Maniac (1980)

She’s been dead for almost 30 years and he’s still not over it.

Frank Zito lives alone in a one-room apartment.  One night, he wakes up screaming in a cold sweat.  Then, he weeps.  Once he gathers himself, he washes up, gets dressed and leaves.

While wandering around aimlessly on the streets of New York he encounters a hooker with cheap rates.  (It only costs 125 dollars for “the ultimate”, whatever that means.)  They check right into the sleazy hotel she had just been outside standing in front of to get down to business.  Sadly, he won’t be sleeping over to enjoy the next morning’s continental breakfast.

The middle-aged schlub isn’t really interested in sex beyond some perfunctory making out and requested model poses.  No, our boy Zito would much rather strangle this working girl until she stops breathing.  Then, with typical compassion, he barfs in the bathroom sink and weeps while blaming her for her own murder.  What a gentleman.

Why did he do it?  The lack of a sensible answer is the biggest problem with Maniac, one of the most notorious horror films of the 1980s.  As amply documented on its otherwise excellent 30th Anniversary double-DVD release (the hours of extras are far better than the film itself), feminists and movie critics were so vocal in their hatred of it, their protests got covered in the news.  Siskel & Ebert famously devoted an entire episode of their PBS series Sneak Previews to analyze the startling plethora of “Women In Danger” films like Maniac in the American cinema.  A feminist anti-rape organization protested outside theatres showing the film advocating for a boycott.  In one news report, we see an offended woman literally paint over a billboard poster of the movie because she got tired of seeing it from her office everyday.

35 years after the film first premiered, it’s incredibly easy to understand why it pissed off so many people.  It is excessively violent and deeply misogynistic.  More importantly, though, this work of depraved fiction is thoroughly incoherent.

Played by late character actor Joe Spinell (The Godfather, Rocky), Zito is a constantly groaning homicidal self-talker with serious mommy issues and a fetish for mannequins wearing nailed bloody scalps of human hair.  He claims his mother died in an automobile accident in 1952.  But during the scene where he chokes the hooker to death his mom’s face is briefly seen in her place.  Does this mean he was sexually abused as a child and is belatedly punishing his mother through a sort-of lookalike while reliving a trauma?  The film is never clear on this.  Through voiceover flashbacks, we learn her idea of good discipline was locking him in a closet.  Why?  Who knows.  Either way, Zito’s constant weeping about all of this never warrants any sympathy when we don’t know the whole story.

Further complicating his motivations are his views of women in general.  He openly despises their joy, their freedom to dance and laugh, the way they dress, their use of make-up, their seemingly carefree sexuality.  He wants it all to stop, hence all the horrific murders he commits against random women like the nurse he chases all the way down into a subway bathroom or the model who has just taken a welcome bubble bath in her apartment after a long photo shoot.

His misogyny has roots in his childhood.  He didn’t approve of his mother’s personal choices, whatever the hell they were (vagueness is this movie’s Achilles heel), which has led him to needlessly and ruthlessly punish these other women.  Was she a prostitute like the woman he strangled in the hotel or a single mom who simply dated a lot?  Again, it’s not clear and truthfully, it doesn’t matter.  (There’s nothing wrong with being a sex worker or having a full dance card.)  The point is that Zito has very weak motivations for being a serial killer in the first place.

The two men he also kills have nothing at all to do with his burning hatred of women.  They are simply unfortunate witnesses who need to be executed, lest he be caught by the curiously absent authorities.  As awful as the misogynistic murder scenes are (they’re as bad as anything seen in the Saw & Friday The 13th franchises), the ones involving these male victims are just as appalling.  In fact, the scene where a mustachioed disco clubber gets his head blown off at close range while sitting in a parked car (why he doesn’t just drive away is baffling) is undoubtedly the most gruesome of them all.

Midway through the film, Zito gets photographed by a beautiful British photographer (Caroline Munro from The Spy Who Loved Me) in Central Park.  After he spots her, she conveniently leaves behind her bag which just happens to have a tag with her name and full address on it.  Next thing she knows, the same guy whose photo she’s literally just finished developing in her apartment darkroom is now at her door wanting to see it.

At no time during this impromptu visit does she elicit even the slightest bit of trepidation or suspicion.  Despite Zito being a walking red flag, she is actually interested in the undesirable psycho and even accepts his offer of a dinner date where his rather unsubtle propensity for jealous possession is never a serious cause for concern.

Why he continues to date her when he’d rather be killing women who kind of resemble his dead mother for rather confusing reasons is yet another mystery the film is not terribly interested in fully exploring in an intelligent way (not that the relationship is at all convincing to begin with).  By the time he persuades her to make a cemetery pit stop to pay respects to his mother’s grave while on another date, it’s more than clear his naïve, new girlfriend is the most tolerant human being he’s ever met.

Beyond a couple of quick, catchy, inessential snippets of disco, there is absolutely nothing redeemable about Maniac.  Not one god damn thing.  Thinly sketched characters are introduced and then immediately extinguished for no good reason as the demented Zito curiously changes up his methods of execution in one clichéd slasher scene after another.

While I was repulsed by the murders, I laughed uproariously during two unexpected moments of delusion.  There’s an unnecessary tribute to the last scene of Carrie and a bizarre revenge sequence where his small collection of mannequins suddenly, predictably and murderously spring to life.  (The headless one made me crack up.)  It “pays off” with a very fake special effect that betrays the film’s low budget.

Gene Siskel famously walked out of a screening of Maniac after only lasting a half hour.  Gene Siskel was a better man than I am.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, May 21, 2015
1:33 a.m.

Published in: on May 21, 2015 at 1:34 am  Leave a Comment  

Michael Coren’s Welcome Evolution On Gay Rights Can’t Erase His Less Progressive Views On Other Issues

For years, I couldn’t stand him.  His obnoxious personality, his odious opinions.  I never heard his radio show but I did watch him quite a lot on CTS (now Yes TV).  I read his weekly Toronto Sun columns.  I even checked out one of his books from the public library.

As time went on, I couldn’t stay silent any longer.  I started writing and submitting numerous angry letters to The Toronto Sun, one of which actually got published.  I found myself yelling at him on my TV.  It’s usually healthy to expose yourself to views that are the complete opposite of your own but when I found myself constantly getting red-faced and my forehead often screaming in agony just from seeing his annoying, clueless words in The Sun and hearing them uttered on CTS, I eventually realized I had to move on.  I’ve not regretted that decision.  Experiencing Michael Coren full-time became a endless headache.

Despite no longer watching his show (which he left to join the now-defunct Sun News Network in 2011) or being a regular reader of his Sun pieces (he just left Sun Media this past February), every once in a while I would still catch wind of something offensive he had written and post a highly critical response in this space.

It’s been nearly a year since the last time I did that.  Last June, Coren had written a somewhat surprising Sun column headlined ‘I Was Wrong’.  At the time, I was decidedly unimpressed.  Put simply, I just didn’t believe he had changed his views on the gay community, gay marriage and homosexuality at all.  He also didn’t apologize.  “I Was Wrong” didn’t include “I Am Sorry”.

In a recent Toronto Star column, however, Coren has made me partially reconsider my view.  Reading him openly declare his support for gay marriage stunned me.  He had spent so much time condemning the idea it’s a bit jarring to see him fully reverse himself like this.  (A decade ago, he firmly held the opposite view in The National Post.)

He has also evolved on homosexuality itself no longer believing it’s a sin or disordered.  Last year, I opined that he simply wouldn’t use those specific words any more and that based on critical columns he had written just months earlier, he hadn’t actually changed his mind about gay sex.  That has turned out to be a thankfully bad assumption.

So, what happened?  Where did the angry, obtuse, sex-negative Michael Coren go?  Was he kidnapped and replaced with a gentler, kinder, liberal clone?  Is this a Invasion Of The Body Snatchers situation?

Hardly.  As he notes in The Star, he quietly left the Catholic Church for the second and final time in 2014 in order to join the Anglican Church.  It was only discovered just a couple of weeks ago and has apparently caused quite the firestorm online.

Why did he switch congregations?

“The change was to a large extent triggered by the gay issue. I couldn’t accept that homosexual relationships were, as the Roman Catholic Church insists on proclaiming, disordered and sinful. Once a single brick in the wall was removed the entire structure began to fall.”

But, as he continues, there’s was more to it than that:

“I refused to base my entire world view and theology, as so many active Catholics do, around abortion, contraception and sex rather than love, justice and forgiveness. Frankly, it was tearing me apart. I wanted to extend the circle of love rather than stand at the corners of a square and repel outsiders. So I quietly and privately drifted over to an Anglican Church that while still working out its own position on many social issues, is far more progressive, open, relevant and willing to admit reality.”

Two weeks before The Star published his essay, Coren was interviewed by The National Post.  When asked why he “could no longer worship with integrity as a Catholic,”, he responded:

“I could not remain in a church that effectively excluded gay people. That’s only one of the reasons, but for someone who had taken the Catholic position on same-sex marriage for so long, I’d never been comfortable with that even though I suppose I was regarded as being a stalwart in that position. But I’d moved on, and I felt a hypocrite. I felt a hypocrite being part of a church that described homosexual relations as being disordered and sinful. I just couldn’t be part of it anymore. I could not do that. I couldn’t look people in the eye and make the argument that is still so central to the Catholic Church, that same-sex attraction is acceptable but to act on it is sinful. I felt that the circle of love had to be broadened, not reduced.”

If only he had come to this welcome conclusion a lot sooner.  For as refreshing as it is that Michael Coren is no longer an anti-gay bigot, he nonetheless deeply hurt a marginalized community needlessly and dishonestly for decades while getting paid for it.  Quite frankly, he still has a lot of amends to make for that.  He doesn’t deserve a free pass for his horrific past misjudgments.  Forgiveness is earned over time, not flippantly given in an instant.

I am also puzzled by why he didn’t publicly announce his departure from the Catholic Church immediately, rather than wait a full year to do so in that Post interview.  Considering how long and how much of his Catholic faith has been a part of his writing and TV identity, it’s a rather dishonest omission.

Either you’re completely unguarded with your readers about your internal struggles, your inner philosophical wrestling matches and your political reversals or you’re hiding your true self.  In fact, to conceal important, relevant truths, even the ones you’re still making sense of, is to be fraudulent.

So, let’s not get nuts and throw him a ticker tape parade for being pro-gay now.  Besides, Coren hasn’t at all reversed himself on every awful thing he’s said in the past.  He still supports Israel laughably asserting that it’s “intensely democratic”.  He stubbornly supports the long discredited “two-state solution” instead of a “one-state solution” that ends Apartheid, a word he never uses, against Palestinians & African immigrants.  Critics of Apartheid are succinctly dismissed as “Israel-hating leftists” and not praised as champions of freedom.

And he’s not exactly pro-Muslim, either, no matter how many supportive tweets he posts about the long persecuted Omar Khadr.  While evolving on gay issues last year, he shamelessly plugged his anti-Islam book on Twitter following the murder of a soldier outside Parliament Hill.  And after the recent shooting at a “Draw Mohammed” contest in Texas, he wrote this tone-deaf piece that completely avoided the connection between anti-Western violence and America’s constant bombing & drone campaigns against Muslims in the Middle East.

He might support vaccinations, evolution and Ontario’s new sex education curriculum, but he’s awful on transgender issues.  He may condemn the CIA’s torture program, climate change deniers and Jian Ghomeshi’s atrocious behaviour, but he’s not exactly a feminist.

As a result, it’s understandable that some of those directly affected by his past anti-gay views are probably going to have a hard time forgiving Coren or even accepting his sincerity after his belated admissions to the Post.  Like I said, he has lot of fence mending to do.  He hurt a lot of innocent people for no good reason for far too long.

Even so, he deserves praise for finally coming clean.  It is never easy to admit hypocrisy, to finally accept out loud that you were wrong and need to change.

But it’s not the only issue he needs to evolve on.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, May 18, 2015
9:55 p.m.

Published in: on May 18, 2015 at 9:56 pm  Leave a Comment  

Prison Of Fear

It might not happen but it’s worth a try
A stab in the dark for a pie in the sky
This eagerness is trapped in a prison of fear
Enveloped by indifference that won’t disappear

It might not occur but it’s worth a shot
The trick is to know when to pick your spot
But this hesitation’s fueled by colossal doubt
Denying a fix that you can’t live without

It might not take place but it’s worth the risk
If you ever get rolling business would be brisk
Deafened by the critics that live in your brain
Their poisonous rhetoric as relentless as the rain

It might not be possible but how would you know?
These delays are predictable and progress is slow
You’re shamed by deceptions you’ve imagined all along
Let them all die and start singing your song

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, May 18, 2015
3:57 a.m.

Published in: on May 18, 2015 at 3:57 am  Leave a Comment  

You’re Not Listening

I wasted my time giving you hell
So much aggravation for such a long spell
Questioning your denial is a thankless task
You’re not even listening so why do I ask?

I spent years exposing your foolish thoughts
The endless frustration tied my brain up in knots
You continuously refuse to listen to reason
Your heart’s so cold it’s practically freezin’

Shaming you publicly clearly doesn’t work
When you hang with Obama is ignorance a perk?
There is nothing I can say that will change your mind
I see so clearly, you’re undoubtedly blind

Moments of temptation will surely arise
It’s now up to others to debunk your lies
I’m pulling the chute as I jump off the plane
Holding you accountable drives me insane

So go ahead and be as dumb as you are
Pretend you really matter, you glamourous star
One day the truth will land a significant hit
Until then, I no longer give a shit

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, May 16, 2015
2:08 p.m.

Published in: on May 16, 2015 at 2:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

It’s Not Our Fault

It’s not our fault
We dropped these bombs
It’s not our fault
We killed your moms
It’s not our fault
You got in the way
It’s not our fault
You have no say

It’s not our fault
We spit in your face
It’s not our fault
We destroyed your space
It’s not our fault
We shield our crimes
It’s not our fault
These are difficult times

It’s not our fault
We murdered your kids
It’s not our fault
You live on the skids
It’s not our fault
We fool the press
It’s not our fault
We made this mess

It’s not our fault
We steal your cash
It’s not our fault
We jail you for hash
It’s not our fault
We bleed you dry
It’s not our fault
We always lie

It’s not our fault
You have no choice
It’s not our fault
We silence your voice
It’s not our fault
We continue to spy
It’s not our fault
We want you to die

It’s not our fault
We won’t play ball
It’s not our fault
We prefer to stall
It’s not our fault
We believe in deception
It’s not our fault
We are the exception

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, April 30, 2015
11:39 p.m.

Published in: on April 30, 2015 at 11:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

Blind Assassins

They’re just names on a list
No humanity to be found
They don’t need to exist
Burn their bodies to the ground

Who cares if we’re wrong?
We don’t have to be right
We always stay strong
When our crimes are out of sight

We don’t need proof
No one needs to know
Just aim for the roof
And look out below

It’s better this way
We don’t have to talk
We can extend our stay
And continuously stalk

But the resistance is growing
It’s getting harder to hide
Our hypocrisy’s showing
They all know we lied

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, April 30, 2015
10:40 p.m.

Published in: on April 30, 2015 at 10:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

Five David Bowie Classics That Bombed In America

Five years.  That’s how long it took David Bowie to get his first Top 40 hit in the UK.  In America, it took eleven.  Even after he established himself as a different kind of rock star, one who was more than willing to play around with gender identity and bisexuality, it wasn’t always so easy to win over mainstream US audiences.

But in the many decades since his dangerous, controversial 70s heyday, Bowie has since won the long game.  A good number of singles & albums that didn’t sell, that didn’t receive much critical respect or both upon their initial releases are now considered bonafide classics, definitive audio documents of the shapeshifting performer at his absolute best.  Without them, bands like Nine Inch Nails and The Smashing Pumpkins would’ve had to find their inspiration elsewhere.

While memorable singles like Fame & Let’s Dance managed to win serious raves from fans & critics alike in their respective eras (and remain beloved today), numerous others were rejected & ignored for reasons long forgotten and discredited, only to become enormous cult hits decades after their debuts.  Here are five such examples:

1. Space Oddity

It was the only track producer Tony Visconti didn’t want to produce for Man Of Words/Man Of Music, Bowie’s second solo album.  On a record filled with acoustic folk songs, the weird, melancholic tale of a depressed astronaut looking to escape his home planet’s troubles felt a bit too gimmicky for Visconti who let his engineer Gus Dudgeon oversee the recording.

Strategically timed to coincide with the Apollo 11 moon mission in the summer of 1969, a four and a half minute edit became a Top 5 smash in the UK thanks to its use in a TV commercial and, eventually, through constant airplay on the BBC.

Bowie had no such luck with the song in the US.  A three and a half minute version of Space Oddity peaked at #124.  That’s right.  It didn’t even make the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart.

In 1975, three years after the Man Of Words/Man Of Music album was rereleased as Space Oddity, the five minute and five second version of the song (the full version is 10 seconds longer) was released as a single in America.  This time, it cracked the Top 20.

2. Changes

Today, like Space Oddity, this Hunky Dory standout is ubiquitous, popping up in movies, on TV and, of course, the radio.  But when it was first issued as a single in early 1972, it was a much tougher sell.

Much softer and orchestral than the more hard rocking antics of The Who, The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, it stood no chance of gaining a foothold in the UK.  Indeed, Changes didn’t even chart in Bowie’s home country during its first release.

However, unlike Space Oddity, it did at least hit the Billboard Hot 100 in the US.  Unfortunately, it peaked at a disappointing 66, a total flop.  Three years later, Changes was re-released.  How well did it do the second time around?  It got up to #41 on Billboard.  Despite greater visibility, one of Bowie’s most highly regarded songs of all time still couldn’t crack the Top 40.

In 2015, Changes got yet another release on vinyl for this year’s Record Store Day.  This time, it was a number one seller.

3. “Heroes”

It has been covered by The Wallflowers, Oasis, Blondie, Nico, TV On The Radio, Tangerine Dream, Peter Gabriel and, believe it or not, Jessica Lange, among many others.  Bowie sang it to much acclaim at Live Aid in 1985, at The Concert For New York City after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and during countless other concerts throughout his career.

But when “Heroes” debuted in shortened form in 1977, it only reached #24 in Britain.  In America, the three and a half minute classic didn’t even chart on the Billboard Hot 100.  (The superior full album version is just over six minutes.)  Not even a performance of the song by Bowie on Bing Crosby’s final Christmas special that year could help improve its prospects in the States.

In the decades since, however, as Bowie’s late 70s material was being reassessed in a more positive light, “Heroes” (both the song and the album) started to grow in stature.  Musicians like Moby, Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan (who joined the band after singing the song in an audition) and Trent Reznor each acknowledged its importance and influence on their own careers.  And now, thanks to its inclusion in numerous movies, TV shows and commercials, it is everywhere.

4. Ashes To Ashes

1980 was a tumultuous year for Bowie.  He began divorce proceedings against first wife Angela and released his final album for RCA (which ultimately led to another painful parting of the ways).  Perhaps feeling a bit nostalgic or maybe wanting closure after a decade of intense fame, he conceived a sequel to his first major hit.

Fittingly titled Ashes To Ashes, it either continues the story of long lost astronaut Major Tom or is a cleverly disguised allegory of Bowie’s private personal struggles with his career, the end of his marriage and his addictions.  Regardless, it was a monster success in Britain where it topped the singles chart.  After puzzling most fans and critics with his experiments in Germanic electronica at the end of the 1970s, Bowie began the 1980s with his greatest commercial and critical triumph since Station To Station.

But in America, Ashes To Ashes failed to even crack the Billboard Hot 100.  In fact, it peaked at #101.  Thanks to the debut of MTV the following year, however, the brilliant video for the song was put into high rotation, which instantly made up for its lack of support on Top 40 radio.

5. Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy

“I hate this song.  Is there something else I could sing?”

Bowie didn’t want to do Little Drummer Boy with Bing Crosby while taping the latter’s Merrie Olde Christmas special in the summer of 1977.  So, a compromise was made.  Both men would sing the first verse, then while Crosby carried on with Drummer Boy, Bowie would sing a new song called Peace On Earth, a track written very quickly by Crosby’s hired songwriters.

The result is the greatest modern Christmas song of all time.  After the special aired in late 1977, the song was bootlegged for five years until RCA decided to officially release it as a single in 1982.  It was the last straw for Bowie who apparently wasn’t notified of this decision.  He would never record for the label again.

During its first UK release, Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy was a smash, climbing all the way up to #3.  This version included audio from the special beginning with Crosby letting Bowie into his house and them bantering about family before launching into the track.

The US version eliminated the pre-song banter altogether.  Including it probably wouldn’t have helped its commercial prospects anyway.  The song didn’t even make the Billboard Hot 100.

Over time, however, Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy would be dusted off every subsequent Christmas where it grew in popularity and prominence, a welcome tradition that will likely continue indefinitely.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, April 24, 2015
5:05 p.m.

Published in: on April 24, 2015 at 5:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

12 Singles Disappointingly Omitted From David Bowie’s Nothing Has Changed

How do you sum up a 50-year recording career in a single release?  Well, if you’re David Bowie, you cram as many hit songs as you can fit onto three CDs.  That’s what happened last November when his ironically titled Nothing Has Changed debuted.

It’s not the first collection of famous Bowie songs but it is by far the most expansive.  All 59 tracks were released between the years 1964 and 2014.  Never before has a Bowie hits compilation featured material before 1969 and after 2002.

But, despite an admirable effort to represent as many eras as possible in a single compilation, it was inevitable that other equally worthy tracks would not make the cut.  Honestly, you could easily fill another 3 CDs with just the singles that were excluded.

Rather than listing all those missing songs, many of which can be found on earlier greatest hits albums, I just want to focus on 12 that really should’ve been added to Nothing Has Changed.  Matching the spirit of its extensive track listing, I present them in reverse chronological order:

1. The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell (Single Edit)

There were four singles issued from the Hours… album in 1999 & 2000, a surprising three of which (Thursday’s Child, Seven, Survive) ended up on disc one of Nothing Has Changed.  Disappointingly excluded was this Stooges-inspired rocker that has never been on a Bowie greatest hits package.  God knows there were numerous versions to choose from (including a couple from the awful Patricia Arquette horror film Stigmata) but I would’ve been perfectly happy with the four-minute single edit from Hours… It’s definitely preferable to the underwhelming Seven & Survive.

2. Dead Man Walking (Single Edit)

Little Wonder and the Trent Reznor remix of I’m Afraid Of Americans represent the underrated Earthling from 1997.  I would’ve added one more:  Dead Man Walking, Bowie’s frenetic jungle tribute to his old friends and collaborators Iggy Pop and Lou Reed.  Like The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell, it’s never been included on a Bowie collection.  The full album version is an epic seven minutes so the four-minute single edit would’ve been just fine on Nothing Has Changed.

3. Real Cool World

Bowie’s first original solo single of the 1990s was written & recorded for the terrible Ralph Bakshi live action/animation hybrid Cool World (which featured a very young Brad Pitt and a cartoon Kim Basinger).  Aside from appearing on the soundtrack and as a stand alone CD single, its only appearance on a Bowie release happened in 2003 when it was added to the list of bonus tracks found on disc two of the 10th Anniversary edition of Black Tie White Noise.  Considering the fact that it reignited Bowie’s solo career after his short stint fronting Tin Machine (which is completely ignored on Nothing Has Changed) it would’ve been nice to have it along with all these other hits.

4. Never Let Me Down

Bowie’s tribute to his longtime assistant was his last Top 40 success in America.  Rarely included in hits packages, it was passed over for The Best Of David Bowie 1980-1987 while Day In, Day Out & Time Will Crawl made the cut.  The iSelect remix of Time Will Crawl is the only representative of the unloved Never Let Me Down album to make the Nothing Has Changed collection.  Considering the commercial significance of Never Let Me Down, the title track shouldn’t have been passed over here.

5. DJ (Single Edit)

Probably due to space considerations, Bowie’s fertile, deeply influential late 70s experimentalism is limited to three songs from three albums at the end of disc two on Nothing Has Changed:  Sound & Vision (from Low), the single edit of Heroes (from the album of the same name) and Boys Keep Swinging (from Lodger).  Most of the other singles from these seminal discs were collected on The Best Of David Bowie 1974-1979 including the full version of DJ from Lodger.  But the single edit of that song rarely appears on a Bowie compilation.  In the vinyl era, it was a part of ChangesTwoBowie in 1981.  22 years later, it was on Bowie The Singles Collection 1969-1993, the double-CD Rykodisc collection.  As far as Nothing Has Changed is concerned it should’ve been a part of disc two.

6. Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy (w/ Bing Crosby)

It is the greatest modern Christmas song of all time and yet, curiously, it has only been on one past Bowie hits collection:  the aforementioned Rykodisc release, Bowie The Singles Collection 1969-1993, but only in a limited sense.  It was included as a bonus on just the first 40000 copies.  Yes, it is available as a CD single and is on countless Christmas compilations but if Under Pressure, Bowie’s much loved collaboration with Queen, can make the cut, why not this classic, as well?

7. TVC15 (Single Edit)

Station To Station is ably represented by the single version of Golden Years and the excellent 2010 mix of Wild Is The Wind on Nothing Has Changed.  But it would’ve been great to have TVC15 here, as well.  Supposedly inspired by one of Iggy Pop’s girlfriends getting eaten by a Television while high on something, it was a pivotal single for Bowie who was transitioning at the time from R&B soul music to European electronica.  Although the single edit was previously included on The Best Of David Bowie 1974-1979, its exclusion from Nothing Has Changed is still disappointing.  If it was up to me, I would’ve made room for it.

8. Fame (Single Edit)

Everybody knows the story about Bowie’s first number one in America.  It arose out of a conversation with John Lennon about the nature of celebrity and quickly developed into a last-minute addition to Young Americans.  Everybody knows the full album version which was released as a single in Britain and has been on almost every Bowie hits collection including Nothing Has Changed.  But few today have heard the American single edit which trimmed 45 seconds off the album version (and served as the template for the 1990 single remix).  It was this three and a half minute mix that topped the Billboard Hot 100 40 years ago.  After previously appearing on ChangesOneBowie and K-Tel’s Best Of Bowie, both vinyl releases, it has only made one appearance on CD.  You can find it on disc five of the Have A Nice Decade box set.  Not having this rare, shorter version of Fame on Nothing Has Changed is a hugely missed opportunity.

9. Time (Single Edit)

Pianist Mike Garson played a major role on the Aladdin Sane album with his endlessly spirited tinkling, most especially on one particularly cheeky track.  While The Jean Genie & Drive-In Saturday are on disc three of Nothing Has Changed there was no love for the aforementioned Time.  It was sadly left off the collection.  Famous for its drug references and brief mention of “wanking”, it’s something of a forgotten single.  The 7″ version is about 90 seconds shorter than the album cut and has never appeared on a Bowie hits release.  In fact, the only time the three and a half minute single ever appeared on CD was as a bonus cut on disc two of the 30th Anniversary edition of Aladdin Sane which was released in 2003.  It would’ve been a welcome surprise on Nothing Has Changed.

10. Suffragette City

One of the most famous songs from the Ziggy Stardust album was shockingly rejected for Nothing Has Changed.  The title cut is here.  So is the original single mix of Starman (Bowie’s second big hit in Britain) and album track Moonage Daydream.  But no Suffragette City.  Yes, it’s on so many past Bowie hits collections but quite frankly, it should’ve been included on Nothing Has Changed, as well.  It’s one of his most significant songs.

11. Holy Holy (original 1970 single)

According to Wikipedia, there are 110 official Bowie singles.  Only one has never been released on CD:  the original Holy Holy.  In 1970, besides releasing The Man Who Sold The World album, Bowie issued two non-album singles.  The original version of The Prettiest Star (which features T. Rex frontman Marc Bolan on guitar) has since been a part of the Sound + Vision box set and The Best Of David Bowie 1969-1974.  But Holy Holy was only released once as a 45.  When Rykodisc were compiling bonus tracks for the 1990 reissue of The Man Who Sold The World they were hoping to include it.  Unfortunately, according to Wikipedia, Bowie wouldn’t allow it.  Instead, they added the re-recorded, faster version which was rejected for Ziggy Stardust (it’s also on the bonus disc of the 30th Anniversary edition of Ziggy) and later became the B-Side to Diamond Dogs.  How awesome would it have been to include the original three-minute version on Nothing Has Changed?  Talk about a blown historic moment.

12. The Laughing Gnome

Two years before he would hit it big with Space Oddity, a desperate young Bowie thought this novelty number was his ticket to fame.  It wasn’t.  But six years later, at the height of Ziggy mania in 1973, it was reissued and, much to his utter embarrassment, became a Top 10 hit in the UK.  Clearly, it had no chance of making Nothing Has Changed.  Bowie is not exactly proud of the song.  That said, why couldn’t he have a sense of humour about the whole thing and just put it in the collection anyway?  Oh well.  For those who’ve never experienced The Laughing Gnome, the good news is you can find it on the 2010 reissue of the first David Bowie album.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, April 22, 2015
1:57 a.m.

Published in: on April 22, 2015 at 1:57 am  Leave a Comment  

An Unreasonable Man

He lives his life well below his means
Reluctant to part with invaluable treasures
As the family expands he feels false comfort
Letting them all go would end his life’s work

They’re replacements for those who think and feel
No critics, no judgments, no sorrow, no pain
He can traverse these worlds & always feel welcome
There are no shortage of journeys to take

He’s been like this for so many years
Avoiding reality is his daily routine
He’s found such pleasure in his solitary space
Removing the need to connect with others

He’s careful not to step on the landmines of memory
Just one would explode his past rage into focus
So he steers the ship around these old dangers
And sails away in blissful ignorance

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, April 15, 2015
3:52 p.m.

Published in: on April 15, 2015 at 3:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Tribute To AJ Lee

Unlike most of the women who have worked for the current World Wrestling Entertainment, April Jeanette Mendez grew up a genuine wrestling fan.  Born in New Jersey in the late 1980s, it was her brother who got her hooked during the Attitude Era.  While still a teen she met one of her favourites, Lita, at an autograph signing, an encounter that resulted in tears (and can be seen on YouTube).

Growing up in the Garden State certainly wasn’t easy.  The Mendez family barely scraped by.  Despite enrolling in NYU to study film & TV, Mendez had to drop out after only six months of study.

Thankfully, with a wrestling school very close to where she was living in 2007, it was possible to get the training she needed to start getting booked.  She paid her own way through a full-time job.

After working the indies for two years as Miss April, she attracted the attention of the WWE who signed her to a developmental deal.  Briefly known as April Lee, she ultimately became AJ Lee.

When the WWE ended its relationship with Florida Championship Wrestling (where Lee became the first performer to win both female singles titles), Lee participated in the third season of NXT, back when it was a pseudo-reality competition series.  Making it as far as the final three, she would ultimately team with the winner, Kaitlyn, to form The Chickbusters.  They collectively debuted in 2011 on Smackdown.

Four years later, Lee has now officially retired from the WWE.  Having quietly married former WWE Champion CM Punk last year, the announcement isn’t terribly surprising.  In fact, it seemed inevitable.

While it’s not yet clear what her actual reasons are to walk away at this point in her career there’s no better time than now to reflect on how important she was to professional wrestling generally & the WWE specifically.

One of the smartest things the company did in the last decade was pair Lee with Daniel Bryan.  It all started with a quick backstage TV segment.  Lee expressed a romantic interest in Bryan and was soon inseparable from the man as he would go on to become a surprise Money In The Bank winner in the summer of 2011.  As The Big Show feuded with Mark Henry over the World Heavyweight Championship, Bryan was the X Factor thrown into the mix.  When would he cash in?

After Show pinned Henry at TLC that December to take the title, The World’s Strongest Man annihilated The World’s Largest Athlete in the aftermath, leaving him very vulnerable in the middle of the ring.  An opportunistic Bryan made the most of that vulnerability, cashing in his briefcase and ending Show’s incredibly brief title reign.

Meanwhile, the new champion’s attitude toward Lee changed dramatically.  Channelling mid-80s Randy Savage, he started treating his on-screen gal pal like crap.  Lee played the doting, loyal, innocent sweetheart so perfectly, not only did it create genuine sympathy for her, it generated tremendous heat for Bryan, who had just started doing an obnoxious “Yes!” chant whenever he made his way to the ring.

At WrestleMania 28, Bryan insisted on getting a good luck kiss from Lee before facing Sheamus, the 2012 Royal Rumble winner, for the World Heavyweight Championship.  As soon as he turned around, The Celtic Warrior brogue kicked him out of the title.

Shortly thereafter on Smackdown, Bryan blamed Lee for the loss and dumped her, setting in motion the brilliant character change that would later see her become the longest reigning Divas Champion in history.

In the spring of 2012, with CM Punk now the WWE Champion & Bryan the number one contender, Lee flirted, kissed, smacked & mentally tormented both men throughout their three-month feud for the strap.  When Kane was added to the program, Lee made the moves on him, as well.

Her actions kept everyone wondering about her motives.  That led to her guest refereeing some of the Punk/Bryan WWE title match at Money In The Bank that year.  (At one point, she took a bump and was briefly replaced by another ref before returning to finish the match.)

In the build-up to the pay-per-view, Bryan was paranoid that because he kept rebuffing Lee’s stubborn efforts to resuscitate their dead relationship she would not be impartial.  At one point, Lee even proposed to Punk.  He turned her down (talk about ironic).  For his part, Bryan proposed to Lee and even though she accepted the second time, it would come back to bite the Yes Man right in the ass.

During their wedding on the 1000th episode of Raw, Lee got her revenge by refusing to marry Bryan right in the middle of the ceremony.  Furthermore, Vince McMahon came out to announce she was the new General Manager for Raw, a gig that didn’t last very long.

Speaking of that, another wrestler who owes Lee a debt of gratitude is Dolph Ziggler, the 2012 Smackdown Money In The Bank winner.  As The Show-Off began a feud with John Cena, once again Lee played a central role.  As Ziggler’s former advocate Vicki Guerrero accused the Raw General Manager of hanky panky with Cena (extremely hypocritical considering her own on-screen history with Edge), Lee would ultimately lose her GM gig because of it.

During a great backstage TV segment, Lee made a play for Ziggler who coldly dismissed her by saying, “Face it, AJ.  You’re just trash.”  She reacted with a flurry of punches.  (Curiously, she would use the exact same line on former tag team partner Kaitlyn as they feuded over the Divas title.)

In the end, it was all a ruse.  During a ladder match at TLC 2012 with Ziggler’s MITB suitcase up for grabs, AJ screwed Cena allowing The Show-Off to retain his future WHC title opportunity.  Ziggler didn’t think she was trash after all.  In fact, they couldn’t keep their hands off each other for the next six months.

The night after WrestleMania 29, Lee was there when Ziggler finally cashed in and defeated a hobbled Alberto Del Rio to win the WHC in an electrifying match on Monday Night Raw.  Two months later, Lee would win her first Divas Championship against Kaitlyn at Payback in June, one of the stronger female feuds in recent years.  She would ultimately have a falling out with Ziggler, though, shortly after he lost the WHC back to Del Rio at the same show.

Nearly 300 days later during the first Raw after WrestleMania 30, Lee would drop her championship to the debuting Paige.  Lee would win it back two more times in 2014 before losing it for good to Nikki Bella at Survivor Series that year in a quickie encounter that paid homage to the Bryan/Sheamus WHC match at WM 28.

Besides helping to elevate male stars like Bryan & Ziggler to main event status and expanding & redefining the look of a female wrestler (I always loved her boot-size Doc Martens), the self-described tomboy could also deliver a devastating promo.  Besides her wonderfully villainous shots at real-life friend Kaitlyn in 2013, Lee delivered a blistering diatribe against the cast of the Total Divas reality show in a Raw speech many compared to CM Punk’s infamous June 2011 “Best In The World” rant.  A high compliment, indeed.  For his part, Punk praised her promo on his own Twitter account.

Speaking of Twitter, when Stephanie McMahon commended Oscar-winning actress Patricia Arquette for advocating equal pay for women back in February this year, Lee rightly noted that when it comes to female wrestlers she didn’t practice what she preached.  This led to the #GiveDivasAChance hashtag and renewed, albeit short-lived interest in the women’s division.

Just before this year’s WrestleMania, Lee & on-screen frenemy Paige rekindled their long simmering tension as they prepared to face the Bella Twins at the Showcase of the Immortals.  In the last Smackdown before the pay-per-view, Lee humourously compared the Bellas to the Kardashians.  For her part, Divas champ Nikki Bella noted that Lee has been seen less often lately than Brock Lesnar.  (Blame a neck injury for that.)  At any event, Paige made up with Lee and they went on to beat The Bellas at WrestleMania, her last high-profile match.  (April 5 CORRECTION:  Actually, AJ worked her final match the very next night on Raw.  She teamed with Paige and Naomi in a winning effort over The Bellas and Natalya.)

Whether it was injuries, real-life business issues with Stephanie McMahon, road fatigue, frustrations with creative, wanting to spend more time at home as a newlywed, a combination of any or all of the above or something else entirely is immaterial.  The bottom line is the AJ Lee era in WWE is over and with it one of the most entertaining, influential female characters of the past five years.

Like her husband, she was different.  She didn’t fit the pre-existing mold of what a female wrestler should look like.  She may be tiny in stature (5’2 and less than 120 pounds) but she had a strong personality loaded with wit and bite.  And although she played the crazy maneater angle for far too long (which led to Paige and Alicia Fox imitating her freakouts and far too much slut shaming, particularly from Jerry Lawler on commentary), she had great psychology.  Just ask Kaitlyn and the Bellas.

Plus, she could work.  She was quick on her feet, routinely took decent bumps and could wrestle anybody.  Her black widow submission hold was perfect for her character.

Despite the continual lack of respect and support for women’s wrestling in modern day WWE, Lee made the most of the limited time she had on-screen, both on the mic and in the ring.  (The way she sold Big Show accidentally running into her at ringside is just one example of how underrated she was.)  When AJ Lee was performing, whether she was Daniel Bryan’s sweet girlfriend, the Raw GM or Kaitlyn’s worst nightmare, you paid attention.  She made you believe everything she did and said.

Not yet 30, she is still young enough to leave her mark in some other creative forum, should she choose to do so.  Having announced a new book deal, maybe writing will define her second act.

In the meantime, here’s hoping WWE puts together a special DVD compilation of her greatest hits along with a behind-the-scenes documentary of her life and times in and out of the ring.

All the best to her as she skips along to the next phase of her life.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, April 4, 2015
3:17 a.m.

Published in: on April 4, 2015 at 3:17 am  Leave a Comment  
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