Monday, February 28, 2011

The Morning After

For the first time in quite a long while, I did not watch the Oscar telecast. What can I say? I had rehearsal.

Sounds Like I didn't miss much. It's really not because the show was kinda dull and not exciting, which is pretty much every year in recent memory, but that the ultimate winners were just predictable. Top that off with the sad fact that, where there was an actual horse race, the Academy voters, as usual, swerved right to the safest, most predictable picks.

Which isn't to say I'm unhappy with most of the winners. It's hard to say that Christian Bale hasn't deserved recognition for a good long while. I did finally see The Fighter, and really, really enjoyed it. I'm glad Bale won, he's a really ungodly mix of precise emotional. mental and physical commitment. It's a picture that made me really wish that the Academy would figure out some sort of "Best Ensemble" or "Best Casting" award, because, in my book, The Fighter deserved it. The cast is was just strong across the board.

Which isn't to say amazing. I'm not overjoyed that Melissa Leo won, and that's not just because of the trade ad scandal. That role was an actresses' dream, a wide open window to chew scenery and run with it. While Leo was really good, I can't help thinking about Hailee Steinfeld. By all rights, she should've been in the Best Actress category, she carried True Grit, and truly embodied the character form the novel. It was a phenominal performance.

I'm also not happy, at all, that Amy Adams got a Supporting Actress nomination. I mean, really. It's a part any number of actresses could've played well, and there are several who could've really made it special. Adams is fine in the role, don't get me wrong, but it wasn't anything over the moon. Yet, she benefited from that "ooh...the girl from Enchanted is smoking and getting naked...what a stretch" factor. Putting on a push-up bra alone isn't a great performance.

Best Actor and Actress went exactly where they were expected to go. I truly think Natalie Portman deserved it. I mean, I don't think she's an AMAZING actress, but she was the right person for the right role. You got the real sense that she understood that quest for perfection, and was able to use that in the work. I doubt she'll ever be that good again, but, for the role of a lifetime, I'm happy she got the award.

Moving on to The King's Speech. To make something crystal clear, I really liked this movie. It made my top ten for last year (though, now that I've seen The Fighter, something would have to give), and I found it very enjoyable and compelling.

It is certainly not a bad film.

...But here's the deal, I saw better performances, better direction, and better movies last year. It's not a bad movie, but it is an aggressively safe movie to pick for Best Picture. I mean, if you were making a comedy about Hollywood, and needed a joke Best Picture winner, The King's Speech could fill right in.


Historical drama? Check.

Main character overcomes a disability? Check.

Deals with Royalty, but in a way that makes them seem all too human? Check.

Filmed in a handsome, but rather staid and static manner? Check.

British? Check.

Honestly, for me, I'm honestly A-OK with Colin Firth being Best actor, and the film getting Best Picture. Not the pick I would've made, but whatever. Both have plenty to recommend them as choices...

But Tom Hooper as Best Director?

OK, look, it's a fine, handsome film. Well shot, well acted, and simplicity is somethign I can get behind rewarding. That said, when you have three modern masters producing three films that combine excellent performances, audacious camera work, and technical mastery in a way that manages to only serve the stories being told. Not to mention, one of those three guys didn't even get a nomination. When that happens, and you give it to a guy who managed to shoot a historical drama in exactly the same way every historical drama has been shot for the last 30 years, I get a little disappointed.

Christopher Nolan should've been nominated, and either he, or Darren Aronofsky, or David Fincher should've won. We are living in a time of true new masters. Not the hodge-podge plagiarism of a Tarantino, or the empty sensationalism of Zach Snyder, but honest-to-God craftsmen that place all of their skills into the service of their stories. These men are leading the way to a  place where commerce and art can be hand-in-hand again, and Hollywood is scared of them.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Reading and Writing 2.27.2011

Well, I finally got a chance to sit down and read the last two weeks worth of my pull list....So, from Feb. 16th, 2011 and Feb 23rd, 2011....

2.16.2011

Batman #707
Another solid Batman tale from Tony Daniel. The guy's not the greatest writer in the world, but he certainly know how to keep a story moving. Frankly, he also surprised me. I was certain that Peacock would be a Batman: Incorporated agent by the end of this tale.

Which brings me to another thought. If you weren't reading Batman: Inc. (which has streeted two issues in...4 months?) or The Dark Knight (which published issue #1 to great fanfare, and then fell off the face of the Earth), would you even know Bruce Wayne was alive again? Even "Batman: Incorporated," as a concept, what, exactly, is the deal. It's a plot element that I, personally, find dumb, but I'm willing to have my mind changed. The fact that it, and Bruce's return, seem to have almost no effect on Dick, Tim and Damien (other than a family gathering to watch The Mark of Zorro, apparently) is really annoying.

This is admittedly all sideline thoughts to what is a pretty decent issue. The Asian mysticism was handled pretty well, and Sensei made a fine villain. I'm also a fan of Tony Daniel's art, so that helps.

Booster Gold #41
Being a relative newcomer to the world of Booster Gold, and having dropped this series for a while between the ext of Geoff Johns and the entry of Giffen and DeMatteis, I have to admit the final splash page meant absolutely bubkis to me.

That said, this was another solid story, with the creative team tackling the fact that Booster, as a hero, exists solely because he stole all of his equipment in the far future. No ifs, ands, or buts, Booster Gold is a thief, and I'm glad that's being addressed. This series is ripe for it, too, with the whole point to move Booster toward becoming a better human being.

The continuing General Glory thread, with Booster fighting out-of-time Nazis also tickles me. It's old-school comic books in the absolute best sense. Really enjoy this book.

Brightest Day #20
Six issues to go.

Tiny plot development that SEEMS to move the story forward, but doesn't really, securing last issues that will try to wrap everything up all at once and just end up being confusing? Check.

Ignoring plot thread for weeks on end, until I can barely remember what's going on in them? Check.

Six issues to go.


Green Lantern #62
Oh, great. Here we go with another crossover, or is it still part of Brightest Day?

Or, wait, is War of the Green Lanterns part of Flashpoint? Why are the events in Brightest Day seemingly completely disconnected from what's happening in this book? The book that supposedly spawned said crossover? Why doesn't this book seem to resolve anything?

I mean, why does this suspiciously feel like, "well, Brightest Day wasn't the kicker we expected, what else you got, Geoff?"

"War of the Green Lanterns?"

"Go with that."

Justice League of America #54
I find it a bit of a cruel irony that as Dwayne McDuffie, may he rest in peace, passed on, the title that he was the last good writer on, and was fired from for admitting that editorial made the job more difficult than it needed to be, is going with him.

What the hell happened in this issue? Sure, sure it's a variation on the old war-horse, the recruitment issue. There was a moment, on page 17, when they went to pick up the Shadow Theif, where the whole house of cards fell for me. I couldn't even follow the book all of a sudden. That may be my fault, maybe my brain just shut down to avoid further pain...

I need to drop this book. Bagley's gone, there's no reason to hang on.

The Spirit #11
There's always a danger in bringing honest-to-God, real-word problems into a fantasy world. It's hard to seriously talk about, say Nuclear poliferation, in a world with a Superman. The Spirit, however, doesn't have this problem. From the strips inception with Will Eisner, it's always been more about people, and the city, than simple cheap thrills. Eisner loved the people of New York, and that's who he told stories about.

So, this new Spirit adventure, tied to the underworld of human trafficing, feel right. The writing and art have been uniformly solid since issue one, and this title, sales notwithstanding, is one of DC's jewels again.

2.23.2011

Detective Comics #847
A really, really solid Commissioner Gordon-centered issue. I don't know if any of these issues with James Gordon, Jr. were established before this story, or if they're a retcon. Doesn't matter, what a great idea, and super well executed, too. From the great script by Scott Snyder to the Mazuchelli-style artwork by Francesco Francavilla, this all feels well done and well packaged. This is the right talent for this story. I cannot wait to see where this goes.

Well done, guys.

It's also one of the best Batman covers in a good, long while. Excellent stuff all around.

Captain America #615
Well, that was....

Pretty much what I expected to happen. We can't sully a character like Captain America, even a replacement Captain America, but the character also demands that he take responsibility for his own actions. I've said it time and time again, I really do like how Brubaker and Guice are telling this tale, but, much like what's going on with the Batman titles, once the real deal is back on the scene, you kinda get antsy for the inevitable to just happen. I mean, does anybody think Steve Rogers won't be Captain America again? Does anybody thing Bruce Wayne won't be the sole Batman again? The answer is no.

I also am no fan of Sin as the new Red Skull. Maybe that's just me.

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #154
The way Bendis used to be on Powers, where every issue felt handed down from on high, with his talent perfectly matched to the material? That's Ultimate Spider-Man, now. I mean, I didn't feel like anything overly relavatory happened, and the conversation with Mary Jane in the last pages seemed a bit silly coming out of the mouth of a kid who's seen the entirety of Manhattan island flooded. That said, it's good stuff, and I love the developing relationship between Peter Parker and Tony Stark.

This is just a great book, and it's been a great book for so long. I suspect it'll continue to be a great book until Bendis leaves it.

Which almost, but doesn't quite, make up for the $3.99 price tag.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Fighting Demons

I loathe Two and a Half Men. I have for a long time, I just think it's mean-spirited and lacks any sort of heart. My friend SeanH and I had an e-mail chat about current sitcoms, and how the success of Married: With Children kinda poisoned the well. That show was so successful, and was such a turn from the innocuous, "very special episode" type of show that was dominant back then. Yeah, the Bundy's were sarcastic and deadly rude to each other, and the people around them, but there was a strong, deep thread of heart in that show. It was The Cosby Show with the veneer removed, but it was still The Cosby Show.

But everyone latched onto the rudeness, and we've been heading that way ever since. Don't think I'm some sort of Parents Television Council sop when I say that. I don't mind rude and ugly characters, but there is a difference between say, Arrested Development, where acknowledging that these are awful people is part of the joke, and Two and a Half Men, where we're supposed to enjoy, to revel in Charlie Sheen being shitty to everyone around him.

So, anyway...that's background.

CBS and Chuck Lorre have finally shut down Two and a Half Men for the rest of the season, in the face of their star's increasing lunacy. There's more than a little thought that this might be the end of the show, period. I certainly won't cry any tears if it is, but I do feel bad for the rest of the cast and crew, who are now out of work because Charlie Sheen can't admit he has a problem.

I often times get fed up with the endless bitching about famous people. The vast majority of the time, I see people who have worked hard to achieve something in their profession, and get dropped into the deep end of the 24-hour news cycle microscope. Some sink, some swim, but almost every time I see TMZ, or Perez Hilton picking at some star because they did something stupid in public, I think to myself, "would I really want to be under that scrutiny 24 hours a day?"

I mean, for example, at the end of the day, what does it matter to you or I if Tom Cruise is a Scientologist? Every, single religion in the world comes down to one thing; faith in something extraordinary because it helps you find meaning in your life. I am NOT defending Scientology, but...man every, single religion has crazy in it. And how do we know that Christianity isn't based on some bet between a couple of Babylonian sci-fi writers?

How would we feel today about people like Errol Flynn, Pablo Picasso, hell, even Kathryn Hepburn and Spencer Tracy if we had a vast swath of the "press" dedicated solely to digging up the very worst about them? Those classic stars and celebrities had the same weakness and foibles, but the public didn't spend an inordinate amount of time sharpening knives to tear them apart. Yes, they are rewarded, but I don't envy that element of their lives.

I'm taking the long way around to say that I'm one to, generally, give celebrities the benefit of the doubt. That said, wow. Sheen's latest rant is just unhinged. Adding that to his recent radio interviews, we start to see a lot of self-destructive tendencies.

It brings up direct memories of Mel Gibson, a guy who's messed up beyond description, but I can't bring myself to hate. Here's a guy with a long, long, long history of alcoholism, and raised by a virulent anti-semite Holocaust denier, and going on a rant in (relative) privacy. In your moments of weakness, you revert to the primal parts of yourself. If you're drunk, and get angry, you reach to those things that are the ugliest your fogged-in mind can think of, and with Gibson's upbringing, that happens to be anti-semitic. Crap like that sticks with you.

As a friend of mine put it, and I completely agree, "if you think you can't start saying things you don't really mean when you're drunk...you've never been drunk enough." I can attest to that from experience.

Now, that is NOT an excuse for his actions, and shouldn't be read that way at all.

Gibson needs help, but I highly doubt you'll ever see the man put out an "official" press release with the ugly and hateful content Charlie Sheen did. Sheen was raised by Martin Sheen, for God's sake. I can't imagine baby Charlie was waddling around with his father screaming "Hymie Levine" (Not that Martin didn't have his own problems, still...). Sheen seems gleeful about smearing his personal garbage all over the faces of anyone he can. He's still trapped in the fantasy that he controls his addition, instead if it controlling him. Gibson may be in the same boat, but he's not on TV proclaiming it.

Both of these men need help, and a lot of it, but there's an utter lack of atonement from Sheen. He's in the money, and feels invincible. He's gotten away with this garbage for so long, he sees no need to offer any sort of contrition. If it was me, I'd replace him on the show ASAP, and make that replacement a HUGE, public announcement. Maybe the show won't work without him, but even failing with some other actor, and never looking back, always calling it the best decision you ever made, etc, would send a message. Shuttering the show permanently would just re-affirm Sheen's belief that he holds all the cards.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Striving to "Get Ahead"

So, I am now confirmed to start rehearsals for my next show, The Copperhead at City Lit, with first read-thru on Sunday night.

Yeah, I'm missing the Oscar party Cbyrd and I throw every year, which sucks (especially since it's been made clear I'm still on clean-up detail), but, y'know, I am so ready to get back to work. There's been a lot of down time in the last year, or so, and it makes me crazy. Yeah, yeah, I have lots of other projects, music, writing, watching Blu-Rays...but there's something about the scheduling, the structure of rehearsal that makes me happy. I know where I have to be , and when. There's not nebulous "I'll try to make that" deadline, as with my music projects.

THIS is where I have to be, and THIS is what we're working on. It allows you to focus our energies on that element for that time. I like that, there's a comfort in it.

Anyway, it's been about four months since I was cast. First thing I did was snag a copy if the script off the internet (public domain - I don't dig theft) and make a rehearsal script. I wanted to start right then, honestly, and I knew the time between the casting and the production would be long. At a certain point I figured I'd try to get an early start on going over the script, considering character stuff, and learning lines.

Oh, I had this great plan, I was going to learn two pages a day over lunch, and then review everything each day, until we started. That would've put me in a position to have my entire part memorized at first read-thru.

In recent years, due to a couple of fairly embarrassing onstage moments, I've become kinda paranoid about memorization. It's something that I took for granted for many years. Hell, in undergrad, I never worked at memorizing anything. I just learned it from repetition in rehearsals. Of course, that probably says more about the size of the roles I was assigned to in college, more than anything else.

After undergrad I had a moment of realization. I was in a production, years ago, of Picasso at the Lapin Agile in Omaha, and the director pulled me aside. She told me I was mouthing everyone's lines in between my own.

Well, I was mortified.

That event led me to the tactic that I've used in memorization ever sense. I never learn anyone's lines but my own. There usually comes a point in every process where someone asks what such-and-such an actor says to me, and I'm clueless. It also makes me pretty useless when someone goes up on stage.

That said, what it did for me, and why I still adhere to it as a process, in the main, is it made me listen, really listen, for the first time. I found myself not listening for a cue line, but actually having a conversation, and using the cues that the other actors were giving me to trigger my memorized responses. I feel like making this my path really helped me push forward with my craft.

Which isn't to say there's no downside. Highly repetitive dialogue can trip me up. If I'm on stage with an actor who isn't playing with me, not trying to work together, I can get screwed up. Usually, during the rehearsal process, I can identify those moments, and plan triggers, or just memorize those moments my rote. It's another reason I just adore repetition in rehearsal. work it, work it, work it, until the mechanics are synced, then you can play. Man, when you have a scene partner you really connect with, anything can happen, and you'll just cruise. Love those experiences.

Anyway, so my plan was to get ahead before we ever really started.

"Best laid plans," as they say. I fell off my schedule pretty quick. I mean, I am pretty solid on act one, but after that my mind started to wander. Until this week, actually. Once again, I think knowing when we're going to start just made it "real" again, and kicked me in the ass a bit. It's that "schedule" thing again. Now I know I need to start really working at it, instead of being this thing that "would be nice to get ahead on." That's always a motivator for me, so I am starting to feel forward momentum again. I suspect I'll have a pretty good grasp on everything in the first two acts by the time we get on our feet with it.

I am excited by this show, it's gonna provide me with a character that  proceeds from a mindset that I feel a real kinship with, and he goes through a lot of changes, physically. Add to that a cast that has a couple of people I've worked with before and a whole bunch of new faces, as well as a new director for me.

Most of all, it's nice to get back to work.

An Era Slowy Winds Down

You probably don't know this, but Space Shuttle Discovery is scheduled to liftoff for the final time. This will be her 39th mission for NASA.

Endeavor and Atlantis have scheduled missions for later this year, and that will be the end of America's Shuttle program. I have to admit, I'm a bit melancholy over the whole thing. I always intended to go to Florida to see the shuttle launch once. One of those things you figure you'll always have time to do "someday."



Countdown
Lyrics by Neil Peart

Lit up with anticipation
We arrive at the launching site
The sky is still dark, nearing dawn
On the Florida coastline

Circling choppers slash the night
With roving searchlight beams
This magic day when super-science
Mingles with the bright stuff of dreams

Floodlit in the hazy distance
The star of this unearthly show
Venting vapors, like the breath
Of a sleeping white dragon

Crackling speakers, voices tense
Resume the final count
All systems check, t minus nine
As the sun and the drama start to mount

The air is charged --- a humid, motionless mass
The crowds and the cameras,
The cars full of spectators pass
Excitement so thick --- you could cut it with a knife
Technology --- high, on the leading edge of life

The earth beneath us starts to tremble
With the spreading of a low black cloud
A thunderous roar shakes the air
Like the whole world exploding

Scorching blast of golden fire
As it slowly leaves the ground
Tears away with a mighty force
The air is shattered by the awesome sound

Like a pillar of cloud, the smoke lingers
High in the air
In fascination --- with the eyes of the world
We stare...

*Dedicated with thanks to astronauts Young & Crippen and all the people of NASA for their Inspiration and cooperation

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

New Comic Day 2.23.2011

Light week. Which is good because, as you may have noticed because of the lack of a "Reading and Writing" blog, I haven't even got through last week's books.

I dunno, I'm busy...give me a break.

Detective Comics #874 $2.99
Written by SCOTT SNYDER
Art and Cover by FRANCESCO FRANCAVILLA

"There are some cases that come screaming back at you...like phone calls in the night..."

For years, Jim Gordon has been haunted by the unsolved case of Gotham's notorious "Peter Pan Killer." Now, armed with new evidence, Gordon is determined to put the case to rest.
But as he digs deeper, he'll unearth a shocking discovery about his own past – a revelation that will shake him to the core. Skeletons will be exposed and secrets revealed in this special issue featuring art by Francesco Francavilla!

Wow. That is a cool cover.

I always love stories that bring Jim Gordon right into the fray. I've never liked seeing Gordon as an old fart sitting around waiting for Batman to solve everything. I felt like Frank Miller put an end to that with Batman: Year One. Yet, it really feels like a lot of writers don't know what to do with, or how to handle Gordon. Hopefully this story will work.

Captain America #615 $3.99
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Penciller: Butch Guice
Artist: Marko Djurdjevic

The shocking finale of THE TRIAL OF CAPTAIN AMERICA! Did we mention nothing would ever be the same again? Because seriously, it won't. 

I really hope that mean Steve back in the proper costume.

I mean, come on, Joey Q, clock's ticking until the movie comes out. You'd hate to see a Marvel product that doesn't match up with the movie...

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #154 $3.99
The exchange between the Black Cat and Mysterio has leveled a portion of New York City. What mysterious power does the artifact in Mysterio’s possession hold? Find out here!

Marvel: Your solicit information sucks.

When is Bagley coming back? Certainly Bendis is the writer here, but...

Oh, y'know, whatever. Marvel sucks, and their books are too expensive.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Slow Out of the Gate This Week

Didya hear Radiohead put out a new album?

It's funny, I follow a lovely blog called Burning Wood, and Sal, it's proprietor, didn't overly enjoy the new Radiohead, and boy, the interwebs did not like that.

It always strikes me as really, really funny when someone gets SO upset because someone didn't like something that they did. Or, conversely, if someone did like something they didn't. I got a lot of that when I thought the Star Wars Prequels weren't an abomination. Weaker than the originals? Oh, sure...but I still got enjoyment from them.

So what? What does it matter to you?

I shouldn't be so dismissive. It's fun to discuss and debate and match wits, so if that's why it matters to you, great! If you just want to tell me how stupid I am for that opinion...why are you wasting your time? I mean, I wrote a review of a Frames show a few months back that wasn't glowing, but it certainly wasn't a write-off, either. I suddenly started getting a ton of hits on that entry, because people didn't like what I had to say.

Now, I understand discussing the merits of a review. Everyone does that, and, for a lot of those people, my opinion is moot because I'm not a huge fan. Fair enough. Of course, I'd also say that being a huge fan can blind you to weaknesses that are there.

But whatever.

You're a fan, you love, love, LOVE Radiohead...great. I'm happy for you that they put out a new album. I can see why you're excited, and that's cool.

I am not. Sal liked their early stuff, and they lost him after OK Computer. That opinion is just as valid as yours, and, honestly, has nothing to do with you.

Why take it as a personal affront? Why not, y'know, go listen to the album and be happy that it's in your hot little hands? Enjoy that something you're so enamored with is available for you to listen to.

See, because I don't trust people who seem too concerned with other people's reactions. I can't help feeling like you're overcompensating. Like maybe you're a little scared to not have everyone in lockstep with your opinion.

Sounds like the US as a whole, right now, actually.

Friday, February 18, 2011

That One Damn Song 2.18.2011

So, I missed this last week, but I have been working...I've got three tracks in various stages of work on disk, and the three other tracks I've had in waiting, plus I've got about three other songs moving rapidly in the writing stage. Conceptually, things are really moving quickly, but (as I think I've said before) the sheer flexibility of the new equipment has got me re-arranging and re-working well past where I would ever have before.

That said, I didn't have any time this week to record any monitor feeds. No ear candy for y'all. Mea culpa.

I'm beginning to understand what happened to Axl Rose with Chinese Democracy. Especially when tinkering costs me nothing. I can cut and re-cut, and re-cut...who cares?

Not like anyone is waiting with baited breath. Although, I do have my personal deadline, which I will stick to.

"Zep" is actually in pretty good shape, at this point. I basically did what I laid out in the last entry. There's now an acoustic bed under the entire song, for the most part, and I've succeeded in cleaning up the entire performance, I think. The "riff" section is now just bass, all the guitars were taken out. (No having to slam down the faders in mixing.) At this point, I have to go back and do the vocals and the guitar solo, which are always the last steps for me, and get Paul to lay in the final bass track(s), of course.

I was trying to not lay down any bass for these songs, since I had someone who is an actual bassist willing. Problem is, I want to hear bass of some sort when I'm working on guitars. It just makes things easier for me.

"Tobacco & Lotto" is pretty far along, I even got the vocal line down. Frankly, the step up in my equipment really hit home during that process. The new Tascam simply cuts much, much cleaner tracks, and offers many, many more effects options. I put an exciter mic effect on the input, and I've never heard my voice quite like that. I'm gonna need to "dirty" it up a bit, it's just that kind of track, but I certainly got a "pop" on the vocals I never had before.

The lyrics on this track also finally came together pretty damn well. I found a nice rhyme that tied into the title, and the direction I wanted to go thematically. I think I need to work on how I'm singing the chorus, but otherwise I'm firmly convinced it'll work well. I doubt I'll ever put up a snippet with vocals, as I just don't trust my voice enough without the full mastering "fix."

"Reason," which is the oldest tune in this particular recording project, is In the shop for a re-think on a riff that shows up before the first verse and for the bridge. It was a pretty pure "metal" riff, chugging on the open E string, with a little run, or power chords thrown in every two measures. Frankly, after playing it a few times, it bored me. So, I came up with something a little different for that section. I haven't actually recorded it yet, but it's worked out in "dry run." I expect to have that done this weekend, sometime.

Like I said, some new songs are in the process of being written. Last night on the train, I got really excited because I managed to scrawl out some really nice lyrics using a turn of phrase that I've had hanging around for a long time. Since before this project started, actually. It's a line I love the sound of, but I could never really work into a catchy wordplay.

I write lyrics on the train a lot, pretty much every lyric I've ever put to paper has come to me on the Brown Line between Belmont and Damen. Now, a lot of that has been crap. As with anything you put to paper, the vast majority will not work, but I've been chasing a flow for lyrics that has really eluded me since I was writing for my fist CD, Hourglass 34.

Those acoustic numbers seemed to come a lot smoother than anything I tried to put together for Where Have All the Heroes Gone? Granted, the second disk was me trying to be a lot more simplistic in my lyrics, but I think it got away from me, and just turned dumb. What was nice last night was that the words just started to present themselves, like in the old days. Made me feel good.

If I can get it done, I may have an addendum to this post over the weekend, and put up some more monitor feed samples. Much thanks to any of you that bother to read this stuff, I know it can be a little dry (especially without samples).

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

New Comic Day 2.16.2011

Have I said I really appreciate DC "drawing the line at $2.99?"

Thanks, guys. 

Batman #707 $2.99

Written by TONY DANIEL
Art and Cover by TONY DANIEL

Batman uncovers the secrets of Gotham City's founding fathers and the secrets hidden within the city's foundation. In a captivating turn of events, The Dark Knight finds that he alone holds the key to stopping the cataclysmic events that loom over Gotham. Don't miss this stunning finale guest-starring I-Ching and Peacock, a spectacular new heroine from the Far East! 

Oh, Peacock has "Batman: Incorporated" written all over her.

"Secrets of Gotham City's founding fathers?" You know what that means...Wayne family dirty laundry!

Booster Gold #41 $2.99
Written by KEITH GIFFEN & J.M. DEMATTEIS
Art and Cover by CHRIS BATISTA & RICH PERROTTA

A new threat from another time attacks Booster again – for the first time! Unfortunately, this threat catches Booster in Rip Hunter's lab, and the bunker takes enough of a beating to put everybody out of time-traveling commission for a long while!

I like that the time travel gag is actually getting turned around on Booster and Rip Hunter. It's nice to see that they're not the only ones messing around in the time stream.

Although, I swear to God, if it's the return of that time-traveling Blue Beetle ("again - for the first time!"), I will be seriously disappointed. we just got over the Ted Kord thing, let it rest for a while.

Brightest Day #20 $2.99
Written by GEOFF JOHNS & PETER J. TOMASI
Art by IVAN REIS, PATRICK GLEASON,
ARDIAN SYAF, SCOTT CLARK & JOE PRADO
Covers by DAVID FINCH & SCOTT WILLIAMS
1:10 Variant Covers by IVAN REIS

The BRIGHTEST DAYS are numbered as this best-selling series heads toward its shocking conclusion, and fans won't want to miss a single page of the action! "Aquawar" breaks out with Aquaman, Mera, Aqualad and a surprise guest star facing off against the terrorist forces of Black Manta and Siren to keep the vast waters of the world from sinking the United States! 

"The BRIGHTEST DAYS are numbered..."

You might think that by issue #20 of a 26-issue mini-series, I'd have some cohesive idea of what, y'know, the point of it all is.

...You might think that.

A shocking conclusion really ain't gonna be to hard, because you've given us no reason or way to understand what's gonna happen.

Green Lantern #62 (Brightest Day) $2.99
Written by GEOFF JOHNS
Art and cover by DOUG MAHNKE & CHRISTIAN ALAMY
1:10 Variant cover by GENE HA

Starting with this issue, 2011 becomes the year of Green Lantern, and we're kicking it off with the shocking conclusion to "New Guardians"! Hal Jordan and Sinestro must make a great sacrifice in an attempt to protect the entities. But the future of Hal Jordan and the Corps falls into doubt when they're betrayed by one of their own! The drums are beating, the tensions are rising and the upcoming WAR OF THE GREEN LANTERNS is set to ignite!

Oh, joy...another Green Lantern crossover.

I shouldn't be so negative, they've had a pretty good record so far. Only Brightest Day has really been a flop.

Justice League of America #54 $2.99
Written by JAMES ROBINSON
Art by BRETT BOOTH & NORM RAPMUND
Cover by BRETT BOOTH
1:10 Variant Cover by DAVID MACK

"The Rise of Eclipso" begins here as the dark energies that have surrounded Earth are harnessed once more to usher in the great Lord of Darkness! And it looks like the corruption of all mankind starts with the members of the Justice League! When things go dark, which teammate poses the greatest threat to mankind – Obsidian or Jade?

 So, our new, Teen Titans-esque JLA is gonna take on Eclipso, and sibling heroes Jade and Obsidian represent some sort of threat....

Wait, hasn't that last bit been in every  JLA story Robinson's generated for this title?

The Spirit #11 $2.99
Written by DAVID HINE
Art by MORITAT
Cover by LADRĂ–NN

Has the Octopus gone soft? New York godfather Shonder Zeev thinks so, and he intends to cut in on Central City's action and dismantle the truce the Octopus has with Commissioner Dolan - by sending an unlikely assassin to end Dolan himself!

This series is rapidly getting to that "Jonah Hex point" with me. Yeah, some issues have been better than others, but there's never been a stinker.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Slash - House of Blues Chicago 2.13.2011

Oh, my, do I love a good rock show. This was a great rock show.

I was truly just at the right age to really get hooked by Guns n' Roses when they first hit the scene. I can't recall when Appetite for Destruction was released, but I certainly, vividly recall the first time I saw the "Welcome to the Jungle" video on MTV. Yeah, when MTV played music videos, so you know I'm old.

I've long held that "grunge," and that Seattle scene that spawned it, would never have come to pass without those five guys in L.A. getting together to form what was one of the greatest Rock bands of all time, and certainly recording one of the greatest Hard Rock albums ever. You can argue that they grew into something too massive for their own good, especially in Axl's case, but that first record was the true kick in the pants that people usually claim for Grunge.

I mean, it made rock dirty and dangerous again. Yeah, sure you had the glam hair-metal acts, but they'd sorta de-evolved into something that was just safe and calculated. Yeah, they kept up the "party all the time" image, but when you're slathered in make-up, and wrapped in a sequined shirt...it kinda loses the impact.

Gn'R brought something that seemed all too real, just on the edge of destruction, with the naked aggression of Rose, and the seemingly casual drug use of the entire band. The depiction of L.A. as a place, not with a vage "party" around every corner, but an insidious place where your soul was at risk. I mean, compare "Welcome to the Jungle" to "I Want Action, " or some other such nonsense. G'NR was living L.A. life to the fullest, and giving us an inside view of how it would chew you up and spit you out.

Anyway, what's past is prologue.

Slash is a powerful, and important, guitarist. He's not a technical wizard like your Steve Vai's or Joe Satriani's, and not one to really push the instrument, like Eddie Van Halen used to be. He's a bread and butter rock guitarist, with a strong thread of the blues all through his work. I find his playing rather inspiring for that reason. It's more about feel and groove than flying all over the neck.

If you haven't heard his solo album, it's a grab-bag. These sort of "______ and friends" projects always are. The chemistry with each of the vocalists can vary widely. I did feel they hit the mark more often than not. For the tour, Slash picked Myles Kennedy as the touring vocalist. His main gig would be Alter Bridge, who I like quite a bit. It's a solid band, and Kennedy can certainly sing everything that was asked of him during the show.

The Chicago House of Blues is a pretty great venue. It's fairly large, but still feels pretty intimate, and the decor is really nice. Sound is also rarely a problem. The main floor does get a bit of a "trampoline" feel when the crowd gets going, which is a little eerie, but it's also kinda cool.

Opening acts were certainly interesting. We started out with The Fabulous Miss Wendy, who was just a bit too calculated. She seemed almost like a cartoon character, changing clothes on stage, a kinda odd guitar intro to the set. Maybe that's her shtick, but I got a bit bored with it. A Led Zeppelin cover with no vocals is just kinda...Meh. At first it was just sorta like watching a trainwreck, but that only amuses for so long. She's not a terrible guitarist, but I think the sex-kitten act (she's got a song called "Fucked-Up Bitch, for God's sake), just undercuts any sort of respect in that area.

But then, I'm not opening for Slash at a major venue, what the hell do I know?

After Miss Wendy, we got Brand New Sin. What I can say is that these guys worked hard, and they really seemed jazzed to be opening for such a major act. That positive energy did come across, and I appreciated it. The problem is, their songs just aren't that memorable. Aside form one track, "Dead Man Walking," nothing hit my ear in a "I want to buy that record" way. That may be simply a question of taste, I'll admit, and they seemed like such decent guys I wanted to want to buy an album. Just didn't feel it. Maybe next time, guys.

It was around 10 PM when Slash and crew hit the stage. They started right out with the first track on the solo album "Ghosts," which Ian Astbury (The Cult) had cut vocals for. I dig that song a lot, but I think they could've found a better track to open with, as I think a lot of the crowd didn't know it. That was a bit of a recurring problem during the night. They really dug into the entirety of Slash's career, with some relative obscure cuts from the Slash's Snakepit albums which, especially the second, aren't hugely known. They really did hit everything, Gn'R, Snakepit, Velvet Revolver, even an Alter Bridge number ("Rise Today") and a Lenny Kravitz track ("Always on the Run") Slash played on. It was cool to see all that music, with no ego about "who's song" it was.

Of course, there was a LOT of Gn'R. They played about half of Appetite for Destruction, and "Civil War," which is certainly one of the better post-Appetite tracks. The "Rocket Queen" -which I had NOT expected to hear - into "Civil War" section was, truly, the highlight of the night. Myles Kennedy really nailed all of this stuff, I've loved his voice on record for quite a while, and it held up live. I am excited to see him with Alter Bridge in May, mainly because all of the stuff on Sunday was really in his upper register, and he has such a cool lower pitch voice, I really wanted to hear it.

I, once again, found myself wishing that Velvet Revolver could land Myles as a replacement for Scott Weiland. Ah, well...I guess they're set on Corey Taylor. (SHHHH! Don't tell anyone...)

The band, as a whole, was just tight and right in the pocket. Bassist Todd Kerns even stepped up to do vocals for "We're All Gonna Die" from the solo album, which was originally cut with Iggy Pop.

There was one nice, big surprise when Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick came on stage and joined the band for "Ain't That a Shame." Lots and lots of fun, Nielsen was his usual spastic self, all over the stage and egging the crowd on, throwing massive handfuls of picks. Pandemonium, Kennedy was laughing out loud during the entire affair.

It was a great time, but a long night. The band played for well over two hours, and by the time we walked back into our apartment, it was about 1:30 AM. Monday morning came awful quick, that's for sure.

Setlist:

1. Ghost
2. Mean Bone (Slash's Snakepit)
3. Nighttrain (Guns n' Roses)
4. Been There Lately (Slash's Snakepit)
5. Rocket Queen (Guns n' Roses)**
6. Civil War (Guns n' Roses)*
7. Nothing to Say
8. Back From Cali
9. Starlight
10. Always on the Run (Lenny Kravitz)
11. We're All Gonna Die
12. Ain't That a Shame (Cheap Trick-style w/Rick Nielsen)
13. Jizz Da Pit (Slash's Snakepit)
14. Just Like Anything (Slash's Snakepit)
15. Mr. Brownstone (Guns n' Roses)*
16. Sweet Child O' Mine (Guns n' Roses)*
17. Rise Today (Alter Bridge)

Encore

18. Slither (Velvet Revolver)
19. My Michelle (Guns n' Roses)
20. Paradise City (Guns n' Roses)*

* = Highlight number
** = Favorite number

Well, It's Been a While Since I've Been Booked Eight Months in Advance...

But, man...I'm gonna have to grow a mustache.


After the last couple of years, it's nice to have a one-project-into-another period for the foreseeable future. 

Stand by for buckles to be swashed...This is gonna be a fun one.

Thanks, Leigh, and all the BWB crew.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Little Positive Feedback Never Hurt Anyone

Oh, I am a pretty girl
I ain't gonna lie, this...

(And I really hope I'm not stepping out of line sharing - names omitted [well, except mine] to protect the innocent)
I've seen you in several shows now and every time I've looked at the program at intermission and gone, "wait, that was Mark Pracht?". That's a compliment, btw...you've got a chameleon thing going on. I particularly loved what you did in "Sound of a Yellow Flower" - that was one of the more memorable characters I've seen onstage in a while.
 Is something I've needed to hear in recent months, especially from someone who isn't married, or in some other way related to me. I love you, CByrd, but you always see the best. Granted, I always see the worst, so that evens it all out.

Still, I have this horrible thing about myself and my work, I take compliments very, very badly. A lot of times, I don't even want to hear 'em. I hardly ever believe them. I'm always, without fail, the last person out of the dressing room, and that has a lot to do with not feeling comfortable with stepping out to the group of friends that's there, waiting to talk to you. I always figure that, y'know, people want to say something nice when they know you. They probably even believe it, I'm not saying my friends lie to me, just that...people who know you want the best for you. They look for the best. That's what friends are for.

What was particularly wonderful and sweet about that complement above was that it came pretty much out of nowhere, completely unexpected, and from someone who, frankly, doesn't know me overly well. A person who's experience with me comes, mainly, from my work. A theatre professional, yes, but not a regular comrade. I kinda just stopped me in my tracks, like a kick to the head.

I mean, that's distilling the idea of, well, respect to it's essence.

Not overly relevant, but funny
It's what all of those awards are supposed to be, the Oscars, the Emmys, whatever. The recognition of your peers. Of course, what's so very difficult about that is that friendship and ambition tend to overwhelm the purity. I mean, I was in a metropolitan area for several years that lived and died by these "peer voting awards," and it was so annoying. You'll find yourself voting for friends just because they're friends, not because they represent the real cream of the crop. Worse, you see people lobbying for votes. It turns into a popularity contest, because you're not a group of professional peers, but a gaggle of friends.

I was just jazzed to hear something really positive from someone who didn't have to say it. Maybe I'm exposing my own insecurities and ego issues with that statement, but I truly don't care. I've been doing this too damn long to not take those moments that really make you feel, well, accomplished, and really cherish them. Especially when the vast majority of what we get is pretty negative, or, at best, backhanded, weak compliments.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Reading and Writing 2.12.2010

Batman & Robin #20
OK, it's the first issue for the Tomasi/Gleason team. So, fair play on it being mainly set-up.

The opening sequence, with Bruce and the boys watching The Mark of Zorro together, which would normally be pretty charming and cool, feels wrong in this "Batman, Inc." environment. If Dick is the Batman of Gotham, and you want me to accept him as such, you can't show me Bruce hanging out. It's just a reminder, in my mind, that Bruce IS Batman, Dick can step up when needed, but it's never going to be forever. The fact that Tomasi writes Dick in a way that makes a bit too much of Bruce doesn't help (I'm thinking of the limo/bow tie bit).

There was a treat of a nice Damian/Commissioner Gordon moment with the victim in the morgue. It was very funny, and absolutely true to both characters. It was so good it made me question why no one seemed to realize, or utilize, that Gordon wouldn't really have any use for this brat from day one.

The Flash #9
 Well...Here comes Flashpoint.

It was great to see Wally, and the rest of the supporting cast, even for a couple of pages. And never in costume. We have another in the great comic book tradition of lying covers. We never see Kid Flash or Wally/Flash (Give the guy a new code name, for God's sake) in action. Honestly, we barely see Barry in costume.

That would be fine, except I don't want to see mopey, isolating Barry. I don't want to see Barry hiding out from his friends and loved ones. I mean, that's a fine story element to pursue, but first you have to establish something about Barry, other than that he can run fast, and he's haunted by the death of his mother. Which was an element out of nowhere in the Flash: Rebirth mini-series, anyway.

Here's the real problem; Barry, as the symbol of honor and virtue, was more of an interesting character in Wally's Flash series, when he was dead. I have no problem with bringing him back, but, if you do, it's upon the creative team to make damn sure he's more interesting alive than dead. I feel like Johns hasn't accomplished this. The stories are fine, well-plotted, well-executed, the Rogues are used well, but you haven't given me anything that makes Barry a compelling character out of the costume. Wally was awesome to read about because he was constantly haunted by the legacy of Barry, the legacy of the Flash, that also made Barry interesting, in the sweeping influence he had even after dying.

When I got to the final page of this issue, and the surprise reveal, I found myself thinking, "man, that would've been an incredible hook in the Wally series." That's because I understood how Wally would react to it. I still have no idea how Barry will. It's a great hook, but it's a hook that would be even better if I understood that character it was happening to better.

Red Robin #20
Here's a crossover I was actually looking forward to, and I have to say, I was disappointed.

I had about five moments in this issue where I simply didn't understand how we got from what happened in one panel, to the next. I mean, right off the bat, page one, panel on. Tim is on a date with Tam Fox, and Catman is watching. Fair enough, but then Tim is racing away on a motorcycle to check on an alarm at Lonnie Machin's hospital room. First time I read it, I thought it was some sort of flashback thing. (Storytelling device, not crossover) It's only as I'm re-reading it, right now, that it makes some sort of sense.

Again, with the Calculator robots...I'm not getting why they would actually exist, and the cliffhanger...Why that turn of events?

The issue feels, bluntly, rushed. The need was to get a team-up with the Teen Titans, and the issue races, headlong to that target. Which would be fine, except the plot that's been devised seems far too intricate and twisty to not slow down and actually explain some things.

It also reads like you're expected to be reading Teen Titans, already. I am not. So, there we two or three odd conversations that were gags turning on Wonder Girl being the Leader of the Titans, and not Tim. Completely lost on me, because we never stop to reiterate that Cassie is the new leader of the team.

I'll still pick up the Teen Titans issue, but this was a weak start.

Ultimate Avengers vs. New Ultimates #1
On the other side of the coin. Oh, boy, Mark Millar has never met a two-page sequence he couldn't turn into a full issue.

I mean, what REALLY happens here? The Ultimates stop a train with a failed attempt at a Super-Soldier in it, an attempt that dies in front of them, they interrogate on of the guards, and they reveal that Nick Fury's behind shipping super-soldier tech to China.

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby would've done that in five panels.  Now, I know our storytelling, and expectations have changed in fifty years, but come on. You could certainly have expanded on what a classic comic creator might've done, but still, y'know, moved the plot forward a bit more.

There was some nice stuff here. I was really happy to see something done with Iron Man's brain tumor, which had seemed to become the "oh yeah, we never really meant 'brain tumor,'" plot point of the Ultimate Marvel Universe. I liked the vignette with Black Widow and her baby. Gave some humanity to the characters.

All-in-all, I think this is gonna end up more like the Ultimate Avengers mini-series, which I hated, than the Ultimates series, which I liked, in the Mark Millar cannon. That said, it might have some impact on "The Death of Spider-Man," so I'll keep reading, like the lemming I am.

Ultimate Comics Captain America #2
For as much of a fan of Captain America as I am, I have to admit the Ultimate Universe version of the character has always been unsettling. I've always felt that his personality, which a lot of readers see as a 'realistic' depiction of a patriotic man of the 40's, was more about Mark Millar's vaguely paranoid fear of American power. That paranoia has played out in pretty much every Ultimates/Ultimate Avengers story he's ever written.

I like Captain America as a symbol of the best of America, yes, the strength and the power, but also the compassion and the duty. Ultimate Cap has always hewed to the former, with a heaping dash of righteous indignation and anger. That bores me.

What's interesting about this Jason Aaron/Ron Garney mini-series is that it honors that depiction of Steve Rogers, but I get this sense of something more happening. On the surface, it's a re-telling of a 1970's story where Steve Rogers fought and defeated his ultra-right-wing, anti-communist replacement from the 50's and 60's, when he was still frozen in ice. Aaron has taken that basic story, added at least the imagery of Daredevil villain Nuke, and come up with something that just might be heading for an interesting place.

There's a lot of emphasis on Vietnam, and the last few pages of this issue plays out in a very direct allegory to that war. It makes sense, because Aaron has surmised, and I think rightly, that Millar's view of America that spawned his Steve Rogers is far more based on the Military mindset that fought Vietnam, rather than WWII. The action sequence that ends the issue (and I loved that it's really the only point in the issue where Steve wears his uniform) really hits home (yes, in a simplistic way) what happened to our military over there. The final splash page also hits for something that might prove very, very revelatory for this character in the long-term.

I hope it lives up to the promise.

Ultimate Spider-Man #153
Another good, but not great issue. That may seem faint praise, but there's precious few series out there where you can say that it's always at least good.

The biggest sin I can level here is that, well, Bendis feels like he's killing time. Plenty happens, and it doesn't feel like decompressed storytelling run riot, like much of Millar's work. Even at that, the whole issue is really just about re-affirming the threat of this artifact recovered last issue from the Kingpin's headquarters after his death a few issues back. We see it in use no less than three times, and at one point, I found myself thinking, "jeez, we never really saw the Ark of the Covenant do anything until the last ten minutes, yet we still believed it's power."

I'm assuming this relic will be part of "The Death of Spider-Man" arc, and, if so, Bendis has felt the need to assert it's power, over and over again, during the Prelude. (It says "prelude" right on the cover.) I was always entertained, but I did have a sense that we could move a bit faster.

As always, all of the bits work. The confrontation/conversation between Mysterio and the Black Cat is suitably creepy and tense. Spidey's lesson with Iron Man is fun, and positions these two characters as good friends, with more in common to each other than, honestly, anyone in their respective series. I also loved the flashback with the Kingpin on the first couple of pages. It really added some depth and humanity to the character, even if he is dead now (as dead as you get in comic books).

What just struck me right now, as I flipped back through the issue, is it's also the first issue in quite a while not dominated by Peter's home life. Now, I love May, Mary Jane, Gwen, Bobby and Johnny, and they have brought a lot to this series. That said, the title is Spider-Man, not Spider-Man and His Roommates. It's nice to just see some honest-to-God super-hero action on display.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Stuck In My Head 2.10.2011

Oh, this one's a doozy.



Hero of Canton
Jayne!
The Man they call Jayne!
He robbed from the rich and he gave to the poor,
He stood up to the man and he gave him what for.
Our love for him now, aint hard to explain,
The hero of Canton, the man they call Jayne!
Our Jayne saw the Mudders' backs breakin'
He saw the Mudders lament
And he saw the magistrate takin'
Every dollar and leavin' five cents
So he said, "You can't do that to my people"
"You can't crush them under your heel"
Jayne strapped on his hat
And in five seconds flat
Stole everything Boss Higgins had to steal
He robbed from the rich and he gave to the poor
Stood up to the Man and he gave him what for
Our love for him now ain't hard to explain
The Hero of Canton, the man they call Jayne
Now here is what separates heroes
From common folk like you and I
The man they call Jayne
He turned 'round his plane
And let that money hit sky
He dropped it onto our houses
He dropped it into our yards
And the man call Jayne
He turned round his plane
And headed out for the stars
He robbed from the rich and he gave to the poor
Stood up to the Man and he gave him what for
Our love for him now ain't hard to explain
The Hero of Canton, the man they call Jayne!

K.I.S.S. - The Singing Edition

I'm a fan of simplicity. In pretty much anything I attempt, I live by the mantra of "KISS."

Keep. It. Simple. Stupid.

Now, I'm sure that this is why I like many things that operate on very simple levels. I liked Avatar, for example, as a basic, direct allegory about environmental responsibility. Yes, you could make a much more "realistic" and "educational" film on that subject, but, from experience, that leads you directly into a quagmire trying to impart knowledge, rather than impart emotion. Cameron has a rather direct, and, shall we say, "unencumbered" writing style. He gives you the info you need, and moves on to the next bit that info suggests.

Keep. It. Simple. Stupid.

F.Y.I. - This should not be construed as me making a case for Avatar as a work of unadulterated genius. It ain't perfect, but, man...You have to take it for what it is. It's direct, and you can tell Cameron has his heart very much in it.

Anyway, point is, I find directness, clarity of intent and execution, to be the true way to transcendent work. Take your material, believe in it, and express it in a direct, emotional way. Even the most "complicated" successful works of art or craft hew to that guide.

So, yeah...how does this relate to singing? Well, I read Sal Nunziato's Burning Wood blog on a regular basis, and his entry today led me to this piece by John Eskow at The Huffington Post. I cannot tell you how much I agree with these guys, I can't tell you how man times CByrd and I will listen to somebody screech 234 notes into a 12 note melody like, and turn to each other with a "please, stop singing" look.

I liken it to being an actor. When you approach a role, you'll find so, so very often that, the less you do, the more effective it is. (Johnny Depp is the exception that proves the rule...sometimes.) There is something to Mamet's "speak the words, brave and true" in True and False.

What does your character want? How do you use the lines to get it? Once you understand how to answer those questions, and can mean it, you can play the role. The rest is paint and window treatments. It's frippery to prove to ourselves and others that we're "good." It's showing off. Sure, sometimes you can connect it, and make it real. However, those moments are most effective if you use them precisely and sparingly.

So, an actor has dialogue and intent. In a similar manner a singer has lyrics and melody. What's really annoying, as both Sal and Eskow point out, is that the standard practice now is to see how much you can "add" to the melody. Every line has become an opportunity to express the singer's range, and if that's not your thing, you're overshadowed.

Case in point, caught a bit of American Idol last night, saw a cute little gal named Emily Anne Reed. a Kewpie doll voice, plays guitar, and her apartment just burned to the ground. When she sang "You're Getting to be a Habit With Me," I really loved it, kind of a squeaky Billie Holiday vibe, but she just sang the song. No futzing around, no pointless runs around the melody line, just sang the song. Of course, the judges had to almost not send her on, with Steven Tyler "iffy" about it. Eventually they did, but CByrd and I looked at each other and said, "out in the first round."

And that is abysmally sad.



This girl had a solid voice, a unique style (for this crowd), and a direct delivery. I could see, with the right material, becoming a fan, but surrounded by these Mousekateer wannabes, with their all over the place sense of melody, SHE'S the one that seems "weak." Uniqueness is not valued, nope...just give us another 12 almost-off-key runs on the word "hope."

Of course, it's American Idol, what do I expect? Yet, it does reflect the sorry state of what our culture has come to see as "good" singing. If you try to critique, you'll get that "it's soulful."

Ray Charles is soulful. Stevie Wonder is soulful. Gregg Allman is soulful. Dug Pinnick is soulful. You aren't going to see any of these people turning a 2 note word into a 45 note phrase. Exclamations? Howls? Tangents between lyric lines? Sure! They're also singing these lines like they've lived them, like they're the single, most important words that could come out of their mouths. The commit to the song, they aren't committed to impressing people with how they can throw their voice around.

I've said before I'm a pretty poor vocalist. I stand by that, but I also know a good singer when I hear one. I know because I respond to the performance on an emotional level. God knows, I've got emotional over people who were clearly over-singing, too, but, more often than not, it's a good song, performed well that really hits me.

Of course, I'm into rock and roll, singer-songwriters, not this pop-diva-thing. I'm not the audience for American Idol, or Christina Aguilera, or any of that stuff. That said, I'd like to see a little more variety in what we're told is "great singing."

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

New Comic Day 2.9.2011

This is, frankly, one of those weeks where Marvel is pissing me off. I won't be picking up my books until the weekend, mainly because Marvel's insistence that their Ultimate line is worth $4 a pop. Since I've started a weekly blog entry about my reactions to the books after reading, I think my comments here will likely get lighter.

Batman & Robin #20 $2.99
Written by PETER J. TOMASI
Art by PATRICK GLEASON & MARK IRWIN
Cover by PATRICK GLEASON
1:10 Variant Cover by GENE HA

From the pages of the best-selling BRIGHTEST DAY and GREEN LANTERN CORPS comes the new regular creative team of writer Peter J. Tomasi and artist Patrick Gleason! Kicking off the action is "Dark Knight, White Knight" part 1 of 3, as Bruce Wayne returns from the dead and Gotham City finds itself locked in the grip of chaos! Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne come face-to-face with what could possibly be the strangest Bat Villain yet. Who is the White Knight, and why is he hell-bent on making Gotham City into Heaven on Earth?

Well, new creative team, but it seems really odd that they're talking about Bruce Wayne "back from the dead," which happened MONTHS ago. Another sign of a behind-the-scenes delays? Who knows?

I really don't know what to expect here.

The Flash #9 (Flashpoint) $2.99
Written by GEOFF JOHNS
Art and cover by FRANCIS MANAPUL
1:10 Variant cover by SCOTT KOLINS

BRIGHTEST DAY rushes forward! Now, make way for Hot Pursuit – the latest speedster to come out of the Speed Force! He's here to make sure no one breaks the speed limit – hero or villain! And just wait until you see whose face is under Hot Pursuit's helmet…

What? Now, wait...Flashpoint is part of Brightest Day?

WTF!?!

Jesus, I am so sick of crossovers. Now we have crossovers with crossovers. Here's an idea, stop. Let everything be self-contained for a year. I'm reading all this stuff, and I can't keep it straight. Doesn't that seem to maybe, I dunno...suggest a problem?

Red Robin #20 $2.99
Written by FABIAN NICIEZA
Art and Cover by MARCUS TO
& RAY MCCARTHY

Red Robin finally combines forces with his former teammates in a 2-issue crossover with TEEN TITANS that kicks off right here! Is there even enough room for Tim Drake and Damian Wayne – the new Robin – on one team? Meanwhile, Catman and the Calculator have their own agendas for this highly anticipated reunion!

Don't miss the pulse-pounding second part in this month's TEEN TITANS #92!

Here's a shocker. A crossover I don't mind. I won't even mind buying Teen Titans to finish out the story.

Why?

Because Red Robin has earned it. It's a solid book that hasn't been requiring me to buy 14 other titles to understand it. It's let me get involved with this new phase of Tim Drake's heroic life by, well, telling decent stories. And Drake used to be a Titan, so it makes sense.

Ultimate Avengers vs. New Ultimates #1 (Death of Spider-Man) $3.99

Wow. No solicit material I can find, easily, anyway. I think Mark Millar (ugh) is writing and Leinil Yu is the artist.

This is part of the Ultimate Comics Death of Spider-Man event/crossover/whatever. I don't mind it too much, as Ultimate Comics Spider-Man is consistently so good. And, I'll be fair enough to say writing Ultimates is one of the places where I really can take Mark Millar as a writer.




Ultimate Comics Captain Ameirca #2 $3.99
Written by JASON AARON
Pencils & Cover by RON GARNEY

An Ultimate Comics groundbreaking miniseries!
Captain America has met his match, but just who exactly is this nemesis? And what does he want? Superstars JASON AARON (PUNISHERMAX) and RON GARNEY (WOLVERINE: WEAPON X) bring you a gripping tale about what it truly means to wear the flag.

A fairly interesting first issue leads me to the second. The one problem is, the Ultimate version of Captain America is so much more jingoistic and militant than his mainstream Marvel counterpart, that when you put him up against a version of himself that "goes too far," you kinda think, "not that different."

Of course, that might be the point. 

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #153 (Death of Spider-Man) $3.99

Again, can't easily find solicit material. This issue, I believe, makes the return of Mark Bagley to Ultimate Spider-Man. Brian Michael Bendis/Mark Bagley team is just red-hot on this title, and I'm really happy to see Mark back. Though, I will miss seeing him do different stuff when he was at DC.

More of The Death of Spider-Man. Again...I'm down with this. Bendis has been playing this series so well, I'm willing to do full crossover mode for it. The quality, and the lack of constant pushing of that sort of marketing have earned it from me.

Though, I will tell you this. The $3.99 price point on all these Ultimate books is really starting to piss me off. Mainly because, outside of Ultimate Spider-Man, none of them are consistently worth it. I mean, seriously, the Ultimate Avengers books have sucked completely since day one, and New Ultimates can't seem to maintain a schedule to save their lives. The assorted mini-series? A really, really mixed bag.

DC has stepped back to $2.99 on everything that's not a "special event." I can live with that, but I'm sorry, just putting "Ultimate" on a book doesn't make it a special event.