Tree planting!

June 28th, 2014

Today, Zen and I went to a tree planting exercise in Sengkang Riverside Park with some company colleagues. I’d been the main organizer, and was happy to see that we had just the right number of people out to plant our 11 trees (actually, there was a spare tree, since we had 10 units of tree diggers, so Zen and I took the second one). We posed for pictures, and the photographer said “one, two, tree…” That’s the local accent, but it could also have been a pretty hilarious joke, considering, ha ha ha…

The Sengkang area is somewhat far flung (by Singapore standards), and I’d never seen that heart of town before. There’s a lot of new development and they’re building housing for what looks like at least 500 thousand people.

There’s also a light rapid transit line there, with just a single car zooming around. After our one hour exercise, Zen and I went out to the LRT and took a tour around the area. It’s a funky little roller coaster of a buggy, and we had a nice time. After that we went to Jing Hua Chinese food restaurant in Tanjong Pagar, where we’ve been many times before, and had a great little lunch. Went home, had a beer, napped, woke up, set up the new iMac, and just generally got things done. Going out tonight to a “drinks wedding reception” for a guy who was once an intern at my former place of employment. Sighhhh…

Orientation

 

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This is the way we plant our trees…

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Getting started!

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Our crew at work!

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Zen getting some assistance.

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Watering the new tree.

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Getting started on our second tree.

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Watch out, earth!!

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Talk to the hand!

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Our handiwork!

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On the LRT.

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Sengkang New Town.

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Some day, this will be a bustling street…

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Nice “river” view.

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I went to Canada! Yay!!

June 15th, 2014

I had such a great visit to Canada when I went there from May 30th to June 8th! Here are my pictures!!!!

 

Weird that there’s a queue at Changi Airport runway!!
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Ships, off Singapore

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Wow!!

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Business class food!

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Nice island, behind the clouds there… maybe somewhere off Vietnam?

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Took this picture in the Hong Kong Cathay Pacific flight lounge… love the reflection off the floor…

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Very simple toilet!

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Burger in the evening…

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Me and my jet helmet…

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My home town, from the sky…

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First view of Canada – the airport at 8:00 PM on a late May evening.

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Entering the Northlands at night.

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I ordered a bunch of indie band patches. They arrived while I was away…

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The view from my window at home.

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Selfie in the mirror (jet-lagged… but this is how I see myself, actually…).

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Normal selfie…

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Great book!!!

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Mom and Dad, glorious, in the sunlight. Photo by me.

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Too flaky to buy, even for $0.33.

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Take off, you hoser!!

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Mom and dad’s porch… barbecue-free after a long hard winter…

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Thriving Midland on a Sunday afternoon!

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Rabbit burlesque.

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Awas!!

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Photo by dad.

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Photo by mom.

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Little Lake, man!

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My taxi into Toronto!!

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BRAD IS THE MAN!!!

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Live at the Horseshoe!

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Pete ‘n’ Struts, live at the Horseshoe!

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Queen Street at night is gorgeous!

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Oh yeah!

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The view from my hotel window… I work in one of those buildings…

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Renovation, Canada-style… the pool was closed ,but who knows why?

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There’s a frog in there somewhere…

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This movie was playing in the pub that our gang partied at. Dialogue unnecessary.

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Me ‘n’ my posse…

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With a cowboy guitar gal…

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Toronto from Spadina.

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John Shoesmith – poet.

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The poet ‘n’ the cowpoet.

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Sloan at the AGO!

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A Toronto… thing!!

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After the Sloan show – let’s rock at the Rex!!

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View from my team’s office space in Toronto. I love how you can see the reflection of the Royal York Hotel – where I once worked – in the PwC Tower glass. IMG_3800

Another view from my office space – can see the logos of four of Canada’s top six banks off in the distance.

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Goin’ green!!

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Big Fat Burrito, in Kensington Market, in Toronto.

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My ‘n’ my new buddy, James C, of Malhavoc fame. We spent 45 minutes talking outside his apartment discussing Ministry, Monster Magnet, Motley Crue and Malhavoc. Good times!!

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Later that night at the Bovine Sex Club.

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Even later that night at the Cameron House.

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Wow – Freddie Blassie!!

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What is an “old cummer”?

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Me and Mr Bidini. Wow!!!!!!

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Memories…

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My old home…

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Another old home…

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Wow… old friends…

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The real world.

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Friends walking the old road.

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Lots of love and memories here.

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Back in the old school yard!!!!!!!!

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Seriously… nothing’s changed in nearly 40 years!!!!

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Yeah………….

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Yeah!

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The Credit River. Love it!!

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Touched by the hand of Ozzy!!!

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Yes… I am!

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The man!!!

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Jamer’s throne!

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Shelly Jameson – sheer awesomeness!!

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Train keeps a movin’ all beer-drinkin’-session-long…

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Shuriken-shaped vinyl!!

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Merry Goddamned Christmas, EnGarde Records, 1992!!

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Wow!!

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On the road!!!

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Pride!!

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I’m With The Band: Confessions of a groupie, by Pamela Des Barres

May 12th, 2014

PDB IWTB

I’m With The Band: Confessions of a groupie, by Pamela Des Barres – A great coming-of-age story of a young groupie-musician-actor, who witnessed the birth of rock ‘n’ roll and eventually hung out with, bedded, and married some of the most influential musicians of this incredible era. The first half of the book is (as always) the most interesting, and she describes the arousal of her teenage passions – in particular her early encounters with the Rolling Stones – with great color and enthusiasm. The middle of the book chronicles her adventures in her own pioneering girl band, GTO, and her affairs with rock stars, before slowing down a bit and becoming all about the hunt for a long-term relationship and marriage (around page 188 of this 300-page book she says “I am sweet, delicious, and a juicy 21! Somebody claim me!!”). She even starts to get discreet, hiding the names of the stars she was shagging! But among the people she sleeps with are members of the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, the Byrds, Michael Des Barres, Lane Caudell, a pre-fame Don Johnson and Woody Allen. Crazy! But nothing is as nutty as the bizarre Marlon Brando obsession that emerges in the last pages of the book, as she goes off to see Last Tango In Paris, has butter fantasies, and calls Brando’s personal line repeatedly (and you have to wonder if Brando – or McCartney, or any of these people who didn’t really know her all that well – dug her book and all her freaky groupie fantasies, or were simply freaked out).

This is the updated edition, with an afterword, an after-afterword, as well as a little foreword by Dave Navarro, who was born in 1967, right around the time that events in the book are taking place. Navarro’s intro is okay, but he never loses his fanboy approach.

Now there are always lots of hot women around rock stars, and there always have been, historically speaking (I pray every night tat there always will be). What makes Pamela so special and intriguing? I would say her mind – she is fucking brilliant (as I typed that, I actually felt myself become aroused – that’s how brilliant she is!).

Pamela also adds a new intro, which is funny:

I was unprepared, however, for the reaction to I’m With The Band when it was initially published. When uptight women on talk shows chided me for being too free-spirited and sexually open, I told them I was sorry they missed out on the good times and didn’t get to sleep with Mick Jagger. It caused an outrage, but I had a ball shaking things up once more.

(Nice pun, by the way Pam.)

The book gets into the young Miss Pamela’s journeys through life, starting with her family background, her parents, her middle-class upbringing, her school life, her extreme Beatlemania, her first adventures with boy crushes, her protection of her virginity (!!!), her first experience shaving her legs (her finally relented and let her shave them below the knees), and extensive experience giving blowjobs. We get excerpts of diary entries, letters, and poems that she had written over the years, some good and some not-so-great. Bad boys in school, first boyfriends, and the eventual onset of massive horniness.  Beatlemania was the big passion for her early on: the young Miss Pamela was a Paulgirl (for whom early girlfriend Jane Asher was a “creepy freckle-faced bow-wow”), in a Beatle girl-gang with three others.

Even here she demonstrated her randiness:

I collected Beatle bubble-gum cards, and one of them was a shot of Paul playing his bass, sitting on a bed in a hotel with his legs apart. You could actually see the shape of his balls being crushed by the tightness of his trousers, and I carried that card around with me in a little gold box with cotton covering it like it was a precious jewel. I peeked at it reverently once a day, and lifted the cotton gently, holding my breath as I stared between his legs at the eighth wonder of the world.

Years later, she met Paul when he was with his second wife Heather, and she had to contextualise for him that they actually hadn’t slept together.

She “wrote with a Beatle pen, slept on a Beatle pillowcase, and breathed with Beatle lungs,” composing plays “in which Jane Asher dies many grisly, horrifying deaths. The Pam Miller character was always around to pick up Paul’s pieces.” Pamela includes one of her poems to him in the book, it’s actually pretty good. She even describes the obsessive rituals that she would go through every day, such as writing Paul’s name down every time she farted (!!!).

Later, when the young Miss Pamela broadens her vision to allow admiration of the Rolling Stones in addition to the Beatles, her friends are aghast, and write her a hilariously petty letter!! “You had better watch out before you become completely friendless. Why on earth could you even start to like Mick over Paul?” She leaves her friends in the dust, and starts a new approach to life. “My brief sexual encounters with [my boyfriend] had opened up new vistas of turgid, twisting thoughts, and Mick Jagger personified a penis. I took my new records and my glossy steaming photographs into my rock and roll room, where I scaled new heights of tortuous teen abandon, wriggling in my seat with newfound throbbing ecstasy.” Wow!! This is all, of course, personified by the Rolling Stones song “I’m A King Bee”.

Miss Pamela’s friend Victor had a cousin in the business, named Don Vliet, aka Captain Beefheart, this launched her in rock ‘n’ roll, and before too long she was hanging out with Frank Zappa and stalking Jim Morrison. But things really got crazy when the Rolling Stones came to play Los Angeles in 1965:

The month of waiting for the Stones’ arrival increased my wanton desire to feel those gigantic lips on mine. I started writing porno things in my diary for the first time: ‘Someday I will touch and feel him, I know it. Mick, my dear, dear PENIS!’ I brazenly created in pink and red oil colors my concept of what his balls might look like. I turned it in to (my high school art teacher) as a modern-art project and got an A.

Of course, she eventually gets her wish, and Mick’s lips (and other things) all over her, but that would take a couple of years. They search for the band at a recording studio, and then actually bump into them – they look the girls over, ask them for directions to their hotel… but don’t invite them inside. But the girls linger and instead of meeting the Stones, they meet “a wiry black girl with a switchblade prominently displayed on a leather cord around her neck [who] told us that Keith had given it to her so she could keep the fans from bothering him. She led us to believe that she was one of the chosen who did have access to the pink rooms by proudly telling us that the Stones called her ‘the Grand Canyon.’ She did a bump and grind to make sure we didn’t miss the point.”

At one point, Miss Pamela observes Brian Jones “cavorting with two scantily clad ladies of Spanish descent. While I watched, some teenybops banged on the front door, begging him to come out and give them an autograph. He threw open the door in his underwear, holding a broom as some kind of weapon, and shouted, ‘IF YOU DON’T GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE, I’LL DRAG YOU IN HERE AND FUCK YOU!!!’ They ran squealing into the moonlight.” Miss Pamela eventually spends a few hours with Captain Beefheart, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts listening to Muddy Waters. Wow… how cool is that?

At the concert, “Mick was so sexy. I had never seen anybody move like that; it was downright skuzzy, driving the girls in the audience to poke and prod at their private parts. The music was hot and raunchy, my heart was beating below my waist, and my hands were itching to hold something warm. I was a sticky, sweaty teenage girl, squirming my way into womanhood. They only played for about half an hour in those days, so the lights came on much too soon and we were herded out into the night, clutching our Rolling Stones programs and damp, wrinkled ticket stubs, wanting more more more!!” Kind of makes you understand the girls who swarmed and screamed at those early Stones shows in the UK that were so insane.

Eventually we find her auditioning for Terry Southern’s “Candy” – she got the role, but funding fell through – and getting ogled by Tony Curtis and Dennis Hopper, who scared her “with his devilish demeanor and those pop-eyes that seemed to poke at me”.  Next come strange flirtations with the hippies, who were much too earthy for her, and parties with wacky friends Vito and Szou. She also ran into a sad hippy poet called Bummer Bob, who was the first hippy to panhandle in Haight Ashbury, and he bought donuts for Miss Pamela and read her his “scary and beautiful” poetry that he “read from a tattered book by candlelight with such ferocity, I thought he might cry. He read it like I were a huge audience, and seemed surprised when I was the only one applauding.” Turns out Bummer Bob was actually Bobby Beausoleil, the actor (he was to be in a Kenneth Anger film before falling out with the director) and musician who eventually ran with the Manson family and tortured and killed people! Yes, the Sixties weren’t all fun and games, maaaan…  When she saw him on TV being interviewed by Truman Capote about the murders she said:

He had no remorse at all, and even said he would do it again. His eyes had turned into hard, flat, matte  black buttons, like somebody had thrown darts into them, and I tried to remember what his poetry had been about. I could only recall a beautiful, strange boy who was all alone with his poems and an elegant top hat and I wondered what happened to (his dog) Snowfox, the best friend a man ever had.

(incidentally, fellow GTO member Miss Mercy is described as living in the same neighborhood as Charles Manson).

Eventually, she gets very serious about her groupie-ness:

The girls and I spent a lot of time locked up in the vault, making lists of all the gorgeous boys in bands that we wouldn’t kick out of bed. Lucy and Sandra wrote their lists on the wall and crossed them off one by one as they encountered the lucky lads. I kept my list in a little gold loose-leaf notebook in my purse: none of the names had been crossed off yet, and Mick Jagger was number one, written in flaming red.

She had cool friends that she’d run into all the time. “Oh yes, I met Gram Parsons last night and I told him I rolled for him and asked him why he quit the Byrds, and he said ‘to do my own thing.’ I can’t wait to see what that is.” She saw him a lot, and described him well. “When he sang about the agonies of love, his heart breaking, tears rolled down his cheeks without his knowledge. The Whiskey-A-Go-Go was unfamiliar with sobbing men in Nudie suits, but I wallowed in his tortured Southern soul, swaying back and forth on the dance floor like a weeping-0willow tree.” They also got to hang out with Pink Floyd, who came over one day…

Eventually, she gets it on with Mick Jagger, who puts her in a limo and whisks her to a show, where she has another Stones concert experience quite unlike the first one. “I was put ON STAGE for the concert, and I got to see the audience FREAK OUT from the Stones’ perspective. Everyone came together: surging like a sea to the stage, thousands of eyes never leaving MJ’s magical being. Such power with a capital ‘P’. How would it feel to have thousands of kids ‘under your thumb,’ ha!” Amazing how things come around eventually, and she gets another one of her wishes (and a name crossed off of her list). “He gave new meaning to giving head, which did not surprise me in the slightest; those lips!!! Please!! But looking down and seeing Mick Jagger between my legs kept me from surrendering with the wild-animal abandon I had anticipated. We made love for hours, but I kept flashing back to squatting in front of my hi-fi, touching myself for the first time while Mick groaned about being a King Bee coming inside, and here he was, right on top of me, doing  just that.” Miss Pamela paints a beautiful picture of being with Mr Jagger; of course, this picture is quite different from the one that Marianne Faithfull paints, or what Keith Richards or Bobby Keys would add, but this is what she had to say about it, and God bless her for that. Later on, when Mick wants a three-way with Michelle Phillips, she’s against it. “I didn’t want to share him, and I didn’t want to share her either.” Rrrrrrrrawrrrr!!!

Funnily enough, she didn’t like Keith much in the end. “Keith scares me, he’s like a foreign object.” She also saw Gram moving too much into Keith’s influence.

Rivalry! Lori Lightning steals Jimmy Page from her one night, and then she gets taunts from other legendary groupies! “The most hideous of these tartlets was Sable Starr. She thought she invented nipples and pubic hair. At an Elton John party on the lot at Universal, she shouted out to me, ‘give it up, you old bag.’ I flipped her the bird right in front of the newest piano-playing wunderkind.”

Eventually, she starts to get a bit crazy with her Marlon Brando obsessions:

I went to see Last Tango In Paris by myself. Me and a bottle of Kahlua. It was better than any of my wet dreams ever were and I massaged my pubic area while Marlon unwrapped the butter. I ached to have it melt in my underpants and puddle under my thighs while he pulled his polyester pants down just far enough so I could feel the crack of his ass. His thin graying hair and slight sexy paunch incited me to a private riot in the theater.

Eventually, she gets together with the already-married Michael Des Barres. “He came back to my hotel that night and gave me head for two hours, but couldn’t consummate anything because his dick was about to fall off form some unutterable thing he had caught in Japan.” Wow!!

Miss Pamela reports a weird conversation with Ringo Starr: “He kept flipping out, saying, ‘Where are the new groups to take our place?’ I agree. Not much happening in rock and roll except the oldie-moldies. It was a drag to see how zongoed they all got.” And yet, the early Seventies produced or was the heyday of so many more of the bands we all adore – Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Big Star, and many many many more.

One of the great mysteries of the book is Miss Pamela’s band, the GTOs, and what happened to them. Despite the fact that great session players like Nicky Hopkins played on their only album, Permanent Damage, along with Jeff Beck, Ry Cooder and Rod Stewart, the album is out of print and the band is near-forgotten! “We saw the films of our Whiskey show, and they made m realize we’re going to make it!” Sorry, not gonna happen! There was so much hope that this was going to be something, and the project lingered and lingered, and then Zappa let it linger some more when he found some of the girls had become junkies (out of boredom? Or was it something else?). Miss Pamela describes jamming with the Jeff Beck Group, and it must have been a lot of fun! Later on, she describes what a nutty GTO show was like, with the inclusion of “Teddy Bear’s Picnic” (an old Nicky Hopkins favorite), and all sorts of hippy granola fun.

With the new edition, Miss Pamela provides an afterword (or aftermath), talking about all of those good souls who are gone, including Bryan MacLean, the guitarist form the band Love, who was the reason she first smoked marijuana. He took the bible literally, and died in 1998 of a brain aneurism. And Daryl DeLoach, Iron Butterfly’s frontman, who died of liver cancer in 2002. Arbitrarily, she reprints stuff from her letters to Cynthia Plaster Caster, which Cynthia shared with her more recently, including things like “I saw Deep Purple last night and can’t dig them in the slightest. They think they’re all Jimi Hendrixes. Miss Cynderella (of the GTOs) was sitting with her legs slightly ajar and Jimi #2 said ‘Will you please close your legs, you’re offending me.’” And later in a letter to her good friend/rival Cynthia Plastercaster “… I’m so glad you threw up all over Deep Purple’s room. I find them so yucky, I don’t even consider them a group. (But I’m so sorry you were sick).”

Funnily enough, it’s on the last page that we learn that Miss Pamela sings backup on a Flying Burrito Brothers song on Gilded Palace Of Sin, “Hippie Boy”:

And, just for fun, here are a few GTO songs:

Of course, the back cover has great endorsements by Robert Plant (“I couldn’t have done it better myself. I will always love you Miss Pamela, and again a thousand apologies for the premature ejaculation.”), and Gene Simmons (“She knows a thing or two about rock stars… a thing or two. Thank God for Miss Pamela!”), even though he’s not mentioned in the book itself (Plant is).

Some pictures of the stunning Pamela Des Barres (nee Pamela Miller).

PDB 01

PDB 03

PDB 02

The GTOs’ only album, Permanent Damage.

 

GTO PD

Girls Together Outrageously!!

GTO 01

GTO 02

GTO 03

GTO 04

GTO 05

GTO 06

GTO 07

GTO 08

May 4th, 2014

BBJ

Blackboard Jungle is cited so often in rock bios (Keith Richards, Bill Wyman, Ron Woods, Bobby Keys) that I simply had to see it. Sure, after a long scrolling introduction set to wild rock drumming you do get the opening sounds of Bill Haley and his Comets doing “Rock Around The Clock”, which is good fun, but you really don’t hear much more rock music in the film after that at all – once more in the middle, in an instrumental piece, and once at the end (the producers had paid $5,000 to use it three times), although there’s a bit of jazz at one point a propos of the book, which cites jazz as the music of the film. The film shows a bunch of creepy juvenile delinquents in class getting tough and nasty, tough yet naïve new teacher (played by Canadian actor Glenn Ford) learning the ropes as a new teacher (and walking them through awful top-down lessons), young thug nastiness, knife fights, and sympathetic character turnarounds who oppose the bad-to-the-bone villains, with the teacher Mr Dadier (daddy-o!) using a Jack and the Beanstock cartoon to impress his students and win them over! Sydney Poitier is good as the only black kid in the class (it seems – a few are seen later on), who’s also the most handsome, and the natural leader (Vic Morrow, as the drunken, crazed gang leader is less “leaderly”). Plenty of tinges of racism, which even back then they were pretending was an old-fashioned way of thinking. Ford, of course, has a winging, scrawny wife who gets frantic and is generally no fun. Jamie Farr, who plays Corporal Klinger in M*A*S*H, credited here with his real name Jameel Farah, played the smiley Santini in the film. Some good action, some great ideas, and some great in-class dialogue! A blockbuster and revolutionary social realism film that really busted things open, and not just about rock ‘n’ roll!

For the 2005 50th anniversary DVD edition there’s great commentary from Paul Mazursky, Jamie Farr, the film’s assistant director Joel Freeman and Glenn Ford’s son Peter Ford (Glenn was probably too weak to attend, having suffered a series of strokes at the end of his life – he died in 2006). The commentary starts off with Jamie Farr’s tale of how he came to be cast in the film, Paul Mazursky pitches in, explaining mechanics like how it was all filmed on back lot, gives lots of names, tells studio stories, identifies Jim Baccus’ wife Henny Baccus, talks about how there was dancing in the aisles in Boston when the movie started, had to show the film without the music of the opening, giving personal anecdotes like how the New York actors were picked up from the airport in a limo although they had never seen a limo before, director Richard Brooks was an ex-Marine and very tough, “get my gun, where’s my gun, shoot that man, get him out of here.” Mickey Rooney was wanted for Glenn Ford’s role, but nobody thought it appropriate. Took four hours to convince Glenn Ford to lose his long hair (which he never grew back after that!). Steve McQueen was considered for the Artie West role that went to Vic Morrow – now that would have been great! The boys were excited to see Erroll Flyn, Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck in the commissary! American censorship offices like the Legions Of Decency and others were against so many parts of the film, especially the adulterous hints, or how bad the film made American schools look. They wanted to film a school in Moscow to provide negative contrast (!!!), eventually putting in a superfluous scene of a wretchingly “good” American school to provide positive American contrast. Was nominated for Directors Guild awards, but not for an Oscar. After Blackboard Jungle, Bad Day At Black Rock, The Next Voice You Hear, MGM made more stark films with serious themes, less family fare. Mazursky can’t bear to watch the gratuitous “good school” scene, which was not in the book and had to be written in by Richard Brooks at studio urging. Film shot over four weeks for close to $1.5 million (more that what Mazursky paid to do “Harry And Tonto”, he adds) from November 15th to December 20th 1954, and they worked on Saturdays. The film was banned in 15 countries anyway. “This is emboldening the Communists and is making us look bad,” were some of the things said at the time. The movie seemed revolutionary, nobody had made a movie about bad behavior in schools, although  Mazursky knew all of this was real as he was from a tough school in Brooklyn, and his wife worked in a school in East Brooklyn, Maruzrsky had just gotten married, went to the school and did some research. The guy from Naked City, Horace MacMahon, plays the detective in the film also. Rafael says “stinkin’” instead of “fuckin’”, like they did in the book. “Anytime you wanna come by, just come over,“ the guys say to each other in the commentary. “He’s high on Sneaky Pete.” They wanted to film it in colour, but didn’t. Wanted to film it in Chicago, but didn’t have the budget. In the film they used Jack and the Beanstalk, in the book it was the allegory 51st Dragon. Ford was in demand as an actor, but badly needed for this film – he finished Interrupted Melody on a Friday, Blackboard Jungle started on a Monday. When asked who the modern-day Glenn Ford is, Mazursky says it must be Tom Hanks, Farr backs this up by mentioning the Jimmy Stewart stutter and the likability. Paul Mazursky hinted at hanky panky happening at Trader Vics during the shooting, but didn’t give details, pissing everybody else off. Talked about memoirs that everyone’s writing. Had to change the detail about Ann losing the  baby, as in the book, and it’s born premature. The school was named Manual Trades School, changed to North Manual High School for some silly reason, although it’s referenced earlier in dialogue. Had submitted it to Venice Film Festival, but US ambassador to Italy Claire Booth Lewis said she would not attend because she objected to the film, and it was pulled. The guys laugh hard over the following lines from the Jack and the Beanstalk scene:

“The cops would have kept the loot for themselves.”

“Not the FBI!!”

Extras were from a tough school, they needed policing. The crying kid with the tie was Tommy Ivo, who went on to be a famous race car driver. Jamie Farr asks Paul Mazursky if he thought about ever being a writer/director/producer at the time, while he was working in a health food store, and if Richard Brooks influenced him as an artist, says that Brooks helped him get his start with his first agent. In the scene when someone threw a ball at the blackboard, the ball actually hit Glenn Ford in the throat, he didn’t flinch – ex-Marine. Mazursky was close to Vic Morrow. Poitier was 27, Vic was 25, although they were mostly cast to look the same age. MGM was able to make Ben Hur on the profits from Blackboard Jungle. They tell the story of how Rock Around The Clock was chosen for the soundtrack – Brooks and Ford would have planning meetings, they hadn’t picked music for it, because although jazz is mentioned in the book they wanted something more contemporary. They’d heard lots of albums and records from Ford’s son, Brooks brought in Rock Around The Clock, and they both agreed on it. Someone mentions that Glenn Ford got his stage name after the town of Glennford. On other sound stages Doris Day was filming Love Mr Or Leave me with Jimmy Cagney, and It’s Always Fair Weather on the same lot.

Extras include also “Blackboard Jumble”, a 6:30 MGM Hanna Barbara cartoon by Droopy, “cease fire, man!” Hilarious triple apple bomb! Trailer of 2:50 that prominently features “Rock Around The Clock,” incorporates all of the action shots!

 

 

Beth Gibbons, Black Sabbath, “Black Sabbath”, and Black Sabbath (1963)

April 26th, 2014

Check it out – Beth Gibbons (Portishead) joins Gonga to do a version of “Black Sabbath”, from the band’s first album, with a video of images from the 1963 Mario Bava movie Black Sabbath, with Boris Karloff. Brilliant!! Of course, since Beth is singing, they re-name the song “Black Sabbeth“!

Bands in Singapore: Arrogant Moron, Sintoxicate, Truth Be Known, King Parrot, Rudra!

April 26th, 2014

Checked out some great bands last night at the Aliwal Arts Centre here in Singapore. First up was Arrogant Moron. I didn’t see them, because I was outside hanging out with friends and thought that they were sound checking. Turns out that it was their show, and I missed it! Oh well. The other bands were amazing, though, and the crowd was good fun. Ar Boy was doing the sound, talked with him for a while, bought a King Parrot split single, got the first Rudra release/early demo on CD, and a CD-EP from Sintoxicate. Looking forward to the upcoming Truth Be Known release.

Rudra King Parrot Sintoxicate

The audience was cool, with some kids wearing Sintoxicate or Rudra back patches on their jean jackets!! Saw a lot of Sodom patches!! Nearly everybody got picked up for some crowd surfing, from the slightest girls to the burliest ogres/guys. At one point, Truth Be Known invited the audience to climb onstage. I had no idea what it was about, but then the lead singer, bass player and one of the guitarists got into the audience pit and played for the audience from there, doing “we’re not worthy” bowing. Wow! King Parrot were mental, of course, partying Aussie style. The lead singer dragged Theresa  onstage and danced with her a bit, she was mortified of course.

Had a great time talking to the bands between set, met Matt from King Parrot and talked about band stuff. Great show all around, and every band kicked out the jams!! Thanks, Eric, for putting it together and giving us our fix of awesome!!

Sintoxicate!

Sintoxicate

Truth Be Known!

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Three of the guys from Truth Be Known invited us all onto the stage and played from the audience area, doing a lot of “we’re not worthy” bowing. Wow!

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Here’s the Truth Be Known drummer, took the pic while onstage.

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King Parrot. These guys were nutso, agitating the crowd to party, throwing water at us, and antagonizing people (like me) who were taking pictures. Each member was such a character, especially the bass player, who was sort of a four-string Bun E Carlos. The drummer is tattooed all over his body, including shaved head and neck!

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Wow… RUDRA!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Heave ho!!

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Been a long time since I’ve blogged

April 19th, 2014

Yes, it’s sure been a long time since I’ve blogged, here are a few recent pics.

CLICK ON THE PICTURE TO SEE A BIGGER VERSION OF THAT PICTURE!

Green Lodge no more!

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With our friends the Pinholes!

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Zen at his first at-bat with his new high school team. He earned their first hit of the year, and made first base!! They played at The Padang, a huge field in downtown Singapore.

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Zen fielding third base.

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Zen and his mom!

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Here’s what it looked like the last time Zen was new to a team – that was the Coconuts in 2008.

Zen and Naoko 2008

Celebrating afterwards with No Signboard Seafood!

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No Signboard Seafood’s famous chili crab.

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No Signboard Seafood’s signboard.

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Bought me some classic vinyl!!

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Nobody on the train with us!!

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Ridin’ the bus!

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Back at No Signboard Seafood with our visitor Mei, from Taiwan.

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At the movies with Zen to see Captain America: Winter Soldier.

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Zen’s last game as a Coconut

March 2nd, 2014

Today was a happy day, and a sad day. Zen suited up for his last day playing for the Coconuts softball team, where he’s been since he was six years old. Zen was the longest-playing Coconut, since kids tend to rotate in and rotate out with their families on 2- and 3-year intervals, or so, none would typically stay as long as six years. He’s put a lot of heart and soul and dedication into his time with the team, and made a lot of great friends. Naoko and I have also had a lot of great times with the team, the members, and the coaches and families, it’s the end of an ear. It continues, of course, with Zen’s participation in his secondary school softball team, where he’ll end up training more than he ever did with the Coconuts, but it’s still an important day.

Here are some shots of the day, Zen as pitcher and Zen as catcher. Too bad I didn’t take a picture of him as a batter! A great day.

Pitcher Zen

Pitcher Zen

Pitcher Zen

Pitcher Zen

Pitcher Zen

Pitcher Zen

Pitcher Zen

Pitcher Zen

Pitcher Zen

Pitcher Zen

Catcher Zen

Catcher Zen

Catcher Zen

Catcher Zen

Catcher Zen

Catcher Zen

Zen and his Coco-friends

Zen and his Coco-friends

Last day as a Coconut

Last day as a Coconut

Last day as a Coconut

Last day as a Coconut

Here are some pics from Zen-the-Coconut from the year he started, 2008.

Zen the Coconut

Zen the Coconut

Zen the Coconut

Zen the Coconut

My Big Bad Superman Page

February 12th, 2014

A guy who reads as many old Superman comics as I do needs to come across Superman sometimes…

SVMA

SVMA

Superman versus Muhammad Ali – I keep reading the hardcover bound graphic novels looking for great stories, and I usually only get great art (if I’m lucky). But this classic from 1978 has it all! In a time when there was a Superman vs Spider-Man Marvel-DC crossover story, DC worked with promoter Don King to come up with their version of this concept, also in giant-size (which is sadly not reproduced here). But everything else is there, and the layout of the new material at the front and back is also very good.

While there’s a silly framing story (aliens want to destroy the earth, as our species is too warlike and may some day prove a danger to other star systems, therefore Superman, Muhammad Ali and an alien champion must fight a gladiator match to determine Earth’s fate), but it sort of works. It’s so great to see Muhammad Ali kick alien buns. There’s also the classic wraparound cover, which it reproduced inside the book, with a table of who everyone is, and we get the Jacksons, Curt Vonnegut, two Presidents (Ford and Carter) and their wives, Cher, Andy Warhol, Sergio Aragones, Joe Namath, Pele, the Osmonds, Wolfman Jack, Sinatra, Ron Howard, William Gaines, Raquel Welch, Liberace, Johnny Carson, Christopher Reeve, Lucille Ball and Sonny Bono, not to mention fictional characters such as DC heroes and characters from their world (Alfred Pennyworth, for example), and even Alfred E Neuman! Of course, everybody had to give permission to have their likeness on the cover, which delayed publication, and some didn’t give it – George C Scott and Caroll O’Connor, for example – but enough did to fill a huge audience. Great!

The art, by Neal Adams, is a knockout, of course, and each drawing exudes class for a full 72 pages (and there’s sample sketches in the back too). The drawings of Ali are also very nice, as are his rants and boasts. Love it. Of course, they have to let the two men fight on even terms, so Superman is brought into the vicinity of a red sun, which strips him of his powers and makes him a normal man. “The crowd’s gone wild!” I like the part where Superman is nearly defeated, and he challenges himself to think of a solution. Yes, he uses his brain to get out of pickles and to save the earth, which is more than he did in the disappointing “Death Of Superman” stories, where he couldn’t think of any other way to take on Doomsday other than to use his fists.

TDOS

TDOS

The Death Of Superman – As usual with DC comics, they look great, but the writing is not so hot.

In this case, we get Superman, trapped in a cheesy TV interview, missing the first rounds of the battle with Doomsday, a sort of evil Incredible Hulk that crushes little birdies and chokes Bambi for fun (he also destroys houses and cars). Doomsday’s escape from his prison, initially with one hand tied behind his back (the mysterious/ominous Cadmus Project is implicated), is quite cool to see, and to the writers’ credit, they keep Doomsday’s origins a secret for a long time, which is good – from what I’ve read about it, it’s fascinating. More fun to come.

There are human interest stories thrown in – a long-haired kid from Ohio who seems like a mini Axl Rose, Keith the orphan, Charlie the homeless man who is a mole in the Underworld/Warworld, not to forget our friend Bibbowski; but we get past these stories and observe that awesome trail of destruction. The new Justice League Of America gets involved, and we get a whiff of the politics and the bickering that these people are all about (Bloodwynd, Guy Gardner, etc), as they get beaten to a pulp. As usual, the media is always present, and we get lots of Lois Lane, Jimmy Olson, and Cat Grant, Perry White… But, petty soon it becomes all about Superman, and the exertion of his final battle.

Lex Luthor (supposedly the son of Lex, but in actuality Lex himself) turns up, as does his girlfriend Supergirl (!?!?). More craziness to come in that area in the following “A World Without Superman” graphic novel.

What I don’t like about the book is that Superman’s brain is obviously turned off in his final battle. His opening move with Doomsday is to take his punch to the chest, initially without flinching… but a second blow shoots him out the door. Our heroes even figure out how to destroy the restraints that keep Doomsday’s right arm pinned behind his back, giving him two fists instead of one. Clever! Even with my non-cartoon, human brain, I can think of a dozen ways Superman could have used his powers to render Doomsday inert. But Supes decides to go with brute force to destroy the brute, meeting him on his own terms (Doomsday seems to have limited analytical skills). Why do this, when Superman is well known for his brains and knowledge of science? Seems crazy to me. Which is why I like the Superman Vs Muhammad Ali story, with its clever plotting, and its clever Superman; this Superman seems a bit thick, and so maybe he deserved what he got.

Aesthetically, it’s grandiose how the panels reduce from four per page, to three, to two, to one for the final issue. Must had been cool to see these come out at the time. While the formula may seem limiting, they do handle it in a clever way, and there’s a lot of variety. Nice.

But, as always, the story doesn’t end here…

WWAS

WWAS

World Without A Superman – Collecting seven issues of the various Superman-linked titles (and two Supergirl titles), which follow the actual death of Superman, these stories are tales of grieving, and there’s a lot of focus on Ma and Pa Kent (Pa suffers a heart attack, and we don’t know if he’ll make it or not – he sure is spending a lot of time in limbo trying to decide whether to live on or to pass on). And there’s Lois’ grieving, and Bibbowski’s as well (the Batman even shows up once or twice as well). Mostly these stories jump around the place, with a lot of emphasis on a few characters, such as Lois, Lex Luthor Jr (who shows more and more of his true colors), and the Cadmus Project people. It marks a pretty good interlude and lead-up to Superman’s return. There sure are a lot of Superman stories, despite the fact that there’s no more Superman… he may have died, but his titles weren’t cancelled! For some reason, Dubillex is a main player here.

We get the aftermath of the battle, and attempts to revive Superman. As the bodies are taken away, there’s discussion of what to do with Superman’s corpse – the key plot point, actually. The newspapers and media report it, the world grieves, Ma and Pa Kent agonize, Lois grieves, even Lex Luthor grieves… that he wasn’t the one to pull the plug on Superman! Lobo freaks out about it, Batman freaks out, Bill and Hilary give a speech! The Axl Rose kid from Ohio blames himself, and there’s quite a lot of talking. Wonder Woman and gang open up Superman’s Christmas mail bag and go around do-gooding – reuniting families, etc. It’s about heroes helping humans with their day-to-day problems, subtle stuff (no invincible opponents here). Gangbusters reappears, Superman’s corpse gets stolen (!!!), and more battles with Underworld. Stories with Guardian are quite Kirby-esque. Weird to see the Newsboy Legion live on in clone form, though – why do those guys need to be resurrected, they were always too goofy to be taken seriously, and this is not a goofy storyline! We get the introduction of more clones, like Auron, cloned from Guardian but trained to be a slave… like the clone troopers in Star Wars. Underworlders help Lois recover Superman’s body from Cadmus, and Lex Luthor has a corny training session with beautiful female black belts… and he takes his revenge out on one of them that gets a kick in… ridiculous. Isn’t this what Kingpin used to do? Lois has dream sequences, and so does Pa Kent when he goes into a coma. Quite a cool wander through history – wheat fields, the Korean war, the young Clark, all sorts of fun stuff… Inane episodes, like Turtle Boy, and the emergence of Kismet. Looks cool! Nice cliffhanger at the end too!

Overall the collection is a lot of fun, coming after the grim and thuggish Death Of Superman series, and we open up many cans of worms. Enjoy this one! Naturally, the art and layouts are impeccable, with one issue drawn by Walt Simonson.

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The Return of Superman – Finishing off a trilogy of books that started with The Death Of Superman, which was followed by A World Without Superman, The Return of Superman tells just that tale – how Superman returns from the dead. The story starts off well, with the readers trying to figure out just what these four new Supermans (an “Iron Man” Superman who never claims to be the original, a young clone who kinds sorta is Superman, a cyborg Superman who passes the DNA test, and a visored Superman who’s more like Marvel’s Punisher than DC’s Superman) are all about. One of the sad points of the book is that none of these new Supermans gets a proper name (worst of all is “the visored Superman”, a term used dozens of times). Lex Luthor and Supergirl play in the story, as do a few rival news journalists, Ma and Pa Kent, the Justice League Of America shows up just to be sent on a wild goose chase, the annoying Guy Gardiner gets a few panels, and of course there’s Lois Lane. Sadly, the story gets stupid pretty fast, there are a few interesting teasers about bigger and better things to come (in particular those that involve Doomsday), then the villain reveals himself… to be someone completely obscure!! So obscure Superman himself barely remembers him when he reveals his secret identity!! Superman’s reincarnation is also never satisfactorily explained. There are many more letdown moments in the final act, and the story thuds to a halt with a big fat Clark-Lois smoocheroo! Oh well…

In between it jumps all over the place and back and forth: there’s a silly gang war, a gunrunner called White Rabbit and her gang of freaks (turns out her name is “Angora Lapin”!!!), some brutal violence (in the gang war guys get blown to bits and burned alive – ewww!!!), Bibbo provides some bizarre comic relief when he takes a shot at wearing the cape, then there’s some silly cult of Superman action with riots between opposing factions of Superman worshippers (seriously – even I couldn’t make up something this nutty),  John Henry philosophizing about Henry Irons, the cyborg Superman disposing of a dead-but-not-so-dead Doomsday by casting him out into space rather than throwing him into the heart of the sun – d’oh!! Strange dedication to “Jerry Ordway, whose quality of work encouraged us all”. (seems kind of a wimpy way to pay tribute to someone… ). Superboy takes on mobsters, Guardian hangs around, more gang warfare, White Rabbit wants to take on Superman (as if?!), the story gets dragged out and dragged out and dragged out… Lex Luthor paces and threatens but doesn’t do much other than fly a helicopter out to see Superman and have an angry conversation with him. Huh?!?! Tana Moon, lesbian police captain Sawyer, some nutty obituary for Clark Kent, written by his successor Ron Troupe, which involves the cyborg Superman, the White House, and all sorts of other nonsense. The Stinger pops in for some fun and mayhem, then disappears forever, Superman hatches from an egg (!?!?!?), the Supermans fight each other as well as bad guys, aliens arrive, and then it starts to get really messy!!!! Although it has its moments – the apparent murder/death of two of the Supermans is pretty interesting, and destruction takes on a whole new scale!! Sleazy managers, corrupt studio executives, unstoppable robot carriages, “doom” sound effects (what’s that supposed to mean?), walking from Antarctica to Metropolis across the ocean floor (Huh?? Why?!?!), weird robot battles, Supergirl accidentally throwing a robot onto her boyfriend’s chopper (!?!?!?), and then the weirdest scene in the history of comics – the robot shits out Superman!! WTF, people, WTF?!?!?!?!??????? Love Supes’ new all-black uniform with the silver shield on the chest and the silver wristlets… but what’s with the silver toe thimbles (later on he gets silver boots – okay, less yucky)? And the Super-mullet? Superboy Bucky Barnes-like on a missile that’s shooting off to destroy Metropolis… Hmmm…  The cyborg’s ability to Freddy Kruger-like take over all machinery is quite weird, actually, as is his “pity I didn’t think of this sooner” realization (corny). Green Lantern, of course, pops in for no apparent reason, and then it appears that somehow kryptonite has the opposite effect on Superman than we always thought it did – rather than killing him, here it strengthens his powers. Say what?!?!

However, despite all of these criticisms, the Return of Superman is probably still better than the other two in the series. The art is (mostly) quite amazing (Supergirl – hot!!), and there seems to be more focus on Superboy than the other Supermen, at least initially. As a reinvention of Superman, the images here are pretty radical – a heavily-armed “Rambo Superman” one that comes to mind immediately, but there are so many – and each issue ends on a genuine cliffhanger that would have made following the original publications quite thrilling month-upon-month; however, collected, the story loses that effect and seems weak in comparison.

Superboy meets the machine gun hookers. Love it!!

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Bubba meets the “cyborg Superman”. How young we were, how naive…

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What’s with the “doom” footstep sounds?

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That superboy really cracks me up!!

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Superboy… deep!

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The weirdest thing I’ve ever seen in a comic book: the Superrobot shits out Superman!!

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And, of course, he’s pretty badass…

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Superman… meet Super-mullet!

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Lots of reviews!!!

February 12th, 2014

Here’s a bunch of old reviews I’ve written recently.

SDO1

SDO1

The Steve Ditko Omnibus Volume 1 – A fantastic volume from the master. No one draws anatomy like Ditko, and his human shapes have marvelous fluidity (even if they are all of similar stature). Here they are also backed by cool little stories, and also some very funky diversity in terms of Shade stories (grotesqueries, drama, politics, and triply sci-fi situations), tons of Stalker (not such a great series), with a never-ending stomp of weird war and horror snippets. There’s a lot to love here.

Shade wasn’t popular enough of a title to run past eight issues, with the ninth already-drawn issue remaining unpublished until we see it here for the first time in an intriguing black-and-white version. It’s fully of byzantine story lines, wild villains like Sude (Supreme Decider), wild adventures in the Meta-zone (Shade’s home), the Earth-zone (our home), and the Zero-zone (a hellish limbo that exists between, that includes the Area of Madness), and nice flashbacks to Shade’s happy earlier times with Mellu, his fiancee-cum-mortal enemy. Villains like Form, Khaos and Cloak are simply just cool, while the evil Gola Zae, Zekie and Dr ZZ thrill. Wild insane faces, cool cityscapes, it’s all a dream come true, not to mention Shade’s weird giant shapes! Also interesting is the barbarian king Xexlo, and his wary cooperation with Shade, a man he wishes to destroy.

Shade is pretty amazing, the all-around hero, who just powers on, like Dr Kimble in the Fugitive. The story is about his eventual vindication, and unfortunately the series was cancelled before we ever got that far.

Somewhat bizarrely, the volume ends with a mini-adventure of The Odd Man, someone we never see Kirby muck around with again.

“The Valley Where Time Stood Still” is about the discovery of a weird valley filled with creatures and individuals from the past – escape! A bit over-drawn, and less distinctive. “The Way-out World of Bertram Tilley” is a Walter Mitty story, but trippier and cooler. “The Devil’s Daughter” is a trippy circus tale about a ringmaster going insane. Nice. “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” is a silly tale of an overly ambitious apprentice who gets his just desserts, not bad. “Death Played A Sideshow” is about a fake fortune teller getting his unscrupulous just desserts. “The Game Of Death” is about a big white hunter who kills a giant elephant, at the cost of a trampled village, getting his just desserts. “Good For Nothing” is a sad tale of an old man who loves his grandson, despite the kid’s mean parents casting him aside, and how his ghost saves everyone’s life.. time to move on. A touching tale. “The Demon And His Boy” is a crazy tale of a lesser demon conjuring a human boy into his world, and how this tale becomes an ironic turnabout. “Epode” is another Bluebeard story, so what.

Next follow four issues of Stalker, telling the tale of an orphan in a cruel world who sells his soul to the demon Dgrth in exchange for powers, then has a change of heart and wants his soul back. He travels the world battling magicians and monsters, killing them with his amazing martial arts, although he never really seems so fearsome. But the unholy soul-selling stuff is pretty scary, actually, strong stuff for Kirby. Nice battles with a four-armed red demon monkey, the princess Srani and the winged harpie, the sea of snakes, another red monkey, interludes with Dgrth, a three-headed giant, and nefarious negotiations with Dgrth that leaves off a screaming Stalker, with no resolution.

A nutty Plop story about a guy called Hubert who’s in love with a dandelion, called “Love Is A Dandy” (or beware jealous vegetarians). “Ghost, Where Do You Hide” is about a vicious lion tamer and the ghosts of a brutalized lion. “Shrieeeeeek!” is a cool story about a ghost mouse getting its revenge on a cheating dirt bag, one of the very good ones, definitely. “The Day After Doomsday” is a cool post-apocalyptic story about the normals in the countryside defending themselves from mutated city folk. Nice. “The 600 Heads Of Death” is an Easter Island tale of slaughter and revenge. “Man’s Best Enemy” is a Weird War tale of wolf-man virus passing from hamster to dog to human. Crazy! “Raze The Flag” is a not-so-great tale of French pirates fighting the Spanish, and the supposed origin of the Jolly Roger. “Death’s Second Face” is an ironic tale of conjoined twins, separate, one going to the USA, the other enlisted in Nazi Germany, and their ironic reunion in a submarine!!! “Return Engagement” is about a centuries-long Scottish blood feud and its fatal showdown in a modern-day graveyard. Nice. “The Man Who Didn’t Believe In Ghosts” is a cool story about a ghost who wants revenge on the guy who ruined his life… and the ironic conclusion of the tale. Nice one!! “Haunted” is a very cool, ironic story about a haunted house that has its reflections in Beetlejuice. “House Of Devil’s Tail” is about an escaped convict who gets his just desserts in Devil’s House. Nice down South dialogue here. “Star Tracker” is a crazy tale of government robots, information suppression, innocent victims, and Agent Stone going on a swamp-hunt. Wild. “Once Upon A Time Machine” is a silly tale about the origin of fairy tales… funny. “Battle Cry” is a cool story about love and war. “The Planet Of Loathing” is also a cool ironic tale of aliens picking the wrong human to interview about the future of the human race. “With Its Head In The Stairs” is a cool tale of a dictator granting his chief scientist anything he wishes… for a month. Great. “Mating Game” is wild and original take on aliens and human mating, with a string of dancers and a few spider-creatures. Brilliant disguises, too!! “Forecast” is a funny tale about invading aliens listening in on a weather forecast… and what happens to their little attack ships in a snowstorm! “The Last Journey” is a silly story of space exploration. “The Dimensions Of Greed” is an amazing twisted tale of murder and time travel. Love this sort of thing. “On The Day Of His Return” is a cool Santa Claus story. “A Switch In Time” is more time travel irony. “Dead Man’s Eyes” is wild mob irony. “Em The Energy Monster” is finally a slip back into shade territory, with trippy monsters and such.

A very, very nice collection.

SDO2

SDO2

Steve Ditko Omnibus Volume 2 – Steve Ditko’s work is great – you can recognize the style from a mile away, with his cloned shapes and rubbery fingers, mouthes, eyes. There’s a great poster of Superman at the start, then three issues of Hawk And Dove. Two brothers blessed with super powers, the duo are constantly bickering over their extreme right wing versus left wing ideals. Guess which on is the “hawk”, and which one is the “dove”. Peacenik, warmonger, soft on crime, inhumane… these are all words that are used. It’s interesting how the duo get into strange situations probably never-before-seen in the history of comics as each takes on criminals in their own way. Naturally, they are also captured, beaten up, and jump through hoops to preserve their secret identities, etc. (Bizarrely, the lastt issue has square word balloons!!)That’s followed by an issue of Man-Bat (and Man-Bat’s hot wife Francine, the blood-thirsting and lusty She-Bat) and an issue of The Demon where they both battle Baron Tyme in some sort of Doctor Strange-ish magical adventure, full of proper demons and everything. Batman even shows up in the former tale, believed to be the only time Ditko ever drew the Dark Knight. Then there are a whole bunch of Starman stories, which are for the most part fairly exciting, although nowhere near as good as Shade (and the story, like Shade’s is left unresolved). I like the story of the young prince, sentenced to death when he loses the race for the thrown, and how his sister later comes onto him, not recognizing him in his Starman suit. Starman is nearly invincible, and without a credible story behind how he arrived at his powers, so it’s really not that hot. But the art is great! In one cool episode they escape from an alien collector, then a prison planet, then they stop a rebellion. I like the green-faced red-eyed Yoda-like creature who mentors him, suitably named Mn’Torr.

The second half of the story are mostly tales of the Legion of Super Heroes, none of which are fantastic, although the first appearance of Blok is nice enough. And seeing all the babe Legionnaires floating around – Shadow Lass, yum! The adventure of Doctor Mayavale was pretty weird (strange villain – he’s earned too much good karma in past lifetimes, so he has to be evil in this one), and the dream situations completely absurd. The issue where they try out new Legionnaires, including Blok, is okay, because we get a look at the lame try-outs Lamprey, Crystal Kid and Nightwind, who think it’s all just some game. Dawnstar makes an appearance here, more as a sidekick to Blok than to Wildfire, and I always say you can never have too much Dawnstar. The origin of Blok is kind of lame – I can’t understand why he hated the Legionnaires so much – but the Starburst gang is kind of cool. “The Exaggerated Death of Ultra Boy” is one weird story, and it’s cool how the amnesiac falls in with pirates, led by the luscious vixen in boots Captain Frake. Then there’s a silly tale on a medieval planet where the Legionnaires fight “Lord Romdur” (or is it… Mordur?!?). There’s a cool battle against the Time Trapper and the Molecule Master in modern-day Smallville, and a Superboy who believes he’s Ultra Boy (and a strangely conflicted Phantom Girl), not to mention more Blok and Dawnstar (yum!). At the very end are three short tales – Black Lightning stopping a murderous hold-up gang in tracks mid-robbery, the Spectre helping ease the pain of a woman conflicted about the death of her twin sister in the Titanic, and a ghoulish tale of Apokalips with the minions of Darkseid competing with one another to give him the nastiest “gift”. Granny Goodness pits herself against Desaad in competing for the most unpleasant item. Definitely the last two stories are the best in the whole collection.

CAV1WS

CAV1WS

Captain America, Volume One: Winter Soldier – With the new Captain America Winter Soldier movie coming out, I thought I’d read the original treatment first. Okay, so here it is – Winter Soldier. Great art, especially details of Cap’s uniform and gear, and nice villainy from the Red Skull, and some rogue Russian general, Lukin. Of course, none of us understand what he’s really after, and there are a few pointless episodes like when Crossbones beats up Cap, then runs away from him “no, it shouldn’t be like this”. Sharon Carter’s around, looking hot, which is nice. Cap has lots of nightmares – they take up a few pages, but they don’t mean anything. There are also a few other pointless episodes, like when Cap beats up random terrorists. Cap’s adversaries keep turning up dead – the Red Skull, Mother Night – as well as some of his partners and allies, like Nomad. Crazy! We see Cap meet Vasily Karpov in the village of Kronas during World War II, where he picks up young orphan Alek, who of course grows up to become Aleksander Lukin.

The series advances the idea that Bucky was a trained killer, the one who did the dirty work that Cap couldn’t, as the symbol of America, wearing the stars and stripes, and the red white and blue. And as Winter Soldier, once its been established that Karpov had recovered him and turned him into a brainwashed agent, he kills many, many people, in the crazy world of undercover spying.

This book contains a funky “interlude”, “The Lonesome Death of Jack Monroe”, talking about his final year, his cancer diagnosis, his depression and drinking.

CAV2WS

CAV2WS

Captain America, Volume Two: Winter Soldier – Containing the next six issues of the Winter Soldier story arc, following the death of the Red Skull, and the acquisition of the Cosmic Cube by rogue Russian general turned oligarch Aleksander Lukin, head of Kronas Corporation, and all sorts of other stalemated nonsense. This one focuses on the recovery of the wounded Bucky Barnes, and his transformation into the KGB killing machine Winter Soldier. Nice stuff!

AIM blows up Philadelphia, SHIELD sends in Cap, AIM sends in the MODOC squad of killer robots, Crossbones recovers Sylvia Schmidt, the daughter of… the Red Skull?!? Crazy… There are a few distracting episodes (Cap saves a girl from a rapist), and then a goateed Falcon shows up! More memories of World War II, including one particularly sick episode when the Nazis strap TNT to zombie POWs. Lukin starts to feel the corrupting influence of the Cosmic Cube (it’s some sort of One Ring, right?). Nutty. But there are great plot twists at the end, especially when Cap confronts the Winter Soldier at a Kronas compound under a mountain in Brazil, or somewhere. Nice.

The art is stylish and exciting, really excellent work. Really, it’s best to gaze at the art, rather than read all the words. Wonderful stuff.

Funnily enough, though, now that the movie is out the original comic books don’t seem as good. Somehow, Hollywood took this great source material and made it even better (mostly)! And that hardly ever happens!!

HG

HG

Hulk: Gray – The art in this book is really quite amazing… but then again, so many artists do so well with this amazing material… the HULK, man!!! But even with such majestic material to work with, Tim Sales compositions are truly incredible, iconic, and the coloring is also very nice.

The story is a conversation between Bruce Banner and Leonard Samson, psychologist, and it’s pretty silly. I liked them better as macho adversaries. It’s much better if you just savor the sketches once through before you read through the silly text. Oh well…

The story starts off in black and white, with splashes of green (shades of a gamma-rayed Sin City?), then the great Kirby-style grotesqueries of the book’s regular style. We get into the Rick and Bruce story, the Bruce and Betty story, the Hulk and Betty story, the Hulk and bunny story, as our monster makes a little animal friend in Monument Valley… briefly. We also probe the complicated General Ross and Betty Ross story (with hints of the raving loonie Mrs Ross’ story), while enjoying weird spontaneous battle with a golden Iron Man, various soldiers and helicopters, then the Hulk’s confusion as he hits Betty (and she gets pissed off at him!!!).

Love all of the panels that incorporate the Hulk’s ragged and gapped teeth. Monster time!!

This edition has nice touches, like excerpts from Marie Severin’s “Not Brand ECHHH” version of the Hulk. Sheer fanboy tribute stuff, of course, for one of the few women in comics. Nice sketch gallery at the end.

DZ

DZ

Doctor Zhivago – The Blu-Ray has the great film in full, all 200 minutes of it, as well as documentaries on each half of the film, totaling 40 minutes. The film is, of course, a sweeping fantasy made on a grand scale and no expense spared, with each scene meaningful and well-planned. As such, it’s the perfect platform for the great acting of masters like Omar Sharif, Julie Christie, and Rod Steiger. Geraldine Chaplin is also charming as Zhivago’s teen love and wife, Tonya, and in her eyes we see the face of her father Charlie Chaplin, wrapped up in a pixyish teenage form. Christie is not quite convincing as a 17-year-old virgin, but is probably better than the original suggestion for the role of Lara… Sophia Loren! The film goes on and on and on, and each scene is gripping. I want to read the book quite badly, now. Especially effective is Tom Courtenay, as Lara’s husband Sacha, who we see transform from an idealistic student to a husband haunted by revolution to an empowered Soviet monster. By the end, Zhivago is burned out, and so are we after nearly 3.5 hours, but it’s a great feeling. The DVD documentary is mainly composed of scenes from the film interspersed with comments from contemporary Hollywood people who made big films like ET, Big and War Of The Worlds. One of the fellows, Mikael Salomon, recalls working as a projectionist in a theatre that was showing the film, and the grandiosity of screening the epic. They take apart scenes, including the riot scene (and how it’s played out on Zhivago’s face) that includes the splash of blood on white snow that symbolizes both the sacrifices of the revolution as well as Lara’s deflowering; the suicide attempt and Zhivago’s revelation; as well as Zhivago’s final farewell to his true love. One commentator points out that David Lean had made a cold film as a companion to his earlier films Bridge Over The River Kwai and Lawrence Of Arabia – one in snow, another in jungle, and another in the desert. The economic script is equally highly regarded, and how it uses visuals but not dialogue to suggest events.

The DVD contains a flowing number of special features:
Interactive menu of cast facts
“Doctor Zhivago: The Making of a Russian Epic” – 1 hour – Explains how Doctor Zhivago cost $15 million to make, one of the most expensive films ever made up to that time. After a short period of popular indifference to it, the theme song took off, and then the film was catapulted into fame – the Zhivago look came into fashion (mustaches, etc), and baby girls were named Lara. Rod Steiger is interviewed, defending the loathsome character he plays, and Sharif and other individuals pitch in. There was no compromise for Lean – actresses went under trains and were injured, but he continued the shot. Talk of Pasternak and his parallels with Zhivago, with creepy pictures of him – the Jewish poet who loved two women at the same time, and who didn’t intend for his book to be political (but of course it was). Interview with the real “Lara” in 1993 – Olga Ivinskaya. “An orgy of feelings began for Zhivago when he met Olga”. He wrote for 10 years, won Nobel prize in 1958. Pasternak loved Russia, died there in 1960. The book was only published in Russia in 1988, and Lean’s film released in 1994. Olga did two prison sentences in Soviet work camps, possibly for her connection to Pasternak. How to work a 700-page poem to a 284-page screenplay. Finding a location was tough – Yugoslavia did not feel right. Finland and Sweden didn’t have a studio on hand (although some winter scenes were shot in Finland). So in Spain Lean finds horse riders, extras, technical people, and they build sets there and fake the seasonal changes. Looks great. The ice palace was made out of bees wax. Nicholas Roeg worked on it, but left the production after disagreements. Winter scenes may have been in Spain, but the season of the scenes changed from day-to-day. Roeg was replaced by Freddy Young. Maurice Jarre tells story of writing Lara’s theme, how he came up with the tune but made it sound Russian by adding balalaikas from a Russian Orthodox church in LA. But the 22 balalaika players couldn’t read music, so he had to made sure they understood his hand movements. Meanwhile, in Spain, Generalissimo Franco’s spies discovered the cast singing “the Internationale”, it nearly caused a problem. “Maybe they’ll sing in tune after the revolution.” Steiger’s slap of Lara with gloves was unscripted and real. The womens’ hair was very 1960s. One year in pre-production, one year filming, eight weeks post-production! The Sound Of Music was the big Oscar winner that year.
“Zhivago, Behind The Camera With David Lean” – 10 minutes – Nice documentary with David Lean talking, mentions Geraldine Chaplin’s screen test. “Moscow rose anew outside Madrid.” Lean was correct to the last detail.
“David Lean’s Films And Doctor Zhivago” – 7 minutes – Focuses on incidents around the Nobel Prize Pasternak won in 1958, Pasternak’s life, the film project coming together, the 10-acre Moscow set re-created outside of Madrid. Documentary made for Hollywood Paramount theatre.
“Moscow In Madrid” – 5 minutes – Production shots, propaganda.
“Pasternak” – 8 minutes – Focus on Nobel prize, and explains Pasternak’s charmed life. Tolstoi and Rilke were family friends. The young Pasternak had wanted to be a composer, but ends up a poet. His mother was a piano prodigy. On his death bed, Tolstoi left a message for Pasternak!
“New York Press Interview With Julie Christie” – 10 minutes – Meandering and unedited press interviews. “You are an individual!” Christie’s surprised when her words from an earlier interview are read out to her – airhead? Has an anti-marriage message, and hints that film stars are squares. No privacy, no time, can’t live a private life. Three interviews, with questions like “How do you like the USA as compared to your home country?” “I like New York!”
“New York Press Interview With Omar Sharif” – 18 minutes – No mustache, to our great disappointment, then he’s interviewed by five journalists. Inane banter about beddy time, and mutual friends, partying, who he’s hanging out with. Lots of background noise here. Discussion around how he can remember people’s names if he meets them again in the same location. Goofing around on pronunciation of the name “Zhiavago.” Worried about his future and next project. Ascribes his success to luck.
“Geraldine Chaplin screen test” – 3 minutes – Geraldine does the scene where she’s reading the letter from Zhivago twice.
“This Is Julie Christie” – 1 minute – Fluff, with no original shots of the actress.
“This Is Geraldine Chaplin” – 1 minute – Fluff, with no original shots of the actress.
“This Is Omar Sharif” – 1 minute – Fluff, with no original shots of the actor.
“Chaplin In New York” – 2 minutes – Original shots of Geraldine vamping around the city, some interviewing, and plenty of silly narration: “In some ways she is a teenager, and in some very much a woman; in many ways she is still a star-struck girl, although she is already a star. But in all ways she is Geraldine Chaplin, a bona-fide original. To some she is natural, shy, unassuming. Others know her as the girl who arrived in New York dressed in matching hat, jacket and pants of striped fur. But everyone agrees that Geraldine Chaplin has an effect on people, in spite of herself.”
“Original Trailer” – 4 minutes

The CD contains eight tracks of original music from the film, totaling 22 minutes. Things like the Overture, Lara’s Theme, the end title, and the music of significant scenes from throughout the film.

SD

SD

Duck Soup – The film is fantastic! You get nutty musical numbers (some of which you need to read up on to understand the nuances of), fine physical comedy (the two scenes Harpo and Chico do with the lemonade vendor are instant classics), and the film is well known for its nutty mirror scene. Harpo is less funny in this film, as his humor is all spoken and is often rude and flippant; funnier are Harpo and Chico, who steal every scene they’re in with their nutty dynamics – the vendor scene, the court scene, spying, arrests, everything. Love Chico’s barking dog tattoo!! Zeppo is hardly noticeable in the movie (and when he appears he’s not particularly funny either, at least not in comparison to his brothers). The plot is zany – in economically-struggling Freedonia (this was released during the Great Depression, in 1932), the rich Mrs Teasedale will only provide a loan to bail out the country on the condition that Rufus T Firefly, a genius, is named prime minister; Firefly, played by Groucho, is a moron, of course, and he eventually falls for the bait of the arrogant Sylvanian ambassador to start a war between the two nations (sure, that’s always the solution – start a war). One of the film’s funnier points is often overlooked – why exactly does the uptight Mrs Teasedale think that Firefly is a genius!?!?

Given that there’s no bonus materials to this DVD, do yourself a favor, thoughand read up on this film on Wikipedia or somewhere – it’s a fascinating story about how the film initially wasn’t popular at all, but has come to be regarded as the greatest of the Marx Brothers films.

E

E

Elf – While I definitely don’t find Will Farrell as funny as many people do, I was curious to watch Elf, as I’d heard that it had been done well; I’m also a fan of John Favreau, and hey – it’s got James Caan and Bob Newhart, classic actors who don’t make many films any more! Should be good… right?

Caan is fine, and Newhart’s droll delivery is nice for nostalgia critters, but Farrell’s optimism and good cheer is not really infectious. I found it dull and un-funny, although the back story is heart-warming enough – boy tries to re-unite with his emotionally numbed father. Perhaps because the rest of the film was so bland and uneventful (and at times painfully awkward, even creepy, like when Buddy tries to expose the “fraud” Santa), I found the final battle surprisingly good, making Elf an inversion of what regularly happens: the majority of the movie it great, but it all falls apart at the end when it ties up all-too- neatly. As a comedy, it wasn’t too funny, and the only part where I really had to laugh was Buddy’s snowball fight, where he uses skills he picked up as an elf in the North Pole to his advantage – he pummels his opponents cruelly. Not bad.

This is an infinifilm version, which means it comes loaded with all sorts of software and gimmicks and activities (elf karaoke, make your own storybook, be an elf photo activity, etc), but none of the behind-the-scenes and bonus material that films buffs want.

A3PITB

A3PITB

A3, Power In The Blood – Anyone who got the first release by A3 (or maybe they should be called Alabama 3, as they are in the UK, where there’s less interference from country band Alabama), Exit On Coldharbour Lane (a Stones reference), would think that a band this original and talented could do no wrong. Right? Well, sadly, there’s not a single fun or standout track on the album, except maybe the first track “Two Heads”, which is their jokey twist on Townes Van Zandt’s “Two Hands”, which they steal full songwriting credits on, and brings them right back to that old blues thing. Then there’s also the wonderful narration of Hubert Selby Jr on “The Moon Has Lost The Sun”, which otherwise is not a fantastic song. There’s also a 0:48-second blues version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Badlands”, probably one of his best songs, but here it’s kind of thrown away. Shame.

If you got the first 10,000 pressings of the CD, you would also have gotten a second CD, Acoustic Power, with acoustic versions of two songs each from the band’s three albums (including Power In The Blood). These are “Woke Up This Morning” (yes, the 1997 song, a version of which was used as the Sopranos’ opening theme song), “Power In The Blood”, “Disneyland Is Burning”, “U Don’t Dans 2 Tekno Any More”, “Year Zero” and “Mansion On The Hill”. The versions are not that interesting, making this an album that isn’t really worth splashing out on, even for the bonus stuff.

Sorry, I love A3, I just wish I could love this more…

BSHOS

BSHOS

Boredoms, Seadrum: House Of Sun – I have been a big fan of the Boredoms in the past, now I am more likely to find that they live up to their name. I bought this because it got good reviews. I must say, that the CD shell is very handsome indeed!

Inside we get two long songs, “Seadrum” and “House Of Sun”. The former starts off with Yoshimi’s voice, then gets into constant drumming with Yoshimi’s Star Trek TV series opening theme-like wailing, lots of piano noise, the second one is more like a 20-minute drone. So, yeah, the music’s nothing special, actually…

F3

F3

Final3 – This is a neat little double album of ambient noise and sounds. Some of them are near-Godflesh in a “Pure II” sense, or like Jesu soundscapes, without a shred of percussion. Occasionally you get what sounds like keyboard (who knows what it really is). The most Godflesh-like songs are the first, “the light orchestra” and the last “northpole.” Some songs are jittery, others are totally drone-ish from start to end. Only two songs go over ten minutes in length. It’s a nice album to play while you’re reading or doing something that needs a bit of white noise in the background. It’s noise, pure and simple, but ambient noise. Some songs are spacescapes, like “hollow”, and I suppose some songs like “golden” involve some sorts of backwards-recording studio play. “sorry” is totally warped apart, while “not real” is very zen. “long lost” sounds like piano pluckings, sorta, while “not real 2″ is very thick and highly sludgy. “trees” actually has multiple layers – I can hear a bass, and maybe two keyboards! The full 17 minutes of “northpole” are highly impressive in their sinisterness, and the fact that it seems like an actual, real song! Love it all, but I don’t think that I could listen to it all the time either…

The 8-page booklet contains seven pages of bleak black-and-white abstract photographs, and one page of song titles and songwriting credits.

SYTDRBSAR

SYTDRBSAR

Sonic Youth, The Destroyed Room: B-sides and Oddities – Well, this is one cool album of 11 b-sides and rarities, most of which are instrumental. It’s 77 minutes long, 1/3 of that being taken up by a 25 minute-long version of “The Diamond Sea” (which is incredible – you can never have too much Diamond Sea). The opening track “Fire Engine Dream [#]“, a Sonic Nurse sessions out-take, has a cool driving beat, and no matter what dissonance enters the picture, it really just gloms and gloms!! “Fauxhemians” comes from All Tomorrow’s Parties 1.1, and it’s a funky jazzy breakdown. Nice bass solo! “Razor Blade” is a cool short song by Kim, an outtake from the Experimental Jet Set, Trash & No Star sessions. “Blink” is a cool thing that Kim sang for the Pola X soundtrack, with weird mellow accompaniment. It sounds like something that they recorded on one of their major CD releases, not sure which song… “Campfire” has a lot of cool sounds, some of which sound like bottle rockets going up in the air. A geeky number. “Loop Cat” is a whole bunch of weird loopy sounds – weird, weird weird… and highly experimental throughout. “Kim’s Chords” is a funky instrumental that snakes out and has fun. Very nice indeed, so nice that it became a bonus track for the Japanese edition of Sonic Nurse. “Beautiful Plateau” is a bit noisier, with a lot of great wild edge, growing spastic and over-the-top!! Another Sonic Nurse bonus track. “Three-Part Sectional Love Seat [#]” sort of wanders on pretentiously. Nice track, though, a minor release thing, it goes one and on, often shuffling, and sometimes just noise-ing. Fades right out. Great! “Queen Anne Chair” is pretty funky and it gloms along nicely. All the parts come in at the “2-3-4″. The interplay is fantastic, and the musicians fix together quite wonderfully. Love it!!

The final track is 25 minutes of Diamond Sea/heaven. Worth the price of admission alone, even if just to hear Thurston say the words “blood crystallize to sand”. Great progressions, wonderful noise – love it dearly!!!!!

The booklet is nice, with a gorgeous picture of a destroyed room on the cover, and every page after that devoted to two songs on the album, with a close-up of some part of the album cover (not sure if they have any connection to the songs or not, or if they’re just random).

HOH

HOH

House Of Hades, by Rick Riordan – My son has been a massive Rick Riordan fan since he got The Lightning Thief at age seven, and he’s been reading all of the books over and over again ever since. He’s also read outside of the series on Greek and Egyptian myths, which I think is great, and has become the family authority on mythology as a result.

This book picks up where the previous cliffhanger ending left off – Percy and Annabeth have just plunged into the maw of Hell – so is probably one of the most highly-anticipated stories in the series, at least in my opinion (the climaxes to the first series, and the final book in the Kane Chronicles series, would be similar). It chronicles Percy and Annabeth’s journeys through Tartarus, as well as the voyage of the other demigod heroes into central Europe (Italy, Croatia, Malta and Greece). While Riordan relies heavily on caricatured gods and goddesses, this book is interesting in that he shows the human side to one titan and one giant who are not horrible monsters, and he does it in a near-believable way (at least in the case of the giant, who – as an opposite to the god of war Ares – was built to be more peace-like than any giant really should be). He also brings out interesting aspects of complicated goddesses like Hecate, for example, intriguing us even further. And as if all this wasn’t enough, Riordan even goes out on a limb by showing one of the demigods coming out of the closet!! Wow!!!! It’s still treated platonically, and is more like “he has a crush on him” stuff, but it’s still quite a modern take on teenage life. Nice.

The ending of this penultimate book in the series leads up to the finale, and has less of a cliffhanger than the preceding book did (how could it top THAT???!!!). Nonetheless, I really enjoyed this book.

OTbook

OTbook

Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens – I was fascinated when Zen told me that he wanted me to help him get Oliver Twist from the library, as he had read an excerpt of it in one of his school story books and was keen to read the whole book. Since when do 12-year-olds take a shine to Dickens? Nevertheless, I did get the book for him, and he bravely read about 200 pages of it before giving up. Good job, kid!

And, since I’d already taken it out, I decided to read it – I’d never read the book, and it had been many years since I’d read any Dickens at all. Oliver Twist is a fantastic tale! Dickens’ second novel, after the episodic Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist was written by the young writer/editor as a dark, moralistic tale in conjunction with the lighter and farcical tale. It’s a fascinating picture of the seedy underbelly of London of that time, and of the hypocritic and corrupt Victorian society that Dickens lived in. The tale of both repentant and unrepentant criminals is interesting, although too based on coincidence, and also strangely Oliver himself hardly appears in the second half!