Saturday, October 24, 2009

"Did K. ever show you the human arm he found when he was cleaning out the attic crawlspace?" The question was very nonchalant, off-the-cuff. And a week away from Halloween, I knew right off the (vampire) bat that this was some kind of gag. I wasn't for a second going to believe that my daughter's good friend's parents had a human arm knocking around their house, and that they were going to pull it out after my wife and I brought the girls back from seeing AstroBoy. K. jumped up from the couch, and climbed onto the arm of a chair next to the armoire that held their TV set. He's got a bit of a bad back, and I was saying something like "C'mon guys, knock it off -- I'm not buying this gag," especially because I thought he was going to fall off the chair arm and finish off his spine in the process of trying to retrieve the rubber snake or whatever the hell he was going to actually throw at me for the joke.

And then, I found myself watching K. fishing around below the crown molding of the armoire, and he retrieved something wrapped up in a very conventional blue, terry cloth bath towel, and the towel ends were flapping around a bit, and some small brown flakes were falling out onto the carpet. My ears were starting to pick up sounds again, and K. and his wife were saying something like "Are you sure that you're OK to see this? ...because some people really get freaked out or can't handle this sort of thing...."

Yes, I definitely want to see it. And since I can ask first hand how you actually found this thing, I want to know everything about it. So I'm sitting on a nice upholstered chair with the towel across my legs and it's unwrapped and I'm holding a dark brown, mummified woman's (I think, because the fingers seemed slender) arm. The upper arm didn't seem to have much flesh on it, and the ball joint on the end of the bone was apparent. The lower arm had some flesh and dried out veins/arteries on it, and the hand, fingers together and relatively straight, was completely intact. I wish now that I had turned it over to look at the palm, but I was handling it very gently.

In a nutshell, K. found the arm while in an attic crawlspace to put in some new wiring. It was with a plaque that had two wire loops/supports, and he thinks it may have come from a doctor's collection or a medical college or something. He said it gave him a bit of a start when he came across it, crawling on his elbows. (By the way, the girls were not in the room while the arm was under examination.) The discovery occurred about 10 years ago. And having recently explored the Mutter Museum, I'm absolutely certain that this was no fake. And so, we looked at it, and K. started to put it away, and I asked to look at it a second time, and then I put it away to try to save K's back, and he warned me to be careful since it would drop down a bit once I got it above the crown molding, and of course, I managed to make a nice rapping noise by banging the socket against the top of the armoire. Anyone up for a reading of Sheridan LeFanu's "Narrative of the Ghost of a Hand"? Unbelievable....

Thursday, September 03, 2009

The only way to improve the NASCAR-style, forward-leaning graphic on the sign of this upstate NY church would be to replace that rugged old cross with a giant, scythe-shaped "T"...time to harvest some souls, people! After all, aren't you tired of waiting for the apocalypse? I'm ready to see the unbelievers get their comeuppance in some sort of sanctified steel cage showdown.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Last Saturday night, The Damned played the Chance Theater in Poughkeepsie. I felt like I had won a sweepstakes or something -- The Damned were coming to my veritable backyard to play. If you don't know them, they are first wave punk heroes who have never rested on their laurels but continue to release records spanning genres from stripped-down punk to goth-tinged grandeur to the roots of rock and roll and psychedelia. This is a band that tipped their hats to their ancestors from their very first punk single, 'New Rose' (1976), an addendum to 'Leader of the Pack' by The Shangri-Las.
The Chance is a small theater that must date back to the turn of the last century. At the balcony level, there are Egyptian sarcophagi on either side of the stage and a few Art Nouveau-style decorations. It's a great venue to see a band if you want to be up close. On Saturday, there was an atmosphere of expectation throughout the place. The local opening band, White Knuckle Rodeo, delivered a surprisingly great, speedy, energetic punk rock set. Their lead singer, Cookie, working the merch table with some EPs and t-shirts after his set, spoke in reverential tones: "I can't wait to see The Damned -- those guys are my heroes."
"You're in for a treat," my wife Jayne told him with a smile.
The second opener was Electric Frankenstein. I hadn't seen them before or heard their music, but I was very pleased. Again, we were treated to a set of solid punk rock played by a bunch of guys who looked like a family of moonshiners or something (and I mean that in the best way possible). Their songs thrummed along like a well-tuned Chevy 327 doing a steady 71 m.p.h. I picked up an EF double album ('We Will Bury You') on delicious purple vinyl that consists of all covers including X, The Clash, Dead Kennedys, Misfits, Fleetwood Mac (The Chain?!?), Joan Jett, etc. with a thoughtful set of liner notes that give the why and wherefore for each song.
Alright, you've been patient. Let me put you a little bit more in the scene. It's a full moon in the Hudson Valley and a cool, clear spring evening. The side door of the Chance is open for the smokers and it's letting in a sweet, fresh draft. The Damned take the stage with Captain Sensible uttering "Ladies and Gentlemen, how do?" to which Dave Vanian adds "Hey man, what's happening?" and with that, they have launched into 'Love Song' at blistering speed. I won't try to give you the set list in exact order, but the band did pepper a few other tunes from the Machine Gun Etiquette album into the first half of the set, including 'I Just Can't Be Happy Today' and the title track.
Throughout the show, the band kept up a light-hearted banter. At one point, the Captain called for his speaker stack to be turned up and Dave made some off-handed comment about Cap's ego. "More, more -- I want to hear only me!" Sensible cried out, hamming it up. Dave gestured vaguely in Cap's direction, saying something like "Yes, yes, Mephistopheles must be appeased." When they ripped through 'Neat, Neat, Neat' it was impossible not to dance -- the band itself was in constant motion throughout the show -- Vanian lunging back and forth, jumping off the drum riser backwards, swinging his legs from side to side like Chaplin, Monty Oxymoron out from behind his keyboards and jumping up and down like a mad puppet on a string (impressive!), Stu West wielding his bass like a battering was hard to snap a clear picture!
This was the fourth time I've seen The Damned (previously a couple of early 90's farewell tours at the New Ritz on 54th Street and one tour where Patricia Morrison played bass at Coney Island High in the East Village), and the first time that I heard any songs from the Phantasmagoria/Anything era played live. The band sounded absolutely at the top of their game while playing 'Eloise,' 'Alone Again Or,' and 'There'll Come A Day,' with Dave and the Captain also capably singing the horn arrangements.
The Captain made a number of pronouncements during the show: Simon Cowell should be hung by the neck until dead (sounds fair), The Damned were created in 1976 to deliver us all from the horrors of Prog Rock (amen to that, brother), and that he has a lot more hair than bassist Stu West (also true). Dave added that the Captain is still using the same dye on said hair that he started using in 1976. From the new record, the band played 'Perfect Sunday' and 'Dr. Woofenstein.' Finally, we were treated to 'New Rose,' 'Looking At You,' and for the encores, 'Jet Boy' by Elton Motello and 'Smash It Up (Pt. II).'
It was frigging glorious. The Captain introduced the band members at the end of the show, attributing only possession of red hair to Pinch rather than any particular instrument or musical talent and got a towel flung at him in response, and the whole show seemed to have ended in about 10 glorious minutes although we got about 15 songs.
After the house lights came up, Captain Sensible wandered out on stage to try and iron out a guitar issue with his tech. He chatted with fans, autographed ticket stubs, and finally eased himself off the edge of the stage to talk with us on the floor. I handed him my housekeys so he could pry the cap off his beer and asked about his recent politicking. Cap responded that the Blah! Party was on hiatus, since he had a couple of people helping him set up the events that were no longer working for him, but that he would continue to blog. He said he worried that given the current economic meltdown, anyone who could figure out the real scope of the mess was likely to get taken out by some government hit men. I suggested that the general desire of the masses not to really ever figure anything out would help the government to never have to work that hard.
Jayne shared with the Captain that it was almost exactly 20 years ago that we saw The Damned on one of our first dates. It was the Farewell Tour, I reminded him. "Ah - the Farewell Tour," he smiled. "You wore a chef's uniform but you came out for the encore naked," I added. "Do you want your money back?" he quipped. "Nah, we loved it," I returned. I think what I really meant to say was "You guys are the best -- we love you." Jayne added, "Always keep playing." He took it all in graciously, with a "Thank you -- that's so nice." A very civilized end to another perfect evening with The Damned.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

This afternoon I stepped back into a place I haven't visited regularly since I was a kid with newspaper delivery money burning a hole in my pocket. The outside of the building was nondescript, except for the unusual sign hanging from the second story. Inside, the light was dim, but even while my eyes were adjusting I could hear the muted sounds of roaring car engines, rifle fire, jets across the stratosphere, and chiming bells.  A faint aroma of warmed up electronics could be detected, like the smell of an AFX slot car set after a busy afternoon of racing -- and beyond the counter, vintage arcade games were arrayed in four rows, waiting to be played. Proprietor Fred Bobrow of the Retro Arcade Museum has assembled an amazing collection of working arcade games including pinball machines, road race games, and various sharpshooter and combat games that visitors can play to their heart's content after obtaining an appointment for a group or private party.

There are a few vintage video games, but for the most part these are mechanical marvels that use projection, mirrors, scrolling landscapes, physical game pieces and mechanical relays to simulate aerial bombing runs, moon landings, and grand prix action in the same way that stage magicians use trick cabinets and props to accomplish their illusions. After we arrived, Fred showed us a 1950s-style, back-room kitchen where we could put down our coats and where snack bags of popcorn and bottles of water were placed out for us, then proceeded to give us a quick tour of the games and how to activate them (no quarters or tokens required once you're inside the arcade -- just the joy of thumbing the start button and playing). Fred also has monitors set up out front (we had episodes of the Partridge Family screening during our visit) and a pc-based jukebox through which he'll do his best to accommodate your requests for background music during gaming.

The games are an amazing panoply of scenarios and mechanisms. Sega's Rifleman places you at the stock of a rifle and sight, through which you see a tiny image of a western saloon with bartender dutifully polishing a glass, patron, and a backshelf with 5 miniature target bottles. As you squeeze off each shot, the rifle recoils. After you've fired your complement of bullets, the results are displayed on a paper ticket with a facsimile of the target bottles, dutifully punched by the machine to reflect your shots, so that you can hold the ticket up to the light and gauge your scores against the bullseye rings via the holes in the paper.

Bally's Space Flight Game is a much neater variant of those pesky claw machines that plague movie theater lobbies, where instead of trying to grapple a plush Sponge Bob, you have to successfully land a lunar module on the cratered surface of the moon. The colors are beautifully lurid, with green stars on a purple-black backdrop, and NASA mission control staff chatter directions to you during the descent.

The Road Runner gives a bird's eye perspective of a grand prix race, with "jam cars" that you have to weave around and between endlessly scrolling towards you in changing combinations as you mash down the accelerator pedal. If your car strikes another racer, a mechanical arm flips you end over end and onto the shoulder, costing valuable points and time until you can get back up to speed and into the lanes again. There are a couple of bombing run games, such as Target Zero, that fly you above a landscape of high value targets and exude an insane, Cold War sort of aura. I was becoming the arcade equivalent of a backseat driver to my daughter (until she shooed me away) as she played: "Don't miss the bulk oil terminal there...OK, there's a factory...and the large bridge," and laughing inwardly at how bizarre the directions sounded. When we reached the rocket-on-the-launch pad target, all I could think of was a recent viewing of the 1953 version of "Invaders from Mars" and the stubby-winged interplanetary ship that was the target of the Martians' erstwhile sabotage attempts. The list of cool games goes on through about 40+ machines, including flying a barnstormer through a series of obstacles and lying in wait in the ocean depths with a sub full of torpedoes as target ships glide along the horizon line. Fred noted that his entire stock of machines, slumbering in a warehouse, is about 3X as large as the collection on-site, so we may see some swapping of machines over time to change things up.

The space itself is really neat, with colored sconces and laser displays tracing abstract patterns on the walls, framed vintage music posters and album covers, and a front area filled with display cases of vintage handhelds and consoles and funky games of strength such as Crush-the-Can. Check out the Retro Arcade Museum in scenic Beacon, New York as soon as you're able!

Friday, February 06, 2009

To Lux Interior (raises glass), may God bless your trash culture-loving soul. You gave us some of the sweetest psychobilly madness ever to blare from a set of stereo speakers. You shared our love for old records and stripped down rock and roll. Whose life wasn't changed by even one listening of "Goo Goo Muck?" The world is a poorer place for your passing.

Monday, February 02, 2009

The NBC New York 11 o'clock news has reported an earthquake in north-central New Jersey this evening. While they also noted that the earthquake had been confirmed by the U.S. Geologic Survey, an 'eyewitness' caller, former of California and now living in NJ, said the earthquake was like nothing he ever experienced on the west coast. The caller said that instead of the rolling shocks prevalent in California earthquakes, this phenomenon consisted of one abrupt shock to the upper floor of his house, accompanied by a loud, explosive sound from outside. Attempts by the authorities to cover this up aside, you and I both know that a UFO has crash-landed in NJ tonight. And no, this hypothesis has nothing to do with the fact that I recently picked up several volumes of "The X-Files Mythology Collection" on DVD at a deep discount, after Christmas sale at FYE. Even now, Lovecraftian terrors are boiling up out of fissures in the Ramapo Mountains to rescue the downed interstellar aviators.