I am the wristband concierge

Sometimes one of the music venues that I work security at contracts with an outside promoter. This promoter sets up shows with some national touring acts a handful of times throughout the year. These shows are sponsored by an energy drink. This sickeningly sweet beverage perhaps rhymes with the word Dreadful.

The thing about these shows is that everybody on staff hates them because of the terrible way they are set up. I honestly can’t understand why they do it this way. It is always a shit-show. We are left with a ton of unsatisfied people who make the night unpleasant for everyone involved. These dreadful events meet all the criteria for the term ‘clusterfuck’.

Normal ticket prices for concerts at this venue run anywhere from $10 to $30 on a regular night, depending on the acts. We have a 300 person capacity venue, so shows here sell out pretty regularly. For this dreadful event, they pre-sell reservations online for tickets for only $3. This ensures that way too many people will show up than will actually get in. A line will run down the side of our building and around the corner in front of another business. People will stand in this line for hours. They sell more than 300 RSVP tickets to this show, so this is technically intentionally overselling an event.

They hired two sexy women who barely looked 21 to walk around with little sponsor backpacks full of these energy drinks. I carded them even after the first door guy did because I just didn’t think they were 21. Either they actually were 21, or they had immaculate fake IDs. They actually had trouble giving away their little cans of dreadful, so they left a ton of them back in our kitchen area. I think I drank one and took one for another time. I need all the caffeine I can get tonight.

On a normal night, we have 3-4 security staff working the event. One person works the door checking IDs and assessing people for being too intoxicated. Another person scans the concert tickets and stamps your wrists. Another person sits in the venue at the curtain doing crowd control and checking for wristbands granting access to the green room. Another person is the rover, and they check the patio and perimeter and help the other staff as needed.

But on this night, we would have all security staff on shift. Maybe 5-6 people. I was given a brand new job just for this event. My job is to take the wristbands given to each person at the box office and affix them to your wrists as I attempt to explain the batshit crazy way this event works. And monitor admission numbers with the clicker. If you get all the way up to me and get a wristband from the box office, you’ve won. You already paid the measly $3 to reserve your ticket at the box office. And if you got in line hours early, you were one of the first 300 people to get processed. You were then able to pay the remainder of the ticket price to get your actual ticket, which in this case was the all-holy green wristband. Maybe $8-12 more dollars.

You can already see the flaw in this plan, can’t you? If you happen to be behind the 300th person in line, you don’t get a ticket/wristband. Even though you already paid the $3 online to reserve your spot. And after you already waited in that goddammed line for hours. So you lose that $3, you waste hours of your time, and you are extra pissed off because paying the money online sort of convinced you that you got a spot.

There’s an art to affixing those wristbands to 300 people’s wrists. They want one person to do it all so it’s uniform. You want it on the same wrist, not too tight but not too loose. The first few times I did it I sort of fumbled with it and made small talk about which band they were most excited to see. But I quickly got the hang of it and was putting those wristbands on people’s wrists without leaving any exposed sticky parts to pull on their arm hair. I got my technique down and everything. One guy appreciated my helpfulness in answering his questions and getting the wristband on so quickly. He said, “Tonight you are the wristband concierge.” I grinned at him and said, “Indeed I am.”

As my clicker nears the number 300, we walk out to the expectant faces in the line and tell them that we are 20 tickets away from being sold out. We count back 20 people and tell everybody else that they are essentially shit out of luck and should go home. Of course now we have a ton of disappointed angry people who then try to get in the bar to drink their sorrows away, and perhaps try to sneak past all of us to get into the venue. And everybody wants to argue with me about how the system is flawed and they deserve to get in. Some people try to buy their way in by offering me the ticket cost in cash. Some people just linger outside the doorway thinking that we just made that up and that somehow miraculously the venue will expand in size, adding 45 more tickets that we can sell. I’ve been telling people ‘no’ all night, and now my skills of telling people ‘no’ are activated at the highest level. And I’m apologizing for the fracas on behalf of a company that intentionally set this shit-show up this way.

Due to the over-capacity crowd in the venue, and the massive crowd of disgruntled people trying to get in the bar/restaurant section, we did something I haven’t done before at this venue. We stopped letting people in all together. We stood at the doors and told people that we are over capacity in both the venue and the bar, so nobody can come in right now. People just don’t compute that. They try to beg, bribe, and argue their way in. Some entitled assholes just act like they can’t hear me and try to walk around me. I put my hand on their arm and speak again directly to them in my loudest angry voice. “We are over-capacity and not letting anyone in. At all. You need to go somewhere else.”

I continue to tell people various forms of ‘no’. I don’t think I’ve ever told people ‘no’ so many times in one night.

“No there are no more tickets to the show.”

“No there is no guest list with your name on it.”

“No you can’t buy a ticket from me.”

“No you can’t come in to use the bathroom.”

“No you can’t come in the bar.”

“No you can’t come in if one person leaves.”

“No you can’t just go look in the venue.”

“No you can’t order food, the kitchen has dozens of active food orders.”

“No you can’t talk to a manager right now.”

One very attractive young woman was trying her best to flutter her eyelashes and stand really close to me and sweet-talk her way in to the show with her two friends. Numerous polite but firm ‘nos’ were given to her. She left for a while and then came back with a ripped up green wristband on her wrist. She talked somebody who was leaving the concert into removing their wristband and giving it to her. This is ticket-clipping, done by snowboarders and festival goers since the dawn of time. What this woman didn’t know was that I was the wristband concierge, and had personally attached all 300 of the wristbands to everybody here tonight. Also, the wristband was barely staying together on her wrist, as it had been cut. She was trying to hold it together under her coat sleeve. I told her I knew exactly what she just did and that I did not put that wristband on her. And that now she needed to leave.

The stupidity continues even in the venue. The energy drink sponsor set up a drink special where their product is used as the main ingredient/mixer. Bartenders were instructed not to pour the entire can into the drink and then recycle it, like they would normally. They were supposed to pour most of the can into the drink, add the hard liquor, and then give the drink cup and the little can of dreadful to the customer. The can only had a few ounces of sugary caffeinated liquid left in it. I later found out the strategy behind this. They wanted every photo taken to have a huge crowd of people with every single person holding a can of dreadful. Product placement at it’s finest.

The problem was, people don’t like to carry around a drink in both hands for very long. Double-fisting gets old fast. So they would primarily just leave the can of dreadful somewhere. On the side of the stage, the tables, guard rails, the floor. These cans get knocked over or fall off their perch, and the sticky yellow liquid gets all over the concrete floor. All night long. After hundreds of drinks being served like this, and several hours of this happening, the floor was universally covered in a sticky film of sugar, taurine,  and B-vitamin juice. If caffeine had a smell, the place would have been a hotbox of dreadful stank. When your shoes stick to the concrete floor with every step, it makes dancing and walking around distracting and troublesome.

And just when I thought this entire thing couldn’t get any worse….
The headlining band shot off a bunch of confetti at the end of their set. This confetti all inevitably landed on the floor. The floor that was covered in a centimeter of yellow energy drink paste and alcohol. Now we have thousands of little bits of paper landing in the sticky swamp. Genius. Maybe this is how you make napalm. And maybe that’s the solution tonight. I’m just glad that mopping up the venue floor does not fall under my job description. After tonight I need a drink. However I don’t think I want to drink a little can of dreadful ever again.

 

 

 

 

 

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I’ll gladly enter The House of the Devil

The House of the Devil is my kind of horror movie. Because it is one giant homage to classic horror films of the 70’s and 80’s. A slow burn to a riveting nightmare finale.

The House of the Devil came out in 2009. Seeing it in theaters made me feel like a kid again, sneaking out to watch scary movies on my parent’s TV in the wee hours of the night. Everything from the songs they chose to the slow pacing brought me back. Even the poster art evokes classic haunted house films from the 70’s and 80’s.

 

I am, of course, a huge horror fan. Analyzing the films that I deem ‘the best’, it’s clear that I love the slow build. Most of the films I cite as the best horror films are from the 70’s and 80’s. They do not use CGI. They use practical in-camera effects. They actually let you get to know the characters so you care about them when they are in peril. They don’t go for predictable and trite jump scares every 10 minutes. They use unique orchestral music on the score, and/or perfect songs from the time. They have a psychological factor that makes things even more disturbing. Think of these films: The Shining, The Omen, The Exorcist, Halloween, The Fog, The Burning, Suspiria, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Thing.

So Ti West must share my love of these films, because he made a film that takes everything from these movies and recreates them in 2009. From the opening credits you know that this movie is a throwback retro experience. Even the grain of the film and slightly faded-out daytime shots feel like they were shot on 35mm film stock from 1978. Apparently he actually shot in on 16mm to give it that dated and grainy look. Nothing digital on this movie. The fonts even look like horror films of the 70’s, as do the almost random freeze-frames during the credit sequence.

The plot is simple, as it should be. A poor college student takes a babysitting job to get money to move into her new apartment. She arrives at the creepy house and makes some demonic discoveries. The plot is pretty much a collection of any horror film’s generic tropes. The plot isn’t what matters, it’s the mood and the building of creepy tension. After they show you a particularly graphic and surprising bit of gory violence, you are then always on edge. Waiting for the next one. You now know what the film is capable of. So any scene of the heroine walking around the house is fraught with danger and anxiety.

The lead actress is perfectly cast. A pretty brunette actress named Jocelyn Donahue. I have to say, her features reminded me of several classic 70’s horror movie heroines. Check out photos of Margot Kidder from The Amityville Horror, Barbara Hershey from The Entity, and Jessica Harper from Suspiria. I’m not saying that the director intentionally cast Jocelyn because she might remind people of these actresses, but it sure did make me think of those characters. And also Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode in Halloween. All women were attractive, slender, and portrayed vulnerability and terror very well.

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I love when a film chooses songs that I have a personal connection with and that bring me right back to that time in my life. This film nailed that. The first song we hear is an instrumental that made me think of The Car’s song, “Moving in Stereo”. It isn’t that song, but the chord progression and eerie vibe of it is strangely similar. The next song used is Greg Kihn’s song “The Break Up Song (They Don’t Write ‘Em)”. Then they really got me by using a lesser-known favorite of mine by Thomas Dolby called “One of Our Submarines”.

One of our submarines is missing tonight
Seems she ran aground on maneuvers

Bye-bye empire, empire bye-bye
Shallow water – channel and tide”

All of these songs have an eerie mood to them, or at least a memorable minor chord structure. Then the song they play while our heroine dances around the creepy house is the classic 80’s song from The Fixx, “One Thing Leads to Another.” This places the film’s events in 1983 based on that song’s release date. (The date is never given in the film) And all of these classics place me in middle school. The Walkman that she listens to in the movie was possibly the exact model that I also had in the 80’s.

Another excellent casting choice is Tom Noonan as Mr. Ulman, the man who hires our protagonist for the babysitting job. For me, I will always think of Tom Noonan’s very unsettling performance as The Tooth Fairy serial killer in Michael Mann’s amazing 1986 film, Manhunter. His tall frame and calculated manner of speaking just add to his oddness. He uses a cane with a metal eagle handle, which may or may not be a tip of the hat to Angel Heart, where Robert DeNiro has a very similar cane. And that character was indeed, the devil himself.

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This film truly takes it’s time with the story development, and reminds me a lot of another 70’s horror classic, Burnt Offerings. This is a 1976 haunted house movie starring the great Oliver Reed and Karen Black. One of the agreements they make, just like in The House of the Devil, is to be there to take care of the mother upstairs. This person may exist, they may not exist, they may be something else entirely. But the caretaking of an unseen person (force) in the house is done well in both films. And Karen Black also fits the requirement of being a slender brunette heroine. I used to watch Burnt Offerings anytime it came on. It was a rare horror film that was rated PG so it could be shown uncut on network TV. I am certain director Ti West watched it as well, as the similarities are myriad. Or to reference The Exorcist, the similarities are legion.

It isn’t giving away any spoilers to say that this film has something to do with Satanic cults. The preface of the film talks of how a majority of American citizens in the 80’s believed in abusive Satanic cults, and how this film is based on true events. So comparisons to another lesser-known 1971 horror film called The Mephisto Waltz are appropriate. That film starred Jacqueline Bisset and Alan Alda, and I also would watch this on TV whenever it came on. The poster had a naked Jacqueline Bisset drawing a Satanic pentagram on the floor. This film, along with Rosemary’s Baby, dealt with Satanists in mainstream cinema, and also treated them as ordinary regular likable people instead of ridiculous cartoon characters. Perhaps normalizing them makes them even scarier.

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The whole Satanic cult theme even resonated with me, as I read several books about this phenomenon during the 80’s. I remember sort of hiding them because I didn’t want my parents or anybody thinking that I was into Satanism or anything. One book was called “Say You Love Satan” and another was called “Devil’s Child.” I had these books on my secret bookshelf so as not to draw attention. I was fascinated by the topic, and loved reading horror stories by H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, Clive Barker and others. I was a huge fan of heavy metal, and followed the silly lawsuits against artists like Judas Priest and Ozzy Osbourne. The PMRC was trying to ban or label musical works that they deemed offensive. I became a huge fan of Slayer, with “South of Heaven” being my favorite album from them. I even read some books by Anton Szandor LaVey, the founder of the Church Of Satan. Satanism is hugely misunderstood, and was basically an invention in San Francisco created to piss off religious people. The core of Satanism is to reject any religious dogma, and believe in personal power instead. So a 70’s throwback horror film dealing with a Satanic cult? Sign me up.

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Not to oversell it, but the climax of this film is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. After a long tense build, when the film finally opens up the gates it’s a bloody nightmare. Our heroine  escapes from a Satanic ritual and engages in battle with numerous things in the house. A lunar eclipse occurs while all hell breaks loose. She is wearing white shroud that gets covered with blood, evoking memories of Sissy Spacek from Carrie. Mrs Ulman reminds me of Billie Whitelaw’s evil nanny character from the original film The Omen. Some musical cues sound like they are straight out of The Shining. She wields a kitchen knife up elaborate wooden stairs, which is reminiscent of Psycho, Halloween, and Suspiria. I don’t believe any of these directorial choices are accidental. The filmmakers want us to be thinking of all these other classic horror films as we watch this one. You’ve gotta know your history. The final 20 minutes of this movie is a horror fan’s dream come true.

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I guarantee that some people will dislike this film and call it boring. They are probably more suited to hyper-edited manic horror films with killings and maimings every 8 minutes like clockwork. I would even surmise that people 21 and under won’t like this film because of the films they’ve been raised on. But people 21 and over will probably enjoy this film for its loving embrace of the tenets of 70’s and 80’s horror cinema. For me, this film delivers everything that I want out of a horror film. I’ll gladly enter the House of the Devil.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Lace Sleeves

Sometimes there is a song that just gets to you at the right moment in your life. Then it sticks in your subconscious and kicks around in your brain for a few decades. Always striking you like it did the first time you heard it. It’s lasting power means that it never sounds dated or “of it’s time”. It just sounds perfect to you, forever.

I have a theory that the songs you listen to when you hit puberty imprint upon you in a special way, deeper and stronger than other times in your life. You move from being a child to being an adult. Your brain is awakening, your body is changing, your hormones and body chemistry are raging. You’re thinking about sex all the time. Song lyrics and feelings hit you hard. Those songs stick with you your entire life in a personal and special way. But that is a topic for a completely different blog.

This blog is about the Elvis Costello song “New Lace Sleeves.”  I first heard this moody song when I saw the video around age 11. Yup, puberty.

I almost switched the channel when I saw a black and white music video start up with musicians who looked like they were in bands from the 50’s or 60’s. But I stuck it out. Close ups of the musicians playing their instruments, and lyrics like I had never heard before kept me hooked. The singer was wearing a suit but was actually pretty nerdy. Reminded me of Buddy Holly with his machinist sunglasses that he kept peeking up over the top of. Gap-toothed and slight, he didn’t strike me as a lead singer of a band. But damn, was I wrong.

Face

The video starts with a cool shuffle beat on the drums. This was before I had started playing drums myself, but even as a kid I appreciated the odd gallop of the hi-hat and snare drum. It definitely wasn’t a generic four on the floor beat like I was used to hearing. Then a close up of Elvis playing just one string of his Gretsch guitar. Then a pretty badass bass line comes in, followed by haunting keyboards and piano. The balance is perfect, with everything sitting where is should in the mix. And then the vocals come in. And it was all over from there.

Bad lovers face to face in the morning with
Shy apologies and polite regrets
Slow dances that left no warning of
Outraged glances and indiscreet yawning
Good manners and bad breath get you nowhere
Even Presidents have newspaper lovers
Ministers go crawling under covers

That’s poetry. Some of these lyrics remind me of the great Charles Bukowski. These lines struck me as so profound that I sang along to them over and over again. I was happily surprised to find a lyricist that wasn’t just singing cliché after cliché in simple rhyming patterns. Even his phrasing was unusual to me. Stretching out short words like “Even”, and using vocabulary words not often found in pop songs. He’s almost crooning like Sinatra. I thought he said “Irish glasses” when he in fact says “Outraged glances”. It’s not about getting drunk, but is about awkward interpersonal communication. Listen to the note he chooses when singing “Even ministers go crawling under co-VERS.” It wasn’t until many years later that I would understand his words about the awkwardness of morning-after small talk with someone who you just slept with.

She’s no angel
He’s no saint
They’re all covered up with white wash and grease paint
When you say
The teacher never told you anything but white lies
But you never see the lies that you believe
Oh you know you have been captured
You feel so civilized
And you look so pretty in your new lace sleeves

Here’s my favorite part of the song. I’ve recited this clever lyrical passage countless times. And I can always picture Elvis holding up his hand and wiggling his fingers when he sings, “With their continental fingers that have never seen working blisters.”  This is class envy of the beautiful people, mixed with judgment and derision for them. But he still wishes to be in their circle, or at least be around them. The unattainable women.

The salty lips of the socialite sisters
With their continental fingers that have
Never seen working blisters
Oh, I know they’ve got their problems
I wish I was one of them
They say Daddy’s coming home soon
With his Sergeant stripes
And his Empire mug and spoon

I always thought that he said, “They say that he’s coming home soon.” Which I interpreted to mean that the woman who Elvis just slept with has a husband and he will return soon. Turns out he’s talking about a father returning from the war. Empire mug and spoon is the standard issue gear given to soldiers. The majority of the song is about post-war adjustment and aimlessness.

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No more fast buck
And when are they gonna learn their lesson?
When are they gonna stop all of these victory processions?
You say
The teacher never told you anything but white lies
But you never see the lies that you believe
Oh you know you have been captured
You feel so civilized
And you look so pretty in your new lace sleeves

These lyrics moved me with their originality and ambiguous/confusing content. I had to figure this song out, and live it. I found my tape recorder and recorded the song the next time it came on. This was way before the days of being able to just google any song to find the lyrics. Hell, this was before the internet existed. If the band didn’t print the lyrics in the sleeve of their record, you really had no way of accurately determining what was actually being sung. Best-guess. I played the song over and over again, line by line, and guessed at what the lyrics were. I scribbled down the entire song this way in pencil. Then I would sing along and memorize the lyrics I had deciphered. Years later I learned how wrong I was on some of the lines.

“Even Presidents have newspaper lovers.” What the hell? I had to look that up. Silly little 11-year-old that I was. I also swore that when he said “No more fast buck,” it was really “No more fast fuck.” I don’t know why I thought that, because that doesn’t really make sense. But in the video his mouth movement doesn’t quite match up with the audio. I thought that could’ve been intentional as a distraction. There was so much sultry singing with abstract lyrics that I convinced myself he had somehow gotten away with dropping the f-bomb on daytime cable television. For all I knew, he was talking about a quickie with someone in a back alley. Wishful thinking, maybe.

There’s no cheesy conceptual distraction in this video, which I greatly appreciated. It leaves the imagery and interpretation of the lyrics up to you. It’s just the four men playing their instruments, and Elvis looking directly at the camera as he sings. Cigarette smoke rises endlessly from the ash tray on the piano behind him. There’s certainly no sexy woman wearing lace sleeves, old or new.  They probably got this video in 2-3 takes. Elvis’s voice is striking and unique. At times smooth and silky, other times slightly nasal and borderline congested. But it works. I love his voice. His phrasing of intelligent and unusual lyrics has influenced me to this day in my own lyric writing. Elvis is the man.

This song is found on the 1981 album TRUST from Elvis Costello and the Attractions. I’ve delved through lots of his other music since then. I’m a huge fan of “Watching the Detectives” (which is a karaoke staple of mine), “I Want You”, “Radio, Radio”, “Alison”, and many others. But no song gets me like “New Lace Sleeves” does. Every time. I feel like I’m eleven years old again. Sucked in and mystified by how good a song can be.

Watch the video here:

New Lace Sleeves

TRUST album cover

 

 

Westworld: Nothing can go wrong

Westworld. Michael Crichton’s thought-provoking and fun 1973 sci-fi classic that he both directed and wrote. I watched this movie dozens of times as a kid. Anytime it would come on TV I would stop what I was doing and tell my parents not to bother me for two hours. This film was my introduction to artificial intelligence, robotics, westerns, and entertainment.

Westworld poster

I recently got to see this film on the big screen in 35mm and was moved to write a review of one of the seminal films of my youth, and how it holds up today.

Westworld is a tightly paced film that has influenced countless movies since. I would list The Terminator, Predator, Blade Runner, Jurassic Park, and Ex Machina. The cast is perfect, and the direction is unique. The plot is relatively simple. In the future, an amusement park for adults has been created. Delos is a three-part theme park where you can immerse yourself in one of three worlds. Roman World, Medieval World, and West World. You wear the clothes, eat the food, reside in lodgings, and participate in activities of the time. We follow the two protagonists James Brolin and Richard Benjamin as they experience the old west of 1880 in Westworld.

The entire scenario is a not-so-veiled criticism of Disneyworld, which just opened 2 years prior to this movie. I liked the dark social commentary that human beings would love a vacation where they could legally kill people and have sex with people without any consequences. Because they aren’t legally human beings, they are simply robotic humans, androids, tools for our entertainment and self-gratification. They get rebuilt every night, so what’s the harm?

Casting Yul Brynner as the iconic gunslinger was absolutely genius. He capitalized on our pop-culture memory of him from The Magnificent Seven in 1960. In Westworld he literally wears the same all-black outfit that he wore in that film 13 years earlier. And casting him as the bad guy was in the same vein as Sergio Leone casting Henry Fonda as the bad guy in Once Upon a Time in The West. He has few lines of dialogue, but he sells every line. There are shots of him where he is just standing and staring with his hands on his gunbelt that I’ve never forgotten. His glare is beyond powerful.

Later in the film he has silvery mirrored contacts in his eyes to show his improved visual scanning implants. Not only does he look creepy and badass, but this reminds me of Ridley Scott’s similar eye effect used in Blade Runner to signify when a character is a replicant. There are many similarities to Blade Runner, which is one of my favorite films. I’m sure Ridley Scott watched Westworld and knew he could take those themes to a higher level 9 years later. In Westworld, the only way to truly tell if a person is a robot is to examine their hands for little ridges between the digits of their fingers. In Blade Runner, the only way is to proctor the Voight-Kampff test, and even that psychological test isn’t 100% reliable. Especially when the replicants don’t know that they are a replicant and they have been gifted memories from someone else’s childhood.

Yul Brynner the glare

I love the odd little scenes Crichton puts in that aren’t necessary to the story. One great shot near the end of the film shows a roman statue that has been broken and left in a river. There is a drop of water from the river running down its face like a tear. This happens as everyone is being killed and raped off-screen. Another is the reflections in the mirrored cop sunglasses that the pilot of the hovercraft wears when transporting patrons to Delos. Nothing about these scenes adds to the plot in any way, but that mysterious shielding of the eyes and reflections of moving landscapes is striking and memorable. I wonder if he had seen Lucas’ excellent debut film THX-1138, which also used a similar device. Except in that dystopian future film, the entire face of the robotic police officers was reflective metal.

Mirrored sunglasses

The other surreal scene that really stuck with me is the employees of Delos coming out in the middle of the night to collect the dead bodies of the day’s adventures for later repair. The music is haunting and very unusual as the anonymous workers set up a large spotlight to work by. Nobody is talking to each other as they gather the bodies and cart them away in a truck. The night shift really does clean up corpses at 4am so nobody has to see the carnage over breakfast. When I watched it this time I wondered if the clean-up crew themselves were also robots. Doing the grunt work out there in the middle of the night cleaning up the broken bodies of their own kind. This scene could’ve been cut, or not even filmed by another director. It could just be mentioned by the scientists that the clean-up crew gets the bodies in the middle of the night to be repaired. But he took the time to create this ghostly unnerving scene and provided some of the best ambient music in the film.

Speaking of the soundtrack, I have to say that Fred Karlin did an amazing job. He filled the movie with very unusual sounds and musical effects instead of the normal orchestra playing compositions like we get in so many movies. No stock melodies that telegraph what emotion we should be feeling in that particular scene. His soundtrack has numerous noise cues that I still cannot identify. During the final chase there is one particular sound that reminds me of helicopter rotors with a touch of a horse snorting. He also uses a tense sound effect that is quite similar to one used to great effect in the 1968 Gregory Peck western called The Stalking Moon. That film also has a very long final chase/fight between the protagonist and antagonist. And it turns out, Fred Karlin did that soundtrack as well. That explains why I love both films so much. His Westworld soundtrack is on its way to me from Amazon.com right now.

The western is one of the truly American experiences, and we have a wealth of films to prove it. From the John Ford and Howard Hawks classics, to the graphic and genre-pushing spaghetti westerns (my favorite), to the western mythic quest films. The common themes include revenge, honor, brotherhood, and men out of time. Directors like Sergio Leone, Sam Peckinpah, Sergio Corbucci, and Clint Eastwood hold the top spots for western directors for me. Who among us didn’t play western playground games as kids, or imitated John Wayne’s drawl? It’s almost a universal American lust for the old west and wild frontier that makes a film like Westworld so appealing. Wouldn’t you pay $1000 a day (1973 costs) to dress up as a gunslinger and go around with your best friend drinking whisky and challenging some shady cowboys to a gunfight? Robbing banks? Starting a bar-fight? Visiting the brothel? Chasing down and killing all the bad guys?
Many of us would.

This film certainly slingshotted ahead the conversation about artificial intelligence, robotic realistic sex dolls, and computer viruses. This movie seems simple on the surface, but has deep themes that become more and more relevant as technology advances. Today, young schoolchildren can name ‘computer virus’ and know exactly what that entails. There is a growing industry selling realistic life-like human sex dolls for thousands of dollars. And the idea of supercomputers becoming sentient and possibly deciding that humans are in need of extermination has been a topic of countless science fiction books and films of the last 45 years. Westworld certainly was prescient regarding these scary and relevant issues.

Watching this film again as an adult I recognize one particular reason I liked it so much. Every time our heroes encounter the villain played by Yul Brynner, they dispatch him in a very distinctive and violent manner. Now I know that Crichton was probably copying the great Sam Peckinpah with these western shootout scenes. Peckinpah was famous for his multi-camera coverage and slow motion death scenes. And the use of blood squibs. Every time there is a gunfight with the Yul Brynner character it goes immediately to slow motion, and the ‘ballet of death’ that Peckinpah loved so much is shown perfectly. Blood squibs not only explode from the front of the man in black for the entrance would, but they also burst out his back for the exit wound. Often he is blasted out a window and the hundreds of glass shards tinkle and reflect the sunlight as his corpse falls below.

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Another 70’s stereotype is the use of brightly colored fake blood when characters get shot. In Westworld, this criticism can be explained away because the creators of the robotic gunslingers would have wanted any bullet wounds to be very noticeable and graphic. After all, these are paying customers. We want to make sure that the patrons see their enemies get shot to bits and have the bright blood spurts to celebrate it. It’s a red world, after all.

This film also likely was one of the first to use thermal vision effects. We’ve seen this a hundred times since, most noticeably in the 1987 John McTiernan action film Predator. But in 1973 this technology was just becoming available and filmable with computer effects. Speaking of special effects, they all hold up quite well. The Yul Brynner character has his faceplate removed to expose the circuitry inside. It’s still a riveting scene and is very believable. Other scenes involving acid being thrown on his face results in a creepy couple of shots where his head is smoking. Another striking shot is of his body laying on the ground after being burned. The smoke effects remind of something John Carpenter would do years later. And as covered earlier, the shootout scenes and resulting bullet wounds are graphic and realistic. I love seeing Yul Brynner firing his rifle repeatedly with the casings flying out, exactly the way he did in The Magnificent Seven. But this time, he is the relentless evil force hunting the innocents.

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His character truly is the original Terminator. I believe James Cameron said that the Arnold Schwarzenegger character from the Terminator films was influenced by Yul Brynner’s Westworld character. I think also the same was said from John Carpenter about Michael Myers in the original Halloween movie. Unstoppable. Pure evil. And each with a few false endings where we think they are dead but they aren’t yet.

“Listen, and understand. That terminator is out there. It can’t be bargained with, it can’t be reasoned with, it doesn’t feel pity or remorse or fear, and it absolutely will not stop…EVER, until you are dead.”

This is the entire final 30 minutes of Westworld. The hunt that goes from Westworld out into the gorgeous cinematography of the mountains then into Medieval world. At times Brynner’s character seems to just be toying with his prey. At other times he is limited by his technology damage and has to get creative. He truly has over-ridden the 3 Laws of Robotics created by Isaac Asimov. These prime directives were to be encoded into the brain programming of every robot.

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws

Yes, Michael Crichton went on to deal with a similar theme park gone wrong scenario in Jurassic Park. But Westworld is the original, and a damned great ride. I’m shocked at how good it still is. Western fans and science fiction fans should all watch this movie again. As Yul Brynner famously says, “Your move.”

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Zombie Girl

There’s this young woman outside our front doors who looks lost. It’s a cold and windy fall evening outside our venue, and I’ve noticed her standing around for a while now. I would use the word waif to describe her. Slight, short, skinny, but dressed well. She definitely seems to be buffeted by the wind and has backed herself into a corner to keep warm.

Lots of people wait around outside our doors for their Uber or Lyft car to pick them up. Cabs pull up outside all the time, and people checking in to the nearby hotel. Or they linger outside for a quick smoke. But this girl was just standing in a dark corner outside our doors with her arms wrapped around herself. Remember in the movie Blade Runner when Pris is standing around with her raccoon eyes trying to find somewhere safe? She pulls a bunch of newspapers and debris over her to sleep in an alleyway. She had a feral, vulnerable and paranoid look on her face. This girl had that same demeanor.

I stepped outside and asked her if she wanted to wait inside to get out of the cold and wind. She sheepishly came inside and thanked me in a quiet voice. Now that she was under some better light I could see that she was indeed very skinny, and also had braces. In the weird yellow lighting in the entryway she looked very odd, and her braces just made her look like she had terrible teeth. She also had somewhat hooded eyes. Her natural complexion gave her dark bags under her eyes and her prominent eyebrows ridged her deep eye sockets. She was also chewing gum, which kind of reminded me of the nervous teeth grinding that meth users will do.  I was trying to figure out if she had some problem besides just presenting a bit strangely. Like drugs or a mental illness.

I tried to engage her in some conversation to see if I could help her with anything. I asked if she was waiting for a ride, or if she was lost. She just sort of nodded her head no and kept chewing. She also was rocking from side to side a little bit and making other employees wonder about what she was doing. I let her be for a little bit. I told some coworkers that I invited her in to get out of the bad weather, but to keep an eye on her.

The concert was about to let out, so I warned her that she may not want to stand there when the crowd starts pouring out. She looked at me like I told her aliens abducted her as a young girl and planted a tracker device inside of her. I’m starting to get the idea that she doesn’t know anything about this establishment. We are a restaurant, bar, and music venue. Not a bus stop with a nosy security staff.

She moved to walk into the bar and I asked to see her ID. Her hooded eyes looked up at me like my goal in life was to irritate her. I had to reiterate that she was walking into a bar that serves alcohol, so she needed to show her ID for entry. She brought out her purse and fumbled around inside of it for a long time. I looked around at some of the bartenders and caught them smirking at me having to deal with a potentially problematic and weird situation. I smirked back.

She pulls out a card and hands it to me. It isn’t any kind of Oregon drivers license at all. It’s some sort of card with just her name and photo on it. It struck me as an ID card for a residential treatment center. The facility name sounded familiar, but handing this to a door guy is the equivalent of handing them a library card. I now had a better understanding of what I’m dealing with here. She probably lives at some kind of adult care facility. She got a furlough pass from the treatment center and decided to wander around Portland creeping people out. I informed her that this wouldn’t work. She needed to have a drivers license or a passport to get in. She got frustrated and grimaced at me before returning to her post of rocking back and forth, chewing her gum, and glaring at people.

Without a proper ID she really has no justification to be here. She can’t legally enter the doors and is now only on premises because I was being nice and invited her inside the foyer. She can’t tell me how she got here, she can’t tell me where she’s going, and she can’t tell me what she plans to do after she leaves. Now the concert finished and the crowd is coming out the doors, right towards our favorite anti-social lady. She doesn’t move to get out of their way, she just stands there arms crossed looking at people as the stream around her. I start to hear people asking her if she’s ok. A few women even ask her why she’s mad. Our friend isn’t answering people but she’s standing there making people uncomfortable as hell. Somebody asks her why she’s making that face. She gets angry and starts yelling at that woman.

I ask her to come to the side where she will be out of the way of the crowd trying to get around her. I again ask her if she needs me to call her a cab to get home, because she can’t stay here any longer. I stated clearly that I am security here and that she is going to need to leave. She can’t be here without a valid ID. She gets mad at me and starts telling me that I invited her in here. I reminded her that was me being nice, and before I knew that she had no ID and no business here. Now that she’s aggravating customers and essentially refusing to leave, it escalates.

“I’ve been more than nice with you, and I’ve offered you all sorts of help tonight. But now you’re being asked to leave. If you don’t leave now, this will be considered trespassing and we will call the police.”

The crowd has finally flowed around her and left the building. She’s still here arguing with me. Over refusing to leave a place that she didn’t want to be in the first place. Sometimes it isn’t the big burly dudes that swing on you and start spitting…it’s the tiny women. I really have no idea what this girl is capable of now that she’s turned on me and is being rude and yelling at me. And nobody wants to see a male security guard manhandling a tiny woman by herself. I have no interest in putting my hands on her, especially in this situation. So I kick it sideways.

I thought that a different security staff might be helpful here, a female security staff in particular. Nothing I say to this woman is helping, and she’s in hate with me right now. I found my female coworker and quickly gave her the short version of why this woman needs to leave the premises. She walks out into the foyer with me, and our unwanted guest sees her and immediately walks out the front door. Damn, I should’ve involved her 20 minutes ago.

We stand around for a few minutes and joke about how weird that woman was, and how after battling with me all it took was my female coworker to walk out and it was over.

Then I look across the bar through the crowd and I see her again. She had walked all the way around the building and was standing at the back door. There is a large glass window the size of a door and she’s standing right there looking into the bar. She can’t get in, but what the hell is she even doing there? She’s still shuffling around, rocking from side to side looking inside the bar like a zombie. That’s it. She’s a zombie.  If she would just raise her hands and moan a little she would be exactly like an extra on The Walking Dead. There are strange green and yellow lights near that exit, which only add to making her look sickly and affected. Her scowling grimace is exactly what all zombies do in the movies. Standing by the glass but not being able to get in is a trope of most zombie movies. We can see zombie girl and she can see us, but she can’t get in.  “Brains…..”

The ridiculousness of this situation got to me and I went outside to go tell her to leave the premises one last time. I leave through the front door to circle around to that back door to intercept zombie girl. Starting to feel like this is the moment I get jumped and bitten by this zombie. Never go anywhere alone. I, of all people, should know better. I imagine her biting me and then I become one of them. I wander back into the venue, where I order a rare burger before biting a coworker’s neck.

I approach that back door alcove to find her gone. Poof. Vanished. I don’t know where she could’ve gone that fast from when I spotted her. She’s nowhere. Zombie girl has escaped me. This time.

But I’m pretty sure I can find a crossbow around here somewhere.

 

 

 

 

 

Howdy, Roy

Tonight I met Roy. Roy and I had a unique time together.

I carded this guy as he came in the door. He was a big dude, tall and stocky like a lumberjack. He was in his 40’s and asked me a lot of questions. He was wearing overalls and a flannel shirt.

Sometimes when a person comes through the door we just have a short 20 second interaction where I ask to see your ID and give you the appropriate stamp. Other times I act like a host and answer a bunch of questions and even help seat you in the appropriate area. Other times I’m an event promoter and I’ll try to sell you on seeing the bands performing tonight. Or I’m the concierge and I’ll answer dietary questions about our menu, coordination for someone with special mobility needs, and even act as a tour guide and offer suggestions for other nearby places.

Roy came in and just wanted to be my friend. He told me his name was Roy and asked mine. Sometimes I don’t give my name but this instance seemed harmless so I told him. He seemed more than content to just stand in the entryway and chit-chat with me, his new best friend. I answered some questions of what we offered and how the place worked. He was intimidating visually, but a teddy bear once you started talking to him. I quickly understood that he also had a limited mental capacity. He wasn’t grasping social etiquette well and had a slight speech impediment that made him sound drunk when he wasn’t. He shook my hand and held onto it wayyyyyyyyy too long. He proceeded to shake my hand several more times. He also had thick Coke-bottle glasses and very bad teeth, so his overall first impression wasn’t that great.

He saw my female coworker standing behind us and went up to her and said, “You’re purrrrrrty.” And he wasn’t being a lecherous old man. Imagine the mentally challenged character from the great Steinbeck novel Of Mice and Men. Lennie. That’s him. That’s Roy. I think that he honestly didn’t get out much and wanted to give her a compliment. However, giving a compliment like that comes off more like you’re an inbred hillbilly rapist from Deliverance or The Hills Have Eyes. He just as well could have said, “Girl, you got a purty mouth. Let’s make a baby.”  Once he moved into the dining area my female coworker said, “Roy is just a simple man.” We laughed and moved on to helping other patrons.

About a half hour later one of the managers asked me for help with exiting a customer.
I knew it was Roy immediately. They told me that a gentleman had been cut off and they had already removed full alcohol bottles from his table. Now he had moved to a stranger’s table and was talking with them. They had asked him to leave and he refused. So they asked me to escort him out. Ah Roy, we hardly knew ya.

I walked into the restaurant portion and immediately saw large Roy, good ol’ boy. He had indeed sat down at a table with a stranger and was talking his ear off. Loudly. And he was now indeed drunk. I walked around the table and said hello to Roy. I then asked the man at the table if he knew this man. He laughed and said that he didn’t.

I asked Roy to walk outside with me. Of course he shook my hand another time. I leaned down and tried to explain as clearly as I could. Smiling, of course. “Roy, the managers here have asked me to ask you to leave now. They aren’t going to serve you any more beer because it seems that you’re pretty drunk. So I would like you to walk outside with me and we can find you a way home tonight.”

Tactful and clear. I feel like if I hadn’t bonded with him at the door and become his new best friend, this wouldn’t have gone well at all.

He said almost bashfully, “Oh ok.” He stood up and smiled at me and held his arm out in the gesture that means, “After you.” I smiled at him and made the same gesture, encouraging him to walk out of the restaurant ahead of me. “Oh, after you, Roy.”  He made the gesture again and said, “Go ahead.” I made the same gesture and said, “No really, you should go first.”

Now, obviously everybody saw me get called over to kick this guy out. Everybody is watching this silly interaction go down. Roy is about a foot taller than me, and a hundred pounds bigger, and he’s drunk. And a bit mentally challenged. He could do some damage to me if he wanted to. I guarantee that all waitresses, managers, customers, and hosts were watching this happen wondering what in the hell we were doing. Was he about to swing on me? Were we about to dance? Am I going to grab his arm and try to manhandle him out of here?

I finally said to him, “Roy, I’m security here and I am supposed to walk out behind you. So please, let’s both walk out now.” Letting somebody whose intentions you have no idea about get behind you would be completely stupid. He could decide he didn’t want to get kicked out and punch me in the back of the head. He could get his arm around my neck and choke me. He could trip or tackle me. No way in hell I would ever do that.

So he walked out of the restaurant ahead of me and I followed him out.  Like two old friends. I made eye contact with a few customers and staff as we walked past. Everybody was watching us intently, but smiling at me seeing that Roy and I had come to an understanding. At the door he asked if I could call him a cab. I said I would gladly do that once he walks out the front door of the establishment. We have cabs outside our place all the time, and if there isn’t one already there, they get there in a minute or two.

As I called for a cab for Roy one of my coworkers said, “That was the nicest, sweetest bouncing of a drunk that I’ve ever seen.” Indeed. It may have been. Playing tough guy in this situation probably would not have worked as well as acting like the guy’s friend. Always go for charm when you can in these dicey scenarios.

I look outside and I see a vehicle pull up outside our doorway. This is common as Lyft drivers, Uber drivers, and taxi cab drivers are constantly parking out there for loading and unloading. I see Roy go up to the vehicle, thinking that it was his driver already. He starts pounding on top of the vehicle in drunken excitement. A man gets out and starts yelling at him. This guy is a jarhead military-looking guy and he is angry. “Hey get the fuck off of my car! What are you doing? I’m an off-duty sheriff and I’ve had a shitty day. Who do you think you are???”

Goddammit. I finally got Roy out of here without incident and now an off-duty sheriff is about to kick his ass. Once I saw Roy start to pound on the vehicle I dropped the phone and ran outside.

“Hey there! Officer hold on, this is a misunderstanding. This gentlemen thought you were his Uber driver. He didn’t mean anything by it, and also he’s a bit…uh….challenge—uh…he’s had too much to drink tonight. Please, just let me handle this.” Angry off-duty sheriff backed off.

“Roy! Hey buddy, this isn’t your ride. This is somebody’s personal vehicle and you surprised them. But your taxi just rolled up down here at the street. Come over and let me walk there with you.”

He shook my hand about 4 more times and I swear he just about hugged me. We walked to the street where Radio Cab was waiting. He thanked me for a great night and muttered something about how he’s just living the life, ya know? Just living every day.

Hell yeah, Roy. Preach. If you come back again, please ask for me. Cause now we’ve got history. And I’ll keep you out of trouble.

 

 

Hey, pass me that drumstick

Nights where I’m working in the venue are often my favorite nights.

The venue is air-conditioned, so I can stay cool in there. And my job when working venue is one of the easier ones. I essentially sit at the curtain leading to backstage and the green room. I check wristbands for access, and make sure nobody gets back there without authorization. I help the musicians out, watch over their personal belongings and gear, and assist them with load out. I can help out the bartenders if it’s a slow night. I watch the crowd for issues and remove people if they get onstage. Crowd control includes watching you while you’re watching the show. I stop people from smoking pot in the venue, and ask people to leave if they are visibly intoxicated or being too touchy with women. And I’ll sometimes physically remove people if they belligerent, non-compliant, or start a fight. That’s the actual ‘bouncer’ part of this job.

But essentially, if nothing is happening that needs to be dealt with, I get to watch a free show from mere feet away from the stage.

Being a musician in a band myself, it’s a perfect job for me. I get to be around musicians and performers and watch them perform their art. I can network with them and pick their brain about things. I love watching a pro touring band pack up their vehicles like Tetris. I usually learn a few things about packing and storing gear for long drives to the next gig.  I often am given free CDs and t-shirts and such from the bands once they figure out that I’m interested in them.

Being a drummer, I am usually slightly more focused on watching the drummer play.  I was happy to discover that one drummer had the exact same Pearl Session Studio Classic kit that I have. Same color even. I definitely see what people mean about drummers making goofy faces while they play. I’ve been told that I actually don’t do that, but I don’t really know if I do or not. I try not to. Some drummers really do look ridiculous and distract from the show with their odd facial mugging.

One drummer poked his set list on the little hi-hat pull rod. This is the pencil-sized metal piece that extends vertically above the hi-hat cymbals. I’ve never seen a drummer do this before and, I’ll be honest, I judged him for it. Every other drummer simply lays the set list on the ground for reference. Some tape it to the side of the drum monitor. But never in my decades of playing shows and attending shows have I seen a drummer stab the set list on this little metal rod. It’s now on your instrument. You might accidentally hit it with your drumstick. Were you concerned about a gale force wind blowing across the stage and your set list flying away? Were you just too in a hurry to put it in an appropriate spot? Did you leave your contact lenses out and you can’t see the list unless it’s a foot from your face? Or are you just trying to be all punk rock rebel about it?

OK, that might be too picky. But this example is certainly a valid one of an unprepared and unprofessional drummer.

A fun band was onstage rocking some funk/dance music. This band shall remain unnamed. The drummer dropped a drum stick while playing.

OK, let me go back here and give you the background before I launch into this guy. Drummers break sticks. Drummers drop sticks. I’m not begrudging him for this, nor am I innocent of this faux pas myself. It happens. You’re gripping these custom cut pieces of wood and hitting things with them thousands and thousands of times during the performance. They chip away as you play, they crack, and then they break. You’re sweating. Shit happens. I pride myself on not dropping sticks very often when I’m playing drums onstage. But I hit pretty hard and the stage lights make you sweaty. I break sticks during shows and occasionally drop one.

But what you do is, keep playing the beat while you grab a replacement stick and forge ahead. Most people don’t even notice this happening unless they are a drummer themselves. You have extra drumsticks placed around your drum set for this very situation. You can just set some on top of your bass drum. Or buy a cheap clamp-on stick holder and clip it to the base of your hi-hat stand or any cymbal stand within reach. Or, your stick bag itself unfolds and hooks onto your floor tom. Any of these methods work to prevent being stick-less after a break/drop of a stick.

But this particular drummer on this particular night had a very unfortunate circumstance. He dropped a drumstick. But instead of it just dropping down to the floor around the drum kit, somehow it was flung sideways towards his fellow musicians. The drumstick went laterally to the right and hit the keyboard. On the keys. Stopping the keyboard player from playing. The stick bounced off the keyboard and hit the other guy in the chin. This completely stopped all keyboard parts in the song and made the musician recoil a foot away from his area.

That’s embarrassing and unprofessional. But accidents happen and you must expect misfires, and just deal with them like a trooper. But, this drummer had no replacement sticks set out anywhere on or near his kit. He was just screwed. He kept playing what he could of the beat with just his one hand and his feet, but the beat essentially disappeared. There was a gasp from the audience as they all worried if the keyboard player was ok. Part of me expected the keyboard player to launch himself at the drummer and wrestle him to the floor. A drumstick flung at somebody (accidental or not) could really hurt somebody. Especially hitting you in the eye.

But the keyboard player recovered and moved back up to the keyboard again. At this point I realized the drummer truly had no backup sticks anywhere in sight and this could be what’s called in the business a “Trainwreck”. That’s where somebody screws up the song so badly that the other musicians can’t maintain the song and it falls apart completely. But, the bass player came to the rescue.
He had to stop playing as well, but it was for the salvation of the song and the band at this point. He walked across the entire stage, crossing in front of the drum set and the singer and the guitar player. Somehow he had seen where that drumstick had landed and took it upon himself to go get it. He picked it up and handed it to the drummer, who sheepishly grabbed it and was able to play the full beat again. The other musicians could then return to the same part of the song and keep playing.

I was sitting in the backstage curtain shaking my head. Such a newbie mistake. I’ve seen high school drummers that had no experience bring backup sticks and recover from a dropped stick better than this guy did. It’s the same issue with guitarists having extra picks taped to their mic stand or the guitar itself. You’re gonna drop a pick and you know that you will need another one during the song. For the love of gawd, come prepared. It’s kind of just a given. There are enough other things that can and will happen on stage that you aren’t ready for. But hedge your bets and have a plan for the problems that you can foresee.

I would’ve loved to have been within earshot of the discussion after the show in the green room. The discussion where the keyboard player asks the drummer why he tried to skewer him with a flying machete-drumstick.

Maybe I should just double as a stage hand while I’m working security. I can bring my own drumsticks and carry a pair in my back pocket. When somebody drops a stick and has no replacement, I’ll just scramble up onstage with my flashlight and security shirt and hand the drummer new drumsticks.

I will accept tips, of course.