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Continuing on the subject of TV theme songs . . . Another theme that popped up on the iPod the other day was the one from “The Munsters.” So, naturally, my thoughts turned to . . . lunch boxes.

When I was in kindergarten, I had a Munsters lunch box. This was back in the glory days for these metal containers. Every middle-class kid like me had one. They came with a matching thermos, and they always retained an odor of sour milk, peanut-butter-and-jelly, and apples. Most importantly, the lunch box exterior bore images from some pop cultural touchstone, usually a TV show or movie. Although I have it from good authority that the most popular lunch box of all was Peanuts.

I don’t think kids use lunch boxes anymore. It seems they’ve been replaced by backpacks.

I’m not sure why I was the proud possessor of a Munsters lunch box. I don’t recall being a big fan of the show. For a long time I called it ”The Monsters,” and was mildly irked that everyone else seemed to be mispronouncing it. My parents thought the show was funny, so maybe they persuaded me to pick that particular box. Every day I would trudge off for the miles-long hike to school with the plastic handle of the lunch box clenched in one little hand, and every day I would retrace my steps home, with my school papers stuffed inside the box, along with my sandwich crusts and maybe an apple core.

One day, I returned home and opened the lunch box, only to find, to my shock and horror, that I had taken another boy’s Munsters lunch box by mistake. I recall being quite upset when I discovered the remains of someone else’s lunch and—worst of all—someone else’s schoolwork, which wasn’t even close to being up to my standards. I think my mother called the other boy’s home to sort everything out. I had to lie down with a case of the vapors.

bond lunchbox1

Bond lunchbox images via Bond art.

I upgraded when I entered the second grade. I got a James Bond lunch box. This one featured scenes from a bizarro universe hybrid of Thunderball and Goldfinger. Bond’s Aston Martin was on one side, and the hydrofoil boat from Thunderball was on the other. There were frogmen, too. Once again, I am slightly mystified by why I picked this particular container. I had never seen a Bond film at that point, although I had once met Ian Fleming at a cocktail party.* I suspect my father might have influenced me in my lunch box choice. He had a number of Bond paperbacks, which I read avidly years later.

The Bond was my last lunch box. After that, I upgraded to hot lunches. Lunch boxes were for kids.

Bond lunchbox2Some time ago, I visited the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. I found it to be a pretty interesting place, but the exhibit about James Bond really stopped me in my tracks. There, inside a glass case, was an example of my James Bond lunch box. A piece of my childhood, preserved as a museum piece. It was enough to make a guy feel old.

*Full disclosure: The statement about Ian Fleming is a lie. I never met him—but he did once invite me to his Jamaican estate, Goldeneye.**

**Sorry. Another lie.

GoldfingerDuring today’s walk the iPod segued from Shirley Bassey doing the theme from Goldfinger to Frank Sinatra singing “Day in, Day out.” It made me think, as I often do, of a lost opportunity. I wish Sinatra had played Felix Leiter in the James Bond films.

Leiter, for all who don’t know this important fact, was 007’s CIA connection. The character appeared in several of Ian Fleming’s Bond novels, and also showed up in the movies—usually played by a different actor each time. Jack Lord was perfectly adequate in the role opposite Sean Connery’s Bond for the first film, Dr. No, but things went downhill from there. In Goldfinger, Leiter was played by charisma-challenged Canadian actor Cec Linder. Cec Linder! Suffice it to say, you can easily imagine Linder’s Leiter taking a break from his agency duties to peddle Fuller brushes door to door. In Thunderball, Leiter shows up in the guise of an actor named Rik Van Nutter. I’ve seen the movie several times and I can barely remember him.

But there is a parallel universe, one that’s just a little better than ours, where Sinatra did play Leiter. Here’s an excerpt from a film history published in that alternate universe:

“Sinatra had already provided the vocals for the title song for From Russia with Love, so an on-screen teaming with Connery for Goldfinger seemed like a natural fit. ‘Sinatra brings a tough, wolfish American quality to the character of CIA agent Felix Leiter, and he meshes perfectly with Connery’s suave British spy,’ wrote Arthur Knight in his review of Goldfinger for Saturday Review. Producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman immediately signed Sinatra to reprise his role in Thunderball. Before shooting, the actors demanded script rewrites. “Haggis [Connery] and I both thought the gadgets had run their course,” Sinatra told an interviewer. “We wanted to get back to pure spy stuff, like the books.” The result was the leanest, tautest Bond yet. Connery was so pleased with the result, he insisted Sinatra receive a cameo in the next film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (considered by most Bond fans to be the best of the series), and then agreed to give Sinatra co-billing on Diamonds Are Forever, a gritty revenge thriller that unfolds in the shadows behind the bright lights of Las Vegas. Sinatra went on to play Leiter in three “Agency” films, with diminishing results. The first film, The Agency (with Connery taking a cameo as Bond) was generally well received, but the last in the series, Leiter’s Out! degenerated into a grab bag of Rat Pack shenanigans with everyone from Joey Bishop to Sammy Davis, Jr., showing up to join in the alleged fun.”

In this different and better parallel universe, Richard Castellano reprises his role as Clemenza for Godfather II and George Lucas decides that three Star Wars films are enough.

(For those wanting a complete Leiter list, here’s one from the Internet Movie Database.

 It’s another grim day following a night of rain. The sky is gray and threatening but the temperatures are climbing, so it’s as warm and humid as dog’s breath. Wet leaves blow down from the trees and plaster themselves on the lawns and sidewalks. Still, I managed to get out for a walk between showers and returned home only minutes before a new deluge. Here’s what I heard on the iPod shuffle.

11 tracks (1) Walter Becker. “Hard Up Case” from 11 Tracks of Whack. A song from Becker’s first solo album, an overlooked gem. Had Donald Fagen been singing the vocals it could have been one of the best Steely Dan albums ever. Becker’s vocals aren’t bad, but they are a bit of an acquired taste. Definitely an album worth checking out. I waited a while before I bought it, and then scored it cheap in a cutout bin in D.C. I got more than my money’s worth. Becker’s follow-up, Circus Money, is also excellent.

(2) Hoodoo Gurus. “Death Ship,” from Stoneage Romeos. I got a review copy of Stoneagestoneage romeos Romeos when I was editing a now-forgotten rock magazine in Boston. That must have been back in 1983 or ’84, and I fell hard for it. It was great guitar-oriented pop, with stick-in-your-head melodies, some edginess, and a lot of humor. The band included Larry Storch (F Troop) and Arnold Ziffel (the pig from Green Acres) among the personages to whom they dedicated the album, and the title comes from a Three Stooges short. Obviously not a band that was taking themselves too seriously. I saw them on that tour when they played a place called The Channel, a big, sprawling warren of bars and side rooms in South Boston. (Either the dBs or the Replacements opened.) The Hoodoos put on a great show, even though, as I learned later, they played with borrowed instruments because theirs had been stolen from their van a night or two previously. A couple years later, after I moved to Washington, I got to interview the Hoodoos in the somewhat shabby Hotel Harrington, also home to a bar called The Pink Elephant Lounge. I was impressed when guitarist Brad Shepherd returned to the room after doing his laundry and dumped out a trash bag that seemed to contain nothing but paisley shirts.

 nightfly(3) Donald Fagen. “New Frontier,” from The Nightfly. Fagen’s solo album was the first record I ever reviewed for publication. I wrote about it for the Maine music paper Sweet Potato just after I returned East the fall after I graduated from college in California. I didn’t get paid for the review but I got the album for free, which was payment enough.

 bond(4) Garbage, “The World is Not Enough,” from The Best of Bond. I paid for half of The Best of Bond CD, splitting the cost with my son, who must have been all of seven at the time. We were both Bond aficionados. The first Bond film we all watched together as a family was You Only Live Twice, which I figured was a good place to start because it contained enough gadgets and spectacle to keep the young minds interested. It worked, especially for Sam. I still get emotional whenever I hear the great string arrangements that kick off Nancy Sinatra’s performance of the theme song. Garbage is no Nancy, but this is one of the better songs from the more recent Bond movies. The movie itself is nothing to write home about, though.

 songs in key of life(5) Stevie Wonder. “Joy Inside My Tears” from Songs in the Key of Life. It must have been 1977 when a local radio station awarded my friend Bob the opportunity to do a “record run” at the Sonnet and Song. That meant he had a minute or two to go through the record store and grab as many records as he could. In the days leading up the big event everyone in school advised Bob about what he should grab. I think all the coaching just confused him, because he didn’t snag that many albums, certainly not as many as previous record run winners had scored. He gave me a bunch—or sold them to me, I can’t remember—and I went to various department stores around town and exchanged them for albums I wanted. Anyway, I noticed that before the record run, the owners of Sonnet and Song had taken all the copies of Songs in the Key of Life and hidden them away. I guess they didn’t want Bob getting any copies of that mammoth three-records-plus-bonus-disc set for free. At some point I bought the vinyl version (when my daughter was born my wife and I used “Isn’t She Lovely” for our answering machine message), but I recently found the CD version in the library and burned it. Stevie used to be Godlike, the kind of artist who appeared on the cover of Time magazine when he released an album. He doesn’t have that stature anymore, but who does?

 stolar(6) Belly. “Feed the Tree,” from Stolar Tracks Volume 2. I first heard this song on Maryland’s WHFS back when that station was still great. I was driving down Connecticut Avenue in D.C. at the time. The song’s from Belly’s debut album, Star. I bought the CD, but I loaded this on my iPod from a great collection I ordered sometime around 1993 from Stolichnaya Vodka for some nominal charge to cover shipping. Stolar Tracks Volume 2 was a superb collection with songs from Eleventh Dream Day, Dinosaur, Jr., School of Fish, Pure, the Pooh Sticks, and a bunch of other bands who have faded into obscurity. The song by Eleventh Dream Day, “After This Time Is Gone,” turned me into a fan, even though I had already seen them live, when they opened for the Meat Puppets at a show I caught in Chicago. The Pure song, “Blast,” is also a classic.

 (7) Louis Armstrong. “S.O.L. Blues.” Shortly after getting my first CD player (a gift from my brother—I was a stubbornarmstrong CD holdout because I resented the way the record companies were shoving them down our throats with the obviously false claim that they would last “forever”) I bought a cheap Laserlight collection of early Louis Armstrong stuff, recorded with the Hot 5 and Hot 7. As a former trumpet player myself, I felt I had to have some Armstrong. Man, that cat could blow!

blow your cool (8) Hoodoo Gurus. “Good Times,” from Blow Your Cool. The Hoodoos again! This time they’re helped by members of the Bangles, who used to be great, before that “Walk Like an Egyptian” crap. I saw them once in Boston and I swear Susanna Hoffs was batting her eyes at me. I bet all the guys in the audience through that. I remember buying Blow Your Cool in DC and heading off to a friend’s house to listen to it. We played side one and then he decreed that everyone else in the room would get to play the side of an album before it was my turn again. I was pissed. It’s not the Hoodoos best, but it has a few great tracks, especially “What’s My Scene?”

 (9) Stevie Wonder. “All in Love is Fair,” from Innervisions. Stevie again! This turned out to be a great song to hear oninnervisions a gray, dreary day with the leaves falling all around. The guy had a great set of pipes.

pink panther(10) Henry Mancini. “Pink Panther Theme” from some Best of Mancini disc I got from the library. We used to play this song in my high school dance band. The sheet music had the best tempo direction I’ve ever seen: “Groovy mysterioso.” If I ever form a lounge band that’s what I’ll call it. We’ll play strange, David Lynchian cocktail jazz. I used to have the soundtrack album to The Return of the Pink Panther, still my favorite movie of the series. I remember when it came out in 1975 I was reading a Time magazine review of the movie out loud to my parents and I was laughing so hard I couldn’t get through it. And that was just a review! I think it was the description of the blind man and his “minkey” that got me. Peter Sellers was a genius. Several years ago I watched this movie with my kids and young Sam was choking with laughter when Clouseau fights with Cato. Good times. Don’t even mention the Steve Martin travesties.

sinatra brass (11) Frank Sinatra. “I Get a Kick out of You,” from Sinatra and Swingin’ Brass. I could go on for a long time about Frank. Some day I will. This is from one of his more overlooked albums, a Reprise release that was arranged and conducted by Neil Hefti. That’s another high school dance band connection—we used to play Hefti’s song “L’il Darlin’,” but at a funereal pace. It was neither groovy nor mysterioso. The Swingin’ Brass album, though, swings with a vengeance and Frank sounds great. You know it must swing hard because they had to drop the“g” from “swinging” in the title. (Why was Hefti hoarding all those gs?) Hefti, who did a lot of arranging for Count Basie, died recently. He also composed the theme song for TV’s Batman. He belongs in some Pop Culture Hall of Fame.

time passages (12) Al Stewart. “Palace of Versailles.” This song was originally from Time Passages, but I got this version from a live 1976 concert that I found on the web. There’s a skip in this song on my vinyl copy of Time Passages–I guess you could say that’s kind of a time passage itself.  Weird. Strangely enough, just before I set out on this morning’s walk WXPN played an Al Stewart song, “Sleepwalking,” from his most recent album. I had never heard it before, but it sounded pretty good. My love for Al Stewart betrays the geek side of my musical tastes. At some point today I might throw my vinyl copy of Modern Times on the turntable and give it a whirl. Maybe Past, Present and Future too.

 (13) Sinead O’Connor. “You Do Something to Me,” from Red, Hot and Blue. I’ve added a few songs to the iPod fromred hot blue this Cole Porter tribute album, which was recorded to raise money for AIDs research. Sinead does a pretty good version of this Porter tune. She’s a little breathy, perhaps, but not bad. I like to think she’s singing it to the Pope.

goodman (14) Benny Goodman Quartet. “The Blues in Your Flat” from The Legendary Small Groups. The first swing music I listened to, back in high school, was Glenn Miller. When I read books about the swing era, though, writers usually disparaged Miller and said that Benny Goodman was better, which made me resent Goodman for a while. The only Goodman we had in the house was my uncle’s LP of music from The Benny Goodman story (Steve Allen played Goodman) . It had the live Carnegie Hall version of “Sing, Sing, Sing” on it, and I played that cut over and over, mainly for the Harry James trumpet solo. (I got to see James perform a concert in Augusta, Maine, in 1977 and still have an autographed ticket stub. The concert, a “cabaret dance,” cost a whopping three bucks. At the intermission James, whom I remember as a somewhat morose old man, sat at a table in front of the stage and quietly signed autographs.)  I eventually came to realize that, yes, Goodman was better than Miller. These small group recordings are terrific.

James ticket front

My Harry James ticket.

My Harry James ticket.

 All in all, not a bad set list.  There’s nothing particularly new on it, I realize, but you can’t have everything. Because, as Steven Wright asked, where would you put it? Certainly not on an 8 gigabyte iPod.