Saturday, May 23, 2015

Music for the Opening Credits of an Early ’90s Movie About Los Angeles

I have a song I listen to when I’m driving through Los Angeles around sunset (though not necessarily around Sunset), and I remember for a second that these streets I dread are also the streets I’d seen a thousand times in the movies and TV shows I grew up watching. Ask me if I want to drive near Hollywood Boulevard around rush hour, and I’d reflexively say, “Oh, God. Fuck. Christ. No.” But were I to actually find myself there, stuck in traffic either as a result of my own poor planning or someone else’s, I might take a moment and say, “Holy hell, I actually live here,” and bask in that for a moment, traffic be damned. People willingly come here on vacation, just to see this junky stuff that I take for granted and go out of my way to avoid. That’s worth remembering.

Anyway, this one song is the instrumental version of a Giorgio Moroder collaboration with Human League frontman Philip Oakey. I only heard it for the first time recently, but when I did, it immediately reminded me of so many movies from the late ’80s or early ’90s where L.A. streets, soaked with sun but slammed with cars, are used to set a scene. I always think of it as opening credits, but it could just as easily be closing credits or some montage from the middle.

The Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial kickoff to summer, seemed like as sensible as any day to post. Here, have a listen.

The footage you see comes from this YouTube clip titled “Los Angeles in the ’80s.” There’s also a version of the song with lyrics and vocals by Oakey, but it’s the instrumental version that makes me think of the movie score to some halfway forgotten VHS rental where characters go to fancy Hollywood parties, take in the lights as if they’re seeing them for the first time, and finally learn a lesson about life and living.

Is it just that it sounds like that one song from the Pretty Woman soundtrack? Which itself always reminded me of the Gracie Films logo? Which itself is something I associate very strongly with the Simpsons episodes of the late ’80s and early ’90s?

Friday, May 22, 2015

A Song of Smelt and Herring (Short, Idiotic Fiction by Drew)

Because sometimes you imagine conversations you might have, and things go downhill from there.

No Glens were harmed in the creation of this post.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Forty Questions My Twelve-Year-Old Self Would Have for Me Today

Today I realized that I’d completely failed to make good on a promise I’d made as a twelve-year-old to drive a car with the license plate “BORT.”

(Context, if necessary, but then why are we friends?)

I thought this was a genius idea at the time, and on some level I still do. However, the notion completely fell by the wayside, and I couldn’t help thinking about how twelve-year-old me would have been disappointed in what I was doing with myself two decades later, Simpsons-related activities and otherwise.

Here, then, is how I imagine getting interviewed by twelve-year-old me would go.
  1. Is The Simpsons still on?
  2. Do you write for it?
  3. Why not?
  4. Did you, like, try and they said no or what?
  5. Do you write for a newspaper now?
  6. Why are you laughing?
  7. Well, who do you write for then?
  8. What’s a blog?
  9. How much do you get paid to write for your blog?
  10. Then what else do you do?
  11. You spend how much time gardening?
  12. To what end?
  13. Why not just let the plants grow that actually want to grow and give up on the ones that don’t?
  14. How many dogs do you have?
  15. Are they, like, on order somewhere?
  16. Do you still play video games every day?
  17. Why not, if you still like them?
  18. Does your wife or girlfriend or whatever not let you play video games or something?
  19. Why are you laughing?
  20. Since when?
  21. Then why is this news to me?
  22. No, what about Perfect Tommy in Buckaroo Bonzai?
  23. No, what about John Wesley Shipp on the original Flash series?
  24. No, what about Dolph Lundgren in Showdown in Little Tokyo?
  25. So, like, completely or just sometimes?
  26. And you do all the… things?
  27. Wait, what is that?
  28. And that’s normal?
  29. With a butt?
  30. On purpose?
  31. Are butts in the future different somehow?
  32. Like, was there an advancement in hygiene or something in the future that made this less gross?
  33. Goddamit, why are you laughing?
  34. Well, what’s it like being a nerd in the future?
  35. Really, Green Arrow got his own TV show?
  36. In an expanded superhero universe?
  37. Does Wonder Woman have her own show yet?
  38. Why are you laughing?
  39. Is Princess Toadstool still the only playable female character in Mario Kart?
  40. They call her what now?

Sunday, May 03, 2015

The Unsweetened History of Animaniacs and the First Looney Tunes Star

(Discussed herein: the history of Warner Bros. animation, race in cartoons, the relative lack of female cartoon stars, the awesomeness of Sherri Stoner, the overlooked merits of Tiny Toons.)

If I were asked to compare Tiny Toons and Animaniacs (and I’m apparently asking myself to do that now), I would say that the former was more of a kids’ show and the latter got smarter, weirder, bigger and better. The jokes on Animaniacs stand up today, and the show plays more with the the nature of cartoons, the history of pop culture and Hollywood in general. But Tiny Toons laid all that groundwork, and a lot of the elements that I like so much about Animaniacs — goofing on cartoons, outdated cultural reference, and weird perspectives on show business — also appear in Tiny Toons, just to a lesser degree.

There is one Tiny Toons episode that does these things especially well, and in a way, works as a spiritual predecessor to Animaniacs: “Fields of Honey,” which first aired Nov. 2, 1990. In it, Babs becomes depressed because she has no female Looney Tunes legends to look up to. (She apparently has never heard of Granny or doesn’t consider her a star. Take that, Granny.) While in her school’s film vault, however, she discovers Honey, the female half of a cartoon pair that predates Bugs Bunny, and Babs sets out to find her.

The whole episode plays out as an homage to Field of Dreams, with a mysterious voice directing Babs make Honey’s films known in order to bring her out of hiding. She does this, and the laughter of the audience restores the youth of an old lady in attendance. She turns out to be Honey. And the voice telling her “If you build it…” turns out to be her old partner, Bosko, who had been working in the film vault. Finally reunited, Honey and Bosko dance off together.

It didn’t occur to me until recently how similar the episode is to the premise for Animaniacs, which has Yakko, Wakko and Dot being created in 1930 but deemed too crazy for cartoon audiences. They and their films are locked away, never to be seen again until they escape in modern day (or 1993, which was the modern day twenty-two years ago).

One of the recurring jokes on Animaniacs is that people aren’t sure what the Warner brothers (and sister) are supposed to be. They usually guess that they’re dogs — to which the siblings reply “We’re Warners” — and according to the official series bible, they’re members of the species Cartoonus characterus. But they also look a hell of a lot like Honey and Bosko in that Tiny Toons epsiode: They’re (mostly) black and white in the way that Honey and Bosko are, which is also the way a lot of early “funny animal” cartoons like Mickey Mouse looked too. Dot especially reminds me of Honey. And they’re dog-like, but not explicitly dogs.

There’s even a quick joke in “Fields of Honey” in which Plucky points out that he’s not quite sure what the hell Honey is supposed to be.

The way Buster shushes Plucky may be more significant than it appears to be. Here’s the thing: Honey and Bosko were not initially animals. In his first cartoon in 1929, “Bosko the Talk-Ink Kid,” Bosko is a caricature of an African-American boy and speaks in what Leonard Maltin terms “a southern Negro dialect” in his book Of Mice and Magic.

Here is that cartoon, which is also notable in the way it merges live action, animation and speech.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Why Do You Lock Yourself Up in These Chains?

I’m being a grown-up and staying home tonight to get work done. No, not in the garage. I’m inside the actual house, although I have this whole weird haunted bottle thing going on, and I’m choosing to find it charming.

Tonight’s work involves Wilson Phillips’ 1990 hit “Hold On,” the video for which I had actually not seen, because I have odd gaps in my pop culture experience. So I kicked off my efforts with actually watching the video. Here it is, in case you also had not seen it before.

Isn’t it uplifting? Like, just so thoroughly uplifting?

That was my take-away as I watched it on my laptop in my otherwise darkened house alone on a Friday night. I’m not bitching — like, I made a responsible decision to get work done, so fucking what? — but I just need you to picture how overwhelmingly sad this scene would have looked to anyone who may have passed by one the sidewalk (and yes, someone did in fact pass by on the sidewalk): a single man, alone at his kitchen table on a Friday night, watching the most inspirational hit of 1990 at a considerable volume, ostensibly because he needs the combined powers of Carnie Wilson, Wendy Wilson and Chynna Phillips to find the courage to make it through another day. That’s slightly less sad than, say, trying not to cry as you sing happy birthday to yourself in an empty living room while looking at a picture of a cake you cut out of a magazine when you were a kid, but not by much.

I just wanted to share this, because I thought it was funny how it might look, even if it’s totally not the case at all and I’m doing fine.

Also, if I’m being honest, I’m currently once again wearing a bathing suit in lieu of shorts because I did not have clean underwear. The passers-by maybe didn’t notice this, but you know now!

But I’m fine. FINE.

Fun bonus question: “Hold On” may not have been the most inspirational song of 1990. While nominated for Song of the Year at the 1991 Grammys, it was actually Bette Midler’s “From a Distance” that won. That doesn’t seem right, does it?

Second fun bonus question: Why do I read the band members’ fashion as “lesbionic”? Did it read that way back then? Or did some lesbians just seize on what was current in 1990 and subsequently never evolve?

The Apricot Warning

At my first job in Los Angeles, we had a farmer’s market truck that came once a week. It was like any L.A. food truck but also totally not, because instead of prepared food it had a sampling of whatever produce was available. One week, it had dried Blenheim apricots. Now these are the good apricots, not the sugary garbage ones you see sometimes at Trader Joe’s or those awful Turkish ones that taste like poison and are also poison. I bought a big bag of them.

The guy who drives the truck held the bag away from me before he handed it over. “Now, I have to tell you: You can’t eat all of these in one sitting.”

I looked at the brown paper lunchbag full of dried apricots, which would have been more food matter than anyone could eat in a single sitting. “Yeah, I wouldn’t do that,” I said.

“Okay, I have to tell people,” he said.

“Don’t people know that already?”

“You’d be surprised. I had one guy who came out once specifically to yell at me. Big guy. He bought a bag of dried apricots and apparently ate all of them that day, at his desk.”


“Yeah, so he was pretty mad because of what happened.”

“I mean, I guess I might be too,” I said.

“I just figured he knew,” he continued. “But people who live in cities maybe don’t know that.”

“Oh, it’s cool,” I responded. “I grew up in central California.”

And with that, he knew I was good to go, gave me a few extra dried apricots and sent me on my way.

The moral of the story is that the next time you make fun of people from rural communities for not being accustomed to your flashy, urban ways, remember that one of your kind once shat himself in his cubicle because he didn’t understand the power of apricots.

That’s it.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Not Alone in the Backyard

Sometimes you’re working late in the office you made out of your backyard garage. And sometimes the security light suddenly just blinks on. You can see it through the side window that allows you a look at a few measly square feet of the yard. Nothing is moving, at least within your view of the big, bad world outside. But something is clearly moving somewhere out there, because why else would the light have turned on?

So you sit there at your desk, but turned away from the computer to see if whatever tripped the light will make itself known. But even this is pretty dumb, you realize. Were it a skunk or a raccoon or a possum or a cat or whatever other four-legged creature wants to think that there’s something delicious buried beneath your geraniums, you wouldn’t be able to see it. The only thing you would see in through that window would be a person.

This is not a comforting thought.

The light turns off. Whatever was moving has left. Or it simply stopped when the light turned on and is waiting.

You can hear Highway 5 in your little garage. Does that seem odd? It’s not as if the highway runs through your backyard, but you can hear vehicles rumbling on by.

You can hear a train pulling out of the Glendale station. You’ve never actually seen the train, but the horn sounds often enough to remind you that it’s there.

You wonder if you even turned on the security light. Someone clearly did, but you cannot remember doing it. You usually don’t. It’s bright and you think it might annoy the neighbors. How considerate of you.

With the backyard light having blinked off, the only thing you can see in the side window is your own face, illuminated but the light of your monitors. If someone were looking in right now, you wouldn’t be able to tell. But they’d see you in a goddamn spotlight.

You remember that you looked down at the floor today and thought someone had spilled water. But the marks weren’t quite round, and upon closer inspection, they turned out to be the footprints of a cat that had walked through the dust. You followed the prints, and they went into Glen’s room, not yours, thank God. How long had that cat been here? When had it ventured inside?

The light blinks on again and you really wish it were windy tonight, because then you could say that the wind was blowing that big sage bush you have outside the garage. But it is not windy tonight, and you know that you will only find out what it making the light blink on by opening the door and checking yourself.

But you will not do this.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Imagining a Universe Without Bob Saget

Earlier this month, I wrote about how Empire quietly, subtly, maybe accidentally has created a universe in which Courtney Love doesn’t exist. Today, something similar: a parallel version of Full House in which there is no Bob Saget.

Gaze upon these bizarre, Saget-free opening credits!

See the Not-the-Danny and think “Oh, hey, he’s decent looking, by sitcom dad standards, in a Guttenburgian sort of way.”

These opening credits preceded the unaired pilot, which featured actor John Posey in the role of Danny Tanner. Posey went on to have a busy TV career anyway. He played Dr. Conrad Fenris on two episodes of Teen Wolf, and I point this out only because it amuses me that a character was given this name. “Hello, I am Dr. Conrad Fenris. I have a normal-seeming name for humans, because I am one.”

Is it odd if it seems somewhat sinister to me that after re-casting the role and giving it to Bob Saget, the show re-filmed the scenes of Danny enjoying a daddy-daughter day out at Fisherman’s Wharf?

I realize that’s the logical thing to do when you re-cast your lead actor, but seeing the scenes side-by-side, there’s this whiff of “John Posey who? See, no, it’s always been Saget. Saget is the father. Look, Saget loves his daughter-children. They are family. Do not remember John Posey.”

You can actually watch the whole “Not the Danny” version of the Full House pilot, if that is something that will give your life additional meaning.

Finally, your Full House experience can be complete.

Overthinking TV, previously: