Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Renaissance Man(?)

In a complete non-sequitur, Anonymous commented on yesterday's entry with a question on my feelings about the high-prog band Renaissance.

Here's the dialogue, for those who can't be bothered to scroll down and check yesterday's comment section:

Anonymous said...
On a completely unrelated you know of the band Renaissance? What do you think? Worth getting? I heard one really great song so far.

Dave Kopperman said...
I'm not the greatest expert on Reanissance. I have a couple of records (Sheherezad and Live at Carnegie Hall) and I've enjoyed them, but baroque grand piano mixed with rock is kind of a tough sell with me. The Live disc is excellent, though.

Maybe I'll listen again and give myself a better idea of my own response...

Anonymous said...
I really like the song "I Think Of You"

At which point I decided to take this one out front and show it to the nice people.

For those who haven't heard them - or heard of them - Renaissance were a 1970's prog band that centered their sound on rolling grand piano in a baroque style and (a rarity) a female lead singer, named Annie Haslem.

Turns out I have four of their records, all on vinyl. The two I mentioned, plus "Prologue" and "Novella." I threw some on earlier, as backdrop for arriving trick-or-treaters. None of them have I Think of You on them, but I checked out a snippet over at iTunes. Nice song. I've never heard it before. Right in their pocket, stylistically. From what I've heard on their four albums, the mid-70's line-up handled smaller ballads pretty well, but they tended to get really lost and rambling whenever they tried to rock it up - Annie Haslam's voice works very well over softer accompaniment, but when she has to push it, all her sweet shading gets lost, and (to me) she ends up sounding kind of shrill.

For contrast, compare this sweet, soft ballad, Forever Changing:

with this song, from 1977:

Admittedly, she doesn't sound 'shrill' on this one - just a little out of place - but on some of the heavier stuff from the records, it's just harsher than they should go.

The stuff that's aged the worst (as with most prog bands) are the extended instrumentals, which don't seem to differentiate themselves from the songs at the arrangement level enough to justify them jamming out. For starters, there isn't a moment's worth of improvisation on an entire album's worth of their instrumentals, and while improvisation is far from a necessity for good instrumental music in rock, when the dial is turned too far the other way into 'tightly arranged riffing for days, man,' you're just left to confront a lot of very soulless puffery, sort of like Phish if Tori Amos and her piano were dropped into the mix. Secondly, the band plays exactly the same whether Haslam is singing or not, which is kind of odd - maybe it's me, but when the singer is singing, the band should give them a little room to do it, and then step out to fill the space when they're out for a few measures.

All of that having been said, I really do like their ballads, and I think I'm going to track down a couple of their earlier records.

Why earlier?

If Renaissance is anything like every other progressive rock band, their early work will have a sweetness and soul, with the band playing soulfully together for the express purpose of making a unified sound, and the recording engineer will ensure that the instruments will be warm and inviting, and the voice will sound completely a part of the band. Plus, the compositions will be shorter and more melodic, and the lyrics will be worth listening to for poetic imagery mixed with some substance. Later records will have them every member of the band competing for room and to see who can fit the greatest number of notes into the shortest amount of time, the overall sound will have sifted from grandeur to bombast, and the lyrics will have gone from charmingly cosmic to mind-numbing stupidity.

Sadly, it's a formula that every prog band repeated without fail. Only those that were able to move out of prog entirely - see Genesis - were able to avoid that fate. People may take issue with Phil Collins's remaking of the band into an overly smooth pop machine, but if they'd kept on progging, they'd have ended up sounding like Dream Theater, which is the worst fate that can befall both a band and an audience. And possibly a planet.

(Careful with that Dream Theater link - it's ear-blisteringly bad.)

(In the category of band that kept progging way after it was time to change genres, worst offenders? As in everything else bad in prog, it was Emerson, Lake and Palmer.)

Anyway, I couldn't find a version of I Think of You by the band, so I'll instead have to share with you this curiosity that I found on YouTube:

You know, I kind of like that? I mean, he's no Tay Zonday, or nothing, but, still...


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Fan Service

Click images for much larger versions.

The Rockland Center for the Arts folks are doing some auction, so they asked a few teachers to decorate skateboards. As the 'young and hip' member of the faculty (at nearly 37 and I don't even want to know how low my hipness quotient is), they wanted me to do one. So I went all 'manga' on it, which is unlike me, but it seemed appropriate. Originally, I was planning on having it be much more explicit, but I dialed it down - the manga style is useful for that, because it's sexy without being overtly sexual.

A whole hat full of names suggested themselves to me for this one: "Fan Service," "Money Shot," - but I ended up going with "Cyan/Magenta/Yellow/Black." It was actually a bit of serendipity that led to this color scheme. As usual, I waited until the last moment to do this, and when I raided our art closet at around 1 AM yesterday, I saw that almost all the acrylic was dried up, save for four student-grade tubes, in the comics-coded colors of black, yellow, blue and red. I'd originally planned to render the image in shades of all green, but once I laid down the first reds on the figure, I could see that any subtlety in the color choices would be totally against the spirit of the thing, and just went for the big contrast. All paints went right on the brush and the skateboard, straight out of the tube.

Speaking of big contrast, though, it's amusing to note that the blue and red pigments are almost identical in strength... meaning that no red/blue colorblind people are going to be bidding on this:

Anyhow, I worked for a couple of hours last night, then a couple this morning (it needed several coats), and got it to them only a day after the original deadline. Although I note that I was one of the first to do so, so I'm guessing that the deadline was 'flakey artists friendly,' if you know what I mean. Sort of like that one friend you always end up lying about the time they're supposed to meet you at the restaurant, because they always show up half and hour late, no matter what. Supposedly, the show was being hung today, but the other show hadn't yet been taken down and the handful (maybe five) of finished skateboards they had was only a fifth of what they'd been advertising.

Still: I'm done. We'll see how much this goes for. "Not much" would be my guess. Got no plans on Sunday the 11th? Come out and get your own Dave original for way cheap:

I'm hoping someone actually uses it for a real skateboard...

Thanks to Yesenia, for posing - female anatomy isn't my strong suit. Note: all of those preparatory materials have been destroyed. And thanks to Yukito Kishiro, because I also needed reference for a good manga girl face, and his Battle Angel Alita fit the bill. Quite a nicely refined series of lines for facial drawings he's developed - the open-mouthed pout of surprise is exactly what I needed. Please note that I adapted, didn't copy. Please. I'm an artiste.


Monday, October 29, 2007

A coupla reviews

I Drink Your Blood, 1971

What can I say? This film was part of Jim Doller's semi-regular "Bad Movie Night" series, and it's the worst thus far. I suspect that most would consider it "So bad it's good," but I dunno. I think I was born without the gene for liking lousy things on a camp level. Which isn't to say that I don't like campy and/or lousy things, it's just that I (sadly) "Like them" like them. So the work of John Waters is lost on me - why would someone deliberately set out to make something bad (and badly), and why should I have to watch it?

In this case, the movie fit quite snugly into Jim's sense of cinematic joy, with genuine animal deaths on screen, plenty of nudity with people you wouldn't care to see nude, not nearly enough coverage to stitch together the plot in an editing room, making for huge narrative leaps that hardly ever carry the audience across the chasm of 'giving a shit' with them.

The plot, I'll give it credit, is actually fairly ingenious in its own completely 'yeah, sure' kind of way. Briefly: a mixed-gender nomadic troupe of acidhead hippie charismatic-cult satanists turns up in a small town somewhere-or-other and proceeds to a) attack/rape a local girl when they catch her witnessing their late-night ritual (the extent of the attack is never made clear, but she's in mute shock later with big bloody gashes running down her legs, so it can;t have been good). Her younger brother and the local baker (female) find her, and bring her home. After a brief red herring for the baker, who thinks it's the workers at the local dam that have done it, the hippies come to town, pretending to be all peace'n'love and shit. They go to squat at the local abandoned hotel, have a rat hunt/bbq. The boy comes by, figures out what 's what. His grandpa later goes to give 'em a what for, but they...

...ugh, I'm boring myself with this. Long, pointless set-up short, the kid gives the hippies rabies meat pies, they all start to freak out and attack the townspeople, the skanky one sleeps with all the dam workers (the ones that weren't killed by the satanist leader, that is), and then people lose limbs and other extremities as the army of rabid dam workers and hippes chases them all over town with sharp objects.

Really, if you like this kind of thing, I'm sure it's a masterpiece of the form. For me, now that both tits and violence are better done in your average episode of network television, why bother?

And speaking of lousy/campy things I kind of liked....

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, 2007

There's no way I can defend either of the FF movies as 'good,' really, but I found I enjoyed this one about as well as the first, and still place it above Superman Returns, Daredevil, and some other superhero film franchises that are supposed to have generated better films. The FF films are half miscast - I don't like Ioan Gruffud (even though I can't place my finger on exactly why), and Jessica Alba is woefully wrong, though she tries hard.

I know that if I let myself, I could really be atomically angered by all of the departures from the Lee & Kirby stories that these follow, but why bother? When something is this far off, you kind of have to ignore it entirely or just go with the flow if you do choose to subject yourself to it. I will point out that the departure from the original storyline is a real mystery, because it's completely filmable as-is, but anyhow.

This film won't make you ill if you happen upon it, but it's (obviously) not worth seeking out. I probably liked it more than it sounds, because I was entertained, and I do think that there's something of the spirit of the Lee/Kirby comics in these films - if only in the way the characters interact. And even though they committed the bizarre act of changing Galactus from a giant dude in purple armor to a cloud of spores,* I liked the sequences involving the cloud, so sue me.

*I understand it's one of those studio-head things, a certain guy who has a problem with a big dude in purple armor. Apparently this guy has no interest in making any real money, because a Galactus toy if popularized in the movie would be huge. I don't think any kid (or overgrown kid) is going to be asking for a cloud of spores for Christmas this year. And if they are, I'd be worried about them.

Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem, 2005

Some weird feature-length anime by (I guess) a big, famous anime director who is not Miyazaki or Ottomo, written by a French electronic-pop band (Daft Punk, to be exact). Not a line of dialogue in the whole film... instead, the entirety of a Daft Punk album. And you know? I liked this film quite a bit. There's no denying that a little Daft Punk goes a long, long way - frankly, if you stripped their music of all the studio whizzery, it's beyond unhip and cutesy sub-Afternoon-Delight level pop with natteringly repeated phrases in lieu of real lyrics - but it's a case of music and visuals working so well together that both are immeasurably improved.

The story: a top-10 alien pop group is kidnapped by some elite agents from Earth, then brain-wiped and forced to produce their music for Earth audiences. Their kidnapper/manager plans to use their music to build a Mystical Universe Take-Over Machine, powered (no shit) by gold records going all the way back to Mozart. Who knew they had gold records in the 1800's?

I note with some amusement that despite the fact that the film has (as note) not a line of dialogue and the storyline is even more complex than I Drink Your Blood,, Interstella 5555 never has a moment where you don't know what's going on.

Visually imaginative, fast moving and slyly self-aware without being cloyingly so, I'd give this one a 5555 on a scale of 10101010.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

No More Movie Puns

Raiders of the Lost Art, Part VI

No pictures to show. Nothing to illustrate this particularly lame chapter in my life.

I don't want to get too specific with this, because I maintain a policy of not vilifying others on the Rambler, since it's a (theoretically) public forum and since I also just think it's bad manners. Ply me with some alcohol in private and I'll name names and date dates, and I'll probably even offer sexual favors. I'm that easy. But I hold the Rambler to a higher standard than I do myself, if that makes any sense.

So: the very short, completely non-libellous version of events.

As noted, the Atari 520 ST had nothing in the way of an internal hard drive. All software was loaded from the external 3 1/2" drive, and all files were written to and from the same drive. Meaning that any time you saved a file while working in a program like NeoChrome, there was a complicated swapping of discs. So my entire portfolio of NeoChrome art - again, representing a new peak in color and graphic clarity in my illustration work - was all on a single floppy disk.

I'm not sure if I even knew how to copy a disk on the ST. The OS was just so uninviting that I barely spent any time in it, preferring to get to the applications as soon as I booted up. Meaning that not only was all my art on one disk, there was only one master of that disc, and no copies.

I'd like to think that the lack of a duplicate disk was because I didn't know how to do it, rather than just couldn't be bothered to do so. I know that means that I'd rather have been stupid than lazy, but under the circumstances, I think you'll see why.

After having gotten together several pieces, I think my art teacher in high school asked if he could see them, or if I'd like to enter any into a competition, or something. The point was, I needed to find a way to show these files to people who didn't have an Atari ST, and who weren't likely to come to my house so I could show them here. The days of JPEGs, and even common email were a few years in the future. It was still several years before the invention of Mosaic, which was the first program for viewing visual content on the web. Not that I knew anything about the web or even thought of it as a possibility.

What was needed was a color printer - and even those were pretty rare in those days.

Luckily (ha!), another student in the class also had an Atari (not the same kid I first saw with one), and since he came form a family with a lot of money, he apparently had a really nice printer for it, and he offered, out of the goodness of his heart, to print them out for me.

"Wow," I gushed, "Gee golly whillikers! I'm so trusting and naive that I believe that you, a mere acquaintance who I would have thought held me in low regard, will do this fantastic thing for me. Here's my only copy of these files, on the only disk that I have with them on it! Enjoy! I can't wait to see these!"

The prints never materialized.

The disk was never returned.

I never saw those images again.

I found out later - and this could be only hearsay, but I can easily believe it - that the acquaintance in question later used my images and signed his name to them in some art competition.

I can only hope he won. At least there would be some satisfaction in that.

I can honestly say that the CGI wind went out of my sails following that, taking all of my interest in the ST and the Apple IIc and all other computers with it. I started to become fascinated with my friend Pete's complete collection of Berol Prismacolor Markers, and dove headfirst into comics for the remainder of my time in HIgh School, and what little art time I took away from that was spent preparing the types of pieces that would look good in my portfolio. No computer images were among them.

In fact, I didn't do an image on a computer again until my senior year of college, a good five years later. Sure, I spent time in the RISD computer lab - all Macs - dicking around with the MIDI setup and to write what few papers I had, but their potential for art (since these were all black and white, mind you) seemed pretty limited, and I had a lot of negativity built up about it. Meanwhile, two of my classmates pretty much created their own curriculum in CGI, and one went to ILM and the other went to Pixar.

For want of a nail, right? I hope this doesn't make it sound like the loss of that disk completely altered my career trajectory, nor that I would be hobnobbing with Brad Bird over a Silicon Graphics workstation in Emeryville, CA now had things gone differently - I'm a notorious giver-upper, and had I not lost the disc, the sheer difficulty of learning 3D modeling would have made me turn tail.

I should also point out that Pixar wasn't looking for trained computer animators... not a whole lot of them running graduating from college in 1992. They had their eyes out for portfolios that showed a certain level of ability in traditional drawing media. That's why their films are so good - the CGI is the last thing that happens, and all of the color work and design and everything else is done by hand first. A tour of their preparatory color sketches is more than favorably compared to Disney artist's preps for their own classic films.

And I can't even hide behind the fact that I didn't know who Pixar or John Lassiter was. Even though I stopped dabbling in it myself, I kept myself appraised of the startling growth in the industry, and had seen Andre and Wally B., and knew what it meant to the art form. The local arthouse also played several traveling animation festivals, which I always made a point to see, so I'd probably seen whatever other shorts they'd done by that point.

More than anything, this anecdote is an illustration of how my passive, timid and trusting nature left me unable to cope with a situation that anyone else with normal levels of esteem could have managed. In other words: no, it never occurred to me that I could just go to his house and harangue him for the disk. Politely asking him at school and getting weird excuses ("It's at my Dad's office!") was the best I could muster.

So, rather than saying that the loss of the disk lost me a career as a Pixar animator, what I'm really saying is that the loss of the disk caused me to confront what a lame pussy I really was, and that's why I'm the confrontational, demanding, opinionated jerk that I am today.

Well, that and being ignored by girls until my balls were ready to explode.

Of course, I lost my second portfolio under entirely different circumstances. But I think that close observers of the Rambler will note certain thematic parallels.


Dr. Sleepenstein

Two late nights out in a row. Last night I totally forgot to blog - gotta watch that! Tonight won't be any better, and this is pretty much another place holder for tomorrow.

Plenty to write about for the coming week: a couple of movie reviews, a rant about Paul McCartney's much maligned foray into children's music, and other things. I'll finish off the story of my first portfolio loss tomorrow and then take a break from that for a few days. I find it much harder to write a directed narrative than to just sit down and spew for a few paragraphs on a random subject.

Perhaps that's why we call this the Subway Rambler, not the "Subway Storyteller."

Since the second story of art loss takes place at the end of my sophomore year at RISD, I suspect that I'm going to lead up to it with a lot of reflection on my time at that august institution. Hopelessly square suburban cartoonist can't make time with cute art chicks - that kind of thing. FIlm at 11.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Atari's Big Day

Raiders of the Lost Art, Part V

So, the Amiga was right out. But released right around that same time, and costing far less, was an Atari computer - the 520ST - that shared the same Motorola processor as the Amiga (and the Mac as well). It originally sold for under $800, and that included an external 3.5" floppy drive and a mouse. 512 colors, 512k, 600x400 resolution. Well, it wasn't the Amiga, but it was a lot cheaper right off the bat and must have been a few hundred less by the time I got mine in '86.

(Warning: dreary and vaguely creepy hardware and OS review, but it gives you the basic feel. No need to watch the whole thing. I didn't.)

[Edited to add 3/28/08: That video is taken from the YouTube page of one Dean Pook(?) who has done a great service by preserving that on line for historical purposes. I thank him and mean no discredit by the above 'dreary' comment - the tone of this blog is generally snarky, and sometimes my stampede for humor can overwhelm my good taste and decency.]

I note with some interest that Microsoft proposed Windows as the operating system for the ST, only to be refused because (Vista fans take note) the Windows development time would have pushed back the ST release by almost two years. Imagine the weird parallel Earth where the biggest video game company morphed into the giant PC monopoly. Instead, we have the giant software monolith that tried to take over the video game market.

I'm not sure exactly when I first became aware of the ST. I guess Atari had been making home computers since the late 70's, but somehow never managed to make a dent in the market. It's only by chance that an acquaintance had the 1040ST, which came with about twice of everything that the 520ST offered. And I liked what I saw. Again, here was someone that used it primarily for gaming, and the game that everyone loved among our group of friends was a really soothing golf sim called Leaderboard.

The graphics may not looks like much, but I recall the animation being really something, and the whole thing had a solidity and smoothness that was very pleasing to the eye. Fun fuckin' game, too, I might add. I don't think that's running at the full 512 colors - with these computers of the Second Wave, memory was at such a premium that you could only either have all your colors for still images, or a few of them in motion. Interesting trade-off.

The big art program for the ST computers was something called Neochrome, and that did use all 512 colors, and it was cheap, and you could get very impressive results. Rather than drag in any of the online screen caps floating around, I direct you to this page, which is a top-to-bottom rundown of this pretty remarkable program.

The interface may not look that impressive, and the black background now looks a little odd - kind of like working on digital black velvet, or something - but me and Neochrome got on like gangbusters. For a brief period - I'm going to guess it was during my Junior year of high school in 1986 - I worked up a really stellar collection of images. I preferred to work in solid color blends rather than the as-yet primitive gradient tool that drawing programs at that time offered. With 512 colors, I could get very subtle changes, but since they were clearly different colors rather than pixelated blends, the work had a really strong and sharp graphic design quality to it, like a vibrant Soviet poster.

I only wish I still had these images to show you. It was my first early work that showed that I had some design and color flair, which had never shown up in my mostly black and white cartooning and architectural sketches at that point.

I wish I could, but I can't. Oh, I still have the computer. It's lurking in a closet or under a bed, somewhere. And I guess it might still run. And even if that one didn't, I'm sure I could find one online for very little money. And I'll bet I even still have the Neochrome disk. It's just the art itself that's gone missing.

Well, not missing. It's actually gone stolen, and with my express consent.

Next: Goth Kid Plagiarism


P.S.: As if to underscore the ST's low profile, there seem to be no commercials for it online. But an earlier Atari computer had an unexpected pitchman, and one that seemed to perfectly complete the trifecta with Shatner and Cosby.


Raiders of the Lost Art, Part IV
Update: Marina's portfolio, which looked like it might have been found, has now been unfound, presumably in a permanent way. So she's on the scramble to get something together for her early admission review to F.I.T. Everybody who reads the Rambler is now charged to vibe positive vibes in her general direction.

Well, the Apple IIc was a great computer for its time, no doubt about it. But graphics capabilities in home computing were growing by leaps and bounds, and within a very short span, the IIc's meager 16 color capacity and 140 x 192 resolution clearly wasn't going to cut it. As with any tool, I'd learned a few tricks to get around the limitations - hey, when you use the spray paint tool with grey over a solid green backdrop in Dazzle Draw, some glitch makes it look like a field of yellow daisies! - but limitations are only energizing as long as you're unaware of any other options.

(When I get the gallery section on the main site set up, I'll make a point to dig out some of my old Apple artwork and post it in a Juvenilia Gallery there. It would make sense to use it to illustrate this reminiscence, but it's all buried in a file cabinet in the basement, and really am not in the mood to dig it out now. When I actually get around to sorting that stuff 0 presumably as part of the general basement clean-up, I'll make a pile of stuff to scan. The more embarrassing, the better.)

But the Second Wave of Home Computing rolled right along. In an issue of Electronic Games, I came across a short blurb about the forthcoming Commodore Amiga, and the screen cap that accompanied the article broke my brain a little.

(Note: That's not the original image, but it has something of the flavor of it. The original image, what I remember of it, was some kind of funky gaslight city street, with a ghost walking through it.)

Compare that to this game from other platforms at the time:

Sure, maybe this comparison is a little skewed, but you get the idea of how it felt. The world grew dark before my eyes and I fell instantly out of love with the IIc. Amiga! 4096 colors! 640 x 512 resolution! This was the computer that really kick-started the use of computers in video use, and even ten years after its demise, you can still save files in Amiga format in Photoshop. I don't think anyone would argue seriously the point that Amiga set the pace for graphics in home computing, and much of what followed sprung from a need to compete with that very high standard.

It had a very high price to go along with that standrad - the Amiga 1000 base configuration went for $1,295 in 1985, and that was way more money than I had on my own, and much, much more than I could argue my dad out of. In fact, I don't recall even trying, since I'd had the IIc for less than a year, and that had been a pretty major expense. So I probably just hung my shoulders in resignation to my 16-color handicapper of an artbot.

It must be noted that at that point, no-one at the consumer level really knew anything about how fast computers were improving, or would continue to improve, and drop in price, and all that. Now, it seems like common knowledge that the computer you buy today will be made obsolete by the next model three months later, with double the processing power and all that. But back in 1985 - and bear in mind that we're talking about a time of rapid flux in the industry, the days before WIndows, when Mac itself was only a year old and not exactly a graphic powerhouse (still only black and white at this point!) - many, many companies had a valid claim to being able to be the market leader.

Commodore had been a big deal with the Vic20 and the C-64, so it was a major scary moment to see the Amiga in action and then look over at my IIc with the sinking feeling that I'd backed the wrong industry horse. Fuck, even the commercials were better, and given Apple's marketing strength (really, always their best department), that's saying something:


Next: NOW I'll get to the Atari part.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Intermission - Now with Pictures!

One more day until the next entry in the tale of my lost portfoilos. Today was a long day of actual work, which comprised of editing copy for the website of an investment firm - and since high finance writing and organization of information aren't exactly concepts that spring to mind when people hear my name, I'd like to say that it actually went surprisingly quickly. That it did is mostly because I printed it all out and then sat at the kitchen table and listened to vintage Yes, a live BBC album (is there anyone who doesn't have a BBC session disc in the can?) and got all China Marker on it.

The other part of the day was a morning meeting, and then getting together three samples for the second KPMG comic, since the next issue of the college recruitment magazine is on deck. This one is focusing on their foreign internships, so it was easy enough to spew out a few variations on the theme. Since one complaint about the last strip was that it was visually static - well, yes, but it was designed to be - I designed all these to have more visual possibilities in their final rendering.

You'll note that this time around, I didn't do as much detailed drawing for the first draft, since I find that I work better at getting the initial idea out if I don't slow myself down too much with all the titles on the book spines and the brickface and all that. The third strip (the 'translation" one) was mostly thrown together in Photoshop from sketches, as the computer lettering probably gives away. Anyway, the strips, with commentary:

This image appeared in my head before I even left the meeting to discuss the upcoming issue, and it seemed that meant that it's either a strong idea or I'm too lazy to come up with another. SInce I was thinking along the lines of making it more visually interesting, I decided to push it further and make it a more fantastical visual and a splash page, for extra punch. Also, the Art Director wanted me to do the final in my heavy-ass Gerhard-meets-David-Macauley-in-Gustav-Doré's-Buttcrack over the top pen and ink style, so I wanted an image that I could render the shit out of. A lot of rendering in one big panel looks nice, visually, whereas a lot of rendering in a bunch of small panels is a guaranteed way to make a fucking unreadable train-wreck of a comic.

In case you can't tell, the dialogue was an afterthought. In fact, his first response was "Where's sunny and has a good exchange rate?", but that sparked a better verbal exchange on the subject that I spun out into it's own cartoon. I know the line about 'spicy food' is way too soft, but I doubt they'd run it if I had him wondering about the availability of cheap hookers, instead.

And there's the expanded version of the 'exchange rate' idea. Nothing much to add, except to say that to address the concerns about the lack of dynamism in the strip from the last issue, I decided to make this a 'walking and talking' page, with an old style college campus a the setting. If they choose this strip, I'll base the campus on Brown, which I can probably draw in my sleep.

The walking in front of buildings visual was adapted from the other visual idea I had at the meeting, some vague thing about having the two walking in front of a hyper-stylized city block that was going to have landmark buildings in the architectural styles of all the international cities in the internship program, but a) I couldn't think of any joke to go along with it aside from some half-assed Las Vegas line, and b) the final drawing would have been an awful lot of work, and I could see getting bogged down with it halfway through at three A.M. on the night before the deadline.

This is based on a true story from Karl and our mutual friend Christian. Christian has a Zen Yen, a thing for Eastern cultures, and he tried his hand at writing out some traditional haiku in Kanji, a Chinese-derived Japanese pictogram alphabet. Karl's friend Keiko vetted Christian's version, and the punchline of this comic is word-for-word what Christian apparently wrote.

As I was casting about for the third comic idea, Yesenia's new NYU online course to get her Spanish/English translator's certification came to mind. But Spanish seemed a little blah for the strip, but then I remembered this anecdote, and a beautiful synergy occurred to me: the Art Director is, in fact, native-born Japanese, and will, in fact, be vacationing at home in Tokyo next month, which he mentioned at the meeting in our discussion on deadlines.

It's so rare that the opportunity to steal someone else's funny anecdote and be a total kiss-ass at the same time occurs that it was too good to pass up. Although if Aki (the A.D.) does go for this one, I think I'm going to have to put in a panel at the beginning to make it clear that the character is trying to write Kanji, and she's translating what he wrote on the spot.

Of course, the female character is based on Yesenia, but she can be Japanese for one strop. Why not? It's the magic of lazy cartooning!


Monday, October 22, 2007


Let's all go to the lobby/Let's all go to the lobby/Let's all go to the lobby/to buy ourselves a snack!


Sunday, October 21, 2007

Dave Kopperman and the Last Crusade

Raiders of the Lost Art, Part III

Like most kids of my generation and temperament, I was enslaved by my first viewing of Star Wars. But only that rarified strata reserves the same love and level of devotion to Tron, Disney's 1982 opening shot in the CGI revolution in visual effects.

Of course, since Tron came out about a decade before the revolution actually began, it bombed in theaters and is generally reviled as sort of an ultimate geek movie. Since I am an ultimate geek, Tron made me its bitch of my first viewing and has never quite let go of my imagination. If I pick apart any Sci-Fi story idea I have, on some level, Tron is lurking in the background. I wrote to Disney and got a press pack for the film. I bought all the video games, I painted a track suit, bicycle helmet and frisbee with phosphorescent green circuitry for Hallowe'en, 1982. I sought out showings on the Disney Channel at my mother's boyfriend's house. I had it bad

And on a visual level, I was totally blown away by and obsessed with the new art form that director Steven Lisberger showed me. I started trolling magazines for articles about the Cray Supercomputer. Expanding my search, I noted the companies that created the imagery in the film and sought out commercials that they'd also produced - Robert Abel, Triple I, MAGI. I wrote them all and got info on their operations. Whatever meager materials available on CGI, I had to have. Calendars. Fanzines.

Want to know how bad this obsession got me? I SAW THE LAST STARFIGHTER TWICE IN THEATERS LESS THAN A DAY APART.

So, when I looked at a computer to call my own, my first thought was, "I want a computer I can make 'Tron' on." Obviously, I wasn't paying close enough attention to those articles about processing power that I'd read, but, anyway. Sure, my Vectrex could give me a little lift with the light pen and the Art Master and AnimAction carts:

...but even knowing that Abel and Associates had done their work on a vector based machine wasn't enough to keep me satisfied with it's limitations for long.

Having secured an Apple IIc as my first computer (well, the first computer that was mine), I started to play around with the most advanced drawing and animation programs available. These would be Dazzle Draw and Fantavision, respectively.

But even these weren't slick enough for me. Too pixelated. Only 256 colors. I needed something smooth. Rounded. Blending. Gradients. Something, frankly, beyond what the Apple II could do. And the Second Wave of Home Computing was about to deliver.

Next: Yes, Atari Made a Home Computer. And it Rocked.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Dave Kopperman and the Temple of Doom

Raiders of the Lost Art, Part II
(Bear with me - a lot of preamble is necessary to establish just why and how I irretrievably lost my first portfolio. This is very much the streamlined version of Dave Kopperman's computer salad days, just what's pertinent to the subject at hand.)

There were three waves of home computing, as I see it. We are in the third one, now - the age of complete saturation, where computers have fit into homes and society in such a way that it seems like we're living in a science-fiction novel from the 1950s. The first wave was back in the dawn times, and the relics from those days are the TRS-80, the Vic-20, the Timex Sinclair, etc. This was the point when people were buying computers just as expensive curios. Save for the dedicated few who knew how to do the things that only computers could do, and cared to do them (see: ASCII art), the shared feature of these computers were their staggering impracticality. They were useless, in real world terms.

Point of illustration: A friend, Dave, had a Vic-20, and all I can recall it doing was run a program called Biorhythms, where it asked you for some very limited parameters, and then it plotted out your ginchyness, or lack thereof, for the coming month. In other words, it was a random number generator attached to a monitor, or a TV, since in the waning days of the First Wave, true VDT's were sad things that could only show one color, and couldn't handle anything else. As if to drive home the lameness of the whole thing, the TV that this was hooked up to had been zapped at some point, and there was a permanent purple haze in the upper left-hand corner of the screen.

Still: The Shat Shilled, as you can see:

Still, lame as it was, the Vic-20 actually straddled the First and Second Waves. The color graphics were more advanced, it was priced to be affordable, and really aimed at a family market. In a way, the Vic-20 and other early lame ducks primed my generation for the wave to come. When I shot cartridges into our family's TI 99-4a, to play - oh, I don't know, Tombstone City? - I could see the potential for coolness there, but really I wanted it to be much, much cooler. Certainly, cooler than this:

At some point, I'll go into a long reverie about the family 99-4a, but that's still First Wave, and, my first episode of portfolio loss (see yesterday's entry) takes place during, and as a direct result of, The Second Wave.

The Second Wave of computing, which is where we now focus our attention, came in pretty much with the Apple II and the IBM-PC (please note: these periods do overlap). This is a brief period we're talking about - maybe less than five years - but it completely set the path for society that we're still on today. This is a flashpoint, Only those of you who are of a particular age will remember the particular anguish that came with trying to choose a computer platform to commit to in the pre-Macintosh days. I don't use the Macintosh because of some pro-Apple mentality (although I am a Mac user), but, looking back from this point, it's pretty clear that it serves as the line of demarkation for home computing.

Of course, during the height of the Second Wave, there were many possible futures for home computing. Bear in mind that the Mac was a high priced business machine at first (setting the stage for its eternal air of the boutique machine for elitists), and an entire chapter of the Second Wave played out after its introduction, with computers that had superior graphics to the Mac (even the Apple II line stripped ahead, with superior graphics and sound for its own GS), credible adaptations of arcade games (which the Mac lacked), color (the Mac was B&W). And price. And while most of my computer-nerd friends were into their machines for the best gameplay and sprites - leaving many to gravitate to the Commodore 64 - when it came time for me to get really, really serious about begging my Dad to let me get my own computer, I whined endlessly about how getting an Apple IIc was going to elevate me into being a perfect student who always kept his room clean.

At this point, I can't quite recall what my main reasoning was for going to the IIc. I can say that I liked the Apple's we had in the art department at school, and I had friends who were Apple hackers and early BBS geeks and had shoe boxes full of pirated games and other programs on 5 1/4" floppies, guaranteeing a complete free library of software, and I can say any number of other reasons, but the real reason is that I was a sucker for Apple's marketing and industrial design genius. That computer felt like sex to me, from afar. Hey, sex was several years in the future for me, so what did I know?

I was so focused on getting that machine that when I picked up the brochure for it, and noted that it had a full-size reproduction of the entire computer keyboard & CPU in it to show just how small and portable it was, I folded it out and pretended that it was a real computer and I could really use it. Yes, the 'sex' comparison wasn't strictly a metaphor, because at this point, most of the sex I was exposed to also came in centerfold form.

Next: In which Tron has its way with me.

P.S.: This does raise a question - who do you trust more to sell you a computer? Shatner or Cosby?

Raiders of the Lost Art

Bubba & Fi's daughter Marina, through really teeth-clenching circumstance, lost her portfolio. That is to say, she lent it to a teacher, who promptly lent it to another student, and there the trail grows cold. The student claims to have given it back to the teacher, and the teacher has no recollection of this. It's even possible that a school janitor gave it the toss.

What makes the scenario extra frustrating is that since Marina decided to go for early admission at F.I.T. (the contradictorily named "Fashion Institute of Technology," which always sounded a bit to me like "The Madrasa for the Study of Comparative Religion," or something equally odd - but I digress), which means that, if the portfolio does turn out to be irretrievably lost, she has roughly two weeks to do enough work to fill a new one to meet the deadline. Whoo!

Thing is, I'd almost consider it a blessing - the idea of being relieved of the burden of a back catalog of work can be very stimulating for an artist. And I am confident that she can make an even better portfolio than the one she lost, seeing as how far a young artist's skill can advance in just a short time. I know that she'll come out of a very trying two weeks with some very stellar work.

Beyond just sounding delusional, how do I know this? Because it happened to me. Twice. Ah, but these are stories for tomorrow, since it's 1:30, I'm half-asleep, and Bubba and Fi just left fifteen minutes ago, abandoning a seemingly endless game of Trivial Pursuit.

How do I know it's late? Because when I went to type out 'stories for tomorrow,' I spelled the last word 'tomwworoww.' So: yes. Night-night. For my tales of portfolio loss and life-lessons learned, please twoon iwn tomwwowwroww.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

It's the eyes, man...

Okay. Now, putting aside for the moment the sheer horror of the idea of tooling around South America on a theme cruise with Hugh Hewitt as the guest of note - and really, isn't everyone's idea of a good time getting on a cruise ship with a Christian Conservative and filling the humid sub-equatorial nights with the sound of laughter, popping champagne corks and discussions about States' Rights? - but I stumbled across this image and had to remark on what a wholly miscalculated ad it is.

And it's all thanks to the very, very (I can only hope unintentionally) creepy smile that Hugh apparently has had surgically attached. I understand photo shoots - how you have to keep smiling and smiling and it's about as real as a three-peso bill - but surely there was another shot from the session where Hugh didn't look quite so pained. He looks like he's anticipating the advertised voyage to rank somewhere below having a polyp removed from the lower intestine on the scale of "Good Times."

Not for him - for you. He's going to sit back and enjoy your suffering on the Voyage of the Damned, 2008.

A good part of the lack of real joy I'm sensing is the parted teeth smile, which just ain't natural lookin'. That, and the serious disconnect going on between what that overly exaggerated Joker-like grinning rictus is conveying and the complete dearth of any happiness from his eyes. Look very closely at those eyes. Those are not the eyes of a man who's thrilled to be getting on a ship with you. Those are the eyes of a man who has seen terrible, terrible things, scenes of such empty horror and soul-searing despair that they now swim before him, unbidden, at all hours of the day and night. Those eyes suggest that Hugh will be giving a lot of his talks during the cruise from a barstool on the Fiesta Deck.

Frankly, those eyes combined with the "I'm-so-fucking-happy-I-could-shit!" Fright Night grin he's sporting make it look like he's gone totally around the Event Horizon.

I have to admit, the idea of taking a cruise with a political radio host who might have actually gone insane (rather than just kind of playing at it like they usually do) seems like a whole helluva lot more fun than I'm sure the reality will be.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Personal Worst

Seal the record books! I have just written the world's longest email. My student Kalliope sent me an outline for a science-fitcion story she's working on - either for a comic, or, (more likely given its scope) a novella. It arrived last week, right in the middle of my putting all my free time towards friend & houseguest Putnam's web site. So I told Kalliope that I'd get her some feedback the next day.

Then some work stuff took over, as the small school bus manufacturer we represent told us that they were changing both their name and complete graphic identity with only 24-hours to get a page reflecting this new name/look to a 2008 Calendar they'd reserved space in. And that ate up some serious time and all of my good nature. So I told Kalliope that it would be a couple more days. She said, "sure, no problem."

The weekend was my alone time with Yesenia, and you've already read how our planned anniversary trip to Rhode Island became a day shopping around Rockland and doing home repair.

Tuesday: many work things to do, including all-new product sheets for the bus client - due at the printer this Friday, so that's almost a leisurely deadline - plus an ad for a Toyota dealer, and four new radio scripts. I told Kalliope: I'm sorry. She said, "Okay."

Today: 11 AM meeting that took me out of the house until 2 PM. Got home and found out that the Toyota dealer wanted a completely different ad with a new direction. Revising and/or redoing work I've thought of as 'done' is extremely difficult for me - childish, I know - so it's kind of ludicrous that I ended up in advertising. If ever there were a field defined by endless, often pointless, and sometimes non-sensical revisions, it would be advertising. So, I struggled with the revision, sent it back to the client, and saw that I had an email from Kalliope, which again assured me it was okay, and she could wait.

At that point, the guilt kicked in and I put everything else aside and wrote her my response to her outline for a story about a universal intelligence and how mankind starts gumming up the works. My response and suggestions reads like Phillip K. Dick after have been sleep deprived and forced to re-read his entire oeuvre using the Evelyn Wood method, then view all of the films that have been based on his work, including Total Recall and Paycheck, and then made to write a critical compare/contrast review for High Times while simultaneously whistling Bach's Krist Lag in Todesbanden in four-part harmony and parallel parking a semi.

Seriously. Maybe I'll excerpt a few parts for you if the Rambler gets a bit thin in the next couple of days, as I expect it will. I don't think you'll thank me. Perhaps you'll send flowers.

Lord knows what poor Kalliope will think about it.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Tally? Me bananas!

Okay. It is now 11:15 PM. I have finished the first draft of one of those ads that I always drag my ass on, and I now have four radio spots to write before 10 AM tomorrow morning. And sometime tomorrow I may have a big pile of revisions to work through on a series of product sheets for our school bus client, which need to be printed by the middle of next week - meaning that they need to be at the printer by the end of this one.

We're open for business as usual tomorrow, but consider that last call for this entry. You don't have to read some other blog, but you can't stay here!


Monday, October 15, 2007


My Great Aunt Evelyn - always known to me as "Auntie Evvie," and to pretty much everyone else as "Gramma," - turns 94 this month. Today, the 16th, to be exact. And rather than trot out all the amazing and terrible things that have happened in the world since her birth, as a way at commenting on her startling longevity, I think I'll just take this moment to say: damn, that woman can cook. Or could cook, that is. I mean, I'm sure she still has the skills to do it - you don't bake an apple pie a week of 75 years straight and just forget how! It's just that, well, she's 94, and she's probably damn bored with all that baking.

And, oy. She's effectively ruined Thanksgiving for me for the rest of my life. No-one else can come close to that patented, cover of Yankee Magazine picture-perfect Traditional New England Thanksgiving Dinner that she trotted out, seemingly with as much effort as the rest of us would expend in making buttered toast. I mean, I feel badly for myself that she's passed on the workload to her children and I won't get to eat that primal meal anymore. But I feel much, much sorrier for the rest of you who will never know just how fucking great a Thanksgiving Dinner can be. Oh, you think you know, but you don't. Bear in mind that I was born on Thanksgiving, so I have a proprietary interest in the holiday, and I say: Evelyn. Tessier. Was. The. Best. Ever.

Yesenia and I had originally planned to attend the party at Wright's Farm in Rhode Island for Evelyn this past weekend, and then bum around the state for our anniversary, but stuff around the house left us feeling cranky and untravelworthy. But here's a photo (courtesy Judy Tessier), for that kind-of, sort-of, you-are-there vibe - the birthday girl, flanked by grandson Danny, grandson-in-law Rashid, and cake.

Note the little wine accident next to the cake. I'm guessing it was a rowdy old time at Wright's Farm. Sorry I missed it...


Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Seven-Year Hitch

October, 1997: Needing a date for a wedding, I ask a new girl at the Barnes & Noble in Nanuet, NY - where I've been working in the stockroom since 1994 - if she'd be interested in attending with me. Seems a rash act, I'm not much of a dater and she and I had barely had a passing conversation before this. Surprisingly, she agrees. A week or so later, another co-worker suggests that maybe it would be the polite thing to do to take this girl out on a lunch date ahead of time to thank her.

10/15/00: At Nino's on Lake Tiogue in Coventry, RI, Yesenia and I exchange vows.

Today: We finished painting and cleaning up the dining room in the house we've lived in for five years.

It must be love. That habitual condition.


The Path to the Dark Side (A Collectors' Correspondence)

So, a student from my comic class asked me, "What do you think is the best and cheapest source to buy old Marvel comics from?"

Which sparked in me a huge Proustian Rush, responding:

"Boy. Tough question. Long answer. Problem is, I've never been a back issue guy. The only time I ever indulged in getting a complete series was with the Marvel "Star Wars" comic, and only then due to a confluence of factors:

1) Issue #48 was the comic that started me as a bona fide comic COLLECTOR (for better and worse), and so it held a real iconic power for me to 'complete' it,

2) This was waaaaay back before the days of trade paperbacks, and Marvel's "Star Wars" was highly serialized, with plot arcs running up to six issues and subplots running far longer - both of which were pretty unique at the time. As a genuine fan of longer form comics, I just liked them as comics. The fact that it filled my major Star Wars fix was also a plus.

3) I had several friends - Jim Doller primary among them - for whom comics were about the acquisition and hoarding of them as objects. Jim to this day carries around with him a list of 'needs' that he brings to conventions and stores. It was under their influence (I'm highly impressionable) that I thought somehow owning all the issues of the comic would fulfill me. It was only after I completed the run and spent a lot of money that I realized that that's not how I enjoyed comics. So I guess a valuable lesson was learned.

4) All that aside, the Marvel "Star Wars" had a really stellar roster of artists and writers - and what was interesting was that many of them were much older pros for whom SW meant nothing more than a regular monthly paycheck. Curiously, this made the comics much, much better than the efforts of younger artists and writers who toil away on Dark Horse's dreary and joyless SW comics. The Marvel SW was more like a fun, rollicking 1940's pulp style adventure strip, which even though had little to do with the films, had so much in common with the materials that inspired them that they captured the feel of the films far, far better. Another valuable lesson, there, somewhere.

Anyway, conventions are the place where dealers bring out the longboxes to sell, and usually will have dollar or fifty cent bins full of all sorts of goodies. If you're looking for something specific, some will have several thousand issues with them. Don't let yourself get cheated. If there's something you really want, buy a price guide, and comparison shop. (This is why conventions are the best for back issues.) Ask yourself if you're buying for the act of owning, or buying for the enjoyment of reading. Once you find a dealer with a good backstock collection, prices that don't seem insultingly usurious, and is nearby enough, make a point of paying them a visit when you want back issues. Dealers themselves are part of a network and if they don't have the back issue your looking for, them may be able to find someone who does.

There are also many online and catalog places to buy comics by mail. Mile HIgh Comics in Denver has long been the place for this kind of thing. I don't know how I feel about it, but it is an option.

What are you looking for specifically? Bear in mind that I have several thousand comics from the late 70's to today, with the bulk of them being Marvel & DC from 1981-1988. I'm willing to part with ones I have little attachment to for a very, very small fee, and outright donate some of those that I have lost interest in. However, I gather your tastes run to the Silver Age, which means that (a) I can't help you there, and (b) you'll have to have more money to spend with dealers, as those are regarded as more valuable.

To which she replied:

"Star Wars comics: there is very little geekier, or more fun.

Actually, I find sometimes that owning the whole series can be fullfilling. I have all but about four or five issues of the (2nd) Star Trek D.C. run, and am very proud. Star Trek comics obviously aren't rare or expensive in the least, but it's fun going back and reading them.

Q: Am I buying for the act of owning, or enjoyment and reading?

A: Both. It'd be cool to say "Oh, and I own an original copy of the Galactus Trilogy!" to people, for example, but I would really just have it because it's a great read, and it's cool to know you're holding the one that was the first.

You gathered right, of course, Silver Age Marvel comics, specifically Fantastic Four. I've read many different comics from that era, but the FF are my favorites. I am aware of how much they cost (I googled the particular issues extensively), and would like to save up for one...I have this habit of hoarding money."

So it looks like I'm already too late to save this poor child from the horrible, degrading life of a comic book collector. I swear, there must be some nicotine derivative in the magenta ink, or something...


Friday, October 12, 2007

Downside of the Upside

Whoof. Been going strong since Tuesday morning. I know these Ramlbers have been short (and some entirely non-existant) this week, and this one isn't going to alter that trajectory. Basically been hauling ass on work for house, work for work and work for friends sun-up to sundown. That's great for actually getting things done, but not so great for making Mr. Writer have much in the way of something to say.

In the meantime, here's a link to the friend's website I put together this week. It's still missing a couple of pages - the Gallery & Press page, mostly - and a couple of pages need clean-up, but this is the gist of it. In return for this, Putnam helped around the house. I was hoping to be done with the dining room before he arrived, so that we could focus our house energies on the basement, but instead he ended up helping with the dining room painting, and I'm thrilled just for that. He feels he got the better part of the deal, getting a full website for just painting a dining room, but I pointed out: I'm going to get many more years use out of this dining room than he gets out of the site. Unless I die soon.

Also, it rained here a lot today, and that's as good as excuse as any to point you towards Karl's new blog. I'll also update it in the list of links, since the link there was to his old, never-updated blog.

...aaaaand I can't find it. Tomorrow. Karl: email me the damn link, won't you? And goodnight.


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Late to my own party...

Sorry for missing yesterday, and the shortness of today's entry. Yesenia & I have had a houseguest the last two days - my friend Putnam. In a trading of goods and services, I'm building a website for him, and he's helping with the work around the hose that needs doin'. Suffice it to say, my time is triple-booked, and the Rambler went forgotten last night, and Brief as a Russian Summer for this one.

I just spent the last two hours working out how to export SWF files to just operate as streaming MP3 players. And, most surprisingly, it worked. But it was a learning curve. Yes, it was.

I'll post the (mostly completed) site tomorrow. In the meantime: zzzzzzzzzzz....


Monday, October 8, 2007

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Plastered Bastards

Today was given over to dining room work, which my mother - apparently in a fit of self-flagellation - volunteered herself for. I'm quite glad she did, because I'd reached a point of inertia on it, knowing that the next step was sanding down the plaster and taping up the extensive woodwork in advance of painting.

Anyway, I'm a bit beat, but I promise a brief "photohistory of the reconstruction" in the coming days. Right now, time for a little well-earned ST:TNG season 2. Enjoy your Monday.


Saturday, October 6, 2007

I get by with a little help from Karl

Karl actually watched the end of the People Who Died/Anime mash-up and noted that the creator indicated where the school-girls came from. Here's the unaltered original, from a show called The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi, about a high school girl who can alter reality. And a club at the school made up of people who are there to monitor her. And I'm annoyed, because I came up with that exact idea for a comic about two years ago. Feh.

The lyrics, in english:

The one thing that's always reliable in anime: no matter how lousy the theme songs are, they only get worse once you know what they're singing about...


Friday, October 5, 2007

Your Ad Here


People Who Died and then Became Sailor Moon

You know, I was looking for a decent live clip/video of this song, and then I found this video mash-up. And I think it's an improvement on both song and cartoons.

Of course, now I'm obsessed with finding out where those dancing schoolgirls in the chorus are from...


Thursday, October 4, 2007

When Prog was Prog

Keeping up what I guess has become the unofficial "Music Week" here on the Rambler, here's a cozy little jam from Van Der Graaf Generator: Darkness (11/11).

There's nothing I can really say about this, except that this is vastly superior to the album version, which version had the life produced out of it.


Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Real Thing(s)

Meet The Real Thing, by Russell Morris. The psychedelic classic from 1969. With a video to match - a subdued slice of prime coolness that runs as far away from trippy overkill as humanly possible (It's also possible that they only had twelve dollars to shoot it). "What classic?" I hear you ask, "I've never heard this before in my life." Well, that's a good point. And it's addressed - drunkly and obliquely - by Peter Garrett in this live cover version from Midnight Oil:

Did you get the gist of why you have never heard this song before? No? Well, here's another clue, a cover by (of all people) Kylie Minogue, from 2000. Note that this isn't actually an official video for her version - obviously, some fan just took the track and laid it over some other Kylie video, but I guess footage of Kylie is footage of Kylie, lip-synching be damned:

So, based on Garrett's weird diatribe of nationalist fervor through art, I'm guessing this song is some kind of anthem in Australia. And these covers are the equivalent of White Rabbit being covered by both The Cult and Sophie B. Hawkins.

It makes it sound like they had some boss music down there. Lord knows I'd rather hear this on the radio for the billionth time over those American acid-rock stand-bys like Spirit in the Sky or Magic Carpet Ride. I'll have to see if I can get a Russel Morris greatest hits, because this song became an instant favorite for me when it turned up on a British Nuggets kind of compilation CD I got for my birthday a few years back. If he has even one other song I like half as much, it will be worth it.

As if to prove what a weird journey this song has had through Australian popular culture, here's the Kylie version again, appropriately made into a Melbourne drag routine by someone named Zowie Knox. Looks like Melbourne has a swinging night scene:

One final version: a semi-remix from Morris himself several decades later:

Note the bits where the 'trance' drums come in, followed by a horrifying glimpse of the flower-power boy present day, balding and looking for all the world like he somehow inhabited Gary Neumann's body and forced it to stand in front of a slideshow on 20th Century Man's Inhumanity to Man. Note also how the elegant restraint of the actual 60's version has been updated to include all the trippy excess that people think the 60's was really about. So, what's more real? The real thing, or the memory of the real thing? Come and see, indeed.


Monday, October 1, 2007

A Whole Big Day of Nothin'

We had company yesterday for brunch, so much, much work was done around the house before their arrival. And today, I wanted to continue the forward momentum, but, boy. Inertia is my constant companion on days like this.

Whoof. Even typing is too much effort for me. Here's a nice song you've probably never heard. Completely ignore the pre-song blather, or actually listen to it and marvel at how such vapid inanities can come out of Graham Nash's mouth, and how David Crsoby can fire back with a couple of really smug assholisms, but then they shut up and start to play, and it. Really. Is. The. Most. Beautiful. Sound. In. The. World.

I can't work out why Crosby doesn't get more respect as a songwriter. He's one of the best. Here's how good he is: this song only exists as a live version, which sort of translates as 'filler.' But I would give several minor organs to have written this song. Come to think of it, Crosby did give at least one major one...

Why they didn't think this couldn't be some kind of hit is a mystery to me, but I blame the living wall of ego, Stephen Stills. Well, that and the fact that Crosby never wrote a hit song at the other three had - being Nash ("Our House," "Teach Your Children," "Carrie-Anne"), Neil Young ("Old Man") and Stills ("Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,""Love the One You're With") had and would. That's gotta suck, being the only non-rainmaking partner in the firm. I guess he was just used to that from his time in the Byrds.

This song is like Simon and Garfunkel, minus all that cutesy poet schtick that Paul Simon ladled on everything. There's your marketing angle: Crosby & Nash: "Simon and Garfunkel for Grownups." And be on the lookout for the high note that Nash tries to go for but misses at around 4:11. And the head-shaking, "Darn, I fucked it up. Oh well." What a neat little humanizing bit. Where did all our pop-stars like this go? Sure, Nash was a goofy airhead, and Crosby, again, is the picture in the dictionary under "Smug." But at least they're backing it up with sheer musical talent, and a unique vision. And a brand-new liver... that's gotta help, some.


Trouble, with a capital "T," and that rhymes with "C," and that stands for "Cars."

Yesenia had to go into work on Saturday morning to wrap up - since she handles government contracting, and September is their budget year end, August and September get crazy. So, she had a few more stacks of paperwork to get done. She was out our front door by 8:45, and I fell back to sleep.

The phone rang, not ten minutes later. I suspected it was Yesenia, but those early morning phone calls are the hardest to drag yourself out of bed for. I hovered at the edge of consciousness, listening to hear the caller on the answering machine. No message. I drifted off again.

Ring. Ring. Again. Answering machine picked up, no message.

Again, thirty seconds later. Ring. Ring. All right. I hoist out of bed. It is Yesenia, and her car (now at the Starbucks where she stopped on her way to work) won't start. Ah. Now what? Her co-worker, also in that day, picked her up and checked the car - some weird thing with the ignition, likely electrical. That equals money!

Today, my engine light went on. No noticeable change in performance, but it's the kind of thing you've just got to check out. Most likely, it's my car telling me I'm 10,000 miles overdue for my timing belt change. And that equals serious money.

Dear God. This is going to be something like $2,000 in repairs. I can feel it.

I, for one, can't wait for the oil reserves to dry up. Screw the internal combustion engine. And the car it rode in on.