Tag Archives: Thanksgiving

Da na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na That Man!

Batman has always been and will probably always be my favorite comic book hero. There’s something about a man dressed as a bat who comes out at night to pow, wham, and biff criminals to serve up some hard justice that just appeals to little boys growing up in 1990s America, as well as so many others. Batman has consistently worked within the fringes of what is legal and moral in order to protect people from the (sometimes literal) monsters among them, all the while keeping to the shadows in a world as gray as his actions’ ethics. Except for the 1960s, when Gotham City was more colorfully kooky than Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. This strange departure from the normally dark and brooding detective and his grimy Gotham that is as filthy as the bad guys within it may be looked at it with some disdain or at least annoyance from some Batman purists. However, while I too am more on the side of the Dark Knight being, well, dark, I also believe that taking into account the full history of a thing is essential for recognizing its impact over time and its probably bearing on our future. For example, early zoos began as menageries to showcase exotic beasts from faraway lands and frequently housed the animals in poor conditions with little to no idea of what was best for them in the way of food and social development, however now zoos have evolved into conservation organizations that provide a safe haven for endangered and threatened species to educate and expose people to them and their plight, all the while working to establish or restore habitat spaces that will be viable homes for the progeny of the animals in their collection, and in some cases directly rehabilitate species of this generation. Modern zoos are often upfront with the fact that their beginnings were not always graceful and that they have learned much from the mistakes of the past. Now they work to preserve bats all around the world, helping to save the winged wonders that make up roughly 20% of all mammal species for the future.

The environment and entertainment industry are not regularly similar, but in this instance, the world of comic book characters was brought into the forefront of American culture by ABC’s popular series Batman which ran from 1966-1968 and featured Adam West as the Caped Crusader. The television show started in January and a full length film starring the same cast was released later that year in July marking the first time Batman had been brought to each respective screen, and one of the first times any comic character did so in such grandiose fashion. It’s easy to forget in today’s comic crazed cinema that superheroes were not always such popular fare. The 1960s Batman series helped to infatuate America with heroic figures dressing up in costumes to battle bad guys for their well-being. It was colorful, it was campy, but most of all it was centered by a man who knew he had to own it and play the part as straight as he could, all the while embracing the silliness off-screen, which he did for decades after until his death just a few days ago. Adam West passed away last Friday at the age of 88 and left behind a legacy dominated by his time in the bat cowl, but there was more to the man than paving the way for superhero stories and being a role model for children.

Born William West Anderson in Walla Walla, Washington (which sounds like a jump rope chant), West played many a cowboy and cop before he was Batman, among some comedic roles. During his stint as the world’s greatest detective, West was a righteous figure not just dishing out boofs and bams, but also encouragement to be a good citizen, especially to children whom he preached the merits of healthy eating and living and responsible work ethic to.

West beat out Lyle Waggoner for the title role, apparently chosen after being seen in a Nestle Quik commercial where he played a caricature of James Bond. Waggoner eventually got into the DC universe in the role of Steve Trevor in the 1970s Wonder Woman series starring Lynda Carter. As it happens, West almost got to be the actual James Bond too. Executive producer for the Bond series, Albert Broccoli (not pronounced like the vegetable like I always assumed in my youth) offered West the role of the suave super agent in the film Diamonds Are Forever which saw Sean Connery reprise the role once more officially after the one-and-done by his initial replacement, George Lazenby. Think about that for a moment, Adam West could have been both Batman and James Bond, two of the most iconic and coveted roles in pop culture history, but he turned down the role because he felt Bond should always be played by a British man.

West’s career post-Batman was hampered by him being typecast, but he grew to embrace it, as much for laughs as for capital gain. My favorite of these is when he and Burt Ward (who played alongside him as Robin for those Batman years) voiced the younger versions of Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy in a SpongeBob episode.

West did find other work outside of his bat-related fame, but most of it was in poorly-received films, some of which he acknowledged were not great, yet he always gave his best in his performance and addressed his true feelings toward the projects with humor. A great example is Zombie Nigthmare an 80s B-movie that is best known now for being the subject of an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. West introduced this episode while hosting Comedy Central’s Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day on Thanksgiving in 1994 and made good-hearted jabs at himself and the character he played in the film.

Years later, West found a resurgence as he played a wacky version of himself who was certifiably crazy, but also the mayor of Quahog, Rhode Island, the town Seth MacFarlane’s Family Guy is set in. MacFarlane helped West earn a new group of fans at Comic-Con and West helped a show that could easily fall (and has fallen) to be a derivative of the Simpson‘s to offer something more unique.

Whether you first saw him dressed as a bat dangling from a hot air balloon constantly asking your grandma how he and Robin were going to get out of this one while she smiled because she’d already seen them all, or if it was when he stabbed the ocean to avenge the sailors it had presumably swallowed up or when he rolled in toxic waste to gain superpowers to battle the gifted Griffins, chances are you felt a pang in your heart when you saw the news of Adam West’s passing. Cheers to you, Mr. West. Thanks for the funny and cartoonish moments always, both from your cartoon and live-action roles.

Thanks for reading. Be sure to send your questions, comments, and suggestions to monotrememadness@gmail.com, and be extra sure to head back here next week.

Same Bat time, same Bat channel,

Alex

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Crap, It’s Christmas Again

Ready or not, here it comes. The ever encroaching celebration of Jesus’ birthday that is the true date of the savior of all (Christian) mankind and has nothing whatsoever to do with being placed on the date of a Roman winter festival that celebrated the sun god, and of course, all of the traditions we celebrate on Christmas today stem from Jesus’ direct teachings and are not at all an assimilation of other cultures rituals in an attempt to convert pagans to God’s Almighty Word. Whatever your feelings on the matter, Christmas is the most celebrated and commercial holiday in the United States and much of the world. It is a day that has grown to become an entire “season” of joyful anticipation of fun-filled time spent with family and friends where we learn to enjoy giving as much as receiving, and good, tasty, food that is sometimes literally sitting in pools of delicious fat awaits us with tantalizing smells and flavors. It is a time for warmth in the midst of cold weather, where we festoon our homes and businesses in bright colors, and the beer is stronger and more spice-filled! Everyone has a smile on their face as they sneeze and spread the flu and cold viruses by pushing through their sicknesses to get those last precious hours they are allotted by the yearly budget. Growing up in a temperate clime where the change of seasons is a beautiful thing to observe, and school breaks for 2-4 weeks, I have always loved everything Christmas has to offer enough to even tolerate sitting through a Christmas Eve mass as a growing agnostic and following it with almost 24 straight hours with my horrendously Polish family whose speech rivals a sonicboom in volume. Yet there is one thing that spoils it all and makes me sick of Christmas before December even begins: mother fucking Christmas music.

We’ve got many ways to listen to our own preferred music these days, but those of us driving cars older than many of today’s chart toppers don’t have access to much beyond the good, old fashioned radio. That same device is playing in the offices of many a workplace and shopping center, so chances are if you go outside of your house between now and Christmas you’ll hear some of the season’s signature songs. All eight of them.

Okay, there’s many more than that, but there can be no denying that only a select portion of all Christmas music ever made is what gets wide radio playtime. And those stations that switch over completely from their usual programming to full-on Christmas usually play the same cluster again and again and again and again and again. Sometimes they’ll mix in different versions as there are plenty, but you stand a very good chance of hearing the same song, even the same version, two, three, maybe more times a day on the same station. There are a few reasons for this. One is that there is an established set of songs that, like many other things related to Christmastime, are considered traditions, and traditions were meant to be done and overdone time and again. This is why hundreds of people have recorded versions of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”. Another reason is that songs outside of that specific set of traditional songs or those that aren’t deemed “family-friendly” (and admittedly, some aren’t) don’t get played, so they stick with the safe-bet, proven classics and nothing else. But there is a greater reason as to why you get the same festive fanfare time after time, and it’s one that I’ll get to right after I vent about Christmas songs I hate and praise those that I like.

Where does one begin in an assessment of music? Why not with the greatest band of all time? The Beatles were so important in increasing the popularity of rock and roll and for changing the formula of not only that genre but every genre of music forever. They made some of the greatest songs and albums ever listened to on this earth. Their Christmas stuff however, eh, not so great. Obviously, their best music was made when the fab four were playing as one, but each made at least one original Christmas song in their careers after their break-up, and none really resound today as good classics, yet that hasn’t stopped two of them from getting way too much radio playtime.

If you’re not aware, today is the 34th anniversary of John Lennon’s murder, and while I love almost all of his musical work, I’m gonna kick him while he’s down about one song that I don’t particularly care for. I know I’m not the only one who groans at the opening whispers and notes of Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)“. You know, that depressing Xmas tune that begins with the bland then accusatory lines, “So this is Christmas / And what have you done?” Who are you to judge me, John Lennon? Okay, technically it’s a song by The Plastic Ono Band, Lennon’s post-Beatles group named after his wife/Beatles-break-up-scapegoat that he powered to unfortunate notice. Inspirational dreamer that Lennon was, even he wasn’t daft enough to believe the lines, “War is over / If you want it”, was he? Sadly all it takes is one crazy person to push the button or pull the trigger. I’m going to give Yoko credit for those lines.

It’s all good though because I’m more of a Paul man myself and it’s not like he had a bad Christmas song like – oh… yeah, that’s right. I tried my damnedest to forget “Wonderful Christmastime“, the seasonal song filled with a bad synthesizer score and stupid simplicity. There’s good minimalism, and then there’s crap like this. Sir Paul is forgiven by me especially for putting on the most memorable concert I’ve ever seen in July 2013. It was the best thing to happen for me in Indianapolis until this past weekend.

George Harrison also had a fairly successful career that included a Christmas album after the Beatles broke up. His original holiday song “Ding Dong, Ding Dong” is more of a New Year’s song and is definitely the best by a Beatle yet with a video that is classic wacky George to accompany it. Does this mean it’s a good song? No. Catchy yes, enjoyable every December-January, uhhh, not tremendously.

As expected, Ringo Starr followed suit with his own abomination, “I Wanna Be Santa Claus“. Do you really want to be Santa Claus, or are you just saying it because your friends made original Christmas songs?

The one thing that is to the credit of each of the Beatles’ songs is that they are original. Some Christmas classics are just fine, like Bing Crosby’s oft-covered  “White Christmas” (just make sure your university doesn’t draw upon that as a theme for a winter formal dance bearing the name “I’m Dreaming of a White Cleveland” without realizing the potential reaction from the student body), and even the more recent yet still established “Last Christmas” by Wham!, a more modern romantic narrative that has been covered a few times itself, including recently by Taylor Swift. (What! Taylor Swift chose to cover a song about a break-up? What a departure from her usual subject matter!) Nevertheless, other songs have some issues with aging. Radio stations have kept alive many older (and to their credit, often original) versions of songs that probably should have been left to die out in peace. Some just suck when you hear them millions of times though. Gayla Peevy’s been asking for a hippopotamus for Christmas for the last six decades and I don’t think she’s getting one anytime soon. While we’re on the subject of animals involved in Christmas songs let simply say, fuck those chipmunks and that goddamn donkey. And if I have to hear Andy Williams one more fucking time – and we all will at least a dozen or so times this week probably – I’m going to scream. Thankfully, not all updated versions of songs are bad. While it probably is going to help along little Billy’s nightmares and therefore won’t make it onto most family stations, I love Alice Cooper’s version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” aka “Santa Claws is Coming to Town“. Gotta love how it accentuates the inherent creepiness of lyrics like “He sees you when you’re sleeping / He knows when you’re awake” with Cooper’s special freaky flare.

Now I’m sure some of you are like, “Whoa! Alex! I like some of those songs you don’t!” and your tastes are probably different with some songs that I like as well. For example, I really enjoy Bruce Springsteen’s rendition of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” (which is much more in line with the traditional lyrics than Alice Cooper’s) but I know a few people who aren’t crazy about The Boss talking to his band before they jam out. But c’mon, it’s funny to hear him lose his composure and laugh at the Santa laughter done by one of his bandmates.

In terms of more serious sounding songs you gotta love “Thank God It’s Christmas” from Queen, sung by the best rock vocalist to ever live. Where’s this on the radio?

Some good dark-humored original Christmas songs do get played, albeit sparingly, including The Kinks’ “Father Christmas” and Slade’s “Merry Christmas Everybody“. Then there are those artists who live for Christmas humor in their music, such as Bob Rivers, who usually misses for me, but “The Twelve Pains of Christmas” is pretty good. “Now why the hell are they blinking!” If you liked that then you’ll probably also like Red Peters’ “Holy Shit, It’s Christmas“. But nobody outdoes the master of harmonious humor, even on Christmas. Weird Al Yankovic has two holiday gems in “The Night Santa Went Crazy” and “Christmas at Ground Zero“.

Those are certainly original or original takes on Christmas songs, but if you’re pining for some real Christmas music then all I’ve got to say is man, this is Christmas music!

Now not every original song is going to endure as a classic. Take The Youngsters song for sobriety “Christmas in Jail“. Drink responsibly this Christmas folks.

Thank goodness for my favorite Christmas song, Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You“. Yes, it really is my favorite, and no, it’s not for the video. I think I have female parts somewhere inside me.

As you can hear, not all Christmas songs are bad, including some covers of old classics, but that’s not really the issue here. It’s become an American tradition for musical artists to make a Christmas album when he/she/they come to a certain level of recognition. This is the only reason Bob Dylan actually made one; he felt obligated to do so. Barbara Streisand made a few, and she’s Jewish! Christmas itself is a much more secular holiday than it once was, and despite Jon Stewart’s joking wish for Hanukkah to overtake it as the most popular December holiday, Christmas will always reign supreme this time of year. I recognize that fact and am totally okay with it. I also realize that musical artists will continue to cut Christmas albums and make new versions of old songs. As long as they throw in some new compositions I guess I can live with it.

However, I cannot abide the trend of playing such music out of the confines of the Christmas season. I get that that’s an arbitrary mark, but it is starting earlier and earlier each year and I’ve had enough. Christmas is always going to be on December 25th, so why does our eagerness to get to that date have to be before October 31st now? No joke, I heard Christmas songs being played on the radio during the week before Halloween. Sure, stores want to sell Christmas stuff as soon and often as they can because we’ll buy it as soon as it’s shelved with a price tag, but that’s a separate world from the airwaves. If people want to fight over marked down items at an ungodly hour the day after Thanksgiving that’s fine, and you can start playing Christmas music for them then to pump them up or soothe the throbbing pain in their foreheads from where somebody smacked them with a picture frame.

This once may have been how things worked, but it isn’t anymore. Well, the shopping scuffles are more prevalent than ever, but now the shopping season for Christmas starts prior to Thanksgiving and is causing most big retail stores (way to stay cool Costco!) to open up on the holiday that is meant for spending time with family, eating too much delectably fattening food, and watching the Detroit Lions lose (wait, they won this year?! Wow! Thanks Jay Cutler!). In many respects, it’s a rehearsal dinner for Christmas, but a separate holiday. Christmas can’t even keep out of Thanksgiving’s business from the shopping side of things, and it’s been jumping in with the music too. Herewith lies the big problem I alluded to earlier: Christmas is a chance for radio stations to be lazy and just play a loop of the same songs that lasts a few hours. You cut in some commercials and traffic and weather reports and you’re good to go with as minimal effort/staff as possible. If you’re running a radio station and have this option it’s tempting to stretch it out as long as you can. Who’s going to stop you if you want to play continuous Christmas music before the start of fall? No one! MWAHAHAHAHA!

But that’s just the point. Radio stations have to hold themselves accountable for their material – well, unless they get crazy enough for the FCC to step in, but I’m looking at things in a much more tame way for this. Just because you can do a thing doesn’t necessarily mean you should, and I think that holds true with making the choice between the super easy phone-it-in approach of a long, yet stale family-friendly, multi-month Christmas playlist on repeat versus the still quite manageable mix-it-up-a-little approach of more than just the same old same old cluster of songs (which can still be family-friendly) for just a month: post-Thanksgiving to Christmas (New Year’s if you must). You can do it, American radio stations both local and national! I still believe in you and say you’re not in so deep. You can and must become less Christmas obsessed for the sake of the holiday and our sanity. Regarding the need to bring back the usual listening for a while longer and not fall into the easy and too early ways you’ve exhibited lately, I say this to you American radio,

If you, if you could return, don’t let it burn, don’t let it fade.

I’m sure I’m not being rude, but it’s just your attitude,
It’s tearing me apart, It’s ruining everything.

I swore, I swore I would be true, and honey, so did you.

Okay, that’s not from a song from this season, but Cranberries are a Christmas staple. Too much of America and Western Society is driven by money, and I know you radio stations all are too, but you can come back from this quagmire of Capitalistic Christmasness. In fact, I need you to! Don’t ruin Christmas before Halloween; that’s not your job (it’s the job of Christmas in July). Your job is to bring us new music and good classics, not so-called classics that only achieve the status because of strong association with the season that dominates the cultural landscape for a time. You did this once, and you can do it again. Be true, American Radio, be true.

Thanks for reading! If you’ve got a question, comment, or a general beef with Christmas songs let me hear about it at monotrememadness@gmail.com. I hope you’re not sick of Christmas yet because I’m going to talk about it again next week, this time about what to watch during this holly jolly season.

Stay Frosty, my friends,

Alex