Wednesday, December 30, 2009

More stealth advertising

Same thing goin' on, this time for Twilight and Bounty paper towels.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Give my creation LIIIIIIFE

As it turns out, a couple of new strings is all my guitars needed to sound like themselves and at their best again. I don't believe that changing strings in of itself has that dramatic an effect on your tone, because I honestly find that my guitars still sound good even with a bunch of dirt and even some rust on them. I think the sound of new strings is overrated. Of course, I may just be used to the sound of old dirty strings, thus coming to prefer it...

No, I think what it was was that with missing strings, what I was capable of playing was decidedly stifled. I play all over the neck (as is best, I think), so I'm acutely aware of the different tones I get according to where on the neck I play the note, and all the different phrasings I can achieve. Losing a string cuts me off from a huge amount of these options, and I love running free with my solos. So I think that had a psychological effect on me, causing the feel of the guitar to change. Restoring the strings restored the feel that allows me to make the guitar sound its best.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Rankin/Bass Christmas mythology

You've seen Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman, right? You've probably seen Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town, and maybe even The Year Without A Santa Claus (the Miser Bros., anyone?) as well. Well, have you ever seen Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July? Chances are that you haven't.

We've all seen the classics, and most people really enjoy them. But being the nerdy completist I am, I always like checking out the lesser known sequels that add so much more to the continuity and the mythology. What? Santa Claus has a mythology? Well, a strangely elven fat jolly old man who lives forever and has roots in Catholic beliefs and a plethora of Christ-like qualities, using powerful magic to judge right from wrong and fly around the world with flying reindeer and make toys with elves sounds pretty mythological already. You just don't think of him as a folkloric figure because he sells Coca-Cola.

Rudolph fans probably all know that he was created as a children's book by Robert L. May to promote Montgomery Ward stores. Not exactly a spontaneous creation from the common folk, sure, but they already had several hundred years for St. Nicholas to turn into the Santa Claus we know today, and the book owes quite a bit to the ever-important poem "A Visit from Saint Nicholas" by Clement Moore (more popularly known as "The Night Before Christmas")- including taking its rhyme scheme and rhythm!
It was about a decade later when the familiar song was written, surpassing the popularity of the original book a millionfold. According to some sources, the Max Fleischer cartoon (which includes the song) is from 1944, but everywhere else says that Johnny Marks wrote the song in 1948. Yeah, I don't get it either. Whatever the case, the Fleischer cartoon is directly based on the book, albeit shortened considerably.
In a case of an adaptation retelling the original story and consequently erasing it from the public mind (much like Disney and Grimm's Fairy Tales), Rankin/Bass released the definitive version of the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer story in 1964. They completely tossed the original book out the window and based the story entirely on the lyrics of the song- which, of all versions, is the most bare-bones, leaving them a lot of room for invention.

While the original book included your usual talking, bipedal animals, Rankin/Bass' version included sentient toys, an "abominable snow monster", and most unusual of all, a winged lion who reigned over a strange island kingdom where toys who were rejected by children lived- one King Moonracer. Already things are getting more interesting...

The next Rankin/Bass Christmas special to contribute to the continuity was seemingly unrelated at the time of its release- Frosty the Snowman. His character was created in 1950, and both the song and a children's book were released that year. The book followed the song lyrics pretty closely, if I recall. Rankin/Bass had very little to work with, so the 1969 special wasn't much different from the lyrics. The most notable new additions are the murky origins of the magic silk hat, which belonged to a talentless magician, and the fact that Santa Claus takes Frosty to the North Pole where he can stay cold. No explanation is given as to how the magic hat came to be, although it's suggested that the combination of the first snow of the season and the Christmas snow is equally important to bringing Frosty to life.

Next came Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town from 1970, which spins an entirely original tale loosely inspired by the song of the same name. Here we see that Santa Claus was abandoned by an unidentified mother and wound up in the hands of a family of toy-making elves called the Kringles- thus, Kris Kringle. A young, red-haired Santa (voiced by Mickey Rooney) sets out to return the Kringles to their glory days as royal toymakers by giving them away to children in a nearby town, but not without a struggle and some enforced niceness along the way ("Give a little love, get a little love back" versus "Do unto others as you would do unto yourself" and "The love you take is equal to the love you make"). Rankin/Bass tells the origins of Santa's distinctive laughter, his flying reindeer, and his use of stockings and chimneys. We even see him marry Mrs. Claus.
One thing this special fails to explain is how he becomes immortal. Oddly enough, the story is strangely similar to The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, written by L. Frank Baum, famous for his Oz books- which does explain how he becomes immortal. And Rankin/Bass would adapt that story years later, although unfortunately the similarities are minimal.
Another thing that's remarkable about Comin' To Town is that it's the first time Rankin/Bass would use a malicious creature with magical winter powers as an opponent- the Winter Warlock- although this first example turns over a new leaf almost immediately. Not only that, he gives Santa the ability to spy on children with his magic snow crystal ball.

The lesser known The Year Without A Santa Claus from 1974 is something of a follow-up to Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town, mainly because Mickey Rooney reprises his role as Santa. It's a little unclear what time period it's supposed to take place, but the same goes for Comin' To Town- this one seems to be the turn-of-the-20th-century, but then Vixen is depicted as a baby. "A Visit from Saint Nicholas" was written in 1823, so I'm not sure what the chronology is. (It may be that we must consider it a plain and simple contradiction...)
Whatever the case, this story, based on a children's book from 1956, tells the story of Santa wanting to take a vacation due to his illness and a loss of faith in the world's Christmas spirit. But the most memorable parts of this special are the scenes with the characters Snow Miser and Heat Miser, two deities who control summer and winter weather conditions, respectively, and fight for control of the world's weather. Their mother is Mother Nature. The use of demigods and deities in these specials reflect the secular Christmas' pagan origins, and largely disregard any question of God and Jesus. Who does Mother Nature answer to?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Oh, look- I know who Arthur Q. Bryant is!

Some smug idiot thought he was being clever by pointing out that Elmer Fudd was voiced by Arthur Q. Bryant and that Pete Puma was voiced by Stan Freberg on Criswell's Mel Blanc impressions video. Well, DUH! That's why it said "plus others" in the title! And the fact that Criswell listened very carefully to the character's voices before recording his impressions, and yet this guy said that they "fell flat" just shows that he doesn't know what he's talking about.

His comment was deleted. It was just plain embarrassing, is what it was. We don't need any morons tarnishing our reputation...

And yes, we do have egos.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Treble boosters

I'm trying to see if there's anything to the treble boosters of the '60s (particularly the ones made by Vox), but so far it seems like they just overdrive the amp- I'm not really hearing any increase in the treble frequencies. Mind you, they sound very nice (especially the Rangemaster, particularly if it really does cause all that nice musical feedback), but all I really want is more treble, 'cause some of my guitars have a weak high range, even with my amp's treble all the way up. Worse, the videos that JMI (the brand that's making reissues of the Vox stuff) is putting up make it sound they cause an echo effect as well, which I don't want.

It's all very confusing. And usually vintage effects are so straightforward! Not to say that they have a lot of weird buttons (they seem to all have only one), but they don't seem to do what they say they do so far, and by golly I definitely don't want yet another pedal creating grit on my palette. Three wildly different fuzzes, a clean boost and an overdrive are enough!

I realize that despite everything I love about my guitars and my amp, I haven't been able to achieve that perfect lead tone that I have in my head: equally huge, piercing sound on bass, midrange, and upper range, with crazy chaotic distortion like creamy melted pepperjack cheese, and easy access to versatile feedback. I'm kind of ashamed to admit it, because I had always been adamant about being faithful to the beautifully crummy gear that I already have and so tenderly brought back to life. I feel like I've betrayed them, and that I've become spoiled by playing those high-quality Fender and Vox tube amps and that Gretsch guitar at this store and repair shop I sometimes go to. It's especially frustrating because I had managed to make my guitars sound incredible with just my fingers just a few months ago, and now I seem to be losing it. I wish I knew why.
Maybe it's because I've switched to that coil cable recently... I do have my eye on those Snapjack cables.

Of course, I have somehow managed to break the high-E strings on several of my guitars in just a few weeks. I'm starting to feel withdrawal. God, I miss playing them...

Arrrrrgggghhh- I need my fix of awsm tone!!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Love update

For the two of you who are interested (and for future reference for new readers later on), you know that girl I mentioned? Well, I don't think it's going to work. She came back from New Moon and posted (on Facebook) "I'd gladly be a vampire or a werewolf".

...So yeah. I'll still think of her as a "maybe", but until she realizes that being a evil, undead blood-sucker or a cursed, ravenous monster is, y'know, a bad thing, there's no relationship happening. I guess she still has some maturing to do, which is kind of odd considering she didn't behave at all like the squealing Twilight fangirl I've heard so much about. Maybe I should be thankful I didn't see her transform during class and start giggling uncontrollably or something.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Artifacts of our Childhood- The Saga of Baby Divine

This one's probably the most bizarre celebrity-written children's book ever- to be specific, it's by Bette Midler.

The strange, slightly nauseating bright colors and glossy light and shadow of the illustrations, not to mention it having a baby dressed like a Las Vegas prostitute for a main character kind of creeped me out as a kid. I don't remember ever reading it, nor when we got it. We just kind of gazed at the surreal depictions of kid-friendly trashiness a few times, etching it onto our brains whether we liked it or not, and sort of dismissed it as a mildly disturbing dream printed on paper.

As it turns out, there's a perfectly good reason for the slightly creepy illustrations: they were done by a certain Todd Schorr, known for his paintings that are classified as "pop surrealism"- which, in his case, is a crossover between DalĂ­-esque surrealism and a plethora of Golden Age cartoons and advertising art.
Now, when a guy doing a children's book also does paintings like this: can kind of see why it would seem creepy to us as kids, despite the dramatically lesser amount of details and the lack of anything blatantly frightening in Baby Divine's illustrations.

Years later- just a few weeks ago, in fact- we finally got around to reading it. The story is fairy tale-like, with some elements of Sleeping Beauty (in the form of three eager has-been divas giving Baby Divine gifts), and an epic journey filled with thinly-veiled metaphors for Bette Midler's philosophy of life.

Now I really wish I HAD read it way back when, because it teaches lessons that took me twenty years to figure out.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Guitarists and bassists: pickiest musicians on the planet?

I honestly don't see the point in having anything more than 3-band EQ- Treble, Middle, and Bass. When I play guitar or bass, that's all I'm hearing. What the ^$%& am I supposed to do with all those tiny twiddly slide switches, anyway? What would I hear? A guitar has only six strings and up to 22 frets, for Christ's sake- it's not a symphony orchestra. Whenever I use the EQ on Adobe Audition, I only use the presets.

And another thing- why on earth are so many bass amps so blasted complicated? I honestly don't hear a whole lot of variety when it comes to rock bass tones. You're either louder and bassier, or you're not. You're either rounded or slap-happy (i.e. classic rock versus funk). I prefer rounded myself- which is what all your favorite rock bands actually sound like, despite what your friendly neighborhood bass player thinks when he does a solo that sounds like something straight out of Saturday Night Fever.
I'm not alone in this sentiment- my brother is the one who's truly serious about playing bass, eager to learn from the greats like Paul McCartney, John Entwistle, and John Paul Jones, and he's satisfied with his Hofner violin bass copy and his tiny Behringer amp, which has- you guessed it- 3-band EQ. The only thing it doesn't have is a humbucker, a bright red finish, more than four strings, or a vibrato. I'm amazed at the variety of sounds he can get- he can approximate Hofners, Fenders and Rickenbackers with that thing.

When people see the prince as a frog

I have to say, I am completely disgusted by the animation community's response to The Princess and the Frog. They've been waiting for the glorious return of 2D animation, and now that they have it, they say it's awful. Well, geez louise, if it wasn't what you wanted, what did you want? Fantasia? Oops, no, if Disney did something totally radical like that, you'd hate that too.

It's like how the Jews are still waiting for the Messiah. (Apologies to any Jews reading.)

Toon Music: "A Cup of Coffee, a Sandwich, and You"

A cup of arsenic, a spider, some glue-hoo... a lizard's gizard, an eel's heel or two-hoo...

As heard in Broom-Stick Bunny (1956). Written by Al Dubin & Billy Rose (lyrics), and Joseph Meyer (music) in I believe 1925 for the Broadway show Charlot's Revue of 1926.