Q*bert

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“Who will speak for the armless and the mouthless?” bellowed The Lorax.

And just like that, Q*bert hopped into view, answering the call and taking the mantle upon his non-existent shoulders. “Speaking” through his nose. Exclusively in alien swear words.

Was he merely a fuzzy orange tennis ball that had mutated into an anthropomorphic freak with feet and an oversized honker that wouldn’t be out of place serving duty as the air horn on a Kenworth or was he the mildly retarded second cousin of that famous prehistoric suzerain The Great Gazoo? We don’t know and we can’t know.

The game took John Travolta’s dance floor from Saturday Night Fever and expanded it into an M.C. Escher-like pyramid. Q*bert, who wasn’t in any physical condition to be involved in any sword fights, merely had to hop onto the squares of the pyramid and change their color in order to win the game. It sounds easy, but there were a few spanners in the works, namely Sam and Slick, two sub-moronic “friends” of Q*bert who meant him no harm but still randomly wandered about the place like Tenderloin crackheads, reversing all of our man’s good work by changing the colored squares back to their original color and thus hindering Q from getting to the next level.

Worse still was Coily, a villainous viper whose shape was the direct inspiration for those weird light bulbs our government has strong-armed all of us into using. This snake was a nasty piece of work, voraciously hungry and always ready to sink his fangs into Q*bert like he was some fresh-off-the-tree tangerine. Q*bert is only able to escape Coily’s grasp by hopping onto a colorful disc that is eerily similar to Apple’s notorious “Spinning Wheel of Death.” It’s like the makers of this game predicted the entire 21st Century!!

I’ve heard the Q-Dawg got some props in the 2012 movie Wreck-It Ralph, but I haven’t seen it!

My message to him, wherever he is now? Well, as The Mekons said on Side One, Track 4 of their Honky-Tonkin’ LP: “Keep on Hopping!”

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Jaguar XJ-S

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She still crouches there, deep within my memory banks–all hunkered down in feline repose on those flying buttressed haunches. The Jaguar XJ-S was a coupe that could stand on its own, but to see one of these sandwiched between some battered Oldsmobile Starfire Firenza and an already rusted-out three month-old Chevrolet Citation in the potholed parking lot of the local Montgomery Ward, was to espy something that stood out like a FabergĂ© egg that had been thoughtlessly discarded onto a pile of yellow-paged Eisenhower-era wrestling magazines.

To have one of these was to have a V-12 tucked under the bonnet and although this engine put out roughly the same amount of brake horsepower as you might find in a modern Hyundai Genesis Coupe sporting eight less cylinders, those were different times, Jim! It was still a V-12–back in the day, that drunk down at the end of the bar bragging about the “monster V8” in his Coupe De Ville was a piker any way you looked at it.

The car was just as special inside as out. The dash and console were furnished in something called “walnut burl” and it was gorgeous. The simple, stark black and white gauges were by Smiths, a company so cool a bunch of geezers from Manchester stole it for the name of their musical group. The cigarette lighter would only light up Dunhills, so you’d best have some matches handy if you were going to persist in favoring Newport Menthols.

Of course, and it was a big of course, Jags of this era were notoriously unreliable. Lots of folks joked about this but it was no laughing matter when the Coventry-bred gremlins that came free of charge with every auto that rolled off the line decided to get wake up and get mischievous just when you were passing through the “bad side of town.” The driver of this car was going to garner very little sympathy when their lovely grand tourer rolled to a stop in the middle of a busy street. Especially if it was in a neighborhood where most of the residents rode the bus.

But that sort of thing is for the sociology professors to discuss. Those who love cars, especially beautiful cars, just look at it and say “Ahhhh!”

Blondie–Eat To The Beat

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Okay. This was released at the tail end of the 1979 but it’s my blog and Autoamerican and The Hunter kinda suck, so we’re going to let the decade drift backwards a couple months. “People” (our human collective, not the grocery store checkout line magazine) pretty much all agree that 1978’s Parallel Lines is the perfect pop album. It may even be, actually. But this one is even better. Because for once the group inject a little hard rock into those precious, arty LES veins of theirs.

I’m not a big fan of reviewing albums tracks by track, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do, so let’s go!

“Dreaming” is dreamy–the best song they ever did. The group say hello to the 80s by having Clem Burke go berserk the minute the needle hits the first groove, while Debbie evokes such palpable saudade on top of the whole shebang you can’t help but wish she was “right there with you” as you listen.

“The Hardest Part” is either about robbing an armored car or a clumsy first-try at backdoor sex, but whatever the point is, it’s driven home just as forcefully as William Jefferson Clinton pushed Gennifer Flowers face into the cushions of a love seat somewhere in the antechambers of the Arkansas State House that very same year. It is a rock song.

“Union City Blues” is so good they made a movie out if it.

“Shayla” may or may not be about some Rosie the Riveter-type being swept up into a spaceship. Whatever the case, it’s real purty, as Michael Stipe once graciously described my lower middle appendage as we stood side by side in the men’s room of the 40 Watt Club.

“Eat to the Beat” yanks the listener forward as if on a chain once again, as that well-coiffed Brit drummer hits everything in sight in perfect syncopation and the lyrics lay out the blueprint for MF DOOM’s Mm..Food.

“Accidents Never Happen” and “Die Young Stay Pretty” are just Blondie being Blondie–a world class pop group treating hooks like they grow on freaking trees. For some, they do.

“Slow Motion” is pretty darn sublime, as Ms. Harry actually makes us laypeople believe we can “play with time” through sheer vocal timbre.

The next track brings us to the heart of the matter. “Atomic” piles on the atmospherics like a multi-colored dream coat and if it lasted four hours instead of four minutes, I’d be down with it. The soundtrack to a spaghetti western filmed deep inside the inner recesses of the Crab Nebula. Which is exactly where I’ve always wanted to dwell.

“Sound A Sleep” isn’t the most satisfying song, but it dozy pace leads neatly into the galloping “Victor,” which is basically a bunch of dicking around in the studio but the band pulls it off with no problem thanks to Debbie’s epically needy moans and a guitar solo that flashes like heat lightning.

“Living In the Real World” is a middle finger raised to our very existence and the band’s earned a little tetchiness by this point. Maybe they knew even then that they would only survive the first three years of the new decade, limping along most of the way.

In short, a great band at their peak!

Robin Williams

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He emerged in the late 70s–a stand-up comedian of an undeniable originality and brilliance. His 1978 HBO special was staggering–an explosion of lightning-speed, gear-shifting improv that elbowed its hairy way into the pantheon of great comic performances the second it was recorded. A chance meeting with Arthur Fonzarelli at a Milwaukee leather bar landed him a cameo on a dying (Fonzie had literally jumped the infamous tiger shark earlier that same season) television show and he made enough of an impression to be handed his own show, in which he excelled. As the 80s dawned he, and Steve Martin, were considered the cream of the crop of the new young comedians.

Hollywood beckoned. But even as early as 1984’s Moscow on the Hudson, you could see the cream starting to curdle a bit as Robin hammed it up and chewed on the scenery like it was so many bowls of Bugles left out by craft service. In quality, the 80s were probably his peak, as he managed to give (generally) low-key and nuanced performances–with The World According to Garp, Good Morning, Vietnam and Dead Poets Society the highlights. Even the early 90s granted “us” a brief stay from the ugliness to come as he turned in some solid work in The Fisher King and the beloved zombie movie Awakenings.

Then it all went pear-shaped. His inability to turn his hyperkinetic zaniness “off” was probably pathological. It certainly didn’t do the guy any favors. Witness his enormous three decade body of work as an insufferable, out-of-control talk show guest. If you can. I simply could never watch these psychotic episodes for more than 30 seconds before switching over to QVC’s baseball card show or Tony Little’s latest miracle body-swelling implement infomercial. Whether Robin really was coked up or parodying someone coked up doesn’t matter a bit–leaping around the set treating both the host and any other guest(s) who happened to be around as pieces of furniture while screeching out non sequiturs in the same rote half-dozen “funny voices” he had cooked up in 1975 (flamboyant Stonewall-era hair dresser, stentorian Big Brother/God type, hybrid of the witches from The Wizard of Oz, panicked pilot in a nosediving fighter plane, addled Slavic peasant, feces-flinging monkey gifted with the power of speech) hardly qualified as humor. He simply wasn’t funny. Just sit still and answer the question in a succinct and coherent manner, sir!! But he couldn’t.

As far as his movies go, his greatest shortcoming seemed to be an inability or unwillingness to turn down any script or cinematic concept that came his way, no matter how wretched it was. For every One Hour Photo there were five or six Jakob The Liars. For every Good Will Hunting there were seemingly TWENTY Old Dogs. As long as he got to “do his thing,” as long as the role called for him to be insane, mawkish, vulnerable, uncontrollable, childlike, madcap, tearfully sentimental, filled with unfathomable wonder, or any combination of such, he was all in. The very lowest point was something called Patch Adams–cited by one critic as the worst crime against humanity since the dark days of Europe in the early 1940s. I actually just spent 15 minutes on IMDB and determined that 80% of his filmography is completely unwatchable. This must be a record of some sort. Tor Johnson, the poster child for appearing in worthless dreck, clocks in at only 60% on the same exact scale, for Heaven’s sake!

But back to Robin. Innately talented? Yes. Good-hearted guy? It certainly appears that way. National Treasure? Give me a fucking break.