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Forty Years Of Power Converters, Jawas, Grand Moffs, And Greedo

Star Wars celebrates 40 years of escapism, influence, and cultural currency today. The founding chapter of this now colossal property was released May 25, 1977, across a pittance of screens. Popularity ignited like a house on fire and before anyone could blink this thing was obliterating contemporaries like A Tale of Two Critters, Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo, and Viva Knievel!. Only Smokey And The Bandit gave Star Wars any kind of run for its money, and there’s still a gap of about $180 million in domestic gross between the two. Burt Reynolds just couldn’t charm his way around Chewbacca.

There’s a documentary feel to the 1977 Star Wars which helps it resonate deeply, a framing where the audience isn’t following narrative but observing environment; the awkward broth of fantasy exposition is dismissed and we’re allow us to ferret out details as we witness events in these alien realms. This is especially true of desert planet scenes where the robots fumble along, get swooped up by the junk dealers, and are unceremoniously dumped into Luke Skywalker’s life. This fly-on-the-wall style counters so many other sci-fi films that desperately want to impress upon you their grandiose, mythical nature. Star Wars just drops you in there and lets many fantastical moments unfold nonchalantly, because these characters see lasers and blue milk every day.

Pivoting on that point, one of the best decisions George Lucas ever made was to insist this beginning Star Wars is actually the fourth installment of a who-knows-how-long saga. That let our imaginations go purple trying to fill in the priors. As incredible as the visuals and characters in Star Wars are, they suggest much more with that context. On the other side of the ewok, one of the dumbest decisions George Lucas ever made was giving in to temptation and actually filming the first three chapters, bluntly extinguishing the dreams we spun for ourselves across several decades.

Star Wars numbers four and five came before one, two, and three; there are probably those who also believe the immediate sequels—1980’s The Empire Strikes Back and 1983’s Return of The Jedi—should have never been made, allowing the 1977 film to remain the purest of entities. Foolish mortals! Star Wars made so much fucking money it was never going to be singular. Let’s just count our blessings over the miracle of The Empire Strikes Back, that rare sequel which bests its founder in pulp, artistry, and thrill. Star Wars 6 and 7 (and Rogue One) are great too, but there’s just something about the dreamy nightmare of Empire that cannot be equaled.

Of course, Star Wars at 40 is more of a conglomerate than ever, absorbed by Disney so they can have Darth Vader roaming the halls of their luxury hotels with minimal overhead. Star Wars belongs to our entire planet but it’s a U.S. invention and there’s nothing more “American” than celebrating a successful business. So rats off to maximizing profits and creating a global brand. And thanks for being so lenient with the fans who have restored and distributed the theatrical versions of the ’77 movie and its two sequels; this must be an admission of guilt or disagreement regarding “the vision” George Lucas suddenly decided he had for the original trilogy in 1997.

What else is there to say? Nanu nanu, put more Greedos in Star Wars 8.

Unsolicited Cobbin’ On Children Of The Corn

Children of The Corn is a film about some kids possessed by another kid possessed by a nebulous farm demon; they’ve expunged every adult from their town and any grownup unlucky enough to cross their path winds up crucified on corn stalks; all of this is more plausible than the scene where two tykes break off from the cult to indulge in a game of Monopoly; an entire town at your disposal and you want to play a real estate simulator?

– the protagonists are Burt and Vicky, an adult-ish couple driving through Nebraska on the way to Burt’s medical internship; problems begin when they accidentally run their giant canary colored 1980s car into a child of the corn; Burt must be at the bottom of his class because he moves the kid from the scene of this accident, wrapping him up and tossing him in the trunk; slowly the child of the trunk is forgotten about as Burt and Vicky’s quest for a doctor gets weirder; by the time the end credits roll, the vehicular manslaughter that set all this shit into motion remains unresolved; the lesson: if you run over a child of the corn, just wait until help arrives or else you’ll wind up fending off gaggles of hollow-eyed baby Satanists with just your wits and a pocket knife

– the nebulous farm demon is never really seen or thoroughly explained, which is disappointing; a 1984 movie about otherworldly energy moving through cornfields and possessing children deserves a big crazy stalk monster that spits creamed corn and vaporizes chickens with laser eyes

– one of the production companies credited with bringing Children of The Corn to life is Hal Roach Studios, who of course also delivered us Alfalfa, Spanky, Buckwheat, and the rest of Our Gang; is that ironic or hilarious, and has anyone considered a dark reboot of Our Gang?

– this film is creepy and unsettling and they could have stopped at one but in the grand tradition of any marginally interesting 1980s horror film there have been seven Children of The Corn sequels and a remake

– if John Franklin’s portrayal of malevolent child preacher Isaac becomes too much to bear, calm yourself by remembering that Franklin also plays Cousin Itt in both Addams Family movies

Is This The Tiger?

My phone rang tonight with an alien number. I answered, because I love being bothered.

“Hello?”

The ambiance of a large, bustling room filled my ear. You know the kind. It went on until I repeated my greeting.

“Hello, this is [some guy] calling from Caesars Palace! How are you?”

I always think I’m going to be clever with telemarketers. Wow, Caesars Palace? Is this Siegfried or Roy? Is this the tiger? Alas, the following curt, humorless phrase always falls out of my mouth.

“Please don’t call this number again. Thank you.”

Most of the time the call disconnects here, either on my end or theirs, or the person gives a quick heartless apology. Not this time. A beat went by and the telemarketer responded, sotto voce, sounding almost wounded.

“I didn’t call you. The computer did.”

You’re right, telemarketer. I should be mad at the computer. It’s enslaving us both, isn’t it? Look, give me your address and I’ll fly out to Las Vegas right now and liberate you. Yeah, I know it’ll cost twice as much as the vacation plan you’re selling, but can you put a price on humanity’s freedom?

Unsolicited Ga Ga Goo Goo On Look Who’s Talking

– our collective conscious appears to dismiss Look Who’s Talking as “the talking baby picture Travolta made on his way back up” or “the talking baby picture Alley made on her way back down”; what an extreme surprise it was to learn this is an Amy Heckerling film and not [I was going to make a joke here about whoever directed Air Bud but it turns out Air Bud was directed by Charles Martin Smith—am I expecting too much from this world?]

– the central gimmick of Look Who’s Talking, the thing that got people in the door in October of ’89 after a summer of Batman and the Ghostbusters and “Weird Al,” is Bruce Willis providing the Garfield-esque inner monologue of the infant; there are times this is amusing, but more often are wide swaths where the Willis narration is pointless and asinine and makes you wonder if they tried at first to make a normal comedy hanging on Travolta and Alley’s fun chemistry but something was lacking so they decided “talking baby”

– “talking baby” is a misnomer as the baby is only such for the middle part of the movie; before that, Willis is giving voice to a sperm as it swims toward an egg (the special effects are just as mind-boggling as the Beach Boys music cue) and then an in utero fetus (which bears a striking resemblance to the murderous infant from the 1974 classic It’s Alive); toward the end of Look Who’s Talking, Bruce Willis is cracking wise over a toddler who seems old enough to actually form his own words; this is probably why they brought in another baby for the sequel, who is voiced by Roseanne

– George Segal plays the smarmy, shitty, married businessman who keeps Kirstie Alley’s character as his long-suffering mistress until he impregnates her with the Bruce Willis baby; if you’ve ever wanted to see the old fella from “Just Shoot Me” give it to the lady from “Cheers” you’ll get a little pleasure

– Abe Vigoda plays the somewhat out to lunch grandfather of John Travolta’s character; not Vigoda’s finest hour but the “please help my grandpa get into a better nursing home” subplot does pave the way for a few succulent morsels of humanity (not to mention the climatic white knuckle car chase through what we are meant to believe is Manhattan)

– there is a montage in Look Who’s Talking set to the Talking Heads song “And She Was”; I wonder how David Byrne feels about that today

– this talking baby picture is better today than what I remembered of it yesterday; that said, talking baby, talking sperm, talking sperm partying to Beach Boys, talking fetus, George Segal aardvarking, gratuitous Travolta / baby dance sequence set to “Walking on Sunshine,” gratuitous crossover of Travolta’s personal interests (his lunkheaded Jersey cab driver is also a recreational airplane pilot)

– thank god this is not the Look Who’s Talking movie where Travolta and Alley sing a parody of “Fight For Your Right to Party” about toilet training

Dave, Dave My Darling

The rumors were true: former Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo is the fourth participant in the Misfits reunion scheduled for Riot Fest 2016 (the first show of which is this weekend), overcoming the major obstacle of having never been a member of the band. Namaste, Dave.

Look, I love Dave Lombardo’s work. He’s a monster, an icon, an innovator. I listen to those Slayer records all the time. I’m intrigued to hear what he’ll do with material from Static Age and Earth A.D. It’s just that the original Original Misfits had five or six different drummers, and they’re all still alive. Glenn and Jerry couldn’t bite the kielbasa and get Googy for these two gigs? Make it a true reunion? There’s no way his fee is higher than Lombardo’s.

I get it. The Original Misfits™ have to consider the fact that this reunion could grow legs. Dave Lombardo has more experience than every Misfits drummer combined (some of whom haven’t even looked at a set of drums since “The Jeffersons” was airing). He’s prepared at any time to do other festivals, or a tour. More importantly, he has no pre-existing issues with Glenn or Jerry. Dave’s not gonna make trouble over some shit that happened in 1981.

Also, remember: this episode is mostly a legal resolution, an agreement between Glenn and Jerry so they stop dragging each other to court over pictures of skulls they stole from somebody else in the first place. So how heartbroken can anyone be? Shouldn’t we just be glad these guys have finally stopped suing each other?

Hire Charo as the drummer for all I care—I’m tired of reading legal documents. They started stacking higher than your records years ago.

Notable Remarks Spoken To Or Near Me By Record Store Clerks

“Yeah, well, you’re either on drugs or fuckin’ crazy if you think Hate Your Friends is the best Lemonheads album.”

“You gotta hear this cover of ‘Strutter’ by the Donnas. It’s really respectful to Kiss’s original vision and the guitarist, she just nails Ace’s solo!”

“That’s so disrespectful, man. Helloween’s not hair metal. Hair metal is, like, Vince Neil, Mötley Crüe.”

“Before Wheels of Fire came out I dreamt that Cream would release a double album with a silver cover. And then they did! Can you believe that?”

“Hey, I know you’re into all that Touch & Go shit. You know, whatever, I just wanna know where to start with all that fucking shit.”

“Mudnohey, huh? How do you think they feel about you buying their record?”

Bricks Are Heavy? Pfft, you can have my copy. Let me go home and get it.”

“I know you’re only like ten or eleven but you have to learn what the real world is like. I can’t sell you this Van Halen cassette because you have most of the money. I need all of the money.”

“Oh great, that dog snuck in here and shit near the register again.”

“I’m gonna open this Nashville Pussy CD and put it on the shelf uncensored and I’m gonna blame you so I don’t get fired. Because I don’t like you.”

“This kid just stole a Master P CD and it’s like, I don’t mind except that Master P sucks. If you’re gonna steal something, steal something good.”

Powder Ridge: The Rock Festival That Could Be Stopped (Sort Of)

Here is another article I penned for Crawdaddy!, this time from the year two thousand eight. Some days this feels like the best thing I’ve ever done.

Having spent the first 15 years of my life there, I can say with some authority that Connecticut is a state generally populated by fuddy-duds, buzzkills, and sticks in the mud. No one there over the age of 35 wants anyone under the age of 25 to have any fun at all. I could cite countless examples from my youth, including the time my mom threw away the totally real pair of nunchucks I found outside our apartment complex or the winter we weren’t allowed to have snowball fights because some geezer in the neighborhood was convinced one of us children would lose an eye. The greatest example of the Nutmeg State’s penchant for getting all “heavy” on “the kids,” though, is the 1970 Powder Ridge Rock Festival, better known as the Three Days of Groovy & Righteous Music Old People Totally Pissed All Over.

Scheduled from July 30 to August 2 of 1970, Powder Ridge would have been New England’s answer to Woodstock. Eric Burdon & War, Sly & the Family Stone, Fleetwood Mac, James Taylor, Joe Cocker, the Allman Brothers, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Mountain, Janis Joplin, Grand Funk Railroad, and even Bloodrock were all lined up to perform at what was normally a ski retreat for uptight WASPs and their mistresses. At least one rumor suggests Led Zeppelin may have at one point been seriously considering the idea of thinking about discussing the possibility of making an appearance at Powder Ridge (no such gossip exists concerning the presence of that hippie favorite Sha Na Na). Truly, it would have been a monumental exposition of stuffed crotches, inane stage patter, and endless guitar solos.

Unfortunately, the citizens of sleepy little Middlefield, where the Powder Ridge resort is located, were just not having it. Fearing complete annihilation at the hands of shirtless, grubby youth types, townies banded together, visited a Middlefield Superior Court, and received a temporary injunction against the Powder Ridge Rock Festival and its promoters on July 28, a mere two days before the proposed start of the concert.

Normally, anyone slapped with a legal band-aid such as this could just rip it off via appeal or by merely paying whatever fines would be incurred. The ball doesn’t roll like that in Connecticut—appeals against temporary injunctions aren’t permitted in the state that gave us Christopher Lloyd (or at least they weren’t in 1970). Paying the fines wasn’t an option either. “The court ruled that the festival was a public nuisance,” a court official was quoted the day the injunction was granted. “That doesn’t mean it wants $110,000. That means it wants the festival stopped.” Proving Connecticut wasn’t just talking out its ass, State Superior Court Judge Aaron Palmer swatted down a request for a reversal the next day. He also tapped Middlesex County attorney Vincent Scamporino to be his muscle, ordering Scamporino to enforce the injunction by any means necessary.

Talk about harshing your mellow.

I want to single this tiny community out as the big party poopers, but they really aren’t unique. According to Wikipedia, the most accurate and reliable source of failed rock concert information in this day and age, 30 out of 48 planned major music festivals in 1970 were cancelled due to the complaints of cranky old people. That’s a staggering 63%. With statistics like that, it’s a wonder Jolson and Model Ts didn’t make a comeback. Powder Ridge stands out, though, because the idealistic youth who were so looking forward to watching Little Richard gesticulate in an open field would not go quietly into the Connecticut night.

Indeed, no court injunction was going to stop their party. The concertgoers descended upon Middlefield that weekend anyway, extending a figurative middle finger directly in the faces of the crotchety Establishment jerks who tried to ruin their fun. Not that it was all that hard to reach Powder Ridge once the injunction was handed down—“by any means necessary” in Connecticut apparently means putting up a handful of “FESTIVAL CANCELLED” signs and hoping everyone just goes away. Authorities waited until Friday, July 30, the first day of the festival, to close off all roads leading to Middlefield. By this time, several armies of music-hungry kids were already hanging around, waiting for something to happen.

The figures on just how many people showed up to this non-event fluctuate: one source will say the Powder Ridge crowds didn’t surge beyond 10 or 20,000, while others claim over 50,000 breezed into Middlefield on that faithful 1970 weekend. I paid a visit to Middlefield last year, and while the rolling, picturesque hillsides of the ski resort looked to offer enough space for any number between the aforementioned guesstimates, the town itself seemed to bristle at the arrival of three extra bodies. Children shot icy glares from their seats inside the cozy diner as my friends and I passed by. Adults quickly turned their backs as we came upon the general store. I can see how the looming threat of a giant rock festival would send the residents of this peaceful burg into a complete tizzy. But by early Friday afternoon, it was too late for them to do anything. A small country of rock fans had arrived, ready to shake their groove thangs and get down. It looked like this thing was happened whether they wanted it to or not. Had the kids actually triumphed? Would the musicians actually show up, emboldened by the positive attitude and optimism of several thousand rock fans, and put on the greatest concert of the pre-US Festival era?

Hell no. The bands stayed home. I guess they were all up on their New England permit laws. A few unannounced local acts turned up to provide spontaneous entertainment over the course of the three days (including Fairfield’s Goodwill and New Haven rockers the Mustard Family), but the only scheduled performer who showed up to Powder Ridge was irrepressible folk singer Melanie. “I said, ‘I just got a feeling the court injunction will be lifted and everybody’s gonna have a concert,’” the plucky songstress remarked in a 1978 radio interview, probably echoing most ticket holders’ thoughts at the time. “’Cause how can they do that, you know, after they take the money, and the people are there already anyway, I mean, why bother?”

Any artist who attempted to take the main stage at Powder Ridge supposedly faced the threat of arrest. Undeterred, Melanie snuck in with a local news team and commandeered a Mister Softee ice cream truck to power her as she warbled for assorted pockets of the crowd on various hilltops. It was truly a moment that epitomized the can-do spirit of this particular generation, not to mention a testament to the versatility of ice cream trucks.

According to comedian Lewis Black in his book Nothing’s Sacred, scheduled super group Rhinoceros also performed at Powder Ridge that weekend. I’m not sure how true that is, mainly because I found no verification of it anywhere else, but also because Black makes no mention of the concert being a complete wash in his tome—it’s just the backdrop for a funny story about screwing up a parking attendant job. It wouldn’t shock me if Black’s memory of this event has become clouded or confused with another.

The handful of artists I contacted regarding Powder Ridge, including Ten Years After, Grand Funk, and the almighty Bloodrock, didn’t remember the festival at all. Granted, it was a long time ago, and none of them were actually there, but come on, this was a defining moment in rock n’ roll history. It was the music festival the kids went to but the bands bailed on. How disillusioning! You could tack it on the list of “Moments We, The Hippie Youth Culture, Knew the ’60s Were Over” (ever notice how most of those moments didn’t even occur in the ’60s?). Doesn’t Bloodrock keyboardist Stevie Hill feel any remorse for leaving his peeps hanging high in the almost-mountains of Connecticut? No, he doesn’t. The words “Powder Ridge” are no more meaningful to him than “toaster oven” or “Bud Bundy.”

Ironically, the hard-nosed Establishment seemed to care more about the kids at Powder Ridge than any of the bands who supposedly embodied love, free spirit, and revolution. Scamporino knew calling in the cops or National Guard to disperse the surging crowds would probably result in brutal, unnecessary violence. He decided to pull a Herbert Hoover and do nothing. The concert goers would eventually figure out the concert wasn’t on, pick up their love beads, and go the heck home. The Zemel brothers, owners of the ski resort, were a little more proactive. One of them took to the main stage with a bullhorn as the sun was setting Friday evening to try and politely convince the masses it was time to leave. The crowds weren’t having it. They had come this far. No dope with a bullhorn was gonna ruin their festival, man.

But with no Janis, no Fleetwood, and not even one Allman Brother to help kick out the jams, what were all these kids going to do for the next three days? Drugs, of course, as many as they needed to forget the fact they were stuck on the crowded grounds of a New England ski resort in the middle of August without food, shelter, entertainment, or running water. Hallucinogens began circulating early; eventually, to meet the staggering demand, dealers began dumping their wares (including LSD, mescaline, speed, mushrooms, and STP) into open barrels of water around the festival site.

This “electric water,” as it was known, created what physician William Abruzzi called a full-blown “drug crisis” by the second day. The doctor was treating up to 50 patients an hour at Powder Ridge who were experiencing bad trips. With the only amplification/electricity coming from ice cream trucks, it was tough to get the word out that most of the drugs on site were low quality and giant purple fire-breathing frog inducing. A nearby middle school was turned into a makeshift infirmary to help treat the increasing number of freak outs.

The absence of music and circulation of suspect drugs didn’t dampen everyone’s spirit at Powder Ridge. According to local news reports from the time, plenty of attendees felt ample amounts of brotherhood and good vibes as they were forced to create their own happening. Some claimed they never wanted to leave this beautiful scene and were hoping the ski resort could become a new anti-establishment community where revolutionaries could live out their lives, exchange ideas, and continue to consume ridiculous amounts of drugs away from the weak bummer that was the real world. There were calls to elect a “Freak Mayor” of the aborted festival as early as Friday night. That never happened (everyone was probably too busy trying to figure out how to handle the bleeding rainbows they saw shooting out of each other’s eyes), but at least one flag was made to celebrate the possibility of an unprecedented Powder Ridge Nation. Cobbled together from dirty clothes and scraps of fabric, it naturally read “E Marijuana Unum.”

The scene at Powder Ridge. Photo by Jean-Pierre Laffont.

By the time the sun was setting on Sunday, August 2, however, everyone was starting to come down and slowly realizing the dream was over. A ski resort where they paid $20 for overflowing portajohns and acid-induced nightmares was no place for the first city founded by way out dudes and their old ladies. The kids all started to leave, wondering if they’d be able to get their money back. Refunds weren’t given initially as the promoters, known confusingly as Middleton Arts International, were intent on making this concert up at a more prestigious venue. Deals were attempted with both Yankee and RFK stadiums, but those fell through.

Around the same time, the IRS filed a large tax levy against Middleton Arts and indicted chief promoter Raymond Filiberti on perjury charges. There was an alleged mafia link in there somewhere. That might explain why nothing else ever happened. There was never a Powder Ridge make-up concert, none of the ticket holders ever got a refund, and no one was ever held responsible for ripping off upwards of 50,000 people. Plenty of attendees were arrested as they left Middlefield, though, for dealing drugs on the grounds of the ski resort.

It should come as no surprise there was a sharp decline in outdoor hippie music gatherings following Powder Ridge. “Festivals are really dead,” remarked Dr. Abruzzi shortly after what could be called the biggest disappointment in Connecticut history (aside from Charles Rocket’s unexpected suicide a couple of years ago). “Society can’t understand why kids want to do what they want to do, so they can’t find a way for them to do it.” That thought could apply to so many generational conflicts, from the flappers of the ’20s who just wanted to hang out in basements, drink, and do the Charleston to the skate punks of the ’80s who just wanted to hang out in parking lots, do whippits, and grind on some gnarly pavement to the hackers of today who just want to hang out on a LAN network, smoke crystal meth, and pwn n00bs. It’s a sick, never-ending cycle, a gap that not even Dr. Phil or the Grumpy Old Men movies could bridge.

The residents of Middlefield must have felt pretty smug when Powder Ridge went south and became one of the last nails in the ‘60s coffin. Finally, they could go back to their Mint Juleps and golf tournaments, confident in the fact they had stopped Joe Cocker from polluting their fresh colonial air with his raspy caterwauling and general stink. Connecticut was safe for everyone over 35 again. It would remain that way for many years to come. In fact, the only other serious threat these people had to face came in 2005, when a false emergency broadcast went out over the airwaves calling for the evacuation of the entire state (obviously the work of bored, horny teens jacked upon the good stuff).

At least the scene at Powder Ridge was groovy enough to see the birth of a love child. Dina Amoure, born to Peter and Shelley Rowland of New York City, popped out onto a grassy Connecticut knoll in the middle of that crazy, crazy weekend (the proud father passed around joints in lieu of cigars). Dina is the official Powder Ridge Baby, the human representation of not letting things become a total bummer, even if the suits are trying to bring you down and the water is all polluted and you’re gonna get busted by a pig the second you walk outta there, man. Hopefully Dina has grown into a wonderful flower loving enough to let her own kids keep whatever stray ninja equipment they find lying around their family’s apartment complex and have snowball fights whenever they please.

Here’s to you, Dina, where ever you are.