Monday, June 26, 2017

Review: 'Behaving Madly: Zany, Loco, Cockeyed, Rip-Off, Satire Magazines'


When Bill Gaines and his line of delightful horror comics came under fire from the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency (yecch!), his cohort Harvey Kurtzman schemed to pull one of their non-horror titles away from the Comic Code’s wagging finger by changing the format of the satirical MAD from a comic book to a proper magazine. The move was cagey. It was also a mad commercial and cultural success, and you know what happens when something’s successful. Suddenly MAD was sharing rack space with Zany!, Frantic!, Crazy, Man, Crazy, From Here to Insanity, Loco, This Magazine Is Crazy, and plenty of other would-be MADs. Like the comics that attempted to recreate the macabre magic of Gaines’s horror titles, the MAD knock offs rarely lived up to the mag they aspired to be. That doesn’t mean that they never delivered funny material or top-notch art. In fact, many MAD-men such as Jack Davis, Al Jaffee, Angelo Torres, Basil Wolverton, and Will Elder also worked for the other guys. So did such comics luminaries as Jack Kirby, Joe Kubert, and John Severin of the most enduring MAD knock off, Cracked.

IDW’s new collection Behaving Madly curates articles from the best of the knock offs, many of which feature these big name artists. Not everything in the collection can go toe-to-toe with the Usual Gang of Idiots. Certain pieces seem to end before reaching a punch line or opt for a sort of head-scratching absurdity. Some are too text heavy, such as Ric Estrada’s limp spoofs of Hemingway and Spillane from Frantic! The bits that strive most to follow the MAD format are usually the most successful, such as Art Gates’s hilariously violent Blackboard Jungle spoof from From Here to Insanity and Wolverton’s magnificently grotesque “Fashions for the Miserable Motorist” from Crazy, Man, Crazy.

Whether or not the comedy hits the bull’s eye, the artwork is almost uniformly boss and the ultra-fifties themes hit the nostalgic sweet spot. Behaving Madly is a trip through a malt shop populated by Elvis, Marilyn, Monsters (there’s an entire section devoted to Drac, Frankie, and their cronies), Archie (in a Zany! parody that’s nearly identical to one that appeared four years earlier in MAD), Ernie Kovacs lookalikes, and Maiden Form bra models. This also means that the spoofs sometimes play up such outdated and highly regrettable sources of “humor” as racial stereotypes and beating up women (blecch!). However, most of the pieces in Behaving Madly are an uncomplicated kick, and the near 50-page introduction is a swell history of these second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth-rate magazines.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Review: 'Silhouettes and Statues: A Gothic Revolution 1978- 86'


Goth was a distinctively eighties movement, pushing its furrowed brow against the gleeful superficiality of Duran Duran or Animotion in the same way the definitively-nineties grungesters bucked the hair metalists in the next decade. Despite that, you could probably trace Goth back to the sixties with Procol Harum and Nico, and if you want to get cute, a lot further back than that to the Gregorian chanters. But if Goth ain’t one thing, it’s cute, and Cherry Red’s new box set Silhouettes and Statues: A Gothic Revolution 1978- 86 provides five discs of proof.

Goth never caught on as a mainstream-newsworthy item the way grunge did, so it only produced a few couple of superstars, namely The Cure and Siouxsie Sioux, and because everyone did not get the chance to burn out on Goth as they did on grunge, Goth had much longer, spidery legs. Consequently, there was so much to choose from in compiling Silhouettes and Statues that key artists such as Siouxsie, Killing Joke, and Christian Death could be sidelined in favor of a slew of more obscure artists.

There are gradations in this set’s overwhelming grey. While I might not go so far as to call them poppy, tracks such as Joy Division’s “Shadowplay”, Southern Death Cult’s “Moya”, Zero Le Creche’s “Last Year’s Wife”, Cocteau Twins’ “In Our Angelhood”, Balaam and the Angels’ “The Darklands”, The Damned’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, All About Eve’s “D Is for Desire” (which takes some of the sting out of the absence of the movement’s definitive diva, Siouxsie Sioux), and quite a few others are as accessible as the best of the legit New Wavers who never shot a video on a yacht. There are also alluringly spooky numbers from Dead Can Dance, Bushido, Adam & the Ants, and original Goth maestro Nico, while toothy tracks by Actifed, UK Decay, Penetration, and Flesh for Lulu straddle the line between Goth and punk invigoratingly.

Silhouettes and Statues most certainly does not play it safe, though, and excessively abrasive or otherwise difficult tracks by The Birthday Party, Portion Control, Schliemer K, In the Nursery, Bone Orchard, Part 1, and nine-and-a-half minutes of Anorexic Dread will wash away the less dedicated like a gloomy, doomy tsunami. Of course playing it safe is not very Goth, while washing stuff away like a gloomy, doomy tsunami is, so anyone who still sprays their black locks up like a starfish and slathers on the pancake makeup will delight in Silhouettes and Statues. Well, maybe “delight” is the wrong word, but you get the picture.

Friday, June 16, 2017

'David Lynch: The Art Life' Coming to Blu-ray from Criterion

Released last year, David Lynch: The Art Life focuses on the first phase of when Lynch's career as a creative renaissance man when he  concentrated on painting and making short films such as the installation piece Six Figures Getting and The Alphabet. On September 26th, the feature-length documentary will be coming to Blu-ray and DVD from the Criterion Collection. Bonus features for this release are apparently limited to an interview with the film's co-director Jon Nguyen.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Review: Michael Nesmith's 'Infinite Tuesday: An Autobiographical Riff'


In 1965, young Mike Nesmith was bumming around Texas under his shaggy tresses when he noticed that people were taking a lot more notice of him than usual. When he stepped into a 7-Eleven, the cashier flipped out and told him that the local radio station had been reporting on his appearances. Nesmith decided to pop in on the station manager to find out what the deal was. When he got to the station, the manager asked him to confirm that he was, indeed, George Harrison. Nesmith admitted he was not. The station manager threatened to have him arrested for fraud.

Mike Nesmith was not yet a Monkee when this asinine incident took place, but it pretty much sums up his experience in a made-for-TV band that a bunch of dummies assumed was as genuine a band as The Beatles and accused of fraud when they found out the band wasn’t.

Of course, The Monkees did become a genuine band with no shortage of fight from Mike Nesmith. So there’s no mystery behind why this particular fellow was thrust into the role of The Monkees’ leader both in the fictional world of their TV show and in real life. Nez seemed to have a complex relationship with that role. From the very beginning of The Monkees project, he was the most involved in their music as both writer and producer, yet based on his new autobiography Infinite Tuesday: An Autobiographical Riff, he seemed as bewildered by that role as he was when he was almost tossed in the clink for not being George Harrison. Nesmith reveals that some innocent inquiries into how involved he would be with the music—and less innocent pleas to be let out of his contract when he discovered the bubblegum leanings of that music—prodded TV-series producer Bert Schneider to insist that Mike get involved with The Monkees records.

I’d always wondered how that happened—how a basically untried folk musician had been allowed to write and produce highly unconventional tracks for a primarily commercial project with so much riding on it. The problem with The Monkees’ story had always been that despite the band’s tremendous and ongoing popularity, it has never been told in a definitive and completely thorough way. Consequently, I had a lot of other questions, such as “What is Nesmith’s relationship with the unusual religion of Christian Science?” “What was the extent of his friendships with John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix” “Why did this apparent peacenik join the Air Force?” and “Why did he consider himself to be a loser, as he brands himself during one of those candid interviews at the end of the Monkees show?” In Infinite Tuesday, Nesmith addresses these topics thoroughly, candidly, and with no shortage of self-effacement. He also answer questions I’d never thought to ask about his involvement with a hippie commune and guru during a personal low point in the seventies and friendships with such luminaries as Douglas Adams and Timothy Leary, though I was less interested in his dealings in business and technology that dominate the narrative after the seventies.

Interestingly, the one thing Nesmith steers clear of in Infinite Tuesday is discussing Micky, Davy, and Peter in any depth despite talking at great length about his Monklees experience in the sixties. Perhaps their difficult relationship, one of the better known details of Monkees lore, made him back off, not wanting to stir the pot after his recent touring and recording experiences with his old cohorts. Whatever the reason, the oversight is glaring, as is the lack of any mention of the recent and tremendously successful Monkees reunions or even Davy Joness death. This is the one hole in an otherwise satisfying piece of storytelling, the telling of which recalls the dense lyricism of “Carlisle Wheeling” and “Tapioca Tundra”. A pop autobiography with genuinely interesting stories is rare. One that is also well written is rarer still.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Farewell, Anita Pallenberg

Despite her work as a model and actress who appeared in such groovy items as Performance, Barbarella, and an episode of Absolutely Fabulous (in which she played the Devil against Marianne Faithfull's God), Anita Pallenberg will forever be known as the woman who made Keith Richards seem tame. Her life was well-lived but rocky. She endured an abusive relationship with Brian Jones before getting involved with Richards. Her drug-abuse rivaled that of her mate's. The death of the infamous couple's infant son Tara drove a wedge between them that caused a permanent split after Pallenberg's 17-year old boyfriend Scott Cantrell killed himself in her and Richards' bed in 1979. 

In the early eighties Pallenberg worked hard to get sober, and despite a couple of relapses, continued on while mostly choosing to remain outside of the public eye with occasional returns such as her Ab Fab appearance and work as a DJ. Yesterday, Pallenberg died at the age of 73. Her Rock & Roll adventures will surely continue to be the stuff of myth for years to come.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Publication Date for David Lynch's Memoir

Way back in October 2015, I reported David Lynch's plan to publish his memoir in 2017. Room to Dream: A Life in Art (formerly titled Life and Work) is arriving a bit later than scheduled (they're not even sure if it is a baby!), but according to Amazon.com, it is arriving. The date is now February 17, 2018, and Random House will be issuing the 496-page book which will actually combine Lynch's personal recollections with a biography by Kristine McKenna, who has the cool distinction of being a pioneering chronicler of the L.A. punk scene.

Here's the official copy from Amazon:

"In this memoir, David Lynch, co-creator of Twin Peaks and writer and director of groundbreaking films like Eraserhead, The Elephant Man, Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive, opens up about a lifetime of extraordinary creativity, the friendships he has made along the way and the struggles he has faced—sometimes successful, sometimes not—to bring his projects to fruition.

Part-memoir, part-biography, Room to Dream interweaves Lynch’s own reflections on his life with the story of those times, as told by Kristine McKenna, drawing from extensive and explosive interviews with ninety of Lynch’s friends, family members, actors, agents, musicians, and collaborators. Lynch responds to each recollection and reveals the inner story of the life behind the art."

Monday, June 12, 2017

Review: 'Making Time: A Shel Talmy Production'


Producer Shel Talmy is a controversial figure in sixties pop. He got his first major gig by passing off records by The Beach Boys and Lou Rawls as his own productions (they weren’t). He foisted an old blues song called “Bald Headed Woman” on many of the artists he produced to collect royalties on a song he claimed to have written (he didn’t). He perpetuated a difficult-to-kill rumor that Jimmy Page played on The Kinks “You Really Got Me” (he didn’t), much to the infuriation of Dave Davies. He trapped The Who in a terrible contract that gave him a ridiculous chunk of their royalties, creating legal and financial troubles for the band for years (he did).

Talmy’s machinations were questionable to say the least, but there is no question that he cut some of the weightiest, greatest records released between 1964 and 1970. His signature Wall of Noise is evident in some of the best recordings by The Kinks, The Who, The Easybeats, and The Creation. However, there are also subtler colors and innovations in his work. He gave The Who the go-ahead to stir up so much aural chaos on “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere” that most DJ’s thought the record suffered from some sort of awful technical glitch. He caught Eddie Phillips using his innovative guitar-bow technique on The Creation’s mighty “Making Time”. He etched the gentler acoustic sounds on Chad & Jeremy’s “A Summer Song” and beat The Beatles and Moody Blues to the punch by using the Mellotron on Manfred Mann’s “Semi-Detached Suburban Mr. James” in 1966.

These are some of the unquestionable classics that appear on an essential and well-annotated new comp from Ace Records called Making Time: A Shel Talmy Production. This 25-song disc is not just a lesson in Talmy’s recording history, but more importantly, a simply smashing collection of sixties records familiar and obscure. The song selection is excellent with The Kinks represented by their finest early single (“Tired of Waiting for You”, personally selected by Ray Davies), rare alternate versions of common items such as Davy “Bowie” Jones’s “You’ve Got a Habit of Leaving” and The Easybeats’ “Lisa”, and other superb tracks by the likes of Roy Harper, The Nashville Teens, The Pentangle, and Lee Hazelwood, as well as less famous artists such as The Mickey Finn, The Rokes, Lindsay Muir’s Untamed, and The Sneekers, who put a few more bucks in Talmy’s pocket with yet another rendition of “Bald Headed Woman”. Oh, Shel.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Farewell, Adam West

You can take your dark Dark Knights and take a holy jump in a bat lake. To many of us, Batman was funny--not the butt of jokes, but the maker of them with a straight-faced brand of comedy that prognosticated the Zucker Brothers and others of their ilk who never mastered the form as Adam West did. Adam West made Batman fun as no other actor who personified the Caped Crusader did, and by embracing that character throughout his career, he endeared himself to fans with humility, honesty, and eternal good humor. That humor will live on even though Adam West has died at the age of 88 after suffering from leukemia. No one will ever fill out the cape and cowl like he did... Pure. West.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Psychobabble's Ten Greatest Albums of 1992!


The year after Nirvana kicked open the doors for a form of Rock that did not require crates of Aquanet, “grunge” was the industry’s favorite buzzword. Yet the less grungy sounds that would soon be championed as “alternative” by a press desperate to put some sort of label on all the eclecticism were already in effect. Many makers of the best albums of 1992 may have had a pair of Doc Martens in their closets, but their sounds drew on a wide variety of sources: the Girl Group sound of the sixties, punk, folk, twee pop, industrial, and synthesized minimalism. And I’m not just talking about Guided by Voices’ eclectic annual contribution. I’m talking about Psychobabbles Ten Greatest Albums of 1992!

10. Hey Babe by Juliana Hatfield

While a lot of independent groups were getting grungy or disturbingly surreal or channeling The Smiths in the late eighties, Boston’s Blake Babies were a fresh breath of pure pop. As soon as the trio split in 1992, bandleader Juliana Hatfield didn’t waste a second getting her solo career started, and she did so with her most Blake Babyish disc. Hey Babe is a smashing solo debut with all the sweet pop melody and power pop guitar work of the Babies’ best. Yet tracks like “Nirvana” (about Hatfield’s infatuation with the band with which everyone was infatuated in ’92) and “Get Off Your Knees” indicate that she could get heavier on her own than she had with her old band. Some critics sneered at Hatfield’s girlish voice and accused her of being either too self-deprecating or too self-aggrandizing, failing to realize how patronizing the former gripe is and how shortsighted the latter one is. Just as a lot of critics missed the humor in Morrissey’s tales of woe, they also let the subtle funniness of “Ugly” (“I’m ugleeeeee with a capital U”) and the knowingly absurd “Everybody Loves Me But You” soar over their heads. As over-the-top as these songs are, there is still a layer of true woe beneath them that makes them work as humor and weepy diary entries. Maybe Hatfield was channeling The Smiths after all. Not a bad band to channel.

9. Get Your Goat by Shudder to Think

Monday, June 5, 2017

Review: 'Looking Forward: The Roots of Big Star'


In the few years before making his name in Big Star, Chris Bell bounced around a few different Memphis bands. The interesting thing about each of them is that Bell’s retro sensibility was already well in place when he strummed for The Wallabys, Ice Water, and Rock City, which featured fellow future-Big Star Jody Stephens behind the kit. Like Big Star, each one of these bands owed more to mid-sixties British pop than circa-1970 American Rock. Some of their songs, such as Rock City’s “Think It’s Time to Say Goodbye” and Ice Water’s “All I See Is You”, sound like they could have been on #1 Record. On the rare occasion Bell sang lead, the results often ended up in Big Star’s trick bag, as when that band recycled Rock City’s “My Life Is Right” and “Try Again”.

However, the new early-Bell compilation Looking Forward: The Roots of Big Star is not limited to Big Star-esque power pop. There’s also a pronounced psychedelic influence on a lot of this stuff that never bled onto Big Star’s records so unabashedly. The Wallaby’s “Feeling High” is pure Syd Barrett bounce while the title track sounds like a groovy outtake from Crimson & Clover. The aptly named “Psychedelic Stuff” has a whiff of The End about it.

The only time that Looking Forward really sounds of its time is when Rock City cobble together an almost proggy suite of songs about the dubious nature of religious leaders. This five-song sequence also contains this compilation’s only blunder since a couple of random songs are senselessly programmed within the suite. Otherwise, Looking Forward really holds its own as a superb collection of tracks that mostly look back at pop’s 1966/1967 peak.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Review: 'Planet of the Apes: The Original Topps Trading Card Series'


Although Topps had produced entertainment tie-in cards for such properties as The Beverly Hillbillies, Lost in Space, and Batman, the company’s decision to try a series based on Planet of the Apes in 1969 was a different kettle of monkeys. This was the first time Topps produced a series of cards based on a big hit movie starring a big movie star: namely Charlton Heston. This had certain legal ramifications since Heston was not thrilled with the idea of having his square-jawed visage packaged with stale bubblegum. In the end, he only gave the OK for Topps to include him on a mere nine cards, an offer Topps kind of wasted by using a few of these cards to only show the back of Heston’s head, his feet, or in one glorious instance, his butt. To give the impression that Heston was better represented than he actually was, Topps reduced its usual run of 66 cards to a mere 40. Although she was a complete unknown at the time, co-star Linda Harrison didn’t have any face time in the series at all. Fortunately, there were no such issues for the actors and actresses hidden in ape make up, and let’s face it, the kids who bought these cards were more interested in ogling awesome ape faces than Heston and Harrison’s pretty pusses.

Abrams’ new collection of Planet of the Apes cards would be a pamphlet if it only assembled that original 40-card run, so it widens its net to include the card series based on the short-lived 1974 Planet of the Apes TV show and Tim Burton’s bad 2001 remake. The upside to the relatively few cards collected in Planet of the Apes: The Original Topps Trading Card Series is that each card is allowed to occupy its own page at extra-large dimensions. Also, Gary Gerani, who provided captions for the Planet of the Apes TV series cards, and whose text in Abrams’ recent Topps Star Wars cards books was so entertaining, does the same for this new volume.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Review: 'The Many Lives of Catwoman: The Felonious History of a Feline Fatale'


With the exception of The Joker, Catwoman has to be the most popular super villain in superdom—more infamous than Lex Luthor, the Green Goblin, Dr. Doom, or Batman’s other top nemeses, The Penguin and The Riddler, neither of whom has received his own comic series. And even The Joker has never been the title character of his very own feature film— though I’m pretty sure Catwoman isn’t too proud of that ammonia-scented stink bomb starring Halle Berry.

Nevertheless, Selina Kyle has had a decidedly rocky history. Despite debuting as an atypically in-control and unpunished woman at a time when virtuous female characters tended to reflect the extremely limited concepts of femininity common in the forties and femme fatales always received their comeuppance, Catwoman eventually succumbed to the nasty whims of her mostly male creators. She might be declawed in plot lines that wed her to bland Bruce Wayne or tortured luridly. Even when more progressive minded writers gave Catwoman something to do, childish artists depicted her as a sex object to be ogled. And on the number of occasions when she became too much of a handful, she was erased altogether. In fact, after she had the distinction of being Gotham’s only villain to get a mention in Frederic Wertham’s comics-industry-rocking excoriation Seduction of the Innocent in 1954, Catwoman was isolated in the kennel for twelve years until Julie Newmar repopularized her on TV.

Needless to say, the fact that Catwoman is a woman is intrinsically tied to her difficult history, which Tim Hanley relates in his new book The Many Lives of Catwoman: The Felonious History of a Feline Fatale. The author studies how his topic was treated in comics, television, film, and video games, noting the positive depictions (her initial appearances in the comics and later ones in The Long Halloween and Catwoman: When in Rome, her treatment on Bill Dozier’s sixties TV series and today’s Gotham, as well as Tim Burton’s Batman Returns) and the less positive ones that objectified and patronized her. The take away from this book is that Catwoman was a great female character full of potential, but the small minds in the patriarchal comics industry rarely knew what to do with her.

Hanley supports his thesis with an intense look at Catwoman’s many appearances (and absences). This can get a tad tedious since he spends a lot of time summarizing comics arcs, and while his constant quoting of the awful dialogue in Batman Returns doesn’t undermine his argument that the film offers a positive, feminist depiction of Catwoman, it does fog up a discussion of the film’s most positive attribute by continuously reminding us of its shittiest one.

The Many Lives of Catwoman still manages to be an excellent study as a whole, achieving a skillful balance of history and analysis. Hanley integrates his cultural findings with neat details about the Catwoman film Burton and Michelle Pfeiffer intended to make, the original casting choice for her first TV incarnation (not Julie Newmar), and the woman who quite possibly inspired her in the first place (not Jean Harlow or Hedy Lamarr as Bob Kane would have you believe). The Many Lives of Catwoman definitively captures Catwoman’s history, compellingly explains how she has bucked and reflected society’s treatment of women, and relates it all with attentiveness and humor. Hanley
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