Well, Let Me Tell You ‘Bout the Way She Looked…

I live on a curious diet of nostalgia and novelty. Yesterday, the morning was broken by the words of Binary Star’s “Reality Check” (previously mentioned for its sample of Al Kooper’s “Great American Marriage/Nothing”) interspersed with the words of Reubens Accomplice’s “What You Want Gets You”, and a reading about Doomsday (the Superman villain, I mean) and the mention of character “Doomslayer” dropped Darkest Hour’s “Doomsayer (The Beginning of the End)” into my brain.

None of that makes a lot of sense: Binary Star is well-respected, underground hip-hop. Reubens Accomplice is barely-known indie rock that is simultaneously stripped-down and flowery with instrumentation and curious production choices. And Darkest Hour is Swedish-influenced metal(/core).

I listened to Binary Star here on my desktop, went out listening to Darkest Hour’s Deliver Us and Undoing Ruin, then came home to listen to I Blame the Scenery on vinyl.¹ It was all tone and mood and all kinds of stupid personality quirks: Binary Star was sating that mentally-inspired craving, Darkest Hour was, too, but was positioned for both driving and the immature desire to blare metal and related genres while doing so. Reubens Accomplice was via needle because of the forlorn tone of so much of their stuff, and the way my music room looks out on trees (even if there’s a school on the other side of them…) and can be rainy-day lit with just the one open window to stare out.

Watching episodes of The Trophy Wife today (I have no idea how I stumbled into it, but watch it regularly, sort of), I definitely heard a voice I knew–it was definitely Rod Argent’s “Zombies” voice. Indeed: it was “This Will Be Our Year” from Odessey and Oracle (of course!), which I thought might be the OK Go cover (but Argent’s voice is too distinctive–it was definitely the original). I put the track on, and proceeded to be dragged by “Friends of Mine” (covered by Of Montreal at one point) and “Time of the Season” (come on!) into “Care of Cell 44” (which I got into whilst dating someone who made that track a good pun source), and thus the entire album beginning-to-end in mono (having started it from the stereo versions of those two tracks). I finally corrected the source of “She’s Not There” (to the UK title Begin Here and track 7, rather than the front-loaded track 1 of the US-released The Zombies). Nostalgia.

Last night, it was Joe Lally of Fugazi’s first two solo records–because they’re subdued in the right way, even if not all dreamy and softened. This morning a nap was led in by Jets to Brazil, after seeing a copy of Orange Rhyming Dictionary on vinyl appear (and disappear before I could vacillate on purchasing it at $75 when I still have no income–so probably for the best). I’ve barely listened to Perfecting Loneliness and Four Cornered Night, but there they were, a kind of novelty, and I intend to spend some time with the records I’ve yet to listen to at all today, which I’ve actually been reasonably successful at lately.

So it goes, I suppose.

¹Actually, “What You Want Gets You” is on The Bull, The Balloon and The Family, but I couldn’t place the sounds for the life of me, and I think they were kind of swirling around with some other Reubens Accomplice tracks.

You know what I miss?

One of my absolute stylistic dream teams. Ron Wagner inked by Mike Witherby, coloured by Gregory Wright, lettered by Janice Chiang, and written by Len Kaminski

I was just poking around for more of Ron Wagner’s pencils, as I lost track of Morbius, The Living Vampire around issue 12 (mostly thanks to the “Midnight Massacre” crossover that made it problematic to collect with my super-limited allowance funds, at age 8-9), and have since discovered that I happened to catch the good parts and miss the bad. The series takes a turn for the worse almost immediately after 12, as Kaminski is lost, Wagner is co-penciling (to the extreme detriment of the series), Witherby is nowhere to be found (and replaced by a pair of inkers who don’t do Wagner’s remaining work justice). The series turns from one of the most successfully dark, edgy, gritty, pleasantly-unpleasant series I’ve read in the 90s (the kind that really rides that line of horror movie without delving into the camp aspects, intentionally or not), about a hero that pretty well openly murders his foes whether he likes it or not (leaving him to once let a foe fall in front of a train–said foe carefully un-dismembering himself post-haste…). It’s twisted and weird and totally unlike anything Marvel was doing otherwise (Ghost Rider was solid, but more like the grittier end of standing heroes, Darkhold was terrible and cheesy, Nightstalkers was in the vein of Ghost Rider, but the team dynamic could let it drift off into more “normal” territory…). Morbius, as a character, is outside so much of what came before or after–his costume was short-lived, returned to his original open-chested giant red collar for subsequent appearances.

The stability of the look, the feel, and the quality of the book was ridiculous, but apparently really short-lived.

There was a back-up feature in a few issues that I remember thinking looked like absolute garbage even then, and returning to it is still baffling in its awfulness:

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Isaac Cordova, who drew that monstrosity of terrible was later tapped to draw the book regularly, sealing its fate as incredibly shitty.

It’s sad. There are teams I’ve loved the hell out of (Starlin/Lim, of course; Miller/Janson; Bendis/Maleev¹; Conway/Buscema²…), but this one had so little chance, being on a semi-obscure character in a certainly-now-thoroughly-obscure book, creating a story no one was paying attention to (or remembers!) that was, despite all that, amazing. The above teams (with the exception, perhaps, of the last) are actually known for their work, by name.

The only comment I could find on this team was some dipshit insisting Janice Chiang’s lettering is terrible, clearly the result of an unfortunate case of mutually exclusive cases of blindness and illiteracy.

 

¹Yeah, that’s two teams from Daredevil. One of the interesting parallels is that Morbius, too, required a very unique touch to function appropriately. Despite it’s relatively long-running nature, few Daredevil stories are ever referenced or remembered, except the ones from those teams. Go figure.

²Yeah, Buscema started drawing Spectacular with Peter David writing (returning to the Sin-Eater–never a bad time!–though good lord it had to follow Fearful Symmetry, something I envy for no one), but once he and Conway really hit their stride? Holy shit, the “secondary” Spider-book started beating the snot out of Amazing with its consistency and quality, not having to resort to bullshit like Venom and Carnage–it was almost a functionally separate universe, one where characters were not so x-treme, but reliable, consistent, creative, interesting, without clinging to the limitations of decades past as the characters and stories changed, but never lost their Spider-Man-ness.

You Run for Cover in the Heat, Why Don’t They…

Today is a record day for sure, until it’s a Godzilla day. The more specific elements of my record collection’s sorting are currently on my plate, which means lots of listening (yay!). So far it was hitting up my introductory Whigs album (In the Dark), which I had not yet listened to my copy on vinyl of, which I purchased in Atlanta. Bit of a teensy skip (no dice on cleaning, alas!) but nothing serious. Still a pretty damn rockin’ album, which I sure as hell bought for good reason.

It was while listening to the first one that I naturally began to flip through everything and be reminded of what I have, and so much good and interesting and exciting stuff I haven’t gotten to. But I decided to go slightly familiar after that, with The Fixx’s Reach the Beach, in part thanks to House of the Devil (strongly recommended, and review by me here), in another part thanks to Kyle and his newfound love of 80s synthpop (my “told ya so”s echo into eternity), and of course because he was pointed to them by the same movie, which hinges an excellent scene on that big, big hit, “One Thing Leads to Another”.

I’ll try to sneak in Graham Parker’s The Mona Lisa’s Sister before I head out for dinner and Godzilla, but no gurantees. Ah, well. Still a good time!

Execution Is Mere Formality…

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I picked up a copy of Thanos: Infinity Abyss some weeks ago (I think it was from the Record Store Day run, but it’s not important), and took the occasion to read it tonight.

Oh, the frustration.

On the back: “Five classic costumed champions whose combined strength can move planets and change the course of time itself. What threat could be dire enough to bring these heroes together? Only the most feared villain in the entire cosmos: Thanos! For the vengeful Eternal seeks not only the death of his enemies–he seeks the eradication of life itself. If Thanos attains his goal, the entire universe will face complete Annihilation.”

No. Wrong. Entirely wrong. Given as wrong almost at the inception of the book. There is nothing whatsoever in the entire book to indicate any of this, because it is all totally, and completely, inaccurate. Poor Starlin’s own book can’t escape the mind-numbing oversimplification of his brilliant creation. “He worships death! He wants to exterminate life!” Seriously. The book repeatedly addresses this. This isn’t a twist, either. There’s no “Oh we thought he was bad but we were wrong oh shit our bad”. Because within the book, within Starlin’s writing, there was never a question, because we already knew this wasn’t the case. His prior writing made it clear.

And yet, in addition to the full blast of a Starlin cosmic story, we have some pretty great notes:

1) He addresses the bad writing of people who ignore Thanos. Some will call it a cop-out, but that’s because those people are wrong. When you start expanding, rounding and fully realizing a character, throwing that away to reduce them to a flimsy cardboard standup is bad. Period. It’s not interesting, unique–it’s just trashing something good in favour of repetitious stupidity. But it’s dealt with in a fashion that even lets him explicitly address the stupid-level motivations of those thought to be Thanos, referencing even the single-mindedness, as well as the middling plans. Which brings me to…

2) An excellent line, in contrast to a moronic comment I read recently, which questioned when Thanos was “ever about subtlety” (the answer: always!):

“But fortunately, Thanos’s most dangerous weapon is his mind. It is entirely in the planning. All battles are won or lost before ever the first blow is struck. Execution is mere formality.”

 

But it’s all still depressing: this is a new printing, and it’s almost guaranteed that whatever lazy asshole wrote the back of it wrote it with all of the stupid recent writings and, unfortunately, the upcoming film adapatations, in mind. Great…

I’ll Never Let You Down

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I’ve been organizing my music the past few days, and listening to records (finally!) with a focus on the ones I haven’t listened to yet (of course!), and yesterday I put on Al Kooper’s You Never Really Know Who Your Friends Are, which I bought in Atlanta last year in October (if that sounds bad, don’t even ask about my DVD collection). I’ve heard bits and pieces via a compilation (Rare and Well Done), but even that I didn’t catch much of, except for a track from his lone album with Blood, Sweat and Tears, the track being “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know” (no surprise, coming from me, I think).

I bought this (as well as New York City (You’re a Woman)) because I decided, somewhat ridiculously (but not without good reason) to begin a collection of “session man solo albums”, after having been treated quite well by them a number of times. I’d already begun amassing Chris Spedding, and my love for known-successful solo acts like Leon Russell or Dr. John (who were both in the Wrecking Crew), and I should probably pick up some of Nicky Hopkins’s excruciatingly rare albums, too (I guess they aren’t that difficult to find, but certainly not easy).

Anyway, this was a pretty awesome record, I suddenly discovered: a strange mix of the peculiarities of the Zombies, Harry Nilsson, and the Band, tinged with soul. “Anna Lee (What Can I Do)” has an absurdly grooving rhythm section behind a vocal that has shadows of Richard Manuel’s performance of “I Shall Be Released”, but that rhythm section and a few turns of Al’s vocal give it a much funkier force.

The title track’s skittering rim taps and wood blocks and honky-tonk intro recall a variety of tracks from earlier in the decade, both well-regarded (as if it could have been found on Odessy & Oracle) or just pop-y (think Herman’s Hermits). It fills out and gets the production feel of something from the decade after its release.

“I’ll Never Let You Down” should complete my attempt to illustrate the sprawling variety here: it’s a string-sweetened ballad that wouldn’t be out of place as a focal track in a movie from the time period, except that the bass is too forceful, and the mix of it fills too much, as does the vocal track, which has the quaver of an imperfect singer, rather than a straight session singer lead vocal, even if it is backed by a whole chorus of voices.

And I’d be remiss if I did not mention the semi-surreal moment of hearing “The Great American Marriage/Nothing”, which was very audibly sampled to open “Reality Check” from Binary Star, which is a great opening track itself, with that taut, tense-to-the-point-of-discomfort string arrangement screeching in–a good choice on their part, and a clever piece on Kooper’s.

Seriously, this record is the kind of reason I developed this idea: this is not an album that’s a neat trick because “Hey it’s that guy who played on all of those records!” it’s because this is a damn fine album all on its own, but it’s that much easier to find because of who made it.

Well, I’m watching The People vs. George Lucas, and I just pulled these out of the closet.

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All this free time? I’m going to see if I can recapture this. I read some of these books years ago (before the prequels), then purchased them only a few years ago (now after the prequels), and never really read them. The prequels didn’t anger me, or destroy everything–they didn’t pop the balloon of my love for Star Wars, they just…let the air out. It’s not there anymore, and hasn’t been, and it’s sad, because it was something important and awe-inspiring.

It’s frustrating and sad on an entirely other level, because I’m not like the angry ranters, the people told to let it go, because in most senses I just do not care anymore. I don’t get excited, not even angry, even the denial of the prequels is just a sort of show, because I don’t really feel like watching the original trilogy anymore either. There’s sort of an eroded sense of leaping heart at the right moments (“Binary Sunset”, for instance), but it’s just a shadow of what it was before.

I’d like it back enough that, if I could, I’d bring it back, so, here we are at that free time again. Reading these books used to have the opposite effect, expanding the universe I already loved, building and building into something much bigger. But I don’t know: it was the invalidation of most (all?) of the words in these books that just killed the whole thing for me. Half (or more, as the EU is enormous) of what I loved was retconned out of existence, and I completely accepted the canonical supremacy of the prequels, as it would be baffling to fight those movies with “But that’s not how it actually was…” because now, well, yeah it is how it was. Boba Fett is Boba Fett, clone/son thing, not Jaster Mereel. And I don’t know if I can read these knowing that nothing in them is even true within their own continuity and that fictional universe. I’m not even sure what the analogue is: What If was knowingly taking established Marvel events and turning them on their ear just to see what would be different. Even fan-fiction tends to attempt slavish authenticity. It’s like reading a bunch of books that were made by people who tried to fill in the gaps while waiting, only to find out their guesses and ideas were all wrong, and oh well, nevermind. It’s such a unique and strange set of circumstances. I can’t think of a thing like it–anything even close generally doesn’t carry that determining factor of sixteen years of time that did not include even confirmation that the story was going to have “canon” continuation, so all of these books actually were the canon–until they sudden’t weren’t, and they were just invalidated. It’s not even like retconning in comics, per se, as so many people weren’t even aware of these.

Some of us pursued that expansion, most people didn’t. So we didn’t have this as a cultural continuation–Star Wars paused for everyone else after Jedi, and it only came out of its carbonite shell in 1999, even though some of us were building on it in the decade preceding. It was official, but only for some of us. So it wasn’t that everyone had this running stream–even if flickers would escape, like Dash Rendar, his Outrider, Prince Xizor and all of Shadows of the Empire or maybe Splinter of the Mind’s Eye–that someone went back and sort of nudged into place as the water kept flowing. It just poured right over the EU as if it had never been there, because it really wasn’t for most people.

I’d still like that universe back, but I don’t know if it can happen, because that universe was replaced so thoroughly, so completely, and so authoritatively that the well may not only be dry, but filled in.