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Saturday, September 13, 2014

EARLY REVIEW — BARBARELLA: COLLECTOR'S EDITION


Back in print after more than four decades, the first of Jean-Claude Forest's BARBARELLA graphic novels is getting a deluxe edition with an excellent new English translation by Kelly Sue DeConnick that breathes new life into the material. I've had the 1966 Grove Press version for a long time and know it quite well, so I was very pleased to read DeConnick's version, which rewrites the dialogue to be more naturalistic and not stiff like the very formal translation of forty-eight years back. 


And while those familiar with Barbarella from the famous Jane Fonda movie version will note that the film cribs its plot from the graphic novel's second half — The first half being a series of meandering and not-all-that-interesting random adventures and sexual encounters, though the second half more than makes up for the first half's made-up-on-the-fly plotting — and will be surprised to find that Barbarella of the comics is a lot different from the innocent found in the movie. Here she is tough and sexually aggressive in the manner of a woman who has been around, and she displays little of the semi-goofy aspect that Fonda so memorably brought to the screen. 


And though its once-scandalous sexual content is now tame to contemporary perceptions, it all wears its 1960's Frenchness on its sleeve and it's quite charming in its quaintness. (If created today, I shudder to think of how modern explicitness would rob the material of a lot of its whimsical fantasy vibe.)


This edition is an expensive hardcover at $79.99, so if you're going to snag it I recommend doing so via Amazon, where it's nearly half-off of the cover price. Whatever the case, it's definitely a recommended addition to the shelves of any serious student of international comics and it will be released on September 17th.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

EARLY SHORTS OF JOHN WATERS: HAG IN A BLACK LEATHER JACKET (1964), ROMAN CANDLES (1966) and EAT YOUR MAKEUP (1968) at Lincoln Center

Young John Waters, circa 1972.

Manhattan's Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center has been home to many terrific retrospectives that I've had the distinct pleasure to attend over the years, and last night was the opening evening of the first complete retrospective of the films of John Waters (which, I might add, saw several nights of its program completely sold out online in a matter of moments after tickets went on sale). I've been a slave to Waters's films since I saw the infamous (and fucking hilarious) PINK FLAMINGOS (1972) while still in high school. The film's warped and offensive sense of humor, incredibly twisted content, and in-your-face celebration of its outsider protagonists had a seismic effect on my development as a person and I unequivocally consider seeing that movie to be a life-changing experience. It also instantly rendered Waters my favorite living director and I subsequently went on to see every one of his movies, so I naturally had an interest in experiencing his rare, seldom-seen short film works. Never released on any home video format and only periodically screened when Waters had the whim to do so for friends or as limited  part of a film series or art show, these early efforts have been the source of great curiosity among the Waters faithful, so their inclusion in the Lincoln Center retrospective is a joyous occasion indeed. The films are apparently no longer extant in their original 16mm prints but they have been preserved in digital form (presumably transferred from archival videotapes), allowing for them to be shown on the huge flatscreen TV in Lincoln Center's amphitheater.

I arrived early and picked up my pre-ordered ticket for the sold-out 6:30pm screening of FEMALE TROUBLE and then made my way across the street from the Walter Reade Theater to the amphitheater. The screening of the shorts was at 4pm and free to the public, and every seated was filled by the time the lights dimmed. Here's what transpired, and I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by what I got.

HAG IN A BLACK LEATHER JACKET (1964)   17 minutes

Sporting one of the best titles ever, this seventeen-minute experiment was shot by the eighteen-year-old director on a budget of thirty bucks — the actual figure according to Waters and, judging from what's onscreen, he's not lying — utilizing stolen film stock and starring a number of Waters's cronies, including Mary Vivian Pearce, who would later become a recurring featured player in his first five full-length films. The quasi-narrative depicts the marriage of black man to a white ballerina on the roof of John Waters's parents' house, with the ceremony witnessed by assorted weirdoes and presided over by a cross-wielding Klansman. Employing the same kind of ADD-riddled unlicensed soundtrack collage technique as later found in MONDO TRASHO (1969), the film is rough around the edges — very rough, an aspect not at all helped by the dodgy video transfer — but briskly-paced and amusing. It also definitely already has the signature feel and trashy aesthetic of Waters's later work. Oh, and it should also be noted that there is neither a hag nor a black leather jacket to be found anywhere in this film.

ROMAN CANDLES (1966)   40 minutes

Freshly kicked out of NYU film school and influenced by Andy Warhol's CHELSEA GIRLS (1966), Waters aped Warhol's split-screen technique, only going it one better by intending its three free-form non-narratives to be projected onto a trio of individual screens. The result as seen on video at Lincoln Center was a screen composed of two upper tiers of imagery atop a third, with each running a series of unconnected clips and stock footage, including snippets from EARTH VS. THE SPIDER (1958) and THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US (1956). It's dizzying and somewhat headache-inducing if one tries to follow each tier at once, but it's impressively well-constructed and never boring (which, frankly, I expected it to be), unlike many short films that bear the mark of film school influences.

EAT YOUR MAKEUP (1968)  45 minutes

The short opens with an anguished young woman crawling across sand dunes toward a shirtless young man while she repeatedly screams, "Makeup! Makeup!!! Makeup!!!"— an hilariously overwrought performance that elicited gales of laughter from the theater audience — until the mysterious man throws her a plate full of beauty products that she greedily devours. Following the credits, the short shifts location to a Baltimore park where a crazed-looking black-clad woman (Maelcum Soul) has her underlings kidnap young women off the street and take them into the woods, where they are forced to wear ridiculous outfits and repeatedly stalk a bargain basement outdoor catwalk until they model themselves to death for the amusement of a drugged-up and violent throng of spectators. The crazed modeling is periodically interrupted by the models being force-fed makeup, and diversions into fantasy and other odd attractions in what is revealed to be a boardwalk-like setup. The fantasy comes in when a wigless drag queen, played by a seventeen-year-old Divine, arrives to chat with the black-clad mistress of ceremonies and imagines herself as Jackie Kennedy riding and waving in the ill-fated motorcade as canned brainlessly guffaws on the soundtrack. The sheer balls/bad taste of doing such a sequence even five years after the real-life event that shocked the nation and the world screamed Waters, and it was amazing to see something so intentionally transgressive and offensive so early in his catalog.

Dangerous filmmaking: a parodic reenactment of the Kennedy assassination — with a laugh track, no less — some five years after the dire real-life event and featuring an obese teenage Divine in drag as the First Lady. I'm amazed Waters and company were not tracked down and stoned to death for this at the time.

The boardwalk element includes a Horror House ride (whose signage proudly proclaims "It'll make you sick") that drives a patron to terrified, shrieking apoplexy and apparent death with its depictions of mundane and wholesome suburban life and American values, and would be harkened back to and inverted for the "Cavalcade of Perversion" in MULTIPLE MANIACS (1970). It all wraps up with a "happy" ending cribbed from a mashup of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty's stories, and is once again accented from start to finish with music Waters didn't bother to get the rights to use. Of the three shorts, I would name EAT YOUR MAKEUP as the most accessible of the lot and the one where Waters's later tropes first begin to coalesce. 

Totally worth paying to watch yet kindly screened by Lincoln Center at no cost to the audience, the three early Waters films are a must-see for Waters fans, provided you're lucky enough to have the opportunity to catch them. Waters has stated that they will never be made available on home video because obtaining the music rights would be prohibitive, and also , reportedly, because they are simply too embryonic and relatively crude when compared what came later. I get where he's coming from when it comes to their stylistic/aesthetic primitiveness, as he is a filmmaker whose growth in assuredness and skill is visibly trackable on a film-by-film basis, but it would still be nice to have the shorts readily available for scholarly perusal and also to make Waters completists happy. Too bad about the damned music rights, though.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

HIP HOP FAMILY TREE, AN' SHIT

Every now and then my work for Publishers Weekly lands me something worth reading, and the best thing that fell into my lap last year was artist/writer Ed Piskor's HIP HOP FAMILY TREE VOL. 1: 1970'S-1981 from Fantagraphics. It's exactly what it says it is, namely the first volume in an epic illustrated chronicle of the hip hop musical genre and its cultural impact, and its over-sized format makes for an irresistible eye-catching read. I gushed about it to whomever would listen and I urge you, dear Vaultie, to go out and pick up your own copy. It's a perfect addition to any comics/graphic novel collection, and as a coffee table volume it's a guaranteed conversation-starter.

Skip ahead by roughly ten months and the book is a critical smash, with the second volume — covering 1981 through 1983 — just recently released. I received notification that the new book was receiving a book-signing at Park Slope's Bergen Street Comics, within short walking distance of my apartment, so I made my way over there with my copy of Volume 1 in hand and cash for Volume 2 at the ready. There I found Ed Piskor, signing and chatting with a fan while drawing in the guy's book. Once finished with the fan's book, Piskor and I discussed his career up to and including the HIP HOP FAMILY TREE project while he signed my copies of his books and he revealed himself to be a really nice guy who has clearly done the research and knows his subject inside and out. He also stated that the series is slated to run for a total of six volumes and he's roughly sixty-some-odd pages into Volume 3, so there is much to anticipate. 

My signed copies of HIP HOP FAMILY TREE Vols. 1 AND 2.

I made sure to get photographed with Piskor for posterity, and I like the coincidental statement made by our choices in attire: a black guy representing in the name of punk rock/metal and a white guy doing likewise for hip hop. That, my friends, is part of what America is all about.

Yer Bunche with the author.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

FULL-BLOWN CHIMP-OUT AT THE 14th STREET WENDY'S

There are days when, frankly, I find myself sick to fucking death of black people and today was one of them.

While waiting on line for my monthly "indulgence burger" at the Wendy's on 14th Street in Manhattan, there was this massively overweight black dude in his late-fifties, seated on one of those wheeled walkers and positioned on the other side of the rope that marked the end of the ordering line. When he saw me, he politely said, "Hey man, I don't mean to be disrespectful of try anything funny, but I just got outta the hospital an' I'm tryin' ta get a burger an' some fries an' a drink, so I was wonderin' if you'd be me lunch..." As I had just been hit up for money by two consecutive beggars on the train into Manhattan and one more at the entrance to the Wendy's — I gave them nothing — I simply was not in the mood, but I politely told him "Sorry, but I don't carry cash," my standard response that usually nips the begging in the bud, but it didn't stop the wheeled sepia enormity. He helpfully offered, "So use your credit card or bank card and you can take care of my meal," but I cut him off and simply said "Man, I'm broke and unemployed myself, so no." As I turned away from him he uttered in a loud voice, "YOU WHITE DEVIL MUTHAFUKKA! WHITE-ASS MUTHFUCKA! TALKIN' LIKE A MUTHAFUKKIN' WHITE MAN!!! SCHOOL TEACHER-SOUNDIN' OREO NIGGER!!"

As some of you already know, getting called out by ghetto pieces of shit for actually bothering to speak proper English REALLY pisses me off, and that pet peeve, coupled with back-to-back begging for food and money from my impoverished ass, set me into a rare public display of full-on crazy mode, which my verbal abuser clearly did NOT expect.

Slowly burning on the inside, I turned to face him and fixed him with my patented laser-focus stare as I said in a clear and measured tone, "Oh, HELL no. FUCK. YOU, you fat piece of shit." My voice began to raise as my fists slowly clenched and unclenched while the other folks on line immediately backed off by a few feet, and I continued with "Let me get this straight. You have the fucking NERVE to try to get me, a total fucking stranger, to buy your enormous ass a full meal, and when I politely refuse to do so you give me shit because I don't speak like some mush-mouthed piece of uneducated ghetto TRASH, like YOURSELF, you fucking try to EMBARRASS me for it??? Oh, HELL no, YOU IGNORANT ABORTION!!!" At that the asshole cowered and offered a feeble, "Well, thass whatchoo sound like..." I then exploded at him with "SHUT YOUR GODDAMNED MOUTH BEFORE I COME OVER THERE, KNOCK OVER YOUR FUCKING GLORIFIED SKATEBOARD AND KICK YOUR JELLIED ASS UNTIL IT'S GODDAMNED PULP!!!"

At that point I was called to the cashier and I placed my order. When I received my burger and drink I walked right past the guy, who looked several shades lighter and looked about a nano-second away from pissing all over himself, and sat down to eat my lunch. A number of nearby patrons hurriedly grabbed their trays and moved away from where I'd sat myself. 

I have fought for many years to keep my temper/bad craziness side in check, a goal made much easier by no longer drinking like a Viking, but when it does come out, it's not pretty and I usually don't feel good when I've had time to think about it afterwards. In this case I engaged in what can only be considered a textbook chimp-out, albeit one considerably more articulate than most, and all I could think was that I had descended to a level that embarrasses me when witnessed in others. Then I thought about it a bit more and considered that my outburst may have given the guy something to think about before harassing and disrespecting other fellow black people before attempting his next food shakedown. But when all is said and done, I think of how my grandmother would have reacted if she'd witnessed my behavior, and I can honestly say she would have been simultaneously appalled and disappointed, because she was one of the family's exemplar's of proper, respectable public behavior. Sorry, Nana...

Saturday, August 02, 2014

WHY? BECAUSE!!!

Seriously, what's not to love here?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014)

A disparate group of five very unlikely heroes — consisting of an outlaw with delusions of grandeur, a biologically-modified woman who was designed and trained to be a living weapon, a vengeance-obsessed berserker, and a bounty hunter team of a sentient tree creature and an anthropomorphized raccoon — find themselves thrown together in a deep space penal facility, from which they escape and set off in pursuit of a mysterious and incredibly valuable orb that fell into the hands of a cosmically-empowered fanatic. Said fanatic is a minion of an even more cosmically-powerful entity who wants the orb for purposes most sinister, so our hopelessly over-matched band of ragtag protagonists have a hell of a lot stacked against them, with the fate of a heavily-populated planet hanging in the balance.

With a plot that is very much the stuff of Saturday matinee space opera, this latest entry in the ever-growing tapestry of Marvel Studios' cinematic universe, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY surprised the living hell out of me by being a briskly-paced outer space actioner loaded with humor and heart to spare. Like many when this project was announced in the wake of box office juggernauts like the IRON MAN trilogy and MARVEL'S THE AVENGERS, I thought bringing the distinctly C-list Guardians to the screen was a harbinger that Marvel Studios, flush with the greenbacks brought in by hit after hit after hit, must have been out of its collective mind, with this project possibly being green-lit by corporate money men who were high on fjords of high-grade cocaine. I mean, really. A big-budget movie showcasing Star-Lord — a rather nondescript and bland space hero from Marvel Comics' sometimes dodgy mid-1970's output — Drax the Destroyer (a character who really only ever served a purpose in the "cosmic" story arc that introduced him some forty years ago, yet he kept popping up over the years to ever-diminishing returns), Gamora (also introduced during a 1970's "cosmic" saga and likewise perpetually brought back to little real purpose), Groot (a reboot of one of the monster/space alien characters common to Marvel before the superhero renaissance kicked off by the success of FANTASTIC FOUR #1 back in 1961) and Rocket Raccoon (more or less self-explanatory) — seemed like box office suicide. But, as has been proven with the inter-connected Marvel narratives that have dominated the screen over the past decade, the studio knew what it was doing when it rolled the dice, and that gamble has paid off, resulting in what I am shocked to say is my favorite Marvel movie (along with the two Captain America films).

The film is certainly fun enough as a simple "gathering of the team" narrative and there's not a slow or dull moment in it, but it's especially enjoyable for us long-time Marvel fans because it glosses over the earthbound, NYC-centric setting and instead drops us into the deep end of the Marvel Universe pool that is the cosmic side of things. Anyone who grew up with stories concentrating on the A-list Marvel superheroes kicking ass all over their four-color Earth (but mostly in Marvel's signature take on New York City) can tell you what an intriguing change of pace and flavor occurred when Marvel increased its scope to depict other dimensions and intergalactic conflicts that sometimes rendered even the most impressive and powerful heroes relatively small in comparison. In the hands of creators like Jim Starlin, the "universe" part of "Marvel Universe" became explicit as opposed to implicit and with an increased scale the floodgates of imagination where opened yet further. In the case of the cinematic iteration, there have been hints at what lies beyond the confines of the Earth, and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY positively teems with far-flung technology and numerous alien sentients, all of which feels like what I get when I read such stories in the comics, and I found it delightful.

The film, while serving as another link in the mounting epic confrontation with arc-villain Thanos that will reportedly be the focus of the third Avengers movie, stands on its own as a franchise launching point — GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY 2 has already been announced — would be quite satisfying if it ended up being a stand-alone entry. I'll let you discover its many pleasures for yourself but here are some of the elements that stood out for me:
  • None of the five protagonists is particularly heroic when we first meet them and most are flat-out amoral, but they grow into straight-up and believable heroes over the course of the story.
  • There's not a dull moment in the film's 121-minute running time.
  • Getting me to give even half a damn about Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord, was something of a minor miracle, but the film certainly did it and Chris Pratt is quite engaging in the role. Displaying a distinctly post-Han Solo quality, Quill really grows on the viewer and his Earth-style humanity grounds the film.
  • The reimagined take on Drax the Destroyer really worked for me, much better than the character ever did in the comics, and pro wrestler Dave Bautista brings considerable rage along with his muscular, powerful physicality. Seemingly allergic to shirts, Drax is the kind of heavy-hitter whose every blow is so percussive that you'll swear you'd just been on the receiving end of his fury.
Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), making friends wherever he goes.
  • Everybody loves anthropomorphic animals and the genetically-engineered Rocket — the "Raccoon" part of his name is never used here — is sure to be the favorite of many. Voiced by Bradley Cooper, Rocket could easily have been a nauseating attempt at cute and funny along the lines of the loathsome Jar-Jar Binks, but thanks to wholly-convincing CGI and un-forced voice acting, Rocket brings attitude and formidable tech-savvy to the crew. And when paired with the lovable Groot, Rocket pretty much steals the movie.
  • Speaking of Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), the tree-man with the three-word vocabulary manages to speak volumes with Rocket serving as the linguistic bridge between Groot and the other characters (and, by association, the audience). The Rocket/Groot dynamic is (perhaps intentionally) reminiscent of the Han Solo/Chewbacca relationship, and it is quite affecting.
  • Never in my wildest dreams didI expect to see Gamora "the deadliest woman in the galaxy,'" make the translation to live-action, but it has indeed happened and I am quite happy with the results. Her supporting role in Jim Starlin's classic run on WARLOCK made her a favorite during my formative years as a comics fan, and Zoe Saldana makes the character her own, imbuing her with attitude and an impressive physicality. I look forward to seeing the character explored further in upcoming films, especially her history as the adopted daughter of arch-fiend Thanos. (Minor quibble: I really wish they'd kept the signature markings around Gamora's eyes, as seen in her original comics iteration. They gave her a certain exotic reptilian quality.)
Zoe Saldana as Gamora.
  • Another favorite character I never expected to see make it to the big screen is Ronan the Accuser, one of the most powerful representatives of the Kree Empire and an antagonist who over the years has morphed from outright villainous fanatic to an intriguing and noble presence. As played by Lee Pace, Ronan wields considerable gravitas and, unlike some of the other "big bads" in Marvel movies that I can name — I'm looking right at you, Malekith! — he does the polar opposite of disappoint. Introduced here as a minion of Thanos but swiftly becoming much more, Ronan is the first of the big screen iterations of a marvel villain who truly exudes the level of raw, imposing power that makes Marvel's cosmic threats so appealing and memorable.
Already powerful as hell, Ronan's Infinity Stone upgrade could spell the end for planet Xandar...

  • We get to see planet Xandar and the Nova Corps, with Glenn Close (!!!) as Nova Prime.
  • An Infinity Stone figures into the plot and during the recounted history of the Stones, we get to see a Celestial. I repeat: WE GET TO SEE A FUCKING CELESTIAL. (Note: If you're a longtime comics reader, you know what Infinity Stones and Celestials are and you get why both are a very big deal within the Marvel Universe. Both require too much explanation to go into here, so I recommend consulting the internet for further information. Let it suffice to say that seeing a Celestial made those of us who knew what it was let out a collective "OH, SHIT!!!" in the theater.)
  • As we discover via a running character thread, Peter Quill's late mother had pretty good musical tastes.
So, yeah, I thoroughly enjoyed GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and I strongly expect you to dig it as well. It's suitable for kids, though there is minor profanity, and the 3D does not really add anything to the enjoyment of the film, so bear that in mind when weighing whether or not you're willing to shell out the extra cash for that technical gewgaw.

One of the aspects of the Marvel films that has come to be greatly anticipated by both dyed-in-the-wool comics fans and civilian moviegoers alike is the "Easter egg" found during the end credits of Marvel flicks since the first Iron Man installment, so the curiosity over what we'd get with GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY was palpable as those in attendance at the packed Marvel screening at the Ziegfeld sat in the darkness as the credits slowly rolled. However, as this was a preview print, there was no Easter egg at the end and the entire audience let out a disappointed "Awww..." when we got bubkes. That said, as the audience filed out, I spoke with two high-ranking Marvel execs whom I've known since my days as a Bullpenner, and both of them stated that there will be a "stinger" at the end when the film is released wide to theaters this weekend.

I have a fully loaded weekend coming up, so I won't be able to see the film again as soon as I would like to, but you can bet your sweet ass that I'll be there for the first matinee next Monday! GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is a solid winner from start to finish and it gives me hope that someday I'll see the likes of Captain Mar-Vell and Adam Warlock on the big screen. (The Invaders would also be nice as a WWII period piece. Do you hear me, Marvel Studios???)

It's not every day when you see a team of mismatched Marvel space heroes strut to the musical accompaniment of the Runaways' "Cherry Bomb" and it doesn't make you want to put your own fist through your skull. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

"HEY, BUB!"


Ran into these guys on the corner of 55th Street and 6th Avenue in Manhattan while meeting a friend. I approached them to ask why they were all wearing and Arthur Adams Wolverine shirt and they told me they were part of a corporate scavenger hunt. We chatted about comics and when they heard about my being a veteran of both Marvel Comics and DC/Vertigo, as well as my history as a reviewer, and pop culture commentator/consultant, they asked if I would be considered a celebrity. I said I didn't think so but I am an internet presence whose credentials are easily verifiable, so they added me to their list of things they needed to check off on their scavenger hunt, documenting the encounter with a cell phone photograph with me.

Just goes to show you never can predict what will happen on the sidewalks of NYC!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

MY PEOPLE, MAKING ME PROUD ONCE AGAIN

Sun Luck Chinese takeout: the scene of many an embarrassing display of coonism in my area of Brooklyn's Park Slope.

I just got back from picking up some Chinese food from my favorite grungy takeout joint and once again I'm disgusted by the behavior of some of my neighborhood's ghetto-acting blacks. 

I've been a regular customer at the takeout place for fourteen years and the staff loves me because I'm one of the few neighborhood highly rhythmic individuals who is invariably polite and friendly plus I clearly appreciate the Chinese and their culture, which results in my orders being portioned more generously than average and sometimes I'm given the old menu prices. Unfortuantely I'm something of an anomaly, as the majority of the black and Hispanic patrons come in and treat the staff in an incredibly discourteous manner as though it were the expected etiquette, always try to get the sweet (and much put-upon) cashier lady to lower the prices, and take over the limited seating in droves while acting like uncouth trash and letting their undisciplined children run loudly around the place without any attempt at controlling them.
The interior of Sun Luck. The two tables seen here are the only areas on which to dine, which only makes sense as the place is meant to be predominately a takeout joint. Those tables serve as perches for some of the rudest, most hostile and uncouth people in the neighborhood, all of them invariably invariably black or Hispanic. Once I receive my order, I'm out of there like a shot.

While I awaited tonight's order and attempted to read a book, my concentration was thrown off by a respectable-looking black couple who were in their late twenties, but displayed the table manners of Visigoths. The woman belched and farted several times and made zero attempt at apologizing or even hiding her gaseous expulsions, and her boyfriend devoured his order of ribs apparently with no concept of how to use a napkin. His fingers and hands were dripping with sauce to a degree that made him look like he was the Incredible Melting Man, and his mouth and cheeks looked like he'd been going down on a heavily-menstruating she-Orc. Compounding this charming display was the sound of his open-mouthed chewing and loud smacking of his food. 

The couple finished before my order was ready and when they exited they simply left the mound of bones and other detritus from their sloppily-consumed meal on the booth's table, garnished with the splattered evidence of barbecue and soy sauce. On the way out of the joint the customer cannot help but notice and walk past the large trash receptacle right next to the door, but these charmers didn't even attempt to clean up after themselves like considerate grownups, instead leaving the cleanup to the visibly disgusted staff. This kind of thing is oar for the course for this takeout joint and I can only think of perhaps five times over the past fourteen years when I've gone in there and no poor behavior was being displayed by my brown brethren. Yet somehow the staff of the place maintains its cool and NEVER rises to the bait that many of their patrons throw at them. Strong people...

HERE TODAY, GONE TOMORROW: R.I.P. TOMMY RAMONE (1949-2014), DEAD AT 65

With the demise to Tommy (front and center), the true fathers of punk are reunited forever.

I awoke this morning after the first uninterrupted night of sleep I've had in a month, feeling like a million bucks, only to turn on the CBS Morning News and have the first thing I see be coverage of the death of Thomas Erdelyi, best known to the world at large as Tommy Ramone, the original drummer to the seminal American punk band, the one and only Ramones. Dead after battling cancer, Tommy was the last surviving original member of the band, playing on their first three albums, an aural triptych that laid the foundation for '70's-era punk (and beyond) and influenced nearly four decades of badass rockers.

The original lineup of the Ramones, in their prime and kicking ass.

While not exactly a surprise, this news comes as a personal blow to myself — and no doubt to many within my age range — as the Ramones were one of the formative building blocks upon which my musical tastes were built. I first discovered them in 1979, when I was given a copy of the band's END OF THE CENTURY album, which was won by a friend in a radio contest, and I enjoyed it so much that I checked out the albums that came before. Tommy was gone from the lineup by the time of END OF THE CENTURY and when I listened to the first three albums, I was blown away by his no-frills but utterly riveting beating of the skins. In my opinion, the original lineup of the Ramones was a case of rock 'n' roll lightning in a bottle, band that was absolutely the right thing at the right time and a powerful antidote to the disco that was a plague upon this land. And though the Ramones never enjoyed the popular and financial success that they so richly deserved, their influence as pioneers is beyond dispute. Their sound was singular, marked with a distinctly NYC sensibility and understanding of the world's gray (and sometimes darker) areas, while also observing the world's lunacy with a sense of humor that was equal parts mordant and cheerfully sophomoric. A celebration of suburban freakdom and misfit pride/solidarity, the Ramones spoke to me and many other adolescent square pegs in terms that we understood deep within our hearts, minds, and other-than-perfect flesh, and for that I will forever be in their debt.

With the death of Tommy, the original Ramones lineup is finally reunited in whatever passes for a seedy venue somewhere in the Elysian Fields, there to crank out loud, fast, buzz saw rakka-frakka, with the enticing come-on of "Hey-Ho! Let's go!" ensuring that the legion of shades (who are no doubt a tad sick of all that treacly lyre music) can eternal rock out with their cocks out. Truly, it is the end of an era. 

Gabba-Gabba Hey!!!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

THE BIRTHDAY THAT TOTALLY SUCKED (WELL, MOSTLY)


For those of you who may be wondering where the hell I've been for the past couple of weeks or so, let me tell you about... THE BIRTHDAY THAT TOTALLY SUCKED!!!

As some of you in the world beyond the internet already know, this season I've been suffering with an agonizing all-over skin irritation that has had me itching like crazy, plus my feet were painfully swollen and I constantly felt chilled to the bone, no matter how hot it was, and I found myself wearing a long-sleeved thermal shirt that was more suited to winter wear. Long story short, I was a mess and my legs got so itchy that I repeatedly scratched myself raw despite the effectiveness of certain over-the-counter drugs and early in the week of my birthday it became apparent that the irritated areas on my legs simply were not healing properly, so I scheduled the soonest appointment with my doctor that I could get, which was that Thursday afternoon, the day before my birthday. The doctor took one look at the weeping state of my legs and told me to head straight to the ER, which I did, and there I stayed for two solid days of multiple blood tests, antibiotic IV drips every six hours, rounds of meds, applications of caustic healing lotions, and even a biopsy that led to me getting my first-ever stitches. Fun it was not but I did what had to be done and I'm a lot better for it, though all the testing and biopsy results did not yield any explanation as to what triggered the itchy reaction. And me being cold was a case of anemia, brought on by the infection that followed all that scratching.

It was a crap-assed way to spend one's birthday but several of you texted me well-wishes or called, so I thank all of you, plus all of you who left messages for me on Facebook. Oh, and this is a shot of my legs just as I received a room and bed, perhaps less than an hour after having spent twelve hours in the ER among people who were waaaaaaaay worse off than me. (The crying and screaming was quite disturbing.)




Swollen, infected, and turning into Ben Grimm. Fun it was not.

Like I said, I had to apply strong prescription Ammonium Lactate cream and vaseline-like Clobetasol Propionate ointment to the most devastated areas, and I'd be lying if I said it didn't burn like a motherfucker. However the pain was worth the caustic agony, because in the space of less than 24 hours the weeping had ceased and the dead skin began sloughing off in corn flake-sized strips. And though I began to feel great rather swiftly, my doctor felt it was best to have me stick around for a while so I could be monitored and have my needs adjusted as needed. Thus it was that I turned 49 while laying on my ass in a bed at Park Slope's Methodist Hospital, reading a book on the history of horror movies. Oh, and it's a teaching hospital, so I had what seemed like an endless succession of interns and residents drawing blood fro me, so much so that my veins were too tapped-out to rise when IV's needed to be attached or more blood work was required. I had a couple of newbie interns practically destroy my hands and arms with their failed attempts at sticking me, but then I found myself in the care of a pretty and funny West Indian nurse who was nicknamed "The Vampire," because, as she herself put it, "If there's a vein, I will find it!" She was amazing.

So I missed celebrating my birthday in anything even resembling a fun way, but at least I was healing and the antibiotics were kicking hostile microbe ass. After two days I was released (though they tried to convince me to stay for one more day, purportedly because intravenous antibiotics were "more effective," though I suspect it was really more so they could have a cooperative guinea pig for the trainees) and I chronicled the healing of my legs.


June 29th.

 July 1st.

July 7th.

As it stands right now, my legs are mostly back to normal, the systemic infection is done, and my feet are no longer swollen, so there you go.

And the one thing about my birthday that absolutely did not suck was an unexpected and much-needed gift from a dear old friend. She's a tech geek and she was appalled by the state of my old, falling apart, on-its-last-legs laptop, so she bought me a brand-new 13" MacBook Air with an external drive/disc burner. To describe my reaction as stunned would be a gross understatement, and her act of birthday sweetness went well above and beyond the call of duty. I won't forget it. And here's the aforementioned new unit. I named it "the Bride," after the mighty Paige Pumphrey-drawn sticker of a rockabilly Bride of Frankenstein that so perfectly compliments the Cramps logo sticker.

 "The Bride," as seen from the screen and keyboard side...


And the front. I could not be happier!