Friday, September 09, 2005

Woofers & Other Funny Animals

Well I just submitted an equipment review on the web, for a pair of speakers I purchased recently. It's been awhile since I've done something like that. Here's the link if you want to check it out (posting by Ray G) http://www.audiocircle.com/circles/viewtopic.php?t=18682&start=20.

I received a very nice comment the other day from a fellow blogger in response to my last post, where she listed many of her favorite cartoons (a good chunk of which were my favorites as well, although by the time Smurfs came along I was already taking my first tentative steps towards adulthood). This made me realize that I am one of millions of people who grew up during what was perhaps the worst 20 year period of the history of the animated cartoon, roughly spanning the years 1965-1985. While I am not really an animation expert, I have my theories about what happened during that bleak time. By the mid-1960s the theatrical cartoon was nearing the end of a gradual slide to extinction, and by the end of the decade there was no longer a viable market for fully-animated cartoon shorts. TV animation, although "limited" due to drastically lower budgets than the theatrical shorts, in the early days of the medium included such enduring and still entertaining shows such as Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, Rocky & Bullwinkle, Beany & Cecil, The Fintstones, The Jetsons, etc. Television also was a "dumping ground" for many of the great theatrical shorts of the 1930s-1950s, which were available daily on local stations throughout the country. The situation was not to last for long.

In the mid '60s superheroes began to replace the "funny animals" on the Saturday morning airwaves. Due to the small budgets they were designed and animated more or less as a talking comic strip, with very limited movements. I believe that the popularity of these shows, as well as the contemporary Hanna-Barbera "adventure" shows (such as Johnny Qwest) had a strong influence over the look of kids animation through the 1980s. At the same time, full color television began to push all of the black & white 1930s-40s theatrical shorts from the mainstream airwaves. In response to the superhero cartoons parents' groups began to rail against the more realistic violence in these shows (as well as the more traditional "cartoon violence"), which led to stricter content restrictions, ultimately resulting in the inane Super Friends-type shows in the 1970s that replaced more realistic comic book adventures (which did not really return until the Warner Bros. Batman series in the 1990s) and less classic unedited theatrical shorts TV.

In the meantime, budgets grew tighter, veteran studio animators and story men began to retire, and the networks (of which there were only 3 - no cable TV networks yet) insisted that the shows on Saturday morning take as few risks as possible, meaning that every show looked and sounded the same. As soon as something slightly original became a hit (such as Scooby Doo) it was instantly ripped off in pale imitations of the original (complete with laugh tracks!). Funny animals would return to the airwaves, but generally not in any new or interesting characters, just recycled characters from the '50s & '60s (Yogi Olympics, anyone?)!

By the early 1980s, kids cartoons still looked and sounded like what the old-timers called "illustrated radio", and had also turned into blatant half-hour toy commercials (Transformers/Care Bears). The old-line cartoon studios that supplied most of the product in the 1960s and 1970s (Filmation/Hanna-Barbera), were being supplanted by newer studios (such as DIC), that were producing their shows using cheaper overseas labor. It's difficult to envision that in a few years things would turn around dramatically, leading to what is what I believe is a real "golden age" of TV animation that we're still enjoying today.

Next time I'll give my thoughts about how things were able to turn around.

TTFN!

Mister Ray

Monday, September 05, 2005

iPod Moments

I'm going to try and keep things light around here. I don't really have anything profound to say about the events of the past couple of weeks that hasn't been said with far more eloquence by others.

As I'm writing this entry I just had one of those wondrous iPod moments that never could have happened before the little white elephant was launched by the folks from Cupertino. I was listening to "I'll Never Fall In Love Again" by Dionne Warwick, which was followed immediately by "This Is Not A Photograph" by Mission Of Burma. Even in the CD age, when we had the ability to hit the shuffle button on our changers, we would have never conceived of a segue from sophisticated Burt Bacharach pop to anarchic 1980s post-punk. Today, such a segue makes perfect sense and seems exactly right. The revolution of the iPod is that there's no thought involved in picking the five or six CDs that we were limited to before; there's now the opportunity to experience the entire library of hundreds of discs in a way that provides a stream of consciousness soundtrack to everyday life that's both random and familiar. This is what the new "Jack"-formatted radio stations in many major markets are trying to achieve to some extent. It'll be interesting to see if they are able to sustain the novelty over the long term.

I saw a recent photo of Paul McCartney the other day and for the first time was struck by how old he looked. While he looked very good for a man in his early sixties, it was very difficult from looking at him to see the young man - the Beatle - who along with his mates changed so many things, and so many people. I actually saw a Beatle in the flesh once. George Harrison passed by me in a hallway, sometime in the early 1990s. I was very cool and made eye contact with one of those "hey, how ya doin'!" looks. Of course, I will always stick to my belief that George acknowledged me in kind, although it's quite possible that nothing of the sort happened, and he just looked straight ahead towards his destination. Anyway, no one can ever take away the fact that I actually saw a Beatle!

Well, it's that time again. I need to get to bed so I can get up bright and early for another exciting day at the office. More to come.

TTFN.

Mister Ray

Monday, August 29, 2005

If A Blog Falls . . .

Well, I finally have confirmation that someone actually has read this blog because I received my first comments today. Thank you for all of your sincere offers to help my with my printing needs, search engine positioning and real estate opportunities. I look forward to your continued avid readership of this blog.

At some point over the past few years I have turned into an old fart. I had no desire to tune into the MTV VMAs last night, not even for the inevitable train wreck moment that will undoubtedly signal the end of someone's once-promising career. If I did watch the show would have been solely to celebrate the triumph of Green Day (considered old farts themselves to some of you youngsters out there). I have not, however, become so ossified that I would shell out big bucks to see (insert big FM DJ voice here) "The Stones". I remember in college I turned down the opportunity to see the group when they were touring in support of "Tattoo You" because I thought they were past their prime. That was almost 25 years ago! From what I recall my buddies (there were no "peeps" in 1981) told me the most memorable part of the show was when all 60,000 fans at Franklin Field in Philadelphia booed Prince off the stage. Of course, shortly after opening for "The Stones" Prince released 1999, and in the process began his own inexorable slide into the "classic rock" playlists of the 21st century.

Speaking of the 21st century, I feel gypped that I don't yet have a flying car. Shouldn't we all be driving flying cars and walking exclusively on moving sidewalks by now? Geez, we don't even have freaking monorails anywhere but Disneyland! The best we've been able to do so far this century is plasma TV. It just doesn't seem like we've hit our stride yet. Oh well, we still have a little time.

TTFN!

Mr. Ray

Sunday, August 28, 2005

More of the "10 Books That Made Me What I Am, For Better Or Worse"

My last post got me thinking about what the other nine books would be for my list. Generally they are books I read between the ages of 10 and 20, most of which I haven't read since I was a kid. Here are Nos. 2-5 (listed in order of remembrance):

2. Lillian Roxon's Rock Encyclopedia - If I read it today I would probably be embarrassed that it formed so much of my outlook on rock music, but in my pre-teen years it opened up a world of music beyond the Top 40, and led to my continued desire to read about music and take a chance every once and awhile on an band or an artist that might be a little off the beaten path (although unfortunately many of those paths are becoming increasingly well-worn).

3. Robert Metz, Reflections In A bloodshot Eye - A critical history of CBS circa 1975, it was the first book I read that provided insight in the entertainment business as well as a concise history of radio and television, which continues to fascinate me to this day.

4. Unknown 1973 NFL Preview Magazine - I don't remember the title or the editor, but this magazine, printed on glorious black & white newsprint, included a complete summary of the 1972 season, on a a team-by team basis, recaps of the playoffs and the Super Bowl (including the "Immaculate Reception" and the Dolphins' 17-0 run culminating in a 14-7 win in Super Bowl VII over the Redskins), as well as a preview of each team for 1973 (the Norm Snead Era for my New York Giants didn't quite pan out as predicted). To an 11-year-old this was the printed equivalent of watching an endless loop of the old "This Week In Pro Football" TV show.

5. Madeleine L'Engle, A Wrinkle In Time - Quite simply, this was my Harry Potter.

More book titles to come later.

One last thing for today. As part of the of the 50th anniversary celebration of the Brooklyn Dodgers 1955 championship team, the L.A. Dodgers' TV broadcast on FSN this afternoon started with two cameras in black & white and then gradually improved to the current technology. I caught the first few innings of the broadcast and while it was not as well done (or historically accurate) as a similar broadcast the Fox network did for their national game a few years ago, what made this really special was that Vin Scully was behind the mike, just as he was in 1955. Scully is one of the last of the great mid-century baseball broadcasters still active, and he is uniquely positioned to provide his audience with a first-hand account of what the television broadcast was actually like 50 years ago. Truly amazing! Some university should fund a researcher to sit Scully in front of a video camera and just have him give an oral history of his remembrances as soon as possible. I'd be happy to volunteer for the gig.

TTFN!

Mister Ray

Friday, August 26, 2005

A New Beginning?

Without much thought or planning (and without the aid of any performance enhancers), tonight I am making my first post to my new blog. Why am I blogging now, at age 43? On a Saturday morning in August 2005? As I mention in my profile, I need an outlet. Somehow I ended up in a very stressful job in a once-glamorous business where over the past 15 years my working day has evolved from about 10 hours a day (with a 1 hour lunch break) to about 14-15 hours a day, with lunch always at my desk. Why do I keep at it, why don't I quit? Two reasons, really. The first is that I really have no other marketable skills except for taking a similarly stressful job in the same dying industry for probably significantly less money at a competitor. The other is that I'm under contract for another 16 months, and I am taking some perverse pleasure in seeing if I can actually serve out the remainder of the contract without keeling over first.

Hopefully as I become more comfortable with my blog I'll be able to share more about myself, which I plan to do by writing about things that interest me. What might those things be? Well, let me start off by telling you how I got here to this site today.

As a kid I spent too much time watching TV. I should have spent more time riding my bike, playing ball, or creating the MS-DOS operating system, but instead a good chunk of time every afternoon was spent in front the tube. Like most kids, cartoons were a big part of my broadcast day. I was fortunate in that in my prime childhood years local TV stations still showed a fair amount of theatrical cartoons from the 1930s-50s, as well as the 50s-60s TV product that retained sufficient charm and entertainment value to offset the increasingly mediocre contemporary 1970s cartoons that dominated the three networks on Saturday mornings. Anyway, as I grew older my interest in animated cartoons never waned, and one fateful day while in college I stumbled across a copy of Of Mice And Magic by Leonard Maltin, which is one of the "10 Books That Made Me What I Am, For Better Or Worse" (we'll probably hit the other 9 over time, once I figure out what numbers 2-10 were). Anyway, recently I picked up the book for the first time in about a decade, which rekindled my somewhat dormant enthusiasm for animation. Inspired anew by the Maltin book, for the first time I began to investigate many of the excellent animation websites, particularly http://cartoonbrew.com and the many related sites which link from there. One of those links on the Cartoon Brew site was to a fascinating collection of drawings by the animator Irv Spence (here is the link to that site: http://filboidsudge.blogspot.com/). Well, I noticed on the top of the page on the Filboid Sudge site an invitation to "get your own blog". Well the next thing you know I clicked on the link, and here I am!

This is just an example of the fascinating stuff you'll be getting from old Mr. Ray on Midlife Slices for the foreseeable future (or at least until I decide to change my outlet from blogging to something more daring like self-administered body art). In the immortal words of Tigger (Paul Winchell, R.I.P.), "T.T.F.N. - Ta Ta For Now!".

Mister Ray