“goodbye horses [demo 2]” – q lazzarus (2017)

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You may not know the name Q Lazzarus, but you may be familiar with her 1988 cult classic song “Goodbye Horses.”  The dreamy synth-pop song was prominently featured in Jonathan Demme’s 1991 class film The Silence of the Lambs.  It has also been used in films like Married to the Mob and Clerks II as well as television shows like Family Guy.

While the song has become a cult classic because of the quality of the track, the mystery behind the singer also significantly contributed to that status.  Not much is known about Q Lazzarus.  She doesn’t have a broad discography.  Though Q Lazzarus recorded a few of other demo songs such as “Tears of Fear,” “Transformation,” “Love Dance,” and “White Line,” as well as covering the Talking Heads song “Heaven” for the 1993 film Philadelphia, she is primarily associated with one song.  And Jonathan Demme is responsible for that.

As mentioned, “Goodbye Horses” was used for Married to the Mob and The Silence of the Lambs which were both directed by Demme.  Q Lazzarus was a taxi driver in New York City during the 1980s.  Demme had heard a demo of “Goodbye Horses” after he was picked up in her cab.  Demme was absolutely impressed and flew to Hollywood.  However, record companies wouldn’t sign her because of a perceived lack of marketability.  Q Lazzarus responded to this experience with “I market myself, I’m an African American woman who wears locks and sings American rock and roll.”

The song’s inclusion in The Silence of the Lambs is undeniably the most well-known use of the song which has perhaps led it to be included in other film, television, and video game projects since then.  It is a recognizable track and unmistakably unique.  It has an exotic, dark, and sultry appeal.  A song that is a cult classic and features such qualities becomes an excellent choice to cover by bands who don’t want to cover something already played out.  “Goodbye Horses” has been covered by bands such as Wild Beasts, Jon Hopkins, and MGMT.  Unfortunately, despite being a cool song featured in one of the greatest movies of all time and covered by a number of mainstream artists, not much is known about the person behind the song. But, when Kelsey Zimmerman wanted her band to cover the song, she got more than she expected.

Zimmerman tweeted “time to do my monthly google of whether anyone has heard from Q Lazzarus yet or not.”  A few days later, she received a response from someone who claimed to be Q Lazzarus.  Zimmerman was incredulous, but took it with good humor.  The account claiming to Q Lazzarus insisted by asking Zimmerman if she had any questions which Zimmerman replied with “a whole email’s worth.”

Zimmerman received the following from the account:

Hi, sorry to bother you. I just wanted people to know I am still alive, I have no interest in singing anymore. I am a bus driver in Staten Island (I have been for YEARS), I see hundreds of passengers everyday so I am hardly hiding (or dead!), I have given Thomas Gorton (Dazed) my fone number and address just to confirm I am ‘real’, sorry if this is a boring end to the story, I am going to come off twitter soon as I find it odd, please take note of this message incase anyone else is interested. THANK YOU

From this information, Zimmer did some research to verify the identity of the account.  She googled the name of the account Diane Luckey) and found that a woman named Diane Luckey filed a lawsuit against the Staten Island bus company in 2015 for not having a single woman driver.  Zimmerman also noted that, prior to deleting her account, Diane Luckey’s picture closely resembled the woman in the Q Lazzarus promo shoots in the late 1980s.

Zimmerman believes that it was the real Q Lazzarus that contacted her and applauds her decision o live a quiet life “away from the lechery of the music industry.”  It was also comforting to Zimmerman, as a fan, that the rumors she heard about Q Lazzarus dying in London, being abused by a drug addict, or forced into a bad marriage were all (unlikely) true.

Reading the story about Zimmerman being contacted Q Lazzarus brought up a personal memory of the song.  For me, I associate the song with death.  Specifically, the death of a classmate in college.  I knew the song “Goodbye Horses” before college.  Of course, I knew it from The Silence of the Lambs like virtually everyone else.  I liked the song a lot, but only ever heard it in that context.  It wasn’t until college that the song would become a cultural marker for that point in my life.

During the summer of 2008, I stayed on campus instead of going home like most of the students did.  I paid out of pocket to live in a campus dorm that was meant for the small population of students who couldn’t or wouldn’t go back home during the summer holiday.  I spent my summer working a part-time job, hanging with friends, and doing summer radio shifts at my college radio station since we believed summer wasn’t an excuse to go off-air; it just meant more shift and longer hours.

My station wasn’t a freeform station which meant that we had structured programming and DJs followed programming logs.  The logs told us what to play and when, but did leave some room for DJ choice to add some level of variety and personal DJ flare.  New songs were featured the most and referred to as “rotation.”  In the songs, we also had songs we would called “recurrents.”  These were older songs that were played more frequently than most older songs.  Think of these tracks of “rotation-lite.”

That summer, our new station manager began work on their programming vision for the next year.  This student was a big admirer of synth-pop music and made changes to the rotation and recurrents programming to reflect that.  I don’t remember much of what was added, but I’ll never forget that “Goodbye Horses” effectively became a station anthem not long after it was added.

When summer ended, the DJ staff worked to recruit new DJs from the incoming freshman class.  Like most organizations that experience an abundance of overly eager youngsters, the beginning of the school year began with a large number of volunteers that eventually dwindled to a solid core of new talent.  One of those new talents was DuWayne.

DuWayne was from the area and very much fit the profile of a southern boy from a large town; conservative, rural but not country, and cocky.  His faced also resembled the video game character Duke Nukem, but had a body as if Duke Nukem lived off Mountain Dew and Doritos and one foot too short.  I don’t suggest this as a negative.  He was just a big guy.  And we were all in college and came up with jokes like that.  It just goes with the territory of being in college radio.  It can be like a frat.

Anyway, DuWayne didn’t make the best impression when he started.  He was rude, made nasty jokes to people, and acted like he was too cool to be there.  From interactions at the station, around campus, and at parties, he was earning a reputation that he wasn’t fun to be around.  At one party, he lightly burned my inner arm with a cigarette.  He didn’t grab my arm and put his butt out in me.  He just grazed my skin after I made a comment to him he didn’t like.  I don’t remember what I said, but his response was indicative of how he tried to assert himself in the group.  The scar tissue on my arm has faded over the last decade, but it is still visible and a constant reminder of DuWayne.

Looking back, DuWayne was just acting like how most freshman boys act.  He goes from being at the top of high school food chain and must start all over in college. However, without making any adjustments to social behavior in an effort to look cool.  A lot of freshman boys go through that phase.  It happens.  However, you learn quickly and readjust.  College can be a difficult time and everyone goes through the growing pangs of becoming an adult.  It is messy, awkward, and sometimes dramatic, but everyone goes through it together.  I really don’t look back at college bullshit with any semblance of animosity.  I see that time for what it is; awkward people growing up and learning/deciding who they want to be when it is all over.

As DuWayne’s reputation with the group was sinking, people let him know.  Whether it involved people telling it to his face or hearing gossip through the grapevine, he heard what was being said.  And it affected him.  No one likes to be the butt of jokes or have people speak negatively about them in public or private.  People want to be like.  Especially if you’re a college freshman.

So, DuWayne started to make adjustments to his behavior and attitude that made him more likable.  Some people at the station were welcoming of those changes early on while others were skeptical and needed more time to warm up to DuWayne.  Regardless, it was known and seen that DuWayne wanted to be better.

Outside of his behavior, DuWayne was also known for his love of the song “Goodbye Horses.”  I don’t know whether or not he had heard it prior to joining the station, but he loved playing that song.  It very quickly became considered DuWayne’s song.  Even if you hadn’t met him or knew anything else about him, it was commonly known in the group he loved that song.

Unfortunately, DuWayne died in a car crash during the second semester of his freshman year in March 2009.  There was a passenger in the car with him, though he survived.  DuWayne’s death shocked everyone at the station.  At that age, death isn’t that common.

His death impacted everyone at that station who knew him regardless if they liked him or not.  He was one of us and we all recognized he had been making a considerable effort to be a better friend and colleague to us.  “Goodbye Horses” was played more frequently on the air and at parties to honor DuWayne.  Despite his flaws, we cared about him.

I attended his wake, but not his funeral (I generally have an aversion to funerals).  I owned a car then and kept the ceremony card in my car at all times.  Inside were the obituary details.  On the front was a mountain with the image of the American flag depicted in the snow on the peak with an eagle soaring in the foreground.  DuWayne identified as conservative and loved his country.  The image reflected his values and was a calming presence whenever I pulled it out of the console to look at it.

No matter what, I cannot associate “Goodbye Horses” with anything other than DuWayne.  While the rest of the world will always think of Buffalo Bill dancing, I think of DuWayne and the cigarette burn in my arm.  He was a good person who was struggling to come out clean from an awkward phase.  I feel we can all relate to that.

When I read the article featuring Zimmerman’s communication with Q Lazzarus, the image featured was an EP released in 2017.  The EP contained a compilation of the single edit of the track as well as two demos and demos for three other songs on the B-side.  I listened to the demos.  The second demo sounded great for a demo, but had a distinctly different feel than the single edit.  I don’t like it more than the single, but I really like it a lot.  I am choosing to interpret it as the awkward beginnings of a classic.

I hadn’t heard the song in a long time.  Reading about Q Lazzarus speaking out brought up memories of DuWayne and I thought about how much I have grown since meeting him ten years ago.  It is sad when someone that young passes away and when that happens, I feel an obligation to live my life as fully and completely as possible.  I had loved “Goodbye Horses” before meeting DuWayne, but I love it even more since then.  So, perhaps, the song really means more to me than someone’s death.  Perhaps I should think of it as something beyond that and the value of a life lived well and simply.

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“amazing grace” – aretha franklin (1972)

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I received news over social media that Aretha Franklin was in hospice care a little over a week ago.  The new was frankly stunning.  For one, I didn’t know she was ill.   It wasn’t as if she was keeping a low profile over the last few years.  She had actively toured within recent memory.  I would never have guessed she was in ill health.

When she did pass away a few days after the news of her being in hospice broke out, it turns out she had pancreatic cancer.  I don’t know how long she had it, but it must’ve developed rapidly.  I wasn’t just stunned by the suddenness of such an announcement.  I was a fan of Aretha’s music and the impact she had on soul/R&B, pop, and female performers that came after her inspired by her talent, character, and attitude.

Aretha’s music had always been with me.  By the time I was born, her career had gone through so many changes.  The hits we all know were so ingrained in popular culture that they were presented as wallpaper music in most contexts; a score over a popular movie or playing over tinny grocery store speakers.  We all knew the hits because they were part of the lexicon of American popular music.  You didn’t seek them out.  They were already there surrounding you.

During the second semester of my freshman year of college, I started my own genre-specific show at my college radio station.  That station was unique.  We were a completely student-driven station, all volunteer, live 24/7, and with specific programming guidelines.  Many college radio stations had one or a combination of those qualities, but very few did all that.  However, from 10 PM to midnight every night, a specialty show got to go off-format and do their own thing.  It was a privilege to have a specialty show; two hours where you call the shots.  These slots were given to volunteers who applied with well-defined ideas and who had proven they were responsible.  My show was called “Soul Food.”

I had always loved soul music and “Soul Food” was going to reflect that.  However, just turning 19 and still within my first year, I still had a lot to learn about the genre.  The first year or two of the show were rocky due to its predictability and lack of a unique voice.  This was because I played a lot of soul/R&B standards with a few deep cuts from those artists sprinkled throughout.  I would often get jokes about the music I played.  I didn’t mind because I liked that music, but I was still finding my voice.

As time went on and I continued to develop “Soul Food,” I was making musical discoveries all the time.  Through Internet research, outreach to independent labels, conversations with the local record store owner, and reading through specialty trade magazines, I was able to find new, independent, and never-heard-before artists that would give my show a unique sound that wouldn’t have been heard anywhere else in town and probably the state as well.

This drive was how I discovered artists like Sharon Jones, revivalist labels like Numero Group, and so much more.  I couldn’t believe in what I was hearing.  Whether it was recently recorded music or reissues of material long forgotten or never heard, there was a market for a specific type of soul music that wasn’t the pop you heard on Top 40 at the time.

I was met with skepticism and incredulousness by my fellow college radio DJs when I talked about all this great music.  I was often told that soul music was no longer relevant.  Nevermind that Amy Winehouse was making big waves and Duffy and Adele were right around the corner, I was often dismissed and that no one cared about soul music.  Under the direction of an out-of-touch station manager, our station became more focused on playing obscure artists inspired by barely recognizable synthpop one-hit wonders of the 1980s.  I knew soul was still alive.  I tried in vain to get our station to book Sharon Jones for events before she got too big.  They didn’t think that would ever happened.

Before my discovery of all this, my knowledge and love for soul music was rather stagnant.  I knew the hits.  However, finding that niche that Sharon Jones and Numero Group were filling, it added fuel to the fire.   I think a big part of why was because they sounded like direct descendants of what Aretha pioneered.  I knew her work and now I was learning what people today were doing with it.  To me, this wasn’t wallpaper music.  This was life.

I have now come to realize that I just wasn’t in the right place to have my interests and passion encouraged.  I wasn’t surrounded by the right people.  It took me a long time and moving to a new city to find a group of people who are open to new music, new ideas, and approach the musical landscape with an open, and somewhat, academic mindset.

When Aretha passed away, I didn’t’ immediately listen to her music.  I went to the stuff that was inspired by her; the music I had discovered during my college radio days.  I didn’t realize exactly why until a few days later.  It was because there was no one doing what Aretha did before that.  Before Aretha, there were no women of color that could match the critical and commercial success of Aretha.  Certainly, many of these women were extremely talented but unfortunately were not recognized.  Aretha changed all of that and set a standard that is still being followed five decades later.

Listening to Aretha also opened the doors to gospel for me.  Admittedly, gospel isn’t an area I know that much about.  I am ware of key figures and do listen to some on occasion.  However, as compared with my knowledge and love of soul, my knowledge of gospel is lacking.

That’s why, when I was diving into my soul records and anything having to do with Aretha, I was pleased with Sound Opinion’s tribute episode to Aretha.  Jim and Greg talked about her early days at Columbia, the success she had at Atlantic, and highlight from her career since then.  However, they talked very extensively about one particular gospel record.

Amazing Grace was a 1972 live gospel album by Aretha and became her biggest-selling album to date.  Recorded at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles, it is a testament to Aretha’s massive talent.  Sure, you may have known she was talented because her most famous singles illustrate that, but they cannot match the quality of exceptionalism captured live for Amazing Grace.

I listened to the album a few times over the weekend and I am amazed by its energy and passion.  Every track breathes life.  Rumor has it that Mick Jagger was in the audience and the album inspired the sound of Exile on Main Street.  It is gritty, sweaty, and unapologetically full of life.  While many of these tracks are remarkable, I wanted to highlight her rendition of the classic hymn “Amazing Grace.”  With a run-time of nearly 11 minutes, this track represents Aretha in pure form.  This is Aretha will no filter and nobody stopping her as she exposes her true essence in a way very few artists can.

The performance was recorded by Sydney Pollack for a concert film he planned to direct.  Originally scheduled for released in 1972, the film could not be completed due to sound synchronization issues.  It was the shelved for 38 years until producer Alan Elliott resolved the sound issue.  The goal was to premiere the film in 2011, until Aretha sued to not have the film screened citing rights over her likeness being used.  Aretha stated “Justice, respect and what is right prevailed and one’s right to own their own self-image.”  Despite the fact the original contract stated her likeness could be used, Aretha secured an emergency injunction.

This story thrills me.  This is Aretha exhibiting full control and power over herself and is indicative of the way she has managed her career; no one tells Aretha how to do Aretha but Aretha.  As much as I would love to see this footage, it likely doesn’t do the original album justice.  I’d rather have that and leave the rest to my own mind and imagination.

“nazi punks fuck off” – the dead kennedys (1981)

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Last week’s blog post was about how I don’t go see new movies in the theater often.  I broke the streak over the weekend when I went to see Spike Lee’s latest joint BlacKkKlansman.  Based on the 2014 memoir Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth and starring John David Washington (as Stallworth) and Adam Driver, the movie is about Stallworth’s real-life experience of infiltrating the Colorado Springs chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in 1972.  Stallworth disguised his voice to get information on members and chapter meetings while his partner, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), became the public face.  As Zimmerman and Stallworth get deeper into the operation, suspicions flare up regarding their interest in the organization and they must maintain their anonymity while also ensuring the safety of a local Black Students Union organization.  With the upcoming arrival of David Duke, president of the KKK, Stallworth and Zimmerman must stop a perfect storm of racially-motivated violence.

It was an enjoyable movie with plenty of humor.  Lee hasn’t directed a brilliant film for a long time, but he doesn’t have to.  His body of work speaks for itself so, it is fine if his recent films are not brilliant but serve to be entertaining and thought-provoking.  And BlacKkKlansman accomplished that well.

I wasn’t aware of Stallworth’s story prior to seeing the film, but I was impressed by what he did.  However, I was more impressed with how Lee drew parallels between the events in the film and things today.   Little tongue-in-cheek comments were made throughout the film that served to be biting satire of the Trump administration and the rise of white supremacist violence in this country.  While the story of BlacKkKlansman was solid on its own, drawing connections that related to modern audiences certainly amplified the overall message of the film.

However, Lee isn’t known for his subtlety.  He is a very outspoken, and often abrasive, individual who says what he believes him.  He often generates a lot of controversy with his comments, but he is a voice representing a viewpoint that is oppressed and underrepresented.

Somehow, I forgot how brash and direct Lee could be when I was watching BlacKkKlansman.  SO, I was absolutely stunned and surprised to see Lee did before the credits rolled.  Just in case you didn’t catch the jabs and remarks about white supremacists that could easily apply to Trump and his supporters, Lee beat the message over the audience’s heads by using footage from the Unite the Right rally held in Charlottesville in 2017.

When the violence erupted in Charlottesville on August 12th, 2017, it was a real wake-up call for me.  I had known that Trump was garbage and the Alt-Right were misguided, racist, and just plain awful.  However, I was naïve regarding the extent of their cowardice.  I watched the footage of them chanting “Fuck you, faggots” and “Jews will not replace us.”  I watched the street fights and barricades being pushed and bottles being thrown.  I watched the police fail to maintain law and order.  This was proving to be a significant moment in our country’s history.  However, I wasn’t prepared for the tragedy that occurred in Charlottesville.

Heather Heyer was an activist who marched with the counterprotestors in Charlottesville.  She was murdered by a Unite the Right participant when he accelerated his car into a crowd of counterprotestors.

When Heyer was murdered, a piece of innocence was lost that day.  I had never met or communicated with this person, but I went into a deep seething rage when she died.  Something became lost, but it awoken something darker in me.  For about a month, I was obsessed with learning about Nazis and the Alt-Right on Twitter.  I wanted to learn their dog whistles, how they communicate, and, most importantly, their identity.  I engaged and argued with them.  I called them cowards for hiding behind cartoon avatars.  I wasn’t afraid of them, but they tried hard to put fear in me.  They sent nasty messages to me, made memes of me where I was the subject of violence, threatened to run me over with a car like Heyer, and other threats that you cannot take seriously because they come from the Internet.  I was never afraid of them.  I never hid my face or my name.

For a month, I argued and did whatever I could to dox and expose them.  It was such a rush.  However, I had to stop.  Friends and family tag me in posts.  I realized that these online trolls would see that and then, in an effort to make me afraid, make memes or comments about my loved ones.  I couldn’t subject them to that abuse at the hands of my Twitter crusade.  So, I stopped.  I went dark for a while so the trolls thought I was gone for good.  After a decent amount of time, I came back quietly.  I still research and follow the same trolls, but I don’t engage with them anymore.

I guess that was my process for grieving and avenging Heyer.  She became a symbol of the good people can achieve when they face fascism and the unfortunate consequence that can occur.  I was in Montgomery, Alabama last month and I toured the Civil Rights Memorial Center.  It is a museum dedicated to the victims of racially motivated violence.  The center profiled a few dozen people from notable figures like Emmett Till and Medgar Evers to the lesser know victims of white supremacist violence.

In the center, they had a wing dedicated to the victims of violence in the modern age.  There was a plaque dedicated to the church members shot and killed by Dylann Roof.  There was a memorial to a transgender woman (I’m sorry I forgot the name) who was murdered somewhere in the middle.  And there was a tribute to Heather Heyer.  Unlike the other two examples, Heyer was murdered less than a year ago.  I amazed that she earned a spot of distinction in such an important place so quickly.

As I watched the Charlottesville footage playing at the end of BlacKkKlansman, the screen then showed a picture of Heyer with a tribute.  I was surprised to see her image and I started applauding.  I applauded because she was, in my opinion, a real hero.  Even though I was in a crowded theater, everyone was silent.  I was the only person applauding.  Initially, I was angry at the silence.  However, I have come to realize that maybe they forgot about Heyer or that they were in shock.  I hope they didn’t forget her.  I certainly never did.

I was then struck by the realization that I saw the movie on the one-year anniversary of the Unite the Right rally; the rally with the iconic torches.  In the course of one year, I’m already seeing this stuff in movies.  In less than a year (one day before the date of her death), I’m seeing Heyer in tribute during a widely-released film.  I was blown away. Charlottesville seemed so far away, but it was only a year.  In less than a year, that brave woman has being honored in ways that were befitting of her dedication and activism.

Unite the Right 2 was held in Washington, D.C. over the week to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Charlottesville.  It was thankfully a disaster for the Alt-Right.  Very few of them showed up and they were drowned out by the droves of counterprotestors that came to denounce their message of hate.  It was a success for those who stand against racism and bigotry.

While I am proud of what happened in Washington over the weekend, I have trouble believing that the tides are turning.  Recently, violent protests have been occurring in Portland, Oregon where representatives from group like the Proud Boys are violently clashing with Antifa and other left-identifying people.  I feel the violence there has been severely underreported.  There haven’t been deaths yet, but it could be likely.  I feel people were expecting the rally in Washington to mirror what happened in Charlottesville.  Unfortunately, that did not happen.  However, I think we are close to another Charlottesville and I think it will be in Portland. Though, I hope I’m wrong and that the violence will cease.

When the tragedy in Charlottesville occurred, I saw a bunch of memes and messages on social media denouncing racism.  Most notably, I kept seeing reference to “Nazi Punks Fucks Off.”  Released as their fifth single in 1981, the Dead Kennedys made a fitting soundtrack to serve as a symbol for anti-racist sentiments.  It is song full of fire and anger.  Sure, now, it might be a played out and overused.  However, the message still rings true.  Nazi punks will never step Spike Lee.  Nazi punks will never stop Ron Stallworth.  Nazi punks will never stop Heather Heyer.

“just dropped in (to see what condition my condition was in)” – the first edition (1967)

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I really enjoy going to the theater to see a movie.  Living in Chicago, I’m in a major market that gets most releases if they are fairly limited.  My usual go to is the Music Box (which I’ve written about in detail before), followed by the Landmark, and then, if I want to see something big budget with lots of explosions, then it is either an AMC theater or the Navy Pier IMAX.  I have plenty of options when it comes to seeing a movie.

Each theater has their own unique qualities that I enjoy.  Whether they show movies on actual film, have comfortable seats with optimal sound (the one big flaw of the Music Box), or shows the hard to find movies, I’ll go to wherever suits my mood.

However, I don’t see a lot of new movies often.  And it has been that way for a long time for me.  In high school, I lived in a rural farming community and didn’t have a car so when I saw it a movie, it was typically with family.  In college, I was within walking distance to a movie theater, but I didn’t have much money.  Plus, all the limited release stuff was an hour away in Nashville.  When I moved to Chicago, I was focused on finding table employment and when I did that, I didn’t have time to see movies.

However, I’ve been at a point in my life where I have the time and money to go to the movies with some frequency and make it a hobby.  And that makes me happy because it is something I enjoy.  I’m a busy guy.  I work, I volunteer a lot, and I have a pretty active social life.  I’m always moving from one place to the other whether it be by public transit or on foot.  So, I find it relaxing to sit in a dark theater for a few hours and just forget what’s happening in the outside world and enjoy myself watching a movie.

Now, back to the point where I don’t see new movies often.  That remains true.  As mentioned, I usual place is the Music Box Theatre.  They run newly released independent films, but they also have a regular rotation of older movies as well.  In fact, I would say that more than 90% of the movies I’ve seen there are not new.  Hell, I was just there on Monday watching a 25th anniversary screening of Rudy.  And usually when I go, it is to see a cult classic running as a midnight movie. In September, my calendar is filled with 70mm screenings at the Music Box and the most recent film I’m seeing was released in 1989.

I don’t know why I don’t see a lot of newer movies in theaters.  When it comes to those, I’ll wait until they are at the Redbox, streaming on Netflix or HBO, or available for check out at the library.  However, event then, I don’t see a lot of new movies.  It takes me over a year to get through the previous year’s Academy Award nominees for best picture.  For some reason, I’m in no rush and I have no answer to that.

The Music Box Theatre is the really the only place I see older movies.  However, Fathom Events tries to bring older or niche content to major chain theaters which is fine if you don’t have an arthouse theater in your neighborhood.

Fathom Events is a company that runs releases for a day or two and usually consist of televised broadcasts of musicals, special events like foreign television specials, or theatrical rereleases.  Typically, I’ve never paid much attention to anything Fathom Events does.  I often find that screenings they do are things I’m not really into or I’m busy anyway.  I made an exception this past weekend.

On Sunday, Fathom Events screened the Coen Brothers’ 1998 cult classic The Big Lebowski for its 20th anniversary.  I wasn’t old enough to see an R-rated movie in 1998 and it had probably been a decade since I had seen it, so I figured I’d check it out.  I contacted some friends who were die-hard fans and we went to see it.

It was screening at a theater I hadn’t been to in years.  It was a larger theater, but it was always out of the way for me.  I struggled to remember what I saw there.

Another reason why I went was because I recently purchased a MoviePass and I needed to use it.  MoviePass has been struggling recently and it is likely to dissolve after repeatedly changing their plans and service policies.  I had one more movie before my subscription rolled over and I needed to use it.  Unfortunately, no screenings were accepting MoviePass for some reason so I shelled out the full $12.50 to see it.

Like I said, it had been about a decade or so since I last saw it.  I remembered key things because of countless memes and cultural references, but I largely forgot what the plot was.  For being such a cult classic that also has associated fan events, there weren’t many people in the theater.  I was fine with that though.

I had a great time and enjoyed myself.  The Big Lebowski is incredibly funny, but very flawed in a lot of ways.  I enjoy it, but not on a cult level and it sure isn’t one of my personal favorites.  It was great to see a movie I hadn’t seen in a long time and do so with friends.

Even if you’ve never seen The Big Lebowski, you’ve seen references to it.  Social media is crawling with memes of Walter with his gun with some text overlay about being annoyed with something trivial and mundane.  OR you may have seen some clips or heard any of the dozens of memorable lines from the film.

One of the most memorable scenes is when The Dude gets drugged by a pornographer.  He dances through a surrealist dreamscape and surrounded by women wearing Viking regalia.  There’s some dancing, The Dude looking up some skirts, and flying around the through the sky.  Before the dream shifts over into nightmare territory when some nihilistic Germans chase The Dude with a giant pair of scissors, it is a good time and we are grooving along with The Dude.

The song playing is a cover of “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In).” by the First Edition.  The band was fronted by Kenny Rogers who provides lead vocals for the track and was released as a single in 1967 and became a top ten Billboard hit for the group.  The song was written by Mickey Newbury and originally performed by Teddy Hill & the Southern Soul.  It is believed the song s about an experience with LSD and the song serving as a warning about the effects of the drug.  The First Edition’s version is groovy, relaxing, and a great score for a trippy, drug-induced dream sequence.

The Big Lebowski is an underrate classic and I’m glad I’ve seen it in a theater now.  Granted, my experience with older movies in theaters is that I see them on actual film prints.  Pretentious, I know.  However, sometimes, it is great just to see something blown up even if everything looks a wee bit digital.  I’ll continue shelling out money to see older movies and I can abide that.

“money for nothing” – dire straits (1985)

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Today, Music Television turns 37 years old.  When it hit the airwaves in 1981, MTV was a cultural touchstone through its innovative programming exclusively focusing on playing music videos curated and guided by VJs (video jockeys).  The concept of the music video, or promo video, was now something musicians had to figure out if they were going to be competitive and marketable in the music industry as it evolved to include this new visual element.  For the newer bands of the 1980s, this came with the territory.  For bands who had established careers prior to MTV’s launch, adjustments had to be made. While MTV had overcome some rocky times, including their lack of diversity during their first few years, it became a cultural phenomenon.

While MTV was once an innovative venture and lived up to its name by playing music, the quality of the programming has diminished over the last 25 years.  When I first really became aware of MTV as a kid during the mid-1990s, it was no longer a channel completely dedicated to music videos.  I remember when MTV premiered its first produced feature film Joe’s Apartment.  The animated series Daria made an impact on me when it went through its initial run. And, of course, Celebrity Deathmatch was essential viewing with a young boy who liked crass humor.

Sure, I do remember when MTV hyped up music video premieres (“Intergalactic” by Beastie Boys being one that was heavily anticipated), when Total Request Live was my go to afterschool watching, and when they ran countdown shows on the best music videos of all time.  I even remember when Vanilla Ice smashed the video to “Ice Ice Baby.”  At the time, I didn’t think about the decline in the channel’s programming.  That was what MTV was to me because that was its state was when I watched.  I’m sure the Gen Xers were already cynical about it at that point and I would come to understand their viewpoint in the era of Jackass and My Super Sweet Sixteen.  As it closes out its fourth decade, MTV no longer delivers what it promises.

In 1985, Dire Straits released their studio album Brothers in Arms and it was a critical and commercial success.  With Brothers in Arms being their fifth studio album, Dire Straits had been involved in the music industry for a while.  Here was a band who developed their chops before the launch of MTV and became successful before the music video phenomenon, but had to adjust this new facet of the business.

As a result, the band recorded and released “Money for Nothing.”  “Money for Nothing” is written from the perspective of two working-class guys watching MTV and noting what they find ridiculous about it.  They are incredulous when watching the performers in the music video.  While these two men have to install microwave ovens and deliver refrigerators, they comment on the wealth and fame rock stars receive for doing something, in their eyes, that isn’t a real job.

Lyrically, the song is based on an experience Mark Knopfler had.  In a 1984 interview with critic Bill Flanagan, Knopfler said, the lead character in “Money for Nothing” is a guy who works in the hardware department in a television/​custom kitchen/​refrigerator/​microwave appliance store. He’s singing the song. I wrote the song when I was actually in the store. I borrowed a bit of paper and started to write the song down in the store. I wanted to use a lot of the language that the real guy actually used when I heard him, because it was more real. “Money for Nothing” provides a look into what some people thought during MTV’s earlier years.  Even when it was at its most innovative, some people weren’t buying what MTV was selling.

“Money for Nothing” is also noted for its music video which was one of the first to use computer animation to tell a story.  Ironically, Knopfler was not enthusiastic about making music videos for MTV.  His focus was on recording and performing music. For a song of his to become big and receive regular airplay on MTV, Knopfler’s initial apprehension is a bit funny to observe since he was an established artist trying to adapt to this new medium.

To further drive the irony in the listener’s ears even deeper, the song also features guest vocals from Sting. During the intro and outro, Sting sings the channel’s trademark phrase “I want my MTV” in his signature falsetto.  Considering the song’s critique eon music videos, it is no wonder why it because the first video played on MTV Europe when it premiered on this day in 1987.

In addition to the music video, the song also gained notoriety for its use of a homophobic slur.  In the song, the characters refer to the rock star in the video as a faggot.  Knopfler has expressed mixed feeling noting that the song is performed by a character and based on actual language he heard when writing the song.  Since its release, there are edited version replacing “faggot” with “queenie” and some countries have debated banning the song but ultimately leaving it up to the radio stations to play at their own discretion.

MTV’s glory days are long gone.  When MTV lost its former glory depends on your age.  For millennials like me, we remain nostalgic for an era of MTV that Gen Xers might find to be when MTV truly lost its vision.  People younger than me still tune in to MTV and consume its programming with no thoughts or opinions on the concept of music video let alone an all music video channel.  They are simply watching the MTV that is relevant to them because of their time period.  Perhaps, to them (and maybe even me to an extent), the idea of 24-hour music video rotation seems stagnant.  Either way you look at it, MTV has undergone a lot of change since its inception.  And even from the beginning, it was getting criticized for its programming.  Now, when you think “I want my MTV,” the statement becomes an existential one.