Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return

I had planned to lead with a picture of my Mystery Science Theater Revival League membership card, but my mugger is now enjoying it (because of course I kept my Mystery Science Theater Revival League membership card in my wallet…what if I needed to show it at a moment’s notice?)

I know I’m a tad late to the game on watching these here; you’d think someone as devoted as me would have been there on day 1. But there’s been a lot going on, most of it bad, and needless to say, I really needed something this week.

This was exactly what I needed.

I was a little nervous about it: how could they possibly capture the magic, the low-budget feel, the cheesiness? After raising all of that money, how could they keep from taking themselves too seriously? How could anything that was such an integral part of my childhood ever live up to the hype?

And then as soon as the opening credits started, I knew. I just knew. They did it. It is perfect in every way. It is exactly everything I ever could have hoped it would be. It was different, but it was exactly the same.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that I almost cried. I’ve only seen one episode so far, but I laughed so hard I could barely breath. Like ridiculous “heee heee heee” laughs almost too high pitched for the human ear to hear. Granted, I am a little sleep deprived, but then again I was the first time around when I would try to stay up until midnight to catch an episode. So even that felt nostalgic.

To quote myself from 2012:

As is the case with writing about any of the things I love, I just don’t know how to convey how much I loved mst3k. I’d have to explain how funny the show is, or how I would practically prop my eyes open with toothpicks to try and stay up until the episode started at midnight, or how much I loved my mst3k tee shirt in college, or how devastated I was when Joel left the show, vowing I would never like Mike no matter what, only to later like Mike so much that I had trouble deciding which host I preferred, or how my and Sara’s first date involved watching Manos: The Hands of Fate. Eleven years and 197 episodes, not to mention how many times I’ve watched the ones I have on DVD (and even more that I can’t watch anymore because they’re on VHS!)

I needed this so bad right now. I literally can not wait to watch the 2nd episode tonight. I told Sara, “Don’t worry about doing the dishes for the next 13 nights.” She said hopefully, “Maybe you could watch half an episode a night and make it 26 nights?” (Of course I can…doesn’t she remember the Mystery Science Theater Hour, when they used to play 1 hour half-episodes on Comedy Central??)

Thank you, so, so much to everybody who made this happen.

My New Obsession: Regina Spektor

I was vaguely aware of Regina Spektor. I enjoyed her song Fidelity (If you’ve ever heard a Regina Spektor song, you’ve probably heard Fidelity), but I was mostly familiar with the song she did with Ben Folds, You Don’t Know Me. So I would say that I had vaguely positive feelings towards Regina Spektor.

My obsession began with You’ve Got Time, the theme song to the wildly popular show Orange is the New Black. I never even watched the show, but Sara did, and I *could not* get that song out of my head. Love it. I listened to it over and over again (ask either of the kids and they’ll sing it to you; they learned all the words via osmosis). I listened to it on repeat, hummed it in the shower, learned to play it on guitar.

Fidelity is a really good song that I like a lot, and You’ve Got Time, natch, but there are even better ones out there.

My current favorite is “Samson”, a beautiful love song referencing, of all things, the story of Samson and Delilah (you know, that old love story? Real sweet, those two.)

Another one of my favorites is “Laughing With”:

Okay, another, nother favorite is On the Radio. Wait, no, or The Call. Or maybe Us. Or maybe all of them?

The weird thing is that I like every one of her songs. All of them. Spotify has like 5 or 6 albums, and I haven’t heard a song I didn’t like yet. Every band has a stinker, right? I mean, you can’t like EVERY song someone writes.

Well, maybe I can. At least for today, that’s Regina Spektor for me.


Like so many young men of my generation, I was introduced to Queen via Wayne’s World and Bohemian Rhapsody.

Wayne’s World came out in 1992. Back around that time I bought a lot of cassette tape singles. I used to hang out at NRM music in the mall, and I think the tape singles were $4 apiece (you whippersnappers and your $0.99 instant downloads). I bought the single of Bohemian Rhapsody and I remember telling my mom she had to hear this amazing, cutting edge band known as Queen.

“Yeah,” she said, “I’ve heard it. How did you hear it? These guys have been around for a long time.”
“No way,” I said. “This song just came out.”
“Shane, this song was out when I was a kid.”

I didn’t believe her, couldn’t believe her. This song was cool! No WAY my mom could have heard it before.

I remember that, after a heated argument, my mom finally did somehow convince me that Queen had been around for awhile. “Well then, they were ahead of their time!” I declared, stomping out of the room. Of course, Bohemian Rhapsody came out in 1975, and Freddie Mercury was dead by the time *I* ever heard that song, but we didn’t have smart phones back then to look that kind of thing up.

(Side note, the reverse side of that tape was The Show Must Go On, which is probably now my favorite Queen song, so you whippersnappers don’t know what you’re missing with your “only buy the song you want” nonsense!)

There is just something about a Queen song that, when you hear it, just makes you start pumping your fist in the air and bobbing your head (and maybe there is something to that, since Another One Bites the Dust is literally the rhythm of your heart).

Could there be a more perfect stadium rock song than We Will Rock You / We Are the Champions? Who hasn’t rocked out to Another One Bites the Dust? Who hasn’t harmonized to Fat Bottomed Girls? For my money, no tv theme song will ever top Princes of the Universe (“I am immortal! I have inside me blood of kings, YEAH!”).

Queen was ahead of their time, man. That front man, that stage show, that sound. So many hits. Their sound is still unique. The show may go on, but we’ll never have another one like Queen, my friend.

I make my kids listen to Queen. I don’t care that their hits are 40 years old. I want to ride my bicycle, and I want to ride it where I like, thank you very much.

Mystery Science Theater 3000

Oh, my friends. Let me tell you about one of the greatest shows every produced in the history of mankind: Mystery Science Theater 3000.

The MST3K planet logo

“Mystery Science Theater 3000” is a mouthful, so it’s often shortened to mst3k, or even “misty” due to the fact that even mst3k is a bit of a mouthful, and misty is what it sounds like when you say “m-s-t” really fast.

The premise of the show was simple (and spelled out right there in the theme song):

In the not-too-distant future — Next Sunday A.D. —
There was a guy named Joel, Not too different from you or me.
He worked at Gizmonic Institute, Just another face in a red jumpsuit.
He did a good job cleaning up the place,
But his bosses didn’t like him, so they shot him into space.

We’ll send him cheesy movies, The worst we can find (la-la-la).
He’ll have to sit and watch them all, And we’ll monitor his mind (la-la-la).
Now keep in mind Joel can’t control Where the movies begin or end (la-la-la)
Because he used those special parts To make his robot friends.

Makes, perfect sense, right?

So Joel and the robots were forced to watch terrible movies (mostly science fiction) and in order to keep their sanity, spent the entire time making fun of them. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you may have run across the iconic image of the guys sitting in their movie seats in front of the screen:

As is the case with writing about any of the things I love, I just don’t know how to convey how much I loved mst3k. I’d have to explain how funny the show is, or how I would practically prop my eyes open with toothpicks to try and stay up until the episode started at midnight, or how much I loved my mst3k tee shirt in college, or how devastated I was when Joel left the show, vowing I would never like Mike no matter what, only to later like Mike so much that I had trouble deciding which host I preferred, or how my and Sara’s first date involved watching Manos: The Hands of Fate. Eleven years and 197 episodes, not to mention how many times I’ve watched the ones I have on DVD (and even more that I can’t watch anymore because they’re on VHS!)

Long story short, it was a great show and I’m feeling all sad and nostalgic just thinking about it.

There are so many good episodes (about 197 of them, give or take), but off the top of my head I would have to list my favorites in this order:

  1. The Final Sacrifice
  2. Pod People
  3. Manos: The Hands of Fate
  4. Space Mutiny

I know the guys are still out there doing RiffTrax (you buy the mp3 of their commentary and sync it to the movie as you watch it), but I’ve never tried it out. Anybody want to make it a movie night? And if not, I’ve got plenty of old misty episodes lying around…

Stephen King vs. H.P. Lovecraft

Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft (most famously known for the cthulhu mythos) are two of my all time favorite authors. They are similar in the sense that they are both extremely famous horror writers who are widely acknowledged as masters of their craft and legends in the horror genre. However, it occurred to me the other day that the similarity ends there. Within the horror genre, they are at absolute opposite ends of the spectrum.

Mr. King’s genius is in capturing the “every man”. He is so good at capturing a slice of life, painting a picture that is so ordinary, that you’re absolutely sure it could be you. The horror is that it could happen, really honest to god could happen, and close to home too. When you read a Stephen King story, you kind of feel like the story was written by a nice guy, a friend of yours, to whom you can relate.

H. P. Lovecraft

Lovecraft is the opposite. Somehow he’s able to capture something so awesome and alien that your mind shudders to comprehend it. Lovecraft’s horror relies on a sense of majesty, a sense of wonder. The horror is that it’s so big and alien that there’s absolutely nothing you could do about it. In fact, there’s nothing anyone could do. Lovecraft doesn’t disrupt suburban “every man” utopia by bringing the story into your home, he destroys your home, the world, and everything in it. When you read an H.P. Lovecraft story, you kind of feel like the story was written by an alien in human skin, or, best case scenario, a strangely lucid lunatic.

King’s heroes are every men as well, the duty usually falling to kids, housewives, or middle-aged, small town sheriffs. Lovecraft has no heroes. In a Lovecraft story, you’re the hero if you survive, period (with or without sanity intact). That’s really the best you can hope for.

So both are frightening for their own, very different reasons and I wonder if anybody enjoys both ends of the spectrum as much as I do?

I guess the take away is that the horror genre is as wide and deep as the tentacle of great H’chtelegoth himself.

The Tick

Ah, my friends. Let me tell you about the greatest show in the history of the universe: The Tick.

(Just to be quite clear, I’m talking about the original cartoon from the early ’90’s, not the live action television show from 2001. The live action show had moments of brilliance, but nowhere near the level of the cartoon.)

What to say about The Tick? I love it so much that I don’t even know where to start. I feel like any words I put down here are not going to really capture the essence of the show. Of all the times that I’ve tried to tell someone about the show, or explain a particularly funny scene, it just always seems to fall flat. But you could say that about a lot of things I try to write about, so once more unto the breach as it were.

I guess I’ll just start with this picture of me in my Tick costume from 2002:

I have enjoyed a lot of shows over the years, but none more than The Tick. It only lasted 3 seasons, and it has been off the air for almost 16 years now, but I can still recall nearly every episode. Basically, they all went like this: some ridiculous super villain shows up, the tick bumbles his way through, relying on exuberance more than intelligence, until his semi-reluctant sidekick Arthur comes up with a legitimate plan to save the day, with or without the help of a ridiculous cast of super heroes that inhabit “The City”, after which The Tick wrapped up (?) the whole episode with an absurd and strangely worded “moral lesson”, like the ending to some kind of surreal episode of Full House.

Something like, “When a nice clean brain tumbles into the dirty street to lay among the discarded wrappers and spat-out gum wads of wickedness, you can’t just pick it up and wash it off with soap and water; you have to think it clean from the inside out.” Or “Let your journey into hugeness teach us all a lesson. Absolute power is a sticky wicket. And, Arthur, chum, you were the stickiest. Don’t you get it, good friend? Some of the best things come in small packages. But large things can’t. Unless they’re inflatable, or require some assembly, or unless they’re hearts. Yes, giant, juicy, loving hearts. As big as the moon, but much, much warmer. ”

The Tick was a parody of superheros and comic books, two things which I love. The best thing about it were the characters. They weren’t anything like the prototypical comic book heroes and villains we knew and loved. They were weak, they were stupid, they were arrogant, they were cowardly. Their powers were lame and their schemes and plans were even lamer. The heroes often did more harm to The City than the villains (such as the Tick, leaping from rooftop to rooftop, breaking off chunks of stone and decorative moldings with his clumsy bulk).

There were heroes such as Bi-Polar Bear (“This looks like a job for Bi-Polar Bear… but I just cant seem to get out of bed.”), the Caped Chameleon (“Can’t…do….plaid”), Baby Boomerangutuang (A combination baby boomer / boomerang throwing orangutan), or Sarcastro (a Castro look-alike who fights crime with the “razor sharp sting of sarcasm”) who engaged in battles with villains like the Deadly Bulb (a.k.a. “pigleg”, who happens to have a pig for a leg, so he became a super villain to keep people from noticing that), Stalingrad (he’s not actually evil, just a graduate student who happens to look like Joseph Stalin, which is enough to qualify him as a villain) and, my all time favorite, The Evil Midnight Bomber (What Bombs at Midnight!)

The Tick himself was a fantastic character. He was stone stupid, but had an endless enthusiasm that kept him going when all the other heroes fell by the wayside. Stupidity and child-like exuberance are a great recipe for a character, a la Homer Simpson or Peter Griffin.

I could throw great quotes at you, or episode synopses, but none of those could make you love The Tick the way you aught to. Do yourself a favor and spend some time on youtube watching some clips. Or start with the quick compilation below:

Ben Folds

Just to finish off the week of “things we’ve been doing lately”, two weeks ago today Sara and I actually got a babysitter (*gasp*) to go see the man, the myth, the legend: Mr. Ben Folds.

I have been a fan of Ben Folds for such a ridiculously long period of time (though not quite as long as Sara, who claims I “stole” Ben Folds from her, despite the fact that I had a couple of pirated mp3s before I met her!) that it’s almost hard to remember a music landscape without him. Actually, I just remembered that “Whatever and Ever Amen” was the first thing I ever bought off this crazy new website called eBay. Sara and I danced to “The Luckiest” at our wedding. My mom liked the song so much, that years later she danced to “The Luckiest” at her wedding.

Previous to this concert, I’ve seen Ben Folds four times, and each one was unique and totally awesome. I sat in the front row of the balcony at the University of Illinois in a venue so small that I probably could have sweat on him. I saw him at a true college show at Purdue as part of my bachelor party, where he was hilarious in between songs. He was very chatty, telling all kinds of stories about growing up when we saw him in his home state of North Carolina. And finally, we had the truly unique concert experience when we saw him with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

Still, through all of that, I had never actually seen Ben Folds Five together in concert (Sara saw them once in the ’90’s). So when our friend Dabu informed us they were coming to Chicago for the “World’s Largest Block Party”, we knew we had to go. It was every bit as awesome as I could have hoped it would be. They played all the best old stuff, and I heard every song that I hoped I would hear.

(They don’t look this young anymore)

I believe we have 16 Ben Folds or Ben Folds Five CDs (technically four of them are just EPs, and one is a DVD), and every one of them is awesome, start to finish. I love the old, ironic nerd rock, Ben Folds Five stuff. I love the slightly more serious solo Ben Folds stuff. Even the very newest stuff is good, the last new album “Lonely Avenue” is one of my favorites. And the new retrospective “The Best Imitation of Myself” is probably the best compilation I have ever heard from any artist. I even loved Mr. Folds on the now-defunct acapella show The Sing Off.

You know the old saying, you have to know the rules to break them? I think Ben Folds’ deep understanding (intuition?) of music is what allows him to get away with the things he does. Like writing a beautiful song about something ugly, or an upbeat song about something sad, or to have a harmony-driven-piano-centric-with-no-guitars pop band, or to call three musicians “Ben Folds’ Five”.

I don’t know what it is exactly about the music, but the best I can say is that it’s just beautiful. It’s beautiful when it’s about the human condition, but it’s also beautiful when it’s talking about Americans over-consuming. It’s beautiful when it’s talking about love, but it’s also beautiful when it’s talking about breakups, or relationships gone wrong, or abortion, or a bad acid trip, or people who wear fanny packs. It’s just always, unceasingly, heartrendingly beautiful.

Ben Folds Five is preparing to release a new album, and you can pre-order it here. In fact, if you do, you instantly become a “Vice President of Promotion”, which you should go ahead an do, so we can be co-Vice Presidents together. It will be very nice working with you.