Saturday, June 26, 2010

Vic Flick's World-Famous Lick

Another quirky story from NPR commentator Tim Brookes:

Reimagined American music returned to these shores in the early sixties via the "British Invasion," as everyone under 65 knows. Mr. Brookes contends that the opening salvo wasn't the Beatles iconic February 1964 appearance on Ed Sullivan's show (the most viewers for one show ever, at the time), but came from a group numbering under a half dozen in the U.K. in 1962, that is, session guitarists.
Vic Flick, one member of this fraternity by virtue of his ability to read music, worked in TV show studio orchestras and for a band named The John Barry Seven. Barry got a call from some obscure film producers to bring his group over to rewrite and record the music for a film, with a deadline of two weeks. The title-sequence theme by Monty Norman, it seems, was slow and uninspiring. While Barry rearranged the horn parts, Vic Flick suggested a Duane Eddy surf style treatment of his part, taking it down to the low E string to make it "more dynamic." With his Paragon jazz-style guitar, DeArmond pickup and a 15-watt Vox amp, he came in on the fifth measure spitting out F sharp, E and G like machine gun bullets. Duly recorded, they moved on to finish up the day's work and Mr. Flick was paid a standard $6 - $7 session rate. He forgot about it quickly and didn't go to see the film's premiere.
What he missed was the James Bond thriller Dr. No. His riff was heard worldwide for decades and a popular music tsunami was on its way.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The First Mashup?

Rus Wornom on his blog "Take Another Road To Another Time" has a link to "News From Me," a blog by Los Angeles writer and producer Mark Evanier, which I check regularly. Not that I need to be in the show biz loop, but Mark is a very intelligent commentator, has been around a while and knows everyone, especially those in the comic book and comedy world. What I find especially interesting is learning about all those people we civilians never heard of who have worked in these fields, have produced original, quality creative work and seemed to have in general had a great time doing it. He's also a huge fan of June Foray, the one and only voice of Rocky the Flying Squirrel, so he had me right there.
I ran across a Evanier-type story today from NPR commentator Tim Brookes and I've got to share it:
Singing cowboys in movies, it seems, were thought up first as a cost-saving measure -- Gene Autry or one of his contemporaries leaning up against a tree and singing three songs filled up a whole reel with little expenditure (no blank ammo, horses, costumed riders, dust in the camera's film gate, etc.). This device caught on and was endlessly repeated because it easily satisfied a Depression and war years fantasy -- "troubles and problems could be dispelled with songs, good cheer and innocent honesty." Altogether more wholesome, and cheaper at a 5- to 25-cent admission, than today's mystery and romance novels...
In 1935, Autry starred in a 12-part movie series, The Phantom Empire, which has to be one of the strangest mash-up of genres (western, sci-fi, movie musical) ever attempted. The story goes thus: Gene and his pals live at Radio Ranch, from which they merrily engage in a daily musical radio show broadcast (this back when less than 10% of rural areas had electricity). One day a sidekick, rodeoing Betsy Ross King, spies a figure out of the range in a space suit entering an elevator hidden behind rocks (sounds like something R. Crumb would have dreamed up 30 years later in a cloud of blue smoke). Our heroes of course must investigate, and find an underground "science city," Murana, ruled by feisty Queen Tika, who definitely believes that girls rule! Especially over her robot people, who are quickly dispatched if they fail to mind the rules -- powerful ray guns and all that. Each week after escaping back to the surface, Gene's gang then put on their show, happily singing about sage brush and livestock.
You can get this classic on DVD from And you should.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Animal House

I'd like a yard like Cliff's, all secured with fence, trees and bamboo (what a fun word to say). Not just for us but for the critters who would move in, raise their young in relative safety, and lose their fear. That strange little bird in Zach's yard already seems to recognize us and knows we mean no harm, so if each year's offspring experience this sort of unthreatening environment they would join their world to yours. Peaceable kingdoms...
This year, this burgeoning summer, is different than the past 18 here. When we moved in, behind us was a scraped and scarred wasteland before the protective belt of old trees along the creek showed dark green, firmly intending to hold on despite the onslaught of fossil-fueled machines. The remnants of the old older, when this hill was wild, were just fading: we saw red and grey fox, turtles, snakes, hawks and several groundhogs (who obviously figured into the fox population's success). There was quite a deer herd, with their familiar trails from the hilltop down to water. Goldfinches were everywhere, fattening on the tall weeds' seeds with thousands of trees for cover.
All the wildlife disappeared as houses went up and streets were paved. House and street lights probably spelled doom for prey animals trying to survive another night. The goldfinches dwindled down to a couple per summer. No bluebirds, cardinals or martins.
Trees and shrubbery have grown from the scaly clay and shale surface, and a couple of good wet years have stitched together the patches of grass into a rug of oriental lushness. Many people have put out bird feeders, enabling the few goldfinches to multiply and prosper, filling the air with joyous yellow-uniformed troopers. Dogs are walked, but are not out in yards and there are not many outdoor cats. The doubled traffic since the hilltop has been covered with McMansions and the lower area crammed with apartments is probably a cruel Harvester of those little predators. I know it is an ever-present threat to us few pedestrians.
The holly tree out front in the narrow and protected walkway hosts a bird nest each year. What a joy it is to see the juvenile cardinal, wobbly and innocent, appear on the sidewalk. He looks at you and asks, Can you help me? I don't know what to do. Well, they figure it out and next year he's the proud dad of another brownish-red teenager. The crows used to perch on the garage gutter and destroy the robins' nestlings before that. A disease (I forget what) decimated the crows and jays for a few years, and we haven't seen either around much, so the holly tree sends out its graduates regularly. The robins must have found a safer place and the cardinals don't take any guff.
A tiny rabbit was on the far end of the walk eyeing the lettuce the other day. It dashed back under the generous cover of the Japanese maple when it spied me, but I hope he stays around and understands there's plenty of lettuce for both of us. And we do see a few bluebirds each summer. On a dirt lane (not many of those left) years ago between here and Mechanicsburg, I saw a Baltimore oriole. Only one, and never again. What a sight. They must know how beautiful they are, but the common, little red-headed sparrows are beautiful in their own right too.
What's different about this year other than the gradual recovery Nature has made in plastic suburbia is the ongoing tale of Drew the Shrew.
Every year we see a dark, swift little shrew scuttling about the in leaf litter under the holly and across the sidewalk (he has an enviable commute). Just this week Gilligan the Vigilant noticed two baby shrews noodling around under the holly leaves, and today we saw two adults zip across the sidewalk! After almost two decades of seeing only one tiny rodent going about his business each summer, we get to see the whole Brady Bunch.
If they think they're in Cliff's back yard and they're so safe they can cavort openly, that's a treat for us and our mighty, indoor, clawless feline hunter.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

What About Bob?

Six years ago, Gilligan, our cat, showed up out back looking for a home. Drew the shrew has been living out front (or rather, generations following the original Drew) for even longer. Downstairs in his basement burrow, the last of six rabbits, the almost immortal BB Bunny, has grown from a little fuzzball into a jolly Burl Ives type of fellow. I guess the word got out about our open-door policy, because last summer a tulip poplar seedling moved in, choosing the narrow strip out front between the sidewalk and the garage. Leaving it undisturbed to see if it survived the winter, I found it this year full of vigor and seemingly determined to become a full-sized tree in record time. About a year old now, its tropical-looking leaves are 13" by 10"! You've got to admire this much enthusiasm.
Now I'm stuck with a moral dilemma. This is about the worst location possible for tree roots -- the sidewalk and garage floor will be no match for their voracious reach in just a few years if this first year's growth is any indication. But how can I consider removing it? First, that would be heartless. Second, it already has a name, like a pet, and once here they should enjoy living out their natural lives.
So...what about Bob the tree?