December 31, 1988

The Train Trip Mix

This is the earliest mix tape I made still in existence. I made this tape to listen to on a school trip by Amtrak from Boston to New York, circa 1988.

While I still like all the songs on this tape, I would never put these songs together on a mix today. Some of the segues are terrible. Also, some of the classic rockers are SO overplayed now ("Rock and Roll", "Start Me Up"), they simply are burnt out!

The tape does tell a chapter of my history: Some of these songs are from CDs (Traveling Wilburys, The Beatles, Tracy Chapman), but some are on 45s (Adam Ant, The Beastie Boys). I was getting to know and love classic rock standards, but I was also trying out new music (Beastie Boys, R.E.M., Tracy Chapman). I was collecting remixes on 12-inch singles (Peter Gabriel, Simply Red), and I had already raided Mom and Dad's LPs (Harry Belafonte).

Side A

  1. "Day-O" Harry Belafonte live at Carnegie Hall
  2. "Don't Bring Me Down" Electric Light Orchestra
  3. "Rattled" Traveling Wilburys
  4. "Start Me Up" The Rolling Stones
  5. "For What It's Worth" Buffalo Springfield
  6. "Sunshine Of Your Love" Cream
  7. "I'm Not Your Man" Tommy Conwell & The Young Rumblers
  8. "Rock & Roll" Led Zeppelin
  9. "Gimme All Your Lovin" ZZ Top
  10. "Face the Face" Pete Townshend
  11. "Goody Two Shoes" Adam Ant
  12. "Paul Revere" The Beastie Boys
  13. "The Way You Make Me Feel" Michael Jackson (end of song cut off)
Side B
  1. "In Your Eyes [remix]" Peter Gabriel
  2. "What I Like About You" The Romantics
  3. "Superman" R.E.M.
  4. "The Right Thing [remix]" Simply Red
  5. "Desire" U2
  6. "Money (That's What I Want)" The Beatles
  7. "Sympathy For The Devil" The Rolling Stones
  8. "Talkin' About A Revolution" Tracy Chapman
  9. "Is This Love" Mr. Mister
  10. "If You Love Somebody (Set Them Free)" Sting
  11. "Like A Rolling Stone" Bob Dylan
(90 Minute Sony Cassette tape)

December 15, 1988

Scrooged

In most of Bill Murray's movies, you get the sense that he doesn't like other people very much. Whether he's suffering from an inferiority complex or just plain impatient with stupidity, it's always there, bubbling under the surface (this rule does not apply to Caddyshack, obviously.) Murray puts his dyspeptic and bitter persona to its best use as Frank Cross, a autocratic network TV executive in Scrooged, one of hundreds of Christmas Carol remakes.
Murray and the screenplay make us believe that Cross still has a heart under all that bitter shellac, and we can understand how his ambition caused him to toss aside true love with Claire (Karen Allen) to go for the brass ring. Years of loneliness in his executive suite have made him bitter, betrayed by the hollow victory in the business of television, the hollowest profession of all.
The Standards & Practices lady has a problem with the Solid Gold Dancers' low-cut costumes...
Lady: You can see her nipples.
Frank Cross: I want to see her nipples.
Lady: But this is a Christmas show.
Frank: Well, I'm sure Charles Dickens would have wanted to see her nipples.
Stagehand: You can barely see them nipples.
Frank Cross: See? And these guys are REALLY looking.
I really enjoy this movie every Christmas. The television theme is out of fashion in the 21st century, and the three ghostly visits make the movie inherently episodic, but it's chock full of fun and heart. The final set piece, Frank's heart-exposing monologue on live TV, gets me in the heartstrings every time.
What distinguishes my memory of seeing this movie as a "in the theater" memory is watching Bill Murray's character talk to the audience during the credits. The lights had come up and half the crowd was gone at that point.

U2: Rattle and Hum

Great to see U2 on the big screen.

October 24, 1988

Imagine: John Lennon

Christmas 1987: I was 15 going on 16. Under the tree: My first CD player, plus a copy of The White Album on CD. I quickly became a devout Beatles fan. The following fall of 1988, my girlfriend and I saw the documentary John Lennon: Imagine, a great starting point to learn about Lennon. However, we spent a lot of the movie necking!
(location: Copley Place cinema)

August 18, 1988

Tee Shirt Hall of Fame: Sting

I had already seen Sting at the Boston Garden on February 5th when my brother drove me and my girlfriend Mary Kennedy to Great Woods to see him again August 17 (or 18?) 1988.
Normally I don't wear tank tops ever, but I wore this one under other shirts for many summers until I finally retired it to the Hall of Fame in the early 21st century.

August 5, 1988

A Fish Called Wanda & Eighties Comedies

On an 80s comedy binge lately: Trading Places, Ruthless People, and A Fish Called Wanda. All
three illustrate how much comedy movies have changed over the decades: all three of these movies have intricate, clever plotting that fits together neatly like one of those expensive wooden jigsaw puzzles:

  • Trading Places - Two commodities traders swap their snooty blueblood nephew (Dan Aykroyd) and a street hustler (Eddie Murphy) to see if blood is more important than environment. Aykroyd and Murphy get their revenge through a commodities trading scam that's impossible to understand without an advanced degree. Blackface? Yes, Aykroyd dresses up as a Rastafarian for no good reason.
  • Ruthless People - a riff on The Ransom Of Red Chief, Danny Devito wants to murder his wife Bette  Midler for her money, but she's kidnapped first. DeVito dares the kidnappers to kill her, but Midler and the kidnappers turn the tables on him.
  • A Fish Called Wanda - In the aftermath of a diamond heist, Jamie Lee Curtis schemes to steal the loot from her boyfriend, with help from her side piece (Kevin Kline) and falls in love with her boyfriend's barrister (John Cleese) while pumping him for information. Blackface? Yes again, Michael Palin as a Rastafarian again, for no good reason.

I've summed up these plots at the most superficial level, but in reality there's tons of clever twists and turns. Modern comedies aren't built like this. My favorite comedy of the last 15 years is The Forty Year Old Virgin, Judd Apatow's movie directing debut. I imagine many people would pick an Apatow production as their favorite comedy of the new millennium. Apatow's comedy model is to film scenes of funny people riffing, keep the best parts, and presto, you have a movie. Don't get me wrong, his movies are the funniest films made today BUT no one ever created a Wikipedia page to explain the ending of an Apatow movie like they did for the end of Trading Places.

Side Notes: I have loved A Fish Called Wanda for a long time. My parents have always been big movie fans and took us to the movies many times in my youth. I didn't see A Fish Called Wanda with them in the theater in 1988, but I remember it was one of the most rented tapes at the Purity Supreme supermarket video section. It was around this time my mom rented a movie on VHS that looked terrible and I heard about a special scam:

  1. Rent a VHS tape
  2. Make a duplicate VHS tape of the movie (you need two VCRs for this!)
  3. Use a small screwdriver to open both VHS cartridges
  4. Take the original tape out of the original cartridge
  5. Place the dupe tape into the original VHS box that has the original label on it
  6. Screw both cartridges shut
  7. Return original case with duped tape to store
  8. Keep original tape!

Tape manufacturers fought this by placing tamper-proof stickers across the seam in the tape, but the rental clerks would have to be vigilant checking this tape with each rental in order to catch a thief!

Watching Wanda again I realized something surprising about the ending: the heist ringleader, George Thomason is on trial when Michael Palin kills the only eyewitness, then Jamie Lee Curtis betrays him on the witness stand, then she flees the country with his barrister. We're supposed to assume Thomason is totally sunk by Curtis' betrayal, but, if the English justice system works anything like the American system, he'll get a mistrial because his barrister disappeared. The only eyewitness died. Curtis testified against him in the mistrial, but she's gone too. They could have brought his character back in the sequel??
Also, Wanda passes The Bechdel Test! At first I thought it would flunk- Cleese's wife and Jamie Lee Curtis never speak - but then I remebered Cleese's daughter: Cleese's wife and daughter Wendy and Portia have two conversations: Portia begs Wendy for a nose job because she thinks her nose is so big, and later, Wendy drags Portia to the opera but they get a flat tire. Not exactly the most liberated movie ever...

July 3, 1988

Die Hard

Die Hard's premise (our hero, caught unaware and unprepared, battles bad guys in confined quarters) spawned a whole new genre of movies:
  • Die Hard on a Battleship = Under Siege
  • Die Hard on a Bus = Speed
  • Die Hard on a Plane = Passenger 57, Air Force One
  • Die Hard on a Cruise Ship = Speed 2
  • Die Hard On A Train = Under Siege 2
The irony is that Die Hard 2 and 3 didn't really follow template which the copycats followed so closely, and so well.

One of the keys to making this kind of movie work is an attractive villain. Hiring some hack with a funny accent is not enough. Hiring classically trained actor Alan Rickman was a smart move, even if he has to fake a German accent. Did I mention I got the 2 disc DVD set for Christmas? Back in 1988, I saw this three times in two months- clearly this is a masterpiece to a sixteen-year-old.
(July 3rd, August 6th, and August 13, 1988)

June 15, 1988

Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

The opening short cartoon, featuring Roger, the Baby, and a kitchen, made me laugh harder than I ever had before in a theater. The story is Chinatown-esque and completely irrelevant. The mixing of human and inked characters varies from perfect to obviously fake, but director Robert Zemeckis sets a fast pace. The climactic sequence inside the Acme warehouse always reminds me of the climax of Back To The Future.

May 1, 1988

Tee Shirt Hall of Fame: Commander Salamander

Who is Commander Salamander? A novelty tee shirt and apparel catalog that advertised in the back of Rolling Stone. I love this tee shirt- once again, re-purposing vintage imagery with a pop art twist. Check out these photos of me wearing the shirt at my high school radio station in 1987, and again, still in good shape, stored in the Hall of Fame vault in 2015.