April 25, 2013

THE LOVE BUG and the Way of the Dodo

Starring Dean Jones, Michelle, Lee, David Tomlinson, Buddy Hackett. Directed by Robert Stevenson. (1969, 108 min).

According to my mom, The Love Bug was the very first movie I ever saw in a theater. I have almost no memory of this, but Mom would fondly recall years later how much I loved this Disney flick about Herbie, the magical little Volkswagen who thought he was a race car. She even bought me the storybook record one Christmas. That I do remember.

This was back when Disney regularly released tie-in LPs aimed at children, where a narrator (often a member of the film's cast, in this case, Buddy Hackett) would tell the story, accompanied by sound effects and dialogue. These records had gatefold sleeves with a booklet of pictures & words so you could read along. I'm pretty sure The Story of The Love Bug was the first record I ever owned and I listened to it all the time. Much more than the actual film, that record is the reason the story itself is so ingrained in my memory. I also vividly remember being monumentally amused when Hackett broke the fourth wall to pause and ask the listener to wipe his nose.

I had a bunch of Disney records (The Jungle Book, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, etc.) but The Story of The Love Bug was my favorite. This was how kids relived the movies they loved in the days before home video.

They don't make storybook records anymore. Once VCRs came along, they slowly went the way of the Dodo bird.

Hell, they hardly make records anymore, except to placate hipsters and nostalgic old farts happy to shell out 25 dollars for a slab of vinyl that once cost five bucks. And yeah, I guess I'm one of those nostalgic old farts because I absolutely love records. Sure, CDs sound better and last longer (and are now cheaper), but there's something really cool about the big beautiful cover art, gatefold sleeves and printed lyrics which didn't require a microscope to read. Some albums used to include extra goodies like stickers or posters. My favorite was the poster included with one of my Queen albums (Jazz) featuring hundreds of topless women riding bicycles.

Such goodies mostly disappeared when compact discs came along, and now that CDs are slowly going the way of the Dodo bird, everything that was once fun about buying music is nearly gone.

Buying and listening to a brand new record by a favorite artist was once an semi-epic, interactive experience that required your physical participation. When I was in my early teens, I loved jumping on my bike with my friends and pedaling five miles to For What It's Worth Records where the latest Rush or Queen album awaited. For What It's Worth was a great place. It reeked of incense and black-light posters covered the walls. In addition, if you ventured through a beaded doorway, there was a variety of recreational accessories which, if you were over 18, would really enhance the listening experience of that Santana record you were about to buy.

Purchase in-hand, I would ride home, the record banging in its bag against my knee as I pedaled. Then I tore off the cellophane, carefully shook the album from its sleeve, placed it on my turntable and gave it a listen without skipping a single song. Those times were awesome, when music was a big deal and venturing out to get it was part of the experience.

Sadly, most record stores went the way of the Dodo a long time ago. In fact, there’s only one bastion of vinyl music left where I live, Music Millennium. Although there’s no longer a special section for black lights and bongs, I still go there once every payday and buy an actual record. I’ll continue to do this because I have not yet gone the way of the Dodo...so fuck you, iTunes and your shitty compressed downloads.

I’ve also begun seeking old, out-of-print records I once owned. Ironically, as much as I detest how it has all-but destroyed physical music formats, the internet is where I have found a lot of those albums I used to cherish. However, it sometimes makes me sick to discover some of these records are now so rare that I can’t afford them.

Many of those old LPs met an unceremonious fate when me and some friends discovered how far they could fly when we flung them from the roof of the stadium at my high school. All the old records I’d outgrown or deemed uncool flew hundreds of feet through the air (twisting and turning like flying saucers) before shattering into tiny shards when they hit the ground. One of those records was my childhood friend, The Story of The Love Bug, which I’d clung to for years. Being that records pressed in 1969 were much heavier and wind-resistant than those made in the early 80s, it flew a long way across the high school football field before shattering into oblivion.

That beloved record went out in a blaze of glory, but considering how often it entertained me in my bedroom as a boy, it probably deserved a more respectful fate. It was the first record I ever loved and I wish I had it back. Unlike the classic albums which have since been newly-pressed for nostalgic old farts, those old Disneyland storybook records are not in high demand. I have since gone on Amazon and found dealers offering used copies of The Story of The Love Bug for sale...for less than four bucks. I guess I’m the only one who truly misses the golden days of Disneyland Records.

In my quest to own every movie I ever grew up with, I eventually picked up The Love Bug on DVD. Unlike Disney’s true live-action classics (like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Treasure Island), it is definitely a product of its time and I felt no personal connection to it. Everything I know and love about Herbie comes from that record my mother bought me all those years ago.

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