Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Town

I am what I call a "Ben Affleck Booster." I've never been as down on the guy as others seem to be at times, and I think he can be a fine actor. Y'know, maybe I relate to him, there are certain physical similarities.

Take, for example Good Will Hunting. The climax of that film is supposed to be the session between Matt Damon's Will and Robin William's Dr. Maguire. Y'know, the "it's not your fault" scene? It doesn't work that way, in fact, that scene kinda sucks. I actually love that movie, but that scene just bites.

The real climax comes when Will talks with his best friend, Chuckie, played by Affleck, and Chuckie explains why Will absolutely cannot walk away from the opportunities he's been handed. It's emotional and real, and Affleck absolutely crushes it. You remember;
No. No, no no no. Fuck you, you don't owe it to yourself man, you owe it to me. Cuz tomorrow I'm gonna wake up and I'll be 50, and I'll still be doin' this shit. And that's all right. That's fine. I mean, you're sittin' on a winnin' lottery ticket. And you're too much of a pussy to cash it in, and that's bullshit. 'Cause I'd do fuckin' anything to have what you got. So would any of these fuckin' guys. It'd be an insult to us if you're still here in 20 years. Hangin' around here is a fuckin' waste of your time. 
Ben is not, and really never has been, a "bad" actor. He's made horrendously bad choices. That I don't deny. He's at his best when playing guys who are morally flawed. If you go back and look at the best of his filmography, Chasing Amy, Boiler Room, Changing Lanes, or Hollywoodland, these are all very, very solid performances. He's been damaged on so many levels by bad role choices, Daredevil, Gigli, Paycheck (why anyone would take that film, I don't know...the snarky bad reviews just write themselves), the glorious stupidity of Pearl Harbor, and by bad personal choices, aka, the "J. Lo thing."

The guy was smart enough to, after a long string of bad PR, just lie low, enter into what looks to be a decent Hollywood marriage, and bide his time. When he came back, it was strong work, the aforementioned Hollywoodland, and by turning director. In 2007 he co-wrote and directed Gone, Baby, Gone, a really, really solid adaptation of Dennis Lehane's novel.

A few weeks ago his follow-up film, The Town, was released. If you follow that link, you can see that the critical response has been pretty solidly favorable. 94% on the Tomatometer.

Once again, Affleck serves as co-writer and director, but this time also steps in front of the camera. The short form of my reaction after seeing the film last night is that Affleck has, once again, crafted an extremely solid crime thriller. The script is what you'd expect, no one's re-inventing the wheel, but Affleck shoots it very effectively, and has assembled a crackerjack cast. 

There's relatively little fat on the script. There's a tendency to allow each character to have a "this is who I am" monologue, but the pacing is such that you really don't get bogged down in it. You can also say that Blake Lively's character of Krista, ultimately, really only serves as a plot element, but, when it comes down to it, if those are the worst things you can say about a script, you're landing on far more good than ill. Plus, the screenplay is adapted from the novel Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan, and, since I've not read it, who knows how much came from the source material?

As with most films in this genre, the action really spins around the male cast. The three leads are John Hamm (Mad Men) as F.B.I. agent Frawley, Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker) as James "Jem" Coughlin, and Affleck himself as Doug MacRay. The film effectively sets up a cat and mouse game with Frawley hard on the heels of MacRay and Jem's team of bank robbers. We open with a robbery that results in the kidnapping of the bank manager, Claire Keesey, played by Rebecca Hall. MacRay, the cool-headed leader, ultimately sets her loose after they escape, over Jem's objections.

During the film several plates are kept spinning. Will MacRay and his team slip up, and bring Frawley down upon them? Will Jem ultimately kill Claire, which he's all too ready and capable of doing? What will happen between MacRay and Claire? This is, admittedly, fairly standard crime thriller fodder, but as with most genre movies, the difference comes down to the effectiveness for the presentation. The Town is well made and well acted, by the time Chris Cooper appears in a brief scene as MacRay's father, you know that somebody spent the time to find the right people to fill these roles.

Based on the critical reaction, the skill on display, and the now 10-film field for Best Picture nominees, I don't think the buzz about The Town getting a nomination is unfounded. It won't win, but it's a really, really solid piece of Hollywood filmmaking, and Ben Affleck has proven himself to be a director to keep an eye on. I think I liked Gone, Baby, Gone slightly more than The Town, but both films are made with enough skill to prove that Affleck is no fluke behind the camera.

Definitely worth seeing.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

New Comic Day - 9.29.2010

Light week. Fairly nice to see.

Detective Comics #869

Written by DAVID HINE

"Impostors" continues here! Madness and mayhem face off against law and order for control of Gotham City, and not even the Batman is safe! With The Joker Impostor leading the charge of chaos and filling the streets of Gotham with his army of Jokerz, the ranks of the Batman Impostor's army grow thanks to regular citizens choosing sides and taking up arms. But what is Impostor Joker's ultimate goal – and what does it have to do with the real Dark Knight and Clown Prince of Crime?

 I've been pretty happy with this storyline, even if it does borrow HEAVILY from story elements of both Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns mini-series, and  Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight movie. Still, those are probably two of the best stand-alone Batman stories ever, so, if you're gonna ape plot elements, steal from the best. I find the idea of a diluted Joker toxin becoming a designer recreational drug to be a really cool idea, and it's well used here.

Especially nice is the idea that the cops, and Batman, are in a really bad place. There's an army of "Jokerz," but they're all just normal, fairly innocent, folks who are out of their minds on this drug. Not a situation where you want to start breaking bones, or blowing people away, yet the Jokerz have no such compunction. Even more so, the Batman army running around blasting people with heavy artillery are, in fact, in control of their faculties. Now, who's the greater risk? Who poses a more terrifying view of society?

David Hine's done a great job with this story. The elements are familiar, but he's hitting all the right buttons. Well done.

 Captain America #610


It's the grand finale - the showdown between Zemo and Bucky Barnes, and even if Bucky can survive a second trip to Zemo's island his world will never be the same after what Helmut Zemo has done to it. Plus a NOMAD back-up by Sean McKeever & Filipe Andrade

I'm really hoping that this story, with Bucky/Cap confronting the son of the man who "killed" him back in the 40's, on the same ground on which it happened, is the first steps to the inevitable. The inevitable being getting Steve Rogers back into the classic Captain America uniform. It's inevitable because, well, it's Marvel...they're not going to let Captain America: The First Avenger open next Summer without comics that match.

I know a lot of people enjoy Bucky Barnes as Cap. I did, too, but with Captain America: Reborn (which was just awful) and the Siege event promising a return of Marvel's "big three" Avengers (Cap, Thor and Iron Man), now I just feel jerked around. Bucky as Cap doesn't make the "big three," I'm sorry. It's felt like a major "bait and switch," plus...why does it feel like Marvel's trying to ape DC's "legacy heroes" deal? I mean the Hulk has what? Three Kids, now? I'll let Young Avengers slide, because it was good, and most of those guys weren't directly connected to the heroes they emulated. Making yourself over out of hero-worship was actually interesting...Of course, will we ever see another Young Avengers story?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Utter Silliness

So, the 2011 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Nominations came out today...

I look at this list;

Alice Cooper
Beastie Boys
Bon Jovi 
Neil Diamond 
Dr. John 
J. Geils Band
LL Cool J 
Darlene Love
Laura Nyro
Donna Summer
Joe Tex
Tom Waits
Chuck Willis

And man, it's not like I can argue with a lot of the choices. I mean, seeing Tom Waits up there makes me very, very happy. The Beastie Boys totally deserve it, as well as Neil Diamond and Alice Cooper, I guess. It's neat to see deserving off-the-mainstream choices like Dr. John, J. Giles Band and Laura Nyro.

But Bon Jovi? They've only been eligible for TWO YEARS! There's a lot of acts I might say "the first year they're eligible, they ought to go in," but Bon Jovi ain't one of them. (Down the road? Sure.) Def Leppard is higher on the list, if we want to pick someone from that era. Hell, Van Halen didn't go in until after 4 years of eligibility.

I hate to bring up something I always do with RNRHOF posts, but Rush? Eligible for 12 years. They've been recording for 37 years! They are third behind, get this, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones for consecutive Gold and Platinum albums. They're cited as an influence for at least one of the current HOF acts, Metallica. They're not a "revolving door" band, their lineup has been set and unchanging, recording-wise, since 1975. The've been honored by everyone from the Canadian government to the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. This is a band that has earned it's rightful place in your club.

Plus, they're still a viable musical force. Rush's last three albums may not be the sheer genius of the absolute best of their catalog, but their work is always compelling and energized. Certainly more inspired that anything Bon Jovi's put out recently, or even Eric Clapton, and how many times have you inducted him, now? Ok, I'll admit that's an unfair comment, not every band can, like Led Zeppelin, call it quits before inertia sets in, but still, Rush has put out 18 albums of original material in it's 37 years. I couldn't call any of those records "bad," or even "weak."

I thought, maybe, after the attention paid to the band this year (the movie, and all that), it might finally happen. Alas, I underestimated the advisory board's ability to just be, as Matt Stone put it, "old dickheads."

Of course, it's all opinion. Everything is. I understand that after you get past the obvious inductees, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, etc, it all comes down to taste. It just makes me sad that, with all the factual information above, someone hasn't overridden their own dislike for this great band to make a gesture.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Monday With The Boss - Part 6 - Nebraska

Here we are again, with part six of our trip through the Springsteen discography. Today it's Bruce's sixth studio album, which is beloved by many, Nebraska, released on September 20th, 1982.

Nebraska seems to be the album that non-fans think of as Springsteen's masterpiece. I often have conversations with folks who find out I'm a big Boss fan, and I hear some variation of, "I can take or leave Springsteen, but Nebraska is amazing." I think there's something about the stripped-down "folkie" sound that immediately strikes people as "authentic"

Thing about it is, I see the version of Springsteen that's put forth on this album as a valid and important part of his life as an artist. I also, however, don't see it as the the cornerstone of it. Springsteen is far too much of an entertainer, far too much of a rocker, for this to be a defining sonic representation.

 However, what this stripped down approach does do is bring the songwriting, the storytelling, to the forefront. It's this Springsteen of the early 80's that became much more involved in political discourse, and documenting the lives of the less fortunate. It's much more prevalent in Born in the USA, but that album and this one are absolutely linked, not just by era, but also in intent. That's something that we'll get into next week.

Nebraska has also been called Bruce's "depression album." Not only because of the down on their luck personalities of the people in the songs, but also because of how it was recorded. Springsteen was at a point in his life where he was feeling at a personal low-point, and working on demos, alone in his home with a 4-track cassette recorder. That sense of personal desolation is pretty evident in the finished album.

The original intent was for all of these demos to be re-recorded as full E-Street Band tracks, and that would be the ultimate album. It's been confirmed by several members of the band that all of the tracks on Nebraska were, in fact, recorded by the entire band, proper. These tracks have grown to legend as "Electric Nebraska" in fan circles. They've never been released, and comments from the Springsteen camp tend to indicate they never will. The ultimate decision was that the best versions of these songs were the four-track demos that Springsteen cut by himself.

The actual Portastudio recorder is now on display in the special Springsteen exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, OH, if you have a desire to see it. Kind of amazing to stand there in front of it. The instruments on the album are limited, acoustic guitar dominates, with harmonica accents. There are other instruments on there, but relegated to the background, except for the electric guitar on "Open All Night." The ultimate effect is to serve up Springsteen's voice as the primary instrument. The lyrics hit hard because there's very little to get between you and them. The delivery is also very much steeped in Springsteen's state at the time. You can feel the desperation and longing in the voice.

However, there are reviews that peg this as a "hopeless" album, and I don't really agree with that. It is bleak, bleaker even that Darkness on the Edge of Town, but there are moments of hope and grace here. When Joe Roberts let's his brother Frankie escape the law in "Highway Patrolman," mainly because, "Man turns his back on his family he ain't no friend of mine," you do feel the grace of a man seeing that wild things need to be set free to run. Or, in "Open All Night," when our narrator sings of his headlong race across New Jersey to get back to his girl Rita, there's something uplifting, even if his "boss don't dig me, so he put me on the night shift."

Not to say it's all peaches and cream. "Atlantic City" is steeped with the sense that the favor he's doing for the guy he met isn't going to end in anything but tragedy. The title cut, sung from the point of view of real-life mass murderer Charlie Starkweather, lets you feel the ticking away of the last minutes of a doomed man. Poor "Johnny 99" is certain to pay a heavy debt to Judge "Mean" John Brown for losing his job, and dealing with it the only way he could see for himself.

Add to this longing. "Mansion on the Hill" speaks of a symbol for success and financial gain, and how that not only keeps the "have nots" outside, but also the "haves" locked inside. The sense of alienation that even "Used Cars" can represent. Or, the deep sense found in "My Father's House" that somethings can never be reclaimed or repaired once they are gone.

However, Springsteen ends the album with a song of hope, in some sense. "Reason to Believe" lets us see that, no matter how silly or odd, everyone has faith in something;

Seen a man standin' over a dead dog lyin' by the highway in a ditch
He's lookin' down kinda puzzled pokin' that dog with a stick
Got his car door flung open he's standin' out on highway 31
Like if he stood there long enough that dog'd get up and run
Struck me kinda funny seem kinda funny sir to me
Still at the end of every hard earned day people find some reason to believe

Springsteen's next step was truly, as we might hear on Monty Python, "something completely different." However, not as different as many would like to believe.

Steel City Serenade #1 Cover Preview

A Monday morning bonus blog because I got my hands on something exciting.

Zach Bosteel, my artist/co-creator on Steel City Serenade just sent over his cover for issue one. I love it, I think Zach hit a very Kyle Baker vibe with it.

Zach's hard at work on the breakdowns, which means I should probably start thinking about starting to break the script for Issue #2. Our goal, at this point, is to make Steel City Serenade a quarterly publication

As always, you can find a digital version of issue #0 at Zach's website. I think it gives a flavor for what we're going for, and gives you an ever-so-brief look at the ultimate "big bad" of the series, or at least his followers. Give it a read, and shoot me some thoughts and comments on the writing. I love feedback, good or bad.

Don't worry. The next Springsteen entry should be up later today.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Album Snap Judgement - Black Country Communion

I hesitate to call this a review, because I really haven't dug into the album in a intense way. I downloaded it on release day, this past Tuesday, and given it a few spins. I'm talking about Black Country Communion, the self-titled album from the latest "supergroup" attempt.

As I noted when I heard about this project, I was immediately interested.

The more I read, the more skeptical I got.

Thing about it is, and what made me a bit wary was, as stated in the band bio, it's "the brainchild of producer Kevin Shirley." Kevin "Caveman" Shirley is a really, really solid rock producer. He's worked with everybody, Rush, Aerosmith, The Black Crowes, and he was hand-picked by Jimmy Page to work with him on the Led Zeppelin catalog remasters. The guy knows how to craft an album, and make it sound huge and full. However, I'm always leery of a producer pulling the reins on a rock project, conceptually. Yeah, yeah, you can bring up Sam Phillips or Phil Spector, but you also have Lou Perlman.

See, I've been on record as being quite taken with some of the "supergroups" that have emerged in the last couple of years, but the thing that Them Crooked Vultures, Chickenfoot, and even Tinted Windows, had was a sense that a bunch of guys, who enjoyed each others company, decided to get together and do a record. There's something organic and real about that, no matter how the public took it. The members seemed to be having a great time together making music, that was infectious, and short-circuited the usual "supergroup" problems.

The first reaction I had to Black Country Communion was that this was a very serious project. That it was somebody trying to create a force in the classic rock world, and finding the elements (i.e. musicains) that would make that work. It's not a loose, "fun" record. Now that doesn't make it bad, but it also invites criticism that, say, Chickenfoot sails past because they're clearly just enjoying themselves.

The band is absolutely unimpeachable in it's talent. On guitar and vocals we have Joe Bonamassa, a highly respected and successful blues/rock player. Glenn Hughes is also on vocals, and bass. He's been in bands that are considered British rock royalty, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, and others. Derek Sherinian was the keyboardist for Dream Theater for several years, and has played with Alice Cooper, Kiss, etc. Jason Bonham had a self-named band in the 80's, has played with Foreigner in recent years, and, oh yeah, his father was legendary Led Zeppelin drummer, the late John Bonham. (Jason sat in for his father on a few occasions with Zep.)

Now, these may not be household names...

Not than Hughes doesn't act like it in his bio..."The Voice of Rock?" I'd think of Mick Jagger, Robert Plant, or even Paul Rogers first, Glen. Hell, you're not even the first singer you think of when your old bands come up, or even the second, in the case of Sabbath.

...but they have made an impact with the music fans Shirley is aiming for. Folks like, well, myself, who gravitate towards the blues-based hard rock of the 70's. These four guys are great musicians, Shirley is a great producer, of course I'm going to listen. Bonamassa, alone would have made me give it a spin. The dude is a monster.

What I can say is that the playing is exquisite, the songwriting solid, it sounds great, technically, but also seems without spark. I can't say, with the exception of the first single "One Last Soul," that I was moved to sit up and pay attention to any of the tracks on this record. Sadly, it feels, overall, like four consummate professionals brought into a room to play, and pulling it off swimmingly. Yet, I didn't really feel like there was a connection between them, that intangible, immaterial thing called desire.

I can't, and won't, write off this record. I think there's stuff here to dig into, and, like I said, these guys can play the crap out of their instruments. As a pseudo-musician, that's worth exploring, but I never, ever felt the hairs on my neck stand up. Not like I did with, as the most recent example, The Sword's Warp Riders. What's maddening is that you KNOW these guys are capable of it, and I wonder if it would've happened in a more organic environment.

I'll be spinning it some more, and post a fuller review if my opinion changes.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Thinking of Typecasting

Typecasting is a fact of life in this business. It ain't ever going to go away. I look the way I look, every actor does, and that look, whatever it may be, lends itself to certain roles more than others. I know I won't ever play a role where one of the specific requirements is to be weak or frail-looking. I'm 6' 3", and come in at over 200 pounds. I cannot change that.

Let's take The Sound of a Yellow Flower, for example.

It's a good show, the cast is great, Dustin wrote a solid piece, and Letitia put it together beautifully. I like my role, and it does have some inherent challenges for me, I'm not trying to denigrate the work that's on display, because I think it's very worthy...YOU SHOULD SEE IT.

...But it's also well within my "safety zone," my "type," if you will. I knew how to play Nikolai very quickly, and it all became a matter of refining. Chipping away, and adding, parts to a character, on a very broad-based level, I have played many, many times before. That's valid, and God knows, we're all a "type." I feel no shame in playing within that type when needed. It certainly doesn't really make things easier, I'm usually dripping sweat when I exit the stage from my last moment of Yellow Flower. It feels good. It feels like I worked for it.

The conehead strikes

Still, physical effort is only part of the deal. Endurance and creating a physical presence on stage have never been my problems. What I don't do in this show is worry that I'm not getting across what I want to the audience. The reasoning is two-fold, Dustin wrote a solid script, in regards to Nikolai's motivations, I knew how to play the character from long practice, and Letitia kept me from flying away from it.

It helps that the text itself gives me some great "left turns" away from the expected with Nikolai. I thank Dustin for that, profusely. I can't just "phone it in," thank God. Plus, Tisha would kick my ass.

What this has gone a long way to say is that I'm more than happy to play my type. I'm especially happy to do so in such a positive and supportive environment. Top that off with the fact that Strangeloop, as a company, really didn't know me at all. From their perspective, there's no reason to trust me with something outside my type. I understand that. I absolutely, 100% respect that.

Seriously, what is going on with my skull?

So, what I search for, and yearn for, are the roles, like in Yellow Flower, where the type takes strange turns and surprises you. Those roles, or the ones that are flexible enough to allow me to be the "big guy," and still play a teacher, or a scientist, or a writer.

I've played plenty of cops, crooks, soldiers, wife-beaters, thugs, etc. I'm not going to say I won't ever play them again, because, y'know...I haven't played Stanley Kowalski yet. I used to say, in college, that typecasting just meant you got all the best roles of that type, which is true, but you get older and realize you also get offered all the not-so-great roles of that type, too. I was young, and just wanted to get cast.

I mean, I still do. Who doesn't?

Thing is, how much of my own desire to try more and do more has to be balanced against that. As I've gotten older, I want to be challenged more. I flat turned down roles recently because I read the plays and realized that I could sleepwalk through the role. I could give absolutely zero effort, and still fulfill the needs of the production.

What the hell is the point of that?

I love the feeling of being scared of what you have to do, of fulfilling the needs of the role. Where I've felt that creeping sense of "maybe I really can't pull this off." It's that feeling, that fear, that makes me feel on top of the world on stage...If I can pull it off.

Because, if you don't? Ugggghhh.

That, however, is the point.

What's the use of doing this if you feel like every, single time you walk out there, you've got it under control? Where's the danger? Where's the risk? How can I ever fail? How can something amazing happen if there's no risk? No chance of failure?

I mean, it's not like I'm making a living at this. I can see myself playing anything I'm asked to, if a living wadge is involved. The shows I did at the Great American Melodrama and Vaudeville weren't challenging on pretty much any level (except the music, oh God, the music), and were 100% pure typecasting. I didn't care. I was making a living and surfing, and the shows were fun to do, because the check was the thing that made me feel fulfilled. I was a working actor, I was making a living.

It wasn't something I wanted to do forever, but it was a job.

I begin to wonder about my longevity in this business. Maybe I'm just freaking out because, not 3 years ago, I was working constantly and just busy as hell. Now, I routinely face months of inactivity and the lack of motivation that breeds in me. I hate it so much. It makes me feel useless, and a failure.

Which, of course, is a sure sign that I've wrapped too much of my self-worth into acting. God help me. Sure, I can write, or work on music, or whatever other projects I can dream up for myself. At the end of the day, however, I'm just not as good at that stuff as I am at acting (though, I'm sure some would debate me on that one- Ha! Ha!).

When I am not working, I just get depressed around other people in the business. That is my problem, I take all the responsibility, but the unfortunate thing is that others have to see the effects. I apologize for that, but, hey, if we didn't have psychological quirks, we probably wouldn't be in this insane business.

Anyway...Yeah, it's been another "vomiting up my personal bullshit" blogs.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

New Comic Day 9.22.2010

Let's just get to it.

I'm not going to be commenting today, other than to say that this Chameleons storyline in Ultimate Comics Spider-Man is top-notch stuff. Bendis is kicking ass and taking names, and throwing everything you think you know about how Spider-Man stories are supposed to work out the window. It's great.

Batman: Streets of Gotham #16

Written by PAUL DINI
Co-feature written by IVAN BRANDON
Co-feature art by RAMON BACHS & JOHN LUCAS

With Bruce Wayne soon to return to Gotham City, the secret past lives of his parents, Thomas and Martha, have come back to haunt the family legacy in chapter three of this 6-part sequel to "Heart of Hush"! What bizarre experience in their past is connected to a horrible plan that Tommy Elliot has set in motion?

And in the co-feature, Two-Face's desperate grab at power continues as he and his gang hold an entire subway train hostage! But how could he possibly escape capture with the FBI waiting for him at the next stop?

The Flash #5

Written by GEOFF JOHNS
Art and cover by FRANCIS MANAPUL
1:10 White Lantern Variant cover by RYAN SOOK,

BRIGHTEST DAY continues with a shocking connection to the White Light as Captain Boomerang and the Reverse-Flash experience a bizarre event that ties them together. Meanwhile, it's the Rogues vs. the Renegades with The Flash caught in the middle!

Justice League of America #49

1:10 Variant cover by FRANCIS MANAPUL

The BRIGHTEST DAY shines a spotlight on Jade as she adjusts to the repercussions of the JLA/JSA crossover. She and Donna Troy head to the San Francisco Bay area to make themselves a new home but are confronted with old and new threats – including the New Teen Titans!

The Spirit #6

Written by DAVID HINE
Co-feature written by BRIAN AZZARELLO
Co-feature art by EDUARDO RISSO
Cover by LADRĂ–NN

The dealers of Central City's most dangerous new high, Frost, don't follow the rules of the game… and when innocent children are taken hostage, it's The Spirit who has to jump into hot water to save them. Did we say hot water? We meant burning, molten steel!

And in the SPIRIT: BLACK & WHITE co-feature, FIRST WAVE mastermind Brian Azzarello rejoins his 100 BULLETS collaborator Eduardo Risso to bring you "The Man I Love," a knockout story starring Ebony as you've never seen her... heartbroken and vulnerable!

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #14


The Chameleons have done as much damage to the world of Spider-Man and Peter Parker that could possibly be done. They have ruined him. Will his friends come to Peter's aid or will they gang up to bring him down? Brian Bendis and David Lafuente pull out all the stops and deliver a finale like you've never seen!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

By God, He is Ruggedly Handsome

So, Castle is back on the air after the summer break.

Let's be clear about one thing, I would probably never watch this show if it wasn't for Nathan Fillion. The show itself is nothing special, you've seen it a hundred times. "Mismatched couple deals with their obvious, yet vehemently denied, attraction and solves murder cases." The one-line pitch is so old, it literally has mold on it.

However, Nathan Fillion is one of those "phone book" actors for me. He's just entertaining to watch. A total "anything for a laugh" goofball who can swing it around a hit a hard edge and make it credible, too.

...But the show isn't Firefly, it doesn't trade on his skills the way that show did. Castle features far too much of the former, and pretty much zilch of the latter. Even the ultra-short-lived Drive gave him a better showcase as Alex Tully. (Although, With only a couple of episodes to go on, Drive probably would've ended up with the opposite problem, too much grim avenger, not enough goofball.) I'm gonna be honest, sometimes Rick Castle starts to wear on me.

Sometimes I wanna scream, "stop being so stupid!" at the TV. I mean, Fillion plays it off well, and almost always makes Castle's most idiotic moves laugh-out-loud funny, or at least amusing. Still, come on...Andrew W. Marlowe and his team of writers, you guys are starting to lean to heavily on the "Castle does something stupid" plot element.

The rest of the cast, almost to a fault, is strong, too. I particularly love Molly Quinn as Alexis Castle, Ricks far-more-mature daughter, and the fantastic Susan Sullivan as his actress mother, Martha Rogers. The Castle-at-home scenes are really my favorite part of the show, and the two actresses and Fillion play off each other so, so very well.

Seamus Deaver and John Huertas as Detectives Kevin Ryan and Javier Esposito (ESPO-SITO!!!) are equally good. They've developed such a great relationship between these two guys, I'd ALMOST watch a spin-off.

Then we come to Castle's foil Detective Kate Beckett, played by Stana Katic...

I really, really thought she was awful in the first season. I mean, painfully, "one step behind the rest of the cast all the time" bad. I almost had to stop watching, because the sharp repartee between Beckett and Castle, which is really what the show hangs it's hat on, just wasn't working. She got better, a lot better, as we went into the second season. Now, I can enjoy the playful bickering with the "I want to jump your bones" subtext, but that first season was a rough one.

Still, I ask...stop doing the "biting your lip" thing, it doesn't really look like you're thinking, and it's not sexy, either. Also...maybe some sensible shoes for when Beckett leads the boys on a raid? Cbyrd and I noticed you stumble on your stilettos during last night's season premiere. It elicited a laugh, but I don't think it was one you were looking for.

I will give the writing staff props for the actual Richard castle novels they've been able to churn out. Cbyrd actually read the first one, and was amused enough by it. They're not great, by any means, but it is amusing to walk into Borders and see a Richard Castle display. Not to mention having jokes on the show about things on specific pages of the "Nikki Heat" books Castle has based on Detective Beckett, and being able to go read the actual passages.

So, yeah...decent enough show. Solid, if formula, writing and winning performances. Nothing that will change your life. Totally worth a Monday evening watch.

Although, when Ken Tucker at Entertainment Weekly pointed out how much better a choice Fillion would've been than Dermot Mulroney for NBC's ill-conceived The Rockford Files remake, I sat up straight at the thought.

The remake is ill-concieved because I don't think Mulroney, fine actor that he is, has the stuff to make me forget James Garner. Fillion, I think, could. The original Rockford Files, much like Castle, was a fairly cookie-cutter show that traded on Garner's singular persona for it's brilliance. It's also a type of show that would allow all facets of Fillion's work to shine, as opposed to just being the comic foil for Katic.

Oh well, if wishes were horses...

Monday, September 20, 2010

Monday With The Boss - Part 5: The River

It's Monday, which means another go-around with the Springsteen catalog. The River, originally released on October 10th, 1980.

I have to admit, I am not a huge fan of The River, I'd have to say it's the album from Springsteen's catalog that I am least likely to reach for when a "Springsteen Mood" strikes me. I'd probably say the biggest reason for that is length. This was a double album set, and there are points, for me, when it kinda feels like it's droning on.

Which is a really odd reaction, seeing as how this album contains some of Bruce's most pop songwriting. Including "Hungry Heart," which ended up being Springsteen's first Bilboard Top Ten hit. (#5)

(I'm also learning via the writing of these little essays, as I see the vocals on "Hungry Heart" are sped up, to produce a slightly higher pitch [as Dylan did on "Lay, Lady, Lay]...which explains why I feel comfortably in tune when I sing along at shows, but horribly flat when I attempt it at Karaoke.)

The album is kind of a bastard creation, with many of the tracks being leftovers from that incredibly long Darkness on the Edge of Town recording process, as well as from Born to Run. It's interesting to think that "Drive All Night" started as an interlude in the middle of "Backstreets." Which would've been a crime, as "Drive All Night" is a truly magnificent number.

I think this "bits and pieces" creation is part of why the album tends to wear on me while listening. It's a bit of a Frankenstein monster of a record, and sometimes I feel the pieces, no matter how good they may be on their own, don't quite fit together. The album stated out as a single disk titled The Ties That Bind, with the following track order;

1- The Ties That Bind
2- Cindy
3- Hungry Heart
4- Stolen Car
5- Be True

6- The River
7- You Can Look (But Don't Touch)
8- The Price You Pay
9- I Wanna Marry You
10- Loose Ends

Springsteen rejected this version as "too pop." Which is accurate, to an extent. (The only track here I haven't heard is "Cindy.") This version would be a much more straight-ahead, and unified, album.

Again, it's not like there are awful tracks here, there aren't, in fact, many of them are downright brilliant. It's just that sometimes it feels like four sides of schizophrenic mood swings. Going from "Ramrod" to "Drive All Night" with only "The Price You Pay" to ease the transition is a large leap.

Aside from all that, one of the important things to consider here is the evolution of Springsteen's ability to match music with incongruous lyrics. It's a technique that would come to it's fullest use with Born in the USA, but it starts here. "Hungry Heart" being the obvious example. A very upbeat, pop number, with lyrics about a guy abandoning his family;

Got a wife and kids in Baltimore, Jack
I went out for a ride and I never went back
Like a river that don't know where it's flowing
I took a wrong turn and I just kept going
Or, the shambling 50's-esque rave up of "Sherry Darling," which reveals itself as a long complaint about a girlfriend's mother;

Your Mamma's yappin' in the back seat
Tell her to push over and move them big feet
Every Monday morning I gotta drive her down to the unemployment agency
Well this morning I ain't fighting tell her I give up
Tell her she wins if she'll just shut up
But it's the last time that she's gonna be ridin' with me
This dichotomy is really reflective of the entire album. It has some of Springsteens most pop creations, but then also very, very dark tracks, like "Independence Day," or the title track. It's disconcerting, in a good way to have side 2 end with the joyous hope of "I Wanna Marry You," and side 3 begin with the absolute marital dissolution of "The River."

So, while I say that the odd mood swings make it difficult for me to listen to the album as a whole, they also provide some of the most powerful moments. I've never said I was easy to figure out, folks.

The album is, again, produced by Springsteen, Jon Landau and Little Steven Van Zandt. Van Zandt has repeatedly made clear that this is his favorite of Springsteen's discography, embracing as it does the early-rock and roll, 50's feel he loves so much on many of it's tracks. He also has said there are (again) many, many outtakes and full albums worth of material he feels are just as good as what's on the disk itself.

I guess I'll start saving for that uber-deluxe reissue of The River in a few years... :)

Friday, September 17, 2010

This Made Me Giggle in Triumph...

Yes, yes I am of the Steve Austin generation. I can track back most of my fanboy-itude to seeing Star Wars in late 1977, but my sincere belief is that The Six Million Dollar Man paved the ground for my embracing Sci-Fi.

Yeah, sure, Star Trek was around. I know I had watched it, played with the toys (ahhh, Mego dolls), but it really didn't strike me hard until after Lucas' movie really opened up the outer space thing for me. Steve Austin, however, was a HUGE thing for me as a kid, the dolls, the View Master reels, running about in slow motion making that "dadadadadadadada" sound.


I rarely, if ever saw it in re-runs. A station in Colorado played it early in the afternoons (when I was still in class) during High School, and I think the Sci-Fi Channel ran it for a while. Never seemed to be on for very long however.

The show's been kept off DVD for many years because of some sort of legal entanglement. I bought a set of bootleg DVDs at SDCC in 2008. They were pretty damn poor, VHS recordings of some syndicated run of the show. It looked AWFUL, but I ate it up.

The show was, in fact vastly more cheesy than my childhood memories indicated, and Steve Austin was a Male Chauvinist Pig to the point of, at times, feeling almost misogynistic, but...I don't care. This is a show of my childhood, perhaps THE show, and I love it.

I still dream of a serious, spy-thriller styled, motion picture. I think this is the great untapped franchise you cold make something extremely exciting and fun from. It's gotten too close as a comedic, "aren't 70's fashions hilarious" bastardization. Do it straight, it'd be awesome.

Happy weekend, folks.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Bit of Led Zeppelin, and Oy! Audition Notices...

I get so depressed.

I know I am not crazy, that there used to be far more opportunities out there. Anymore, when I look at the listings, I just feel slightly depressed. There's rarely anything that really excites me.

There seems to be more musicals, however. Yeah, they're in the suburbs a lot of the time, but I don't recall that many musical auditions even 3 years ago.


Who knows?

I do get the distinct impression that many of the companies I admire out there have circled the wagons, and aren't publicly auditioning. I might be wrong about that, but I sure haven't seen a lot of action from a couple of places I make a point to keep an eye out for.


Who knows?

Downloaded How The West Was Won, a Led Zeppelin live album from a couple of years back.

I distinctly remember seeing it at the Virgin Megastore on Michigan Avenue, and giving it a quick run-thru on a listening station.

That store's gone now. So's Rock Records over on Washington. I guess there's a Coconuts over on Randolph, but otherwise any sort of record store, with any depth of stock is not to be found in downtown Chicago. There's Borders, of course, but I don't think anyone would say they have a "deep" catalog of stock on-hand.

...But I digress.

I also got The Song Remains the Same from Netflix, and finished watching that last night.

I am a Zeppelin fan, but not at all what I would call a "rabid" one. I do tell myself, over and over, that I really ought to own the whole catalog, because the songwriting and musicianship is just that good. Plus, those albums really do represent the blueprint for 70's hard rock, which, of course, I am a huge fan of. They were a great band, and, even now, I'd drop a large amount of cash to see them play live.

However, I'd never experienced anything showcasing Zeppelin as a live act before this. I've read many things about their live performance, from it being incredibly powerful, also incredibly indulgent, to being incredibly sloppy.

After taking this material in, I think it's all true.

Zeppelin was a hotbed of great songcraft. No one, NO ONE can deny that. However, I quickly became annoyed with the random guitar soloing. "Immigrant Song, " on record, doesn't have a guitar solo, and is better for it. When Page goes off on a noodling jag, it kinda cuts the balls off the song. He also seems to do this on every, single number.

Maybe I'm spoiled by bands like Rush that keep their shows tight and focused on the songs. Or Springsteen, who has storytelling moments that are set into specific songs for specific reasons. Perhaps the most annoying thing about these two live documents is that they showed little real forethought, or sense that the setlist was anything more than a random ordering.

Now, granted, neither one of these things is an actual document of a single live show. They're edited and constructed from the raw material. A single show at Madison Square Garden for The Song Remains The Same, and a myriad group of recorded shows for How the West was Won. Still, you think the band, and especially Jimmy Page, might've taken the opportunity to really think about the song order and such....

Doesn't really feel that way. Maybe I'm wrong, but it really doesn't.

Perhaps Zeppelin was a lot like Guns 'N Roses in it's heyday. I saw them twice in the 90's. One show (Mile High Stadium, Denver on the co-headlining tour with Metallica) was just God-awful, while the other (Civic Arena in Omaha) was fantastic. Utterly fantastic. G'NR was (is) famous for not having a setlist. The band has to be ready to play whatever song Axl Rose call for at any given moment.

I think that makes the arc of the show utterly random, and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

Maybe Zeppelin, with their blues background, worked in much the same way. Going by "feel" over planning. I admit this can give you higher highs, but also lower lows.

And, yeah....Page came off a little sloppy on the guitar. Again, I think it's a "feel over precision" thing. It's not like it came off that he couldn't play.

It's also worth pointing out that live shows are supposed to be just that, live. I'm almost 100% sure if I'd seen these songs played live exactly as they are on these releases, I'd be over-the-moon happy with the show. No recording can capture the feeling of being there.

The weird-ass "dramatic" elements in The Song Remains the Same didn't really help, odd. Rip the Nazi-guy's head off and it spurts rainbow colors...Ohhh Kaaay...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

New Comic Day 9.15.2010


I don't really even know what to do with a week wherein I only have one new book. I mean, other than "my wallet thanks you."

Brightest Day #10

1:10 Variant covers by IVAN REIS

The resurrected have discovered their purpose for being back, but where will the knowledge lead them? Who is the new Aqualad? And what strange event is taking place around the White Power Battery in New Mexico?

Y'know, I seem to have bitched a lot about this series. I mean, it's dragging. A Lot. I thought it was a mini-series, but, looking at the DC website, we have issues up to #14 with no end in sight.


DC, let me talk straight. This was a 4-issues mini-series that would've been fantastic. I'd even give you a 6-issue. Tight, action-packed, and propulsive. What it is in it's current state is just dull. Ambling along like it's going out for groceries. The plotline is so spread out and nothing seems to have any dramatic traction. When I do get interested, you just cut away to something that isn't. The Hawkworld stuff was very cool to start with, but it's completely run out of steam. Dead/Liveman with Hawk and Dove just seems to be flitting around like a, Jesus I'm gonna say it, leaf on the wind.

I hope to God I haven't stumbled into the middle of another year-long bi-weekly, because this is not worth it. Not worth my time, energy, or dollars. I've committed this far, so if it's gonna wrap up in another few issues, fine, but if you intend to just keep dragging it out, I'm done.

Need to do some research on that.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

What Are Ya Gonna Do?

Things happening, things happening....THINGS HAPPENING.

Kind of a stressful few days, the whole weekend, actually. Lots of things to assess and decide upon. Decisions to be made.

We've got a few reviews that have gone up for Yellow Flower. Reaction, so far, is all over the place. The Chicago Reader loved us, Chicago Critic was generally positive, and Time Out hated us like we'd strangled a baby. Generally speaking, I'm not a whore for reviews. Take it or leave it, you job as a critic is tho give your honest opinion, so hit me with your best shot.

It's still interesting how wildly the opinions differ. I'm always struck by that, it's like a microcosm of what Gary Coleman (R.I.P.) tried to tell us, Different Strokes do move the world. I guess it's best to look at it as indicative of the idea that our critical base is an honest one. Of course, there's also those shows that are destined for a good review no matter what.

Oh, don't look at me that way, you know it's true.

Doesn't matter if it tackles a hot-button political/social issue, or it's one of the "anointed" theatre companies, there are productions that will get a pass on anything. In most cases, I don't mind. Usually it's a company that's earned it's place, or I give 'em props for finding the exact right play to do at that moment.

Anyway...My head is still swirling around a series of events that is still unfolding in my world of theatre. I'm still not quite sure how to take what's happening, or if it's something that should be welcomed, or not.

It scares me.

When I get scared of something, I always think of Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, the documentary about the chaotic events around the recording of their album St. Anger, and the rehab of frontman James Hetfield. The line, from band therapist Phil Towle, "when you're up against a fear, that's the time to move forward," always sticks out to me.

While I'm on the subject, that movie is amazing. Seriously, I think every arts organization in the world out to sit together, as a group, and watch it. It's illuminating on so many levels about how to work within a group driven by creativity and ego.

Yes, that describes every arts organization in the world.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Monday With The Boss, Part 4 - Darkness on the Edge of Town

Welcome to part 4, where will be looking at Darkness on the Edge of Town, originally released on June 2nd, 1978.

To discuss this album, it really becomes important to talk about the huge events that shook Springsteen's career between the release of Born to Run in 1975, and this album 3 years later. During this time, Bruce ejected Mike Appel as his manager and installed Jon Landau. Ultimately, Landau, Springsteen and E-Streeter Little Steven Van Zandt would produce Darkness on the Edge of Town, but the act of removing Appel resulted in a long, complicated legal battle.

Springsteen was left in a position where the very ownership of his songs was in question, and a court injunction prevented him from releasing an album during the case. Springsteen reportedly felt his career was being held for ransom, and he was left to play live shows to pay the bills, and record songs that he had no idea when they might be released.

In Star Wars-speak, it was a dark time for the E-Street Nation.

Darkness is definitely, well, darker than Born to Run, with song after song that embrace anger, loss and failure over the nobility of the previous album. The characters of Darkness are, in many cases doomed. From the endless circle of alienation of "Adam Raised a Cain," to the day-in-day-out death march of "Factory," these are not songs of escape and growth, but of isolation and endurance.

I mean, this section of "Racing in the Streets" tends to exemplify the album:

But now there's wrinkles around my baby's eyes
And she cries herself to sleep at night
When I come home the house is dark
She sighs "Baby did you make it all right"
She sits on the porch of her daddy's house
But all her pretty dreams are torn
She stares off alone into the night
With the eyes of one who hates for just being born
There are a few moments when the mood lightens, and with the opening track, "Badlands," Springsteen ALMOST reaches for that hope and joy that infused the previous album. I tend to believe he wanted it there, in the first song, to at least celebrate that the album was actually released. It's a statement of rebellion, of escape, but not in the sense of freedom that you find in "Born to Run." "Badlands" give us a freedom you have to fight for;

Workin' in the fields
till you get your back burned
Workin' 'neath the wheel
till you get your facts learned
Baby I got my facts
learned real good right now
You better get it straight darling
Poor man wanna be rich,
rich man wanna be king
And a king ain't satisfied
till he rules everything
I wanna go out tonight,
I wanna find out what I got
We also find some sens of redemption and hope near the middle of the album, with "The Promised Land," which Springsteen has always cited as one of his favorites. Again, the song embraces effort and suffering, but also gives us the sense that there is a place, a "Promised Land" where we'll all be treated fairly and justly. Yet, this place is only mentioned in the final line of the chorus, and no explanation is offered. It's a goal, a hope, something to be aspired to. It's there, but a lot of folks ain't gonna find it.

Yeah, in a way, Darkness is Springsteen's "reality slaps you in the face" album.

One of the interesting parts of this era was that, in the face of not being able to release anything, Springsteen wrote and recorded a LOT of music. Tracks he gave to Patti Smythe, "Because the Night," Greg Kihn, "Rendezvous," and the Pointer Sisters, "Fire," were born in this time. Literally hours of music was recorded, and very little actually made the album. This November, Springsteen will be releasing a 2-CD set called The Promise containing many of these tracks. It's also going to be in the big Darkness on the Edge of Town reissue set. A good number of Springsteen fans are feeling this is a "Holy Grail" moment.

I don't know that I'd go that far. In a lot of ways, I like Darkness more than Born to Run. It certainly hits harder, and it's far more emotionally raw. There's a truth, and fuller and more honest view of the world around us in this album. During the Tunnel of Love tour, Springsteen skipped playing "Born to Run" with the full band to play it alone with his acoustic guitar and harmonica. He would preface this performance with a a short speech that would culminate with the simple phrase, "nobody wins unless everybody wins."

It's a fine, pure sentiment. A statement of purpose and hope. It is how the world ought to work. The Springsteen of Darkness on the Edge of Town, through his own travails (which would seem less than Earth-shaking to us), had learned that not everyone wins, and you'd better be ready to fight, hard, to get there.

When Springsteen play "Badlands" live, it's a huge sing-along moment. Probably the most powerful unifying moment in the shows I've seen. I think the crowd knows Bruce is speaking a truth, and that their conviction is what can make or break their world. When the one, epic line comes around;
For the ones who had a notion,
a notion deep inside

That it ain't no sin

to be glad you're alive's a catharsis the likes of which I rarely feel.

The world may beat you down, crush your dreams, but it doesn't change your value as a human being. You are powerful, you are free, and if you sing along hard enough, no matter what the world might have for you outside that arena, you truly can be glad you're alive.

Friday, September 10, 2010

I Have Had Three Hours of Sleep

Just couldn't fall asleep last night...

I have drank more coffee than I do in 3 normal days.

I open a show tonight.

Yes, tonight is press opening for The Sound of a Yellow Flower. I'm pretty proud of this one, folks. I think I do some good work here. It's a great cast, and an solid script. You want to check it out if you're in Chicago.

I just hope I don't pass out in the middle of it.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Why Do You Insist There's a Difference?

So, via another blog I was exposed to this:

Why Can't Playwrights Feel Free to be Political?

Which, I'm going to speak frankly here, I found to be one of the most annoying pieces of self-serving tripe I've seen in a while. Now, I've not read or seen Ugly, and I am not familiar with Emma Adams as a playwright, so I'm not going to speak on the quality of her writing. Except in the case of this blog. It reads like a playwright wanting to mention her own production as many times as possible in conjunction with a Athol Fugard.

Way to go, Emma.

It's also yet another damn example of pushing this idea that there's some impenetrable wall between "entertaining" and "making a statement." It's a falsehood. There's nothing in the world keeping you, as a playwright, from writing a compelling, entertaining work that actually has something to say about the world, politically or otherwise. Nothing except you as a playwright. You can write any story in the world, in the universe even, and you can give it any meaning you want to with your pen/typewriter/word processor. You're the playwright, damn it! You're God of this world you've created!

If I could speak to Ms. Adams, I'd simply say that by even chewing over this "division" she sees, she's failed. By acknowledging it, she's become a slave to it. A story is a story is a story. Story is what engages people, emotion is what engages an audience, and that's what lets you make whatever point you want.*

If you want to make a political statement?...Start with people.

Let me use a movie as an example. The Hurt Locker was, hands down, the best movie made about the Iraq War. The movie made me think about the political implications, the people of Iraq, and the American soldiers over there. Fact is, NONE of that is vocally dealt with on screen. It's all subtext. What screenwriter Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow did was focus on the people involved, their story, and how it affected them.

They made the political personal, through that it became emotionally engaging, and when you are emotionally engaged, you're entertained. You're invested in the story being told. You want to know how it ends, you're dying to know how it ends. No, it's not dancing girls and crappy musical numbers, but that's not the end-all be-all of "entertainment." (Frankly, it's pretty much anti-entertainment, as far as I'm concerned) It's only people trying to make the same, insipid argument Ms. Adams is who think so.

...And if you think a long, impassioned monologue about how horrible life is in Afganistan after the Taliban is making it personal...You. Are. Wrong. Unless maybe you can get Sir Ian McKellan to play the role.

I'm far more taken with what Anthony Neilson has to say about theatre, political or otherwise:

Don't Be So Boring

I've linked to that before, but, frankly, it's still relevant. Your job is to create a compelling evening of theatre. Make people care about what's happening on your stage. Make them CARE. That's what "entertainment" is. If it can be thought-provoking, too, great, but I'll always believe the shortest path to the soul is the heart, and not the mind.

*I want to state again, I know nothing about Ugly, as a play. It may avoid all the pitfalls I've seen be so damn common in "political" theatre. This, well, let's call it what it is, rant is simply about what she wrote for the Guardian.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

New Comic Day 9.9.2010

So, technically books don't come out until tomorrow, Thursday, but this is my Wednesday series, so deal..

All DC books this week, and all at the $2.99 price point. It's weeks like this when I realize how much the $3.99 books do impact my wallet on a weekly basis.

Batman #703

Art and Cover by TONY DANIEL
1:10 "DC 75th Anniversary"
Variant cover by KEVIN NOWLAN

Celebrating the "Return of Bruce Wayne"! Those closest to The Dark Knight look back on the legacy he has created. Featuring appearances by Alfred, Dick Grayson, Tim Drake, Damian Wayne, Selina Kyle and more!

Well, Bruce is back, but not...quite...yet. I'm not even sure how I actually feel about it, because the books were pretty solid with Dick Grayson under the cowl, and Bruce Wayne being back just brings us one step closer to that God-awful Batman, Inc.

Batman and Robin #14

1:25 variant cover by FRAZER IRVING

In "Batman Must Die!" part 2 of 3, one of our heroes lies near death! Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne enter the ultimate, blood-soaked battle against two foes who almost destroyed the original Batman. Are the new Dynamic Duo up to this final confrontation with absolute evil? If they can't truly bond as a team, they're dead!

Speaking of how well things were going with's what's, honestly, his flagship title. I just don't get how Morrison can make this work so well, and then drop the ball with Bruce. Although I am liking the Return of Bruce Wayne series.

Booster Gold #36


Blue Beetle is in trouble, and Booster Gold must decide whether to save his best friend in the past or continue his crusade against Maxwell Lord's growing power in the present. Can one man out of time do both?




Giffen and DeMatteis are rockstars. One of the most solid, entertaining books out there.

Green Lantern #57

Written by GEOFF JOHNS
1:10 White Lantern Variant cover by RYAN SOOK,

BRIGHTEST DAY continues as what readers have been asking for finally arrives: a male Star Sapphire in the form of the Predator. But how is this entity unlike the others? And what does it want with Carol Ferris? Meanwhile, the White Lantern is defended by an unlikely hero…

Is that what we've been asking for? I think I've been asking for Brightest Day, a crossover with good ideas that's drawn on far too long, to end. Johns is such a solid writer, you never feel cheated, but this is starting to drag, Geoff.

Red Robin #16


The new Anarky has his own version of Red Robin's Hit List! Ulysses Armstrong has made a record of Gotham City teens who could be Red Robin – and he's murdering them one by one. With an incapacitated Tim Drake crossed off his list, can Red Robin stop Anarky before the villain attacks his next target? And with the deaths of innocents weighing on his conscience, how far will Red Robin go to cross Anarky off his own Hit List?

Finally someone saw the sense to bring back Tim Drake/Robin III's real arch enemy, Anarky! Now, I am a little sad it's not the original Anarky, Lonnie Machin (who was popular and interesting enough to even get his own series), but I'm willing to see what they bring us with this new version.

Red Robin is truly the little series that could. It's become one of my favorites, and completely unexpectedly.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

So Close, Yet....

Spend about 3-4 hours working on the new song yesterday. I had tried to do something ambitious with the drum track, and I think it was not worth it. I kinda worked and played and generally fought with it.

There's a riff section which is, right now, in a different time signature than the rest of it. I'd also muted everything but the high-hat, in an attempt to, I don't know, give it some space. To put more emphasis on the guitar for what was, ultimately, becoming the main recurring riff of the song.

Like I said, it was coming along, but going to just a high-hat caused problems. There wasn't enough for me to "grab onto" with what I was playing. So, I think that I need to go back to the drawing board, and come up with something different drum-wise for those sections.

Which is pretty annoying, because the rest of it was going really well, I felt. I had some nice things going down, and now I'll have to re-create it with the new drum line. Pain in the keister, for sure.

The "Hayoth Project" is kinda taking on a life of it's own, and may end up being more diverse than I ever expected. Both of my other CDs were conceived and recorded relatively quickly. Within about six months. This one has been dragging on for a while, and it's annoying, but it's also given me the opportunity to listen to a lot of stuff and have different inspirations on each track.

Of course, it probably all sounds just like me...which is kind of inescapable. Still, I've gone through a lot of music since my last CD, which was in 2006. I've gone through several hours of "Mark Pracht" music, trying to work that out, then I came upon this idea of creating a "band," and recording that music. Which is pretty false, since it's still just me playing everything. Well, me and "Dr. Rhythm." Still, the idea was to try to force myself outside of the wannabe-Springsteen box I had built for myself.

So, inspired by the "Fake Album Cover" game that was going around Facebook for a while, I decided to try to "become" one of those bands. I chose Hayoth, because it was my favorite of all the album covers I had made.

Typographic Workers Trade Union was a close, close, close second.

I still might switch it up, because that TWTU album cover is pretty badass. You can't beat the title, either.

The whole idea was more of a hard rock sound. Trying to create something inspired by Zeppelin, or Them Crooked Vultures, or y'know...The Sword. (Just a smattering of the bands that have influenced me as I've worked on this thing for the past eight months, or so.) I'm not, in any way, claiming to be as good as those people, but...they're folding into my mindset as I work.

So, anyway..."Track 5" has gone back to the shop for retooling. We're still at 8 to go.

I really have to get this done before I turn 40.

Monday (Tuesday) With The Boss Part 3 - Born to Run

So, we come to what many, many people would consider Springsteen's masterpiece. Born to Run, originally released on Aug 25th, 1975.

Now as I stated in the last edition of this series, my look at The Wild, the Innocent, and the E-Street Shuffle, there is a change that comes over Springsteen and his work with Born to Run. There is an obvious, and important, alteration in the focus and direction from this album forward. It's clear that he's become more confident about his vision for albums. as a whole, and more meticulous about putting them together. He's also far more confident with his work as allegory and symbolic statements.

There is a story at work with Born to Run, and it's a narrative that presents us with far more than the Jersey shore freewheeling that personified the first two albums. I'd ALMOST argue that Born to Run is a concept record, with an actual storyline you can follow through the songs.

"Thunder Road," as Springsteen has often said, is an invitation. A statement of purpose that encompasses the ultimate goal of the entire record. Mary is called off the porch because she and our narrator have to get out. Ultimately admitting that the town's full of losers and they're pulling out to win. I find it incredibly interesting to call the song an invitation, because, to me, it functions as a first paragraph of a lecture..."tell them what you're going to tell them, then tell them."

Ultimately, the arc of the characters of the album is defined and follows the track laid out in "Thunder Road."

The two tracks that follow "Thunder Road" are "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" and "Night." Of the entire record, these are the two tracks that call back to the first two records. Shore nightlife, bopping about, having fun. Then, with "Backstreets," something takes a turn. The narrator speaks to and about Terry, who's obviously male, and the friendship they had, now gone. There's a sense of the things of things of childhood being not so important anymore.

Laying here in the dark you're like an angel on my chest
Just another tramp of hearts crying tears of faithlessness
Remember all the movies, Terry, we'd go see
Trying to learn how to walk like heroes we thought we had to be
And after all this time to find we're just like all the rest
Stranded in the park and forced to confess
This is how Springsteen ends the first side. After the call to change that began the record, we find ourselves in a rather dissolute place, filled with loss. (In all the times I've seen this song performed live, I've never failed to shed a tear.) What Bruce had come to see was that change, moving forward, meant letting go of the past.

Which is why side 2 starts with perhaps the greatest song about change and desire, ever. "Born to Run" rumbles to life with it's huge guitar riff, and propels us into a sense of running, not to escape, but to push forward. And Bruce gives us a big hint of what is down that road.
Will you walk with me out on the wire
'Cause baby I'm just a scared and lonely rider
But I gotta find out how it feels
I want to know if love is wild
girl I want to know if love is real
Our narrator is looking for love. I also think it's no coincidence that the next song is where he finds it, "She's The One." A fairly simple ode to "that" girl, but with a rocking Bo Diddley beat and a girl who isn't any sort of damsel in distress, but a true equal and foil for our narrator.
With her killer graces and her secret places
That no boy can fill with her hands on her hips
Oh and that smile on her lips
Because she knows that it kills me
With her soft french cream
Standing in that doorway like a dream
I wish she'd just leave me alone
Because french cream won't soften them boots
And french kisses will not break that heart of stone
So, he finds his girl, but with "Meeting Across the River" we see that making that commitment to move forward, and keeping it are very different things. He's out with a buddy to make a deal across the river, Cherry's mad because he's hocked her radio, but this deal could net them two grand. It's dangerous, though, and they're "carrying a friend." There's a slow, dirge-like quality on display, a sense that this is not a great move.

Which leads us into the great, last act of Born to Run, "Jungleland," which, I'm just saying, is one of the greatest songs of all time. Like "Thunder Road" at the top of the record, "Jungleland" sums up for us all that has gone on. The steps that were taken and the risks that were made. This is another emotional song for me, and I always have the experience of feeling like it's being sung by someone who's already passed beyond this world. The Magic Rat is clearly the one in that Ambulance that pulls away, leaving the girl alone to shut out the bedroom light.

And the heartbreaking final verse:
Outside the street's on fire in a real death waltz
Between flesh and what's fantasy and the poets down here
Don't write nothing at all, they just stand back and let it all be
And in the quick of the night they reach for their moment
And try to make an honest stand but they wind up wounded, not even dead
Tonight in Jungleland
What do I take out of all that...Well, the Rat didn't really take the message of "Born to Run" to heart, did he? He didn't pull away from the things holding him back. He didn't find that real love and live inside it. He still lived in the clutches of the life he had, and it destroyed him.

Now, admittedly, this is me imposing a lot on this record, but I do feel like the arc is fantastic, and hold together quite well. I also know that, as he has gotten older, Springsteen has been more and more upfront about how meticulously he puts together these albums, and Born to Run was the start of that mindset.

The behind-the-scenes situation with this album was long and arduous, but perhaps the most important event in Springsteen's development occurred here, with Jon Landau joining his team as co-producer with Mike Appel and Springsteen himself. Landau became a close confidant, and pushed Springsteen to extend his grasp, eventually becoming his manager, a position he occupies to this day.

The ejection of Mike Appel would not be easy, but that's another story...

Vinnie "Mad Dog" Lopez had left the E-Street Band as drummer before sessions started. Ernest "Boom" Carter was brought in, but he and pianist David Sancious would, ultimately, only play on the "Born to Run" track. They were replaced with Max Weinberg and Roy Bittan, respectively. "Little" Steven Van Zandt also officially joined the E-Streeters with this record, and the "classic" E-Street Band would be complete.

There's a true sense of everything coming together with this record, from the songwriting direction, to management, to the band itself. This is where Springsteen found the tools and the people to support him, and none too soon. When Born to Run was released, Springsteen was in imminent danger of being dropped by his label. He needed a hit, and fate conspired to bring him the team to make it happen.

"Bruce Springsteen" was now defined.

Friday, September 3, 2010

It's Friday and I Feel Tapped Out.

I have no idea what to write about.

I suppose I could rail against the injustice of CByrd getting off at 3:00 this afternoon while I'm still here. That, however, is just silly. I mean really. It's not the day before Thanksgiving or Christmas Eve, I'm really kind of boggled about how people seem to always expect a short day before a long weekend.

I mean, it's great, fantastic, that she got off, and it looks like other places do, too. The whatever-the-hell-they-do-that-must-involve-the-stock-market place that's next door to us, apparently did, as well. I know this because I saw their impossibly-beautiful office manager, or whatever, walking home while I was on my way back from Starbucks.

This is something about the place next door that is a source of mystery to me. I fail to see how someplace could be staffed by so many beautiful women, I mean model-like beautiful, without it being a employment requirement. If it is, isn't that harassment, of some sort? Or actionable? I mean, it couldn't just have happened, y'know. Somebody had to work to amass that sort of staff.

Plus, the guys? All fairly normal-looking. A few toads. Somebody's stacking the deck over there.

BTW...Starbucks? Pumpkin Spice Latte is back, baby!

I'm not sure if I'll get third in the Springsteen series up on Monday. I'll try, but The Sound of a Yellow Flower starts tech on Monday, so it's gonna be a busy Holiday weekend for me. We open next Friday, with a preview on Thursday, so get your tickets.

we'll see you on the other side.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

...And So We Come to Thursday

I started a blog post earlier, and then deleted it, realizing the inherent whiny nature of what I had written.

It was a self-pity post. Mooning over yet another opportunity lost, a show I dearly, dearly wanted, and did not get. A loss that, try as I might, I still cannot take personal responsibility for. A role I think I could've played extremely well.

I feel cheated.

I feel angry, and I am not ready to let it go just yet.

Yet, I also don't feel the need to vent my spleen all over you, my loyal readers. So, we shall proceed to one of my patented "all over the place" blogs.

The work on the "Hayoth album project" continues. I've kinda swung back into it. The idea of making music has come around, and got exciting again.

I reserve the right to eventually reject this as the actual album cover, or not.

Picking up a new footswitch controller for my amp has helped me discover some new tones, as well as giving me a lot more control over the effects built into the amp. With my previous footswitch, I could only set up 4 amp presets, and I was stuck with the settings. I couldn't switch off the reverb, or turn the phaser on and off, without twiddling knobs on the front of the amp itself. Allowing me, with a tap of the toe, to alter the tone pretty drastically. So, I'm pretty excited about that.

Does give me a bit more to pay off on the Guitar Center card, but...12 months same-as-cash makes it all good. I'm thinking after this is paid off, I'm going to take the jump to Pro Tools, and start recording directly onto my computer. I hear the learning curve is a bit steep, but I've increasingly found working with only 8 tracks a bit limiting.

I think the other thing that's got me jumping more with music is finding a new album that's reall inspiring. Warp Riders is really kicking my ass.

Just buy the damn thing, will ya?

Yeah, I know I just wrote about it,'s great. I've grown more and more attached to it as I listen. I've actually had to force myself NOT to listen to it, so I wouldn't burn out on it. I haven't had to do that since Them Crooked Vultures (and I'm sure you're all still annoyed with me about gabbing on about that record.) There's something about the way this record sounds that really makes me want to play, and create my own stuff.

I still wish I had a band, but...sometimes you just learn to live with things.

So, yeah...I expect more progress. I still haven't recorded any vocals. I'm probably afraid of it. I really like how the music is coming out, and I think I have 5 solid tracks (my goal is almost always to end up with 12). My fear is that I'll start singing, and ruin them.

Again...wish I had a band. Or just a real singer, I guess.

Track titles are not set in stone, of course, but we have, 'Zep," "Gamble," "Reason," "We've Got Forever For This to Be Over," and "Poseidon." I am really, really aiming for a early 2011 "release." If I don't pick up a new show after The Sound of a Yellow Flower, I figure it can actually happen pretty easily. I mean, I'm almost halfway there.

It's yellow, it's a flower, it's making a sound....

Ah, Yellow Flower. I'm feeling pretty strong about what I'm doing in this show, and I think it's going to be very good. I've been very impressed with the Strangeloop folks, in general. I mean, yeah, it is another "thug"-kinda role, but there's a lot more going on. Something I am very, very thankful for.

We had a run last night that was...well, not spectacular. I was pretty disappointed in myself. We've only got two more rehearsals before we go into tech, so you want to be getting really solid and strong, but, y'know, it's not uncommon for there to be some fatigue at this stage. Still, it pissed me off. I'm supposed to be better than that.

The one thing I want to say. This is going to be a fine show. It may not connect with every audience, but our playwright, Dustin Spence, and director, Letitia Guillaud, have shaped something that I think will be surprising and interesting. For myself, there's a lot of areas to explore and things to play that are different.

What I'm saying is, it's worth your time. See it. If I've led you astray, you can berate me about it after.