The Start of My Greatest Love of 35 Years

Writer’s note: Pulled from the archives of my personal blog at dimland.com, comes this story of my discovering my favorite band. Look. It’s been since July since I’ve written anything Who related. I was having withdrawal symptoms. OK? The following has been revised and updated, but the song remains the same. Song remains the same? That’s Led Zeppelin. We’re not talking about them.

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Press photo from thewho.info

This was a life changing concert for me. I know that sounds dramatic, but it is true. Seeing this show got me big into The Who and that led me to punk rock which led me to even more interesting and varied styles of music. In those days, I was listening to mostly crap. Journey, Styx, Foreigner, Boston, yuck! (Although, I must admit I have a soft spot for a lot of that crap today.) The Who changed that.

I wasn’t much of a Who fan at the time. I knew the band existed. I knew a few of their songs. (It turns out I knew quite a few, actually.) I knew Pete Townshend had some solo stuff out. I liked their new single Athena which was getting some radio play. At best, I thought they were OK and not much else.

I think I was aware the band would be in town that October weekend 35 years ago. I was even in downtown St. Paul the afternoon of the day of the first show of a two day stop in Minnesota. In fact, I had been right there by the St. Paul Civic Center where the concerts were going to be held. I had been downtown to pick up my comic books from a little comic shop that was less than a block away from where rock greatness would be experienced by fans that night and the next.

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Of course, I had no plans to attend either of the concerts. I had only been to one concert before and hadn’t yet been bitten by any kind of music bug.

My bus stop was located directly in front of the Civic Center (now the site of the Xcel Center, home of the Minnesota Wild). I have a vague recollection of seeing The Who’s name listed on the marquee.

My bus arrived to take me home. I took my seat, not giving the world’s greatest rock band a second thought. A couple stops later and on hopped a young pothead and a few of his friends, also potheads. I knew that young pothead, he and I worked together back then.

He spotted me.

“Hey, man! Are you going to The Who concert tonight?”

“Uh, no. I’ll be reading my comic books when I get home.”

“Dude! Really?! Aw, man!”

“Sorry.”

When I got home, my mom had an urgent message from my friend John. I was to call him right away!

John had bought three tickets to that night’s show. He had no one to go with. Why he bought three John doesn’t even know. He was able to get a mutual friend on board, but he needed a third. Luckily, he didn’t find anyone else before I was able to call him back.

I made a quick call to work to let them know I might be a little late. I worked the graveyard shift on the weekends and it was always very slow the first hour or so of the shift. The boss said it would be no problem. After all, this was The Who’s North American Farewell Tour, I was willing to risk being a little late, because they would never tour again. Right?

It was on this tour that The Clash opened for The Who at Shea Stadium in New York City. We didn’t get The Clash. We got T-Bone Burnett. We had no idea who he was. He was kinda weird. He did a guitar solo consisting of him plucking one note at one part of the stage, then walking to another part of the stage to pluck another note. He did several notes that way. We weren’t really digging this guy and his band. John and I have talked about being disappointed that we didn’t get The Clash at our show. Burnett would go on to be better know as a record producer and for his work in film scores and soundtracks. At the time, though, it was, “Who is this guy?”

I did learn in doing research for this blog that it is very likely Mick Ronson was part of Burnett’s band. Ronson played guitar for David Bowie in the Ziggy Stardust era. So it turns out the headliners weren’t the only legends we saw that night. We just didn’t know it.

Speaking of legends, there was that headlining act: The greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world – The Who. This was supposed to be their last tour. Despite the band’s impending retirement, they did have a new album to promote. The album was It’s Hard. Not a perfect album. It’s no Quadrophenia or Who’s Next. And it lacks the maniacal spontaneity of the late Keith Moon on drums, but it’s not as bad as it is said to be.

The show was loud. Very loud! Possibly the loudest concert I have ever attended. At least, one of the loudest. It certainly was the loudest then, but it was also only the second concert I had been to. It was a sold out show packed with boisterous Who fans. I couldn’t help but get caught up in the euphoria of the event. I found myself cheering and whistling as loud as I could. And I was cheering for Pete Townshend in particular. I can’t explain (wink) why, but I felt a connection to Townshend form that night and it has never broken.

They played most of their biggest hits (all of which I knew – much to my surprise) and a few songs from their new album. They didn’t play Athena or any of Pete’s solo stuff. I had wondered if they might. They did close the with a cover of Twist & Shout, which most people remember as a Beatles song, but their version was a cover as well. Also, this tour had Roger Daltrey playing guitar on a few numbers, most notable was Eminence Front. He hadn’t played guitar with the band since before he took over as lead singer way back when they were called The Detours.

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Their light show featured three sets of spotlights. One set on either side of the stage and one at the back of the main floor. Aimed straight up, each set of three spotlights would twirl around and open and close, casting bright white beams of light to the heavens… Well, the ceiling anyway.

Another fun feature of the show was the glow sticks that were sold to fans. People starting tossing the green glowing objects high over the crowd. They looked pretty cool as they sailed overhead. Then someone had the brilliant idea to take a lighter (a must fan item at concerts) and melt a hole in the plastic, then hurl the now leaking tube into the air. Cascading down were all these green glowing droplets. So fun!

The whole event was the talk of the school on Monday and my life had changed. I became obsessed with The Who and Pete Townshend. I bought all their albums and bought and read books about them and their history. I was all about The Who from then on.

And it all began on October 2, 1982, because a friend had an extra ticket.

Packing Peanuts!

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Who Knows The Shadow?

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“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows.”

I knew that phrase before I ever heard a single episode of that very popular crime show from the Golden Age of radio. My dad liked to use the phrase and he would tell me of those old, old days when families would gather around the radio to listen to shows like The Jack Benny Program, The Lone Ranger, Gunsmoke, and The Shadow. People would sit transfixed looking at their radios as though they were television sets. Seems odd, but it does make sense if you think of the radio as a storyteller. Where else would you look? You don’t want to be rude, do you?

In the early 1970s, radio technology had advanced some due to the transistor. Radios could be smaller and more affordable. And they could be placed under you pillow, so you could listen as you went to sleep. Each Sunday night, after Casey Kasem signed off his American Top 40 countdown, the local station would play some old radio shows from that bygone era. Oh, how I dug listening to them, especially The Shadow.

Radio was theater of the mind and in your mind could be found the most spectacular special effects, effects that are just now being approached by the best FX departments of Hollywood. But, through radio (and books, I suppose) when cued by the dialog as to what is going on, each listener’s view in their mind’s eye would be unique to them. That’s something the visual medium is only able to do by not showing something to the audience.

Suspenseful moments were all the more suspenseful because you couldn’t see what was happening. It was the “less is more” concept and it couldn’t be any other way on radio. Jack Benny’s pauses were funnier, Fibber McGee’s closet had so much more junk in it than could ever be shown, and The Shadow’s laugh was so much creepier and more menacing simply because the visuals were all in our heads. In film, the viewer can be shown everything, but good filmmakers know that to build suspense or the feelings of dread and terror not seeing something can be much more effective.

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That’s why The Shadow was so perfect for radio. Trained in the mystical arts of the Far East, Lamont Cranston had the ability to cloud men’s mind so that he could not be seen. He became a shadow whose sinister laugh would alert the bad guys of his presence. Like Batman (whose creators were greatly influenced by Cranston’s alter ego), the Shadow knew criminals to be a fearful and superstitious lot and his abilities made him an excellent crime fighter.

He was assisted by his “friend and companion” Margo Lane. She was the only other person to know Lamont’s secret identity. I have to wonder, since this was the late 1930s and Margo and Lamont were not married, were any of the more conservative listeners concerned about the nature of their relationship? I don’t recall there being any indication of romance between them. Hey! Men and women can work together without any hanky panky.

In 1935 the character of the Shadow started out as the voice that introduced the CBS radio program the Detective Story Hour, on which he would open each show saying, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!” and then he’d laugh that terrifying laugh. Later, in 1937, CBS developed a crime drama with The Shadow as its lead character and it was a very young Orson Welles who provided the voice. Listening to Welles as Cranston and the Shadow it’s hard to believe he was only in his early 20s.

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A very young Orson Welles as the Shadow.

Those old radio shows were aired live and with very little rehearsal. Actors had to be able to act from the page after only gaining a very cursory view of the script before going to air. They didn’t have much to go on, but most shows went just fine. On one particular Shadow episode (Death From The Deep) there were a couple moments when Welles seems to step on his fellow actors’ lines, but he may have been going for dramatic effect.

There’s an entertaining conversation between Welles and Johnny Carson about the old days of live radio dramas and comedies. (You can check that out here.) In that conversation Carson mentions what a great medium for storytelling radio was and he’s so right. I suggest you go to YouTube and find and listen to a few of those old radio shows. Let your mind’s eye have a little fun.

And remember:

“The weed of crime bears bitter fruit. Crime does not pay. The Shadows knows!”

Packing Peanuts!

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October’s Great Cover is a Howler

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I mean it’s a howler in the sense that it is October, the month of Halloween, and I chose a comic book cover with a werewolf on it. And werewolves howl, so…

When I was a kid, one of my favorite Marvel titles was Werewolf By Night. I was and still am into Universal Studios’ classic monster movies: Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), The Mummy (1932), and The Wolf Man (1941). And the Werewolf By Night series went hand in hand with those movies. I especially liked the first few issues with the incomparable Mike Ploog’s artwork. However, my favorite single issue is still Werewolf By Night #9, which was wonderfully draw by Tom Sutton. I wrote about that issue a long time ago.

As you have probably noticed, this month’s great cover isn’t an issue of Werewolf By Night. I did one of those covers as my first great cover of the month blog. No, this one is an issue of Moon Knight (#29 – March, 1983). It’s drawn by one of comic books’ most intriguing artists: Bill Sienkiewicz.

I first saw Sienkiewicz’s work in this Moon Knight series. I thought he was good, if a bit of a Neal Adams look-a-like. But, soon, much like Barry Winsdor-Smith, John Romita Jr., and Mike Mignola, Sienkiewicz stopped trying to draw in the fashion of most comic book artists and allowed his own style to emerge. This cover is from the beginning of that emergence.

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More man-like version.

There was also a change in how the Werewolf was depicted. The decision was made to move away from the Lon Chaney Jr. Wolf Man look to a more wolf-like monster. It would still walk upright like a man, but its face would be that of a wolf. More like Marvel’s character Man-Wolf.

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More wolf-like version.

 

 

 

 

 

I’m a bit torn by that change. I really like the early version, but this version is more horrifying and much more monstrous. Especially the way Sienkiewicz draws the creature on this cover and in the book.

There are five elements to this cover illustration: The eyes, the fangs, the blood, the crescent blade, and black. The use of black is brilliant. It can’t help but create a mood of horror and dread. This creature isn’t human. It can’t be reasoned with. The earlier version of the Werewolf could, at times, look almost cuddly. This version is poised to bite your face off.

This cover certainly caught collectors’ eyes back in 1983. It’s still eye-catching now.

It’s such a great cover.

Packing Peanuts!

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It’s Time For Another Curse

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Photo credit: NY Times

The Minnesota Twins have made the playoffs! They clinched the second Wild Card spot when the Chicago White Sox beat the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of Orange County of California last night. Yeah, it would have felt better for the Twins to have beaten the Cleveland Indians to win the Wild Card spot, but I’ll take it.

This is the first time the Twins have been in the postseason since 2010. Since 2003, they have made the playoffs and lost in the Division Series five times. Four of those losses came at the hands of the New York Yankees (2003, 2004, 2009, and 2010). The Evil Empire has just had their way with my beloved team. The Twins manage make the postseason only to come up against those guys and zip! out of the playoffs.  Oh, how I hate the Yankees!

Well, Twins fans are girding themselves for facing the Bronx Bastards once again in the postseason. This time it is very likely the Twins will meet those postseason killers in a one game Wild Card playoff. It’s one game. One chance to finally beat those jerk faces! Some Minnesota fans are saying, “Bring it on! It’s one game. The Twins can win one game.”

Man, I hope so, but I have that sinking feeling baseball’s most vile team is just going to do it to us again.

You know what baseball needs? Another curse.

This curse needs to be placed on the Hated Yankees. It’s been eight years since they won a World Series and that’s a good start. They need to not win another one for, oh, let’s not be greedy, 100 years! Yeah! A century of the damn Yankees not winning a World championship would be good for baseball.

The Chicago Cubs went longer than that between World Series championships, it needs to happen to the Hated Yankees.

Oh, they can get close. They can make the postseason as many times as they like, but they just can’t win it all. Wouldn’t it be great if they made it into the fall classic, but somehow managed to blow it? In fact, they should be poised to win a World Series in a game six. They should be down to the last out, the last strike even, from winning the series, but somehow the National League champ finds a way to win that game and then beats the hated ones in game seven.

How great would that be?

It’s time the Evil Empire and their fans learn the heartache of getting so close and not winning. Again and again and again.

But what will cause the curse? Perhaps this Wild Card game against my Twins (assuming the Boston Red Sox win the AL East) will provide the moment Yankee fans point to as the beginning of the curse. It could be a boneheaded play, a missed call, fan interference, a llama running onto the field. Anything that can be blamed for helping the despised team lose.

If only the MN Twins could win this one. I know the odds are against them. But if they could pull it off, no matter how well they do the rest of this postseason, they would be heroes of the baseball world.

And maybe, just maybe, the progenitors of baseball’s next curse.

A boy can dream, can’t he?

Packing Peanuts!

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Daa-aaaaa-aad!!

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Michael Noble returns this week with a guest blog. Last month he related a story of an odd school experiment he was part of as a kid. This time he relates an odd thought experiment he did on his kids. The story is from about eight years ago and he swears this conversation really did happen…

“So how was school?” I asked the younger of my two daughters.

“Okay,” she responded.

“Do you have a lot of homework today?”

“Yeah…”

“Tough stuff? Or is it pretty easy?”

“It’s not that big of a deal. But I need some colored markers to do a project. I have to color in some things for a history assignment.”

“We have plenty of crayons…”

“No. I need markers. Colored ones.”

“Oh. Well, there are colored pens you can use. I saw them in a drawer just the other day.”

“I can’t use those. I need markers. The big ones. And they need to be colored.”

“Why do they need to be colored?”

“For my project.”

“Did your teacher tell you this project needed to be colored?”

“No. That’s just the way I want to do it.”

By this point, my older daughter was intently listening to our conversation.

“Do you have money to purchase markers?” I continued.

“No. It’s your responsibility as the adult to buy them for me.”

“No, it’s not! My parents never bought me markers. I never needed to color anything for a project. Matter’a fact, we didn’t have markers with colors back when I was in school. We only had crayons if we wanted to color anything. And they were pretty expensive at the time, if memory serves. A lot of us couldn’t afford them. And those who couldn’t, like me, managed by creating our own primary colors.”

“Really? How did you do that?”

“Well, it was interesting and creative. We picked our noses and used the boogers for the color green. We poked our fingers with stick pins ’til they bled for the color red. And we peed to get the color yellow. Green, red and yellow. Primary as primary colors get.”

Boogers.

“Need more green!”

Dad… !!!” exclaimed my daughters in unison.

“Wow, that trumps the walking two miles uphill to and from school story,” the elder one noted.

“Hey, waitaminnit!” my younger daughter interjected. “Green isn’t a primary color! The primary colors are blue, red and yellow!”

“Well, that just goes to show you how old I am. When I was a kid, the color blue didn’t exist. Green was one of the original primary colors. When blue was invented it took over for green…”

Dad… !!!” they exclaimed in unison once again.

“I know!” I responded. “I was rather impressed people were willing to do that. Come to think of it, green was a very popular color back then.”

Thank you, Michael. And eeewwww. You can read more of his writing at hotchka.com.

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Grant Hart (1961-2017)

The mid80s were my time. I’m stuck there. I was in art school. I was young. And I found the music that became so very important to me. There was The Who, of course. They pretty much opened my eyes to what I considered more important music than what Top 40 radio had to offer.

The mid80s were also the Twin Cities’ (sure, mostly Minneapolis) time when it came to that important music. There were so many great local bands then. And there was the greatest concert venue First Avenue & the 7th Street Entry. First Avenue was the stage for those great local acts as well as national and international artists producing that important music.

3574812918_996a569d07_bHusker Du (from St. Paul) was one head of the three-headed Minneapolis Sound monster. The other two were The Replacements and Prince. I was a mild fan of Prince, a big fan of The Replacements, but Husker Du was my favorite. I used to say I liked The ‘Mats’ albums (slightly) better than Husker Du’s, but I liked Husker Du more when seeing them play live. Their shows were consistently more intense and fun. Husker Du still feels more like my band than The Replacements. I like them both, but somehow I always felt more connected to the Huskers.

Sometime in 1985, they played an in-store show at the record store just a couple blocks away from where I lived. I went to that store every week. One weekend, I walked in just as they were finishing putting away their equipment. Marty, one of the fellows working at the store, said, “Oh, Jim! You just missed it! You should have gotten here earlier.”

Up to that point, I had only heard of Husker Du. I didn’t know any of their music, but I didn’t want to look uncool, so I feigned disappointment.

It was about a week later when a friend bought Zen Arcade. We listened to it and loved it. That’s when I felt the disappointment.

Grant Hart, co-lead singer, co-songwriter, and drummer of Husker Du, died earlier today at age 56.

Hart was the one local musician I would see regularly hanging out at First Avenue. I remember the first time I spotted him there.  He was wearing a gold lame shirt and was in the area back by the pool tables, playing pinball. I nudged my friend and pointed out that a local musical giant was in our presence. I think my friend told me to settle down and be cool.

I spoke to Grant Hart only once. It was just before their final LP, Warehouse: Songs And Stories, was to be released. Word was that the album was going to be two disks. I was drying my hands in the restroom, when Hart walked by. I stopped him and said, “I hear the new record is going to be a double album.”

“That’s what they tell me,” was his answer and he walked on.

I’m sorry I don’t have anything more exciting to say of my experience with Grant Hart. I wasn’t an insider of the scene.

I was just a fan.

Packing Peanuts!

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Warning! This Great Cover Might Make Some People Feel Queasy

Those of my readers who suffer from trypophobia, fear of holes, will want to skip this week’s blog. It’s OK. I understand that this month’s great comic book cover, Harvey Comics’ Little Dot #160 (August, 1975), might be difficult to look at. You are excused. The rest of you – read on!

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There’s not a lot of information I can give about this cover. I can say I think it’s a great example of Pop Art, but I don’t know who illustrated it. I can say the person who inked it is obviously one of those old hands at using the brush. Those artists with that kind of inking skill always impress me. So precise and so flowing. It looks simple, but the skill level has to be way up there.

Look at how simply Little Dot’s mouth is done. And her hands. I’m certain the artist also worked quickly. He or she cranked this whole cover out in the time it would take me to ink a few of the dots on the page. Very few. Dang, those artists were good.

Harvey titles were never anything I was interested in. I always thought it was kids’ stuff. Not like the sophisticated super men and women in tights fighting the bad guys comics I was collecting. I never cared about Richie Rich, Little Dot, Little Lotta, Hot Stuff, Spooky, or dead Richie Rich. What was he called? Oh, right. Casper. But I do appreciate the skills of Harvey’s artists. They had to work fast, that’s just how comic books had to be made, and, at Harvey, the artists had to conform to a certain look. That may have changed in more recent years, but back in the day when different artists worked on Little Dot, Little Dot still had to look exactly like Little Dot. No variation! It’s not easy shedding one’s own personal style. At Marvel or DC, the artists could express their own style. At Harvey, they had to follow the template. Those were the rules.

Harvey also didn’t do much to identify their artists. So many worked in anonymity. That’s a shame, because I’d really like to give credit to the artist who created this great cover.

Update: I’ve been informed that it is likely that the artist for the cover is Warren Kremer. He worked for Harvey for many, many years. So, excellent work, Mr. Kremer!

Packing Peanuts!

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