Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Breezing Past at the Windswept Edge

Whoops. I'd intended to make some sort of note of the Rambler's year anniversary, which was just the 27th. So I guess Miriam Makeba celebrated it for me by rolling her eyes in a leopard-print dress.

I suppose I'll save the big fireworks and alcohol for the full 365th entry - or would that be 366, given that 2008 was a leap year? - but it would be remiss of me to neglect this particular event entirely.

Of course, these dates require that we sit back and take some stock of where we've been over the last year, or, in a more American tradition of progress, lack thereof and the inevitable feeling badly about it, how far we've come. And, you know? Reviewing what was going on in my life - particularly in relation to the house - this time last year really has made me glad that I've kept the Rambler going.

It's distressingly easy, if you're the self-doubting type (as I am) to perpetually feel like you haven't done enough. But, you know? There's always something to do. There's always something that requires your attention, but you shouldn't be feeling constantly as though if you don't do it now the world is going to end.

In fact, this may be a good place to note that equilibrium in biology equals death. Equilibrium in life isn't such a dramatic thing, but it's also not the key to unbridled joy.

Does this sound like an apologia for being a lazy bastard? Well, maybe it is. But are you going to give me a hard time about it? It is my anniversary, after all.


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Return of the Son of Vomit

Well, the comic class is in swing again, so that means it's high time for the return of everyone's favorite recurring Rambler feature - the Vomit Comics! That's right - those fifteen minute wonders, the comics exercise that separates the men from the cartoonists, the completely obscure telegram from the unconscious, totally unfiltered and delivered right from your lizard brain to the page, because, hey, in fifteen minutes, who has time to think about what they're doing?

This entry is about as obscure as they come. I have no idea where the title came from, although at least I can see that it has some oblique reference to the strip; often, they have no connection whatsoever. Here, we can see that 'M.' is clearly having some kind of spiritual crisis. Presumably, this wisdom that he's come away with will help him break out of his current state of ennui.

Gee, I wonder if this is autobiographical in any way?

One of the students noted that the comic is drawn in (at least) four different styles. It's true, but it's not by design. That would take effort.


Monday, April 28, 2008

Nada X


Not much. Long, slow, mostly quiet and inactive day, capped by a fairly packed practice. Then a drive back in the rain and fog, up Riverside Drive, across the GWB, and up the Palisades.


Sunday, April 27, 2008


Not the version I was looking for... a tantalizing version of this song featured prominently - but only briefly - in When We Were Kings, but the fuckers didn't even put that version on the soundtrack. So, this one, from a decade earlier. The performance from When We Were Kings just lurked and soared simultaneously. This one doesn't quite get a chance to, mostly because she spends a minute and a half introducing her band.

I imagine the best way to hear this song is in a totally dark theater, with a spot focused tightly just on Miriam Makeba's eyes.


Friday, April 25, 2008

The 8-4-5

Your Weekend Listening • 4.26.08
Rockland County

I was really casting about for what song to really launch this feature (given that the previous two entries were a cover and a much older entry from the previous version of the site), and this was the one that settled it. Rockland County was the lead song from the only Copper Man studio album, Selling the Downtown Dream. Right there, that statement's a little inaccurate - it's preceded by the first iteration of the album's 'theme,' a Disneyesque tune (which I think we originally called "Disney") named When I Was Young. I'll do an entry about that at some point, but the idea was that - in classic concept album style - a single instrument would play the main theme, and then the band would launch into the first real 'song.' We settled on acoustic guitar, which launched right into Rockland County, in hopes that the solo acoustic would segue nicely into the rhythm acoustic. Who knows if it did?

Anyway, Shaun Johnsen played the intro acoustic for When I Was Young (which isn't posted here) and then the electric on Rockland County, with Edz O'Leary on drums, and I played acoustic guitar, bass, tambourine and Hammond, and sang lead and harmonies:

There isn't that much to say about the song as a song, I think - whatever was needed to be said was probably expressed best in the lyric:

I grew up out there in Rockland County
That's where I put myself.
I drew a picture of a pretty girl, there,
but she tore it up.

To pass the time, we drive around there.
There's nothing else to do.
Roll down the windows and pass the houses
You don't need it, now.

My, funny how you've grown.
I can't explain it.
You run, but you just can't make it.
You try, but you overshoot your mark.
I sympathize, but you know you and I disagree on this part.

Are you still searching for what you're after?
I know that look too well.
They programmed me to answer to my failure,
so I forgive myself.

There's no rocking in Rockland County...
There's just no reason left.
Please turn the lights out in Rockland County,
if you're the last one out.

Please turn the lights out...

As the lead song on the album (a loose concept piece on being a geeky suburban kid drawn to try to play the rocker in NYC in the age of the Strokes), Rockland County is probably the most directly autobiographical lyric on the album. Many of the following song lyrics were projections, borrowed from others' experiences or outright fabrications, but I felt like we needed something pretty true and heartfelt to get us into the cycle. The first verse alludes directly to a fight I'd had with my then fiancé (now wife) Yesenia - and it did go exactly as described. Here's the proof, taped back together and mostly Photoshopped clean:

The song was recorded at Ryan Ball's Checkmate Studio, with the recording done between 2002/2003 when he was located in Suffern, and the mixing done to 2" tape (hey! DAD!) after he'd moved to Paramus, NJ.

I'd be remiss if I neglected to mention the contribution of a guitar player named Elliott (don't know his last name!) who we played with briefly before Shaun joined up - the way he played the main riff really stuck with me, and his style ended up in the arrangement, and even more importantly, he added the Sunday, Bloody Sunday chime in the verses, which is definitely 'a hook,' as they say. Elliott only lasted a very short while - turned out he wanted to be paid! - but he left his mark on that song and a couple of others from the album.

I should also mention Ryan Kaplan, who was the rhythm guitar player at the time the song was composed. Although Ryan didn't have any writing or arranging input on the song - beyond the Americaesque rhythm part on the coda - there's no doubt in my mind that his mere presence in the band affected my writing of it. In fact, he was mostly absent from the practices when we were working on it, caught up in all sorts of life-craziness at the time, and that seemed perfectly in theme with the song.

Ryan was also from Rockland, and at the time, we jokingly called ourselves "Rockland's Finest." Ryan went so far as to have that inscribed on a knife along with the band logo by the knife manufacturer he worked for.

It was pretty much the last song of mine we really tried with him in the band, as I'd been less and less convinced that the pairing of our writing styles was working well. Ryan's absence from the recording of it - when it had been conceived initially as part of an album that would feature an equal half of his compositions - somehow is the most noticeable part of the final version.

With that in mind, I present a live version, at Olive's in Nyack on June 28th, 2002. The only concert Copper Man ever played as the four-piece with Ryan on rhythm guitar and hamony vocals, and Shaun on lead guitar (Edz, as always, great on drums), and the only live version to be played in Rockland County. This dates from before the studio recording, at a time when the song was called 'Lights Out.' I dropped that title in annoyance when Lisa Marie Presley came out with a song of the same name and similar theme after I'd finished the lyric. Oh, well. I at least have the satisfaction of knowing that her song probably didn't do that much better than ours...

I believe a good part of the crowd there that night was in town for Ryan's 10th high-school anniversary, which (to me) gives the song an extra punch.

Tech notes: recorded with two mics to four-track by Christian and then later digitized by Karl. Undoubtedly, I mastered it myself on my old, dying G3 with a cracked copy of Peak.

Have a good weekend, and I'll see you here Monday.


Thursday, April 24, 2008

"The Left Hand is a Music Computer"

Found this on Fark today:

Just awesome. The fleeting glimpses of the mechanism are pure gold. And the most impressive part? I'm not sure I knew you could do a glissando on a Mellotron.

Something about hearing this thing in action makes me very, very sad. But then I smile when I think that I expect the player's clothes to fly off Jones-style when he turns around to grin at the camera at the end.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Secret Origins

I live in a small, somewhat storied town in the lower Hudson River Valley called Tappan. Having a history isn't much of an achievement - hang around for long enough and you're sure to end up with a story to tell. Of course, Tappan is home to yet another place where Washington wintered during the war, where Andre was tried, held and hung, and all that stuff.

Ah, who am I kidding? I love it. I'm beyond fascinated by the history of our town. But you don't learn much in school about it - the perfunctory Revolutionary War coverage was all there was.

Of course, many others share my fascination. Unsurprisingly, there's a Tappantown Historical Society that wields considerable official weight - heaven help you if you want to make any repairs to your house in the Historic District if you haven't had their okay. You're not even allowed any say in your own holiday decorations - one measly electric candle in each window is all they'll allow.

So I had mistakenly thought that their book on the history of Tappan - published roughly to coincide with the town's 300th anniversary in the mid-1980's - would be the definitive work on the subject. On the origins of the town, it was somewhat mute: someone was granted a land patent. Of course, the book has a lot more to say on Washington and Andre.

A couple of years ago, I found a book in the local library about the history of the Hudson Valley. Pretty fascinating read (it's a pretty fascinating area), but there was one passage that stuck out for me. I can't quote it verbatim, but the gist was that the Tappan Patent had been granted to (in period terms) 'eight white men and three free negreouws from Greenwich Village.'

Got that? Tappan had been partly founded by three black ex-slaves and no-one ever bothered to tell us. Well, hell. That's exactly the sort of thing I want to know.

Unfortunately, that second book had such a wide field to cover that it didn't dedicate more than a few lines to Tappan. Beyond that fragment, the only other item of interest that it gave up was that the original Patent was pretty damn big, going all the way from the Hudson (the current-day Tappan is three towns inland) to present-day Paramus, New Jersey.

So, today, on a trip to the library, I found a book in the history section called Slavery in New York, and immediately took it down and scanned the index. Sure enough, now we have names: Jan DeVries II and Nicholas Manuel. It's a little vague beyond that; again, the topic is so wide (slavery in New York being a sadly lengthy theme and an even more sadly underreported one), that we don't get more than a few lines out of a 400 page book, but it's something.

But it opens up so many other areas of questioning: Why are there no descendants of these families in this area? Why is this such hard information to come by? Is it because of the influence of the German Masonic Group, who pretty much laid defacto claim to the mantle of historical preservationists in the area? Guess who maintains the DeWindt House, essentially as a shrine to General Washington.

The first question is the most perplexing and sad one, to me. Imagine an area in New York with a black family with a history that goes back to pre-Revolutionary times, with names and traditions as much a part of the fabric of the area as the single candles in holiday windows. Instead, there's next to no black presence in the town. Three and a half centuries later, the issue of race as a separator is still strong enough that there's a valid question as to whether or not a black candidate can carry the electorate because of the color of his skin - and because he's perceived as being an outsider, not American, somehow.

God, I only wish that we had enough of a memory in this country to know that black Americans have been here a lot longer than most of our own families. My father's and mother's families came over in the early 1900's. I've only lived in Tappan for thirty-eight years. What is that compared to actually being brought over on a slave ship, earning your freedom and then saving up enough money to buy land and then found a town? A town, the Tappantown Historical Society and Masonic Chapter will be happy to tell you, where General Washington wintered while fighting for our freedom from British rule. The signs all over the town pointing out where Andre was kept, when the Manse Barn was built, when this thing or that thing was founded and by whom and what it all means.

I know it's an important story, and a good story. But isn't the story of DeVries and Manuel and the nameless third - indeed, all the founding families - interesting enough to tell, too?

Now, if only someone could definitively tell me whether the name of the town came from the local Indians, or if it came from the common German surname, we'd be getting somewhere.


P.S.: I note with some satisfaction that the Tappantown Historical Society website now makes mention of this aspect of the town's interesting founding. Not bad, folks. Keep trying.


I got nothin'. Nights like this, I feel like the Rambler should be a Twitter page than an actual blog. At least that would be more honest.

I have some great stuff to say about the PCMA recording session earlier tonight, but I don't want to risk the PCMA/Blogging curse, so I'll leave it detail free and just emanate good vibes about it. Hummmmmm.

Anyway, I'm taking an 'early' night (what early? It's Midnight) to get some prime spooning in. I'm such a softie.


Monday, April 21, 2008

No Exit

In case I forget to mention it later, this weekend is the second Tappan Comicon. So there's something to look forward to...


Sunday, April 20, 2008

Travel Broadens the Mind, Ass

Yesenia and I went off for a quick (and surprisingly expensive) away mission - excuse me, trip - to Connecticut and Rhode Island this weekend. We did enjoy ourselves, and it was a much needed escape from routine and responsibility and all that other adult stuff. Still, noting to write home about, as they say.

No pictures, even, since our digital camera has failed to such an extent that we didn't even bring it, opting instead to pick up a disposable film camera on the trip. If anything comes out, I'll post, or Flickr, or Zap, or whatever. Of course, since a good part of the trip just consisted of eating (between stays at sketchy motels), I'm not sure just how thrilling the images would be.

The trip did contain my first (and Yesenia's, too) trip to Yale's Peabody Museum, a small and manageable natural history museum with a world-class fossil and paleontology department. And at $6 per adult and no doubt much less for kids, I'd recommend it way, way above New York's Natural History Museum, which is crowded, expensive and depressingly unfocused in comparison.

Of course, the big thing to see at the Peabody are their justly famous Dinosaur and Mammal murals. Probably a bit outdated now, but sometimes diorama scenics of this type are elevated beyond their time to become genuine works of art in their own right. The other highlight at the Peabody was a temporary show of the arts of Mexico, from 8 billion BC to the present day. Obviously, it was something of a brief survey. But the small selection of 20th century work did contain one pleasant surprise - a graphic artist with leftist political leanings (yes, apparently being a Marxist was synonymous with being an artist in 20th century Mexico) named Leopoldo Mendez. Stunning, direct, assured, evocative and electric work. I intend to get me some.


Friday, April 18, 2008

What a Surprise

For the semi-inaugural episode of our new weekly weekend feature - the as-yet untitled deconstruction of a song from the Copper Man/Kopperman archives, I thought we'd start out with something nice and easy. Although perhaps a bit lengthy.

Anyone who reads the Rambler regularly is aware of my love for and all around obsession with Pink Floyd. My favorite of the various Floyds is the post-Barrett era, leading up to and culminating with the 1971 album Meddle, which is not only one of my favorite albums (sometimes my very favorite, never out of the top ten), but contains my favorite song of all time, Echoes. The fact that my favorite song of all time is 23 minutes long and is spacey, plodding, obscure and occasionally totally abstract probably says something about me that I still have yet to work out.

The point is that a lot of everything that will turn up in this feature in weeks to come - every song I've ever written or recorded - owes a lot to this song and this album, which I've been listening to for over twenty years. So it really is as good a place to start as any.

But we're not here today to get into an overdue in-depth analysis of Meddle or Echoes. What we're here to hear are two contrasting versions of Copper Man covers of the song. The first features the line-up of Eric Santaniello on lead guitar, Bran Lancourt on rhythm guitar and vocal harmonies, Edz O'Leary on drums and myself on bass and lead vocals. Somehow, I'd managed to convince the band to play the song as a birthday gift to me for a show at (I believe) The Lion's Den, November, 2004.

Of course, I didn't want to give over the entire set to the song, so what we presented was a truncated version, about the first ten minutes. Given the lack of keyboard and the quickness with which we threw it together, I'm surprised listening back to this some four years later how well the song itself comes through. Normally, it's easy to think of the Floyd of that era as a purveyor of mood and style, somewhat light on the composition side. Echoes itself is roughly four minutes of song to twenty minutes of jamming and studio wizardry, so it's easy to dismiss it as such, but it really is a tremendously well-written song, one that I'm convinced could carry its mood of melancholy and mystery through almost any arrangement. Anyone for a kazoo and washboard arrangement?

Kudos go to Eric for learning all the solos in such a short period. Sadly, I was able to exploit this a few months later when I got it into my head that playing all of Meddle at Arlene's Grocery as part of their Classic Album Nights would be a tremendous promotional push for Copper Man. Man, I couldn't have been more wrong. Joke on me, because I became so obsessed with the project that I even bought my Roland organ specifically for the show - trying to justify the expense to myself for the possible benefits of the show (which usually drew big crowds) in promoting the band. Even at the time, I knew I was kidding myself, but that should just show how determined I was to play this song live. Torpedos and monetary savings be damned.

Obviously, with me moving over to keys, we needed a bass player. Thankfully, Bran is not only a better bass player than me, he's also the one who taught me how to play bass, so that was going to work out grand. Curiously, the only thing in the entire set he had a problem with was the bass-driven One of These Days, which always gives skilled bass players a problem because it's really not about playing bass, per se. It's all about playing the delay pedal, in a less-is-more-but-on-the-beat kind of way.

Joining up for dual lead guitar was Bran's twin Ansley, who was particularly helpful in getting the show together because he'd had a lot of enthusiasm for it, which, if you know Ansley, is saying something. Neither Bran nor Eric were particularly thrilled with the idea of playing the show (although Edz was 'game,' as they say). Still, Eric learned all of the guitar parts on the album and turned in the best performance of the show.

In the end, even though we had next to no crowd (fifteen people at most), it went over really well, we got a couple of fans - who we then disappointed by breaking up less than a year later - and I really treasure the recording. A note on which: two sources - one from the desk, with the vocals very high and dry, and one from Eric's Mini-Disc somewhere in the room. (The Lion's Den recording is also Eric's Mini-Disc, complete with commentary from his wife and friends.) The two sources were then blended and mastered (as much as they could be) with help from Karl.

If I had one wish, it's that I could take the vocals from the Lion's Den show - which sound pretty good, to me - and swap them out for the Arlene's vocals, which suck serious ass. Two reasons for this: one, as noted, the Arlene's mix came right from the desk, and there was little that could be done with them in post. Two, I have a much harder time singing and playing keys than singing while playing bass. In fact, I can play very complex bass parts while singing, because I find I can swing the vocals around the bass rhythm contrapuntally. On keys, even the simplest parts tend to be harder to sing to, mostly because I'm already playing counterpoint with my left hand, so the rhythm of the voice becomes a third rhythmic element to contend with. Also? Bass is one note at a time and keys in a live setting can be as many as ten, often dodging back and forth between three keyboards.

At the Arlene's show, I was years out of practice on keys to boot, having not played in a band since I'd left Lizard Music back in '96. All-in-all, not the best way to go out singing. Still, the keyboard performance is fine, I think.

Ansley officially joined Copper Man after the show, but the newly-expanded five-piece never got to play live together. Long story. But the Meddle show was a major turning point for me as a performing musician, because after that I've only played keys. And, yes, I miss the bass. God, how I miss the bass. But I guess it means that the Roland wasn't a waste, after all.

Boy, I'd hate to think that I went from bass back to keys simply because I don't like to waste money...

Currently, I'm playing keys in an NYC Pink Floyd tribute band (called Us Not Them), and we're working out Echoes in practice now. Maybe soon I'll have a third live version to add to the gallery.


Note: I'd intended to get the nice Flash player working for this entry, but I'm feeling a little brain dead. I will for next week's entry, and I'll come back and update this one at that time. Have a good weekend.

New note, 4/23/08: Thanks to Shaun, I now have the pretty Flash MP3 widget working. Obviously, in the future, I need to make sure the MP3s have all their proper tags, but it's a start.

Room with a Review

Short Rambler tonight, so I'll just give you a link to the essay I wrote for Walrus Comix the other day. Bear in mind that it's a 3,000 word essay on a comic you haven't read and a band you don't listen to (how do I know this about you? I'm the fucking magic man!), but if you're really in the need for a Rambler fix, that should hold you. There's also an interesting thesis lurking in there about the nature of the teenage suburban mind, but it's clear that I ran out of steam before really developing it properly.

Tune back in here Saturday for the premiere of the yet-to-be-named weekly deconstruction of a song from the Copper Man/Kopperman archives. Sure to be a big hit, if only for all of the lousy things about me that you'll learn along the way. Hint: pursuit of musical "excellence" brings out the worst in me.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Breach, Once More Unto The

Two more comps for the Election-themed issue of the KPMG campus recruitment magazine, done in a suprisingly short time using my new sketchbook>vellum>scanner>photoshop>comic life workflow. And since Yesenia was at the Yankees game tonight, I just took over the kitchen and doodled (with purpose). Good times.

You wouldn't think it to look at these, but about halfway speeding through the second one, I got an odd, old feeling - 'hey,' I suddenly realized, 'I'm a cartoonist!' And I haven't felt that way since 1993 or so. I guess I've been doing enough drawing lately that I hit the zone. And, yes, it did feel good, thanks for asking.

Now let's just see if they like either of these. Either would be pretty fun to draw, but I'll admit that the Schulz homage in Enfranchised would be a kick to fully render.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

What's The Opposite of Being a Hypochondriac?

Maybe the time has finally come to admit to myself that the pain in my right hand is only getting worse and is unlikely to go away on its own...


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Feelin' Kinda Lileks

Today, I've written a 3000 word critical essay for a friend's website (I'll link to that when it's up), a lengthy email detailing my positions on various issues in the Floyd cover band I play keys in, and I'm in the process of writing two radio spots for a Chevrolet dealer in Vermont. I've got words pouring out of my bunghole and it's starting to chafe, let me tell you. Has anyone told these people that I only come armed with a freaking BFA in Illustration? English and me, we're not necessarily all that well acquainted.

It's days like this - frankly, I'm not sure I've ever had a day when I've laid down quite so many words on so many different projects, but anyway - it's days like this when I can only look on with awe at the productivity of someone like James Lileks, who writes 18 columns a day and still manages to keep his Daily Bleat (the blog that I will always regard as the blog) fresh, interesting, coherent and always full of interesting content.

Sadly, I'm no James Lileks. The plus is that I lack his sometimes annoying sense of rightness, the minus is that I'll never be able to come within a million miles of his simultaneously polished and spontaneous prose. Especially on days like today.


Monday, April 14, 2008

All Their Dime Dancing

Saw Asia in Peekskill tonight, and what can I say? I did enjoy it, even - especially - the mandatory drum solo from Carl Palmer. Sure, the man never met a song he couldn't totally tank with his unsympathetic playing, but his solo was five minutes of pure entertainment.

As for the rest, Steve Howe was his usual casual perfection, and John Wetton was in great voice but the mix made his and Geoff Downes' contributions inaudible. Bad, lousy mix. Seriously, Geoff Downes had about 12 keyboards up there (not counting the keytar for the end of the show), and you could never hear a note he was playing.


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Change in Policy

For the next little while - perhaps the next few months - the Rambler will go from a seven day schedule to six days, with five weekdays and one weekend post. The trade-off (if it could be considered such) is that the weekend post will now be an in-depth dissection of a song from the Kopperman (and, yes, Copper Man) archives.

I'd always planned to have this be a part of the the Rambler, and the eventual site archives, but seeing as how it's already April and there's no site in sight (gah), this will at least give the Rambler a little more chewy content and allow me to simultaneously develop content for the eventual site. When/wherever that may be.

I'd be remiss if I didn't point you to Karl, Shaun and Christian's blogs, all of whom have had regular music/archives posts, and while it's not an original concept with them, their example is the one that has spurred me into action.

The probably won't be any rhyme or reason to the order in which the songs are presented - if anything, I think it would be better to consider the songs outside of whatever minimal album or historical context they may have originally been burdened with, except in extreme cases. So they'll now be allowed to stand or fall on their own merits - which, frankly, is enough of a burden as it is.

In the meantime, I direct you to a page from the original Subway Rambler that might as well serve as an example of everything potentially good and bad about this upcoming feature:

A little information about that recording that, suprisingly, isn't in that already lengthy post:

1) the four-chord structure that supplies the first half of the 'verse' is originally by then Copper Man guitarist Eric Santaniello, with a pretty substantial reworking from me in terms of both harmonization and feel.

2) since the song never ended up with lyrics or an official title, I'll just call it what I named the MP3: Rhodes-Mitchell

3) Between the recording of the demo (entirely me, as noted in the post) and the posting just a few days later, Eric was out of the band, mostly in reaction to (it must be said) some pretty lousy behavior on my part - but that's a story for another time. If 'never' could be considered a time, that is.


Saturday, April 12, 2008

Visions of Frank

Animated version of the much-missed Frank comic by the visionary cartoonist Jim Woodring. It's been about ten years since Woodring came out with a comic, having abandoned the medium for what he views as the greener pastures of fine art, collaborative performance and Japanese toy design. Far be it from me to question his judgement, but: screw that shit. We need more comics from you, and soon.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Get Out! Get Out!

I watched Disney's Enchanted the other day, and was pleased to see that it had some new Alan Menken songs. And there is a classic of catchy, tuneful horror in there - one of those songs that will still be echoing around your cerebellum when you're lying on your deathbed.

Man, that guy can do showtunes. Freaky.

The film itself was cute. The main reason I watched it was to see the paltry fifteen minutes of 2D Disney animation at the top. The animation itself wasn't their best (I'm guessing they're a little out of practice), but like a parched man in the desert, I drank up every drop.


Wednesday, April 9, 2008

American Style

Roller Coaster Tycoon is a game I will never play. I abhor violence, and particularly when it's used for 'a laugh.' But these RCT clips where people design coasters for the sole purpose of mayhem, destruction and the slaughter of innocents make me laugh my ass off.


Anger Is A Gift

Photo courtesy Karl and Karl's camera, from tonight's PCMA recording session.

I have no idea why I look so pissed, particularly because it was a very good session and I enjoyed myself immensely, as I usually do when I listen to Shaun play. Maybe it's because I was tired and mellow tonight? Does tired and mellow look like paranoid and murderous when it gets displayed on my face? If so, it's probably a good thing that I'm rarely mellow, or I'd be even less well-liked than I am now.

This shot is from the very end of a guitar take, which I'd been listening to while lying on the floor with my eyes closed and headphones on - the way all great music is supposed to be heard. I always prefer these candid shots to anything else - nothing posed, please. I myself am a pretty poor photographer, but the small handful of photos that I've shot over the years that I would consider good all have a journalistic integrity to them.

That's another thing I need to add to the Copper Man site, I guess - a gallery... a very tiny gallery - of my photography.

Karl himself is generally a landscape photographer, but I do think he has a gift for portraiture that he's left somewhat unexploited. The shot above is a good example: in anyone else's hands, that picture would be lame and unflattering. But Karl's framing and feel for timing makes it work. Go figure.

Anyway, a great volume of his work is online, and I know I've linked to it before, but I write these Ramblers nightly and sometimes we have to reuse content. Besides, it's been long enough that I'm sure there's all new stuff over at his site. Go check it out. Good way to spend a lunch and get aesthetically massaged.


Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Midnight Toil

So: gotta finish up a client brochure to deliver to my boss at 8:30 tomorrow morning. It is now 12:12 AM. You know the drill.


Sunday, April 6, 2008

Personal Truth Revealed in Romantic Comedy

Saw Run, Fatboy, Run today, and, beside enjoying it (Simon Pegg is always worth a couple of hours of my time), I found myself engaged and chastised by the theme of never having the will to finish what's needed to be accomplished. So, I give the movie three stars (out of four) and my life two.


Saturday, April 5, 2008

As Mentioned, Art

The comic written and pencilled by Dave Zapanta, inked and lettered by me. With about a 12-year gestation period. As usual, clicking on it gives you a closer look. Note: the title still needs to go on, but I'm leaving that to Dave.

Also saw some of the pages that I gave Dave to ink back in that same time frame, and they do look beautiful, even though they're only around 40% finished.

[Note: No art, huh? Blogger is being funky tonight, so I'll try to upload in the morning. Check back later.]

Updated, 4.6.08: Still nothing. Screw it - here's a link.

Updated, 4.7.07: There we go. Turns out it was my host, and not Blogger after all. Sorry, Blogger.


Friday, April 4, 2008


Jam packed day tomorrow (today as you read this), so I've gotten all my stuff together in advance, as we have to be out the door by 9, and I have a long history of leaving behind just the one thing I wanted to be absolutely sure to bring.

Anyway, I'm feeling a little unwriterish this evening, and I have some correspondence to catch up on, and all sorts of hails from my Facebook page, and I think I'll take my Rambling time for the evening and deal with some of that.



Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Runway Sampler

Nothing for tonight, really: had a fairly productive day, finishing up the inks on a page written and pencilled by my friend Dave (again, the creator of Hairbat).

Of course, I probably started inking it in 1996, so it was a major leap to get back into that style and mindset. It's odd, because I haven't really produced a huge volume of comic work in the last twelve years, but in the interim, I've completely altered my approach to inking, now favoring brush almost exclusively, whereas I used to ink mostly with the ever-popular Hunt 102 dip pen. Since the page was half-inked when I discovered it lurking in my archives a little while ago, I decided just to go ahead and finish it up with the 102s and see if I could find my zone with them.

Thankfully, I'd already inked all the figures and some of the backgrounds (as well as lettered the thing) when I put it aside over a decade ago, so it was really just a matter of finishing the backgrounds, doing a little touch up here and there, laying in the mechanical tones and inking the panel borders. I always love the moment when the borders go down, because it's a little scary how much that seemingly small and unimportant step improves the look of a page. What I had left to do mostly amounted to some crosshatching, which is one of those great brain-dead exercises.

Not to knock inking - I love to ink and I think it's a real craft and I worship and adore the ranks of the great comic book inkers - but what I really love about it is that it's the act of drawing that requires the least amount of input from my brain. Presumably, by the time you get to the inking stage, most, if not all of the drawing problems have been solved and you can finally relax and just enjoy the physical act of making marks on paper.

Really, it's the only major act of drawing that can happen while watching TV. Like a vacation on bristol board.

At some point, when the rest of the site goes live, I'll include a small gallery of my pencil work that's been inked by other people, which will let you see how much the inks and style of the inker can bring to a page. It's pretty fascinating. On the page I inked of Dave's, it's pretty clear that he gave me permission to go ahead and go crazy slick in my inking style, rather than conforming to his ink style. The resulting page is certainly unique - I'll post it Saturday night. It's a shame I don't have a copy of the original pencils, but maybe Dave does. That would also make for a pretty interesting exhibit.

It's a good warm-up, too: for the story that Kalliope and I are working on, she's going to be doing all the inking, and if I'm going to give her guidelines, I need to start codifying my approach to inking. It's always been the thing that I was best at, and like many things that we come to naturally, I of course have no real way to explain how it's done.

Perhaps that's why the best ink that Higgins makes is called Black Magic. It almost is like a magic trick, when you're in the zone. And, no: it isn't just tracing, already...


Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Looking to Spend

You know the first thing I'm going to buy when we get our money situation sorted out? A new acoustic geetar. Those who know me know that I don't like to misuse the word 'need,' when the word 'want' is what's really called for, but in this case, it'll have to do: I need a new acoustic. My old Ovation is seriously done, done, done. Done like a Chicken McNugget that's been stuck at the back of the deep-fryer since the last oil change, browned to a fine mahogany. Done.

The face of the soundboard is noticeably convex, curving in to the hole. It's always had intonation issues - heck, I bought it before I could play guitar, so of course I didn't know how to shop for one properly - but now it just sounds like something a hobo would bring to a junkyard cooking fire. And I don't mean that he'd be carrying it around to sing old Wade Hemsworth songs over rat shish-kabobs. I mean he'd use it as kindling. It's pretty bad.

So: opinionated guitarists out there - any thoughts on what a decent, warm and solid acoustic guitar would be? Let's say the price range would be in the $600... uh, range. Notes on where to buy it are also welcomed.


Tuesday, April 1, 2008

I Feel a Song Coming On

Friend Putnam sent me a DVD of a show he played a few months back. Not necessarily to entertain me - in fact, I was at the show in question - but for me to take a couple of tracks and put them up on his website. Not such a random thing, when you realize I'm his webmaster.

Anyway, I was lying in bed, folding laundry, and I popped it in the DVD player. Really, an excellent performance. But I got hit with such a strange, obscure sense of melancholy halfway through - one of those feelings that's so hard to pin down that I can really only successfully even outline the vague and hazy shape of it by putting it into a song lyric and using that to nail it down for myself afterwards.

I tend to treat songs like therapy - if something is bothering me, and I can't sort it out, I can study something I've written for a clue about what's eating me. Of course, that trick of equilibrium was much easier when I wrote on a regular basis. Now I only write pretty much when I 'have to' write; that is, when a project I'm involved in (PCMA being the current one) has need for a song. It's been a long time since I really treated songwriting as a thing I do. Which is a little odd, because it is something that I think I'm good at. But there you go.

Anyhow, I do have a new chord sequence that's looking for a melody, lyric and arrangement, and my writing method usually leaves new songs sitting undeveloped until I have something to write about - which I guess I now do.

Something about home, it seems like. I'll let you know.


Dual Book Review Based on an Old Ray Romano Routine

The History of Love, Nicole Krauss
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer

Ray Romano had a joke that went something like this: if you're a little ugly, and there's only one of you, then no-one's really going to bat an eye. But if you're twins, people are really going to notice. That's the deal with these two horrible, lousy, stupid, insipid exercises in literary fartsmanship. The level of thorough horseshit both books throw at you in some kind of bid to merge magic realism with the New Yorker school of quirky character dramas featuring the Glass Family Players must be read to be believed.

(I should probably preface this by saying I'm probably not the best audience for contemporary 'literary fiction' - as opposed to illiterate fiction? - so those who feel that the art of the novel, like the shark, must keep moving forward or die, caveat emptor.)

A big part of the problem is the basic plots and themes of both books are too similar to be mere coincidence - the authors are married, after all - but they claim no. To sum up both the plots and background, I turn to an extended quote from Wikipedia ("You Unvetted Source for 'Facts' Since 2002"):

The History of Love was published in early 2005 as was Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, written by Jonathan Safran Foer who had just married Krauss. Both books feature a precocious youth who set out in New York City on a quest. Both protagonists encounter old men with memories of World War II (a Holocaust survivor in Krauss and a survivor of the Dresden firebombing in Foer). Both old men recently suffered the death of long-lost sons. The stories also use some similar and uncommon literary techniques, such as unconventional typography.

The similarities, however, are likely coincidental. Foer and Krauss were introduced by their shared Dutch publisher after their books were written.

Now, that makes the books sound kind of interesting. Let me please warn you away. The devil is in the details in these books, only rather than being an interesting and scary or seductive devil, this devil is the demon of boredom and rue. Just a random sampling of said details from either book:

- A grade schooler who is busy building a very large ark in an abandoned lot, convinced the next deluge is coming
- A Centenarian former war correspondent who hasn't left his apartment since his wife died twenty-five years earlier, who keeps an extensive card catalog of his own making with just one word to describe every single person of note he's ever met and who has driven a nail into his bed - which bed is made by him from a tree he personally felled in Central Park - every single day since his wife died, and now the bed is not only so heavy that he's erected a column in the dining room below, but the bed is also now magnetic
- A Holocaust survivor whose primary means of communication is rhythmic tapping
- A Dresden firebombing survivor who now only communicates in writing, who saves every book he's written in a spare bathtub, and who is married to a woman who is pretending to be blind and writes a full memoir on a typewriter without a ribbon and who also happens to be the sister of his lost teenage love
- A married couple that has mutually agreed upon places in their apartment where you can go and 'not exist'
- A man who loves books so much that he buries them in his yard rather than destroy them, and also replaces the wall of an outside shed with a wall of books

And on, and on, and on. And the lame details are also compounded by the most unconvincing shifting first person narratives ever committed to the page. Krauss tries to write in the voice of an aging German Jew, and does so so poorly that you wonder not only if she ever met the type of person she's trying to channel, but if she has, in fact, ever met a man, period.

Foer has some of his narrative given over to letters from the grandmother, which feature breathless descriptions of sex with the grandfather. Foer also has the central theme carved around the twin historic tragedies of 9/11 (where the protagonist's father died) and the Dresden Firebombing (where the grandfather lost the urge to speak, ever again).

Now, first: I think everyone can agree that not only does Vonnegut 'own' Dresden, but once the beautiful metaphor of a man so traumatized by the experience that he not only feels himself moving around time periods in his life, but also pictures himself as human breeding stock in an alien zoo has been created, no other literary allegory of the experience will hold up. And second: while I believe it is quite possible that great, moving art can be created from 9/11, the massive hunk of insulting shit that is Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is not it. Not by a country mile.

Artists - a caution: a recent national tragedy is not the canvas you should use to paint your clever little formalist exercises. You asshole, you.

I guess that if I had to pick which twin is uglier, it would be Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. The History of Love was cutesy, annoying and about as believable as a display at the Creationist Museum, but Krauss has a way with prose that at least carries you through the story quickly, and can work up something like a reasonable facsimile of what it's like to be a 'teenager in love,' so to speak. But there is not a single convincing word in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Even the vowels and punctuation have an air of falseness about them, as if each one was thought over long and hard and then placed just so for maximum irritation.

Rather than the Ray Romano joke of ugly twins being more noticable than one ugly dude, I think I'll sum up with a quote from another comedian - Steven Wright, this time: "I do really abstract paintings. No brush, no canvas. I just think about them."

Both books have had serious praise heaped upon them. Both were front stock from their respective publishing houses and both have been optioned for films. Both also made me seriously question the state of American letters. And both makes one wonder why we need two when one would have done just swell.

And, really, we all would have been better off if, rather than committing them to print, both authors had just... 'thought about them.'