History Comes Out of a Hat

The Bonzo Dog Band — Live 1968

(Bootleg, Wizardo Rekords 364)

Live 1968 cover insert
Live 1968 cover insert

You have no idea how long it’s taken me to lay hands on this bootleg! I’ve been a Bonzos collector for many years, and most of their non-album material is now easily tradeable on CD and DVD. This Live 1968 bootleg, though, has always been a bit mysterious, and very alluring. It’s been described in quite good detail on Ian Kitching’s Bonzo Dog Band website as being “a marvellous translucent pale blue with a red, black, green and white marbling”. They list the tracks as well, and although I’ve even seen photos of that marvelous marbling posted on the Internet, I’ve never seen a copy of the bootleg itself.

That was until I found the actual record on eBay. To my delight the vinyl turned out to be in pristine condition. Often these old, second-hand records have been kicked around for a long time, but this honestly looks like it’s just been sitting on a shelf for 50 years. That said, I have to warn you that the quality of the tracks themselves is not great. They’re very muffled, some suffer from pitch distortion, and “Trouser Press” even sounds like someone jostled the volume control while bootlegging it. These problems are not due to the quality of my transfer but because these tracks were recorded off the radio onto tape, and then pressed onto vinyl. Although I could attempt some amateur remastering of the recording, I’ve chosen not to edit it at all. Most of these tracks are available from other sources in better quality, so I figured I would preserve the bootleg as is and let it speak for itself. That said, there are some possibly unique recordings on this, so read on below…

I recorded it in stereo at 48,000 Hz, but I don’t know whether the content of the record is actually stereo. The label says “compatible for stereo”, which I assume means it was cut with a stereo stylus, but that doesn’t mean the songs are stereo. BBC Radio 1 transmitted in mono at the time, but often borrowed stereo transmitters from other stations. Long story short, buggered if I know. You may reduce some surface noise by mixing the stereo down to mono, but I figured I’d give it to you in stereo just in case.

For the collectors, here are zips of Live 1968 as lossless FLACs and Live 1968 as MP3s. Below is a track-by-track breakdown of the bootleg with notes on each one.

EDIT: Wooh! I hadn’t realized how many hardcore Bonzos fans were out there. I’m very grateful to the folks who have commented below and corrected me on some of the details of these tracks. I’ve updated my notes with their feedback.

01 — Shirt

Recorded October 1968, broadcast on Top Gear 1968-10-201.

02 — I’m The Urban Spaceman

Recorded 1968-04-292, broadcast on Top Gear 1968-05-053.

03 — Excerpt From ‘Brain Opera’

Mr. Nzo in the comments has stated this comes from a performance at the Playhouse Theatre, 1969-03-31, and broadcast on Top Gear, 1969-04-13. If this is accurate then it dates the Live 1968 bootleg as being made in 1969 or after.

04 — Canyons Of Your Mind

Although I originally thought this must be a live performance from Top Gear because it’s introduced by a DJ, a very diligent fan in the comments pointed out this doesn’t correspond with the Top Gear version. Upon relistening I think it’s actually just the album version being played by John Peel on the radio. It suffers from the same pitch distortion as the rest of the boot.

05 — Hello Mabel

This version is incorrectly included in a collection of Top Gear recordings I have. It is actually just the album version.

06 — The Bride Stripped Bare By ‘Bachelors’

Recorded October 1968, broadcast on Top Gear 1968-10-204.

07 — Ready Mades

Recorded October 1968, broadcast on Top Gear 1968-10-205.

08 — Trouser Press

This is actually just a copy of the album version from The Doughnut in Granny’s Greenhouse.

09 — Canyons Of Your Mind

Recorded off TV from Colour Me Pop, 1968-12-216.

10 — Death Cab For Cutie

Clearly the version from the Beatles movie Magical Mystery Tour. You can hear John Lennon hooting for the strip show before the Bonzos come on stage. The first time my mother saw this part of the movie, she remarked, “What’s with all these tits? They’re blocking the view of my Bonzos.”

11 — Help!

Ah, did this one get me excited! On the face of it, it’s Neil Innes singing “Help!” in the style of Bob Dylan, and it’s a hoot. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. But then logic kicked in. I had never heard of this Bonzos track before, which meant that it was either incredibly rare, or that it was not actually the Bonzos.

A bit of Internet investigation later, and it turns out to be a 1968 single by The Family Frog, who should be commended for their great parody of Dylan’s singing. From what I’ve read this track has been included on a bunch of vinyl bootlegs, probably because the bootleggers ran out of material to fill the record and thought the parody of Dylan was a pretty good larf. While we can’t claim this as a Bonzos track, I’ve included it here anyway as it is still part of the boot.

Notes
  1. Vince Nzo in the comments section. The transmission date matches that given on the same recording on the “Charity Shop Tapes”. []
  2. The Complete BBC Recordings (Srange Fruit, 2002). []
  3. Vince Nzo. []
  4. Vince Nzo. Matches the track on the “Charity Shop Tapes” which gives the same broadcast date. []
  5. Vince Nzo. Matches the track on the “Charity Shop Tapes” which gives the same broadcast date. []
  6. The Complete BBC Recordings. []

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Justin Bieber’s Case of Caligula Syndrome

Fame as Psychological Abuse

It’s not my idea, just so you know, but I’m going to name it anyhow: Caligula Syndrome. Yeah, I could have called it Hyperactive Flapdoodle Syndrome, but I was overcome by a fatal bout of seriousness at the last moment. So what is Caligula Syndrome? Well, you might know a thing or two about Caligula from popular culture. He was the Roman emperor who had sex with his sister, declared war on Neptune, and made himself a god. Gore Vidal and Malcom McDowell made a rather naughty movie about him in the late 70s. There is, however, a theory that Caligula wasn’t the mad, murderous psychopath that popular culture remembers him as, but rather a wildly inexperienced and tactless young man who found himself — entirely by accident — as one of the world’s most powerful people. If this is Caligula Syndrome, then I think Justin Bieber has it.

I discovered Caligula through his portrayal by John Hurt in I, Claudius (1976). With the exception of the baby-eating scene, a surprising amount of what’s in that show was drawn from real historical sources, particularly those by Suetonius. Let’s run through a little recap shall we? Caligula was the son of Germanicus, a young, handsome, and popular member of the imperial family. Germanicus died young and left the nation bereft, whereupon all their love for Germanicus instantly transferred to his kids. Think about when Princess Diana died1 — Princes William and Harry were never more popular than in the aftermath of their mother’s demise. Have a little cry to the tune of some Elton and you can do no wrong. Well the same thing happened to Caligula.

In ancient Rome the way you groomed someone for succession to the throne was to fast-track them through the political system. It was a way of teaching them about politics, giving them some public exposure, and allowing them to accumulate some responsibility before they had to take over as emperor and actually run things. Caligula had two older brothers whom the emperor Tiberius was fast-tracking like this, but as the Julio-Claudian family whittled each other away Caligula was the only candidate left. But here’s the problem — he had never been fast-tracked like his brothers had. He was young, enormously popular, and had absolutely zero political experience. When Tiberius finally kicked the bucket, the entire empire got handed to Caligula on a big silver platter. He was all of 24 years old.

At first it was like a dream come true. The sour, unlikeable, million-year-old Tiberius was dead. His blood-letting treason trials were over. A son of Germanicus was on the throne. As some of his first acts, Caligula burned all of Tiberius’ treason records, recalled political exiles, and paid huge dividends to the Roman people. “So much for Caligula as emperor,” Suetonius writes. “We must now tell of his career as a monster.” Caligula fell ill. He was in a coma for some time, and when he recovered his senses something had gone wrong. He had changed. The emperor was mad.

At this point you can make up whatever you like and it won’t be any wilder than what was reported about Caligula — he had sex with his sisters, he threatened to make his horse a consul, he made himself a god, and he declared war on Neptune and had his soldiers go down to the beach to collect seashells. There is a school of thought, though, that this wasn’t quite true. Caligula may simply have been a tactless, politically inexperienced young man who managed to bollocks things up in a colossal way2. Think about it: we have a 24-year-old who has never done lick of work in his life. He knows nothing about politics. All he does know is that he’s adored by millions of people who want him to run the world. Understandably Caligula goes a bit feral. He’s rude to ambassadors, he plays pranks on the stuffy senators who drone on about things like the grain supply, and he spends every last penny in the treasury on sexy parties. He’s never had any boundaries and now he’s gorging himself spectacularly. Does that sound like anyone else we know?

Justin Bieber is an interesting case to me. It’s not that I object to bad music or singers who are way more popular than their talent deserves. That kind of thing has been happening for ages and I don’t especially care. If anyone actually enjoys Bieber’s music then good luck to them — they can have it. What’s interesting to me is Bieber’s psychology. He was absurdly young when he was discovered — only 14 years old. From there he was thrust into the limelight and rapidly became one of the most popular singers in the world. He can’t go anywhere without being mobbed. He has had to cancel gigs because so many fans were going mental that it would have been dangerous to appear on stage. He’s swimming in more cash than Scrooge McDuck and has the adulation of millions of fans. Of course he’s going to go berserk.

It’s difficult to deal with fame at the best of times, but the people who cope best are the ones who’ve had many years of hard work and often failure behind them before they strike success. That gives them a sense of proportion and a realistic estimation of their abilities so that they don’t get carried away when success does come. J.K. Rowling has always been admirably graceful in success because she spent years struggling before she got where she is now.

The problem with Bieber is that fame hit him too young. Your teenage years are when you get knocked back. You do the wrong thing, you say something stupid, you treat someone badly, and you get a (metaphorical) smack for it. You aspire to and begin to achieve things on your own. It’s when you find out who you are, what you’re capable of, and how you’re going to interact with the world around you. That can only happen if you have boundaries to work within. Teenagers are unbearable twats at the best of times. Give a teenager unlimited money and fame and they’re going to think they’re god. Justin Bieber has never failed and never had to struggle for anything he has. It has all been given to him, like the empire was given to Caligula. Is it any wonder he pisses in public, takes monkeys into international airports, demands to be carried up the Great Wall of China, laughs off the charge of drunken drag-racing, and disputes traffic tickets in his $90,000 chrome-plated monstrosity?

I worry that this doesn’t end well for Bieber. There is a very bad fall in store for anyone whose popularity far outstrips their talent. Bieber believes he’s the greatest thing the world has ever seen, but I think in very short order he’s going to lose his shine and he’s not going to know how to deal with it. Can you imagine what Justin Bieber will be like at 30? How about 40? 50? It’s hard to picture, because this kind of trajectory can’t hold. It’s a rather sad thought when you consider the last point at which Bieber could have lived a normal life. Fame, like religious indoctrination, should rightly be considered a form of child abuse. Bieber was probably a perfectly normal 14-year-old. Now he’s a train barreling along on melting tracks at a frightening speed. There’s a reason people tell you to read history: this has all happened before.

Notes
  1. I’m not the first person to compare Princess Diana with Germanicus. Both were enormously popular and attractive members of the ruling family. Both labored under unpopular rulers who were sour and withdrawn. In the case of Germanicus this was the emperor Tiberius and his mother Livia. In the case of Diana this was her ex-husband Prince Charles and his mother Queen Elizabeth. Both Diana and Germanicus died young, leaving a lot of blame on the rulers and a lot of adoration for their surviving children. []
  2. I can’t be more enthusiastic about Anthony Barrett’s biography Caligula: The Corruption of Power. It’s a riveting read, and Barrett knows the ancient sources inside-out. []

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How To End The Simpsons

Mr. Snrub
“Hello. My name is Mr. Snrub.”

The Simpsons is a show that has long outlived its own relevance. In the 1990s it was easily one of the best things on TV — it was daring, funny, and best of all it had depth. The characters behaved (give or take) like real people. They tackled incredibly daring subjects for what was ostensibly a children’s cartoon. My favorite example is “Moaning Lisa”, in which Lisa learns it’s okay to be depressed even though the world is filled with people telling her to suck it up1. Can you imagine the show spending that much time on one character’s depression now? It has unfortunately become a string of gags. Plot and characterization have gone out the window as the writers and producers have worked themselves into a rut. It’s part of the problem you get when every episode has to end at the same place it started. Each episode is a hard reset. None of the characters ever changes. The result is that we’re left with a show that doesn’t even have the energy to end itself. They chug on mercilessly because they can’t do anything else, just going through the familiar motions.

Now in its 25th season a deadline is being imposed on The Simpsons from outside. Last year Marcia Wallace, the voice of Mrs. Krabappel, sadly passed away. The other cast members are no spring chickens either — Julie Kavner2 is 63, and Harry Shearer3 is 70. Most of the other actors are in their 50s. Long story short, this show can’t go on forever. They may be able to bumble past the loss of a minor character actor like Wallace, but once one of the show’s keystones passes away, they’re going to be forced to end it whether they like it or not. So go out now, with some dignity.

But this raises an interesting question — how the Hell do you end a show like The Simpsons? This is a show that has famously done everything, pulled every stunt, and is now just living off body fat. They’ve already pulled all the rabbits out of their hat (and then they ate the hat for good measure). In 2013 I was delighted to see they invited Guillermo del Toro to direct the opening sequence of “Treehouse of Horror XXIV” — easily one of the more original things they’ve done in recent years. Then it struck me. This is how you end it: call in a ringer. Only an outsider can blast away 25 years’ worth of accumulated cruft and give The Simpsons the send-off it deserves. It has to be an act of gleeful anarchy to end The Simpsons — of sheer pleasure in destroying something that we love so much and seeing it go out in a blaze of glory. That is the only thing that can break these lazy characters out of their routine and force them to react to something in a genuine way for the first time in 15 years.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is not the story of how The Simpsons should end, but it is the story of how I would end it.

Smithers gets cancer. Years of working at the nuclear power plant have taken their toll and the toxic love he’s had for Mr. Burns finally makes itself literal. He turns against Mr. Burns and lobbies to have the plant shut down. Burns confronts Smithers and warns him that he is meddling in things he doesn’t understand. Smithers makes a last-ditch bid for Burns’ love and finally tells him unambiguously how he feels. With ill grace Burns pretends to return Smithers’ affection, but Smithers realizes Burns is just doing this for selfish reasons and kicks him to the curb. The plant gets shut down and the police press charges against Mr. Burns. Burns is caught trying to skip town and is dragged back, desperate to leave, screaming incoherently about the terrible consequences the town has unleashed. But no-one believes him.

As the nuclear waste finally flushes itself out of Springfield’s water supply, the characters realize that the toxins are what has kept them the same age for the past 25 years. All the characters age 25 years in a day. Grandpa Simpson dies immediately. Marge and Homer are now old. Bart is 35, Lisa is 33, and Maggie is in her mid-20s. Amid the uproar Mr. Burns escapes, and Lisa is the only one who seems to notice or care. She realizes he is the only one who has not aged.

Bart is faced with the fact that he is nearly middle-aged, and he has wasted the first half of his life making slingshots and telling people to eat his shorts. He has no interests or skills that can serve him now that he finally has his independence. As he’s facing a stark future, he recalls the best time of his life so far was not tormenting Mrs. Krabappel and Principal Skinner. It was his friend/enemy relationship with Sideshow Bob, the only person who has ever given Bart a challenge that was worthy of his ingenuity. Bob is infirm now, and nearing the end of his life. Bart dedicates himself to giving Bob one last hurrah. He stages an elaborate Bob-esque plot to murder Bob, and Bob takes him up on this duel of wits with unbridled glee. Bart fakes his own death and allows Bob to think he’s won. Bob, having finally conquered his nemesis, doesn’t know what to do with himself as he faces a future where death is the only thing he can look forward to. But Bart has planned for this — he allows Bob to discover that Bart’s death was faked and that his arch-enemy is still out there, somewhere.

Homer and Marge have little left but each other. Homer’s job is gone and Marge’s two kids have vanished. The only one left is Maggie, who is a 25-year-old with the developmental age of a baby. She can’t talk. She can’t walk. Basically all this beautiful young woman can do is scream, spit, and crap herself. Marge wants to look after her, but she is too old to be looking after a mentally disabled adult. Homer isn’t much help because, never the healthiest man on the planet, he is now critically ill and bedridden in hospital.

Ned Flanders, having lost two wives4 and having aged terribly, loses his faith in God. He goes to the hospital at night where he confronts Homer and recounts all the cruel, callous things Homer has done to him, and how he has no reason not to kill Homer right now. He grabs Homer’s IV and bends the tube, cutting of the flow and causing Homer’s critical signs to waver. Flanders delivers a sinister speech about the meaning of life and death. Just as we think he’s about let Homer die, he releases the IV tube and leaves.

Lisa finally tracks down Mr. Burns and discovers that he had deliberately been experimenting on the inhabitants of Springfield. That is why he hasn’t got any older — he has kept his own supply of contaminated water that is keeping him young(ish). Lisa flies into a rage and nearly kicks the old man to death, but he is able to plead with her. Has his experiment really harmed anyone? Sure, Maggie is a wreck of an adult, but he has effectively given the inhabitants of Springfield 25 extra years of youth. If Maggie has lost her childhood, then Grandpa Simpson was given an extra adulthood. Lisa can’t quite fault this logic, though she can’t necessarily condone it.

Lisa returns to find her family in desperate need of her help. She has a mentally disabled sister, an elderly mother, and an infirm father. Lisa realizes she’s going to have to spend the rest of her life looking after these people. The bright future she always had in mind for herself is now no longer possible.

Meanwhile Milhouse has become a millionaire. The unreleased footage of his Radioactive Man movie has become a viral hit on the Internet and Milhouse is now a celebrity. He offers to marry Lisa and support her family. Lisa is faced with three terrible options: spending her life toiling to support her family; fleeing her responsibilities and leaving her family to rot; or marrying Milhouse for the money and enduring a loveless marriage to save everyone else.

Bart returns from baiting Sideshow Bob. He and Lisa — always at their best when working as a team — hatch a plan. They begin to chronicle the story of their family. They write The Simpsons from episode one onwards, and it becomes an enormous hit with the rest of the world. With the money they earn they are able to support their family.

The finale ends with Bart and Lisa being interviewed about their success by Conan O’Brien. He makes a sly reference to the monorail episode being a bit crap (in real life one of the episodes he wrote). He concludes by asking Lisa and Bart exactly where Springfield is located. As Lisa opens her mouth to reply, we cut to the closing credits.

Postscript: Itchy & Scratchy

No Itchy & Scratchy gag can be better than Worker & Parasite, but no writer can resist the chance to do their own, so I’m going to aim low.

Roger Meyers, Jr., maker of Itchy & Scratchy, buys the rights to the Star Wars franchise. He casts Itchy (the mouse) as Luke Skywalker, Scratchy (the cat) as Han Solo, and Poochie as Luke Skywalker’s son. Scratchy takes a shot at Itchy with a blaster, and Itchy turns to the camera and says, “Remember, kids — he shot first.” Itchy throws Scratchy to the Rancor while a bloated George Lucas/Jabba the Hutt cheers on. The Rancor is about to eat Scratchy, but Scratchy manages to jam himself into the Rancor’s mouth and prop the monster’s jaws open with his body. Itchy, ticked off, boards his X-wing, approaches Scratchy like the Death Star attack run, and fires two proton torpedoes into Scratchy’s mouth. Scratchy explodes like the Death Star.

On his way out of the cinema, the Comic Book Guy remarks, “Still a better movie than The Phantom Menace.”

Notes
  1. I suspect the writers also like this episode more than most, because despite the fact that “Bleeding Gums” Murphy only stars in two episodes and has been dead since season six, he’s still frequently used in publicity artwork. []
  2. Kavner is the voice of Marge, Patty, and Selma. []
  3. Shearer is the voice of Ned Flanders, Mr. Burns, and Principal Skinner, among others. []
  4. Maude Flanders died when the actress Maggie Roswell walked out over a pay dispute. Edna Krabappel hasn’t been written out yet, but Marcia Wallace has died so they’ll have to do something. I’m going to assume that the character dies too, although anything could happen, really. []

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