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!

Blue Lodge no more!

Green Lodge IMG_2789

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.

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!

My big bad Spider-Man page

February 9th, 2014

As a forty-something, I always hope that the old stories will be able to rekindle-some of the adventure and sincerity I lack in the adventure and sincerity alternatives out there. Alas, the memories are always better than the real thing; we see this especially in the Spider-man clone series, as it treads confusingly along all-too-similar story lines (hey – we’re all clones, so who are we really?), and error-prone posing (who is Kaine anyway, and why is he always lurking in the shadows?). This clone-fest is marred by being a mishmash of several titles, and also rehashes Peter’s “me ‘n’ Aunt May” reminisces just all too often and again. Silly stuff.

But the series is powerful, with creators floating in and out of the scene, and we get all sorts of nutty combinations. Good stuff is brewing, even among the nonsense.

SMTCCSEB1

SMTCCSEB1


Spider-Man: the Complete Clone Saga Epic, Book 1 – Volume 1 goes back to the original cloning, telling the tale of the clone’s birth and nurturing under the insane Jackal, side-by-side with a Gwen Stacey clone, in one long, stylistic re-telling of the original Jackal story with the Spider-man clone the Gwen Stacey clone, the confrontation and “death” of the Jackal in the stadium, with the clone’s/Ben’s first awakening outside of the incinerator building; then there is also “The Parker Legacy”, which also goes into that first day after awakening), leading up to Reilly’s escape from town. Then there are three issues of “The Lost Years”, describing Ben Reilly’s wander around the US, which ends up in Salt Lake City (why?). There are lots of rainy scenes and lots of self-pity in those nutty early Ben Reilly adventures (hey – we see him drinking a beer!!), drawn by John Romita JR, the “wild long-haired biker Peter Parker stories”, with the “young Kaine, before he got his scars” stuff, Louise Kennedy, her partner Joseph Raven, all sorts of Salt Lake City murkiness… and we never learn how Kaine’s confrontation there with the nascent Scarlet Spider melds with his bizarre spurt of street violence (or his hatred for Reilly… and Parker… and his later kindness to Parker… and their feuds… and how he protects Mary Jane… and how he tries to take out Spider-man’s enemies… AUGH!!!). Nice blend here of JR Jr pencils and Klaus Jansen inks – beautiful!! Strange drama with Raven’s son, with the lookalike Mary Jane, silly stuff, but also the first deadly confrontation of Kaine (one of many), and the fatal fingerprint (Kaine’s, but he’s a clone of Peter, so it’s Peter’s print). May having her initial panic attack, to be discovered by Mary Jane… and the start of lots of nutty performances by our former funky chick, now slave to a never-present Parker. Silly again. But the scenes of Spider-man confronting Ben Reilly are infused with plenty of pain and anguish. Nice stuff. The Ravencroft story begins (weird Judas Traveller stories), with its strange stalemate, an episode that tells us… nothing!!! At least the two Spiders team up to very quickly defeat Carnage (huh?) Traveller is cool… although he doesn’t do much, ever (well… he poses, he studies, he brags, and sometimes he confronts Ben Reilly by destroying the city around him… before disappearing again…).

After Ravencroft, we look more closely at Ben Reilly, and he emerges in his Scarlet Spider uniform for the first time, and goes on a few boring adventures against common thugs. Venom drifts into the story, so does Betty Brant (who has a brief sort-of-romance with Ben Reilly!!), and the writers introduce a poor slob homeless guy who’s eventually killed off (social commentary time). Venom comes into the picture a lot, mostly a good guy now, but still totally insane. Some lady with symbiotic costuming also shows up, and everyone fights each other.

I find that the stories can be enjoyed much more if you just look at the pictures – the text is so pompous, it’s still mainly the art that really rules this world!! Even if it sometimes makes PP look fat (thanks, JR Jr), or is generally over-blown. Some “saving-of-innocents” stuff happening here (tractor trailers careening out of control, etc). One issue is pencilled AND inked by Sal Buscema, which is a first in my mind – it looks good.

Some bonus material tacked onto the end – early sketches, alternate covers, etc.

SMTCCSEB2

SMTCCSEB2


Spider-Man: the Complete Clone Saga Epic, Book 2 – This title has its various reviews of the Spider Man legend, with its confrontations between the many Spider-mans. The collection starts off with some story about Puma and Nocturne (ambiguous, the story doesn’t really go anywhere); lots of scuffling with an out-of-control Puma, while Mary Jane has a useless reunion with her sister. Feelgood stuff, and we learn a little bit more about her former life and her real parents (dad was a nasty guy, a writer, a heavy drinker, etc). Then comes Daredevil, or whoever he was after the death of Matt Murdock, with Spider-man trying to find out from him how to kill off his alter ego. No wisdom there, and also another dead end.

Then starts a weird story – Vulture and Owl team up, Vulture cooks up a deadly virus, which Spider-man gets infected with. The next issues are about Spidey dealing with it, leading up to Spidey getting help from Doctor Octopus – seems Doc Ock can’t imagine a world without his most worthy adversary – and Doc Ock’s eventual murder by Kaine!! Holy smokes!!!! And Peter even has a near-death experience, ha ha haaaa… Wild stuff, man!!!!! There’s Ock’s funeral, and the sexy Stunner goes into mourning. Sad… Meanwhile Tombstone shows up, and the son of Kraven the Hunter (he calls himself the Grim Hunter – oooh!!!) also shows up. Kaine lurks about, which is what he does best, popping up from time to time. Kaine is haunted by a vision of Mary Jane lying in a pool of blood, murdered, which is probably a red herring, because nothing happens in that department, year after year. J Jonah Jameson has turned into a softy, helping Spider-man out all the time. Kaine fights/murders street thugs, attacks the Scarlet Spider from behind, then tussles with the Grim Hunter, killing him too. It’s nuts! Then Mary Jane lays the big news on Peter – pregnant!! The look of horror on Peter’s face at the end of that issue is fairly creepy, but of course that’s the cliffhanger in action – in the end he’s actually happy. Good!

There’s a new story line starting after the death of Doctor Octopus with Elias Hargrave, Ock’s cousin. Interesting stuff there. Strange to see Betty Brant so hateful towards Peter. There’s a reunion of the Sinister Six, now with only four members (Mysterio, Electro, the Vulture and the Hobgoblin. In one “giant-sized” Spider-Man Unlimited, the two Spiders take on Terror Unlimited (commandos in Iron Man-like suits of smart-armour) as they take over part of the World Trade Center in New York (yes, unfortunate combination… this was, of course, pre-9/11). Lots of crazy murders, including of Rich Gannon, the homeless dude who had cameos in earlier tales. Oh yeah, and Mary Jane is involved too – she was lunching at the restaurant the terrorists took over. Right. Not one of the better Spider-Man adventures. The book ends with the Spiders heading out to the Catskills, drawn by a mystic vision of The Jackal (caused by… what). Kaine shows up too, as well as come sort of deformed proto-Kaine, who beats up the Scarlet Spider, and then… turns his back on him. What’s going on? We get a rejuvenated Jackal, who’s been genetically stewing himself for a decade. Nutty! And, as usual, there’s just way too many clones, and the story ends with no progress in the storyline – nothing has happened, except that the Jackal has revealed himself, and we see the Kaine clone (briefly).

Most of the art in this one is very good, in particular one of the Doctor Octopus stories, which has breakdowns by Sal Buscema and “finishes” by Bill Sienkiewicz, a really amazing combination, given how cool either of these guys are on their own. This is the same gang that does the death of Doc Ock (where there’s a nice ttwo-page spread showing Ock kissing Peter Parker (actually, it’s mouth-to-mouth resuscitation) in one panel, and his girlfriend Stunner in another. To that point, I love how the juxtapose the death battle of a major Spider-man adversary, with family bliss between Peter and Mary-Jane, who are building a crib for the child they are expecting, ha ha…

SMTCCSEB3

SMTCCSEB3


Spider-Man: the Complete Clone Saga Epic, Book 3 – This is the third edition of the clone digest that Marvel put together, and starts with a rehash of the past few years of clone wars, before getting into a very cool edition pencilled by Sal Buscema and inked by Bill Sienkiewicz, which shows a confrontation between the mysterious Scrier, the Jackal, Jack, and Kaine… and the release of yet another Parker clone! Or is this the real one? MJ goes to the doctor, and Flash Thomson gets involved in some silly battle with the Jackal’s gene monsters. This launches into the silly Planet Symbiotes story line, where the Symbiotes nearly take over Earth… but Eddie Brock’s Other helps our heroes to destroy his entire race. Say what?!? Nothing’s great about this, not even the art. This one shows Spider-man and the Scarlet Spider ally for a while, and even Venom becomes part of the picture… and so does a giant Carnage, who feeds on symbiotes, before being done in by a tanker explosion. Silly. Traveller seems to be studying Spider-man’s character now, not trying to figure out how to defeat him, although he and Ben have a great confrontation! Peter and Ben have a few serious conversations. Aunt May reveals she knew who Peter was all along… and the she dies! This is after years of her being in a coma. Wow…

The rest of the series is about mourning May, and figuring out why Peter Parker is in jail, and why he’s always freaking out. There’s a cool little episode showing a young Peter freaking out at the bullies, drawn by Darick Robertson, nice. Raven gets tortured by Kaine and even Stunner, Mary Jane gets kidnapped by Kaine, who seems to have a vision that he’s seen her lying in a pool of blood, and seems to be trying to prevent that, it’s all nutty. Kaine constantly defeats his foes, murdering the bad guys, but running away from the defeated good guys. Weird. Mary Jane with a gun – ooh, sassy! Peter and Ben switching uniforms, switching spots, taking on the freaky Peter-mutant. A silly episode of the Sinister Six taking on Kaine (before he takes them on, I guess), and then another re-hash of the moralistic creation of the young Spider-man. The End.

SMTCCSEB4

SMTCCSEB4


Spider-Man: The Complete Clone Saga Book 4 – This volume got very poor reviews; I can see why it was disliked, especially the lame episodes that include the teenage The New Warriors. But it also had its interesting and surreal moments, such as the weird alternative Miles Warren and Gwen Stacey (the good clones), and also the twin trials of Peter Parker (by a judge and jury) and the other trial of Spider-man by Traveller and his court of merry psychotics. “The Battle For Aunt May’s Soul” is a trippy nightmare with Traveller and Scrier, with Spider-man given the choice of saving the world, or inadvertently saving Traveller. Huh?!?! Several issues have that great Sal Buscema/Bill Sienkiewicz art pairing, which I love, and our heroes go crazy. But… there’s the lame Firefist line, about a psychopath who’s out there killing vagabonds… with the appearance of a “good guy” Goblin. Huh?!?! Sometimes there’s a break in continuity between stories, which is peculiar… maybe because of varying production schedules (the later issue is drawn first or consecutively, etc).

The highlight of the book is probably the trial of Peter Parker, with its ironic testimonials by Betty Brant (nice art), and even the art credits, which go on about “courtroom coverage”, “police artist”, “court stenographers”, “judge”, “jury”, “executioner” for the art, script, editor, publisher, etc roles. The mock trial of Spider-man in “Judgement at Bedlam” is sheer nonsense and kangaroo court lunacy. Love it. Stunner has a role here, but she’s not too interesting… There’s the weird confession of Kaine, and Peter Parker freaking out when he finds out that he’s the clone after all… much self-pity to follow. Right in the middle we get a weird Jackal-narrated walk-through of Spider-man’s world (which for some reason includes The New Warriors) as the Jackal uploads Spider-memories into another clone, the incredibly weird Spidercide. He’s introduced in an episode of the incredibly immature The New Warriors (not destined to become a classic Marvel title, despite the hot Asian chick who wears Strange Tales t-shirts and has a Stimpy phone). The Jackal launches a terroristic bio-war by poisoning an entire town (why?), there’s another strange interaction with The Punisher, fighting between Spider-man and the Scarlet Spider and Spidercide, which gets weird, an alliance between Spidercide and Scrier (why? is it because Scrier finally does something active?), an army of enemy spider-clones, more dissolving Gwens (it’s like a broken record now), before the finale where all of the bad guys die… finally (terrible art in that one).

Sadly, this volume shows Ben Reilly as the voice of reason, while Peter Parker turns into a sniveling weirdo, who at one point even sides with the Jackal! Mary Jane Parker is a freaky Frau. Then there’s the re-appearance of the Green Goblin as… a crazy hero? Kaine shows up, but rather than being a lunatic killer he’s more like some guys who pops up here and there at random. By now I’ve lost track of who he hates, whether it’s Peter Parker or Ben Reilly. Even the characters in the story have lost track.

As usual, the art is (mostly) amazing, with cool shots of a very nice Gwen Stacey, Mary Jane Watson (usually attractive, sometimes funny-looking), and nice moods and variety throughout.

SMOOTS

SMOOTS


Spider-Man: Origin Of The Species – I loved the title story – cool, gritty art that reminded me of an indie comic. I like how Paul Azaceta (and later his partner Matthew Southworth) draws gritty lines and Spidey with small eye-covers (they keep getting bigger and bigger with all these cutesy versions of Spidey), and how they have wicked, edgy cartoon-ey situations. Naturally, we have plenty of Spidey-drama – Peter seems to be between girlfriends at the moment – but at least there’s not much of Aunt May, and when we see her she’s a party-chick and entertaining wife of J Jonah Jameson’s dad, Jay. Weird jokes about Peter wearing an ugly “gag gift” sweater on the hottest day of summer, and the entrance of a pregnant, horned Lili Hollister, giving birth on a cafe floor, wild rooftop chases baby-in-hand (kind of like a Bruce Willis movie), the entrance of Tombstone and Shocker (minor Spidey-villains from ages ago), and then incomes a horribly deformed Doc Ock (so that’s what he’s like now – I haven’t bought a comic in 25 years, good to catch up to what my favorite characters are up to these days… yeesh!!). And then along comes… the Lizard! Really amazing stuff!! I like the scene where he talks down a raging Rhino, and his brief confrontation with Mysterio (props to the authors, who make it brief – Mysterio is a one-trick pony who should not cause Spidey any grief any more at this stage in the game). Cool use of Chameleon, that other one-trick pony who’s actually interesting. Love how Spidey soaks down part of a riverfront building in the Hudson River just to apprehend five villains! By the end of the book, Spidey is toying with his opponent, and I love that.

“Arms against a sea of troubles” tells the story of Doctor Octopus, from the day of his fourth-grade school field trip to the aquarium, when he became fascinated by a real octopus, through his days as a jailbird after being apprehended by a young spider. Not bad, not that great either though… “Another Door” is a little piece of Peter Parker drama, with Vin Gonsales, Carlie the cop, and a menacing Harry Osborn, a misadventure with Overdrive, Peter Parker dressed up as J Jonah Jameson for Hallowe’en. Then there’s a silly piece about Spidey running afoul of city by-laws when he wants to tidy up a truck wreck that is blocking traffic (?!?!), and an even sillier one about Norah the reporter, all sassy dialogue and ultra-stylized “art”. Next! A few more forgettable short stories, and then a helpful recap of the Spider-man Saga that brings us up to the current story. Not bad. Also a few dossiers of Spider-man characters thrown in. Meh…

This edition didn’t get high marks by reviewers, probably because the key story didn’t strike their fancies, or they resented the inferior quality of the tacked-on stories. I think that the the key story has everything I expect in a great comic, that being fantastic art, a certain level of maturity, a relative lack of cheesy situations, and a few upsets and surprises – as well as a hero who somehow, despite major setbacks, manages to keep it all together.

DVD

TASM

TASM


The Amazing Spider-man – Wow, I’ve seen a re-boot a mere 10 years since the first Spider-man movie hit the theaters. Okay, so Tobet Maguire wasn’t the most awesome Spider-man (it seems like James Franco would have made a better bet, the way things have turned out, but at least he’s not become as typecast as Maguire now is and lives to act again). This one tries different things – it doesn’t make a big deal about Peter Parker being an outcast and a science geek, it just makes him a social outcast (the science geek is only hinted at). It hints at Peter’s parents, which was ignored for the first 40 years of Spider-man’s history. It rushes right into “someone close to Peter is told his secret identity”, again something that didn’t happen ever. So it breaks a lot of taboos right off the bat. It also tells simple stories – Peter chases the Lizard, because it’s some sort of game. He fights him, nearly dies, others do, no one is sure why. And why does the Lizard crave universal lizard-ness? We’re never really convinced.

The plot is awful. Andrew Garfield is a bit too twitchy to be Peter Parker, his head too small, his lips too bloody, his teeth too grey… ditto for Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy. Bad things will happen. And yet, the story is pleasant, perhaps due to the CG, which really works! I liked it, probably for the first time ever.

The screenplay, for all of its limitations, also does its best to make the sequel self-evident – we need to meet Norman Osborn, we need to find out what happens to Uncle Ben’s killer (does he, I don’t know, become the possessor of the Cosmic Cube, or the recipient of the alien Spider-man suit/Venom/Carnage thingy), we need to, I suppose, watch Gwen Stacy get thrown off the Brooklyn Bridge. And maybe we need to also meet another Mary Jane Watson.

Let’s see what happens. I may not have liked the movie a lot, but my son did, my friend did, my wife did, all of the people I went to see it did, all of the people in the theatre liked it… hmmm…

My Big Bad Simpsons Page

February 9th, 2014

I always loved the Simpsons, but I hardly got a chance to watch many of the episodes. Now that I have access to several full seasons of the series, I am watching them with my 12-year-old and having a great time! He loves them for what they are and laughs his head off; when I stop and explain the jokes to him, he laughs even harder. When I explained the Gordie Howe thing at the end of “Bart The Lover” he nearly lost it, he was laughing so hard!

TSS1

TSS1

The Simpsons: The Complete First Season – Disc one has six episodes: “Simpsons Roasting On An Open Fire”, “Bart The Genius”, “Homer’s Odyssey”, “There’s No Disgrace Like Home”, “Bart The General”, and Moaning Lisa.” It extra features are scripts for “Bart The Genius”, “Bart The General”, and “Moaning Lisa.” The scripts are half-page scans of the original documents, with their pen edits, and some doodles, which I suppose must be by Groening. No commentaries. “Simpsons Roasting On An Open Fire”, the first episode of the series, has a weird Mr Burns (off-voice),

Disc two also has six episodes: “The Call Of The Simpsons”, “The Telltale Head”, “Life On The Fast Lane”, “Homer’s Night Out”, “The Crepes Of Wrath”, and “Krusty Gets Busted”. No bonus features on this disc, and no commentaries either! “The Crepes of Wrath” is probably my favorite episode of this season, with Bart going to France on exchange and a young Albanian staying with the Simpsons. Of course, the Albanian kid is not the angel he seems, and Bart gets stuck in a slave labor situation. Hilarious!!

Disc three has one episode (“Some Enchanted Evening”), and several bonus features:
- Five minutes of “Never Before Seen Outtakes” from “Some Enchanted Evening” (can watch it with commentary from Matt Groening, James L Brooks, director David Sliverman and writer Al Jean) that are so-so interesting (a bit rough, not all that different from the final version). The commentators groan that it’s off-model, and groan about nearly everything else, from how Marge gains and loses weight, a frog, everything’s rubbery, the actions of the characters don’t obey the laws of physics, Homer is fretful, smug, Marge gets slammed behind door, not tele-synced yet, less edited, big phone, glasses without pupils, Marge’s mirror not matching. Commentaries nothing special, just lots of audio-wincing…
- a 1:50 animatic of “Bart The General”, with James L Brooks and Matt Groening commenting. It’s an interesting thing to watch to understand how these things are put together.
- a five-minute documentary on “The Making of the Simpsons”, starting with Matt Groening and his Life In Hell story, and Groening’s first meeting with James L Brooks. Groening was going to do Life In Hell characters, but wanted to protect them in case the show didn’t work out, so he took five minutes to invent a family based on his own – father is Homer, mother is Margaret (Marge), sisters are Lisa and Maggie. “Matt” would have been too obvious, so he changes the spelling to “Bart”. The studio spent $10 million for 13 episodes. Prime time animation had been dead since the Flintstones, so it was a great leap for Fox. Chris Solomon, animation critic from LA Times, gives comment. Groups appropriated Bart Simpson – black Bart, Irish Bart, Mexican Bart, vegetarian Bart, pro-Gulf War Bart, anti-Gulf War Bart, etc.
- Foreign language clips – compare the same one-minute clip of Bart and Lisa preparing a wedding anniversary breakfast for their parents in French, Italian, Spanish, Japanese and Portuguese! Weird to hear how Homer and Bart sound in those languages…
- Tracy Ullman shorts of “Good NIght Simpsons” (four parts)
- Albert Brooks’ Audio Outtakes from “Life On The Fast Lane”, 3:43, not so funny…
- Art of the Simpsons, including Matt Groening’s Life In Hell “The Los Angeles Way of Death” that originally caught Brooks’ eye, and Simpsons’ early sketches and drawings (35 items), including “surrealistic face making” opening sequence concept, attempts to get Martin Prince right (with Groening’s approval signature to the one we know and love), versions of Principal Skinner, Matt’s original Ms Krabappel (very different), classroom design, story boards, Marge’s mom, and other sketches from 1987 to 1988.
- “Some Enchanted Evening” script

TSS3

TSS3

The Simpsons: The Complete Third Season – A fantastic season of 24 episodes, each with fantastic extras. All have a commentary track by the creators and actors (from two to eight of them, depending on the episode), while others have some combination of storyboards (usually over 70 pages, often with red marker comments from Matt Groening, showing a lot of how the creative process flowed), an episode with “pop-up bubbles” appearing all over the place with factoids of information, and all sorts of other stuff.

This season features some classic episodes, such as the one about Homer inventing the Flaming Moe, Moe stealing the recipe, then both of them losing out on $500,000 (guest stars – Aerosmith!!!); “Bart The Lover”, where Bart discovers Edna Krabapple’s dating ad and fakes her out as Woodrow (guest star – a picture of Gordie Howe); “Colonel Homer”, where Homer becomes the manager of a country singer, voiced by Beverley D’Angelo, and has a good ol’ time; “Black Widower”, where Marge’s sister Selma marries Sideshow Bob, who is bent on revenge; and “The Otto Show”, the only episode that focuses on Otto the bus driver, that would not have been any good if it didn’t feature the always-brilliant Spinal Tap (although it seems that the guys who made the show didn’t like Christopher Guest).

The extras are good – one has a promo spot that includes footage from “Colonel Homer” that never made it into the final show, and footage from a Macy’s Day Parade of a Bart Simpson barge. Woo-hoo!!!

My Big Bad Ender Page

February 9th, 2014

My son told me that a new movie was coming out called Ender’s Game. I’d never heard of it, but when I looked into it a little I discovered that it was actually a famous science fiction book, and seemed very interesting. I read the first book and was hooked! The movie was okay too, and it got me interested in reading the books, and here they are!

EGbook

EGbook

Ender’s Game – Wow – great book! I had not heard of this author before the movie came out, and my kid wanted to see it. WHen I found out that the book is famous and influential I wanted to read it before I saw the film, and I’m sure glad I did – it’s much better! While the film rushes through Ender’s training, the book dwells on it and really brings the refinement of Ender’s military genius to life (the film takes it for granted). The sub-plot of the political development of Peter Wiggins is a bit of a distraction, although I do like the idea that all three of the Wiggins children are exceptional (imagine, for example, that Napoleon’s brother and sister shone nearly as brightly as he did). But, we can’t all be Baldwins…

Nice twist at the ending too! Even the denouement chapter is good!! A great book also for kids, especially talented kids – this demonstrates what could happen if they’re taken seriously. It also up-ends the flaw in the Harry Potter series where we always wonder where most of the adult wizards are when the final battle with Voldemort takes place, and why they’re generally so useless. In this book, kids are prized for their unpolluted thinking. As they should be!

AWOG

AWOG

The War Of Gifts: An Ender Book – This is a great short story about Christmas in space, religious zealots, hypocrisy in life, and the culture in Battle School. Card brings in new characters, and weaves a fascinating little plot, waiting until the climax to unleash Ender on the problem (it’s wonderful watching him annihilate his challenge by using strategy, psychology, logic and diplomacy. Fantastic stuff!

Unfortunately, this is not really a novel, it’s more like the length of a short story – a small format book, in large font, with generous spacing to stretch it out to a mean 196 pages (tightly-spaced it might be only 40 pages long); if you took this along with you on a holiday, you’d finish it on the flight over. Anyone expecting a lengthy read should order a second book at the same time.

EIE

EIE

Ender In Exile – I’ve been reading the Ender books in their natural order, meaning that I started with Ender’s Game, then read A War Of Gifts, and now Ender In Exile, before moving on to the later three books in the original four book set. This one is the weakest of the three books I’ve read so far, being more like a collection of episodes in the life of Andrew Wiggins and the people around him – Ender resumes mail contact with his parents, Graff retires, Ender flies off to a colony world, Valentine goes with him, and all sorts of other nutty adventures/dull bureaucracy. The first 25% of the book can be skipped outright by anyone who’s read Ender’s Game because it’s a near-perfect parallel with the closing parts of that book (nothing new in there that I can remember). There’s the introduction of a nutty mother-daughter colonists, with their extremely strange relationship, and the mother’s wooing of the power-hungry transport ship captain Quincy Morgan. Their story of escaping Earth poverty is actually quite captivating, but they are soon written out of the plot, never to appear again, once their story arc completes. Another interesting episode describes the exploration of the colony planet Shakespeare, and the discovery of giant worms, alongside the revelation that they can communicate by mental telepathy. Wow!

What’s quite irritating is the email messages that preface every chapter – who wants to read bureaucratic missives and niceties, written in with quasi-military officiousness. Zero charm. I was very bored of this book by the time I finished it, which isn’t what I expect in the Enderverse. Ironically, Card pens an after-word where he talks about all of the research that went into writing this (now that the Enderverse has become such a sprawling creation), making it sound like this is the grand unification novel to tie everything together. I don’t think so, actually…

My big bad Ministry page

February 9th, 2014

I’ve always loved Ministry. “A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste” is probably one of my desert island discs, and I recently rekindled this love by reading Al Jourgensen’s fantastic autobiography. Sure it’s gross, and x

MA

MA

Ministry, Animositisomina -From the first crunchy guitar riffs and weird drumming inflections, and dissonance, of opening song “Animosity”, the interest is filled instantly. Wow! I had reservations about getting this album, as I thought that they were a spent force after the disappointing “Dark Side Of The Spoon” and infrequently brilliant “Filth Pig” (not to mention Al’s admission in his autobiography that this album was made in such a drug blur that he barely remembers it, and dislikes it as a result), but this has restored my faith in the band’s ability to keep on. It’s also the last album to feature Paul Barker(and probably the album he had the most input on), with several cool bass licks surfacing throughout, especially in the final track “Leper”.

Opening the album with style and a great buildup, “Animosity” is a great song with a huge sound and a very cool angular guitar solo. Love the shouted chorus outro – wish I knew what they were saying, though! “Unsung” builds around a great riff, and just zooms and zooms in drone-like fashion, with some thick, thick vocal sounds. “Piss” is a piece of streaming riffage and drum noise, ugly vocals, glomming on and on. “Lockbox” starts off with some very cool drumming, and all sorts of zooming and zooming. “Broken” has more song structure, with droning and repetitive riffs, groovy beats, and recognizable country-like verses and choruses – it also has a cool near-ending, and refrain. Breaking up the mood a bit from the same-sameness of the first half of the album is “The Light Pours Out Of Me”, a relatively faithful cover of a song by Magazine, Barry Adamson’s old band, and it sounds a bit new wave-y, with a more than just a bit of staticky Ministry bite (it’s also the only song that is more than just a single word). “Shove” is spare, with drums and a layer of funky bass, then drone guitars, and wild energy. “Impossible” is more avant garde, with weird Merzbow phasings for exactly one minute, before we get into some sort of grand rock concept. And in the end some sort of grand phase-out, with strange locking sounds – it is the longest song on the release up to this point. “Stolen” is more minimal and avant-garde at first, building up to something. The final song on the album, “Leper”, starts off with a bunch of atmospheric sounds and some great bass bleating, some wild electronic bagpipe-y noise, it zooms into full, huge production and massive drum sound about four minutes in. Wow! You appreciate the bombast all that much more after hearing the long lead-in. It zooms and zooms and zooms, and then you realize… that it’s an instrumental!

MHOTM

MHOTM

Ministry, Houses of the Mole – The distortion on the vocals is often a bit too thick, but the riffs are great, the production splendid, and the angst hot and heavy. Love this stuff. This album has all of the Ministry sounds you know and love, this time with a bit more variety than previous release Animositisomina, with a slight feeling of re-hashing big song ideas from A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste, which some say “this albums is the best since… that…” (then again – can the use of trademarked sounds be considered re-hashing?).

“No W” hits hard and heavy, and we get our first George W Bush samples, right before a useless Mike Scaccia needle solo. “Waiting” has a “Thieves” feel to it (structurally the intro is very similar), with great, thick sounds. Love this stuff! “Worthless” is a bit more tuneful, outside of the sledgehammer beat, and Al’s vocals are echoed into infinity. Lovely! Somehow sounds like Killing Joke’s “The War Dance”. “Wrong” starts off with some very cool bass tracks, and some strange Al Jourgensen vocals (non-distorted, basically, and sounding creepy), and then the big chunky guitars – great riffs!! The George W Bush sample here is scary, and the “solo” is just shredding riffs. Love it. “Warp City” is a nutty song, with very cool bass lines (by John Monte, who also played with Mindfunk, and many other bands), insane drumming, and a crazy redneck tale of a man who shoots his wife – wild, wild, wild!! There’s even a bit of crazy sax here!!!! “Wtv” is a nutty song that samples all sorts of crazy soundbites, including the radio guy who advises against mailing chickens; the lyrics are hyperactive – I wonder if they could do this live!! The later part of the song contains long quotes from George W Bush, and others: “…shot outside a liquor store,” “…ladybugs – by the millions!!” Amazing samples!! “World” starts off with some very nice bass-y riffs and some great drums and other build-up. Great samples, and interesting sounds instead of a solo. “Wkyj” zooms and glooms, and seems to have a line by Gibby Haynes – “I have a parasitic soul… with a need to feed!” (I guess this is all they could salvage of the sessions) There’s some sort of weird radio DJ thing at the end of Wkyj introducing “Worm”, with heavy drums, slow, and major riffing, harmonica sounds, atmospherics, little gloom. It’s slightly new wave influenced stuff, sounding good, with a cool harmonica riff thing. Nutty “don’t kill yourself” samples, and solid, endless, mindless atmospherics. It tunes out to mouth harp sounds. Very groovy. The song’s length is 9:11, the last minute of which is silence, probably not a coincidence. “Psalm 23″, originally a bonus track, starts off after the previous song’s one minute pause with some cool “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” ska-ish drum sounds and guitar atmospherics that are just lovely. The lyrics start off being very spooky, gothic, but then the real Ministry stuff kicks in, and it becomes akin to “So What” in parts. By the middle it is snarling and nasty, and then it smoothes out to become some sorta jam-out – great full-song transformation!! “Walrus” is a bunch of studio mucking-around, kind of dull.

This album is the first of three that picks on George W Bush, and as a gimmick each song on this album starts with the letter “w” (except for one – Psalm 23, the 10th track of 11). Even the song “Worthless” seems to inform itself from “The War Dance”, which also starts with that letter. Funny… In Al Jourgensen’s autobiography, he mentions how by the time he got to the third album he stopped hating Bush so much and seemed to be pitying him, as he saw him less and less a power figure rather than a puppet, making the anti-Bush bile in this album a bit mis-cast. But that’s okay, I guess…

BSAT666S

BSAT666S

Buck Satan and the 666 Shooters, Biers Welcome Ladies Drink Free – We all knew that Al Jourgensen once did a stint as a country music DJ, so honky tonkin’ certainly wasn’t far from his heart, and we all know that you can hear country sounds filtering through into Ministry songs even – titles like “Warp City, maybe – and a few others. Hell, yeah!

Finally, in 2011 we get the long-promised Al Jourgensen country release, Bikers Welcome Ladies Drink Free… with 13 songs on it of course! From the title you know it’s going to be funky and funny, and the release doesn’t disappoint!!

The first song, “Quicker Then Liquor” is a cool stomper that starts off with some cool “With Sympathy” era programmed drum beats, but then gets into some real country twang, with harmonica and some unprocessed Jourgensen vocals about substance abuse. “If you want to die quicker, then the answer isn’t liquor, the answer’s got to be – heroin and cocaine.” “What’s Wrong With Me” sounds more Ministry-like, at least in terms of the vocals – distorted, echoed, it could have been on an actual Ministry album if the usual ton of production layers were added. Nice moody Rush-like solo from Mike Scaccia on this one, and some new wave melodies at one point thereafter, ha ha… “Medication Nation” is a mock-reggae song countrified and built around a very hypnotic chorus that sort of goes on and on and on… Cool slide guitar, nice fiddle. “Drug Store Truck Drivin’ Man” is a way-too-fast cover of the Gram Parsons/Byrds classic, with some nice fiddle. “The Only Time I’m Sober Is When You’re Gone”, a cover of a Heartsfield song from that band’s 1973 debut, is probably the most country of the songs on this collection, and even comes with a stop-music break in the middle and a nice fiddle solo. “Cheap Wine Cheap Ramen” is about the joys of playing music on a major label, and is a pretty average country song – good fun, though, with a blistering Mike Scaccia solo, while “Down The Drain” is noisier, with tons of distorted harmonica noise, some hoarse Ministry roars, and another cool fiddle solo – “go get ‘em, JoBird.” “Sleepless Nights Bar Room Fights” speeds along with more of the same, and some funny sampled sounds. There’s also a frenzied cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Friend of The Devil”, confirming my suspicion that I’m not the only one that considers them a country band. “Ten Long Years In Texas” is a really hick-sounding tune, rhyming “Texas” with “taxes”… yup! “I Hate Every Bone In Your Body Except Mine” is a jokey songs with a band sing-along part to it. Love the naughty lyrics, and the strange tale of a freaky romance that descends into madness, and more of that sampled “go get ‘em, JoBird” fiddle stuff. “Take Me Away” is a yucky ballad-sounding tune, but the band quickly recovers its mojo for the closing track “Dignity”, which starts off with some sweet, funky guitar grooves and yummy off-key echoing relatively un-processed vocals – it’s a cool little hummin’ closer to the project. Like it!

Ultimately, the best songs are the last one, and the first bunch, with a fair amount of filler as it moves along, reaching its nadir with the penultimate track, but then it all snaps back quickly for a satisfying finish.

My only criticism of the release would be that Mike Scaccia’s solos often sound mis-matched to the songs themselves – he’s no country guitarist. It also gets a bit irritating having Al call him out song after song after song. Al sings off-tune in some songs, probably on purpose (this should probably be a praise, not a criticism, actually), and finally, way too many songs have the same warp city galloping horse-beat behind it, even “Drug Store Truck Driving Man”, which speeds the tune up excessively. But hey, small stuff.

If you read Al’s auto-biography, you learn that he was hoping to do another Buck Satan album with Mike Scaccia, and it’s sad that he never did as Mike died onstage at the end of 2012.

Funnily enough, this is my 666th review for Amazon, heh heh…

MRGB

MRGB

Rio Grande Blood – When considering Ministry’s “comeback” albums after the murk of “Filth Pig” and “Dark Side Of The Spoon”, the first two “Animositsominia” and “Houses Of The Mole” may be criticized as a bit too same-y; by that token, I sometimes wish that the next two – Rio Grande Blood and The Last Sucker – were a bit more consistent! Never happy… but never mind that either.

This is a great album, though, even if there are a few misses, and it has some standout songs, including “Lies Lies Lies”, probably their tightest and most iconic Ministry song of the past 20 years. The opening song, which is also the title track, is a 100% Al Jourgensen track, as he plays all parts – vocals, bass, guitar, programming, producing and mixing. It’s a nutty number that manipulates George W Bush statements into some sort of scary demonic confession. Funny nonetheless, especially in its fake-sounding-ness. “Señor Peligro” is a crazy death metal number, with biting riffs, huge drums, and “Thieves”-style vocals. It’s a huge, huge song!! Amazing!! “Gangreen”, though, is some sort of weird imitation of S.O.D.’s “Sargent D of the SOD”, with a long ramble on some tough-as-nails caricature of a marine. Oh well. The screamed vocals that follow are a bit flat and whiny, and Al’s certainly visited this turf before on Psalm 69 (with “Hero” – great song!!). Oh well. “Fear (Is Big Business)” is a very fast guitar song that starts off with some old school electronics. “Lies Lies Lies” is the big song on the album, and it’s a great one – cool dialogue samples, great riff, nice stop-and-start touches, cool lyrics, great chorus, fantastic screaming, good musical interlude where the solo should be, and the vocal distortion is just right. “The Great Satan remix” is a reworking of an older song that sounds fairly ordinary. “Yellow Cake” is a great song that starts off with some dub sounds, a Bush quote, and some cool bass bits, a busy guitar area, and some very cool, unique vibes. I don’t know another Ministry song quite like this one. “Palestina” is a raunchy rock song, pretty formulaic. “Ass Clown” starts off with some atmospheric sounds, before getting into a totally nutso Jello Biafra rant, role playing a White House tour guide and talking about “home of the ass clowns, see real live white collar terrorists in their own natural habitat”, etc. After that it’s a pretty standard Ministry metal number. Good riffing and jamming later on. “Khyber Pass” is a grinding piece of grunge mythology, with a wailing cry from Liz Constantine that sounds like a prayer call (wish I could find out more about who she is, though…). There are some lyrics about searching for Bin Laden at the Khyber Pass, and some great riffage throughout – sort of like Ministry’s “Kashmir”. “Sgt. Major Redux” is more silliness and outtakes from “Gangreen”… as if we needed this nonsense. A-HOOOOH-AH!!

The album’s main players are Al Jourgensen on every song, guitarist Tommy Victor (Prong) on many songs, and Paul Raven (Killing Joke) playing bass on the second half of the album and contributing keyboards, vocals, drum programming, and other stuff throughout. The songs are often stitched together by cool dialogue quotes and soundbites parts, often by George Bush. The anti-Bush tirade seems a bit silly now that he’s been out of office for so long, and given Al’s realization that as “The Last Sucker” he was probably more of a puppet anyway and worth pitying, but at least we get a good album out of it. Three songs from this album were used in Katherine Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker”.

Actually, the album is so good I also ordered it on white vinyl!!

MRGB1MRGB2

 

It’s numbered out of 3,000 and I got number 668 – the Neighbour of the Beast!!

MTLS

MTLS

The Last Sucker – Some standard rock songs, without too much mucking around, but it’s all fun all the time!! A great cover of The Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues”, and some fun at the end with “End Of Days”. The crew working on this is nearly the same as the last album – Prong’s Tommy Victor and Killing Joke’s Paul Raven, and a few other characters – and Fear Factory’s Burton C Bell sings on the last three songs of the album.

“Let’s Go” is nearly a punk rock tune in its simplicity (more of that later on). “Watch Yourself” starts off with what sounds like Noam Chomsky talking about the new McCarthyism of the Bush administration. Al’s voice is distorted deep for the verses of this song, it doesn’t sound so great. “Life Is Good” is pretty standard, as is “The Dick Song”, which is about Dick Cheney, it doesn’t get interesting until the end. “The Last Sucker” sounds kind of like a Prong song, or maybe a Rob Zombie tune, with some standard stuff about George W Bush; not good! “No Glory” zooms into rock again, with strange stop-and-start moments. “Death & Destruction” starts off with some weird George W Bush speechifying and manipulation, then a gigantic guitar roar. “Roadhouse Blues” is a stunning cover of the Doors classic, drenched in noise and chaos. Love it. “Die In A Crash” is a cool little punkish song, with vocals by Burton C Bell, sounding like a blend between Jello and Al (who provides backing vocals). Nutty little stuffer, with cool bass sounds! “End Of Days (Pt. 1)” is an epic grunge Ministry rocker – lumbering, huge, and with the requisite cowbells and giant guitar solo – that leads into “End Of Days (Pt. 2)”, with its atmosphere and experimentation (there’s even a rap!) and cliched production values, that nonetheless soars away and becomes something truly remarkable! “Part 2″ starts off with a cool little mood riff and a rap, then a children’s choir (think Talk Talk!!!! !!!!), while the second half of the song takes in Dwight D Eisenhower’s “Military industrial complex” speech from the time of his resignation – remarkable to hear such a long sample, and it makes a great album closer. This is the longest song that Ministry has ever recorded, at just over 10 minutes long. “Die In A Crash Remix” is a nice little bonus I got – it’s completely different from the punky album version, as it moves with electronic beats, mood and spooky, nutty sounds (early Front 242 anyone?).

MCU

MCU

Ministry and the Co-Conspirators, Cover-Up – Wow! Ministry has been doing covers on nearly every album since Filth Pig, when they did a weird cover of Bob Dylan’s weird song “Lay Lady Lay”, and in 2008 they released an album full of previously-released covers (but only some of them – they left off , and the covers done by Revolting Cocks like “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy”, Ministry’s cover of Magazine’s “The Light Pours Out Of Me”, or Buck Satan And The 666 Shooters’ cover of the Byrds’ “Drug Store Truck Driving Man”); near the end are three covers that appear elsewhere – “Lay Lady Lay”, “Roadhouse Blues” (one of their best songs in ages), 1000 Homo DJs’ cover of Black Sabbath’s “Supernaut”. The songs each have something subtly different about them, most significantly “Supernaut”, which has more subdued riffs (?!?!), and some new voice samples. Nice.

At the beginning of the album are seven new covers, and the first one is really great – a creative cover of the Stones’ “Under My Thumb”, which starts off with some serious new wave keyboards, and then some sort of scratchy Mark Lanegan and Isobel Campbell duet of the classic ’60s rocker, that rocks out in the chorus. Short and sweet. A cover of T Rex’s “Bang A Gong” hardly sounds much different from the original, but just interesting enough for people to say “huh?” “Radar Love”, the Golden Earring classic, has a shorter intro, and sounds a bit off-key with the whispered opening verses, but it rocks and is good fun. “Space Truckin’” is a cool and faithful cover of the classic Deep Purple song with plenty of cowbell and double drums. Wow! “Black Betty” is okay, but a bit over-produced, even more than the Ram Jam version of the famous Leadbelly tune. “Mississippi Queen” is a very cool throaty version that sounds like it could be by Goatsnake. The programmed drums are a bit too aggressive, though – oh well! ZZ Top’s “Just Got Paid” is given the nasty death metal touch, with a great, tight, needle-precise hit on that amazing riff. Love it!

After the three re-runs already mentioned (“Lay Lady Lay”, “Roadhouse Blues” and “Supernaut), Uncle Al really goes overboard with three versions of “What A Wonderful World”. Not what you’d expect from such gloomy and angry song peddlers, but it actually works… sorta. The main version, at seven minutes, with a full gothic piano intro, is just too long, and after a sweet, short run-through of the song for the first half of the song, the thrashy multiple repetitions of all the verses of the song in the second half seems just seems wrong. The “short slow version” probably works best, as it perks up a bit, leaves off the thrash, and successfully wrings out the right emotion (yes, I never thought Ministry would pull off emotionality, but it did!!); the “short fast version” is not too bad either, it’s a fun live (or is it Memorex?) version that gets playful and fast; it’s okay.

The final tune is a silly version of “Stigmata” sung by some guy a la Willie Nelson. Next!

MATCCUC

MATCCUC

Ministry and the Co-Conspirators, Undercover – Another set of nutty covers, only three years after the last one. This one is a bit more uneven, combining “covers” of five Ministry songs (nearly half of the release!!!), along with a non-classic rock selection – Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab”. The other six of the 12 songs are classic rock, exactly like what was on “Cover-Up”.

The collection kicks off with “Iron Man” by Black Sabbath, bringing to three the number of Sabbath titles that the band does (along with “Supernaut”, an old nugget from the 1,000 Homo DJs project, and later on this album also “Paranoid”). Ted Nugent’s “Stranglehold” is a pretty standard little number. The cover of “NWO” is pretty similar to what was on Psalm 69, okay, and the cover of “Stigmata” is a bit thinned out. “Paranoid” rages, with plenty of wacky instrumental parts added, the bridge appearing a second (unneeded) time, an extended nutbar solo (or solos), all leading to a near-doubling of Sabbath’s shortest song to four minutes. Draaaaaag it out. AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” is an inspired selection, as few other bands can rival the huge Ministry sound. It’s a good little cover, full of bombastic pomposity. The band’s version of ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man” is huge and metallic, quite a lot different than the original, to say the least, but still fairly true to the original with its boogie stomp (Jourgensen idolizes ZZ Top and Cheap Trick – probably more than any other band after Black Sabbath, I’d say). There’s yet another remix of “Jesus Built My Hotrod”, nothing special there, and a blistering approach to Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” – a song with special meaning for Jourgensen, of course – that he sings with full off-key aplomb. “Every Day Is Hallowe’en” is a funky rock remake of the ancient song from the band’s first album, something Jourgensen has tried to turn his back on, but which he embraces quite fully here. There are hardly any keyboards on this one, the main beat re-created with guitars. Cool! “Paint It Black” is a deliciously-evil-sounding little number, in full production, while “Khyber Pass”, a Ministry song, brings it right back down – a great, mysterious song that deserves 20 minute-long remixes, not short little ones like we get here at only seven minutes long (shorter, actually, than the version on Rio Grande Blood!). This version differs from the album version as it has a longer intro (wailing female vocals) and a shorter verse-chorus section (“Where’s Bin Ladin”). Very nice!

MR

MR

Relapse – Not considered one of the best Ministry albums, with its un-glamorous stripped down basic rock production, it’s still a stellar release – something that would probably be a crowning achievement for any other band. Opening track “Ghouldiggers” is an Al riff on being an industry product, set to dreamy near-death-experience atmospherics, followed by some yucky verse, and a tight anxious chorus. Weird “record label secretary” segment ends the opening track – a hammy thing that’s not even terribly hammed up! Al’s sense of humor has fallen a bit flat here… and he doesn’t mind sounding very burned out. “Double Tap” is fast and nasty, and has some nice Middle Eastern dobro sounds. Freaky death metal. “Freefall” starts off with a “twenty dollars… and you can have all the croke you can handle….” with that being a blend of cannabis and coke. Nice! It’s a cool, catapulting song, though!! “Kleptocracy” is a goofy song with a catchy chorus! This one has a political quote in it! “United Forces” is a silly version of the classic Stormtroopers Of Death song (which – let’s not forget – uncle Al has mentioned that SOD was the real inspiration for the Ministry guitar sound) that just goes on for way too long, and has a weird intro-refrain at the end, so a bit of a disappointing post-”Cover Up” revisit… but glad to see SOD getting recognition nonetheless!! “99 Percenters” is a bit poppy (or, at least, as poppy as Ministry could ever get), but it also rocks quite nicely. “Relapse” is a chunky rock songs with some “joe six-pack” samples. The lyrics are pretty weak… “Weekend Warrior” is probably the best song on the release – it just goes on and on and freaks out with a great little character. Love this song!! It’s not a long one, but it has amazing verve and spirit – short and sweet! “Git Up Get Out ‘n’ Vote” is nutty death metal, and it just goes on, with scolding “rock the vote” messages (and how should non-American fans of Ministry care about this?). Not a standout track. “Bloodlust” is a rockin’ groovy number that takes it all over the map. Love it!
“Bloodlust (Lust for Blood Remix)” is a true 1990s digital remake with all the electronic sounds to keep it going. Zoomy – yeah!!

MFBTE

MFBTE

From Beer To Eternity – It’s easy to deride this album as being Ministry’s final-final-final album (there had been so many), but of course this one would never have happened were it not for the sudden death of long-time Ministry collaborator, guitarist Mike Scaccia, who in true rock ‘n’ roll tradition, died onstage rockin’ out. RIP Mike.

The album is fantastic, and a great epitaph and eulogy for the great band and the great guitarist. It is also the most eclectic and experimental Ministry album, at least since the early days, and a great listen. The title is a bit silly, but I guess “eternity” means something, and Al still likes his beer (he may have gone back into rehab for beer recovery, since – according to his autobiography, released the same year as this album – he had given up everything else and needed at least something to keep his buzz going. “Hail To His Majesty (Peasants)” is a weird, hateful thing that is full of bizarre electronic sounds, it is more avant garde than Ministry has been for a very long time, and it zooms around and around in weird trajectories, including a section of great Ministry sounds, some nice stomp, and some interesting industrial sounds, samples, everything. Very interesting. “Punch In The Face” is a cool, scratchy thing, quite different from any other Ministry song, that is a bit more measured than the opening track, but just as weird and bloopy, although it still has a cool needly solo. Great layers, and goofy samples! “PermaWar” sounds a lot like the opening song from Relapse, with its strange drawling singing style (not Al’s best), and there’s also a huge female chorus (!?!?). Meh… “Perfect Storm” is a big nutso stomp that just goes on and on! It’s nearly a punk song… “Fairly Unbalanced” is a nutty guitar song about Fox News’ reporting, with lots of crazy dialogue samples. It’s a pretty big song. “I would vote for George Bush even if he was barbecuing babies on the White House lawn.” “What we want to get back is to where our country was 100 years ago.” Cool “pound away at” sample loop and echo, which blends the song into “The Horror” – some great goofing around here, with electronics and sound, and samples like “God intended” and “legitimate rape.” Yeah!! “Side Fx Include Mikey’s Middle Finger (TV 4)” goes all over the place, starting off with some righteous thrash that pummels and punishes all over the place. In the middle there’s a whole section of weird goofing around, more samples (medical, for the most part), and then it gets back to full rock mode, and then just goes all over the place into nutty remixing. “Lesson Unlearned” is sort of a funk song with all sorts of jazzy female vocals. “Thanx But No Thanx” is probably the best song on the album, starting off as a reggae bust-up, before zooming into character-speech, Al as some sort of redneck ex-marine William Shatner/Ted Nugent sort of voice. It gets into a very dynamic number that zooms around a lot, with a very silly-sounding guitar solo. “Change Of Luck” starts off with some cool near-acoustic mellow guitar riff, then some strange Middle Eastern mood buildup, Over eight minutes, and the longest song on the album. Eventually we get to some chorus, a whole bunch of other stuff, a guitar solo, nice. “Enjoy The Quiet” is a short and sweet electronic ambient noise zoom, and that’s it.

This probably could have been mixed as a Revolting Cocks album, as it’s closer to RevCo in spirit and experimentation, but Mike Scaccia was closer to Ministry than RevCo, so this is a proper homage to the man. RIP.

RCCAL

RCCAL

Revolting Cocks, Cocked And Loaded – A great album, song-for-song, although quite different from the previous RevCo outing, Linger Ficking Good, as there is no Chris Connelly. Members of Cheap Trick and ZZ Top apparently play on this album, but who can hear their parts above all of the buzz! BUZZ!!

The opening track “Fire Engine” is a lot of fun, and it’s a blistering rocker with some huge drums. “Ten Million Ways To Die” is a strange piece of lounge music set to the voice of a creepy narrator, that then busts open into a full-on screeching rock number! “Caliente (Dark Entries)” is an insane Bauhaus cover voiced by a babbling Gibby Haynes. The original is cool, but Al and Gibby did a much better job on “Jesus Built My Hotrod.” Oh well. “Prune Tang” is a silly Helmet-sounding hardcore number, with some grunting and groaning and “singing”, with deep voices saying “pruuuuune taaaaang.” “Dead End Streets” starts off with programmed drums and guitar chugging, some nice riffs, some insane Jello Biafra vocals, some cool slide guitar stuff. “Pole Grinder” has some great samples (“Being a man, or being a woman, has nothing to do with your genitalia”, and “Man, or woman… or BOTH?”), cool bass riffs, freaky man-girl voice distortion, great riffs, droning beat, samples, funky chorus. One of the best songs on the album. “Jack In The Crack” is minimal, noisy, experimental, goofy. Kind of a dull, filler type of song, but it has its heavy moments. “Devil Cock” is some silly mixing of aggressive sounds, with nutty horror film samples. “Viagra Culture” starts off with electronics, drums, and a nutty Jello Biafra megalomaniacal character rant that reflects the eventual lyrics about “everybody else must lose, but I must win; we have met the weapon of mass destruction, and it is I!!” Sort of a Ren and Stimpy momen here. Cool song, that builds into a nice chugging guitar riff and electronics tune. Nice – edgy, but relaxed. Groovy “solo” in the middle. “Revolting Cock Au Lait” is the closer that is full of female vocals ranting in sexual puns, big broad flanged-out guitar sounds, and naturally plenty of roosters (cocks) crowing. Love it!!

RCCO

The Revolting Cocks, Sex-o Olympic-o – This album sounds significantly different again from any of the previous RevCo albums, perhaps coming full circle in terms of the RevCo legacy as it is nearly as electronic as the first album was, but in a totally different (updated) way. The electronics are wacky, bass-y burbles, reminiscent of Rob Zombie stuff I suppose, or KMFDM, with crunchy Ministry guitars added into it, and a few different types of vocals. The lead singer is Josh Bradford, with uncle Al Jourgensen providing backup vocals on some songs. Nearly all of the song titles are groovy, like “Hookerbot 3000” or “Robo Bandidos.” Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen and Robin Zander and ZZ Top’s guitarist Billy Gibbons are listed as “Proxy Cocks”, not sure why – it’s hard to hear which songs they’re on, if any at all. Ditto for original Cock Luc Van Acker and Phildo Owen, Skatenig, and the voice of “Beers, Steers and Queers”, although again their contributions are not easy to distinguish. Some bass parts are by Paul Raven, who died two years before this was released, and he turns up on “Keys to the City” and “Wizard of Sextown”. The main vocals are provided by a young Canadian, Josh Bradford, guitarist from the Burlington pop-metalcore band Silverstein, and they’re okay, a bit silly and snooty sometimes. All right! Of all the RevCo albums, this is the one that’s the most same-y; that’s not a bad thing, though, as it fairly grooves, but this certainly sets Sex-o Olympic-o quite far apart other RevCo releases, which are full of jarring changes and so much outrageous nuttiness that this one seems pretty sober.

Album opener “HookerBot 3000” is okay, with a nice moody electronic intro, moody stuff that probably had RevCo fans scratching their heads when they first heard it, and then the guitars kick in with some friendly pop sounds, you hear Al screaming “yeah yeah yeah” in the background – sounds like he’s having a great time. “Keys To The City” is like a disco album with crunchy guitars and a thumping bass beat courtesy of Mr Paul Raven. “Red Parrot” is just a big “RevCo, let’s go” song, that adds some honky tonk piano – nice!! “Robo Banditos” maybe stands out a bit, with its gothic vocal delivery, and lots of Spanish chatter – it’s also a big, driving song. “Cousins” is a rockin’ little number that sounds like RevCo’s cover of “Dark Entries” from Cocked And Loaded, but it is actually a nutty song about incest: “why walk down the street when you can walk down the hall?” “Dirty little secret”, etc. Yuck!! But it’s a funky song nonetheless. “Touch Screen” is a groovy number with a falsetto chorus and some blips and bloops. “I’m Not Gay” is probably the standout track on the album, with its moody buildup, the heavy programming, more blips and bloops, and humor to boot! It also has a bit more of Uncle Al’s vocals and rousing chorus. “Abundant Redundancy” starts off with huge drums and guitars and distorto-vocals – it could be a Ministry song – but then gets into the sequencers and nuttiness. This song rocks harder than any other song on the album. “Lewd Ferrigno” is a freaky buildup song that starts off nice and quiet, with narration, then screamed vocals, and some slowdown, before a full-on Al Jourgensen shriek-out!! “Wizard of Sextown”, the longest song on the album, is a weird dub jam-out that just sort of goes on and on and on, with also nice Paul Raven bass lines. “HookerBot 3000 [Discoa-A-Go-Go Mix]” starts off with harsh sounds, and then just goes all over the place.

Books

MTLGATAJ

MTLGATAJ

Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen, by Al Jourgensen and Jon Wiederhorn - I was a fan of Ministry in the ’80s and ’90s, especially the Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste release – the ones before and after were good too, but that one was something special – classic song after classic song, and no filler. I lost interest after Dark Side Of The Spoon, and didn’t listen to anything after that, except when a Grammy-nominated song like “Lies, Lies, Lies” popped onto the radar, or when they put out a heart-stopping cover like “Roadhouse Blues” (or when they were in a Stephen Spielberg film, like AI, but that all felt a bit different)!

Of course, given what I knew about Ministry and its grand poobah Al Jourgensen I knew that Al would have a great story to tell, and being a fan of rock bios and auto-bios this was one I had to get. And I’m glad I did – it’s a fantastic read full of great stories and anecdotes, with classic quotes every other page or so. It pops open another side of life and exposes it in all its gristly glory, and it gets into the strangeness of being a stranger in a strange band! It’s also gotten me to investigate the rest of the Ministry catalogue (and new stuff by Buck Satan and the 666 Shooters, and also newer RevCo), most of which is fantastic.

In fact, the book is exactly the sort of romp you’d expect, delving into all sorts of info about his messed-up childhood and family life (probably wasn’t all that messed up, given how he settled into a middle class family, but the tale of his beloved grandmother dying of face cancer is indeed very, very sad). It gets into record label and band politics too, especially around Paul Barker, but doesn’t spend too much time on it, describing recording sessions, tours, collaborations, collapses, busts, and everything else a trouble making industrial music bandit should expect form life.

High points of the book are about rock ‘n’ roll girlfriends, including Aimee Mann (!!!) and Sean Yseult (didn’t know about that one either – and she doesn’t write too much about it in her book), who he nearly drove off a cliff. He does get into being a terrible person at times, and there’s plenty of depraved stuff; but you also get the sense of a man enjoying the insanity of life who still also has the work ethic to put out something monumental even when the sky is falling, living life backwards, etc. There’s crazy drug stuff, there’s stuff about aliens, and if that’s not enough there even weirder stuff about clear spiders (Gibby chimes in on this one too). Another highlight of the book is that there are chapters and passages written by his partners-in-crime, including his wife Angie, Gibby, Jello – and even Mike Scaccia, writing from the afterlife, and other partners-in-crime. Really top notch stuff.

There are classic passages where he writes about seeing the Ramones in Colorado with Jello Biafra and Wax Trax Records co-founder Jim Nash and Dannie Flesher in the audience, his friendships with Timothy Leary (Sean Yseult wrote about this too in her book) and William F Burroughs (with whom he bonded over stoned racoons, entering a short list of friends such that “up until the time of his death [Burroughs] would call me about once a week and we’d talk.”), hanging out with the Skinny Puppy guys, hanging out with KMFDM, hanging out with Anthrax, the death of Dimebag Darrell (Ministry was playing in the same town as Damageplan the night he was shot, and may have been tailed by his killer), getting married in Graceland, and hanging out with Ronald Reagan Jr. He talks about confronting Henry Rollins who got all sour-pussed about having a junkie on his bus, and about his rivalry with Rob Zombie, who he viewed as a pretender. Strange how he got pissed off with Robert Plant the one time he met the singer of his adored Led Zeppelin, keeping him holed up in the Wax Trax record shop with prima donna behavior (even though Ministry got a free plug out of it). There’s also a lot of talk about the Chicago Blackhawks, whose owners he’s friends with. Interesting.

The photo section is pretty cool, although the cover shot – with multiple face piercings and blotchy tattoos – is extra gruesome and, well, makes you want to be careful about leaving it lying around the house. You see Al as a kid, as a teenager, in his early new wave phase, with a variety of hats and bandannas, with Timothy Leary onstage singing “Thieves”, one pic with his daughter, one pic with his step-dad, two with his mom, and a few with Paul Raven (RIP), Mike Scaccia (RIP), with the Cheap Trick guys, and with his 13th Planet cohorts. A-hoo-ah!!

The book starts off with all sorts of loving quotes from major industry names validating Ministry; this is unnecessary and very indulgent, as anyone reading the book will surely already know how important Al and Ministry are, but it’s still pretty cool hearing Trent Reznor say “Ministry was the single-most important influence in the sound and concept of Nine Inch Nails” (we get to read a bit more about Mr Reznor later in the book too). Naturally, most people quoted adore A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste, but then there’s Blake Judd of Nachtmysterium (who is he/she, and what is this band’s relevance next to the other big names cited, namely Slipknot, Korn, Fear Factory, Disturbed, Prong, Anthrax, Dead Kennedys?), who adores Filth Pig. O-kayyyyyy… The foreword by co-author Jon Wiederhorn is interesting enough as it sets the scene, even though he over-uses the word “obviously”. Al himself then gives a long-winded intro (which eventually merges into Chapter 1) where he revisit one of his many near-death experiences (perforated ulcers that nearly caused him to bleed to death), ruminates on life as a living legend/ex-junky, and drops comments like how Relapse was the most fun album to record for him (strangely, it is also Ministry’s crappiest album, although it does have a great Stormtroopers Of Death cover on it, “United Forces”). He recounts the recording of the Buck Satan album, and all sorts of other insanity. But, as usual, there are great quotes: “I’d get drunk, vomit, and fall asleep. Then do it again. It’s not glorious, it’s not glamorous – it’s what old rock stars do before they die. They puke on themselves. And that’s why Ministry’s 2012 album was called Relapse.” His wife Angie would call him from some awards ceremony that he’d bailed on, and he’d be so wasted that he’d answer her in mid-puke, saying “that’s nice honey. I have to go die. Can you call back?” Nice anecdote about how Al got Sam D’Amruoso, drum programmer, to do the snotty lyrics for “Weekend Warrior”. “[Sammy] wrote out something and recorded it himself just to get a guide vocal one night while I was drunk and passed out. He expected me to go back and redo it later. But when I heard it, I was like, ‘Nope, sounds good the way it is. I’m gonna have to give you a vocal credit on that one, dude.’”  Thanks, Grandpa Jourgensent!

By Chapter two, nearly 40 pages into the book (including fore-words and intros, etc), we finally get to his roots, talking about how a remarkable left-handed baby was born three months premature in 1958 to an unmarried millionaire’s daughter in pre-revolution Cuba. “I wasn’t born in some fancy American hospital. I was born in Havana, Cuba, a third-world country that’s just as likely to use dying fetuses as kindling for the poor as they were to fight to keep them alive. I was jaundiced with a failing liver. I was completely yellow – even my eyes. I had 60 percent hearing loss. In other words, I was a mess long before I entered the music industry.” Of course, he became a refugee at six years old, with his family trying to get out of Cuba, re-settling in Florida, his famous millionaire grandfather now resorting to working in a restaurant to support his family. Wow! Tales of his grandparents’ life, their split-up, and future hijinks is interesting and charming, even if it’s quite sad.

He has an interesting family, though, and not just his grandparents – seems he had a famous uncle, Leo Brouwer, a famous classical guitarist, “probably the best, after Segovia.” Another great-great-aunt wrote the famous folk song “La Malaguena.” Then, on Page 10 he goes from talking about his kinky grandmother to mentioning his first run-ins with aliens (“grays”) and how he had a green triangle on his neck for two weeks after meeting some of them! And the fun doesn’t stop there, as his mom goes husband shopping. “My mom was a Cuban Charo Latina Chiquita with nice tits and a hot ass. And my [aspiring NASCA driver step-] dad was kind of a nerd, so he said, ‘Alright, I’ll give up cars and take the pussy!’ Deal!” He talks about his life-long love of the Chicago Blackhawks, and how it helped him bond with his step-dad (who he seems to admire, begrudgingly, more than he does his mom, who’s never mentioned in a positive light, and who doesn’t get an opportunity to say anything in the book). On page 13 he talks about his first exposure to modern music – the Stones and “Paint It Black” Yes!! Then it’s onto Led Zeppelin, ZZ Top and Pink Floyd’s Piper At The Gates Of Dawn! Yes!!! Music became a passion. He talks about his first job, which was shoveling shit from race horses, including Secretariat, an American thoroughbred that took the Triple Crown in 1973.

I actually got to go into his stall and shovel his shit, and he seemed to understand that I was doing him a favor. His shit didn’t even make me gag. But not the other horses; they smelled bad, their shit reeked, and they didn’t like me. They would kick the crap out of me every day. I had to try to dodge their hooves while I was shoveling, and this made the job harder because I’d jump out of the way, and literally, thee shit would fly. So I’d have to shovel it again. To this day I fucking hate horses. I would rather get attacked by a lion or a tiger than kicked by another horse.

Seems like he was a chubby kid! So he got into sports (via his step-dad), and quite good at baseball. Then he got into drugs, vandalism, and stealing cars. He also went to the Democratic National Convention in 1968 and got pepper sprayed! Got laid at 13, the same year he started shooting cocaine (!!!), although  he talks (much) more about the latter than the former (sex doesn’t figure too much into the story, unless he’s talking about weird adventures with groupies – the girl with the colostomy bag, the full, disgusting description is on Page 173, for example – or hanging out with the nyphos during his paradisical year in the sanitarium). Yes, rock ‘n’ roll has been his life, but drugs has been a near-second. Had a hard time figuring out if he was a jock or a stoner, since he was a bit of both, ha ha haaa… This includes a crazy story about him playing third base when the second baseman got struck dead by lightning.

 The sky was overcast but it wasn’t raining, then out of nowhere, KAPOW! A blinding, jagged bolt of lightning crashes down from overhead, and Danny [Cadman] hits the ground smoldering. I was the first one over there. His flesh was burned black; there was no question that he was dead. Maybe God was actually trying to hit me and had bad aim or something.

Death visited from time to time, and he had a sad goodbye with his grandma Carmen, who died of jaw cancer (which he nearly contracted himself – it was discovered early and cleaned out).

Doctors cut out her entire jawbone to remove the tumor to try to save her, but all they did is turn the last days of her life into a living hell. When I saw her it was hard to maintain eye contact and not turn away. She looked like Skeletor or some creature from Dawn Of The Dead. I talked with her a little about baseball and school, but I was choked up the whole time. She was so beautiful before that, and suddenly she’s looking at me with no face. She was all withered from the chemotherapy, and her long red hair was gone. When you know you’re seeing someone for the last time, it’s really hard to know what to do. That was one of the shittiest experiences I’ve ever had because I really loved her. She helped make me who I am, and suddenly she was gone. Fourteen-year-olds shouldn’t have to deal with that shit. Grandma Carmen wasn’t that old either. She was in her early fifties – which is pretty young to lose half your face. God, I still love her and can’t believe what she went through and how strong she was through the entire ordeal. She never felt sorry for herself. She just endured the barbaric experiments they performed on her until her dying day.

Eventually he spends a year in a mental institution, disowned from his parents, having the time of his life being dosed on high quality, free drugs, and hanging out with other crazy nymphos, and where he met a tutor who introduced him to Burroughs, Bukowski, Crowley and Leary, “all these guys who would become friends and peers later in life.” Not sure about Bukowski and Crowley, but he did meet the other two. He also got electro-shock therapy, like all the rest of them (Iggy, Roky), and then went to Colorado! Here he formed a band called… Slayer! Not the Slayer, but he came up with the name for his early band of misfits. Pretty funny. Eventually he meets a girl who takes him with her to Chicago, founds the music department at her school, then uses the foundling department’s equipment to paste together a song called “I’m Falling”; the Wax Trax guys go insane over it, and they push him to get a band together. Thanks, Jim, for laying the Ministry seed!! He gets into forming his first versions of the band, and mentions how he got into doing lead vocals accidentally. As the composer and engineer, “I had no interest whatsoever in singing for Ministry. But after we tried out twelve vocalists who all sucked, I figured, ‘Fuck, I might as well do this myself and save myself the pain of listening to some other knucklehead who isn’t as good at sounding British as I am.’” Of course, “Cold Life” soon followed, and Ministry was on its way. “To everyone’s surprise, ‘Cold Life’ went to number forty-five on the US dance charts in 1981. We celebrated by doing too much coke and getting fall-down drunk – you know, the usual.” The band thing started to get out of control, and eventually he got roped into making poppy music that he didn’t like; Clive Davis of his record company Arista called him up with a pep talk, and even got the Thompson Twins to talk to him to try to bring him around to the company’s way of thinking. Crazy! Interesting stories about his affair with Aimee Mann, their trysts in a haunted house, and being the inspiration of Til’ Tuesday’s song “Voices Carry”. And when you read the lyrics, it makes sense:

The drug thing takes off, and on page 52 he gets his first stab of heroin – he can’t remember who introduced it to him – and we’re off on a 20-year voyage of living on the dealers’ cycle. Oops! Later on, Al confesses that he was the on e who introduced Layne Staley of Alice In Chains to heroin, who took to it voraciously (just as John Phillips did when Keith Richards turned him on to them, we learn, in Life), and there are plenty of sad drug stories – Jeff Ward died of drugs, Bill Tucker died of drugs, Mike Scaccia nearly did, Patty Jourgensen was a bad junky – and many times Al nearly died of drugs himself. As a junkie, he also wasn’t a great father for his daughter Adrienne, and he seems remorseful about it the two times he mentions it in the book. “Before Sire picked up Ministry I was writing TV and radio jingles to help support our drug habits pay the rent, and feed the baby.” Sounds pretty crazy. There’s also a weird story about how the song “Every Day Is Hallowe’en” saved his life – he went into the wrong part of town to buy drugs and some guys wanted to kill him, until the recognized him. “It’s alright. It’s the bop-bop man. He’s cool.” Crazy!! If only Joe Cole had been so lucky.

Eventually he does the Twitch sessions with Adrian Sherwood, and he’s off in music production heaven (interesting story of the speed dealer who lived off of just three clients: Adrian, Lemmy and Gary Moore). “Best teacher in the world. I wouldn’t know my ass from my elbow if it wasn’t for Adrian Sherwood. Being able to live in London and work at Southern Studios with Adrian was awesome, man,” even though Sherwood’s friends were “criminal yobbo skinheads” and “speed freaks and soccer hooligans” who stole his wallet and he “got into a few Trainspotting-style bar fights there with bottle smashing across the head and beer mugs to the face.” He also shot a cool video with Storm Thorgerson for “Over The Shoulder” that includes real cornershop robberies, car thefts, a nail omelette, etc.

Then we get to Page 67 when he talks about Pailhead, Revolting Cocks (Sale fiches!!), the Twitch recording sessions, recording Big Sexy Land next door to the Ramones “I’ve never seen anyone consume that much beer”), and being in Belgium, London and Berlin (where an East German gun tower sniper played head games with him by keeping him in his gun sights). Wow!!

In his guest chapter, Luc Van Acker gives a good assessment to working with Al Jourgensen. “From a lawyer’s point of view you could say, ‘Oh, he’s ripping everyone off.’ That’s not true. It’s sad and he’s heartbroken now because every single guy except me thinks he ripped them off, while he has invested everything in the future. Meanwhile, the best music any of these people ever made in their career, they did with him.” Sascha Konietzko, the mind behind KMFDM, says something similar, “There were a couple of people who treated us like total assholes, worse than you would treat the shittiest support band. Chris Connelly was the top asshole amongst them all, and Martitn Atkins was a close second, for sure. Chris Connelly was so fucked up every day he didn’t even know what bus he was on. He would haplessly float about in swimming pools until someone would get him.” Sounds like Ulli, the anarchist from The Big Lebowski, in real life!

The section from page 59-61 is a list of the drugs that they were doing to accompany each album. As a barometer, it seems that he went from being under the influence of nothing on With Sympathy (although he played Asteroids with Paul McCartney in the recording studio lounge), all the way up to Filth Pig, which was 99.9% heroin, and Dark Side of the Spoon, which saw coke resurfacing on the menu. Animonisitisomina was clean, although Al was still weak from cleaning up and wasn’t happy with the record (I am – it’s great!), and then it was all booze afterwards.

Page 94 describes some of the madness from the A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste:

I’m not an artist or a producer – I’m still the guy who cleans up race horse’s shit, just like I did when I was young. And in the case of The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste, it’s amazing that I could walk straight enough to scoop properly. The album was practically shat out of the bowels of complete insanity and debauchery. We’d be in there working, and I’d look out the studio window and see a five-foot-tall Greate Dane fucking a girl. We built a motorcycle ramp in an alley behind the studio, and we’d ride the motorcycle up the ramp and crash it into a fence about eight feet away. We fired off shotguns in the studio and sampled the noise. It was Caligula on heroin, coke, and acid. And that was just the beginning.

Definitely the best stories of debauchery were from this period, and Al talks about playing with the Chicago Cubs and hanging out with them a bit. Great stories. Strangely, he didn’t like the album very much, although it is at this time that he struck up his initial relationship with Angie, who later saved his life and became his wife (interesting point from later on – Angie’s dad, who once played for the Montreal Canadians, is Al too, “that’s why Angie has ‘Al’ tattooed on her shoulder: even if I fuck up, she’s still got her dad.”) “A lot of diehard fans call The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste on of the top three Ministry records, but I can’t stand It, mainly because of the condition I was in when I made it. I could feel the machine slowly taking over and felt helpless to stop it. I don’t feel like the songs are the best I’ve written or that they’re even in my top one hundred.” Nutty things about live shows, such as being attacked by darts by fans at some shows (“The thing I don’t get is that if you hate a band that badly, why pay money for a ticket and bring expensive darts to their show? He probably bought the record, too, to make sure he hated it. Who does that?”), dealing with band members getting arrested (even Barker was arrested for jaywalking, and “one of our hired-gun band members – an English guy with a bad attitude – was busted for statutory rape a couple times.”), and drinking beer with otherwise-straight edge Ian MacKaye during Pailhead sessions (“It was the first time he had beer in years, and it was the shittiest stuff – like $4.99 a case – and tasted like metallic tent water. It was called Brewnigs, but we used to call it Nigbrew. We drank a shitload and got wasted”)! They even spent hours dialing in to a sex line for laughs.

Funny stories about collaborating on the Lard project with Jello Biafra, the germophobe diva. Finding Metallica (“three wankers with mullets”) drinking beer in his dressing room, and harassing himself all over them (similar to another funny story when he did the same thing to Ice-T on the Lollapalooza tour, The Cult during Big Day Out, and later on even to suicidal porn star Savannah). Great story about working with GWAR on their Scumdogs Of The Universe recording when they were broke and consumed the beer and coke that was Al’s fee for producing “some tracks” (probably only one song, “The Horror of Yig”, as far as I know). He also expresses a lot of appreciation for Danny Wirtz, the grandson of the owner of the Chicago Blackhawks hockey team, and how they became great friends – cool story! “Good old Danny Wirtz saved my ass more than once, that’s for sure.” Stories of working with the hastily-assembled Skatenigs (whose lead singer Phildo Owen became a singer for Beers, Steers + Queers-era RevCo, and once had a penis suit that shot fake sperm into the crowd that was the envy of GWAR) and The Mentors during the A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste tour (including their unbelievable 350-pound moron of a lead singer El Duce) are stunning in their madness!

I went into the bathroom and found this fucking guy there, naked from the waist down, lying in a pack of Dorito chips, urine and vomit. I went into the urinal and said to him, ‘Hey, who the fuck are you?’ And he said, ‘I’m El Duce!’ like he’s Mick Jagger or something, so I should already know him. He was trying to pull his pants back on, but they were on backward and inside out. He was really struggling, so I helped him out.

Turns out El Duce knew Bill Rieflin, one of the Ministry drummers, who hated him for something that he had done in high school, then later on tried to rape Al’s mother right in front of him, and later got killed by a freight train in an easily-avoidable accident. El Duce stories are priceless, and the book is full of them!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PXEm6fhI7P0

The book has tales of buying inflatable sheep from a sex shop, and hanging out with Pantera and Gibby Haynes (“Hands down the second-craziest person I’ve known in my life”) of the Butthole Surfers – all on the same one page!! At one point, they moved all the furniture from their hotel rooms to the roof and lit it on fire!! Around this time, Al also met (and tormented) Trent Reznor, who helped them out while on tour by pitching in some replacement equipment and becoming a Revolting Cocks roadie. “It was his first time on tour, and we called him ‘Mama’s Boy’ and whipped Black Cat firecrackers at him all the time. He tried to keep up with our drinking. We wouldn’t let him stop, so he’d puke and pass out, and then we’d draw dicks and pussies and the word ‘fag’ on him in permanent Sharpie marker.” Nice. Traveling through Mexico with Phildo Owen trying to kick heroin, running out of money in Manzanilla, winning it back by betting on crab fights. “If we lost, we had no money to cover the bets, so we would have gotten killed. Fortunately, our crab, this big fucker with a giant claw, won every tournament. We made enough gas money from two days of crab fights to drive home. We didn’t eat or anything – just gas money. Both of us returned craving drugs worse than ever.” End of chapter. Bleak! There’s been a lot written about the professional and personal rift that eventually grew between Phildo and Al (who mentions it at one point, briefly), although the fact that Al has not written Phildo out of the book probably indicates that everyone’s made nice.

He has an interesting Lollapalooza encounter with Henry Rollins, one guy I really like a lot:

When the festival came to Chicago I wanted to see Trent Reznor, because despite the shit I put him through, we were still friends. At the time he and his band were sharing a tour bus with Henry Rollins and his crew. So I went up to the bus to hang with Trent, and Rollins looked at me and said, ‘Get out of here, you piece of shit. I hate junkies.’ Now I know Henry Rollins is supposed to be this he-man who lifts weights, takes off his shirt, and shows his muscles, but I didn’t know if the guy could fight or not, and frankly, I didn’t care. I didn’t even think about what I was doing; I just took a giant swing at him, and then a bunch of guys split us up. He didn’t even get a shot in, and he never came after me or bothered me again. Although from what I’ve heard, he spent many a spoken-word show totally trashing me, so right back at ya, Henry. You are an asshole.

He also hates R Kelly, who was using his studio at one point and tried something funky with Al’s daughter. “He totally freaked out my daughter. At the time I was living in one of the studio bedrooms with Patty and Adrienne. I heard her scream, so I grabbed a suitcase and hit R. Kelly over the head with it. I had to fight my way out of his posse with the suitcase, swinging it at anything that moved. That he’s not in jail is a travesty of justice.” They also pissed into Al’s studio piano and trashed it.

His approach to songwriting is fascinating and cosmic:

People think there’s rhyme and reason to what I do, but almost everything is plucked out of thin air. It’s almost like these passages are transmitted to me in my sleep, and when I wake up I go and get my engineer so we can translate what I just heard in my head. That’s how I write all my songs. We don’t calculate them out or anything; they just come together. It’s almost spiritual. These snippets and riffs and random chaos swirl around for a while, gradually falling into place. It’s like assembling a giant three-dimensional puzzle made out of pieces that keep changing shape. I don’t know how it happens – it seems impossible – but somehow it works.

Interestingly, this is the same approach Keith Richards describes in his book, how songs exist in the cosmos and float around there until you intersect with them. Sadly, Al never gets to meet Keith, a fellow notorious junky survivor, although he nearly did – a Texas hanger-on and friend of Stones saxophonist brought the Stones over to his house one time in Austin, but he didn’t believe that the band was downstairs playing pool, so he grumpily sent everyone away. Oops!

He also talks about the distorted vocal sound, which did not come from other industrial bands, who he didn’t listen to, but Roky Erickson and the 13th Floor Elevators – another contribution we have old Roky to thank for! I’ve read somewhere else that he probably also learned about shouting lyrics from Ian MacKaye, I believe it was in Our Band Could Be Your Life, although he doesn’t give this credit in the book.

One of the interesting things about the book is that Al, like Lemmy, mentions prominent gays in his past, in this case his college coke connection (Lemmy had a gay roommate who was murdered by homophobes). He eventually goes one step further than Lemmy did, though, by admitting to a drunken gay fling (!!!), which is interesting. We also find out how superstitious he is – onbe of the things assistants like Danny Wirtz were in charge of was making sure that all of his talismans are in order, and then he mentions how he won’t fly on the twenty-third because of an old saying, twenty-three skidoo. “If you travel on the twenty-third of any month, you’re toast. That goes back to the wagon-trail days of the Wild West: If you set out on the twenty-third to go from Missouri to Oregon in a wagon, you were sure to die.” Weird (and also not in keeping with the phrase “23 skidoo”, which means “beat it, kid; scram; get lost”, or its supposed history, but that’s okay…).

Of course, his hatred of George Bush went on to fuel three great Ministry albums, including the masterpiece Houses Of The Mole, their best album since Psalm 69. He talks about Texas becoming a police state with Bush as governor, and also the actions against David Koresh and the Branch Davidians. He was there! Wiping out his car, motorcycle crashes, spider bites, and other insanity also took place at this time. Then he was also onstage with Johnny Depp the night that River Phoenix died outside of his club The Viper Room, tussling with Depp during his solo and other misunderstandings. Insane. Weird how he mentions being infuriated by The Cult, who he called posers for wearing Speedos (“skin suits for your cock and balls”), or how he tortured Courtney Love so intensely, stealing her drugs, humiliating her sexually, and all sorts of other nastiness.

As much as she hated me, Courtney wound up sleeping with me, except I made her shave her giant beaver before I’d get in bed with her. It was mainly because she didn’t have any dope. I turned over her purse looking for needles, but there was nothing there. So I said, “Eh, okay. Let’s fuck.” I think she did it out of fear. I didn’t rape her or anything, but she was so afraid of me and Mikey that she probably figured it was better just to fuck me than to say no. And it was very unsatisfying – I think I came, but I’m not sure. After we were done I grabbed her set of clothes that were laid out by the bed and threw them out the window. Even after that episode Courtney and I shot up together a bunch of times. I may have stolen her heroin, but I was polite enough to share it with her. Some things about her were really gross. She had seventeen pictures of her kid, Frances Bean Cobain, in her wallet after Kurt died, and the kid wasn’t with her or anything. It was just a trophy for her, so she could hand out pictures. She’s so egocentric and self-centered, and that’s why Mikey and I tortured her so much. She went on the air afterward in a radio interview and said I was the most hideous and horrific person she’d ever met. I thought that was pretty cool.

Al calls her “a very conniving, clever person. But I knew that, so her crazy act didn’t throw me.” They also leaned on Evan Dando when he tried to stand up for her. Gross, right? He even gets a bit irresponsible, saying “Here is a tip for any young bands who have drugs on their bus or in their van. Leave burgers or pizza out; it distracts the guard dogs. They will go straight for the food and forget about the pot, coke, anthrax spores, or whatever else you may be hiding. Not that I advocate traveling with any of that stuff – I’m just saying.”

But there’s always other sides to Al after the debauchery and meanness. One of the auxiliary chapters is by Holger Brandes, who had been a tour manager for the band in the European leg of their 2008 C U LaTour. Despite all of the horror and debauchery that Al and Ministry are associated with on tour (and probably any other time as well), he had a lot of nice words for Al. “Al might be an unusual guy to deal with. He might look weird; he might be an alcoholic. He might polarize people, but for me he became a real friend, and his intelligence, his humor, and his warmth for the people around him deserve respect and appreciation.” So it shows that there’s still a cuddly human in there for people who are serious and who know how to spot it (and all this shows what a complicated guy Al is, warts and all). He also gets into some of the weird logistics about tour managing, this short chapter is a good read.

There are cool tidbits of information in the book, like learning that “Bad Blood” from the 1999 Dark Side Of The Spoon release was from the 1985 Land Of Rape And Honey sessions, and Hollywood anecdotes such as the description of working with Stephen Spielberg and his cast of Hollywood weirdos (composer John Williams and animatronics expert Stan Winston talk about themselves in the third person, for example) on the horrible movie AI, probably hoping it would be s good as Full Metal Jacket… It wasn’t. He also had to work with Limp Bizzkit on a remix, because they wanted Al’s “Thieves” vocal distortions. A funny tale of Al having fun with Fred Durst in the studio and taking his $10,000, despite him not getting anything out of it. Don’t like that band, and they sound horrible doing “Thieves” live…

Like all rock bios/autobios, the book becomes much less interesting in the second half, and Al himself is far less raunchy and quotable. He went through his worst drug days, he came through a survivor (obviously – Layne Staley and all the others who didn’t make it didn’t write autobiographies) and then entered a bit of a holding pattern – life turmoil, awards ceremonies, compounds in Texas, visits to the hospital, regular collaborations with his posse of usual suspects, etc. There’s also an auxiliary chapter on “How to save the planet with two dirty words: Social Democracy” that is not well thought through. He also talks about a “STEGAL” act that “put a cap on the greed of banks”, which is actually the Glass-Steagall Act of 1932, which just goes to show that he wasn’t really up on all of his facts. He also talks about how “there are 8.5 billion people in the world now”, so I wonder if he’s taking the piss, especially when he follows that up with “That’s too many fucking people.” Riiiight…

Of course, I’m also still crying out for updates, and keep a close eye on Al’s website, his facebook page, and all that other stuff. Seems like Al went into rehab again (despite his cover of the defiant Amy Winehouse song “Rehab”), this time to cure him of his last vice, alcohol. A great book, any music fan should read it…

My Big Bad Rocky And Bullwinkle Page

February 9th, 2014

When I was a kid we sometimes saw the Rocky And Bullwinkle show on TV, but not all that often. At some point, my brother was deeply immersed in it and loved it a lot, but I never really got into it.

Somehow I got interested in trying it out on my 12-year-old, and we watched it – it was so hilarious! So now I’m committed to watching the full five seasons. Sure, the episodes are moronic and can be a bit trying, with plenty of repetition, but the puns are delightfully bad, and the seasons’ bonus features are all always top notch!

I was also surprised to see the Robert DeNiro feature film a lot better than I had expected. Love it!!

TAORAB

TAORAB


The Adventures of Rocky And Bullwinkle – I’ve never heard anything positive about this film, and – by default – I thought that probably meant it was just as awful/cheezy as cartoon-to-live film adaptations nearly always are.

Happily, I was totally mistaken – it is much, much cheesier!!

The film has a great structure, a great screenplay, decent casting, fantastic self-referential- and in-jokes, and is just fun from end-to-end. And cameos!! Rocky and Bullwinkle also look and sound pretty good – the voice of Rocky (but not Natascha, obviously, since Rene Russo plays that character) is by June Foray, who did the original voice of Rocky; but new voices were found for Bullwinkle and the Narrator, whose original voice actors had passed away in 1994 and 1985 respectively. The new voice of Bullwinkle is okay, perhaps a bit higher in pitch than the original; this is unfortunate, given how important that goofy voice is to any Rocky & Bullwinkle story (and how easy it is to imitate Bullwinkle), but that’s the only negative point in an otherwise excellent adaptation. The narrator, for example, is tops, and we even get a little bonus feature when we get to see how he’s spent the last 35 years!

The opening ironic animated sequence is probably funnier than any of the original animated shows (which I love, so I don’t say something like this lightly), summing up 35 years of retirement for our two chums. The screwball plot involves evil dictators who become studio moguls so that they can turn the people of the world into zombies by subjecting them to really bad television (RBTV) through inane shows like “Three spies and a horse who is also a spy” (everyone, including the horse, wear shades – there’s a Dudley Do-Right reference here as well, given that they’re riding the horse backwards). Funny visual pun about a mole in the white house, another about the “green light” for the film project (hilarious). Minnie Mogul in a Hollywood studio shredding scripts that are “too intelligent”. Robert De Niro plays Fearless Leader, and there’s a great scene of him boogying with Boris and Natascha to “Secret Agent Man” (Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo did the soundtrack, and this is one of the songs the band covered). He also (awkwardly) parodies his own “are you talking to me?” speech from Taxi Driver. Later in the film our evil trio sings a great Pottsylvanian national anthem with some pretty funny lyrics (“land of the black and the blue”). Great Roger Rabbit reference, and a funny “you like me, you really like me” reference to Sally Field. Love Bullwinkle’s inane speech at Watsamatta U, his alma mater in DeBitter Ind. Radio Shed. Thirty cop cars peal out after Agent Sympathy. “Yeah, right – and I’m John Goodman.” He is! Don Novello playing twins that say “Mama mia, it’s Rocky & Bullwinkle!” “Celebrities are above the law!” “Gosh, another weird coincidence.” The Statue of Liberty in a scene as Supertramp’s “Dreamer” plays… and you really don’t hear a lot of Supertramp these days… The good guys get turned into vegetables, literally, and one of them even becomes a flaming carrot! Bullwinkle surfs the “information super-highway” (who uses that term any more?!?!) for some unintentional humor at last, and we look on lovingly as the TV station’s name changes from Really Bad TV to Rocky & Bullwinkle TV.

Piper Perabo plays Karen Sympathy, a goofy FBI agent, who’s the only real new character in the show other than a few anonymous cameos (Randy Quaid as her boss, for example, John Goodman as a cop, Jonathan Winter in several roles, Whoopi Goldberg as a star-struck judge, and others. Jon Shapiro has a cameo in the film as well, making that two The Big Leboswki alumni to appear n the film (alongside Goodman). Wow!

The DVD comes with a featurette that mostly sets up the plot, and brags about how it will appeal to all demographics (even teenage boys, who’ll like Piper Perabo). The film came out in 2000, but they’d been trying to make it since 1992, through series creator Jay Ward’s daughter (?) Tiffany Ward. Rene Russo and Jason Alexander talk (ironic, since Alexander disowned the film); Alexander claims he was born to play Boris and praised the silliness of the film, Russo praised Alexander, they replay the brilliant “little Boris and Natascha” scene when Natascha shows her motherly instincts… “saved by the bell.” At the end, Bill Scott demonstrates how he voiced Bullwinkle. Not bad.

The Mamas and the Papas

February 9th, 2014

TMATPATLAB

TMATPATLAB


I am a huge fan of the Stones, and I have explored the John Phillips solo album that Keith and Mick did with him, Pay Pack And Follow, and was saddened over John’s fate as described in Keith’s book. I also saw Michelle Phillips in the Altamont movie, briefly, and the Mamas and the Papas are of course all over the Monterey Pop Festival DVD. I still need to read his autobiography some day. It’s pure love.

This collection of their four albums of the 1960s (indeed, they only released one more after that, in the 1970s, a contractual obligation record given that they had already broken up). A complicated band in terms of the four personalities, three of whom are long-gone, this collection is a fantastic harkening back to that incredible era that is nearly ABBA-esque! Most of the songs are originals, but some are covers (these are not the band’s most famous songs except, arguably, “Dream A Little Dream Of Me”, which was a showpiece for Mama Cass). And all of them are short – only four of the 49 songs are over four minutes long, and most are under three (and a few are under one minute long). The songs are pretty evenly divided between those dominated by a male vocal (from Denny Doherty or John Phillips) and those dominated by a female vocalist (Cass Elliott or Michelle Phillips).

“Monday, Monday” is probably their second-most famous song, and it makes a great opener to this collection (their third single after “Go Where You Wanna Go” and “California Dreaming”, it won several Grammies and was also their only US number one – amazing, “California Dreaming” never topped the charts!!). “Straight Shooter” is cool little thing with great riffing, and irresistible melodies. Wow! “Got A Feelin’” is a slow harmonizer that’s good fun, “I Call Your Name”, the Beatles song, is something similar but a bit more upbeat and with a Broadway musical revue feel to it, maybe even a bit country and vaudeville, do-wop, while “Do You Wanna Dance” is a famous cover version of the Bobby Freeman song, slowed down and hammed up. “Go Where You Wanna Go” is one of those wonderfully Sixties-sounding trippy pop anthems, with soaring Mama Cass vocals. “California Dreaming” is, of course, the song by the Mamas And The Papas that everybody knows, set in the context of the album order finally. Following up on this, their version of “Spanish Harlem” comes off as pretty sappy, overpowered by the vocals, but with a bit of drumming, bass, orchestration… bombastic! “Somebody Groovy” is… very! Lots of sass, beat, and “yeah!!” “Hey Girl” is a vampy boogie number with mainly male vocals; the female vocals come in later, but this is mainly a song for the guys. “You Baby” is sort of a bubblegum nursery rhyme-type of song, not so fantastic. “The In Crowd” is a very cool Billy Page song, with fantastic Mama Cass vocals. Xow!!!! “No Salt On Her Tail” is yet another beautiful Sixties pop song dominated by wonderful vocal harmonies. “Trip, Stumble, And Fall” is a sassy rocker that gets in your face, man! “Dancing Bear” is the first “long” song – it is just over four minutes – starting off with haunting flute sounds, it goes off into progressive medieval rock opera folk stuff, with weird french horn sounds making it all a bit arcane, especially with the full orchestra outdo. “Words Of Love” is some sort of vaudeville song, with tinkling piano and goofy percussion. “My Heart Stood Still” is a short little Simon And Garfunkel thing, a bit of a madrigal, actually… with full drum and band later on. “Dancing In The Street” is a very cool version of the Motown classic, in full funk and with plenty of ragin’ mojo! Sadly it gets silly at the end, as Cass and Denny start chit-chatting about towns around the world, some sort of cutesy-jokey stuff that’s pretty sill. “I Saw Her Again” is a full-on pop song, with hooks and haunting melodies. A beautiful sony that has a cool “I saw her… I saw here again, last night” near the end (2:42) that was the result of a studio mistake. Apparently, Paul McCartney told the band “That has to be a mistake: nobody’s that clever.” Still, as wonderful as the song is, I do find it a bit creepy that Denny Doherty and John Phillips wrote this about Doherty’s affair with John’s wife Michelle. Yow!! “Strange Young Girls” is a somber, autumn-y song, gloomy, somewhat gothic, dark folk, that is very very nice indeed!! “I Can’t Wait” is a sassy girl-’n'-guy song that really grooves. “Even If I Could” is a big-feeling pop song. “That Kind Of Girl” is another big, sassy pop song, with some cool fuzz guitar at the end – huge sound, lots of fun. “Once Was A Time I Thought (Edit)” is a folky tune, highly focused on vocals, male and female in unison and with some harmonies, although there’s a bit of guitar in there too. Very short and very sweet! “Dedicated To The One I Love” is a tender ’50s love song that Michelle sings, which breaks out into big ABBA bombast! “My Girl” has a long vocal ba-ba-ba-ba-baaaaaa-buildup, then gets into a nice sugary-sweet version of the Motown classic. The album finishes with the classic “Creeque Alley”, a shouting folk song which tells the story of the band in the sassiest terms imaginable, and has the classic line “and no one’s getting fat except for Mama Cass.” Probably their best song!

On the second disc, “Sing For Your Supper” is a nice song, with a beautiful chorus, a not-so-great honky tonkin’ verse. There’s a weird, down-played “Twist And Shout”, with xylophone sounds. Very breathy, and filled with those weird harmonies. “Free Advice” starts off with bleating horn – a first on a Mamas And Papas song, as far as I can recall, and some nifty flute playing! Weird and dramatic and desperate to be different. “Look Through My Window” is a very soft song, gloomy and folky, with some great melodies. “Boys And Girls Together” has sweet vocals, and some cool Sixties funk and some wild mariachi band sounds to spice it up a bit more too!! “String Man” is a sweet song with those wonderful female vocals, lots of theatre dramatics too, and quite doo-wop too! Cool guitar solo here, and some french horn too! “Frustration” has some sort of weird guitar and harpsichord intro, it’s a funky and moving instrumental number that sort of zooms around and around. “Did You Ever Want To Cry” is a beautiful lament of a song, with some banjo accompaniment, a sober and stirring tune. “John’s Music Box” is exactly that – one minute of music box blinging and blogging, with some voices mixed in. “Glad To Be Unhappy” sounds a bit like a Bond theme song, bold and brassy. “The Right Some Day To Love” is a show tune sung a cappella as an intro to “Safe In My Garden”, with its guitar accompaniment and beautiful harmonizing. Zow! “Meditation Mama (Transcendental Woman Travels)” is a very cool, grooving’ country-folk tune, that creeps up with beautiful harmonizing; it’s also the first solo vocal performance by John Phillips, generally not considered a particularly strong singer. “For The Love Of Ivy” is a beautiful that is full of over-the-top vocal harmonies – they’re practically dripping all over the place (if you listen hard enough you may also notice a bit of drum in the background somewhere). Apparently, it took one month just to do the vocals on this song, as an obsessive perfectionist John Phillips was sequestered in his home eight-track studio, getting high and going just a little bit insane… “Dream a Little Dream of Me (With Introduction)” is the nice little song that helped Mama Cass launch her solo career – it’s a beautiful little piece, starting off with some vocal introductions, her warm voice, some simple acoustic guitar, then bass grooviness and the inevitable harmonizing. Fantastic! “Mansions” is one of those dramatic songs that sounds like it should have been used on Broadway or something. A nice, somber piece with great vibes, and while the vocals are harmonized throughout (no solo singing), they are not quite over-done. “Gemini Childe” is probably the coolest song that the band does – starting off with weird nursery rhyme stuff, it quickly goes into sinister hippy overdrive, with weird guitars, and off-kilter doom singing. Love it!! The instrumental bits, with musicians playing off each other, is very, very cool!! “Nothing’s Too Good For My Little Girl” is a nice little folk song, with pleasant male solo vocals, and a humming beat. “Too Late” starts off with some creepy organs, and is a sad little number with solo male vocals, that emerges into a triumphant little number! “Twelve Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming to the Canyon)” is a very cool folk song that starts off slow and builds into a killer tune that is full-on ABBA!! “Rooms” is a regular folk rocker with full melodizing, and some Beatles-esque sounds on top of it all. “Midnight Voyage” is a cool little female vocals song, zoom. “I Saw Her Again (Mono Version)” is about 20 seconds shorter than the stereo version. Silly studio chat at the end, with a drunk-sounding Michelle Phillips (or is it Cas Ellioy?)… and then, inexplicably… the song starts again! “Words Of Love (Mono Version)” is nice, so is “Creeque Alley (Mono Version)”. And that’s that!

I was amazed that Denny Doherty, the band’s resident Canadian (from Halifax, Nova Scotia, hence the reference in “Dancing In The Streets”), died in 2007 in Mississauga, the town where I grew up.

Here’s “I Saw Her Again”, a cool video from 1966. Check it at 2:42 for the “mistake” in the chorus – “I saw her… I saw her again last night” to which Paul McCartney said “That has to be a mistake: nobody’s that clever.” Yow!!