Friday, February 5, 2010

more on Stein, Dementia 13, etc.

I've been listening more to the Ronald Stein CD and feel there's more to say about it. Of course, I'm doing this in the dining room, while my girl plays and hopefully entertains herself. This kind of autonomy is not entirely new, but I'm just starting to get comfortable doing things and not being fully interactive with her. She is helped by the large boombox we have in our dining room, which can be set to infinite repeat. It got set that way about two, maybe even three months ago and hasn't gone off since. This has been a test of my patience, and I feel I have passed with flying colors. Why so sure of myself? Let's see what's been in the player.

There were the two discs of the Fisher-Price "Little People" 50th birthday set; these are sung in character by the voiceover actors who do the animated Little People shorts. Before the play button was first pressed, I made a little bet in my head, with no one in particular, that there would be lots of perky surf/mashed-potato beats, which I tend to hate (unless accompanied by something adequately ripping, a la Dick Dale et al). People who do music for kids, and who do family-oriented or "fun" commercials, always find this particular rhythm an essential. The accompanying smarminess makes the whole thing that much worse, like somebody giving you a wet willie with hot sauce. (UK readers be advised: wet willie in the states refers to having someone stick a wet finger in your ear when you're not expecting it. In UK slang of course, a wet willie could be a very good thing, depending on the moisture source.) Of course the guess was a no-brainer, and the album was full of examples of smarm-surf-potato (both discs). So I first had to learn to hear around that. Then there were some awful cover tunes, such as Sister Sledge's "We Are Family" and the Beatles' "Yellow Submarine". The topper for me is when Farmer Jed goes to the beach with the Little People and sings Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds" (in character, of course). That one was actually a turning point for me; it was too funny to stay annoyed at. The rest of the album sort of fell into line behind that, and I mellowed out. My kid loved the whole thing right off, of course. Is it still five kinds of lame all at once? Oh yeah. But I get to do the chicken dance with my girl, both of us flapping our folded arms and making chicken sounds, every time it comes on. Sometimes we play it multiple times in a row.

Next up, with Chrissy's help, she discovered Abba. Now, I never had any beef with Abba, but they were never top of my hit parade either. I felt they were harmless fun. But anything played that many times in a row might get a bit grating after a while. I simply learned to tune it out and make it background. Of course the ear/mind combo tends to play tricks on me after a while, and my inner Norm Crosby goes to work.

"What a loo"....

As it turns out, that's what's on now, the Abba CD, by request.

But after Abba, Chrissy turned her on to Duran Duran. Again, no major beefs, and some of their stuff I actually like a lot. Other tracks took a bit of tuning out, but I found myself dissecting the writing, the production, etc. While I found that some of it initially remained borderline annoying and gave me that "quick, change the station" feeling- until I managed to tune it out- all of it was fascinating to pick apart, and some of it really raised my opinion of the band and their talents. The one that really grabbed me was "Ordinary World", which I never paid any attention to when it came out, but which I now think is a very well written, arranged and performed track. Emphasis on the writing; it's not only far ahead of what a lot of their contemporaries were doing, it's way better than a lot of what even they were doing. But they did have a good track record, so it's not that huge of conceptual leap to imagine. It's not as jarring as, say, a useless tosser of a band like Bon Jovi turning out the melodically and harmonically superb "Wanted Dead Or Alive" (the lyrics live down to the rest of the band's output, however).

Meanwhile here, Abba plays on in the background.

"How can I ever refuse
I feel like I win when I'm loose"....

Where did we come in? Oh yeah, back to Ronald Stein. The two highlight sections of the album are the "Dementia 13" pieces and the tracks from "Spider Baby". The Spider Baby tracks are a highlight because they're fun, especially the last two, which feature in-studio chatter between Lon Chaney Jr., who sings the title track, and Ronald Stein, who is producing him through the recording. Can't say too much without giving it away but it's hilarious. Then, on to the title track itself, which is no less funny. Goofy and creepy at the same time, much like the film.

But man..."Dementia 13" is REALLY a standout, not just on this album but possibly in the guy's whole career. Most of the album sounds like what it was meant to be- good horror movie music. But it's fairly conventional, almost to the point of being cliche'. Here, I think Stein is probably a victim of his own success; he did so many of these, that, like book cover artist Richard Powers, he appears to be an entire wave or period of a genre all by himself. You might have thought that at one time, all horror soundtracks sounded like this, or in Powers' case, all science fiction and horror paperbacks looked a certain way; when in both cases, it was one prolific artist creating the impression of an era in commercial art. But "Dementia 13" is a whole 'nuther ball 'o'wax. The most direct comparison might be to Herrmann's Psycho soundtrack, and there are certainly some similarities. But Stein's work goes into some really adventurous territory, with prominant discordant harmonies for the melody line, big bold punches for the ax murders, the creepiest harpsichord ever recorded...amazing stuff. I am so tempted to drag the main title theme into my digital studio and do my own remastering of it...not that the existing one isn't terrific, it is; I've never heard this music sound so good, in fact I'd say it's pristine. But the dynamics are a little different than how I hear them in my head, and I'd love to tamper with it and make it more obviously the raging powerhouse it deserves to be. This, in essence, makes me co-conductor, but it's for me so WTF.

"Did you brush your gums Fernando
For gingivitis is a terrible disease
And it can rob you of your teeth
Before your time..."

The movie "Dementia 13" is no less superb, and has been one of my top 3 favorite horror films for many years. (The other two are the original versions of "Carnival Of Souls" and "The Haunting".) It's the only one of the three to have any gore, and even at that, by today's standards it's pretty tame. It's the overall product- acting, lighting, music, editing, script- that makes it so good. I don't know if Francis would agree today, but I'd rate it in another top 3- one of his best three pics. (The other two being the first two Godfathers combined as one- OK, cheating, sue me- and Apocalypse Now.) It just barely beats out "The Conversation" for inclusion. That's a kicker too, highly recommended.

"Chicken Tikka you and I know..."

All right, it's time to move this party downstairs. Bye bye for now, Abba. Nap time for the kid, possibly for me.

Downstairs, turn on the tube...What's this? Perry Mason (a favorite- great cinematography and guests). Wait, who's that, playing the wacky heiress, and this episode's focus? It's Mary Mitchel, who played the "good girl" in "Dementia 13"! Cool! (And she was also in "Spider Baby"!) The gods of reruns and syndication and synchronous references have smiled upon this endeavor. Huzzah!

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