Thursday, November 26, 2015


Anyone who has ever read my drivel, knows that even though I can be formidably articulate, there are times when even I have trouble trying to put a name to certain things. This does not include the time I was learning how to swear, which every good Scot does by the age of oh, say, nine years of age, lest you shame your family. I remember that episode distinctly.

I was trying to describe a picture of a smiling dog I had seen in one rag or another. Flailing around for words, and even though I was pretty wordy for a nine year old, I had finally run out of descriptors for this smiling dog. I stuttered and stammered for a moment and then blurted out, “It sure was damn lookin'!” My dad, without skipping a beat, retorted “Well, I'll be hell!” My mom piped up, “And this is why little Mary can't swear!” A warm family moment.

Christmas of 1956. I'm already saying "pee-pee and ca-ca". I'm one year old and already swearing up a blue streak. Note the festive holiday baby talcum powder to my mom's right.

But, during those years of growing up, my father and sporadically, my mother, enjoyed watching horrible movies or TV shows and tearing them apart, as we watched. We invariably ended up rolling around on the floor in laughter. I have to say that my father took much more delight in this activity than my mother. I suspect she was laughing at the two idiots watching dreck and amusing themselves to the point of apoplexy.

My dad in his B-29 in the Korean War. He went on to become a CPA and work with logistical military contractors. You'd think he was a serious person. He was anything but. Once, when he accompanied me to SFO for a flight, he started walking backward on the "horizontal people mover". A business man ran into him and shouted, "Sir, why don't you go play somewhere else!" Neither of us were shamed by this.  
Probably one of the most memorable moments I have, aside from my father moaning along with the soundtrack from “Hercules Unchained” or some generic sand-and-sandals epic, is the time we were watching “The Creeping Terror” which was being hosted by the late, great Bob Wilkins, who for many years, appeared on the Saturday night “Creature Features” out of San Francisco. His prologues prior to any of his movies were memorable and the one for “The Creeping Terror” had my father and I in absolute pants-peeing glee. Bob warned his audience not to leave house plants around the tv during the film, as they might die. He also cautioned us not to have any open fires (in the house?) while viewing, as we might all fall asleep and the house would burn down.

My mom; another pilot. I'm not sure what's up with that. I loathe flying. And whoever took this picture was a whole lot braver than I was. My dad was actually a wonderful pilot, but God looked out for my Mom. She would crab and yaw down a runway on takeoff and it would take her forever. Her landings were worse. I always swore she was going to go into the ground like a lawn dart. I always pulled up lame, or had to wax my viola on the days she flew.

He also mentioned the “quality” production values of this fine opus; the stock footage of a Mercury rocket ship being launched, only the film was run backward, to depict the aliens “landing” on earth, so that you see the rocket flames going UP into the ship. Check with your local physicist on that one. He also told everyone about how the soundtrack was lost and the script was lost, although Wikipedia tells me that there never was a script, and a narrator was hired post-production to tell us about what we were seeing, because we are complete morons. Well, that's debatable, since we're watching THIS tripe. 

I have had this burning question for nearly four decades. Just what in the hell are those things? They look like radiator hoses to me.

There are huge spans of time in the film with no dialog, no narration, no nothing. And so on. We proceeded to watch the film and it exceeded our expectations! My dad and I rolled around on the floor, lost our breaths, got cramps in our cheeks. We cried and rolled around some more. At one point, my dad said “I can't believe someone made this shit!” My mom, perched on her bar stool in the living room and half in the bag, said “I can't believe you're watching this shit!” Another warm family moment!

I can't believe someone made this shit! I guess it's a “Creeping Terror” ashtray. Who doesn't want to display this at a dinner party, or at some swanky soiree. I cried for 15 minutes over this. Some people have no taste and God! How I love them for it!

I can remember doing this as far back as 1960 or 1961, when we lived in Muskegon, Michigan. This would have predated “Fractured Flickers”, a live action show created by Jay Ward, who is responsible for having visited upon us “Rocky and Bullwinkle”. Now, my parents LOVED “Rocky and Bullwinkle” and I loved it because it was a cartoon. The reason my folks loved “Rocky and Bullwinkle” so much, is because, as I later found out as an adult, the show is subversive as hell, with badly-drawn graphics and snarky goings-on. As a matter of fact, my folks watched every show that Jay Ward ever produced. “Rocky” has really held up over the test of time and is still as entertaining as ever. But back to “Fractured Flickers”.

We never missed Bob Wilkins' "Creature Features" on Saturday nights, broadcast on KTVU out of Oakland, California. He often showed excellent movies; Hammer classics and his show was expanded to a double feature. He premiered the original "Night of the Living Dead" and regularly beat out "Saturday Night Live" in the ratings.

Fractured Flickers” was a live-action show, produced again, by Jay Ward and hosted by Hans Conreid who was hysterical. “Flickers” stayed true to Ward's sense of humor, using one-liners and puns and carefully dubbing the dialog over silent films. The show was at its funniest when it desecrated early melodramas, such as Victor Hugo's “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, with Lon Chaney, Sr., calling him “Dinky Dunstan, Boy Cheerleader”. The show itself was not above making fun of itself, as we witnessed Hans Conreid himself say “This is what we'll be doing for the next several weeks-or until someone finds out.” This was early days for television, and I do remember my father waiting like a hawk for the new episodes to come out. Unfortunately, only tweny-six episodes were produced; we watched them over and over until we pretty much had them memorized. But we still had our horrible movies to watch. It was much later that we saw “The Creeping Terror” and so many others. Nothing was sacrosanct and we had an amazing time doing this.

Apparently, ours was not the only family doing this crazy thing, because up in Minnesota, an enterprising and surprisingly funny magician, named Joel Hodgson came up with a little show called “Mystery Science Theater 3000”. It premiered on KTMA in Minneapolis, Minnesota on November 1998 and later was picked up by Comedy Central, which is where I found it in 1990. I was living in Dearborn, Michigan and playing viola at the time, and when I first saw this show, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Unfortunately, I didn't have a dad to share this craziness with; he died in 1987. He would have loved this show.

"The Mads" as Joel and later Mike Nelson, referred to TV's Frank and Dr. ClaytonForrester, played by Frank Conniff and Trace Beaulieu.

Hodgson's influences include “Mad Movies With the LA Connection” and the “Canned Film Festival”, both of which lasted only a season. When he first conceived of the show, he enlisted the help of a couple of local area comics Trace Beaulieu and Josh Weinstein, along with producer Jim Mallon to help him shoot the pilot. Hodgson reverted to university days and pulled an all-nighter to build the robots and the sets. The following day, they filmed a 30-minute pilot. The camera work was done by Kevin Murphy, who worked at the station, KTMA, where the show first debuted. The robots were not in the “theater” with Hodgson; it hadn't been built yet, so Joel interacted with them in between segments. Crow was voiced by Beaulieu, Beeper and Gypsy by Weinstein.

Joel and the robots, Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo.

Kevin Murphy also designed the “theater seating” and the door sequences for the show. Jim Mallon was able to meet with the station manager for KTMA, Donald O'Conner (apparently, song and dance was no longer working for him-jk) and persuade him to sign up “Mystery Science Theater” (The “3000”) was added later.

Joel and Mike Nelson, who took over for Joel, midway through season 5.

MST3K” debuted on November 24, 1988, with its first episode “Invaders From the Deep” and ran for the initial 13 episodes, which were expanded to 21. At first, no one at KTMA knew what the viewers response would be, so Mallon set up a phone line for viewers to call in on. The response was tremendous and plans were made for a live show.

In spite of the show's wild success, it was canceled, due to the station's overall declining fortunes, so a “best of” reel was prepared and sent to then-Comedy Channel, which merged with HA in “MST3K”'s second season and became Comedy Central. The rest is pretty much history, and is where I first saw it and loved it immediately.

I started making tapes of some of the shows when I was a touring musician and these were always a big hit on the bus. By the time this happened, I had relocated to Florida and had pretty much left the symphonic world behind. I was a free-range violist and that means, lots and lots of time on buses. The bus rides became the highlights of our tours, because we all had such gut-busting fun with “Samson vs the Vampire Women”, “Pod People”, and yes, “The Creeping Terror” among others. I played with several touring orchestras and troupes and I have to say that we would sometimes have conductors who had no birds in their cages.

Kevin Murphy, Bill Corbett and Mike Nelson. Three of the original MST3K'ers.

The conductor always sits up in front by the driver. Most conductors I know would love to be driving the bus, and I'd be happy to let 'em, if it kept them off the podium. This particular conductor was more cretinous than most that I've dealt with, plus he had that extra layer of poseur that made him soooo not-delightful. After one screamingly-funny riff by Joel Hodgson and the bots and the bus is in an uproar and we're finally settling down, what do we hear from Our Conductor? “This film would be a whole lot better without those three guys down in front!” The film? “Manos Hands of Fate”; Happy Thanksgiving day everyone! Enjoy the Marathon! Comments are welcome! What is your favorite MST3K episode and are you happy about the reboot?

The Kickstarter is moving along, as you can see. You can also watch the Turkey Day Marathon here or at the website!

NOTE: I'll deal with RiffTrax in a later post. I wasn't aware for the longest time that they are the same crew for the most part as MST3K, but I'm a violist, and that's a primary requirement: Permanent confusion. I have it trade-marked: Confuse-a-what

Sunday, November 22, 2015

#ROW80 - NFC Championshi-ERK! EDIT from 2013 Original

As I have mentioned to several of you, I am in the process of editing several of my posts for inclusion in an e-book about my life. I have NEVER edited anything. I just sort of "pants" it and go. I did a bit of work on this, expanded it and tried to clean it up for language. I'm including the link to the original post, at the bottom. Anyone who cares to or who has the time to, is welcome to compare the two and make suggestions. I know you'll be kind, as you always have been to me. Thanks!

I wonder if these are free-range violas, because, if not, the price has really skyrocketed!

Q: Have you heard about the latest form of urban violence?
A: Drive-by viola solos.

So, here's a little number I cobbled up during the American Football season almost three years ago as we headed into our playoff season. Enjoy!

First off, goals, schmoals – I should explain that this was written as part of “where am I now” in the writing process of the #ROW80 group that I belong to. We try to set measurable goals for our writing, none of which has ever occurred for me. I am a slacker. Anyway, I got a wild hair and was completely taken with this topic after what I witnessed during a Falcons-I Forget (*scrolls down* – SAN FRANCISCO 49'ers!) playoff game in January of 2013. My latent low inhibition just took over. Oh well, look at the happy part of this; I'm off the streets and fending off muggers, and I'm not mugging anybody. Just kidding.

This is not your typical Sunday check in post. Nope, first off, it's Monday and second off, here in the good ol’ U S of A, it is Martin Luther King Jr.'s Birthday and President Obama's 2nd Inaugural Celebration! So, what better way for me to celebrate, than to write about 2013's NFC Championship game between the Atlanta Falcons and the San Francisco 49ers that featured guys running over guys and plowing into unaware guys on the side-lines. That’s right, “UNAWARE” guys on the side lines, during one of two games that will decide which of two teams are going to the Hyper Bowl, er, uh I mean, Super Bowl LXVII (is that 47 or 67? I failed Roman Numerals in Ancient Times class, or I skipped that day.)

Sing Along: "I see I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI, XII, XIII, XIV, XV, XVI, XVII, XVII Wheels On The Big Rig" or however the stupid song goes. Whip that out at parties, and you'll be asked to leave.

Anyway, dude got clipped below the knees and fell as if pole-axed, backward onto that hard surface and landed backwards, head-first, with a bounce or two and was thankfully unhurt. Apparently, he works at the Atlanta Falcons field and this was their first ever(!) playoff event, and really, he can’t be faulted for that part of it. The poor guy had his back turned to the action and was most likely, looking at and marveling at the crowd and all of their noise, hoo ha, folderol and mostly, NOISE. And boy, howdy, there was a bunch of it, being as how, my Google says, the Georgia Dome can shovel 71,250 people into permanent seats.

The first time I ever faced a crowd like that was when I played for The Moody Blues. I was in my mid-30s and had been playing viola professionally for about 20 years, by this time. My performing experience went from symphony-polite-coughing and maybe a standing ovation, or two. Occasionally, the standing ovations were prolonged.

Stunning, wonderous. I love Mozzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz..... *snore*

Once, during a Grand Pause, or a fermata, where the orchestra came to a screeching halt after a fortississimo passage and it was deathly quiet, I had the great good fortune to hear a bellowed “I FRY MINE IN LARD…” from the back of the audience and then, stunning quiet. Nary a peep, cough, fart or rustle.

The fermata, unfortunately, is one of those musical devices that has no metered time, so as the Conductor stared us all down, daring us to laugh, and we all played “one potato, two potato, three potato, four…” Concert master and Principal Second Violin and Principal Viola and Principal Cello all sitting there, giving one another the evil eye, the hairy eyeball, the stink-eye and it's all becoming rather “High Noon-ish,” I and my stand partner who are on the 2nd stand, are not daring to look at one another, because we are truly deranged idiots, pinheads, morons and jokers. We are holding our breaths, and are puffing up like horses around rattle snakes, or, horses being saddled, because HolyMotherOfGod, I’mSoGonnaLaugh… I see his viola scroll start to shake out of the corner of my eye and just then? As I start to go eeeeeeeeeee? As the air is leaking out? And I think I hear a similar eeeeeeeeeeeeeeee coming from somewhere around the oboe section and I'm thinking “If there is a God, may He smite us all now so that we may know His mercy and NOT suffer the Wrath of the Conductor”, who is beginning to sweat blood from his eyeballs, it would appear. . .

But,allofasudden, the Conductor gives the downbeat and off we go. To this day, I do not remember what on God’s Green Earth we were playing, probably Rachmaninoff. I’ve been ambushed by him a number of times. Him and his G. P.s. Well, that was a digression.

This all changed when we started playing in open-air theaters and stadiums.

Okay, I haven't faced Wembley and I'm sure I don't want to; actually, I probably do. We rocked it at 1-800-ASK-GARY Field. A name like that for a Venue just drips class. I can't wait until Kotex, or Fleet Enema buys a sponsorship and demands to have it named after their company.

In the summer of 1992, The Moody Blues were in a resurgence and instead of having a summer off, we had a tour around the Midwest for a few weeks. We had an afternoon rehearsal with their conductor who told us the basics, miced us up and off we went. We had a full orchestra, and plexiglass partitions between each section. I felt like we were in cattle pens. That night, the orchestra was in place, when the Blues with Justin Hayward took the stage.

There were 10,000 people in the audience. Up to that point, I had never played with that many people in an audience. When that audience roared and that sound hit the stage, the orchestra, who for the most part had not experienced that before, was pretty well aware that this night and this concert were going to be different. But first, we had to get over the shock of all of those people yelling. If we had been zebras, and the yelling people lions, we would have been dead ones. We all just froze for about 2 beats and then our training kicked in and off we went.

It was an exhilarating experience; I’ve always loved the Moody Blues more orchestral stuff, but the conductor, Larry Greene is also their arranger, and he had gone back and arranged some of their harder rock stuff like “Ride My Seesaw” for strings and that’s even more more fun to play. I’ve found that I like music with a harder edge to it. I’m sure it’s one of the reasons I don’t like Mozart and I revere Beethoven.

Mozart gets right up to an idea and then backs away. Beethoven takes it in his teeth and just ragdolls it. I love that. I also love the fact that he doesn’t bore the violists to death in his orchestral and other ensemble writing. Mozart is pwecious, hard to play and there’s damn little reward for all of that work; he’s insipid. Oops, lemme get back to our sideline guy.

I’ve enjoyed my rock ‘n’ roll violist career, which has also veered off into blues, metal and a bit of rap, believe it or not. But, back to our poor dude. Man, did I feel for him. Guy stood up; I was so relieved, because he fell so hard. As he was turning around, the Fox Team, (Terry, Howie, Michael, Jimmy and Whoever) were helpfully pointing out that this was the Falcon’s first playoff Event ever. The guy who had been knocked over was wearing a jacket that said “Event Team” on it.

I hunted and hunted for the actual footage, but alas, it was not to be found. This is pre-game footage in the stadium prior to the NFC Championship game between the Atlanta Falcons and the S. F. Forty-Niners in 2013, which S. F. won by 28-24. The noise must have been incredible and it is understandable that Guy Who Was Knocked Down was a bit overwhelmed at first. 

As the man turned and looked at the camera you could see the horror slowly growing on his face. You could tell what he was thinking: “That shit right there was just on tee vee. Oh... Dear... God... can I move to Saturn? Maybe to Pluto. Pluto isn’t far enough away… My wife is going to divorce me. No, that's not punishment enough. She's going to kill me and set my ass on fire, and then EAT it! What was I thinking, looking at that stupid bunch of loud-ass people? My ass is on the line, here. My ass... is my ass too wide? Do these pants fit okay? My kids, my grandkids, my great grandkids are going to be talking about this and wanting to hear this story, forever! This is going to be on AFV, isn’t it? 

"No, this is too stupid for that. It's gonna be on World's Dumbest Workers #9 ! Heavens to Murgatroyd and Zeus! on National TV, no, INTERNATIONAL, TV! Gah! Did my Aunt in Outer Slobovia see me? I hope I don’t get fired. Damn, does my head hurt. Can I go home? Do I have a home? My wife has probably packed up and moved by now. Mebbe my wife'll let me sleep in the garage or the dog house. Mebbe in the trunk of the car. Mebbe I should just go to a hotel. . . Mebbe I can become a hobo. They still have those, don't they?”

Relax, guy, if I hear you got in trouble over this, I’m writing a letter. I’ve done so much stupid stuff in front of the public, it’s not funny. I’ve fallen off stages, fallen out of chairs. Fallen off risers. I very gracefully draped myself across 3 people once, along with my viola and bow, held up over my head and rolled like a barrel down to the floor, protecting my baby, my viola, Wolf. How I managed that, I will never know. I’ve taken bows wearing Taco Bell on formal, black velvet unknowingly, after playing a triumphant Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. To make matters worse, my stand partner’s fly was open during the whole performance which he proceeded to holler out to me, as we took our bows, during a standing ovation, as if I needed that information to make my post-performance glow complete. I don’t think Beethoven would have minded.

The point is, a roaring crowd is pretty impressive; I was awed by it when I was on the “receiving” end of it the first time. It does take some getting used to. So, Guy Who Was Knocked Down and Was Embarrassed, don’t be. I hope you get a chance to get used to playoff events as more come your way. I hope you are okay. You totally made my day! Almost three years later, you are still a fond memory.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015


Time for the monthly #IWSG check for insecure writers for November. I, for one, am truly glad Alex reminded us to keep “on topic” and to visit others. You see, I have a tendency to ramble, deviate, run down blind alleys, and about them participles? Let them dangle. What an unholy mess! But, that is kind of the story of my life. Believe it or not, I'm really happy with it, the way it is. I not only sight-read music pretty well, and write by the seat-of-my-pants (poor #NaNoWriMo; a 3rd novel that is a sequel to nothing, if you get my drift), so, why not live my life by the seat of my pants?

I've Scoobied my way out of so many messes, it's become my default state. Want me to edit something? Ya better give me a blank piece of paper, or a paper with a bunch of anagrams on it, and I'll cobble something up for you, just don't expect any coherence out of it. I'm also kind of in the “I don't give a damn” mood, because I'm doing something right now that takes all thought and energy and focus away from every other thing in my life: I'm playing my viola. I have insecurities a-plenty about that, and not just because I'm playing over a motor disorder and finding out new ways to skirt around that. The newest thing I've discovered is to not take ANY of the medications prescribed for either that or my bipolar or depression on the day of performing and I'm fine. Take 'em after and I don't have to worry about cramping and weirdness. I know, I know, I'm off topic. But, all musicians are insecure; boy, howdy are they. But I got a “man, you rock!” after Sunday's concert from some people I hold in high esteem. That made me feel good for about 15 minutes. Then, I looked at Wolf and went, “oh yeah, I still sucketh.” We all do it.

As to writing. I'm trying like hell to dredge up some semblance of a story that will fit with what I wrote 2 years ago, when I finished NaNo and the 2nd book I didn't finish, but presumably will. I'll work on it for a while, and then just run out of steam. Part of it is the fact that maybe I'm not hungry enough, and I also have enough material from when I first started this blog, to e-publish my own “life and times” à la James Thurber, with five sections and I think that might be the smarter option, instead of trying to write this huge, sprawling epic that has characters changing names, sexes, disappearing, reappearing and I think a few of re-incarnated and not in the "X-Files" way, along with the usual plot lines that run up the previously mentioned dead ends and blind alleys. Of course, I could pretend I'm writing scripts for MST3K, always huge fun!

I have enough followers on Twitter and elsewhere, that I may actually make a tiny profit, and I have some pretty funny stories. Anyway, I've written for lo, these many years and have never sold anything, but it might be a good time to think about doing that, plus I have another project in mind that will involve both playing and writing – I'm keeping it under wraps right now, 'cause jinx and all of that. So, what say you all?

Oh, and here is some blargle and pictures from Sunday's concert. We have just one more to play in this series and then it's on to Rachmaninoff's “Piano Concerto No. 2” and some Slavonic Dances written by our own Conductor, Mark Sforzini.


Sunday afternoon at the Straz Center in Tampa, the Tampa Bay Symphony, led by our great Conductor, Mark Sforzini, performed an awesome concert, featuring highlights from "Madama Butterfly" by Puccini with soprano Susan Hellman Spatafora and tenor Samuel Hall, with a cameo appearance by mezzo-soprano Nicole Evans. This was preceded by Beethoven's Turkish March from the "Ruins of Athens" and then after the concert break, we played Rimsky-Korsakov's powerful "Scheherazade". The violin solo was played by our Concertmaster, Virginia Respess, and played beautifully. This orchestra just keeps sounding better and better and it was a delight to play!

For some reason, the first picture looks like my head is in a fog bank, which is probably just tangible proof of the cloud-like state of confusion I exist in, and spread most of the time and is also requirement number one for a viola-player. The second is a close-up of the most glorious Wolf, who did his part. He was in full voice and I was NOT going to let him be unseen!