Category Archives: Pop Culture

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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Some Nitpicks Of ‘To Serve Man’

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Warning! There will be spoilers!

Of course, Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone was groundbreaking television. And, of course, it is universally loved and respected. As it should be! The show cleverly addressed sensitive social issues without much of the audience even realizing it. Science fiction is sneaky and very useful that way. And it was also pretty darned entertaining. Most of the shows still hold up today.

There were plenty of memorable episodes that commonly get rated among the best of the series. There was the one with William Shatner being the sole passenger to see the creature damaging the wing of the plane. There was that episode in which a misanthrope and book-lover, played by Burgess Meredith, survived a nuclear attack and was left alone with all those books. Finally, able to read as much as he wanted and not be disturbed by the nuisance of people, he stumbled and broke his glasses, rendering him unable to read with no one around to fix them. And the show with the beautiful Donna Douglas playing a woman who didn’t match society’s view of physical attractiveness. Oh! And who can forget that nasty kid (Billy Mumy) who wished people into the cornfield?

Classics all.

I think what is probably the most memorable show, however, is To Serve Man, written by Serling, originally airing March 2, 1962. It is the story of the arrival of a super-intelligent and seemingly benevolent extraterrestrial race. These rather large aliens, played by the rather large Richard Kiel and voiced by Joseph Ruskin, have come to Earth to end disease and famine. And to save us from ourselves by making it possible to end war. They bring us peace, safety, and prosperity. They also offer the wonderful opportunity to visit their home world.

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When their representative addressed the United Nations, the alien was told that delegates from “most of the important countries” were present. Really? I wonder how that made the “unimportant countries” feel. And just which ones are unimportant? Canada? Belize? France?

Well, yeah, France. But still!

(Incidentally, the UN Secretary General, in his address to the assembly, mentions that the first alien spacecraft to land on Earth landed outside of Newark, New Jersey. I’m certain that was Serling’s nod to Orson Wells’ infamous 1938 radio broadcast, War of the Worlds. In that show, the first spaceship landed in Grover’s Mill, New Jersey. A small, rural town near Princeton University, not far from Newark. Eh? See what he did there?)

At that meeting with the UN, the alien left behind a book. A book written in their language, which was turned over to code-breaker named Michael Chambers (Lloyd Bochner), and his team to see if it could be translated to English. Midway through the episode, after the world had become peaceful and relaxed, we learn that the title of the book had been translated as “To Serve Man.”

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Um. Hang on. How did they translate it? As was pointed out in the book The Twilight Zone Companion, they weren’t breaking a code. This was a completely alien language. Without any kind of a guide, a Rosetta Stone, there would be no way anyone could translate that book, let alone its title. It simply would be impossible.

Well, never mind. Translate the title they did. And the title just reinforced the good feelings everyone had about these nice, accommodating beings from another planet. Still the challenge of finishing the translation was too hard to resist for the code-breaker’s assistant, played by Susan Cummings. Just as Chambers was to board the alien spacecraft for his trip to another world, she came to warn him not to go.

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She desperately called out to him that the book was… a cookbook! Dun dun duuuhhhh!

Classic Rod Serling twist!

Here’s where I scratch my head, though. Why would these super-intelligent beings come here with the intention of surreptitiously wrangling people to take back to their planet as food, give us a book detailing how they would cook (or serve) us? That don’t make no sense.

Packing Peanuts!

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You never forget your first James Bond

Writer’s note: I realize the world lost Roger Moore back in May, so I’m a little late in writing this, but I had to write about something this week.

Roger Moore is my James Bond. When I was a kid his Bond was the first I saw in the theater. Because of that, I’ve always considered him to be my James Bond. I think a lot of folks my age (I’m 52) feel the same way.

I’m not saying he was the best. Just that when I think of James Bond, I see Moore in my mind’s eye. Of course, I have seen the other Bonds and they all brought something of interest to the character. But still Moore is my Bond.

It can be said that all the worst Bond films featured Roger Moore. Moonraker, Octopussy, and A View To A Kill were all dreadful. That’s probably due, in part, to the fact the actor had gotten so old that the notion that old fart could do all that super-spy stuff was too hard to accept. Moore was about 46 years old when he assumed the legendary role. Sean Connery was 41 when he gave it up! So, it’s hardly surprising that the spy really got to be so damn old, so damn fast. He had quite a head start, after all.

Be that as it may, Moore is my Bond.

Let me discuss my two favorite James Bond films, both from the Moore era: Live And Let Die (1973) and The Man With The Golden Gun (1974).

First off, both films are terribly tone deaf when it comes to their treatment of women. It’s more understandable that the Bond films of the 1960s would have a more limited view of women. However, the Moore era wasn’t much better. Even with Women’s Lib taking a prominent role, in the 1970s, in the movement toward equal human and civil rights for all, the Bond films were slow to change.

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In The Man With The Golden Gun, Bond walked, unannounced, into a strange woman’s (played by Maud Adams) bathroom while she showered. When she realized he was there, she confronted him with the gun she had with her in the shower. Bond asked if she always showers with a gun. She should have replied, “Do you always just walk into strangers’ hotel rooms and watch them shower?”

Later, when he was ready to bed a young, inexperienced agent (Britt Ekland), they were interrupted by the appearance of the shower woman. Bond decided to hide his younger conquest in the closet, telling her not to worry, she’ll get her chance to break off a bit the Bond soon, and then proceeded to have sex with the other woman.

In Live And Let Die, he convinces a Tarot card reader (Jane Seymour) to sleep with him because it was foretold she would in the cards. “You do believe in the cards, don’t you?” Well, she did and they did. The audience is let in on the “joke” when we see the deck was “slightly stacked” in Bond’s favor. It was played for a sly laugh in 1973, but as I watched it just recently with two males friend who are close to my age, one noted that “seduction” was pretty much rape. We all agreed. We also agreed that Bond was probably riddled with STDs.

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When I watch these movies with my son I always pause them at those moments to explain that is not how to treat women. Some of you are probably saying I shouldn’t tout these two as my favorites. It’s a fair cop. I still like them and I find much to be entertained by, but I remind myself each time I watch either of them, to heed the same lesson I give my son.

The movie does make one advancement in race relations. It is the first Bond film to feature the super spy having sexual relations with an African-American woman played by Gloria Hendry. He still treats her as worthy of his penis, but not his respect. One step forward, several steps back.

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Live And Let Die has James Bond looking rather trim, fit, yet slender as opposed to Connery’s more muscular version (Connery was a former body builder before he started his acting career). Moore looks good. He wears clothes well and he appears younger than 46. And it was a pretty good idea to make certain to get Golden Gun produced and released the next year to take advantage of Moore still looking fairly youthful.

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The villain played by Yaphet Kotto isn’t bad. He plays a dual role. One as a Harlem gangster, Mr. Big, complete with the ’70’s blaxloitation patter and look so popular in cinema in those days. The other as a small time dictator of a fictional Caribbean island. This character was more refined and educated. But, like all Bond villains, he doesn’t just kill Bond when he has the chance.

Just shoot him! Don’t tell him your plan. Don’t have your henchmen do it. Don’t come up with some elaborate method to off the man. Just shoot him! Oh, they’ll never learn.

Live And Let Die also has a really good secondary villain. Not Tee Hee (Julius Harris), the villain with the mechanical arm, although he is good. I mean Baron Samedi (Geoffrey Holder). You might remember him from the 7-Up ads in which he touted the “uncola… hahahahaaaa.” He was great, if underused, in the movie. He was good and creepy and made quite an impression on me when I was a kid. However, Bond dispatched with him a little too easily though. Or did he?

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Possibly the best part of this movie is its theme song by Paul McCartney and Wings. Say what you want about any of the other theme songs, none comes close to as great a theme song as this one. There are a few that aren’t bad, but this one is the best.

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The Man With The Golden Gun is probably my favorite of all the Bond films. This is mainly due to its villain, Francisco Scaramanga. The best Bond films all have one vital thing in common: A good villain. This villain is wonderfully portrayed by Christopher Lee and you can tell he was really enjoying the part. Scaramanga is a high-priced hitman who gets a million dollars a hit. And in 1974, a million dollars wasn’t chump change.

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Golden Gun also has its excellent, if creepy, henchman. The polar opposite of Live And Let Die’s Baron Samedi, Nick Nack, played by Herve Villechaize, delights when his boss dispatches of his target during the cold open. He also delights when he thinks he’s stymied his boss in the funhouse maze Scaramanga uses for his special hits. In fact, there is a likeness of Bond on display in the funhouse, because Scaramanga knows it’s inevitable he and Bond will face off against each other. He keeps the likeness as a reminder and as inspiration.

That sets up why I really like this one. As I stated earlier, the problem with Bond villains is they never just kill Bond. However, in Scaramanga’s case it makes sense. He believes himself to be the finest marksman and hitman in all the world, but he wants to test himself against the one man in the world who could give him a true challenge – James Bond. So, the one on one ending works, even with the talking about his evil plans and not just killing Bond when he had the chance. Where’s the sport in that?

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Both films feature the comic relief character Sheriff JW Pepper played by Clifton James. That character gets so dangerously close to being straight up racist. Oh, hell. What am I saying? He’s probably the Grand Poobah of his local KKK chapter. I cringe every time he calls a black man “boy” in Live And Let Die. It is softened slightly by the fact he calls every adult male in the film “boy.”

These films are flawed. No doubt about it. They are of their time and are good examples of how far we’ve come as a society. No Bond film made in the last twenty years would come close to the chauvinism and racial insensitivity as seen in these two films. And that’s progress.

My social justice side urges me to shun and hate these films. The kid in me still wants to like them. Warts and all.

I guess I choose to follow the kid in me.

Packing Peanuts!

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More Alt Album Greats, This Time From 1978

I have done top ten lists of great alternative albums from 1977, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1985, and the combined years of 1986 – 1989. The years for me to draw from are nearly used up, because these years are from my personal era of paying close attention to the alternative music scene (or any music scene for that matter). I guess for most of us there is that time when music is close to an all-consuming obsession, but as we age we just don’t have that need to keep up with what’s going on.

Besides, most of the more recent stuff sucks! Whoops. I slipped into grandpa mode there.

I do have a couple of years left that I can feature, so let’s get on with 1978. By the way, this list clearly disputes the notion of the sophomore slump, the phenomenon that postulates that an artist has their whole life to write their first album, but only a year or so to write their second, so the second album suffers. Half of this list is second releases.

This is also the first great alternative albums list I’ve done that features a band with two entries.

This is my list, your results may vary.

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10) Outlandos d’Amour – The Police It’s true this band would be worldwide rock superstars in less than five years from this album’s release, but in 1978 they were as alternative as a band could get. Far better musicians than many of their punk contemporaries, The Police combined reggae and punk to create their signature sound. Roxanne was a bit of a hit at the time (which they would ruin in concert by drawing it out to the point of shear tedium) and it’s a good song, but it’s not my favorite track. Other stand out tracks include: Next To You, Truth Hits Everybody, and Can’t Stand Losing You.

Favorite track: So Lonely

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9) Give ‘Em Enough Rope – The Clash Overlooked in favor of their debut album or their third album the classic London Calling, Give ‘Em Enough Rope is a very good sophomore effort. The band branches out in their sound a bit more on this album. There’s still the aggressive punk and the reggae influence, but there’s also a touch of Disco (!) to be found in the song Stay Free.

Favorite track: Safe European Home

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8) Chairs Missing – Wire This is another sophomore effort by another pioneering punk band. Wire took their music in a more artful, avant garde direction than most of their punk compatriots. Chairs Missing has the punk aggression (Sand In My Joints, Too Late) alongside the artfully weird (I Am The Fly, I Feel Mysterious Today). And they even deliver as catchy a pop song as any pop band, as my favorite track demonstrates. All with lyrics that are completely inscrutable.

Favorite track: Outdoor Miner

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7) Road To Ruin – Ramones When Modern Rock radio became a commercial success in the Twin Cities market, after Nirvana broke punk rock into the American mainstream consciousness, you might have thought the Ramones had only one song. That is if you were going by what the Modern Rock station was playing. They only played I Wanna Be Sedated. It was infuriating to any Ramones fan. Road To Ruin gave us that song, but it also gave us I Just Want To Have Something To Do, I’m Against It, and She’s The One. For shame, Modern Rock radio, for shame.

Favorite track: Needles And Pins

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6) Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo – Devo This debut album by those unusual boys from Ohio set the music world on its head. What is this? What kind of Rolling Stones cover is that? The excellent kind is what! Much more guitar based than later releases, Are We Not Men is full of catchy quirkiness. There’s Jocko Homo, Praying Hands, Gut Feeling/(Slap Your Mammy), and that Stones cover (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. All great!

Favorite track: Uncontrollable Urge

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5) Love Bites – Buzzcocks Sophomore efforts continue with this release by another of punk rock’s pioneers. Almost from the beginning, Buzzcocks delivered a more pop version of punk. Sure there was the angst and frustration, but all of it was delivered with such great melodies and hooks. And I love hooks! Stand out tracks include Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve), Just Lust, Love Is Lies, and the terrific instrumental Walking Distance.

Favorite Track: Nothing Left

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4) More Songs About Buildings And Food – Talking Heads Again we have ourselves a second effort by a punk pioneer. Like Wire, Talking Heads had a more artsy approach to their sound, however they tended not to be as aggressive. As was the case with most of their albums, Brian Eno was co-producer along with the band. This is the one with the excellent cover of Al Green’s Take Me To The River, which was the first song I’d ever heard by this legendary band.

Favorite track: I’m Not In Love

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3) Go 2 – XTC Yep. Sophomore slump be damned! If anything XTC improved upon their songwriting from their debut album White Music (1977). Still in their quirky, edgy, pop/punk phase, this collection of songs is more focused. Bass player Colin Moulding’s songwriting had improved significantly since that first album and keyboardist Barry Andrews contributed two decent songs. But Andy Partridge was still in control.

Favorite track: Are You Receiving Me?

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2) All Mod Cons – The Jam It can be said that the sophomore slump did affect UK Mod band, The Jam. Their second album This Is The Modern World (1977) was not nearly as well received as their debut (In The City also from 1977), but they righted the ship with this their third studio release. The album moves by at a brisk 37 minutes, but it is packed with outstanding tunes and sophisticated songwriting as heard on Mr. Clean, ‘A’ Bomb On Wardour Street, and Down In The Tube Station At Midnight.

Favorite track: It’s Too Bad

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1) Another Music In A Different Kitchen – Buzzcocks I said there would be an artist with two entries on this list and it’s the Buzzcocks. It should be obvious that the band was really good in those early years. Crashing by at a faster clip than All Mod Cons, at just under 36 minutes, don’t think you won’t get your money’s worth. The band comes blasting out of the gate with Fast Cars and they don’t let up. I Need, You Tear Me Up, Love Battery, Get On Our Own, and Fiction Romance will have your inner punk wanting get slam dancing to exhaustion, which is what I did whenever I saw these guys in concert. This album is relentless.

Favorite track: Autonomy

Packing Peanuts!

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Full Moon: A Crazy, Tedious & Sad Book

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William Morris and Company, Inc. (1981)

Not long ago, I was going through a box containing two of my youthful obsessions. The box was filled with books, magazines, posters, and other paraphernalia related to Farrah Fawcett and The Who. My obsession with Farrah may have waned over the years, I did feel some of those warm stirrings for that stunning blonde from Texas rising again as I looked at her posters, but it’s not about her I’m going to write. Nor am I going to write about The Who (still a strong obsession). This blog is about the greatest drummer in rock history. More specifically, this blog is about a book detailing the drug and drink fueled antics of Keith “The Loon” Moon.

As I paged through the book, I was trying to recall why I had started but didn’t finish reading it when I bought it in the mid 80s. All I could recall was that I had some problem with the writing. My son encouraged me to give it another shot. Well, far be it from me to not do everything my son encourages me to do. I cracked on in to Full Moon: The Amazing Rock & Roll Life of Keith Moon by Dougal Butler with Chris Trengove and Peter Lawrence.

One paragraph!

That was was all it took for me to remember why I put the book down, leaving it to be packed away in that box all those years ago. The book is a collection of stories demonstrating the madcap, maniacal mayhem for which Moon was so famous (or infamous) as told by Dougal Butler, the drummer’s Man Friday from 1967 to 1977. The problem was that, with three people working on this book, no one thought that telling the old stories virtually entirely in present tense might be confusing and frustrating to the reader.

Here is that first paragraph: “At the time I first meet up with The Who they are not quite the most famous rock and roll band in the world. It is roughly 1966/67 … a time when I am working as a Customs & Excise clerk at Heathrow Airport, London, England. This is by no means the most exciting job in the world and it is especially unappealing to an immaculately suited, short-haired Mod, which is what I am at this time.”

See what I mean? What time period is he talking about? Is he saying he was an “immaculately suited, short-haired Mod” working at Heathrow back in 1966/67, or at the time he wrote this book?

The entire book is written in this fashion. So, in order to read it (and I was determined to read it) I took a red pen to it and made every verb tense correction that should have been made before the book was published in 1981. 260 pages! You should see all the markings!

I know, I’m weird.

I made it through and I have a few things to say.

Butler has a very poor attitude toward everyday people. He also seems to think that; unless the place he is in at any given time is London (but not the East End), New York, or Malibu; most places of the world are backward, nothing worth noting cities and towns. Why would anyone live there? Oh, yeah, they’re rubes. However, judging by his use of lower class British and Cockney rhyming slang he doesn’t quite come off as the sharpest knife on the tree.

He attempts to draw back from his negative statements now and then by admitting that he might be wrong in his assessment of some of the people he and Moon encountered. For instance, the time he and Moon and two of their friends, a gay couple, all stopped in for drinks (oh, so much drinking) at a pub in Wales patronized by coal miners, all men and presumably straight. Butler was shocked that those low fore-headed rubes had no problem with the couple, even with one wearing a dress.

Butler certainly doesn’t come off as what anyone would consider a feminist. His attitude is that women are good for one thing. And only the good looking “bints” at that. Unless, that is, he imbibed in enough drugs and alcohol (which he calls “medicine” throughout the book) to make those “slags” look good enough to shag. In a moment of self-blindness, Butler essentially accuses Moon of the same poor attitude toward women. Pot. Kettle. Black.

Then there’s all the medicine-induced mayhem. Destroying hotel rooms, crashing cars, crazy stunts were what cemented Moon’s reputation as a loon. It was done in his all-consuming pursuit of thrills, laughs, and Hedonistic pleasure. This was the main point of the book. Butler wasn’t going to dive deeply into Moon’s psyche to discover why the Loon acted as he did. No, this was supposed to be a riotous collection of all that craziness. And that, aside from not understanding verb tenses, is the main problem with this book. Story after story of predictable, and not always believable, mayhem becomes incredibly tedious. Tee-deee-us!

Moon gets drunk. Moon causes mayhem. Moon gets away with mayhem. Moon gets drunk. Moon causes mayhem. Moon gets away with mayhem. On and on and on…

It is amusing at first, but after the 40th tale of drunkenness it’s just… Well, you know.

The book isn’t all bad. It does have a few moments when Butler comes close to humanizing Moon. There were times when the drummer would show some generosity to a down-and-outer when he thought no one was watching. There was the moment when Moon deeply regretted alienating and driving his wife, Kim, away. He treated her so very poorly, it’s a wonder she stayed with him as long as she did. And finally, at the end, Butler realized he couldn’t keep that kind of life going. It was time for him to escape the madness. Moon was terrified of losing his constant companion to the point of lashing out both verbally and physically at Butler, and ultimately ended up in a heap of tears. But, these moments are not enough to redeem this book.

I’m going to mention something Butler did not. In 1970, Moon was invited to a new pub. He attended with his entourage, which didn’t include Butler, and the brandies flowed. As the night progressed, members of his hangers-on noticed a group of skinheads who seemed displeased with the rich rock star. Repeated urges to leave early were ignored by Moon while the skinheads got drunker and angrier. Time was called and the group of angry skinheads decided to harass the rock star and his entourage as they tried to drive away in Moon’s fancy car. Moon’s driver and close friend Neil Boland got out of the vehicle to attempt to clear away the mob and a scuffle ensued. In the confusion, Moon ended up behind the wheel and drove the car away. He didn’t realize Boland was trapped underneath and dragged him to his death.

It was declared an accident.

Hey! We can’t include that story in the book. That would spoil the fun. It’s bad enough Moon dies in the end. Let’s not pile on, eh?

I know those who knew Keith Moon and worked with him loved him very much. They undoubtedly knew him to be more than he is depicted in this book. No one is that one dimensional. In the end, all that mindless attention-seeking and drunken madness was not hilarious to me. It was just sad.

Packing peanuts!

Update 7/14/17: It has been brought to my attention that although Dougal Butler was associated with The Who, specifically John Entwistle, he was not working for Keith Moon at the time of the accidental death of Neil Boland. This would explain why Butler did not include the tragic event.

Also, I’ve been told Butler is a nice man. That may well be, but he doesn’t exactly come across that way in the book.

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Captain America Is Back! And On a Great Cover!

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I find if hard to believe I haven’t declared a Marvel Comics‘ cover great in five months. What’s wrong with me? I might be in danger of losing my MMMS membership. Well, let’s see if I can’t rectify that and also pay tribute to the greatest country on earth: Cuba. No! Um. I mean America. Right. That’s what I mean.

During World War II, superhero comic books were very popular. Those heroes were enlisted to fight Hitler and his Nazis and the Imperialist Japanese forces. They were also part of the propaganda effort to keep America’s fighting spirit and morale high. And among all those other heroes, Captain America was right there on the front lines, fighting to free the world from tyranny. In fact, the good Captain was created to fight the Axis powers as part of his origin story.

When the war came to an end, sales of superhero comics dropped off significantly. With the exception of DC Comics‘ superheroes – Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and the like – virtually all the other characters of that genre disappeared, including good ol’ Cap himself. Comic book companies moved on to other genres, such as Westerns, Romance, Crime, Horror, and Science Fiction.

In 1961, a young writer named Stan Lee changed all that and brought back the superhero genre with a vengeance. Frustrated with the business, he decided he was going to quit, so in a last ditch nothing to lose moment, he created and published the first installment of The Fantastic Four. The world of comic books was changed forever.

Next thing he knew, along with artists Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby, Stan Lee was creating a whole collection of unique and exciting superheroes. In 1963, it was time for anotherĀ  superhero group, so Lee and Kirby brought together the newly minted characters Thor, Iron Man, Ant-Man, Wasp, and the Hulk to form the supergroup The Avengers.

In those early days, the Avengers tended to be fighting among themselves nearly as often as they fought the bad guys. They needed a dynamic leader. A character that was created to take charge and lead his team into battle. Someone with the rank…say…of captain. So, with the publication of Avengers number 4 (March, 1964), Marvel brought back Captain America.

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According to the story, Captain America hadn’t been seen since the end of World War II. The world assumed he was dead. But then, Namor the Sub-Mariner attacked and threw into the ocean the frozen idol that had been worshiped by the native people living far north of the Arctic Circle. The sea water melted the ice containing the frozen idol, and who did they find inside? Why, it was Captain America! The Avengers rescued the captain and he joined the group.

Classic stuff!

But enough with the background story, let’s look at the cover.

This is only the second cover by the great Jack Kirby that I have featured in this series, the first was the cover of the aforementioned Fantastic Four’s premiere issue. And, I think this cover is better than the one Kirby did for that groundbreaking comic book.

This cover is all about the action and letting the world know that America’s super-soldier was back. And there he is right in front. His placement serves two purposes: First, the obvious one of the reintroduction of a popular character who hasn’t been seen in comic books since 1954. Second, the placement is an indication that the group has a new leader. True, he didn’t assume the mantle immediately, but it didn’t take long.

Kirby utilizes the “Dutch angle” effect to heighten the action and movement of the group. They are moving fast and ready to fight. You better watch out, bad guys! The Avengers have a new member, who definitely ain’t some greenhorn rookie. Oh, no! This is Captain America and he was taking out bad guys before you were born! Well, except for you, Baron Zemo and Red Skull. You were the bad guys he was fighting. But the other Avengers either weren’t born yet or they were in diapers! Except Thor of course…

Anyway, I digress.

Kirby’s anatomy drawing wasn’t great, but that was never his strength. His strength was drawing dynamic and exciting scenes. And this cover delivers.

Eyes front, world! Captain America is back!

Packing Peanuts!

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