Song Of The Day 6/7/2015: The MacManus Gang – “A Town Called Big Nothing (Really Big Nothing)”

For a long time, when people asked me what I considered the worst movie of all time, I used to say without hesitation it was Alex Cox's Straight to Hell from 1986. That may have changed, not because I've found a film that's worse, but because I may have overlooked the origin story. Straight to Hell was a spaghetti Western parody starring Joe Strummer of the Clash, Courtney Love and Sy Richardson, and also featured cameo appearances from Elvis Costello and the Pogues. I don't remember the plot but I suspect most others don't either. One of the strains of the movie was that a lot of the action came from people who were hopelessly addicted to coffee. Right there, that seems like a half-baked (or -brewed) concept. It's like doing a crime movie about people addicted to Snickers or something. The movie just seemed like weirdness for weirdness' sake, which I might issue a pass on if you've got great art direction or decent throwaway one-liners. Straight to Hell had neither. But in researching the entry for today I learned that the movie came about because Strummer, Costello and the Pogues were supposed to play a show in Nicaragua, which was canceled because -- well, it was Nicaragua in the 1980's. So as a compromise, they had all the bands gather in Spain to make an extemporaneous movie which Cox wrote in three days (turning down a chance to direct ¡Three Amigos! to do so, though there were other issues with that now-dream pairing as well). Now, I don't know how a canceled concert in Central America turns into a movie filmed in Spain, or why the bands stayed together after the cancellation and flew to Spain instead of just going home, or even what Cox was doing in the middle of all this to begin with. But now knowing that it was thrown together in less than a week -- well, it doesn't make the movie better, but maybe I'll be more forgiving of it if I deign to see it again. Which I won't guarantee. There might be a Hart To Hart rerun on my plate at any given moment.

One good thing did come out of Straight to Hell though, and it was this piece of comic stream-of-consciousness Costello devised. Playing off Ennio Morricone's spaghetti Western riffs, "A Town Called Big Nothing (Really Big Nothing)" features Sy Richardson -- Cox's go-to guy for his much better films like Repo Man and Sid & Nancy -- doing the narration, with Costello and the Pogues' Cait O'Riordan helping in the background. I first heard it being played over the PA at a Costello show in San Francisco, with no idea that Costello was behind it until I found it on an imported Costello B-sides comp called Out of Our Idiot. It's a funny song, laying bare Costello's wordplay habit and delivering some great one-liners in the process: "The pistol was welded to the holster by age and careless children." "He didn't need tattoos to show where he had been and who he had loved." "She took him to bed like an adopted dog." It's a goldmine. A goldmine haunted by the dying coughs of prospectors and the ghosts of Morgan Stanley's future. Hey, that's easy!
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