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November 2007

Reading's Glorious Past

Random pop-culture trivia about Reading that I learned today (with audio references):

Always never quite right

Square Pegs castCast and Devo

One of the more profound touchstones of my pop-cultural development was Square Pegs, a short-lived sit-com from 1982 that starred, among others, the people that would be better known as Captain Kirk's bastard son (so pretty, so tragic) and Carrie Bradshaw (so tiny, so odd-looking).

The show was my first exposure to a number of things that inspired my devotion for years to come, particularly Devo and The Waitresses. Certain phrases from the show still pepper my conversation to this day. Not bad for a show that was only on for half a season twenty-five years ago. What amazes me is that I’ve retained all this stuff about the show, but I couldn't have actually watched more than an episode or two. But I listened to them all.

In 1982, my family didn't actually own a TV. The last one had finally broken down altogether, and it was a while before my parents felt the need (or had the wherewithal, perhaps, or some combination of the two) to get another. My sister Ellen, however, had a portable TV/radio that could tune into the audio signal of broadcast TV stations. It was kind of a pain, but better than nothing. (And I’m sure she appreciated being able to keep up with General Hospital as much as I appreciated keeping up with Square Pegs. Honestly, I can't even remember what clever bit of marketing inspired me to listen in to a show I couldn't actually see, but I was hooked pretty instantly.

It's been odd having such vivid memories of sounds and dialogue without accompanying footage. I know I saw a couple of episodes — probably when spending the night at my friend Eddie's house — but for the most part my visual memories of the show are more delicate than the rest. Thanks to the magic of YouTube, though, that’s starting to change. Last night I stumbled across the episode I most wished I had seen when it was first on: the one where Devo (Johnny Slash's 9th favorite band) played at Muffy Tepperman's New Wave bat mitvah. Bliss!

The scripted jokes and the accompanying laugh track are painful, of course, but there are all kinds of charming little details in there that I still love. I hindsight, I love the quirky, watered-down version of 80s culture that was sanitized for TV, but still hints at interesting things must have inspired it. I love the throwaway gags, like how John Densmore from the Doors is the drummer for Johnny Slash's band, and how LaDonna, the cool black chick, can identify gefilte fish that came out of a jar. And even now, Devo still seems beautifully eccentric.

The WaitressesAnd here's a bonus for you: the ass-kicking theme for the show by The Waitresses: Square Pegs (buy more)

Since I never actually saw the Square Pegs pilot (just listened to it), I never saw the Waitresses perform, and for years I mixed them up with the equally sassy Josie Cotton, who performed in another other pinnacle of watered-down 80s New Wave teen comedy, Valley Girl. (My obsession for that movie and its soundtrack is a story for another day, perhaps.) But they're like totally different. Totally!

Extra bonus: the first song performed by Johnny Slash's band, Open 24 Hours: Tired. Totally Tired

Cult of UHF

Find of the day: a free podcast featuring full-length downloads of classic B movies in the public domain. Cult of UHF! They're not high-enough resolution for home-theater viewing, but if I’m watching stuff that’s for curiosity or light entertainment I tend to watch them in a corner of my screen while I do other stuff. This is a gold mine for those of us with a soft spot for cheesy sci-fi and horror. (There's also a companion blog, of course.)

Third time's the charm

We got our grades this week and I’m very pleased to report that I’m getting an MA "with distinction", the British equivalent to summa cum laude honors. I guess all that hard work this year paid off.

To be honest, I was very nervous about how this year would turn out right up until the very end when I finally turned in my dissertation. I could tell as I went along that I was doing OK, but there was a nagging little voice in the back of my head reminding me that it could still go topsy-turvy if I lost focus. After all, I’d already tried getting a master's degree twice before. Granted, I felt woefully under-challenged both times, but what if the problem was me and not them? I feel a little vindicated now. And proud that I did well in a place that really and truly challenged me the whole time.

Now to sit tight and see if they'll let me hang around a few more years...

Recognition!

Observed on Design Observer today:

Design Observer

At least we know someone got one of the specimen booklets we sent out. Thanks for the shout-out!

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