Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Mozipedia: The Encyclopedia of Morrissey

'There's more to life than books you know, but not much more,' the gorgeously sinuous voice of Morrissey once sang. Well, it's possible for Morrissey to be wrong once in his life, for he never cracked open Simon Goddard's Mozipedia: The Encyclopedia of Morrissey and the Smiths (Plume Books, 2010).

Not your regular 'aardvark to zebra' type of encyclopedia, the Mozipedia is a special kind of reference book: the kind devoted to everything Morrissey and the Smiths. Simon Goddard is the acclaimed author of The Smiths: Songs That Saved Your Life, a book that dissects every single Smiths track and analyzes it from every conceivable angle: from creation and critical reception, to song meaning, and beyond. It is a book that succeeds in piecing together each individual pop masterpiece to demonstrate how they fit into the Smiths' glorious oeuvre, cementing them as one of the most influential rock groups from the past century. It's truly a spectacular essential for Smiths extremists. Songs That Saved Your Life is still the most comprehensive and best Smiths reference book on the market, but, until now, there was no similar study of the art and influence of Morrissey's long solo career. In his Mozipedia, Goddard smartly re-hashes every single Smiths track from a broader perspective which does not render his earlier effort obsolete. You will want to buy the revised second edition of Songs That Saved Your Life, with invaluable input from the Smiths' guitarist Johnny Marr, to go along with your Mozipedia.

Mozipedia is a treasure chest of Moziana and Smiths arcana, from earliest interviews (and pre-dating Morrissey's musical fame whilst he was still an aspiring music and film writer making a name for himself as a strange spectre in the local Manchester scene) through the latest news available prior to publication. Goddard's information is culled directly from primary sources including written, audio, and video interviews, as well as personal interviews that he conducted with everyone who has been in Morrissey's own circle, except for the man himself. Besides entries for every single song ever recorded (and a few that probably weren't), Goddard has entries for every person, place, or thing that has had an influence on Morrissey's life, including musical collaborators and musicians through favorite writers, books, actors, films, haunts, and other obsessions that might help the reader understand how the mind of this brilliant man came to be. As far as this reviewer can say, no stone remains unturned. What results is the single greatest book on the topic of Morrissey that has been published so far (until the long-promised publication of Morrissey's memoirs that he has been teasing fans with for over a decade). While not totally unbiased (clearly Goddard is a devout disciple -- would you want to read a 500+ page book about him by someone who isn't?), it is a factual and enviable feat that all Morrissey fans should have on their book shelves. It's an enlightening look into the life of a public enigma, only whetting one's appetite to know this strange creature even more intimately. Whether you're interested in his thirty years' contribution to great music, how the legacy of Morrissey and the Smiths fit into modern culture, or understanding one of the most outspoken yet impenetrable  personas of the past quarter decade, Mozipedia is an essential reference point. He is, after all, the last truly important British person you will ever know.

Here are few samples of some of the most mind-blowing morsels of Morrissey revelations:

- At least in one interview, Morrissey referred to himself as 'Mogsy'. Surprisingly, his personal nickname hasn't caught on amongst his fans.
- Morrissey likes lower-browed television than one would expect. He rambles about his favorite soap opera (Coronation Street), and some of his frequently listed favorites from the 1980s were Cagney and Lacy and The Golden Girls!
- Truculent? There was a full explanation of the rather confusing royalties court case between the Smiths' drummer, Evil Mike Joyce v. Morrissey and Marr, which finally cleared up the complicated mess that has coated most of Morrissey's lyrics ever since with a thick layer of spite. Just call Mozipedia 'Morrissey's 1996 Court Case For Dummies'. Did you know that Morrissey sought an appeal to the obviously unfair and biased verdict? He approached Tony Blair for help (he wasn't), and, more surprisingly, he contacted the Queen (I'm assuming he means Queen Elizabeth II rather than one of his various friends), whom he later described as 'quite nice.'

Meet Simon Goddard at Married to the Moz

Saturday, April 21, 2012


- Discovery Channel's Auction Kings returns next Wednesday, April 25 at 10:00 PM EST. Great show.
- Discovery cancelled Cash Cab. Bad channel. I am in mourning.
- It's that time of year again. TVLand's 10th Anniversary Awards Show will air on -- where else? -- TVLand on Sunday, April 29 at 9 PM EST. Look forward to seeing all your favorites, including reunions of Laverne And Shirley and One Day At A Time, as well as appearances by Pee-Wee Herman and Aretha Franklin. Murphy Brown and In Living Color will be honored. No word on whether Dan Quayle will be presenting the cast of Murphy Brown with their award. This year's host is Kelly Ripa, despite the fact that she lacks a sort of... je ne sais Reege.
- One of my few cable obsessions, Syfy's Hollywood Treasure, returns May 22 (Morrissey's birthday) with a look at Sean Astin's Lord of the Rings memorabilia collection! I can't WAIT until this show starts up again. [via the show's official Facebook page]
- Can you believe it's officially been 25 years since the Simpsons first appeared as a short on the Tracy Ullman show? I wasn't an instant fan, but it sure is hard to remember a time before the Simpsons. Sadly, no one is celebrating any such anniversaries for Herman's Head.
- A new documentary, Plastic Galaxy: The Story of Star Wars Toys, is about, arguably, the best part of the Star Wars universe: THE TOYS! I'm going to watch the newly released trailer with my two favorite fellas, Bib Fortuna and Squidhead. And perhaps Salacious Crumb. I wonder if director Brian Stillman can track down my beloved (and missing) Return of the Jedi cup with the chocolate milk stain.

- Morrissey's official Facebook page announced a handful of US tour dates coming up (two in Hawaii and his birthday, May 22, in San Diego)! Will he next turn his lovely head to the east? I say yes. He says no, but he might change his mind.
- Blur is celebrating 21 years since the release of their debut album, Leisure, with an incredible box set and expanded remastered albums. It's a 21 disc box set with all seven of their albums receiving the expanded two-disc treatment. Plus four discs of exclusive rarities (claiming 3 1/2 hours of 'unreleased' material). Plus three DVDs (claiming over 2 hours of 'unreleased' footage) with two live shows and an exclusive disc of video rarities. Plus a collectible 7" of a very early (Seymour-era) live track. Plus a deluxe hard-bound book with new interviews, extensive liner notes, and unseen photos. There's no way that such an incredible sounding bit of loot won't boast an equally incredible price tag [note: £158?! YIKES. NO WAY.]. It's worth noting that the remastered two-disc albums will be available separately and will also be available on vinyl. Apparently, you can pre-order through Blur's official site or If only they would throw in every single b-side plus the various EPs like Bustin' + Dronin'.. AND the new post-reunion tracks (that were mostly for the independent Record Store Day), as well as the live albums that stemmed from their recent reunion concerts. Despite the completeness of the Blur box set, I figure if I refused to shell out the big bucks for The Smiths' comparable box set, (which, to be fair, had none of the earth-shattering rarities), I won't do it for Blur.
- Since Pulp's 2011 live reunion of the classic Different Class-era line-up [Jarvis Cocker, Russell Senior, Steve Mackey, Candida Doyle, Mark Weber, and Nick Banks], they have continued to headline some major festivals and concerts. Recently they made it to America, most tragically for two sold-out shows at New York's Radio City Music Hall. They also headlined Coachella (along with those crazy kids from Madness)! Last week, Pulp made their first appearance on American television in fourteen years on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (they performed 'Common People' and one other song that is exclusively on Jimmy Fallon's website). The performance was fantastic, though it was soured somewhat by the lack of Russell Senior (note that two people had to take his place). I don't know if that means that he didn't make it to America with the rest of the group. Here's a clip of Pulp making their American televison debut in 1995 on David Letterman. By the time I saw this performance, I had heard Pulp but didn't have any of their albums. I was immediately hooked and bought the album by the end of the month. They've been a favorite ever since!

- J.K. Rowling recently announced she will be publishing her first adult novel, The Casual Vacancy in September.
- J.K. Rowling will also be publishing an official Harry Potter encyclopedia.
- Noir scholar Robert Polito has compiled five novels by the cult Philadelphia noir writer David Goodis. Five Noir Novels of the 1940s & 50s received a rave review by the Philadelphia Inquirer. A panel discussion on David Goodis appeared to be the highlight of this year's abbreviated Philadelphia Book Festival.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Brando Birthday Bash

You can't have a party without Judy Garland, Beatrice Lillie, and James Dean! Here's what Marlon Brando's all-star birthday party would have looked like:

But, really, isn't it best when all the guests go home and you can just relax?

M-G-M: Hollywood's Greatest Backlot

California is known for its full range of geographical terrains inching up from dry desert heat and dangerously curving into palatial Pacific coasts, dense redwood forests, paradisal fields of flowers and orchards, and capped with snowy mountains. It seems quite fitting that this cinematic Shangri-la should be as ostentatious as the reputation of its southern hotspot, Hollywood. After all, one needn't leave Culver City to travel to the furthest reaches of the earth and from yesteryear to the glimmer of a far distant tomorrow. It is on the vast real estate called backlots where the reality of movie magic was truly invented, and no other movie studio encapsulated the true grandeur of Hollywood's potential as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Once boasting more stars than there are in the heavens, M-G-M's unrivaled star power was only outdone by its awe-inspiring backlot. While M-G-M's collection of backlots have officially followed the great movie moguls to their own demise, they are legends that the few survivors of the studio system continue to describe in astonishment.

M-G-M: Hollywood's Greatest Backlot (Santa Monica Press, 2011) is the best guidebook for a place that no longer exists. Writers Steven Bingen, Stephen X. Sylvester, and Michael Troyan take the reader on the ultimate tour of the ultimate backlot. This is a virtual tour of a Hollywood that no longer exists, and, some could argue, never did. It was on these unassuming backlots populated with mere facades of main streets, foreign villages, jungles, and cityscapes that the biggest M-G-M hits were born. As much as seeing the naked lots (or the multitude of photos showing the same lots being thinly veiled and dressed up for all manner of movie scenes) shatters the illusion of movie magic, it creates a whole other admiration -- a wonderment of how these dressed-down plots of muddy dilapidation could pass for Paris, Tarzan's jungle, and Main Street USA. The most striking aspect of the book is how lovingly and exquisitely detailed it is. The research compiled in the book is incredible, and it is filled with meticulous maps, photographs, and original documentation, as well as background information from the people who worked and walked the backlots themselves. The writers provide an unmatched glimpse behind the facades of each filming site and detail some of the movie magic that was made in each location from the lots' original formation to their ultimate dismantling. The writers manage to nestle the biography of this greatest backlot into a concise contextual history of the rise and fall of Hollywood's much ballyhooed studio system, so the reader can grasp the importance of M-G-M as a business model rather than merely an artistic one.

The book is as much an elegy to the end of an era as it is a celebration of what made movies great in the golden age. There is a lot of information regarding the collapse of the system and the razing of old Hollywood for a new generation of filmmakers. Sadly, the extensive locations that brought the elusive sparkle of movies to life became themselves faded relics. The book ends with the physical razing and liquidating of M-G-M's backlot and assets, the death knell for a Hollywood that can now only be read about or seen in old pictures. We have the writers of this book to thank for unearthing and preserving what little information remains of what was indeed Hollywood's greatest backlot. This is a must-read for all cinemaphiles and for those who want to understand the inner workings of a Hollywood studio at the height of its greatness.

M-G-M: Hollywood's Greatest Backlot - 'A lavish illustrated history of Hollywood's greatest movie studio' (official website)
Information about the book at Santa Monica Press

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

On the... TV

Where has Toy Hunters been all my life? Toy Hunters is a new series that debuted last month on a channel normally devoted to perverse gluttony and vacations that attack, the Travel Channel. Toy expert Jordan Hembrough is on a mission to uncover the rarest and most collectible toys of the 1970s and 1980s for resale at New York's Comicon. In this week's episode, he headed to Ohio, former headquarters of Kenner, to rummage through former employees' private stashes of mint in box wonders and some toys that never even made it to store shelves. There are plenty of original Star Wars, MASK, and Carebears treasures, but the real gems include the mythical prototype of a never-produced (unpainted even!) Boba Fett action figure with a real shooting missile that was deemed unsafe and a rare Thundercats bubble action toy. My choice item of the episode was a top-secret Ewok figure that had been deliberately packaged with a Squid Head backing card. The back of the card that normally shows a selection of the line had the new Ewoks characters blacked out since Return of the Jedi hadn't been released yet. Toy collectors will salivate over this show, even though it is true that, like most 1970s-80s toy and collectible references, it could have included much more in the way of girls' toys. Just as I couldn't get enough of gawking in toy stores when I was a kid, I sure hope there's more Toy Hunters coming up! I'm still unsure of how many episodes of Toy Hunters have already aired, but apparently it has just been picked up for a season of twelve half-hour episodes. [Speaking of wondering what happened to a great collectible show: Hey Syfy, when will there be more Hollywood Treasure? AND I still love Discovery's Auction Kings. These three shows would be so good together.]

Read a Q&A with Jordan Hembrough at Nerd Bastards.

Blur at the BRITS 2012

It felt as if it were 1994 again! Legendary britpoppers Blur (champions of the famed Britpop wars) were honored at the 2012 Brit Awards with an Outstanding Contribution to Music award. After Adele's humble gesticular hissy fit, the quartet blasted onto the stage with a rousing five-song medley of their hits, including 'Girls and Boys;' 'Song 2;' 'Parklife' (oi, complete with actor Phil Daniels as in the original version); 'Tender;' and 'This Is A Low.' Audience members who were old enough to remember the 1990s greeted our boys with enthusiasm, and there were few who didn't sing and dance along with their entire set proving that some Brits still like a good song. I guess modern life is even more rubbish. The BRITS were shown in the U.S. on the Fuse music network (and ITV2 in the UK). It's possible they might air it again; check your local listings. In other Britpop news, Pulp has continued its reunion and is slated to tour America for the first time with its full classic line-up (including guitarist/violinist Russell Senior) since Different Class in the mid-1990s.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Michael Feinstein's American Songbook

Before watching the first two episodes of Michael Feinstein's American Songbook, I merely thought of him as an extremely talented singer and entertainer. After watching the first two episodes of American Songbook, I was in awe of how much Michael Feinstein has done to preserve our musical heritage. In fact, I have deemed Michael Feinstein the ambassador of America's Musical Heritage. He is the ultimate collector; a cultural conservationist and preservationist; a tireless archivist; and a cat lover. A kindred spirit! That's a whole lot of responsibility for one man, but he makes a case for his life's passion in his three-part PBS series. In the new season, which began last Friday, he shares his penchant for great music and, best of all, he opens up his personal archives.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Whipping Whimseys

New Notions!

Have you ever?...

Made earrings and lapel pins from feathery fishing lures?

Considered keeping Cleo (your goldfish) in a hanging fishbowl over your bed?

Adorned your wedge heels with colorful tacks?

Why not?...

The results will wow you speechless!

[Drawings by Jay Warmuth for Woman's Home Companion, May 1947]

Do you ever...?

Let your woo-woo gams run your life? If so, let this 3 cent pamphlet advise you how to reassert your independence!

...I'm not even sure what the last pamphlet is about! It's either golf or something that can only be hinted at...

[Offer from Woman's Home Companion, June 1947]