PopCult Rudy Panucci on Pop Culture

The RFC Flashback: Episode 134

For the next few weeks The RFC Flashback will go back to the most ambitious series of episodes in Radio Free Charleston history.  In June, 2011 I decided to try and do something sort of crazy. I’d managed to crank out Radio Free Charleston on a weekly basis before, which was no mean feat since the show was basically produced by me alone, with camera help from my now-wife Mel Larch and occasional help from other friends. For FestivALL 2011, I managed to produce eight episodes of Radio Free Charleston in under two weeks.

Above you see our second episode of Radio Free Charleston’s FestivALL 2011 coverage. This was originally posted one day after the show we brought you last week.  This episode of RFC shined a spotlight on FestivALL’s theatrical offerings, with clips from “St. Stephen’s Dream,” CYAC’s “Easier Than The Truth,” The No Pants Players and CLOG’s “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” We also have music from WATT 4 and Bare Bones.

Next week we’ll bring you our third daily episode from FestivALL 2011. You can see episode 133, the beginning of our FestivALL coverage HERE.

Friday The 13th Stuff To Do

The PopCulteer
April 13, 2018

I know that a few weeks ago I said I wouldn’t be doing “Stuff To Do” posts any longer in PopCult, and would instead focus on individual events, because producing those long lists of events tends to chase away readers.

However, there are four cool events happening over the next couple of days, and in the spirit of the unluckiest of days, I will not be able to attend any of them. I am, as the medical terminology says, sicker than hell. It’s not life-threatening or anything, just miserable. I am still struggling with the nasty cold/sinus afflictions that have bedevilled be for the last month or so.

There is a reason that this cold is lingering. It’s been about two years since I was diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis, an auto-immune disorder that was rendering my muscles too weak to do much. I am very lucky in that I have an extremely mild and specialized form of MG, that has only affected my eyes and fingers, but as an artist and writer, those are still pretty important to me.

I am responding very well to treatment. I’ve regained most of the use of my hands and can paint, draw, sculpt and play guitar badly again. However, there has been a trade-off. The medicines that I’m taking that have greatly improved the quality of my life, have side effects. For one, I’m taking immuno-suppressants to weaken my over-active immune system and keep it from attacking my body. Unfortunately, that leaves me a little less prepared for things like colds and other minor ailments.

The meds also have taken away my former super-human ability to stay awake and alert for 30 hours at a time. Now that I am taking fifteen pills a day, I tend to be in bed and approaching sleep by the time 11 PM rolls around. Sadly, in Charleston that’s when most bands go on. I can take naps to adjust for events like that, but doing so disrupts my sleep-cycle for days afterward.

I was pefectly willing to do that this weekend, but this nagging cold has my ribcage feeling like a crushed beer can, and I’m just not up to heading out for entertainment. Plus, even if I’m not contagious, I sure as hell sound like I am. At the moment the most entertainment I can handle is the aerial ballet of a stray plastic bag caught in the wind, which distracted me from writing most of the day yesterday when I was zonked out on cold meds. Actually going out is just not going to happen.

And that sucks because some of my oldest friends and favorite people are putting on killer events this weekend.

Mark Beckner Group with Speedsuit At The Blue Parrot

At the head of this post you see the graphic (and I’m assuming debut album cover design) for Mark Beckner Group. Mark has been a friend since the Charleston Playhouse days of the original Radio Free Charleston, and has been a fixture on all incarnations of the show with his bands Go Van Gogh, The Tunesmiths, Hitchcock Circus and The Nanker Phelge.

Friday night The Mark Beckner Group is playing at The Blue Parrot for a mere five bucks. The show kicks off at 10 PM with Speedsuit opening. Speedsuit is the latest band featuring Mark’s brother, Stephen Beckner, who was his bandmate in Go Van Gogh, Hitchcock Circus and The Nanker Phelge. I personally rank both Beckners among the finest songwriters in the state.

I had originally planned to record some of this show for the next video episode of Radio Free Charleston, but the fates have intervened. So you should head out and see the band, and tune in to Radio Free Charleston next Tuesday on The AIR, where I will play studio cuts from both bands.

Revolution Calling Part 1

IWA East Coast teams up with Real Shoot Wrestling for a special show Friday Night in Kanawha City at Quantom Sports. All our favorites will be there, including Mad Man Pondo, Juggulator, Mickie Knuckles, Carter LeSic, Chance Prophet and more. I’d be there if I could, but my plans to take in a couple of hours of wrestling before heading over the Blue Parrot have been laid waste by the crud.

Check out this graphic for all the details.


Rockin’ The River

The first of two great all-ages shows kicks off Saturday afternoon at The Barge. The Rockin’ The River Concert Series kicks off this year with Dangermuffin, Qiet, The Spanglers, and Poor Taters! It all starts Saturday, April 14 for a day long event filled with great tunes, cold drinks, delicious food, and a whole lot of sunshine.

In addition to the music, they’re also featuring local WV arts and apparel vendors, games, and teaming up with local breweries and distilleries. Presale Tickets are $10/Day of Show $15. All Ages Allowed. Rain or Shine Event.


The Jasons At The Bakery

If Horror Punk and more is where your tastes lay, then you’ll want to go to The Bakery, where the doors open at 6 PM for a show featuring The Jasons with The Fabulous Brothers Steele and One In The Chamber. This all-ages show costs five bucks at the door, and celebrates the Jasons’ new album, “The Jasons Get Sued,” which is released on Friday the 13th, appropriately enough.


And that is this week’s PopCulteer. Yours truly will be taking it easy over the weekend, but we’ll still have fresh posts for you, so keep checking back.

You Spin Me Right ‘Round Baby

The PopCult Toybox

Today PopCult deviates from it’s normal coverage of cool, collectible action-figure-type toys to take a look at an outdoor toy, a swing, that’s pretty cool itself. I’m talking about the Super Spinner, and its deluxe cousin, the Super Duper Spinner.

These new spinning swings put a real “spin” on the idea of traditional kids swings, and are available now.

Check out the videos below to see what I’m talking about…

With the weather threatening to clear up long enough for families to enjoy outdoor play, now is the time to pick up this cool, heavy-duty spinning swing that can install on any swing set, or be used with a sturdy tree (with the use of an additional tree kit).

The Super Spinner will safely hold up to 200 pounds, while the Super Duper Spinner will hold an impressive 650 pounds. both are designed with safety in mind, are fully adjustable, and simple to install. On top of that, they’re made in the USA.

It’s a great way to get outside and take care of that Vitamin D deficiency that most of our area seems to have, and it’s as much exercise as it is fun.

The Super Spinner is much safer than a traditional tire swing. Super Spinners are made from BPA-free plastic, performance-tested stainless steel, and polypropylene rope coated with UV protection. Each Super Spinner can hold up to 200 pounds and includes internal reinforcement for added support. Unlike tire swings, you don’t have to worry about water collecting inside, becoming a breeding ground for mosquitoes. The Super Spinner is easy to clean up and is made to resist the elements (which comes in handy around this time of the year, when the elements run the gamut from harsh cold to intense heatwaves).

The Super Spinner won’t put a hurt on your wallet, either. The basic model can be found at Walmart or Amazon for under seventy dollars, while the Super Duper Spinner goes for under a hundred bucks. That’s less that it costs to take a family of four out for dinner and a movie.

Clearing The Signal-to-Noise Clutter on Life Speaks

Tune in to The AIR Wednesday as Life Speaks to Michele Zirkle looks at your skin, and how to feel comfortable in it. Life Speaks debuts a new episode every Wednesday at 1:30 PM and 7 PM. Listen to it The AIR (or this embedded player).

This week Michele talks about de-cluttering your life, not of physical objects, but of mental obstacles and digital crutches. She talks about how important it is for your mental clarity to take time away from the constant onslaught of messages, emails, phone calls and distractions that get in the way of living life. Recorded after Michele spent time at a silent retreat, this week’s Life Speaks to Michele Zirkle is based on her thoughts and inner dialogues from her time spent reassessing how we all communicate.

Michele examines these questions and tries to figure out the answers as she listens to life.

Life Speaks to Michele Zirkle replays on The AIR Friday at 9:30 AM and Monday at 12:30 PM. Stay tuned all day, every day, for incredible music, thought-provoking talk and gut-busting comedy exclusively on The AIR.

Live From The Blue Parrot on RFC

Radio Free Charleston goes for another dip in the archives this week on The AIR. You can tune in at 10 AM and 10 PM Tuesday at The AIR website, or just listen on this little embedded wonder…

This week our hour of local music is composed entirely of music recorded at The Blue Parrot, one of Charleston’s finest venues for live music. Tom Crouse has been a wonderful host for Radio Free Charleston over the years, and we wanted to show off the wide range of different musical styles that you can hear at Capitol Street’s music hot spot.

All of these tunes were recorded at The Blue Parrot for the video version of Radio Free Charleston between 2007 and 2014.

The Buttonflies “Butch Bottom”
Quick and Dirty “Wrong Again”
Dog Soldier “Come Clean”
Chad and Sean “Down Where I’m Going”
WATT 4 “I Don’t Deserve You”
HARRAH “CODA (I Gotta Get Out)”
The Synergy Collective “Awry”
Hellblinki “Bella Ciao”
Spurgie Hankins Band “Bullets and Fire”
Underdog Blues Revue “What You Say”
Whitechapel District “How Heavy Is Thy Crown”
Diablo Blues Band “One For Magoo”
The Underdog Blues Revue “Tom Crouse Arena Rock Fanfare.”

The Blue Parrot is still among Charleston’s coolest music venues, and just this coming weekend will feature a hot double bill with the Mark Beckner Band and Speedsuit, that we’ll tell you more about later this week.

Radio Free Charleston can be heard Tuesday at 10 AM and 10 PM, with replays Thursday at 2 PM, Friday at 8 PM and Saturday at 11 AM and Midnight, exclusively on The AIR.

Prognosis Returns To The AIR With A Twist

Monday at 3 PM Prognosis, our progressive rock showcase, returns to The AIR after a bit of a hiatus, and with a bit of a change. You can listen to it at The AIR website, or on this embedded player…

The change is that the presenter of Prognosis, Herman Linte, is also the director of Haversham Recording Institute, and has become so busy that he is unable to handle the announcing duties on the show for the foreseeable future. Luckily, I know a guy…

Starting with this week’s program, I will be filling in behind the microphone for Herman, bringing you the best of the last fifty years of progressive rock. We have a killer show lined up for my debut, with music from Matt Berry, and classic live “reunion” tracks from Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer, Genesis, YES, Led Zepplin, The Moody Blues and Pink Floyd. We also have some recent music from Asia, Simple Minds, Steve Hackett and more.

You can hear Prognosis Monday at 3 PM, with replays Tuesday at 7 AM, Wednesday at 8 PM and Saturday at 7 AM, exclusively on The AIR.  Check out the playlist for this week’s show…

Prognosis 026

Matt Berry “A Song For Rosie”
Emerson, Palmer, Berry “America”
Genesis “Turn It On Medley”
Yes “Seen All Good People”
Led Zepplin “Kashmir”
The Moody Blues “I’m Just A Singer In a Rock n Roll Band”
Nightwish “My Walden”
Pink Floyd From Live 8
“Wish You Were Here”
“Comfortably Numb”
Asia “Parallel Worlds/Vortex/Deya”
XTC “1000 Umbrellas”
Simple Minds “Barrowland Star”
Steve Hackett “The Musical Box”


This week’s digital art is a painting that combines painting based on a photo of Lavender Menace, taken years ago at an edition of Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School, with an abstract doodle that I’d been messing around with for a few days. The combination gives us a portrait of a determined Roller Woman, about to do battle on a cosmic derby track on an epic scale, or something. You can make up your own story, and it’ll probably make more sense than the next Avengers movie.

As always, click to enlarge.

Sunday Evening Video: ADBC: A Rock Opera

Recently I discovered and became a fan of Matt Berry. Berry is a British comic actor/musician who’s main claim to fame is his starring role as Stephen Toast on Toast of London, a comedy series made for Channel 4 in the UK, which can be seen on Netflix (and is highly recommended).

Before Toast of London, Berry was on the later seasons of The IT Crowd, and appeared as a guest on many shows on both sides of the Atlantic, like The Sarah Silverman Show, The Mighty Boosh, The Wrong Door, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Portlandia, Community and Garth Merenghi’s Darkplace, among others.

One of the more brilliantly surreal aspects of Toast of London, which follows the life of a supremely arrogant yet minimally-talented middle-aged actor, is the presence of a musical number in each episode. The music, written by Berry, is in his impressive Pop-Prog style, and is no surprise to longtime fans of Berry’s work. He’s released six albums so far.

Another musical notch on his belt is a half-hour comedy film from 2004, shot to look like an artifact from 1978, of a musical retelling of the story of the birth of Christ, told from the perspective of the Innkeeper. It’s hilariously filled with the excesses of a certain other beloved musical rock opera about the life of Christ, complete with histrionic vocals and notes held to the point where they’re smothered to death.

ADBC: A Rock Opera features music by Matt Berry and lyrics by Matt Berry and Richard Ayoade (The IT Crowd, The Mighty Boosh), and the cast is filled with friends and colleagues from the British comedy scene. It flies by, and if you’re familiar with a certain other rock opera about Jesus, one which may have had a huge presentation a week ago today, you might find yourself laughing so much that it hurts.

The RFC Flashback: Episode 133

For the next couple of months The RFC Flashback will go back to the most ambitious series of episodes in Radio Free Charleston history.  In June, 2011 I decided to try and do something sort of crazy. I’d managed to crank out Radio Free Charleston on a weekly basis before, which was no mean feat since the show was basically produced by me alone, with camera help from my now-wife Mel Larch and occasional help from other friends. Since I somehow managed to pull that off (with an undiagnosed case of Myasthenia Gravis, no less), I wanted to do something completely insane. Taking advantage of the wealth of local events happening during FestivALL, I hatched a crazy scheme.

I wanted to see how close I could get to producing the show daily.

I came close enough for honors. Starting on June 20, with the show you see posted above, I delivered four episodes in four days, with a total running time of 88 minutes. The next week I delivered three more shows on consecutive days, then I skipped a day and posted the final 33-minute installement on July 1. If that wasn’t crazy enough, five days after that I dropped our fifth-anniversary show, which ran more than an hour. That was more than four hours of multi-camera performances by local artists that I shot, mixed the audio, edited and stitched together into shows in less than three weeks.

I don’t knock myself out covering FestivALL any more. It’s still a fantastic series of events, but there are plenty of people being paid to shoot video of the events now, and freed from the bonds of caregiving, I’m able to travel, which is something I couldn’t do until 2013. June offers up too many irresistable events out of town this year, so I’ll be missing both weekends for the first time.

Still, I’m very proud of what I was able to pull off back in the day, and we’re going to bring you the 2011 FestivAll episodes of Radio Free Charleston for the next couple of months, as a sort of countdown to this year’s big ole mess of a city becoming a work of art.

On this episode our featured performers were The Boatmen (seen at the top of this post), recorded Live On The Levee, the Charleston Light Opera Guild, recorded at the Charleston Civic Center Little Theater, and two great performances from the Songwriter Invitational at the late, lamented Capitol Roasters by Todd Burge (seen at left, and hey, that’s my car in the background!) and Andy Park.  You can find he original production notes HERE.

The John K. Story

The PopCulteer
April 6, 2018

Last week John Kricfalusi, the creator of Ren and Stimpy, was the latest person-in-power to get caught up in the #MeToo and #TimesUp movement, and I’m a bit rattled by it.

Buzzfeed printed accounts by two women, one of whom I’ve been friends with on social media for years, that go beyond plausible and well into the realm of probable. John K. is accused of grooming at least two underage girls who wrote him fan letters to be his “protégé,” moving one to Los Angeles when she was 17 to act as his girlfriend.

You should follow the link and read the original article, if you haven’t already. It’s sordid and sickening, pretty damning stuff. Some of the images accompanying this post come from Buzzfeed’s article. At the head of this post you see John with Robin Byrd, one of the women in question. This photo is from when they were dating. She looks like she was 12.

What makes all this worse is that it was apparently common knowledge in the animation community that they were in a relationship.

A little history about why this is such a gut punch to me is in order. If it hadn’t been for the articles that I wrote for The Charleston Gazette about Ren and Stimpy with Mel Larch, beginning in 1991, there probably wouldn’t be a PopCult blog.

Mel and I were such big fans of the show that we pretty much blathered on about it to anyone who would listen. At one point I blathered to Douglas Imbrogno, the features editor at the Gazette, and he said, “Why don’t you write a story for me about the show?”

We did, and it went over really well. The Gazette readers liked it, and we were asked to contribute more stories about animation. Nickelodeon liked it and supplied us with tons of information about all their other new cartoon shows.

John Kricfalusi liked it, and when he was fired by Nickelodeon, he sought us out to get his side of the story in print. At the time having access to the hottest creator in animation, at a time when everybody wanted to hear his story, was too big a perk to pass up.

We wrote about John’s struggle with Nick, and we wrote about it for other publications besides the Gazette, and we wrote about it so much that eventually Doug told us to move on because the story had pretty much been beat to death.

During this time, John was very generous with his time and attention and gave us all kinds of background material that, if he’d consulted with a lawyer first, we never would have seen. John was very charismatic and seductive and more than a little pushy at times. We chalked it up to his being devastated by having his prized creations ripped away from him.

That may well have been the case. When confronted with the accusations of Robin Byrd and Katie Rice, the only reaction from John’s camp was a statement from his lawyer blaming mental illness and alcohol for some of his actions while denying the most criminal of them.

Here’s the statement that was released to Buzzfeed: “The 1990s were a time of mental and emotional fragility for Mr. Kricfalusi, especially after losing Ren and Stimpy, his most prized creation. For a brief time, 25 years ago, he had a 16-year-old girlfriend. Over the years John struggled with what were eventually diagnosed mental illnesses in 2008. To that point, for nearly three decades he had relied primarily on alcohol to self-medicate. Since that time he has worked feverishly on his mental health issues, and has been successful in stabilizing his life over the last decade. This achievement has allowed John the opportunity to grow and mature in ways he’d never had a chance at before.”

The statement goes on to deny the charges of child pornography, but sadly, denying that sort of thing is what lawyers are paid to do, and there seems little doubt that everything Robin and Katie said is true.

What’s particularly bothersome about what John’s lawyer says is that it blames unspecified “mental illnesses” mixed with alcoholism for John’s behavior. This brings us to a conflict. There is a great hue and cry to destigmatize mental illness in our culture. Blaming John’s predatory sexual behavior on mental illness throws a monkey wrench into that concept.

While it is a good idea to promote a healthy public opinion of, and acceptance of, mental health issues, this explanation comes dangerously close to allowing mental illness to replace religion as the last refuge of a scoundrel.

We are now in a position of trying to determine if John’s obvious bi-polar behavior, rampant alcoholism and Cluster B Narcissistic personality disorders should be accepted as an explanation of what he did to these women. Nothing can excuse what he did, and I have no idea what he could possibly do to make it up to them, if that’s even remotely possible.

I can’t help but think that any attempt by him to reach out and attempt to rectify the damage he did would only make things worse. It seems that the best case for Robin Byrd and Katie Rice would be if John simply went away and was never heard from again. Even if we accept the statement from John’s lawyer at face value, and believe that he has been sober and in therapy for the last ten years, there’s still the question of what he did in the past.

Craig Yoe, the publisher of Yoe Books and one of the world’s top comic book historians, was so disgusted by the revelation of John’s actions that he has said he will go to his warehouse and destroy all the remaining copies of the compilation of John’s “Spumco Comic Book” that his company published. As much as I flinch at the idea of destroying books, I understand and respect Craig’s decision.

John’s behavior with these two women was so toxic that it’s hard to believe anybody tolerated it. I noticed over the years that most of John’s closest associates, the folks who stood by him when he was fired by Nickelodeon, had abandoned him, one-by-one. One can assume that, as the years progressed, they eventually saw John engaging in more and more activities that they could not condone, so they left quietly.

That “quietly” part is what the #MeToo movement is about. The problem is not just that John acted like a predatory beast, pouncing on young impressionable girls who looked up to him. That’s horrible enough, but what makes it even worse are the people who stood by and didn’t do anything about it.

That leaves us with the question of what happens next. Nickelodeon is currently in the midst of a huge marketing push for Ren and Stimpy and other Nick properties that have reached the age of nostalgia. Do they drop Ren and Stimpy from the future waves of merchandise? Do they let the DVDs go out of print? What about the music videos that John created for Bjork (seen right), Weird Al Yankovic and Tenacious D? Can we look at those the same now?

Do people stop working with John K.? Although his work has always appeared sporadically, he still gets the occasional high-profile gig, like creating “couch gags” for The Simpsons, or designing the Miley Cyrus Bangerz tour in 2014.

The other question is how do we view his work now? Now that we know that Ren and Stimpy was used to lure a teenaged girl to move in with him, can we enjoy the work like we did before?

Is there any way that John K. can make it up to the women he abused?

I don’t know the answer to those questions. I’m pretty wrecked by the whole thing because I sort of knew something fishy was going on, but was too far from the epicenter to figure it all out. I saw references in print to John having a teenaged girlfriend and thought they were jokes in really poor taste.

I could pick up a vibe from Katie’s social media that her association with John was uncomfortable. Even in the DVD intros to Ren and Stimpy’s Adult Party Cartoon (seen left) her body language indicates something odd going on.

I’ve lost touch with John over the years. Mel and I hadn’t spoken with him for probably twenty years. I last traded messages with him on Facebook nine years ago, and had to remind him who I was. Mel and I used our interviews with John to launch “Animated Discussions,” which ran in The Charleston Gazette until 2005, when I made the jump to PopCult and the paper quit running local movie reviews.

I’m pretty sure that if you scour the PopCult archives you’ll find more than a few articles about John and Ren and Stimpy. I always had a warm spot in my heart for Ren and Stimpy.

That spot has gone cold. This is just a sad story all the way around.