Friday, 25 September 2015

25/09/15 - Homerpalooza



It was always bound to come to this. In the eight years that I’ve been writing JuicyPips, every edition has been leading up to the point where I tackle this vital and thorny issue. The topic of this week’s ’Pips is ‘cultural references in The Simpsons’ ‘Homerpalooza’ episode’.

But of course.
The scriptwriting in The Simpsons has come under fire in recent years for having jumped the shark (if that’s not a phrase you’re familiar with, Google it, it’s very useful) round about the time Homer was raped by a panda in season 12’s ‘Homer vs. Dignity’. Some argue that it’s since rallied and the HD era has ushered in a more thorough approach to storycraft. (The show’s about to start its 27th season.) This is the cause of much debate, but you can’t really argue that the care with which the narratives were crafted was evident from the off – check the early first-season episodes ‘The Telltale Head’ or ‘The Crepes of Wrath’, for example.
The basic style of animation of the early episodes can be jarring for people who were raised on later episodes – that and the fact that the voices are all wrong; Ralph Wiggum has Nelson Muntz’s voice, Homer sounds demented. So to ease you into the highest-quality era of Simpsons scriptwriting along with relatively modern animation, you need to watch season 6. Probably the best two episodes ever are ‘Bart of Darkness’ and ‘Lemon of Troy’ – exquisitely crafted tales, both. (Incidentally, you can watch all of these episodes online here - http://www.kisspanda.net/the-simpsons/)
But the episode under scrutiny today comes from late in season 7, first airing in May 1996. ‘Homerpalooza’ is a tale of aspiration, downfall, redemption, meeting your heroes and living life on the hedonistic edge.

The basic plot is this: Otto accidentally drives the school bus into a crusher, so the kids have to car-pool to get to school. Homer drives Bart, Lisa, Milhouse and Nelson, listening to rock ‘n’ roll on the radio. They tell him he’s uncool. He has a bit of a crisis. He goes to a record store and realises that what he likes isn’t cool any more. (I can relate to that.) In an effort to become cool, he pulls Bart and Lisa out of school to go to Hullabalooza, a huge music festival. A convoluted series of events leads to a large inflatable pig being fired into his stomach from a cannon. (This makes sense when you watch it, trust me.) His ability to take a shot to the stomach earns him a place in Hullabalooza’s freak show, to have cannonballs fired at him on stage. He goes on tour. He becomes cool. He nearly dies. He publically chickens out, and goes back to his normal life of not being respected by his kids.
If you’ve seen it, you’ll know all this. If not, well, I’ve sort of ruined it for you – but watch it anyway, it’ll be a useful and entertaining twenty minutes of your life. Look: http://www.kisspanda.net/the-simpsons-season-7-episode-24-homerpalooza/
So anyway, those cultural references...

‘What Computers...?’

It’s possibly one of the greatest ever Simpsons moments, gloriously piquant in its prescience (or rather, abject lack of it). Homer’s in the record shop – brilliantly named ‘Suicide Notes [formerly Good Vibrations]’ – talking to the indifferent, dispassionate teen behind the counter. There’s a poster on the wall for Hullabalooza, which is the first time Homer’s made aware of it, and when it’s explained to him he says that the only festival worth knowing about is the US Festival (an event held twice in the early eighties, sponsored by Steve Wozniak and featuring the likes of Talking Heads, The Ramones, Fleetwood Mac and The Kinks). The kid behind the counter has never heard of it.
‘You know,’ says Homer, ‘it was sponsored by that guy from Apple Computers.’
The teen’s befuddlement and indifference grows. ‘What Computers...?’ he asks.
This was pre-iPod, of course – the episode aired way before Apple found its way into the world’s pocket. And the line’s made all the more poignant in that the kid’s holding a CD up in the air whilst proclaiming that he’s never heard of Apple.

Hullabalooza
The festival itself is based on the real-life Lollapalooza. This is an annual festival that started in 1991, the brainchild of Jane’s Addiction’s Perry Farrell. A number of the bands at Hullabalooza – Smashing Pumpkins, Cypress Hill, Sonic Youth – had actually previously played at Lollapalooza.

Peter Frampton
Frampton’s 1976 album ‘Frampton Comes Alive’ is one of the best-selling live albums of all time. A lot of people of a certain age know it inside-out. The final track is a 14-minute odyssey entitled ‘Do You Feel Like We Do’, which features Frampton’s legendary talkbox: an effects pedal that redirects the guitar sound through a tube and into his mouth, allowing the guitar to mimic human speech. This natty trick features in ‘Homerpalooza’, introducing a whole new generation of fans to one of the best-known live tracks ever – even the crowd’s cheers are borrowed directly from ‘Frampton Comes Alive’. As has become commonplace in kids’ movies and TV shows these days, this is a little reference thrown in for the parents. Not that The Simpsons is a kids’ show, it never has been, but you know what I mean.

Cypress Hill’s orchestra
There’s a lovely moment when one of the bands has summoned the London Symphony Orchestra, and nobody can remember who. Cypress Hill suspect it may have been them, while high, and run through a rendition of ‘Insane in the Brain’ with the orchestra. It actually sounds really good.
This would have been a ridiculous and outlandish collaboration in 1996. Nobody would bat an eyelid if that happened today.

KFSL
When the kids are car-pooling, Homer’s listening to his favourite radio station; ‘KFSL Fossil 103 – classic hits from Abba to Zeppelin, comma, Led’. They’re visibly squirming as he bops to Grand Funk Railroad. ‘Dad, you’re embarrassing us!’ they wail. ‘No I’m not,’ he says, ‘I’m teaching you about rock music.’
This strikes a chord with every parent in the world, ever. No matter how old you are, or where or when you grew up, your children will always say they hate your music, even if they secretly quite like it. The whole point of being a parent is to embarrass your kids. I intend to embrace this heartily in the future, turning up at the school gates with a bit of Offspring or Rancid blasting out of the car stereo. ‘God, dad, you’re so embarrassing.’

The hipsters
Hullabalooza is full of hipsters, and they’re virtually indistinguishable from the kind of twats you see wandering around Shoreditch in red trousers and spectacles without lenses today. (OK, they’re archetypal nineties slackers, but one evolved from the other.) They’re quick to judge, they attack in packs - despite that aching desire to be oh-so individual - and they’re so wound up in their cynicism, they’ve forgotten what’s real.
‘Here comes that cannonball guy,’ says Hipster A. ‘He’s cool.’
‘Are you being sarcastic, dude?’ asks Hipster B.
‘I don’t even know any more,’ he replies.
Top-notch social commentary, there.

Mr Burns & Ticketmaster
Buying gig tickets these days is a pain in the arse – it’s bloody difficult, and bloody expensive. So we can all relate to the brief interchange between Mr Burns and Smithers at the festival.
Why would Mr Burns be at Hullabalooza? Because he’d recently bought Ticketmaster. ‘And to think, you laughed when I bought Ticketmaster,’ he says to Smithers. ‘“Nobody’s going to pay a 100% service charge”, you said.’ Ouch.
Equally apposite is Smithers’ response. ‘It’s a policy that ensures a healthy mix of the rich and the ignorant, sir.’

There are a number of other cultural snapshots in the episode too. The scenes where Homer’s being hit by the cannonball ape the famous footage of Frank ‘Cannonball’ Richards. The flashback where Homer tries to talk to the cool guys with the strobe light-equipped custom van echoes a similar scene from Dazed & Confused. Homer’s strut into the crowd references that in Robert Crumb’s ‘Keep On Truckin’’ comic. Otto’s talking shoes borrow from the opening of Prince’s ‘1999’. And there are loads more gems to dig out too. Who’d have thought you could squeeze so much pop culture into a twenty-minute cartoon?

My favourite quote of the episode comes from Abe Simpson, in a flashback to Homer’s youth. He’s lambasting Homer and Barney for singing in front of a mirror, and they tell him he doesn’t understand because he’s not with it.
‘I used to be with it,’ he says, ‘but then they changed what it was. Now what I’m with isn’t it, and what’s it seems weird and scary to me.’
Frighteningly true, that. ‘It’ll happen to you...’





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