Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Blues Brothers: The Lost Tales, part 1

John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd made Chicago famous in 1980 with the release of what is still my favorite movie of all time, The Blues Brothers. Oh sure, Al Capone gave us a certain dangerous reputation; the presence of the lake and the fact that we were the birthplace of the sleeper train car also popped our town's reputation above the radar. And oh yeah, our hosting of the '68 Democratic National Convention raised eyebrows as to just how proficient our blue boys could be with their billy clubs. But The Blues Brothers let the world know just how cool of a city we really are. For that, we're eternally grateful.

The movie was fully realized in its theatrical release version, but got a lengthier release when it first came to DVD with the addition of lots of unseen footage which fleshed out the characters and rounded out the story even further. However, Dan Aykroyd relates that the original script that he wrote for the movie was enormous, three times longer than any movie (especially a comedy) could realistically be. To that end, director John Landis had to cut out a lot of character backstory and extended sequences. However, there was a simultaneous paperback novelization of the movie released, written by "Miami Mitch" Glaser. This novelization was derived from that original, extra long script (and not the eventual shooting script). Consequently, it provides tantalizing glimpses as to what was in that longer script. For as long as you the reader are interested, some of those "lost" episodes will be related here for your pleasure. Let's start from the top, as any good series should...

Artesia Papageorge tasted her own blood. It trickled into her mouth, salty and warm as tears. She ignored it, biting down even harder on the towel clamped between her jaws. Artesia lay back exhausted on her cot. Within seconds the next hit of pain arched her high in the air. A local nurse and Cissy, a trustee, shredded clothes and bound her to the metal frame. Now her struggles caused the entire cot to scrape across the concrete floor.

Artesia's pretty face was drained to a sickly paraffin color. Her brown eyes were locked open and unfocused -- a cave fish lost in the dark prison cell.

Shapes and faces drifted in the gray: the ancient judge who sentenced her for a murder she swore she couldn't remember (and didn't commit), a handsome man she might have loved. Some images were comforting, almost familiar, and some, strange and ugly, swooped at her from the blackness. Artesia kept silent through the fear, concentrating on the vision of a little boy-- all curly dark hair and brown eyes. Wide-eyed, she studied this unborn son floating innocently above her.

The odds in the Dwight Illinois Women's Correctional Institute ran ten to one that Artesia wouldn't live the night. They also ran nine to five that the baby would die inside her.

Cissy Wright lay a cool rag across Artesia's forehead. She gently brushed back the damp hair from Artesia's face. There wasn't much more to do. Cissy's wrinkled black hands caressed her friend's pale cheek.

"Don't worry, chile," she murmured. "It's almost over. Everything be okay by mornin'. You trust Cissy." The dying eyes knew better.

"How the hell did she get knocked up in here?" The gray nurse barked, washing her hands in the sink.

Cissy shook her head. "Nobody knows fo' sure. Maybe she came in that way. Maybe... you know... it just happened. This is one special lady. Some say magic-like." Cissy looked down at Artesia's face, shiny with sweat, almost glowing in the half-light. "There's somethin' kinda... holy about her."

The nurse threw a bloody towel into the trash and positioned herself between Artesia's legs. "Well, whatever, it sure as hell isn't helpin' her now. It'll be a miracle if we can even save her kid, weak as she is."

Suddenly Artesia gripped Cissy's hand, squeezing it tight. Her eyes seemed to focus, looking up at the black woman. Cissy took the towel from Artesia's mouth and leaned closer. In a whisper, almost a sigh, Artesia Papageorge spoke a name: "Jake."

Cissy's tears fell on the small white hand.

"Cissy. Please. You call him Jake."

"It's showtime," the nurse screamed. "Here comes the kid. Keep her awake, we almost got 'im."

Cissy desperately shook her friend. "Push, honey... help!"

Artesia's grip relaxed, and fo the first time that endless day, her eyes closed. She opened her mouth as if to speak, but instead a soft final moan rose from her. One long, sad note. At that very moment the baby cried to life, letting loose a fierce wail. Their two voices met in soulful harmony. On key -- and as sweet as Marvin and Tammi, Otis and Carla -- their voices sailed by the restless inmates, through the steel bars and out into the chilly Illinois night.


Sister Mary Stigmata cradled the silent baby close to her. Funny, the poor little thing hadn't cried all night. In fact, he hadn't made any noise at all since Officer Delaney brought him by after dinner. The sister shook her head sadly. Delaney said some salesmasn had pulled up to a newsstand and tossed a dime for the
Gazette. Instead of the newspaper, somebody had dropped this sleeping baby through the open window of the car, into the salesman's lap. Sister Mary had named him Elwood because he was the fifth child left at the Saint Helen of the Blessed Shroud Orphanage that week, and E was the fifth letter of the alphabet. (It was a pet system of hers.)

Someone coughed at one end of the huge room, and Sister Mary gazed down the long row of sleeping boys. Bits of dreams and muttered nightmares escaped into the dorm. The place was deep with sleep. The orphans insisted that the room, with its high dim ceilings, hid scary shadows. But it was more a barracks than a haunted house; even fear was too romantic for this building. It was functional, and the sister and her fellow nuns were caring, if impersonal. Still, it was the only house and family these kids had. And right now the home was jammed; not a free bed in sight. Well, the sister couldn't stand there and hold Elwood forever. He'd just have to double up with somebody.

Suddenly sister Mary Knew she was being watched! She whirled around, and staring straight at her -- that amazing hustler's spark in his two-and-a-half-year-old face -- was little Jake Papageorge. Wide awake and calm as an undertaker, he checked out the nun and the child in her arms.

"All right, Mr. Papageorge," the sister said, somehow knowing he could understand her, "it looks as though you have a new friend." She placed Elwood in bed with Jake. "I'm
sure you two will get along famously." Jake made room for the infant as if he'd slept there forever. As if they were brothers.

This stuff, because it is derived from a primary source and not just some outside author's imagination, can be accepted as canonical, as far as I'm concerned. The episodes within this novelization which never saw light of celluloid might as well have, in some perfect world where four hour movies about two wayward rhythm-and-blues singers would be an unqualified cinematic success. Since we don't live in that perfect world, and that four hour cut of The Blues Brothers never saw the light of day, I'd love to share with you some of these backstories. Please let me know if you find this stuff interesting; I'll continue the series if you all leave me enough comments.

Disclaimer: The copyright of the above quoted material is owned by MCA Publishing, a division of Universal. All rights reserved by the copyright holder. While I have not explicitly received permission to reproduce the contents, I will happily comply with any and all requests to take down this material. In the meantime, if you've enjoyed reading this, feel free to support Universal by buying The Blues Brothers on DVD, by buying any other DVD or Blu-Ray Disc bearing Universal's distinctive earth-and-cosmos logo, or by going to Universal Studios theme park (ask for Babs!).

Monday, June 14, 2010

Side WHAT?

One of the cool things that was lost in the transition from vinyl to CD was the concept of two separate halves. Most bands chose to refer to their albums' sides as A and B or 1 and 2, whichever nomenclature they chose. However, a few were more clever in designating the two halves of their records. Here are some of the more creative ones, the kings of this phenomenon being R.E.M., of course:
  • Cheap Trick, Cheap Trick (1977) (first side was Side 1; second side was Side A)
  • Original Soundtrack, She's Having A Baby (He and She sides)
  • Billy Joel, Piano Man (One Side / Another Side)
  • Billy Idol, Rebel Yell (his second full-length solo album) (sides 3 and 4)
  • Billy Idol, Whiplash Smile (his third full-length) (sides 5 and 6)
  • Guns 'N Roses, Appetite For Destruction (sides G and R)
  • R.E.M. , Chronic Town (side Chronic Town and side Poster Torn)
  • R.E.M. , Fables Of The Reconstruction (A Side / Another Side)
  • R.E.M. , Reckoning (sides L and R)
  • R.E.M. , Life's Rich Pageant (sides Dinner and Supper)
  • R.E.M. , Document (side Page and Leaf)
  • R.E.M. , Dead Letter Office (sides Post and Script)
  • R.E.M. , Eponymous (sides Early and Late)
  • R.E.M. , Green (sides Air and Metal)
  • R.E.M. , Out Of Time (sides Time and Memory)
  • R.E.M. , The Best of R.E.M. (a UK-only compilation) (sides Us and Them)
  • R.E.M. , Automatic For The People (sides Drive and Ride)
  • R.E.M. , Monster (sides C and D)
  • R.E.M. , New Adventures in Hi-Fi (sides Hi and Fi)
  • The Smashing Pumpkins, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (CD 1 was called From Dawn To Dusk; CD2 was called From Twilight To Starlight. However, in its 3LP configuration, each of the albums had the following side designations: Dawn, Tea Time, Dusk, Twilight, Midnight, Starlight)
  • Queen, Queen II (sides White and Black)
  • The Tubes, Outside / Inside (sides Outside One and Inside Two)
  • Joe Jackson, Night and Day (sides Night and Day)
  • Jon Astley, Everyone Loves The Pilot (Except The Crew) (sides Outbound and Inbound)
  • Wings, Back To The Egg (sides Sunny Side Up and Over Easy)
  • Roxy Music, Manifesto (East and West sides)
  • The Knack, Round Trip (sides Here and There)
  • Blue Oyster Cult, Tyranny and Mutation (Red and Black sides)
  • Fine Young Cannibals, The Raw and The Cooked (sides Raw and Cooked)
  • Heart, Dog and Butterfly (Dog and Butterfly sides)
  • Rod Stewart, Blondes Have More Fun (Side 1 and Side 1 Continued)

NP: Various, The Island Story (25th Anniversary compilation of Island Records)

It's Been Awhile...

I know I haven't blogged since St. Alex shuffled off this mortal coil; a lot of changes have occurred in my life (all of 'em good to neutral). The biggest one is that I am a stay-at-home-Dad. Circumstances triangulated in such a fashion that it made sense that a) we could do fine on my wife's earnings, and b) the ever-worsening Eisenhower expressway traffic condition, that this decision (which has been percolating for a while now) was made sooner than later. I don't regret it at all. I will admit that it comes with its own learning curve. My goal is to always a) make sure that the kids are taken care of, and b) that the house is kept in wonderful shape, in that priority order. Item A is a no-brainer; it's item B that is the "learning curve".

So often, I want to write these epic, long-form reviews of classic albums (I know a bit of you still revisit my Loud Family review, including some former members of the band itself!). But equally as often, I don't find myself with the amount of time that said record reviews call for. They will be back. Until then, I'm gonna post my impressions of raising your kids right: with an appreciation for the finer music. My kids regularly demand I play "Happy Jack"
and "Surrender" instead of the Wiggles and the Doodlebops; I see this as a positive trend.

More I promise; stay tuned...

NP: Joe Jackson, Rain.