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Monday, April 09, 2007


Variations on a Theme

Being on Spring Break, I've had time over the last week or so to get done all those things I normally have to cram into the tiny, George-Bush's-bookshelf-sized space of a two-day weekend. Laundry? Did it on Wednesday. Groceries? Fridge has been fully stocked since Thursday. Getting drunk and puking out the window on passersby? Monday, Tuesday and twice on Friday.

Which means that I had time this weekend to get around to a couple of things that I had been meaning to do for months. Neither of these things was "Give the Apartment a Thorough Cleaning", but that's a matter for a later discussion.

One of those things was to re-watch Casablanca. My fucking god, I love that movie. It's really kind of perfect. There has never been a more fantastically amoral character than Claude Reins' Louie. There's never been a hero as utterly cool as Bogart's Rick. And Ingrid Bergman just makes infidelity and ethical uncertainty hot. I live in constant fear that some tapioca-headed exec at Warner brothers is going to get an idea in the cavernous space where his brain should be to remake Casablanca with, say, Josh Hartnett and Lindsay Lohan. God help us, they'd probably have Michael Bay direct. *shudder* If this ever happens, do not be surprised to read a headline along the lines of "New York School Teacher Arrested for Hurling Feces at Movie Premiere".

The other thing I got a chance to do was to finish loading up every bit of music in our house onto my iPod. I'm proud to say that I have now officially used up more than half of the available space. (30 gigs is a lot of fucking room, folks.) I even went through my wife's music and grabbed a selection. Mazzy Star? Si! Tori Amos? No. (God, no.)

I included, in this spastic upload-athon, an album I'm sure my wife thinks should be tossed into the street to be run over by an entire parade-full of filthy-shod pedestrians. The album is number six in the series Television's Greatest Hits. It's the only disc in the series that I own, although I used to have the first three on cassette. (Cassetes, children, were a device that we used to store music on way, way back when. They were smaller than LPs, you see, and they made really fun noises when the tape player ate them.)

Now, don't want to give the impression that I spend every day bopping down the street to the theme from Facts of Life, but I do have a very healthy appreciation for TV themes. What I especially love about them is the fact that, even though we so rarely pay any attention to them when they're on our television, they're instantly recognizable when you hear them. Nothing more than the first few bass notes have to hit my ear before I know that I'm listening to the theme from Barney Miller. I love, as well, how perfectly all these theme songs fit into the era from which they came. From the groovy jazziness of Spider-Man to the disco overtones of Mork & Mindy, you hear these songs and you know precisely what decade spawned them.

You also get that wave of memory of the person you were when you sat down to watch the shows. The theme from Fantasy Island reminds me instantly of the little kid who desperately tried, week after week, to stay awake long enough to find out how Mr. Rourke was going to solve his visitors' problems. I hear The Cosby Show and I think of that poor pathetic high school student who wasn't getting laid. Play me music from Twin Peaks and I think of that poor pathetic college student who wasn't getting laid. There's just a whole lot of fucking music that reminds me of the great stretches of time when I wasn't getting laid.

To me, the best TV themes--and by best, I mean cheesetastically awful--are the ones where the show's star had their agent somehow work it into their contract that they--the star--got to sing the theme. Good lord, did the world really need to hear Marla Gibbs warbling her way through the opening credits of 227? The alpha and omega of star-sung TV themes, though, has to be Lee Majors ear-torturing rendition of The Fall Guy. Lo, there comes a terrible beauty.

Today's TV theme songs are just not as impressive. Half of the shows do away with the opening credits altogether and just play them over the action. Others use pre-existing pop songs (I'm looking at you, CSIs.) I would remind you that, back in the day, TV themes were so good that they became pop songs. That's right, we should never forget that Joey Scarbury took "The Theme from Greatest American Hero" to the Top 40.

I guess the one contemporary show I can think of with a memorable theme is Cold Case, which my wife watches and which, weekly, pierces my eardrum with that god-awful opening shriek. But at least I know that, years from now, whenever I hear it, I'll remember that, week after week, I used to go in the other room so I wouldn't have to watch it.

Oh god, I have to get a copy of this. Then I could sing along to the originals as I slowly torture my spouse with my horrific warbling.
You're right, though- theme songs suck now. I'll take Lee Majors any day over slick, overproduced wimp-pop.
But I'm going to have the "Facts of Life" theme in my head the rest of the day now.
There was actually a "Casablanca" TV series in the early '80s ... with David Soul as Rick, Hector Elizondo as Louis, Scatman Crothers as Sam, and Ray Liotta. Man, I'd kill to see that.
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