PopCult Rudy Panucci on Pop Culture

Sunday Evening Video: The Lesser Rutles

1978’s All You Need Is Cash, the NBC special that introduced America to The Rutles (sort of…they’d been on Saturday Night Live a year earlier), changed my life. Before seeing it, I was a comedy nerd who would automatically devour anything even remotely related to Monty Python.

The Rutles resonated so deeply with me that, the next weekend, I got a ride to Budget Tapes and Reocrds and found the soundtrack album (in the cut-out bin, for $2.99) and started listening to it incessantly. This parody of The Beatles was so brilliantly done that it made me want to learn everything I could about the source material.

And that’s how I became a fan of The Beatles. I’d grown up hearing The Beatles and watching the cartoons, and the design of Yellow Submarine had a huge influence on me as an artist, but it wasn’t until The Rutles awakened my passion for music that I got turned on to The Beatles, and then branched out to Progressive Rock, New Wave and more.  It changed me from being a comedy nerd into being a music nerd (except that I’m still a comedy nerd, too).

The original documentary was sheer comic brilliance that succeeded largely due to the incredible work of Neil Innes, who created the music of the Rutles as such an amazing pastiche of The Beatles that it took the work of his collaborator, Eric Idle, to new heights.

Years later, in the wake of The Beatles Anthology, Innes got the idea to create a new album of Rutles music, using some leftover material from the original sessions (and “Beatle-izing some of his previously-published compositions to fend off any pesky copyright claims) and everything was going hunky-dory until Idle started making legal trouble and claiming full ownership of The Rutles. 1996 saw the release of The Rutles Archeology. With the threat of legal issues looming, Virgin records pulled their promotional support, dooming the album and killing any chance it had of succeeding.

As if that weren’t bad enough, Idle then proceeded to create what he called a “remake supplement” of the original documentary, without the participation of Innes or any of the other suviving band members, and using tons of outtakes from the original documentary.

At the time I was excited by the news of a new Rutles mockumentary because I was not privvy to the ugliness going on behind the scenes. I waited for more news of the new Rutles film, but never heard of it again until 2002, when to my shock, I discovered The Rutles 2: Can’t Buy Me Lunch on DVD at Kroger in a bin of remaindered titles for four bucks.

It was…a major disappointment. It’s not that it was bad, but it was just a re-tread of the original, in watered-down form. I remember at the time thinking that, rather than a stand-alone release, this would have been perfectly adequate as a DVD bonus for the original Rutles film. Surprisingly, it includes music from The Rutles Acheology, reportedly used without permission.

Since that time, Innes has toured a couple of times with various forms of surviving Rutles, and I think there’s even a new song or two floating around out there that I haven’t gotten my hands on yet. I don’t know if things between Idle and Innes are civil again or not. It’s a shame that Idle’s greed and ego torpedoes a friendship that had begun in the 1960s.

The irony is that The Rutles’ end turned out to be even messier and more acrimonious than The Beatles’.

Our video this week is the second Rutles movie. Treat it like bonus material on a DVD, and it’s not so bad.

The RFC Flashback: MINI SHOW number ten

This we we go back to the middle of January, 2014 for a black-and-white episode of The RFC MINI SHOW that presents the funky progressive jazz stylings of the Bob Thompson Unit. We recorded these Charleston Stalwarts in December, 2013 at The Boulevard Tavern for our Christmas show, and we had some video left over to build a MINI SHOW around.

You will hear Bob Thompson, Ryan Kennedy, Doug Payne, John Inghram and Tim Courts breathe life into “The Magic of Your Heart.” The performance (and the introduction) are in black and white, for no particular reason other than we thought it looked cool and jazzy.

The Dismal Return Of Toys R Us

The PopCulteer
October 11, 2019

This week we have a follow-up on what has turned into one of the most disappointing stories of the year in the toy industry. We covered the fall of Toys R Us all through the year last year, and we should be used to disappointments after last year’s “revival” turned out to be cardboard dumps full of generic toys in Kroger. But after a huge build up, this week’s news has turned out to be another football yanked away as we were about to kick it.

This week Toys R Us unveiled their new website, which was highly-anticipated as the key to re-establishing the embattled toy seller as a force to be reckoned with at retail.

That didn’t exactly happen. TruKids opened their new website Tuesday, but it’s lacking one important component for a successful e-commerce website.

You can’t buy toys from it.

Instead, the new Toys R Us website consists of images and descriptions of toys, and when you click to buy one…you are redirected to Target.com.

Target is fulfilling all the orders placed through Toys R Us. Reportedly they’re also responsible for stocking the two retail stores which are expected to open soon. Target is really excited about this, but nobody else is.

Toys R Us, which existed for the sole purpose of selling toys, is attempting to get back in the toy business without actually selling any toys. I’m sure they’ll get a teensy commission on each sale made through their website or stores, but they aren’t investing a penny into inventory, and are not absorbing any costs associated with shipping, handling or taxes.

This is a huge letdown. The whole point of seeing Toys R Us return was that they’d have a different set of toy buyers and stock different inventory than other retailers. That is not the case. With this set-up, they’re just lending their name to Target in a pointless execise of branding that doesn’t help toy makers or consumers one bit.

I don’t mean to knock Target. They have a perfectly fine toy department. In fact, I go to their website and stores all the time.

So I don’t really need for Toys R Us to be a clone that only offers a small assortment of what Target has for sale.

This will not change the retail landscape for toys at all. It does not open up any opportunity for new toymakers, and it doesn’t offer consumers any additional options or choices. With no independent toy buyers picking new toys for Toys R Us, we have less diversity and less choice in the marketplace.

I have to wonder if this was the plan all along, or if it’s only a stopgap measure, or “Plan B” that came about after the idea of actually financing a retail start-up became too daunting. If this was the plan all along, why didn’t they just sell the trademarks to Target in the first place?

Essentially the end result would be the same. With the Kay Bee Toys revival apparently also a non-starter, this means that the toy retail world will be dominated even more by Walmart, Amazon and Target, with other retailers scrambling for the remaining twenty to thirty percent of the market not contolled by those three.

I don’t see consumers flocking to the new Toys R Us website. When people go to a website they want to buy stuff. They don’t want to be redirected to another company’s website, where the item they want might not be in stock.

The folks in charge now at the new corprate parent, TruKids, seem to have a fundamental misunderstanding of what made Toys R Us so appealing in the first place. Nobody went to Toys R Us for the “experience.” They went there to buy toys. Toys R Us was a toy-seller.

TruKids is also teaming up with Candytopia to create “Pop Up Experiences,” starting in Chicago and Atlanta. Dubbed “The Toys R Us Adventure,” the experiential pop-ups feature more than a dozen interactive play rooms, larger-than-life toys, and installations featuring Geoffrey, the brand’s giraffe mascot. However, you won’t be able to buy any toys there. It’s basically a fancy version of one of those bouncy-house places you see in malls.

“The Toys R Us brand was built upon celebrating the joys of childhood and we are thrilled to partner with the creatives behind Candytopia to introduce an exciting new way to play for guests of all ages,” Tru Kids CEO Richard Barry said in a press release.

Eliminating selling toys from the company mission reminds me of the community theater director a few decades back who said of his production of Jesus Christ Superstar that, “We’re going to play down the religious aspects of it.”

The folks in charge have completely missed the point of what Toys R Us should be. It should be a giant, sterile warehouse, filled with any toy any kid could possibly want. It was never part of the “Toys R Us Experience” to have well-informed sales associates who helped you with your purchase. You were lucky if they could tell you what aisle you could search to find the toy you wanted.

That was the fun…actually shopping, seeing things you didn’t know about and experiencing the joy of finally finding what you wanted. The whole idea that you could get lost and wander around the store looking for what you wanted was the real “experience.” It was the adventure of shopping. Most people know exactly what they want when they go to a toy store. That wasn’t a major issue that brought about the downfall of Toys R Us.

The two retail stores that TRU plans to open (concept sketch at left) will just be tiny showrooms, maybe with space for a hundred or so toys, and “demonstrators” who will tell you how great those toys are, because they’re being paid by the toy makers to convince you to order the toy from Target. Of course, this arrangment, where the toy companies pay for the space and pay for the sales associates and Target handles everything else only works if the idea is to keep the Toys R Us brand alive without spending a penny of their own money on it.

My prediction is that consumers will soundly reject this concept, and the TRU trademarks will be quietly sold to someone else (with Target being the front-runner) after the Christmas sales are calculated early next year.

It’s really sad to see things turn out this way. I was hoping for a stellar return to greatness for Toys R Us this holiday season. This news is like opening that big box under the tree, only to find socks and underwear.

That’s this week’s PopCulteer. Check back for all our regular features.

We pay tribute to The Cars on The AIR, as Friday, with a brand-new episode of  Sydney’s Big Electric Cat. Sydney Fileen presents two hours of tracks from the classic first five albums by New Wave stalwarts The Cars. You can listen at the website, or on this embedded radio player…

Friday at 3 PM you will get your two-hour dose of crunchy New Wave goodness. This week Sydney Fileen pays tribute to Ric Ocasek, who passed away last month, and also Benjamin Orr, the co-lead-singer for the quintessential American New Wave band, and the best thing to ever come out of Boston, The Cars.

You will hear a seamless mixtape featuring major hits, obscure deep cuts and a B side or two by The Cars, with a brief introduction by Ms. Fileen. In all, this episode of The Big Electric Cat is jam-packed with 30 songs by The Cars.

Sydney’s Big Electric Cat is produced at Haversham Recording Institute in London, and can be heard every Friday at 3 PM, with replays Saturday afternoon, Tuesday at 7 AM, Wednesday at 8 PM and Thursday at Noon, exclusively on The AIR. Every Monday at 3 PM, we bring you four classic episodes of Sydney’s Big Electric Cat, just so you can be all New Wave-y when you get home from work.

Look for a new PopCulteer later this afternoon.

Friday and Saturday you will have three chances to witness the first public staged reading of Space Preachers The Musical, the camp classic sci-fi film directed by Danny Boyd right here in West By God Virginia back in the 1980s. Troma picked up the film for international release and it’s become a cult hit around the world. Now Danny has teamed with Charleston’s go-to stage composer, Mark Scarpelli, to create a musical version of this epic science fiction romp.

A staged reading will take place this weekend at the Elk City Playhouse. I’m not sure what the plans are for a full-blown production of Space Preachers The Musical, but I’ll ask when we go to see it Saturday afternoon. ‘

Details are in the graphic below, or visit the Facebook Event Page for more info.

 

Nitro Festival of Fright Returns

Saturday, just in time to kick off the macabre season, the Nitro Festival of Fright returns to Ridenour Lake with a full day of freaky, frightening fun that caps off with a drive-in movie experience featuring A Nightmare On Elm Street.

The day kicks off at noon, and includes vendors, panels, races, pumpkin smashing, cabaret sideshow, bands and more before the movie.

Here’s the schedule for Festival of Fright 2019″

12 Noon Festival of Fright 2019 Begins

12:30 Area 51 Obstacle Course THEATER FIELD

12:30 Pumpkin Smash and Pumpkin Race DOCKSIDE

1:00 Pumpkin Carving with Greg Savilla THEATER FIELD

1:00 Paranormal Panel with Dave Spinks SHELTER 2

2:00 Halloween Display panel with Tiffany Steele SHELTER 2

3—3:45 Ghost Road GAZEEBO SHELTER

4—5:00 Po Folks Cabaret / Stray Cat Sideshow GAZEEBO SHELTER

6:00 Trail of Terror Starts SHELTER 1

5:30—6:30 Robot Jurassic GAZEEBO SHELTER

7:00—8:00 Voodoo Death Cult GAZEEBO SHELTER

7:00 Parking Opens For Movie REAR GATE

8:30—9:30 5 Cent Freak Show GAZEEBO SHELTER

10:00 Nightmare On Elm Street Drive In THEATER FIELD

Vendors announced so far include: Crystal Lotus; Tina Works Magic; Mottfolio Design; J.R Earls; Dave Spinks; Chris Huffman; Ann Reynolds; Anne Weible; Tiffany Steele; Brandon White; Carla Hanson; WV Paranormal; Gore Decore; Don Sager. More may be announced on the Facebook Event Page, so be sure to check that out for more details.

Curtain Call Salutes Zorro!

Wednesday at 3 PM, Curtain Call hails Zorro on the 100th year since his creation. You can listen at the website, or on this embedded radio player…

It has been one hundred years since Johnston McCulley introduced the world to Don Diego de la Vega in the pages of his novel, The Curse of Capistrano. The adventures of Zorro captivated audiences when the book was adapted as the 1020 movie, “The Mask of Zorro,” starring Douglas Fairbanks. Since that time, Zorro has appeared in hundreds of films, comic books, and stage productions.

This week on Curtain Call Mel Larch pays tribute to the centenary of the masked vigilante, Zorro by bringing you highlights of the original London cast recording of the 2008 musical, Zorro, which featured a a book by Stephen Clark and Helen Edmundson and music by the Gipsy Kings and John Cameron, with lyrics by Clark.

After its Olivier-winning London Run ended, Zorro has toured the world, with productions in France, Japan, China, Korea, the Netherlands, Russia, Bulgaria, Israel, and Brazil, largely with the orignal cast intact. The musical has yet to be performed in New York City. Tune in at 3 PM to listen to the musical mark of “Z.”

After the new hour of Curtain Call, stick around for two additional episodes from the Curtain Call archives. Curtain Call can be heard Wednesday at 3 PM, with replays Thursday at 8 AM and 8 PM, Friday at 10 AM and Saturday at 6 PM. An all-night marathon of Curtain Call episodes can be heard Wednesday nights, beginning at Midnight, and an additional marathon can be heard Sunday evenings from 6 PM to midnight..

Rare Ovada and Mother Nang Live On RFC

Tuesday at 10 AM we debut a special episode of Radio Free Charleston’s radio incarnation, which brings you audio taken from raw video of two bands, Ovada and Mother Nang. recorded live at The Empty Glass in Charleston, WV. you can tune in at The AIR website, or on this embedded radio player…

Ovada was recorded in May, 2009, while Mother Nang was recorded one year later, in May, 2010. This is raw audio taken from one camera angle that we shot for the RFC video show. These files were thought lost in a hard drive crash years ago, but we recentl;y discovered a treasure trove of them tucked away on a backup disc. Much of this music has not been heard since it was recorded.

The audio quality is a little rough, and I left in the between-song banter, to give you an idea of what it was like to actually be there.

Mother Nang, of course, is Spencer Elliott, Brian Young, Jay Lukens and Deron Sodaro, and while they don’t perform together regularly these days, they remain friends and a reunion is always possible.  Ovada, on the other hand was led by the late Joseph Hale. When we recorded them, Joseph as billing himself as “Joseph Hellmouth,” and he was backed up by our old friend John Radcliff, plus Joe Rita and Cliff Boyd. It’s cool to help keep Joseph’s music alive.

As a bonus, the YouTube version of this show includes the raw video of each performance instead of the static card that it usually includes. You can see it right here…

We will be bringing you more music from this video archive in future shows, but probably not for a few weeks as we plan to kick into our special Halloween programming next week.

Radio Free Charleston can be heard Tuesday at 10 AM and 10 PM, with replays Thursday at 2 PM, Friday at 9 AM and 7 PM, Saturday at 11 AM and Midnight, Sunday at 1 PM and the next Monday at 8PM, exclusively on The AIR.

As for the rest of today’s programming on The AIR. We will bring you classic episodes of Psychedelic Shack and The Swing Shift. Nigel Pye is buried under freelance work over in London, and yours truly is also in a bit of deadline hell this week.

 

Monday Morning Art: The Loop

 

This week we present our artistic kick-start with a high-detail digital painting based on a composite of several photos I took out of the hotel window on our trip to Chicago last July. This is a view looking East down the Northern part of The Loop, the famed “L” platform train that encircles and gives its name to the downtown area. This is another one of those digital paintings that I spend several hours working on, only to have the end result look like something you’d get with an Instagram filter. I must point out that was supposed to look more involved than that.

I hadn’t gone with the high-detail look for a while, so I wanted to make sure I didn’t forget how.

If you wish, you can click this image to see it bigger.

Meanwhile, over in radio-land, Monday on The AIR, our Monday Marathon presents eight hours of Nigel Pye’s Psychedelic Shack beginning at 7 AM. This hour of trippy music normally comes to you each Tuesday at 2 PM, with lots of replays through the week. Nigel tells us to expect a new episode this week. Likewise, Herman Linte has told us to expect a new episode of Prognosis at 3 PM Monday, this time devoted to the legendary underground Prog band, Gong. As I write this, we have not received our expected transmission of The Haversham Recording Institute, so it’s possible the crew may have been waylaid once again by the coverage of their extended Parlimentary crisis, but we’ll hold out hope as long as possible.

You can listen to The AIR at the website, or on this embedded radio player…

 

Sunday Evening Video: The History of Toys and Games

The late John Ritter hosts this informative look at the history of Toys and Games. This far-reaching documentary traces the development of toys and play patterns going back to pre-historic days, and bringing us into the modern era. Produced in 1998, this History Channel documentary is loaded with archival footage, interviews and scenes from vintage toy commercials.