When it comes to rock music, the surname “Smith” almost always makes me reach for my bird-flipper, as it’s most commonly associated with Patti (with an “I”), Robert (with a fright wig), and fuckin’ Morrissey (with no dick up his ass where at least one really ought to be).
Now I’m not going to declare that the Patti Smith Group or the Cure or the Smiths as quote-unquote “BAD” music, per se.
It’s just not for me.
Because it’s Chick Music.
And Chick Music is just fine.
Like celebrity gossip, astrology and the pre-coital claim “I don’t even think I CAN get pregnant,” stuff like Patti Smith, The Cure, and Morrissey is, you know… for Chicks.
Into that ghetto, I’d also cattle-car Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, Gang of Four, New Order, Echo and the Bunnymen—or, as I call them, Chicko and the Bunny Non-Men—and pretty much the entirety of ’80s European new wave, maybe most especially Depeche Mode.
Kill Mother Fucking Depeche Mode. That’s what I say.
But then I also say that KMFDM is also, very much, Chick Music.
Of any gender.
I write now though, to single out music that most definitely did not deserve the Chick Music pass—or any other kind of pass—but to which I not only acquiesced … I actually maybe pretended not to despise it.
Because a lady and/or ladies might have been present.
And if music be the food of love, I’ll lie for a mouthful every time.
I’ll rattle these off in backwards chronological order, roughly descending from least to most pathetic.
If you’re me.
Gerard Cosloy was playing at The Cooler, a basement club in New York’s Meat Packing District.
Gerard was one of my heroes: founder of the record label Matador, publisher of the landmark music-hating music zine Conflict, and an unvarnished New York media curmudgeon who endlessly offended terribly sensitive whom I enjoyed seeing offended.
Gerard also played guitar in a band called Envelope.
Envelope was some of the most deadly awful shit you could ever hope to not hear.
So at least, at the Cooler this one night, it was just going to be Gerard solo.
To accompany me, I asked this Nordic pixie-type with sawed-off Tomahawk Missile warheads in her Bratmobile t-shirt named AHH-NA. Her name was spelled A-N-A, but she pronounced it like that: AHH-NA.
Part THREE in a Series of THREE (or So) in conjunction with my new book, IF YOU LIKE METALLICA….
6.66 Some Head’s Not Gonna Roll
McBeardo loves all comers. Make no mistake.
But allow me to declare with neither pride nor shame, but as mere fact that, for all my libertine free-swingin’—including those periods before, during, and after my hard stint in the crotch-rock battalion Gays in the Military—that I just don’t gaze upon the simple form of another man, naked or otherwise, and think, “Yeeeeaahhhh… stubble and pectorals and teste-sweat… that’s for ME!”
That stated, much of my life has been spent in raging envy over the instantaneous and/or anonymous orgasm exchange opportunities availed to those penis bearers whose primary motivation is acquiring more bare penis.
Lo, the Urban Homosexual, Genus: Male.
Come July 1993, I wasn’t lacking for opposite sex fluid-exchangers.
The magic potion for being able to approach females proved to be served by the pitcher at Downtown Beirut and, more and more often for me, peddled in plastic packets from behind the pinball machine at the Full Moon Saloon on Eighth Avenue.
Still, I couldn’t just walk into a bar laden with ladies, drop trou, and leave spermily satiated several sucktastic moments later.
Such easy access remained the sole domain of The GAY and, psycho-emotive biology be damned, I wanted in on those boys’ never-ending free blowjob party.
If it was dark enough—how would my wang even know? And if I was drunk enough—why would my wang even care? That’s what I (and my wang) figured.
Thus the momentous occasion arrived when, fortifying myself with a succession of 40-ounce Colt 45’s, I set out one evening to finally make that leap, loin-first. Past midnight on a Saturday, I walked toward Manhattan’s hilariously and then-accurately named Meat-Packing
The Vault, a bondage club I could get into for free with my fancy Screw magazine writer credentials, was in the area, and I knew those dark, tranny-hooker-lined streets housed countless rawhide nelly arenas behind mammoth steel doors that would give Leatherface the whim-whams.
Blaring from my Walkman for this journey: Judas Priest.
Patrolling those dark 11th Avenue sidewalks in headphones, a Priest mix rang in my ears with thematic song-by-song specificity:
Most pointedly, the playlist concluded with 1977’s “Here Come the Tears.”
And so, Judas Priest ablaze on cassette, I guzzled the rest of my malt liquor, steeled myself and approached one door into and out of which spilled prospective nameless orifi.
And then I froze. The door was closed. I couldn’t bear to open it.
So I just stood for a moment.
Then enough to have to rewind the Judas Pries tape.
Finally, just as I lurched forward, the door burst open, wide, and it hit me.
The MUSK of MAN.
My nervous system had been assaulted infinite times by jackhammer wafts of men in sexual frenzy at Live Nude Girl peeps shows, but here there were no girls—live, nude, or otherwise—to offset the olfactory affront.
This MUSK was man, ALL Man, NUDE Man, AROUSED Nude Man, and nothing but—b-u-t-t—Aroused Nude Man.
The frying-pan-to-the-proboscis effect was rippling… musclebound… RECTAL…. and testorized to the point that I swear I felt the fumage pry openmy very nostrils and, already all lubed up, slide deeper than anything else every had up inside my sinus cavities.
My sniffer, alas, seemed to be directly connected to my nether regions and a total systemic disconnect overrode the operation.
I withered in the fumy bath of Man Musk and sauntered off, forced to accept that not even the might of Judas Priest could overpower my addiction to my own carnal wiring.
And, there, came the tears.
HAIL BENT FOR LEATHER!
The shindig went down at Salon Tress.
In addition to stupefyingly great readings by the other participants Rachel McPadden, Katie Rife, Nithin Kalvakota,Dan Gleason, Gregory Jacobsen, Bob Goblin—as well as high metal air guitar virtuosity by Nordic Thunder and Cannonball Mavin—I read the preceding composition.
Nay, Palm Death: What Is the Perfect Brutal Soundtrack for Peepshow Piss Lesbians at 3:30AM on a Thursday in 1990?
Part Two in a Series of Three (or So)
5.5. NAY, PALM DEATH!
Aside repeatedly catching Blind Fury with Rutger Hauer at various 42nd Street grindhouses, Summer 1990 sucked and blew and sucked-blew.
During one particularly grievous nadir, a failed effort to rekindle a shattered romance prompted me to seek solace where any free, white, and healthy 21-year-old might: in the peep shows alongside all those grindhouses where I’d been watching Rutger Hauer.
It was ridiculously late, like 3:30 in the morning on a Thursday.
That meant almost all the LIVE! NUDE! GIRLS! had vamoosed until the next day’s first commuter rush, and I only had limited funds left anyway after squiring my ex out for drinks and rejection, in that exact order.
So my plan was to cozy up in a Peepland video booth for visual succor by way of German piss lesbians.
During busy day-parts, Peepland’s sound system normally blared techno or salsa or whatever the present New York disco radio outlet was.
At this juncture, though, the mop jockey set it on one of the shitbag Classic Rock stations and then, suddenly, louder than life and/or a million little deaths, the air quaked with Crosby, Stills, and Nash singing “Our House/ Is a very, very, very fine house!”
I couldn’t whack off with that song playing.
I’d love to meet the man who could, because THERE, ladies and gentlemen, would be a true pervert.
But even beyond “Our House”’s lilting harpsichord and airy harmonies and Graham Nash’s lovely invocation of the hippie cottage he set up with Joni Mitchell (BLECCCH!!!), I was in a vile public masturbatorium at a godless hour to get relief from the assurance overwhelming me that NO woman, anywhere, would ever set up house with me.
Not even Joni Mitchell.
It made for a solid soundtrack to a groovy hate self-fuck.
But, still, I needed more.
With my one free hand, I tossed Big Black and put in Napalm Death’s Mentally Murdered tape.
Even more obliterating.
While the happy frauleins on-screen simultaneously relieved themselves and quenched their thirsts, Napalm Death pummeled my ear-drums to the very direst pits of my anti-soul and, before my last 40-seconds-for-a-dollar ran out, I was done.
Zipping up, I realized I hit upon a bold new formula for giddy self-annihilation, however (unfortunately) temporary.
Death metal plus illegal foreign pornography consumed outside the home equals cosmic numbness equals peace. Or some dead version of peace, anyway, which is what I was after.
The porn peeps would always be there (I thought).
Napalm Death had proven effective in creating an atmosphere of thunderous homi/suicidal rapture unto orgasm.
Still, I wondered if I could go further.
And that’s how I got into Deicide.
HAIL GLEN BENTON’S SCARIFICATION!
The shindig went down at Salon Tress. In addition to stupefyingly great readings by the other participants Rachel McPadden, Katie Rife, Nithin Kalvakota,Dan Gleason, Gregory Jacobsen, Bob Goblin—as well as high metal air guitar virtuosity by Nordic Thunder and Cannonball Mavin—I read the preceding composition.
Still to come: SOME HEAD’S NOT GONNA ROLL!
The shindig went down at Salon Tress. In addition to stupefyingly great readings by the other participants Rachel McPadden, Katie Rife, Nithin Kalvakota, Dan Gleason, Gregory Jacobsen, Bob Goblin—as well as reality metal air guitar virtuosity by Nordic Thunder and Cannonball Mavin—I read the following compositions.
1. Rosemary’s Brooklyn Baby
The film Rosemary’s Baby debuted in theaters on June 12, 1968. I was a mere womb banger at the time, waiting to debut myself two months and nine days later.
The woman brewing me in utero, Moms McBeardo, was a stick-skinny blonde with wide blue eyes who already bore resemblance to Mia Farrow, the Rosemary of Rosemary’s Baby.
Since Moms was hugely pregnant when the movie came out, fri ends and strangers alike commented on how much she looked like Mia. Her choice to sport a boy’s haircut, as Ms. Farrow famously did on screen, and don psychedelic print maternity frocks of the day only further drove home the doppelgangerism— AND THEN SHE FLIPPED HER PIXIE-CUT EVERY TIME PEOPLE POINTED OUT THE RESEMBLANCE!
This is akin to a knuckledhead who used to drink at a bar I frequented called Dowtown Beirut. He was fat guy with a huge jet-black pompadour, who’d wear giant wraparound sunglasses, and he’d order drinks with a southern accent and then say, “Thankyu vurrrry muchhh.” Every so often, you’d be sitting there, and all of a sudden you’d hear this goofball explode, “DON’T CALL ME ELVIS!”
This characteristic of Moms’s, however, is telling. She certainly passed it on to me. By age four, I was a full-blown fanatic of Dracula and Frankenstein and their ilk and it large part it was because they TERRIFIED me. I’d stock my bedroom with scary posters and fright masks, then I’d lie awake, petrified at the reality I MADE of being stuck alone in a den of monstrosities.
And that’s not even counting the fact that, from infancy onward, an image of Satan hung on my wall. He was getting his horned skull stomped by St. Michael the Archangel, but still…. And who placed that picture there? Who else? My own blessed mother.
HAIL LIL’ SATAN!
2. One Tin Boner
During a 1977 folk mass at my fantastically cool Uncle Freddie’s church in Cedar Grove, New Jersey the congregation sang “One Tin Soldier”. It was the theme song from the drive-in masterpiece Billy Jack and had since become massive pop radio hit. The words say there won’t be any trumpet blowin’, but the church actually had a trumpet blower that day.
Prior to that, the name group that performed “One Tin Soldier” always freaked me out Coven and with good reason: they were called Coven and they were the actual first Satanic rock band!
I’ve long lamented the ’70s brand of post-Vatican II Catholicism in which I was raised. Gone was the blood-and-thunder Son of a Vengeful God Jesus; now the Savior was like this Divine Flower Child who just loved the little children of the world. And in place of black-clad priests swinging incense and chanting in Latin, we now had groovy nuns strumming acoustic guitars under felt banners of fish and rainbows.
Some Garden State usurper snuck a taste of the Old One True Faith into the liturgy that day though, by way of a band whose debut album is titled Witchcraft Destroys Minds and Reaps Souls—again, a position with which the Church of Rome would hardly be at odds.
“One Tin Soldier” lays out a thoroughly Biblical tale of greed-driven genocide in the name of hypocritical righteousness.
“Go ahead and hate your neighbor/Go ahead and cheat a friend/Do it in the name of Heaven/You can justify it in the end…”
The gravity of the words never struck me until, at age eight, I read the lyrics off the mimeographed hymnal.
Eight years old or not, that’s some heavy shit, man.
The song condemns humanity wholesale as evil and irredeemable. It damns us. It really, really damns us. Just like the Church used to. It felt so damned good to be damned DAMNED that morning.
Years later, I’d try to revive that feeling of giddy perdition while making love to a photo of Coven singer Jinx Dawson in the gatefold of that Witchcraft album.
The Nordic blonde sorceress and Indiana native is splayed out nude as a human altar during a Satanic black mass. Many a sacrifice have I made to Jinx Dawson’s graven image.
Just recently, the Chicago Sun-Times ran a photo of me with an interview regarding IF YOU LIKE METALLICA. I’m wearing a Coven t-shirt in it, emblazoned with that very naked black mass photo.
Jinx herself wrote to me on Facebook:
“My Dearest Mike: I was so aroused to see thee wearing that irreverent Coven t-shirt. Thou art truly most wicked!”
So all’s well that’s ends well in a puddle at your feet. And then in a sock.
HAIL JINX! HAIL BILLY! HAIL THE KIDS AT THE FREEDOM SCHOOL!
3. KISS Your Pants
KISS scared the piss out of me on The Midnight Special in 1978. Not instantaneously—I didn’t just explode urine on the spot as I watched Gene Simmons spit blood and Wolfman Jack go, “All right, babies! Yeah! Spittin’ blood, babies! Allriiight! Breathing fiiii-yah! Yeah! Ahwoooo!”—but I immediately turned the TV off and went to bed, praying to not think about KISS. I awoke in the morning with soaked pajamas.
Until then, KISS existed on my radar only tangentially. My pot-smoking, longhaired uncles, on whom I relied for access to the rock world, laughed them off as clowns and it only the most unappealingly unwashed kids I knew would write “K-I-S-S” on their gym sneakers.
Summer 1978 brought with it a KISS onslaught, however. While my focus remained primarily on the Grease soundtrack and Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell—the title of which I kept hoping my mother wouldn’t catch on to—I now felt myself drawn to the spook-show Kabuki supervillains whose Destroyer album blared through the very air itself
wherever you went and who were now peddling dolls during cartoons on TV and about to star in their own Hanna-Barbera-produced TV movie.
One afternoon I amassed enough skee-ball tickets at the Fun City arcade in Keansburg, New Jersey to get something better than a back-scratcher (which means the points must have numbered in the millions).
Trading in my torn-off bounty for prizes, I asked the lady at the counter for the requisite 500-year-old Bazooka bubblegum and some plastic spider rings that immediately sliced into your finger and then, before I could stop myself, I said, “And a pack of KISS cards!”
What had I just done?
Frozen and excited at the same time, I hauled my loot to the dunes along Raritan Bay, opened the cards and looked at them one by one. Loving them. Loathing them. I actually said out loud: “I hate KISS. But, secretly, I like them.” Then I buried the cards in the sand, making sure the spot would be easy to remember, as it now housed evil.
Afterward, I walked up along the shoreline and wrote “KISS STINKS” in the wet sand and watched the tide wash the words away.
Like a prayer.
Fuck you, Madonna.
HAIL THE DEMON! THE STAR CHILD! THE SPACE ACE! THE CATMAN!
HAIL THE PHANTOM OF THE PARK!
4. Stairway to My Sweet Satan
The music of Led Zeppelin scared me as a kid, but the adolescent hoodlums bedecked in Led Zeppelin baseball jerseys scared me way worse.
Zeppelin seemed like the natural teenage soundtrack to stolen car joyrides and stray cat back alley executions by fire—dirtbag music for the sort of dirtbag who’d stuff you in a bag and bury in the dirt—sixty-six-point-six feet under.
“Stairway to Heaven,” however, loomed inevitable.
Shortly before my eighth grade graduation, the Daily News reported that various reverse record-spinners had cracked a backward message in “Stairway to Heaven” that stated: “Here’s to my sweet Satan/ the one who’s little path would make me sad/He will give those with him six-six-six/said Satan.”
For a spell, then, this expose put me off “Stairway to Heaven.” Alas, there came the Our Lady Help of Christians graduation dance.
An OLHC alumnus in a Panama Red t-shirt spun platters that included hits of the day, but tilted heavy toward the 8-Track collection everybody’s seed-and-stem-flecked older brother. Just before midnight (of course), the DJ announced that we had come to the last song: “Stairway to Heaven.”
I had just been shaking my non-moneymaker to “I Love Rock-N-Roll” with a quiet classmate named Ann Martin. This presented an opportunity for us to slow dance. No passing that up.
Alas, I found a solution: I waltzed to “Stairway to Heaven” with Ann Martin while, in my head, I rapid-fired off round after round of “Hail Mary”’s. When it got to the “there’s two paths you can go by” part—where the backward message was located—I upped the volume of my inner paens to the Blessed Mother so high as to drown out whatever coded bedazzlement might have been trying to violate my psyche and imperil my mortal soul.
Maybe it worked. I suppose, one day, I’ll find out. For sure.
HAIL OUR LADY HELP OF CHRISTIANS VS. SATAN!
4.4. Say You Love Satan—With Lasers
Throughout my high school years, the Hayden Planetarium drew ganja-zonked denim wearers en masse to its various weekend night laser shows. I saw them all: Laser Floyd, Laser Zeppelin, Laser Rush, Laser Van Halen, Laser Who, even Laser The Police.
The one, and only one, I passed on, however, was Laser Sabbath. I truly believed that if anything could conjure the Dark Lord
in the ungodly flesh it was the collective loose-joint-unhinged consciousness gathered in cabal before the alchemical technology of light-beams shaped like Pentagrams.
I was so terrified of Laser Sabbath, in fact, I couldn’t even listen to the radio commercial for it. I’d hear this bottomless-pit-deep voice announce, “Ron Delsner and the Hayden Planetarium Present….” And I’d have to shut it off, pray, and then down to my basement lair so I could watch and re-watch Faces of Death just before masturbating to Traci Lords videos, relieved and confident in the knowledge that I dodged undying hellfire.
Until the next dodge.
HAIL SATAN, MOST PARTICULARLY IN TRACI LORDS FORM!
Next up: making love to German piss lesbians accompanied by Napalm Death, and the might of Judas Priest vs. The Musk of Naked Man.
Long time, no nothin’.
Here’s the deal, hombres y mamis: although you’ve no doubt been enamored with my fineness in print by way of The Factsheet Five Zine Reader, Bubblegum Music Is the Naked Truth, The Official Heavy Metal Book of Lists, Mr. Skin’s Skincyclopedia, and Mr. Skin’s Skintastic Video Guide (along with some bizarre anthology the name of which I can’t remember that reprinted my Devil in Miss Jones 5 screenplay), several books either existing now or on the way also bear Hard and Heavy McBeardness
Two such efforts will even have my very own name on the byline!
If You Like Metallica… by Mike McPadden (Hal Leonard Books) launches June 1. Get ready for a shill-acking campaign nonpareil. Even if the merest flicker of a thought about Lars Ulrich curdle your body-milk, remember that this book is me—McBEARDO! #1!—writing finger-loose and fancy free about metal, punk, classic rock, stoner doom, industrial, and nipple rings in a Ride the Lightning t-shirt circa 1986. YOU will ride the lightning… in your pants!
Heavy Metal Movies by Mike McPadden. I’m writing this definitive thrashterpiece for the mighty Bazillion Points. It a leviathan in progress, to be delivered from Ian Christe and Company to your grabby mitts in spring 2013. “Like” HEAVY METAL MOVIES on Facebook and love me, love me, love me as I labor on this giant.
The Official Book of Sex, Drugs, and Rock-N-Roll Lists (Soft Skull Press) by Judy McGuire features my chapter-length contribution on the best Rock-N-Roll Porno Movies.
And then… when all the crust is settled, I’m going to expand Madonna Boots into a full-blown memoir/manifesto regarding Teenage Romance.
What’s keeping all of you out there busy? HAH?!
NOTE: This article has been written to accompany a screening of BLOODSUCKING FREAKS hosted by me—McBeardo! #1!—on Saturday, October 8 at midnight at Facets Multimedia in Chicago.
Bone up here now and be there then.
You won’t believe the eye.
Nine minutes into Bloodsucking Freaks (1976), a giddy dwarf on stage in a theater hacksaws through the wrist off a screaming nude blonde. He removes her hand, kisses it and holds it aloft in triumph.
The well-dressed audience in attendance applauds.
“Now the eye, Ralphus!” instructs the saturnine Master of Ceremonies, and the dwarf reaches into the weeping victim’s ocular cavity, plucks out her meaty, dripping peeper, and pops it into his mouth. Then he chews it up and swallows it—right on camera.
Again, the hoity-toity audience applauds.
As stated: you won’t believe it.
But there it is.
The events described hereafter take place two years after what went down in that first piece.
A few key pieces of information: A) Madonna Boots is the nickname of the blonde cheerleader from New Jersey to whom I lost my virginity, and B) between 1985 and 1987, I managed to drop about 150 pounds off my delicate frame, roughly cutting my overall bulk in half.
It didn’t help. As you can find out below.
The last time I saw Madonna Boots was on November 27, 1987. It was the day after Thanksgiving.
Bootsy, as she liked to be called, was a freshman at Montclair State University in New Jersey. I was in my third semester at the State University of New York at Purchase, a public arts academy in endlessly dull Westchester County, just north of New York City.
I ran the college radio station, which got me a lot of free records and an abusable telephone.
While not going to class and not getting laid, I phoned Madonna Boots at school as the holiday season started. Things had gotten that bad. Since arriving at college, I had not so much as accidentally bumped knees with a female. No dates. No kissing. No hand-holding. Nothing.
For that, I lost 150 pounds?
Dottie was a ballet major who looked a ’50s advertising drawing of a spunky, strawberry-blonde scamp. She talked kooky and she liked the Monkees and my Hawaiian shirts and we both had the complete Weird Al Yankovic discography and we immediately hit it off. Just not enough (for me).
People assumed Dottie and I were a couple for the first few months of school, which both delighted and depressed me: on the one hand, it meant I was perceived as human enough to have a girlfriend; but in reality, she wasn’t actually my Girlfriend From Mars, so the fact of my subhumanism remained unevolved.
Dottie sashayed in and sat on my lap.
I freaked. Bad. But not outwardly. I just barely kept it together enough to not jump up and go hide in a corner. Here was the very first moment in my entire 18 years that a girl was expressing genuine attraction to me. Ho. Lee. Shit.
6. LIFE ON THE FLIPSIDE
Twenty-three years after its single episode’s single airing, I think about Life on the Flipside almost every day. There’s no sane reason for this to be happening but, at some point, regularly, I flash back to my parents’ basement during the dark summer of 1988, watching NBC burn off this DOA pilot.
I hate that and I hate it.
Flipside, as the show was originally titled, was announced by Don Johnson’s production company as a sitcom vehicle for Ringo Starr, who was then the opposite-of-hot off his commercial campaign for Sun Country Wine Coolers.
The finished version, Life on the Flipside, seems very much created by and for individuals would declare Ringo to be their favorite Beatle.
Only Ringo’s not in it. Which, for sure, was for the best.
Now I love Ringo. Not only is he a Beatle, he’s The Funny Beatle, and he crafted one of the funniest, most godlike come-backs I’ve ever heard: when someone said, “How do you respond to people who claim you’re not a very good drummer,” Ringo replied, “I tell them I was the drummer in the Beatles.”
However, declaring Ringo to be your favorite Beatle is not unlike declaring Shemp to be your favorite Stooge.
It simply strains credulity, making one question the sincerity of the statement from even among the most likable and admirable of committed Stoogephiles, while also confirming, permanently, a desperation to be cute among the most construction-boot-to-the-bicuspids-inviting Stooge-fan fakers.
(Beatles-ranking-wise, the correct answer, of course, is that Ringo is the second best, with George and Paul tied for first.)
Life on the Flipside focuses on middle-aged rock star Tripper Day—yes, read it and puke—who doubles as a single dad when not selling out hockey arenas.
First things Furst: don’t miss my paean to numbers 10 through 8 on this list: Malibu CA, The Ugily Family and All That Glitters. Read that HERE.
7. DELTA HOUSE
Mad magazine saved my life when I was six years old. I exaggerate not here, as my earliest memories of suicidal depression date from kindergarten onward.
Then, at a 1974 flea market, I scored a shopping bag full of old Mads for a quarter and got a respite from that relentless post-toddler fatalism.
Pops McBeardo, my Vietnam vet Green Beret father, did not approve. To Pops, Mad was the product of irreverent “punks” created to subvert children and belch in the face of authority.
He was correct, of course. We just differed (then and now) as to whether that was (and is) a bad thing.
Even more contentious was my second signal that perhaps soldiering on past first grade might hold some promise: Saturday Night Live.
Pint-sized insomniac that I was, I caught the original broadcast of the third episode and instantly got hooked. Need I even point out that John Belushi was my immediate favorite?
Pops, in turn, blamed these sources of aid and comfort for making me the way I was.
It rushed to a volcanic head in the summer of 1978, as I turned 10, and National Lampoon’s Animal House erupted among us.
My experience with National Lampoon, to that point, was a couple of freaked out flip-throughs in the magazine section at the Route 35 Shop Rite in Hazlet, New Jersey.
Quick enough, I learned to go directly to the “Foto Funnies”, mentally photograph the black-and-white boobs therein, and put it back on the top rack. I’d get there. In time.
A movie, though, with my comedy hero. Where the boobs would be in color. And moving around. I could hardly stand to wait a second, let alone the better part of a decade. So as each of my older relatives and teenage day-camp counselors saw Animal House, I quizzed them for details, even keeping a notebook, where I more or less accurately construed the plot and all the major gag points.
Imagine my stupefied ecstasy, then, when out of nowhere, I saw a promo for Delta House. Suddenly, there would be a sitcom version of Animal House with most of the original cast and even an interesting Belushi stand-in: Josh Mostel, son of Zero, of whom I was a lifelong fan (which is as powerful a testament as any to my 1970s New York City incubation).
The trick would be getting past Pops when Delta House premiered one Thursday, but that was easy enough. We had a tiny black-and-white Zenith in the basement. I volunteered to walk our Akita after dinner and, once I got back, slipped downstairs while he fussed over the dog, threw a blanket on top of the TV and myself, and inserted my transistor radio earplug into the side of the set.
And then, Christ … that fucking bullshit show fucking sucked.
Television as the glass teat is a notion not lost on me philosophically, practically or, as you’d expect, some better-left-unexplained turn-on.
My obsessive/compulsive association with “boob” and “tube” likely commenced in utero and it flourishes to this very keystroke, albeit not in the guise it took most deeply in my formative years: that of the half-hour situation comedy.
Aside from the Sunday night Fox cartoons (and, if I’m around, The Office), I presently view no primetime network funny fare except by happenstance.
This just sort of occurred over the past decade or so ago. And if you’d known me up to say, the Seinfeld finale, you’d recognize this as an apocalyptic change of habit.
As for my favorite sitcoms, meaning the ones I think are genuinely good and funny, there are few surprises: the aforementioned Seinfeld, The Abbot & Costello Show (from which Seinfeld was conceived), All in the Family, Bosom Buddies, Bewitched, Addams Family, Munsters, The Partridge Family, Hogan’s Heroes, Green Acres—all your expected answers.
For much of my life I had a complicated relationship with The Brady Bunch.
As a kid, I genuinely thought the show was stupid and unfunny, but I could not NOT watch it twice every day, three times if I was home sick from school (as the Bunch aired at 9am, 5pm and 6pm on channel 5 on weekdays throughout the 70s, and then for a solid hour on Saturday afternoons).
The lowest-profile sitcom that I will forever champion is It’s Your Move, which pitted Jason Bateman against the future next-door-neighbor from Married With Children (who was dating Jason’s mom, played by Caren Kaye of My Tutor) in a stunningly inventive battle to ruin one another’s entire universes week in and week out.
It ran one season, 1984-85, and I’m often nicely surprised by how many people remember it, in particular the brilliant “Dregs of Humanity” episode (and no, no, nooooo, I ain’t no Arrested Development fan).
Small Wonder, of course, is a meisterwürk of genius in a league by itself that would require a hundred doctoral dissertations to properly begin to analytically appreciate.
One severely obscure show that I’d love to see now is No Soap Radio, an attempt at Monty Python-style surrealism that aired for a few weeks after Bosom Buddies in 1982. Clips exist online. They’re pretty dopey, but No Soap was, and remains, one of the goddamndest things ever broadcast when everybody only had about six channels from which to choose.
Today, though, I come to … not quite celebrate, but rather illuminate a dire near-dozen sitcoms to which I have been and, to varying degrees remain, profoundly attached.
None of them are good. Each of them is perfect. And their presence in my skull, and soul, is great. And deep.
Let the countdown commence: