Casting Internets

Writing, writing, writing, I did lots of writing. For CBR I covered Planetoid and Enormous.

Meanwhile, for Marvel I wrote about Ryan Stegman taking over on Fantastic Four, Jamie McKelvie taking over Defenders, Fred Van Lente’s issue of Hulk Smash Avengers, a Harley Davidson Avengers comic and Stegman’s Five Favorite Avengers.

In writing-my-friends-have-done news, Sean T. Collins not only reviewed Shia LaBeouf’s minicomics for The Comics Journal, but also interview the writer and artist for Rolling Stone. I think I might download one or two of these for my Fire. Expendables MiniMates are now a thing! Think of all the customizing options now!

Beer makes men smarter. Yes. Good. (via Esquire)

THR says that Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson are going to be in a new comedy shooting soon called Internship. Love those guys together.

I don’t have HBO, so I won’t be seeing Girls for a while, but I’m excited to. This THR interview with Judd Apatow from last week helped.

Finally got around to reading this Rolling Stone article from 1986 about the Monkees resurgence and reunion that they posted after Davy Jones passed away. I actually saw them on that tour with my parents and remember being personally insulted that Mike Nesmith didn’t do the tour.

Rolling Stone also talked to former Hole guitarist Eric Erlandson about his upcoming poem book Letters To Kurt about Nirvana frontman Cobain. Sounds like an interesting project.

Erlandson also spoke to FuseTV and revealed that Cobain was working on a White Album-esque solo record when he died. Someone needs to get that into existence so I can hear it.

Less interesting to me than the fact that Stephen King is writing a amusement park serial killer novel called Joyland is that Neil Gaiman wrote about hanging out with him and and Joe Hill.

I really like Glen Brogan’s Where’s Waldo-inspired Jason wallpaper that you can download for free on Strange Kids Club.

Hey, remember the Hives? They have a new record coming out soon! (via RS)

I’m not the biggest fan of the name Thrillbent, but I am very excited to see what Mark Waid and John Rogers have planned for digital comics. This could be the future, folks.

In other digital comics news, DC is doing an out-of-continuity Batman comic that will be purely digital. Better yet? Jeff Parker is writing! (via Robot 6)

I’ve been enjoying the Only The Young Die Young Tumblr for a while now. So many great pictures and tracks posted on a daily basis. The guy who runs the site is in a band called The Agenda and recently posted all or most of their songs which I’ve really been digging these past few days. I don’t really care about Banshee, but I do like the idea of how crazy his family is. Therefore, I’m a fan of Luca Pizzari’s Project: Rooftop redesign of the characters.

The description for the upcoming James Bond game 007 Legends is fairly vague, even with a very long press release, but I’m still excited. (via SHH)

How Seeing Van Halen Changed My Life (For Now)

I’ve talked about this both on The Monkee Diaries and over on Pop Poppa, but my dad and I went down to Madison Square Garden on March 1st to see Van Halen play. The whole shebang was a birthday present for me that was fantastic and I thank them both for making it happen. I’ve got to say, it was kind of a revelatory experience for several reasons, not the least of which was that we got to see one of the all time greatest guitar players of all time playing better than he has in years. Eddie Van Halen has gone through some well publicized struggles with substance abuse that have turned a legitimate guitar god into a guy who can barely remember songs while playing in front of thousands of people. It seems like he’s gottenĀ  himself cleaned up and genuinely had fun playing music with his brother, son and old pal David Lee Roth.

And that’s kind of what stuck with me after the show–in addition to the fact that he looked good with longer hair and inspired me to keep working with mine instead of chopping it all off–he was having fun. Here was a dude who’s done pretty much everything a rock and roll icon can do and he’s standing on stage in a T-shirt and jeans just killing the audience, annihilating us.

I realized that I want to do that. Not wail on a guitar, though I do enjoy turning my volume way up and banging out some tunes, but not up to his level. I want to enjoy myself through my work. One of the problems with being a freelancer for the same place for an extended period of time is that you can very easily get stuck on autopilot. When I worked at ToyFare and then later did freelance for them, I found myself falling into the same patterns of writing over and over and over again, almost like filling in the parts of an equation. But, that’s not necessary. There’s always more fun and life you can inject into something, whether it’s figuring out a new word for “said” or challenging yourself to find creative ways to stay in the present tense.

I also realized that I have a lot more control over how happy I feel on a daily basis than I was letting myself believe. I think I have a bit of Seasonal Defective Disorder and get down in the dumps during the winter without even realizing it. I think I’m feeling fine, but a few months later when the sun starts shining and the snow melts, you realize that you were not in fact feeling great. The weather has turned pretty nice where I live and it was timed perfectly with the concert. I decided that there were two many things I was letting slide in my normal life. I spent so much time focusing on the baby or work that I wasn’t taking as much care of myself as I should have. Showers would fall to the wayside as would the vitamins I take because I don’t get outside as much as I should. As regular readers here and on my other blogs will note, so would posting, which is something I do quite enjoy. So, I made a daily checklist of tasks I want to tackle and have been sticking to that pretty well. I also set up different household chores to do during each day of the week to help keep the house in better shape. These are little things and I can move them around if need be, but I do very much enjoy crossing things off lists, so this method works for me. Another key is that I don’t beat myself up too bad for not crossing something off. Failing one day isn’t failing life, you know?

But, and this is more directly related back to watching Eddie do what he loves in front of thousands of people, I realized I needed to make my creative endeavors a bigger priority in my life. A lot of that fell to the side with the baby and me being tired after a day of working and babywatching. I’ve refocused myself with much more defined goals. I want to finish the novel I’m working on. I want to edit the screenplays I’ve been sitting on for a year. I want to record at least three songs that I’ve been playing for pretty much myself for years. I want to move on to writing other ideas I’ve had forever. I want to start a podcast. There’s a lot of creative things I want to do just for the sake of being creative and getting ideas out there that I now am a lot more focused on.

And it’s all thanks to a concert. I know it sounds silly, it sounds a little silly to me too. I’ve been to lots of concerts and none of them hit me anywhere near this way. But, I think I was just in the perfect place to learn something from someone who’s lived longer than me and done a lot. So, while I know I’ll never meet Eddie Van Halen or maybe even see him again live in concert, I thank him for being a good example, sticking with what he loved and playing a mean guitar.

Doc Double Feature: Too Tough To Die (2006) & Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop (2011)

After watching roughly a metric butt-ton of horror movies and almost nothing else in the month of October, I was looking forward to watching something a little different. While scanning my Netflix Instant queue I came across a movie that caught my attention: Too Tough To Die: A Tribute To Johnny Ramone. The second part of the title didn’t come through on my screen or maybe I just missed it, but I was sold anyway. You could show me pretty much any picture of Johnny playing guitar in one of his awesome stances and I’d bite. As it turns out, TTTD is equal parts tribute concert for a man about to pass away and brief biography of one of the greatest bands of all time as told by famous fans and the people who were there to see it happen.

Basically, before passing away from pancreatic cancer in 2004, Johnny Ramone planned a tribute concert to his already fallen bandmates Johnny and Dee Dee to celebrate the band’s 30th anniversary. He himself couldn’t make it, but he had a hand in nearly every detail from asking his pal Rob Zombie to MC the whole thing to getting bands like The Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Dickies and X to perform and even guys like Henry Rollins, Steve Jones, Eddie Vedder, Pete Yorn and others to get together and play some of the Ramones greatest hits along with some deep cuts. The concert was a lot of fun, though I don’t see the appeal of X (maybe they didn’t age well) and I’m always a huge fan of seeing seemingly disparate musicians coming together to share their influences. Would you have thought Yorn was a fan? Maybe not, but hearing him sing “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” made perfect sense (though he looked a little funny playing one of the Ramones signature style guitars).

Between songs, the performers along with others like Debbie Harry and the Ramones’ original managers talked about the band coming together and the impact they had on music. I’m by no means a Ramones expert, but the movie does a good job of filling in the basic details. I knew most of them going in, so I followed along nicely, but I’m not sure if the same could be said for someone completely unfamiliar with the band. Still, you should watch this flick to get an idea.

Johnny passed away two days after the tribute concert and many of the people interviewed think he hung on just to make sure the show went off without a hitch. It was really touching seeing many of the people interviewed in the movie eulogize Johnny. It wound up being an interesting doc because, even though he was the main focus of the discussion, Johnny only showed up in archival interviews and recordings, so you wind up completely seeing this man through the eyes of his friends and family, even though he was alive for at least part of the filming.

After being really bummed out all over again by Johnny’s passing, I grabbed my electric guitar and started wailing on it. I played a few songs that I’ve had in my head forever in a power chord, punk rock tempo and by the end of a quick session my hands hurt, I was sweating and my heart was racing. It felt good. I imagine Johnny and the Ramones felt something similar but magnified a million times on stage. That’s why punk rock is awesome, anyone can do it with a guitar and a few chords.

Moving from the Ramones to Conan O’Brien might seem kind of strange, but the two movies shared not only a thematic relationship, but also a common guest in the form of Eddie Vedder. Basically, Conan was totally punk rock last year. He not only turned down a multimillion dollar deal to move his show back an hour, but after he did so, he went on a DIY tour of the country with a band, skits and guest spots. Sure, he had a team behind him, but he was loyal to them throughout the entire thing and vice versa. It’s not exactly the same as The Ramones slogging through the mean streets of NYC, but it took a lot of integrity and hard work to make it happen.

Can’t Stop follows Conan from the end of his stint on the Tonight Show through the announcement of his Legally Prohibited From Being Funny On Television Tour and all the dates. You actually get to see the moment he sent out the tweet announcing the tour, which was pretty cool to see from the opposite end of things. I followed Conan throughout these days, so now I feel like I know what was going on on his end but also what he was going through.

The real meat of the documentary isn’t seeing Conan and his crew of writers figure out the jokes or him working out and playing songs with the band, but what the tour, being funny and leaving the Tonight Show really mean to the funny man. I heard Conan interviewed by Marc Maron on his wonderful WTF Podcast, so I kind of had a preview of the man behind the smile on TV, so it wasn’t as much of a surprise to see him freaked out after a show or having trouble with certain members of his staff. You tend to think of Conan as a guy who’s always smiling and making jokes, but that’s not the case. If you want to get a real look at the man, watch this movie and then check out the WTF episode…and then all the others, that’s the best damn podcast around.

Music Musings: Bonnaroo 2002

My actual ticket stub.

I originally wanted to write this post the week leading up to this year’s Bonnaroo, but I got busy. As it turns out, though, I’m writing this on the 9 year anniversary of the first day of the very first Bonnaroo. Yeah, I went to there. It was the summer after my first year of college and earlier in the year, while I was home on break, my buddy Toth told me about this new festival in Tennessee. It was three days, tickets were $100 and that included camping spots. I wasn’t the biggest jam band fan in the world, but the line up seemed interested enough and I liked the idea of being able to tell people I went to the first of something I figured would wind up being a pretty big deal (I guess I was right on that point). To make matters better, Toth figured we could head down to Nashville for a few days and then drive the next hour to Manchester and watch the show. Seemed like a good plan to me.

Our days in Nashville were pretty fun, though would have been even better had we been 21. I have a very distinct memory of walking down the main street wherever we were and hearing all this different music coming out of the bars and clubs that we couldn’t get into. We did however find a Charlie Daniels museum (I love the Charlies Daniels Band), ate at a Hard Rock Cafe, went to a few record stores and also got some “rock star clothes” as Toth called them. I still have the redish pink 70s pants and bright green button down shirt I bought there. I also remember having a conversation about this new show called American Idol. Toth thought it was a big deal and I thought it was BS. Guess I was wrong about that one.

Our Nashville Hotel Room

On the morning of June 21st, 2002 we packed our crap up, stocked up on food at a grocery store and then went to make the hour-or-so drive down to Bonnaroo. Seems pretty simple, right? Heh. No way. Instead of taking the hour that Mapquest told us it would, we wound up being stuck in traffic for 7 or 8 hours. I’ll be honest, I can’t remember the exact amount of time because it’s been so long and I was kind of losing it at the time. I don’t know if it was the wide open space, the insane gridlock or the fact that no one else seemed to think this was a big deal, but I was starting to have a serious panic attack as traffic all but stopped. I was very seriously doing the math in my head, trying to figure out how long it would take us to get home if I just turned around and started driving. How mad would Toth be? How would I pay him back? My better judgement won over and I wound up just sitting it out. To give you an idea of how slow the traffic was moving, people were getting out of their cars and tossing the frisbee around for 15-20 minutes spurts and only had to move a few feet to catch up to their car. It was insane.

Toth, The Camp Site & My Old Van

Eventually we got in, though and went to our camp site. As you can see from the pic, they were basically as wide as a car and twice as long. Toth had a ton of camping equipment like the tent, chairs, a grill, the awning, the whole works, plus he knew how to cook on the camp stove, so we were pretty set. We had a pretty good set up across from some older biker-looking people from Chicago who I remember talking about quitting heroin,or “H” as they called it. That kind of freaked me out, but they seemed nice enough. Again, I’m relying on memories that are a decade old that were probably fuzzy to begin with thanks to poor sleep, a lack of showers and (I assume) some kind of contact high. While I didn’t partake in anything while there, there was plenty around being imbibed freely. I even saw a guy with two different colored eyes. I guess they could have been contacts, but he looked REALLY messed up.When we got to the actual gate, we were given a schedule and a map to help us find our way around. I don’t have it here in NY otherwise I would scan it. I believe the camping areas essentially surrounded the concert area which was split between four stages of increasing size. At least one–and I think two–were under huge tents while the larger two were just gigantic, open air venues. I remember having a general feeling of calm and ease while there even though it was beastly hot and really big. Everyone seemed cool and I saw all kinds of things I had never seen before, from the guy with the crazy eyes to some of the wildest frisbee catches I’ve ever seen. And that’s not even taking the music into account.

The Stadium, Bonnaroo's largest venue that year

Thankfully, I wrote about my experiences at the show on my old website which is still around thanks to Angelfire (that’s also where I swiped all these pictures from). According to that, these are the bands I saw along with some modern day commentary.

Friday

Big Wu
Jim White
Umphrey’s McGee
Les Claypool’s Flying Frog Brigade
Gov’t Mule
Widespread Panic (the first set)
Keller Williams Incident (kinda)
Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe (for a few minutes)

I couldn’t tell you thing one about Big Wu or Jim White. You’ll see me writing that a lot in the next few paragraphs, but I think it’s because I wasn’t familiar with most of the music going in, so there aren’t a lot of touchstones. However Umphrey’s McGee made a big impact on me. They really impressed me and I still remember their show as being my favorite. It was in one of the smaller venues and I think we got pretty close to the stage. We saw Frog Brigade from way back, but it was rad seeing Buckethead play. Gov’t Mule and Panic are mysteries, but I do remember sitting on the side of the tent for Keller’s show and peeking under to see what we could see. I actually really regret not sticking around for Karl Denson’s set. It was one of the late night ones and I actually had listened to one of his records, but I think I didn’t want to be on my own that late. Such a wuss…

Saturday

Ben Harper (solo)
Jack Johnson
String Cheese Incident (I think)
Jurassic 5
Col. Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains
moe (the first set)

Harper played the largest stage they had all by himself. I wasn’t really familiar with his music at the time, but that really impressed me. I don’t believe Jack Johnson was a big deal at the time I saw him, but I do remember him bringing out a 6 or 7 year old Australian girl named Scarlet to play drums at one point. I have no recollection of String Cheese Incident, but Jurassic 5 was awesome. That was my first and only hip hop live show experience. Maybe I was thinking of Bucket of Bernie Brains when it came to seeing Buckethead? moe was the late night show that night and it was pretty cool. Toth and I met some nice people while waiting for them to go on. I think the band was an hour or so late (which anal retentive me did not appreciate), but we all wound up talking bootlegs for a while which was cool. I think Toth stuck around for the second set, but I was exhausted and headed back to the camp site.

Sunday

Ween
Bela Flech & Edgar Meyer
Phil & Friends with Bob Weir
Superjam
Trey Anastasio

Ween is another one I have zero memory of, though I know I was interested in checking them out because some dudes I worked with in high school were HUGE Ween fans. I remember being in the thick of things for Phil & Friends, but am not a Dead fan, so it was another “I have to say I was there” kind of a thing. I wandered away from all that craziness and hung out towards the back of the second biggest stage to check out the Superjam which I remember being really sick. The last show of the night was Phish’s Trey Anastasio playing with his then-new band. At the time, Phish had “broken up” and word around the festival was that Phish would be reuniting. That wasn’t the case, of course as Trey went on and played with his big band. I wasn’t all that interested in this particular show and really didn’t feel like wading through a literal sea of people, so I hung back at the camp site while Toth went and watched. I was able to get one of the camping chairs up on the roof of the van and wound up watching from there. It was actually a pretty awesome moment. I’d love to watch more concerts that way.

The Arena, Bonnaroo's second largest stage

By Sunday, I was more than ready to get the hell out of Tennessee. I had had a good time, but that was a completely different kind of living than I was used to. I had spent the whole time in a uniform of cargo shorts (the same pair I believe) and white under shirts. The cargo shorts were important because I could put water bottles in the extra pockets. Man was it hot. Oh and showerless. There were a few rigged-up sinks that helped a little, but I had never been that sweaty and gross for so long.

Phil & Friends with Bob Weir on stage

We had decided–thanks to my prodding, I’m sure–to head home right after Trey’s set. My plan was to get out of there and drive for as long as I could before needing to get a hotel room and sleep.That’s not how it actually went down, though. It took Toth a while to get back because of all the people, but then it took three hours just to get out. My figuring was that that was still better than what it would have been like the next day. I only got an hour away from Manchester before needing to stop. The hotel we wound up stopping at must have made a killing that night because they charged us for a full night even though it was late and we had to be out by 10 or 11 the next morning and we were definitely not the only Bonnaroo attendees staying there. At the end of the day, though, we didn’t care because we got to sleep in an actual bed and even got to take showers. I’m fairly certain that was the best shower I’ve ever had. I also had the best chicken sandwich of my life the next morning at a nearby Cracker Barrel.

Looking back, I’m really glad I stuck with it and didn’t let my craziness get in the way of a really interesting and fun experience that left me with a lot of memories, even if most of them don’t have much to do with the music itself. Toth went back to Bonnaroo a few times after that, but I bowed out. I spent a ridiculous amount of money that summer between the Tennessee trip, visiting the future-missus in New Hampshire for a few weeks and buying a guitar (the last one I bought now that I think about it). Would I go back again? Yes. But only if I was taken in via helicopter or didn’t have to deal with all that traffic thanks to a parachute drop or some such.

Music Mondays: KISS

Before 7th grade I wasn’t much of a KISS fan. Sure, I liked “Rock and Roll All Night” and “Detroit Rock City” as much as the next kid who was learning about rock and roll for the first time, but aside from that they weren’t really on my radar. Then they reunited with all four original members (Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehly and Peter Criss) in 1997 and kicked off a tour. My dad–a huge rock fan in his own right who helped introduce me to all kinds of classic rock from the 60s and 70s–brought the idea up to me: “Do you want to see KISS?” I thought about it for about two seconds, said yes and then we started trying to get tickets through the Ticketmaster at Kroger (I don’t believe Ticketmaster was online at that time and if they were, waiting for dial-up to load on our Compaq would have taken longer than the several dozen phone calls I made trying to get through to Ticketmaster). Unfortunately, we didn’t get through and figured we’d have to wait until the next time they came to town.

Later that week, on the way home from dinner or church, we pulled into another grocery store with a Ticketmaster (Food Town, I believe) and my dad ran in. Turns out they had released another group of tickets that were really great seats (up in the stands to the right if you were onstage, but right by the railing). He snatched two up and we were set to go to my very first rock concert. And holy shit, was it amazing. There are plenty of better bands out there in the world than KISS, but I think you’d be hard pressed to find a band that puts on a better stage show. They started playing and it was awesome, then, out of nowhere, a whole wall of speakers raised up behind them, but that was just the beginning. There was fire and flying and blood and the members of the bend coming out on these extending platforms and playing above the crowd (right near us in fact) and it was just awesome, like going to the circus, really. I also think that was the show where the guy next to my dad asked if “your friend” (meaning me) wanted a hit from the dude’s joint. He told the guy that I was his son and the guy was like “Oh, okay, do you want a hit?” My dad declined, but it’s still a funny story. After that, I was hooked. Not so much on the music, but the whole idea of KISS. In fact, I own more toys based on the band than actual KISS CDs (the only ones I own are the greatest hits Double Platinum and their post-reunion original Psycho Circus. Hell I even had a KISS tie (the third from the left in the picture above). See, I went to an all guy Catholic high school where we had to wear a shirt and tie every day, but they didn’t care what ties. I distinctly remember sitting in class one time and this dude leans over and says “Hey, KISS sucks,” like it was going to destroy my world. I looked at him and said “No shit, but they put on an awesome show.” He then said they weren’t as good as Jimi Hendrix which made me want to dope slap him and say “No shit,” but I didn’t. Sure, I’d rather see Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd live in concert because they are and were amazing musicians and bands, but that’s not happening so I’ll take what I can get. Like I said, the action figures from Todd McFarlane came out at just the right time because I was not only a huge comic and toy geek, but also getting into KISS. There’s not much of a leap from liking superheroes to liking KISS what with their masks, crazy costumes and that fact that toys were being made of them and of course every geek worth his salt knows that Simmons borrowed elements of Blackbolt’s costume for his stage look. I got all of the above figures and still have them in a box in our storage unit along with a few others. I think my dad may have gotten them for me for Christmas or my birthday or something. It was cool because he was never into toys or comics, but this was an easy bridge for us to meet on. Soon enough their highly anticipated (eh maybe just somewhat anticipated) new record Psycho Circus came out and the band went on another tour that my dad and I got tickets for, but this time we took my dad’s brother and his son who’s about three years younger than me with us. Ted Nugent opened for them which was awesome and then KISS came out and did their thing. I think my dad and I were into it way more than my cousin and uncle, but what are you gonna do? I don’t remember that show as vividly, but I know I had a good time and anticipated all the gags I remembered from the first time around and wasn’t disappointed. There’s something about sitting in your seat and feeling the heat from the pyrotechnics that just screams ROCK to me. I even like the record, especially the song “We Are One.”Such a fan was I that I even picked up a bootleg copy of the TV movie KISS Meets The Phantom Of The Park which is awesomely bad and ridiculous. I wish I had my copy here in New York because I really want to watch it for my upcoming daily horror movie double feature throughout October. The only scene I really remember is one where the band (or maybe just Gene) are sitting on director’s chairs outside and some guy runs up to them. Man, it’s bad, but perfectly so.

Anyway, my love affair with KISS would not last forever. Eventually Gene and Paul became too much to work with and Peter and Ace bounced (or were bounced? I don’t recall) from the band and I didn’t really care about seeing them live anymore (what’s the point of seeing impostors once you’ve seen the real thing?). Plus, I went to realize what an asshole Gene Simmons is. I always knew he was a world class hustler getting the KISS name on everything from coffins to condoms, but I’d learn from various sources that he’s also an asshole. The last nail in the coffin for my fandom was seeing his “reality show” Gene Simmons’ Family Jewels which stated off as what seemed like a look at a fairly down to earth family who just happen to be famous and wealthy and turned into one of the worst, stagey reality shows I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen a lot of them). Oh and then his son plagiarized a bunch of manga for his comics or whatever. Blech.

So, while I wouldn’t call myself a die-hard KISS fan anymore, I still have a lot of fond memories from the band thanks to their tours and every now and then I’ll smile when one of their songs comes up on my iPod’s shuffle mix, but I don’t think I’d call myself a fan anymore. They served their purpose and really built a concert bond between my dad and I that I hope we can continue at some point (the last show we went to together was The Who’s tour right after bass player John Entwistle died back in 2002), so for that I’ll always be thankful.