HDTGM Triple Feature: Jingle All The Way (1996), Street Fighter (1994) & Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot (1992)

jingle all the way poster One of the highlights of my podcast-listening week is seeing a new episode of How Did This Get Made pop up. I’m a huge fan of this show about wacky movies hosted by Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael and Jason Mantzoukas. Sometimes I watch the movie before the episode goes live, sometimes I’m pretty familiar with them already and other times, I just go along for the ride and check it out later. In the past few weeks, I’ve actually watched a trio of films inspired by the podcast and figured I’d group them all together. I also just realized that these three movies feature three of my favorite action stars, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Sylvester Stallone in some of their most bonkers movies ever.

The gang covered the Arnold Schwarzenegger/Sinbad holiday comedy Jingle All The Way on their first Christmas episode back in 2011. I watched this one a few weeks back, but thankfully took notes to help jog my memory. The movie finds workaholic dad Schwarzenegger going crazy trying to find an action figure for his son, played by future Anakin Skywalker Jake Lloyd. Sinbad moves in an out of the movie doing the same thing. Meanwhile, it seems like Phil Hartmann is moving in on Arnie’s wife Rita Wilson and this is all leading towards a huge holiday parade in what’s supposed to be a snow-covered town, but is clearly a side street in LA in the spring.

I thought I had this movie figured out for the first 20 minutes or so. That part is basically a movie for kids with over-the-top, cartoony style gags. Heck, there’s all kinds of talk in the first 10 minutes that set up the entire film (toy, parade, snow, etc.). Cool, I got it, let’s roll. And then things start getting weird and dark. The whole Hartman thing was pretty crazy, plus Sinbad is a nutso postal worker (remember when that was a thing?) who actually hands a cop a bomb that explodes! Luckily, he’s okay because he’s apparently facing off against the Road Runner. The whole thing culminates in a big parade where Arnie dresses up as the action figure hero and has a pretty epic fight with Sinbad. I feel like I could use the word “bonkers” to describe roughly everything in this movie. I wound up watching the end with my kid and I’m pretty sure she didn’t pick up on any of the insanity, so maybe you can get away with this one with a tyke if you have one. Maybe just cover their eyes when Arnie punches a reindeer in the face. That might be damaging.

Before moving on, if you’re looking for any kind of message, don’t. The obvious and seemingly intended point is that commercialism is not the point of Christmas, but that being with people is. And yet, the ENTIRE MOVIE is actually about commercialism, getting things, taking them away from other people and keeping them. You can’t just tack on a nice moment from Lloyd at the end and flip the whole script, you know? Ah well, moving on…

street-fighter-the-movie-poster This spring, HDTGM covered one of the greatest bad video game movies around when they did Street Fighter starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Raul Julia, Ming-Na Wen (who’s as wooden here as she is on S.H.I.E.L.D., zing!), Kylie Minogue and Miguel A. Núñez Jr. who was in both Return Of The Living Dead AND Friday The 13th: A New Beginning. I’ve probably only played a Street Fighter game for about an hour in my whole life and know next to nothing about the franchise, but it’s still clear from watching this movie that the writers didn’t really care about any of that as far as plot goes and instead decided to just shoehorn in nods to the games.

Basically, Julia plays a guy who wants to not so much rule the world, but his own country. JCVD isn’t down with that, especially after Julia captures one of his pals. Thankfully, JCVD leads some kind of UN-type military group that wears bright blue camouflage for no reason. I honestly can’t remember many of the details beyond that because every single character in this movie is lying about what they want or why they’re there. So many of them switch sides that you practically need a score card. Actually, that’s an overstatement as the good guys are clearly good and the bad guys, well, usually wear masks, hats or have crazy blades on their hands.

The funny thing about this movie is that, I was pretty sure I’d seen this back in my high school days or maybe when I lived with my buddy Rickey and we watched a ton of JCVD movies. When I went to Netflix to give it watch, I laughed because it asked if I wanted to watch again and the screen capture was of the end credits. Guys, I can’t stay away from a good-bad JCVD movie and this is one of the best-worst. If you do watch this movie, please do yourself a favor and listen to the episode. They point out so many awesome bits of craziness that I kind of want to listen to it again right now.

stop or my mom will shoot I realized yesterday that Netflix Instant is about to cut a ton of titles on January 1st. Turns out there are 25 of those soon-to-be-gone flicks in my queue so I figured I’d watch a few when I can. Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot popped out from the batch because of one thing: How Did This Get Made (episode 61 to be exact). Since Lu had laid claim to the big TV, I actually broke out the Kindle Fire and watched that way which worked pretty well.

Sylvester Stallone plays a supercop in this one whose mom — Estelle Getty — comes for a visit only to witness a murder that she teams up with her son to solve. This movie is so all-over-the-place that it’s really hard to get a handle on. It starts off with a solid action scene which eventually leads into an airport scene where a group of stewardesses comment on his physique based on pictures — many of them baby pics — that Estelle showed them. One of them even says something about him being attractive in a diaper which is just so weird and gross that it’s hard to handle. In fact, there’s a lot of awkward sex jokes that leave you off balance.

Keeping you further off balance is a scene where Estelle — who is super annoying in that way that moms of this time were on TV and film — actually washes his gun with soap and water in the sink. Up to that point she was just overbearing, but at this point she’s dumb verging on insane. That gets compounded by the fact that she brought an entire suitcase of canned pineapple as well as another one with cleaning products. That’s obviously pre-intense airline security, but I’m fairly certain you can make something terrible with at least one of those cases.

Oh, I forgot to mention that his house is kind of crazy too. He’s got a ton of random stuff all over the place from a ceramic pumpkin and a rubber ducky to a bunch of board games and a tiny red gumball machine. And there’s a dream sequence where Stallone’s in a diaper. And Estelle Getty shoots a guy. And there’s a henchman thrown out a window. And, and, and. None of this is actually about story so much as the crazytown things thrown in to launch an admittedly silly plot over-the-top into bonkersville.

Again, do yourself the service of listening to this episode if you decided to watch the movie (or even if you don’t, it’s that good). They point out a lot of the elements I noticed but also so many more. And remember, while you’re watching this one, remind yourself that Stallone has an Oscar for writing.

My Favorite New Records Of 2013

Well, this list turned out to be easier than I expected. The way I compile these things every year is I go into my iTunes and organize the tracks by release year and then narrow down which albums deserve a spot on the list. 2013 was an interesting year because I not only cut back on my album purchases — almost all of which are done via Amazon’s MP3 site these days — but also apparently didn’t go for much in the way of new music because I only bought two records that came out in the 2013 calendar year! And, as it happens, I like them both very much. So, without further ado, here are both of my favorite records from 2013.

Volume 3 by She & Him (2013)

I feel like something of a broken record, but I’ve been a fan of Zooey Deschanel since I first saw her in Elf. Several years later she and M. Ward started a group called She & Him. I was sold already because a major reason I like Elf so much is because of her singing voice. Since then they’ve release two more regular records and a Christmas album, which is one of a dozen such records I praised last year. In fact, She & Him Volume 2 made my list of favorite new records of 2010-, so it’s not much of a surprise that their next effort not only made its way into my collection but onto my list.

I didn’t go back and listen to the other records, but after giving this one a more recent listen, I want to say 3 might be my favorite She & Him offering. Deschanel doesn’t seem to be singing as many songs that don’t do her voice any favors and M. Ward is in there creating tracks that feel like what they are: updated girl group numbers. I especially like when he gets kind of twangy and noodley on tracks like “I Could Have Been Your Girl.”

These are just fun, nice, breezy pop songs about all the best pop song subjects: love, unrequited love and lost love. If you’re looking for a mellow record to relax with, I think She & Him Volume 3 is a pretty great option. But, it’s not like this record is all fluff. I actually really got into the heart of “Together” and a few other tracks that have themes I can easily tap into.

This album does something I kind of love, it reminds me of a party. You know how parties kick off loud and great with everyone having fun, hit a crescendo at some point and then end with a few tired/drunk people sitting around talking quietly? I like when albums share that similar progression. You’ve got a lot of the peppier pop songs in the beginning and then end with slower, even more mellow tracks like “Shadow Of Love” that I can easily imagine playing in the background of a clean-up scene at the end of a party movie.

Save Rock And Roll by Fall Out Boy (2013)

My other favorite record of 2013 is another one that’s not much of a surprise. I’ve expressed my love of Fall Out Boy’s rock sensibilities before, so I was all over the idea of a new record from them after their hiatus (no one really believed they broke up, right?). Save Rock And Roll might have a pretty brazen title, but there is a bit of truth to it. I don’t want to be that guy, but as a very casual observer of pop music, I’m not seeing a lot of bands actually getting their music out between all the pop and hip hop tracks. And yet you’ve got FOB whose “The Phoenix” is already an instant sports stadium and commercial hit. How can you not get pumped up to this song? Between that and “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark” they’ve got two of the most prevalent guitar-based tracks I can remember in a while which is fantastic because I also happen to dig them both.

Also, I’m a huge sucker for songs about staying young and awesome like “Alone Together,” which clearly means there’s still a pretty large portion of my psyche that’s stuck in my more carefree days. But, hey, why not? Those days were a lot of fun and I like songs that remind me of them. I could easily go through track by track and talk about how I couldn’t stop stomping my foot while listening or how I love dancing around with the kiddo to this record, but I won’t (anymore than I already have, I guess).

Unlike the other records, this one actually features a number of guest appearances from Foxes, Big Sean, Courtney Love and Elton John. I don’t really know Foxes or Big Sean, but I thought they both worked well into “Just One Yesterday” and “The Mighty Fall” respectively. And, guys, Elton John and Fall Out Boy! It sounds crazy on paper but makes a lot of sense resulting in a pretty great title track.

My biggest problem with the record is that I really hate Courtney Love. I was far from excited when I heard she was on the record and while she’s as awful as always, she doesn’t really have much to do in “Rat A Tat” aside from some strange newscaster-esque rants and one bit towards the end that try to ruin the song, but don’t. I can’t tell you how glad I am that she’s not in the mix when it comes to that awesome chorus.

After a four year hiatus, I think FOB came out swinging with a collection of songs that stand up there with a lot of my favorites. Keep it up fellas! Aging dudes like myself still need music to rock out to and I hear the kids dig you too, so that’s good. While writing about Save, I was reading the Wiki page and realized I hadn’t picked up the short EP they did with Ryan Adams called PAX AM Days. I had some extra iTunes gift card scratch and picked it up, but haven’t actually listened to it yet, so maybe it’ll make next  year’s list!

Toy Commercial Tuesday: Ghostbusters Firehouse Playset

Hey gang, hope you had a happy holidays and maybe even got some cool new toys. I’m still going down memory lane checking out the above commercial for some rad old toys. After posted not one, but two different Ghostbusters-related TCT posts, I figured I’d keep going with the above pair (plus a bonus G.I. Joe one if you keep watching). I love playsets, but don’t think I ever saw the Fire House in person. I did however either have or knew people who had those crazy football player and cop ghosts. I still see them at flea markets every now and then and am keeping my eyes peeled for a few good ones to add to my collection. Ghostbusters have some of the all-time best action figures of all time!

Digging Double Oh Seven: Die Another Day (2002)

die another day

As I mentioned in a recent post, I’ve been thinking about James Bond a lot and going back through the movies again. I’ve watched from Dr. No through Diamonds Are Forever, skipping Goldfinger in the process because I’ve seen in so many times. I was still jonesing for more Bond, though and asked my wife which one she wanted to see. I tried pushing for some Daniel Craig action, but instead she wanted to go with Pierce Brosnan’s final entry in the franchise, Die Another Day.

This was an interesting choice not just because it’s the last pre-Craig film I haven’t reviewed on the blog yet, but also because I had recently listened to the episode of James Bonding where they savaged this film. So, I was already kind of primed to dislike this movie, or at least look at it with a more comedic take, but I’ve got to say, once I just let all of that go, I was actually able to enjoy myself. Well, most of the time. Halle Berry is terrible here. It boggles the mind that she has an Oscar.

The basic story this time around is that, after getting marked while undercover and imprisoned, Bond wants revenge on his captors so he goes rogue to track them down. Along the way he meets a US NSA agent named Jinx (Berry) and discovers that some kind of gene replacement therapy is being used to change peoples’ identities on a fundamental level. There’s also an invisible car and an ice hotel which are both silly and kind of awesome when you just let yourself sit back and enjoy the film (which can be really difficult when you’re dealing with invisible cars and diamond faced bad guys, just saying).

While watching the movie, I made the claim that Berry is probably the worst Bond Girl around. My wife laughed and pointed out Denise Richards’ Christmas Jones in The World Is Not Enough. To that I say, you basically know what you’re getting when you see Richards on screen (or were getting back when that was a thing that happened). But with Berry, you’re talking about an Oscar winner! She can barely deliver her lines in a way that tells me she’s a human being and not a robot trying to decode what feelings are. At the end of the day, I can buy into the invisible car and even the ridiculous gene therapy, but I can’t abide such a bad Bond actress. Honestly, Madonna’s better actress in this than Berry.

Anyway, this wound up being Brosnan’s last outing as 007. I liked what he did with the character and while he wasn’t my favorite he was the version that gave me my first Bond experiences in the movie theater which is a nice memory. I don’t know if he’ll be considered a classic Bond, but it was certainly a memorable time for me heading to the movies with my high school and college friends to check out 007’s latest exploits.

My Favorite New-To-Me Instrumental Albums Of 2013

Let the end-of-year lists begin! I usually listen to podcasts while working, but I started digging more into the world of instrumental records and scores this year than any other for a little wordless aural pleasure. Here are my six new go-to records when I’m in an instrumental mood.

The Enter The Dragon Score by Lalo Schifrin (1973)

I don’t think there’s much in the way of dissension when it comes to the idea that Enter The Dragon is a brilliant film. But, when watching this year, I also realized it’s got an awesome score by Lalo Schifrin. While making a purchase on Amazon earlier this year, I needed something to get up to free shipping and came across this score for a few bucks. Since then, I’ve been listening to this mellow, action-y, Asian themed music that allows my mind to wander and focus on either work or writing projects. I’m keeping my eyes peeled for more of Schifrin’s work because he was so damn good.

The Budos Band by The Budos Band (2005)

Around the time that I got Enter The Dragon, I tweeted out something along the lines of “Are there any bands that sound like they recorded the background music in Dirty Harry (also by Schifrin) or 70s cop shows?” My pal Justin Aclin responded with The Budos Band and a love affair was born. There’s a certain quality I don’t have the musical vocabulary to nail down that makes this 2005 record sound like it was made back in the 70s by a bunch of guys in huge sunglasses smoking unfiltered cigarettes. It’s basically like Justin jumped in my brain, figured out exactly what I was looking for and then gave it to me. I love this record.

Enter The 37th Chamber by El Michels Affair (2009)

At some point in the year, I came across Truth & Soul records and one of their bands El Michels Affair. They’ve got this record called Enter The 37th Chamber which is actually a series of instrumental Wu-Tang Clan covers. It’s like a more bass and drum heavy, hip hop-infused version of Schifrin’s Dragon soundtrack, which is something I very much enjoy.

Vertigo Score by Bernard Hermann (1958)

The Vertigo score was one of the many cheapo Amazon MP3 records I picked up this year. I haven’t listened to it a ton of times because it really does get under my skin with it’s beautiful, epic-ness but it really did the trick the few times I was looking for that exact feeling. I had a similar, but more intense experience with Hans Zimmer’s Inception score and really haven’t listened to it since that first time. Vertigo is by for the most orchestral record in my collection.

Cannonball’s Bossa Nova by Cannonball Adderley (1962) 

Cannonball Adderley is one my favorite jazzmen around. His track “Autumn Leaves” off of Somethin’ Else is one of my all time favorite songs. So, when I saw Cannonball’s Bossa Nova pop up on Amazon MP3 I just had to add it to my collection. Bossa Nova moves a lot more than some of the cooler jazz stuff of his I have, but it’s got great swing and makes for some nice, uptempo tunes to get through the day. This record makes me want to go on vacation REAL bad.

Downtown Rockers by Tom Tom Club (2012) 

After reading Please Kill Me, I was curious about any and all bands with connections to that punk/New Wave NYC scene. So, when I saw a Tom Tom Club record for a few bucks and read that the band consisted of Talking Head members, I was in. Turns out, though, that Downtown Rockers is a newer EP with five vocal-and-music tracks, one remix and then those first five tracks without vocals. I like the versions with words, but the instrumentals are just solid, guitar/drum/bass/electronic tracks with a few organs and other layers thrown on top that make for quality voiceless offerings. So, just imagine the above video but without all that singing and you have an idea of what I mean.

Halloween Scene: Rare Exports (2010)

kinopoisk.ru I’m not always the biggest fan of Christmas horror movies. It’s not that I feel like the holiday is being desecrated or anything like that, just that usually by December I’m in the action and/or holiday portion of my internal movie cycle. But, I’ve been hearing about Rare Exports for a few years now, saw it while flipping around Netflix and decided to give it a watch the other night.

While horror Christmas might not be in my wheelhouse, movies where kids stand up against incredibly powerful supernatural forces certainly are. In the case of co-writer/director Jalmari Helander’s film, a group of foreign excavators wind up blasting a mountain in Finland that’s actually a prison for a demonic version of Santa Claus. The locals — three adults and a kid — start to think something’s up when their reindeer wind up dead. After doing some exploring they wind up meeting an old gaunt naked dude who looks an awful lot like Santa and seems preternaturally drawn to kids and cookies. From there we get a few twists that I won’t spoil in this paragraph.

I will SPOIL them in THIS paragraph, though. What we find out is that our heroes don’t have Santa in their house, but instead one of the elves. Turns out the excavators did find Santa and he’s actually a giant, horned demon frozen in ice. The elves even swiped all the heating elements in town to defrost him as well as the kids. While the adults start freaking out, the kid — who of course did his research earlier in the film — steps up, develops a plan and helps save the day!

The beauty of this film — aside from how pretty it looks all around — is that it’s got a really cool, fairly high concept, but doesn’t over do things. Helander and the other writers didn’t include a bunch of scenes depicting a crazy-huge Santa that would wind up looking super crappy thanks to low budgets and bad CGI. Instead, they did a lot with people, practical effects and the occasional computer addition which not only makes the film feel more solid, but will also make it more timeless in the long run. And, man, the very end of the film is such a clever turn that I didn’t not expect, so kudos all around!

Do note, I watched this one on Netflix Instant and the only version available on there is in Finnish. It starts with English, but then gets right into subtitles for most of the rest of the film. I was doing something else when it started, but wound up giving the movie my full attention once the subs kicked in, which tells you how much I was into this movie.

Toy Commercial Tuesday: Real Ghostbusters Role Play

Last week I mentioned how an episode of Toy Hunter inspired me to do a series of Real Ghostbusters themed Toy Commercial Tuesday posts this month. Above you can see the actual one that started this whole thing. I didn’t actually have the Ghost Trap or Ecto Goggles as a kid but I think a friend did and we’d play with this stuff all the time.

I did however have the Ghost Popper seen in the above commercial. I’m pretty sure my friend did too and we’d have some pretty epic wars shooting those yellow tubes at each other. Someone else I know — maybe a cousin? — had the Proton Pack which seemed cool, but I remember those foam proton streams not doing too well when it came to not getting broken.

Digging Double Oh Seven: The Master List

50ansde007I’ve had Bond on the brain lately. First there was the news that all things Bond were back under one umbrella legally speaking which means SPECTRE and Blofeld can return to the series. Then I discovered a relatively new podcast called James Bonding. Plus, this year does mark the 50th anniversary of the film franchise, so I’ve been going back and putting my James Bond DVD box set to good use (which of course kind of makes me want to get the Blu-rays).

Over the past few years I’ve done a good number of Digging Double Oh Seven posts, but figured it would be somewhat useful to create a list of all the films and original Ian Fleming books with links to my reviews. For what it’s worth I have seen Die Another Day and Skyfall, but haven’t gotten around to writing reviews for them. In addition to the Fleming books, most of which I have in one form or another, I also have the Fleming-written, John McClusky-drawn comic strips collected in The James Bond Omnibus Volume 1 which I’m slowly making my way through.

THE MOVIES

Casino Royale (1954) – CBS TV movie
Dr. No (1962)
From Russia With Love (1963)
Goldfinger (1964)
Thunderball (1965)
You Only Live Twice (1967)
Casino Royale (1967) – non-canonical David Niven comedy
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
Live And Let Die (1973)
The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Moonraker (1979)
For Your Eyes Only (1981)
Octopussy (1983)
Never Say Never Again (1983) – non-canonical Sean Connery film
A View To A Kill (1985)
The Living Daylights (1987)
License To Kill (1989)
GoldenEye (1995)
Tomorrow New Dies (1997)
The World Is Not Enough (1999)
Die Another Day (2002)
Casino Royale (2006)
Quantum Of Solace (2008)
Skyfall (2012)

THE IAN FLEMING BOOKS

Casino Royale (1953)
Live and Let Die (1954)
Moonraker (1955)
Diamonds are Forever (1956)
From Russia, With Love (1957)
Dr. No (1958)
Goldfinger (1959)
For Your Eyes Only (1960) – short story collection featuring “From a View to a Kill,” “For Your Eyes Only,” “Quantum of Solace,” “Risico” and “The Hildebrand Rarity”
Thunderball (1961)
The Spy Who Loved Me (1962)
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1963)
You Only Live Twice (1964)
The Man with the Golden Gun (1965)
Octopussy and The Living Daylights (1966) – short story collection featuring “Octopussy,” “The Property of a Lady,” “The Living Daylights” and “007 in New York”

Music Musings: All That Jazz

A Quartet In The StudioI found myself in an interesting mood this morning. Feeling tired and sleepy, I decided to skip the usual morning podcast-listening session in favor of the recently purchased Mulligan Meets Monk record, a Thelonious Monk disc that found the master pianist teaming up with saxophonist Gerry Mulligan. 

mulligan meets monk

 

The experience got me thinking about jazz and my relationship with that musical art form. Growing up, I didn’t hear much of it aside from pieces in commercials, TV shows and movies here and there. It wasn’t until high school that I had my first real exposure to one of the few, truly American art forms.

At the time I had a website — I was very intent on calling it a site and not a blog because I thought the word was silly (it is) — where I would trade bootleg recordings with people. Actually, it’s still up because apparently Angelfire is still a thing. Anyway, out of nowhere I got an email asking if I would be interested in putting a banner ad up on the bootleg trading page in exchange for some swag. I said sure, popped in some code and eventually got a package in the mail from this company I’d never heard of.

It was Blue Note, the biggest jazz label around. I had no idea. Anyway, this happened twice and I wound up getting some records that might not have made it into my regular rotation, but definitely primed the pump for my later love of the genre. I remember getting Soulive’s Doin’ Something, Karl Denson’s Dance Lesson #2 and Charlie Hunter’s Songs From An Analog Playground.

I still listen to these records and am glad that they were the first ones I came across because they opened me up to the idea of new jazz. Unfortunately, for a lot of people, it’s a genre of music that is perceived to be mostly ruled by dead musicians. This is still a vast, evolving art form that new people are doing amazing things with.

I remember being blown away by the way Denson incorporated a DJ (DJ Logic to be specific) into his compositions, Soulive kept things fun and funky and Hunter brought in singers like Mos Def and a pre-fame Norah Jones to help bring his songs to life. There’s a vibrancy to those records that make them worth listening to and also built an interesting foundation for what jazz could be in my mind. This is not a stagnant form and it should not stay static. Art doesn’t work that way, museums do.miles davis bitches brew

The first classic jazz record I ever picked up was Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew. That jazz/rock fusion album probably wasn’t the best place to dip my toe in for either the genre or Davis’ fantastic catalog, but one of my favorite magazines at the time Guitar World, did a huge feature on it and I was interested. Unfortunately, the acid washed improvisation wasn’t something I was quite ready for yet so I only listened to the full double album a few times before shelving it.

It wasn’t until my senior year of college at Ohio Wesleyan that I really continued my jazz journey. I’d pretty much nailed down all my required classes to graduate and decided to take it easy on myself both class and schedule wise. That translated into a very relaxed schedule that included Jazz 110 at the music building, a place I’d only been a handful of times in my college career (it was in a completely part of the campus).

The class seemed split between people like myself looking to get an easy credit and others who were legitimately into this kind of music. And, honestly, it was a pretty easy class. The hardest part came when we were played various instruments and had to write down what they were. That’s not my strong suit and I think I bombed that quiz pretty hard. But the rest of it was pretty basic stuff with a mix of history — tracing the music back to New Orleans — and memorization. For the final I remember listening to a long list of songs because we’d have to name them on the test after hearing a snippet. I’ve always been bad at remembering non-obvious song names, so that was tough too.

The songs themselves all came from the Ken Burns Jazz box set, which we had to buy for class. A lot of kids burned or downloaded it, but I got one (well, my parents got me one along with my other text books which I did feel a bit bad about because I was actually excited about the purchase. Still, I got a good deal on a used one). If you’re even remotely interested in jazz, that box is a great place to start because it takes a chronological look at the form going from old school New Orleans brass band stuff all the way up through Weather Report. In other words, it’s a great sampler.jazz the first 100 years

One of the big things I learned from that class were the different subgeneres of jazz. You’ve got everything from New Orleans and bop to blue, swing, acid, fusion and even jazz-rap. There is a ridiculous amount of music out there that, but the nice thing about the Ken Burns set and the Jazz: The First 100 Years textbook we used is that I got an idea of the form’s spectrum. From there I was able to zero in on the elements and subgenres that interested me most. For instance, I remember reading about Cecil Taylor’s crazy piano playing and then gave him a listen on the box set and realized I wanted to listen to more of that. You can do a lot of this with various websites and YouTube these days, but that’s not where my musical journey took me.

From there, I started exploring the greats. I picked up a couple Benny Goodman records — including one that’s a two disc full concert — got more into the biggies like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Cannonball Adderly and Charles Mingus. I’ve also branched out into some of the odder stuff like Us3, a hip hop group that only sang over sampled jazz licks.

One aspect of jazz that I fell in love with pretty quickly was  how dramatic and comic book-like the whole scene was for a while. When I got into comics, I just dove in and started learning all I could about these characters. Eventually I built up a pretty solid mental database of who did what and when various characters teamed up. There’s a lot of that in jazz too. All of these people had these big personalities and crazy backstories. They were part of a band (team) for a period of time and then either moved on to another one or started their own. There’s also all kinds of team-ups all over the place. There’s a drama to the whole thing that sparked my imagination and helped me get interested in not just the music, but the people as well. Projects like The Quintet or Duke Ellington recording with Louis Armstrong hold a lot of appeal for me.

Another aspect of the form — at least the stuff I seem to be drawn to — is that it can be listened to on various levels. I can put something like Monk’s Alone In San Francisco and flow in and out of it while I do work or get some writing done. But, I can also sit and really explore these records, noting how they twist, turn and play with the form. I’m not nearly musical enough to get too in depth with this stuff, but I like a record that you could potentially sit in a dark room with and just experience. A lot of the jazz records I’ve listened to can be that.

While I still check out the jazz section of any used record store I find myself at, the main source of recently purchased records comes from Amazon’s MP3 store. Every month they put 100 albums on sale for $5 each and there’s usually a jazz album or two in there. That’s where I got Mulligan Meets Monk and a few others like Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers’ Moanin’, Cannonaball’s Bossa Nova, Miles Davis’ seminal Kind Of Blue and even the Willie Nelson, Winton Marsalis and Norah Jones Ray Charles tribute called Here We Go Again.

It’s kind of wild to think that I’ve only been into this form of music for 8 years or so. Sure there were those first few Blue Note records, but those could have easily turned into outliers in the statistical equation of my music collection, a funny story to tell from my online past. What’s even stranger to think about is how separated this kind of music tends to be in the world of pop culture. Jazz just isn’t out there in the pop world as much as other forms, so it’s possible to completely miss it if you’re not looking for something new and different. Now that I think about it, that’s another common theme between jazz and comic books. Anyway, I’m hoping to remedy that a bit with my kid and expose her to this stuff at an early age. I hope she digs that swing!

Toy Commercial Tuesday: Real Ghostbusters Figures & Vehicles

While watching an episode of Toy Hunter on Travel Channel — a show that has grown on me since it debuted — I saw an old school commercial for Ghostbusters toys that made me slap my forehead. Had I really never done a Ghostbusters commercial for TCT? After a bit of searching I was shocked to find out that was the case. To remedy that, I’m going to do one a week for the rest of December.

The beauty of these toys is just how terrified the Ghostbusters and their pals get while doing their jobs. That would be like my eyes bugging out of my head every time I had a deadline. Actually…that’s not too far off from the truth. Anyway, here you’ve got a Spangler and Venkman facing off against the Full Speed Ahead Ghost which drives them towards Highway Haunter, a Volkswagen Beetle that transformers into an armored praying mantis. Then there’s the airplane ghost.

This commercial was a nice trip down memory lane because I remember that crazy bit of animation at the very beginning of the video that used to run on USA and I actually have the Highway Haunter. I don’t remember how or why I got my hands on it, but it was a ridiculously fun toy. I can only imagine how much fun the toymakers had while coming up with more and more insane action features and kooky ghosts.