Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Turtle Love

I've always secretly been a fan of The Turtles, not the least of which reasons include my own fondness for the reptiles of the same name, both living and decorative. But no, in this instance, I refer to the pop band from the late '60s best known for their infectious pop masterpiece "Happy Together." I mean, in spite of whatever you might feel about the group or the music from this era, this is a staple song of the sixties that continues to be a hummable, brilliant piece of music. There were a couple of other hits that they had, like the haunting "You Showed Me" or their bubblegum take on Dylan's "It Ain't Me Babe." I knew of some of their work collectively and individually, but, as yet, had not really proclaimed myself a "Turtle fan."

But a few weeks back, I got curious. Maybe it was sparked after freshly revisiting Mark Volman (Flo) and Howard Kaylan's (Eddie) contribution to the adult cartoon oddity "Down & Dirty Duck," or their short-lived collaboration with Frank Zappa & The Mothers, best "documented" in the free-form misfire that is "200 Motels." But I thought I'd look them up again, mainly to see how I could find a copy of the soundtrack to "Dirty Duck" (which apparently you can't do - WTF?). My curiosity was piqued enough for me to buy two of the Turtles albums from iTunes: "The Turtles Presents the Battle of the Bands" and "Turtle Soup." This turned out to be a very wise decision. Both albums work on their own terms in complete and conceptualized album form and are, in my opinion, both overlooked gems from this era of music, which I have always been fond of.

"Turtle Soup" was produced by Kinks front-man (and songwriting hero to yours truly) Ray Davies, reportedly after the group heard the Kinks album "Village Green Preservation Society." Interestingly, "Soup" really plays as a step-sister to "Village Green" with its wistful melodies and nostalgic themes of simpler times gone by. But like "Village Green" the songs have grown on me like a pleasant fungi that I prefer to keep - even to the point where i find myself humming what would otherwise be considered dismissive tracks.

The album kicks off with the raucous "Come Over" which sounds like a rock band just hanging on the edge of having fun while jangling on their guitars and pushing that carefree sound that is a staple of the Turtles' sound. The album, more or less, goes in a melancholy direction with tracks like "House on the Hill," clearly providing a strong link to the contribution Ray Davies was bringing to the table as a producer (like, why are the Turtles singing about having people "over for tea" all of a sudden?). It is in the middle of the album that it finds its peak, in the upbeat country flavors of "Torn Between Temptation" with fantastic, warbling vocal performances from Kaylan and Volman, and "Love In the City" - an ambitious psychedelic anthem with searing vocals and sweeping orchestral and horn arrangements reminiscent of the Love album "Forever Changes."

"The Battle of the Bands" album intrigued me because of the conceit in which each track would be produced and performed as though each song were by a different group. Naturally, the results or somewhat mixed but it's still quite a bit of fun. This album is also noteworthy for containing the classics "You Showed Me" and the sardonic wit of "Elenore." Amidst these two gems, The Turtles manage to cover country, surf, rockabilly and their trademark pop hooks. As a result, the album never finds a comfortable coalescence amidst all these styles, but regardless, the journey is quite enjoyable.

I like how Howard Kayland and Mark Volman always sound like they're having buttloads of fun while they sing these songs. The two have always struck me as likable and smart guys - as though they were always in on the joke of rock superstardom (perhaps to a damaging effect). But while they were willing to satirize their "rock star" status, they still remained fully committed to what they might be doing in any given song or genre of music.

The long and the short of it is that I am now, officially, a "Turtles fan" and highly recommend these two albums for people that are fans of obscure psychedelic masterpieces. At times, "Turtle Soup" (arguably the better of the two albums reviewed here), does feel like a companion piece to some of the Kinks work from the same era, but this is hardly a bad thing for a die-hard Kinks fan. In the end, my feeling after getting more familiar with some of their work, is that The Turtles belong in the pantheon of great under-appreciated artists from that golden era of rock music: The Zombies, Love, and, naturally, The Kinks.

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Thursday, March 06, 2008


ly·can·thro·py /laɪˈkænθrəpi/ –noun
1. a delusion in which one imagines oneself to be a wolf or other wild animal.
2. the supposed or fabled assumption of the appearance of a wolf by a human being.

Here's a classic from the film student archives. This was done for my "visual effects" course taught by teacher/friend Pete Hartel at Columbia College in Chicago. I think the point of the course was to do more green-screen/animation type stuff, but I was a fan of doing multiple layering opticals at the time so I went with my gut. While this is a very short piece at around 30 seconds, there's a lot of images buried in the mix to evoke a sense of this man's struggle to maintain control over his sanity. Included in this collage is the naked body of Nicole Weisner bathing in slow motion, a close-up of the calico fur of Repugnance the cat, Tor Johnson examining his feces in a toilet (this is run backwards), Scott Greene doing push-ups in the buff, and centrally the backwards "transformation" of werewolf into man. Oh, and then there's the lettering for the word itself, which I charred my dad's garage floor trying to shoot with gasoline and sand (note to self: you're a dumbass). The audio was grabbed from a plastic vinyl insert in a Spiderman comic book which had a scratch in the groove so that it looped the line "I wish I were insane..." ad nauseum. When you hear something like that and it occurs naturally, you know you have something special.

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Saturday, March 01, 2008

Apartment 2.0

the way things used to be
Out of date: the way things used to be...

With the recent departure of my former roommate and girlfriend, it's been a good opportunity for me to make-over some of the place - primarily in the entertainment/living room area. My TV and stereo components were a bit bulky for the space of the room and technologically were out of date. So in upgrading the set-up, I wanted to integrate the whole console into the wall with shelves that could contain the TV and stereo components as well as some of the media collection itself.

I found my answer in Elpha shelves from Container Store, which is a customizable set of different shelving pieces that create your own unique "shelving solution" depending on your needs. In my case, my needs were going to change dramatically with the mammoth TV I was planning to acquire... the Pioneer PDP-5010.

Now I had been planning for some time to finally upgrade the TV and join the hi-def game for many months before Jen and I had decided to part ways. So, if you think I bought a plasma to replace my girlfriend, you'd be wrong. Mostly. Let's just chalk it up to a coincidence (not to mention a confluence of beneficent financial circumstances).

Suffice it to say, this Pioneer set is a monster. It's a 50" 1080p plasma display that pretty much makes everything look amazing, not just material that's in high-def (which is still largely in the minority of mass-media produced). I wanted to get something capable of such visual awesomeness that the viewer could experience "ocular ejaculation." But more on that later...

In addition to the 50" monster, I was integrating several electronic peripherals including the stereo receiver, DVD player, PS3 (Hello, Blu-Ray!), a Mac mini and, of course, the phonographic record player. The ceilings are pretty high up at around 10', so after consulting the "Elpha specialist" (basically someone who enters in your specs into a program to design your best solution), I purchased all of the pieces to put this bad boy together.

Plasma TV Take 1
Plasma TV Take 1

My initial thought was to have the TV on its stand resting on the shelf as part of the unit, but once the entire thing had come together, the TV felt pretty precarious sitting on a shelf. With a total weight nearing 100 lbs, I wasn't exactly comfortable with the security of the set, so wall-mounting made the most sense. This was also a new sort of undertaking for me, but the process was fairly straightforward and logical. Alas, finding the studs in the wall proved to be not so simple, but once it was in, it' was in, and it helped open up the room just a little bit more (not to mention my peace of mind).

the wires
The surrogate gf is mounted

If it sounds like this happened in a matter of days, it was more like weeks. It's important that I take a moment to acknowledge the invaluable assistance of Anthony "Zonalpony" Lopez in helping me move the 100 lb. TV to and fro. It's really pretty crazy that it is virtually impossible to move the TV without the help of another person, but for this beast, that's how it is. I should also take this opportunity to thank my buddy Katie Hawbaker, who not only offered her input on furnishings and glassware, but called in favors to arrange not one but TWO cars for me to run some of the various errands to Container Store and Bed Bath & Beyond (and separate shout-outs are, in turn, due to Jeremiah and Joyce for providing your vehicles - you guys restore my faith in humanity).

With everything hooked up and "live" it became apparent that something needed to be done about all the wires dangling from all of the devices. I picked up several plastic "cord channels" at Home Depot and sought about making everything look as seamless and unobtrusive as possible. This process was so confusing and overwelming to me initially that I had to write up a diagram of which components were where and what direction all of the wires would be going in order to keep everything as organized as possible. When it came time to actually start nailing the channels into place and getting all of these wires in their proper containers, I endured perhaps the greatest physical stress of the entire process. Lots of grunting, cursing and physical exhaustion were the order of the day. On the bright side, this grueling process represented the finishing touches on the entertainment center make-over.

the wires?  what wires?
The war of the cables is over...

Having all of this finally in place, one would assume that would be enough to make me happy. Of course not! Once you "step up" and start the slippery slope of upgrading your gear, it inevitably leads to additional costs and acquisitions in an effort to put everything on the same par as everything else. But, I'll do my best to behave and live with what I have, until the time is right for me to strike again and make one step closer to perfect media assimilation.

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