Monthly Archives: February 2013

Bob Dylan & Paul Simon: Slip Slidin’ Away

© 1999 by H.B. Koplowitz

“You know the nearer your destination,
the more you’re slip slidin’ away.”
— Paul Simon, “Slip Slidin’ Away,” 1977

Near the end of the prior millennium, the two greatest folk-rock composers of the 1960s, Bob Dylan and Paul Simon, teamed up for a concert tour. Attention must be paid. Both men’s early music was so intertwined with the social issues of the day — civil rights, Vietnam, recreational drug use, sexual revolution and existential angst — that they hold special meaning for those who came of age during those times.

Thus I plunked down $70 for their June 22, 1999, concert at the Hollywood Bowl, knowing neither would give me what they knew I wanted, which was, of course, for them to sing all their golden oldies just like they used to, forever young. Fat chance, when Dylan has spent most of his career trying to dodge the revolution, while Simon has spent his trying to prove his last name isn’t Garfunkel.

Hey, I’m sorry, OK. I know they are sick of doing their old stuff. And I know they have “evolved” and created more stuff since 1969, even if I’m not nearly as familiar with Simon’s 1998 Broadway musical “The Capeman,” or Dylan’s 1997 triple Grammy album, “Time Out of Mind.” But the immutable truth is that for people of a certain age, call us baby boomers or aging hippies, “the music we grew up with” — “Sounds of Silence,” “Mr. Tambourine Man” — remain powerful touchstones, whether we, or the people who created those immortal tunes, like it or not.

In such situations, an uneasy truce tends to exist between audience and performer that goes something like this: The performer will sprinkle the concert with enough moldy stuff to bring a nostalgic tear to the eye, if the audience will be open to the newfangled stuff, or at least refrain from constantly yelling out requests for the old stuff. And somewhere in between, hopefully the performer takes an old song seriously enough to do it justice, and the audience gets turned on to something new.

The ultimate goal is one goose-pimply moment of transcendent clarity, call it sentiment, that makes the rest of the evening worthwhile. For me, the generally lackluster Dylan-Simon concert at the Hollywood Bowl did yield one such moment. It came near the end of Simon’s set, shortly before Dylan came out to collaborate in a niggardly four duets, and Simon split, no doubt to tune up for his next night’s more intimate gig at the House of Blues on the Sunset Strip. Stepping away from the multiethnic armada of three towering drum sets that made one wonder which inadequacy Simon might be compensating for, he sang an acoustic, soulful, haunting and, dare I say, straight version of “Slip Slidin’ Away” that seemed to sum up not just the concert, but a generation.

Bob Dylan and Paul Simon were both born in 1941, although Dylan is the acknowledged father of folk-rock music, while Simon is its prodigal son. By 1965, when Simon & Garfunkel had their first hit with “The Sounds of Silence,” Dylan had already popularized “protest songs” with such classics as “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” “It Ain’t Me, Babe” and “The Times They Are A-Changin’,”  and then caused a schism in the folksinging world by strapping on an electric guitar and fusing urban folk lyrics with pulsating rock ‘n’ roll music, creating such mind-expanding melodies as “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Ballad of a Thin Man,” “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” “Just Like a Woman” and “All Along the Watchtower.”

Then came Dylan’s fabled motorcycle crash, his discovery of religion, and Johnny Cash, and some 20 less memorable albums followed including “Nashville Skyline,” “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid,” “Planet Waves,” “Blood on the Tracks,” “Dylan & the Dead” (from when he toured with The Grateful Dead), and “Self Portrait,” in which he covered Simon’s “The Boxer.” Like several of those albums, his latest effort, 1997’s Grammy album of the year “Time Out of Mind,” is viewed as a major comeback.

With childhood friend Art Garfunkel, Paul Simon began his career in the same urban folksinging tradition as Dylan. Simon & Garfunkel’s first album, “Wednesday Morning, 3 AM,” covered Dylan’s “The Times They are a Changin’,” along with such other protest songs of the antiwar and civil rights movements as “Go Tell It on the Mountain” and “Peggy-O.” While Simon & Garfunkel had a softer, sometimes saccharine sound, Simon’s lyrics were just as poignant as Dylan’s in such songs as “Scarborough Fair,” “Homeward Bound,” “Mrs. Robinson,” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” And it was their music that accompanied the classic ’60s coming-of-age flick, “The Graduate.”

After splitting with Garfunkel in 1970, Simon went on to record “Me & Julio Down By The Schoolyard,” “Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover,” and “Still Crazy After All These Years.” Like Dylan, who made “Don’t Look Back,” Simon made a movie about the music industry, “One Trick Pony.” He also appeared on numerous “Saturday Night Live” TV shows and gritted out a 1981 nostalgia reunion tour with Garfunkel.

In his late ’80s and early ’90s releases, “Graceland” and “Rhythm of the Saints,” he experimented with Latin rhythms, African beats and other indigenous music. However, in 1986 he was temporarily blacklisted by the African National Congress and United Nations for breaking the apartheid boycott of South Africa with “Graceland,” which was inspired by South Africa dance music and featured the South African group Ladysmith Black Mambazo. But the album was both a critical and popular success, and received the Grammy for 1988 record of the year. More controversy hovered over his short-lived 1998 Broadway musical “Capeman,” based on a ’50s New York Puerto Rican gang member.

The careers of Dylan and Simon have crisscrossed but never intersected until the current tour, which, along with the fact that neither man is getting any younger, has some calling the concerts historic. Especially with the duets, the shows would seem to have a huge quotient for goose pimples. Sadly, with the exception of “Slip Slidin’ Away,” the Hollywood Bowl concert provided few such eruptions.

During the tour they were doing 75-minute sets with 15 minutes of duets in the middle, alternating who performed first, and it was Simon’s turn at the Bowl. Flanked by guitars, keyboards and the aforementioned arsenal of percussionists, he launched into an over-orchestrated and under-emotive “Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” which counts as a medium moldy, as it is the title track of the last album he did with Garfunkel. Later he did another S&G standard, “Mrs. Robinson,” which got a rise out of the audience at the mention of Joe DiMaggio, who had recently died, but most of his set was devoted to his more recent music, including “Graceland” and a nice rendition of “Trailways Bus” from “Capeman.”

Dylan makes a different deal with his audiences — he’ll sing oldies, just not the same way. Indeed, his playlist included many of his classics, and not only the super hits like “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Like a Rolling Stone,” but also “Masters Of War,” “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” “Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again” and “Highway 61 Revisited.” But as usual, he sang them in a herky-jerky way that, among other things, makes it impossible to sing along. His harp playing also seemed off. But he played a surprising amount of lead guitar, which was the strongest part of his performance.

While many performers are energized by an audience, Dylan has been feuding with his since they booed him at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. As close as he came to acknowledging his fans in Los Angeles was to say “thank you ladies and gentlemen,” but I lost count after he said it five times. He seemed to have only two expressions, one being his patented scowl, and the other a scowling smile. He also displayed some doddering footwork that seemed inspired by Keith Richards, cough syrup or both. 

And then there were the duets, which bridged their individual sets. Following an earnest rendition of “Still Crazy After All These Years,” Simon rather reverently told the audience he felt “honored” to be sharing a stage with Dylan, who came strolling out picking the opening notes to “Sounds of Silence.” Next came the highlight of the show, as Simon chimed in with his guitar and they both stepped up to mikes and basically did Simon and Dylanfunkel. Dylan had a twinkle in his eye like he was enjoying the song, but also like he was enjoying watching Simon squirm through his half of it.

For me, the other duets were a letdown. First they did a medley of Johnny Cash’s “I Walk The Line” and Elvis Presley’s rockabilly version of Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” and then Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” hardly a fair trade for “Sounds of Silence.” If Dylan could join Simon in his signature song, then Simon should have joined Dylan in his own anthem of the ’60s, “The Times They are a Changin’.” Now that would have been sentiment.

Dylan did such a good job of imitating Garfunkel in “Sounds of Silence” that it made you wish he’d imitate himself once in awhile. After all, he’s got one of the easiest voices to imitate in music. Even Simon does a great Dylan parody on “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme” called “A Simple Desultory Philippic (Or How I was Robert McNamara’d Into Submission),” which would have made a fun addition to the show, as would some of those precious S&G inside tracks like “America,” “Kathy’s Song” and “April She Will Come.”

But enough “thinking of things that might have been.” Bob Dylan and Paul Simon have already provided my generation with enough sentiment to last a lifetime, and if Simon thinks a wall of sound from five continents is better than a curly-haired kid from Queens, that’s his business, and if Dylan thinks that when he sings “Highway 61 Revisited” he should pause between the words “sixty” and “one,” or end his set with a Bo Diddley number, that’s his business as well. Besides, any time I want to hear their old stuff I can go play their records. It was just really nice to see a couple of old friends again. Before we all slip slide away.

Cyber Sea-Monkeys

© 1999 by H.B. Koplowitz

In 1957, Harold von Braunhut stared into a vat of brine shrimp and saw … Sea-Monkeys. Brine shrimp, as some people know, are not really shrimp, but tiny crustaceous plankton used for live food on fish farms and in aquariums. Sea-Monkeys, as any baby boomer who picked up a comic book in the ’60s knows, are “amazing miracle” “instant pets,” a magic powder in a packet that lets you “create life” just by adding water. Brine shrimp are a quirk of nature that can survive for years in a state of suspended animation. But it took a quirk of marketing — and Harold von Braunhut — to turn them into a pop cultural icon. Now Sea-Monkeys, and the people who love them, have invaded cyberspace.

Sea-Monkey Central Official Webbed-Site” <> was created by a 38-year-old graphic designer and closet Sea-Monkey fanatic in Kansas City who would only identify himself as “Aqua-Boy.” As a kid, Aqua-Boy got hooked on Sea-Monkeys from the comic book ads. He “never had great success with the product but stayed enamored with the packaging.” Years later, after a hard day at the office, he decided to try Sea-Monkeys again, and from that point his interest “changed from a mild source of amusement to a state of obsessed frenzy.” In other words, he became a Sea-Monkeys memorabilia collector. The bug soon spread to collecting other novelty items invented by von Braunhut, and then to other “bio-grow toys” — Ant Farms, Sea Horse Corrals, Magic, Aqua and Moon Rocks, Instant Fish and Mexican Jumping Beans.

“Sea-Monkey Central” has product information, grow tips and a list of Sea-Monkey mentions in the media, including “The Amazing Live Sea-Monkeys,” CBS’s short-lived Saturday morning live action children’s program starring Howie Mandel. It also has a fascinating biography of von Braunhut, who first unveiled his “Instant Life” in 1960. For 49 cents you could buy a kit that included water clarifier, nutrient and the powdery brine shrimp eggs. Just add water and the powder would magically come to life. Sometimes. Not surprisingly, toy stores and parents were skeptical. Then von Braunhut decided to appeal to his target market of kids directly by advertising in comic books, and mail orders started pouring in.

Soon von Braunhut shifted the emphasis from “Instant Life” to “Sea-Monkeys” (in interviews he says he got the name from the monkey-like tails on the tiny creatures). As Aqua-Boy explains, “if the instant hatching brine pets didn’t live for long, the friendly Sea-Monkey family on the product’s packaging would last forever in the memories of baby boomers.” By the late 1960s, Sea-Monkeys had become so popular that toy stores began carrying them, so kids could buy them without the dreaded “4 to 6 week” postal delay.

Sea-Monkeys were usually sold with accessories, the first being a mini-aquarium called the “Micro-View Ocean-Zoo,” a plastic jar with built-in magnifying lenses, crater textured sea-floor base and aerated lid. Von Braunhut’s forte was turning a natural phenomenon into entertainment. For example, taking advantage of the fact that brine shrimp swim against water currents like trout, in 1974 he unveiled the Deluxe Sea-Monkey Speedway, in which you could race Sea-Monkeys through plastic tubes.

For girls there was the Incredible Sea-Bubble, a small aquarium that could be worn on a necklace. And kids could create their own peep show with the Ripley’s “Believe It Or Not” Sea-Circus kit marketed in 1964. The aquarium fit inside a cardboard box decorated like a circus tent with a stage window for Sea-Monkey viewing, along with a cardboard audience and ticket stand. While Sea-Monkeys are von Braunhut’s most famous invention, his other creations include Crazy Crabs, Invisible Goldfish and X-Ray Spex, cardboard glasses with funky red and white hypnotic spiral lenses that create an optical illusion of seeing through clothes or skin.

Von Braunhut still mixes the secret Sea-Monkey ingredients at Transcience, his home-based business in Maryland. And over the decades he has improved the breed so the critters are bigger and guaranteed to live two years. Distribution has gone through several hands, and yesterday’s “instant life” has become today’s educational toy distributed by ExploraToy <>.

ExploraToy Vice President George C. Atamian said Sea-Monkeys fit into their product line of items that “improve people’s lives by helping them learn.” He described von Braunhut as “brilliant and eccentric,” adding that the 74-year-old inventor has 193 patents, “incredible energy and a truculence for mediocrity.” He said von Braunhut is quite proprietary about his Sea-Monkeys, and that when the inventor dies, so will the recipe for making them.

ExploraToy’s latest kits include the Ghostly Galleon, an aquarium with a glow-in-the-dark sunken ship, and Ocean Zoo, a replica of the original mini-aquarium. Recently it began selling the Fun Time Aquarium Watch, a five-function digital watch with water-filled bubble dial where you can carry your Sea-Monkeys on your wrist.

Another Sea-Monkey fan Web site is the “Sea-Monkey Worship Page” <>, created by Susan Barclay, a.k.a. Sea-Monkey Lady. The Web site lets you “Ask the Sea-Monkey Lady” and post announcements of Sea-Monkey births and deaths. There’s also tips and tricks you can do with Sea-Monkeys, and information on where you can buy Sea-Monkeys online, through the mail and in stores.

One of the few sites where you can buy Sea-Monkey kits on the Internet is “As Seen On TV” <>, which is selling the Aquarium Watches for $13. “As Seen on TV” also peddles such classics of TV advertising as Chia Pets, Gator Grip, Super Slicer and The Smart Clapper.

Finally, lest you think all Sea-Monkey fans are fishy, or that the “Los Angeles Times” is not, check out the Sea-Monkey Webcam live from the newsroom at “The Times” <>. Scooped again.

Fanfic Online



© 2000 by H.B. Koplowitz

Gilligan was crouching in the bushes, peering through the foliage, as Ginger waded into the sweetwater pool under the waterfall.Her back was toward him as she moved under the waterfall. He saw her drop her clothing and caught a glimpse of her bare (expletive deleted) before it was covered with the white water.“C’mon, Ginger, turn around,” he whispered. “Turn around…”

He reached down into his pants and gripped his (expletive deleted)…

Under the waterfall, Ginger smiled secretly to herself. “He’s out there again,” she mumbled to herself. “Who could miss that hat?”

“Gilligan’s Island” was never like this! With Congress wanting to stomp out sex and violence in Hollywood, and the entertainment industry censoring itself with “standards and practices,” what are those who want MORE sex and violence to do? At so-called fanfic Web sites, avid followers of books, movies and TV shows, past and present, post their own versions of scenes they’d like to see, plot twists or relationships they want developed and entire seasons they wish were. A sub-genre of fanfic is nfic, or naughty fiction, like the above “Passion Fruit,” that tackle storylines Hollywood is too timid to touch.

Outgrowths of fanzines, e-mail lists and newsgroups, most fanfic Web sites contain no more sex and violence than the original works they are loosely based on. Even so, you’d think they were the ones getting investigated by Congress, because the Web sites come with elaborate disclaimers, warnings, plot summaries and rating systems to ensure that no one reads age-inappropriate material.

For example, “The Lois & Clark Fanfic Archive” <>, has 1,300 fan-written stories and images inspired by the defunct TV show “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman,” all rated G, PG, or PG-13. Recent stories include “Forever Superman,” about a vampire seemingly on the loose in Metropolis; “Married, With Children,” about an afternoon at the Zoo with Lois and Clark and their children; and “Misadventures Again,” in which Spiderman gets married, with Lois Lane, Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne (Batman) on the guest list.

Decidedly more risque are the 400 stories archived at “The Official Lois & Clark nFic Directory” <>. In “Aftermath,” “after a traumatic rescue by Superman, Lois uses a hot tub and massage to soothe a troubled Clark.” And in “All Work and No Play,” “a frustrated Lois teases Clark unbearably at the office, until he loses control and they make love in the supply closet.”

Another nfic collection is the unabashed “Agent Xena’s Smut Archive” <>, which pairs up X-Files characters like Mulder/Scully, Scully/Krycek and Scully/Skinner, not to mention Mulder/Scully/Krycek. Mulder/Scully stories include “2 Close For Comfort,” in which they make out on a stakeout; “The Carrot And The Stick,” in which a sexual encounter with Scully results in additional angst for Mulder; and “Batteries Not Included,” which answers the question, what would happen if Mulder came upon Scully’s vibrator?

Fan Fiction on the Net” <>, is a resource page with links to fan fiction based on such diverse muses as “The Adventures of Sinbad,” “Airwolf,” “Alien Nation,” “The A-Team,” Jane Austen and “The Avengers,” and that’s just the A’s. There’s also extensive links to adult fiction based on “Babylon 5,” “Dawson’s Creek,” “Doctor Who,” “Power Rangers” and all flavors of “Star Trek.”

An even more subversive sub-genre of nfic is slash. Named after the punctuation “/” used by fanfic authors to denote who is doing what to whom, slash is erotic fanfic involving two characters of the same gender. Some slash is based on fairly obvious choices like “Xena,” “Hercules” and “Highlander.” But there’s also homoerotic versions of “Ally McBeal,” “E.R.” and “The Practice,” along with “Friends,” “Oz,” “Quantum Leap” and “Rawhide.”

Of course, there’s slash and there’s slash. So while “RatB” <>, fixates on the “X-Files” characters Mulder and Krycek, “Syrenslure Fan Fiction” <>, prefers Buffy of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and hooks up Xena with Gabrielle, “Queen of the Amazons.”

For whatever reason, there seems to be a lot more naughty fan fiction being written than violent fan fiction. But for the ultimate in nfic fanfic, call it snufffanfic, there’s the simple but elegant “Who Would You Kill” <>, which invites people to cast their vote for who they’d most like knocked off their favorite TV show, and write their “final scene.”

For “NYPD Blue,” Gay John and Greg Medavoy were in a dead heat, with about 900 votes apiece. But someone calling himself Raoul Duke wanted to off Sipowicz: “Sipowicz and Danny are sitting at their desks. Danny says ‘I can’t belive how many people that heroin addict killed.’ Sipowicz says ‘Well that’s life. Ya gotta take it as it comes.’ Danny says ‘How do you do it? After seeing all this crime and murders how do you keep so cool?’ Sipowicz says ‘Quit whining Ricky.’ Danny says ‘What did you call me?’ Sipowicz says ‘I called you Ricky, remember your Silver Spoon days?’ Danny says ‘I TOLD YOU NEVER TO MENTION THAT AGAIN!!!!!!’ Danny jumps over the desk and clobbers Sipowicz with a desk lamp.”

Now that’s entertainment!