Dec 23, 2014

Drive-In Movie - Songs From The Last Q*Ball Album



What's it gonna be, boy? Come on
I can wait all night
What's it gonna be, boy? Yes or no
What's it gonna be, boy? Yes or no


Those are lyrics from Meat Loaf's "Paradise By The Dashboard Light," an overlong classic rock radio staple that I kinda hate.  I've always kinda hated that song.  But a lot of people love it, probably because it's one of those classic guy-wants-the-girl-to-give-him-sex-girl-wants-the-guy-to-give-her-love tunes.  It comes complete with the classic non-committal male and even sex metaphors featuring Phil "The Scooter" Rizzuto.

Go to a bar, put a dime in the jukebox, and select "Paradise By The Dashboard Light."  Then watch a bunch of drunken women put their arms around each other and start singing along to every note.  Why?  Probably because they identify with the song's female protagonist.

Will you make me so happy for the rest of my life?
I gotta know right now before we go any further
Will you love me forever?

Now here's a woman who demands respect.  She's not just giving herself to anyone.  But if she gives it, she's giving it all.

The guy, on the other hand, has less ambitious plans.  He's unsure.  Let me sleep on it. 

Because, y'know, guys are wolves.  We're wolves, we're cavemen.  We think with our meat loaf.  And the idea of "forever" - it scares a lot of us away.  We can't be tied down.  We're Danny Zuko before he meets Sandy.

Ah yes.  Sandy.  For yours truly, Sandy has been the biggest bitch of them all.  Why, Sandy darlin, why?  Why-ay-ay-ay-ay?


"Drive-In Movie" is my Danny Zuko Meat Loaf song.  But in my song, it's not the woman who demands respect.  It's not the woman willing to give it her all, but the man.  It's not the man who is less ambitious, less sure.  It's not the man who needs to sleep on it.  It's not the man who needs to sleep around, but the woman.

The man wants to park the car - not just in the way your Uncle Chaz and Aunt Joanie did up on Make Out Point back in 1959 - but because he wants to stay put.  For the girl, staying put seems a bit too claustrophobic.

In my marriage, I was the one jumping out of cars.  On the way to dinner.  On the way to couples therapy.  I was the one who couldn't breathe.  I was the one who walked away.  And it never felt unjustified.  It never does in the moment.  In the moment, we always think we're right.  But it's how we feel once cooler heads prevail that define how flexible we truly are.

My last love was never cool.  It was intense.  It had me cursing the gods one day and thanking them the next.  I was never in control of it, even in the short time that it was real and pure and not predicated on lies.  For the girl, staying put seemed a bit too claustrophobic.  So she was the one jumping out of cars.  She was the one telling stories.


So I understand both sides.  I've stomped on a few hearts in my day, but it has been a long time and my stompin boots are long retired.  I'd like to think I've learned from the mistakes a younger, less experienced guy tends to make - the type of guy in the Meat Loaf song.

I learned that if you can't breathe in a relationship, then you have to get out.  Even if you're part of the problem - and you always are, even if not the main culprit - you should walk away.  Not just for your own sake.

But so many of us do not.  When you're not happy, you're not motivated.  So you're not motivated to work hard to fix something that was once fulfilling.  So we hang on for all the wrong reasons - selfish reasons - and that opens the door for the ol' double feature.  Why watch one movie at the drive-in when you can watch two instead?  Why get ice cream with one dude when there are ice cream shops - and dudes - everywhere?

And these romantic double features are showing all over the world.  Seems like we all know someone who's steppin out.  Friends, co-workers.  Some of us might be related to a person like that.  Some of us have been victimized by a person like that.  Some of us might just be that person ourselves.  Some people learn to live with the guilt.  Others create some sort of logic, some sort of justification, for what others would consider loathsome behavior.  Because it couldn't be them.  It's never them.  Cheaters somehow never create their own messes.  


One thing I have learned in the four year experience that spanned the making of this album, and the inspirations for it, is that I am weak.  I am weak for love.  I give in too easily to it, I get impatient for it, I give the objects of my affection way too much rope.  And as a result, I have gotten less than I deserved.   

For all the times I should have just walked away, I didn't.  I couldn't.  My heart wouldn't allow it even while my brain and my gut were sending heat seeking missiles chestward bound to destroy it.  I'm what as they called in those drive-in days, a "sucker."  Except sometimes I was worse.  Sometimes I stuck around even after I knew the game was rigged.

And that's on me.  That's on all of you out there like me.  Never settle for anything less than you deserve in life.  Don't be afraid to just walk away.  Be open minded, just don't be stoopid.  Demand respect.  Don't give your heart to just anyone.  If you're willing to love, then love with your all.

I've been stoopid too many times because I want Crazy Stoopid Love.  And the movies remind us that Crazy Stoopid Love never takes a straight line.  It's crazy and it's stoopid because it's complicated, it's problematic, it's larger than life.  You make yourself believe it's meant to be this challenging because that's part of what makes it so special.


But this isn't the movies.  Love shouldn't be challenging.  It should be easy.  The challenge is in trusting that you're getting out of it what you're willing to put in.

Drive-in movies barely exist anymore.  The world has changed in a way that makes us redefine the word 'innocence.'  It's too easy to get away with being someone you're not.  It's too easy to hide the truth in a virtual world, it's too easy to sin and to be sinned against.  The art of the con has changed, but there are still con artists everywhere.  And deceit has truly become an art.  

***
The Last Q*Ball Album by Ron Scalzo - available now on iTunes and Amazon
www.lastqball.com

DRIVE-IN MOVIE


Have you seen the double feature?
It's showing all over the world
And if things get too emotional
Put your arms around your favorite girl
Come on let's park the car
I don't want it
I can't breathe in here
Let's get ice cream
Don't just walk away
She said 'I'm hangin with Vanessa'
'We're going to the diner on 3rd'
I said 'You promised me a date and it's getting late'
'This movie's really great or at least so I've heard, so...'
Come on let's park the car
I don't want it
I can't breathe in here
Let's get ice cream
Don't just walk away
Come on baby let's go to the drive-in movie
Gonna put on a show at the drive in-movie
Got a ticket to ride at the drive-in movie
Cuz there's nowhere to hide at the drive-in movie
Put my hand on your shirt at the drive-in movie
Slide my hand up your skirt at the drive-in movie
Come on baby let's roll to the drive-in movie
Cuz you're driving me insane
Come on let's park the car
I don't want it
I can't breathe in here
Let's get ice cream
Don't just walk away

***

Ron Scalzo - piano, vocals
Joseph Milazzo - guitar, bass guitar, vocals
Alexa Criscitiello - vocals
Theodore Pagano - drums and percussion

Music by Joseph Milazzo & Ron Scalzo.  Words by Ron Scalzo.  Copyright 2014 Bald Freak Music (ASCAP)
 

Artwork by Joseph Milazzo

Recorded at Thump Studios and Teddy's Basement, Brooklyn, NY

Engineered and mixed by Chris Montgomery
Mastered by Michael Judeh at Dubway Studios, NYC

Dec 20, 2014

10 Holiday Specials To Keep You Sane This Season


Joy to the world.

It's at this time of year that I make a desperate attempt to get into the spirit of Christmas, the whole Peace On Earth jazz.  It has become a tradition - the holiday spirit I once possessed in my youth now sapped by too many chores and too much preoccupation with work.  In other words, "adulthood."  Not to mention an increasingly maddening attempt by the media and retailers to start Christmas the day after Halloween.  I want Christmas on my time, and that time to stop and smell the mistletoe has grown increasingly short.

In the wake of a hurricane, and finally in a place that feels like home, I do like to decorate, trim the tree, deck the halls, and get into the holiday music right around now.  I'm a kid at heart at this time of year.  Christmas always reminds me of family, and so it's easy to get nostalgic for Christmas Eves past where I was the one expecting Santa instead of portraying him.

I See You When You're Sleeping

When I think of Christmas, I think of Nana and Nicky's house, the smell of seafood frying in the kitchen.  I think of TV - crying with Mom at the end of It's A Wonderful Life. I think of March of the Wooden Soldiers on Christmas morning - of A Christmas Story, Miracle on 34th Street, and A Christmas Carol with Alistair Sim as Scrooge. They are as essential to my annual Decembers as pine needles and wrapping paper.

But my love for holiday specials rolls even deeper.  Some of them are among my most favorite things in the world, never mind of the season.  Be it memorable music and dialogue, unique animation, iconic characters, or best of all - a message - these televised love affairs have warmed my heart and opened my mind.  They make me wax nostalgic for my childhood, as most of us tend to do at this time of year.

What makes me an expert on the subject?  I've seen 'em all - prime time specials starring The Smurfs, Scooby Doo, Bugs Bunny, Yogi Bear, The Chipmunks, The Flintstones.  I've sat through the overtly religious A Family Circus Christmas, the trippy Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol, and the Oh So '80s Christmas Comes To Pac-Land and The Cabbage Patch Kids Christmas.

Disney, Hanna-Barbera, and Warner Bros. have all made memorable shorts that should be hung by the chimney with care.  Then there is Ren & Stimpy's 'Son of Stimpy', in which a traumatized Stimpy searches for his lost fart during the holidays.  This special is so oddly touching, beautifully animated, and yet so absolutely ludicrous in its subject matter that I could not find a way to include it.  It's my #11, but sadly this list doesn't go to 11.

So crack some chestnuts, pour some egg nog and read on for ten holiday tales that are sure to make your season bright:

  • 10. Tales From The Darkside - "Seasons of Belief"


Tales From The Darkside is not exactly the pinnacle of anthology horror/sci-fi series (typically outclassed by Steven Spielberg's Amazing Stories on NBC, which incidentally has a pretty cool Christmas episode entitled "Santa '85").  It was produced by zombie movie god George Romero, ran for about 5-6 years in the the middle 1980s and aired mostly in the wee hours of the night.  The creepiest and coolest things about Darkside were the opening and closing credits, all spooky analog synths, haunting stills of large trees and spooky bridges, and seemingly narrated by Satan himself.

In "Seasons of Belief," veteran character actor E.G. Marshall, who appears in two of my all-time favorite movies, 12 Angry Men and Creepshow, spins a yarn about a mythical creature named The Grither with "fists the size of basketballs" to scare his bratty kids on Christmas Eve.  The whole thing is a fairly smart take on the tale of Santa Claus with one kicker of an ending that makes it memorable in spite of the bad acting by the kiddies and the actress portraying Marshall's wife (who appears to be at least 30 years younger than him...nice job, casting director).  It's certainly non-traditional and not for your 5 year-old, but if you're a bit warped and twisted - as I am - it comes highly recommended.


  • 9. South Park - "Mr. Hankey's Christmas Classics"


South Park is still one of the sharpest satirical series on television, and it always won major points for its timely holiday specials that aired every October & December.  Season 3's Christmas special focused on insane-yet-catchy musical numbers featuring everyone from Hitler to Satan to one of TV's most ingeniously written characters, Mr. Hankey, a cute talking turd who visits the boys of South Park every holiday season.

The episode is jam-packed with catchy songs, including the celebrity-skewering "Christmastime In Hell" and the Jesus/Santa duet finale that ends with Mr. Claus belting out Duran Duran's "Rio."  Wrapped around all of it is an insider-only live action nod to the infamously terrible Star Wars Holiday SpecialShow composer and pianist Marc Shaiman, who was once Saturday Night Live's resident pianist and musical director, provides the amazing soundtrack, which spawned a top-selling album and critical acclaim, all inspired by a singing dookie.

  • 8. The Snowman


Oscar-nominated for Best Animated Short in 1982, this tale of a boy who builds a snowman that comes to life is far superior to the more popular Rankin/Bass production of Frosty The Snowman.  Based on the Raymond Briggs book, beautifully animated and carried by a great Howard Blake score, The Snowman contains only a few lines of dialogue - all uttered within the first 30 seconds of the special - and remains engrossing in spite of it.  The UK production's realistic ending is not all tinsel and mistletoe, rather a sudden sadness that is more indicative of life and of loss than of Christmas.


  • 7. The Twilight Zone - "Night of the Meek"
 

This is not the greatest episode of the amazing, groundbreaking Twilight Zone by any means.  Neither spooky nor scary, it has some goofy moments, and slightly off-putting cinematography due to the fact that it was filmed on video rather than film due to some budget-cutting concerns during Season 3 of the series.

But then there is Art Carney, perhaps my favorite television actor of all-time for his incomparable work as Jackie Gleason's best pal Ed Norton on The Honeymoners, and one of TV's greatest physical comedians.  Here, as a soused Santa who discovers his purpose thanks to some Rod Serling-aided Christmas magic, Carney shines, showing a great range of emotions in his performance as a back alley St. Nicholas.  The episode's commentary on poverty and the religious undertones of "the meek shall inherit the Earth" make it that much more powerful in spite of some poor sound editing and the occasional cheese.  A must-see.

  • 6. Christmas Eve on Sesame Street


This special was a staple on PBS in the late 1970s and early 1980s, one of the few holiday-themed specials to actually air on Christmas Eve, which always won bonus points with me.  The songs are cheesy as hell, specifically the main theme of "Keep Christmas With You" sung by Sesame Street's resident closet homosexual Bob, and Bert and Ernie's generic rendition of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," but otherwise the Children's Television Workshop pulls out all the stops here.

The plot revolves around Oscar The Grouch convincing Big Bird that Santa can't possibly deliver all the presents to the kids around the world and fit down skinny chimneys.  Big Bird spends the episode stubbornly determined to prove Oscar wrong, yet The Grouch's logic addresses an issue that all kids growing up on Santa eventually have to deal with - that suspension of disbelief, and the inevitable loss of innocence.

A secondary plot line features Bert, Ernie, and the late Mr. Hooper in a clever retelling of O. Henry's The Gift of the Magi.  The hour-long episode has a great feel, wonderful music, a very funny (if somewhat disturbing) sidebar involving Cookie Monster eating everything in sight while fantasizing about the cookies he hopes Santa will bring, and an interesting first act with costumed adult-size Sesame Street characters ice skating in '70s-era New York City.

When this was first broadcast, and even tho Santa is never actually seen (cleverly represented only in shadows and voice), I firmly believed that the real Santa was involved in this production.  Of course, back then, I also believed that Sesame Street was a real street instead of a sound stage, and that Big Bird was really a big bird and not really an old white dude with whiskers who actually looked like Santa in real life.

  • 5. Mickey's Christmas Carol


Screened in theaters as a short preceding the uninspired Disney feature The Rescuers in 1983, Mickey's Christmas Carol was a full-on event, with inspired "casting" that included Goofy as Jacob Marley and the odd, yet interesting choices of Jiminy Cricket, Willie the Giant, and Black Pete as the three spirits who visit the more obvious choice as Scrooge, Scrooge McDuck.  You could say McDuck was "born" to play this role.

Kids across the land surely became familiar with the classic Charles Dickens tale and the spirit of Christmas thanks to Walt and the gang.  You have to give Disney credit for making the brave choice of including Mickey & Donald in smaller roles and focusing on story rather than shoving the popular characters down our throats.

When MCC made its way onto network television a few years later, it was accompanied by other Disney shorts, including the hilarious The Art of Skiing, featuring Goofy at his pratfalling best.  Disney was top-of-the-mountain as far as animation for so many years and this was as good as it got.

  • 4. Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer


Rankin/Bass' pioneering, groundbreaking stop motion animated classic is half-a-century old and has some minor flaws that are impossible to squabble over considering how insanely difficult it must have been to film.  This holiday staple based on the Johnny Marks song of the same name features inspired characters with inspired names.  Yukon Cornelius? A flying lion named King Moonracer who lords over an island of misfit toys?  What were these guys smoking and where can I get some?

Then there's the story, about "fitting in."  Rudolph faces the pressures that almost all kids face during their formative school years - being called names (bullying), dealing with a changing physique (puberty), and independence (discovering who they are). 

A minor gripe with the special is that most of the adult characters are major league pricks, most notably Santa, who is completely out of character as a grousing, pompous douchebag.  But The Abominable Snow Monster (or the affectionately dubbed 'Bumble') is a revelation and was a truly scary sight when I first watched Rudolph.

Then there is the music, surprisingly heightened by the presence and golden throat of Burl Ives as Sam the Snowman.  Hard to believe the guy who played Grade A asshole Big Daddy in Cat On A Hit Tin Roof could add so much that is warm and cuddly to the proceedings, but Big Burl pulls it off.  Great Bouncing Icebergs!

  • 3. Ziggy's Gift


I've never been much of a Ziggy fan, a long-running one-gag, one-panel comic strip that featured a short bald dude whose only friend seemed to be his dog Fuzz and who was constantly under life's cruel thumb.  Ziggy doesn't talk - in the strip or in this special - but he's mesmerizing all the same, a lone nice guy in a world filled with selfish stubborn people and petty crooks.

Tho seldom seen by the masses, everyone who I've turned Ziggy's Gift on to has praised it for its unique look at the holiday season. The story revolves around Ziggy answering an ad to become a street corner Santa, eventually running afoul of an unnamed, vile thief, and a stereotypical Irish cop who is determined to crack down the crooked Santa ring that Ziggy has unwittingly involved himself in.

The special's minor characters - the cop, the thief, the crooked Santas and their ringleader, and a hilarious turkey salesman - are all inspired, and creator Tom Wilson's animation is original and absolutely beautiful.

The bow on top of this little-seen Christmas gift is the music - an uplifting jazzy score and title theme composed and performed by one of my heroes - the late, fantastically great Harry Nilsson.  Ziggy's Gift won a well-deserved Emmy award in 1982 and is available on DVD.  Go get it.


  • 2. Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas


Yes, it spawned a loud, obnoxious, forgettable, disappointing movie starring Jim Carrey, but let's not blame the incomparable Chuck Jones nor the man, himself, Dr. Theodore Geisel - Seuss - who was worm food way before his estate granted permission to make the movie. 

Let's just forget about the movie.  Let's focus on the good - it's Christmas Time, after all.

Top-notch animation from one of the men responsible for making Bugs Bunny a household name, an unbelievable songbook by Albert Hague and Seuss, the classic theme sung by Tony the Tiger, they all make Grinch iconic.  But the cherry atop Mount Crumpit is Boris Karloff as The Grinch, perhaps the single most inspired bit of voice casting ever.

The Grinch has become as iconic as Scrooge and Santa Claus at this time of year, and the character itself embodies both of his iconic predecessors as he turns from anti-establishment sourpuss to Who-loving roast beast carver after discovering that the true meaning of Christmas is being with each other.  There is no greater holiday special than this.  Except.....

  • 1. A Charlie Brown Christmas


If you're a fan of Peanuts, of Snoopy, of comic strips, in general - if you're an artist, a complicated person, a romantic, a self-made business man or woman with seemingly unrealistic hopes and dreams, I strongly recommend the book Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography by David Michaelis.  It's a long read, an in-depth look at the life of the creator of Charlie Brown and friends, a window into the mind of the first wildly successful syndicated cartoonist in existence.

I've always related to Charlie Brown (I've had the haircut for awhile) - hopeful one moment, apathetic and depressed the next, never able to truly grab "the brass ring" in spite of hard work, passion, and whatever good things happen in my life.  I imagine I am not alone in those feelings, and it turns out Schulz, himself, in spite of all his many successes, was the ultimate Charlie Brown (tho apparently he had a little Snoopy in him, as well).

A Charlie Brown Christmas is not perfect, although the pitch-perfect jazz soundtrack from maestro Vince Guaraldi is.  Its characters are all flawed, just as its creator is.  Lucy is a bitch, Pig Pen is a slob, Schroeder is a snob, Snoopy is obnoxious, Sally is naive and materialistic. Even Linus - the "voice of reason" and the most sensitive of the bunch - has major security issues, what with his blanket dependence and all.  Then there's ol' Chuck, whose problems are too long to list and the focus of nearly the entire episode.  "Everything I touch gets ruined," he bemoans.

And therein lies the true perfection of the special - we all feel down about something at some point in our lives, we've all had Christmases marred by some tragedy, bad feelings, or circumstance that didn't make it live up to how Christmas in the 20th (and now 21st) century is represented - candy canes and mistletoe and presents and tinsel.  But that's not what Christmas is all about, rather Peace on Earth, and goodwill towards men.   For those who celebrate, it's supposed to be about the birth of Jesus.

This was a very strong message 50 years ago.  If commercialism was rampant in 1965, imagine what Schulz would think of the present day.  It's the ultimate irony that you still see Snoopy, Charlie Brown and friends plastered all over the place around this time of year, as it was the success of this special so many years ago that opened up the floodgates for Schulz's billion-dollar merchandising empire that still exists today.

The fact that A Charlie Brown Christmas is still one of the most beloved - if not the most beloved holiday special ever - is testimony to the distinct message it sends even after all these years: Be Nice To Each Other.

In the end, Charlie's friends practice what Linus so eloquently preaches by decorating his tree and 'oooo-ooo'ing over the closing credits.  I'm sure on December 26th, they reverted back to treating him like garbage, but for one magical night of 'oooo-ooo'ing, the message sank in.

We could all use some more 'oooo-ooo'ing in our short time on this planet together.

Dec 10, 2014

Happy Birthday Sista


It's my little sister's birthday.
Paula.
She was born one year, one month and one day after I showed up on this planet. 
We grew up together right from the start. 
Year after year.  Graduations, holidays, birthdays, vacations.  We shared a room til I was 7 and then we moved upstairs to adjoining walls.  Paula somehow got the bigger room even tho I was older, which, three decades later, I am still calling 'shenanigans' on.


My sister and I went to the beach together and played Uno atop old bedsheets while eating sand-filled ham and cheese sandwiches. 
We went to camp together, we went to all the same schools up until college. 
By the middle of junior high school, my sister was officially cooler than me.
She got into trouble more, which was still not a lot.  She had a boyfriend way before I ever had a girlfriend.  We had a lot of the same friends and, of course, we had the same family.
Over the years, I've come to learn what the word 'family' truly means - it goes beyond blood.


Family is a bond, it's a closeness that is difficult to maintain sometimes.
Family is a gift that we can take for granted.  It's a dance full of challenges and hard decisions.
Sometimes family is the problem rather than the solution.
I've encountered more than my fair share of people who epitomize that - who will never get how special that is, to have a friend, a confidante, someone to reminisce with, someone who knows everything about you since you were a little boy. 
Someone who is always rooting for you.


My sister and I have always been close. 
We have our parents to thank for that - and, of course, each other.
But my sister isn't just my buddy.  Tho younger than I, my sister has often been the pioneer.
She got married before I did.  She got divorced before I did.
One night, she came over to my apartment, emotional. 
We got drunk and played Candy Land in my kitchen. 
She cried on my shoulder and I felt this overwhelming sadness for her, one that she would feel for me on a night not that long after.


My sister and I are still both pimps.
She got remarried before I did.
She got back on track before I did, back on the horse, back in the game.
She bounced around for a little while before landing where she belonged, and with who she belonged with.  We have rarely fought, and it has always been easy for us to reconcile our differences.


Over the years, people tend to grow apart.  Not just physically, but emotionally. 
But shouldn't it be the opposite?
Shouldn't the bonds we have with those we love strengthen rather than fall apart? 
That's the lesson my sister and I have gotten from our parents 40 years later in spite of our own temporary failures.  And for that we count ourselves lucky.  Because what we have is rare.

I don't have many female friends, and I often wonder if my sister is the biggest reason why.  Sometimes she's the only friend I need. 
Sometimes we dance like idiots around the Christmas tree.

 

Two years ago, my sister had a baby.
My nephew, my godson.  Baby Anthony. 
I was in the waiting room that day, going through one of the hardest times of my life.
My house had been destroyed by a hurricane and my heart had been destroyed by a woman.
Just two months later, my sister was experiencing the most joyous moment of her life.


My sister is my role model.
She taught me that you can come back from hard times. 
You can come all the way back and find your true place in this crazy world.  This little bugger she birthed has given me fleeting moments of joy, not just during the times I get to enjoy his company. But also in seeing how he has affected the lives of the people I care about the most. 
Thanks to my sister, I get to be an uncle. 
Thanks to my sister, I'm still pondering if I wanna be a Dad.


So thank you, my sister.
Thank you for the long talks, for the advice, for the delicious meals.
Thank you for being a great mother to your son and a great wife to your husband.


Thank you for making me laugh and for hearing me cry.
Thank you for being the loudest fan in the room every time you came to see me play a show.
Thank you for monkeying around with me during my highest highs and my lowest lows.


Thank you for always being there for me.
I love you.
And I'm so proud of you.
Happy Birthday.