Overlooked Gems of My Lifetime

Credit is given where credit is due regarding the overlooked gems of my lifetime.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Glenn Branca, The Ascension

I stumbled across The Ascension, the first full album by New York guitar-army composer/conductor Glenn Branca, at my old college radio station, and I was immediately hooked. You can't judge an album by its cover, but the Robert Longo-drawn cover of this album made me want to judge its contents. Unlike other records emenating from New York's then-happening (for some, that is) "No Wave" scene, this one packed a tight, walloping punch; it didn't sound like closet Jefferson Airplane cover band flunkies masquerading as Ornette Coleman disciples. Four specially tuned guitars, bass, and drums hammered away at five industrial-strength pieces that sounded then - and now - like some combination of minimalist composer Steve Reich, the Velvet Underground's noisier stomps, and the sweeping violins excerted in Apocalypse Now from Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries. Here, former Teardrop Explodes mastermind, Julian Cope, describes the sound of this record better than I do here.*

I would buy one other Branca album, Symphony #1, I believe, which was basically the sound of a dozen guitarists holding a single note at a low volume for 40 minutes. Someday I'll buy another album of his, especially if I can remember which one it was I saw performed at Drexel University in the mid- to late-80s. The show was booked as part of the university's classical music program, and seeing all the middle-aged subcribers holding their ears was a treat. More of a treat, however, was seeing the music performed live. If memory serves, he had eight guitarists and a drummer that night, including the very cool writer Tim Sommer and the guy who would partner with him in Hugo Largo (ugh - the performance I saw of that band is sure to make my forthcoming Overlooked Turds... blog - but let's keep this blog on the up and up!). Combined with Branca's contortions as conductor there was enough visual stimulation to have made the show memorable had I gone completely deaf. Had I been deaf, however, the beautiful vibrations from the stage would have been icing on the cake. You get the idea. The show ROCKED. For an encore, the band, with Branca joining in on guitar and with at least half of the members displaying the grins evident of the recent inhalation of a big joint, came out and played "Sister Ray".

*It should be noted that this Head Heritage site that Cope is behind may be an Overlooked Gem unto itself. For my money, the man's writing on overlooked gems of his lifetime far outweigh his own musical contributions.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Boyer Smoothies

The alternative to Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, this unattractive (imagine the pasty skin tone of William F. Buckley, Jr. in candy form), chocolate-free peanut butter cup answers the question "What if the guy who was holding the peanut butter ran into another guy holding peanut butter, but in the form of a chocolate bar?" Actually, as a trip to the humble Boyer Candy Web site will explain, the outer coating is a butterscotch-flavored substance. For fans of chunky peanut butter, the filling has ground up bits of peanuts. Why this Altoona, PA-based candy manufacturer, home to the better-known and equally scrumptious Mallow Cup, doesn't rule the roost in American candy making is clear, but when's the last time you found redeemable "coins" inside your Hershey product?

Monday, August 08, 2005

Bobby Douglass

This lefthanded quarterback for the early '70s Chicago Bears threw the worst-looking ball in NFL history. However, he was lefthanded, he rushed for a then-record-for-a-QB 900-plus yards - often plunging off-tackle like a fullback - and he was completely lacking in grace. The lefty 10-year-old playground QB that I was could identify.

Monday, August 01, 2005

The Final Scene in the Otherwise Horrendous Staying Alive

If I ever were to document the stinking, heaping turds of my lifetime, Staying Alive, the Sylvester Stallone-directed sequel to Saturday Night Fever, might top the list. With little effort, I managed to avoid seeing this movie until 20-some years following its release. One night, while flipping channels, I had to give it a try. It's a good thing, because the delay in seeing it not only allowed me to better appreciate the majesty of this movie's badness, but it allowed me to uncover the tiniest overlooked gem of the movie's final scene. And this blog is all about appreciating the good.

John Travolta would have made a better career move by starring in a gay porn film. Stallone, who'd long ago used his single bullet in the arts, manages to make a musical romance set on Broadway with no sense of choreography; not the slightest spark of romance; and a poor man's Michael Sambello soundtrack, courtesy of his brother Frank. You would think that, if nothing else, a slimmed down, buff, and oiled Travolta would have an opportunity to display his enthusiastic dancing talents. You would think that the most generous self-absorbed actor of his generation would have the chance for a meaningful look in the mirror. But no. For 92 minutes, Every Italian Mother's Favorite Son is shackled, humiliated, and even ignored. Finally, in the movie's 93rd minute, Tony Manero tells his woman he has to get out and simply "strut." Tony/Travolta is liberated. The music of the Bee Gees is cranked up, and for a few seconds we see our hero strutting down Times Square with that shit-eating grin and the perfectly feathered hair. The camera freezes on the final image, and I'm left with goosebumps. Moments like these, my friends, are just rewards for one's patience and faith.