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Ask The A.V. Club - May 8, 2008

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The Circle Game

I've seen a number of references lately to a "tree" chart that Rolling Stone published in the 1970s documenting all of Joni Mitchell's romantic liaisons in the music industry. She was quite offended by it, evidently. I want to see it, but I can't find it anywhere on the Internet. Is it possible that some censorship is in effect, or are my Google skills just feeble?

Carlton W King

Noel Murray is willing to risk the ire of a 65-year-old:

Carlton, I consulted my DVD-ROM of Rolling Stone: Cover To Cover, which contains every page of every issue from 1967 to May of last year, and I believe I've found the chart you're referring to. It's called "Hollywood's Hot 100," and it ran in the issue cover-dated February 3, 1972. It's a two-page spread—with no byline, tellingly—that lays out "Southern California's Aristocracy Of Amplification, a High Society whose membership comes from (loosely) half a dozen identifiable 'families.'" The intro goes on to explain, "It is almost as if rock & roll has been given the ultimate legitimacy of having its own haute monde. It is fitting it happened in Tinseltown. There is, of course, no way for these relationships to be absolutely accurate, comprehensive, or sensibly organized, but if you'll bear with us, dear reader, if you'll follow them flowing (and dotted) lines, that bouncing ball, if you'll track the trail of broken hearts, why, some patterns might begin to emerge sufficient to Explain all Mysteries."


As you might've guessed, "Hollywood's Hot 100" isn't just about Joni. It features dozens upon dozens of SoCal and UK rock stars, grouped by label or "scene," with lines connecting those who'd worked together or slept together. Joni Mitchell appears smack in the middle of the second page, represented by a lipstick print, and connected by arrows to James Taylor, Russ Kunkel, and each individual member of Crosby, Stills & Nash. On the surface, her depiction is fairly benign, but as "Kakki B" points out on the "Only Joni" newsgroup, "The majority of the connective lines on the chart signify musical alliances, with the romantic alliances being sort of secondary. Joni does not even rate her own box as a musician on the mostly male dominated chart. If you look at it from her perspective, you can see how she might feel marginalized, and made to look as if she were nothing more than those guys' star groupie." Given that Mitchell was reportedly irritated and offended by her own label's attempt to sexualize her with ad copy like "Joni Mitchell Comes Across" and "Joni Mitchell: 90% Virgin," this fan's assessment of her irritation makes sense.

As for why the chart is hard to find on the Internet, it's probably not so much a matter of Rolling Stone trying to pretend it never existed as the publication not seeing the need to put its complete archives online, especially when it's trying to sell DVD-ROMs. Also, "Hollywood's Hot 100" covered two pages of a tabloid-sized magazine back in 1972. It isn't the kind of thing that easily reproduces on a computer screen, as you can see:


But here's the Joni part, which you might find more useful:

Sex And Death

I have been searching for two movies, and apparently I am not using the right combination in my search. If you could help with either one, I would greatly appreciate it. The first is from the late '60s or '70s. I believed it was one of those movies that contained three short stories. What I remember is someone trying to kill someone else to get an inheritance. There is a painting on the wall (by the stairs, I believe) that is of the house and the cemetery nearby. When a young man first looks at the painting, he sees a fresh gravesite. When he looks at the painting again, he sees a corpse coming out of the grave. Then when he looks again, the corpse is walking toward the house. Each time he looks at the painting, the corpse is nearer the house. Finally, the corpse reaches the door. I believe the young man dies of fright, and that the butler was responsible for the paintings. The way it ends is, the butler looks at the painting and sees the young man coming out of his grave.


The second movie also contained three short stories, all taking place in France before the Revolution. The stories contain nudity and dealt with sex between the classes. One story was of an aristocratic couple not having any sex until one or both of them spy on their maid romping around naked and screwing a young man in the greenhouse. I believe the aristocratic couple is so turned on by this that they also end up screwing in the greenhouse. A second story deals with a maid coming to work at the mansion of a man she finds out has locked his son away ( I forget the reason given). She ends up screwing the son. You find out it is a game that the father and son have going, to see how long it takes to "seduce" a maid. I think they might even have alternated who was locked away. The story ends with the maid being dismissed, and as she is walking away from the house, she passes the new maid. I don't remember the third story.


A.V. Club team-up powers, activate! Christopher Bahn slowly lurches toward the answer to your first question:

The story is "The Cemetery," from Rod Serling's Night Gallery. Airing from 1970 to 1973, Night Gallery followed a similar format to Serling's better-known, earlier anthology series The Twilight Zone, but with a focus that leaned more on tales of horror and the macabre, featuring a mix of Serling-written stories and adaptations of works by writers like H.P. Lovecraft and Richard Matheson. Each episode usually featured a number of shorter stories, linked by an introduction narrated by Serling as he stood in the gallery of the series' title, looking at a ghoulish painting linked to the story. As Serling put it in the first episode, "Each is a collector's item in its own way—not because of any special artistic quality, but because each captures on a canvas, suspends in time and space, a frozen moment of a nightmare."


"The Cemetery" was the first of three stories that formed the pilot for the series. (The second segment, "Eyes," has the distinction of being Steven Spielberg's TV directorial debut.) Roddy McDowall stars as the young nephew of an old, dying artist, whom he kills by leaving the window open on a cold night in order to get his inheritance. Ossie Davis plays the butler who's secretly responsible for the apparently mystical movements of the painting. You can find a detailed synopsis on this page at tv.com. The first season of Night Gallery is available on DVD, and there's also a pretty good fan website covering the basics of the show at nightgallery.net. (Our Denver editor, Jason Heller, also points out that the idea of a monster that only moves when you're not looking at it is also used in the recent Doctor Who episode "Blink." It's possible that "Blink" was inspired by "The Cemetery," though I haven't been able to confirm that one way or another.)

Oh, and here's the end of the episode, though sadly, the sound and visuals are pretty badly out of sync:

Tasha Robinson steps in for the second half of the tango:

As to your second question, Dee, there's a lot less information available out there on it, since it's kinda amateurish foreign-import softcore rather than the debut episode of a well-regarded series by a well-regarded master of suspense. Basically, you're lucky I had Cinemax (a.k.a. Skinemax, a.k.a. Softcore Central) in college, and I happened to catch part of what you're describing. The anthology with the maid-seducing game was called The Secrets Of Love: Three Rakish Tales. It consists of screen adaptations of three erotic stories by well-regarded, pre-20th-century French authors: Guy de Maupassant, Marguerite de Navarre, and Nicolas Restif de la Bretonne. At least one of the installments, de Navarre's "La Fessée," or "The Spanking," was apparently edited down from a longer version made for a French TV show called Série Rose; at least one source online claims all three episodes were, which would explain the uniformly high production values.


I never saw the first story you're describing, with the aristocratic couple, but it's called "The Greenhouse." The maid-seducing story is called "The Pupil," since the supposedly imprisoned young man gets into the maid's petticoats by pretending he knows nothing of the female body or this thing called love, so she volunteers to educate him. "The Spanking" (which is the short I used to track down the anthology) seems to have been the one the Internet cares about, to the degree that it cares at all; there's marginally more information on it. As far as I recall, that story involved an aristocratic woman who's been reduced to servant status, getting brutally whipped for sleeping with the help. So she and her lover scheme to have the lover seduce their master's wife—the bitchy mastermind behind the beating—and have her get caught. The piece ends with the master whipping his wife, as well. (The lover, who was probably a stable-hand or some such, gets off scot-free; he claims he thought he was getting into bed with the cook, and the master gives him a sort of "Boys will be boys" shrug and blames the wife for taking the cook's place.) It doesn't seem like Secrets Of Love is available in the States, but as I recall, you aren't missing much, apart from some really terrible English-language dubbing.


Jesus Is Da Bomb

Need some help with the gospel. A while back, some friends and I were going on a road trip that ended at an airport in a borrowed car. About halfway through, we ended up fighting and not talking to each other. In an effort to ease the mood, someone threw in a cassette that just said "gospel." AVC staff, I tell you, it was a fine mix-tape, but one song has stuck with me, and I'd like to know more. All I can tell you is a snatch of lyric: "Mmm, everybody's worried about that atom bomb / But nobody is worried about the day my Lord will come / 'Cause when my Jesus gets here, he's going to hit like an atom bomb." There might be a cute sermon in the middle, and the rest of the lyrics all sort of juxtapose imagery of Jesus/savior and a-bomb/God's wrath.



Rev. Donna Bowman is here to deliver the word:

I have no doubt you need some help with the gospel, Orson, along with all those other lost souls out in A.V. Club-land. The song is called "Jesus Hits Like The Atom Bomb," and as you might imagine, it's a gospel number from the post-World War II era. It was recorded by many gospel groups around 1950, most notably the Pilgrim Travelers, the Soul Stirrers, the Famous Blue Jay Singers, and Lowell Blanchard And His Valley Trio. Blanchard's version is the soundtrack for this homemade apocalyptic concoction:

The premise of the song is that, as recounted in Genesis 9:11-17, God promised Noah after the Flood that he would never again destroy the world with water. Many gospel songs subscribed to a particular theological conclusion derived from that pledgethat the next world-destroying event would be fire. (The title of James Baldwin's essay collection The Fire Next Time is a reference to this belief.) After the introduction of the atomic bomb to warfare at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the prospect of the world ending in a blaze of atomic fire seemed close at hand, and with the discovery of Soviet weaponry a few years later, the fears got deeper: "Nineteen hundred and forty-nine / The USA got very wise / They found that a country across the line / Had an atom bomb of the very same kind." Americans should worry less about nuclear holocaust than the day of judgment, cautions the lyric, but if they "trust King Jesus," they'll be safe from the terror God demonstrated to the priests of Baal when he rained down fire from the sky on the altar in answer to Elijah's prayer (I Kings 18:19-40).


The title "Jesus Hits Like The Atom Bomb" re-entered the public's musical consciousness as the name of Tripping Daisy's 1998 album. (The song doesn't appear on the album.) One of the more recent gospel recordings of the tune is by John Alexander's Sterling Jubilee Singers in 1997, on an album of the same name.

"Jesus Hits Like The Atom Bomb" is far from the only gospel tune that uses current events as metaphors for matters spiritual. On the same theme in 1950, the Swan Silvertone Singers produced "Jesus Is God's Atom Bomb": "Have you heard about the blast in Japan / How it killed so many people and scorched the land? / Oh, it can kill your natural body / But the Lord can kill your soul." The Pilgrim Travelers returned to their Cold War sermonizing in 1951's "Jesus Is The First Line Of Defense": "If all the people, every day would get down on their knees and pray / Then make the H-bomb and atom too / Tell the Reds we'll turn them loose / Our boys will stop dying, the land'll be free / 'Cause God said 'I'm the Prince of Peace.'"


Of course, the use of trains, automobiles, airplanes, and other technological features of 20th-century life as hooks for blues, country, and gospel lyrics has always been widespread. We haven't had to wade over Jordan for a long timeall kinds of modern conveyances are ready to take us to the promised land. An atomic bomb is just another kind of fiery chariot, swingin' low, isn't it?

The First Question On This Subject

Do you have any idea what compels people to be the first to reply to a bulletin board or blog post with "First!" or "Firsties" (or other variations?)


When did this begin, and why do we find it so annoying?


Tasha Robinson was the first to respond to this post:

I can't tell you where it started, Steve, though I suspect it was some busy, busy comment board like Fark or Slashdot, where anyone who actually arrives at a thread in time to be the first person to post feels as awed and giddy as Neil Armstrong putting that initial footprint on the moon. I've seen it on any number of other sites, too—including sites with a lot less comment traffic, where "Firsties!" might as well be "Onlysies!"


Why do people do it? People do things for a lot of reasons, and I'm betting even the people who do it here don't all have the same motives, if they have any coherent motives at all. Here are a couple of the ones I'm betting are most prevalent:

a) It's about marking territory, like a dog. Any scene belongs to the first person who can get there.


b) It's about showing off what a dedicated Club fan you are. Only the people refreshing their web pages endlessly and mechanically actually get to be first to new content. (Alternately, it's about crowing over a little bit of random, fortuitous luck.)

c) It's about showing off. One of the great motivators in life is the need to stand out from the crowd by accomplishing something no one else can do, and there can only be one actually first post on any article. Which is beyond miniscule in the fame game, but so is writing your name on a bathroom stall, carving it on a tree, or spray-painting it on an underpass, and people constantly do all those things, too. It's just one more tiny way of saying "Hey! I exist!"


d) It's about following the crowd. Some posters report that they've seen so many firsties that they can't resist joining in on the fun, even if they hate other people's firsties. At this point, "Firsties" is like any other in-joke that comes up over and over on the boards; people throw it out there just to be joiners.

e) It's about irony. Even people who seem to think everyone else's firsties are moronic somehow seem to think their own firsties are heaped with sarcastic "See, isn't this stupid?" commentary.


f) It's just plain about pissing other people off. Remember, to your basic troll, even angry, ranting attention is better than the usual no attention. Maybe the ranting attention is better, because it shows you've gotten under someone's skin in a meaningful way.

"Why do we find it so annoying?" Well, I have no idea why you find it annoying, or why anyone else you're putting under your "we" blanket would find it annoying. Again, different people no doubt find it annoying for different reasons: because it's repetitive, because it's childish, because they didn't get there first to do it themselves, dammit. And some people don't find it annoying at all—even some of our staffers think it's cute, or at worst, meaningless and harmless. So don't assume firsties irk everyone.


Personally, I find them annoying because I mostly read the comment boards in hope of some sort of cogent discussion, and "OMG, first!" is about as far from that as you can get. Firsties tend to drag down the whole tone of a comment thread, by guaranteeing that the initial 20 posts on any piece of content here will be people arguing and insulting each other for reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with the content itself. It's vaguely insulting to spend hours reading or watching something and attempting to craft a meaningful analysis, and then having any resultant discussion derailed by people who clearly haven't read the content and don't care about it at all—kind of like pouring your heart into carefully crafting a sculpture, and then finding out that the locals only care about whether it's fun to climb on. It seems to me like the "Firsts!" and the subsequent firstie-hater vs. firstie-lover wars that always break out discourage the commentators who might have something substantiative to say. But that's just me.

And yes, we're working on a new comments system, one that will let logged-in users help mod out the trolls and the imbeciles and everyone else they hate. At which point maybe we'll finally find out for sure whether a majority of people really do hate firsties enough to mod them down into invisibility, or if the firsties army is bigger and stronger and more determined than we think.


Next week: Stumped! returns. Send your questions to asktheavclub@theonion.com.