Josie Cotton’s B-Movie Guide: Why, Josie, Why?

Josie Cotton may have stolen the prom scene in a cult-classic film (1983’s Valley Girl, singing new-wave hit “Johnny, Are You Queer?”), but she never committed such cinematic high-camp crimes as found in vintage b-movies. Each day this week, Cotton surveys one of her favorite films and offers a song from her latest album, Invasion Of The B-Girls. Read our Q&A with Cotton and her memoir about “Johnny, Are You Queer?”

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Here lies the unknown-yet-forgettable Black Klansman. It never fit into the theme of Invasion Of The B-Girls, but it was in such questionable taste that I had to include it. Suffice it to say, 1966’s The Black Klansman was a mistake by all concerned. No matter how well-intentioned, civil-rights activist/director Ted V. Mikels has left us with the moral equivalent of a Chia Pet. Even in the worst b-movies, you can always find a way to suspend disbelief. However, it is impossible to forget the fact that a full-on afro-sheened black dude is inducted into the Ku Klux Klan and no one seems to notice! The fact that no one would admit to knowing who wrote its kick-ass theme song, “Black Klansman,” was kind of funny but also a little sad because it deserves to be remembered. When I sang this song, the story of the Black Klansman insanely became my story, proving once again that emotions are not to be trusted.

Hunting down the renegade songwriters responsible for the material on Invasion Of The B-Girls proved to be an unexpected odyssey. A lot of them had died along the way—some, apparently, from embarrassment. We were dealing with now-defunct publishing companies and disbelieving heirs scattered across the country who had no idea what shady shenanigans their kooky artiste cousin twice removed had been up to out there in Hollywood Land.

To my amazement, no one had ever made a record devoted to theme songs from b-movies until Invasion Of The B-Girls. How could that be? There was a geek army of hardcore b-movie fans who knew much more than I would ever know, but fate had thrown me a grenade and I was going to run like hell with it. Did I lose fans doing this? Yes. Will I ever make back the money I spent? No. Was it worth it? Absofuckinglutely. This was my labor of love, harkening back to when I was a weird and socially challenged little girl. Godzilla, Mothra and aliens from Mars were personal friends of mine in this other world where I did fit in.

“Black Klansman” from Josie Cotton’s Invasion Of The B-Girls (download):
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/BlackKlansman.mp3

Continue reading “Josie Cotton’s B-Movie Guide: Why, Josie, Why?”

Lost Classics: The Dismemberment Plan “Is Terrified”

tapem200bThey’re nobody’s buzz bands anymore. But since 1993, MAGNET has discovered and documented more great music than memory will allow. The groups may have broken up or the albums may be out of print, but this time, history is written by the losers. Here are some of the finest albums that time forgot but we remembered in issue #75, plus all-new additions to our list of Lost Classics.

dp_545:: THE DISMEMBERMENT PLAN
Is Terrified // DeSoto, 1997

Before Fall Out Boy, Hot Topic and emo, Washington, D.C.’s Dismemberment Plan provided the perfect soundtrack to post-college malaise. Terrified is the Plan at its ADD best: welding the unbridled energy of hardcore to the let’s-try-anything spirit of indie rock. (Imagine Shudder To Think crossed with XTC or Queen.) Frontman Travis Morrison embodied the brainy outsider but never begged for your sympathy: alone, naked and drenched in champagne on New Year’s Eve (“The Ice Of Boston”), bewildered by the indifference of the “six or seven kids” watching the band in a Fargo, N.D., strip mall (“Do The Standing Still”) and shrugging his shoulders at being the odd man out in pretty much every setting.

Catching Up: After the Plan’s 2003 split, Morrison released 2004’s Travistan and 2007’s All Y’all. Bassist Eric Axelson played in Maritime with ex-members of the Promise Ring before forming Statehood with D-Plan drummer Joe Easley. Guitarist Jason Caddell is now a producer and engineer and plays in Poor But Sexy. Axelson and Caddell have also spent time in the Gena Rowlands Band. The Dismemberment Plan reunited for two shows in 2007.

“Academy Award”:

Cracker Releases New Video, Album Due In May

As a preview to Sunrise In The Land Of Milk And Honey (due May 5 on 429 Records), Cracker has posted a video for album track “Yalla Yalla” on YouTube. The video cobbles together clips of American fighting men and women stationed in Iraq, rocking out in and around tanks, aircraft carriers and barracks.

“‘Yalla’ is a common Arabic expression, loosely meaning ‘hurry up’ and often used by American soldiers,” writes Cracker frontman David Lowery. “Like every war, Iraq War soldiers have developed their own unique slang based on their experiences. Oftentimes these slang words creep into our nation’s vocabulary many years after the original conflict. ‘Yalla Yalla’ may not become as common as RADAR, AWOL or SNAFU but it will certainly be used by soldiers for many years to come. This song takes no position on the war in Iraq. It is a exploration and a celebration of a certain kind of bravado and swagger one finds in the speech of soldiers. I find it nicely matches the kind of swagger often exhibited by rock, blues and hip hop singers. I suppose that is why it was so much fun (and relatively easy) to take this arcane slang and acronyms and build a song out of it.”

There’s lots more to say about Sunrise In The Land Of Milk And Honey, but we’ll be brief for now: Guest performers and co-songwriters include Susanna Hoffs, Sparklehorse’s Mark Linkous, John Doe and Drive-By Truckers’ Patterson Hood. The song titled “Hey Bret (You Know What Time It Is)” is not directed toward Flight Of The Conchords‘ Bret (who knows it’s business time), but is rather an in-joke between Lowery and Built To Spill/Caustic Resin dude Brett Netson.

MP3 At 3PM: Prefuse 73

prefuse360Multi-monikered hip-hop artist Guillermo Scott Herren (a.k.a. Savath y Savalas, a.k.a. Diamond Watch Wrists), best known as Prefuse 73, will be releasing his latest effort, Everything She Touched Turned Ampexian, on April 14 on Warp. Ampexian arrives just in time to set up lawn chairs on your roof this summer, where Herren’s deft, palatable R&B beats—infused with jazz trumpets and hiccupping electronic blips—will create a perfect ambience over an epic 29 tracks. The song “Preperation’s Kids Choir” is more hormonal than a 13-year-old girl, but its steady loops keep it planted firmly in your mind all day long.

“Preparations Kids Choir” (download):
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/PreparationsKidsChoir.mp3

Mecca Normal Embarks On 25th Anniversary Tour

meccanormal370bAround the world, people are losing their jobs, cashing their unemployment checks and hunkering down to weather the storm. Canadian singer/multi-instrumentalist Jean Smith’s response to getting a pink slip when the eco-friendly clothing store where she worked closed its doors is a bit more hopeful and creative. She booked a 25th anniversary tour for Mecca Normal, her duo with guitarist David Lester. It starts in their hometown of Vancouver at the end of March and finishes up in Providence, R.I., a month later, with stops split between conventional rock venues and classrooms where they’ll stage a combination lecture/workshop/art exhibit.

“How Art & Music Can Change The World” provides a venue for Smith and Lester to present their work in other media (she is a published author and a painter, he makes politically themed posters and comics), but it also let’s them try to inspire audiences to effect progressive change through their own creative work. Mecca Normal hasn’t issued an album since 2006, but the duo hasn’t been musically idle. Lester’s other band, Horde Of Two, recently released its first CD, Guitar & Bass Actions, while Mecca Normal has been reissuing older records on iTunes and developing a diverse new set of songs, some of which you can hear on its MySpace page. One, “Malachi,” commemorates a Chicago antiwar activist who set himself on fire. Others, says Smith, “are narratives based in the male/female dynamic; we’ve performed most of these ones and they get laughs. I actually have to stop singing and wait for people to stop laughing.”

Tour dates after the jump.

“Medieval Man” from Who Shot Elvis? (download):
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/MedievalMan.mp3

Tomorrow we’ll be posting the first in a series of weekly drawings that Lester is doing of people, places and events from Mecca Normal’s 25-year run.

Sitting On Snaps (Matador, 1995) and Who Shot Elvis? (Matador, 1997) have been re-released on iTunes (Smarten UP! Records, 2009)

Continue reading “Mecca Normal Embarks On 25th Anniversary Tour”

Josie Cotton’s B-Movie Guide: “Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls” (Part 2)

josiecat359cJosie Cotton may have stolen the prom scene in a cult-classic film (1983’s Valley Girl, singing new-wave hit “Johnny, Are You Queer?”), but she never committed such cinematic high-camp crimes as found in vintage b-movies. Each day this week, Cotton surveys one of her favorite films and offers a song from her latest album, Invasion Of The B-Girls. Read our Q&A with Cotton and her memoir about “Johnny, Are You Queer?”

Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls (1970)
But it will always be the music of Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls that is the be-all and end-all in this epic comic-book musical of punishment and redemption. The soundtrack is at times falling-down drunk with soaring strings and opulent orchestration, sometimes in the guise of spy music, game-show music, Lassie music, even soap-opera organs thrown into the mix, intentionally and perfectly over the top. And Russ Meyer oversaw all of it, with the same fervent and loving attention to detail he carried over into every aspect of the making of this movie. He even insisted the all-girl rock band, renamed the Carrie Nations, who were not musicians (or actors), learn how to play their instruments or at least fake it better than anyone had ever done, (they still hold that cache) rehearsing hours a day so they would look like and, more importantly, feel like real musicians.

What ultimately sets this movie music apart, though, is its untouchable take on the music of the day: a time capsule of psychedelic rock, pop, funk and heavy on the British Invasion, through a kaleidoscope brightly. It not only defined an era without missing a beat, it has become timeless.

Someone very wise once said there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come; this was just such a time, and the ideas were huge. Before disco strutted its bad self under the spinning disco ball reflecting on a sea of white encrusted nostrils, before punk rock ripped out the throat of society (and deservedly so) as it nodded into unconciousness from slamming smack, there was this time: this brief time when music was the religion of choice, when people really believed it would change the world. It was all about Love and tearin’ the mother down. Now I’m as guilty as anyone of making fun of the hippies (for the love of God don’t tell anyone I’m a hippie!), but it reminds me of that Star Trek episode when the Enterprise reaches a distant planet ruled by the great Apollo, the last surviving Greek god in the known universe. With no one left to remember him or bring him offerings, he dies of a broken heart, and at the end, with uncharacteristic humility, Captain Kirk muses, “Would it have hurt us, I wonder, just to have gathered a few laurel leaves?”

Sure, after the ’60s were all over, there were those who scurried back to the suburbs to hide in front of their televisions, those who retreated to their teepees, communes and cults, those who pimped their souls out on Wall Street and in ad agencies and still feast on the entrails of their own betrayed ideals. However you want to spin it—and maybe despite itself—the last gasp of the ’60s lives on in Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls through its music. This is the legacy they leave us. It is there in Lynn Carrie’s voice, in the songs of mega songwriter Stu Philips and in the musicians who played behind them. But there is an underlying poignancy as well. It might have been drugs that opened the doors of perception, but it was Charles Manson who shot Bambi in the head, mid-filming, and Meyers/Ebert didn’t skip an opportunist bong hit to rewrite the ending into basically a musical snuff film. But that the ’60s live on in this movie, with this director (who had not an iota of a clue about the times they were living through), could it be any more perfect?  Could it? You’ll just have to take my word for it: It is perfection. Oh irony, I am your whore.

Rest assured Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls is irreverent and self mocking, dripping with nymphomaniac hippies, betrayal, fashion and dismemberment. Behold montage after montage foreshadowing a virtual cafeteria of other bleeding, syrupy musical montages to come, more types of creepy staring than I knew existed, and an abortion that turns into pancakes which I had thought impossible. It was my own exquisite agony having to choose which song to include on Invasion Of The B-Girls, but “Days Of Now And Then” prevailed; it’s one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful and absurd songs ever written, climaxing during a gauzy love scene between two man-hating lingerie lesbians about to be slaughtered by a drug-crazed transvestite.

I will always consider it a great honor when Russ Meyer told me personally that I would be sued “till the end of time” if I ever recorded any of the songs from his movies. I didn’t listen, of course. But my deluxe bouffant wig is off to you, sir. I just hope that wherever you are now, they have giant knockers to your exact specifications.

“Faster Pussycat” from Josie Cotton’s Invasion Of The B-Girls (download):
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/FasterPussycat.mp3

Lost Classics: The Notwist “Neon Golden”

tapem200bThey’re nobody’s buzz bands anymore. But since 1993, MAGNET has discovered and documented more great music than memory will allow. The groups may have broken up or the albums may be out of print, but this time, history is written by the losers. Here are some of the finest albums that time forgot but we remembered in issue #75, plus all-new additions to our list of Lost Classics.

notwisth566:: THE NOTWIST
Neon Golden // Domino, 2003

The members of the Notwist evolved from dismal beginnings as metal-besotted teen punks to the fun sophistication of the aptly named Neon Golden. The album achieved a genuine integration of previously opposing elements, as the German group blended crunchy, skittery beats inspired by several generations of European techno with dubby textures, decorative string flourishes, smooth woodwind textures and insanely catchy pop melodies. On Neon Golden, the boy never seemed to get the girl, but the rest of us were happy to bob our heads while he hung his.

Catching Up: The Notwist released follow-up The Devil, You + Me last year. In 2005, the band joined up with nerd-rappers Themselves and made an album as 13 & God. Members of the Notwist also play in ConsoleLali Puna, Ms. John Soda and Schweisser.

“Pick Up The Phone”:
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/PickUpThePhone.mp3

MP3 At 3PM: The Horrors

horr0rs390Somewhere between Joy Division, the Damned and a can of hairspray, you’ll find the Horrors. Their NME-approved brand of manic garage goth might’ve seemed like a joke at first (a drummer named Coffin Joe wasn’t helping), but the Horrors aren’t laughing anymore. The songs from upcoming album Primary Colours (due in May on XL) are the U.K. group’s strongest yet. The echo-laden “Sea Within A Sea” sounds like Ian Curtis waking up next to Robert Smith with the ultimate goth hangover. It’s also nearly eight minutes long and genuinely spooky.

“Sea Within A Sea” (download):

Listening To The Best Show: The Marathon Episodes

bestshowlogobA weekly review of The Best Show On WFMU, Tom Scharpling’s call-in/comedy/music show broadcast every Tuesday night from Jersey City. The three-hour program is available for free download at iTunes.

As previously mentioned, WFMU is a listener-sponsored station, and two weeks a year are dedicated to the fundraising marathon. So the past two episodes of The Best Show (3/3/09 and 3/10/09) are completely dedicated to that effort and consist largely of reading off pledges and trying to keep the phone lines busy with donations. Why bother downloading these podcasts? A few things come to mind:

Philly Boy Roy returns! Whenever PBR has an extended absence from the show, we like to start rumors of a new Superchunk album. Turns out we’re almost correct—there’s a new EP and some live dates happening next month.

Comedy guests include Paul F. Tompkins (host of VH-1’s Best Week Ever) and John Hodgman (the PC in the Apple commercials). Musical guests include Ted Leo and Aimee Mann. I was going to complain about Leo being a little too omnipresent on The Best Show, but he proved his worth by composing a Mike Show theme (Mike is the call screener whose antics threaten to usurp Tom) and a really solid version of “Timorous Me.” Tompkins joined Mann for a jokey version of Magnolia hit “Wise Up,” which went off the rails early and often. The show should’ve closed with Mann revisiting the song by her lonesome because, you know, it’s not going to stop. (The second show actually ended with a kinda-terrible group singalong of Elton John’s “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” apropos of nothing except that it uses the term of endearment “sugar bear,” which is funny.)

Worth visualizing: Tom commandeered the phone room in a yachting outfit inspired by Ted Knight’s Judge Smails character from Caddyshack.

And finally, you have to be the cynic of the century not to appreciate the ideas behind WFMU and the need for the fundraising marathon. Hearing Tom thank each and every caller who pledged money as their names are read is a nice touch. Let me know when he’s done stirring the Kool-Aid.

Josie Cotton’s B-Movie Guide: “Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls” (Part 1)

Josie Cotton may have stolen the prom scene in a cult-classic film (1983’s Valley Girl, singing new-wave hit “Johnny, Are You Queer?”), but she never committed such cinematic high-camp crimes as found in vintage b-movies. Each day this week, Cotton surveys one of her favorite films and offers a song from her latest album, Invasion Of The B-Girls. Read our Q&A with Cotton and her memoir about “Johnny, Are You Queer?”

josie-dolls375Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls (1970)
In the world of b-movies, Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls stands alone. It’s hard to even call it a b-movie (or b-movie musical). It is simply the apex and zenith, and there will never be another movie like it. The film’s premise is deceptively simplistic: part Partridge family, part Manson family, an all-bombshell trio called the Kelly Affair follows its rainbow unicorn dreams to the charred ruins of a cultural and sexual revolution the likes of which the world had never seen. It was the end of the ‘60s, it was Los Angeles, and director/producer Russ Meyer was the high priest ordained to carry out the last rites.

The fact this movie was ever made is nothing short of miraculous. Dolls slipped under the radar of a major movie studio (20th Century Fox), which gave Meyer, sole creator of the sexploitation genre, carte blanche with no supervision. It was described by Roger Ebert (who co-wrote the script) as “when the lunatics took over the asylum.” The ‘60s had passed Fox by, and maybe the studio equated free love with pornography but without big money problems. Still there was no denying that Meyer was a seriously talented young filmmaker, making hard cash with soft porn on low budgets. For whatever reason, Fox decided to throw him a bone and baby, he ran with it. Lucky for us.

Having been called both the worst and best movie ever made, Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls is simultaneously a melodrama, a skin flick, a violent exploitation movie, a satire of a satire, an exposé on real people, a rock musical unparalleled and a comedy often accused of being a movie that didn’t know it was a comedy. Mercilessly panned by film critics, Meyer was going into such uncharted post-modernist territory that he had to make it up as he went along. Quentin Tarantino, Russ Meyer was doing this 40 years ago without a map and doing it without the artifice of affectation.

Thanks to the bevy of busty babes who could act only seconds at a time, Meyer had to develop a kung-fu-fast editing style. The writing ranges from cheeky Shakespearean prose to drug-addled street slang, which always seems slightly out of synch, as if it were written by squares trying to be “hep.” Nevertheless, the dialogue in the film has become archetypal: “This is my happening and it freaks me out!” was shamelessly lifted by Austin Powers in 1997. “You’re a groovy boy. I’d like to strap you on sometime” was uttered by the incomparable Edie Williams, Russ Meyer’s real-life wife. It remains the best pick-up line ever purred by a bottomless man-eating sex hyena on the make.

Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls required a protracted prologue, an epilogue to harelip all epilogues and ongoing narration that, at times, includes the actors describing their own characters in the third person while they are trying to act like they’re acting in the first person to an actor also referring to them in the third person! Crazy shit. To say that Meyer had a demented sense of humor would be the understatement of the century.

“Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls” from Josie Cotton’s Invasion Of The B-Girls (download):
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/BeyondTheValleyOfTheDolls.mp3