Every week, Ask The A.V. Club tackles readers' questions about pop culture. Sometimes we go straight to the source:
Lowercase N Isn't Lonely Any More
I've been promised a kiss on the cheek from the object of my affection if I can procure the name of the musicians behind the Sesame Street animated sequences "Capital I" and "Lowercase N." Please help!
Tasha Robinson would like to live in a capital I too:
I'm betting I'm not the object of your affection, Dustin, since we've never met, but I wanted to give you a kiss myself for reminding me about those two lovely little ditties. Hunting around a bit online, I learned two things: A lot of other people also want the answer to this question, and a few people seemed to think that the name of the performer was Steve Zuckerman, but no one seemed to have any concrete proof. So I found his website, which indicated he was a composer who'd worked on Sesame Street during the right era. But that didn't entirely answer the question, so I went a step further and contacted him for confirmation, letting him know exactly how much I loved those two songs, and asking him for the lowdown on their history. With his kind permission, I here reproduce the email he sent me:
Thanks so much for the praise. I was the writer-performer on both of those animated segments. It was just me doing the harmony and the melody—I think it was using a 4-track and bouncing tracks back and forth. That's pretty much how I did all of them.
I remember recording them around 1970 at Valentine Recording Studios (in the San Fernando Valley) for Fred Calvert Productions. I was just starting out (I had just turned 20) in my musical career as the studio's music director, and along with various other submitters, we proposed segments to CTW based on their rather detailed and voluminous source and research materials. In each of these segments, the songs were created first. The first segment (which I also performed and wrote) is still my personal favorite—"Imagination Rain," which ran for about 15 or 20 years.
I'm still very active in music production as a composer, producer, and orchestrator. In addition, I am president of a creative agency/production company (CreativeCombustion.tv) that specializes in product development, strategy, and execution for youth-related products and services.
Again, thanks. With your help, maybe I've finally made the transition from total obscurity to partial obscurity. What more could a guy ask for?
So there you have it. Steve Zuckerman, "Capital I" and "Lowercase N" composer-performer and all-around nice guy. Dustin, I highly recommend that the object of your affection check out his website, and particularly his lengthy credits list. Chances are, you've heard a lot more of his music in ads, cartoons, video games, TV shows, and films, without realizing it.
The Menace Of The Phantom Menace
My wife is pregnant with our first child. I'm very much looking forward to hanging out with the little scamp. Question: When the time comes, should I present the Star Wars movies to my child in sequential order (I-VI), or in the order our generation first saw them? Or should I hide the prequels upstairs alongside Daddy's "other" videos and pretend they don't exist? Hiding them seems like a good option for two reasons: 1) it eliminates the threat that the movies will make my kid dumber; 2) it eliminates any potential heartbreak that would result if—for some reason—the kid preferred the prequels. On the other hand, it would be kind of cool to tap the perspective of someone who watched them sequentially. Plus, if anybody could enjoy the prequels, it would be a kid, right?
Father-of-two Noel Murray responds:
As one of the only critics willing to admit to liking all three prequels, I'm probably the wrong guy to ask whether you should chuck 'em into a trunk. But I think you're on the right track when you say that seeing the movies again through your child's eyes might make them seem not so "bad." Trust me, you're going to watch a lot of crap with your children, to the point where you'll become a connoisseur. (Barney? Hateful. The Wiggles? Tolerable. The Backyardigans? Sublime.) Don't be surprised if Episode I looks like Gunga Din by the time you've digested enough Dora The Explorer.
So I say, let your child watch them all. In which order? Well, the major problem with the prequels is that to some extent, they make no sense if you haven't seen the original trilogy. Revenge Of The Sith in particular is chockfull of moments that only resonate if you know how they play out later in the story. In that sense, you're probably better off starting with A New Hope (or, as it should be called, Star Wars). On the other hand, if your childhood was anything like mine, you read series fiction in whatever order the public library had the novels available, and collected runs of old comics with gaps between issues. Kids don't really care much about continuity, so why not start with Return Of The Jedi and work backward? It'll really blow your kid's mind, and aside from the cute pictures, messing with heads is the best part of having children.
Think For Yourself, 'Cause We Won't Be There With You
A couple years ago, there was a song that was mildly popular on the local indie-rock station. The music was very sparse, if I remember, and there was a male and a female singer. All I really remember about the content is a line about being "indie-famous" and the chorus was something like "Just so you know, I can't allow myself to fall for you." Help?
Lately, we've been getting a handful of these every week—"What song is this?" questions that include lyrics. Most of the time, these can be solved immediately by putting those lyrics into a search engine. That was the case here, Alex; the day we got your question, a quick Yahoo search for "indie famous lyrics" called up the song "Fall 4 U" by Tullycraft. We were prepared to chew you out—and to warn people that we're done addressing questions that can be instantly solved with the most rudimentary search. But your question got back-burnered for a few weeks, and when we put together this column and ran the search again just to make sure, the song no longer instantly popped up. In fact, we couldn't find a reliable source for the lyrics. (Though the song sample on iTunes makes it clear that it's exactly what you were looking for.) So here's the deal, guys—we'll promise not to make fun of you for sending us questions that can be answered easily via Google or Yahoo if you promise to run searches on your own lyrics, film titles, etc. before emailing us with questions. Sound fair?
STUMPED NO MORE!
Last week, we asked you to answer some more questions on our behalf. And as usual, you did us proud:
Okay, there was a movie I loved as a kid. The main characters were, I think, three criminals. At the very end of the movie, they'd just evaded the cops, and were elated that they'd gotten away. The last line is when one character says, while driving a fast car, "Nothing can stop us now!" Then they accidentally hit a train and explode. The end. Any idea what that movie was? I'm pretty sure it was made in the '70s.
Sure enough, Lee, many people wrote in to identify this as 1974's Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, starring Peter Fonda and Susan George as the titular Larry and Mary. (The third person in the car is Larry's buddy Deke, played by Adam Roarke.) You can see the actual scene here; turns out the exact line is "Ain't nothing gonna stop us!", which may have hindered your web searches a bit.
In tipping us off to the title, respondent Matt Carson summed it up like this: "It's one of those existential car-chase movies from the '70s, kinda like Vanishing Point or the original Gone In 60 Seconds, where they just drive and drive and drive, because they're drivers, man." Tom Collins, who also wrote in with the correct answer, explains that he first saw that climactic crash in the opening credits of Lee Majors' TV series The Fall Guy. Those credits, viewable here, alternated scenes from the show with movie stunts of the sort Majors' stuntman character theoretically helped create. Enjoy.
I'm trying to remember the name of a band that I saw a few years ago. I remember one of their videos, set in perhaps the late 19th century, about a servant girl who is treated poorly by her employers. She is eventually contacted by a man (the frontman of the band) who lives in a world inside her mirror. I think eventually he pulls or entices her through to the mirror world, which is a lot cooler than the real one. I remember the lead singer had long dark hair and an ever-so-slightly gothic look. Help?
A number of people wrote in to suggest that you're thinking of "In The Shadows," by the gothy Finnish band The Rasmus. Helpful commentator Robyn provided this link to the music video on YouTube, and this link to a Wikipedia entry explaining all the variant videos of the song, which was a number-one chart hit in, er, New Zealand.
Many more people wrote in trying to convince us that you were thinking of A-ha's "Take On Me" video, probably because it also includes a singer pulling a girl through a barrier into another world, but The A.V. Club is going to have to follow the minority opinion on this one, given that the "Take On Me" video features a fluffy, pretty-boy biker who pulls a tousle-haired Madonna-wannabe through a comic-book page into an animated world, while the "In The Shadows" video Robyn linked to features, well, everything you specified, instead: the mirror world, the abused Victorian servant, the dark-haired gothy singer, and so forth.
Am trying to remember the name of a horror movie I saw on HBO back in the day when HBO and cable were new-fangled things. From what I remember, it was about an arrogant plastic surgeon who kills (?) others for personal gain, only to ultimately get his comeuppance in a horrifying scene where all his victims and/or friends (?) collectively rip open his face. Also, the piano song "Chopsticks" was a constant, near-surreal motif/theme throughout the movie.
Here's another one where the write-in vote was heavily divided. A lot of readers suggested you were thinking of the deeply creepy 1960 French film Eyes Without A Face, in which a surgeon murders young women so he can graft their faces onto his disfigured, faceless daughter. In the end (spoiler alert!), his victims do wreak some fatal vengeance, but it isn't the dead human ones who come after him.
But a few people suggested, a bit more plausibly considering the time frame and the source, that what you saw was an episode of HBO's early original series The Hitchhiker called "Face To Face." In that episode, extremely arrogant plastic surgeon Robert Vaughn botches an operation on a transsexual's face, and she comes back to cut him up for revenge. If this summary or these screencaps seem familiar, you've got yourself a winner, but we suspect this episode was heavily inspired by Eyes Without A Face, so in a sense, everybody here wins.
Then again, "Rob Zero" on our commentary boards suggested you were thinking of Mansion Of The Doomed, a mid-'70s horror film also based heavily on Eyes Without A Face, except in this version, a surgeon cuts out eyes to graft into the sockets of his blind daughter, then locks the eyeless victims in a basement prison. This one looks pretty ghastly, and our guess is that you would have remembered all the empty-socketed victims even if you hadn't remembered anything else about the story. But it does seem to meet your criteria. Unfortunately, no one remembered "Chopsticks" playing a major part in any of these, so it's possible we're all wrong, and you're thinking of yet another feature about a crazed surgeon laid low by a patient he wronged. Who knew that was a genre?
In Case You Missed It
Finally, Ask The A.V. Club reader Andy O. recently sent in a lengthy letter based on an earlier ATAVC column, in which Kyle Ryan stated that elaborate rock solos are masturbatory. Andy's key question: "Is improvisation in rock always bad?" Two of our writers had so much to say on that issue that they turned it into an A.V. Club Crosstalk instead of answering it here. If you didn't see it yesterday, you might want to check it out today.
Next week: The Lost before Lost, the Munich before Munich, and more. Send your questions to email@example.com.