An expensive month.

Straying away from the typical theme of this blog thus far, I have to take a minute to hit on some things current. It seems as though when it rains, it pours. And when it comes to new releases from some of my favorite musicians, the same holds true.

In addition to two DVD releases that will find places on my shelf, over the next month three of my favorite musicians, all from completely different genres of music, will be putting out brand new material. I have to put in a good word for each...

Justin Townes Earle releases his third full-lengh album, Harlem River Blues, on September 14th.

The son of legend Steve Earle, Justin takes his own style in a direction completely different from that of his father. Over the past few years, I've not been able to get enough of Justin through his first two albums, his EP, and his live performances. The anticipation building in my mind for Harlem River Blues is something serious.

Pre-order Harlem River Blues [CD | Vinyl]

On the same day, The Black Angels also release their third offering to the music world, Phosphene Dream.

Having seen the Black Angles perform at a very small venue a few years back, I can honestly say that they put on one of the most fascinating live shows I've ever seen. Not fascinating in the sense of an active and flashy stage performance, but rather in the sense of absolutely absorbing the audience into the music. While often compared to a modern-day version of The Doors, the best description I've ever heard of the Black Angels is that they play "great music to have sex to at a funeral."

Pre-order Phosphene Dream [CD | Vinyl]

Last but not least is one of the few artists who I feel still records true hip-hop music. On October 12th comes Dragon Slayer from Pigeon John.

As a part of L.A. Symphony and the more recent Rootbeer, Pigeon John has also flown under the hip-hop radar with a handful of solo efforts. Pushing guns, bitches, and bling to the side, Pigeon John stays true to the fun storytelling of hip-hop's earliest days.

Pre-order for Dragon Slayer not yet available

Broken Faucets

This is how my mind works.

For the past few days, the kitchen faucet has been making an unusual sound. Tonight I finally found a few minutes to take it apart and investigate. In the fifteen minutes that it took me to fix the faucet, without any effort at all, four different images kept popping into my head.

First was Cliff Huxtable. Anyone who has watched the Cosby Show knows that Cliff thought he was quite the family handyman -- although the final results of his work often showed otherwise. I couldn't help but recall the Season 7 episode, Theo and the Kids, Part 1, where Cliff attempts to fix the kitchen sink with the help of Olivia. Showing the age of this show, this scene includes Olivia delivering the line "You've got the right one, baby" to a huge roar of laughter and applause from the studio audience.

Of course, Mouth came to mind as well. In the opening scene of The Goonies, his car chase watching is interrupted when he is sprayed in the face as his father fixes their kitchen sink. These few seconds of this classic movie have always brought two questions to my mind. #1 -- Where is the water coming from? It appears to be shooting from the drain and not from any typical water source. And #2 -- As Mouth is being sprayed in the face, why doesn't he move out of the way? Instead, he keeps his face in the direct line of fire until he father is able to contain the spray.
And how could I not think of God's gift to movies, otherwise known as the Karate Kid? With faucet fixing at hand, I could hear Mr. Miyagi plain as day as he enters the LaRusso's apartment: "Fix faucet?"

But what really kept running through my head more than anything was the short cartoon from the original Electric Company. The cartoon features a plumber who becomes angry because the "person" inside the house will not open the door. What he doesn't realize is that, to the amusement of PBS-watching children, he is talking to a parrot. Do you ever get a line from a song or movie stuck in your head. I did for at least fifteen minutes tonight:

"It's the plumber. I've come to fix the sink."

This is how my mind works. Sad. I know.

Images from the Green Planet

After a handful of recent posts about E.T. memories from my childhood, Shawn from Branded in the 80's continued with the topic by talking about a few memories of his own. One of his posts was about the sequel book to the E.T. story we're all familiar with.

The Book of the Green Planet follows E.T. as he leaves Earth and returns to his home planet. Intrigued by Sean's post, I was happy to find that my local library had a copy of this book and, during what little spare time I've had over the past week, I've been reading about life on the Green Planet. E.T.'s peers include a variety of creatures such as Jumpums, the Flopglopple, and Micro Techs. As with any book, the reader is left to create an image in his own mind of what these characters look like. But this weekend, in a completely random and coincidental stroke of luck, I came across a magazine that gave me a much more detailed perspective of these Green Planet inhabitants.

For 50 cents at a local flea market, I came home with a (beat up) copy of the July 1985 issue of The Electric Company Magazine. When I bought it, the magazine was wrapped and sealed in plastic so I picked it up based on the cover alone. For 50 cents, I figured it was worth a gamble. Getting it home, I was pleasantly surprised by the contents as this issue was published at almost the exact same time as The Book of the Green Planet.

The first feature in this issue is titled "Welcome to E.T.'s Green Planet" and introduces readers to the other creatures that live on E.T.'s home planet -- the same creatures I had been reading about off and on for the past week. It shows E.T.'s gourd-like home as well as the Jumpums, fluteroots, timpanums, and trompayds.

The next page goes on to describe E.T's mentor Botanicus, his Parent, the Flopglopple, and a Micro Tech. For the record, the Flopglopple looks a little bit like what I had imagined but it's safe to say I was way off with the Mirco Tech.

A large majority of this magazine is dedicated to E.T. as can be seen from the table of contents page below to the right. Even the inside cover jumps right in with a word activity called "E.T.'s Closet."

Readers were offered the opportunity to enter a contest to have a star named after them but I was more interested in the one-page Spiderplant comic. Spiderplant is the "hero that grows on you" and is based on the following premise: "We know that the plants on your window sill don't really jump around and talk like the plants on E.T.'s home planet, but what if they did? Then you might see Spiderplant!" This comic is done very much tongue-in-cheek and is a great addition to the theme of this issue.

A three-page spread called "If You Were an Alien in Someone's House" gives readers the chance to guess what everyday household items are being described as though they are foreign objects to someone new to Earth.

The centerfold (for lack of a better term), is a picture of E.T. with his varous powers and assets labeled -- everything from his glowing finger to his pot belly.

Aside from all of the cool pictures in this issue, one page really stuck out to me. The left side of this page mentions to readers that they can learn what happened to E.T. after he left Earth in the "new book E.T. The Book of the Green Planet." Although noteable, it was acutally the other half of this page that caught my eye even more.

With a shot of the Space Shuttle Challenger, the text describes how the Challenger will be spending seven days in space "early this month." The mission being referenced actually began on July 29, 1985 and was followed by another mission the following October. Sadly, as anyone old enough remember certainly does, these were the final successful missions for the Challenger.

Quite honestly, this issue of Electric Company Magazine is lucky to still be around. With a torn cover, my mom would have tossed this one in the trash upon sight. But I'm thankful for whatever reason this magazine has survived the test of time as I can now finish The Book of the Green Planet with a clearer picture of the characters involved.

VCRs cost how much?!?

Apparently I'm not the only one in my family who's a pack-rat as I've recently realized that this is an inherited trait. On a recent trip back home, my dad and I pulled out a few boxes from the attic over the garage -- each box labeled with a specific year and full of receipts and paperwork from that particular year.

One of my favorite pieces of paper we came across was from the 1984 box -- a receipt for the first VCR my family owned.

Dated December 11, 1984, this VCR was purchased at a time when families were starting to cave into the technological pressure of owning such a machine. These days, I think it's next to impossible to buy a single VCR unit (one without a DVD player) but in recent years, I recall seeing them for sale for as little as $20-30. But as VCRs were first finding their ways into people's homes, take a look at what my parents paid...

Not only was I astonished that this VCR cost over $500, I was equally amazed that my money-conscious parents dropped that kind of money for a video recorder! On top of that, don't miss the original price which is crossed out near the top -- this thing was originally on the shelf for $900!

Just a year later, in the 1985 Sears Wishbook, the price of similar VCRs had dropped by a few hundred dollars at least.

December of 1984 would put me in third grade at the time. I still remember my dad picking me up from school that day in his red truck with the VCR was in the back. It may sound ridiculous, but there are sounds that VCR made that I can still hear today. To turn it on, you had to press "Power" as well as a "TV/VCR" button. When the power button was pressed, the VCR made a sound that I will never forget but is difficult to describe -- something like a combination between a very distant motor revving and a quiet zipper.

I've had a hard time finding a good picture of the actual VCR we had in our home. The best I've been able to come up with so far is the image below -- the corner of a larger picture with the VCR seen in the background sitting on top of the television.

I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised by the price of my family's first VCR. Look at what people shelled out for DVD players about ten years ago and flat screens and blu-ray players in more recent years. I can't begin to imagine what we'll all waste our money on next...

Back to School

New posts may be a little sparse for a few weeks as summer comes to a close and my tenth year working in public education gets underway.

Oh....back to school....back to school...

Little People: Then & Now

My daughter loves Fisher Price Little People which is cool because these were some of my favorite toys as a kid. And when I say she loves them, I'm not talking about the new Little People with all the fancy detail. I'm talking about the original no-arms/no-legs Little People.

When she was old enough to play with them without trying to eat them, I got out my old Little People from thel late 70's and these quickly became some of her favorite toys. Recently, as she and I were playing Little People on the floor, I started to compare the originals to the handful of new figures she has. As you can see, the basics are still much the same but time has certainly changed Fisher Price Little People...for the worse, if you ask me. There is something to be said for simplicity.

Yes, I realize that the older ones are now considered choking hazards. But some things are sacred.

The Family Circus

I think a fair comparison would be to say that the Family Circus is like road kill -- no one really enjoys it but a person can't help but look at it. In the 1999 movie Go, characters played by Timothy Olyphant and Katie Holmes have a conversation that perfectly summarizes what is likely the most common perception of the Family Circus:

Claire: What do you have against the Family Circus?
Todd: Okay, you sit down to read your paper, and you're enjoying your entire two-page comic spread, right? And then there's the Family f*cking Circus, bottom right hand corner, just waiting to suck. And it's the last thing you read, so it spoils everything you read before it.
Claire: You could just not read it.
Todd: I hate it, yet I'm uncontrollably drawn to it.

As Olyphant's character explains, a fan of the daily comic pages cannot go through all of the daily strips and then skip the simple one-panel comic in the corner. After reading the Family Circus, the reader is often left with a sour taste in his mouth and an eager curiousity as to how a comic lacking any form of humor can continue to be published on a daily basis. Considering the fact that the Family Circus remains in publication, I suppose it is safe to assume that there is an audience out there that at least cracks a smile at the site of these children's stupidity.

I will admit, however, that as a kid, I loved the Family Circus. Being a kid who loved the comic pages from top to bottom, I often found myself reading Family Circus books at the local IGA while my mom did some grocery shopping. Occasionally this even led to the purchase of one of these books (cover price usually ranging from $1.95 - $2.25). After the A-Team and E.T. books, you're probably wondering if I lived at the grocery store book rack. It may seem that way but as an adult, I applaud my mother for finding a great way to keep me occupied while she bought groceries.

Either way, I wound up with eight Family Circus books on my shelf...

I'm regularly amazed by the nonsense I remember from my childhood. These books remind me of yet another such example. It is thanks to the Family Circus that I learned the term "c'mon" in its written form. It was in one of these books where I came across a strip using this term and I was confused as to the meaning of "cee-mawn." Eventually I realized that this was to be pronounced phoneticly and I got a grip on a new way to write "come on." Brilliant, I know.

In the late 1970's and early 1980's, three animated Family Circus specials were produced -- A Special Valentine with the Family Circus (1978), A Family Circus Christmas (1979), and A Family Circus Easter (1982). I don't remember which title, but a local video store had one of these in stock when I was a kid. I remember being fascinated by the idea of watching these characters move and talk after being limited to only seeing them in print up to that point.

As my collection of audio and video recordings from my youth has grown in my adult years, I have come up with copies of all three of these out-of-print specials. Yeah, I know. But I'd bet you've got some crap in your collection, too.

In recent years, others who have come to realize the ridiculous nature of the Family Circus have taken the time to mock this comic is an often offensively humorous way. If you're interested in finally getting a laugh from the Family Circus, I highly recommend you take a look at The Free-Floating Dysfunctional Family Circus Archive (although at the time of this post, it appears that the images on this site are not working).

Finally, as can be seen in an October 14, 2009 letter to the editor of a nearby newspaper, people's distaste for the Family Circus is not going away.

I truly don't understand how the Family Circus can be appealing in any way. Maybe the humor in these comics is actually some form of higher entertainment that the average person is not able to grasp. Either that or, as Timothy Olyphant so eloquently stated, it just sucks.

Toothpick Art.

I realize that most people who visit this blog are looking for reminders of their childhoods and my awesome artwork is less than interesting, but you have to realize how much time I spent with a pencil and paper in hand when I was a kid. The sketchs of Garfield and the General Lee from my childhood are too many to count, but when I come across gems like this, they need to be shared.

I call it "Toothpick and Tape on Construction Paper."

For those of you not trained in child art interpretation, what you're looking at is a guy sitting on a log roasting nothing on his stick over an open fire.

Creative for a kid? Yes, it was.

Neighborhood of Make-Believe Playset

Those of us who dig through boxes at garage sales and flea markets are always in search of that one item. You know what I'm talking about. It's usually something that's either impossible to find or is out there but only at a cost much more than any normal person would be willing to pay.

Some of you who know me here on the internet through my other blog are aware of my fascination with the work of Fred Rogers. For me, that "one item" is the 1977 Neighborhood of Make-Believe playset made by Ideal.

In the late 70's, Ideal also put out a Musical Trolley and three hand puppets featuring characters from the show. For the most part, those items are pretty easy to come up with. But not the NOM playset.

For years I have been searching high and low for any sign that this playset even existed. Having come up with two images of this set and nothing more, I was beginning to wonder if the playset was something that was planned but never produced. But last week that all changed.

Thanks to eBay, I was able to come up with not one, but three pieces from this orginal set. So it's out there, folks, and I have a renewed faith that someday I will come across a complete set.

King Friday and Daniel Tiger are in great condition while Prince Tuesday is missing a little paint on his arm and Henrietta Pussycat looks as those she's had her face run through a wringer (on a side note, the Daniel Tiger figure was an accessory to the Musical Trolley and was not a part of the NOM playset). While a few of the pieces I got are a little beat up, I couldn't be happier with them.

Most people would wonder why a guy in his 30's is so excited about these old toys, but some of you reading this certainly understand. You've got something you're looking for, too.