You wouldn’t know it to look at the blog here, but I’ve been reading a LOT lately. I’m working on a few posts that will cover my experiences reading Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter books while I also watched the series Hannibal and then the films, but they’re not ready yet. However, after finishing the book Hannibal, I found myself not wanting to get into Hannibal Rising, but still needed something to read. A buddy had just recommended Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One from 2011 and I figured why not? I really enjoyed the book, but a few things stuck with me in different ways. Continue reading Book Report: Ready Player One By Ernest Cline
I usually start a post like this commenting on where or when I got the book I’m reading, which is, in this case, Phil Ramone’s Making Records: The Scenes Behind The Music with Charles L. Granata. Honestly? I can’t remember in this case. The book came out in 2007 and I’ve had it in my garage for a while, so maybe it came from the discount area of Barnes & Noble or…who knows? What does matter, is that I moved this to the top of the To Read pile because, well, I wanted to.
I love reading books about music like Sonic Boom or Off My Rocker because everyone who was super into music has wildly unique stories about not just the making of records, but the people they worked with. As it happens, Phil Ramone not only helped revolutionize how records were made, but also worked on records by some of the most iconic and beloved musicians in the history of music including Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Barbara Streisand, Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon, Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, Elton John and plenty of others.
When I first started blogging back in 2008, it was for the now-defunct Wizard website. Up to that point I wasn’t particularly interested in the format, but seeing some of the other staffers get into it made me think about what I could offer (if anything). I remember heading down to New York Comic Con with a bunch of the writers and editors and asked then-web guru Jim Gibbons about starting my own and he stopped me dead in my tracks with a simple question: what would it be about? I told him I’d think about it and before long I had my angle: Kicking It Old School, a series of posts about older comics, movies, TV shows and the like and why they’re still great. It’s a pretty common type of blog on the ol’ Internets, but Wizard wasn’t doing one at the time so I got the thumb’s up and started at it. When I realized the end was coming for me at the company — and wanted to break out and do my own thing blogging-wise — I copied all those old posts and they can now be read under the KIOS category here on UM.
In a lot of ways, I’ve continued that theme over the years with UM, but I figured it would be fun to jump back into those waters for a full week here on the site by focusing every post this week on media that came out in a particular year. This time around it’s 1988 and I’ve got a lot of fun posts planned that fall into the usual headings of Ad It Up, Toy Commercial Tuesday, Trade Post, Halloween Scene, Friday Fisticuffs and maybe a few others.
Here’s a little photo hodge podge of images to give you an idea of what’s to come!
Why go to all this trouble? First off, I love a good theme. Second, I find that something like this helps focus me when it comes to reading and watching. It’s also fun to start with one particular piece (in this case the first volume of Mike Grell’s Green Arrow ongoing) and then figure out what else I can write about from that same year. It’s also interesting seeing different themes that cross over from comics to movies to music in a particular year. I won’t be doing this all the time, but I hope you guys enjoy the week of posts which begins later today with the return of Ad It Up and one of the greatest comics of all time, which just so happens to have been released in ’88.
When my buddy Rickey recommends I check out a movie, I do it. He also loved Housebound and also recommended I check out the excellent The Shortcut among many, many others over the years. So when he handed me a stack of horror DVDs, I decided to start immediately with Frank LaLoggia’s Fear No Evil.
I’d never heard of this film before, but it’s got elements of The Omen, Carrie, Night Of The Living Dead and even Grease. That might sound like rip-off-central, but the end result is a strangely unique, dark and creepy movie featuring the reincarnation of Lucifer as a high school nerd who raises the dead to help in his evil mission with a soundtrack featuring The Ramones, The Sex Pistols and The Talking Heads!
I went in knowing absolutely nothing about this film and unfamiliar with just about everyone involved, but was surprised by this tale of biblical epic that also marks LaLoggia’s very first directorial effort. I watched a DVD, but I can easily imagine a Blu-ray version that would look absolutely stunning (assuming there’s a good print bopping around somewhere).
Overall, there were just so many elements that I enjoyed about this film, that I’m just going to go through them for your reading pleasure. The main kid who plays Andrew-Lucifer (Stefan Arngrim) is just perfect in this part. He’s super weird and disconcerting, maybe a bit over-the-top, but we all knew a kid like that in high school. Speaking of the setting, it feels a little Grease-y (the main guy wears a leather jacket, his girlfriend an orange Pink Lady-esque shiny jacket). In fact, the boyfriend is a real piece of complicated work, with a macho pose, but an incredibly androgynous look. He even kisses Andrew in the shower in front of all of his friend at one point in one of the more surprising moments that could be unpacked for days. Oh, and again later after Andrew makes him grow breasts.
Other scenes that were surprising, but not in an exploitative way, include one where a baby starts bleeding during baptism, the use of a dog for an evil spell and the most bonkers dodge ball scene of all time. I’m not getting too far into the details of the film because I don’t quite remember everything, but I am very excited about it and want the world to get in on this train. Do yourself a favor and go check Fear No Evil out as soon as possible (or wait until a dark and stormy night).
Longtime readers might remember a time when I was reading so many books a week that I would simply take pictures of them in a stack and do a quick hit kind of report on them. Well, I’m not knocking down nearly as many books these days, but I did read through a good number from the library and figured I’d return to that form for this post. Let’s hit it! Continue reading The Trade Post: A Big Ol’ Pile Of Library Books
The other day I was cleaning out the garage and came across a few boxes of unread books that I was able to combine, but only if I pulled a few out. I figured that was as good a reason as any to try my hand (and eyes) at another Ambitious Summer Reading list. There’s just something about the warm weather that makes me want to stay inside and read, I guess.
As usual, I’ve got a pretty eclectic selection here. From the top, Ghosts And Things is a spooky anthology from 1962 that includes stories by Henry James, Ambrose Bierce and others. I’m thinking about reading these stories in between other books, but the James story was SUPER boring, so I’m not sure if I’ll stick with that plan.
Below that is the 1979 Avengers novel The Man Who Stole Tomorrow by the awesome David Micheline. In the 90s I read a lot of superhero novels and am curious to see how this early example is. Then there’s Freddy Krueger’s Tales Of Terror #2: Fatal Games. My buddy Jesse sent me this and I’m pretty excited to read it because I love Freddy and this looks like the Christopher Pike novels I read in grade school.
You can also see Stephen King’s The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger. I’ve heard a lot of different things about this series over the years and made sure to get the pre-revised version of this book, so we’ll see how this goes. Switching gears completely, I’ve also got Chuck Klosterman’s Fargo Rock City. I listened to the audiobook version of Klosterman’s IV a few years back and picked this up not long after. I’m a sucker for music related autobios, so I’m sure this will be awesome.
I know absolutely nothing about Twilight Of The Superheroes by Deborah Eisenberg other than the fact that it was like a dollar at one of all time favorite discount stores that’s no longer around. But, hey, it’s about superheroes, so it should be in my wheelhouse (I hope). At the bottom of the pile you’ll see another comic-related book, this one Mark Evanier’s column collection Comic Books And Other Necessities Of Life. For some reason I thought this was a collection of interviews, but I must be thinking of ANOTHER book in one of my boxes. Evanier’s one of the best comic historians around, so I’m sure this will be an interesting read.
That brings us to the last three books. Trevanian’s The Loo Sanction is the sequel to The Eiger Sanction, a book I read last year and really enjoyed. There’s also my first Raymond Chandler book Farewell, My Lovely and The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl. I must have read about that last one ten years ago and always wanted to check it out, but haven’t gotten around to it until now!
As you can probably tell, there wasn’t much rhyme or reason to these selections. I tried to balance out longer books with shorter ones just to take it a little easy on myself. I haven’t been taking much time to read actual books lately, but I’m hoping that this will push me in that direction. I’m kicking off with The Loo Sanction because I actually started it like six months ago and want to finish it. I’m about halfway through and trying to spend more time with good books, so I’ll hopefully be posting about that one soon!
I don’t read nearly as much as I used to. Part of the reason is that I’m a slow reader, part is that I love reading comics and part is that, thanks to having a pair of kiddos, I don’t have the time or attention span to devote to the hobby as I once did. However, I have discovered that my three-year-old daughter’s bedtime is a good time to get some reading done. After I read her books, I lay next to her bed in the dark until she doses off. So, as long as I have a solid book on my phone, I’m pretty good to go.
The first of the bunch in recent memory was Marco Pierre White’s The Devil in the Kitchen. I knew absolutely nothing about White going into this book, but it looked like a British version of Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, so I bit for a couple bucks (like most of my e-books, I got it on the cheap) and really enjoyed the experience.
White’s story begins as a child (as most do) and ventures on up through his development as a chef, to the leader of his own kitchen and ultimately a world-renowned figure in the world of food. He gave jobs to people like Gordon Ramsey and Curtis Stone while creating award-winning, lavish restaurants in the 80s and beyond. While their stories are different in many ways, if you like Bourdain’s books, you’ll like this one.
Red Rain by R.L. Stine is one of the few fiction novels I’ve read all the way through on my phone. This was another discounted book that I grabbed. From the title and the cover, I assumed this was a vampire story, but was way off base. This one follows a woman who goes to a small island for her travel blog but after a devastating hurricane, seems changed to the point where she adopts a pair of creepy twin boys and brings them to live with her husband, daughter and son in New York.
This was an interesting story that never quite grabbed me. For some reason I was never able to zero in on what these kids look like which was a major barrier given plot points I don’t want to spoil. I also had a really hard time sympathizing with the mother character. The father becomes the punching bag, but while he’s getting dumped on, it felt like I was supposed to wonder more about the wife, but instead, I found her far too easy to write off and ignore. Because of that, I also found her to be a wildly annoying character to the point where I almost stopped reading.
But, I did wind up enjoying the end of the book which finally revealed what the kids were up to. I liked how all that played out, so while I didn’t necessarily enjoy all of this book, it ended in a way that I appreciated which is nice because I used to read Fear Street and Goosebumps books constantly as a kid. I don’t say this often, but after I was done, I felt like Red Rain would have made a better movie than a book.
Off My Rocker: One Man’s Tasty, Twisted, Star-Studded Quest for Everlasting Music by Kenny Weissberg was another random purchase for a few bucks (the equivalent of the going through the Barnes & Noble discount table). I knew nothing about Weissberg or his deal, but when I read that he was a DJ, music writer and concert promoter, I was easily sold.
Right off the bat, this book reminded me of three others I’ve read since starting this blog. It’s got a little of The Real Animal House mixed with Sonic Boom and some of George Hamilton’s autobiography Don’t Mind If I Do in that it’s one man’s (mostly) fond remembrance of an important time in music, told from the inside. Like Hamilton, he used his confidence and skills to move from one part of life to another, often taking chances and risks that paid off.
To get into a bit more detail, Weissberg grew up a huge music fan on the East Coast and eventually wound up becoming one of the biggest freeform DJs in Colorado. Talking about music lead to interviewing musicians on the air and a career in concert and record reviews in print. When that work dried up, he fronted a band before moving to California to promote concerts, a gig that lasted him 20-something years. Along the way he met a variety of music professionals who he doesn’t mind writing about. Weissberg tells his stories with a good nature that brings you into the tales instead of feeling like you’re on the outside and also lets you in on previously unknown details without ever getting mean.
In addition to enjoying stories about people who make their own way in life, no matter how improbably, I also appreciated how Weissberg took this thing he loved and turned it into a series of careers that lasted several decades. That’s something I hope I can say down the line, though I just realized I’ve been doing what I do for about 10, so I guess I’m doing alright.
After a long pause between Music Box posts (the last one was in February), I’m back with not one, but two random listens to records I actually really enjoyed. This morning, I wasn’t feeling podcasts and wanted something to match the cool, cloudy day we’ve got going on here in New York. So, I plunged my hand into the box of CDs my buddy Jesse has sent me and pulled out Nada Surf’s 2002 album Let Go. Like many people in their 30s, I was familiar with the band from their 90s hit “Popular,” but that’s as far as my experience went, so listening to Let Go was basically like listening to a new band.
As it turned out, it was basically the perfect record for this mellow morning. While never getting morose or melodramatic, lead singer and guitarist Matthew Caws took me through a variety of songs that matched this morning’s mood perfectly. Check out the “Inside Of Love” video to see what I mean. Most songs feature his melodic voice over nicely strummed guitars, but things do get a little more rocking on tracks like “Hi-Speed Soul” and “The Way You Wear Your Head” which I appreciate. Those tracks kind of wake you up a little bit and make you pay attention to the record, which can very easily slip into background noise.
That might not sound like a big compliment, but it’s a huge one from me. Some days you just need a cool record to feel while you’re doing other things. I’ve listened to Let Go twice now while doing my morning writing and taking care of the kids. It never become obtrusive, but was always there keeping things calm. Sometimes when it comes to records like this, they can be easily forgotten because they don’t necessarily smack you in the face, but I think I’ll be utilizing Nada Surf’s Let Go plenty and will probably get even more listens out of it when I move it to my car. Yup, I still rock the CD wallet-visor thingy.
Listening to and enjoying Let Go reminded me that I actually pulled out a record a week or so ago by a band called The Drams called Jubilee Drive that I also liked. Unlike Nada Surf, though, I’d never heard of these guys in my life. So, as I do, I just popped the disc in my computer and gave it a listen. According to Wikipedia, The Drams actually started out as another band I’d heard of but am not very familiar with called Slobberbone. As of now, Jubilee Drive is their one and only record.
I spent a lot of time trying to figure out who lead singer Brent Best sounded like and decided to give up the quest because he’s got a little Stephen Kellogg in him along with a variety of other elements. At the end of the day, though, he has his own unique thing going on and I like the sound of it. In other words, the record feels like a mix of post-Replacement, non-grunge 90s music with a few hints of 70s southern rock. Some of the more modern southern rock bands I’ve listened to get a little too droney and boring for me, but The Drams keep the tempos going at just the right speed for my taste.
All of which is a clumsy way of saying I probably haven’t heard a record quite like this before and I’m really glad I gave it a shot. While not nearly as mellow as Nada Surf’s record, this one will make for a great tooling around CD to keep in my car which will give me even more opportunities to absorb it. The driving beats and noodling on songs like “Unhinged” will always be the kind of thing I want to listen to over and over again.
When it comes to mid 90s music-infused comedies, the two that were ridiculously influential in my world were Empire Records and Dazed And Confused. Both of those movies showed young me a world that not only involved more complex emotional relationships than I’d personally experienced up to that point, but also reflected my views on how important music could be.
Airheads has some of those themes, but is much more of a madcap comedy. Michael Lehmann (Heathers) directed this movie starring Brendan Fraser, Steve Buscmi and Adam Sandler as members of a band called The Lone Rangers desperate to make it big in the LA music scene. Through a series of misunderstandings and accidents while visiting a local radio station, everyone thinks they’re holding the DJs and other employees hostage. The band decides to roll with it in an effort to get people excited about their music.
Fraser’s Chazz is the true heart of the film. He wants to make great music his way, but it seems like the whole world’s against him. Buscemi’s less emotionally invested, but still into it. Think Mr. Pink with a bass. And then there’s Sandler who’s somewhere between Waterboy and Billy Madison on the Sandler Stupidity Scale. The cast also includes Michael McKean as the shifty station owner, Judd Nelson as the also-shifty record exec, Ernie Hudson and Chris Farley as cops, and DJs Joe Mantegna and David Arquette. Oh and Michael Richards is in here too, mostly crawling around like a worm.
I think the success of this movie for the individual viewer depends on what kind of films you dig. If you’re a fan of the comedies from this time like Dumb & Dumber and Tommy Boy, then I think you’ll be into this one. I wasn’t such a fan so it fell a little flat. They all just seemed a little silly to me, but I get the appeal if that’s your thing. I liked Airheads a bit more than those other movies though because Fraser is just so damn earnest and Mantegna gives it his all. Still, there’s a lot of dumbness going on that took me out of the story immediately following scenes I really enjoyed. Frankly, I winced and rolled me eyes any time Richards appeared because his role, while somewhat important to the story as it gets a real gun in the station, winds up being overly stupid and mostly pointless. In other words his involvement is a long way to go for a pretty basic plot point that could have been done in one scene.
At the end of the day, I felt like there was actually a really solid point behind this film, but the overall goofiness surrounding most of it doesn’t serve that story very well because it’s not much of a leap to feel like Lehmann is just making fun of Fraser’s Chazz, which is too bad because he’s probably the best part of this film.