From Pepperland to Springfield: Great moments in animated pop
Today through Saturday, Macy's is staging an art show in their skyway based around that nebulous but Boomer-specific stretch of music known as "classic rock." And while its display of original memorabilia and artwork from actual classic rock musicians may be worth checking out for curiosity's sake--in case you've ever wondered if Jimi Hendrix had any drawing talent-- it's also worth going if you're interested in the odd intersection between pop music and animation.
Ron Campbell, who will appear throughout the show, had an important brush with rock 'n' roll history in the late '60s when he was an animation director for the Saturday morning Beatles cartoon and subsequently went on to contribute to the animated full-length movie Yellow Submarine. Ever since, pop music and cartoons have crossed paths in strange ways, whether officially, like the half-assedly-animated MC Hammer vehicle Hammerman, or satirically, like David Bowie and Brian Eno's impersonated appearances as supervillain masterminds on The Venture Bros. Here are a few of the more unique moments.
TV Funhouse's Black Sabbath cartoon
The Beatles TV cartoon that Campbell worked on is directly parodied in Robert Smigel's inimitable style, as seen in this episode of his unfortunately short-lived TV Funhouse series on Comedy Central. The pioneering heavy metal band's cartoon doppelgangers are distilled into bizarre caricatures--Tony Iommi is the snooty smart guy; a constantly drinking Bill Ward mutters incoherent blather that everyone still perfectly understands somehow; Ozzy is a total idiot--and thrown into a feather-weight plot that they bulldoze through with rock-star excess and a gratuitous montage that perfectly mimics their sound. Also, it's fun to think that Sabbath had a big stupid sheepdog that followed them around all the time back in '74.
Thugnificent vs. Sgt. Gutter
Rap beef is ridiculous. It's not as stupid now as it was when people were actually getting shot over it back in the '90s, but it's still a pretty transparent go-to when struggling rap artists need to get back into the spotlight in the quickest, cheapest way possible. The Boondocks has been one of the best examples of tough-love satire when it comes to hip-hop, combining a devotee's knowledge of the genre with an irreverent disdain for the elements that make it kind of goofy, and the episode Bitches to Rags is a hilariously precise dissection of the modern fallen-off rapper. Thugnificent, a thinly-veiled analogue of nearly every Southern rapper of the last 10 years, is desperately trend-riding to stay on top--his new album has AutoTune on every single track--but when he goes on the air to promote it, the host won't stop referring to him in the past tense. Eventually he snaps, calling out the Soulja Boy-esque Sgt. Gutter in an attempt to change the subject, but the ensuing beef just makes him look that much more out of touch. By the end of the episode, he's back to working with UPS, and trying to turn his job experiences into a reality show because "the music industry is dead."
Mastodon Threaten to Cut You Up With a Linoleum Knife
Standards for movie theater etiquette have changed, so why not update the traditional happy-concession-stand-item pre-movie trailer while we're at it? This cartoon was the lead-in to the convolutedly titled Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters, and since people nowadays can't stop talking or dicking around on their phones during movies, we've reached the point where we need Brann Dailor and Brent Hinds to show up at the beginning of every movie and yell grievous threats at the audience to get them to stop.
The P-Funk Cartoon That Should've Been
While Pedro Bell was the cartoonist of choice to represent the visual-art aspect of Funkadelic--best known for his sleeves for albums like Cosmic Slop and Standing on the Verge of Getting It On--Parliament had Overton Loyd, who designed the cover for The Motor Booty Affair and illustrated a comic book that came with Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome. Some of those cartoons actually made it to animated form, incorporated into this TV spot for the Funkentelechy album and also shown in full as part of the P-Funk tours of the late '70s. A Saturday morning cartoon centering around characters like Mr. Wiggles and Sir Nose D'Voidoffunk might've been too out-there to slot between Super Friends and Yogi's Space Race, but at a time when animated movies for adults like Ralph Bakshi's Wizards could make it to theaters, there's no reason they shouldn't have given a feature-length Starchild cartoon a chance.
The Ramones Wish Mr. Burns a Happy Birthday
It's been said that one of the biggest roles punk had to play in the continuum of rock 'n' roll was to usurp the arena-filling megastars that had come before them and lost their way in the process. I'm pretty sure that offending a powerful billionaire and hoping he gets confused by the identity of the band insulting him is the single most roundabout way to do it, but whatever works, you know?
The 92 KQRS Classic Rock Show runs through Saturday, with hours from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily at the skyway level of Macy's (700 Nicollet Mall).
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