Desert Island Disc, Part One


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1. What Power Art Thou (Prelude While the Cold Genius Rises) – Henry Purcell

I would be lying if I said I was naturally exposed to Henry Purcell, I learned about him because he wrote a great deal of compositions for counter-tenors and when I was exposed to the mesmerizing Klaus Nomi, after a while I started to wonder whose songs he was always singing. With Purcell, I still find it amazing that someone who lived over 400 years ago made music that’s so stirring to me. Whether performed with a baritone or a falsetto, this is a concisely brilliant composition, but its at its best with a counter tenor, and no one did a better job than the late, great Klaus Nomi.

Every time this song reaches “let me freeze again,” I get the same chills. I could listen to it every day. (Two other compositions of Purcell nearly made the list, both from Dido and Aeneas. “When I am laid in Earth (Dido’s Lament)” is the obvious one, but I have an affinity for “Thanks to these lonesome vales.”


  1. Let Down – Radiohead

OK Computer is the greatest album I’ve ever heard, but for me, Let Down is the crown jewel of the whole thing. It’s a chimey track that immediately makes me think of Roger McGuinn and the Byrds, with this superimposed oddly timed Fender Rhodes lick that nicely introduces dissonance to what could have been boring verses if done by a lesser artist. It combines beauty with intrigue, and by the time Thom Yorke warbles “You know, you know where you are,” I’ve realized that I’m singing along, whether I mean to or not. I could play this song on a loop and never get tired of it.


3.  Isle of the Dead – Sergei Rachmaninoff

This is difficult to support, but to me Rachmaninoff suffers from several large assumptions. It’s hard to separate Russia from Communism and our idea of Communism is more Ivan Drago, than Alexander Solzhenitsyn. To think that the slender severe-looking man we see in photographs was capable of such a passionate work seems almost alarming in its contrast. Rachmaninoff was known for his large, impossibly flexible hands, making his compositions at times difficult to play, but that technical proficiency doesn’t mean that his work was cold and distant. Isle of the Dead, is his piece based on the Arnold Böcklin painting.

Isle of the Dead is roughly 22 minutes long if I remember correctly. It does not feel that long, pretty much every time I’ve ever played it, I was surprised at how quickly it seemed to end. An orchestral line in a 5/8 time signature signifies the rowing of the oars in the water as you approach the Isle of Dead starts the song, but it builds to an incredible intensity over the next eleven minutes. I’m sure if I was an expert there are better classical pieces, but I’m not, and to me this is tremendous.


  1. Someday We’ll All Be Free – Donny Hathaway

Donny Hathaway is mostly forgotten in this country, internationally he has a higher profile. It’s a shame. Edward Howard wrote the lyrics for this song as encouragement to the depressed artist, and Hathaway cried when he finally recorded it. It relief was only temporary, as Hathaway eventually took his own life.

Honestly, if I was a more open person, I would cry every time I hear it too. It’s a deeply emotional song, with the idea that maybe someday the pain that we endure will stop, and somehow you can hear that it Hathaway’s voice. It has been covered many times, which is insane. No one will ever do it better.


5. Cosmic Slop (live)- Funkadelic (Hardcore Jollies album)

As a former guitar player, I thought funk was the highest form of music. Its rhythms have the complex chording of jazz ( while rock players are often exceptional if they can avoid parallel movement, use power chords properly and occasionally use an inversion or two) some of the more abstract concepts from classical music (quartal harmonies come to mind), impossible poly-rhythms that evoke African and Latin styles, the feel of soul and blues and the aggression of rock. And the leads – you can really do anything.

Cosmic Slop does it all perfectly. The raw vocals of juke joint blues, a rhythm section that carries the sound, two dueling guitars that sound fresh over thirty years later, and a deceptively unorthodox song structure. Even if we’re on an island, at some point we have to party, right?

Desert Island Disc


Its a dated idea now, I suppose, but it was always fun to imagine what records you would want with you on a desert island. Usually, you’d pick ten or so full albums. Now people have iPods and you’d have thousands of songs, but I’m doing something different.

On my island you can only have one CD, and it has roughly 20 tracks. Of course, instead of worrying about your survival or making a boat, you spend all your time arguing if one song is better than another one. Over the next week or so, I’m going to tell you what songs I would have on my island. At some point, Tom will list his own tracks, after mocking mine, of course.


Horror 101: Joanne


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Joanne – The Appointment 1981
There are a few things that keep The Appointment from being a great film. It’s extremely British, the characters are extremely restrained, the pace is mostly sluggish, and it concerns itself with a great deal of daily minutia. It stars Edward Woodward, which is problematic, because the last time he did a horror film, it was the legendary Wicker Man, so his appearance creates an unfair expectation that this film cannot match. Also, in trying to be ambiguous, it comes off as a tad underwritten.
With all of that said, there is an awful lot going for this film as well.
Joanne is Ian’s daughter, an incredibly spoiled adolescent who is accustomed to being the sole figure of attention in her father’s life, even to the exclusion of his wife, Dianna. During the course of the film, she is the teenage girl everyone is afraid that they’re going to have.
Ian is going to her violin recital, the capstone of her entire schooling, when at the last second Ian finds out that he has to go on a business trip and cannot make it. Joanne begins a campaign of manipulation, petulance and outright defiance to get him to go, but she doesn’t realize that her mother is sick of her conduct and is applying equal pressure to Ian as well. Eventually, Ian holds firm. He is going on the business trip.

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But the Appointment is, after all, a horror film. Joanne has imaginary friends she talks to, friends that resemble the Black Dogs of British legend. They slip in at night to her. And if she wants someone dead (like the violinist that outshone her) they die mysteriously. At some point in the film, Joanne makes it clear to something that she wants her dad to die.
The Appointment is about the unshakeable feeling of disease, the idea that something is terribly wrong, even though everything seems normal around. Ian has a very typical business trip, at least for a while, but even he notices something imperceptible, but sinister. It becomes apparent that The Appointment is not a case if, but when, and behind it all is one very thoughtless, very selfish, very evil little girl.

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Nigel Kneale’s Beasts: The Dummy


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You may have already noticed the gap between my other reviews and this one. It is because of my extreme reluctance to acknowledge that this episode exists. Its not because it was poorly written, but its because of the  failure of the production design and some unfortunate chronology.

‘The Dummy ‘ is about Clyde Boyd, a horror movie actor who plays the Dummy, the antagonist in a series of films. Clyde has a meltdown sudden in the middle of the film and neither the director Sidney Stewart or the producer ‘Bunny’  Nettleton knows what’s happening, until they find out to their consternation, that Peter Wager, the actor they’d hired for a bit part, has stolen Clyde’s wife and child, and is none too gracious about it.

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At the same time, a persistent PR flack has brought reporter Joan Eastgate to the set promising her access to Clyde, even though that isn’t possible, even before his breakdown. And Clyde is most certainly breaking down, drinking himself  into a stupor backstage. Because of the tight shooting schedule, the film is at stake, as prominent (and oblivious) star Sir Ramsey is leaving the next day and his scenes must be shot. The suit is custom made so no one else can wear it, and Wager won’t take a buyout to simply leave as seeing Clyde suffer is simply too entertaining for him.

While this is all going on, Joan makes her way to Bunny. During their conversation, she talks abstractly about masks, sublimation and how certain ‘primitive’ cultures reconcile the two. Bunny is barely paying attention, but faced with the movie that is about to be ruined, he manipulates Bunny using half-remembered portions of Joan’s conversation.

Clyde puts on the mask, but the moment he does, his breakdown is complete. The man is gone and there is only the monster. This wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t for the fact that the hands of the suit are operated hydraulically giving him tremendous power – more than enough to kill. And as he begins his rampage, Bunny doesn’t want him simply sho, because of the guilt he has for neglecting the man, unaware that he was suffering the whole time.

Here’s the problem with this episode.

This is the dummy.

This is the dummy.

It is impossible to take anything seriously when you trot out a costume looking like that. Beasts was broadcast in 1976, two years later, John Carpenter made Halloween, which introduced the idea of a masked madman attacking innocents. Had The Dummy used the sensibility of the slasher movie, which relies heavily on the mask, this would have been an incredible episode, as the nature of horror movie protagonists had change.  But this is just laughable.

Imagine the Chromeskull mask, for instance.

Imagine the Chromeskull mask, for instance.

Horror 101: The Old Man


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The Old Man – Seconds (Will Geer)

I never saw the Waltons, but it may be relevant to some that The Old Man was Pa from the Waltons. I DID see John Frankenheimer’s masterpiece Seconds. Sometimes, I talk to my wife about perfect films, I know off the top of my head, Ridley Scott’s Alien comes to mind. Seconds is quite nearly a perfect film.

Seconds concerns Arthur Hamilton wealthy businessman in a completely dull life, who is contacted by a friend of his who died years ago. He is mysteriously invited to a meeting with the Company, a corporation who offers a unique service, they make people disappear and create entirely new lives for them.

Alarmingly, once he gets a certain amount of information on the Company, he is manipulated and blackmailed to commit to the procedure. But just when he reaches utter panic, that’s when the Old Man comes in.

The Old Man is a captivating figure, folksy, charming, even avuncular. That’s what makes him so terrifying, that’s he’s likable, even as his withering logic breaks Hamilton down until he agrees to the procedure. Tubby Arthur Hamilton becomes Tony Wilson, (played by Rock Hudson). He becomes an artist that lives near the beach. The only problem is, that he is still a stodgy old man, who is inflexible and out of place. Revisiting his old family, he realizes that his pursuit of his career is what ruined his life. He cannot escape himself.

He demands a new body and identity, but refuses to recommend the service to anyone else. He meets the Old Man again, who talks about the Company and how things have changed over time. The Old Man is wistful, almost reluctant about what he has to do, but he does it anyway. Tony Wilson is not co-operating. And bad things happen to people who don’t co-operate.

The Old Man is just amazing to me, because there is nothing evil or sinister about him for the majority of his performance but he is involved in the most horrible deeds imaginable. Under his watch, people deemed of no value are murdered and then used to fake the deaths of customers they find useful. At best, he perpetrates fraud at the highest level, but at no point does actor Will Geer feel the urge to twirl his moustache as a lesser actor would. The Old Man is pure evil, he just never feels like it.


Nigel Kneale’s Beasts: What Big Eyes You Have


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Even considering the age of this episode I couldn’t possibly imagine spoiling how wonderful the plot of this episode is. I will do the barest job possible.

Michael Kitchen plays Curry a blustering government animal inspector (I’m not sure how the UK works on that sort of thing) who is dealing with a slippery importer. When examining the man’s logs, he finds something curious, timber wolves going to a rather ordinary neighborhood pet shop. Confident of the man’s bookkeeping chicanery, he visits the shop as a formality only to find out that the wolves HAVE actually been going here.

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As it turns out the older woman behind the counter is taking care of her brilliant, but abusive scientist father. He is convinced that man’s evolution at one point included canine ancestors…wolves to be more precise, and with a little prodding lycanthrophy can be induced through science. After decades of experimenting it is almost over. And he’s ready to teach our presumptuous government official a lesson.

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Patrick Magee dominates the screen as Leo Raymount, a man who has spent his life on only one thing, and it wasn’t his family. Madge Ryan has what I think is the most powerful role and performance as the daughter who surrenders her life for her father’s work, even though she hasn’t the ability to understand what it is. And Kneale creates a scenario much crueler than a werewolf ripping someone to shreds.

Saying anything else would be criminal, but this episode, more than any of others has Kneale understanding what the audiences expects, and has seen before, and toying with them.

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Nigel Kneale’s Beasts: Baby


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No piece of technical incompetence has ever undercut a television episode like the bit at the end of Baby, because otherwise it is an absolute corker. Baby is the episode that people mention when they talk about this series, and it is completely understandable.

Jane Wymark is Jo Gilkes, a very pregnant woman moving to a renovated cottage somehow devoid of birds in the gutter or pests in pasture. As soon as she gets there, her annoying cat escapes. (Another technical gem from the sound department.) Jo tends towards the hysterical, and her husband Peter has compensated by almost utterly ignoring her, a problem that everyone is this episode has. Jo is surrounded by people but isolated when she actually needs help.

Peter is impulsive and begins to work on a wall in the house when he discovers a large clay urn there. Inside is a creature that he can’t identify, in fact no one can. Despite his wife’s protests, he holds onto  it to show his boss.

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Meanwhile odd things start to happen in the house, and there is an explicable darkness in the woods.

The cottage is older than it seems and the only information available comes from a superstitious old workman who indicates that creatures like what they have were used for bad magic of indeterminate nature.

It is around then that Jo realizes that the curse on the house and land applies to offspring…any offspring, and that no one can remember any animals being birthed in the barn, and no child in the cottage.

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Baby descends into absolute discomfort at a certain point, and only lets up because right when the stunning ending is hurtling home, the prop department, makeup man, or local puppeteer puts together what appears to be a Muppet suckling a mangy lamb. It is sandwiched in between two shocking moments and the staff that undermined them deserved a lifelong Scarlet Letter.

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Nigel Kneale’s Beasts: Buddyboy


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When I first accidentally saw a capsule review that said this episode was about a ghost dolphin, I thought it was the stupidest thing I’d ever heard. Now that I’ve actually seen it, there is a slight shudder every time I hear that name.

No one really gets what this episode is actually about. Every review I’ve seen has completely missed why this is nightmare fuel.

Martin Shaw is Dave, a hard-bitten owner of a seedy cinema downtown who dreams of having a ‘classy’ place with plush chairs and leather everywhere. Oh the 70′s! He’s investigating a great deal on real estate. The only problem is the former seller Hubbard (played by a perspiring Wolfe Morris) seems a little too eager to unload it.\

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The venue was formerly an arena for dolphins, particularly Buddyboy, an exotic and precocious dolphin that plagued Hubbard. And Hubbard did something, something he won’t say. But you get the feeling that the dolphin isn’t leaving him alone.

Hiding beneath the tank area is Lucy (Pamela Moiseiwitsch), an imbalanced homeless vagrant who apparently used to care for the dolphins. Her presence is consistently unnerving to Hubbard, but she is intriguing to Dave.

At first he thinks that Hubbard has gotten mixed up with the Mafia, and that Lucy knows something about it. To the disgust of his coarse business partner Jimmy, he feeds the starving vagrant while trying to get more information out of her, but they realized that Lucy is utterly uncomfortable with people, totally obsessed with Buddyboy and unable to move on with her life.

As Hubbard desperately presses for a deal so he can be free, you realize that Buddyboy is ‘haunting’ both people, the owner who treated him cruelly and the trainer that appreciated him. Buddyboy thankfully does not appear, aside from an occasional noise that they attribute to his collar.

At a certain point, for some reason Dave falls for Lucy and takes her home, and her character shows an alarming and surprising relief at this turn of events. At his place they start to make love, and she is completely disinterested…until she thinks of Buddyboy.

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And that’s why this episode is so messed up. Its about an insane woman who is in love with a dolphin, a love that has gone much too far.

Things unravel from here of course, because these things never end well. Buddyboy remains a gutpunch of an episode, and it is a testament to the series that Buddyboy might not be the most skin crawling of the lot.

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Nigel Kneale’s Beasts: During Barty’s Party


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This episode starts with a dream, a very unclear dream about a car and people screaming and… something. When Angie Truscott (played by Elizabeth Sellars) wakes up in bed, she is completely unsettled and she doesn’t know why.

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She puts on the loudest record she can find until her husband comes home. (Sidebar: The music in this episode is described as ‘rock n’roll.’ I can now understand why people hated it. Ye Gods, this is awful music.) Her husband Roger is a particularly obstinate middle-aged man who functions in most of this episode as either useless or obstructionist.

Angie is dealing with depression or anxiety or something and is taking sleeping pills which she has accidentally ingested with alcohol. Her anxiety is not helped by seeing a rat, or by her husband’s conversation with a co-worker that there is an unusual rat migration in their area.

The only source of information seems to be a rather jokey radio program hosted by ‘Barty.’ The updates are consistent, but conflicting. Something may be happening, but more ominous is the interview with the local scientist who explains that this particular strain is immune to the most effective poison available, and therefore hard to control.

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While the Truscotts begin to hear increased noise from the floor as the rat population begins to grow and then eat its way from the cellar, Angie advances a terrible theory – what if more than their immune system has been refined by this artificial natural selection? What if these rats are smarter, more savage, and worst of all, unafraid of humans?

The answer is yes.

The plot is fairly straightforward here which is different from the other episodes, but the linear narrative works better for the horror elements of the story. Also, not a rat is shown, which considering the circumstances was the best choice possible.

Nigel Kneale’s Beasts: Special Offer


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Special Offer stars Pauline Quirke as Noreen, a frumpy, clumsy young girl working as a cashier in a grocery store. (Considering this was roughly forty years ago and in a foreign country, it is fascinating how all retail hells seem basically the same.) Her boss hates her guts and so does her co-worker Linda, who also is getting all of the bosses personal attention.

Noreen starts getting into trouble as she starts dropping things or knocking them over, but she claims that’s shes not doing it, that an animal has gotten in the store, an animal that no one else can see. Eventually she reveals that its Billy, the cartoon mascot of the store who is doing the damage.

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At this point, I was pretty sure it was a joke episode, as it seemed quite light-hearted.

Noreen is relegated to the stockroom where a sensible co-worker asks her why she doesn’t get quit, which is a reasonable question. She does not produce a logical answer. But the attacks in the store get worse and worse as people start to see more damage and more phenomena.

The store manager consults with a more sage member of upper management who comes up with a more grim conclusion. The problem isn’t an animal. Its a poltergeist, and at its core is a very young lady, a poor girl with a crush on her lecherous manager, a crush that is doomed to end badly.

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Special Offer is fantastically engaging, because I can’t think of anything I’ve seen like it, and I had no idea where it was going as I watched it. Also there was a great shift in tone, as there was only one man who understood what was happening and how bad it could get.

And Kneale doesn’t over-explain what is happening. Also this episode ends perfectly. This series is off to quite a start.


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