Big Country: The Ultimate Collection DVD (PCR #193)
Wow...it's certainly a pleasant surprise to discover a resident Big Country fan at PCR! They're few & far between! Many thanks to Vinnie B. for the BC mention on COUCH POTATO CONFESSIONS. Like Vinnie, I have been a HUGE fan of the band since their debut album "The Crossing" back in '82. "In a Big Country" has to be one of the most rousing rock singles of all time, mixing the old (the sound of traditional Scottish bagpipes) with the new (the inception of New Wave, very modern at the time). BC proved with "The Crossing" that they could do so much more than write a hit single; the album is a true masterpiece with every song a winner, from the thundering singles "Harvest Home" and "Fields of Fire" to the heroic "The Storm".
The fab four, singer/guitarist Stuart Adamson, drummer Mark Brezicki, bassist Tony Butler, and guitarist Bruce Watson, immediately proved to be tremendous talents, creating a big, widescreen sound they were soon to be famous for. Unlike themes of other New Wave bands/songs of the time, BC 'accentuated the positive', driving home the notion that the ordinary man can triumph under the most dire of circumstances. BC were also famous in their home country of Scotland for creating a sense of nationalism and Scottish pride (observe how many Scottish flags wave at their concerts). It always moved me when the whole crowd would literally shout the words to "Chance" as Stuart sings: "Oh, Lord, where did this feeling go? Oh, Lord, I never felt so low-w-w!!!"
Next up for the anxious fans of the band was the 1984 EP "Wonderland", which of course featured the popular single of the same name, one of BC's best songs. The music video was filmed in Portland, Oregon.
BC's sophomore album, 1984's "Steeltown", though lacking the 'monetary success' of its predecessor, was still a sweeping exploration of the themes explored in "The Crossing", and continues to be a favorite of fans to this day. Personally, my favorite single from the album is probably "Just a Shadow". The first single from the album, "Where the Rose is Sown", I recall seeing for the first time at a Halloween party in 1984! I remember leaving the party games at that time and plopping down in front of the telly to watch the video; the other Halloweenies were wondering what the heck I was doing. "But it's Big Country", I responded!
Like "The Crossing", "Steeltown" is chock full of masterpieces. Were I to list them all, I'd be listing the every track of the CD. More faves: "Come Back to Me" and "Girl with the Grey Eyes". By this time, BC were poised to be one of Britain's top groups, up there with Simple Minds and U2 vying for the "Best U.K. Band" moniker, not that they were particularly interested in that title; I suspect they were focused on creating great music. "Steeltown" also marked the departure of the bagpipe-influenced sound exemplified by "The Crossing", instead opting for a more toned-down guitar-driven sound. This was a major sticking point with fans and non-fans, who expected all of BC's songs to be as driving and bagpipe-like as "In a Big Country".
1986 was another banner year for the band, releasing their popular third album "The Seer", which was more singles-driven than conceptual. In fact, it featured the band's biggest hit since '82s "In a Big Country", called "Look Away". The great singles didn't stop there: "The Seer", "The Teacher", "Hold the Heart", "One Great Thing" and the masterful "Eiledon" drove home the fact that BC was a band to be reckoned with. "The Seer" featured guest vocals by Kate Bush on the title track.
Then, like a ton of bricks, the late 1980s and 1990s inflicted its venomous bite on pop culture. The Beastie Boys, Milli Vanilli, and Nirvana were quick to replace New Wave bands as the genres of choice in the rock & roll world. Yes, things started changing forever. BC was one of few New Wave bands to take on that change while still remaining true to their roots, which translated to overwhelming artistic, but not financial, success.
1988 was a cruel year. On the horizon New Wave fans saw the fading of their music as rap and heavy metal became overwhelmingly popular. Perhaps influenced by this phenomenon, BC played up to this new crowd to a slight degree (just look at Bruce Watson's haircut during the time) upon the release of "Peace in Our Time"; their fourth album. While not at their best, the album did claim even more great singles to add to BC's resume: the classic "King of Emotion" and "Broken Heart (Thirteen Valleys)".
In the following few years, it seemed like BC had almost faded from memory, until 1990 when PolyGram released "Through a Big Country - Greatest Hits" (an import) which featured a great new single: "Save Me", which once again showcased outstanding guitar work by the band. In the second half of BC's career, which was soon to follow, fans would see them more as an overlooked band (to the '90s kids) who had tremendous talent that unfairly never got their due in this new musical landscape.
When all seemed lost, I recall a friend coming up to me in '93 shouting "Hey, there's a new Big Country single that they're actually playing on the radio!"! He was right. One of the local rock stations was playing "The One I Love", a track from their new (back then) CD; it seemed that BC were back in top form, rocking harder than they ever have before. The new CD was called "The Buffalo Skinners", and it rocked the house down. I suppose officially in 1993 they were a rock band, as opposed to more traditional New Wave, with hard-driving songs like "Seven Waves", "The Long Way Home", and "Alone". Once fans got over the initial shock of BC's updated sound, they were soon to discover that the new CD was one of their best, musically a step in the right direction after the somewhat tepid "Peace in Our Time". "The Buffalo Skinners" produced a great ballad amidst their harder songs, called "Ships", which, along with the single "No Place Like Home" was reworked from an imported CD they released in 1991 called "No Place Like Home".
A few fans grumbled about the new 'rockin'' sound, but I found the CD to be extremely good. It was something different and a nice temporary departure from their early sound. Mainstream success continued to elude the band, as it would do for the remainder of their career.
In 1995 BC seemed to hearken back to their roots with their excellent release "Why the Long Face?". The songs were a perfect combo of the "new sound" generated on the "Buffalo Skinners" album (such as "You Dreamer") and the old sound, as exemplified by songs like "One in a Million" and "I'm Not Ashamed". Like their previous album, "Why the Long Face?" was not noticed much by the mainstream, but loyal fans adored the work.
It should be noted that in the 1990s, BC produced an amazing selection of material for their fans to access. I can't think of another New Wave band that has made as many rarities, B-sides, and live gigs available to their fans as Big Country; so much in fact that one can hardly keep up with it (most are imports)! Here are just a few: "Brighton Rock", "Without the Aid of a Safety Net" (which features great renditions of "Harvest Home" and "Just a Shadow"), "Rarities I-III", "Kings of Emotion - the Best of Big Country", "Come Up Screaming", "Eclectic" and "King Biscuit". Little did I realize that the sheer amount of previously unreleased material was to be a harbinger of bad news to come; as if Stuart Adamson wanted to put out all his music to his fans before the worst was to happen.
In 1999, BC were to release their last album, entitled "Driving to Damascus", which I consider to be somewhat of a letdown. Eclipsing the release of the CD was the awful news that lead singer/guitarist Stuart Adamson committed suicide on Dec. 16, 2001 in of all places, Hawaii - thousands of miles from his homeland in Scotland. This was a tremendous blow to not just BC fans, but to our generation who grew up with their music. Everyone considered BC a band who inspired greatness, whose message was that the ordinary could triumph in the most harsh of circumstances if he just stood tall; fans never thought this message was to be shattered by such a cowardly act as suicide as perpetrated by our beloved hero, Stuart Adamson. To put things into perspective, however, it was brought to light that Stuart had depression and substance abuse issues, which can make one do tragic, sometimes permanent harm to themselves and people around them.
If there is a bright side to look upon, I would have to say that we all should be thankful that BC survived into the new millennium, leaving behind a body of work that is virtually unequalled in scope and brevity. New Wave titans such as The Edge, Simple Minds' Jim Kerr, David Bowie, and The Alarm's Mike Peters all recognize BC's contributions to Rock & Roll, and BC will forever be recognized as one of the great ones in all of British rock royalty.
I would like to quickly address a few of Vinnie's comments: I disagree that BC was never embraced in America. I think they were embraced on a large scale in the years '82-'84, when they were at the peak of their popularity. To my knowledge, their only concert visit to Tampa Bay was for "The Crossing" tour back in 1983 (if I'm wrong, readers, please correct). Sadly, I did not attend that show, and have never seen Big Country live, although I came close to flying out to the U.K. to see them in the years preceding the death of Stuart Adamson. Yes, it is true BC had a great career focusing on British/European fans throughout most of the 1990's (much like the Norwegian band a-ha has been doing for years now). Also, many of BC's videos were played on MTV besides "In a Big Country": "Fields of Fire", "Look Away", "Wonderland", "Where the Rose is Sown", and "One Great Thing" were all played. MTV also played BC's famous 1983 New Year's Eve gig at the Barrowlands in Scotland, one of my proud laserdisc artifacts!
By the way, Vinnie, I ordered my DVD copy of BC: The Ultimate Collection in part to your review!
Now, 2 years after Stuart Adamson's death, I implore BC fans and everyone who grew up in the early '80s to keep BC's memory alive. BIG COUNTRY 4-EVER!!!
Matt's Rail (PCR #193)
I got a kick at the dreaded "scare letter" to Matt Drinnenberg by the notorious Mr. Ferry. Ferry comes off much more crazy than threatening. Is this guy for real? Who the hell is bankrolling his lawyer?
Mug Shots from Hell (PCR #192)
Doesn't Glen Campbell look like he's in a wind storm?
S&S IV (PCR #194)
Nole, great coverage of the event, as usual. (Thank you, sir!--N) I was especially moved by your acknowledgment that SS4 was headed up by Fanboys, not just film fans. (Hey, I calls 'em like I sees 'em. --N) One neat thing about being a Crazed Fanboy (at least to me) is the camaraderie we all share by our love of the past (esp. the '70s), and our eagerness to spread the word to others (I guess that's why it has always bothered me to read non-Fanboy film reviews on PCR, like "The Cat in the Hat" and "Love Actually", no disrespect intended to Mike Smith), and it's nice when our own (namely Renegade Films' Rick Danford, Kerry Hogan, and Porl Denicolo) set out to do a Fanboy-friendly film festival.
I found the 2nd bi-annual festival to be more comfortable and laid-back than the others. Unfortunately, I didn't get to see any of the films because I was too busy yuckin' it up with fellow filmmakers out in the lobby.
I think a lot of people were impressed by Fangoria.com and The Horror Channel's own Uncle Creepy, the Master of Scareimonies. His humor, improvisation and stunning knowledge of independent films (both horror and non-horror) made UC the perfect choice for the big occasion. I'm proud to say that UC's first Tampa Bay film festival host gig was the horror-themed Halloween Horror Picture Show, which was a team-up of my own Metropol Productions and Enigma/Renegade Films in association with other local horror filmmakers, such as Chris Woods and Nolan himself.
Because I haven't seen most of the films (except for half of Chris Woods' "To Live Is To Die", which I worked on), I unfortunately can't comment on them. I did see the winner in the "Saints" category: "Ant Muzak" (Nolan's favorite). Being a HUGE Adam Ant fan (as is Rick Danford), I found "Ant Muzak" to be a neat homage to the band. Okay, it wasn't achingly funny, but the star did the best Adam Ant impersonation since Billy Crystal. I especially liked the guest appearance by Sigue Sigue Sputnik. I also got to see Katherine Leis' short thriller "Run" for the second time (the film made its Tampa Bay debut at the Halloween Horror Picture Show) - loved the ending!!! Chris Woods and I will get together soon so I can partake in "Too Live is to Die" in its entirety, plus his well-received trailer for the upcoming feature "Pop".
Another local boy, fellow filmmaker and co-worker, Andrew "Window Licker" Allan showcased his latest comedy short "The Joke Explainer" at the festival to an enthusiastic crowd. TJE is the first of a trilogy of comedic shorts soon to come from this talented funnybone tickler. TJE actually premiered at the "Filthy" premiere back on August 29th, 2003 at Parkside Theaters.
I wish I got the chance to see John Lewis' "Permanent Job", but not arriving to the festival until 8pm, I completely missed it. Hopefully John will give me the opportunity to see it sometime in the near future. I have an idea for John's next project: How about a semi-autobiographical feature film about what it was like growing up in the '60s and '70s being an exploitation film fan in the Tampa Bay area? I'm sure he has some great stories to tell (as does Nole and the gang, I'm sure - Nole, can you say "Spawn of Slithis"?) about, for example, seeing "The Vampire Lovers" at the Gulf-to-Bay Drive-In back in '72. God, what I would have given to have been there.
All-in-all it was another great film festival created by the Renegade boys, and we should be thankful as a Fanboy film community that they undertake this great project twice a year; it's really put this area on the map.
Battlestar Melodramatica (PCR #194 and Lettercol 194)
As a Crazed Fanboy, I have to address the issue of Science-Fiction, Horror, and Fantasy "purity". Most PCR readers grew up in the '70s/early '80s and have a solid idea what the meaning of good sci-fi and horror is ("Heavy Metal" = Good; "Babylon 5" = Bad). I know we all have our own opinions about what is "good" sci-fi/horror, be it mainstream, middle-of-the-road, sleazy exploitation, or bad movies, but as Crazed Fanboys we MUST speak out when memories are desecrated by the Great Satan which is the Sci-Fi Channel (as well as other media entities), who are guilty of taking beloved shows/movies/literary works ("Dune" and now "Battlestar Galactica") and condemning them to a level of ineptness so insulting that it causes shock and disbelief to veteran Fanboys.
As usual, the Sci-Fi channel has f**ked up so royally that one has to wonder how they get the money to produce these sub-mediocre extravaganzas that play on their lousy network. I can't wait until the Horror Channel debuts, so it can kick the Sci-Fi Channel's ass out of the park (hopefully for good). How dare they take a show from the exalted 1970's and "update" it for a "hip, new generation" - they should dream up their own min-series instead of recycling those from the '70s. Nope, scratch that; they'd screw it up anyway. How can you top the original designs of the Vipers, Cylon Raiders, Battlestars, and the Cylons themselves? It amazes me that with all the CGI technology we have nowadays, this "new era" can't hope to top anything that came out of the '70s and early-to-mid '80s in terms of design, quality, and esthetics of what is great science-fiction and horror.
Most filmmakers today take the inspirations they grew up with and throw them out the door in terms of artistic influence they infuse their work with (the curse of my generation). It's safer not to pay homage to Lucas, Landis, Corman, etc., rather they make their productions look like TV commercials and music videos with plenty of CGI to disguise the lack of character, story, and original ideas. Guess what? Fans still watch. Shame on them; there ought to be a law. If we all didn't watch, they wouldn't be making this crap.
I think it is the responsibility of each and every Crazed Fanboy to switch off those "works" which do not meet the criteria of Fanboy standards. This does not apply to motion pictures produced from the silents to 1986. Every movie and TV show post-1986 should be evaluated from veteran Crazed Fanboys who are rooted in the 1970's (perhaps as a council) to recommend to fans if the presented work is fit for viewing - kind of like the MPAA. Over time, this may help to extinguish the production of such impending atrocities like the new version of "Walking Tall" starring "The Rock" (Jesus...), "Hercules/Xena", and the "new" Battlestar Galactica. I'm completely serious about this.
In future generations, when those of us who lived in the '70s die out, a new council will have to be schooled on what exactly it was like in the 1970's so they can continue to cast judgment. I suggest a "Clockwork Orange"-type viewing of the following films:
"The Incredible Melting Man"
"Over the Edge"
"The Devil's Nightmare"
Round-the-clock viewings of "Quark", "Ark II", "Land of the Lost" and the "Planet of the Apes" TV series
"My Breakfast with Blassie"
"The Demon Lover"
"Don't Be Afraid of the Dark"
"The House that Wouldn't Die"
"Empire of the Ants"
They should also be schooled in Famous Monsters, Creepy, Eerie, Starlog, Heavy Metal, Squa Tront, and Fangoria publications dated from 1971-1980. (The mere mention of those classic 'zines brings a tear to me eye--they are largely responsible for the life-changing decision to screw up my life by becoming a web publisher. And anyone who mentions the relatively obscure Squa Tront shows fan smarts above and beyond! You scare me sometimes, kiddo--N)
Furthermore, I think each Crazed Fanboy should have a status rating. The aforementioned council should convene to summarize the applications (I vote that Nolan be the Mon Mothma of the council) and rate the applicant in terms of age and what pop culture the applicant identifies as what they like to experience. Now, those of us who grew up in the '70s and claim that "Squirm" is one of our favorite films will immediately achieve God-like status within the Council of Crazed Fanboys (hey, I like that name!). The younger whippersnappers who think that "Dark Angel" and "The Phantom Menace" are great works of sci-fi/fantasy should be given a dog's status subject to hazing and humiliation. They must be cured by watching "The Hills Have Eyes" 10 times straight, along with 7 episodes of "Night Gallery". Horror fans (as opposed to sci-fi) have a greater understanding of what makes a good horror film and are exempt from most forms of scrutiny of the council. Strong horror fan outbursts against remakes of "Dawn of the Dead" and "Psycho" give them this privilege.
We have to realize that a disaster took place in 1987 that changed the genre world forever - the demise of the science-fiction and horror film as the leading genres in favor of celebrity-driven dramas and comedies. We have yet to recover from this crisis as Fanboys, and we must fight. As in the late '70s, we must assemble a gang of talented maverick filmmakers who reflect the likes of Lucas, Spielberg, de Palma, Carpenter, Craven, and the other great ones from that era; and start over, making great genre pictures for a new generation.
It can, and will, be done.
- Andy Lalino.
To send an email to Letters to the Editor write to: Crazedfanboy1@aol.com. Any emails sent to this address will be assumed intended for publication unless you specifically instruct me not to. I can and do respond privately, if that is your preference. Frequently, it's both ways.---Nolan