Sunday, August 30, 2015

Steve Gerber Piggyback

Ever so often I run across something on the web I'd like to share.  The fan blog about Steve Gerber is one of them.  As some may know, Steve Gerber was the writer of the comic Howard the Duck, which was eventually made into a movie of the same name in 1986.  Partly produced by George Lucas and initially conceived as an animated film, it turned into a live action film, and didn't get very good reviews when released.  I've seen the film and it's hardly the worse film I've ever seen, though it's not great by any measure.  It is what it is, a comic book movie based on a satirical comic book that has an outlandish story. 

For the 80's it has that vibe that many of the fantastical movies of that period had, for instance, Back To The Future (though done better), The Goonies (better than average), Beetlejuice, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Weird Science, Earth Girls Are Easy, Spaceballs, and so forth.  Like I said, it's not a great movie, but has that zany element to it that a lot of the films of that decade had.  I'm not sure why that decade had so many films like that other than I think perhaps they were influenced by punk and new wave music, and some of that manic music overlapped into the films, and also Hollywood wanted to exploit and capitalize on that market.  Sure there were other and better films made during that decade like Blade Runner, The Empire Strikes Back, Die Hard, Aliens,  Raiders of the Lost Ark, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, or which ever films were your personal favorites.  Actually looking back at that decade reveals just how many amazing films were made during that timeframe.  So back to Howard the Duck, it wasn't the greatest, but for me it wasn't a totally stinker either.  I prefer it over Spaceballs, Earth Girls Are Easy, and a few other films of that caliber. 

I never knew much about Howard the Duck or Steve Gerber either as I never read an issue of said comic.  I always heard it mentioned when someone was talking about great or unusual comics.  That it contained a lot of satire, was well written, and was pretty funny.  Man-Thing I was a bit more familiar with as I had one or two issues of that, though my knowledge of that was slim too, though I liked a lot of the horror comics.  At any rate, here's the piggyback link to The Gerber Curse site.  I found it interesting because it has a biography on Gerber and notes many of this works.  Enjoy.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Kim Gordon

I finished reading Kim Gordon Girl In A Band, A Memoir the other night, and it was a pretty fun and breezy read.  I think the impetus for me wanting to read it was because I was curious how she came to learn how to play the bass guitar, and also how she got into the band, Sonic Youth.

She starts the book by describing Sonic Youth's final concert playing in a rather large Music and Arts Festival in Brazil with several other acts like Faith No More, Peter Gabriel, Black Eyed Peas, Kanye West, and others.  She also touched upon how she and Thurston Moore were separated and not speaking to each other.  Actually I never knew they were married, as I haven't followed the rock press very closely for a while now.  So most of what's inside the book was news to me.  But what comes across from her book is that she's actually a pretty good and self-aware writer.  She's also pretty aware of the visual art scene as well, and over the course of her book name drops many different visual artist that had me Googling their names to check who they were and what they'd done, another interesting feature of her memoir.

After the first chapter, she back tracks and begins telling about her early years, being born in Rochester, New York, but spending most of her youth in California.  Her father worked at UCLA for many years, and her mother was a housewife.  She had an older brother, Keller, who later while attending college started having emotional problems and was diagnosed with schizophrenia.  Overall she had a happy childhood and teenage years.  Her parents had liberal friends and they all go camping in the summers, fishing and such.  She talks about growing up seeing the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show and later on listening to musicians like Crosby, Still, and Nash, Joni Mitchell, and more or less normal stuff teens listened to back then.  But she also liked some of her Dad's jazz collection of Charlie Parker, Coltrane, Brubeck, and Stan Getz.   At any rate, she writes there was always music and laughter in their household.

Growing up in California during the late 60's could be a pretty wild place, and although she and her brother experimented with drugs, she wasn't exactly a wild child, however, she seemed to already be drawn to arty type people.  She knew early on she wanted to be an artist and painted and sculpted some.  Also being in and around California at that time she'd bump into and get to know roadies of bands, and relates how she knew a friend of a friend that got to be famous.  One of the roadies she met was Richie O'Connell who was a friend of Bruce Berry, who knew Neil Young.  Berry was also kin to Jan Berry of the sixties duo, Jan and Dean.

Later she got into college and transferred to York University in Toronto.  In college she'd meet other artist as well, and filmmakers.  For an art project at school, she was in her first band, she sang and played a tambourine.   She describes their sound as an explosive mess and mayhem.  But perhaps that was her inspiration to continue performing.  She also met many artist within that scene like Mike Kelley who did the artwork to Sonic Youth's album, Dirty.

She eventually moved to Manhattan in 1980.  I have to hand it to her, she was not complacent, and being in New York at that time had to be a unique, if not scary experience.  To make a little money she worked in a few art galleries, bookstores, and whatever it took to make ends meet, while staying with friends starting out until she could afford a place of her own.  Of course it was around this time frame that a precursor movement to punk started happening known as No Wave.  It was such an explosive small movement and had such a short lifespan that it almost went unnoticed.  But bands such as Lydia Lunch, DNA, Mars, James Chance and the Contortions came out of that era.  There was one compilation album released of those bands called No New York.

Quickly after that the punk movement started with acts like Blondie, the Police, Talking Heads, and many others.  It was around this time that she met Thurston at the Danceteria.  Both of them pretty immediately shared similar interest in art, music, and what was going on in New York at the time.  He was already playing music with other people, but nothing developed from it.  Eventually Sonic Youth came together.  Their first EP was recorded in 1981.  Though Kim doesn't talk much about how or when she began playing bass, which was one of the things I was curious about.  To be honest, she's not a technical proficient bass player, meaning she doesn't read music, had lessons, or was schooled in music.  She, I assume, plays by ear and was taught to play it, again I assume by Thurston and other bass players.  I'm not snubbing her for that as that's how a lot of people learn to play their instruments.  They are self taught, but I wished she talked a bit more about that aspect.

What she did make clear, however, is that she seems to think conceptually about art, and it's that ability, which is her best asset, being able to blend into a band.  She also sings, although a limited vocalist, and wrote many of the lyrics to their songs.  Again that's part of her strength, and also a part of the bands strength--to be able to construct songs.  Not everyone can do that.  Believe me I've tried.  It's really hard to communicate with another musician the conveyance of musical ideas.  You almost have to be on the same wave length as to what's the sort of music you want to create or it's not going to happen.  Most musicians starting out just wanting to jam or copy other hits of the day, and more or less become a cover band if they're talented enough even to do that, but not too many go beyond that and try and create their own songs, write lyrics, etc.  It's hard and can be frustrating.

Another thing she mentioned was that before the internet, if you weren't a mainstream band, it was nearly impossible to get your music heard on the radio.  Even moreso if your music was avant-garde, arty or experimental.  Touring was the only way to get a label to market your music.  At any rate, the take away is although Sonic Youth have broken up along with Kim's marriage with Thurston Moore, Kim is a survivor.  She has a knack, way and means to involve herself with any art project if that is her intent.  She's been a musician, had her own clothing line, does visual art, and has been pretty diverse in the arts.  She has her daughter, Coco, and many friend, so life is good.  If the early punk rock scene and New York City at that time holds any interest for you, and you're interested in learning something about a few other visual artist, you might want to check out her book.



Saturday, August 08, 2015

Recent Watching

Summer has gotten hot, and it has been this way in Texas for a couple of weeks.  I always forget how hot it gets down here until it really hits.  I was hoping it might be more like last year, but that's not the case.  It's just flat out hot and dry here now, and we recently went into a burn ban.  What better time to do something indoors than to watch movies or TV?

Rolling Stone released their picks for best movies of 2015 so far.  I wasn't familiar with some of them so I'll post them here.  I did get out and watch Mad Max: Fury Road some time back, and although I enjoyed the movie, the theater experience wasn't that great.  I've become a real recluse when it comes to that.  I'd just as soon with most movies, watch them at home and avoid all the downsides and distractions of a movie theater experience:  the volume being too loud, obnoxious crowds, cell phones, too hot or cold temperature in the theater, or recently even the threat of a crazed gun nut, etc.  You never know what to expect when you show up sometimes.   I haven't seen the film, Love & Mercy yet, but since I'm a big Beach Boys fan, I look forward to it.  Many years ago they did a made-for-TV movie of the Beach Boys and their trials and tribulations with their career and overbearing father.  For a TV movie, I thought it was pretty good.  I don't think it ever got released, unless it was on VHS for a while.

The TCM channel had noir month in July.  It was pretty cool, and I signed up for the emails that detailed some of the films they were showing, and what to look forward to in them.  I took a more relaxed approach to the course, mainly wanting to read the memos about the films--things to watch out for and why certain films or scenes were spotlighted.  Some had unusual lighting, others it was the set-up or certain key scenes, etc.   Some of them I'd seen before, but a few I had not.

Aside from that I had some trees cut down on my property at the beginning of the week.  Living should be a learning experience, and I'm glad to know I'm still living and learning.  Two things I learned:  When seeking someone to do some work for you, get three bids.  I learned this long ago and it has proven to be good advice that I learned from a friend of mine that was a handyman.  I also was use that rule of thumb, but I saw an ad in one of the Sunday's papers for a tree trimmer, and gave him a call.  The price sounded right and he seemed to be honorable and stand behind his work, which more or less he did.  But I was indifferent to the outcome.  Why?  Well, he didn't quite fulfill his obligation of how he led me to believe the job was going to be performed and what he was going to do.  The first day they left a big pile of limbs and debris in a giant heap right by my driveway, which I told him I wanted that scattered about up in the forest behind my house.  I've got a wooded several acres back there, so space was no problem.  He had to send his workers back over to finish up the job to meet my satisfaction, but even then, I wasn't completely satisfied.  Plus the men he had working for him cut off a tree limb, which hit my cable wire coming into the house, and knocked out my cable.  I had to get the cable company back out here to check on that, which cost me more money.   In the end, however, I guess it could have been worse (one of my mottoes).  At least a limb or tree didn't fall onto my house or do huge damage.  For that, I'm grateful. 

Number two:  Always check on the workers throughout the day to see what kind of job they are doing in case you need to offer some feedback and see if they are doing it according to plan or your wishes.  If I had done that they would not have left the huge pile of limbs and debris by my front driveway.  However as they were finishing up the first day, I told one of the worker, I don't want all that debris in a big pile like that (I can't imagine anyone would).  And he told me, well the boss told me to do it that way, so that's what we do.  I thought, well, I'm the customer and I'm not paying for it to be left that way.  At any rate, they had to come back over the next day and finish up the project.  I'm kinda sorta satisfied.

Third:  Don't pay the handymen until after the job is complete.  I guess I might see paying them half  IF the job is going according to play, but if you withhold paying until after completion that's the only leverage you'll have to getting it done somewhat to your satisfaction.  I'm not totally unreasonable as a customer and don't do a lot of complaining, but I do expect to be satisfied on some level--I think most of us do. 

As far as what I've been watching lately during the summer.   Here's a brief rundown.

I just watched the first disc to the documentary of the Eagles (the California country-flavored rock band), History of the Eagles.  It was pretty good if you are a fan of their music.  For whatever reason, that band had a lot of fans, but just as many detractors.  I never understood this completely.  I mean I can understand not liking certain bands.  I don't care for AC/DC or Aerosmith among many others.  However, I assume someone does enjoy them, so why not just like what I like and not rain on their parade.  Perhaps with the Eagles it was over exposure or jealousy, perhaps some don't like country rock, who knows.  I grew up with them, and still enjoy some of their songs from time to time, so I enjoyed the documentary.

 Too Late For Tears reminded me a bit of A Simple Plan as it addresses the power of money and how it changes people. A couple are driving down a coastal road with the convertible top down on their car and someone passes by them and throws a suitcase filled with money in their backseat. A pretty good noir.

Ex Machina--A pretty well made SF film, though the ending left me thinking and feeling not quite satisfied.  As I reflect back on the movie, I'm not entirely sure why.  Maybe I didn't get the ending or what the director was trying to say.  However, I thought it was a film that was handled intelligently.

The Wrecking Crew--Was a documentary about the studio musicians that played the instruments for so many hits in the 60's, but were basically unknown to the general pubic or music fan buying the albums.  A lot of musicians were included like The Monkees, the Association, Beach Boys, the Mamas and the Papas, etc. plus the Wrecking Crew told how they perceived their job as studio musicians.  If you enjoy that music, check it out.

Flight--Pretty interesting film, and I wondered where it was going until it ended. The director/writer had to fudge with the story a little bit to make it work in certain areas, but overall I thought it was done pretty well.  Since I worked in a heavily regulated industry (railroad) like the airlines, I could certainly relate to the pressure that the airline pilot, Denzel Washington played.  It's not a fun spotlight to be under.  I'm not saying that I had to deal with drugs on the workplace, but there are other incidents and court, like traffic or rail accidents I was brought onto the carpet to explain, with one's job hanging in the balance, etc.  It's not fun.

 The Hitch-Hiker (1953)--Another noir and re-watch, directed by Ida Lupino, worth a watch and fairly intense for its time.  It involves two friends that are going on a fishing trip, and they pick up a hitch-hiker, who turns out to be a psychotic escaped convict that holds them as hostage.

On Dangerous Ground--Again another noir on TCM. I'd seen it before, but missed the set-up when I first saw it. In someways I could compare the hard detective cop played by Robert Ryan to Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry, he's a cop that doesn't go by the rules when trying to solve a crime, but who softens up at the end at the end of the picture unlike Harry Callahan.

Jack Reacher--another re-watch for me, and I still think it's a well made Tom Cruise movie where he plays a person that's detached from society, a loner, but gets involved with a case of a soldier he once knew that was a sniper in the military.

 McQ--1974 John Wayne flick that was a departure from his western stuff. He play a detective trying to find out who killed off his friend on the force. The only thing is, he's a bit too old to be playing this type of Dirty Harry part, too overweight, driving around in a hopped-up black muscle car, kicking asses, punching mobsters, and dodging bullets. It's watchable, but mostly for its lack of credibility. I'll admit I didn't figure out who the ultimate bad guy was, so at least there's that.

 The Grand Budapest Hotel--A pretty fun, and colorful Wes Anderson film. I'm not a huge fan of Anderson, but this film made me curious about some of his other work.  It was sort of quirky like the movies of  Jim Jarmusch and reminded me a little of something like O Brother, Where Art Thou? by the Coen Brothers.

Glen Campbell, I'll Be Me--Is a documentary I caught off CNN, but you can find it on DVD now too.  I used to love watching his Glen Campbell comedy hour, and always enjoyed some of his songs on the radio too, like Wichita Lineman.  A bit of trivia, he also grew up in the hometown of Delight, Arkansas, which is where my mother grew up as well.  Also I saw Campbell play live at the HemisFair of Texas in San Antonio in 1968.  I forget the details, but I think we went down there as a family on vacation.  Bob Newhart opened the show and warmed up the crowd with some stand-up comedy, and then Campbell played, which was a good concert.  The documentary, however, is about Campbell's struggles with Alzheimer's Disease and how his family is helping him cope with that, plus delves into some of his past history, and has concert clips, and such.  Although it was sad to see Campbell in such poor health, it had a silver lining in that he has support from his family and everyone that loves him.

It Follows--I really didn't care for this horror film.  For one, it wasn't particularly scary or intense, and also it didn't make much sense to me either or had plot holes.  I'll admit, I'm not a huge modern horror fan.  I used to enjoy them back when I was younger, but either Hollywood doesn't know how to engage me anymore or they're just bad, but either way I don't have much interest in most of them, though the recent The Babadook, was an exception.

American Sniper--I didn't care much for this one either, not for any kind of political reasons or anything like that, it was basically because it was just a boring film for me or too paint by the numbers.  I'd recently seen The Hurt Locker and thought it worked a lot better as far as trying to have some intensity, and showing what soldiers were dealing with in Iraq.

Add to that some TV watching, which includes some Doctor Who, the Jon Pertwee era has been showing on the weekends here on our public access channel, and I've been loving that.  Pertwee and Katy Manning, who plays his companion, make a good team, and many of these episodes have dealt with The Master, who was played very well by Roger Degaldo.  I've been a fan of  The Carbonaro Effect on the TruTV network, which is styled after the old Candid Camera show, but is different in that Michael Carbonaro is a magician, who does magic tricks on people and totally blows their mind, wondering what just happened.  Also on the TruTv, network is Impractical Jokers, which again takes the Candid Camera premise, and has four friends play pranks on the public, by way of trying to embarrass their friend.  I don't laugh a lot at most comedies, but this show I find hilarious at times, at least to my taste.  Those guys are nuts!  

CNN has had a special they been running on Thursday nights about The 70's.  Last year around this time they made one on The 60's hosted by Tom Hanks, and The 70's follows that format, which just highlights some of the top stories and pop culture from those decades.  It's sort of nostalgic for me to re-live some of that stuff again showing anything like Watergate to the music or TV shows from that decade.  It's not perfect, and I wish they discuss or feature other things more, but it is what it is.

That pretty much sums it up, although I'm probably overlooking something.  PBS is my general default channel, and I'll generally watch Antique Roadshow on Monday nights, even if it's a rebroadcast.  They also will at times have live concerts of musical bands, or an Independent Lens or POV (Point of View) special that will interest me.   

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Mr. Science Fiction

Forrest J. Ackerman was noted as Mr. Sci-fi and not only wrote, edited, and was a big historian of science fiction.  He was also one of the biggest fans of SF, horror, and fantasy.  He founded the magazine, Famous Monsters of Filmland for other like-minded fans.  Many people cite The Time Traveller, a mimeographed newsletter published in 1932 by future comic book editors Mort Weisinger and Julius Schwartz as the first s-f "fanzine." That first issue featured an article by a teenage Forrest J Ackerman.  Fanzines were magazines made for fans on certain subjects, click the link for an idea.  He supposedly coined the nickname, Sci-Fi, which a lot of aficionados of SF do not like.

Below is a tour of his Ackermansion.  I would have loved to have toured it and let Forry be my tour guide when it was up and running.  At one point his idea was to sell off his collection to someone with deep pockets to start up a SF museum, but it never came to fruition.  He got sick many years ago, and also ran into some law suits, and eventually had to sell off his collection, which is a shame.  He's no long with us having passed in 2008.