From Captain Nice to murder she wrote

Get Smart co-creator and serial overachiever, Buck Henry, was Oscar-nominated for writing credits on The Graduate, directed the Academy Award winning Heaven Can Wait and acted in over 60 films and television series including The Man Who Fell to Earth, Catch-22 and 30 Rock.

Buck Henry autograph

Henry was also the creator of an obscure 1960s comedy series that rode the camp superhero wave established at the time by Batman.

Only 15 episodes were made of the curio known as Captain Nice, but its behind-the-scenes story is an extraordinary one.

captain nice pjs

The premise of the show involved police chemist Carter Nash (played by William Daniels, who also voiced KITT in the 1980s series Knight Rider), a mild-mannered mummy’s boy who discovers a super serum that allows him to fight crime in an outfit resembling a onesie whipped up by Stephen Hawking.

The real star though was Carter’s would-be girlfriend in the police department, meter maid Sgt Candy Kane, played by Paula Prentiss’ younger sister Ann.

captainniceannprentiss1967annoretnice123

In what was an otherwise pretty vapid, albeit masterfully written, show Ann’s portrayal of Kane was a palpable pressure cooker of unrequited desire for Nash that bristled so manifestly it bordered on improper.

Prentiss was a tour de force in a tour de farce.

Sgt Kane was a go-getter with a level of sexual confidence that Barbara Feldon could only dream of, making Agent 99 sound to me like an exasperated, whining cheerleader by comparison.

Kane

Ann appears 4:20

With the benefit of hindsight, the intensity Prentiss brought to her role goes some way to explaining how she ended her days in a Santa Monica prison serving 19 years for two attempted murders.

That they were directed at her 86 year-old father along with her brother-in-law, the esteemed actor and director Richard Benjamin (married to Paula), only made it more riveting.

Paula and Benjamin

Ann’s sister Paula and husband Richard Benjamin

Before she died in 2010, I wrote to Ann Prentiss in prison. Her long sentence was perplexing to me given that ultimately nobody was hurt and that the courts also noted Ann was suffering from severe mental problems at the time of the attempts.  Alas, little of the detail is to be found online and not entirely surprisingly, I never heard back from Prentiss.

Regardless, I wanted her to know that I was a fan of her largely unheralded acting turn as Sgt Candy Kane.

Who knows what Buck Henry made of it. He was never on record as saying. But I still like to think of Ann Prentiss as a class act … even if it was only within the confines of Captain Nice’s hilariously wobbly sets.

ann prentiss head shot

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Electric Ladyland: the high-wattage wit of drag queen names

The Stonewall Riots of 1969, widely considered the single most important event leading to the gay liberation movement, were no laughing matter … or so I had thought.

As it turns out one of its finest moments, at least by my reckoning, came when demonstrators countered an impenetrable wall of helmeted, club-carrying police with a high-kicking chorus line worthy of The Rockettes. The police, incensed with their machismo-spoofing shenanigans, broke ranks and charged at demonstrators with venomous ferocity and truncheons swinging.  But they’d met their match. Protesting drag queens, towering over the constabulary in their heels, proceeded to belt the crap out of them with their handbags.

Remembering-Stonewall-Riots1

And in its own very small way, that devilish sass, hilarity and exuberance is what draws me to the cornucopia of comedy gold that is a drag queen’s ultimate calling card … her name.

From the rich pantheon of nom de plumes comes the most obvious anatomical word play; Dixie Normous, Penny Tration, Wilma Ballsdrop, Tess Tosterone and Ivana Cockatoo.

Particularly popular amongst drag acts are medically-themed monikers; Ginger Vitis, Ella Phantitus, Angie O’Gram, Anne Thrax, Madam Ovary, Dinah Thirst, Sarabelle Palsy and Anna Rexia.

Then there are those utterly devoid of any delusions of grandeur; Robyn Sevenelevens, Mary KMart, Carlotta Tendant, Summer Clearance, Show White Trash and Lois Carmen Denominator.

On the flip side there are the shining literary classics; Hedda Gobbler, Holly Goheavily, Bridgette of Madison County, Agnes of Gosh, Venus de Mile High-Lo and Barbra Seville.

As well as the star-studded; Marianne Unfaithful, Tallulah Bunkbed, Karen Carpenteria, Estee Lauder Harder Faster, Clare Booth Luce Change, Zsa Zsa Lahore and Gina Lola Golden Gate Bridgeda.

Sydney gay culture vulture and former drag queen Simon Lloyd (aka Mandy Vice Rabies) recalls Lady Bump, Cindy Pastel, Portia Turbo and Victoria Bitter sashaying through clubs in the late 80s with equal parts talent and talons.  More recent Australian acts include Minnie Cooper, Maxi Shield, Joyce Mange, Sheila Blige and Dawn Service (who only ever appears on ANZAC Day).

Maxi Shield, Ophelia Shaft and Joyce Maynge.

Maxi Shield, Ophelia Shaft and Joyce Mange

My personal favourite as far as distinctly Australian names go is the indigenous drag queen with the delicious title of Nana Miss Koori.

Nana Miss Koori

Nana Miss Koori at Damien Minton Gallery Nov 2013

And it seems I’m far from alone when it comes to the lure of a seriously good drag queen name if the Facebook group Drag Names!!!!!!!!!!!! (twelve exclamation marks mandatory) is anything to go by.  2,600 members have posted hundreds of suggestions including Beverly Hillbilly, Anna Phylactic, Madonna Kebab, Synthia Sizer, Mena Pause, Uretha Franklin and Vaseline Dion.

Vaseline Dion ... oh hang on ... no, that's just Celine Dion.

Vaseline Dion … oh hang on … no, that’s just Celine Dion.

But don’t despair if your own creative spark isn’t exactly lighting up the room like spotlit sequins under a mirror ball. Let an algorithm do the work for you at Drag Queen Name Generator. And for the littlest diva of them all, there’s The Drag Queen Baby Name book, which is sure to put some bling on that teething ring.

drag queen baby name book

It’s not often that I’m prone to quoting Dolly Parton. But in this case I’ll make an exception because she and I are more in tune than I thought possible.  ‘It’s a good thing I was born a girl. Otherwise I’d be a drag queen’.  Were the latter indeed the case, let the record show that I would have chosen to make my own debut as Pixie Lated.

The Meaning of Life, Larf AND Liff

Less known about Douglas Adams, the creator of the seminal Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, is that Richard Dawkins dedicated his treatise The God Delusion to him and that Adams made two brief appearances in the fourth series of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

Adams does Python

Adams does Python

Also hiding in the gargantuan literary shadow of Hitchhiker’s is a little handbook and dictionary of sorts called The Meaning of Liff, which Adams co-authored with John Lloyd in 1983.

Meaning of Liff book

The book which, incidentally, was in large part the inspiration for my blog’s name, also has a connection with the film,The Meaning of Life.  Hardcore Python fans will recall that the opening sequence of the gravestone reads Liff before the lightning bolt strikes the final F and converts it to an E.

Lloyd himself is an intriguing character who, oddly enough, I inadvertently struck up an email exchange with last year on a business-related matter.  At the time I had no idea that he was also the creator of QI and wrote for Not the Nine O’Clock News, Black Adder and was part of the winning Trinity College team in 2011’s University Challenge.  Never mind that he collaborated with Adams on Hitchhiker’s and The Meaning of Liff.

John Lloyd

John Lloyd

How I came to be in contact with Lloyd is another story for another time, but suffice to say I was over the moon when I realised that I was corresponding with the man whose name lay alongside Adams’ on the cover of one of my favourite books.

I love The Meaning Of Liff for its fine balance of practical intent coupled with absurd realisation.

Simply put it is a dictionary of things that there aren’t any words for yet. Rather than inventing new words though, Adams and Lloyd thought they’d make existing place names work harder for their keep by assigning them new definitions because the words were already recognisable entities without as such having any sense or meaning attached to them.

The book’s forward says it best:

In Life* there are many hundreds of common experiences, feelings, situations and even objects which we all know and recognise, but for which no words exist.

On the other hand, the world is littered with thousands of spare words which spend their time doing nothing but loafing about on signposts pointing at places.

Our job, as we see it, is to get these words down off the signposts and into the mouths of babes and sucklings and so on, where they can start earning their keep in everyday conversation and make a more positive contribution to society.

Douglas Adams & John Lloyd

*and indeed Liff

Liff itself is a small village near Dundee in Scotland and is repurposed to mean: A book, the contents of which are totally belied by its cover. For instance, any book the dust jacket of which bears the words ‘This book will change your life’. Nice.

Some of my other favourites?

Beccles The small bone buttons placed in bacon sandwiches by unemployed guerrilla dentists.

Barstibley A humorous device such as a china horse or small naked porcelain infant which jocular hosts use to piss water into your Scotch with.

Gastard Useful specially new-coined word for an illegitimate child (in order to distinguish it from someone who merely carves you up on the motorway, etc).

Malibu The height by which the top of a wave exceeds the height to which you have rolled up your trousers.

Nazeing The rather unconvincing noises of pretended interest an adult has to make when brought a small dull object for admiration by a child.

Neen Sollars Any ensemble of especially unflattering and peculiar garments worn by a woman which tell you that she is right at the forefront of fashion.

Skibbern Noise made by a sunburned thigh leaving a plastic chair.

Spofforth To tidy up a room before the cleaning lady arrives.

Vobster A strain of perfectly healthy rodent which develops cancer the moment it enters a laboratory.

Whaplode Drove A homicidal golf stroke.

Whasset A business card in your wallet belonging to someone you have no recollection of meeting.

Happily Australia makes the briefest of appearances thanks to the entry for Yeppoon:  One of the hat-hanging corks which Australians wear for making Qantas commercials.

My mother has always said that if you’re struggling to find a present for the person who had everything, a back scratcher is the solution.  Wise words though they may be, I’d prefer to tickle my friends’ funny bones with a copy of The Meaning of Liff any old day.

Crazy Kickstarters that put the arse into ars gratia artis

For reasons that remain somewhat unclear, Kickstarter’s Potato Salad Guy has captured everyone’s imagination these past few days. Having asked for a mere $10, he’s now been pledged over $70,000 and his humble (if you’re being polite … otherwise utterly banal) plans have gone viral. Here are some other crazy Kickstarter ideas I wrote about a few months back.

THE MEANING OF LARF

Kickstarter funding succeeded well ahead of its December deadline for the creation of the world’s largest jock strap, which only goes to prove that what constitutes creativity is also in the eye of the beholder.

With over $1 billion in pledges under its belt since 2009 and with its current poster girl, The Veronica Mars Movie raising $2 million in the first 24 hours of its appeal, Kickstarter is now a serious crowdfunding business model and something of a juggernaut.

Veronica-Mars-Movie-Kickstarter-616x425

But I prefer to think of it as a Petri dish of quixotic artistic lunacy where a meeting of creative nutjobs and their zealots’ wallets can mosh with their sweaty dosh.

Scratch the surface and you’ll realise that some of the weirdest creative pursuits that got the thumbs up from the rabble start to make Kickstarter feel more like the Colosseum …. if Derek Zoolander was Nero and the whole…

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Like Wow Wipeout: The wild, brief ride of surfing’s ultimate playboy

Bunker Spreckels sounds like the kind of name you’d find on a Wall Street lobby listing.

But the great grandson of sugar baron Claus Spreckels and stepson of Hollywood icon Clark Gable had altogether different ideas, spurning Hollywood for an ascetic life in Hawaii building surfboards and eating the fruit that grew freely off the shores of Oahu.

Clark Gable, Wife No 5, Kay and the Spreckel kids.

Clark Gable, Wife No 5, Kay and the Spreckel kids.

His ancestral connections gave Spreckels privileged access to Hawaiian royalty along with rare insight into the deep cultural and spiritual secrets of its people’s surfing history.   He became a fearless rider of great skill as well as a lover of martial arts and hunting. He was also a nationally ranked archer.

Bunker credited Gable with piquing his interest in his non-surfing pursuits. ‘Clark was from that ‘no crap’ school of acting and that’s the way he lived too.  I learned from him what a fuck-tit the acting business is.  He also taught me how to shoot, use knives and bullwhips … and how to use a dictionary’.

After Gable’s death Bunker used his Oscar as a doorstop, which one can only assume Gable would have thoroughly endorsed.

In his late teens Bunker’s simple, almost monastic existence in Hawaii saw him evolve into an early pioneer of revolutionary short, hard-edged surfboard design, which many consider the forerunner of today’s ubiquitous fish surfboard. bunker_spreckels (1) But then suddenly in 1970, everything changed.

At the age of 21 Bunker unexpectedly inherited $50 million due to a sequence of family deaths.  Bunker turned up to the bank in an armoured car and picked up the entire amount in cash, which he secreted in a coastal hideaway he likened to the Batcave.  Bunker’s bunker, if you like.

And then the Party On switch was flicked and overnight Bunker’s life read like a scene out of Boogie Nights. Bunker set up ‘branch offices’ around the world; The Hotel George V in Paris, Hotel Edward in South Africa and Sunset Tower in Hollywood and proceeded to launch himself into a feverish rampage of psychedelics and sex. bunker-spreckels At his most debauched he was taking LSD daily and claimed to bed sixty four women in a week. preview_bunker_spreckels_480x368_1012281502_id_403701 Inevitably surfing started to take a backseat to drugs, sex and wild road trips.  Becoming increasingly delusional about his rock star-like persona, Bunker recruited photographer Art Brewer to document his days. No salary, but all expenses paid.  Brewer described the experience as ‘pure 24/7 crazy shit. Anything could happen and it did.’

Legendary skateboarder Tony Alva added ‘I don’t think anyone was too stoked about the way Bunker lived his life, because he basically carried himself like a fucking rock star. He was like a big party coming through town.  He’d wear the most bizarre shit; really tight capris with crazy Chelsea boots and huge ass ‘70s shades.  When he stepped out of the car, people would freak out because he looked like a cross between Bruce Lee and Elvis’. Bunker_Spreckels_interv_Oahu_Nov_1976 In just six years of inheriting the family fortune, he was dead, aged 27 as a consequence of his excesses. _bunker_spreckels_07_0706081429_id_7891 That Spreckels had become a pompous B-grade caricature more fitting for a Hollywood condo or Palm Springs timeshare is not only ironic, but also a tragic tale, given that he was clearly capable of much greater things.

A man of substance indeed … sadly, in both senses of the word too.

Bunker77 trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jp8Co0XCVII

Sydney’s Grotta Capri – the Restaurant at the End of the Universe

In the suburban wasteland of my youth, the scorching sun bleached dog poo to a whiter shade of pale on bitumen of black lava and mournful sounds of punters losing their crumpled notes at the nearby racecourse wafted pointlessly across west-facing shopfronts with half closed blinds, as if the windows’ eyes were cast downward in shame.

Amidst this soulless, stultifying stillness stood the preposterous oasis that was the Grotta Capri restaurant.

Grotta Capri interior 2grotta 1

I hated growing up in Kensington as passionately as I loved the Grotta Capri, often wondering how a suburb as unprepossessing as mine could be worthy of such grandeur.  It was as if a meteorite with a Rococo pop sensibility had crash landed on Planet Banality; a folly of shell-studded stalactites, fish tanks, Tyrrhenian trompe l’oeil awash with blue light and, in its early days at least, waterways complete with sound effects running beneath illuminated Perspex underfoot.

grotta bar

Grotta exterior good

That it was a restaurant was largely peripheral to proceedings.  The plastic sleeve was the tastiest thing on the menu and most of what got served up looked like crumbed cocker spaniel anyway.  

Of far greater note were the cocktails.  For reasons which remained unclear, there was an over-reliance on Advocaat in most of the recipes, making for a frothy tipple that just about scrambled itself on the way down.  Quite handy then that the accompanying mermaid and dolphin-themed plastic swizzle sticks, glowing like uranium under the black light, could be used to fish out the coagulated egg swinging from your epiglottis like Miley Cyrus.

If that didn’t make for enough high weirdness, the tables were occupied by SP bookies with bad rugs and polyester slacks that crackled with static, accompanied by their dubious, er, business associates from the neighbouring racetrack – the sort of people who put the ‘colourful’ into ‘racing identity’.

Grotta Capri filming Underbelly in 2011

The Grotta Capri played host to both the famous and infamous, featured in the Australian film favourite Muriel’s Wedding and television series Underbelly, and it was with utter delight that as an adult I also got to accompany Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds for dinner when they were on tour, not so much for the name-dropportunity but to witness how comprehensively perplexed and uncomfortable they appeared to be amongst all that hideous fabulousness.

I shed a salty tear or two in 2010 when the Grotta Capri closed after 60 years. While Giovanni Battista’s ode to the life aquatic might have been made out of chicken wire and cement, it played a distinguished role for me in nourishing the vivid imagination of a small child in what was otherwise a vapid suburban commuter belt of antimatter.

grotta exterior night

I’m just sorry Douglas Adams never made it to the Grotta Capri because if nothing else, its Advocaat-crash cocktails would have given the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster a run for its money any old day.

(Ps. So long and thanks for all the Fishermen’s Baskets)

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5 reasons why Virgil Tracy is my dream guy

With a veritable smorgasbord of strapping male eye candy on display, any hot-blooded 5 year old girl worth her salt would find something to swoon over at 6am most weekends while glued to Gerry Anderson’s 1960s Supermarionation tv series, The Thunderbirds.

6 portraits

The line-up of talent

The five Tracy men; Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John, played distinct roles in their piloting of International Rescue’s squadron and equally, they had distinct personalities and interests.  They were all fine upstanding men and any one of them would cut the mustard with your mother too.

But here’s why, counting backwards from five (is there any other way?) Virgil Tracy is the only one for me.

5 countdown

F.A.B is their all-important clarion call and Virgil was the first one to utter it in The Thunderbirds’ very first episode.

4 countdown

Virgil was principal pilot of Thunderbird 2, the coolest, best loved and most versatile vehicle with its interchangeable pods.

Tbird2 pod

The versatile TB2

Tbird 2 pods

And its pods

3 countdown

If Tracy Island had a Renaissance man, then Virgil was the guy, equally skilled as an artist as well as a brilliant concert pianist.

_virgil_piano

Virgil on piano … dreamy!

What about Scott?  Too Alpha Male for me.  John? Too solitary in his star-gazing pursuits. Gordon? A tad tepid, despite his aquatic skills and as for Alan? Skittish and at times a bit of a petulant dolt (besides which, Tin Tin already had him by the strings).

alan

Alan, Tin TIn, Jeff and Brains

alan top hat

Alan with Lady Penelope

2 Countdown.

Call me old fashioned, but as a card-carrying pacifist, I’m impressed by the fact that Virgil didn’t actually kill anyone … unlike Scott, Gordon and Alan!

scott gun

Scott and Gordon packing heat

1

If that weren’t enough, Virgil shares my dad’s birthday – August 15th, albeit some 100 years later.

Virgil pilot

Virgil piloting Thunderbird 2

While Scott Tracy was mooted to be modelled on Sean Connery, it was Virgil’s more refined looks, rich, deep voice and rounded vowels that made me giddy, along with his penchant for the odd drop of Pernod while in gay Paris.

Where Virgil’s concerned, thundering hearts are go and SuperMARRYonation was MY dream … no strings attached.

Crazy Kickstarters that put the arse into ars gratia artis

Kickstarter funding succeeded well ahead of its December deadline for the creation of the world’s largest jock strap, which only goes to prove that what constitutes creativity is also in the eye of the beholder.

With over $1 billion in pledges under its belt since 2009 and with its current poster girl, The Veronica Mars Movie raising $2 million in the first 24 hours of its appeal, Kickstarter is now a serious crowdfunding business model and something of a juggernaut.

Veronica-Mars-Movie-Kickstarter-616x425

But I prefer to think of it as a Petri dish of quixotic artistic lunacy where a meeting of creative nutjobs and their zealots’ wallets can mosh with their sweaty dosh.

Scratch the surface and you’ll realise that some of the weirdest creative pursuits that got the thumbs up from the rabble start to make Kickstarter feel more like the Colosseum …. if Derek Zoolander was Nero and the whole spectacle was being broadcast by Public Access TV with a pilled-up Liza Minnelli doing presenter duties.

For your edification, I present five perplexing if not utterly dubious concepts that got the green light (or perhaps not).

1. Giant inflatable of Lionel Richie’s head (funded)

Created specifically for Bestival, a four day music festival in the Isle of Wight, the sculpture garnered double its appeal from 211 backers and came to fruition in October last year, as such ‘head-lining’ the event.

kickstarter lionel

2. Tentacle Bento – a rape-based card game (funded)

At last, an intuitive card game that lets you become a tentacle monster which rapes an assembly of school girls specifically lined up for that purpose. Suspended in May last year but not before it made three times as much money as it needed, with over 600 backers. Kickstarter’s reason for suspending it? The campaign was ‘too sexy’.

TBsplash

3. Bring your dick to the table! (not funded)

Intended as a ‘fun reminder’ that women are equal when negotiating at the boardroom table, the perpetrator clearly has a serious case of penis envy. Her manifesto? ‘If all it takes is a dick, then here is mine. Now, let’s get down to business!’

Kick bring your dick to the table

4. Drop a baby grand onto a pyramid of champagne glasses (funded)

And why the hell not?

kickstarter piano champagne

And my personal favourite?

5. Kickstarter fund to buy Kickstarter (not funded)

Aiming to raise the $19 million it was valued at by worthofweb.com at the time the appeal was submitted by comedian and rabble-rouser Eric Moneypenny, Kickstarter rejected it on the basis that they don’t do ‘fund my life’ projects. Moneypenny insisted he was just following a dream and takes issue with Kickstarter being the judge and jury of his.

And as he points out, ” It’s not like there was nothing in this for them. Kickstarter makes a profit off of every successful Kickstarter, so Kickstarter would’ve made even extra money from my purchase.”

The fact that a $10,000 pledge only got you a pizza party with ‘new Kickstarter CEO Eric Moneypenny’, probably didn’t help much.

kickstarter (1)

For more crazy Kickstarters and a double dose of ‘arse gratia artis’ try:

Yourkickstartersucks.com and Freakstarter.com

The Shaggs: Best worst band in the world

The late American rock critic Lester Bangs described the Wiggins sisters’ one and only album, Philosophy of the World as ‘a landmark in rock and roll history’, Frank Zappa apparently declared them ‘better than the Beatles’ and Kurt Cobain put the album at number five in his all-time Top 50, well ahead of the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks, Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation and REM’s Green.

the Shaggs

It’s true that people tend to be passionate about The Shaggs … one way or another.  In the opposing corner of the ring, Rolling Stone magazine described The Shaggs as sounding like ‘lobotomised Von Trapp Family Singers’, The New Yorker as ‘hauntingly bad’ and another reviewer was sufficiently traumatised by the listening experience to state he’d ” walk across the desert while eating charcoal briquettes soaked in Tabasco for forty days and forty nights not to ever have to listen to anything Shaggs-related ever again.’

the shaggs playing town hall

Rocking out at the local town hall

The fact that this seemingly inconsequential curio of an album could engender such extreme reactions is one of the many delicious aspects of The Shaggs’ enduring appeal.

Their story features some archetypal themes, including a domineering father from Freemont, New Hampshire, hell-bent on realising the American dream of his daughters’ fame as a three-piece band, foretold by his mother in a palm reading. In the relentless pursuit of a self-fulfilling prophecy, Austin Wiggin hauled them out of school and made them practice endlessly until they were, by his reckoning at least, match fit to record an album..

austin wiggin5

Austin ‘Shaggs Svengali’ Wiggin with his wife.

As weirdestbandintheworld.com notes, at first listen, Philosophy of the World seems like an absolute mess; the drums are arrhythmic and out of sync; the guitars are often out of tune; the sisters’ harmonies are childlike and spookily dissonant. The lyrics make Rebecca Black’s “Friday” sound like Emily Dickinson; songs are about such profound topics as Dot’s pet cat (“My Pal Foot Foot”) and how awesome the Wiggin parents are (“Who Are Parents”), although they do also try to get deep on the title track: “The skinny people want what the fat people’s got/And the fat people want what the skinny people’s got/You can’t please anybody in this world.”

But, as many musicians and critics have pointed out, there’s a consistency to The Shaggs’ music that suggests they actually knew exactly what they were doing. During the recording sessions (at which the engineers would have to mute the control room so the Wiggins couldn’t hear the howling laughter), Austin would often stop the girls midway through a take because “they made a mistake” The engineers were shocked, considering what they heard sounded like nothing but mistakes.

Either way, The Shaggs sounded unlike any other band on the planet but there’s nothing to suggest it was a contrivance on their part. They were just being who they were (and for the most part that meant supremely untalented), but as Bangs pointed out, the beauty of it was that ‘they wrung out every ounce of whatever talent they did have.’

The shaggs reunion 1`988

The Shaggs reunite at CBGB in 1999.

the Shaggs stage musical June 7 2011

The New York Theatre Workshop’s production of The Shaggs musical in 2011. Dakota & Ellen Fanning are also said to be planning to star in a biopic as two-thirds of the band.

Whether you consider them banal or brilliant, more idiot than savant, gratingly simplistic or intensely complex, syncopated or constipated, The Shaggs certainly put the sing into singular.

Visit The Shaggs website here

Eyes wide shut at the world’s only Penis Museum

The weirdest museum collections around the globe provide intriguing insight into a country’s predilections and preoccupations; there’s the Instant Noodle Museum in Yokohama, the Barbed Wire Museum in Kansas, Dog Collar Museum in Kent, Celebrity Lingerie Hall of Fame in Hollywood and the Museum of Toilets in New Delhi.

So it’s inevitable that Iceland, renowned for its spouting geysers and volcanic eruptions, plays host to the world’s only museum dedicated to penises.

Image

That 60% of its 11,000 annual visitors is female surprises only for the fact that the gender skew isn’t much higher, given that my ticket appeared to include a complimentary speedball of awkward discomfort that, if I’m anything to go by, should see male visitors suffer on a Belushi-like scale.

It’s not just that there are over 200 species of appendages on offer, but that the first one taking pride of place on entry is a veritable assault to the senses.

Had I been invited in times past to view a blue whale’s penis in its prime, I suspect I would have politely declined.  That my first (and by the grace of god, only) experience of the aforementioned member was slowly decomposing in formaldehyde – a blanched, mangled monster of a thing that resembled a giant turnip with a nasty case of psoriasis – will haunt me until my final breath.

Lurching past jar upon jar of tortured specimens floating in aspic was, well, jarring to say the least.  (The good news for dieters though is that the whole experience is a terrific appetite suppressant)

Jar Jar … blinks!

Thank goodness then for the mood lifting effect of a glass case housing sculptures of 15 human penises immortalising Iceland’s victorious Beijing Olympic silver medal Handball Team in an artistic style I found reminiscent of wild mushrooms swaying side of stage at a Flaming Lips concert.

silver

120808_FRC_IcelandicnationalhandballteamEX.jpg.CROP.rectangle3-large

Unsurprisingly the museum has garnered international media attention, including a reportedly ‘side-splittingly funny’ Canadian documentary called The Final Member, which charts the museum’s quest to obtain its first human penis.

The Final member

The founder Sigurdur Hjartarson has been on a mission to procure a human penis for years, saying that ‘without the human, the collection is not complete’.  In 2011 his wish was granted by Pall Arason, a 95-year-old Icelandic man claiming to be an adventurer and ‘Iceland’s biggest ladies man’ who bequeathed him his posthumous penis.  However things take a turn for the worse when Siggi fails to preserve Pall’s remains properly, rendering them ‘unflatteringly shrivelled pickled parts’.

Tom Mitchell.

Tom Mitchell and his Elmo schematic.

Enter Tom Mitchell, a middle-aged Californian horse farmer who’s so keen to be the owner of the world’s first celebrity penis that he’s willing to amputate ‘Elmo’ while he’s still alive.  Getting a tad carried away with what I like to refer to as his Pickle-Me-Elmo project, Mitchell goes on to get an American flag tattooed on its tip, commissions a fancy display case for it and seriously contemplates launching a comic book called The Amazing Adventures of Elmo, which features the penis in a cape (the cape bit being, to my mind, about the only predictable part of the proceedings thus far).

But that’s the kind of high weirdness and freakish devotion you’re bound to attract with a concept like a penis temple.  For the more pedestrian of us who remain thoroughly bemused at best and otherwise vaguely traumatised, it’d probably make more sense if the museum called itself Phallo-Illogical.

As the Daily Beast website notes, Iceland is home to many celebrated and much loved wonders. Volcanic mountains. The Blue Lagoon. The best lamb on the planet.  Musicians Björk, Of Monsters and Men, and Sigur Rós. Four-time “World’s Strongest Man” winner Magnús Ver Magnússon and the evil ice hockey team in D2: The Mighty Ducks.

The Penis Museum, by contrast, would do well to keep it in its pants.