown Warner Music’s market share in the past couple of years, the business itself is almost extinct.

Fortune's Fool is filled with stories of flamboyant characters such as Ahmet Ertegun, Michael Ovitz, and Lyor Cohen, among many others. And the boardroom intrigues are laid out clearly, making them easy to understand. What emerges is a fascinating tale of good intentions, bad luck, and the affirmation of the corporate maxim “Eat or be eaten.”

It is hard to disagree with the author’s opinion that the Seagram’s family fortune would have been better served if Edgar had been content to be a billionaire playboy rather than company CEO. Still you have to admire the guy for how hard he tried. Once Napster let the genie out of the bottle with file-sharing though, there was no turning back.

Fortune’s Fool
details the many mistakes the industry made in trying to respond to the Internet challenge. In the same way that Bill Gates and Microsoft took over the entire computer industry in one fell swoop with Windows, Steve Jobs and Apple have accomplished the same thing in music with iTunes.

It is a remarkable turn of events, and Fortune’s Fool lays out all of the intrigues in a very readable manner. This is a book that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Article first published as Book Review: Fortune's Fool by Fred Goodman on Blogcritics.

Friday, August 13, 2010

DVD Review: Animals, Whores, And Dialogue: Breakfast With Hunter, Vol 2

In the opening scene of Animals, Whores, And Dialogue we find Dr. Hunter S. Thompson in his favorite spot, seated behind an ancient IBM Selectric typewriter, in his kitchen. As he scrolls in the white piece of paper he looks at it and states, “The blank page, the curse of the writing class.” Then he laughingly adds the kicker, “There is no writing class.”

This indelible moment is one of many contained in the new DVD, a sequel to Breakfast With Hunter (2003). Filmmaker Wayne Ewing was allowed unprecedented access to Thompson beginning in the late eighties, when he began filming for a proposed Frontline documentary. The TV show never happened, but the friendship Ewing developed with Hunter was invaluable. Thompson seemed to trust Ewing, and allowed his cameras full entrĂ©e into the writer’s world for years to come.

The initial result of all this footage was Breakfast With Hunter. Ewing captured Thompson at loads of tribute events and such, and the film is filled with celebrities praising his work. There were also some classic Gonzo moments, like when he drunkenly burned his Christmas tree in the fireplace, or sprayed Jann Wenner with a fire extinguisher.

The one thing the first film lacked however, was much about Hunter S. Thompson the writer. For that reason, I find Animals, Whores, And Dialogue to be even more compelling. The title comes from a note taped to the top of Hunter’s typewriter, which apparently served as an ongoing inspiration for his writing.

The film opens with Hunter starting work on his latest article for "Hey Rube," his weekly column on He has no idea what it will be about, but knows the process better than anyone. He pours a drink, lights up, and starts bouncing things off the walls to those around him. Naturally, he dismisses any of the feedback. The phone rings incessantly, and the whole atmosphere is mildly chaotic. This is how the man wrote, and it is a fascinating glimpse into a very private world.

Ewing uses these scenes as the core of his movie, and fleshes them out with previously unseen interviews and footage. There are some great moments that never made it to the first movie. One of these occurs when he is presented with an original copy of the June 1970 issue of Scanlans Monthly magazine. This issue contains “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent And Depraved,” his first piece of gonzo journalism.

“This is when I figured my writing career was over, that I had fucked up once too often” he says, “Then we got all these calls and mails saying it was the greatest thing since the printing press.“ This leads to a discussion of writing itself. "Anything else I did in my life, I was punished for," says Hunter. "When I worked at writing, I was praised."

Another memorable highlight is an interview shot in 2001, on the day of George W. Bush’s inauguration. This seems to be an impromptu situation, they are at the local bar, and Hunter is asked about Fear And Loathing On The Campaign Trail. Nixon seems to be a perennially favorite topic for Thompson, and he speaks about him at length, concluding with “The man was pure evil.”

If there was any criticism of Breakfast With Hunter it was the fact that the movie was filled with celebrities praising him. In fact, it almost seemed like an attempt to bolster his credibility as a (then) living legend. There is very little of that in the new movie. Some do appear, including George Plimpton, Jann Wenner, and Warren Zevon, but the tone is much more contemplative this time around.

The film returns to Hunter behind the typewriter, again and again. He seems to be making very little progress, but he never really gets frustrated. At one point he even takes a call from Warren Zevon, and asks if the singer can find him some hashish. We never see him complete the article, in fact he barely starts it. But it sure is great to be a fly on the wall as he begins working on it.

In the closing scene, the tables are turned somewhat as we get a Hunter’s eye-view of his first posthumous birthday party. When a small group gather at the house, Ewing shoots the event from Hunter’s kitchen chair. It is a little spooky to see things from that point of view, and a great way to end the film. While the typewriter may be silent now, the writing and memories of Hunter S. Thompson live on.

Animals, Whores, And Dialogue is obviously intended for the serious HST fan, and Ewing has done an outstanding job with it. The inspiration to focus on him in the process of actually writing was genius. And there was one thing he said during an interview that really seemed to sum up his whole philosophy. When talking about writing, and life in general, Hunter states, "I figured out what you have to do in this world — to be able to do one thing better than anybody else, no matter what it is. Find it."

Beyond all of the hoopla that surrounded the man’s life, the drugs, the alcohol, and everything else there is one thing that comes through more clearly than ever. Hunter S. Thompson was a writer first, and the all the other stuff was secondary. This film shows that side of him more completely than anything other than his actual books ever have, and is recommended for all HST fans.

The DVD can be bought at the Hunter Thompson Films website.

Article first published as DVD Review: Animals, Whores, And Dialogue: Breakfast With Hunter, Vol 2 on Blogcritics

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Music Review: Tully - Live At Sydney Town Hall 1969-70

Tully are a long-lost prog band from Sydney, Australia, and the recently released Live At Sydney Town Hall 1969-70 presents some of their only surviving live material. Fortunately, the label Chapter House found some well preserved recordings, because this is music the world was meant to hear, even 40 years later.

Sydney is now best known as the city AC/DC got their start in. But that would not occur until 1973. When the five piece group who called themselves Tully came together in 1968, the music scene was quite a bit different. In the United States, Iron Butterfly were riding high with In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, in England Cream’s Wheels Of Fire was a big hit. Beatles John Lennon and George Harrison issued their experimental first solo albums Two Virgins #1 and Wonderwall Music, respectively.

Based on Live At Sydney Town Hall, Tully would have turned a lot of heads in the rock community, if only their music had been heard outside of Australia. While much of the prog, or experimental sounds of that era have not stood the test of time, Tully’s remains fresh and exciting. The level of playing and improvisation the group exhibits is uniformly high.

There are but two songs on this CD. “Love 200,” (20:02),and “Sights & Sounds Of 69,” (32:09). The man who is now considered to be “One of Australia's 100 Living National Treasures” Peter Sculthorpe composed “Love 200” specifically for the band. The classical establishment of the time dismissed it, but Sculthorpe still considers it one of his finest compositions. The fury and grace Tully bring to this piece is undeniable, and Jeannie Lewis’ vocals are not only beautiful, but passionate.

The improvised “Sights & Sounds Of 69,” is different, but no less compelling. In the summer of 1969, ABC TV in Australia aired a music series titled Fusions, which presented bands in a live-in-studio format. Tully brought their A-game to this performance. Half hour improvisations can become tedious even under the best of hands. Somehow, Tully are able to maintain momentum all the way through. There is a nod to the times during the dreaded drum solo, but they manage to keep it brief.

Listening to Tully today, I would compare them to the Robert Wyatt-era Soft Machine more than anyone else. They were a talented band, and their music remains as powerful as ever.

Article first published as Music Review: Tully - Live At Sydney Town Hall 1969-70 on Blogcritics.

Book Review: Inside America's Concentration Camps: Two Centuries Of Internment And Torture by James L. Dickerson

At first glance, a title like Inside America’s Concentration Camps: Two Centuries of Internment and Torture seems a little excessive. This is the good old USA we are talking about after all, not Nazi Germany. But after reading investigative journalist James L. Dickerson’s latest expose, I understand his choice of words. While the term “Concentration Camps” is unquestionably inflammatory, it does get your attention. And what has occurred in these places over the past 200 years is deplorable.

Dickerson’s book is laid out in three parts. Part one deals with the treatment of Native Americans. Part two comprises the bulk of the text, and concerns the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, and to some extent the imprisonment of Italian and German Americans during this time. Part three considers the present-day conditions at Guantanamo Bay.

The chapters dealing with the various policies the US government imposed upon Native Americans in the 19th century are pretty sketchy, due to less than perfect record-keeping at the time. Still, the chapter “Walking The Trail Of Tears,” is heartbreaking. It concerns the 1,200 mile march that the Cherokees were forced to take in the dead of winter, in 1838. Of the approximately 22,000 who started out, only around 2,000 actually made it.

The documentation of the internment of Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor is extremely thorough. In many cases, the author was able to speak directly to survivors, many of whom were children at the time. Their stories are eye-opening, to say the least. While I was aware of the practice, the extent of it was much bigger than I had previously been led to believe. The procedure of separating families is a particularly sad element, as many children did not see their parents for years after being rounded up.

Dickerson concludes with some of the horrors that are occurring even now at Guantanamo. I was as horrified as the rest of the world on 9/11, but the revelation that the torture methods currently being used originated in Communist China during the Korean War was astounding. What is even more shocking is that these techniques were used on captured Americans at the time, and even then were deemed unreliable. The confessions were almost always false, given by prisoners who had cracked under the pain inflicted. The routine of waterboarding was considered the most useless of all, as the average time a person “confessed” to a crime was 12 seconds — just to get his interrogators to stop.

Inside America’s Concentration Camps is a deeply troubling look at one of the darker sides of the country’s history. Aside from the intentionally eye-catching title, it is not a hysterical anti-American diatribe. It does lay out some pretty sobering facts though, and is recommended to anyone interested in some of the lesser known events in our nation's history.

Article first published as Book Review: Inside America's Concentration Camps: Two Centuries Of Internment And Torture by James L. Dickerson on Blogcritics