As if dealing with the passing of comics art legend Bernie Wrightson in March of this year wasn’t hard enough, Popdose has learned that his writing partner on the book Swamp Thing, Len Wein, has passed away. He was 69. The cause of death has not been announced. Wein had been dealing with medical issues both last year and this year, but was nonetheless able to seen a triumphant return of Swamp Thing to comic stores, a partnership with artist Kelley Jones.
Wein and Wrightson’s work on Swamp Thing alone would put the writer in the Hall of Fame. But Wein had much more than that to back his bona fides. Wein gave the comics world one Logan, aka Wolverine, debuting in Incredible Hulk #181 in 1974.
Wolverine would join Storm and Colossus, along with a refurbished Cyclops and Jean “Phoenix” Grey, in the New X-Men. With these characters in play, Marvel’s second golden age got underway, and not long after, Chris Claremont and John Byrne took over The Uncanny X-Men, the comics landscape would never be the same.
Wein also was editor on DC’s groundbreaking Watchmen mini-series by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.
Popdose will have a look back on the career of Len Wein later this week. We offer our condolences to his family, friends, colleagues, and his many fans.
As the latest round of would-be blockbusters packs ’em in at a theater near you, Popdose looks back at the box office totals of yesteryear. This week we revisit the top ten films of August 27, 1987, because deadlines shmeadlines! Besides, on August 27, 2017, Hurricane Harvey was upending millions of people’s lives in Houston and beyond, and now Hurricane Irma is wreaking similar havoc in the Caribbean and Florida, so writing about three-decades-old cinematic escapism can feel incredibly shallow when so many people are being forced to escape from their homes or risk drowning in floodwater. But if you want to know why the summer of ’87 was the big-screen equivalent of the “Latin pop explosion” of the summer of ’99, by all means read on …
10. Masters of the Universe (distributor: Cannon; release date: 8/7/87; final domestic gross: $17.3 million)
Twenty years before Hasbro’s Transformers were first transformed into CGI-enabled robot behemoths on the big screen, Cannon Films gave moviegoers “the first live-action film created from a toy line,” according to its PR machine. “It was kind of slightly embarrassing to sign on playing a toy,” says Dolph Lundgren, the embodiment of muscle-bound action figure He-Man in Masters of the Universe, in the highly entertaining documentary Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (2014). But two years later he was playing the Punisher, a Marvel Comics B-lister, before comic-book movies were all the rage, so embrace your role as a trendsetter, Mr. Lundgren — even if you did set those trends in low-budget, quickly forgotten schlock. Actually, Masters was an attempt by Cannon, following the Sylvester Stallone arm-wrestling epic, Over the Top, and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, to compete at the level of the major studios by spending big on stars and special effects. Or maybe there was nothing left in Cannon’s bank account after Stallone cashed his $12 million check — the flying effects alone in Superman IV were bad enough to ground that franchise for the next 19 years, and the action of Masters mostly takes place on Earth, where location shooting, especially within the greater Los Angeles area circa 1986 A.D., is much more cost-efficient than on He-Man’s home world of Eternia.
9. RoboCop (Orion; 7/17/87; $53.4 million)
Masters of the Universe started as a toy line from Mattel before becoming an animated TV series designed to advertise those toys and, lastly, a feature film. RoboCop has a more traditional origin story: it’s a feature film whose box-office success led to an animated TV series and, as mentioned in Screen Junkies’ hilarious Honest Trailer, a toy line from Kenner. But unlike, say, Ghostbusters, RoboCop is a blood-splattered, hard-R action movie — director Paul Verhoeven ain’t got time to be placatin’ parents with no PG-13s — so why manufacture toys based on a movie kids would never be allowed to see? Because they were going to see it anyway, just as I did, on VHS, at a sleepover in sixth grade while my friends’ parents were asleep. RoboCop was sequelized in 1990 and ’93 to diminishing returns — the second installment featured a prepubescent villain who strangled cops and offed other bad guys with a machine gun, so that one’s on you, Kenner — and remade in 2014. The remake, however, had a price tag of $100 million, while the original cost only $13 million — $9 million less than Masters of the Universe and set in the “near future” of bankrupt Detroit, not present-day Burbank, which means every penny’s up there on the screen — yet the update only grossed $5 million more than RoboCop 1.0 in the U.S., despite its more family-friendly PG-13 rating. Prime directive for Hollywood: if a crime-fighting cyborg ain’t broke, don’t reboot it. (Secondary but actually more important directive: nobody knows anything, so don’t listen to me.)
8. The Lost Boys (Warner Bros.; 7/31/87; $32.2 million)
Imagine the Brat Pack as a pack of eternally youthful vampires and you have the titular bloodsuckers of director Joel Schumacher’s follow-up to St. Elmo’s Fire (1985). In fact I’m pretty sure the ponytailed, baby-oiled saxophonist who shows up near the beginning of The Lost Boys (inspiring a Saturday Night Live digital short starring Jon Hamm two decades later) is really just Rob Lowe’s sax-playing bad boy from St. Elmo’s Fire after being bitten. The Lost Boys, which absolutely could’ve used a killer theme song with a lyrical hook like “Fangs / I’m gonna live forever,” was cowritten by Jeffrey Boam, who also worked on the screenplay for Innerspace, another highlight of the summer of ’87 and the one that got him hired by Steven Spielberg to write Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989).
7. La Bamba (Columbia; 7/24/87; $54.2 million)
This biopic of Mexican-American singer Ritchie Valens, who died along with Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper in a plane crash on February 3, 1959 (“the day the music died,” as Don McLean calls it in his 1971 song “American Pie”), was a big hit — it earned more than double the box-office take of Innerspace, for example, at a quarter of that film’s budget — and its title song, a cover by Los Lobos of Valens’s 1958 rock-and-roll twist on a Mexican folk song, spent three weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100. Yet the writer-director of La Bamba, Luis Valdez, a trailblazer for Latino theater in the ’60s and ’70s, never helmed another feature film. Why? Donald Trump. Can I prove that? No, but the current president of the United States can’t prove any of his conspiracy theories, either. No more questions. But here are some further facts, or nonfake news, about La Bamba: It was coproduced by Taylor Hackford, who received an Oscar nomination for Best Director for his 2004 Ray Charles biopic, Ray, after previously directing Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll (1987), a documentary about Chuck Berry, and The Idolmaker (1980), which, like La Bamba, was set against the backdrop of the burgeoning rock scene of the late ’50s. Lou Diamond Phillips, meanwhile, got his big break playing Valens, and starred in the western Young Guns the following summer with Lost Boys vampire Kiefer Sutherland and official Brat Packer Emilio Estevez — a Spanish-American, no less, and the real son of a fake (but nonetheless qualified) president, The West Wing‘s Martin Sheen.
6. The Living Daylights (United Artists; 7/31/87; $51.1 million)
In the action-packed previous installment of Box Office Flashback, I mentioned that Timothy Dalton was offered the role of James Bond in ’86 after Pierce Brosnan was sidelined by a contractual obligation to NBC’s Remington Steele. Dalton only made two Bond films, The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill (1989), before the series was put on hold for six years while producer Albert R. Broccoli and MGM, the parent company of United Artists, fought in court over TV distribution rights. Although he had a three-picture deal, Dalton opted in 1994 not to return for a third go-round as Bond, allowing Brosnan to take over for GoldenEye (1995). The Living Daylights was notable at the time for being the first James Bond movie in which the British spy only sleeps with one woman. “Because of AIDS,” said Richard Maibaum, the writer or cowriter of 13 Bond movies, from the very first, Dr. No (1962), all the way through to Licence to Kill, in a 1989 New York Times article. “I didn’t think he could alley-cat around,” he added. “But they felt the picture would have done better if there had been more sex in it.” Therefore, Agent 007 had two love interests in Licence to Kill — which, when adjusted for inflation, has the lowest domestic gross of any film in the Bond franchise. Sex didn’t sell? Once again, nobody knows anything.
5. No Way Out (Orion; 8/14/87; $35.5 million)
Kevin Costner’s cinematic summer of ’87 began with his lead role in Brian De Palma’s adaptation of the TV series The Untouchables (ABC, 1959-’63) and ended with an even bigger showcase for his leading-man talents, No Way Out, itself an adaptation of a 1946 Kenneth Fearing novel titled The Big Clock that was first made into a movie in ’48 with Ray Milland in the lead. No Way Out transfers the novel and original film’s action from New York to Washington, D.C. and adds an era-appropriate Russian mole in the U.S. government. Or is the whole thing a wild goose chase? A witch hunt, if you will? You wish, President Trump! Costner reteamed with No Way Out director Roger Donaldson 13 years later for Thirteen Days, a retelling of the Cuban Missile Crisis that our president should probably watch before he shoots his mouth off at North Korea again. (It’s based on a 1997 work of nonfiction, but since Trump doesn’t read books, I’d advise not going that route.)
I know quite a few women who grew up in the ’80s without ever seeing a Star Wars movie. Dirty Dancing was their Star Wars: not every woman is crazy about it, but they’ve all seen it at least once. But did you know that costars Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze didn’t get along? And did you know that James LeGros’s egotistical movie star in Tom DiCillo’s 1995 comedy Living in Oblivion isn’t based on DiCillo’s experience working with Brad Pitt, pre-superstardom, on Johnny Suede (1991), but that LeGros did base his performance on his own experience working with Patrick Swayze on Point Break (1991)? So do you now feel bad for Jennifer Grey, who’d already paid her dues by making out with future Young Guns star Charlie Sheen (born Carlos Estevez, which means he’s been in denial for decades, so of course he’s a Trump supporter) in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)? Do you feel better knowing that she won Dancing With the Stars in 2010? Good. The success of the three Star Wars “special editions” at the beginning of 1997 allowed Dirty Dancing to enjoy a tenth-anniversary rerelease that same year, adding another half million dollars to its box-office tally, but the studio that made it, Vestron Pictures, was long gone, having failed to capitalize on Dirty Dancing‘s unexpected success with subsequent releases like Dream a Little Dream (1989), starring The Lost Boys‘s dynamic duo of Corey Feldman and Corey Haim.
3. Born in East L.A. (Universal; 8/21/87; $17.3 million)
The most famous line of dialogue in Dirty Dancing is probably “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.” Well, nobody puts Donnie in a corner, either — he can do it all by himself, thank you very much, even with Steve Bannon out of the picture. Which is why I’d love to get his reaction to a 30th-anniversary screening of Born in East L.A., written and directed by and starring Cheech Marin as a native Angeleno who’s accidentally mistaken for an illegal immigrant and deported to Mexico. Then again, I don’t want to give him any ideas. It is noteworthy, though, to see two films centered on Latino characters in this box-office top ten from August of ’87, and by the following spring Warner Bros. and Universal, respectively, had released the true-life high school drama Stand and Deliver, starring Lou Diamond Phillips and Edward James Olmos, and The Milagro Beanfield War, directed by Robert Redford but featuring Rubén Blades and other Latino actors in a story of farming and government interference set in New Mexico. “The success of La Bamba and Stand and Deliver proves that Latinos yearn to see themselves on the big screen — and not just as gangsters, maids and immigrants,” wrote Dennis Romero in L.A. Weekly earlier this year, lamenting that the major studios gave up on movies with Latino leads shortly after the release of American Me, directed by and starring Olmos, in ’92, a slap in the face to a minority that now makes up 18 percent of the U.S. population and, according to 2016 statistics compiled by the Motion Picture Association of America and cited by Romero, is “responsible for about one in four movie tickets sold, a far greater per-capita showing than any othe race or ethnic group.” The Los Angeles Times reported that approximately 425 million tickets were sold during the summer of ’17, the industry’s lowest tally in 25 years, so if you really do yearn to see yourselves on the big screen, Latino moviegoers, exploit your leverage by staying home and causing a brownout at theaters across the nation.
2. Can’t Buy Me Love (Touchstone; 8/14/87; $31.6 million)
Can’t buy a new John Hughes movie starring Anthony Michael Hall? Make one directed by The Buddy Holly Story‘s Steve Rash and starring a not-yet-“McDreamy” Patrick Dempsey instead! (I haven’t read Trump: The Art of the Deal, which was published in 1987, but I’m pretty sure the president — or at least the guy who actually wrote the book, journalist Tony Schwartz — would agree with that piece of business advice.) In this gender-reversed high school spin on George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion, a nerd (Dempsey) pays a popular cheerleader (Amanda Peterson) $1,000 to pose as his girlfriend for a month in the hopes of improving his social status. Disney, the studio that released Can’t Buy Me Love (via its Touchstone Pictures imprint), probably paid 100 times that amount to Michael Jackson, then the owner of the Beatles’ song catalog, to use the band’s 1964 hit in the movie as well as borrow its title, an improvement over the teen comedy’s original name, “Boy Rents Girl.” I doubt Universal paid Cheech Marin $100,000 for the rights to “Born in East L.A.,” the lead-off track on Cheech & Chong‘s seventh and final comedy album, Get Out of My Room (1985), that was promoted with a conspicuously Chong-free music video, but it got me thinking: Is Born in East L.A. the first movie adapted from a video? And why don’t more movies borrow from music videos the way videos have routinely rummaged through film history for inspiration, from Madonna’s “Express Yourself” (1989), a David Fincher-directed homage to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, to Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf” (1982), in which Russell Mulcahy references both Raiders of the Lost Ark and Apocalypse Now? The lost boys of La La Land are always looking for “presold” intellectual property they can sink their teeth into, especially if it’s cheap, and the content of music videos can be interpreted any which way. Take Rod Stewart’s 1981 video for “Tonight I’m Yours (Don’t Hurt Me),” which has “some fairly obvious ’80s imagery: a nun in a rowboat, that sort of thing,” according to Mulcahy, who directed it, in the 2011 oral history I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution. Well, who is that nun? Why is she in that rowboat? Is she braving the treacherous waters of the Sunset Marquis Hotel’s pool to retrieve a shipment of narcotics for a certain blond Englishman? And is she actually a French maid? Because she looks like one in the video, so if she really is a nun, why is she in disguise? So many mysteries to unravel. I can’t wait to see David Fincher’s $100 million adaptation two summers from now, or maybe even a big-screen version of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” video that explores the backstory of the brave Planning & Zoning official who risked everything to bring light-up sidewalk tiles to the inner city.
1. Stakeout (Touchstone; 8/5/87; $65.6 million)
Since I’m already in pitch mode, how about a docudrama detailing all the bad decisions that went into the making of Billy Squier’s video for “Rock Me Tonite” (1984), considered one of the worst to ever air on MTV? As the choreographer of Dirty Dancing, Kenny Ortega dreamed up dance moves that would be widely imitated for years to come, but as the choreographer and director of “Rock Me Tonite,” this California-born Latino reminded the world that, Patrick Swayze notwithstanding, white men can’t dance. I see Oscar Isaac as Ortega and Andrew Garfield as Squier — sure, call me a dreamer, but please say it quietly or else I might be deported next spring — but if that idea swings and misses, maybe Isaac and Garfield can make a “buddy-cop” movie like Stakeout. It’s my second-favorite buddy-cop movie of the ’80s, after Running Scared (1986), because, for one thing, the cops in these movies actually are buddies when we meet them — they bicker like a married couple now and again, but we don’t have to go through the motions of watching them meet, then fight, then fight some more, then come to a mutual understanding and realize the whole is greater than the sum of its parts over the course of 100 minutes. In Stakeout Richard Dreyfuss and Emilio Estevez have an easygoing chemistry as Seattle police detectives Chris Lecce and Bill Reimers, respectively. That’s right, Estevez’s Latino heritage is ignored, but Dreyfuss is playing an Italian-American, so it’s all up for grabs. At least Madeleine Stowe, whose mother was Costa Rican, is Dreyfuss’s Mexican-Irish-American love interest, Maria Guadalupe McGuire, and she receives a bonus diversity point for taking a shower to the tune of Gloria Estefan & Miami Sound Machine’s “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You” while, unbeknownst to her, Dreyfuss watches. The music video for that song doesn’t include any footage from Stakeout, most likely because it was never intended to be the centerpiece of a Stakeout soundtrack album — none exists — but if I may return to pitch mode one more time, a character study of the Pacific Northwest’s most unethical door-to-door loofah salesman sounds like a surefire box-office hit to me.
Box-office tallies and release-date information provided by Box Office Mojo, IMDb, and The Numbers.
It would seem that the less obstruction between Neil Finn’s conception of a song and its completion, the better the final product will be. This was an impression I got when the unnecessarily noisy Crowded House album Intriguer appeared. That impression was only strengthened when Finn’s cluttered solo record Dizzy Heights crossed my path. Finn’s latest, Out of Silence, finally proves this point not by being the most blatant example of over-workmanship, but the polar opposite of it.
It started with Finn’s initial concept of broadcasting sessions that would ultimately become the album on the Internet. These were, to my knowledge, live, and certainly not heavily-edited electronic press kits. He had this crazy plan to get the players together with this batch of songs and practice, practice, practice. When they were confident in what they were to do, they’d record it all in one fell swoop, together as a single unit, just as it used to be. Thus, Out of Silence is more a live album than most live albums are.
But what about the songs? The first thing the listener will need to grapple with is that none of the songs on Out of Silence are rockers. In a sense, the record is to Finn as Apple Venus was to XTC. These are pop songs built around the piano, orchestral strings, a choir, and occasionally rock band instrumentation, but these instances are few. Once that expectation is managed, what the listener is left with is what will arguably be 2017’s most beautiful album. Finn, sounding nearly as he did in the late-’70s with Split Enz, has no need to bend and twist the note for effect. His vocal lines, even when he utilizes a falsetto, hit the mark dead-center. The piano tone breathes. The melodies of these tunes are intended to dig deep into the listener’s brain and stay for a very long time.
And so they do. “Alone” finds him paired with brother and sometime-bandmate Tim Finn, sharing a sentiment I think most people would recognize: being physically placed in a bustling and overcrowded city, but feeling so alien and apart from all of them that it might as well be deserted. “Independence Day” is elegant, but not arrogant or pompous. That’s another thing Out of Silence manages to avoid. When artists mix the elements of orchestral backing and choirs, there’s always that temptation to play the role of the “composer,” to be stuffy and “good for the listener” as if this was an educational endeavor. The arrangements here never serve their own ends but are, instead, always in service to the song.
Even the overt message of “The Law Is Always On Your Side,” woven into a narrative of a man taken into custody for what might be a crime he didn’t commit, is delivered thoughtfully through the skills of the songwriter and not of a protester using the song as a delivery method. Again, Finn barely sounds different from the moment you first heard Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over.”
If there’s a problem with the album — and wouldn’t it be nice if most albums suffered such issues — it is that each of the ten songs, and the album as a whole, are really short. Each track is complete, mind you, and certainly feel like complete statements, but are carried off with such grace that you actually would have liked another minute or two with them.
So some may carp that this is “chamber pop” and they would prefer Finn to hit that rock and roll again. Others may gripe that what is here is too mature, a description that shouldn’t ever be derogatory. Even more will say that his methodology in the record’s creation slightly smacks of a gimmick. What Out of Silence actually is, outside of any naysayer’s contrivances, is Neil Finn’s best solo album, full of organic performances that are allowed to live fully in a digital age where such is incredibly rare.
Shape-shifter Don van Vliet might be deceased but his spirit – and that of his ever-evolving Magic Band – is alive and well in Pittsburgh. Local band Radon Chong channel the Captain with passionate precision, vibrant originality, and colorful flare on its nine-song debut, the mind bogglingly good I Keep On Talking To You, available now on cassette through Philadelphia’s Single Girl Married Girl.
Sounding like Beefheart had picked up the Slint mantle and adopted a mission of crafting angular post-rock, Radon Chong drops eerie bridges a la Cheer-Accident but ends sounding somehow quirkier, somehow more cerebral. This is calculated music, meant to sound as instinctive as a knotted rope. In short, dissonance has rarely sounded so good.
On “Farm Pays For Me,” the quintet’s multi-guitar, frontal-lobe assault results in bridges that are not so much interwoven as tangled. Bass and treble elements stumble over each other and it’s a minor miracle that the band’s drummer can keep time. While fellow Pittsburghers Night Vapor have toyed with these recipes in a more post-metal/avant-punk vein, Radon Chong takes them past illogical conclusions, crafting music that is both rarely distorted, in the electric guitar sense, and completely distorted, in most other senses of the word. The middle of “Cold Hands,” all barking over guitar verses falling apart, is enthralling stuff. Glassy guitar figures backed by chugging bass and subtle whispers on “Second To One” are downright riveting. The opening of “Grandma Anthropology,” where the band’s front-man waxes poetic over driving refrains, will knock you down.
What to make of their place in the City of Steel? The band is, surprisingly, in good company, as more and more look to forebears like Beefheart or prog icons and offer up compositions that are increasingly nuanced and demand repeated listening. (Aaron Myers-Brooks, I’m looking at you.) But I Keep On Talking To You is also a singular accomplishment – it leaves just about everything else being served up out there looking a little clueless or elementary. This is not music for everyone – on its Bandcamp page, Radon Chong hints at this with its “serious music” tag – but, for the adventurous out there, it won’t leave your tape deck. Essential listening for the year of our Lord 2017.
Sometimes it’s not all about where an artist is from. Instead, it’s about the place where they did their best work. Some would say that Jerry Butler is a good example. Although he is a Chicagoan through and through, he will always be associated with Philly Soul because of the work he did in that city with Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff. The same is true of the O’Jays who came from Canton, Ohio and also pushed Philly Soul hits up the charts. Otis Redding came from Georgia, but will always be associated with Memphis music. You get the idea.
Another good example is Benny Spellman. He was born and raised in Pensacola, Florida in 1931, but music wasn’t his first love, football was. His love for the game gained him a scholarship to Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He began his singing career in Baton Rouge, hooking up with Alvin Battiste’s jazz group. But then the Army called, Spellman served, and when he got out he went back to Pensacola.
In 1959, fate intervened. Huey “Piano” Smith and his Clowns were on tour in Florida when they wrecked their truck. Spellman stepped up and offered to drive the band back to New Orleans. Once they were back in the Crescent City, Smith offered Spellman the opportunity to become one of the Clowns. Spellman took him up on the offer and became a New Orleans resident from that point on.
Fortunately for Spellman, he had arrived in town at a great time. The local R&B scene was flourishing and before long he had a deal with a new record label called Minit. His first recordings for the label didn’t get much attention and Spellman survived by working as a background singer on other people’s records.
Once again Spellman found himself in the right place at the right time. This time he happened to be in the studio when Allen Toussaint was producing the session that would result in Ernie K Doe’s massive hit, “Mother-In-Law.” Toussaint, who wrote the song, wasn’t very happy with the way the session was going and he called on Spellman to help out. Spellman sang the distinctive bass part that put the song over the top.
That was the start of a relationship that found Spellman recording a double-sided single featuring two Toussaint songs, “Lipstick Traces (On a Cigarette),” and “Fortune Teller.” The record turned out to be Spellman’s biggest hit, reaching #28 R&B chart and #80 on the Billboard Hot 100. The record spent six weeks on the chart.
“Well, ‘Lipstick Traces’… the guy, Benny Spellman, that sang the bass part on “Mother-In-Law” — he didn’t know what it was worth at the time we were doing it, but when ‘Mother-In-Law’ came out and sold, and went to number one, let’s say, Benny Spellman that sang the bass part made sure that everyone within the sound of his voice got to know that he sang that part,” Toussaint told Terry Gross of NPR.
“And then he would go around — he would gig — based on [the fact that] he sang the low part on “Mother-In-Law,” Toussaint added. “And he encouraged me … with much force, to write him a song that he could use that concept. And one result of that was the song ‘Lipstick Traces.’”
The Rolling Stones covered “Fortune Teller,” and the O’Jays released their version of “Lipstick Traces,” but Spellman never had another chart record. By 1968 he was done with the record business and he went home to Pensacola where he got a job as a Miller Beer salesman. He tried for a musical comeback in the 1980s but a stroke cut the effort short.
In 2009, Spellman, by the residing in an assisted living facility, was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. Two years later he died at the age of 79.
Fan reactions to the conclusion of “Twin Peaks: The Return” on Showtime has been mixed. From my unscientific survey of a number of discussion boards on the show, there’s a lot of frustration with Sunday’s series finale. Some folks did enjoy the ride and thought Lynch and Frost took viewers on a weird journey that shouldn’t succumb to a conventional ending. Others were downright angry at Lynch and Frost for manipulating them in nefarious ways. But that’s the problem and brilliance of Lynch and Frost. Their work on “Twin Peaks” defied expectations, played with conventions, and reoriented TV storytelling for the better.
Part of why Lynch and Frost were able to pave new ground in storytelling and filmmaking is because Lynch is essentially a mixed-media artist — and not just a “director.” He paints, he sculpts, he writes and performs music, he draws oddball comic strips, and, yes, he’s a filmmaker/TV director. Lynch is many things, but he’s not a hack who does the expected thing, plays it safe, and satisfies movie studios or TV producers in their quest to make investors and advertisers happy. He’s interested in the way in which art (writ large) can provoke larger conversations about what it all means. He’s not going to give you the answers, but he’ll supply you with enough imagery and sound that you can take away what you will from his work. So, for those who like to dissect shows to the point where they can predict what’s going to happen before it happens, Lynch and Frost had one final trick to pull out of their magician’s hat — and it wasn’t a rabbit. Instead, we got a dose of ambiguity with a heaping helping of WTF.
If there’s a Lynchian theme that’s been part of his work since “Blue Velvet” it’s the idea that we live in multiple worlds. What is thought of as a given (i.e., the placid suburb of Lumberton in “Blue Velvet,” the quirky town of Twin Peaks, or the “Gosh! Golly!” fantasy of the first half of “Mulholland Drive”) are just layers of what lies beneath, beyond, or between. Which is the real world and which is a dream, another dimension, or timeline? Those are the doors and walls that Lynch (mostly) keeps separated. We get glimpses, snapshots, and mirror images of those worlds, but rarely do we get answers. “Twin Peaks: The Return” is about those multiple worlds. Doppelgangers abound, realities shift, time is not linear, and what we’re viewing may all be a dream. That makes the show frustrating for those who went on this journey, waited patiently through episodes that moved a glacial pace, were given many plotlines, but only got partial resolutions to the narrative threads.
Episodes 17 and 18 did two things for the viewer: it brought a sense of conclusion to the fate of Dougie Jones — who was the focus of so much of the series. Dougie, as those who have watched the show know, is a doppelganger created by another doppelganger of Agent Cooper. Dougie is an “insurance policy” created by Agent Cooper’s doppelganger, Mr.C (aka Dark Coop). Dark Coop is on a quest to find coordinates that will lead him to something greater than his fate that awaits him in the Black Lodge. For the most part, it works. When Agent Cooper is allowed to leave the Black Lodge after being stuck there for 25 years, he replaces Dougie and his life. But Cooper/Dougie is a man unable to fully communicate or understand the world. His ability to only repeat the last word he’s heard made for some comical moments, but the Dougie storyline got bogged down as a Johnny One-Note character. However, his return home at the end of the series put a fine point on the how Lynch believes in the power of love. Another plotline centered on the showdown between the forces of evil (Dark Coop and Bob) and the forces of good in Twin Peaks (Sheriff Truman, Lucy, Andy, Freddie, the Mitchum brothers, Naido/Diane, and Hawk). This part of the story had the most conventional resolution — well, I should say conventional for David Lynch.
The other plotline about finding and saving Laura saw Agent Cooper traveling to another dimension to meet with Phillip Jeffries where the key to the next part of his journey was revealed in the number 8 — which, when you lay on its side, is the symbol for infinity ∞. For Cooper, it seems he’s locked in an infinite loop of time where realities shift, and names change, but faces remain the same. His desire to go back to a specific date (February 23, 1989) is crucial for him because he hopes change the fate of Laura Palmer by saving her from the destructive path and eventual death at the hands of her father (who is possessed by Bob). Jefferies has the ability to send Cooper back to the date he wishes to go back to, but Jefferies also says things like: “Say hello to Gordon if you see him. He’ll remember the unofficial version. This is where you’ll find Judy.” “Unofficial version” of what? The first “Blue Rose” case? And Judy? Well, Judy is a diner in the next episode, so…Judy or Jiāo Dài is an extreme negative force in the diner? Jefferies also adds: “There may be… someone. Did you ask me this? There it is. You can go in now. Cooper remember.” Who is that someone? Did Cooper ask about that “someone?” And what does he have to remember? Jesus, this is more cryptic than the conversations at The Bang Bang Club by characters we never see again — and slightly more frustrating than finding Billy.
When we get to episode 18 (the finale), it becomes a strange road trip. I should note, that from here on out, I’ll be recapping the episode — and that means a ton o’ spoilers abound.
First, Cooper goes back to the Black Lodge where the one-armed man has the same conversation he did in the first episode (asking the question: “Is it future…or is it past?”) the evolved Arm also asks the same questions, but adds, “Is this the story of the little girl who lived down the lane?” This is the same question Audrey asked earlier is the series, but we don’t know what became of her — other than she was transported from The Bang Bang Club to a white room where she wanted to know what the hell was happening (Yeah, so do we!)
From there, Cooper is allowed to leave the lodge and appears from behind the red curtains in a grove of sycamore trees to Diane waiting for him. But, like Cooper says at the end of the episode, I wanted to know what year it was. Diane and Coop are clearly aware of the shift in realities, and Diane wants to know if it’s really Cooper. He says yes, and asks the same of Diane (who also says yes). But how do we know they are who they say they are?
Next, the two of them are driving down a two lane highway in a car from the late 50s/early 60s (Again…what year is this? The FBI doesn’t have vehicles like this in their fleet). They eventually come to a point where they are exactly 430 miles from their starting point (Presumably Twin Peaks). This is a portal where they can cross over to another reality, and when they do their identities may change — how much, they aren’t certain. What does happen, though, is Cooper’s unending mission to find Laura and save her does not change. Diane makes the trip with Coop, and when they arrive at their new reality, they have one of the most uncomfortable sex scenes I’ve seen depicted on screen (big or small). Diane on top, looking more pained than pleasured, while Cooper just lays there unmoved by the experience. Unlike when Dougie/Coop had sex with Diane’s half-sister Janey-E (which resulted in ecstasy for both of them) Diane acts as if she’s molding Cooper into another person while looking up toward the ceiling.
When the deed is done, and Coop awakes in the morning, he’s alone in a different motel (seems he and Diane “crossed over” yet again into another timeline). There’s a note addressed to “Richard” from “Linda” saying that she doesn’t recognize him and that it’s not going to work anymore. She says she’ll never see him again, and that’s that. Cooper eventually exits the motel room, gets into a different car from the one he was driving before they “crossed over” and is now in Odessa, Texas. While driving through the town, Cooper sees a diner called Judy’s, where he enters and asks about “the other waitress” who works there. The waitress serving him coffee (which he drinks without his usual glee) says that the other waitress has the day off (in fact, she’s been off for three days). As Cooper is sipping his coffee, he gets into a fight with some locals at the diner who are harassing the waitress. He shoots one in the foot, grabs their guns and deposits them in a deep fryer. Coop gets the address of “the other waitress” and while parked outside of her house, notices a power pole with the number 6 on it (the number 6 on power poles has become synonymous with Bob and his crew’s ability to transport themselves to other locations via electric current).
After knocking on the door, a woman who looks like Laura Palmer answers, and says her name is Carrie Page. Cooper convinces her to accompany him to Twin Peaks, where he will reconnect her with her mother, Sarah. However, when Cooper utters the word “Sarah,” Carrie starts getting confused (as if she’s remembering something). They take a long road trip from Odessa to Twin Peaks and eventually end up at the Palmer’s home. Carrie says she still doesn’t recognize anything. The two of them go to the door, and it’s answered by a woman who says her name is Alice Tremond — who is the current owner. We also find out that the house was owned by a Mrs. Chalfont before the Tremond’s purchased it (Note: A woman who used the last names of Chalfont and Tremond were part of the group that consisted of Black Lodge beings like Bob, The Arm, some Woodsmen, and others who live above the convenience store that phases in and out of existence).
Cooper gets lost in thought at the mention of those names. As he and Carrie are walking back to their car, Coop stops and asks what year it is. That’s when the voice of Sarah Palmer can be heard saying “Laura” from the Tremond’s home. Carrie screams, the lights in the home go dark, and the screen goes black…and then slowly fades up to reveal the iconic image of Laura in the Black Lodge whispering in Cooper’s ear.
That’s it. The show’s over. No final curtain call, but plenty of questions as to what it all means. Some have attempted to untangle the threads and re-weave them together in a coherent pattern, but really, if we’re to take the number 8 (or infinity symbol) as a clue (along with the notion that we all live inside a dream, but are not sure who the dreamer is), Lynch and Frost leave it to us, the viewers, to decide what it all means. In my view, if Cooper, Laura, and Judy are stuck in a Mobius strip where multiple realities exist in an unending battle of good and evil, then it’s a struggle that ends well in some realities, and poorly in others. The question of who the dreamer is in this dream centers on Laura (since she’s the one) or Cooper (who seems very aware it’s all a dream). If Laura is the dreamer, then the dream is that of a teenage girl who suffered horrible abuse in her life. If it’s Cooper’s dream, then it’s the dream of saving an archetype of good from the dark and torturous side of evil. Either way, the dreamer is dreaming of a world where these struggles never cease to exist. And that’s the world we live in. Tranquility is often pierced by the sword of violence, but violence — while raging with fury — tends to have a shorter reign allowing the stability of harmony to pervade for longer durations. But, as we know, it’s not an either/or world. Just below the surface of something good, lurks something rotten. Love and hate, peace and violence, life and death…all these dualities exist together as forces that wax and wane like the cycles of the moon (a prominent visual in “Twin Peaks”) in the eternal recurrence of the dreamer’s dream.
Radio City with Jon Grayson and Rob Ross: Episode Twenty Eight – so much to talk about – so little time. Until the next one…
Right out of the chute, Jon and Rob set to task the insanity and imbalance in Congress as well as the President’s ponderous speech concerning Afghanistan; the sad news that the Village Voice – an institution – is ceasing its printed edition; a very interesting segment on review writing and walking the balance when it comes to publicity reps; the failure of the “big summer box office blockbuster” in 2017; a re-appreciation of The Rain Parade’s Emergency Third Rail Power Trip; new music by Audrey X and the brilliant album from Somerdale – plus, “In Our Heads” (naturally).
Come to where you can find a safe haven – sit down and tune in…
Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross: Episode Twenty Eight
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The first time I heard this track, I immediately liked its positivity and uplifting melody and message. I mean, consider some of the rough-and-tumble music out there today; this is practically an anomaly. Then, I learned the reason there’s a seconds-long clip tacked onto the end of its video of Boston musician Cameron Liberatore strumming and singing the basic melody of what would become Silhouette Rising’s “Technicolor.”
In 2014, Liberatore was in a terrible car accident in Nashville and, since then, has been on a long and arduous road to recovery. His bandmates in Silhouette Rising, talented as they are noble, are calling it quits with one final release, the Happiness III project of which “Technicolor” is a track. Joined by guests including Tye Zamora (formerly of Alien Ant Farm) and Howi Spangler of Ballyhoo!, the band seeks to realize Liberatore’s musical vision since he, himself, cannot right now.
“Technicolor’s” beautiful message to take the ordinary and make it extraordinary is inspiring, even without the heart-wrenching back story. In its video, the band takes turns performing good deeds, like paying for a stranger’s coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts and giving a cute pup a treat. The song itself is a driving, power-ballady track with stellar harmonies that’s a bit throwback, but feels right at home on the indie scene today. Where other songs of this ilk might feel contrived or superficial, this one is wholly authentic.
Check out the video for Silhouette Rising’s “Technicolor” below!
Touted as a quintessential summer song, MaWayy‘s pumping, beat-fueled track “Wrong” could more likely be described as a summer hangover song. And since we’re all rebounding from the long weekend, it’s the perfect time to throw on a song that has all the attributes of a perfect summer song (simple-yet-catchy melody, beach-perfect synth work, ear-worminess), yet has lyrics that belie a bad decision.
Developed over a collaboration spanning the globe, “Wrong” is the brainchild of Emmy-winning composer Brian Wayy and Iranian electronic musician Masoud Fuladi, or Caspian Beat as he’s better know. Though the two have never met IRL (as the kids say), their apparent chemistry on this track is its hallmark.
Underscored by a video that lulls the viewer into an intoxicating location (Santorini in the Greek isles) with a quintessential “music video girl,” Swedish model Bella Cirnski, at first glance, it’s a basic punch-up over a summer fling where the singer “don’t need your love, I need the rush.” As the song and video continue, however, it’s obvious that it’s an internal war over a bad decision made during a holiday far removed from the real world. The video ends with an appeal over text (“She didn’t mean anything to me”) that goes unresolved, proving that what happens during summer doesn’t always fade away when fall arrives.