PopCult Rudy Panucci on Pop Culture

A Day At The Races/ A Night At The Opera

It’s a stretch, but any tenuous link that lets me work in a cheap Marx Brothers reference in the headline is worth making.

Saturday, the Preakness Stakes, the second jewel in horse racing’s famed Triple Crown, takes place at Pimlico, which is a fun word to say, wherever the hell it is. This is a very big deal for some people. Not as big a deal as the Kentucky Derby, because there seems to be less alcohol involved, but it’s a big deal nonetheless. NBC will be showing the big race at 6:14 PM, which means that you can watch it, then get dressed and head on over to the Clay Center.

Because at 8 PM, for one night only, the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra presents Mozart’s The Marriage Of Figaro, which has a plot worthy of the aforementioned brothers Marx. It’s a race to the altar, as Figaro tries to wed his bride-to-be before she’s bedded by a philandering Count. This will be an elaborate version of the opera, with the Symphony at full strength under the baton of Maestro Grant Cooper. Director Richard McKee brings us a full staging, bolstered by the West Virginia Symphony Chorus, and several guest soloists.

If You Go: The Marriage Of Figaro kicks off at 8 PM at the Clay Center, Saturday May 20. Tickets start at $12 for the general public, with discounts for students. Call 561-3570 or visit the Symphony’s website for more details.

A Flashback To The 60s

Friday night, West Virginia Patriots For Peace presents a benefit concert Celebrating The Fabulous 60s at Christ Church United Methodist on Quarrier Street in Charleston. This promises to be an incredible evening that rekindles the spirit of protest music from the turbulent Vietnam era.

Songs And Words Of Protest features Julie Adams and Colleen Anderson, along with the Carpenter Ants, Larry Groce, John Lilly, Kate Long, Ron Sowell and more. It kicks off at 7:30 PM, but the doors open at 7 for pre-show face painting. Bell bottoms and tie dye are the recommended attire as our loyal protest group aims to take us back to the days when more people had the energy to be passionate about government outrages.

You’ve probably seen the Patriots for Peace holding their weekly vigil outside the Library downtown, protesting the Iraq war. Now that the vast majority of the country agrees with their position, maybe a good crowd will come out and enjoy an evening of great music and free speech.

If You Go: The concert kicks off at 7:30 PM at Christ Church United Methodist, 1221 Quarrier Street, Charleston. Suggested donation is $10, for more information call 345-0427.

Song Of The Week: Caravader

This week’s SOTW is not really a song, it’s an instrumental — but it’s a good one! Caravader is a big band blending of Duke Ellington’s “Caravan” with music from Star Wars. It’s by The New Morty Show, one of the more enduring of the mid-90s swing revival bands.

While bands like The Brian Setzer Orchestra, Royal Crown Revue, and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy were garnering critical acclaim and decent record sales, The New Morty Show worked the live circuit, not releasing their first CD until 1998, after the boom went bust for new swing music. However, they are still plugging away, and have released three fine albums with a mix of traditional big band swing and oddball swing-styled covers of tunes like “Enter Sandman,” and “White Wedding.”

You can buy New Morty Show CDs here, and for booking information, go here. Meanwhile, check out the swingin’ tune!

Monday Morning Art: The Shadow

We kick off this week with a self portrait in shadows. “A Man Called Rudy” looks like the title card, if there were a detective show with that name produced by Quinn Martin back in the early 70s. Shot on Washington street, outside the post office back in January, and colorized a few weeks ago, this is just an exercise in color composition. Click to enlarge.

A Big Weekend For Animation On TV

Animated Discussions
by Rudy Panucci and Melanie Larch

This is a huge weekend for television animation, as we get treated to a bevy of fresh, first-run episodes of classic shows, and an overnight treat of classic anime. Here’s your guide to a cartoon-filled weekend:

Miyazaki Redux on TCM

Late Friday night/early Saturday morning, Turner Classic Movies is running a double shot of Hayao Miyazaki classics, Princess Mononoke, from 1997 and 1998’s My Neighbor Totoro. We wrote about these previously, and they’re well worth staying up late, or setting your timer to record. Princess Mononoke starts at 2 a.m., and My Neighbor Totoro follows immediately thereafter.

The End Of The Justice League?

Justice League Unlimited wraps up its run Saturday night at 10:30 p.m. on Cartoon Network. This series has been one of the best animated treatments of the super hero genre ever, and it’s a shame the way Cartoon Network has shunted it around the schedule and buried it. They recently started running it on their sister Boomerang, which is great for those of us who want to tape them all without commercials, but it’s also a pretty strong statement that Cartoon Network never planned to support the show. Boomerang, of late, has become a graveyard for shows that the CN execs don’t like.

However, this series finale is a fitting one, with a huge climactic battle between the good guys and the bad guys, with the fate of the Earth hanging in the balance. There are strong rumors that the League will be brought back as a series of 90-minute “movies.” We can only hope. This is the classiest super hero cartoon on the air.

Fox Sunday

Sunday night, we get a nearly-three-hour block of animated programming from Fox, spoiled only by the series finale of the “I didn’t know that was still on the air” Malcolm In The Middle. A Simpsons repeat opens the night at 7 p.m. The season finale of King Of The Hill follows at 7:30, and then a fresh episode of The Simpsons, revolving around intelligent design, airs at 8 p.m.

At 9 p.m., we get a first-run episode of Family Guy, and at 9:30, the season finale of American Dad, which details a plot to kill George Clooney.

(adult swim)

The Sunday cartoon blitz continues at 11:30 p.m. over on Adult Swim with a new Robot Chicken. Then at midnight, there’s an episode of the wretchedly unfunny Minoriteam. The real treat of the night comes at 12:15 a.m. — the first of three unaired episodes of Moral Orel. These three episodes were pulled by Cartoon Network’s Standards and Practices department, and could not be shown until now. Considering that the episodes of Moral Orel that did make it to the air included included Orel reanimating the dead, getting hooked on crack and getting genital piercings, we can’t wait to see what they thought crossed the line. The remaining two “lost” episodes should air in the following weeks.

The Beatles Bootlegs Podcast

One of the guilty joys of the Internet for Beatles fans is the explosion of what had once been hard-to-find rare recordings of the Fab Four, available now for free, just a with a click of the mouse.

The Beatlegs Podcast presents nearly a half-hour chunk of good rare Beatles music, interviews, and snippets of notable events in each episode. This podcast is currently taking a few weeks hiatus, but there are many episodes archived on the site.

The most recent show presents,
cleanly edited together, the Beatles jamming on a variety of oldies during the warm-up for the “Get Back” sessions, which ultimately resulted in the movie “Let It Be.” You get to listen in as the boys run through fragments of a litany of early rock classics. They also spend a lot of time goofing on their own early hits. You’ll get to hear the Beatles singing “Help” in the style of The Goon Show. They also do slow blues takes on some of their other early tunes like “Run For Your Life” and “Rain”. In addition to that, we also get to hear bits and pieces of tunes that would turn up on the White Album and Abbey Road, only with alternate lyrics and arrangements. The half-hour wraps up with John and Paul singing each other’s “White Album” songs “I’m So Tired,” and “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road.”

And that’s just one episode. There are dozens more focusing on topics like The Mellotron, the Beatles’ solo works, classic albums and more. This podcast is a MUST LISTEN for Beatles fans. With the recent legal action between the Beatles and Apple Computers, this may be the only place to find Beatles music online for quite some time.

Greetings From Toontown

Over at Cartoon Brew, Jerry Beck has uncovered the mystery behind a sudden influx of really, really cool greeting cards. They feature classic-styled Looney Tunes characters, instead of the watered-down, corporate-approved, lifeless versions of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and company. These are incredible throwbacks to the designs of Bob Clampett and Tex Avery. It’s enough to make you start hanging out in your local Hallmark store.

Political Theater

Okay, I know that PopCult is not supposed to be a political blog, but I have to say that, if the returns hold up from yesterday’s election, I am thrilled beyond belief that Dave Higgins lost in his bid to represent the Democratic Party as the candidate for the 8th Senate District in the general election. I know that both papers endorsed the guy, but I was on the receiving end of a really crude and offensive push poll from his campaign a couple of months ago, and he ran what appeared to me to be the dirtiest smear campaign, for what is essentially a piddly little office, that I’ve ever seen.

But it wasn’t the push poll, with questions like “Would it change your opinion of Erik Wells if you knew he supported forcing first-graders to have abortions?” that made me root against Higgins. It wasn’t even the fact that Higgins was one of the architects of Charleston’s much-beloved User Fee. It was the recorded phone messages– three or four a day, for the last three weeks. These were the kind of recorded messages that kept playing in their entirety, even after you hung up. Your phone was held hostage for the duration of their message, whether you listened or not. So I had selfish motives for wanting Higgins to lose. I didn’t want to have to deal with those damned phone calls for another six months. They were driving me to my wits end.

Any politician who wants a free ticket to get elected should just run on a platform that includes putting political solicitation calls under the domain of the “Do Not Call List.” Promise to free us from the tyranny of the automated phone-dialer, and you can ride that gravy train all the way to the White House.

I just wonder if more people would have voted for Congressional candidate Mark Hunt if they realized that sending him to Washington would have meant that he wouldn’t be advertising his law firm on TV anymore. If he’d run on that platform, I think he would have won in a landslide.

In Praise Of Gasoline Alley

One of the sad truths about comic strips is that most newspapers don’t appreciate or understand them. Every few years, overcome by the desire to “freshen things up” newspapers will drop long-running comic strips and replace them with newer strips, which often display an alarming lack of taste on the part of the person doing the choosing. Because of this, long-running strips like “Dick Tracy” or “Popeye” get dumped, and manage to limp along with a greatly reduced circulation, while newer strips, many of which look like they’re drawn by second-graders, take their position in on the comics page, and fewer and fewer people decide to keep buying the paper.

One of these classic comic strips is Gasoline Alley. Gasoline Alley began in 1918, by cartoonist Frank King, and had the novel approach of aging its characters in real time. This comic strip saga held the attention of millions during its heyday, but many people are shocked that it’s still being produced. What’s more amazing is that it’s still better than 95% of the comic strips being published. You can read it online here. It’s one of the first things I check out every morning.

After humble beginnings as a comic strip about auto mechanics, the strip really took off when one of the lead characters, Walt Wallet, found a baby on his doorstep, and named him “Skeezix.” From that incident, the comic strip evolved into a unique creation, featuring elements of soap opera, situation comedy, and adventure. With the characters aging in real time, readers have been rewarded with a huge family tree. Currently, the strip focuses on the octogenarian Skeezix and his large family. In 2004, the strip dealt with the death of Walt Wallet’s wife, Phyllis, at the age of 105. Walt is still alive, but has a live-in caretaker.

Currently written and drawn by Jim Scancarilli, Gasoline Alley manages to tell compelling stories, which lately tend to deal with issues of aging. However, the strip is never boring or morose. The gentle humor and realistic elements of the stories make this one of the best “continuity” strips running today.

Long overlooked by the critical elite, Gasoline Alley is just starting to garner some respect. Collections of Frank King’s early strips are being published under the title “Walt And Skeezix,” by Drawn And Quarterly. Getting back to the issues I addressed in the opening paragraph, if the Gazette ever wants to revamp their comics page, and turn it into a revenue-generating circulation-booster, I’ll volunteer my services as an expert in the field.

Me First And The Gimme Gimmes is one of my favorite bands. They are considered by some to be a novelty or comedy act, but musically, their stuff holds up. Their gimmick is that they take the hardcore-punkish musical chops that the various members honed in a slew of legendary So Cal Punk bands like The Swingin’ Udders, Lagwagon, and NOFX, and apply them to what can best be described as “inappropriate” songs. Our SOTW is from their most recent CD “Me First And The Gimme Gimmes Ruin Johnny’s Bar Mitzvah.” It’s the Gimmes cover of Billy Joel’s “The Longest Time“.

“Ruin Johnny’s Bar Mitzvah” is a live album, recorded at an actual Bar Mitzvah, and includes covers of songs by Led Zepplin, The Beatles, and a couple of very special versions of “Hava Nagila” You can buy CDs by Me First And The Gimme Gimmes, and also grab a few more free MP3s at the Fat Wreck Chords website.

After taking on Singer/Songwriters, Broadway, and R&B on previous albums, the Gimmes entered the studio just last month to begin work on their next opus, a collection of Western classics.