Tuesday, March 29, 2011

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Spring is blooming here in East Texas. The Azalea Trails, which is something the town of Tyler is known for is in full bloom. It will be my first spring down here, and it has already been nice. In West Texas spring isn't a very nice time of the year, you just get high winds and a lot of blowing dust. But down here, a lot more foliage is on display. We do get more inclement weather, which I'm not used to, and high winds will kick up, plus tornado alerts, and some hail--I'm still not used to that and it gets a bit scary at times. But I guess you take the good with the bad. The flowers are a nice change though.

I got out and went by Walmart and bought some of those Topsy Turvy tomato planters where they grow upside down. I also bought some plants for them, and another potted tomato plant for the patio. I thought I was picking up two Topsy Turvy planters, but mistakenly picked up a pepper one, so I need to go back to Walmart and buy some pepper plants to plant in that. I got back and raked up leaves a little bit and cleaned out the flower beds. I need to put down some mulch. I got out the lawn mower and mulched the leaves, planted the tomatoes, and dug around out in the storage building for a bit.

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I came in later, and cleaned up and ate a bit of supper. I'd gotten in a couple of DVDs. I watched The Norliss Tapes (1973) first. It was a made-for-TV movie, which I think was going to be the pilot of a series, but never happened. It's still an interesting watch, sort of like the X-Files or closer perhaps to Kolchack: The Night Stalker. It started Roy Thinnes as David Norliss, who was also in the Invaders series. He played an investigative news reporter who has disappeared. His boss goes to his house to try and find out his whereabouts and to see if anything is wrong as he hasn't called into the job lately. He looks around for him, and while there sticks in a cassette of some of his journals. The story plays out as a sort of flashback to his past life. This was to act like a framing device, where we get flashbacks into his life, and it reveals some of his supernatural investigations. It was done pretty well. Part of the draw of movies and TV shows is that you get to fantasize about other lives. There are some nice shots of California and San Francisco in the film. One shot, atop a restaurant looks down at the Golden Gate bridge, which is one of the nice shots in the film. The film plays out as an occult mystery. William F. Nolan, who wrote Logan's Run, and many other SF and horror stories scripted it, and Dan Curtis, who's known for Dark Shadows directed and produced it. It was a fun, escapist adventure story.

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The better film of the night, which I'd never really heard much about was The Night of the Hunter. For me, it fell into the classic territory. It stars Robert Mitchum as a con artist preacher, who while in jail, meets Ben Harper played by a young Peter Graves, who had stolen some money. Graves has hidden the loot on his property, and tells his son, never to reveal their secret to anyone, and always protect his sister and mother--a rather large responsibility to place on a kid. While in jail the preacher learns of the hidden money, and Harper dies rather mysteriously. Once released the preacher pays a visit to Harper's widow to charm her and his family and community. From there on out the movie picks up speed and grips the viewer until the ending. The film offers a lot of odd shots, which while I watched it reminded me of David Lynch, and the preacher character reminded me of Randall Flagg from Stephen King's The Stand novel for some odd reason. So it has this odd mixture of horror and suspense to it. It was directed by Charles Laughton, the English actor, who starred in many famous roles. It was made in 1955, but certainly worth a watch, as I said, I'd consider it a classic.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

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This is a link to a documentary that I found out about recently on progressive rock. It's about an hour long, but if you enjoy that genre you'll enjoy it immensely. It starts out with the early days in the 70's, and has interviews with Bill Bruford from Yes and King Crimson fame, Steve Hackett from Genesis, and others. There are also live performances of all sorts of progressive bands, along with album art, clips, and so forth. It really covers the broad spectrum of prog, and even includes some of the international bands like Goblin, The Flower Kings, Focus, Anglagard, and so forth, although it leaves out fusion. Of course not every band is mentioned, that would be pretty impossible, but if you are a fan of that style of music or the least bit curious, it's a entertaining film.

You can check it out: here.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

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Fantastic Planet by director Rene La Loux is a very original French/Czech Sci-fi film that's allegorical and cerebral. It has loads of originality and charm, although the animation is a bit stilted by today's Pixar/Disney standards. Don't let that dissuade you from watching it though because if you're a SF fan you'll be taken away to an alien world and society. The plot is said to be based on the Soviet occupation of the Czech Republic. The story centers on an Om (human) named Terr, who escapes his subjugation with a Traag learning device and eventually educates other Oms and incites them to revolt their captors. What makes the film interesting is the bizarre, surreal world and the struggle of the humans to overthrow their captivity. The soundtrack is also of note as it's sort of a mixture of psychedelic, jazz fusion, which further compliments the alien atmosphere rather well. There's a little bit of nudity, but it's an animated film and I'd hardly think offensive (at least for me--your mileage may very). The film nabbed the Grand Prix at Cannes.

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I bought a new Stihl chainsaw the other day and read thru the instruction manual on its use, etc. I fired it up and started sawing some brush around the front of my house. There's a runoff stream and ditch in front of my property, and the plants in that area have been needing a good trim, among some other areas of the property, so I'll put this saw to good use.

I came in and cleaned up and watched Survivor. Then I finished watching the Smothers Brothers: Best of Comedy Hour Season 3. Disc 4 contained bits on Pat Paulsen's campaign where he ran for president back in 1968. Rather funny stuff. The highlight of that disc though was the bonus features where Paulsen is seen in a rare nightclub performance done at the Pierce Street Annex in Anchorage, Alaska back in 1992 (Paulsen has since died). But Paulsen's widow sent the Smothers Brothers the skit on a VHS (remember those?), and they included it on their disc.

We get to see him in rare form, telling one quick joke after another pulling out all the stops. Parts of the skits are based around the farce of his presidential running campaign or just political in nature, while other jokes are broad on other topics. One of the jokes goes as this: You give a cow to a Democrat, he'll milk that cow, keep some for himself, and give the rest to poor people. You give the cow to the Republican, he'll hire the Democrat to milk the cow at less than a living wage, say there's a milk shortage, and sell the milk at inflated prices. That enables the Republican to buy a bull, and he can make more cows, which he can hire more Democrats to milk. So the Republican can do for the Democrat what the bull did to the cow.

Paulsen was always creative and was writing jokes up until he died of cancer. Also included are some of Pat's malignant humor that he wrote while in treatment and the hospital. For example he wrote: I'm writing a book called "The Joy and Fun of Radiation". In it I tell how I'm turning a negative situation into a positive one. For instance, during radiation I would always put a hot dog in each pocket. And: I went for treatment in Tijuana. I went there with cancer and came back with the runs.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Friday I went by the Tyler library sale. It was held in the auditorium in the same building as the library. I was surprised as they had more stuff than I thought, but I didn't walk away with a lot stuff either. That's fine as I don't need to be bringing home much anyway. However, I still like to browse. They did have some beat up, fairly worn out vinyl albums, quite a few books on cassette, some VHS, and books to look at. It seems like most places they are trying to reduce and get rid of obsolete media. I know as a vinyl fan, I don't like to think of it that way at times, but it's pretty much true, and the same goes for VHS and cassettes. I still enjoy my vinyl and still have a lot of stuff on VHS, but who knows how much longer in the future if your players that play them breaks you'll be able to find a replacement for them, and will it be worth the effort? I guess eventually they'll go the way of the dodo like everything else. I then ran by Hastings as I was out and about anyway, and ran across a hardback book on Jack Kirby, called Kirby: King of Comics by Mark Evanier.

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Evanier has written for Comic Buyers Guide for years and used to have a column in it called POV or Point of View, where he'd write about various topics. He also became a friend to Kirby and his wife, Roz, several years back assisting him on some of his work. At any rate, I guess they struck up a close friendship enough for Evanier to do this book on him. It's pretty cool too as it's one of those coffee table books, which I'm a fan of anyway as it allows the art and graphics to really be showcased. I've already read about how Kirby got tagged with the King of Comics by Stan Lee, and how he humbly didn't really care for it, as he didn't think he was any better than any other cartoonist at the time. There are a lot of stories in it, so it should be a fun read.

When I got back to the house, I ate a bit, and got on the computer and did a bit of searching on chainsaws. I have two electric saws already, but need a gas powered one for areas that the extension chord won't reach. Plus a gas saw would just be more practical and easier at times. I decided on the Stihl saw after comparing a few reviews. I had bought one of their leaf blowers last year and had pretty good results, so hopefully I will with the chainsaw as well. It was getting late in the day, so I thought I'd just wait and get out sometime on Saturday and run by one of the stores here and take a look at them.

I got up Saturday and drank some coffee, ate some breakfast, and did the normal routine, and went online to find out where this hardware store was at in town. It was on the opposite end of town, but I thought I'd give it a try. The place that I bought my leaf blower at was in Whitehouse, a town nearby, but I thought I'd try this other place thinking it might be closer, not that Whitehouse is that far off (really after comparing the drive time, they are about the same). When I get over to Ace Hardware, I noticed that there weren't many cars in their parking lot, and the building was a bit rundown, so I already had second thoughts. I walked up to the door and noticed the closed sign! Sure enough, I checked their hours on the door, it said: Closed at noon on Saturdays. Wow, I'd have thought that to be one of their better selling periods, you know, since everybody is generally off on the weekend, but hey, whatever works, right? So I get back in the truck and drive over to Whitehouse (where I should have gone to begin with). I like that store as the people there seem to care about their customers, check it out what you are buying, gas it up and demonstrate it for you, and show how to operate it a bit. Plus like I said, it's only about five minutes from Tyler anyway, so no biggie.

By the time I get back from that, it was time for supper nearly and I ate. I'll check out the chainsaw though in due time. While I was over at the library, I looked over their DVDs, and checked out the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour set of the Best of Season Three.

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I used to watch these back in high school. They informed my political awareness as a teenager, and I enjoyed their variety of music, folk, humor, politics, and so forth. I grew up in a fairly small, fairly removed part of Texas, no less anywhere else. So this show was like a window of pop culture and what was hip at the time. The Smothers Brothers were on around 68/69 when Nixon was president, and stayed in hot water due to some of their political jabs, sometimes crossing over into religion, and other areas that didn't sit well with critics, middle America, and so forth, and were canceled later on because of it. It's funny now though in retrospect as it seems so tame, when compared to prime time television and shows like South Park for example. At any rate, it's been really fun to get to see these shows again, and revisit some of the performances by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition, Donovan, Dion, the Pat Paulsen for President stuff, some of the early performance by comedians like George Carlin and others. It's really a time capsule of that time.

Thursday, March 10, 2011



I've always been a bit of a Sci-fi geek. I make no apologies. Why would or should I? I saw one of those 60 Minutes news-formatted programs on TV where they said that kids today don't care much for the geek term or like to be associated with it. I can understand that I suppose having gone through high school myself etc. Normally we think of it as someone that's antisocial or lacking basic proper etiquette or social skills. A lot of that comes from pop culture, I guess. But at the same time the program said these are the same kids in high school that go on to become artist like Spielberg, math scholars, writer, scientist, etc. I guess that a broad generalization. Besides this posting doesn't have a lot to do with that anyway. I just enjoy some of that genre and ran across a pretty cool site with some cool art work etc. If you are like minded, check it out: here. The site, Split Lip Horror, which really doesn't deal much with horror, it seems to be more about SF, appears to just be one of those sites that deals with the medium, art work, news, and highlights of the genre that appeals to the geek in me.

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Back when I was a kid growing up, I also used to put together models. I started out building war airplanes and old cars. There was a sort of 50's car culture back then, probably due to Big Daddy Roth, Beach Boy songs and other pop groups, drag strips, pop culture, and so forth. At any rate, I graduated from the airplanes and hotrods to some of those Big Daddy Roth models called Weird Ohs, which were sort stylized, grotesque monsters driving some old hot rod, riding a surf board or something similar. It seemed the more hideous the monster, the more it appealed to me. Teen angst, I guess. My brother was into to a little bit. We also bought some of the old Universal Monster kits like Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, and so forth. We had a built-in book case back in our part of the house, and we'd display them there. Once we moved from East Texas to West Texas my mother trashed them, I'm sure to lighten the load, and probably truth be known, she didn't like the looks or influence of them. At any rate, I still find that pastime sort of interesting even though I haven't dabbled with the hobby in years. The last few things I built back then were some of those balsa wood framed models and you'd stretch paper over them and sort of glue the paper over the frames with a sort of liquid fixative, all of it probably not that great for you to inhale, but it's not like we abused it back then either. You just needed a little ventilation. At any rate, I ran across this pretty neat model site with some pictures on it for the dedicated modeler, and I thought I'd share it: here. Check out the link to the Reader Gallery for photos. And scroll further down to the bottom of that page and you can find a window, which says Select a catogory to choose, and you can view other models to look at from monsters to space ships, etc.

A library sale today. I think I'll take that in and see if I can run across something cool. More later.

Monday, March 07, 2011

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Dan Britton has played keyboards in three other progressive bands: Cerebus Effect (which I haven't heard), Birds & Buildings's excellent album, Bantam to Behemoth, one of 2008's top releases, and Deluge Grander. Britton along with fellow musicians: Dave Berggren on guitar, Brett d'Anon on bass, and Patrick Gaffney plays drums along with a few extra musicians that add to the mix with cello, flute, trumpet, and some other instruments have come together to created Deluge Grander's second album, following on the heals of their fascinating debut, August in the Urals (2006). They continue in the realm of their previous album exploring progressive rock in a neo classical, symphonic, avant-garde style. They've spent two years on this newest effort and it shows, as it's a complex work. For the most part it is instrumental, and although I enjoyed sparse use of vocals on their debut, I don't think the newer album suffers from the exclusion.

There are five cuts on the album each long enough to explore ideas that shift and change in their complexity, odd shifting rhythms, melodies and dynamics that keeps one engaged and listening, wondering where it's going to go next. If you are a mellotron fan that's here as well, and the second cut, “The Tree Factory”, begins reminding me of some of the passages from bands like King Crimson's, In the Wake of Poseidon, before it changes in tone and scope moving into something totally different from the intro. The music contained on The Form of the Good makes me scratch my head in amazement at times wondering at the mysterious process of how the band compose and arrange their music. It warrants multiple listens just to process all the facets on it, a process being a prog fan, I enjoy as it offers a lot of exploring, hearing new passages on further listening.

I think each band member adds to the mix. None of the instruments foreshadow or stand above the other so that the integrated sum gels well for each composition. However, during certain passages of songs you can hear a drum rhythm, a bass or guitar line stand out or trigger a melody that sends the shape of the song in a different direction, like maybe the way a brook or river winds its way into the landscape. It seems that it's an album of paradigms, offered as a map for the ears: urbanism vs. naturalism, dissonance and consonance, avant-garde, yet accessible, grandeur, but not grandiose, romantic, without any negative connotations. If you enjoy exploratory symphonic prog, you should check it out.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

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Happy Birthday, Will Eisner!

Will Eisner was best known as the creator of the comic strip character, The Spirit. Born March 6, 1917, had he lived, he would have been 94 today. He began his career in the 1930s and ran what some say is the best entertainment comic book studio in history, and popularized educational comics. Some think of Will Eisner as the father of the graphic novel, while others might think of his visual story telling technique that is known as sequential art. He influenced many other artist and has an award that is given out each year known as the Eisner Awards (sort of like an Academy or Grammy Award) for the best in comics. You can read more about Will Eisner, here.

Eisner was a creator of mood, and his splash panels, where he incorporated the title into his art, were a treasure. The Spirit was a masked detective hero known formerly as Denny Colt. While trying to stop Dr. Cobra from injecting a deadly chemical into the city's water supply, Colt is knocked into the vat of chemicals and presumably dies. Although the chemicals sort of put him in a state of suspended animation. Colt decides along with Police Commissioner Dolan to keep all this a secret, and hence his Spirit moniker is born. His base of operation is an apartment at his grave at Wildwood Cemetery (where he was buried).

Today to help celebrate Eisner's 94th birthday, Google, the search engine has as their masthead a Spirit/Eisner logo.

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Saturday, March 05, 2011

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Describing the Swedish progressive band, The Flower Kings CD, Stardust We Are, is pretty hard because they all are broad in scope, dense, subtle and have a grand sweep to them. They cover quite a bit of ground, fitting into all sorts of categories. In short, I really like Stardust We Are, and it may be their best effort, among many of their other fine releases. If you are drawn to bands similar in vein to King Crimson, Yes, ELP, or Genesis just to name a few, then more than likely, you'll really enjoy this band as well. Even though the TFKs are influenced by many of the top prog acts, they are by no means a watered-down version of them.

Stardust We Are is a two-CD set. The first CD is a bit weaker than the second, but there's more than enough material on it to warrant listening to over and over again. With "The Eyes Of The World" they start out with a sort of rave up jazz number. One of the first things you'll notice is the full use of keyboards supplied by Tomas Bodin, and the excellent guitar work from Roine Stolt, and the other band members are excellent players as well. But rather than any one player standing out in showmanship fashion for too long, TFKs pretty much are integral in their sound, giving each member room to express themselves. On the first cut alone they undergo many tempo shifts, different textures, wonderful melodies, and so forth.

"Just This Once" is a song about a father talking to his son about the wiles of the world, and how a person can change the world, no matter how small or insignificant they may feel, and how men of power come and go. I love how parts of this song contain the jazzy sections. One may also note that TFKs music has a rather fantasy feel to it like Yes or the Moody Blues at times. "Church Of Your Heart" is perhaps my favorite song on this first CD with its uplifting message of believing in oneself, and for the harmonies that it contains. "Circus Brimstone" has a slightly more darker edge to it, with the opening drums and mellotron beginning, and shifts midway thru into an almost Anglagard section. "Compassion" ends the first disc on a somewhat bluesy feel with its ideological ode to rising above evil. I might add here that the FKs lyrics tend to be open-ended or maybe even, applicable, allowing the listener to apply whatever references one wishes to glean from the songs.

The stellar second disc begins with an amazing Bach-like pipe organ fugue (which was pretty jaw dropping for me), you'll also note that Bodin introduces us to a melodic theme, "Stardust We Are," which is the last song on the disc. Actually this theme will crop up again throughout this disc, like on the song "If 28." "The End Of Innocence" reminds me of something pretty Crimsonesque, even the vocal reminds me a bit of John Wetton--a great song with its soulful touches on guitar by Roine and mellotron fills. "The Merrygoround" is more Yes-inspired with its chops on guitar that sound similar to what Steve Howe might have done with its odd time signature and ending with a nice guitar lead by Stolt. "Don Of The Universe" continues on in a nice mellow vibe beginning on acoustic guitar and makes use of a sitar/slide effect. Other highlights from the second disc are the reggae tinged "Ghost Of The Red Cloud," and of course, the twenty-five minute opus, "Stardust We Are," which really just has to be heard as words fall short. All in all a great album.

Friday, March 04, 2011

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I got out for a bit yesterday. I ran by Lowe's and picked up two particle boards for some shelving that I needed for my record collection. I got a wild hair and decided to rearrange my vinyl collection. It's been needing it for a while now, I've just been putting it off since my move. I forget what prompted me. I think it was the recent Eight Debut albums blog posting, and watching the Rush documentary that put me in the mood. So I started that, and in the process picked up some pre-emergent herbicide for the lawn. Spring is coming on fast here in East Texas, and I thought I better get it prepared for some of the weeds, plus we have some rain in the forecast. I wish I had bought some Azalea food as I have some Azaleas around my house. Tyler is proud of their Azalea trails, they are also the rose capital. I don't know if that's the rose capital of Texas or what, but anyway, we're the capital. So I need to go back to Lowe's and buy some of that Azalea fertilizer. I knew I should have bought it while I was there--I hate doing double trips like that, it's a waste of gas and time. But so goes life. While I'm out I can get a newspaper and stop by Hastings for their monthly County Line magazine. It's a freebie guide to music and events around the East Texas area.

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Later on I ate supper and watched a few episodes of The Office. I don't know if I'm a true fan of the show, but I enjoy catching a few episodes here and there. It's one of the few current comedy shows that makes me laugh. I enjoy the King of Queens too. After that I was looking around on the computer and found some rather interesting podcasts on H.P. Lovecraft. The creators of the show, Chad Fifer and Chris Lackey take a Lovecraft story, and they'll have someone read a part of it with cool sound effects, and then they'll comment on that part of the story. I listened to episode 65, which was The Dunwich Horror since I've read the story and have the Dean Stockwell/Sandra Dee story as well on DVD. Plus sometime back a friend even gave me a used copy of the Heavy Metal issue devoted to H.P. Lovecraft, which contains a comic adaptation of it as well, which is a cool issue if you can track it down. At any rate, if interested in H.P. Lovecraft check out these podcast, they are located: here.

The same guys are also working on a pulp-like comic which you can also preview at their site, called The Deadbeats. They have a four-part, pulpish animation up over on Youtube, which I watched and enjoyed. It's called The Investigators. Here's the link to that: here.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

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Last Friday my cousin who is head of the drama department at the Tyler Junior College here was putting on a play, and I'd made plans to attend. I had in the back of my mind I wanted to plan a day around it, and did, but got a little waylaid along the way. I got up early that day and put some turkey breast in the crock pot for supper later that night, and then went and got a haircut. Then ran by Walmart. By the time I got home the supper was ready, so I ate and did the dishes, and dressed as quickly as I could. When I finally got to TJC it was getting a bit late and I had to find a park and was hoping that where I parked was ok and that I wouldn't get a ticket, not knowing their policies for such.

So I get to the auditorium and it had already started but not by much. I got an usher to show me to my seats, but since the play had already started and the auditorium was full, we saw that I would have had to crawl over a whole row of people. Luck had it though, that directly behind that row were two aisle seats right together. I told the usher that I'd just sit there, and if the patrons came to the play, I'd move to my assigned seating. They never showed, which was great for me.

The play was called Into the Woods. It's a Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine musical the plot taken from the Grimm's fairy tales concerning Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Repunzel, Cinderella, and a baker and his wife that wanted to start a family, but can't have children. Each character has a wish that they think would make their life better. There's also a witch involved. The witch tells the baker she'll grant the couple a child if they'll retrieve certain things from the other characters. I won't go into details, but if interested you can go: here.

At any rate, I really enjoyed the play, although I must admit I got lost a bit in Act II as far as the plot goes, but came home and read a bit about it to full understand what I had seen (I should have done this beforehand, but such goes life at times.) I think what the play might have been saying is that things don't always turn out happy ever after and also never being satisfied is generally part of the human condition. The play seemed to deal with a lot of different themes and ideas. All in all I enjoyed it. The songs were well sung, and the small orchestra that they used was right on queue. I was pretty impressed overall for such young talent, and at my cousin's direction and everyone that was involved.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

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One of my favorite comics has been Paul Chadwick's Concrete. It started back in the 80's. Concrete looks like some sort of super hero, but the stories aren't really in that mold. To me they deal more with the world around us: the beauty, the adventure, exploration, the environment, and so forth. I'd been wondering what Paul Chadwick had been up to lately as a Concrete comic has come out in a few years. His comics are irregular, which just means they don't come out monthly like say a regular Batman or Superman book would, they just come out whenever he's ready to publish one. The Human Dilemma was his last five part storyline, and in it (SPOILER)...Concrete had a baby. The odd thing about that is that before he was captured by aliens and had his brain put into this concrete body he was a male. So that storyline was odd, but interesting. So any way I ran across a recent interview with him, and he sort of updates his present situation, his life, and so forth. Give it a listen: here.

He also has a web site with a lot of his art on it, and there's a link on his site to his blog if interested. You can catch that here.

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If you enjoy Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention's brand of music this documentary is a good rental that does shed some new information on the band. It mostly covers their albums from Freak Out up to Uncle Meat. Most of the critics that speak in the film offer some interesting critiques about the albums and band. I preferred the American critiques over the British ones, but they all offered glimpses into this era of the band. I particularly found the comment about how most of the bands back then had long hair and had that anti-establishment look to them, but the Mothers looked unkept and unwashed even by that day's standards. But I think that was a part of their look that Zappa and crew were going for, a part of their PR--we look ugly, scary, warts and all. But at the same time, as Jimmy Carl Black says in his interviews: We were one of the best bands ever!! I'll agree with him. No other band was as avant-garde at the time, was as broad in musical scope, or could play as well. Such is the Mother's fame, history and legacy. There were a lot of other interviews from bandmates and critiques. All in all a good film particularly if you enjoyed the Mothers.