Monday, January 30, 2012

The Great Frognosticator

Imbolc arrives a little later than usual this year. February 4 will mark the arrival of pagan spring in the Northern hemisphere. As regular Typing Monkey readers know, the United States pays obtuse respect to Imbolc via Groundhog Day every Feb 2.

In the spirit of perfectly delightful ways to stave off late winter angst, the citizens of Snohomish, WA have come up with a bit of pre-emptive Imbolc-inspired fun in the form of GroundFrog Day. The 7th annual celebration happened on Jan 28 and we're quite put out that we missed the occasion, a mistake we do not intend to repeat next year.

The mascot of GroundFrog Day is a bullfrog named Snohomish Slew. He's a handsome devil and this year the grand amphibian claims warm weather is ahead. Our fingers are crossed Mr. Slew.

[Photo: Dean Rutz/Seattle Times]

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

I Believe I'll Go Back Home

Celebrities die all the time, but we lost three in January that leave pretty large holes in the American musical landscape. We already waxed nostalgic on Jimmy Castor but were offline when, almost appropriately, Johnny Otis and Etta James died just days apart.

If you are alive and paying attention, you already read countless obits and rememberies of their respective contributions to rhythm & blues, soul, jazz and blues.

Instead of repeating praise into the void, we encourage you to pay your respects by getting your paws on a copy of Cold Shot! by The Johnny Otis Show.

Released in 1968, this LP boasts the leanest Otis Show line-up of them all: Johnny plays piano, vibes and drums; his son Shuggie (a grinning teen here and only a couple years from launching his brief, brilliant solo career) plays bass, guitar and harmonica while Mighty Mouth Evans handles the lead vocals.

This record will validate your puny effort to feel funky on a daily basis. Cold Shot! opens smart with the shock-and-awe enabled "The Signifyin' Monkey" replete with blue language. "Country Girl" is far filthier through pure implication. That's blues science right there bub -- stun 'em out of the gate and you can say anything you want after that.

"High Heeled Sneakers" chicken struts across the room and Otis fills the set with a fair share of classic blues sounds, all played with a smile and a wink.

Just about anything Otis recorded is worth your attention, and Cold Shot! isn't even the best entry point to his catalog. (Otis' killer r&b output from the '50s and '60s is top-shelf stuff.) But this disc cuts through the fog of whatever troubles you, a bracing gulp of potent groove juice.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Art Thiel Knows Snow in Seattle

The Typing Monkey offices in Seattle are still running, but only because we're able to walk from the cot in the basement to the 23rd floor and check our inbox.

In case the news in your area doesn't care -- and why should it? -- the Puget Sound region of the Pacific Northwest got snow and lots of it. Not Midwest snow, but enough. And then freezing rain. And then more snow. And the hills here make it virtually impossible to navigate by car or public transit.

Yet an L.A. Times reporter, Kim Murphy, ostensibly living in Seattle, since she's the paper's Northwest beat reporter, wrote a flip piece for her paper about Seattle being wimps in snow.

We wanted to write a terse yet elegant response. Then local sports writer Art Thiel beat us to it. The man elevates sports writing into art and can make even bored "eh, sports, whatever" types pay attention to baseball statistics. So we were delighted to read his response to Ms. Murphy's ill-informed and frankly, stupid piece fluff. Fluff which seems designed to do nothing more than increase page views.

Art Thiel says: Shut The Hell Up.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Everything Man

You know that James Walter Castor died Jan 16 in Henderson, Nevada, a few days short of his 72 birthday. As Jimmy Castor, he made some deliriously fun disco-fried funk and soul during his 1970s heyday as the leader of The Jimmy Castor Bunch.

The New York Times obit tells his story well.

We'll share this story from our publisher, S.L. Kreighton:

"When I was just three, one of my sisters was a teen and super-hip to whatever the cool sounds were. She and her friend Suzy would spin 45s in her room and those of us smart enough to hang around or press an ear to the door got an early childhood education in '70s dance music.

"One of the singles they played that caught my ear was "Troglodyte (Cave Man)" by The Jimmy Castor Bunch. I was three, but this man with his funny voices and groovy music spoke to me. He said the word "butt" in a song!

"Somehow, that single made it into the family collection -- otherwise populated by Mancini, Beatles, Monkees and a few other choice mid-century cuts. For years to come I played that single and delighted in a ribald tale I only half-understood. It shaped my music tastes for the better."

To this day, Kreighton uses the 2002 Castor Bunch hits collection 16 Slabs of Funk to lift his spirits and filter candidates for Typing Monkey internships.

Castor had a successful career prior to his '70s heyday, but those years as the leader of the Bunch are a great way for the man to be remembered. And we have an excuse to post these two album covers:

The cartoon on the left, sure. But dig three (3!) man-purses satchels in that promo pic on 16 Slabs. That's confidence!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

"Nobody trusts anybody now, and we're all very tired."

A man named Lee Hardcastle makes claymation and other animated films. His series "Done in 60 Seconds" recreates iconic horror and science fiction films in about one minute. Hardcastle's latest is a retelling of John Carpenter's The Thing starring a bunch of penguins:

If you like that, go to his site and see more 60-second horrors and a whole mess of other fun stuff.

[A wink and a nod to Bleeding Cool.]

UPDATE: The video Pingu's The Thing has been removed from YouTube due to a copyright claim. (From the Pingu people, not John Carpenter. Lee Hardcastle says he'll update on Jan 24.)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A Few More Things the Intertoobs Taught Us in 2011

Before 2011 drifts too far from memory, we’d like to call out a few non-musical things that made the year worthwhile.

The weeks never have enough hours for us to watch all the films that we want to see and every year our catch-up list grows. Here’s the scant few titles that left an impression, some of which we actually saw.

Released in Norway in 2010, this clever horror film reached the United States in 2011 and breathed some life into the overused and overspent faux-documentary gimmick. It’s the rare combination of horror and comedy that delivers on both.

EXTRATERRESTRIAL We haven’t even seen this yet but we’re putting it up here because the trailer is pretty exciting. Every genre flick is looking for a fresh angle and it appears that the inventive director Nacho Vigalondo may have one by framing that tired old alien invasion story through the bleary eyes of a one-night-stand couple shaking off what may be their last questionable decision.

On that same note, we also hold hope that Attack the Block does the same trick with the same trope with a different but equally promising execution. And it was a complete surprise to us how much we enjoyed the remake of Fright Night. Against all sense, it justified its existence. Sadly, that may convince Hollywood to keep on remaking things that are better off left alone.

Keep your Xbox and "Words with Friends", this free online PC game from DampGnat is the shiny, candy-like button we keep pressing. Get a Slushee and some stale tortilla chips with orange cheese sauce to make the miniature golf experience complete.

RADIO ENDURANCE TEST – Invented by our own bastard publisher, S.L. Kreighton, RET is simple: Get in the car, turn on the radio, find a song you know but normally avoid, and listen. Repeat this exercise until madness sets in, or worst of all, win by coming around and learning to enjoy a song you thought you hated. For two or more players, take turns finding a song you know one or more of the other players hates, set the dial and watch them squirm. Okay, so not a game really as much as a form of torture. It’s free though and it really happens.

Kate Beaton has been drawing her clever comic strip for a few years now but we only just discovered it this year. The Canadian artist with a history degree squeezes laughs from literature, history (duh), pop culture and everyday weird stuff that inspires her consistently funny work.

THE DEFENDERS – We hadn’t touched a mainstream superhero comic in years, but Marvel’s revival of this late Silver Age title intrigued us enough to buy the first issue and was good enough to bring us back for the forthcoming second issue. The debut has a “getting the band back together” feel and doesn’t shy away from mild humor in the service of a Lovecraft knock-off plot.

Worth a Mention -- We missed the first few issues of DC’s Wonder Woman relaunch but word on the street is they finally figured out what to do with the Amazon warrior princess.

Similarly, we missed the start of Image’s Mudman, but from what we’ve seen, it’s one of the better takes on the tired superhero concept.

Perhaps both the new Wonder Woman and Mudman will soon be collected in a trade paperback and we can eat it all at once the same way we tackled Ultra, The Walking Dead and Great Lakes Avengers.

You Made It

Congratulations. If you're reading this, you're alive and it's 2012 -- not too shabby. The Typing Monkey hopes that you reached the finish of 2011 with all the usual amenities of life intact and have few, if any, regrets.

Some believe this is the start of our final year of existence. Whether an ancient culture has correctly predicted our demise or not, this all ends for each of us in our own way eventually.

The road ends, the bridge is out up ahead, there's an exit ramp with your name on it. But the ride there is full of sights, scenery and roadside attractions that can make the getting there fun.

Look! Here's Suzi Quatro singing "48 Crash." Righteous!

[courtesy of Shadowcat05]