Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Remember the Daze

Not Derivative At All.

Movie: Remember the Daze (2007)

Director: Jess Manafort

Starring: Amber Heard, Chris Marquette, Lyndsy Fonseca

Written by: Jess Manafort

It appears that the 90s are officially fair game for the nostalgia industry.  Remember the Daze is entirely summed up in its name.  Though I’m willing to blame the film studio for the naming, this is little more than an unofficial sequel to Dazed and Confused, a film which told the story of a town of teenagers (mostly incoming seniors) on the last day of school in 1976.  This retelling does little more than wind the clock forward to the last day of school in 1999 and removes the freshman abuse, sweet hairstyles, and Ben Affleck’s greatest role ever.

Furthermore, Dazed and Confused isn’t the only film absorbed by this upstart.  It’s very appropriate that Remember the Daze was originally titled The Beautiful Ordinary, because this film also seems to aspire to be American Beauty. If there’s a reason why this film isn’t drowning in the throwback tunes that plague such nostalgia flicks (though lameass 90s radio rock does get some face time), it’s because the filmmakers elected to make the score wistful, attempting to drive home the idea that these are the best of times and every moment toward adulthood is a moment lost.  So when the kids aren’t running around getting wasted, they’re softly pondering the future.  All the while, a silent (and obviously blessed) teen photographs the day’s events, capturing this one perfect moment in time.

Most of the kids who populate this film are likeable enough, though only a few really stand out.  On the one hand, the spastic blue-haired punk, the quixotic older drug dealer, and the rap star with a piss-wasted alter ego provide the easy comedy.  Less blatant are the two girls who spend the evening babysitting while on mushrooms, which leads to some amusing quirk.  On the serious side lurks a lesbian couple divided on whether to come out of the closet, which is as close as this movie comes to obtaining gravity.

One strange side effect of this film’s clash of styles is that there are many moments in the film in which it seems as though something disastrous is about to happen.  Yet the film swerves away from calamity every time.  A car accident is averted, domestic abuse is hinted at but never shown, and a possible heart attack is laughed off.  The film plays at darkness, but when asked to choose between goofball antics and melodrama it almost always takes the safe route.

Maybe every decade deserves its own Dazed and Confused, its own captured moment of ended youth and disillusionment.  All the same, Remember the Daze is a lesser adaptation.

Y Marks the Spot: Worst. Song. Ever.

One! One, nothing's wrong with me! Ah! Ah! Ah!

The cold clutches of a hundred VH1 propagandists came for me one Friday night, as my friends and I gathered around a bar rail and drank off the approaching bar time. The button-up middle aged prick to our right was having trouble keeping his head from exploding, due to my usual disdain for the Beatles circle-jerk. In typical hipster fashion, he reacted as though I had just punched his mom in the face, though I only called Lennon an overrated schmuck and McCartney a dopey slinger of trite. After the freakout he sniffed that I needed to expand my musical horizons. Ever notice that this statement usually means fawning over whatever safe/edgy acts populate the current Rolling Stone best-ever list? That’s not expansive; it’s not even musical.

Still, after the namedropper declared that he couldn’t handle our level of ignorance and ran off, I decided to think a bit more about my musical tastes. A question shot out of me, and it shocked me that I had never asked it before. What’s the worst song ever? I blinked. Naming all the various Top 5s of preference was easy and had been done before, but perhaps because music is a form of media (alongside television) with a constant barrage of involuntarily absorbed crap, it’s hard to single out one shining turd to carry the shame. For a second, there was no answer. I looked down at my drink, sideways at my friends, rolling the magic 8-ball around in my head before the answer leaped out and punched me in the face.

“Bodies,” by Drowning Pool, is the worst song of all time.

Now I’ll admit that a big part of my Beatles loathing is cultural and not musical. I was born well after the band’s place in history was set in stone and made it an unassailable cliché. Music, in our state of propaganda, is much more than music; it’s marketing, packaging, radio play, monthly messianic music media. You can be bombarded from a dozen different directions by a musician whose music you’ve never even heard (see: the Osbournes, Chris Brown, the Heartagram). Therefore, I think it’s acceptable to dislike a musician based on the culture he or she creates.

I say this to point out that culture was secondary in declaring “Bodies” my worst song ever. Musically, it’s a mediocre song with a predictable low end and vaguely interesting guitar wails, but Dave Williams’ inane, repetitive growling of third-grade lyrics pushes “Bodies” into shit superstardom. We get sinister whispers in the opening, building tension. We get winded, contrived couplets that would make William Hung piss razors (“Beaten, why for?” Really?). We get a pre-chorus counting game that transforms Dave Williams into the mongoloid cousin of Sesame Street’s Count von Count (“One! One, nothing’s wrong with me! Ah! Ah! Ah!”). And of course, there’s the Cookie Monster call to arms: “Let the bodies hit the floor!” Stir these ingredients, add a pinch of the requisite walls-are-caving-in metal lyrics at the interlude, throw in a few randomly placed adolescent wails, and you’ve got a real piece of shit anthem on your hands!

Now here’s the cultural. It was bad enough hearing this song before Dave Williams died in 2002 and martyred the goddamn thing. Now, “Bodies” has become a permanent Bat-Signal for fistheads across the globe; wherever there are pro wrestling shows, monster truck rallies, or scattered gunfire, there by the grace of God goes Drowning Pool.

It gets better. A few years back, a story broke which stated that American soldiers at Guantanamo Bay were torturing detainees with loud, abrasive music, blaring it at all hours. Guess what one of the songs was. And while most reactions from the appropriated musicians ranged from moderately disturbed to fury and outrage (Metallica’s James Hetfield was a rare case of the cautiously supportive), Drowning Pool’s bassist, Stevie Benton, had the arrogance to say the following:

“People assume we should be offended that somebody in the military thinks our song is annoying enough that played over and over it can psychologically break someone down. I take it as an honor to think that perhaps our song could be used to quell another 9/11 attack or something like that.”

Reader, just stop right here. Go back to that quote, and read it again. Then read it another time. Let’s get this straight. Drowning Pool’s music is going to STOP another 9/11? If I was forced to listen to “Bodies,” on repeat, cranked to unbearable volume, I would want to perform an act of destruction so monstrous that it would make terrorism seem like a little girl’s tea party.

So yeah. For reasons both musical and cultural, I deem “Bodies” the worst song of all time.

But fear not, sinners, for although Drowning Pool has authored the greatest abomination in music history, they are not, in fact my worst band ever. For making Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles retirement home rock look viciously Satanic by comparison, that title belongs to the Carpenters.

Music Morphine

Y Spy: Vienna Teng Is Vanishing

Alex Wong and Vienna Teng

This weekend’s Bumbershoot Festival in Seattle will serve as the last performance by pianist Vienna Teng before she leaps into her new life as a graduate student.  The music world would do well to be envious.  Over the past decade Teng has amassed a catalogue of heartwrenching songs spanning the gaps between pop, folk, and classical music.  With producer Alex Wong being made an equal partner, the duo recently released The Moment Always Vanishing, a magnificent live album which expands Teng’s established songs into full-live orchestrations.  It’s a fine (and hopefully very temporary) stopping point.

With Wong popping in to expand upon a few points, Vienna Teng discussed the formation of their team, making the live album, and walking away.

Y Spy: As opposed to your previous releases, The Moment Always Vanishing is credited as Vienna Teng and Alex Wong.  Is that a permanent change?

Vienna Teng: I’m actually going away from being a full-time musician right after Bumbershoot, so I guess that is an open question.  I’m gonna be starting grad school about two days after we play.  I would say yes in the sense that Alex and I definitely intend to keep working together and to make music together, but we’re also independent entities.  He definitely has his own projects.  It was more a recognition of a collaboration of peers.

Alex Wong: It’s definitely something that we talked about.  The show became more of a collaboration, and it felt appropriate. We’ve talked about other collaborations that we would like to do, something outside of the pop world, maybe more of a theater-type show.  The live shows are going to come to an end, but we’ll definitely be making stuff for a long time.

Y Spy: How did you come to work together?

Vienna Teng: We actually met at an open mic long before we started working together.  We became friends, and I was a huge fan of his band that played that night, the Animators.  We stayed in touch, so whenever our paths intersected we would do a show together.  Eventually it became an annual thing that for the holidays, since we both grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, we would both end up at home with our parents and we’d play a show in San Francisco together.

About three years ago, his schedule opened up and he offered to play with me, which was really exciting for me.  He’s a really imaginative live player as well as a good producer, so I wanted to see what the songs would be like if he got to reimagine them from his perspective.  That’s what we’ve been doing for the past three years, and people have really been responding to it, so we wanted to make a live record to commemorate.

Y Spy: How has Alex’s presence changed the live show?

Vienna Teng: I played solo for pretty much the entire first year that I was a full-time musician.  That’s where I was most comfortable for a long time.  Alex is the first person I’ve collaborated with; it has become a very solid partnership.  I’ve gotten to be comfortable with this other person on stage and feel completely in sync.

We’ll be playing Bumbershoot as a duo plus extra firepower, which is inaccurately named the Vienna Teng Trio.  Alex will be playing a custom percussion setup that he’s developed for the show that we do.  He plays a lot of acoustic instruments that he hooks mics on and then runs through different effects.  It creates a really cool half electronic/half acoustic sound.  He also plays keyboards and guitar, and a lot of exotic percussion instruments, and he sings as well.  What’s really cool about what he does is that he multitasks, so he’ll be playing drums and keyboards and a percussion instrument at the same time.

We’re also joined by a guy named Ward Williams who plays cello and electric guitar and sings.  It’s really fun creating that much sound with three people.

Alex Wong: Since we’ve started working together on the live shows, we’ve definitely spent more time deconstructing songs and trying to reconstruct them as duo.  There’s a lot more attention to layers and sounds, and how to tell the story with more interesting arrangements.

Y Spy: How did you go about making a live album?

Vienna Teng: We decided to record in what we call our two hometowns: San Francisco and New York.  We did two shows in one night in New York, in a place called Joe’s Pub, and we did two shows in San Francisco at the club where we’d have our holiday shows, The Independent.  We just wanted to capture the energy of those two cities.  We caught the best performances of those four shows and made it into a single show.

Alex Wong: The show had been developing for the last year, year and a half, before we recorded it.  We both had been evolving our parts and setups for this live show, and it became this thing that felt pretty unique, and it started to become farther removed from what was happening on the studio records.  We wanted to have something that represented what we did together live.  A lot of the songs are different in arrangement and sounds, and there were a lot of people who were asking for that version of those songs.

Y Spy: There’s a lot of back and forth between you and the audience, and you explain a lot of what’s behind your songs.  Was that always the plan?

Vienna Teng: That was a fan request.  We put a live DVD of a special show in Philadelphia where we had a bigger band that we never toured with.  People enjoyed that, but they did say that there wasn’t any talking on that DVD.  We had cut it out because we thought that I’m just talking, just blabbering, so who wants to have that?  But for some reason that was something people said that they enjoy about the show, so we decided to include it.

Y Spy: As opposed to a lot of live albums, yours put the stage talk into separate tracks, giving the listener the opportunity to keep it or skip into the action.

Vienna Teng: We kind of went back and forth with it.  We didn’t want to put all the talking at the beginning of tracks, because that’s a lot to fast forward through.  We’ve also heard albums where they’ve put the next song’s intro at the end of the previous track.  We just made them separate so that people could create a list of just songs.

Y Spy: One thing that stood out on the live album was the extensive use of loops in “The Last Snowfall,” which contrasted with a lot of songs which sounded more straightforward.  Was the idea to bring more electronic and production techniques to the live show?

Vienna Teng: There is a fair amount of electronics going on in certain songs.  Other songs are “No Gringo” and “Gravity.”  There’s a little bit of looping or sometimes effects that Alex, Ward, and I are using.  Hopefully it sounds seamless most of the time, and people wonder afterwards where all that sound was coming from.

Maybe “The Last Snowfall” was the least subtle.  Because on the studio album it was five or six people singing, I knew I couldn’t perform the song unless I had some other way of doing it.  I bought that looper and was experimenting with it, so that arrangement came out of buying a new toy and figuring out how to do that song which would be impossible to do otherwise.

Alex and I have one rule: that we don’t want to include anything prerecorded in the show.  We think it’s really important to create something where the audience is aware that all of it is happening in the moment.  There is that tightrope walk, that whenever I do “The Last Snowfall” all of the lines are being sung in front of everybody.  It’s not like I had a bunch of backing vocals that are prerecorded and are never wrong.  There’s something about the organic nature of creating things live, even if you’re creating and recording them live and then playing them back.

Y Spy: How did you release The Moment Always Vanishing?

Vienna Teng: We have a very generous record label, Rounder.  They said that live albums don’t sell nearly as well at retail.  We truly understood that they didn’t want to throw all their firepower behind it, so we said that we wanted to make it for our fans, and asked permission to print a set number of copies and sell those at our shows and online.  It’s not an official Rounder release, but it definitely came out with Rounder’s blessing and a bit of their support.  We’re very grateful for that.

Y Spy: How did going on to grad school and putting your music career on hold come about?

Vienna Teng: The program I’m going into is basically Sustainable Enterprise Studies, so it’s a dual degree in Environmental Science and Business, an MBA and a Master’s.  It’s something that has been a dream of mine as long as pursuing music has been.  It just felt like the right time to go.

I was recently thinking about how much joy I get from running away to music, rather than having it be my full-time pursuit.  I think that a lot of good music will come out of procrastinating on homework assignments.

Y Spy: Have you had other moments in your career when music wasn’t your top priority?

Vienna Teng: Only in the very beginning.  I’ve been super lucky; pretty much from the time I quit my software engineering job in 2002, I’ve never had a day job.  [Music was] the thing that paid my bills – sometimes barely paid my bills.

Y Spy: Are you still gathering new songs?

Vienna Teng: Yeah.  Recently I was at home for a while and started writing again.  I have this idea for an album that’s in its very starting stages.  I’m a very slow writer, so I think it’s gonna take a couple of years for all the songs to take shape.  There will be a studio album in the future, but not yet.  Maybe in the meantime I’ll release something a little lower pressure, like a holiday album or an album of covers, or a bunch of assorted songs that were co-written with friends over the years.

Y Spy: Alex, because of the level of work you’ve done together, will it be hard to adjust to music beyond Vienna Teng?

Alex Wong: Definitely.  I really enjoyed working with Vienna.  She’s an amazing talent.  I will miss playing with her.  This project has consumed more of my time than anything else over the last couple years.  There will definitely be some withdrawal.

Y Spy: What else have you been working on lately?

Alex Wong: Most recently I did a track on Elizabeth and the Catapult’s upcoming record.  I just finished producing Ari Hest’s upcoming record.  I produced The Paper Raincoat’s existing record, which is also my band.  I’m singing and playing guitar in that project; it’s a duo with Amber Rubarth, who is another singer-songwriter.  I will be touring with the Paper Raincoat and working on some more production and writing projects in New York.

Y Spy: Vienna, as you’re about to take this big step in your life, how do you feel about your musical career to this point?

Vienna Teng: I feel really good about it.  It’s one of those paradoxes in that I feel that I couldn’t leave music unless I felt like I had gotten where I should be, but at the same time when you get there, you think “Why am I leaving?”  The only answer I can give is that, somehow, music gave me permission to move on.  That’s how it felt.

Y Spy: Was there a certain point when you felt that you had achieved everything you set out to do?

Vienna Teng: No.  I don’t think so at all.  I don’t think I’ve checked everything off my list.  There are people I haven’t gotten to collaborate with yet, instruments I haven’t learned to play.  I’ve never completely self-produced my own album, which I hope to do someday.  Bumbershoot is definitely a big thing that I would have had on that list to check off, so it’s nice that that’s happening right before school starts.  There’s still a lot of exciting stuff in music that I would like to do, but I think it crossed over into “That would be nice” rather than “I can’t give up until that happens.”

The Vienna Teng Trio will play Seattle’s Bumbershoot Festival on Sunday, September 5th at 8:30 pm. “The Moment Always Vanishing” is available now.  More information is available at

The Designer’s Drugs: Joe Hill – Horns

Medium: Literature

Stimulus: Joe Hill – Horns

Anno: 2010

This is a case of an author being held hostage by his own brilliance. Joe Hill’s debut novel, Heart Shaped Box, hit the book world like a ton of bricks, and his earlier collection of short stories, titled 20th Century Ghosts, showed a dazzling spectrum of nuance and terror. Expectations ran high for his follow-up novel, which tells the tale of a man turned devil out to avenge the death of his girlfriend. And while Horns begins and ends with a rather straightforward, if supernatural, premise of injustice and retribution, Hill’s talents give the story vitality far beyond the expected.

But first, the drawback. It’s clear that Hill fully intended this, but his usage of diabolical imagery and references often ranges from heavy-handed to outright corny. When devil-print underwear becomes a factor in a trailer brawl, it raised an eyebrow. When “Sympathy for the Devil” was mentioned, it rolled my eyes. But when Ignatius Perrish tracked down his girlfriend’s father wearing only an overcoat and a blue skirt and reintroduced himself as a “devil in a blue dress,” I groaned at the book.

Yet the plays on words do work both ways. The titular horns not only refer to the two pointy things growing from Ig’s head but also to the instruments his father and brother played to make their living. The recurring use of cherry also has multiple meanings, including virginity, explosives, and a possible fruit from Eden’s Tree of Knowledge. Ties are also important, both as articles of clothing and implements of bondage. While Hill must have been aware of his campy turns of devil phrase, his cleverness wasn’t limited to them alone.

In fact, much of what makes Horns so compelling is beyond the demonic. What this story is really about is the growing and fracturing relationships between three friends. Ig’s naïve outlook runs into direct contrast with that of his best friend Lee, who is guarded and worldly. Ig’s initial idolization of his new friend soon changes into genteel competition over the affections of Merrin, who develops a deep relationship with both. As much of the story is told in flashbacks, the point of Horns becomes not what happened between then and now, but how and why.

Despite a superficial adherence to theme, Joe Hill’s sophomore novel has firmly established him as a writer who can bury depth within the conventional. He seems primed to become the next big voice in horror, and there’s nothing in Horns to disprove that.

Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter

Jesus Christ: Vampire Hunter. No Ambiguity.

Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter (2001)

Director: Lee Demarbre

Starring: Phil Caracas, Murielle Varhelyi, Jeff Moffet, Ian Driscoll

Written by: Ian Driscoll

Many times, the title of a movie may be misleading (see: Troll 2). However, there are those rare movie titles which hit you straight in the nuts. So it is with Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter. You get Jesus Christ, you get vampires, and you get Jesus Christ, hunting vampires. End of review, no? But lo! This flick is so much meatier, and more fantastic! You see, Christ, after eons of debate regarding his ethnicity, is revealed to be – CANADIAN! And to stop the vampire menace which is plaguing Canada’s lesbians, he teams up with MOTHERFUCKING SANTOS! The (imitation of the) most legendary Mexican luchador of all time! Can you resist such auspicious temptation?  Can you?

So yeah, Canada’s lesbians are turning into the living dead, an event which serves little purpose as a plot device, except to set up a blatant ripoff of a Kids in the Hall joke. “God bless lesbians,” a little statue of the Virgin Mary tells her son, later on, “they get so much done in a day!”

The Reason Why Atheism No Longer Exists.

In the wake of this fangy epidemic, the Church taps the Lord, who apparently hangs out at a beach all day, drinking a bottle of never-ending lemonade. The vampire ladies show up, prompting Christ to unleash a kung-fu beatdown, but not before pounding his chest and growling, “Body of Christ?” Hells yeah. The Lord goes on to get a haircut and pierced ears, all of which makes him look like a divine Scott Bakula. As he strolls through a park, (where you can see people playing Frisbee in the background), he gets jumped by The Atheists, fifty motley hosers who, in a fitting tribute to the grand artistry of Coolio, all jump out of the same car. Christ wins, and struts away to a Daft Punk sound. Goddamn!

All of this leads up to a confrontation with the villainous Johnny Golgotha and the mad Doctor Pretorious – at the same time. Because, you know, Jesus is everwhere! Along the way, God – as a bowl of cherries – dispenses fatherly advice, the Lord performs a Star Wars scat at a jazz club, and Santos falls in love with a lesbian, which results in the most triumphant high-five in cinematic history.


Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Harry Knuckles and the Pearl Necklace

Harry Knuckles and the Pearl Necklace

Movie: Harry Knuckles and the Pearl Necklace (2004)

Directed by: Lee Gordon Demarbre

Starring: Phil Caracas, Jeff Moffet, Ian Driscoll

Written by: Ian Driscoll

After creating Jesus Christ, Vampire Hunter – the best movie about Jesus Christ, EVER – Canada’s favorite son Lee Gordon Demarbre continued to amass Bizarro film cred with another glorious entry in his Harry Knuckles series. Phil Caracas, Demarbre’s Scott Bakula-looking Lord, once more dons finger fuzz and fights the forces of evil! Narrated by Barack Obama’s twin brother, the story of Pearl Necklace is a sordid tale of sasquatches, jewelry theft, virtual reality, evil twins, pro wrestling, and hot babes fighting awkwardly.

Mr. Knuckles bursts onto the scene when he foils a pair of thieves who are making off with Bizarro master Menahem Golan’s artwork. From there, a pair of smokin’ fine ladies recruits Harry to track down Bigfoot, who has stolen a radioactive pearl necklace. From the start, these ladies are not who they appear to be, and figuring out their true allegiances comprises a large part of the story.

But they aren’t the only dames with whom Mr. Knuckles crosses paths. Pearl Necklace’s show-stealing moment comes when Harry, always looking for a good bargain, takes his truck to the Unknown Gas Station. Ol’ Unknown, played by writer Ian Driscoll, is a snazzy-dressed gas pumper with a paper bag for a head, who swivels his hips and prances around like a vaudeville kingpin. When he runs afoul of two bondage nuns and gets decked in the face, Unknown’s bag head gets a black eye and he slumps to the ground, leaving Harry $20 worth of gas time to take down the nasty nuns. Following his inevitable victory via vagina punch, Mr. Knuckles drives off to a Nintendo orchestra of triumph.

Yet do not assume that this glorious movie is a one-trick pony! One great moment comes while Mr. Knuckles is digging for clues about the nefarious conspiracy surrounding the pearl necklace. For answers, Harry enters a dark and dingy bar and encounters Bizarro legend Lloyd Kaufman! Wearing a giant sombrero and intermittently spewing coins from his mouth, Kaufman challenges Harry to a drinking contest, and awesomeness ensues. Meanwhile, Harry’s best friend, Mexican luchador hero Santos, is led down the parallel roads of love and betrayal, making an awesome joke about masked safe sex before fighting his way out of a wedding ambush. Ultimately, the goodness and purity of both men prevail. Kind of.

Jesus Christ, Vampire Hunter is a titan of cinema, to be sure, but having watched Pearl Necklace, I have become a committed fan of Lee Gordon Demarbre beyond the Lord. No matter how many pedestrians walk into his shots, Demarbre is a comic genius!

Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Wet Hot American Summer

Featured: Templeton Peck, the A-Team. Getting cornholed.

Film: Wet Hot American Summer (2001)

Director: David Wain

Starring: Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Paul Rudd

Written by: David Wain, Michael Showalter

With summer coming to a close, it’s time to break out one of the greatest summer camp films of all time.  Wet Hot American Summer is an ensemble film to rival all others, with actors from across the wide spectrum of entertainment popping in to crack wise.  The majority of these goofballs were spawned from The State, the MTV sketch show which would ultimately be responsible for shows like Viva Variety!, Stella, and Reno 911. Yet there are a few surprises as well.  Christopher Meloni from Law and Order: SVU shows up as a crazed cook who gains wisdom from food and talks about enacting all manner of absurdly depraved behavior.  Elizabeth Banks was running strong in her blond hussy phase of acting at this point.  And Bradley Cooper, star of such bro classics as The Hangover and The A-Team? This was his first movie, and he spent his debut bitching about the camp talent show as well as getting cornholed in a dark shed while wearing tube socks.  There’s something wonderfully appropriate about that.

If there is a protagonist in Wet Hot American Summer, it’s Coop, played by writer Michael Showalter.  Coop is a bowl-cutted camp counselor who silently lusts after a female buddy, even though she looks like kind of a mongo.  Being the last day of camp, he spends his time trying to build up the nerve to hook up with her.  The problem is that she’s dating the super-aloof, child killing Paul Rudd, a fellow counselor whose flailing antics and immunity from dignity render him the coolest kid at camp.  Even though Rudd’s character is a total man-whore, Coop’s chances of erotic success are slim.

Yet desperate love remains in the air.  Pretty much everybody is trying to hook up on this fateful last day, from the little kid who sets his sights on SNL’s Molly Shannon to the horned-up guy sporting short shorts and a permed fro who ditches his campers in whitewater rapids for a shot at love.  A couple of geeks find the strength to set their urges aside in order to save the camp from total destruction, but those kids suck.

The Greatest Comedian Ever.

The final day of camp culminates with Bradley Cooper’s talent show, which is presided over by an old Jewish comedian from the Catskills (also played by Showalter).  His old-timey cracks about “awts and fawts and crafts” and being so old that “fucking Jesus Christ was my counselor” put the kids in stitches.  Meanwhile, the geeks put their plan into action, a loser powers up, and Coop makes his move.

Ever lingering rumors have it that a sequel to Wet Hot American Summer will one day come.  Who knows if it will ever happen, but that day would be awesome.

Y Marks the Spot: My Stupidest Maneuver

Artistic Reenactment

The original plan for this week’s column was of a more political bent. Due to the abundance of tin foil helmeted townie psychos I’ve had to slog through in the past year, I was going to explain my own government conspiracy theory. The first half of my theory states that if I was a willing member of a corrupt government, I’d disguise my footsteps by filling the heads of all the twitchy, unwashed ambulance chasers with all the grassy knoll stories they could eat. I’d set up a few fake government watchdog sites, some group like what the 9/11 Truth people have going on, have a crew of fake militia types shore up a crowd, and then I’d send the creeps loose to warn the rest of the nation. I would do all this because, well, nobody takes vagrant psychopaths seriously, and the more they scream about federal schemes, the more the general public is willing to discount ALL conspiracies as the pipe dreams of vagrant psychopaths. After that rampage of disinformation, I’d be free to conspire at will.

But with the exception of the second half, there’s not much more to say. So let’s lighten things up with a story about something that happened to me this week. Like the title says, it may be the most (gloriously) stupid thing I’ve ever been responsible for.

* * *

It was Friday. I had come home from work in the evening and knocked off for a few hours on my couch. It was dark when I came to, the only light coming from the faint green Christmas bulbs in the living room. It took some time for me to scrape myself upright and get ambulatory. A rash of phone calls followed. Very few people were out and about, and the few friends who were doing anything lurked within a collective house, a few blocks away. The location was close enough to not require a car (I almost never drive within mainland La Crosse), yet far enough away that I’d rather bike the distance.

Before I left, however, I required some typical Friday night preparation. By the time I mounted my bike and left the house, I was, to put it diplomatically, in a state.

The ride over went fine. I was coherent, riding in straight lines, and even had my bike light on. I arrived at the dark, ramshackle wooden porch, where the expected crowd hadn’t materialized. Those outside the house loitered atop the dirt and grass, smoking cigarettes and no doubt wishing for more excitement to fall from the sky. After an unknown period of time the home team went inside to sleep, the away team drifted away, and I shambled over to my bicycle as a rainstorm materialized within seconds.

I want to say that what followed next happened because of the darkness and rain, but I would be lying.

So focused was I on getting home through the storm that it didn’t immediately dawn on me that my bike light was on the opposite end of the handlebars. When this was noticed, I thought it had slipped from its attachment, though it didn’t move when I tried to pull it back into position. The hell with it, I thought, and I rotated the light so that it illuminated the road, upside down.

After a while, I realized that not only was my light out of position but my hand brakes were behind my hands, not in front of them. A block from home, the truth slipped into my brain. I had ridden nine blocks in a rainstorm with my handlebars turned backwards.

The usual idiot, when becoming aware of such a folly, would take stock of the situation and fix it in a rational way. Not me. Still in motion and invincible in ignorance of the laws of physics, I wrenched my handlebars to their correct direction.

The wheel wobbled, and I soon hurtled over my bicycle and landed in the soft, wet grass. On the ground, I howled with a joyous and wholly inappropriate laughter.

There were no injuries, and almost no possessions were broken. When I finally called off the mirth and stood up, however, I realized that the front tire of my bike had folded in half. All things considered, the destruction was minimal, a sign of providence which only confirmed my sense of fortune about the whole experience. Lifting the machine by its damaged limb, I wheeled it the final block home, locked it in the garage, and slept like a champion.

* * *

There’s no conventional moral to this act of brilliance beyond the usual condemnations and perhaps an endorsement for protective headgear. But what I took from the adventure, and what was in mind as I recounted the story ad nauseum to all my friends, is that one can find joy and fun in anything, even while staring down the gun barrel of danger. In fact, danger – outside of simple masochism – might well be a crucial ingredient for such happiness.

Which brings me to the second half of my conspiracy theory. If I wanted total control of a population, I’d give the people everything they wanted or dreamed of, every impulse fulfilled at the click of a button. Because what do you get for the man who has everything? Everything to lose.

Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Drop Dead Fred

Drop Dead Fred: Best Hero Ever

Drop Dead Fred (1991)

Directed by: Ate de Jong

Starring: Phoebe Cates, Rik Mayall, Marsha Mason

Written by: Elizabeth Livingston, Carlos Davis, Anthony Fingleton

This is my favorite movie. No question. I’ve loved this movie ever since I was 11, when its joy came primarily from the ridiculous idea of a child robbing her own house, at the prompting of her crazed imaginary friend. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to appreciate the grown-up bits, which show the former child selling out and falling into a miserable life. Elizabeth’s husband is a beautiful dick who screws around, and her mom is a psycho megabeast who storms back into Elizabeth’s life after the husband splits. The grown-up is forcibly returned to the family house, where she discovers an abandoned jack-in-the-box which releases her imaginary friend from his prison. Once freed, Drop Dead Fred, a magnificent creature of wild orange hair and leprechaun green suits, destroys everything in sight. He smears dog poop on chairs, sinks a houseboat while playing pirates, and removes muscular winos from their togas. Drop Dead Fred is one of the greatest comic madmen of all time, and without doubt the king of the imaginary friends.

The film’s narrative shuffles between the child and adult Elizabeth’s dealings with Drop Dead Fred, and to be honest, Fred’s misadventures with young Elizabeth will always be the most fun part of this film. The figment’s effect on the grown-up is purposely awkward, illustrating how much Elizabeth has forgotten since the days when her imagination wreaked havoc. However, the scenes depicting those halcyon times are acts of insane happiness, with the kid giving herself completely to Fredness and dancing in his clouds of Cornflakes Disease. This manic glee, while being delightful to watch, also gives a great sadness to the point in time when Fred gets locked away and Elizabeth slides into the gray world of manners. Consequently, the broken adult to come from this grows more sympathetic as Drop Dead Fred continues to ruin her life and save her soul.

Rik Mayall, who gained fame in English television for his various twit roles – the most notable of these being the Cliff Richard worshipping college anarchist in The Young Ones – is absolutely perfect as a figment of imagination. His Fred prances, and sneers, and smashes, and punches Go to Hell Herman in the face – all with a sarcastic majesty that gives the film an overwhelming, childish joy. From the moment I set eyes on him, Drop Dead Fred became one of my all time heroes, and even though I’ve grown up, I still love him with all my heart.

So much so, that I did this. COBWEBS!

Jammin’ George: LOCAL HERO.

Jammin' George

The first thing I noticed when I met up with local comedian and surrealist Jammin’ George was that he had a bobble-head of himself sitting on his table. It wasn’t a total likeness; the sculpture reminded me of Harry Caray whereas George, a big man with close-cropped white hair and rectangular black glasses, looks more like Drew Carey. But the fact that Jammin’ George commissioned a bobble-head to be made of him is stunning. It’s one more way by which he crawls into one’s head and wreaks havoc.

My relationship with Jammin’ George is full of such brain-melting incidents. Earlier in the year, my cohort Shuggypop Jackson got a hold of me and delivered an urgent message: he had something he had to show me. His offering was Jammin’ George’s Land of Fun, an hour-long video in which George dances to music, reads poetry, does impersonations, and films his television. It’s one of the most bizarre videos I’ve ever seen, but the strangest thing is that I’ve watched it so many times that I’m no longer fazed.

The Sweet Shop janitor known on his paychecks as George Haug is a joyous man, quick to ham it up and not given to extensive self-examination. The one thing he isn’t is a one trick pony. Land of Fun, which was made circa 2006, is his newest project, but Jammin’ George has been around for decades. In that time, he’s also been a stand-up comedian, written his own newsletter, and released three comedy albums. His current goals are to get some of his videos up on YouTube and perhaps make it to the Twin Cities to do a few shows.

“I’ve been a comedian since the early 80s,” said George. “I started out writing newsletters, these ‘Jam Reviews.’ Then at Popcorn Tavern’s open mics I would get up and do a little schtick, little jokes, and they asked me to do more and more. [I usually perform] once a month, maybe once every other month. I haven’t done it for a while.”

George described his stand-up as such: “I do one-liners, but I also do impressions or lip-sync somebody, like Roger Whittaker’s ‘Wind beneath My Wings.’”

His influences, both in comedy and beyond it, range from the obvious to the surprising. George is a big fan of Chris Farley, John Candy, Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, and Bill Murray, but he’s also into surreal artists such as Jackson Pollock and Pablo Picasso. In reading his newsletters I picked up an affinity for Tracy Chapman and the Grateful Dead. The fact that he likes the expectation-shattering Andy Kaufman is no surprise.

He LOVES Alice from The Brady Bunch.

George’s newsletter, The Jam Review, captures the full spirit of Jammin’ George. The volumes which George brought to the interview ranged from 1989 to 2001, and were filled with one-liners, poetry, photography, and strange stories. One story described “The Weekend from Hell,” in which George had to deal with his shiftless brother-in-law, who drank heavily and stuck George with the bills. In one edition there’s an autograph from Danica McKellar, who played Winnie Cooper from The Wonder Years. Her picture next to the autograph is in negative, giving the whole exhibit a disturbing quality.

“I had my dad’s secretary type them up, and I took them to the printer. I was taking them to RC Printing, down by WKBT. I had about 12 issues, about 100 or so [copies], and they’d have them at the Co-Op or Deaf Ear. It was kind of fun, but my brother goes: ‘You don’t think people are actually gonna read these?’ They were very odd.”

The Jammin' George Audio Collection

Jammin’ George followed this project up with audio recordings, beginning with a series of tapes and resulting in three comedy albums. In chronological order, they are Giving the Fans What They Want, The Joke’s On You, and Jammin’ George’s Buffet. The old tapes were mostly helmed by Chris Zobin or John Boyle, frequent contributors to Jammin’ George’s misadventures. Boyle also helped produce Fans, whereas Ken Eisler helped create the two latter albums. Though much of what I heard on the audio recordings consisted of one-liners, Jammin’ George attempted to translate his entire act to the albums. “At the end [of Buffet] I sing ‘Cheer Up, Charlie,’ and I’ll sing that song by Barry Manilow, ‘I Write the Songs,’ except it’s ‘I Write the Jokes.’”

A few smaller videos followed, filmed by George’s neighbor John Ross, before the pair created Jammin’ George’s Land of Fun. On the differences between recording an album and a video, Jammin’ George said: “When you’re doing a CD you can read the whole thing; you almost have to wing it in a video, but it’s the most fun.”

Jammin’ George isn’t in this for the money. George has released roughly a hundred copies of each newsletter, album, and video, and most of the time he gives them away for free. With his video, the reason is partly because he’s playing copyrighted music and filming television shows, so there would be an easy infringement case if he tried to turn a buck. But the greater truth is that he would rather someone find his work for free than not find it at all. An example came during my interview as George gave me a t-shirt featuring the Jammin’ George bobble-head, with no thought of repayment.

It’s one more way in which Jammin’ George sets himself apart from typically safe and fantastically average comedians. The current state of comedy doesn’t impress George much. “It’s pretty lame. Most [comedians] always tell the same [jokes],” he explained. The problem, in his estimate, is that it’s too easy to predict what a comedian will be like.

Do people know what to expect from Jammin’ George? After laughing long and hard, he answered: “Maybe, sometimes.”

Oh yeah. He has a bobblehead.