Tuesday, December 16, 2003

DV ME

Nearly two months into residency at the new house, we still haven't unpacked a lot of stuff. But we did manage to unpack the DVDs late last week, so tonight I decided to pull out a prize of my collection - Dead Kennedys, The Early Years Live.

Except for the fact that the medium is shiny and round, this DK disc is hardly a true DVD. It's nothing more than a dub of the old VHS version. But hey, at least it's out on DVD.

In an age where entire seasons of Angel or Smallville are released on DVD immediately after the network reruns run their course, there's a pathetic lack of good but obscure stuff - specifically music stuff - available on DVD.

At the top of my wish list:

• MTV's The Cutting Edge - Early/mid '80s showcase of "alternative" acts, usually centered around the sound of cities such as Austin, Chapel Hill and underground L.A. Peter Zaremba of the Fleshtones hosted it, and my friends and I would gather every Sunday night to watch it. I was featured (sort of) in the Mardi Gras show filmed at Jimmy's in New Orleans when a shot of Zaremba getting pegged by a doubloon I'd tossed at him made it to air.

• The Decline of Western Civilization - The amazing documentary of the L.A. punk scene done by Penelope Spheeris. The damn Independent Film Channel shows Decline Part II (The Metal Years) every other week, but never the original. I guess it's hung up in a royalty dispute with Lee Ving or something.

• The IRS Show - This was kind of an infomercialumentary produced by the late, great IRS Records to promote its up-and-coming acts such as The Go-Gos and Wall of Voodoo. It was hosted by Jools Holland of Squeeze and featured concert clips, concept videos made specifically for the film and interviews with the bands. Awesome.

• URGH! A Music War - If you know what this is, you're top 1% in musical hipness. It's a compilation of live performances from acts such as The Police, Oingo Boingo, The Cramps, Dead Kennedys, Burning Spear, X, OMD ... and the list goes on. A real Who's Who of early '80s alternative. I had an audio cassette of this for about 10 years before I even knew there was a movie. I had a badly-dubbed VHS of it for awhile, and a couple of years ago I saw a copy of the actual VHS in the close-out bin at Sam Goody or someplace. I bought it - for $3.99. Tonight I searched for it on Amazon and all I found was a used zShops copy - for $295.00.

The only good news I've seen on the rare-and-cool music DVD front is the release last month of Athens, GA Inside/Out. I have it on VHS, but should probably replace it with a DVD.

If I seem somewhat obsessed with this topic, it's only because I am. And the reason I'm obsessed is that the above titles are a small part of what I have to say was a damned impressive collection of musical bits and pieces I put together back in high school.

I'd spend hours hunting for cool stuff coming across the cable and do whatever it took to get it down on VHS. My complilations included R.E.M.'s bizarre Murmur-era appearance on Nickelodeon's version of American Bandstand (imagine 12-year-olds dressed up in New Wave outfits trying to dance like Belinda Carlisle); the band's first network TV appearance (Letterman) where they played So. Central Rain before the song had a name; a show called New Wave Theater that ran at the end of USA Network's Night Flight show and an awesome concert series that aired on Showtime (I have no idea of its name now) that had great performances by Jason and the Scorchers, Lone Justice, P.I.L., R.E.M. The Alarm and others that slip my mind at the moment.

And my most-prized catch was Lenny Bruce's unbelievably hilarious club routine/cartoon Thank You Masked Man. I saw that at the tail end of Night Flight one Saturday and stayed up (they replayed the whole 4-hour show for the west coast) to record it the second time around. Masked Man was my greatest pop-culture contribution to my circle of friends.

The bad news is that over time all but a couple of those VHS tapes have disappeared. I still have a few Cutting Edge episodes and The IRS Show, but I've been on a decade-long quest to rebuild the collection (big points to the wife for finding a proper copy of Thank You Masked Man to replace the copy I'd dubbed back from dubs a friend had made of my original recording).

I don't need directors' commentaries, deleted scenes or making-of features. Just put it on DVD and sell it at Amazon, people.

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