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Posts tagged ‘1970’s’

REBLOG: VANITY FAIR INTERVIEW: SO THE GREAT PAUL WILLIAMS STILL GREAT. BUT WHO WAS/IS HE?

I actually am often trying to explain “who was Paul Williams” to younger people or to my peers who don’t know pop culture of the 1970s. As this V.F. writer points out there is no contemporary equivalent entertainer like Paul Williams to compare to Paul Williams. The guy was everywhere: pop music (genius), talk shows, game shows, movies. I think what was interesting about him was that he didn’t look like Bobby Sherman, or Burt Reynolds. He was comical, but he had a serious artist side, and he didn’t seem to care about looking like a gay Troll Doll. Part of his high profile can be attributed to the ubiquity of network television. Everybody was watching the same shows on 3 channels so our labor pool of celebrities was smaller. Also people from that time did real stuff to become famous. Famous people then wrote great songs, were not funny on Dinah, or walked on the moon.  Entertaining, even attempts at entertaining, are less important enterprises in becoming famous today. You only have to be talented now at looking beautiful or saying something outrageously stupid on a reality show. – rf brown 

Paul Williams, Writer of “Rainbow Connection,” on His 1970s Neighbors: “Borrow a Cup of Sugar? Maybe a Cup of Vodka” | Blogs | Vanity Fair

Paul Williams, Writer of “Rainbow Connection,” on His 1970s Neighbors: “Borrow a Cup of Sugar? Maybe a Cup of Vodka”

1:30 PM, JUNE 8 2012
BY JIM MCCRARY/REDFERNS.Paul Williams In the A&M Photo Studio, 1970.

Paul Williams, the songwriter, actor, and all-around 1970s media personality, is the subject of a funny, fascinating, and ultimately moving documentary that opens today in New York and Los Angeles. The title, Paul Williams Still Alive,will give you some idea of the movie’s arc, as well as its tone.

Short, witty, and possessed of a signature look that combined aviator glasses and a Jan Brady hairdo, Williams enjoyed Kardashian-like ubiquity in the 70s. (If “enjoy” is the right word.) Though he cut his own records, his songs became far bigger hits for acts such as the Carpenters (“Rainy Days and Mondays,” “We’ve Only Just Begun”), Three Dog Night (“Just an Old Fashioned Love Song”), and Kermit the Frog (“Rainbow Connection”). He and Barbra Streisand co-won an Oscar in 1977 for “Evergreen,” from A Star Is Born. You know: “Love soft as an easy chair . . . ”

But that’s not all. Williams also appeared in films such as Smoky and the Bandit and Battle for the Planet of the Apes, along with pretty much every 70s TV show you can think of, including Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, where, by IMDb’s reckoning, he turned up 14 times between 1971 and 1978. Paul Williams Still Alive includes a very funny clip of him being gunned down by Angie Dickinson on Police Woman and a less funny clip of him guest-hosting The Merv Griffin Show, where he appears to be coked up and makes jokes about screwing around on the road behind his wife’s back.

I can’t quite think of a contemporary equivalent to Williams, only earlier songwriter-actor-personalities—that was once a job description, as with Hoagy Carmichael and Oscar Levant. Unfortunately, Williams’s career flatlined in the 1980s when he disappeared into the proverbial haze of drug and alcohol abuse, but he’s been sober for 22 years now. Without giving too much away, I’ll say that the new documentary takes a couple of surprising turns, traveling way past “Behind the Music” territory to become a kind of meditation on how people do and do not let their pasts define them. I wouldn’t have thought a film that includes numbers from Circus of the Stars and The Brady Bunch Variety Hour would have something to say about the human condition, but there you have it. Williams has led a more colorful life than most of us, but here he evinces a stubborn, heroic modesty.

The director is Stephen Kessler, who, I should note, is an old and good friend of mine. The film begins with him essentially stalking Williams, and in some sense, it’s as much his story as it is Williams’s—Roger & Me with a happier ending and two much nicer guys at its center. As the following slide show demonstrates, it also serves as a delightful, if occasionally eye-searing, survey of trends in costume and set design on 1970s variety shows.

file

The Tonight Show, 1975.

Bruce Handy: How did Steve first approach you about doing the film?

Paul Williams: It was an e-mail that I answered nine months later. There’s a wonderful, ethereal place where you look at a message that you don’t want to say yes to, and you don’t have the balls to say no to, so you just keep it “save as new” for seven months and every time you look at your mail you’re like, “Oh, my God.” Eventually we talked.

He said from the very beginning, “Someone needs to do a documentary on you and I’d like to do that.” I was like, “I don’t know.” The line I’ve used again and again is that I’ve never found anything more pathetic than some little old man saying, “Please, sir, may I have another cup of fame?” The last thing I wanted to do was a behind-the-scenes “Where Are They Now?” If Steve had found me living behind a trailer behind a junkyard, working at the Red Lion singing “Rainbow Connection” to a sock-puppet Kermit, he would have been thrilled.

Was that the reluctance, that you were afraid Steve was going to make fun of you?

Partly, and I didn’t want to poke the bear again. I had had the full-tilt celebrity experience to the max. I always was a little embarrassed. I had acting agents for a little while after I got sober, and they’d want to send me out to audition, and I just found it embarrassing, going out to ask for something. I had my share. I had all that attention. I don’t need that now. Financially, I’m at a place where I’m O.K. I have a great family. I have good relationships with my kids.

The climax of the movie, really, is the scene where Steve has you watch that footage of you guest-hosting Merv Griffin where you’re clearly high and kind of smug and obnoxious. And present-day Sober You eventually tells Steve to turn it off—that you can’t take it.

I said, “It’s like A Christmas Carol. Steve is taking me back and showing me my past.” The Ghost of Christmas Past. Look at you being an asshole. But it’s a really important piece because you can see the footage practically made me ill. You can see how much I hated that. I was just fried [in theGriffin footage]. I was arrogant, grandiose, shallow, making jokes about marriage infidelity on the road. I asked Steve, “Why would you make a film about that?” Who wants to know about that guy? He’s terrible.

That Griffin footage is pretty extreme, but in earlier clips, it looks like you’re having a good time. I know that’s partly the performer’s craft of appearing on a show likeThe Tonight Show, but still.

I had a lot of fun! The 70s were fabulous. But we rolled into the 80s . . . and suddenly you moved from use to abuse to addiction, where all of a sudden the general party has moved on, and where I’ve moved back to a place where I’ve lost touch with what is my reality, in a sense—where all of a sudden I’m doing stuff on television that was totally inappropriate. That’s what made me clean up.

I want to talk about your music, too. Today it’s Monday and it’s raining. You must get that all the time: Oh it’s a rainy day and it’s Monday!

When it’s raining and it’s Monday, that’s a win-win.

I had thought you were mostly a solo songwriter, but the film mentions your various collaborators.

Kenny Ascher and Roger Nichols were the two main collaborators throughout the years. [B.H.:Williams wrote “You and Me Against the World” and “Rainbow Connection” with the former, “We’ve Only Just Begun” and “Rainy Days and Mondays” with the latter.] The first Academy Award nomination [in 1974, for the song “Nice to Be Around,” from Cinderella Liberty] was stuff I wrote with John Williams. My collaborators were my music school.

As a listener, I’d say that if anyone besides you did your songs the most justice, it was Karen Carpenter. Did you work with the Carpenters directly on those records?

No. I knew them and was friends with them, but I hung out with actors. I lived next door to Bob Mitchum.

Did you go over and borrow a cup of sugar?

Not sugar. Maybe a cup of vodka.

My friends were more actors than they were music guys. The Carpenters [Karen and her brother Richard] were like these kids. But they knew what Roger Nichols and I had done, when nobody else did. We’d been writing album cuts and B-sides. These guys knew it. They walked into my office and said, “We love this Small Circle of Friends record ‘Drifter,’ and the Peppermint Trolley Company record of ‘Trust.’” [Two obscure “sunshine pop”-style records Williams and Nichols had written.] We were shocked. “Wow, somebody knows what we do.”

A Tribute to Discontinued Cereals

I’m both bothered and thrilled that someone did all this research on nostalgic breakfast cereals.

http://grub.gunaxin.com/a-tribute-to-discontinued-cereals/11570

(more…)

book reports – ONE MORE KISS, Ethan Mordden

One More Kiss: The Broadway Musical in the 1970s is the 6th of Ethan Mordden’s 7 volumes reviewing the history of Broadway musicals. Mordden has had an eclectic career as writer and composer from novels, to other non-fiction books, and whole off-broadway musicals. Mordden’s familiarity with theatre makes him more than qualified to write about the subject matter but I’m surprised that a publisher would be so committed, volume after volume, to one person’s idiosyncratic style, or that an editor would let the infusion of the author’s personality overwhelm the history. These historical essays account for just about everything that ever lasted a day or more on Broadway, but they are also outlets for the author’s unsolicited opinions. Unfortunately along with opinion comes the author’s voice and an irritating sense of humor. I want to read something that is comprehensive about the shows of 70s. Why is this guy here? There are actually occasions when Mordden tells the reader what their favorite show is. I find it invasive. The volume is a treasure chest of information but it’s wrapped around an authorial style that I can’t abide.

Atemporal Pop Music In The Current Non-Era: How Ipod Jack-FM’d The Top 40

New Pop Music Sounds Like Its Predecessors – NYTimes.com.

July 15, 2011

The New York Times

The Songs of Now Sound a Lot Like Then

ONCE pop music was something by which you could tell the decade, or even the year. But listening to the radio nowadays is disorienting, if you’re searching for a sound that screams, “It’s 2011!”

Take the biggest hit of the year, Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.” The song is basically 1960s rhythm-and-blues tightened up with modern production. Everything about “Rolling” — its melody and lyrics, Adele’s delivery and timbre, the role played by the backing vocalists — gestures back to a lost golden age of soul singers like Etta James and Dusty Springfield. Then there’s Cee-Lo Green’s “Forget You,” a hit from last year that’s still on the radio, and which moves a decade nearer the present through being steeped in the ’70s soul of acts like the Staple Singers.

Elsewhere on Top 40 radio you’ll hear a lot of brash, pounding songs that sound like ’90s club music. Recent smashes by performers like Black-Eyed Peas, LMFAO, Kesha, Pitbull, Taio Cruz, Jennifer Lopez and Britney Spears recall the “hip house” sound of hitmakers like Technotronic and C&C Music Factory, or mid-’90s trance anthems by Paul Van Dyk and B T. It may require a mental exercise to bring out the true weirdness of this development: Imagine how peculiar it would have been if in the early ’90s the charts were suddenly flooded with music that sounded exactly like ’70s disco.

Figures like Lady Gaga and groups including the Black Eyed Peas reach even further back and throw ’80s flavors into the ’90s Eurohouse mix: the resemblance between Madonna’s “Express Yourself” and Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” was widely noted on its release this year. “Just Can’t Get Enough” by the Black Eyed Peas references Styx’s “Mr. Roboto,” while their song “The Time” borrows its chorus from Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes’s “(I’ve Had) the Time of My Life.”

Much of this déjà entendu dancepop is exciting in its crass, energy-drink-blast kind of way. So why does the aural overfamiliarity matter? Well, up until the 2000s pop decades always had epoch-defining sounds. Two or three (sometimes more) genres would emerge to achieve dominance or, at the very least, prominence in the mainstream. Musical styles usually build on the past to some degree, but these genres always took their sources in striking and fresh directions, and they often wrapped the music up in subcultural garb, with a distinct fashion element, new rituals and dance moves, and so forth.

The ’70s generated heavy metal, punk, disco, reggae and more. The ’80s spawned hip-hop, synthpop and Goth. The ’90s had grunge and the techno/rave/electronic explosion. But the decade and a bit that followed the turn of the millennium has produced — well, what exactly? Hip-hop and R&B have built incrementally, at times imperceptibly, on where they were at during the ’90s. Emo is a tuneful and melodramatic merger of pop-punk and Goth. True, if you venture into the musical left field, you will find various underground genres that can claim at least relative freshness: grime and dubstep in Britain, the post-indie sounds of Animal Collective and similar bands in America. But their effects on mainstream pop music has been minimal.

Those who don’t have much personal investment in the idea that popular music should always be pushing forward probably won’t be especially troubled by the current pop scene’s muddled mix of stasis and regression. But those whose expectations have been shaped by growing up during more fast-moving and ever-changing pop decades — which is basically all of them to date except for the 2000s — are likely to be perplexed and disheartened by these developments. In particular the innovation-obsessed ’60s and the cyber-optimistic ’90s instilled an ideal of pop music as herald of the future, a vanguard sector of the culture that was a little bit ahead of the rest of society.

The fading of newness and nowness from pop music is mystifying. But in the last couple of years a concept has emerged that at least identifies the syndrome, even if it doesn’t completely explain it. Coined by the co-founders of cyberpunk fiction William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, “atemporality” is a term for the disconcerting absence of contemporaneity from so much current pop culture. This curious quality can be detected not just in pop music but in everything from fashion to graphic design to vintage chic.

A prime example of atemporality is the fad for photography apps like Hipstamatic and Instagram, which digitally simulate the period atmosphere of pictures taken in the ’70s or ’80s, using the cameras and film stock of the time. Instant-nostalgia snapshots are part of a culture-wide fascination with outmoded technology and “dead media” (Mr. Sterling’s term) that encompasses everything from the cults for manual typewriters and cassettes to the steampunk movement’s fetish for Victoriana to the recent movie “Super 8.”

Mr. Sterling sees the time-out-of-joint nature of today’s pop as a side effect of digiculture. One of the curiosities of the futuristic-seeming information technology that we now enjoy is that it has dramatically increased the presence of the past in our lives. From YouTube to iTunes, from file-sharing blogs to Netflix, the sheer volume and range of back catalogue music, film, TV and so forth that is available for consumption is astounding.

We can access all this stuff with incredible speed and convenience, share it and store it with minimal effort. But a potential downside of this sudden “affluence” is a flood of influences that can overwhelm the imagination of young musicians, who are absorbing five decades of pop history in a frenetic jumble. Their attention is also being competed for by music from outside the Anglophone rock and pop traditions, everything from West African guitarpop to Soviet New Wave music to Ethiopian electronic funk from the 1980s.

The musical omnivorousness that the Internet has encouraged and enabled is one reason atemporality is even more pronounced when you listen to alternative radio stations, which specialize in music by bands that consciously aim to have broad taste and to develop unusual portfolios of influences. Listen to KCRW (89.9 FM), the NPR-affiliated station in Los Angeles whose programming often wanders between genres and decades, leaving listeners to wonder if a particular track was recorded in 2011 or in 1981, or in 1971.

A few weeks ago the station played a gorgeously dreamy tune whose rippling, dewy-with-reverb keyboard part and yearningly melodic bass line seemed uncannily redolent of late ’70s Fleetwood Mac. Was this actually a lost Mac song circa 1977’s “Rumours”? Or was it an offering from one of the growing number of contemporary indie bands influenced by ’70s soft rock? The song turned out to be “Roscoe” by Midlake, a group of 21st-century soft-rockers from Denton, Tex. But it was a remixed version made by the British outfit Beyond the Wizard’s Sleeve with clear intent to bring out further the Fleetwood Mac-iness of the song. And then, to show they were in on it, the programmers at KCRW followed “Roscoe” by playing “Rhiannon.”

That 1976 Fleetwood Mac hit is the kind of staple tune you’d normally hear on a classic rock station rather than KCRW, whose sensibility is like a slightly more adult version of the online hip music magazine Pitchfork. And this shows how atemporality has not just jumbled up the decades, it’s eroded the barriers between genres. The iPod shuffle is the era’s defining music technology. One result on the radio dial is the rise of formats like Jack FM that seemingly mimic a middle-aged man’s iPod in shuffle mode: a restless drifting that nevertheless stays within defined taste limits.

The iPod shuffle and similar digital platforms for music listening have a contradictory result: on the one hand it serves to erode the historical divisions between kinds of music by its decontextualizing effect, on the other hand it enables fans to avoid entirely music they don’t like. So the programming on Jack FM (whose slogan is “Playing what we want”) slips back and forth between ’70s and ’80s, Old Wave and New Wave, with occasional excursions into the late ’60s (Hendrix, Creedence) or the ’90s (Sublime, Smashing Pumpkins). It’s a world where hip-hop and techno-rave never happened, but also where ZZ Top and the Clash are no longer on opposing sides.

Does the atemporality of so much modern pop music mean that when in the future we listen back to early-21st-century pop, we won’t be able to identify a sound that characterizes the period? Fans often identify periods of pop by their production hallmark. So they’ll talk (usually to complain) about ’80s drum sounds. If there’s a modern equivalent, it’s the superhumanly perfect vocals featured in so much current pop and rock thanks to Auto-Tune, the pitch-correction processor made by Antares Audio Technologies.

The slickness of Auto-Tuned singing seems to have a similar aesthetic quality to the design of smartphones and MP3-players and other hand-held gadgets, or to the C.G.I. effects in modern Hollywood blockbusters and the glossy hyper-real imagery in video games. Auto-Tune vocals even seem a bit sci-fi. Which is why in one Black Eyed Peas song Will.i.am sings, in heavily processed tones, about how he’s got “that future flow/that digital spit” (not a reference to saliva, but to rapping). Take away the Auto-Tune sheen, though, and there’s little about Black Eyed Peas records to indicate they weren’t made in the ’90s. The same applies to other recent dance pop smashes by the likes of Taio Cruz, Kesha and Lady Gaga.

Pop music in the 2000s may not have made any huge strides on a formal level (the way songs are written, grooves constructed and so forth), but on this cosmetic level of the digital gloss that’s been applied to the vocals you could say that it does sound of its time. (Which is also why the rasp of Adele and Cee-Lo Green is a deliberate throwback to the era of vocal grit and grain, a bid for “timelessness.”)

For better or worse Auto-Tune is the date stamp of today’s pop: it will date badly, and then it will go through all the stages of starting to see charmingly quaint, cute, cool. Who knows, at some point in the near future it might well become a revivable sound, embraced first by early adopter hipsters who will hunt down “vintage” Auto-Tune plug-ins in the same way that they currently collect antique synthesizers and old-fashioned valve amplifiers.

Recalling the Dick Cavett Show: Intelligent but not Intellectual

Dick Cavett’s show, besides offering a window on the celebrities, politics and culture of the late 1960s and early ’70s, at the height of the monolithic network era, also provided a frame of reference for understanding the dominance of talk in today’s fragmented media marketplace.

link:  Fame is a Bee: On Dick Cavett | The Nation.

BSD Halloween Movie Club: "Let's Scare Jessica To Death"

The Brown Shoe Diaries Halloween Movie Club. Track down today’s movie and post your comments.   Good?  Lame?  Scary?  Not scary?  Bring it.


 

Today’s recommended feature is:

Let’s Scare Jessica To Death (1971, d. John D. Hancock)


When I was a a hyperactive kid in the early 1980’s one of the local tv channels ran a packaged, late-night movie show every Friday called “Shock Theater.”  I can’t imagine what my mother was thinking in allowing me to stay up for it, especially because I was already such a fraidy-cat spaz.  I’ve gone back to some of the movies from that show that I recall really freaking me out.  Some don’t hold up to adult discernment, Let’s Scare Jessica does.

Jessica has just been released from a 6 month stay in a New York City mental hospital.  Her devoted husband, Duncan, cashed in their savings to buy a bucolic farm house and abandon orchard in the hope of building a more tranquil life for Jessica.  Upon arriving at the house, they find Emily, a squatter who says she’s been living in the old house “for a long time.”  Being groovy people, the couple invite Emily to stay on with them.  Not being what she appears to be, Emily begins to discretely terrorize the already nervous Jessica and seduce Duncan.  When Jessica starts to wig-out, and grows unable to separate reality from illusion, Duncan goes to a nearby town to find help.  But the townspeople are hiding a dark secret about Emily and the old farm house. When Duncan doesn’t return, Jessica must fight for her sanity and her life.  Who is Emily?  Is Emily really even there or is Jessica going mad again?

Let’s Scare Jessica is from a period of independent filmmaking in the 60’s and 70’s, between the campy creature features and horror cinema’s exasperating decline into vulgar, repetitive slasher sequels.  In that era, filmmakers combined novel stories of demonic possessions and the occult with stark, European inspired neo-realism.  Let’s scare Jessica is brilliantly stark, moody, non-professionally cast, and actually scary.

BTW, listen for awesome sound effects work in the movie.  Sometimes what you hear is freakier than what you can see.

P.S.  I can’t find any information about “Shock Theater.”  I always that it was put together by the local station in my home town but am told that it may have been a syndicated service.  It was on in the late 70’s and early 80’s.  Let me know if you remember it and what your favorites were.