Saturday, 31 October 2015

Bobby "Boris" Pickett: Monster Mash (1964)

From American Bandstand. October 13, 1964.

Monster Mash is a 1962 novelty song and the best-known song by Bobby "Boris" Pickett. After his discharge from the Army in 1961 Paxton became a member of a vocal group called The Cordials and tried his hand at show business. He spent his time taxiing, performing with the Cordials at night and going to auditions during the day. He would do impersonations between songs, often imitating the voice of Boris Karloff. One night, while performing with his band, Pickett did a monologue in imitation of horror movie actor Karloff while performing the Diamonds' Little Darlin'. The audience loved it and fellow band member Lenny Capizzi suggested the pair take advantage of the novelty song craze that was prevalent in the early sixties so they wrote a song around Pickett's imitation of the horror movie star. Then recorded it.

The song was released as a single on Gary S. Paxton's Garpax Records label in August 1962 along with a full-length LP called The Original Monster Mash, which contained several other monster-themed tunes. The Monster Mash single was #1 on the Hot 100 chart on October 20–27 of that year, just before Halloween. It has been a perennial holiday favorite ever since. It was on the top 50 in November of 2014, a full 50 years after its debut. I had a most enjoyable Halloween party in a caravan in the Lake District to (I think) the 1977 Monster Mash album, so it inspires fond memories. After getting tanked up we went down to the sea and used my friend as a human compass lying on the floor to point out the North Star. It was great fun, until we realised he had done a whisky sick, and we were spinning him around in it. Mixed evening. On the whole, good.

Bit of 1953 Boris for ya

Pickett and Capizzi recorded the song with Gary S. Paxton, then-unknown piano player Leon Russell, Johnny MacRae, Rickie Page, and Terry Berg, credited as "The Crypt-Kickers". (Mel Taylor, drummer for the Ventures, is sometimes credited with playing on the record as well, while Russell, who arrived late for the session, appears on the single's B-side, "Monster Mash Party".) The song was partially inspired by Paxton's earlier novelty hit "Alley Oop".

Pickett and Capizzi finished the “Monster Mash” in one afternoon, then cut it with producer Gary Paxton. Eight weeks later, in October 1962, the song was No. 1. The recording itself was completed in only a couple of hours. It was rejected by four major labels before Paxton, released "Monster Mash" on his own label. 

"Monster Mash" was the product of a very specific cultural moment and that upon its release the audience understood precisely what it was parodying. The two fads it drew on were the spate of Twist-inspired early 60's dance craze records, in this case specifically "Mashed Potato Time" by Dee Dee Sharp (based on the "Mashed Potato" dance craze, which is where The "Mash" in the title comes in); and the contemporaneous movie monster craze, ignited by the re-packaging for television of the Universal Studios 1950's monster movie catalogue, under the collective title "Shock Theatre".  The "Monster Mash" was a variation of the Mashed Potato, in which the footwork was the same but Frankenstein-style monster gestures were made with the arms and hands.

Bobby Pickett's record parodies "Mashed Potato Time" by turning it into a song about the movie monsters craze. The monsters in question have congregated at Dr. Frankenstein's lab and learn a new dance called the Monster Mash. The song is narrated by a mad scientist whose monster, late one evening, rises from a slab to perform the new dance. The dance becomes "the hit of the land" when the scientist throws a party for other monsters. Pickett does most of the record in his Boris Karloff voice, except for one line, which is the record's most brilliant moment: At the end of the fourth verse, in the exact same spot where Dee Dee Sharp had exclaimed "They even do it to 'Dear Lady Twist,'"

Bobby "Boris" Pickett doing the Mash 

Being 1962, many of the sound effects had to be created in the studio. The producers came up with several low-budget but effective sound effects for the recording, as follows:
  • The coffin being opened was made by pulling a rusty nail out of a lump of wood with the claw of a hammer.
  • The bubbling sounds came from blowing through a straw in a glass of water.
  • The sound of the chains was made by dropping chains onto plywood planks on the record studio floor.
Incredibly despite the lampoonery, a recent "Roots of Rap" geneology tree has Monster Mash as a full branch on the tree, equal to Walter Brennan to Leonard Nimoy, and Lorne Greene!

In a 2004 interview with the Washington Post, Pickett said:

Washington Post: If you never worked another day in your life, would the royalties from Monster Mash be enough to support you? Are we talking big bucks here? Six figures a year perhaps?

Bobby "Boris" Pickett: Let's just say that it has paid the rent for 43 years.

North Utsire

Camille Saint-Saëns: Danse Macabre (1874)

The artistic genre of the dance of death was most probably developed in France. The dance of death of the Cimetière des Innocents in Paris, painted in 1424, is considered the starting point of this tradition. During the second half of the 15th century, the dance of death enjoyed an always growing popularity.

The dances of death were mostly painted (or more rarely carved) on the outside walls of cloisters, of family vaults, of ossuaries or inside some churches. These frescoes represent an emaciated corpse or a skeleton coupled with a representative of a certain social class. The number of characters and the composition of the dance vary. The dance of death often takes the form of a farandole, an open chain community dance a bit like a grotesque conga. Below or above the picture are painted verses by which death adresses its victim. He often talks in a threatening and accusing tone, sometimes also cynic and sarcastic. Then comes the argument of the Man, full of remorse and despair, crying for mercy. But death leads everyone into the dance: from the whole clerical hierarchy (pope, cardinals, bishops, abbots, canons, priests), to every single representative of the laic world (emperors, kings, dukes, counts, knights, doctors, merchants, usurers, robbers, peasants, and even innocent children). Death does not care for the social position, nor for the richness, sex, or age of the people it leads into its dance. It is often represented with a musical instrument. This characteristic has a symbolic significance and appears already at the beginning of the dance of death. The instrument evokes the tempting, a little diabolic enchanting power of music. Think of the sirens' song, of the flute player of Hameln, etc. Like them, death charms mankind with its music.

Danse Macabre, Op. 40, is a tone poem for orchestra, written in 1874 by the French composer Camille Saint-Saëns. It started out in 1872 as an art song for voice and piano with a French text by the poet Henri Cazalis, which is based on an old French superstition.

Zig, zig, zig, Death in cadence,
Striking with his heel a tomb,
Death at midnight plays a dance-tune,
Zig, zig, zig, on his violin.
The winter wind blows and the night is dark;
Moans are heard in the linden-trees.
Through the gloom, white skeletons pass,
Running and leaping in their shrouds.
Zig, zig, zig, each one is frisking.
The bones of the dancers are heard to crack-
But hist! of a sudden they quit the round,
They push forward, they fly; the cock has crowed.

Camille Saint-Saëns

In 1874, the composer expanded and reworked the piece into a tone poem, replacing the vocal line with a solo violin. According to legend, "Death" appears at midnight every year on Halloween. Death calls forth the dead from their graves to dance for him while he plays his fiddle (here represented by a solo violin). His skeletons dance for him until the rooster crows at dawn, when they must return to their graves until the next year. The piece opens with a harp playing a single note, D, twelve times (the twelve strokes of midnight) which is accompanied by soft chords from the string section. The solo violin enters playing the tritone consisting of an A and an E-flat—in an example of scordatura tuning, the violinist's E string has actually been tuned down to an E-flat to create the dissonant tritone. The first theme is heard on a solo flute, followed by the second theme, a descending scale on the solo violin which is accompanied by soft chords from the string section. The first and second themes, or fragments of them, are then heard throughout the various sections of the orchestra.

The piece becomes more energetic and at its midpoint, right after a contrapuntal section based on the second theme, there is a direct quote played by the woodwinds of the Dies Irae, a Gregorian chant from the Requiem that is melodically related to the work's second theme. The Dies Irae is presented unusually in a major key. After this section the piece returns to the first and second themes and climaxes with the full orchestra playing very strong dynamics. Then there is an abrupt break in the texture and the coda represents the dawn breaking (a cockerel's crow, played by the oboe) and the skeletons returning to their graves. The piece makes particular use of the xylophone to imitate the sounds of rattling bones. Saint-Saëns uses a similar motif in the Fossils movement of The Carnival of the Animals. Personally, I don't like the breaking dawn motif. I think its cheesy & the whole piece would be much better finishing off in a disorganised orgy of sound & revelry. I'm sure it must have crossed Saint-Saëns's mind to do that but perhaps he thought the work needed sanitising for the benefit of his morally indignant audience.

When Danse Macabre was first performed it was naturally not well received. The piece caused widespread consternation: the commentator Roger Nichols mentions adverse reaction to "the deformed Dies irae plainsong", the "horrible screeching from solo violin", the use of a xylophone and "the hypnotic repetitions", in which Nichols hears a pre-echo of Ravel's Boléro. Perfect! Let the puritans weep. I don't know which version is being used in the vid above set to various Tim Burton film scenes, or who played it, but I thought it was pretty good & fitted in with the Halloween theme.

North Utsire 

Tuesday, 20 October 2015



Being unable to effectively digest gluten or dairy proteins, I have had a right old time developing interesting recipes that don’t drive me to boredom. In particular, texture of replacement gluten foods is an important thing to capture, and the long term nature of having to omit otherwise tasty and nutritious yummies for life is quite a cross to bear I can tell you. Karl Marx said “Necessity is the Mother of Invention” and I suppose he must be right because I eventually hit on this scrumptious method of getting healthy veggies with some texture, which can be altered to prevent boredom. You could vary this recipe by adding in a tin of Red Kidney beans lightly mashed (to make bean burgers), or nut butters and/ or ground mixed nuts (to make nut burgers). Another variation would be to fry off some seeds such as cumin, fennel, coriader or mustard seeds, or add roasted pumpkin, sesame seeds or flax to the PattyCakes at the mixing stage. This recipe makes 8 or so PattyCakes, which I can make up in advance and last a good few days. The whole thing takes about 30 minutes to prep, and then 30 mins in the oven.


Mixed vegetables of any suitable kind, examples: Broccoli, Carrot, Cauliflower, Sweetcorn, Peas, Spinach, Green Beans, etc. These can comprise frozen, tinned, or reg’lr veg.

Chop the veg finely and steam them for circa 20-30 mins depending on how much you want them to mush or remain al dente. Better to chop them first because chopping recently steamed veg is HOT HOT HOT.

125g Mashed Potato Flakes
400ml Boiled Water
Large knob of Butter

Once the vegetables are being steamed, prepare the mashed potato & give it a chance to cool down.
¾ tsp salt
1/3 tsp Turmeric
1 heaped tsp Coriander powder
1 heaped tsp Garam Masala
1 tsp Paprika
¼ tsp Ground black pepper

Mix the herbs & add in to the mashed potato.

Other herbs could be added, e.g. oregano, Herbes de Provence, garlic or onion powder.
1 small red onion, finely chopped
2 heaped Tbsp Besan (Chickpea Flour)

Once the veggies are steamed, add them in to the mashed potato and mix like fury. Add in the ingredients opposite. If you don’t have Besan, you could try Lentil Flour, Brown Rice Flour, or any type of wheat flour if you are ok with gluten foods. If the mixture doesn't bind, add an egg. 

Cook at 200OC for 30 minutes
Serves 8
As the PattyCakes have been pretty much cooked & mixed, it only remains to oven bake them until they achieve a nice crusty exterior.


North Utsire

Bäume. Betrachtungen und Gedichte (Hermann Hesse)

“For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfil themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.

A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.

A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.

When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. Let God speak within you, and your thoughts will grow silent. You are anxious because your path leads away from mother and home. But every step and every day lead you back again to the mother. Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.

A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one's suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.

So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.”

Text from: Hermann Hesse, Bäume. Betrachtungen und Gedichte (Trees: Reflections and Poems) Posthumously published in 1984

Beth Moon, a photographer based in San Francisco, has been searching for the world’s oldest trees for the past 14 years. She has traveled all around the globe to capture the most magnificent trees that grow in remote locations and look as old as the world itself. Sixty of Beth Moon’s duotone photos were recently published in a book titled “Ancient Trees: Portraits Of Time”. 

“Standing as the earth’s largest and oldest living monuments, I believe these symbolic trees will take on a greater significance, especially at a time when our focus is directed at finding better ways to live with the environment” writes Moon in her artist statement."

North Utsire

Hiroshi Suzuki: Cat (1975)

This track, from the eponymous album is so rare that hardly anything is known about it. Except its fusion jazz. Japanese. By trombonist Hiroshi Suzuki. It was made in 1975 for Columbia Records in Japan and features Hiroshi Suzuki - Trombone, Hiromasa Suzuki - Keyboards, Akira Ishikawa - Drums, Takeru Muraoka - Sax, Kunimitsu Inaba - Bass. There are 5 extended tracks on the album, comprising Romance, Shrimp Dance, Walk Tall, Cat, and Kuro To Shiro. What more do we need to know!

North Utsire

Brave New World Revisited

Big Government and Big Business ... will try to impose social and cultural uniformity upon adults and their children. To achieve this they will (unless prevented) make use of all the mind-manipulating techniques at their disposal and will not hesitate to reinforce these methods of non-rational persuasion by economic coercion and threats of physical violence. If this kind of tyranny is to be avoided, we must begin without delay to educate ourselves and our children for freedom and self-government. Such an education for freedom should be ... first of all in facts and in values — the facts of individual diversity and genetic uniqueness and the values of freedom, tolerance and mutual charity, which are the ethical corollaries of these facts.

Aldous Huxley: (Brave New World Revisited, 1958)
North Utsire

Maschinenmensch & The Machine (2013)

The Machine is a 2013 British science fiction thriller film directed and written by Caradog W. James. It stars Caity Lotz and Toby Stephens as computer scientists who create an artificial intelligence for the military. The Machine won three BAFTA Cymru awards, Best of UK Film Award at Raindance Film Festival, and Achievement Against the Odds Prize by the British Independent Film Awards.

The Maschinenmensch (German for "machine-human") is a fictional character in Fritz Lang's film Metropolis, played by German actress Brigitte Helm in both its robot form and human incarnation. She is a gynoid (female robot or android) created by the scientist Rotwang. Named Maria in the film, and "Futura" in Thea von Harbou's original novel Metropolis, she was the first robot ever depicted in cinema.
  • The Machines speaks Persian/Farsi, Iranian language.
  • Costume designer Chrissie Pegg was given just two weeks to make 100 costumes with only £40 for each and had only one assistant.
  • Caity Lotz preformed all her own stunts for the movie, including the dance scene.
  • The "Military Base" scenes were filmed at Greenham Common, United Kingdom.

The Maschinenmensch has been given several names through the decades: Parody, Ultima, Machina, Futura, Robotrix, False Maria, Robot Maria, and Hel. The intertitles of the 2010 restoration of Metropolis quotes Rotwang, the robot's creator, referring to his gynoid Maschinenmensch, literally translated as ´Machine human´.

The Maschinenmensch is an archetypal example of the Frankenstein complex, where artificial creations turn against their creator and go on a rampage. Artificial beings with a malevolent nature were a popular theme at the time, as seen in films such as Der Golem or Marcel Lherbier's L'Inhumaine. In a once-missing part of the film, Rotwang explicitly instructs the robot to pervert Fredersen's orders and help bring down his worst enemy, which helps explain her destructive behaviour. Different incomplete restorations of the film made since the original offered different explanations of the robot's behaviour (one, for example, saying that Rotwang has in fact lost control of the robot and it is not under anyone's control), or no explanation at all. The 2010 restoration, complete for all practical purposes, depicts Rotwang deliberately instructing the robot Maria, thus finally clarifying the gynoid Maria's motivation.

In the end, after the gynoid Maria has incited the workers to riot, destroy the city's machines, which causes the subterranean worker's city to flood, the workers believe it has caused their children to die by drowning in the flooded city. They capture gynoid Maria and burn her at the stake, though it reverts to mechanical robot form just before its destruction.

The Maschinenmensch's appearance and concept has influenced many artists over the years. It was depicted on the 1977 album Live! In The Air Age by Be-Bop Deluxe. The still displayed on the album is of the climactic scene where the soul of Maria is being installed into the robot and rings of light are circling around the robot's body. Heavy metal band Y&T's 1985 album Down for the Count has a cover illustration depicting the robot being held by Count Dracula as he prepares to sink his fangs into her neck. German band Kraftwerk's 1978 album Die Mensch-Maschine is a clear reference to the film and has a track titled "Metropolis."

The 1982 film Blade Runner, which took heavy inspiration from Metropolis, also borrows the theme of Machines that are indistinguishable from Humans, that is, robots in human-appearing android and gynoid form. All three female characters in Blade Runner, and several males, are robots.

North Utsire