Friday, October 28, 2011

Genius. You Know It, I Know It. We All Know It.

All hail Kurt Russell.


Most people would point to The Dark Knight Returns as Frank Miller's greatest Batman work.

Not me. No, while I think Dark Knight Returns is a pretty special work, I was much more blown away by Miller's take on Batman's alpha, rather than omega, Batman: Year One. Miller was tasked to create a "re-boot" of Batman's origins as a 4-issue run in the Batman title, and Year One was the result. Miller has said that all of his Batman stories are "his" Batman, and can be connected. So, yes, Miller's intention was to create a starting point for the embittered, driven old man we see in Dark Knight Returns, but, in a testament to his skill as a writer, the story functioned extremely well as a basis for over twenty years of continuity and storylines.

Miller didn't draw Year One, but brought in his collaborator on several Daredevil stories, David Mazzucchelli. Mazzucchelli was able to embody the gritty, corrupt world of Gotham City just as well as Miller, himself, but also brought a certain elegance to the line and form. There was a grace, and reality, to the figures, whereas Miller, as is his wont, tended to portray Batman as a huge, epic figure.

Again, I think Miller's Batman is amazing, but the almost-Hopper-esque reality of Mazzucchelli's pencils helped with the idea of a re-boot. Gotham felt like a place where there were lives, and stories, around every corner. Miller's Batman in Dark Knight Returns was an epic figure, and the city, and it's population, seemed to be a reflection of him, whereas Mazzucchelli's felt like a reflection of the city.

The other great leap forward, in terms of  characterization, was with James Gordon, here not yet Commissioner, but a police Lieutenant recently transferred from Chicago. A transfer with a hint of some scandal driving him to Gotham. The main character of Year One isn't Batman, or Bruce Wayne, but Jim Gordon. The action revolves around both men finding their place within the corrupt world of Gotham, not to mention finding hope and partnership within each other.

Year One, as a comic book,  is nothing less than a masterpiece, repositioning and re-energizing both characters in one fell swoop. It's essential reading for anyone with an interest in these characters.

So, when Warner Brothers Animation and Producer Bruce Timm announced that Batman: Year One would be one of their direct-to-video DC Comics animated films, I had some mixed reactions. I love the story, and it's nice to think that more people will be exposed to it, but the DC animated program has had it's fair share of stinkers. Though, the projects actually based on certain arcs, or graphic novels, have generally come off better.

Well, my copy came from Amazon, and I watched it on Wednesday night. I have to say that I was more impressed than not. This particular offering being on the upper end of these animated projects.

The script is, for me, the most important thing. A good story can overcome anything. In general, this adaptation is very solid, if a bit staid. There is very little deviation from Miller's work from scene structure down to actual dialogue. There are a few "massaged" elements, one of which bothered me. Gordon's reason for leaving Chicago is fleshed out a bit, where Miller left it very nebulous. In doing so, they've swung Gordon more to the angels, inferring that he was run out of Chi-town for turning in other cops. Well, then why would the Gotham Police, rife with corruption and graft, welcome him, even promising that he'll "fit right in?" The book tends to make you feel that Gordon had no place else to go, that Gotham was the only place corrupt enough to let him continue to be a cop, because he was corrupt, in some way, in Chicago. It's a change that takes a lot of the desperation off Gordon's mission to stay clean.

Some other scenes and events are ejected, and I can't say I missed them. It's a slick, streamlined adaptation, it moved VERY fast. It does, at times, bring home how slim the story is. The film only runs about an hour.

The animation is solid, mid-range stuff. More stylish than your average G.I. Joe cartoon, but hardly a work of art, like the best of the Disney crop. Every one of these projects that's based on an actual book gets the "we're going to replicate the style of the original artist" speech, and it never works. Yes, Batman: Year One features much of the same framing and angles, as well as the color palate of Mazzucchelli's work, but it doesn't, at all, capture the feel of his pencils.

To be fair; it can't, and it shouldn't. Animation is a vastly different medium from a comic book, and animated figures faithfully rendered in Mazzucchelli's style would look odd in motion. It would take a level of personal quality control that just isn't possible with this kind of corporate production, where the animation is being shipped off to an assembly line animation house in Asia. That's the nature of the beast, so, while I note the discrepancy, I don't damn the project for it.

The voice acting is solid, with one GLARING exception. Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) provides the voice of Jim Gordon, and while he does the job, it also is hardly an inspired performance. Fanboy faves Eliza Duskhu and Katee Sackoff are Selina Kyle/Catwoman and Gordon's partner Sarah Essen, respectively. They're both fine in limited roles (Dushku gets a bit more to do, and makes more of an impact, in the Catwoman short included on the Blu-Ray). The weak link is, unfortunately, Ben McKenzie as Bruce Wayne/Batman. Perhaps I'm spoiled after years of Kevin Conroy's amazing work as Batman in multiple animated and video game projects, but McKenzie's voice is just plain dull, and not distinctive as Bruce or Batman. He may be a fine actor, but I don't think he has what it takes to do voice work.

That may seem like a lot of gripes, but I did enjoy the film. It's not the book, it never could be the book, and the book is very special to me. However, it's close. I think, however, adaptation is always a stronger course. Batman Begins mines much of the same material, and is far stronger, story-wise than this film.

Really, all of these DC Animated films, that directly adapt comic stories, function only as "bonus features" to the books themselves. Good bonus features, but still just sauce for the original goose. I do look forward to the rumored adaptations of Dark Knight Returns and The Killing Joke, but my expectations are well tempered. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

ANONYMOUS and the Rise of "Me-Centered" Culture.

The poster isn't even interesting
There's a movie opening tomorrow called Anonymous. It's a Elizabethan-era political thriller about the idea that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford was the true author of Shakespeare's works, which he could not publish under his own name, because of his status and position in the court. This is a theory that has been around since LONG before Roland Emmerich ever decided to make a movie about the subject.

Now, you're forgiven if you haven't heard about this film. Frankly, no one seems to care about it's release other than Shakespeare experts and theatre folks, who are all apparently mortally offended that anyone would DARE make a movie about this subject. Who can't stop picking apart every inaccuracy or offensive supposition, but can't seem to grasp the main fucking point.

It's a Goddamn MOVIE. It's not a documentary. It's not claiming to be anything but fiction based on real people and events of the Elizabethan age. The synopsis on the official website reads:
"Experts have debated. Books have been written, and scholars have devoted their lives to protecting or debunking theories surrounding the authorship of the most renowned works in English literature. Anonymous poses one possible answer..."
The emphasis there is mine. Hell, the tagline on the poster...
"Was Shakespeare a fraud?" a question, not a statement. It doesn't say, "Shakespeare was a fraud."

Not to mention the fact that the vast majority of the people who are up in arms about it likely haven't seen the movie at all.

The Anonymous of 1991
All in all, it's a case of, "why the hell would you be personally offended by this?" Jesus Christ, how many HUNDREDS of people has Hollywood laid the assassination of JFK on? How many odd offshoots of the events at Ford's Theatre have we seen in movies? Hollywood has been using trumped-up offshoots of "real stories" for years, why is it suddenly a problem because they are mucking with your little pet subject? Hell, does it even matter? I mean, suppose the Earl of Oxford DID write all of it? Does that change the plays?

In the interests of disclosure, I think the Oxford theory holds no water, and I think Roland Emmerich is a hack. So, therefore there's no reason for me to think about, let alone go see this movie. So, in my opinion, you're not only up in arms about a fictional movie, but likely a BAD fictional movie. If it wasn't for the numerous refutations of the film I've read, and the snarky internet comments, I'd have given no more thought to it. However, since I have, now I have thoughts about it.

I've long held that, if William Shakespeare was writing today, there's only one place he'd be plying his trade...Hollywood. We like to re-position Billy Wiggle-stick as a "great artist" with an uncommon grasp of the human condition, which he absolutely was. He was also a showman who wrote what the audience wanted to see, he wrote for the groundlings. He inserted sex and violence liberally, because that's what sold. He took historical tales, amped up the dramatic elements with little concern for actual events, splattered it on the stage with as much grandiosity and spectacle as possible.

In other words...Something, conceptually, like Anonymous. Granted, Shakespeare was a genius, and Emmerich is...the guy that fucked up Godzilla (how the hell do you fuck up GODZILLA?!?!). Still, on an IDEA level, there's not a lot of difference between Anonymous and Henry V, both are based on historical events, and both are about as historically accurate.

Does everything have to be at his level?
Then, of course, there's the "people might believe this is accurate" argument. Well, sure, if they're stupid. Y'know that the death knell is for art? When everything has to be vetted against the fear of how the dumbest, most easily influenced, and least informed members of our society might take it. Top that off with the fact that these people, if they know anything about Shakespeare at all, it's "that dull English dude." Or, they think he's one of the knights at Medieval Times.

Those folks also probably would never have gone to see Anonymous, at all. The refutations of the film have likely doubled the press this was getting.  So, congrats folks, your outrage has successfully increased the film's media footprint. Way to go!

Proof? I would never have written ANYTHING about this film, if not for the whining about it. It would've slipped away, unnoticed. So, thank you for making me think about the social implications of a fucking Roland Emmerich movie.

At the end of the day, this is just another "outrage" to be heaped on top of the all the others where someone, somewhere sees something in the media that they don't like, and immediately decides there's something wrong with anyone, anywhere, seeing it. Oh, there may not be calls for an outright boycott, as with The Playboy Club (which deserved to go, not because it was offensive, but because it was not good), but the passive-aggressive insidiousness of the editorial essay (and, yes, I realize I'm engaging in the same thing). The snobby retaliation of the expert unheeded.

The media isn't supposed to reflect you, or me, it's supposed to reflect US. That means part of your unspoken contract as part of "us" is to sit and listen to people with crazy ideas that you absolutely don't agree with. Or, hey...turn it off. Likely, there's a venue for your crazy ideas that they don't agree with (think O'Riley vs. Maddow), which they can turn off.

In this case, if you're looking for a dumb, historically inaccurate, movie where Shakespeare DID write his plays and sonnets, I suggest Shakespeare in Love. There you have democracy of the media. It's nothing to get so up in arms about, people, especially when the great sin amounts to nothing more than trying to make an entertaining movie out of an inane historical conspiracy theory.

Don't go see it. Do something positive. Go see a Shakespeare play instead.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Over-Committed: Second Verse, Same as the First

I think I may have had a mild panic attack last night. Maybe. It might've been as result of drinking overly-caffeinated beverages after six PM, as well. Or, maybe a combination of the caffeine and knowing that I've, once again, put myself in a position where I have taken on too much.

I've been around people with panic attacks, but I've never had one. At least I've never recognized one. Last night, I crawled into bed, and the ceiling stared spinning, the walls closed in, my chest tightened, and my brain was going a million miles an hour. I lay there for hours, with this same crushing sensation, and then proceeded to not get up and do my usual morning workout. This, of course, just makes me feel worse.

I sometimes wonder why the hell I get myself into these things. I mean, I can say "no," I do a lot. I dunno. I think I have a perverse need to be wanted.


Really, I'm just mad at myself. Why am I overcommitted? Because of my own stupidity. It's my fault, and now I have to live with it.

Of course, CByrd has to live with it, too, which just makes me feel guilty.

Six Words: Alex. Lifeson. In. A. Fat. Suit.

I'm telling you, I want a Hard Days Night style movie starring Rush.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Case of the Mondos

I am not having the best day. I feel tired and cranky, not to mention a"out of phase," for lack of a better term. I just can't get the engine to turn over.

I've been reading a lot of plays recently. Usually that process is fairly monotonous, with flashes of brilliance that make me excited to carry on with it. Unfortunately, the flashes of brilliance have been few and far between recently. If nothing else, I'm picking up things not to do when I get back to the word processor, myself.

And I think that's going to happen. I've finally got a pretty good idea, and with some encouragement from a cast-mate, I think I may actually be able to get back to putting my nose to the grindstone. Of course, with the specter of the new CD hanging there, I probably don't really need to be splitting my energies.

That said, I did get some work done over the weekend. Another guitar track recorded. I'm...pretty happy with it, I guess. Oh, hell, I'm never really "happy" with my work. I'm just this side of a hack, I know that. That said, what I need to do is just FINISH A FUCKING SONG, or two, even.

Mondays never used to get to me this much.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Stuck in My Head 10.21.2011

Street of Dreams
by Guns 'N Roses

All the love in the world
Couldn't save you
All the innocence inside
You know I tried so hard to make you
Oh, to make you change your mind

And it hurts too much to see you
And how you left yourself behind
You know I wouldn't want to be you
Now there's a hell I can't describe

So now I wander through my days
And try to find my ways
To the feelings that I felt
I saved for you and no one else
And though as long as this road seems
I know it's called the street of dreams
But that's not stardust on my feet
It leaves a taste that's bittersweet
That's called the blues

I don't know just what I should do
Everywhere I go I see you
Though it's what you planned
This much is true
What I thought was beautiful
Don't live inside of you

I don't know just what I should do
Everywhere I go I see you
Though it's what you planned
This much is true
What I thought was beautiful
Don't live inside of you

What this means to me
Is more than I know you believe
What I thought of you now
Has I thought that was true before
Were lies I couldn't see
What I thought was beautiful is only memories

Oh oh oh
What'd I tell you
Oh oh oh
Oh oh oh
Oh oh oh
Inside of you

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Stuck in My Head 10.20.2011

Pretty Tied Up
by Guns 'N Roses

I know this chick she lives down on Melrose
She ain't satisfied without some pain
Friday night is goin' up inside her...again
Well crack the whip
'Cause that bitch is just insane
I'm serious

She's pretty tied up
Hangin' upside down
She's pretty tied up
An you can ride her
She's pretty tied up
Hangin' upside down
I can't tell you she's the right one
Oh no,oh no,oh no
Once there was this rock n' roll band rollin' on the streets
Time went by and it became a joke
We just needed more and more fulfilling- Uh-huh
Time went by and it all went up in smoke
But check it out

She's pretty tied up
Hangin' upside down
She's pretty tied up
An you can ride her
She's pretty tied up
Hangin' upside down
Ohh I can't tell you she's the
right one
Oh no,oh no,oh no
Once you made that money it costs more now
It might cost a lot more than you'd think
I just found a million dollars
That someone forgot
It's days like this that push me o'er the brinks
(Cool Ranch Dressing)

She's pretty tied up
Hangin' upside down
She's pretty tied up
An you can ride her
She's pretty tied up
Hangin' upside down
And I can't tell you she's the
right one
Oh she's the right one...[etc.]

(But I can tell you a thing or two 'Bout somethin' else
If you really wanna know-Know what I'm sayin')

My Blossoming Love Affair With My Kindle

I love my Kindle.

I've always considered myself a Luddite, but it seems that whenever I'm able to really use a new digital format, I go apeshit for it. It happened with MP3s, and now it's happening with digital books.

I've read more in the last two months, since CByrd got me this Kindle for my birthday, than I had in the eight prior. Where before I'd been happy just listening to music on the train, because I just didn't like hauling books around, now I have the svelte little unit that holds even the largest books. Since I got a cover for it, I'm not even that scared of dropping it anymore.

It's allowed me to finally get started reading series that I'd "meant to" look at for a long time. The Hunger Games, for instance. Now, after thinking about it for, literally, years, I'm digging into Dennis Lehane's Kenzie and Genarro books.

There's quite a few of those, so my plan is to alternate each one with something else. I'm reading the first novel, A Drink Before the War, right now. After that will either be It's So Easy by Duff McKaga, Contents Under Pressure: 30 Years of Rush at Home and Away by Martin Popoff, or Roger Ebert's Life Itself: A Memoir. Then back to Kenzie and Genarro to re-read Darkness, Take My Hand.

The Lehane books are actually research, in a way. I've got a noir idea bubbling inside, and I loved Darkness the first time I read it, and Drink Before is just as good. I'm going to be stealing, style-wise, at least.

Do you know how long it's been since I've planned out my reading? A long flippin' time.

I'm also enamored with the Kindle's ability to display .pdf files. This make the seemingly unending script reading I have to do much easier. Where I used to be hunched over my laptop, burning my eyes out reading scripts. Or, endangering entire forests by printing out scripts. I can squint a little and read it off my easy read Kindle screen. (Still wish I could enlarge the print, alas.)

Kindle - Has my vote.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

OK, What is the Deal?

Why is it that the official Rush store and have the Blu-Ray of Rush's Time Machine 2011: Live in Cleveland on sale on November 8th, and Amazon shows it not shipping until December 20th?

If it's an exclusive, that makes sense, but nobody's announced that there is an exclusive. Amazon has the DVD and CD versions out on the 8th.

God knows, I MUST have this the day it comes out!!!

So, I Played Arkham City Last Night

I got to spend about two-and-a-half to three hours in a section of Gotham City converted into a giant prison. Herewith I offer my first impressions...

The game looks gorgeous. I was a little worried that the expanded playing area from Arkham Asylum (about 5 times bigger) would reduce the detail. Happily, this is not the case. The streets of Gotham are just a grimy and polluted as you'd expect.

Controls are very similar to the previous game, which is good. Using the controls felt like riding a bike, but with a few new gadgets to get used to. Meaning, the core components of moving, fighting, gliding all work as you remember, and allow you to start trying to integrate the new stuff. I did feel the controls were a little "looser" than in Arkham Asylum. Not quite as tight and responsive as I remember (maybe I was just used to it). I have to admit, I've not mastered all the new gadgets at Batman's disposal, or the new menu/hotkey system to use them, but I'm sure that's just a matter of practice and time.

The old standby from the first game, the Bat-grapple, is back, as is the glider cape, but the expanded play area has opened this up to really cool stuff. I think I actually giggled the first time I glided Batman off a rooftop, then grappled to a building, using the line to catapult the caped crusader back into the night sky. Again, the greatest thing Rocksteady has accomplished with this franchise is really making the player feel like Batman. Now, we can add swinging through the canyons of Gotham City to the list of Batman elements captured.

One of the elements new with Arkham City is a second playable character, Catwoman. I downloaded the expansion pack to include her right away. No, she's not automatically on the game, but a download with included one-use code. Yeah, this will be a pain for used game purchasers, but, y'know what? I don't seen any reason why Rocksteady shouldn't include somethign special for people who don't wait for after-market prices.

Anyway, Catwoman is executed just as well as the Dark Knight himself, with her whip standing in for the Bat-grapple, and an ability to actually scale walls and move about almost like Spider-Man. The character comes with a side plot that merges into the main game unobtrusively once downloaded.

Apparently, more downloadable characters are in the offing, Robin has been announced, and a Nightwing avatar has been seen around the the net. My understanding is that Robin, at least, won't interface with the main single-player game, but is useable in challenge modes, which will be familiar to players of Arkham Asylum. Although, I've found no way, so far, to access any challenge modes on the new game...

Already, within 3 hours, the roster of villains has increased. I've already encountered Two-Face (my happy to have him in the game), Bane, The Joker, and when I went to bed, I was on the trail of Mr. Freeze. I will confess some disappointment that Arleen Sorkin hasn't provided the voice for Harley Quinn for this game.

The hunt for Mr. Freeze also brings up a personal issue, mainly because I'm not the biggest fan of open-world games, which Arkham City embraces elements of far more than Arkham Asylum did. I did have some confusion, hunting radio signals (to find The Joker), and temperature (for Mr. Freeze) across the city. Again, I'm sure this is something I'll get used to, but I did find myself thinking "ok, what am I really looking for?" a couple of times.

Bottom line, this game is pretty much exactly what I wanted from a sequel to Arkham Asylum, Batman in Gotham City. I'm happy right now, at the first step of this game (supposed to be 40 hours of playing time), and while my opinion may change when I'm finished. I think it's gonna be fun getting there.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Arkham City Release Day

I've been excited about today for a while, maybe not as excited as I was about September 16th, but pretty close.

Tonight I'll be playing the sequel to my favorite video game, ever. Sure, it's just a game, but with the mood I've been in lately, I can use a little fun. So, Batman: Arkham City is a very welcome thing, right now. Especially since the reviews have been mainly on the positive side.

Re-strung my Les Paul last night, with heavier gage strings (11s, if you want details). I tried out heavier strings a few months back, mainly because I found out Slash plays with that gage, and I thought I'd give it a try. My last re-string went back to very light strings, just because that's what I had on hand, but now I have several sets of the heavier ones.

I have to say, I really do like playing with the heavier strings, especially on the Les. The tuning feels more stable, for one thing, and the action is just tighter. I've been playing so much acoustic lately (hello Bus Stop!), that the light strings just felt a bit loose.

Although, I did spend some time on Saturday playing around with some other guitars. I dunno, maybe I'll trade in/trade up, but I know it won't be until December, at least. I'm still paying off the 24-track unit. I really do think there's some magic in the store, that makes all guitars sound better than when you get them home.

I am still wrestling with the feeling of sadness that I vomited all over the blog yesterday. Sometimes, it really does help to just get things out, but sometimes I wonder if it isn't just self-indulgent. The reality is, probably a little of both.

What's the options, anyway? You just keep pushing through, as much as you can. Take the depressed feelings, accept the mistakes you've made, and look for the next mountain to climb. I've got a few things lined up, theatre-wise, and I am putting the next CD/album on the front burner again. I have too much music "in progress," and not enough "finished."

It's time to move forward.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Up days, Down Days...

I work very hard to try to stay on an even keel. To not allow myself to get too excited, or too saddened. It's probably why I have little patience for politics, because, frankly, it's all worked out before, it'll work out again, and the cycle will go around and around. Push one way, and, eventually, things will push back the other, and vice versa. These cycles tend to be obvious if you don't act like the world's coming to an end.

However, sometimes I just can't keep it up. Sometimes I feel the weight on my shoulders, and sometimes I find myself just...sad. Usually, this revolves around some aspect of my creative life. Some sense of failure, or of not reaching my potential.

I think I'm clearly in a "down period." Which is really silly. I know this. I can see it, but sometimes you can't see the forest for the trees, y'know?

Bus Stop is open. It's a good show. A little old-fashioned, but a diverting evening of theatre. I'm told I do a good job in it, as I rarely consider myself a good critic of my own work. I feel good about the show, and my performance, and there's several people in the cast who are fantastic. That's good, obviously. Really good. I need to remember how to live in that moment.

I tend to hate myself when I get too wrapped up in something. It's usually a show. I'll hear about something coming up, and think, "I want to be involved with THAT!" I'll get focused and excited about it.

...and I always, always choke. It breaks my heart, every time. There's a list of reasons I have to do a show, the people involved, possibility of professional advancement, a love of the role and the script, sheer loyalty, etc. etc. It's always when a project fulfills all of those criteria that I, flat out, choke.

And it kills me. It rips my guts out.

OK, it doesn't happen EVERY time. The glorious One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest experience comes to mind, and I worked my ass off for that one.  Audition from 10 AM to around 6 PM, I was exhausted, but exhilarated. And the director, the lovely Chris Maher, to his eternal credit, took a moment to just let me know, no matter the outcome, he appreciated that effort. I'll always treasure that courtesy, getting the part was almost just gravy.

It's actually worse, the shorter your window, the less the actual time you're auditioning is, especially if you really want it. God, going in, reading once, feeling a little flat, and realizing...that was it. "Knowing" that if you had another chance at it, or a different reader, or any of a hundred other excuses (and that's what they are), you'd have done better. You could've made the impression you wanted to make. You could've DONE BETTER.

I'm usually really good at letting things go. Audition? Do my piece, thank everyone, and leave. Quick. No muss no fuss. Had an excellent example of this on Saturday afternoon. However, the more exciting the project, and I guess this is only human, the harder to do that.

So? Long story short? I think I fucked up my audition for something I really wanted.

At least I can look at it as my own screw-up, instead of feeling that I got screwed by someone else, because, let's be honest, that's rarely the case. Own your failures, as well as your successes. You'll be better off, all around.

It's not just the acting, either. I've really come to a point of self-loathing over working on my music. I know I'm in a bad place when I start looking at new guitars. As if that would make me magically start being more productive on that front again.

Well, OK, it might, a little....but that is another long, involved discussion.

One of the things that's kinda compounded this feeling is, actually, working on Bus Stop. I've been playing guitar almost every day for almost two months. I've actually come up with some riffs and stuff that I really like, and want to play around with. Yet, when it comes to locking myself in the room, and banging out these ideas with the home studio...I get tired. I get frustrated with the equipment (hence, looking at new guitars), and my own ability.

Frustration...That's a better word than failure. I'm sad, because I'm frustrated.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Stuck in My Head 10.14.2011

Different Devil
by Chickenfoot

There's a wise old tale
About the same old Hell
Only the devil is changed
With two brand new lovers
Rolling in the covers
Everybody wants some strange
We all know somebody's gonna tell you just want to do
But it don't mean nothin' 'less it's got something for me and you
If you think there's someone better 
Into the arms of something new 
If you think he'll treat you better than I do
Turn around babe
I'll be right here waiting for you
Hey we're both getting older
Should've known better
Somethings stay the same
You want your freedom
I'm so jealous
No one's gonna change
We all know somebody's gonna tell what's right to do
Hey I'm sitting here missing, baby, I'm missing you
If you think there's someone better
Into the arms of something new
If you think he'll treat you better than I do
Turn around babe
I'll be right here waiting for you
There's a sweet dark angel
On my shoulder
Singing in my ear
From the bad side of Heaven
With all her glory
Salvation's here.We all know somebody's gonna tell you just want to do
But it don't mean nothin' 'less it's got something for me and you
If you think there's someone better
Into the arms of something new
If you think he'll treat you better than I do
Turn around babe
I'll be right here waiting for you
If you think there's someone better
Into the arms of something new
If you think he'll treat you better than I do
Turn around babe
I'll be right here waiting for you

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Grant Morrison's Supergods (With Ultra-Long Subtitle)

Early this morning, I finished up Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human by Grant Morrison.

Morrison is known mainly as a comic book writer, which makes him rather well equipped to write a book like this. It's part history of superheros, part memoir, and part philosophy lecture. that may sound a bit dry, but the sort of amazing thing here is that Morrison is so damn charming and funny. Amazing only in that, his comic work tends toward the whimsical and bizarre. There's a charm to it, no doubt, but it's not laugh-out-loud funny. Some of it is downright incomprehensible.

I laughed out loud several times reading this book, of course, I also had a couple of moments that brought tears to my eyes. I've always been hot or cold about Morrison's comic work, sometimes I found it lovely, sometimes just one step up from random gibberish. The one real discovery I made reading this book is that pendulum swing stems from a sincere, deep desire on Morrison's part to push the concept of the superhero further. Sometimes, it works beautifully, sometimes not.

What is abundantly clear, on page after page, is that Grant is a BELIEVER. A believer in the power of these characters to shape our world, to change humanity for the better, if we'd just embrace their power. He even sets up a belief system wherein Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and the others are, in many ways, real. The ink is real, the story is real, and the characters have "lived" and evolved far beyond any given concept that any given creator has applied to them. Invoking string theory, he speaks of looking into 2D dimensions wherein reside the DC, Marvel, and other comic "universes."

Yeah, it's heady stuff, and I don't know as I buy everything he throws at the reader. The saving grace is that he doesn't, either. He positions every strange encounter he's had with other dimensional beings as HIS experience, via his status as a practitioner of various chemical/occult/eastern/Sci-Fi philosophies. Certainly, the ultimate experience he had while in Khatmandu can have correlation in pretty much any belief system, that we are all connected in some sort of mystical/physical/spiritual manner. Morrison's own Sci-Fi leanings and mindset re-interpret that revelation with liquid metal (?) beings from a dimension above ours, rather than Jesus or Buddha. He invites the reader to write off his, personal, experience as some sort of nervous breakdown, but also insists you consider the implications of the ultimate revelation.

When he brings that philosophy back to his comics work, and the super-hero genre as a whole, he reveals something I've long believed. Just like the folktales of Gods and heroes of the mythic past, super-heroes are her, their function is to guide us toward a better world. Morrison also strongly believes in the power of story and myth to do just that. When he writes a super-hero story, he shares with us the exact thought process he enters into, and how he sees his role in continuing the stories of these characters. Even attempting to create an avatar for himself within this 2D world (The Invisibles), or allowing the characters to understand their relationship to the creator and reader (his rightly acclaimed run on Animal Man). It's breathtaking stuff, inspiring, even if, in me, he was preaching to the choir.

Click to enbiggen -a beautiful Morrison Moment
The joy in Morrison's view is that it doesn't mandate an infantile viewpoint. His work is more than willing to embrace drug culture, sex, violence, etc, but always with a implicit mandate to provide some understanding and comfort to those of us reading. He can write "realistic" super-heroes, but he's (and I think rightly) found that to be a dead end. Superman inspires because he is greater than us, a figure to aspire to. His comics are always designed to push the medium, either in form or content, while still holding central and sacred their inherent, important place within our society.

Reading this book actually brought up a memory of attending a panel at the 2008 San Diego Comic-Con, on which Morrison, as the current writer on Batman, was sitting. One of our typical "make it real" fanboys stepped up to the mic, and proceeded to blurt out the often-heard "Batman should carry guns" theory. The gist of which is, Batman, as a rather dark and driven character, shouldn't be held back by such things as a code against killing.

Morriosn went livid. It was truly inspiring, and shocking, honestly, the man always presents himself in such a serene and contemplative way. "Batman with a gun is just another soldier," he snapped in his thick Scottish accent, and the whole room fell silent. "The last thing we need is another soldier!"

I've always been on the fence about Morrison's take on Batman, it's a bit too "James Bond" for me, but, with that answer, it was clear he understood exactly who and what Batman was, at the core. This book feels somewhat the same way, I don't agree with everything he presents, but he's got an iron grip on the core concept. He also articulates it with excitement and verve.

That's an inspiring thing.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

I Likely Don't NEED Any More Guitars

But there's a couple I have my eye on...

ESP LTD Deluxe EC-1000 Electric Guitar 

This would be a trade in/trade up from my Les Paul, if I were to do it. I love my Les, but I wanna go in and play this a bit. It's got the traditional Les Paul styling, but with active pickups and locking tuners.

My Les has always been a bit touchy in the tuning area. I've had a set-up done, tried various string gauges, lubed the nut (don't ask) and, while functional, it can still go out of tune at random, annoying moments. The active pickups would also give me more "pop" in my tome. The Les, with it's passive pickups, has a really cool "chunky" tone, but it can get a little muddy. The active pickups on the LTD should allow more of the higher frequency in. 

 Like I said, if I were to go after this, I'd have to trade in the Les, and I'm not willing to do that until after I give this a few spins at the store...We shall see.

Fender Standard Telecaster Electric Guitar Ash

Now, as anyone who knows me, knows...I am a Springsteen disciple. With this in mind, I find myself often wandering into the Fender room to play the Telecasters. The Boss has made quite a few modifications to his own Telecasters, but there's still somethign in the twang of a Tele that makes me think of Bruce.

The other advantage here is that a Tele would give me a new range of tones for my recording projects (Yes, I'm still working on it...more in a bit), rather than just improving the tools to get a sound I already have. It's also cheaper, although I have no idea what I'd get for trading in my Les Paul. turning, turning, in my head...

The new CD project has been at a standstill for a while. Totally my fault, with no help from my schedule. It's just hard to find 3-4 hours to just sit and muck around with songs when you're in rehearsal almost every weeknight, and all day on the weekends. Not to mention putting a show over that on weekend nights (plus, as my wife points out...she never sees me, either).

Still, I have a lot of recording equipment now, even if I haven't solved the drum problem yet (I can fiddle with mixes and effects to try to disguise the mechanical nature of a drum machine, but it's still a drum machine). I need to start moving forward. I have several songs "in progress" now, and one of the nice things about Bus Stop has been having my guitar around all the time. I've been figure out some new progressions and riffs, just while sitting in the dressing room after I tune up.

It's also reminded me how much I love my old, regular non-electric acoustic Takamine. The thing holds it's tune so well, and the tone is fantastic. It's the guitar I used on the entirety of my first CD, the all-acoustic one. I think it's showing me that I really need to rely on it for recording acoustic stuff in the future, rather than the acoustic-electric (which sounds great too, through an amp).

All that aside, I am not happy with myself that this project has drug on so long. I need to get focused, and get somethign accomplished. To Tony and Paul, who've both been promised samples, my apologies...I am planning to get my act in gear.

We'll see if I can keep that promise to myself...

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Stuck In My Head 10.5.2011

by Black Sabbath

I am anger
Under pressure
Locked in cages
A prisoner
The first to escape

I am wiccan
I am legion
Strength in numbers
A lie
The number is one

I - I - I
Everything that I see is for me

Yes, I am giant
I'm a monster
Breaking windows
In houses
Buildings of glass
Rebel rebel
Holy outlaw
Ride together
Don't try it
The power's in one

I - I - I
I am standing alone
But I can rock you
I - I - I

On the edge of the blade
But the knife can't cut the hero down

I am virgin
I'm a whore
Giving nothing
The taker
The maker of war
I'll smash your face in
But with a smile
All together
You'll never
Be stronger than me

I - I - I
Right here on my own
But I still rock you
I - I - I
Don't follow behind
Just leave me on the outside

I - I - I
I am standing alone
But I can shock you
I - I - I
On the edge of the blade
But no one makes the hero bleed
( No, no , no )

I am hunger
Feed my head
All together
You'll never
Never make the hero bleed
( No, no, no )

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Hunger Games

Last night, I finished Suzanne Collins' trilogy of novels, The Hunger Games.

Color me impressed. In a environment where far too many books aimed at adolescents get a pass because, "hey it's getting kids excited about reading," here's a solid Sci-Fi series that aims for something a bit more. Collins has crafted a world that seems fantastical, while sadly possible. A world full of good and evil, but where those lines are blurred.

Katniss Everdeen, and her story start out simple enough. She's a girl of 16, living in the country of Parnem, the remains of the United States, after some sort of disaster. Parnem has 12 Districts, and, every year, each must send a teen boy and girl to the Capital to compete in the Hunger Games. Only one child will survive.

Katniss is a hunter, with skills in tracking and the bow. When her younger sister's name is drawn for the Games, she steps forward to take her place. This sends her into a journey that will take her rapidly into adulthood, and far from the simple life of hunting she had enjoyed.

I don't really want to get too much into plot details, because I'd rather you discover the twists and turns on your own. The books are written in first-person, by Katniss, and thus we are allowed to follow not only the action, but her thoughts and feelings. Frankly, there are some moments when this becomes a bit of a cheat, as events will transpire while Katniss is unconscious,  that dramatically affect the outcome of events. It ends up feeling a little "Deus Ex Machina." However, there's not a tremendous amount of that. At least not to the point where I felt completely cheated.

What is really impressive is that Collins doesn't back down from her subject matter. The story is, fundamentally, about teenagers being thrust into situations where they must face death, and kill to survive. It's about being used by powers greater than yourself. Finding out that, even those who are on the side of "good," are still motivated by power an influence. That celebrity and fame carry a burden, as well as reward. Not to mention a pretty naked criticism of our reality show culture.

No, she doesn't back down. About halfway through the series, you begin to get a real sense that no one is going to get out of this unscathed. Injuries, both physical and mental have been sustained, with nothing but the promise of more. A major supporting character is hauled away brutally, and, when I realized there would be no return for him, I knew hat Collins was playing for keeps. To her eternal credit, she holds to the purpose of her series, and never blinks. I've seen too many of these series where I feel like the writer was aiming for something really profound and irreversible, then chickened out.

Collins does not chicken out. She gives every character a price to pay, and those debts are not magically lifted. In her acknowledgements, she thanks her father for the truth about war and peace (That's me going by memory, so it's not exactly accurate). Collins, with this series does the same, even those who do survive to the end of the book are changed, forever. A price is paid.

I've read a number of reader reviews of the final book (my personal favorite), where readers felt betrayed by the dark turns. How sad that so many have become indoctrinated to the idea that stories should end happily, that heroes should emerge victorious and untouched. That you can't wake up and find out that those you put your trust in are just as bad, or worse, than those you fight against. That characters can't be lost, just because we love them.

That's just not the way the world works.

The Hunger Games - Catching Fire - Mockingjay

Monday, October 3, 2011

Stuck in My Head - 10.3.2011

In The Flesh
by Pink Floyd

So ya
Thought ya
Might like to go to the show
To feel the warm thrill of confusion
That space cadet glow
Tell me is something eluding you sunshine?
Is this not what you expected to see?
If you wanna to find out what's behind these cold eyes?
You'll just have to blow your way through this

DC Comics' New 52 - Week 4

Big week, purchase-wise. I have to say, after hearing from a few people that this week's books sucked, I was pleasantly surprised how much I liked ALMOST all these books.

All-Star Western #1 -$3.99
Art and cover by MORITAT

Even when Gotham City was just a one-horse town, crime was rampant – and things only get worse when bounty hunter Jonah Hex comes to town. Can Amadeus Arkham, a pioneer in criminal psychology, enlist Hex's special brand of justice to help the Gotham Police Department track down a vicious serial killer? Find out in this new series from HEX writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti, with lush artwork by Moritat (THE SPIRIT)

Two writers I love. An artist I love. A character I love.

I was REALLY nervous about this book. Jonah Hex is one of the titles that I really think should've survived the New 52 purge. It was simply the most consistently great book DC was putting out. I was not overly excited to have the series blend more closely into continuity. I was not excited to have a "Western" series set in one of the largest DC Universe's east-coast cities.

But, y'know, it works.

Hex gets more than a few laugh-out-loud badass one-liners, and I was amused by Doctor Arkham's attempts to psychoanalyze my favorite western bounty hunter. Generally, the story was compelling, and the characters were fun. I do hope the whole series isn't built around Hex and Arkham as some sort of Holmes/Watson team, and the title (and price) seem to suggest an anthology book. I'll be there.

Aquaman #1 - $2.99
Written by GEOFF JOHNS
Art and cover by IVAN REIS and JOE PRADO

The superstar creators from BLACKEST NIGHT and BRIGHTEST DAY reunite to take AQUAMAN to amazing new depths!

Aquaman has renounced the throne of Atlantis – but the sea will not release Arthur Curry so easily. Now, from a forgotten corner of the ocean emerges… The Trench! A broken race of creatures that should not exist, an unspeakable need driving them, The Trench will be the most talked-about new characters in the DC Universe!

Pretty good first issue. I think maybe they hit the meta-textual "Aquaman sucks" angle one too many times. I certainly can't imagine the whole series based around people insulting Arthur Curry, then watching him kick ass. That said, a solid introduction to Aquaman, and a gentle reminder that he is a power player in the DCU.

Also - I'm looking forward to seeing how The Trench will play out. They're excellently creepy.

Batman: The Dark Knight #1 - $2.99
Written by DAVID FINCH

The Dark Knight struggles against a deadly – yet strangely familiar – foe in this phenomenal debut issue from superstar writer/artist David Finch (BRIGHTEST DAY, ACTION COMICS)!

As a mysterious figure slinks through the halls of Arkham Asylum, Batman must fight his way through a gauntlet of psychos, and Bruce Wayne faces the unexpected legal ramifications of Batman Incorporated!


Oh, yeah...I'm dropping this book.

The Flash #1 - $2.99
Art and cover by FRANCIS MANAPUL
Variant cover by IVAN REIS and TIM TOWNSEND

The Fastest Man Alive returns to his own monthly series from the writer/artist team of Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato! The Flash knows he can't be everywhere at once, but what happens when he faces an all-new villain who really can! As if that's not bad enough, this villain is a close friend!

Good start. It was more compelling, and made Barry Allen more of an interesting character, than Geoff John's series. I'm assuming Manapul is plotting. If so, nice job. He seems to understand that The Flash is all about movement, and keeping a flow going. Well done.

I also have to admit, sacking the Barry/Iris marriage, and inserting another possible love interest perked things up a lot. I like how Iris seems to assume a lot with Barry, and Barry's just kind of confused by it. Drama, man...

Superman #1 - $2.99
Breakdowns and cover by GEORGE PÈREZ

The new adventures of Superman begin here! What is The Man of Steel's startling new status quo? How does it affect Lois Lane and The Daily Planet? There's no time for answers now, because Superman must stop a monstrous threat to Metropolis – one that he somehow is the cause of!

Still hate the suit. It's just too much blue. The red belt sets it off a little better (better than the suit for the new movie, anyway), but it just makes it look boring.

I had a friend say that Perez's dialogue sucked, but I don't agree. I felt it was a real classic comic book feel, and really the "ripped from the headlines" element flows a bit better than in Action, simply because the whole story is about it. It's a dense, classic, type of issue. Very little decompression. Perez shoves a lot of story into these 22 pages. I appreciate that, a lot.

I'm sad he won't be with the title longer...