Author Archives: Jim "Dr. Dim" Fitzsimons

Scooby Doo, How Could You?

Writer’s note: The following is another blog ripped from my personal blog at dimland.com. It has been updated and rewritten just a little bit…

I’m a skeptic. What that means is I require good, scientific evidence before I accept an extraordinary claim. I’ve learned that, throughout history, ever mystery ever solved has turned out to be not magic. Not ghosts. Not demons. Not monsters. Not any paranormal or supernatural phenomenon at all. Nope. The mysteries all turn out to be something in this world and not out of this world. (Thanks to Tim Minchin and Michael Shermer for much of what I just wrote are their words.)

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The Saturday morning cartoon series Scooby Doo, Where Are You? did a lot to set a skeptical foundation for a generation of kids. Debuting in 1969, the series followed a group of four kids and their dog who traveled the countryside looking for mysteries in need of solving. These intrepid trust-funders (there was never any mention of any of them having a job) would stumble upon a mystery involving apparently supernatural causes. They would then search for clues. Chased by ghosts, witches, werewolves, and other assorted creeps, our heroes would manage to reveal the truth and catch the bad guys.

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The bad guys never turned out anything anywhere near being supernatural. It was never a ghost or a witch or a werewolf. It nearly always turned out to be someone in a costume, except that one time when it was a robot run amok in an amusement park. It’s a wonder the gang, especially Shaggy and Scooby, would continue to be scared of g-g-g-ghosts. After all the times the mystery turned out not to be supernatural, you’d think they would no longer believe in ghosts or anything similar.

I watched Scooby and the various later incarnations up until Scrappy Doo came along and ruined the show. But, even up to that point, the mysteries were always normal and natural phenomena.

In 1999 came the full-length animated special Scooby Doo and the Witch’s Ghost. A few years ago, my son was watching that adventure on DVD when I came home from work. I was shocked and disappointed. Sometime during the 30 years since Scoob and the gang debuted, the ghosts had become actual ghosts! No! Say it ain’t so.

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The show featured a grrl rock band called The Hex Girls. The referred to themselves as “eco-Goths.” From what I could tell that meant they were rockin’ girls that liked to look like the undead and sing about saving the earth. All the Goth look with none of the nihilism.

One of the group was a Wiccan. OK. But the show kept treating Wicca as though it was an ethnic group and not a religion. I may be wrong, but I don’t think Wicca can be considered an ethnicity.

But, I’m just picking nits.

What really bothered me was the fact Hanna-Barbera, the producers of Scooby Doo, thought it would be a good idea to drop the no supernatural policy and have actual an ghost witch in the story. My skeptic’s heart was broken.

The first two thirds of the show followed the original Scooby Doo ethos by having bad guys in costumes using trickery to scare people, but in act three it went supernatural. A character who turned out to be a double-crossing villain found a book of spells and released the witch’s ghost from whatever limbo in which it had been imprisoned. This time it wasn’t smoke bombs and mirrors or any other tricks. This time it was magic. Actual magic.

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That’s not smoke and mirrors, it’s an actual ghost witch. For shame!

It took the Wiccan girl, who was pure of heart, to read the spell that re-imprisoned the witch’s ghost. Mystery solved.

I was appalled. I explained to my son how it was wrong for Scooby to have been promoting the supernatural, after having shown kids that such mysteries always have a real world explanation. Scooby had taught kids that the supernatural, the paranormal, and the unexplained are merely mysteries that can be solved without invoking magic.

I don’t have a problem with other shows and movies, for kids or adults, indulging in supernatural fantasy. I am a a fan of The X-Files, Jonny Quest (the first season), Harry Potter, Dracula, Frankenstein, haunted house stories, etc. Those shows always allowed for the supernatural to be real (despite Scully’s protestations). Scooby Doo didn’t accept the magic when it started and for years after. But when Scooby Doo went supernatural, I felt betrayed.

Scooby Doo, how could you?!

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The Korvac Saga

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When I was a kid in the early 70s, I started collecting comic books in a hit and miss fashion. I’d buy issues with covers I liked. There were a few characters I was interested in, but I didn’t buy their titles on a regular basis until my best friend Todd introduced me to the idea of keeping up with storylines.

“Storylines? What are those?”

He patiently explained that Marvel Comics (DC was probably doing the same thing then, but we were Marvel kids) had running stories that would go through several issues of a title. He was collecting The Uncanny X-Men and The Avengers at the time and his collection was so much more fascinating than mine. He had long runs of the titles he collected. I had a couple Hulks here, a Werewolf By Night there, but no collections of series.

Todd’s comics were also in really nice shape. I don’t think they were bagged and backed, but they had been gently handled and carefully stored away. I wasn’t quite as careful with my collection. I had cut images out and even drawn on a few of mine.

Todd’s example turned me into a serious collector and I’m grateful to him for that.

The Avengers and The X-Men were among the first of the Marvel titles that became my passion. Especially, The Avengers. In fact, over the years I have collected nearly every issue of the first 200 of that series. I have less than five missing and, of course, those remaining are mighty spendy.

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The first Avengers I picked up was #171. It was part of a multi-issue battle with Ultron, but it was also the early stages of what came to be known as The Korvac Saga. Korvac was a villain from the 31st Century who betrayed the human race. Somehow he got sent back to the 20th Century and became a frequent foe of The Defenders. Eventually, he found his way onto Galactus’ space station and became imbued with the Power Cosmic, transforming him into the god-like man known only as Michael.

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Korvac before gaining the Power Cosmic.

If you’re not familiar with the preceding stories and characters, then that paragraph will be a tad confusing. Just go with me here. And you should know there are spoilers ahead.

In the saga, Michael has a plan for earth and humanity, but it will take time to implement. He and his girlfriend Carina, the daughter of The Collector and quite powerful herself, adopt a low profile and take up residence in a suburban neighborhood in Queens, New York.

Something I really liked about Marvel Comics is that they would take their time setting up big stories. They would sometimes have a frame or two in a comic book months ahead of the big story just giving a little hint, setting up something to pay off much later. Marvel did that with The Korvac Saga. In issue #165, Iron Man gets a dressing down by The Scarlet Witch due to his frequent absences. He was the leader of The Avengers at the time but he was barely around, just showing up acting like nothing was wrong. She accused him of trying to act as though he’s saving the day. Iron Man was dumbfounded by this accusation, but there did seem to be gaps in his own timeline. Thor seemed to be doing the same thing. Curious.

Later, in issue #174, we learned what was behind Iron Man’s and Thor’s frequent absences and reappearances. Other Avengers began to disappear before the very eyes of their teammates! Why? What or who was behind it?

It was The Collector. An archenemy of The Avengers had been up to his old tricks of collecting earth’s mightiest heroes. Except this time, he claimed to be doing so to save humanity from The Enemy! That’s how The Collector referred to Michael – The Enemy.

The Collector was collecting The Avengers to protect them. However, our heroes were able to foil his plan and remain uncollected. The Collector implored The Avengers to rid the universe of this awesome threat and, when The Enemy used his powers to rid the universe of The Collector right in front of them, they took notice. The hunt for The Enemy began.

They trace this awesome threat to that Pleasant Valley Sunday neighborhood and commandeer a city bus to get them there. That led to a funny moment when all those superheroes pile off the bus as the neighbors were out cutting their grass. Why take a bus? Long story. Don’t worry about it.

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Issue #177 was the epic battle. The Avengers along with the Guardians of the Galaxy gave their all to defeat this most terrible threat to humanity, but one by one Michael defeated them. And this was a battle to the death. Although there was a moment or two when Captain America and Wonder Man seemed to be getting to him, Michael also easily dispatched of them.

It took The Collector’s daughter Carina, in an act of betrayal, to finally defeat The Enemy. To kill Michael. Thor then killed Carina. Not intentionally! Carina had used her powers to kill herself with lightning from the Norse god’s hammer.

One superhero present had not joined in on the battle. Moondragon believed there was deception at work. She believed The Avengers had been duped. For she had looked into Michael/The Enemy’s heart and learned his intentions were benevolent. He wished to create a utopia for humanity, not destroy it. He had become angry when The Avengers attacked and allowed his anger to put an end to the heroes and his plans, but as he lay dying next to his beloved Carina, he reached out with his last bit of strength and restored to life all whom he had killed that day.

Thor reverted to his alter-ego Dr. Donald Blake and attended to his alive but in need of medical attention comrades. As he did so, the memories of The Korvac Saga began to fade from his and the rest of the heroes’ minds. Moondragon would be the only one who would remember the terrible mistake The Avengers had made.

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Thanks a lot, Collector!

The Korvac Saga is still one of my favorite storylines ever produced by Marvel Comics.

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A Pedant Watches An Episode Of Star Trek: TNG

I’m a little bit of a pedant. Ask some of my friends and they’ll say I’m a lot of a pedant. Ask my wife and she’ll go all dead in the eyes and quietly groan.

It’s something I’ve been since I was a child and I have been doing my best to keep it under control. Well, the other night I was re-watching some Star Trek: The Next Generation (the finest of all the Star Treks) and an episode from season four, Clues, had me getting a bit or a lot pedantic, depends on if you ask me or my friends. Please, just don’t ask my wife.

Before I go any further, I will warn you that there are spoilers ahead. I’m going to pretty much describe the entire show, so if you haven’t seen it… Well, I warned you.

The episode Clues starts off as most Star Trek: TNG episodes do with the Enterprise gliding along through space. Captain Picard (the greatest of all the Star Trek captains) is informed that a fairly boring, previously uncharted star has been detected by the ship’s sensors. What brings that fairly boring star to the Enterprise’s attention is the M-Class (Earth-like in Star Trek speak) planet orbiting it. That piques Picard’s interest and they alter course to investigate.

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The entire crew, except Commander Data (seated at bottom), rendered unconscious.

When the Enterprise begins to approach that fairly boring star, but isn’t quite in visual range of the planet, a wormhole suddenly appears and swallows the ship. Everyone on board is knocked out except Commander Data, who is an android and therefor immune to the effects of the wormhole. The bridge crew revives and Data explains that an extremely unstable wormhole had sent the Enterprise some distance from where they were and everyone, except him, was knocked out in the process. Knocked out for a mere 30 seconds.

The decision is made to not go back to investigate the M-Class planet, but instead to send a probe to gather information. The information from the probe shows that the sensors were wrong and the planet wasn’t M-Class, after all. It seems odd, but Data gives a plausible explanation and  no one thinks anymore of it.

Until…

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24 hours of growth in 30 seconds?

The ship’s chief medical officer, Dr. Crusher, brings a space moss growing experiment she had set up, just before the wormhole encounter, to Captain Picard and she asks him if they were only out for 30 seconds, why does her experiment show 24 hours of growth? This is the first clue that something is amiss. I won’t go into all the clues, but they begin to add up and it becomes obvious that Data isn’t being truthful about the wormhole and the 30 seconds. When questioned Data repeatedly responds that he cannot answer the questions, but he does indicate the crew might be in danger if he were to reveal what he appears to be hiding.

The decision is made to return to the scene of the crime. It may be dangerous, but the mystery must be solved if they are to ever trust Data again. When they arrive they find the M-Class planet the sensors had originally spotted. They are also confronted by a mass of green mist that sends out a little puff that hits up against the ship’s defensive shields and dissipates. However, a tiny amount had gotten through, undetected, and enters the body of a sleeping Counselor Troi. The mist takes possession of her body and she goes to Data’s quarters.

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A possessed Counselor Troi entering the Enterprise bridge.

We know she is possessed by some alien life form due to her demeanor and her voice. The alien tells Data that the plan didn’t work and that the ship had returned. The android pleads with the alien do nothing and he promises to attempt to fix the situation. The alien compiles as Data is called to the bridge for a final showdown with Captain Picard. Realizing the jig is up, Data informs the crew that he was under Picard’s orders not to tell what had really happened during the wormhole incident.

He explains that the alien possessing Troi is part of a species of xenophobes who are determined to stay isolated. They have the ability to affect the minds of other intelligent species. The aliens knock out any intruding species and then moves them to another part of space, making it appear as though a wormhole was responsible. Usually the hapless travelers figure themselves lucky and move on, but Data screwed that up. He remained conscious and revived the crew, so they became aware of the aliens.

Instead of destroying the Enterprise, as was the aliens’ first choice, Picard talked them into arranging it so that it appears to the crew the whole scenario plays out the same way as with other interlopers. But, since Data will still know, Picard would order Data to never reveal what really happened at the wormhole. The aliens agree and they do their magic, which takes 24 hours.

The problem is too many clues were left behind and humans just can’t resist a mystery. So, they came back. Picard convinces the aliens to give his crew a second chance. He told them to consider the first attempt a rehearsal “to shake out the flaws.” This time they would make certain to leave no clues behind. The aliens agree.

The crew once again regains consciousness as they did after the original wormhole encounter. The first encounter and clue-finding aftermath have been completely erased from their memories, the clues have been removed, and the ship’s clocks have all been set to show a mere 30 seconds of unconsciousness had been experienced by all. Again, they decide not to go back. Again, they send a probe, but this time they also set up a warning beacon to advise other ships to stay away. And, again, Data remains the only crew member to know the truth and, since he is an android, he will keep the secret forever.

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“I know something they don’t know.”

The episode ends.

Pretty good, but the pedant in me surfaced. The first go-round took 24 hours to set up. Then there was the time of finding clues and returning to the planet, which for simplicity I’ll say took 24 hours. And the final attempt to remove all clues and do the wormhole trick again, I’ll say took yet another 24 hours. That’s 72 hours that have gone by in what the crew and the ship’s clocks think was 30 seconds.

Well, that’ll work fine until the Enterprise meets up with another ship, puts into space dock, or sends a report to Star Fleet. At some point, they will notice they are three days behind and will likely trace it back to the wormhole incident and back they’ll go. This time the aliens will say, “That’s it! Three strikes, you’re out!” And destroy the ship.

What is a pedant to do?

Worry not. I was able to figure out a way around the 72 hours. If the first encounter happened on a Tuesday, the aliens would have to make it appear to have happened on a Friday. There would have to be memories implanted so the crew thinks they did stuff during those three days. They would, also, have to make it look as though three days of work had been done. And there would have to be three days of log entries by the captain and the crew. As long as someone thought of these tasks, the crew and the aliens would have been able to work them out.

There’s still one thing, though.

When the alien possessed Counselor Troi she was in bed and was wearing a nightgown, but when she shows up at Data’s quarters she is in her uniform. Why would the alien care enough to have her change clothes?

I might never be able to work that one out.

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This Month’s Great Cover Is By The King!

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I love a good battle cover. The kind of cover that shows the hero or heroes in pitched battle against some unbeatable foe. Unbeatable by anyone other than our hero, I mean. This admiration of a good battle cover is something a great deal of comic book collectors share. A good battle is the essence of an exciting super-powered comic story, so give the readers a battle cover to let us know what we’re in for.

This month’s installment (Captain America #106 – October 1968) is a terrific battle cover. Drawn by the King himself, Jack Kirby, it shows Captain America going toe-to-toe with an android version of Steve Rogers, Cap’s secret identity. Why would there have been an android version of Steve Rogers? I don’t know. I haven’t read the comic book. That’s not important.

What is important is how really great this cover is. The action just jumps off the page. Kirby was the master at that. There’s Cap’s fist sticking right out at us as our hero prepares a dynamic punch. And that pole thing – is it the boom of a boom mic? – wielded by the android is also right there in our faces.

I think it might be a boom mic because it looks as though the two combatants are fighting in a TV studio or maybe on a movie set. See the spotlights in the background? Is it a studio of some kind, in which they fight? I don’t know. I haven’t read the comic book. That’s not important.

What is important is the cover is well composed and very dramatic. It captures the eye with action and promises more exciting action on the pages inside. And it says so right there, “Cap Goes Wild!”

Bravo, Mr Kirby! Bravo!

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Why I Pretend None Of The Halloween Sequels Exist

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It’s October, the best month of the year. The heat and humidity of summer have given way to the cool, crispness of autumn. The leaves are ablaze with color. (I feel pity for those who don’t get to experience autumn.) My wife and I were married in October. I saw The Who for the first time in October. The baseball post season is in October. And the month is capped off by the greatest holiday of all. Excluding Father’s Day, of course.

The month tends to find me watching horror films. I’m partial to the classic Universal monster movies of old, but there are plenty of more modern horror flicks that I enjoy very much. The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972) has been discussed in this blog. As have The Legend of Hell House (1973) and The Changling (1980). It’s time I look at another modern horror classic: Halloween (1978).

Oh! It should be said there will be spoilers. But, relax. The movie and its first sequel are damn near 40 years old. If you haven’t seen them by now…

John Carpenter co-wrote, scored and directed this landmark horror film. It had a low budget and a cast of unknowns, with the exception of the over-dramatic Donald Pleasence as the villain’s doctor. The movie was almost universally praised by critics and loved by audiences. Roger Ebert compared it to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) and lauded it for not following the horror trope of the female lead being the helpless damsel in distress. Jamie Lee Curtis’s Laurie was smart and level-headed and, when forced to fight, she didn’t freeze up or faint. She fought back with whatever she had at hand, be it a knitting needle, a dropped knife, or wire hangers. (Christina Crawford would be out of luck if her famous mother had her way.)

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Michael Myers, the relentlessly stalking villain, dressed in dark overalls and a pasty, white mask of William Shatner/Captain Kirk, whose first kill at the tender age of six was his promiscuous teen-aged sister, fixated on Laurie. He killed three of her friends, who were overly preoccupied with sex (teenagers!), as he slowly worked his way to attempt to kill Laurie.

I’m not sure why Michael was compelled to kill her. Laurie wasn’t all about having the sex, she wasn’t doing any drinking, and she wasn’t much of a pot-smoker. She was considered pretty square by her friends. These slasher/horror films liked to kill the non-square kids, to punish them for daring to have sex. Maybe Laurie just looked like Michael’s sister. Since he was pure evil, as Pleasence’s character repeatedly said, I guess Michael didn’t need a reason.

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The film unfolds slowly, but keeps the audience’s suspense high by showing tantalizing glimpses of Michael stalking Laurie. She would spot him, but he would slip away instantly. Did she really see a man standing there? Was she imagining it?

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The film reaches its exciting climax with Michael’s doctor shooting Laurie’s homicidal stalker six times in the chest, sending the monster over the side of the second story balcony. The killer lay still on the grass as the doctor tended to Laurie. It was over. Or was it?

The final shot is brilliant. Michael Myers was no longer there on the front lawn, despite having been stabbed in the neck and the face and shot six times. He had vanished.

Shudder!

It’s a terrific horror movie with a tremendously effective score. That music instantly sends chills down your spine and turns your skin to goose flesh. It also has some very striking visuals. I particularly like the shot of Michael standing on the porch across the street from the house where Laurie was babysitting. The boy she was tending to saw him, but when Laurie investigated, she saw no one. A neat turnaround from earlier in the film when she was the only one seeing this menacing figure.

Such a great horror film, with an ending that told us the evil of Michael was still lurking.

I would have left it that way. Any additional films would risk lessening this origin’s impact.

But Hollywood had to go and spoil it all by giving us a sequel. Several of them, but this blog is focusing on the original and the first sequel.

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The sequel, which takes place immediately after the events of the original (admittedly a nice touch), was co-produced and co-written by John Carpenter. He also provided music for the score, but he didn’t direct the 1981 film simply titled Halloween II. It wasn’t terrible, however it just paled in comparison to the original. There were a few effective moments. The hot tub killings of the promiscuous nurse and her creepy, sex-obsessed EMT boyfriend comes to mind and not just because of the naked breasts. (Although, they didn’t hurt.)

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Donald Pleasence and Jamie Lee Curtis returned. Pleasence was even more over-dramatic than in the first film, which, don’t get me wrong, I really like his performance in both films. Curtis, on the other hand, was way under-used. She had very little screen-time and even less dialogue. (Her availability was limited while she working on another film.) And, sadly, she became that damsel in distress who spent much of the final attack running and hiding from Michael. Well, she did finally shoot Michael (called “The Shape” in the credits, don’t ask me why) in his eyes, blinding him.

She’s one hell of a shot! She was on medication, she had multiple injuries from her battle with “The Shape” in the first movie, yet she was able to score two direct hits to his eyes. And she didn’t damage the mask in doing so. Amazing!

The worst aspect of this sequel was that a motive was given for Michael’s unstoppable need to kill Laurie. You see, Laurie was Michael’s younger sister! What? Why? WHY?!

We are told she was two years old when Michael killed his other sister. And she was adopted out when their parents died two years after Michael’s crime and institutionalization. The records were sealed, yet somehow Michael knew who Laurie was. Well, he was evil incarnate, so I guess he would know. Being evil incarnate does has its perks.

Eventually, Michael was destroyed. Blown up and burned from existence. There would be no returning now. Right? Of course, there would be. In fact, there were seven Halloween sequels and one remake with a sequel of its own. However, Halloween III does not feature Michael Myers at all.

I haven’t seen any of the Halloween films after Halloween II. Until the other night, I had only seen that sequel once and that was when in was originally released. I really wish I hadn’t watched it again. The original, which I’ve seen many times over the years, is so good just as it is. To me there is no reason to make any more. I like the way the original ends. Don’t mess with it.

So, I’m going to do my best to forget there are any sequels at all.

Happy Halloween!

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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.

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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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