Ad It Up: Video Game Tip Books (Silver Surfer #43, 1990)

I got really excited when I saw this ad in Silver Surfer #43 from 1990. Yes, part of the reason is because I had those first three books along the bottom. The first thing that jumped out at me was the armored guy fighting the lizard thing, but then I saw the covers and was taken down memory lane. I remember pouring over these books trying to figure out how to get a little further in one of the games I owned or was renting.

But, what’s more interesting and personal to me is that fact that my aunt Lynn actually worked at Hayden Books in Indiana and she gave me the books. I’m fairly certain that those were the first geeky things that I got for free from someone in the industry. It’s a thrilling feeling getting something like that. It’s cool knowing that the book or toy came directly from the people who made it and there’s of course the added bonus of either discovering something you never knew existed or getting something you really wanted without having to pay for it.

I still have these books somewhere, I think. It’s possible that I sold them off in a garage sale at one point, but I have a foggy memory of coming across one of them since college. I’d love to give them another look, that’d be a lot of fun. It should be noted that these books became a bit obsolete when the Game Genie finally came out.

Music Musings: How I Got Into Music

Recently, my love of music has been rekindled. I’ve always had an affinity for the medium and have never really left it behind, but for the last year or so, I’ve been decidedly less focused on listening to music in favor of watching movies while I work or listening to podcasts. With my recent work changes, I’ve also changed how I work, which now involves playing the old iPod instead of zoning out with a movie I don’t really care about. I’m still gonna watch some TV and movies during the day, but I’m also going to utilize my time to catch up on the tons of CDs I picked up this summer at flea markets and also revisit some old faves. I’ve also been playing my guitar and bass a lot more often which has been a great stress reliever and a lot of fun. With that in mind, I figured it might be interesting to talk about how I got into listening to music.

I don’t remember much about music before around the 6th grade. I know my mom tended towards the classic, oldies radio stations when we’d drive around and my dad was more into classic rock, so I had a pretty broad base growing up, but it took me a while to go after music on my own aside from asking for MC Hammer tapes for my birthday. I don’t remember exactly when I got my first CD-playing boombox, but I think it was around 1992 because the first three CDs I got to go along with it were Kriss Kross’ Totally Krossed Out, the Aladdin soundtrack and a Disney disc called For Our Children with covers of children’s songs by artists like Little Richard, Bob Dylan and a slew of others. Pretty eclectic. Oddly enough, I don’t have any of those three discs in my collection anymore, having sold Kriss Kross in a garage sale and passed the two Disney discs along to my folks, though I might have to get them back for my kid to listen to. I would have been 9 around that time.

My second discman, Christmas 1998. Age 15, be nice.

My¬† musical evolution has a few distinct memories from those early days, but mostly a lot of fog. I’ve mentioned going to see KISS with my dad in 1997 and I have very distinct memories of sitting in the back of Mrs. White’s classroom in 7th grade during free time with my friend Jimmy listening to CDs on our Discmen and doodling. I did a lot of doodling back in the day and had great fun coming up with various lists of my favorite bands. During the last few summers of my grade school years, I remember watching MTV even though I wasn’t supposed to and probably did so when I was alone after school as well. I remember having a hard time mapping out the history of rock and roll in my brain because there was just so much going on (and I knew almost nothing about punk or funk, so it would only get bigger and more unwieldy as I got older). Wait, so the Beatles broke up BEFORE John Lennon was killed? How is it possible that Eric Clapton was in SO MANY bands?! Getting a subscription to Guitar World in high school really helped. That mag was like a history book for rock and roll.

The extent of my punk rock knowledge in 1999. So weird...

Jimmy was a pretty big influence on my listening habits. I got into bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers and Alice In Chains thanks to him. We also both dug 70s music because both our dads were into that kinda stuff. I would raid my dad’s CD collection and listen to Led Zeppelin, The Beatles and the like. At some point I also got my own turntable and borrowed a bunch of my dad’s vinyl which had a lot of 50s/60s pop records and introduced me one of my favorite bands of all time: The Ventures. Eventually, I’d start hitting up the used CD stores like CD Warehouse to add to my collection. For Christmas one year, my parents bought me a CD player that could hold 51 CDs, like a juke box. You would slide the CD booklets into a book so you’d know which ones were where and could even hit the random button and just let them run wild. Eventually, the CD selector arm stopped working and iPods came into play, but that stereo served me well all the way through college.

First with the help of the boom box and later the stereo, I also started listening to some Toledo and Detroit rock stations. I was pretty anti-rap, pop and country at that point for whatever reason (close mindedness, lack of experience, whatever you want to call it), so it was mostly 104.7 which was classic rock, 106.5 Buzz FM (alternative and classic) and Detroit’s 89X which introduced me to a lot of 90s bands and also played more than just the regular singles. I discovered this in the last few years after giving the missus’ Our Lady Peace records a listen and realizing I knew more songs than I should have.

By the time I got to high school I had seen KISS and Aerosmith with my dad, I’d soon win tickets to see Black Sabbath from one of the aforementioned radio stations and would add a bunch of music enthusiasts to my group of friends who would bolster my fandom and exploration even further. Going to concerts was a fairly regular occurrence with us (I miss those days a lot) and we had a ton of fun. We’d also talk about music more than was probably healthy, but what else are you supposed to talk about at an all guy Catholic high school?My freshman year (1998 or so) a group of us attended our school’s Battle of the Bands and were so inspired that we decided to form a band. Since one friend had a guitar and one a drum set, it came down to me to learn bass. So I did. I rented a black Fender Squier and an amp for a little while, took lessons from a guy named Ed who thought my dad’s first name was mine and eventually bought my own bass at a store’s semi-annual going out of business sale. Eventually, I’d switch teachers and get a really good one named Jason who I would go to for the rest of my high school career. It took awhile and a lot of effort, but we finally put a band together Sophomore that had the friend who was going to play guitar on drums, a different singer, a new friend on guitar and the one who was going to play drums too busy to participate because he was doing musicals. We practiced a lot, went through two lead singers (the musical dude eventually became the singer) and played a few parties, but nothing too fancy. It was a ton of fun. Senior year, we got our shit together, played Battle of the Bands and won. One of these days, I’ll figure out how to convert the VHS tape into YouTube clips to really embarrass everyone.

Bennet band practice.

Between playing music and learning more about it, I had a great time in high school as far as music was concerned. My buddy Chad, who would become the guitar player in the band (it was called The Pen Is Mightier, first, then Bennet after the singer change in case you were wondering) helped me get even further into classic rock, by really introducing me to Pink Floyd and some other bands. The summer after my sophomore year of high school, I started working at Barry’s Bagel Place and would continue to on and off until I moved out to New York to work at Wizard. That was a whole other world of music to get exposed to thanks to all kinds of new people of all different ages with different tastes. That’s where I discovered the Buzzcocks! The bakers got to choose the music played in the back and they had a big effect on what I was listening to as did this dude Matt who I worked up front with. He was a big fan of classic rock. But, the biggest influence on my at that time was working down the strip mall from my beloved Boogie Records, an independent record store that sold new and used CDs, records, DVDs, patches, the whole shebang. I can’t tell you how many laps I did around those racks before the place closed down when I was in college, but I wound up buying all kinds of CDs from them. It wasn’t until well after Kurt Cobain died that I really got into Nirvana. I had picked Nevermind a while before, but at some point I got really into them and went back and bought all their CDs at Boogie and even got a rad interview disc called The Bark Not The Bite that I should give another listen to. My tastes tended towards rock, classic and alternative including the growing pop punk of the day, but not much into metal or the nu-metal that was popping up all around me. While some of my friends got into Korn, I never could. I guess I wasn’t angry enough. Plus. those dudes always seemed like posers to me anyway.

Not my actual hair style in college, the ladies had fun with me then I played pourly, but looked cool.

In college, I had much less money to spend on music, but I did expand my horizons, slowly getting into blues, hip hop, country and jazz thanks to a class I took my senior year. I started with old school hip hop, outlaw country and general blues but I was liking it all. I also dropped my outstanding dislike of pop music, deciding it’s more fun to have fun with crappy pop music than it is to outright hate everything. Sure, there’s bad–really bad–pop music out there, but what’s the point of letting it upset you? Shitty music has always been around, it takes effort to work past that to get to the good stuff. While in college, the whole digital thing started happening, but I was mostly oblivious to it, preferring my CDs and, yes, my mini disc player. It wasn’t until right before I moved to NY and got my Mac that I discovered the joys of ripping all your music to a computer and a year or say later when the glorious iPod entered my life (it’s almost full now, which is kind of sad). Sometime around the end of high school, I decided I wanted a guitar and got a Squier Telecaster start-up pack, which I took with me, along with a bass, to college. I only ever played two gigs/shows/recitals in college but I liked having my gear around to play with. Still do.

Now I find myself with more CDs than I care to count, a small collection of records and an iPod nearly full of music with more to put on. I don’t really spend a lot of money on new music, but usually try new things out that I pick up at flea markets and garage sales. I’m generally cheap, so the idea of being able to get a disc for a few bucks is very appealing and allows me to try a lot of new things (for what it’s worth, I’m against pirating music). I’ve found a TON of 90s hip hop CDs at garage sales. The thing that still blows me away about music is how broad of a topic it can be. I used to think I knew a lot about a lot, but that was mostly all popular music. I know dudes who can talk for hours about bands I’ve never heard of.

So, what’s the point of this post aside from rambling scattershot about my history with music? Well, first off, it’s a way of me telling you that I’m going to be writing more about music on the blog. Music Mondays will now be Music Musings because I’m not sure if posts will always go up on Mondays. I’m also planning on actually doing record reviews on a more regular basis and documenting my exploration of new-to-me music genres like 80s music (to a 90s alternakid, the 80s were one big joke, but there’s obviously a lot of good stuff in there). For a brief period of time I got paid to do this kind of stuff, which was a life long dream. I’m hoping that my newfound enthusiasm for music will combine with this crazy blogging addiction I seem to have and make for some interesting posts. If not, well, I’ll probably just quit doing them and post more music videos or something.

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.

Music Mondays: Fountains Of Wayne

I’ve done some moving around on the recurring feature schedule I made for myself recently. I’m dropping Crossovers I Want To See as a weekly feature because, frankly, I’m not sure if it’s the kind of thing that isn’t going to get old really quick. I also never got into doing a weekly record review on Fridays, but I still want to talk about music on a regular basis, so I’m changing the focus and moving it to Mondays, hence Music Mondays. There will be record review elements, but also more personal anecdotes involving various bands. The first entry will revolve around Fountains Of Wayne, a band I mentioned in last week’s Supergroup Showcase about Tinted Windows.

There aren’t many bands out there that I remember exactly when I first heard them, but it just so happens the the night I staid up watching MTV’s 120 Minutes and discovered Man…Or Astroman?! I also saw the video for FOW’s “Denise” off their second record called Utopia Parkway. This was probably around 1999 when that record came out, so I would have been 16. I was instantly taken in by their awesome pop rock sound. Soon enough I bought Utopia Parkway and then eventually found their first, self titled record at my beloved Boogie Records. I even got my friend Matt into them, which was fun. In fact, I believe I found their first album at the library first ad listened to it a bunch before finding the used copy. Anyway, it was fun to get into a band with a good friend who also had good taste in music.

The band consists mainly of Chris Collingwood (far right, above) and Adam Schlesinger (far left, above) on guitar and bass. These guys are the brains behind the operation as they’re the main songwriters. Collingwood also sings, offering his versatile vocals to the tracks. The guy has proven that he can sing in every style from mournful longing to country warbling and good old fashioned rock and roll. Jody Porter (second from right, above) acts as the other guitar player and Bryan Young (the other one) plays drums. These guys come together to create beautifully eclectic records that zoom in on real life from the heartbreak of breaking up to the mind-numbingness of working a crappy job. I defy you to listen to a FOW record and not relate to most of, if not all of, the songs. I always describe FOW as “What pop music should be.” What I meant by that is that it felt like the natural progression from 60s pop and 80s New Wave, skipping all the bad stuff including the late 90s pop I was being subjected to at the time.

Of course, just as I started getting into them and started spreading the records amongst my friends, the band went on a few year long hiatus. During the break Schlesinger helped write the original songs for the Josie and the Pussycats flick. At the time I started getting heavily into bootleg trading online. This was back when you had to actually swap discs, I assume you just send digital files back and forth now with the use of FTPs or YouSendIt. I eventually found some people swapping live FOW shows and got my hands on an in-store Sam Goody acoustic set they did on 5-5-99 and a lesser quality regular live set from a place called The Shelter in Detroit on 7-15-99. Both are still in my regular listening rotation.

Soon enough I would go away to college in Delaware, Ohio. A few months into my sophomore year, I read that they were playing in Cleveland at a place called Peabody’s. I immediately told my buddies Matt and Charlie who were going to school in nearby Columbus, Ohio and more importantly, had access to a car. The three of us made plans to go to the show on 11-12-2002 and I even got introduced to OK Go, another band I would wind up loving. Luckily I did a concert review on my old website, so here’s my review from back then:

FOW is one of my favorite current bands, so I was stoked as hell when I found out they were touring. As I said earlier, we drove all the way to Cleveland (from the Columbus area) to see them. After OK Go finished up, some people moved around and we ended up being one person from the stage. I could have literally reached up and touched Chris. It was amazing. Actually, I wouldn’t have been able to touch him because he’s a very tall man. Their set blew me away. It had all the songs I wanted to hear “Leave the Biker” (my personal favorite), “Utopia Parkway,” and “Denise.” The only song I really wish they would have played and didn’t was “Lazer Show,” but I was by no means disappointed. They played three or four songs from their upcoming album that sounded great. Two songs that stood out were “Bright Future in Sales” and “Stacy’s Mom Has Got It Goin On.” Usually I don’t like it when a band plays songs that I haven’t heard yet, but it was different this time. The songs were so good they made me want to go out and buy the album. They closed the show with “Sink to the Bottom” (I think). Right after they left one of my friends reached up and took three pics from the pic holder on the microphone. Do I feel bad about this? Nope. I’ve got a FOW pic, even if Chris didn’t use it, it’s still cool. By the way, Jody looks like a true rock star, a combination of Keith Richards and Jimmy Page. As a whole the band was tight and performed amazingly. They didn’t quite have the energy of OK Go, but their music is also a lot more mellow. This very well could have been my all time favorite concert.

It really was a great show. I had seen some huge bands by that time, but they were the first one that I felt like I really discovered and followed (even though, yes, I discovered them on MTV). That upcoming album I mentioned would turn out to be 2003’s Welcome Interstate Managers and it would turn out to be my favorite of the group so far. The first three songs on the record “Mexican Wine,” “Bright Future In Sales,” and “Stacey’s Mom” are killer pop rock songs. “Hey Julie” would go on to be a favorite of the missus’ and even her ringtone. Heck, I even like “Valley Winter Song” at a time when I thought I hated county-ish music. Even though it’s a favorite, I’m still not a great fan of “Hailey’s Waitress,” but even the best records can’t be perfect. Matt and I saw the band in Detroit while touring behind this album, though I can’t remember exactly when.

In the last few years, we’ve gotten two more releases from the band. One, a two-disc collection of B-sides, outtakes and live tracks called Out-Of-State Plates came out in 2005 which also included their recording of “…Baby One More Time” a song their label passed to them and they recorded before Britney Spears got ahold of it and turned it into a gigantic hit. It’s not a bad record by any means, but there’s a reason many of these tracks aren’t on regular albums. It’s still fun to listen to, but not up to the same caliber as the regular records. Their last original record Traffic and Weather came out in 2007, another great, fun record that I still enjoy to this day, even after a sometimes-damaging heavy rotation in my car’s CD player for quite a while. I just discovered there’s a live DVD too, so I’ll have to check that out and hopefully a new record this year.

I can’t think of another band that I discovered during that time that still makes music I enjoy as much as the first records I heard. Most of the 90s bands I got into have seemed to have a dip in quality of their songs or have moved into stylistic places I’m not such a fan of, but Fountains Of Waynes’ diversity lends itself well to my aging along with them. Fun fact, after my Wizard internship, I was at home with my parents. The computer was kept in a hutch that also held the stereo. One day I was listening to Welcome Interstate Managers and “Little Red Light” popped on. I started freaking out because the song has a lyric that goes “New York to Nyack, feels like a hundred miles.” I had just spent nine weeks in Nyack so that was pretty awesome. They even refer to the Tappan Zee bridge which I had crossed a few times. It was cool to have lived in a place referenced in a song. That was a new feeling. Now I live in that area and still get a kick out of finding myself in more and more of the locations they sing about.

Conquering Mt. Fuji!!!

Hey gang, I know it’s been a while since I’ve talked about food, but I just had to share these photos with you guys. See, even since I moved out here four years ago, I’ve been seeing this building up on a mountain off of 87. From a distance it looked like some kind of crazy fortress or a club or mansion. Turns out it’s a restaurant called Mt. Fuji. Well, as a thank you for helping some friends move, we were treated to an amazing dinner at Mt. Fuji, which turns out to be a hibachi place (that’s where the chop everything at your table). I’ve been to one or two in my time, but not in a while and it was a great time. Thanks to my new phone I was able to snap some pictures, though I wish I had been video taping the whole thing, it was THAT awesome.

These are the crazy, Japanese style arches you cross through at the ground level before the long drive up the mountain (well, it’s not that long).

Here’s the front of the place along with Em and her dad from the back. Far as I know it looks pretty authentic.

There’s even a cool little waterfall right outside the place.

This one’s not really impressive, but I took it looking down on what I think is the direction I was always looking up at this place from. If nothing else, it shows how high up it is.

Here’s a crummy picture of the bar that I was trying to take on the sly. We waiting in this great lounge area that I could see spending many an evening given the time and resources.

Someone told the folks at the restaurant it was Em’s dad’s birthday so this dragon covered in bells tried to eat his head. Luckily, I jumped up in time to fight him off. No big deal.

Here’s a better view of the table (the metal part is the cooking surface). We had quite the party. Oh and the green tea martinis were delightful!

This weird monkey thing was out in the lobby on the way out. As you can see by my Perez Hilton-eque Photoshop work, it had a huge twig and berries.

I like to think that this awesome statue…

…is in the middle of a dance fight with this one.

I saw the lamp with the restaurant’s name on it as we were leaving and grabbed one last photo before heading out. A good time was had by all!

Don’t Worry, I’m Back

Hey Gang, I’m sure some of you were wondering where I disappeared to since my last post on Thursday. Well, I went back home to Toledo for my cousin Bryan’s wedding (to Megan, the latest addition to the Dietsch clan, welcome!). It was a lot of fun seeing family I hadn’t seen for quite awhile and finally being able to tell people I actually work in NYC now (for YEARS, I had to explain that I did not work in the city and did not actually make comic books, oi). After that we spent some time at my parents’ cottage where we saw some of those same family members again and we got visits from some friends from home. It was great seeing everyone and getting the chance to relax sans internet, but I’m back (though my laptop doesn’t seem to have faired so well thanks to the trip, I’m hoping the Mac Geniuses can fix it).

Anyway, I’m back, look for new posts soon (like in 5 minutes).