Saturday, February 28, 2015

He Lived Long and Prospered: RIP Leonard Nimoy

I'll be honest--I'm not and never was a Trekkie. The Star Trek phenomenon just wasn't my bag, but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate its rightful place in pop culture history. So when one of its stars, Leonard Nimoy, passed away yesterday at the age of 83 I was not immune to feeling a sense of loss and sadness, particularly for my fellow retro fans who did grow up watching Mr. Spock. The tributes were everywhere I was online yesterday and as it turned out, Nimoy is being remembered for a lot more than his logical, pointy-eared sci-fi character. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Teaching An Old Tube Some New Tricks

Vintage television sets pose a conundrum for the retro lover: they are awfully cool to look at, but require some finagling with a converter box and cables to make them functional in today's high-tech world...that is, if their cathode ray tube is still working.

But if you have no intention of watching programs on your set or are unable to, you don't have to recycle it or throw it away. It turns out that there are several cool things you can do with a vintage TV that will add some retro grooviness and a conversation piece to your digs.

1. Retro Style Wet Bar

For starters, I love this bar idea that a friend on Pinterest spotted and sent to me. The owner added some fabric or decorative paper to the inside of the tube, and the martini glasses and swizzle sticks are a nice touch. I'll drink to that!

2. Pet Bed

Image via HausPanther
I can has bed? Give your pet a groovy pad of their own by converting the set into a cozy sleeping spot. I love that this cat owner decorated the inside with '60s graphics and a shag rug. The only disadvantage is that a kitty on top can't get warm from a non-functioning set.

3. Chair

This requires one of those sets that was built into a stand and looks like a piece of furniture by itself. An awesome conversion, although this "chair" may only hold a small child or a very skinny adult. Again, love the shag cushioning!

4. Fish Tank

Image via Aquahobby
Not sure how they access the tank to clean it, but this is another creative idea. 

Here's some other decorating ideas I thought of for old television sets:

  • Use it to store books or your DVD/CD collection
  • Use it as a planter for those plants that don't require a lot of sunlight
  • Use it as a toy box in a kid's room or to store board games
Don't you wish you had held onto your parents' old set?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Movie Review: The Music Never Stopped (2011)

Congratulations to J.K. Simmons on winning his Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Whiplash at last night's Academy Awards. I had never even heard of the movie until his nomination nor seen the trailer until recently, but I have requested the title from my local library. I have, however, seen Simmons on the screen quite a bit--most people recognize him as the spokesman for the Farmers Insurance commercials--but he's also had roles in Spider-Man, The Closer, and several TV series. 

In 2011, Simmons also starred in a wonderful but overlooked indie film that I've been meaning to review here on Go Retro for a while, called The Music Never Stopped. Last night's Oscar win was finally the kick in the rear that I needed to crow about it. And in case you're wondering, yes, the movie does indeed have a retro theme to it. 

This is a beautiful film about the multi-faceted power of music; not just how it can improve one's psychological state but how it can bond people together. 

Loosely based on an essay written by the acclaimed neurologist Oliver Sacks, The Music Never Stopped is about a young man named Gabriel Sawyer (Lou Taylor Pucci) who is found on the streets in 1986, several years after he went missing. It's discovered that Gabriel has a brain tumor, and his memory is nonexistent beyond anything that took place in the late '60s. Furthermore, he's in a constant stupor and unable to communicate with anybody. 

Simmons plays Gabriel's heartbroken father, Henry, who used to bond with his son over music--albeit the performers from the '40s and '50s, before the British Invasion and the '60s infiltrated the radio waves. 

Henry hires a music therapist (played by Julia Ormond) to see if she can get through to Gabriel. At first, none of the classical pieces she plays have any reaction--until she picks the French national anthem, "La Marseillaise." Gabriel perks up and smiles, but once the song's intro disappears into the rest of the composition, so does his smile and he once again becomes withdrawn. 

This confounds the therapist until she hears the Beatles' "All You Need is Love" on the radio and realizes that Gabriel was probably expecting to hear that song instead when he heard the classical intro. She plays the Beatles' record for him during the next session, and her suspicion is correct. 

Suddenly Gabriel is alive, communicative, and the words come spilling out of him as he's exposed to his musical heroes of the '60s including Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead. 

Through flashbacks we get some hints at what eventually drove Gabriel away from his home and his parents--he was a bit of a rebellious hippie who eventually came to blows with his father and decided to split. 

With Gabriel's reemergence and his response to the music of his teenage hood, Henry realizes that he's been given a precious second chance to reconnect with his son, through singers and bands that a man of his generation doesn't really comprehend, but is open-minded enough to learn more about. 

The movie culminates with father and son making a pilgrimage to a Grateful Dead concert--a last chance for them to bond before Gabriel's tumor gets worse. Be forewarned--you're going to need a box of Kleenex handy. 

I can't believe that I hadn't heard a word about this movie until I watched it on DVD, which is usually the case with so many underrated independent films. Everyone in the movie gives a commendable performance, and it was the directorial debut for Jim Kohlberg. Well done. If you love the music of the '60s (and you must be if you're reading Go Retro) this tender movie is not to be missed. 

Here's the trailer for The Music Never Stopped.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Ten Films That Have Stayed With Me

Oscar Sunday is here again, and some of us may have seen a list posted on Facebook called "Ten Films That Have Stayed With Me", but I must admit without some screen caps or the movies' trailers they lose their impact just a little bit. Not all of the movies on my own personal list can be considered "retro" but they all have one thing in common: all weighed heavily on my mind and replayed themselves in my head long after the credits stopped rolling--a sign of truly great filmmaking. They've also given me the occasional craving to watch them again and try to recapture that magic of seeing them for the first time. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Beatle Who Never Appeared on SNL

Did you watch the Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary special the other night? For the most part it was a fun, frolicking trip down memory lane with homages to our favorite characters and sketches. It was also bittersweet remembering the many deceased cast members who could not physically be there: John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Chris Farley and Phil Hartman, to name a few. 

But a sobering moment also came for me when Mike Myers and Dana Carvey reprised their characters Wayne and Garth for a Wayne's World skit, presenting the Top Ten Things About SNL. They reminded us that three Beatles had performed on the show. That's when I realized that, remarkably, the one Beatle who should have had the greatest chance of appearing on SNL never actually did: John Lennon. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Book Review: The Aviator's Wife

Have you ever envied the spouse of your favorite celebrity crush and wish you could trade places with her (or him)? Well, don't. At least not until you've read The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin. 

This book is about the life of Anne Morrow--a name which may not mean much to the public today, but Morrow was married to Charles Lindbergh, the world-famous pilot who made history when he became the first person to fly across the Atlantic ocean from New York to Paris. 

The narrator of The Aviator's Wife is the subject of the title herself. You could say that the book is an effective mash-up of fiction and non-fiction. Virtually all of the events as described actually took place; Benjamin did extensive research into Morrow and Lindbergh's lives but imagined the conversations they must have had throughout their marriage, which spanned from 1929 until Lindbergh's death in 1974. 

The result is a fascinating pseudo-autobiography made human--teaching me way more about the Lindberghs that my history classes ever mentioned. Most notably, I learned a lot of Anne Morrow herself, a remarkable woman who deserves her own chapter in the history books. 

After Lucky Lindy's fateful trip across the Atlantic--in 1927--Lindbergh became even more famous than today's biggest Hollywood A-lister actors. A massive 5th Avenue parade was held in his honor, songs were written about him, and applications for pilot's licenses tripled. 

Morrow's background wasn't anything to sneeze at. She was the daughter of Dwight Morrow, a partner of J.P. Morgan & Co. as well as the U.S. ambassador to Mexico and eventually a U.S. Senator. But the 21 year-old college senior was a little intimidated by the introverted Lindbergh when her family invited him to stay at their Mexican residence. She was also surprised to receive an invitation to go for a ride with him in his airplane. Self-concsious about her looks and social skills around men, Morrow assumed that Lindbergh was taken with her taller, blonder, more flirtatious sister, Elizabeth. 

And thus began a partnership that made the Lindberghs one of the most recognizable couples of the 1930s. A relationship it is, but not exactly a romance. Morrow soon learns--after a brief period of barely any courtship before marrying Lindbergh in 1929--that her new husband is controlling, demanding, and unable to express his emotions. The public and the press follow them everywhere, forcing the couple to don disguises on occasion. 

Morrow was more than just a supportive wife; she learned how to fly and became Lindbergh's navigator (learning her positioning by the stars, no less) and aviation co-pilot, accompanying him on several flying excursions all around the globe. She was even the first American woman to pilot a glider. Yet at public appearances she didn't always get the proper credit, instead having to stand in the shadow of her husband's spotlight. 

Then there was the horrific tragedy of 1932, when the Lindbergh's first and only child, Charles Jr., was kidnapped and found dead a few months later. The crime was a media sensation and brought all kinds of crazed fans out of the woodwork; if you think today's social media heavy society is celebrity obsessed, it pales in comparison to what the Lindberghs endured at the time. Years later, Morrow continued to receive letters from strangers claiming that they were her grown son. 

Benjamin gives minimal attention to the arrest and trial of Bruno Hauptmann (who some believe was innocent) for the baby's kidnapping and murder and instead focuses on the emotional trauma Morrow had to endure. I had tears in my eyes during the part of the book when Morrow learns about her baby's fate. As a way of dealing with his loss, Lindbergh scolded his wife for shedding tears and kept the first-born a secret from their subsequent children, who later learned about their murdered sibling in school.

Needless to say, The Aviator's Wife doesn't gloss over any of Lindbergh's negative traits, which includes his implied anti-Semitism. Once an American hero, his vocal political views and close friendships with the Germans compromised his aviation career for a while after WWII. He also kept a secret from his wife...a secret that may have remained that way if it weren't for the interception of Lindbergh's nurse during the last few weeks of his life. 

Benjamin's book reminded me an awful lot of Loving Frank by Nancy Horan, about the love affair between Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick. Both reveal how being involved with a famous man is not always what it's cracked up to be and how every hero has his flaws. I highly recommend it for any history buff or anyone curious to learn more about the stronger half of the Lindbergh marriage. 

Friday, February 06, 2015

Two Forgotten Friday Favorites: Rick Astley

Rick Astley gets a bad rap. He's been the subject and punchline of a "Rickrolling" trend which started in 2007 as an online bait and switch technique that invites people to click on a link only to find themselves watching the video to Astley's hit "Never Gonna Give You Up." 

But as disrespectful as that sounds, with all fairness the trick revived Astley's career and made younger generations aware of his music. Not that those of us who grew up with Astley's music in the 1980s and '90s needed reminding of who is he. He was 21 when "Never Gonna Give You Up" was released and looks absolutely baby faced in his music videos and live performances. Yet the voice coming out of this handsome ginger was anything but child's play--it was (and still is) soulful, deep, and unique. He sold millions of records during the earlier part of his career, and you never, ever heard of Rick Astley doing anything in public that would jeopardize his career or reputation. He remained humbled by his success, married young, and is still married today to a film producer and former RCA promoter. A few years after their daughter was born, Astley retired from the music industry at only 27 years old to focus on his family (but resumed performing and recording music after the Rickrolling trend took off.) Here's an interview of Astley on The Alan Titchmarsh Show in 2012 talking about why he decided to return to the spotlight:

Today is also Astley's 49th birthday which is another reason I'm devoting today's Two Forgotten Friday Favorites to him--even though he really doesn't look much older than he did in the late '80s. Now, I'm not going to post "Never Gonna Give You Up" as much as I like the song. This recurring series is about forgotten hits, so here's "It Would Take a Strong Strong Man" and "She Wants to Dance With Me"--the latter composed by Astley himself. Happy Birthday, Rick! 

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Technology That Rocked Our World in the '80s

In 1986 Neil Diamond proclaimed, "We're headed for the future and the future is now!" During the '80s the future was indeed the here and NOW, thanks to the gadgets at our fingertips. In addition to the music and the fashion, I think the one thing that best defines the 1980s is the sheer volume of consumer technology that was made available to us during the decade. Sure, none of it compares to the tablets, iPods, and smartphones of today--but it was exhilarating to experience a lot of these devices for the first time at a young age, as I did. Here's a look at the technology I remember and enjoyed the most from the period...

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