Archive for July, 2008

COMMA COMMA DORE DOOBY DOO DORE DORE

Posted in Antiquated Technology on July 21, 2008 by butthorn

All right, I gotta keep plowing my way through my C64 memories. It seems important. It’s too hot, though, for anything to be important. Nothing is important and everything is sticky. It has gotten to the point where separating my scrotum from my inner thigh now requires the use of simple machines. I realize I’m not a very smart type of fellow for saying this, but I’m somewhat looking forward to winter. I hate heat. Ice makes driving exciting, and forces me to be alert while driving. When it’s hot and there’s no reason to be on the lookout for ice, I’m all but unconscious while driving to work in the morning. Through blind chance, I make it to work by caroming off buildings while depressing the accelerator and pointing my car in the general direction of my place of business. It’s like a really boring game of bumper pool played with human lives. I attempt to combat morning death by loudly interviewing myself on my way to work. I usually start out by pretending to be the glib host of a hip music or book program asking me where do I get all my hilarious and tuneful ideas, and do I ever tire of hot teenagers with easily exploited self-image problems turning to me for knowledge and solace, but fatigue breeds distraction before long, and soon enough I’m reduced to repeatedly bellowing the opening lyrics of “Piano Man”, retooling the words to fit my current situation, e.g. “Gee I hoooope I don’t hiiiiiiit that pedestrian!/She looks oooold, and she probl’y has kiiiiiiids/I suppoooose I should stop at this traffic liiiiight/A good chaaaaance to rest my eyeliiiiiiids”. It’s a daily struggle not to die.

So anyway, the idea here was to go through the games alphabetically, and I had ’em all written down on some pieces of notebook paper, but somewhere along the line I lost the first page, or it fell down behind something, or I don’t know, so I’m just gonna look at the page I got in front of me here. The alphabet can suck my wang, long and hard into the night.

LABYRINTH

REPLAY VALUE: HIGH

Yes, it’s the Commodore 64 version of THAT “Labyrinth”, the you-remind-me-of-the-babe one. What babe, you ask? Why, the babe with the power! What power? The power of voodoo, of course! You know, if your questions were a bit more detailed, we wouldn’t be having this awkwardly stilted conversation.

Back when George Lucas was under the impression that people wanted to be entertained by entertainment, he once stamped his valuable moniker on products that were fun and well worth purchasing for home use, and “Labyrinth” for C64, while not a top seller from what I understand, was a great game. It combined text-based Zork-like games with puzzle-solving and tense chase situations, all the while incorporating most every colorful character from the film, even the throwaway characters like the talking door knockers and the dude with the bird on his head. And for the time, the graphics were top notch. The designers of this game clearly put a lot of work into making sure the Muppets in question were accurately transcribed to the limited screen of the Commodore monitor.

lab3

I challenge you to make a better Commodore graphic of David Bowie as Jareth than that! Don’t even bother, in fact! Yours is going to be terrible and you know it!

The basic plot of the Labyrinth film is intact here, if I remember correctly, which I probably don’t. Basically, David Bowie is being difficult and has trapped you in a giant shrub maze and you to have to run around talking to worms and dealing with all manner of fucked up shit before you reach his castle where he tries to seduce you with ballroom dancing. As usual, I never finished the game due to my unshakable aversion to repeated losing, so I don’t know how closely the game adheres to the climax of the film, which I believe involved Jennifer Connelly falling into a landfill full of toys managed by a stripper who forces her to publicly share a double-ended dildo with her in exchange for narcotics. I don’t know, it’s been awhile since I saw it.

You’re not forced to be Jennifer Connelly in the game, though. It asks you if you’re a boy or a girl, and then depending on what you pick, you’re just a nondescript computer person who clomps around confusing landscapes and frowns a lot because the game is hard.

labyrinth_02

As you can see at the bottom of the screen there, to do stuff you basically select from a menu of verbs on the left, and a menu of nouns on the right. In keeping with the atmosphere of whimsical befuddlement maintained in the film, tossed in with the commands that actually result in the successful progression of the game are verbs and nouns that have absolutely nothing to do with anything. Consequently, you have the option, should you choose, to adumbrate an elephant. Needless to say, I adumbrated a whole lot of elephants out of sheer frustration throughout the course of playing this game.

Like I said, the characters look pretty choice by Commodore standards. I’d immediately be able to identify that graphic up there as Hoggle, no problem, but then again Hoggle and I were on the same intramural volleyball team back in the early nineties, so I guess it’s easier for me because I’ve seen him so much. He can’t spike but his sets and bumps were generally reliable. “What’s the point”, indeed. Man, Hoggle never had anything productive to say.

SMELL!!!!!!!!!!! I’ll take this guy over Hoggle any day. God, I simply can’t get enough Ludo. Where was his best supporting actor nomination? To whom do I address my letter of complaint regarding that grievous oversight? I’ll tell ya, Ludo walking over the farting rocks in the Bog of Eternal Stench represented the pinnacle of comic possibilities back then. Looking at this picture, alas, I realize I may have overhyped the graphics. That could look more like Ludo. That could look a LOT more like Ludo. Could’ve been worse, though. As my grandpappy used to say, a poorly rendered Ludo is better than no Ludo at all.

labyrinth_x

As I said, I in no way made it to the end of this game, or likely even anywhere close to it, but judging by this picture things must have gotten pretty intense. Cinder blocks flying around, the throwing of power, Bowie dishing out the BDSM. I gotta say, neither of the parties involve seem terribly concerned about the situation they find themselves in. Mr. Stardust looks the very picture of squinty sedation, and your character looks mildly put out at best by the idea of eternal subservience to a notoriously kinky figurehead of ’70s rock. We’ll leave these two to work out their differences. Suffice it to say it’s a fun game based on a fun movie, and usually video games based on movies suck no matter what platform they’re designed for, so it remains quite an accomplishment.

POTTY PIGEON

Replay Value: Medium

Huh. I never had the store-bought version of this game, and my pirated copy just had “Potty Pigeon” written on the label, but I guess according to this box it’s “Percy the Potty Pigeon”. That’s dumb. Anyway, this is a game where you’re a bird and you fly around defecating on everything for points.

If you’d told me at the time that this would actually get boring fairly quickly, I would have pooped in your face. I loaded it up fairly often, as it was a good game to waste time with while you thought about which far superior game you felt like playing. After about five minutes, however, I usually wanted to play something a bit more involving, and with slightly less terrible graphics. Anyway, birds pooping on things isn’t very funny. Their poop doesn’t smell like the usual poop, and it’s not even brown. I guess it’s for the best in the long run that birds don’t shit steaming logs onto us on a daily basis, but all the same, bird droppings are lame.

NINJA

ninja-box

Replay Value: Reasonably High, I’d Say

Mastertronic was a software company that was very good about providing a fun game for families who had a hard time working things like “fun” into their budgets. What they lacked in graphics and general razzle-dazzle they made up for in playability, and most of the time you could get them at Ames or Zayre’s for ten bucks. If my brother and I were unable to coax the few Commodore-owning friends we had into copying some of their games for us, our options were frequently limited to the bargain titles, and the majority of the time you could count on a Mastertronic title to be as enjoyable as it was inexpensive. I’d compare them to Mattel Electronics for Atari, in that they were cheap, simple in the best way, and readily available in stores that didn’t necessarily cater to computer owners. Also, “Mastertronic” is a badass name.

ninja-screen

Mastertronic didn’t mess around. “Ninja” is a prime example of their effective, no-nonsense style. It’s called “Ninja”, and it’s about a ninja, and you walk around kicking people and flicking throwing stars at them, as all ninjas should do.

ninja-initial

All right, I guess there was nothing terribly pressing for Ninja to concern himself with on this screen. Just hangin’ out on the dock, being a ninja and feelin’ fine. When he gets around to it, he just might walk over and pick up those throwing stars and that dagger. Those will be good for throwing into people faces later on. I think that green and yellow thing is part of an idol or something, or maybe food. No clue. Wait, it says “idols” at the bottom of the screen. That must be what that is. Idols were big in adventure games and movies back in the ’80s. I would imagine “Raiders of the Lost Ark” had something to do with that.

PRETEND THERE IS A PICTURE HERE OF A VIDEO GAME NINJA WALKING CALMLY FROM THE LEFT SIDE OF THE SCREEN TO THE RIGHT ON HIS WAY TO BEAT UP A BAD GUY.

Things are starting to look pretty serious! Kind of!  The guy on the left looks ready to fight, but Ninja’s just calmly strolling over to karate chop the bejeezus out of him.  Be right there, just a sec.  You can kick dudes and whatnot if close range hand-to-hand combat is to your liking, but chuckin’ throwin’ stars at people is easier and more fun to do, and you don’t have to walk as much.  Wow, complaining about video game walking.  That’s sad.   All in all, he’s one of your lazier ninjas, now that I look back on the game. He’s all about conserving energy.  Man, I’d like to play this game right now. I’m sure it’s online somewhere. I wish I enjoyed playing old games on new computers.

NOW PRETEND THERE IS A PICTURE OF A VIDEO GAME NINJA CROUCHING AND A BAD GUY DOING A WEIRD FIGHTING MOVE.  I TRIED TO POST PICTURES HERE ORIGINALLY BUT THE WEBSITE I TOOK THEM FROM GOT MAD AND WHISKED THEM AWAY, OR, MORE LIKELY, ENCRYPTED THEM TO BE UNUSABLE IN THE FIRST PLACE AS IT’S DOUBTFUL THE PEOPLE I TOOK THE IMAGES FROM EVEN KNOW I EXIST, AND FRANKLY IT’S PRESUMPTUOUS OF ME TO ASSUME OTHERWISE.

Exciting action of enthralling thrillingness!  Here, a villain busts out the popular jumpcrouchpunch move, while Ninja expresses his disinterest by balancing atop a throwing star and nonchalantly breaking wind.   I cannot seem to find a picture of it that will actually post to my blog with any success, but when you succeed in killing an enemy, he immediately transforms into a squashed pile of pants and feet. I’m not sure whether that’s less disturbing than simply showing a bloodied corpse or not.

In addition to being a solid side-scroller, “Ninja” could boast a lively and maddeningly catchy musical score, and details that, though sparse, attempted to convey a sufficiently serene quasi-Asian atmosphere, as opposed to the crime-infested cityscapes these types of games usually took place in. A finer ten-dollar ninja game I could not be called upon to imagine.

Well, it’s that time of the night where I lie in my sweltering bed and idly finger my sweat-slickened bellybutton, so I’ll see ya when I see ya. Here’s Debbie.

Note: It has come to my attention that most of the images I linked to are not showing up.  I will try to find more Ninja pictures from a less uptight website tonight!  As Bill noted, even Debbie Harry seems to be upset about it.

Note 2: All right, as far as I know I fixed it.  Let me know if pictures still aren’t showing up.  I can see them on my computer but then again I was able to see the old ones too at first.  All this work is making me hate ninjas!  Doesn’t seem right!

Note 3: Obviously I didn’t fix anything, the remedying of which is outweighed by my desire to do other things…

Note 4: Nearly a year later, I took the time to fix what I could.  In lieu of more pictures of the fine game “Ninja”, a YouTube video of the game has since been uploaded, which I will include below, as ultimately it showcases the game better than those stupidly unattainable pictures could have.

THE LONG-DELAYED, INEVITABLE JOHN PRINE ENTRY

Posted in Jiving Ditties on July 6, 2008 by butthorn

My closest friends have tended toward the extreme. This isn’t to say they were particularly in-your-face or stuntmen or anything like that. They just tend to know what they like and aren’t shy about proclaiming their fondness for whatever to whoever might be available to listen. What they like, they LIKE, and what they don’t, they DON’T. My friend Matt was just as powerless to effectively explain his undying love for Dave Matthews as I was to get him to stop playing it all the time. It was what he wanted to hear. For the most part, at the time, it was ALL he wanted to hear. When it came to likes and dislikes, there wasn’t a lot of gray area for Matt. That guy could listen to “Lie in Our Graves” or “The Christmas Song” over, and over, and over, and over again, and it was clear that each time he heard the songs, it was alternately as though he was hearing them for the first time and discovering all new, previously unnoticed secrets with each consecutive listen. Whereas for me, it was like gouging at a chigger-infested, pus-plumped blister with a pair of rusty pliers for hours at a time on a daily basis. Truly different strokes for different folks.

I have nothing serious against Dave Matthews. I think he’s a talented guitarist and a solid songwriter, and it is no problem for me to comprehend why others might enjoy him. I just couldn’t fathom what would drive a person to listen to his music every single, solitary day, without fail, at length. I didn’t, couldn’t, get it. And while I wanted to blithely snap every one of his Dave Matthews CDs over my knee with a jolly grin and a jubilant cry of “tally ho!”, at the same time I envied Matt his clearly genuine obsession. He wasn’t electronically carving inch-deep grooves in his “Under the Table and Dreaming” CD to torment his roommates (though at the time I might not have been so quick to say such things). He was smitten, and he needed to hear those songs like he needed to eat, or go to the bathroom, or say stupid shit to pretty girls. I didn’t understand.

Same thing with my friends back in high school. My friend Ken was more gung-ho about his likes and dislikes than anyone I’ve ever known. I can’t recall ever hearing him say anything was just okay. Either he bought it and loved it unconditionally or left it at the store, in pieces on the floor once he was done stomping on it. He loved Hulk Hogan, Jim Rice, Run DMC, and Danzig, and he talked about them all the time, with terrific enthusiasm. My friend Ted had great affection for Hootie and the Blowfish, and remained undaunted by our refusal to recognize their penchant for hooks and the stirring baritone of lead singer Hootie McGee. My friend JR’s love for The Beatles was widely recognized by people who didn’t know him from a hole in the ground, and my friend Harold would happily fill you in on the merits of such college faves as Laurie Anderson and Adrian Belew, neither of whom had many fans in the greater Howland area, as you may rightly surmise.

Me, I had a lot of songs that I liked, but no one I ever raved about, or wallpapered my room with, or even gave much thought to in my spare time. And even if I had, I would have been reluctant to share my appreciation with anyone. Historically, whenever I admitted to liking a song, and it met with any disagreement whatsoever, I immediately stopped liking it, whether I wanted to or not. I simply couldn’t handle even the mildest dissent. If you didn’t want to hear it, I didn’t want to hear it either. And it wasn’t as though I made a conscious decision to stop liking a song or band upon learning that a friend, or even an acquaintance or complete stranger, hated it or them. I genuinely stopped wanting to hear it. It just made me think of an unhappy person, and why would I want to think of that?

Well, it’s a ridiculous, pathetic, and mentally destructive way to go through life, and if I could travel back in time I’d approach my young self and beat the crap of him/me to teach him/me a lesson. Where I haven’t gotten any better at personal confrontation, let alone hand-to-hand combat, in the decade or so that has spanned since those days, it would no doubt make for a miserable and ungainly and hilarious altercation, but hopefully it would eventually result in my 1997 self being able to proudly proclaim “Hey everyone! I like “How’s It Gonna Be” by Third Eye Blind and I don’t care who knows it!”. Not one of the nobler battle causes, but a personally important one all the same.

Anyway, that’s all behind me now, because I finally found a musician that I like so well, no amount of naysaying or disagreement or switchblade assaults could sway me from my enjoyment. His name is John Prine, and he couldn’t have come along at a better time. Had I heard him back in my formative years, I would have dismissed him as hokey country old-person music, which incidentally is not an entirely inaccurate assessment. It just happens, apparently, to be what I like.

What makes us like what we like? That’s a question that fascinates me above most. There are answers for that to be found in upbringing and environment, obviously, but I can’t help but wonder (and for some reason I can’t quite put my finger on, to hope) that, to some extent, taste is ingrained from birth, via some tiny organelle or gland that hasn’t been discovered yet. I’d like to think I was both genetically configured and supernaturally preordained to like John Prine, and Matt to like Dave Matthews, and Annie to like Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, and on down the line. This type of explanation makes the most sense to me. Because you can’t decide to enjoy something. God knows I tried with Dave Matthews, in a last-ditch effort to preserve what remained of my sanity, but it never took. As it happens, I’ve succeeded in getting Matt into John Prine as well, yet I still have no burning desire to download “So Much to Say” (although I could probably sing it for you in its entirety). Which ultimately makes me feel kind of bad, like I should enjoy Dave Matthews in exchange for Matt validating my opinion about John Prine. But alas, it didn’t work that way, as I was not genetically configured nor supernaturally preordained to enjoy Dave Matthews. There isn’t a thing I can do. Maybe I should see a doctor about it, or an occult specialist. My new job has pretty good benefits. I should take advantage of them.

I listen to John Prine almost every day, and I force him on friends and loved ones whenever possible. This is a new thing for me, and I hate the things that come out of my mouth when I’m peddling his genius to people that clearly and understandably couldn’t possibly care less. But I can’t help it. I like him so much that I can’t comprehend the notion that others might not. It’s as if I alone have been introduced to chocolate chip cookies, and the only way anyone else on Earth can try them is if I mercilessly expound upon their virtues until they agree to give them a whirl.

Kind of a silly-looking man, no? He always has a smile and a funny hairdo for all to enjoy. His vocal stylings aren’t going to astound anyone with their tone or clarity. In fact, the man recovered from neck cancer, which ravaged an already shaky instrument. I read somewhere that before he had his operation, his doctor mentioned that the operation might ruin his singing voice, and John’s response was something to the effect of “Obviously, doc, you’ve never heard any of my albums”.

He can’t really play the guitar all that great, either. Not saying he’s a slouch, he just strums a few basic chords and picks a little. Nothing flashy. But the man can write a song. I’m a sucker for a catchy tune with a sad tale to tell, and he does that sort of thing better than anyone I’ve ever heard. He’s not afraid to be lyrically obtuse now and then, but his best stuff tells a story in plain English that occasionally sucker punches you with a brilliant (and generally heartbreaking) turn of phrase. And his voice and playing style work well with the material, complimenting the rough-around-the-edges characters that tend to narrate his songs.

It took me awhile to glom onto him. The first tune I ever heard by him was “Illegal Smile”, a sort of novelty little number I drunkenly downloaded at random one night that most people assume is about getting baked. It eventually grew on me, but it’s more of a fun singalong than a life-changing experience. Deciding to give him another chance, I downloaded something called “Christmas in Prison”, then promptly forgot to listen to it for two or three months. Then one fateful night or morning or whatever the day was doing, iTunes presented it to me on shuffle, while I was mostly likely playing Luxor or somesuch “match three like-colored balls” game. I heard a lyric. I paused the game, heard the rest of the song out, and played it again.

I waited for what I thought I heard, the best lyric about a girl in the history of American music. It came around again, and it was there, exactly as I’d heard it.

“Christmas in Prison” is a sad, spare waltz related from the perspective of a prisoner forced to spend the holidays apart from his girl due to the fact that, well, he’s in prison. It isn’t all bad: they got to have turkey for dinner (and there’s something innately funny and sad about the mentioning of the turkey; turkey doesn’t get brought up in songs too often, especially not tender love songs) and there are inexpensive presents and music.

Ah, the hell with it. These are the lyrics:

It was christmas in prison
And the food was real good
We had turkey and pistols
Carved out of wood
And I dream of her always
Even when I don’t dream
Her name’s on my tongue
And her blood’s in my stream.

Wait awhile eternity
Old mother nature’s got nothing on me
Come to me
Run to me
Come to me, now
We’re rolling
My sweetheart
We’re flowing
By god!

She reminds me of a chess game
With someone I admire
Or a picnic in the rain
After a prairie fire
Her heart is as big
As this whole goddamn jail
And shes sweeter than saccharine
At a drug store sale.

The search light in the big yard
Swings round with the gun
And spotlights the snowflakes
Like the dust in the sun
Its christmas in prison
Therell be music tonight
Ill probably get homesick
I love you. goodnight.

My guess and my hope is that the same lyric that struck me struck you. At the end of the day, what guy doesn’t want a girl who reminds him of a chess game with someone he admires? Lyrics come and go, and most of them only mean anything to the person who wrote them, if even that, but that first time you hear a favorite…man, there really isn’t anything like it. You’re only solution is to track down everything else that guy or gal ever recorded. Which can occasionally lead to disappointment, a sad realization that you’ve already bumbled upon that musician’s finest moment. Needless to say, in this case a happier outcome awaited me.

John Prine on unrequited love, from “One Red Rose”: What I never knew I never will forget.

That lyric makes me want to kick him right in the balls. He has ruined the very concept of unrequited love for any writer of any medium who may have cared to expound upon it. Everything that need be said on the subject is right there in that eight word lyric. I hate it when people are good at things.

John Prine on aging, from “Hello in There”: Old trees just grow stronger/And old rivers grow wilder every day/Old people just grow lonesome.

John Prine on Jesus, from “Jesus the Missing Years”, in which Prine imagines what Jesus did with his time during his less-documented adolescence:

Wine was flowing so were beers
So Jesus found his missing years
He went to a dance and said this dont move me
He hiked up his pants and he went to a movie
On his thirteenth birthday he saw “Rebel Without a Cause”
He went straight on home and invented Santa Claus

and

So he grew his hair long and threw away his comb
And headed back to Jerusalem to find mom, dad and home
But when he got there the cupboard was bare
Except for an old black man with a fishing rod
He said “Whatcha gonna be when you grow up?”
Jesus said “God.”

In every John Prine song there’s always a lyric I especially look forward to, but that hardly means it’s a chore to sit through everything surrounding it. I listen to John Prine every day, and on a lazy hot Saturday evening you can occasionally find me engaging in a beery singalong with myself, an enormous and outdated monitor, a blaring pair of headphones, and a guitar with a missing high-E string. I’m not gonna say everything he touches turns to gold. On occasion he’ll try to get a little too self-consciously cute, or he’ll try to craft a song out of nonsense lyrics that don’t add up to much. Believe me, I notice when he’s not at his best. But even his weakest work is rarely dull, and coming across a song by him that isn’t perfect is almost a relief, a reassuring reminder that he isn’t an otherworldly song machine from the planet Wondermagic.

All right, I’m staring to annoy myself with all the blather, so I’ll cut it short here, with the exceptions of posting the lyrics to arguably my favorite Prine song, “Sam Stone”, which devastatingly accounts for the listless life of a beaten-down war veteran, and an obligatory video of him singing it. Seeing him perform this song live at the Troy Saving Bank Music Hall is far and away my favorite concert memory. It was during the portion of the show where he played a solo set, sans backup musicians. Without bothering with introductions, he just launched into it, him and a guitar, and 2/3 of the way through his backup guitarist and bassist wandered onstage and joined him, almost as an afterthought, as though they didn’t want to be left out of this one. No doubt it was all part of the act, but it worked, and it pretty well wrecked Annie and I. It’s as pretty as it is sad, horribly sad, and no songs come to mind that draw me in so fully, like a terrible but important memory.

Sam Stone came home,
To his wife and family
After serving in the conflict overseas.
And the time that he served,
Had shattered all his nerves,
And left a little shrapnel in his knee.
But the morphine eased the pain,
And the grass grew round his brain,
And gave him all the confidence he lacked,
With a Purple Heart and a monkey on his back.

Chorus:
There’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes,
Jesus Christ died for nothin’ I suppose.
Little pitchers have big ears,
Don’t stop to count the years,
Sweet songs never last too long on broken radios.

Sam Stone’s welcome home
Didn’t last too long.
He went to work when he’d spent his last dime
And Sammy took to stealing
When he got that empty feeling
For a hundred dollar habit without overtime.
And the gold rolled through his veins
Like a thousand railroad trains,
And eased his mind in the hours that he chose,
While the kids ran around wearin’ other peoples’ clothes…

Sam Stone was alone
When he popped his last balloon
Climbing walls while sitting in a chair
Well, he played his last request
While the room smelled just like death
With an overdose hovering in the air
But life had lost its fun
And there was nothing to be done
But trade his house that he bought on the G, I. Bill
For a flag draped casket on a local heroes’ hill

And here’s the man himself singing it live, in all his cragginess. If you like this, I strongly urge you to track down the studio version. Hell, I strongly urge you to track down everything the guy ever did. If you do, I swear I’ll shut up about him. Seriously, not another word. On my honor. John Prine? Why, I’ve never heard of the man. Is that a gentleman with whom you have become acquainted in the midst of your day-to-day travails? Because his name certainly conjures not even the faintest glimmer in my mind. What was him name again? Ron Fine? Lon Dine? Flon Gline? No idea, I’m afraid. Sorry.