Friday, April 20, 2018

Box of Pearls: The Janis Joplin Collection

It comes as no surprise that Janis Joplin, who passed away at the age of 27 from a heroin overdose, is legendary for her screaming voice -- who recorded only a total of four albums during her career. Her second album, Cheap Thrills, debuted on the Billboard charts in August of 1968 and reached the number one spot quickly. The proposed title of the album was "Dope, Sex and Cheap Thrills," which properly described her personal life off the stage. Her first two albums were a result of a record contract as part of Big Brother and The Holding Company, a San Francisco rock-and-roll off-the-wall band that entered the mainstream market a couple years too early. The Midwest had not adjusted to hippies in 1967, and the band played to an audience of five or six in clubs that could have held 200. But they got a record deal as a result of the tour and Janis Joplin was introduced to the American public.

At the Monterey International Pop Festival in June of 1967, Big Brother and the Holding Company performed on stage. Overnight Janis Joplin's name spread like wildfire. She overshadowed the band and after two albums with Big Brother, it was obvious that when the tour expired, she was going to venture off on her own. Her third and fourth/final albums are, in my opinion, some of the best music she ever created. No single style of music could do that -- not the country blues or bluegrass, not folk, rhythm and blues, or rock and roll. But there was clearly an element of rhythm and blues and she defined music her own way. 

By the end of 1969, Joplin disbanded the Kosmic Blues Band (the second band, her third album) and took some time off. She went to Rio de Janeiro for Carnaval. She backed off from alcohol and drug use that had sometimes affected her performances with Kosmic Blues. She cleaned up her act. And during those reflective months, her luck changed. In her first year as a leader of her own band, she had learned a lot. Now she was ready to put those lessons to use. Her fourth and final album was released after her death, leaving behind a legacy that most aficionados agree was only a rising point in her career. A darn shame as future albums would have launched her into stardom that few female performers would have accomplished at the time.

A few years ago there was talk that actress Amy Adams was going to play the lead in a biopic about Janis Joplin. Adams would have earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress -- the role is perfect for her. But something fell through and the movie is not going to be made. Big disappointment but we do have her albums to enjoy.

In 2009, a special five-CD box set was released titled, Box of Pearls. The commemorative booklet contains print so small that I have to criticize what the producers were thinking. My youthful eagle eyes were put to a test. But all four albums are on four CDs, along with bonus tracks (recorded alternate takes) and is a magnificent just-starting-out package for people wanting to explore Janis Joplin. The fifth CD contains a few rare unreleased tracks but her third and fourth albums are treasures. Amazon.com offers a bargain out-of-print price and the purchase of the album also contains free music downloads... a surprise I was not expecting.

For anyone wanting to own every track she ever recorded, there are other collections including "Best Of" releases, which contain different live versions of songs, the "Live at Winterland" with Big Brother and "Farewell Song," plus the three-disc set called "Janis" which has lots of her earlier material and a birthday message for John Lennon. Having purchased the Box of Pearls set for $22, I can state that I am fully satisfied having all four of her albums, including bonus tracks. Worthy for anyone looking to add music CDs to their library. And consider the fact that Best Buy just announced they will be discontinuing CDs in their stores this July, owning music CDs is more essential. Owning CDs is the true on-demand.

Friday, April 13, 2018

The Lone Ranger on Radio, Film and Television Book Review

Following the adage, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it at all," negative book reviews are not my cup of tea. Ed Andreychuk's recent book, The Lone Ranger on Radio, Film and Television, released a couple months ago by McFarland Publishing, warrants an exception. Honestly, this is not a bad book. But the price McFarland charges, along with a major flaw of knowing there is more information about The Lone Ranger on the internet vs. what can be found in this book, left a bad taste in my mouth. Having researched the subject for more than a decade, including archival collections across the country, I may be one of the few who could be highly critical. There are nuggets of information I would rarely expect anyone to have and with this disclosed, the myths and errors that continue to be reprinted in multiple reference guides and fanzines, are expected. But those type of flaw will not be exposed here. 

Andreychuk's book is 182 pages thick, index and table of contents included, but information about The Lone Ranger is minimal. The entire first chapter is devoted to the history of the Texas Rangers. What that directly has to do with The Lone Ranger radio and television program, I do not know. Naturally, I skipped those seven pages and moved on to the second chapter. On page 11, the author cited James Jewell being responsible for creating the name of Tonto, a.k.a. "Wild One," which was, as everyone in the OTR hobby knows, created by Fran Striker and "Wild One" was never used on the program. Andreychuk also claimed Trendle hired a Native Indian to replace actor John Todd, but we all know that is also inaccurate. Two pages into the chapter devoted to the radio program and already observed two errors. 

Beginning with chapter three, focusing on the cliffhanger serial produced by Republic, I found myself skimming various paragraphs due to unnecessary padding. What I mean by "unnecessary padding" is information that steers away from the title and subtitle of a book. The flaw continues throughout the remainder of the book. There are pages loaded with brief biographies of supporting cast members, and their non-Lone Ranger-related screen credits, that made me wonder why background production on the television programs, cartoons, movies and serials were not covered extensively. Actress Lisa Montell, for example, receives coverage of her screen career for half of page 114. It would have been enjoyable to know what her involvement was with The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold, rather than acknowledge her screen credits on television's Cheyenne and The Gene Autry Show

From pages 50 to 80, there is an episode guide for the television program. Episode number, title, broadcast date, actors and a one or two sentence plot summary is all that can be found. No behind-the-scenes trivia, no on-screen bloopers, or quotes from cast and crew. This is going to come off as an insult but you can get more information about the television episodes on IMDB. And thirty pages of the book devoted to this guide.

In short, for someone who cannot afford Dave Holland's From Out of the Past, or Dick Osgood's WYXIE Wonderland (recently reprinted), this might fill a void on your bookshelf. Expressing disappointment is difficult for me so I guess this book review serves as a warning to consider other options.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Ready Player One Movie Review

Ready Player One is a feast consisting of meat and potatoes for fans of media pop culture. Godzilla, Batman, Back to the Future, Tron, Freddy Krueger, Lara Kroft, Han Solo, Chucky, King Kong and many other classics of the past fill the screen in the latest film from director Steven Spielberg, whose excellent Oscar-nominated movie, The Post, hit theaters just a couple months back. Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Ernest Cline, the story is set in the dystopian future of 2045, where an energy crisis from the depletion of fossil fuels, overpopulation and economic stagnation forces people to retreat into the OASIS -- a virtual reality simulator where people jump online and interact in a Willy Wonka world of video games and interactive romance. Wade Watts, the protagonist, is one of the millions who escape into the dream world daily, discovering the creator of the OASIS hid an Easter Egg. The first person to find the egg would not only receive financial wealth, but ownership of the OASIS. The creator may be long dead, but his legacy -- and true agenda -- mimics that of Willy Wonka. Along the way, Nolan Sorrento, head of operations at Innovative Online Industries (IOI), recruits debt-indentured players to find the Easter Egg and gain control of the OASIS. World domination was never so simple, and never so challenging.

Visually, this movie is a feast for the eyes. Spielberg himself said he never devoted more time overseeing the special effects for a movie since Saving Private Ryan, and had this movie been released in late 2017, it would certainly have won a few Oscars for special effects. Choosing to avoid competition with Star Wars: The Last Jedi, both Spielberg and Warner Bros. decided to move the release date to March for profit over awards. The visuals are dazzling at times while some scenes (more than likely deliberate) replicate the feel of a modern-day video game. One makes me wonder, though, if video games and virtual reality will be far superior in 2045 than depicted in this movie.

The story is perfect for a modern-day blockbuster, the kind of movie one expects to get from the price of admission and a bucket of popcorn. And while most of the elements were adapted faithfully from the novel, what changes were made are necessary improvements for visual storytelling. The two flaws in this movie -- which are essential for great story-telling -- are more than likely the result of getting as much use out of the licensing that took years to iron out. The overall lesson learned by the end of the movie -- spending time outside the OASIS (a.k.a. the Internet) to develop real-world relationships -- is obvious but not emphasized through example except for slum-like cities with barely any explanation of overpopulation, pollution, corruption and climate change. 

The love interest between the two leads (Tye Sheridan and Olivia Cooke) lack chemistry. Yes, they kiss at the end of the movie and he professes his love early in the story, but with the exception of those three scenes, one has to wonder where was the sparkle in her eyes? Have motion-pictures ventured into such cookie-cutter formula that we now expect the leads to fall in love but the necessity of how they meet, discover an attraction and motif for running into danger for the sake of the other no longer necessary for the story?

Do not get me wrong. This is a fun film. Had the script writers, editors and Spielberg included scenes explaining the horrific "real-world" issues that led to where mankind retreats into a virtual utopia, and had the two leads built a growing admiration for the other, this movie would have been the first film of the year to whole-heartedly recommend. That being said, if you can forgive those two flaws going in, you will enjoy the film.

Loaded with Easter Eggs throughout, my wife caught The Joker, Harley Quinn, a nod to Knight Rider and another to The Breakfast Club, which I overlooked. So many pop culture references you have to watch the film multiple times to catch them all. It was amusing to see nostalgic pop-culture references such as a verbal nod to the angel Clarence from It's a Wonderful Life, two references to Rosebud from Citizen Kane, and a pleasant surprise to hear Max Steiner's music score from the 1933 classic, King Kong, when the giant ape rampages through New York in the opening street scene. 

All of which is ironic when you consider the fact that Spielberg has spent the last decade or two investing money in video games and one wonders if this movie was not just a blatant commercial for the products he profits. 

Researching Old-Time Radio

Nothing bothers me more than reading a book or magazine article that, one or two paragraphs in, I notice half a dozen errors. This usually turns me off reading the rest of the scholarly attempt, defeating the author's purpose. With respect to many of those who research old-time radio, or think they know how to research old-time radio, the following is a free 14-page PDF providing "A Primer For Researching Old-Time Radio."


A little more than seven years ago I wrote a five-part article focusing on where to find archival materials, tools of the trade, resources to use, and pitfalls to avoid. As computer and communications technology evolved, so have the methods of research, and a revision to those articles are in order. What I did was condense the information into one length article and update some of the bullet points.

Among the more important was clarification of sponsor vs. product. People look at me funny when I tell them Jell-O was never a sponsor of The Jack Benny Program. General Foods was the sponsor. Jell-O was the product. A product, an article or substance manufactured or refined for resale, cannot physically sponsor a program. Kudos to the advertising agencies that wanted radio listeners to associate the product with the program, but historian have to avoid that “trap.”

Today, a weekly check on eBay can provide -- on occasion -- obscure historical items such as contracts, inter-office memos and product tie-ins that would otherwise go unnoticed.

Of recent, a new tool for tracking down someone is Facebook. While not everyone is on Facebook, I found the daughter of a radio scribe in less than 60 seconds. We communicated and two months later I was in her barn looking over her father’s papers and photographs that gathered dust in a filing cabinet. 

Your local library probably offers ProQuest for free. This service grants you access to newspaper archives across the country. Many libraries will allow you access to ProQuest from your home computer with a library card and password/pin number. 

The iPhone/smart phone has become a researcher's best friend. Rather than pay or copy fees at the library (which can add up to hefty dollars), many libraries will allow researchers the use of the camera on their phone provided the sound and flash is turned off.

In short, this free PDF provides anyone researching old-time radio with an added benefit: what to ask a librarian before traveling out of state to an archive, clarifies the difference between a collector title and a script title, why half of the death dates listed on websites for celebrities are incorrect, and why you never want to consider anything found in a newspaper and magazine article as the gospel. 

Today, there are less than one dozen historians of old-time radio who research and publish their findings. For three of them, researching old-time radio is a full-time job. These numbers are expected to dwindle over the coming years. It is expected that, on occasion, there will be revived interest and possibly additional discoveries to be published. It is my hope that this essay will provide a primer for those newcomers. 

To view the free PDF file, click here: 

https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/41b57b_1973a132d8354675a66b53e3399274cc.pdf