Godzilla is a microcosm of the human condition. He started out as a bad guy, became a good guy and then went back to bad and now, in the last 2 films, he is kind of good, but still has no respect for high value real estate. I’ve seen all the Godzilla films and “Godzilla vs. Megalon” is my favorite. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is the first time I saw it in a drive-in theater near the Jersey Shore. I also really loved the big robot in the film, Jet Jaguar. I’ve always been a sucker for giant robots. But there’s also a classical music connection.
In the 1970’s, I was lucky enough to study with professor, composer and pianist Dr. Leonard Kline while I was attending Stockton State College. Dr. Kline had studies at Mills College in Oakland in the 1940’s and was a student there at the same time as Dave Brubeck. His mentor there was famed classical composer Darius Mihaud. Leonard even took his place at the college when Mihaud left.
I was recently widowed in the Fall of 1976. It was difficult for me to return to Stockton, which is where I met my wife. As I had declined the offer from a university to do a work/study program, I returned to my studies and had a class with Dr. Kline. He was amazing. Sometimes a grumpy older man (I can now identify), sometimes a brilliant musical educator and always a fantastic pianist.
I learned a lot from Dr. Kline. He respected the music I was writing which, back then, which was a combination of popular songs and minimalist music. Along with Dr. Lance Olson, another member of the music faculty, I learned so much about the mechanics and “poetry” of music.
Leonard and I became friends. He and his wife had known my wife and we had dinner with them a few times before she was killed. One day I was talking about going to a local drive-in theater to see “Godzilla vs. Megalon.” His ears picked up and he told me his 10-year-old son was bugging him to see it. Leonard was not interested in kaiju movies. He asked me if I would take his son, Darius (named after Leonard’s mentor), to see it. I agreed.
I picked up Darius and we went to the theater. We parked about 2 rows back from the screen so we could get a good view of the action. It was a double bill, with some horrible dubbed Czechoslovakian space opera as the opening feature. It was during this first film that I realized Darius was as smart and funny as his father. Decades before Mystery Science Theater 3000, he was spouting off one liners about the film. I joined in. We were laughing through the whole movie.
After the first feature, we went to the snack bar. It was dark and Darius looked a little scared as we got out of the car. He took my hand. I was very touched that he looked to me for security. My recent loss made my eyes swell up as I thought about being a father. I quickly thought about something else and we walked off to buy some snacks.
As we chowed down on popcorn, 12-day-old hotdogs, Sno-Caps (remember them?) and Peanut M&M’s, we watched the Godzilla film. Our banter continued, but not as much as the previous awful film. Darius was a fellow Godzilla fan. Like me, he didn’t want to miss any of the scintillating plot. It was simple. Residents of an undersea world were trying to destroy the surface Earth with their monster Megalon. For a while, they got the robot Jet Jaguar to help but the good guys got him back in their power.
Godzilla gets into the fight along with Jet Jaguar. Megalon is defeated and Godzilla swims away, headed back to Monster Island. Cue the Jet Jaguar song and roll the credits. Sing it with me, won’t you?
I took Darius home. I heard from Leonard that his son kept talking about the movies, the junk food and our MST3K rap. While I had been close to Leonard, this brought us even closer. He would often call me in the evening to make sure I was okay.
Sidebar – The $250,000 Zithers
While I was at Stockton this second time, the Music Department took delivery of 2 beautiful quarter-of-a-million-dollar grand pianos. I think they were Bösendorfers. Dr. Kline had ordered them to his specifications. They were delivered right to the stage in the Stockton Theater. Leonard was in class when they came. The moving crew did not lock or block the wheels. Both of them rolled off the stage a few minutes after the movers left. They fell about 8 feet off the stage and both were totally smashed. They looked like giant zithers sprawled across the floor.
Leonard wept when he saw the damage. He was such an amazing pianist. I understand his sadness at the loss of 2 such incredible instruments. While the moving company’s insurance covered the damage, pianos like those have a several-year waiting period.
As often happens in life, I lost touch with Dr. Kline over the years. I think he would have been pleased at my success writing jingles and then working with so many incredible musicians and composers on QVC. He passed in 2013. It was a great loss to the music and academic worlds. Darius is still alive and someday I might run into him at a Godzilla/Kaiju convention. Once those big lizards get into your blood, it’s a lifelong love affair.
© 2020 Steve Bryant – No portion of this or any blog can be reproduced or copied and posted on any online site or read aloud on any audio or video media without the express permission of the author.