Happy Birthday Ralph Steadman: Hunter S. Thompson collaborator turns 78 today

The great British illustrator Ralph Steadman turns 78 today, May 15, 2014. From his beginnings as a brutally unforgiving satirist and caricaturist, through the work of his most enduring fame in the 1970s with Hunter S. Thompson and Rolling Stone magazine, to his present day work painting extinct birds and designing beer labels for Flying Dog Brewery, Steadman has produced some of the most distinctive and ferocious art ever to break through to mass culture.






Obviously there are thousands of brilliant Steadman images I could link, but as that’s not practical, I defer to the VAST portfolio and in-depth bio that can be found at, and, naturally, his own site. The comprehensive documentary, For No Good Reason, is finally going to be catchable in the US very soon. It was seen in the BFI London Film Festival in 2012 and the Toronto Independent Film Festival in 2013, and has had a few American screenings, most recently at SXSW. It’s already playing in NYC, and more screening dates can be found here.

The BBC doc below, 1978’s Fear and Loathing in Gonzovision, follows Steadman and Thompson on a trip through the USA. (It can also be found under the title “Fear and Loathing on the Road to Hollywood” as a bonus feature on the Criterion edition of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, if you’re just dying to own it.)

More fear and loathing after the jump…

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Discussion
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Who was that masked man? ORION: The Man Who Would Be King

This is a guest post by Jeanie Finlay, director of ORION: The Man Who Would Be King

Ten years ago I was at a garage sale with my husband Steven in our hometown of Nottingham, England. On a stall filled with cheap ornaments and dog-eared paperbacks, standing proudly at the front of a box of faded vinyl records, we found the above album.

Orion: Reborn. Sun Records. Collector’s gold vinyl. Release date on the back said 1979. No songs we’d ever heard of, but that coverWho was this mysterious masked man, standing hand on hips, with his perfect raven hair and sta-press trousers? What the hell was his story?

We took the record home, put it on and within seconds the mystery deepened. Whoever this guy was, he sounded exactly–and I mean exactly—like Elvis. Except these weren’t songs that Elvis ever recorded, and there was no mention of the King on the record. But there was the fact of Sun Records and this odd story on the back sleeve about this guy called Orion Eckley Darnell and something about a coffin, and a book… Most of all, though, there was this guy in the blue rhinestone-studded mask with the voice of Elvis. I had to know more.


The story I uncovered was one of the strangest I’ve ever encountered. As a documentary-maker, I’ve long been fascinated with stories that peek under the surface of popular culture and the machinations of the music industry, or explore just how important music is in our lives. Stories like The Great Hip Hop Hoax–about two Scottish chancers who faked their way to a record deal by pretending to be American rappers; SOUND IT OUT about the very last record shop in my home town in Teesside or Goth Cruise a documentary about 150 goths (along with 2500 “norms”) taking a cruise in the sunshine to Bermuda.

But this story had it all. A roller coaster tale of the Nashville music scene in the wake of Elvis Presley’s death, taking in deception, a quest for success, a search for identity and ending in brutal and tragic murder.

Even if you’ve never heard of Orion, you probably know about the “Elvis is Alive” myth. What I uncovered was that the story of Orion is the story of how that myth got started. 
In the marketing offices of Sun Records, maverick producer Shelby Singleton came up with the plan to utilize the incredible pipes of Alabama singer Jimmy Ellis – a voice which was both a blessing and a curse to the singer. Ellis had found it hard to get a solid foothold in the industry because of the similarity of his voice to Elvis’ –a similarity which was wholly unpracticed. Jimmy didn’t try to sound like Elvis, he just did. That made it hard for any record company to use him.

Shelby had already tried one tack, dubbing Jimmy Ellis’ vocals uncredited onto the Jerry Lee Lewis tracks in the Sun catalog, releasing the recording under the name of Jerry Lee Lewis “and friends.” He’d leave it up to the audience to come to the conclusion –if they saw fit—that it might just be a previously unheard recording from the depths of the Sun vaults. After all, it sounded just like Elvis…


“I was born in Sun Records, in the studio.”

But it wasn’t until Shelby came across an unpublished manuscript by Georgia writer Gail Brewer Giorgio that the stars aligned for Jimmy Ellis.  Orion was the story of the world’s greatest rock star and how he fakes his own death. As a character, her “Orion” was not a million miles away from a certain Memphis-dwelling King. It was a fantasy that so easily could be true. A fantasy that could be made true… In a move that Shelby himself later described as “part madman, part genius,” Sun Records put a mask on Jimmy Ellis, rechristened him “Orion” and unleashed him on an unsuspecting world. In Jimmy Ellis, Shelby had “The Voice.” And the book gave him a name, and a backstory.

A copy of the letter announcing the name “ORION” for the first time. The mask was the beginning of the Orion mystery.

In May of 1979, one month after his announcement of the imminent arrival of “ORION,” Shelby Singleton sent the first single to the radio stations. The cuts were “Ebony Eyes” and “Honey,” but there was no label on either side. Shelby wanted to build the mystery. The voice was the thing. He knew that the moment they heard that voice, they would have a million questions. And they’d want to see the mouth it came from…

Orion’s first album was readied – but hit controversy when there were complaints about the depiction of the masked singer appearing to rise from the dead from an open casket. (It was replaced by the blue cover above, which was later to catch my eye.)

Orion was now out in the world. Performing across America, always in the mask, always in character (legend was that Shelby would fine Jimmy if he were caught not wearing the mask at any time). And the crowds came. Hundreds and thousands of them, many coming for that voice–and many simply coming for the fantasy, the fantasy that the thin mask kept precariously in place. But for Jimmy, it was a frustrating ride.

Orion traveled the world while on Sun–including, bizarrely, performing with Kiss in Germany—putting out seven albums on Sun in just five years, but Jimmy hated the mask; the gimmick that provided the all-important mystery was ultimately a trap.  He could never be himself.

“Look Me Up”

When the gimmick wore thin, Ellis discarded the mask. The fragile spell was broken – but Jimmy was free. However, he struggled to step out of the shadow of Presley and the voice he was “blessed and cursed” with. He tried out many different identities – Ellis James, Mister E – he put the mask back on, then took it off again - but he never really found the same bright spotlight again. In December 1998, back in Orrville Alabama, the town he had left many years before to find success in music, Ellis was brutally murdered in his pawnshop during an armed robbery. A tragic ending for the man with the voice of a legend.

For the past four years, I have tracked down the people that were close to Orion to discover his story and I am raising finishing funds for ORION: The Man Who Would Be King on Indiegogo so that I can finish the documentary. You can support getting this story to the screen by pre-ordering the film, getting some original Orion memorabilia or even a bejeweled Orion mask.

Orion and author Gail Brewer Giorgio interviewed in 1979 TV news report.
More Orion, the man who would be King, after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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‘We Are Family’: Nina Hagen’s German reality TV show—yes, really
06:01 am


Nina Hagen

Nina Hagen
This show is SO fucking good, I really wish more of our readership could understand what they’re saying. In 2007 Nina Hagen did this reality TV show called We are Family! So lebt Deutschland (The second part translates as “This is how Germany lives”). It seems it was on the ProSieben cable network. I don’t know “how Germany lives” when the focus is on other subjects, but in Nina’s case it meant sending a camera crew out to LA and following her around for a while. They were able to generate three solid hours of programming, and it’s all up there on YouTube for all to see.

When this was filmed, Nina was 52 and her son Otis, then 16, was living with her. The announcer explains that Otis was raised in France and a few other places, and didn’t live with his mom until a few years ago. They’ve been in LA for four years. In the show, Nina takes Otis to take his driver’s exam, they go shopping, and they visit a nice house for sale with a realtor (Nina doesn’t think much of the house, apparently). The entire thing’s in German, and well, obviously Nina is a force of nature who transcends any attempt to boil her personality down to the weird confines of ANY reality show. She says whatever she wants, whenever she wants, often cackling with mischievous glee. She clearly so does not give a shit, it’s extremely refreshing. Obviously she is wearing the most garishly colorful outfit she can put together without making it seem like she gave it any thought whatsoever. In America the trend is to show “normal folks” or somewhat marginalized (i.e. desperate) C-list celebrities—it’s so awesome to see a reality show with someone who’s pretty intelligent, worldly, discerning, and so forth.

There’s a seven-minute “teaser” that just corresponds to the first seven minutes of the entire thing, which runs three hours. If you speak German or just can’t get enough of Nina no matter how little you understand—believe me, I get it—then you can enjoy both of those. Note that the long-form version has a small but irritating watermark in the middle of the frame, but you can still see everything just fine.
Nina Hagen
Nina inhaling deeply the alluring scent of cabbage
Otis seems like just about the most normal 16-year-old guy ever, which isn’t a dis; you just wouldn’t automatically assume that he was the son of the extravagantly extroverted genius who conceived and recorded Nunsexmonkrock. Otis is trilingual, it seems—his German is perfectly OK, but he does speak with an accent, it’s clearly not his go-to language. Most of what he says in the teaser is pretty innocuous, like Nina’s a great mom and they get along great, stuff like that. He doesn’t like those environmentally friendly detergents because they make his clothes smell weird.

For the shorter video, well, I’m far too lazy to translate the stupid announcer’s patter or Otis’ utterances (even if he seems very nice), so I reckon what people really want to see is what Nina says. So here is that, everything she says, in chronological order. I missed a couple things here and there, but that’s okay, and it’s loosely translated, like I gave a pretty close idea if not perfect. If you read this while watching the video it should sync up pretty sensibly. (Hint: the part where she talks about how amazing the cabbages smell, she says that when she’s smelling the cabbages.)

When you’re 18 years old you can destroy the environment as much as you want!

We’re like an old married couple, aren’t we? Ha!

How can you POSSIBLY live without an auto?!?

Why are they showing us this? I’ve lived in several heavenly places, I know what that looks like, more or less.

Right, left, straight ahead. Where are you, my little boy?

I love LA, here is where I feel the best, in California I can recharge my batteries, here I can make my ideas a reality the best, so I can bring them back to my home country. I belong here. I wouldn’t come here if I didn’t belong here. Hey, my colleagues at the German embassy are also here in Los Angeles. Ask them why they’re here and not in Paris. Because our karma, our destiny, positioned itself here.

Goodness, cabbage! Look Otis, have you ever seen anything like this? It makes my mouth water. You have to get me away from this container (slurps) because it smells so delicious! Cabbage! My god. (smells) [something about how sour it is] It’s delicious, what do you put it in?

Careful, careful, a sauerkraut-bomb.

God, the poor kid must be ashamed of his mom—because she’s so loud.

My son Otis is an absolutely honest guy, he’s up for anything. He knows what friendship means. And he’s still living with his mom—thank God.

My daughter somehow got away from her mother and brother very early, but we still have a very friendly and familial relationship, we talk on the phone every day, we’re always happy when she returns to LA, it’s always a great pleasure when she turns up in LA, and the two of them have a totally wonderful and special relationship, the two siblings. In spirit she is always here with us.

Why did you get Clorox? That isn’t one of the “green” ones.

He doesn’t give a shit! He wants to buy this detergent, I say it’s totally poisonous for the environment, the other supermarket has totally healthy ones.

So for a 16-year-old French-German-American young man, he’s not so interested…..



Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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Beatle George Harrison’s brief journey into experimental electronics
06:20 am


George Harrison

george harrison moog portrait
In May of 1969—a full eleven years before Paul McCartney baffled his fans with the goofy electronic experiment “Temporary Secretary”—George Harrison released his second solo album, Electronic Sound, consisting of two side-length explorations composed on a modular Moog synth, “Under the Mersey Wall” and “No Time or Space.”
electronic sound
Unsurprisingly, the album barely charted in the U.S. and failed altogether in the U.K.—even in a period as indulgent as the late ’60s, a novice knob-twiddler’s pair of lengthy beepscapes wasn’t going to fly with the masses—and has only been reissued once, in 1996. But as it was one of the first albums ever to feature a Moog exclusively, and because let’s face it, it was made by a Beatle, it remains an item of interest among historically bent electronic music obsessives and Beatles completists. You can hear the entire album below. For whatever it’s worth, I’m a little more partial to side two (a composition that was the subject of a minor controversy), which starts at about 18:44.

The LP was the second release on Apple Records’ “Zapple” imprint. Zapple was intended to be Apple’s avant-garde subsidiary, but it only existed for a few months in 1969 and only released two albums, John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s also very rare Unfinished Music No.2: Life With The Lions being the first. The label was folded by Beatles manager Allen Klein only a month after Electronic Sound’s release—evidently enough was already enough. Harrison himself had much to say about the difficulty of curating a record label in this rare contemporary interview.

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Discussion
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So, what does the Internet think might be on the next Radiohead album?
06:36 am



There was once a time, long, long ago, when the casual music listening world would generally only learn about a new release when the single turned up on the radio, when the LP showed up on the NEW THIS WEEK! rack at the record store, or when they read a review after the fact of the release. Obsessives who pored over gossip columns in music magazines might have learned about a release maybe a month or so early. Today, of course, online fora can be all abuzz about a forthcoming album before its songs have even been written, and when a band’s fan base is as massive and rabid as Radiohead’s, the speculation begins ridiculously early—the apparently now defunct Green Plastic had a thread on the subject almost a year ago! Two of my favorite sites for Radiohead übergeekery, Citizen Insane and TKOL Part 2, have proffered some credible speculation as to what the still-hypothetical Radiohead album #9 might contain, based on hints dropped in interviews, info gleaned from the Atoms For Peace Reddit AMA, new songs registered with ASCAP, and fan videos of unreleased songs performed in concert. With Atoms For Peace’s tour precluding any Radiohead activity in the second half of 2013, and with the two songs recorded at Jack White’s Third Man studio in spring of 2012 seeming increasingly unlikely to surface the more time passes, I thought it might be an agreeable diversion to post an assortment of unreleased material that’s considered by the informed fandom likely to turn up on the next album. Understand this is intended to be neither exhaustive nor predictive, and I’m fully aware that that the more deeply fervent Radiohead fans among you already know some of this stuff and I unhesitatingly acknowledge how totally cool you are for having heard songs before most other people. Truly, the world is yours. This is just about having some fun and checking out some lesser-known but quality material by a great group whose last album is almost three years behind us and whose next offering remains a tantalizingly huge question mark. So off we go!

To start, there’s the very pretty “Skirting on the Surface.” It was a live staple of Thom Yorke’s solo performances over four years ago, but Radiohead took to playing it out in 2012. Though the solo piano versions one can find are quite stunning, I went with full band here.

Next up, “Identikit.” It’s been performed live a zillion times, and it’s known to be one of the songs from the Third Man sessions. There were plenty of versions of this on YouTube, but I got a kick out of this fan video cut from old cartoons.

“Cut A Hole” is another mighty nice tune that’s had some live exposure.

Infuriatingly, the only apparently extant version of “Come To Your Senses,” the existence of which has been known since 2006, and which was explicitly cited as a contender for a new recording by Thom Yorke in his October 2011 Rolling Stone interview, cuts off before even a minute passes. What’s there sounds awesome, reminiscent somewhat of Hail To The Thief‘s “Go To Sleep,” a big favorite of mine. I’m kind of rooting for this one to get finished and released one of these days.

“The Present Tense” is a contender that’s been performed this past fall on the Atoms For Peace tour, which doesn’t necessarily take it out of the running:

We’ll end this with “Full Stop,” often spelled “Ful Stop” based on a possible misspelling from a page of rehearsal notes that turned up in an eBay auction. It started appearing in concert in 2012.

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Discussion
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Johnny Cash and The Cowsills would like to sing you a little ditty ‘bout Baby Jesus

What could have been more square in the late 1960s than a family band with MOM in it? The Cowsills became a badge for the co-optation of counterculture when they sang the theme song for Hair, and their rep for milky white safeness was cemented forever when The Partridge Family pilfered their schtick pretty much wholesale. But with a few decades elapsed between then and now, I think it’s no longer a betrayal of The Revolution to be OK with them, because ultimately, they just wanted to sing, and bland content or not, they sang very, very well. And while they do shoulder some blame for David Cassidy’s career, at least the Osmonds aren’t their fault.
cash/cow 2
WHAT THE—okay, maybe they weren’t entirely safe.

Here’s a seasonally timely clip of the Cowsills on The Johnny Cash Show, guesting with Cash on the gospel number “Children, Go Where I Send Thee.” Not only do they admirably hold their own backing up Cash’s rich basso voice, pay attention around 2:09, at which ten-year-old Susan Cowsill peers confidently into the camera and nails a solo verse. This, again, is a ten-year-old kid sitting next to Johnny By God CASH and singing with laudable poise. That talented little kid went on to gain a measure of hip cred playing in Dwight Twilley’s band in the ‘80s, and in The Continental Drifters with The dBs’ Peter Holsapple (her husband for a time). She continues to pursue an active solo career.

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Discussion
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Old Men Can’t Jump: Evel Knievel endorses Legend Scooters
07:56 am


Evel Knievel

Evel Knievel Legend Scooter
Before his death of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis in 2007 at the age of 69, Robert Craig “Evel” Knievel apparently endorsed this Legend 2000 model motor scooter (PDF) from Pride Mobility Products Corp.

Obviously there’s something kind of funny about Evel Knievel, of all people, endorsing a vehicle that can’t even jump.

Here’s the famous Wembley jump from 1975 in which he attempted to vault over thirteen London buses. The clip is long, but the buildup is worth it.

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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Dylan reselling everything at once, because, hey, let’s face it, people will buy it
12:33 pm


Bob Dylan

that bucket is full of cash
At age 72, with a career behind him spanning just a bit over 50 years, Bob Dylan is releasing this November a boxed set spanning his entire oeuvre, titled The Complete Album Collection Volume 1.

“Volume 1.”

At a cost of over $250, the massive set contains 35 studio albums, 6 live albums, and two discs of rarities, some remastered, some appearing on CD for the first time, posh book, blah blah blah, can we circle back to this “Volume 1” thing? It implies a presupposed Volume 2, kinda, a little, doesn’t it? But for such a volume to be comparably exhaustive, it would seem like it would have to wait until the durable (won’t get off the stage) and prolific (enraptured by the sound of his own voice) icon reaches about 120 years of age. Or so.
look at all that crap
Come to think of it, it’s not so doubtful that he could pull that off. Though haggard, he’s still decently preserved and he has more money than God. Might a Volume 2 comprise his groundbreaking head-kept-alive-in-a-jar years? Will submersion in formaldehyde affect the tone of his harmonica reeds?

Or, given that he’s hardly released a single note worth listening to since Desire, maybe this set is a bloated, hubristic exercise in wrenching one last big wad of cash out of nostalgia-obsessed baby boomers before they all go on Social Security?

Obviously early Dylan is worth being nostalgic for, and if someone is really itching for a box set, there’s already 2010’s The Original Mono Recordings, comprising his first eight LPs, and though it’s a few albums shy of completely collecting his best work, it doesn’t charge exorbitantly for three and a half decades worth of stuff that nobody wants.

For a taste of Dylan’s mastery at the height of his early, folkie phase, check out this stunning rendition of “North County Blues,” from 1963.

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Discussion
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Trash with Class: John Waters’ muse Divine immortalized in $1300 knitted sweaters
07:54 am

Pop Culture


While I love the above knitted Divine sweater (I’d probably wear it) by designer James Long, I hate the one below. The sleeves! Oh gawd those hideous sleeves!

And when I say “I’d probably wear it,” I’d probably wear it if I had an extra $1300 to burn ‘cause that’s how much these “high-fashion” sweaters cost. Holy crap!


Posted by Tara McGinley | Discussion
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Could Ray Charles really land an airplane? Apparently the answer is YES!
08:10 am


Ray Charles

“Tell me what’d I fly…”

When my dad, a professional musician, was working A Chorus Line on Broadway, he once sent in a sub for a week in order to work with Ray Charles, whom he loved. When he came back, he kept bragging and blabbing about “my buddy Ray” (e.g.: “I was playing with my buddy Ray Charles last night,” etc…).

After a while of this, the drummer got fed up and (noticing my father’s recent haircut) asked, “Hey E! Who cut your hair? Your buddy Ray?” Laughter, of course, abounded, at my pop’s expense.

Periodically over the years, my father would tell me a story he had heard from members of Ray’s band. Here’s the best one:

After Ray Charles had gotten famous and was riding in a chartered private jet, every once in a while, the pilot would call for “a Mr. Ray Charles” over the intercom, and Ray would spring up and enter the cockpit. Apparently, the pilot was a big Ray Charles fan and he’d let Ray fly the plane and even, on occasion, land it! According to the legend, the cats in the band REALLY didn’t like it when Ray flew the plane, though they apparently didn’t know when Ray had landed it too. When Jamie Foxx in Ray came out, I looked to see if they’d validate the “pilot Ray” legend, but unfortunately they didn’t: They showed Ray his crew flying in his private jet, but they didn’t show him actually flying it.

So was it true? Were the legends about Ray Charles’ piloting his private jet true?

Once again this Internet thingee comes in handy: According to Mr. Ray Charles himself the legends were indeed true! Here, in fact, are Ray’s own words on the subject (reported way back in 1997):

Ray Charles doesn’t suggest other blind people try it, but he has driven a car, a motorcycle and, in a jam, could land an airplane.

“I done all kinds of nutty things,” Charles told U.S. News and World Reports in an interview for editions that go on sale Monday. “I don’t recommend it because I don’t want other blind people to say if Ray Charles did it, I can do it, because I don’t want to cause anybody to get themselves killed.“The singer said he also once rode a motorcycle - “I know if I could see, I’d have me a Harley for sure” - on the old Mike Douglas television show in Philadelphia. The show blocked off a street for him.

“I know how to fly an airplane, too. I always had an attitude that anything that can kill me I want to know about,” the 66-year-old Charles said.

Yeah! Alright! Ray Charles indeed not only flew a plane, he could land one too!

Below, Ray Charles live in São Paulo, 1963

Posted by Em | Discussion
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