Category Archives: books

Book Meme

Before I get there: I’m not sure I’m happier about the Giants winning the Super Bowl, 17-14, or the Patriots going 18 and ONE.

I generally gauge a Super Bowl commercial by whether I can remember it he next morning, without notes, without notes. I remember hot air balloons fighting for Cokes, the annual “awww” commercial from Bud of dog training horse, a talking baby throwing up on e-Trade, that GoDaddy commercial tease to see Danica Patrick on their website, and those pandas in Chinese “dialect” for some career builder site which I expect to engender some warranted controversy (after it aired, I said, WT…). Oh, yeah, the first Victoria’s Secret ad since 1999, but I had read about that in AdAge; it was tame for VS.
***
I’m fairly sure I’ve done this before, but since Nik tagged me, not only will I answer it, I will endeavor to give answers different from the ones I gave last time. Whenever that was. If I can remember the answers I gave last time.

1. One book that changed your life?

The Closing Circle: Nature, Man, and Technology by Barry Commoner. It came out in the 1970s, and I ended up voting for Barry Commoner for President in 1980.

2. One book you have read more than once?

The Fate of the Earth by Jonathan Schell. Despite the dire predictions, it’s also such a hopeful book that a segment was used at a wedding I was at.

3. One book you would want on a desert island?

Oddly enough, Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles text. It will allow me to recreate some of the songs in my mind.

4. One book that made you laugh?

Pajama Time by Sandra Boynton. I swear this children’s story was inspired by rap music.

5. One book that made you cry?

This is so hokey and cliched – Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt.

6. One book you wish had been written?

The Bible. I’d leave in the good stuff.

7. One book you wish had never had been written?

I like Nik’s answer: “Well, the whole genre of right-wing Let Me Tell You Why Liberals Suck books by O’Reilly, Coulter, Limbaugh, et al I guess. I find them bankrupt as literature and usually preaching to the converted anyway.”

8. One book you are currently reading?

A book about cubicles that I hope to review soon.

9. One book you have been meaning to read?

I have shelves of them. If I pick one at random: Wired by Bob Woodward.

10. Now tag five people.

Well, I have to pick Eddie, who broke the pledge that Nik had been holding to;
Kelly Brown, because of her mysterious mind;
Deborah, in the hope that the meme will travel through Europe;
Uthalena, who hasn’t posted since early September;
and
Fred, because it’s been a long time since I’ve asked him to.
ROG

The Hembeck Interview

This interview took place by phone on Sunday, January 20 at about 9 pm, EST. (Now that Kiefer Sutherland of “24” is out of jail, imagine that it is he who read the preceding line.)

I’m talking to Fred G. Hembeck. What would you say is what it is that you do as a cartoonist? Is it a commentary, a parody, what?

Why do you start with the tough questions?

I want to loosen you up. To delve into your clever mind. And I figured you’d been asked it before, so you’d have a good, pat answer for it.

No, I don’t have a pat answer for this, honest to gosh. I wasn’t sarcastic when I said why do you start with the tough one.

OK

It’s hard to explain what I do. What I do is turn myself into a cartoon character, intermingle with the comic icons I grew up with, and either banter with or mock them. And along the way, I try to throw in some information so that people reading the cartoons I draw are also amused by some of the jokes I put in there.

I’ve been amused by you for years. I hear you have a new book coming out, and we’ll be talking about that soon. But before that: I first noticed you in the pages of the old Comics Buyers Guide, run by Don and Maggie Thompson. How did you get that gig?

I must correct you, sir, because it was the Buyers’ Guide for Comic Fandom. It was run by Alan Light before the Krause people bought it from Alan in the early 1980s.
How did I get that gig? It all goes back to 1977. I was trying to get into the world of comics by putting together a portfolio of various characters such as Green Lantern and NOVA and other superheroes, dragging it to New York City and showing it around. It did not get a positive response, so I went home to prepare some other material to get ready for another round of this.
But in the meantime, I was trying to draw as much as possible. And I had just moved home from living in Buffalo for several years with a number of roommates. And to keep busy, to keep drawing, I would send them letters done in cartoon form. Of course, they all knew what I looked like, so I did a caricature of myself in there.
At the same period of time, I was also writing letters to the various comic book companies’ letter pages, and I sent in several letters in cartoon form using the little Fred character. One of which was Bill Mantlo, who was writing Iron Man at the time, and it caught his eye, and he asked me if they could use it, but he asked if I could redraw it, because I had used color ink. I said sure, and I redrew it in black and white, in standard 10″ by 15″ size. And they even paid me for it – $35 – and it appeared in Iron Man #114.
I think that actually inspired me to do another strip, and this was cartoon Fred interviewing Spider-Man., and I sent it into the Buyers’ Guide, because it’s weekly and they used a certain amount of editorial content because I guess there was some mailing regulations…

Yes, they had to have a certain percentage.

Right. And about a year and a half earlier, I had actually had a cover on the Buyers’ Guide. It was a montage illustration of the old Superman TV show, not done in the cartoon form. So I had actually had something published there. But, of course, a year and a half had gone by. So Alan Light liked it. He printed it. He said send some more. I sent some more. It kind of snowballed from there. I put my little name and address on the bottom of each page and that’s how other people contacted me, and that’s how we got going there.
At first, I wasn’t getting paid for this. You send it in, then they’ll printed. Eventually I got paid, very, very little. Still and all, it led to Marvel and DC knowing where I was, so it was all worthwhile.

Where did the title Dateline:@!!?# come from, and is there a particular obscene word you had in mind?

No, none whatsoever. The very first one said Dateline: Spider-Man, the very second one said Dateline: Flash. Then, there was, I think, Dateline: Howard the Duck. But then we came to Dateline: Miscellaneous. Then I realized that I needed to find some sort of overall title. So we kept the Dateline portion of it, but what we did, what I did, was to use the symbol for what Sarge says when Beetle Bailey screws up somehow.
So when I reprinted those pages, I took all the logos off the top. I generally forget that myself. It wasn’t until I got to this book that I found Dateline: Miscellaneous, which had never been reprinted before, and I said, “Oh, yeah, now I know why I changed the title.”

I got to look over some of your work for this interview for the first time in quite a while. I was in Manhattan, probably in 1979, at a comic book store on West 4th Street in Greenwich Village when I saw this garish orange-colored cover on the racks with a familiar art style. That was The Best of Dateline:@!!?#, published by Eclipse. How did they get into the act?

The Eclipse book came about because I had become friends with Richard Bruning, who was doing, at that time, a little cartoon feature called Marvelous Fruits and Veggies, in which he would draw the Marvel characters as fruits and veggies. We wrote back and forth to each other, and he was friends with Dean Mullaney, who was publisher of Eclipse with his brother Jan Mullaney. They had come out with one book, I believe it was called Sabre, by Don McGregor and Paul Gulacy. This was one of the first independent mainstream publishers, and they didn’t have anything else to go for a second book. They had some other projects they were working on, but everyone was going along rather slowly. So Richard said to Dean, you know if you contacted Fred, you could probably gather together a bunch of his strips, a few other pages, and boom! You’d have an instant book. That’s pretty much what we did. By that time, I had already had those cartoon strips in The Daily Planet promo page in DC Comics which they labeled as “Hembeck”. I was going to call the book The Best of Dateline, but Dean said, “Why don’t we go with that as a subtitle and put the Hembeck out there, because people would know that from stuff they had seen in the DC Comics.” Modest as I am, I said, “All right, why not?”

DC didn’t sue you for using your own name?

They did not. They didn’t sue me for that. Nobody’s suing me any time soon.

Glad to hear it. So where are you living at this point in the narrative. Are you living in Troy (NY)?

No, I believe I was in Kingston when that first happened. Yeah, I was in Kingston because Richard and Dean and Dean’s girlfriend all came to our wedding and we were in Kingston at the time.

And around that time, you went to the first FantaCon, with John Caldwell, Dan Green (no relation to me), Jeff Jones, and Raoul Vezina, of course. Do you remember anything about that first show in ’79?

Not specifically, no.

At the end of that first FantaCon, you experienced a personal tragedy. The death of Vivian Vance, of course.

Ah, yes, that’s right. You know how it is: it’s the end of the convention, everybody’s going away, the tables are folding up. The fun is going away and you look wistfully around. It’s all going to stop, all the fun. An
d someone came up and put the capper on me, on the downer mood that I was already in, and told me Ethel Mertz has passed away. And I said, omigosh. And that was the last time anybody said, “Fre-ed!” That is until Lynn said it the other day.

There you go. Then you did Hembeck 1980 for FantaCo.

That is correct, sir.

Now I never noticed until recently, but the subtitle was The Son of The Best of Dateline:@!!?#. Was it all reprinted? The first page, with all of those characters, with you saying Welcome certainly was done for the issue.

Was it all reprints? No, it was not. Obviously, the covers and the centerfold were always new. But there were several other pages I did specifically for that book. I think it was maybe a third.

Does your upcoming book have any text in it? Specifically, do you address the issue about how FantaCo did NOT steal you from Eclipse?

Yes, I do discuss how I went from Eclipse to FantaCo.

There was a 10th anniversary Eclipse publication that came out around 1988, and even though your Dateline was the second publication, after Sabre, as you said, there was no mention of you or it. Were you surprised, hurt?

It was like Stalin erasing history. I was surprised, but not extremely surprised.

You won’t remember this but I first met you in February 1980 at a store signing of Hembeck 1980. I was looking back in my journals and referred to you as “Mr. Hembeck”. This was about three months before I actually started working there.

Ha! Yeah.

Then I started working there and doing mail order, and there was a bonus feature that came with every retail order of Hembeck 1980 that used to drive me crazy. Remember that X-Men sheet that was 8 ½” X 11”.

Oh, yeah.

The book was half an inch shorter in each dimension. So I couldn’t just slip the page in without fearing that it’d get all raggedy. And I didn’t want to fold it, lest the collectors fear that it was ruined.

We corrected that the next time it was printed.

Thank goodness. You’ve noted that Hembeck 1980 is a terrible title, because anything with the year in it sounds new and fresh with the current year in the title, but eventually sound dated. I’m thinking of that Aretha Franklin song: Think is timeless, while Think (1989) is of its time. And I’ve read that you felt the same way; that Hembeck 1980 was a really cool title when you came up with it, but…

I was inspired by Frankenstein 1970. Do you remember that movie?

Barely.

It was made in 1959 and it starred Boris Karloff. But he was not the monster; he was the mad doctor. And I was always fascinated as a kid, in 1961, ’62, seeing in the TV Guide a movie called Frankenstein 1970. It seemed so futuristic to me. Because of the zero at the end. Wow.

Ooh.

So to think that Hembeck 1980 would seem futuristic in the waning months of 1979 – that was kinda dumb on my part.

Hembeck 1980’s success prompted Tom Skulan to promote a comic book featuring Raoul’s character Smilin’ Ed in a story. Tell me what you remember about Raoul and how your character The Dog became part of that first issue?

I do recall that Tom wanted to do a book with Raoul. But Raoul was very busy at the store, so he was having a hard time getting his material finished. And they asked me to help out, you know, contribute some pages. I wasn’t working at the store so I had some extra time. And I put together The Dog; that’s what happened with that.
The other thing I remember about Raoul, unlike you guys, that being yourself and Mitch Cohn and Rocco Nigro, who knew Raoul much better because you worked in the store with him… I specifically remember one night, when I was in his in apartment with him, when we were doing the color separations for the Hembeck 1980 book, we stayed there all night. We were up until four in the morning, red plastic, you know the way they used to do it.

Oh, yeah.

Especially for that back cover, which is like a fake EC cover And I had a really good time talking to Raoul all night. He was a nice guy, and I wish I knew him better than I did. And I said, “Hey, he’ll be around forever.” But that didn’t happen, unfortunately.

No, he died in November of 1983.

Right.

Next for you was your third title, Abbott & Costello Meet the Bride of Hembeck in June 1980. I’ve met your wife a number of times. Now, you’ve immortalized yourself in your books, but did SHE feel getting the Hembeck treatment?

Ah, at the time, she didn’t seem to object. [Laughs] Yeah, we don’t use Lynn in the comic much anymore. But at the time, it seemed like a decent idea.

Hmm. Abbott and Costello had 10 pages of reprints. #4, Bah, Hembeck! Was that all new?

Bah, Hembeck! was all new.

And if memory serves, both #4 and the reprinted version of #1 premiered at the second FantaCon, which was in 1980.

We were crankin’ them out.

Yeah. But it wasn’t called FantaCon 1980 because the previous one [in 1979] was called FantaCon 1980.

Oh, yeah.

This is the one with Berni Wrightson, Richard and Wendy Pini, Joe Staton, Caldell, Jeff Jones, Raoul, and you. You participated in an artist jam. Remember that?

I have photos to prove it.

I brought that up because you got some recent scalding over something that allegedly took place in Detroit some years ago.

Oh, yeah, well these things happen. A minor occurrence that apparently happened many years ago.

I’ve always found you to be a generous guy. You charged me only ten bucks for that package you sent me at Christmastime.

Well, that’s the way I am.

I know. Anyway, Hembeck 5 is the The Hembeck File, that came out in February 1981. An international spy thriller. I was noticing that there’s a lengthy story in there written by Bill Mantlo called Erosion.

Correct.

That you drew without your purple prose.

Without anybody’s purple prose. A wordless story.

You’ve contributed a drawing of ROM, of all characters, to benefit Bill Mantlo.

Well, as I mentioned earlier, and I’ll pause briefly to say, Hello, [daughter] Julie, I’m talking to my friend Roger. He’s interviewing me. I’ll see you later.
Funny you should mention Bill Mantlo just as Julie comes in, because of the fact, as I mentioned earlier, he helped me out quite a bit by starting me out in that Iron Man letter page. And we also worked together on the Spectacular Spider-Man during Assistant Editors’ Month, which, yesterday, Julie brought home from visiting her boyfriend Alec, and it turns out he had bought a copy from eBay specifically so I would autograph it for him.

That’s nice.

It was kind of an interesting thing to do. I would have given him a copy!

[Laugh] Probably. Because you’re a generous guy.

Well, yeah. That one, I don’t have too many of those, but I gave him copies of a couple of my other books. So Julie took them over there today and he now has some autographed copies. I signed one of them, “Julie’s dad, Fred Hembeck” on the cover of one of them. So that was a thrill for him, I’m sure.

Hmm.

Yeah, Bill Mantlo was integral in the beginning of my career. But unfortunately, the thing was we had a little bit of a falling out. After we work
ed together on that Spectacular Spider-Man/Peter Parker book. Because Bill gave me one of those small, short plots, two or three paragraphs, perhaps, as opposed to a very detailed situation. And I was pretty new at that point. I had only done gag strips. And I had no problems in the scenes where Spider-Man was interacting with J. Jonah Jameson and the Black Cat. But there was a sequence where Spider-Man is fighting the Human Fly. And Bill’s instructions were: “And then they fight.”

[LAUGHS]

I turned in this material, and it wasn’t really very well done. It didn’t surprise me. They asked me to redo it, they had Bill rewrite it and give me more concise, specific instructions, which he did. But I recall him calling me up, because we had spoken on the phone any number of times, but I had never met him in person. And he called me up, and he was a little bit annoyed at me, because I made him – it’s like I let him down somehow by making him do this extra work. And I was a little bit annoyed, because I felt like I wasn’t really in my element and could have used a little bit of help.
So we both kind of were annoyed with each other without really arguing or screaming or anything. But we never really spoke or had any contact after that.
And he had that really unfortunate accident a number of years ago, where he was hit by a car while rollerblading, and he’s been pretty much hospitalized ever since. So when the opportunity came around to contribute to the benefit for him, how could I turn these folks down when they asked? Because he was very much responsible for me getting into comics in a lot of ways.

Understood.
Let’s see. Hembeck 6 is subtitled Jimmy Olson’s pal, Fred Hembeck.

Correct.

That’s the one with all the characters with that scary eyewear.

Yes, indeedy.

That’s the one that premiered at the FantaCon that took place in 1981. I think that was all new stuff.

That was all new stuff.

Finally, there’s Dial H for Hembeck, the one issue I can’t immediately put my hands on. What was in that one?

It was two years later, surprisingly.

Yeah, it was in 1983.

There was a two-year gap because, in between, I did the Fantastic Four Roast for Marvel.
What was in that one? That one had a framing story, a new framing story, but the bulk of the insides were old Dateline stories. I’d say it was about 1/3 new material.

That was your last issue for FantaCo. What happened?

Well, for one thing, I was getting kind of tired of doing that kind of stuff, just in general, the Dateline stuff. And there seemed to be some mild disagreements between me and Tom – to this day, I can’t remember what they are, or were – but it’s one of those things where the little things build up and you go, What I am doing here? But, if you put a gun to my head and ask what were my gripes, I can’t remember. Nothing major.

I hear you’re going to have a new anthology out. What’s it called again?

What is it called? It’s called…

Drum roll.

THE NEARLY COMPLETE ESSENTIAL HEMBECK ARCHIVES OMNIBUS. That’s O-M…

Don’t worry, I’ll check that.

I’d only recently re-read Blind Date in the back of Smilin’ Ed #4. I think it’s a very funny concept that fits in with your obsession with television. Is that in the book?

That’s in the book.

You did some pieces that appeared in the FantaCo Chronicles Series. Will they be in the book?

Pretty much everything. There’s a couple of spot illos I managed to let slip by. Any of the strips are all in the book.

We’ve gone over about 1/3 of the 900-page tome. What else will we find in there?

You’re going to find in there? The Dog, Mr. Mumbo Jumbo, a strip I did for Topps Comics several years ago, which I actually had the copyright for, so I’m able to use that one. Several strips that were never published. A Date with History; it’s kind of a time-travel farce I had put together to – I had submitted the story to Epic magazine.

Marvel’s line.

And oddly enough, just as I had submitted it, Archie Goodwin called me up and said, “Well, we just announced the cancellation of Epic magazine, and we’re full up for the last several issues.”

You caused the cancellation of Epic magazine?

No, no. They canceled it so as not to have to publish my story.

Which is what I said.

So, as you’re saying that, you’re probably right.

How does it feel to have a book with the bulk of your output out there? Like a lifetime achievement award at the Oscars?

Yeah, it is kind of weird. Especially since, at one point, both Al Gordon, whose idea it really was to start this book up, and Erik Larsen, who’s the publisher of Image currently, one of the things they both agreed on is that I put in EVERY SINGLE Dateline strip I ever did. And…there were some really bad ones!

HA!

There are! When I was starting to lose interest in the mid-’80s, and at one point I decided, I don’t have to use my regular rapidograph. I can just use a Flair pen. “That’ll look spontaneous.” No, it’ll look like crap! They’re in there. Hopefully, they are only about a dozen or so really awful pages out of about 900. It’s the law of averages. And there’s the mediocre pages – just a couple.

Now, there was some confusion about the nature of the book. Some people seemed to think there would be no Marvel or DC characters in the anthology. Let’s dissuade people about THAT.

They’ll be PLENTY of DC and Marvel characters in there because those are the characters I used in almost all my early fanzine material that I did in the Buyers’ Guide. It’s just that the material that was published BY Marvel and DC that I did, THAT won’t be in there.

There will be no Daily Planet stuff, no Marvel Age or you roasting the Fantastic Four or destroying the Marvel universe.

No, none of that. To tell you the truth, there is a half page from Marvel Age in there. And that’s only because I thought it was from another magazine when I put it together. But it’s from Marvel Age. It’s a strip called Little Freddy, which not the one I wound up doing years later, but it’s just my character, so I think I can get away with that.

I’d think so. So, when is it coming out?

They tell me it’s coming out in the middle of February [2008]. I have not heard anything that makes me feel that is not the case. In a month.

OK, 900 pages for $25. What a deal!

And we have commission drawings in there, we have Datelines from the 1990s, material I did for the CAPA-alpha, an APA – that’s in there. There’s even some material I submitted to Marvel, but they never actually used. I threw that in there because they didn’t actually use it. It snuck by. And we have all kinds of crazy stuff in there. And there’s text material explainin
g everything, not page by page, but in general.

The news of it sparked a great deal of blog posts expressing affection for your work, even before the book’s come out. How did that make you feel?

Oh, man, like a million bucks. Or like two million bucks. The reception has been really, really good,. I’ve actually been told by the people at Image that, I’ll quote them, they’re “very, very pleased” by the orders. You know, the pre-orders; that’s good. There was some fears that they were going to call me up and say, “We didn’t get enough orders.”

Twelve orders.

Yeah, right. But that did not happen. And we just await – I have no idea what it’s going to look like. I have no idea what the paper stock is going to be.

At which point, the tape recorder stopped. So the interview does as well. Thanks, Mr. HembeckFred.

ROG

Herschell Gordon Lewis

One thing watching the movie Juno took me right out of it for a minute. That was a reference to Herschell Gordon Lewis. I shan’t expand on that in terms of the movie.

Herschell Gordon Lewis is, more than anything, a businessman. He discovered that one way to make money is to make films filled with blood and/or sexual titillation that the major studios wouldn’t get caught dead doing back in the early 1960s. Read this particular description by Steve Bissette, who knows a WHOLE lot more than I do:
“BLOOD FEAST (1963) Notorious Herschell Gordon Lewis shocker dared to go where no major studio would, crudely carving out brains, tongues, limbs, and its unique niche as the first true ‘gore’ film. This widely-imitated breakthrough hit of the 1960s drive-in circuit was filmed in and around the beaches of Sarasota, Florida.”

I was working at FantaCo, primarily a comic book store, in 1983. Splatter Movies (1981), written by John McCarty, was, after we found a sales niche advertising in FANGORIA magazine every issue, became a huge success. So what do we do next? As I hope I made clear, it’s not my genre, so I haven’t a clue. But Tom Skulan, the owner, and John McCarty somehow team up with Daniel Krogh, cinematographer on Lewis’ The Wizard of Gore (1970), and decide to put out a book called The Amazing Herschell Gordon Lewis, and His World of Exploitation Films by Krogh, with McCarty.

The book premiered at the 1983 FantaCon, and HGL, as I referred to him, was making an appearance. What kind of man makes these kind of films? Well, as it turns out, the guy was very much a gentleman, sweet, soft-spoken, at least in that setting. He was a natty dresser. I didn’t spend a whole lot of time with him, but I did get him to sign my copy of the book, which read: “To my friend Roger”. Daniel Krogh signed it “TO ROGER OF FANTACO”. John McCarty, who I had gotten to know from Splatter Movies, wrote, “To Roger – Whose job I don’t envy”. That was in reference to the fact that my task, once the convention was over, was to ship hundreds and hundreds of these to the comic book distributors. Ultimately, we also sold directly to non-comic book shops and at retail. As FantaCo subsequently published scripts for 2000 Maniacs and Blood Feast, HGL dominated my life until I left FantaCo in 1988.

I started my new job as a librarian in 1992. Perusing the shelves of the SBDC Research Network, what should I see but a book on direct marketing by someone named Herschell Gordon Lewis! Could it be the same guy? It could, and it was – check out his bibliography and filmography, right on his own website. He doesn’t shy away from his past – or his present – there is a Blood Feast 2 listed for 2002.

So seeing the HGL reference in Juno brought it full circle for me.
ROG

Turn On the Mind

You Are 72% Open Minded

You are a very open minded person, but you’re also well grounded.
Tolerant and flexible, you appreciate most lifestyles and viewpoints.
But you also know where you stand firm, and you can draw that line.
You’re open to considering every possibility – but in the end, you stand true to yourself.

Don’t recall where I found this.

1. Do you remember learning to read? How old were you?
No, but it seemed like I’ve always read – of course not true, is it?

2. What do you find most challenging to read?
Novels with flowery multiple adjectives. Certain fonts.

3. What are your library habits?
I go a lot for Lydia, maybe once a week. We usually get two books and one video.

4. Have your library habits changed since you were younger?
Well, yeah. Mostly, I access it remotely, accessing databases.

5. How has blogging changed your reading life?
I might pick up something that someone has recommended.

6. What percentage of your books do you get from: New book stores, second hand book stores, the library, online exchange sites, online retailers, other?
About 10% each from the library, new book stores, and second-hand stores. About 70% from Amazon or the like.

7. How often do you read a book and NOT review it in your blog?
Maybe once. Excluding children’s books, which I often read and seldom review.

8. What are your pet peeves about ways people abuse books? Dog-earing pages? Reading in the bath?
Marking in books that aren’t theirs, even highlighting them.

9. Do you ever read for pleasure at work?
Most of my reading at lunchtime are periodicals (newspapers, mostly.)

10. When you give people books as gifts, how do you decide what to give them?
Hope they give clues. That said, people have given me books, and if I like it, I might imagine other people who might as well.

ROG

Looking forward to

So what am I most anticipating in the new year?
READING
For the first time in decades, THREE comic-related items:
The Steve Ditko book.
The Jack Kirby book
The Fred Hembeck book. BTW, happy five years of blogging, Fred!

WATCHING
More movies; likely next chance, MLK Day. Likely film: Juno.
Pioneers of Television which starts TONIGHT on PBS with sitcoms (I Love Lucy; Joyce Randolph on The Honeymooners; Marlo Thomas about her father Danny’s Make Room for Daddy’ the man himself on The Andy Griffith Show; and DVD and MTM on The Dick Van Dyke Show.
Football. Seriously, taping it then watching it later is SO much more efficient. Definitely some of the NFL games. Probably a bowl game or two.
The Golden Globes, just to see who actually shows up and say they support the Writers’ Strike, even as they’ll be others who’ll boycott the show altogether for the same reason.

HEARING
The new music I got in the last month, including the John Lennon Anthology. There’s more, but I’ll save it for my Top 10 album list.

VISITING
Williamsburg, VA with the family. My in-laws have as timeshare.
Visiting the BNorman Rockwell Museum, not all that far from here in Stockbridge, MA. My wife wants to see the Rockwell stuff. I really want to see LitGraphic: The World of the Graphic Novel (through May 26, 2008), featuring Jessica Abel, Sue Coe, R. Crumb, Howard Cruse, Steve Ditko, Will Eisner, Brian Fies, Gerhard, Milt Gross, Marc Hempel, Niko Henrichon, Mark Kalesniko, Peter Kuper, Harvey Kurtzman, Matt Madden, Frans Masereel, Frank Miller, Terry Moore, Dave Sim, Art Spiegelman, Lynd Ward, Lauren Weinstein, Mark Wheatley, Barron Storey and others.
Seeing my friends Gerelt-Od and Soyol who used to live in Albany then returned home to Mongolia, but who’ve been in NYC the past year; I haven’t seen them in nearly a decade.
Seeing my friend Deborah, who I met in 1977 in NYC, who moved to Japan and then France, and who’ll be visiting the Western Hemisphere at some point this year. I haven’t seen her in over a quarter century.

DOING
Worrying less
Sleeping more
Drinking more water

That’s as close to New Year’s resolutions as I go.

ROG

Big Media Consolidation and Why You Should Hate It

BILL MOYERS JOURNAL|FCC Update|PBS November 16, 2007
On November 2, 2007, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin announced that the Commission would hold the sixth and final public hearing on media consolidation November 9, 2007 in Seattle, Washington. Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein blasted the Chairman’s decision to give the public only five business days notice before the hearing: “With such short notice, many people will be shut out … This is outrageous and not how important media policy should be made.”
The video’s eight and a half minutes, but if you care about American media, it’ll be worth your time.
Then you can watch this 23 minute piece from earlier in the month.
Read FCC (Democratic) commissioner Michael Copps vs. “Big Media”.
While the issue on the FCC is a Republican (3) vs. Democrat (2) issue, the fear of media consolidation runs from the Christian Coalition to MoveOn.

Contact the FCC before December 11. Then, because reaching out to the FCC probably won’t matter, contact your federal legislators.
***
Top 10 Christmas Gifts for Conservatives in 2007 from the Human Events Book Service

The usual suspects (Ann Coulter, Newt Gingrich, Glenn Beck), a Reagan bio, Clarence Thomas’ autobiography. AND The Complete Tales of Uncle Remus by Joel Chandler Harris:
“Are these the most ‘politically incorrect’ children’s stories ever written?
Perhaps. But they’re also among the most delightful and moral. Now they’re back – with the original artwork
Isn’t it just like liberals to diminish genuine racial and cultural diversity in the name of respecting it?”
That last line was almost enough for a spit take.

ROG

Kill More Of Your Idols

Back in JANUARY, I summarized the first half of the book Kill Your Idols, edited by Jim DeRogatis and Carmel Carrillo, about classic albums that were overpraised. I promised the rest the following month. Well, the book then disappeared in my home office, until my wife tidied up (mostly HER stuff, I might add), and I found it again.

Patti Smith, Horses. Arista, 1975. By Melanie Haupt.
The writer’s point: I really want to like it, but I just can’t get down with it.
My point: Actually, I tend to agree. I bought this, on LP, and listened to it several times, trying to “get” it, but I don’t.

Bob Marley and the Wailers, Exodus. Island, 1977. By Dave Chamberlain
The writer’s point: overly commercial, not his best effort, lacks fire.
My point: I don’t know the other albums well enough to say, but I enjoy it on its own merits.

Fleetwood Mac, Rumours. Reprise, 1977. By Jim Walsh.
The writer’s point: Actually, I don’t know WHAT the point is. Mostly, how he wants to get a gun so he can kill the members of the band, I think.
My point: I own it on vinyl. There are a few songs on here I actually like (Go Your Own Way) – I know people who would disagree – but I am surprised that it became the utter phenomenon it did.

Paul McCartney - Ram
Paul McCartney, Ram. Capitol, 1971. By Tom Phalen.
The writer’s point: bombastic, over-produced weak songs.
My point: OK, it’s definitely a goofy album, and even at the time of its release, it took some heat, so I’m surprised it’s even included in the book. That said, I enjoyed it well enough, and don’t care that Paul swiped stuff from his previous band.

John Lennon/Yoko Ono, Double Fantasy. Geffen, 1980. By Allison Stewart.
The writer’s point: The album is impossible to separate from the events of December 8, 1980. Lennon’s contributions were moving, if slightly cloying. But Ono’s atonality interrupts even that.
My point: Yes, 12/8/80 is all over it. I liked that John was (finally) comfortable in his skin. And I sorta like Kiss Kiss Kiss. But truth to tell, I haven’t listened to it in so long, that except for the Makin’ Whoopie swipe I’m Your Angel, I can’t even REMEMBER the Yoko songs.

The Sex Pistols, Never Mind the Bollocks…Here’s the Sex Pistols. Warner Brothers, 1977. By Jim Testa.
The writer’s point: Except for Anarchy in the U.K. and God Save the Queen, he’s got the feeling that he’s been cheated.
My point: Agree. I find the rest all but unlistenable.

Dead Kennedys, Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables. Alternative Tentacles, 1980. By Marco Leavitt (of Albany, NY).
The writer’s point: Hard to take because they take themselves so seriously, even when they’re trying to be humorous.
My point: Actually, I’ve never heard of this album.

Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run. Columbia, 1975. By David Sprague.
The writer’s point: The Newsweek/Time hype of this bloated album with characters devolved from his previous releases was muscled by the pre-release of every song to a rock station in Cleveland.
My point: O.K., it isn’t the messianic departure the hype suggested, and maybe is a bit overproduced in that Phil Spector way, but still enjoyable.

Bruce Springsteen, Born in the U.S.A. Columbia, 1984. By Rob O’Connor.
The writer’s point: Springsteen is corny, mundane, and conventional. He doesn’t recognize rock and roll as the rebellious forbidden fruit, and obviously never had a real job in his life. He intentionally misled people into misreading the title song, ripped off the other songs from other artists, and generally panders to his audience. The album sounds like mud.
My point: I was never hot on Dancing in the Dark, but that aside, I think this is an interesting, diverse piece of Americana.

Various Artists, My Greatest Exes. By Carmel Carrillo.
The writer’s point: Since I’m the co-editor of this book, I can write an indulgent chapter about music my ex-girlfriends like and dis them (the songs, and, by extension, the ex-girlfriends).
My point: Not worthy of comment.


Elvis Costello and the Attractions, Imperial Bedroom. Columbia, 1982, By Michael Corcoran.
The writer’s point: It’s trying to be Sgt. Pepper or at least Pet Sounds. Instead the album is bloated and pretentious.
My point: I was totally distracted by this sentence:
I was there when they unlocked the front door at Strawberry Records in Albany, New York, the day Imperial Bedroom came out. I KNEW this guy! He used to write for a variety of publications, some of which he put out himself, that he would drop off at FantaCo, the comic book store I worked at in that time period. Knew his then-girlfriend, too, who was MUCH younger. AND I used to buy albums at Strawberry’s, and at Just A Song, which was virtually in the same space before that.
As for the album, I just didn’t play it all that often. There were three or four great songs that stood out, but the rest, not so much.

U2, The Joshua Tree. Island, 1987. By Eric Waggoner and Bob Mehr.
The writers’ point: U2 hemorrhaged sincerity to produce “one of the most relentlessly banal albums in the pantheon of the greats.”
My point: As early as 1988, I had this album on my 20 desert albums. When I told that to someone, he thought it was too soon to tell. Fair enough; it’s still on my 20-30 desert albums.

Public Enemy, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. Def Jam/Columbia, 1988. By Arsenio Orteza.
The writer’s point: Shrill noise similar to “Chinese water torture” with a 20-year-old message. And racist to boot.
My point: I have never owned this album, so feel unqualified to comment.

Nirvana, Nevermind. Geffen, 1991. By Anders Smith Lindell.
The writer’s point: It “made punk safe for the shopping mall.” The overdone soft/loud schtick wore out its welcome.
My point: This is first album that made me feel old. I thought the lyrics to Smells Like Teen Spirit were laughable or a parody, though I appreciated it musically. Upon more plays, I appreciated it more, though it DOES have too much of that soft/loud schtick.

The Smashing Pumpkins, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. Virgin, 1995. By Rick Reger.
The writer’s point: It was “designed to create the impression of ‘significance’ where, in fact, none existed. The scope of the album isn’t its strength, it’s its “fatal flaw”.
My point: I’ve never owned it, so can’t speak well enough of it.

Radiohead, OK Computer. Capitol, 1997. By David Menconi.
The writer’s point: Completely boring and unmoving, though marketed well.
My point: I bought it. I listened to it thrice. I don’t get it, either, though the last time, I heard it in 2- or 3-song chunks and it was (surprisingly) better.

Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Nonesuch, 2003. By Allison Augustyn.
The writer’s point: Tranquilizing, with a few catchy songs
My point: This was on my “to buy” list -I have other Wilco, which I like – but I haven’t yet.

That’s it, except for About the Contributors, which is a lot of fun, actually, because at least half of them have one or more albums on their Top Ten albums that someone else has royally panned.

ROG

Book Quiz!

Jaquandor did this quiz around the time a couple months ago when people were shocked, SHOCKED that Americans aren’t reading books like they used to. Actually, I do sympathize. I joined a book club through my [former] church for about a decade (1986-1996), and that forced me to read 10 books a year. Not only that, I was required to read genres that I wouldn’t have necessarily read on my own, such as fantasy or home improvement, instead of my usual non-fiction selections of biographies and books about music, movies, sports and history. Now I read maybe 3 or 4 books a year, and the year Lydia was born, quite possibly only the Bradley method book.

I mean, in my job, I read all the time, but it’s not whole books. It’s reports, book sections and reference material.

Of course, I’m taking this to mean books I read for myself. I read lots of books to Lydia, at least a couple per day.

What are you reading right now?

The Genius of Impeachment: The Founders’ Cure for Royalism by John Nichols.

Do you have any idea what you’ll read when you’re done with that?

Probably A Day Apart: How Jews, Christians and Muslims find freedom, and joy on the Sabbath by Christopher D. Ringwald, who I know. But I still need to get back to Shrub by Molly Ivins, which I was reading before I read that Stax book, Soulville, U.S.A.

What magazines do you have in your bathroom right now?

At any give time, Newsweek, Entertainment Weekly or Jet, though my wife and my daughter are always bringing them out and giving them to me. when I was growing up, we ALWAYS had magazines in the bathroom, a wicker basket with my mother’s Ladies’ Home Journal; I always used to read “Can this marriage be saved?”

What’s the worst thing you were ever forced to read?

Don’t know that it was the worst, but Johnny Tremain, a junior high assignment, sticks in my mind. So does Ivanhoe.

What’s the one book you always recommend to just about everyone?

I don’t recommend books.

Admit it, the librarians at your library know you on a first name basis, don’t they?

Well, yeah, but it’s mostly because I bring Lydia to the library to get videos and books. Also, because I’m on the board of The Friends of the Albany Public Library.

Is there a book you absolutely love, but for some reason, people never think it sounds interesting, or maybe they read it and don’t like it at all?

You mean, besides the World Almanac, which I find utterly fascinating?

Do you read books while you eat?

No, maybe newspapers or magazines. I don’t want food to get on the book.

While you bathe?

No, but I shower, so it seems impractical.

While you watch movies or TV?

Not movies. TV- rarely; usually periodicals during baseball.

While you listen to music?

Yes.

While you’re on the computer?

Only if engaged in downloading or uploading something that will take a while.

While you’re having sex?

What?

While you’re driving?

No.

When you were little, did other children tease you about your reading habits?

Yes, and not just children. My own family who labeled me Mr. Encyclopedia. People used to come visit my parents, so I would dutifully come out of my room, say hello, then go back to my room to read. My sister once insisted that if the house were on fire, I wouldn’t notice because I was so busy reading. This was not true; the power would probably go off, and I would have noticed that.

Whereas the kids in school, some of whom I still know, seemed to have valued the written word.

What’s the last thing you stayed up half the night reading because it was so good you couldn’t put it down?

It’s been decades; I don’t remember.

BTW, it’s Banned Book Week; here’s what’s happening in Albany on Saturday, October 6, with a link to events nationwide.

ROG

Arts Meme

I no longer know who I stole this meme from!

Name a book that you want to share so much that you keep giving away copies:

It’s such a cliche: The Prophet by Gibran. It was a Christmas present I gave again this year. Also, The World Almanac. Beyond that, there are some expensive music reference books from Joel Whitburn about the Billboard charts. I never throw away the old copy when I buy the new copy, I just pass it on.

Name a piece of music that changed the way you listen to music:

Besides “Quintet” from West Side Story, which I’ve previously mentioned – “The Jets are gonna have their way tonight” against, “Tonight, tonight won’t be just any night”? Or the Huntley-Brinkley theme, which I discovered was Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, 2nd movement, thus making classical music accessible? It’d have to be “In the Mood” by Henhouse Five Plus Two, which has led me to the revelation that almost all music can be done as through chickens were squawking. Or maybe the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows”, which is technically all one chord.

Name a film you can watch again and again without fatigue:

There are several. But to name a few; “Field of Dreams”, “Annie Hall”, the first “Back to the Future” movie, the original (Episode 4) “Star Wars”. I saw “Annie Hall” four times in the theater, which is tied for the record.

Name a performer for whom you suspend all disbelief:

Meryl Streep, Judi Dench, Hilary Swank, Donald Sutherland, Tommy Lee Jones, Ellen Burstyn. I’m sure there are others.

Name a work of art you’d like to live with:

The Scream. There are several copies, and they seem to get stolen a lot, so that could be interesting.

Name a work of fiction which has penetrated your real life:

Don’t read that much fiction, but I’ll pick The Handmaid’s Tale; it felt very real.

Name a punch line that always makes you laugh:

Not so much a punchline, as that whole riff in “The Life of Brian” about the ever-lengthening list of what the Romans had done for the Jews, found here:
REG:
They’ve taken everything we had, and not just from us, from our fathers, and from our fathers’ fathers.
LORETTA:
And from our fathers’ fathers’ fathers.
REG:
Yeah.
LORETTA:
And from our fathers’ fathers’ fathers’ fathers.
REG:
Yeah. All right, Stan. Don’t labour the point. And what have they ever given us in return?!
XERXES:
The aqueduct?
REG:
What?
XERXES:
The aqueduct.
REG:
Oh. Yeah, yeah. They did give us that. Uh, that’s true. Yeah.
COMMANDO #3:
And the sanitation.
LORETTA:
Oh, yeah, the sanitation, Reg. Remember what the city used to be like?
REG:
Yeah. All right. I’ll grant you the aqueduct and the sanitation are two things that the Romans have done.
MATTHIAS:
And the roads.
REG:
Well, yeah. Obviously the roads. I mean, the roads go without saying, don’t they? But apart from the sanitation, the aqueduct, and the roads–
COMMANDO:
Irrigation.
XERXES:
Medicine.
COMMANDOS:
Huh? Heh? Huh…
COMMANDO #2:
Education.
COMMANDOS:
Ohh…
REG:
Yeah, yeah. All right. Fair enough.
COMMANDO #1:
And the wine.
COMMANDOS:
Oh, yes. Yeah…
FRANCIS:
Yeah. Yeah, that’s something we’d really miss, Reg, if the Romans left. Huh.
COMMANDO:
Public baths.
LORETTA:
And it’s safe to walk in the streets at night now, Reg.
FRANCIS:
Yeah, they certainly know how to keep order. Let’s face it. They’re the only ones who could in a place like this.
COMMANDOS:
Hehh, heh. Heh heh heh heh heh heh heh.
REG:
All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?
XERXES:
Brought peace.
REG:
Oh. Peace? Shut up!

Tagging:

Not into tagging. Go tag yourself, if you’d like.

BOOK: Kill Your Idols

I’m only adding this banner because I hate to read about Mark Evanier crying.

Anyway, some guy, pretty much out of the blue, sent me a copy of the book Kill Your Idols: A New Generation of Rock Writers Reconsiders the Classics, edited by Jim DeRogatis and Carmel Carillo. (Thank you.) I ended up reading it over two or three days on the road to Charlotte aand back.

I don’t think I’ll be reviewing the book per se, except to say that the essays by some three dozen writers are wildly different. A few discuss how they became critics; I don’t care. But some are pretty much on point.

Here’s a list of the chapters.

Forward: Canon? We Don’t Need No Steekin’ Canon by Jim DeRogatis. The premise is lovely: “each writer addresses an allegedly ‘great’ album that he or she despises.” He manages to dis baby boomers as being “prone to safeguarding works whose values they adopted as articles of faith in their youth, even though said youth is now several decades behind them. The writer challenges the inconsistency of the “best album: lists, notoriously generated by Rolling Stone magazine. It’s a good start.

The Beatles: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Capitol, 1967, by Jim DeRogatis.
The writer’s point: that the album is an archive of the ’60, a “bloated and baroque failed concept albums that takes a generation…back to the best shindig of their lives,” old-fashioned. He eviscerates most of the songs individually, with the notable exception of “A Day In the Life.”
My take: I think the writer is too harsh about With a Little Help, Lucy, and especially Getting Better, but largely agree with his disdain for Within You Without You and especially She’s Leaving Home, which IS “saccharine, strings-drenched melodrama.” DeRogatis’ point that some of these songs are lesser efforts than the songs on songs from earlier albums, especially Revolver, is arguably true.
Sidebar: Gordon asked, a while ago: Here’s a tough question:
Which Beatle album, in your opinion, is stronger and has held up over the course of time: Revolver or Sgt. Pepper?
Easy question, actually: Revolver, by quite a bit. Taxman rocks more than anything on Pepper, Love You To is less annoying (and much shorter) than Within You, For No One is gorgeous, Got To Get You Into My Life IS rubber soul, and the Tomorrow Never Knows is so strong that the backing track works to make the interminable Within You more palatable on the new LOVE album. (A group called the Fab Four, a Beatles cover band, used the Tomorrow Never Knows music to great effect as backing for Jingle Bells. Really. And I like it.)

The Beach Boys: Pet Sounds. Capitol, 1966 by Jeff Nordstedt.
The writer’s point: Aside from the “unassailable” hits, Wouldn’t It Be Nice and God Only Knows, there is an “emotional gap between the [happy] music…and the [depressing] lyrics”. Overproduced, and your parents won’t hate it. And that overproduction “was partially responsible for the invention of the synthesizers”, which lead to the “evil development” of disco.
My take: Maybe it’s not a “rock ‘n’ roll” album, but so what? It’s one of my favorites. The disco argument is just silly; if there was no Pet Sounds, some other album would have inspired synthesizers. And not all “disco sucks”.

The Beach Boys: Smile. Unreleased, 1967, by Dawn Eden.
The writer’s point: It’s mostly inaccessible, and will never be as good as the hype, Good Vibrations and Heroes and Villains notwithstanding.
My take: Nothing can ever match the hype. The Brian Wilson album SMiLE, released after the essay, is an intriguing piece of music, but may or may not have changed the course of music 37 years earlier.

The Who: Tommy. MCA, 1969. By Steve Knopper.
The writer’s point: It suffers from “glaring conceptual weaknesses, tin-can production, and timeless inability to rock.” Bland, repetitive; the filler songs are terrible. Only Pinball Wizard, I’m Free, Cousin Kevin, and Fiddle About are any good, and the latter is tainted by Pete Townsend’s arrest, even though the charges were dropped. But the greatest sin is that they (especially Townsend) couldn’t leave it alone but had it done again and again.
My take: The filler songs and repeated musical themes never bothered me – Townsend’s working in a largely unfamiliar medium of “rock opera”. Not only did I like the songs cited by Knopper, but also Christmas and Underture. But those other versions with the London Symphony Orchestra, and the movie soundtrack, are NOT improvements.

The MC5: Kick Out the Jams. Elektra, 1969. By Andy Wang
The writer’s point: full of john Sinclair’s nonsensical White Panther Party rubbish, and not very good.
My take: Don’t own; haven’t heard in too long to comment.

The Byrds: Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Columbia, 1968. By Steven Stolder.
The writer’s point: It was no more the pioneer country-rock album than the Beau Brummel’s Bradley’s Barn. The “notion of country rock as defined by the Byrds…seems unnecessary.
My take: Doing a comparison with an album I’ve never heard of, let alone heard, makes it difficult to comment. On the other hand, country rock always seemed like an artifice to me.

Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band: Trout Mask Replica. Straight, 1969. By Jason Gross.
The writer’s point: Gives him a throbbing headache.
My take: Never heard.

Led Zeppelin: (Untitled, IV, Runes, or Zoso), Atlantic, 1971. By Adrian Brijbassi.
The writer’s point: Seems to be largely about his sex life, though he does also talk about Zeppelin musical theft on this and other albums.
My take: I like it well enough, though I’ve ODed on Stairway to Heaven decades ago.

Neil Young: Harvest, Reprise, 1972. By Fred Mills.
The writer’s point: “The music world is overrun by simpering singer-songwriters obsessed with the D chord and first-person pronouns”, thanks to its success.
My take: Well, maybe so. Actually, while I like the songs – though Alabama IS a lesser version of Southern Man from the previous album – I never fully bought it as musically coherent statement. I’ll be curious to hear the next Neil album, which the late producer David Briggs tried to convince Neil should have been the logical successor to After the Goldrush.

Rolling Stones: Exile on Main Street, Rolling Stones, 1972. By Keith Moerer.
The writer’s point: Lots of great songs, with an “awful lot of genre filler (and worse)…” Not a fan of Sweet Black Angel.
My point: I agree.

The Eagles: Desperado, Asylum, 1973. By Bobby Reed.
The writer’s point: Not the cohesive story it feigns to be. (Spends too much time telling about himself.)
My take: Though I probably own this album, somewhere, I must have got it so late in the vinyl game that I don’t really know what it sounds like well enough to judge.
Lynyrd Skynyrd: Pronounced Len-nerd Skin-nerd, MCA, 1973. By Leanne Potts.
The writer’s point: Southern-fried hokum.
My point: Don’t have, though I’ve never been a particular fan of Freebird or Sweet Home Alabama.

Graham Parsons: GP/Grievous Angel, Warner Brothers, 1990. (Original releases 1973, 1974). By Chrissie Dickinson.
The writer’s point: a “critically-correct cult god” who couldn’t sing.
My point: Don’t have. Makes me want to check it out.

The Doors: Best of the Doors, Elektra, 1985. By Lorraine Ali (with Jim DeRogatis).
The writer’s point: Lyrically pretentious, musically lame.
My point: I have another greatest hits, but I have to agree that “Ligh
t My Fire” is pretty lame; the single’s much more tolerable than the album cut, because it doesn’t have that cheesy organ solo. But I always live for the “stronger than dirt” part of the creepy “Touch Me”.

Pink Floyd: The Dark Side of the Moon, Capitol/EMI, 1973. By Burl Gilyard.
The writer’s point: It’s “moody, ponderous, torpid and humorless.”
My point: Well, maybe it is, but I like it atmospherically anyway.

Bob Dylan: Blood on the Tracks, Columbia, 1975. By Chris Martiniano.
The writer’s point: It’s a “cliched, dull, and at times, a tragically sloppy album.”
My point: Given that this is one of my favorite Dylan albums, I’m not feeling this complaint.

Well, THAT was fun. But time consuming. I’ll do it again for the rest of the book. Later, probably next month, when I’m stuck for a topic. I can’t wait, because I used to know one of the upcoming reviewers.