Thursday, July 24, 2008

Tuffy the Cat's Museum of Brilliant Mistakes

Hi there, DJMurphy’s cat Tuffy checking in again. An unexpected flood of fan mail response to my previous museum opening has coaxed me into creating another museum. Really, though, why do I need the stress? Why should I bother opening up another museum for you humans when all you do is kvetch and moan about the cost of crude? Still, somehow I feel it’s my feline duty to do so, and since Murphy is gone all day fixing computers, I find myself with a little time between catnaps and getting stoned off of catnip. So why do I open up museums? Well, who better to chronicle the absurdity of the human condition than a cynical cat who can type? You humans are usually too high on yourselves to realize that there are some wickedly absurd things coming out of you in the name of “art”. Whatever; stuff the art and send over another gross of fine Colombian catnip, please. But for you the blog reader, I give you some of my favorites in Murphy’s vast library of things that were a fine idea at the time, but now are brilliant mistakes.

Rufus Thomas – “Bear Cat”

Rufus Thomas was the self-proclaimed “World’s Oldest Teenager”. He was a Mississippi-born and Memphis-bred r&b singer. His greatest fame was while he was with Stax, with a song the world knows called “Walkin’ The Dog”. But his first hit was a song which my species can appreciate: “Bear Cat”. It was an answer song to Big Mama Thornton’s more popular “Hound Dog”. However, instead of merely cleverly referencing the earlier melody for its tribute, it stole it wholesale, prompting a lawsuit which nearly bankrupted the still-nascent Sun Records label which would later launch Elvis, Jerry Lee, Johnny, Carl, and Roy. Even though “Bear Cat” was a hit, it was injuncted out of existence before it could snowball into anything profitable. It’s a shame, too; the song is great! Rufus starts up before the music with the most blood-curdling impression of a wild cat; it even made my own fur stand on end. Imagine how stupid I must have looked to Murphy, me all hissing as if there was a real bobcat in his tower speakers. His master’s voice, indeed!

Stefan Anderson – “Keep On Lovin’ Me”

Murphy believes that Stax Records of Memphis is the finest record label to ever have graced this Earth. Even a cat like me has to admit that their successes are amazing: Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Sam and Dave, Booker T. & the MG’s, Rufus Thomas, the Staple Singers, Eddie Floyd, the Bar-Kays, the Soul Children, William Bell… it’s a roster to be proud of. But after 1968, the brain trusts behind the label started making a lot of decisions which had a factor in the label’s downfall in 1975. However, this next brilliant mistake is one they should ultimately be proud of; Stefan Anderson was a white guy who reportedly could sing the paint off of the walls. He came to Stax’s attention in 1972. They signed him, and stuck him in the studio with Donald “Duck” Dunn and Bobby Manuel producing. Al Jackson Jr. was on drums, and the tracks were smoking. What was the problem, you ask? Well, just because Stax was progressive-minded enough to know that soul is soul, no matter what the color of the dude singing, soul RADIO wasn’t as broad-minded, and after six or so great songs, Stefan faded into soul’s history books. Silly humans; black cats and white cats all caterwaul the same. Any housecat knows that!! Leave it to knuckleheaded humans to make such distinctions important. What next, discrimination against golden retrievers? Actually, that’s not such a bad idea, those goddamn dogs!!

The Max Headroom TV Show

This one is a heartbreaking one. Most people who lived through the ‘80s (not me; I’m only ten years old. Which is sixty-something in people years…) can’t help but remember the stammering virtual Coke spokes-knuclkehead who exhorted viewers to “Catch the wave, COKE!” This overexposure thoroughly turned off most of the public off to the fact that the corresponding sci-fi/drama TV show of the same name was a fascinating, groundbreaking concept. Set “twenty minutes into the future”, the debut episode concerned an investigative reporter who is trying to find out the dirt behind these TV commercials called blipverts which are making viewers’ heads explode. How cool! How often do I wish that certain humans’ heads would explode (Murphy’s kid is a cat terrorist!! He won’t listen to reason!!). The TV show lasted approximately one season, died an ignominious death, and sadly has never seen DVD release.

Kevin Rowland – “My Beauty”

This one truly makes my fur crawl and my brain go “What the fuck were they thinking???” This album is so gloriously BAD that it supposedly sold only 500 copies, the poorest-selling CD in Creation Records’ history. That means 499 other dingbats were as dumb as my owner in buying this steaming turd. This CD isn’t only bad; it’s a far-reaching, over-ambitious shining example of what badness aspires to.

On paper, Creation Records supremo Alan McGee thought he was going to get a wonderful album to release when he signed former Dexy’s Midnight Runner’s lead singer Kevin Rowland to his label, Creation. Rowland had played McGee some of his demos, and McGee was floored at how soulful they were. In the interim between the bust-up of Dexys and the time he was signed to Creation, Rowland did drugs. A lot of drugs. Enough so that whatever madness he might have previously had was made to be crazy-mad. Silly humans; we kitties do drugs too, but you never hear a cat go batshit crazy from eating too much catnip. So McGee thinks that he’ll sign Rowland, and be able to release a triumphant solo album from the former lead singer of Dexys. He got more than he bargained for. Apparently, Rowland felt that this collection of cover tunes (with which he took substantial lyrical liberties) best represented the headspace that he found himself in 1999, the release date of this monstrosity. Rowland also believed that he should best represent himself on the cover by dressing up in a teddy, with his nipples showing. McGee, though floored, decided to release the album anyway as a punk-rock gesture, a sort of V-sign to those who expect him to keep releasing stuff as brilliant as My Bloody Valentine or Primal Scream, or even as successful as Oasis. If McGee was looking to release an album to make the punters squirm, then he had succeeded admirably.

The reason that this is so horrifically bad (aside from the snicker-inducing cover, which betrays the maxim about judging a book or CD by its cover) is that Rowland fashions the lyrics of each song to turn it into his own personal self-soothing therapy session. It’s obvious that Rowland is still a good singer (well, as good as he ever was). But for anyone who knows and loves the original versions of these songs, hearing Rowland make nutty changes so each song sounds like a rah-rah at a twelve-step meeting is a jarring experience. I’m glad that Rowland thinks that by singing these songs he will bring himself some sort of peace; I think he should have left this one up on the shelf, though. Next to all the kitty snacks he isn’t giving his cats; had he been keeping up with those, his cats wouldn’t have let him release such a horrifically bad CD, and deep-six what remained of his credibility.

Take a listen to how he mangles the Squeeze chestnut "Labelled With Love". Or for a truly disturbing experience, I dare you to listen to this! Don't say I didn't warn you...

Sports Night

Aaron Sorkin had already had experience in entertain- ment by writing the play (and subsequent movie) A Few Good Men before he tried his hand at television. Sports Night was a smart, witty, intelligent dramedy about life behind-the-scenes at the second-rated nightly sports report. It starred Peter Krause, Felicity Huffman, Robert Guillame, and a slew of other sharp cookies. But it was mishandled by ABC during its two season run. And with a title like Sports Night, it had no chance at finding its most-likely core audience (I wish TV marketed sports more towards cats; I'm lucky if there's ever a good puppy-bowling match on Animal Planet). Despite critical acclaim and a rabid following, ABC nuked it after two promising seasons. Sure, it has the feel of a freshman effort; Sorkin later perfected his type of hyper-intelligent television with The West Wing. But Sports Night was still a diamond that got buried in the mix.

Elvis Costello – The Juliet Letters

So the man himself who inspired my museum's subject matter gets his place in this hall of dubious fame. Like all the other creators of the above works who approached their mistakes with true earnestness and good intentions, Declan Patrick MacManus (or Elvis Costello to the rest of you) thought that it would be a daring step for him to team up with the Brodsky Quartet and release the fruit of their labors. Despite a critical "huh?" and the purchase of it from the diehard fanbase who hadn't gotten choosy at that point as to which Costello releases to judiciously avoid, the public stayed away in droves like cats to a dog convention. Which is a shame; there were some cool tracks, and one flat-out classic in the song "Jacksons, Monk and Rowe". Even the great ones sometimes release a turkey; Elvis is no exception.

So there you go. Thank you all for visiting, watch your step on the way out, see you at the opening of my next museum.

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