Saturday, August 30, 2014

Children's Books That I Wish I Owned or Also Maybe That I Had Written

See post headline for further clarification.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Testing the Power of This Blog, the Internet, My Recollection of Weird Books I Read as a Kid

Sometimes Google fails me. I’ll try every possible variation on a set of search terms and turn up nothing, leading me to assume that either I’m dumb or I’m just looking for something that isn’t on the internet. And isn’t that a weird thought: that there are some things the internet just hasn’t heard about yet?

However, sometimes the internet can work in reverse, and if I post these tiny shreds of info on my blog, some other person will find me. And then we can combine our hazily remembered brain bits into enough that I can search less dumbly and actually find this elusive thing. That’s what I’m hoping happens with this post.

My grade school library was stocked almost entirely by donated books, and as a result, I had access to a lot of material that most people would consider inappropriate for the parochial school environment. For example, we had a copy of this book Monsters Who’s Who, an encyclopedic listing of creatures from mythology and pop culture. Its entry for unicorn featured a fully nude woman, and I actually remember one of my teachers getting wise to this fact and then scribbling out the woman’s pubic hair, which probably only further confused anatomical matters for boys at my school. But hey — we all graduated knowing how to avoid a boanhan sith.

stuff like this, basically (via)
Today, I’m trying to find a short story I read from a collection of genre fiction. Based on the bits I have floating around in my head, I’m certain I must be remembering it wrong. Or combining a few different stories into one impossibly weird one. Or remembering a dream that I had about reading a book, because no book could actually be this weird. But here I go anyway, just on the chance that someone will stumble across this and know what the hell I’m talking about.

The story was a vaguely medieval one about a prince and princess, or at least a noble brother and sister. He was a homebody, and she was the heroic adventurer type, and they both acknowledged that their lives would have been better if he had been born a woman and she had been born a man. Nonetheless, they head out on some quest together, the details of which I cannot remember. At some point, they encounter a dungeon-like place that’s ruled by an evil witch. When they confront her, they’re standing in a strange room where they’re both waist-deep in spiderwebs. And the witch makes a “rule,” which is something that she can apparently do with her magic powers, that no one can ask any questions. As a result, the brother and sister have to phrase everything they say extremely carefully so they don’t ask a question, because the punishment is being transformed into a creature so hideous that if they saw themselves in a mirror, their brain would die. I remember the witch saying that — “so ugly you’d die,” or something to that effect.

I know. Weird, right?

This is just what I remember. This story has been bouncing around my head ever since I was a kid, and now I’d kind of like to re-read the story and figure out how accurate my memories are, how the characters resolved the situation and what the fuck kind of story this was.

If you read this and you have even a glimmer about what I’m talking about, leave me a comment.

Come on, internet. Together we can do this. I hope this will yield greater success than when I tried to find Toad’s Piranha Plant-controlling cousin, which I also probably was remembering wrong.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Deirdre in the Final Dungeon

Today marks the twentieth anniversary of Earthbound, a thoroughly strange Nintendo game that pits plucky psychic children against animate gas pumps, irate old women and, finally, an intangible space demon. I’ve written a bit about the game over the years, and most recently about a weird intersection it makes with Ric Ocasek that would tumble around in my head for years before I’d figure out the connection.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Encyclopedia Drew and the Case of the Double Disco

Those of you who have put up with me for a few years will no doubt be familiar with my obsession with the less famous pop hits of the 1980s. Foremost among these buried gems, I would say, is Roni Griffith’s 1981 track “Desire,” a song whose music video answered the question, “What would it have looked like if Virginia Madsen had become a pop star instead of pursuing acting?”

I unironically enjoy this song and this video, in spite of Roni’s conservative trench coat look and “a ghost is dragging me by the arm” dance moves. In fact, my iTunes tells me it’s my thirteenth-most-listened-to song, right between “Strut” and “Cry.” So imagine my surprise when I was stumbling across Tumblr this weekend and found another song, “Passion,” by The Flirts.

I found it here, sans context. (Link is SFW, but beware clicking beyond, bored office workers who read my blog.) It’s not just a remarkably similar song; it’s actually just an Aqua Netted hair away from a cover. That beat? The keyboard intro? The opening lyrics “I’ve got to have you, baby” versus “I’m waiting for you, baby”? The fact that even their titles are similar? I was puzzled about how this could have happened without a lawsuit centering around “Excuse me, but I already wrote that song.”

After a little bit of looking, I found the what but not the why.

Both Roni Griffith and The Flirts worked with producer Bobby Orlando. He wrote all the tracks that Griffith sang, excluding her cover of “Breakin’ Up.” And The Flirts was basically Orlando’s Menudo — a three-girl group comprising a blonde, a redhead and a brunette that Orlando rotated and swapped out repeatedly over the years. Griffith’s “Desire” came out in 1981, where it would hit No. 30 on the U.S. dance charts and No. 17 and No. 2 in Germany and Switzerland, respectively. The Flirts’ “Passion” was released in 1982, where it would hit No. 21 on the U.S. dance charts, and No. 4 in both Germany and Switzerland. Obviously, Orlando had a clear idea about what a good song sounded like to him and just decided to use the same musical foundation for both songs.

But I don’t know why he would have done this. I suppose it’s possible that he did this unconsciously, but it seems more likely that he tried to improve on the success on “Desire” with “Passion” and then just didn’t change much of the song. And that’s… a decision. I just wonder why someone along the production line didn’t point out that this new song sounds a lot like that song that you did a year ago. “Maybe make it, you know, different-er?”

There’s that knock against synthy 80s pop: that it all sounds alike. And to some people it might, but if I hear that argument again, I feel like I’d have to point these two songs out. “No, here are two 80s songs that sound almost exactly the same. You clod.”

Miscellaneous bits:
  • One great advantage that “Desire” has over “Passion”? Only the video for “Desire” has penis-shaped structures that expand onstage.
  • Wikipedia’s list of known members of The Flirts strikes me as sad for some reason — all those girls next door listed without surnames. It’s like someone shook out a bag of nametags belonging to all the Denny’s waitresses who just stopped showing up to work one day.
  • I can’t decide of the women in the “Passion” video look more like drag queens or bit players in a Dario Argento movie.
  • Roni Griffith’s most famous song is her “Breakin’ Up” cover, but she also has a track “Love Is the Drug,” which is weirdly not a Roxy Music cover. It seems like a ballsy move, to say, “No, Roxy Music, we’re going to do this one better,” but maybe I just like the original too much.
  • In addition to being a producer and songwriter, Bobby Orlando sang, though frequently under aliases. And Wikipedia’s list of his many aliases is longer than you might expect. This “Dragon Lady” singer Yukihiro Takanawa — that can’t be him, can it?
And finally, while we’re on the subject of 80s pop tracks that more people should know about, let me introduce you to C.C. Catch, the Dutch-German singer whose 1986 hit “Cause You Are Young” (sic) exemplifies so, so many great things about the decade.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

A Cavalcade of Useless Celebrity Facts!

This week I completed a writing project that required me to research every actor ever nominated for an Emmy. Ever. Believe me, if I realized I’d need to check the bios of every single nominee in all sixty-six years of the Emmy awards, I wouldn’t have pitched the idea, but I did and I did and now it’s done. By virtue of having looked into all these people’s lives, I picked up a good deal of trivia that I have no better use for than listing it all here, for your edification and listicle-driven entertainment.

Taran Killam, who appeared in the third Naked Gun movie, is the great-nephew of Unsolved Mysteries host Robert Stack.

Former Saturday Night Live star Paul Brittain is also the nephew of Bob Newhart. This combined with the fact that Jason Sudeikis is the nephew of George Wendt means that there was a great deal of second-generation Hollywood in the Seth Meyers years of SNL beyond just Abby Elliott.

Cougar Town star Christa Miller is the niece of actress Jill St. James.

Lorzeno Lamas’s father is, kinda-sorta, the Most Interesting Man in the World from those Dos Equis commercials. Lamas’ father was Argentinian actor-director Fernando Lamas, and the third of his four fives was actress was actress Arlene Dahl, Lorenzo’s mother. Fernando Lamas was friends with actor Jonathan Goldsmith, who plays the Most Interesting Man in the World and who used Fernando Lamas’s speech patterns and mannerisms as inspiration for the character.

Fernando Lamas’ fourth and final wife, until his death in 1982, was Esther Williams, which means that the most famous synchronized swimmer in the world was Lorenzo Lamas’ stepmother.

Remember Passions? That weird, supernatural soap opera that aired on NBC for the better part of a decade? The big bad witch character, Tabitha, was played by Juliet Mills, who happens to be the sister to Miss Bliss herself, Hayley Mills. Just from the commercials for the show, I remember that Tabitha had a creepy little sidekick. It turns out his name was Timmy, and that the actor who played him, Josh Ryan Evans, died the very day that Timmy died on the show. Even weirder? That wasn’t the only real-life death to coincide with a character’s death on the show. Weirdest of all? Juliet Mills is married to Michael Carrington himself, Maxwell Caulfield.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Buffy the Dolphin

Proof that Nintendo has a sense of humor: this sprite for the minor enemy Buffy the Dolphin from Wario: Master of Disguise.

Of course, it goes without saying that for someone somewhere, this marked the realization of a long-suppressed fantasy. You know who you are.

Well, now you do.

Original pixels via Spriter’s Resource.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

How to Actually Fold a Fitted Sheet

1. Go to

2. Type in “how to fold a fitted sheet.”

3. Watch Jill Cooper demonstrate the process for you and, when you’re done, think to yourself, “Yeah, that doesn’t seem so hard.”

4. Stand up and hold the sheet lengthwise, with your hands in opposite corners, as if you’re putting on an abstract puppet show.

5. Tuck all the corners into each other like Jill says.

6. Notice how your folded sheet thing looks like shit — nothing like the origami flower that has bloomed in Jill Cooper’s hands.

7. Unfold the sheet and start over again from the top, figuring that this time you’ll catch whatever wrong move you made.

8. Get to the point where you look upon your tucked-in corner thing and see that it still looks like shit.

9. Wondering if you maybe missed a step, watch the video again.

10. Note when watching it this time how fucking smug Jill Cooper seems. And why does she have a Christmas wreath in the background? Didn’t she figure that people would be watching this year-round?

11. Try again. Fail.

12. Throw the partially folded sheet on the ground and yell “Fuck!” and then “Fuck my shit!”

13. “Why the fuck am I even trying to fold a fucking folded goddamn sheet? Who the hell cares? Who needs a fitted sheet anyway if it’s not already on the stupid bed? Is this what I thought I’d be doing when I was an adult living on my own — spending time trying to fold the sheet like that smug bitch Jill Cooper who thinks she’s so great? Not me. Not this cool adult.”

14. Leave the sheet on the ground. Go pour yourself a drink. Who cares if it’s only 2 p.m.? You’re your own boss.

15. Head out for the afternoon. Go buy an ice cream. Maybe look for a new pair of jeans. What, is Jill Fucking Cooper going to stop you? Is she going to ride her fucking sleigh out from Christmas Town, U.S.A., and tell you again that you’re not doing it right? Let her try.

16. Return home after misnavigating the bus route back to your neighborhood and take a nap. You did not find jeans.

17. Leave the sheet on the ground for at least a week.

18. Finally, when company comes, stuff it in a drawer. Location unimportant.

19. Later, when you need a fresh fitted sheet and are unable to find the old one, just head out to Bed Bath & Beyond and purchase a new, crisply folded one.

20. Maybe stop for ice cream.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

“Those Little Movies”

What follows is a short story about a place I no longer work at.

About a year ago, I was approached by a coworker who I’d estimate to be between forty and fifty years old. “Hey, you work for social media, right?” she asked me. In this case, she happened to be correct: I did, in fact, do social media. But I’m going to say this was just luck on her part, because that’s how anyone in her age bracket approached anyone in my age bracket, even if only three or four people in the entire company had social media-doing as part of their job description.

Me: Yes. What’s up?

Her: Where online can I find those little movies?

(I waited for her to expand. She did not.)

Me: I’m sorry, I don’t know what movies you’re talking about.

Her: Those little movies you see everywhere.

Me: I… Are you talking about YouTube?

Her: No, not YouTubes. They’re smaller than YouTubes.

Me: Vines?

Her: Oh, maybe. Where are Vines?

Me: Go to, and they’re all there.

(She checks on her computer for a few moments.)

Her: No, not these, I don’t think. What I’m looking for is even smaller. They’re, like, these tiny, little films.

Me: Are you talking about actual short films? Like, student films that are short?

Her: No, you watch them online.

Me: Where online?

Her: Everywhere.

Monday, August 18, 2014

What Philip Morris Can Teach Us About Basic Shopkeeping



If you follow my Tumblr, you may have seen Philip Morris’s awesomely atrocious instructional video from 1987, which features a space lady singing alternate, cigarette-centric lyrics to the Pointer Sisters’ “Jump.”

Just try and get it out of your head.

Sample lyrics: “Yes, I know how you do / Want to make more profits than you do / So I’m gonna show you / It’s that never-ending story / About moving inventory / To push your cigarette dollars higher! / I’ll show you how, I’ll show you how / to make your sales and profits soar! / Yes, you’ll sell more, more more!”

On one hand, this woman is truly giving it her all. She’s sporting Marlboro colors like a trooper. She’s a decent dancer. And you can’t say she’s not trying to convince you that she truly is a space traveler who landed on earth to impart valuable cigarette-selling information. In a way, this little production fits in line with a long-standing tradition of industrial musicals, which for decades had professional singers and songwriters selling out in an effort to sell products.

On the other, more honest hand, no. Just no. “Jump” was four years old when this video was made, and it hardly seems worth the trouble of ripping off an aging hit if the big take-away is that you should keep in stock the things your customers like to buy. (“Stock! To match demand / Stock up! All the top brands / You keep your loyal customers happy! / Stock, stock, stock on up!”) Doesn’t that seem like a fairly straightforward shopkeeping principle? To sell people what they want? Isn’t that a foundational aspect of capitalism?

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Dreaming of Pixelated Summers

It’s the simplest of gifs, really: just four frames. But I can’t stop watching it, can’t stop letting it make me think of jaunty little ocean adventures from one port to another on little pixel ships.

That or magic eye puzzles. Oceanside magic eye puzzles.

(Original screengrabs via Luminous Arc, via Spriter’s Resource.)

Beautiful pixels, previously:

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Left-Handed Ghosts and Familiar Music

Short version: the right idea, but the wrong video game franchise.

More than two years ago, I posted here on this blog about a Japanese disco track that sounded to me like something I’d heard in a video game — specifically something dire and commanding and urgent, like you might hear during a boss battle. It’s the 1978 song “Southpaw” by Japanese band Pink Lady, and the part I’m referring to happens just in the first few seconds.

Did you hear it? It’s the part that starts around the nine-second mark. I always heard it, but for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why it sounded familiar. And then just this week, someone pointed out to me why: Ghosts ’N Goblins.

Again, did you hear it? Just right at the beginning.

“Southpaw” predates Ghosts ’N Goblins by seven years, so if anything, the composer of the game’s score would have been paying tribute to the Pink Lady track. I’m not sure it’s any more than a coincidence, but at least this settles why a Japanese pop song from before I was born sounded like something I should already know.

To end your day on a highest of possible notes, here is Pink Lady performing their 1977 hit “UFO” in a video that seems to have been filmed on their apartment complex stairs.

And here’s a talented sight reader playing the Ghosts ’N Goblins theme in a ragtime style so naturally that you’ll have a hard time believing he’d never laid eyes on the sheet music before.

Video game music, previously:

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Donkey Kong and the Damsel in No Distress Whatsoever

It doesn’t seem terribly productive to read anything into old arcade cabinet art, but that’s not exactly a look of horror on Pauline’s face as she’s being kidnapped, is it?

Also, based on her tongue, she may be ill. Also, based on this take on Donkey Kong, I’m wondering if he could be a blood relation to John C. Reilly.

The various Kongs, previously:

Monday, August 04, 2014

Floating in a World of Julee Cruise

Not that I’m going to start a “things I heard on the radio” tag, but here is another post about something I heard on the radio.

Yesterday, I wrote about hearing something that sounded familiar and not being able to determine why. Today, I present a more successful version of this situation. Recently, I happened across This Mortal Coil’s “Song to the Siren.” While I’d heard it before, listening to it in the car I was struck by how much it reminded me of David Lynch and Twin Peaks and, in particular, the music of Julee Cruise.

See if you hear it too.

When I got home, I read up on the song and discovered that it actually has a significant history with David Lynch’s work. Lynch wanted to use the song in Blue Velvet but couldn’t. He therefore ended up reaching out to a then-unknown composer named Angelo Badalamenti, who was on-set helping Isabella Rossellini get her vocals right for the performance of the title track. From a recent Rolling Stone piece on Lynch and Badalamenti’s work together:
“David reluctantly agreed to write a lyric, and he thought writing a new song was absolutely preposterous because ‘Song to the Siren’ was his favorite song of all time,” Badalamenti says. “But Isabella came to the recording studio, where we were recording Blue Velvet, and she handed me a little piece of yellow paper and, in David's handwriting, it said, ‘Sometimes a wind blows and you and I float in love and kiss forever in a darkness and the mysteries of love come clear....’ I’m reading this and saying, ‘Hey man, where are the rhymes? And more important, where are the hooks that a song needs?’” To make things more quizzical, the only musical directions Lynch gave Badalamenti were to “compose something with no beginning and no end” and to make it “just ethereal beauty.”

Dumbfounded, the composer sat at his keyboard, staring at Lynch's scratch paper, and held a “long, soft, sustained, wide-voiced B major chord” for maybe a minute or more. “I was just listening to this chord, and it set a mood for me,” he recalls. “The melody just floated out and I knew that I married David’s description to this poetic lyric. I never changed a single word.” And thus, “Mysteries of Love” was born.
Here is that song:

Cruise eventually sang in the title track to Twin Peaks, though her vocals would be excised from the portion shown before every episode. She also appeared on the show and in the prequel move as well, and Lynch and Badalamenti, in turn, wrote and produced additional songs for her throughout the next decade — and it all happened because a certain Tim Buckley cover was too expensive.

Incidentally, Cruise has a small cameo in another famous piece of culture about murders in a small town: a remix of her track “Artificial World” is playing in Tatum’s bedroom during the “Bam! Bitch went down” scene in Scream — because mid-’90s teens loved them some Julee Cruise dance remixes. Can anyone point me toward a non-remixed, original version of “Artificial World”?

Sunday, August 03, 2014

The Pleasurable Irritation of Misplaced Nostalgia

On one hand, this post may appeal especially to the video game-literate members of my audience. On the other, it speaks to a larger sensation that I'm sure we have no word for.

Here is Rene Aubry’s “Seduction,” an instrumental piano piece that I heard yesterday on KCRW.

Now, please, what does it sound like? Aubry released the song on his 2013 album, Forget Me Not, which means that whatever I’m thinking of mostly likely came out before, but something about this song triggers my nostalgia sensors nonetheless. Just given my own history, it’s likely whatever it reminds me of came from a video game, just because a life playing video game has meant a lot of time listening to instrumental “wallpaper” music. To me, the Aubry song sounds like a minor key version of something in a major key, but for the life of me I can’t say what.

Is it this? Is it this? Does this trigger anyone else’s nostalgia sensors? This is driving me crazy, but in a way I don’t especially mind.