Nightcrawls & Gyllenhaals

First thing’s first. The movie “Nightcrawler” is creepy. I’d even call it “C-R-eepy” for emphasis. It’s not a horror movie per se, but Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance could very well make your skin crawl.

Gyllenhaal plays a weird L.A. dude named Lou Bloom. From the get-go, viewers can tell this dude is a little different and not in a good way. Bloom is a petty thief with some serious negotiating skills and boundary issues. After stumbling across an accident in progress, Bloom runs into a a freelance TV reporter (played by Bill Paxton) and decides to explore the same career path of “nightcrawling” (selling footage to the highest TV morning news bidder.) Before long, Bloom risks life and limb in hot pursuit of stories ranging from shootings to accidents, and meets aging news director Nina Romina (Rene Russo) in the process. She wants “graphic” news footage (preferably effecting suburban viewers) and Bloom is the guy who can deliver it.

What makes Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom character soooo creepy?? Wow, there are lots of things, but, for my money, the way he speaks is number one. He sounds like a monotone robot — like some weird mix of a textbook and and a pop psychology paperback. “I think being clear with your objectives is more important than trying to present your ideas in a non-confrontational manner.” (This is from the same guy who assaults a security guard and steals his watch in the first five minutes of the movie.)

Nightcrawler is an interesting reflection of sorts — it holds a mirror up to not only the news business, but capitalist society as a whole. On the one hand, Lou Bloom and the news outlets serve the viewing public’s needs. He beats his competitors to stories and provides information. On the other hand, Lou and the news stations are exploitative and will seemingly stop at nothing to get the stories. Ultimately, it asks how far is “too far” to get the story or just to survive in the news business? It’s a theme that has been explored in plenty of other films, but “Nightcrawler” does it in an original albeit white knuckle way. The 2014 film was written and directed by Dan Gilroy. I highly recommend it.

Till next time, keep our Mojo on the Horizon!

The Scourge of Skidmore, MO

I remember hearing stories about the town bully that was served a lethal dose of vigilante justice. I was probably in middle school or junior high at the time, but I can still remember it. Years later, as a working adult, I remember a coworker of mine in the radio business re-telling the story as well. It sounds like folklore, but what happened in the small Missouri town is apparently true, and, truth is stranger than fiction.

Nodaway County sits along the Iowa-Missouri border and Skidmore’s population is estimated at less than 300. Picture dusty pickup trucks…farmland…and you’ll get the idea. In July 1981, the residents of Skidmore had enough of the “town bully” Ken McElroy. Picture an enormous dude (270 lbs.) with Elvis-like dark hair and pork chop sideburns. They also had enough of law enforcement’s inability to do anything effective about him. To put it in perspective, Wikipedia notes McElroy was “indicted 21 times”, but was only found guilty once — that was for shooting and injuring an elderly grocery store owner in Skidmore. (Apparently, there was some dispute about one of McElroy’s many offspring pilfering candy from the store.)

While McElroy was found guilty of the assault charge, he remained free pending his appeal. Soon enough, he allegedly took the time to make threats at the local pub with a WW II rifle and attached bayonet. That was the last straw for Skidmore residents. A large group of citizens met in a nearby legion hall, then entered the pub. As McElroy and his wife exited the pub and entered his pickup truck, he was shot dead. To this day, no one saw a thing.

This story is re-told by author Harry N. MacLean in the book “In Broad Daylight.” I haven’t read it yet, but today I watched the 1991 made-for-TV movie of the same name. The TV version stars Brian Dennehy as town bully “Len Rowan” and Marcia Gay Harden as his wife. A young Chris Cooper plays a state trooper as well. Cloris Leachman also has a supporting role. I found it on YouTube and have to say it’s worth watching. Dennehy plays arrogant very well and the story itself is pretty amazing.

There’s more to the story…allegations of witness intimidation, cattle rustling, mob lawyers, and much more. I found a “60 minutes” piece where McElroy’s widow and attorney both vouch for his moral character. Was justice served? You be the judge.

Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon!

Visualizing The Beatles

I’ve been a fan of The Beatles’ music for over thirty years. I own their original 12 studio albums in some form or another and have some oddities as well. (Take the album “The Beatles in Italy” for example. It has a great pic of the Fab Four raising their champagne glasses in unison. It’s on the back cover if I’m not mistaken.) I’ve read a few books about their lyrics, how different songs were developed, and the whole Beatles phenomenon. At some point, I practically had the documentary film “The Compleat Beatles” memorized. It can be difficult to find a new spin on some of these things, but I found one in a book I got for Christmas last year.

Visualizing The Beatles: A Complete Graphic History of the World’s Favorite Band was written by John Pring and Rob Thomas. According to the liner notes and their website, they formed a company called Designbysoap Ltd, which “specializes in information design and infographics.” The book’s cover gives you some idea about what’s inside for readers, but it’s not just a study of The Beatles’ fashion trends — although it is interesting to see their different suits and hairstyles.

The authors break down each of the original 12 albums into infographics about who sang lead, who wrote the songs, and who played what instruments. They also list the number of covers and originals on their early albums. My favorite part was the graphic showing how many songs were in major or minor keys for example. There are also quotes and graphics regarding their influences like Bob Dylan and Ravi Shankar. If you’re into trivia, you won’t be disappointed. Prior to reading this book, I found out “Revolver” wasn’t the only title considered for the album. There’s a graphic which shows 7 other possibilities. There are also maps which include The Beatles first tour stops as well as Beatle landmarks in London and elsewhere. Did you know the Fab Four had plans to purchase a private island? Good stuff.

The graphics alone make this book an interesting read, but it really does have plenty to offer the seasoned Beatle fan who’s already well-read. In short, “a splendid time is guaranteed for all.”

Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon!

The Ongoing Electric Guitar Quest

The call of the guitar is a constant thing and the quest for more of them never stops. (Some musicians call it “GAS” Gear/Guitar Acquisition Syndrome). Why is that? For one thing, there are so many different brands and choices. Some electric players are Fender snobs while others are snob-o-RIFF-ic about Gibsons. (Personally, I play an Epiphone Dot Studio, but more on that later.) In the acoustic world, you could say the same thing about the brands Taylor and Martin. Don’t get me wrong, if you make your living with music, you need something reliable to get the job done ; however, it can take on a Bloods vs. Crips type of vibe.

I don’t make a living playing music and I’m a tightwad so making a split-second decision to buy a high dollar Les Paul, Stratocaster, Telecaster, or even Jaguar is not going to happen. My first electric guitar was a gift from my aunt and uncle. It was a black Westone with a Floyd Rose tremolo system. (Basically, it’s a device for keeping the guitar in tune.) It was a good guitar and I have good memories of jamming with friends and learning barred chords on it. Down the road, I bought a low end Telecaster copy (the Austin brand). It was black with a white pickguard. I think Bob Dylan played a similar looking Tele when he “went electric” and pissed everybody off in the process. I eventually sold the Austin Tele and grew tired of black guitars because I’d been there and done that. Plus, black Strats a la Eric Clapton (or lower end Squiers) are a dime a dozen.

I came across an intriguing semi-hollow electric guitar at a Best Buy store. Ironically, it was in the same shopping center as Guitar Center. (Apparently, Best Buy was test marketing musical instrument sales at that location. They closed that department after a year or so if I remember correctly.) The Epiphone Dot Studio appealed to me on several levels. First of all, it had a rootsy or classic vibe to it. It LOOKED like the guitars played by the likes of John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, and Chuck Berry. It had the classic “f” holes cut into it. Second, it was an affordable model and I’m a tightwad. Third, I liked the sound and feel of it. Novel reasons for considering a purchase! For awhile, the Epiphone Dot Studio in Alpine White was like my white whale or Moby Dick. They only produced them in white for a few years, but then they stopped. Eventually, I bought a used Dot Studio with a Dark Mahogany finish from Guitar Center. Pics really don’t do it justice. It’s a beautiful instrument.

Somewhere along the way, I also bought a solid body electric for 50 bucks. It’s a Dean Vendetta and also happens to have a mahogany finish. What I like about this model is it’s light as a feather! My experience on discussion boards is guitar snobs have universal disdain for the Dean brand. I’m not sure why, but it sure seems that way. Currently, this guitar is in pieces because I experimented with a different neck on it. It’s not that I didn’t like the current one, I just wanted to experiment with it. At one point, I raised the bridge on Dean to play some slide/bottleneck guitar on it. This guitar has a string-through body and tune-o-matic bridge. I feel this allows for great sustain, but some may think differently. Mark my words….The Vendetta and it’s bridge will both rise again!

So what’s next? I’m not really tired of the mahogany finish per se , but I’d say the weight of the guitar is one thing I’ve learned to take into consideration when buying — not only for playing time, but also for schlepping around your gear. Why be weighted down when you don’t have to be? Lately, I’ve been looking at another Epiphone model — the Les Paul Special I P90 in “faded TV yellow.” Man, that has a nice ring to it. (And, yes, it’s both lightweight and affordable.)

What does the type of guitar you play say about you as a person anyway? Does playing an expensive model make you a better player? It won’t if you suck. Recently I bought a very versatile, short scale Ibanez bass for a great price. During a jam, I was told it’s a “shredder” brand for, you know, metal heads. I disagree. Instruments are only as good as the musicians playing them. People judge one another based on how they present themselves. Guitars are no different.

Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon!

Random Rockin' Xmas

So many good Christmas songs…so little time. This is a fairly random list of songs I like with my fairly random thoughts on them:

  1. “Silver Bells” – Dwight Yoakam: a fun, Tex-Mex romp
  2. “Wrapping Paper” – The Waitresses: a very random 80s new wave thing
  3. “Come On Christmas, Christmas Come On” – Ringo Starr: Gary Glitter thing
  4. “Ding Dong, Ding Dong” – George Harrison: technically a New Year’s song, but it’s a good one.
  5. “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy” – Bing Crosby & David Bowie: a random collaboration of two very different singers from different generations
  6. “Winter Wonderland” – Louis Armstrong – just heard this jazzy thing this year and loved it.
  7. “Wonderful Christmastime” – Paul McCartney: I allow myself to get into the Christmas spirit the first time I randomly hear it
  8. “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” – John Lennon & Company: it’s simply great
  9. “We Wish You a Merry Christmas (Reggae style)” – Jacob Miller & Ray I: Rastafarian St. Nick anyone?
  10. “Little Saint Nick” – The Beach Boys – I’ve never been an enormous fan of theirs, but this song is one of the best holiday songs ever
  11. “Step Into Christmas” – Elton John: it’s an original, upbeat song
  12. “Jingle Bells” – Skid Row: it’s a punkish, rockin’ take on it
  13. “We Three Kings” – Blondie: interesting vocals
  14. “I Am Santa Claus” – Bob Rivers & Twisted Radio: LOVE this parody of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man.” I shot and edited this video myself 🙂
  15. “Merry Christmas from the Family” – Robert Earl Keen: glad to know that not everyone is politically correct
  16. “Santa Looked A Lot Like Daddy” – Buck Owens: great cut from the mid 60s
  17. “Merry Xmas Everybody” – Slade: underrated band and song. FUH -UHH- UHNNN.
  18. “Snow Miser/Heat Miser” – this is from a TV special called “The Year Without A Santa Claus.” The composer is listed as Maury Lewis, writer Jules Bass, performers are George S. Irving and Dick Shawn. Reminds me of a Gene Krupa thing.
  19. “Jingle Bell Rock” – Brian Setzer: good stuff
  20. “Merry Christmas Baby” – Otis Redding: soul Xmas

Maybe there will be a Part Two!

Till next time, Happy Holidays and keep your Mojo on the Horizon!

Christmas Blues

I’ve spent a long time thinking about blog-worthy Christmas songs — man, there are a lot of them. Every year I think about which one is my favorite. While it’s basically impossible, I think it comes down to personal taste. You know…what styles of music do you relate to and enjoy the most? For me, it’s rock n roll and blues.

Some might say this song is overplayed around the holidays, but The Eagles’ version of “Please Come Home for Christmas” (released in 1978) is one I always enjoy hearing.

Again, I like older styled songs so this one suits me fine. Some might be surprised to learn it was written and originally recorded by Charles Brown and released in 1960. Give credit to Don Henley as a singer. His billionaire rockstar ponytail and whining about Walden Woods annoyed me years later (One of my friends dubbed him “The Philosoph” during this time period) , but his vocals are great on this track. There are plenty of other versions out there including John Bon Jovi and lots of country singers as well.

Perhaps the most widely known “Christmas blues” tune is by The King himself — Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas.”

This song gets a lot of airplay around the holidays, but I never change the station or turn it down. It has a great bluesy feel to it a long with backing vocals from gospel group The Jordanaires and, of course, The King. It was released on 1957’s aptly-titled “Elvis’ Christmas Album.” It’s been recorded by many others, but who can compete with this track? “Blue Christmas” was written by written by Billy Hayes and Jay W. Johnson .

Another bluesy Christmas song is “Merry Christmas, Baby” by Chuck Berry. I’m not big on this song, but one of my all-time favorite Christmas songs of all time is his confusingly-titled “Run Rudolph Run.”

Berry didn’t write the song, but added his instantly-recognizable guitar riff to it. It was written by Johnny Marks and Marvin Brodie and released on the legendary Chicago blues label, Chess Records. Like Berry, I’m from St. Louis, Missouri, so I may be biased towards his music.

Although not a blues song, Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” is one of my other top favorites. I think I’ll create a random, rockin’, Christmas YouTube playlist and share for another blog entry.

Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon.

Van Halen Covers

I can distinctly remember dubbing a friend of mine’s cassette tape of Van Halen’s “Diver Down” album, but I think it was in the mid 80s, as opposed to its original 1982 release. (To put things in perspective, I wasn’t a rabid Van Halen fan at the time. However, they were an established band and their Orwellian-entitled effort 1984 was HUGE. If they weren’t a household name in ’83, they were in ’84.)

In any event, I always loved a lot of stuff on the Diver Down album — coincidentally, almost half of the songs on it are covers. There are some rockers and there are some off the wall ones, too, which make for some interesting listening.

Their take on Roy Orbison’s “(Oh) Pretty Woman” is probably their best known cover song. I grew up listening to this one before I ever heard the original. Kudos to them for keeping this well-deserved song alive. Not only does their take on it rock, but it has swagger. Plus, their instrumental intro to the tune “Intruder” is awesome to use an 80s expression. Both tracks ooze the Van Halen sound.

Really I could say just about the same thing about some of their other covers on the album…I heard the VH take on them before hearing the original or just heard their version more. There is some great harmony and an interesting synth sound on “Dancing in the Streets,” originally recorded by Martha and the Vandellas. (I didn’t realize Marvin Gaye actually shared a songwriting credit on this song until writing this blog entry.) Another sixties cover on Diver Down was written by The Kinks’ Ray Davies: “Where Have All the Good Times Gone.” This one is actually the opening track. It features a lot of David Lee Roth’s vocal bump-and-grind and plenty of Eddie’s guitar.

As for the “weird” covers…it’s hard to beat ““Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now)” — a jazzy thing written in the 1920s. The best part is Fritz Van Halen (father of guitarist Eddie and drummer Alex) plays the clarinet solo while David Lee Roth injects his sense of humor and “old timey show biz” vocals to it.

Fittingly, Diver Down closes with an a capella version of the Roy Rogers/Dale Evans penned “Happy Trails.”

By the way, if you want to SEE something weird, check out their video for “(Oh) Pretty Woman.” It has a sort of Village People meets The Wizard of Oz vibe to it with a little bit of Samurai warrior and cowboy.

Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon!