Spacesynth (after a brief bit about Space Disco)

Posted by Eric Brightwell, April 14, 2008 04:00pm | Post a Comment


When you like a lot of the sci-fi movies from the mid-to-late 1970s, you frequently are treated to Rubellian utopias populated by horned-up hedonists, robots who are polished like (coke) mirrors and multi-racial aliens all getting together at the space disco/cantina/casino. As with almost all science fiction, it's more a reflection of the time of it's conception than any like future. This stuff was heavily indebted to the sexual revolution that preceeded it and was wholly clueless about the AIDS epidemic lying around the corner. In the tense, cold-war-fearing 80s, just a few years later, sci-fi frequently fell into two camps. On the one hand you have bands of marauders roaming the post-apocalyptic wastelands in churched-up dune buggies out to terrorize the few remaining civilized humans, who are attempting in a harsh world to preserve culture and science and maybe the knowledge of how to grow food. On the other you have gritty near-futures where market economics and technology have exploded into fearsome things, exploited by crusties who can access the internet through datajacks in their skulls. And they live in cities called Neo Tokyo and the like. But, for now, back to the 70s...

Space Disco was a briefly popular subgenre of disco which melded science-fiction-inspired style, themes and futuristic sounds (like laserguns) to your garden variety disco. It was exemplified by groups like Cerrone, Space and Sheila B. Devotion, although less stylistically single-minded artists like Sarah Brightman ("I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trooper") and Dee D. Jackson ("Automatic Lover") also dabbled in the style. In America, MECO scored a big hit with their discofied version of the theme from Star Wars.

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Laserdisc Blowout Ending Soon

Posted by Eric Brightwell, March 25, 2008 05:07pm | Post a Comment

Right now there's a raging Laserdisc blowout occurring on the mezzanine here at Amoeba Hollywood. The big, shiny discs with the high mass are blowing out at low, low prices.

Most kids today, when they see a laserdisc, assume that they're silver vinyl soundtracks but some of us remember the extinct format, especially if we're Japanese.

Laserdisc technology was developed in the late 1950s and demonstrated for the public in 1978. Laserdiscs were first sold in Atlanta, possibly because of its reputation as "The City Too Busy To Hate." The first title available was, ironically, Jaws, a low budget monster film about a shark with nothing to do but hate.

Over the next 12 years, dozens of titles were released on the format. Common complaints against Laserdiscs were the limited catalog and high prices ($89.99 for Honey I Blew Up the Kid). Also, you couldn't tape your stories on 'em and you had to flip them over just when the kid is growing into a giant! The most common rejoinder I've heard for the latter gripe is, "That's when I get up and get a beer!" There's a lot of "You too, I thought I was the only one" moments in the laserdisc section, which is one of the great things about the medium. Also, you can freeze frame and get a clear picture, maybe glimpsing some naughty bits on a cartoon character snuck in by a frustrated Disney animator.

Then there were games made for LaserDisc like the evil Don Bluth's quarter-devouring, impossible-to-play Dragon's Lair.

Other cons of the format:
Of course, there's also LaserRot, a disease brought on by poor choice in adhesives on some LaserDiscs. The most common title to succumb to LaserRot is Eraser, which could arguably be a case of planned obsolescence.

Other pros of the format:
Criterion stuff still not on DVD.
Some Lasers still have exclusive commentaries and features.
Sure they were expensive back in the day, but now most are 1.99 or 1.00.
Unlike DVDs, LDs are immune from macroblocking and contrast banding, two concepts I don't have any interest in reading about.

And Where Are They Now, The Little People of Laserhenge?

In China, low prices trump low quality so VCDs killed them when introduced in 1993 (there are now over 500 million VCD Players in China). And VCD Players perform well in high humidity, unlike their tempermental, posh cousins the Laserdisc. In the U.S., where they were never popular, the introduction of the DVD in 1997 was the same year the last Laserdisc was released.

And now with HD and Blu-Ray, macroblocking and contrast banding are as scary as Diptheria or Scarlet Fever. The main selling point of these "Next Gen" formats is their crisp picture, which I find inartistic and unpleasant. Why hang impressionist art in your homes when you can have photos? Why not bring that Seurat into crisp, High Def focus? Or better yet, if absolute realism is the end goal of visual art, why not just go outside or to a play?

In honor of the LaserDisc blow-out and to benefit from the perspective of the experts, I wrote to all the guys who have worked Amoeba's LaserDisc section -- past and present. One said he didn't want to be a part of anyone's blog in any way, one said to give him time (and has yet to reply), one didn't reply at all, even though I know he got the interview, and so here's my interview with the sole participant, whose name I will change to Lyle Alton Blair to protect his identity. [note -- an employee whom I shall refer to as "Jam" replied long after the blow-out ended and I have added his answers subsequently]

Me: What was your favorite LaserDisc moment?

Crime & The City Solution and Simon Bonney -- Criminally Underrated

Posted by Eric Brightwell, February 21, 2008 10:51pm | Post a Comment

Crime & the City Solution 31 December, 1977 (image source: Phil Turnbull)

It seems that almost from their inception the band Crime & The City Solution they were cursed to never be spoken of without a mention of famous Australian Nick Cave. It's really no one's fault. They were part of a incestuous web of musicians with frequent Nick Cave collaborator Mick Harvey at the center, a man who though a talented multi-instrumentalist, can only play one one band at a time, resulting in other pursuits being put on hold whilst he focused on his main gig.

Crime & The City Solution formed in Sydney, Australia in 1977. Their original line-up included vocalist Simon Bonney (the band's only permanent member, fresh from a brief stint with The Particles), Don McLennan on drums, Harry Zanteni on guitar, Phil Kitchener on bass and Dave MacKinnon on soprano and tenor saxophones. Simon Bonney, whilst born in Sydney, had spent some time on his family's remote farm in Tasmania where his they grew wheat, barley and opium poppies.

Crime & The City Solution -- October, 1978 (photo credit: Inner City Sound)

Bonney went to Melbourne in October, 1978 and saw Boys Next Door play at the Tiger Lounge. In November, McClennan and Bonney stayed in Melbourne supposedly due to lack of funds for return fare, thus ending the Sydney version of Crime & The City Solution. Bonney also met Bronwyn Adams whom he would marry and who would later contribute to the lyric-writing process and add her haunting violin to the band's sound. 

In 1979, Crime & the City Solution formed a new line-up in Melbourne with Dan Wallace-Crabbe taking over guitar, Kim Beissel replacing Dave MacKinnon (supposedly on Mick Harvey's recommendation), Lindsay O'Meara handling bass and Chris Astley joining on keyboards. The band recorded a handful of demos and some live performances are available; the recordings are interesting. Simon Bonney's distinct, moaning vocals are immediately recognizable. The music sounds very much of its time -- kind of a dark, brittle post-punk with saxophone that makes it sound vaguely like Doctors of Madness or Roxy Music. It's a bit raw but in my opinion superior to early Boys Next Door, before Rowland S. Howard left Young Charlatans and brought with him "Shivers." [Note: If you have the Young Charlatans' demos, please let me know.]

The track "Moments" later appeared on the 1981 compilation cassette that came with the magazine Fast Forward and other songs were sold by the band as Rarities in 1986. The Boys Next Door improved quickly and beginning in May 1979, Crime performed a few times as their opening act. In July Beissel passed their demo to Missing Link's (and Boys Next Door's manager) Keith Glass. In August they had residencies first at Pierre's World and then the Exford Hotel after which Astley was kicked out of the band and Beissel departed with him. The band played one final show in December with a substitute filling in before going dormant.

The Boys Next Door, by their second album, 1980's Birthday Party, pursued (thankfully) a sound very different from the mostly bland predecessor of the previous year, Door, Door. Now the band careened through a cacophonous terrain owing a lot to The Cramps whilst seeming to absorb a bit from Crime & the City Solution's post-punk take on The Doors (and, as I remember reading in some book, Bonney's "cocktail shaker" stage moves). 

The Boys Next Door relocated to London, signed to 4AD record label and got fairly huge. Meanwhile, Crime & the City Solution remained silent. I'm tempted to make the analogy of the story of Hedwig and Tommy Gnosis but, to be fair, The Birthday Party were an amazing band. Rowland S. Howard, The Birthday Party's guitarist and writer of some of the band's most amazing songs and Nick Cave disbanded the group in August, 1983.

 Just South of Heaven

Late in '83, Mick Harvey called Simon Bonney and organized for Bronwyn Adams and him to relocate to London. At some point in 1984, Bonney and Harvey recorded two demos, "One Strip Rider" and "Adventure," with Harvey performing all of the instruments. 

In December 1984, a new line-up of Crime & the City Solution formed with The Birthday Party's Rowland S. Howard and Mick Harvey joining Rowland's brother Harry on bass. Epic Soundtracks joined on drums in May, 1985. This line-up released The Dangling Man 12" and the Just South of Heaven mini-LP as well as Just South of Heaven (on CD including tracks from the previous two recordings minus "Shakin' Chill," "At the Crossroads," "The Last Day" and "Stolen & Stealing"). This line-up bore, predictably, some similarities to the much mourned, by-then-defunct Birthday Party. Harry Howard had filled in for Birthday Party's Tracy Pew and because of their shared members and aesthetic, the London Crime were unfairly regarded as a new band formed to ride on The Birthday Party's coattails rather than as competent confreres churning out a similar but distinct form of dirgey, distorted rhythm & blues.

  Check out those line-ups!

In October 1985 Crime relocated to Berlin. In 1986 the band toured Australia, Europe and the USA. At the same time, Rowland S. Howard started his own band with Epic Soundtracks, Harry Howard and his girlfriend/keyboardist, Genevieve McGuckin, the immortal These Immortal Souls. Late in the summer, Crime and the City Solution recorded their proper full-length studio debut, Room of Lights, nine years after forming (whilst Harvey also records Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds' fourth album and (in my estimation) first absolute masterpiece, Your Funeral... My Trial).

Room of Lights

In November 1986 Crime appeared (as did Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds) in Wim Wenders' Der Himmel über Berlin (hideously translated into English as Wings of Desire). The so-called London line-up played just four more shows before breaking up and in December, Bonney and Adams moved in with Harvey.

In January 1987, Bonney took on work as a roadie for Scratch Acid. In July, Adams edited Nick Cave's debut novel, And the Ass Saw the Angel which Cave later claimed deserved should've resulted in her being credited with a larger role in the novel's creation. 

Meanwhile a new line-up of Crime and the City Solution, the so-called Berlin Crime, formed with Adams on violin, Chrislo Hass  (from D.A.F. and Liaisons Dangereuses) on synthesizer, Christiane F's ex-boyfriend Alexander Hacke (from Einstürzende Neubauten) on guitar (whilst Einsturzende Neubauten's Blixa Bargeld continued to play in Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds) and Thomas Stern on bass. This line-up moved into radically different territory -- a vast, romantic, cinematic expressiveness marked all of the band's subsequent endeavors and should've ended comparisons with Cave and crew and perhaps prompted some with The Triffids but they continued to lurk, in the mind of many journalists, in Cave's wake.

The Berlin line-up released 1988's "On Every Train" b/w "All Must Be Love" and the amazing, attendant album, Shine, which they recorded in August, 1987, after which Harvey went off to work on The Bad Seeds' Tender Prey. Also in August, alongside Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds and Swans, they appeared in Kings of Independence.

In August Crime & the City Solution begin recording The Bride Ship. In September 1988, with Hacke touring with Einsturzende Neubauten, Kid Congo Powers (of The Gun Club and The Bad Seeds) filled in for the band's only Eastern European tour, one which saw them sharing a stage with These Immortal Souls in Austria.

Early in 1989, Bonney and Adams relocated to Vienna. A few months later Crime & the City Solution released "The Shadow of No Man" and The Bride Ship. The band played several times whilst Hacke toured with Einsturzende Neubauten and Harvey with The Bad Seeds (who also recorded The Good Son that year). Toward the end of the year they began recording tracks for what would be their final album for some time, Paradise Discotheque

In 1990 they released the singles "I Have the Gun" and "The Dolphins and the Sharks" off the Paradise Discotheque album, released in September.

Crime and the City Solution

The following year they contributed one of their best songs, "The Adversary," to Wim Wender's ambitious and flawed Bis ans Ende der Welt (Until the End of the World). The band played their last show in August 1991 after which Bonney and Adams moved to Los Angeles and Crime & The City Solution were no more.

In 1992, Simon Bonney made an excellent solo record with collaborations from his wife and country musician J.D. Foster (among others) which resulted in the album, Forever, which married the  poetic expansiveness of the Berlin Crime to country-inflected tunes appropriate to a guy who's rambled the globe, calling Sydney, Berlin, London, Vienna and Los Angeles his homes at various times.

In 1993 and '94 Bonney recorded another brilliant country-infused experiment, a concept album called Everyman, which was released in 1996. Between 1995 and '98, Bonney worked as a truck driver, key grip, acted occasionally, and studied film direction.

By 1998, Simon had finished recording Eyes of Blue with Jim White (of the Dirty Three) on drums, Matt Smith (of Outrageous Cherry and Volebeats) on keyboards, Troy Gregory (of Witches, The Dirtbombs, Swans, Prong, Flotsam and Jetsam, Killing Joke, and Spiritualized) on bass, and contributions from Chuck Prophet (of Go Go Market and Green On Red).

The album was apparently ready for release in 2000 but never appeared except for two songs, "The Lonely Stars" and "Water's Edge" in the film Underworld (but not on the soundtrack) in 2003. In 2010, Bonney posted "Annabelle-Lee," "Eyes of Blue," and "Can't Believe Anymore" on his Myspace page.

In 2001, Bonney, Adams and their family moved to Canberra, Australia where Bonney worked for thegovernement and studying for a PhD (in regulation/justice/diplomacy). In 2004, Haas died from heart failure exacerbated by alcohol abuse. 


 Since originally writing this article Crime & the City Solution re-formed with a line-up that includes past collaborators Bonney, Gregory, Hacke, Smith, and White as well as David Eugene Edwards (of 16 Horsepower and Wovenhand) on guitar and Danielle di Picciotto on visuals.

Crime & the City Solution have been name-checked as an influence by the likes of Mark Lanegan, Coliseum, The Drones, Devastations, Pins and Needles, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. They went on tour again (I saw them in November, 2012 and they were brilliant), and they've got a brand new album, American Twilight, coming out on 26, March 2013.

Crime & The City Solution American Twilight

Special thanks to From The Archives and Clinton Walker's Inner City Sound (also an amazing music compilation) for the invaluable information.

Happy Australia Day

Posted by Eric Brightwell, January 26, 2008 09:23am | Post a Comment
The Flag of Australia                                             The Australian Aboriginal Flag        The Flag of Torres Strait Islanders

Australia was discovered about 45,000 years ago when they either walked or made short sea-crossings from Papua to the north in what is now the Torres Strait. In Australia they grew into diverse cultures with around 250 languages spoken by nations such as the Koori, Murri, Noongar, Yamatji, Wangkai, Nunga, Anagu, Yapa, Yolngu and Palawah, who together may've numbered around 3 quarters of a million.  43,830 years later (give or take a few thousand) it was claimed, like a quarter of the planet, by the tiny, faraway island of Great Britain.

Initially, it served as a penal colony set up at Port Jackson on January 26, 1788, which is why it's Australia Day today. 50% of the indigenous population died from smallpox within the following years. Massacres and land seizures reduced the indigenous population another 30%. Often the convicts sent to Australia were charged with minor offenses. In the 1850s, the Gold Rush began and with it, an Americanization of the language. For example, "bonanza" (borrowed from Spanish) became "bonzer." By 1827, Australian English was already diverging significantly from British English. Author Peter Cunningham noted a distinct vocabulary and a non-rhotic accent that owed heavily to Cockney. It is typically divided into three accents which owe less to region than UK English or US English.

      Broad: Exemplified by larrikins Paul “g’day mate” Hogan, Steve “crikey” Irwin.
      General: The typical Australian of Cate Blanchett, Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman.
      Cultivated: The British-sounding manner of Geoffrey Rush or Judy Davis.

None of the examples above probably say "shrimp on the barbie" since "shrimp" are called "prawns" in Australia.
Most of the wildlife and plant life is endemic. It's the flattest country on Earth, mostly desert and covered with the least fertile soil. It seems like wherever you go in the world, you run into loads of Australians. Luckily, they all have multizone DVD players.


One animal that rivals the kangaroo and koala as a symbol of Australia is the dingo. However, the dingo is not native to Australia and is partially responsible for the extinction of some native Australian fauna such as the Tasmanian Tiger. It was brought to Australia a mere two or three thousand years ago by Austronesians.

I think one of the things that makes Australia so interesting to me is that it seems like some kind of Bizarro America. It has gold rushes, coastal cities separated by a wild west, beer drinking and sprint-car racing, English people waging genocidal war against natives. Remember Chris Gaines? Garth Brooks' alter-ego was Australian. Bizzaro! Bizzaro! Maybe that's why Australians, as a rule, are so much better at playing Americans than the English. Do Americans play good Australians? Has that ever happened?


Australia's first feature length, narrative film was 1906’s Story of the Kelly Gang, about the beloved bushranger, Ned Kelly. In the 1910’s, Australia produced a large number of silent films. Following World War I, however, American films flooded the market and effectively smothered Australia's film industry.

In the 1940s and 50s, an effort was made to popularize Australian Westerns with examples like The Overlanders, The Kangaroo Kid, The Phantom Stockman and Bitter Springs.

But it wasn’t until the 1970s that Australia began making films with any degree of popularity. Examples include Peter Weir's Picnic At Hanging Rock, The Last Wave, and The Plumber. George Miller's Mad Max achieved success at home and abroad, although it was dubbed in “American” for U.S. audiences.

The 1980s were and are widely considered the golden age of Australian Cinema. The other George Miller made The Man From Snowy Creek. There was also Young Einstein, The Year My Voice Broke, Breaker Morant, Gallipoli, Dogs In Space, BMX Bandits and the film that still defines Australia for most Americans-- Crocodile Dundee. In the television world, the never-ending Neighbours began.

The 1990s produced many (often campy) cult films like Flirting, Proof, Romper Stomper, Strictly Ballroom, Muriel’s Wedding, Adventures of Priscilla- Queen of the Desert, and Babe.

In the past decade we’ve seen Chopper, The Proposition, Lantana, Moulin Rouge! Rabbit-Proof Fence, Wolf Creek, and Happy Feet.

The Top 20 Selling Australian Films at Amoeba (so far)

1. Chopper
2. Adventures of Priscilla-Queen Of the Desert
3. Moulin Rouge!
4. The Proposition
5. Muriel's Wedding
6. Strictly Ballroom
7. Road Warrior
8. The Piano
9. Picnic At Hanging Rock
10. Rabbit-Proof Fence
and The Year Of Living Dangerously
12. The Last Wave
13. Mad Max
14. The Pirate Movie and Shine and Babe
17. Mad Max-Beyond Thunder Dome and Romper Stomper
19. Ghosts Of the Civil Dead
20. Happy Feet


                   Slim Dusty                                          Tex Morton                                    Simon Bonney

One thing that’s interesting about Australia is that it has a strong Country Music Tradition. Oh, 'course there’s Keith Urban, but it all began with Slim Dusty (“A Pub With No Beer”) and Tex Morton, who both reflected a strong American influence. The more home-grown variety, often with a stronger Celtic influence and a lyrical focus on Australia, is usually called “bush music” or “bush band music,” exemplified by the Bushwackers.

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Newhart - the rumor mill

Posted by Eric Brightwell, October 29, 2007 10:22am | Post a Comment

My spies have told me that season 1 of Newhart is going to be released in the winter of 2008. Of all the shows based around Bob Newhart (the others being The Bob Newhart Show (1961-1972),
The Bob Newhart Show (1972-1978),


and the bizarrely-named George & Leo (1997)...

...Newhart (1982-1980) remains my favorite. Dick Loudon (Newhart) is a writer from New York City who buys an inn in a rural Vermont town populated by colorful locals who exist to exasperate Dick. I like Bob Newhart in all of his roles, which are essentially the same -- a mild-mannered, stammering straight man. A bit like Droopy Dog (minus Droopy's explosions of anger and muscle). As David Hyde Pierce observed, "The only difference between Bob Newhart on stage and Bob Newhart offstage – is that there is no stage."

Trivia -- the last two times that I flew, actress Julia Duffy and celebrated beauty Ngoc Nguyen were on the plane! Imagine my joy!


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