The Late Movies: Happy Birthday Liberace, Jonathan Richman, Krist Novoselic, Janet Jackson, Richard Page, Robert Fripp, Boyd Tinsley, and "Pet Sounds"

Today happens to be the birthday of tons of famous musicians. Here's a little roundup of tunes by Liberace, Jonathan Richman, Krist Novoselic, Janet Jackson, Richard Page, Robert Fripp, Boyd Tinsley, and The Beach Boys (whose album "Pet Sounds" was released today in 1966). Other notable musical birthdays today -- unfortunately left out of this wrapup -- include Pervis Jackson of The Spinners, Billy Cobham, Barbara Lee of The Chiffons, Simon Katz of Jamiroquai, and Ralph Tresvant of New Edition. I'm telling you, May 16 is some kind of mega-birthday for musicians. Enjoy:

V?adziu Valentino Liberace - 1919

In this 1978 show, Liberace performs "Blue Danube" in Las Vegas, with the colorful Dancing Waters behind him. Sparkly.

Jonathan Richman - 1951

I saw a YouTube comment that summed Richman up nicely: "Either you love Jonathan Richman or you've never heard of him." My favorite song of his is "Vincent Van Gogh." Here's an early version, performed with The Modern Lovers live in Toronto. The sound quality isn't great, but the dancing and 80s sweater are fantastic. See also: this version from "Not So Much To Be Loved As To Love." I prefer the version on the hard-to-find "Rockin' and Romance."

Krist Novoselic - 1965

Novoselic was Nirvana's bassist, and he wrote ultra-catchy bass lines for songs like "Lounge Act," "Heart-Shaped Box," and my favorite, "Sliver." When I was in high school, this was the go-to bass line you learned when you first got your hands on a bass:

Janet Jackson - 1966

Remember this one? You thought I was going to post "Rhythm Nation," but no, I totally went back-catalogue to "What Have You Done For Me Lately":

Richard Page (Mr. Mister) - 1953

Page was the lead singer and bassist for Mr. Mister. It was a real tossup trying to choose between "Kyrie" and "Broken Wings" to post here. I guess "Broken Wings" is the canonical Mr. Mister song, though, so here goes:

Robert Fripp - 1946

Fripp is best known as the only permanent member of King Crimson, though he did amazing work with David Bowie and Brian Eno (among many, many others). Two highlights: he played the iconic lead guitar line on Bowie's "Heroes" and the guitar solo for Eno's "Baby's On Fire." Here's a solo performance of Fripp's "Soundscapes" -- give it a few minutes to get going:

Boyd Tinsley - 1964

Tinsley is best known as the violinist for Dave Matthews Band, though he's been a musical fixture of Charlottesville, Virginia for decades. In "Ants Marching," the second single from DMB's "Under the Table and Dreaming," Tinsley's violin line forms the primary riff, and he takes frequent opportunities to solo. Check out this live performance from Central Park:

The Beach Boys - "Wouldn't It Be Nice" - 1966

Today also happens to mark the release of The Beach Boys' seminal "Pet Sounds" album in 1966. My favorite cut from that record is "Wouldn't It Be Nice"; here's a video set to outtakes of the recording session, explaining how the complex arrangement came together:

See also: "Wouldn't It Be Nice" used in "Roger & Me" to terrific effect. Amazingly, May 16, 1966 also saw the release of Dylan's "Blonde on Blonde." A good day for music.

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Karl Walter, Getty Images
When the FBI Investigated the 'Murder' of Nine Inch Nails's Trent Reznor
Karl Walter, Getty Images
Karl Walter, Getty Images

The two people standing over the body, Michigan State Police detective Paul Wood told the Hard Copy cameras, “had a distinctive-type uniform on. As I recall: black pants, some type of leather jacket with a design on it, and one was wearing combat boots. The other was wearing what looked like patent leather shoes. So if it was a homicide, I was thinking it was possibly a gang-type homicide.”

Wood was describing a puzzling case local police, state police, and eventually the FBI had worked hard to solve for over a year. The mystery began in 1989, when farmer Robert Reed spotted a circular group of objects floating over his farm just outside of rural Burr Oak, Michigan; it turned out to be a cluster of weather balloons attached to a Super 8 camera.

When the camera landed on his property, the surprised farmer didn't develop the footage—he turned it over to the police. Some local farmers had recently gotten into trouble for letting wild marijuana grow on the edges of their properties, and Reed thought the balloons and camera were a possible surveillance technique. But no state or local jurisdictions used such rudimentary methods, so the state police in East Lansing decided to develop the film. What they saw shocked them.

A city street at night; a lifeless male body with a mysterious substance strewn across his face; two black-clad men standing over the body as the camera swirled away up into the sky, with a third individual seen at the edge of the frame running away, seemingly as fast as possible. Michigan police immediately began analyzing the footage for clues, and noticed the lights of Chicago’s elevated train system, which was over 100 miles away.

It was the first clue in what would become a year-long investigation into what they believed was either a cult killing or gang murder. When they solved the “crime” of what they believed was a real-life snuff film, they were more shocked than when the investigation began: The footage was from the music video for “Down In It,” the debut single from industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails, and the supposed dead body was the group's very-much-alive lead singer, Trent Reznor.

 
 

In 1989, Nine Inch Nails was about to release their debut album, Pretty Hate Machine, which would go on to be certified triple platinum in the United States. The record would define the emerging industrial rock sound that Reznor and his rotating cast of bandmates would experiment with throughout the 1990s and even today on albums like The Downward Spiral and The Slip.

The band chose the song “Down In It”—a track with piercing vocals, pulsing electronic drums, sampled sound effects, and twisted nursery rhyme-inspired lyrics—as Pretty Hate Machine's first single. They began working with H-Gun, a Chicago-based multimedia team led by filmmakers Eric Zimmerman and Benjamin Stokes (who had created videos for such bands as Ministry and Revolting Cocks), and sketched out a rough idea for the music video.

Filmed on location among warehouses and parking garages in Chicago, the video was supposed to culminate in a shot with a leather-jacketed Reznor running to the top of a building, while two then-members of the band followed him wearing studded jumpsuits; the video would fade out with an epic floating zoom shot to imply that Reznor's cornstarch-for-blood-covered character had fallen off the building and died in the street. Because the cash-strapped upstarts didn’t have enough money for a fancy crane to achieve the shot for their video, they opted to tie weather balloons to the camera and let it float up from Reznor, who was lying in the street surrounded by his bandmates. They eventually hoped to play the footage backward to get the shot in the final video.

Instead, the Windy City lived up to its name and quickly whisked the balloons and camera away. With Reznor playing dead and his bandmates looking down at him, only one of the filmmakers noticed. He tried to chase down the runaway camera—which captured his pursuit—but it was lost, forcing them to finish shooting the rest of the video and release it without the planned shot from the missing footage in September of 1989.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the band, a drama involving their lost camera was unfolding in southwest Michigan. Police there eventually involved the Chicago police, whose detectives determined that the footage had been filmed in an alley in the city's Fulton River District. After Chicago authorities found no homicide reports matching the footage for the neighborhood and that particular time frame, they handed the video over to the FBI, whose pathologists reportedly said that, based on the substance on the individual, the body in the video was rotting.

 
 

The "substance" in question was actually the result of the low-quality film and the color of the cornstarch on the singer’s face, which had also been incorporated into the press photos for Pretty Hate Machine. It was a nod to the band's early live shows, in which Reznor would spew cornstarch and chocolate syrup on his band members and the audience. “It looks really great under the lights, grungey, a sort of anti-Bon Jovi and the whole glamour thing,” Reznor said in a 1991 interview.

With no other easy options, and in order to generate any leads that might help them identify the victim seen in the video, the authorities distributed flyers to Chicago schools asking if anyone knew any details behind the strange “killing.”

The tactic worked. A local art student was watching MTV in 1991 and saw the distinctive video for “Down In It,” which reminded him of one of the flyers he had seen at school. He contacted the Chicago police to tip them off to who their supposed "murder victim" really was. Nine Inch Nails’s manager was notified, and he told Reznor and the filmmakers what had really happened to their lost footage.

“It’s interesting that our top federal agency, the Federal Bureau of [Investigation], couldn’t crack the Super 8 code,” co-director Zimmerman said in an interview. As for Wood and any embarrassment law enforcement had after the investigation: “I thought it was our duty, one way or the other, to determine what was on that film,” he said.

“My initial reaction was that it was really funny that something could be that blown out of proportion with this many people worked up about it,” Reznor said, and later told an interviewer, “There was talk that I would have to appear and talk to prove that I was alive.” Even though—in the eyes of state, local, and federal authorities—he was reportedly dead for over a year, Reznor didn’t seem to be bothered by it: “Somebody at the FBI had been watching too much Hitchcock or David Lynch or something,” he reasoned.

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Courtesy of Park Circus and MGM
West Side Story Is Returning to Theaters This Weekend
Courtesy of Park Circus and MGM
Courtesy of Park Circus and MGM

As Chris Pratt and a gang of prehistoric creatures get ready to face off against some animated superheroes for this weekend’s box office dominance, an old rivalry is brewing once again on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. West Side Story—Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins’s classic big-screen rendering of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway musical—is returning to cinemas for the first time in nearly 30 years.

As part of TCM’s Big Screen Classics Series, West Side Story will have special screening engagements at more than 600 theaters across the country on Sunday, June 24 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. If you can’t make it this weekend, encores will screen at the same time on Wednesday, June 27. The film—which is being re-released courtesy of TCM, Fathom Events, Park Circus, and Metro Goldwyn Mayer—will be presented in its original widescreen format, and include its original mid-film intermission. (Though its 2.5-hour runtime is practically standard nowadays, that wasn’t the case a half-century ago.) The screening will include an introduction and some post-credit commentary by TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz.

West Side Story, which was named Best Picture of 1961, is a musical retelling of Romeo and Juliet that sees star-crossed lovers Maria (Natalie Wood) and Tony (Richard Beymer) navigate the challenges of immigration, racial tension, and inner-city life in mid-century Manhattan—but with lots of singing and dancing. In addition to being named Best Picture, the beloved film took home another nine Oscars, including Best Director, Best Supporting Actor and Actress (for George Chakiris and Rita Moreno, respectively), and Best Music—obviously.

To find out if West Side Story is screening near you, and to purchase tickets, visit Fathom Events’s website.

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