Tuesday, November 22, 2016


GO-GO is a strange comic book creation, one that seems so typically Charlton in its slapdash quality and its tendency to jump on bandwagons a bit too late. It's also a cheap imitation (note the John Cage allusion there!) of other, more successful popular culture items and, frankly, much of its charm grows out of that mimicry.

I have always appreciated (in the sense that rubbernecking spectators at an auto accident "appreciate" the event) the American tendency to produce cheap knock-offs of consumer items for those who cannot afford the originals or who cannot access the real thing. Presently, an excellent example of that phenomenon would be the knock-off versions of name-brand products one finds at Dollar Stores. Many times, the knock-off toothpaste or sandwich bags or stuffing mix will have packaging that echoes the name-brand product in the shape of the logo and the color scheme of the printing on the box, about as close as you can get without a lawsuit. The similarity sets off some kind of recognition within us, probably unconsciously, so we're getting a kind of virtual satisfaction as if we really are buying Scope mouthwash or Hefty trashbags or whatever. It's the same kind of thing you get when you see a z-grade made-for-video action film from the 1980's starring Frank Stallone or Don Swayze, both of whom are excellent performers in their own right (Stallone is also a superb singer in the Tony Bennett vein....check out his beautiful album IN LOVE IN VAIN)....or when Jim Hanks is used to do a voice acting role in a knock-off animated version (on Saturday morning or straight-to-video) of some film where Tom Hanks' voice was originally featured.

Of course, often a knock-off is of inferior quality. I used to buy ten-dollar shoes at Payless, and they'd last three months, if that, and they never provided my feet adequate support, but my inherent cheapness over-ruled my common sense. I eventually realized that buying a forty-dollar pair of shoes that lasted five or six times as long as the ten-dollar shoes not only made economic sense, but my feet were actually more comfortable, and I no doubt was a more pleasant person to be around because my feet weren't hurting, so I was helping humanity at the same time. The Payless shoes LOOKED like shoes, and they had a certain surface shininess and vaguely sporty design, but they lacked the essence of a shoe----they weren't well-fitted to the foot, they were not designed by someone who understood foot engineering (I'm sure there is a big word for that, but I'm too lazy to look it up). It was like putting my feet into a shoe-shaped box. The product looked like the real thing, but when you got it home, you found out you'd been ripped off.

It's the same feeling you would have had if back in the day you bought a copy of CRACKED magazine instead of MAD. Maybe to a Martian or to a Soviet spy attempting to figure out American popular culture they would look similar, but the one totally failed to capture the ESSENCE of the other, and everything was a bit off. As CRACKED magazine seems to be a main influence on GO-GO, that's a relevant reference. Or....was Charlton attempting a MAD type hipness and quality with GO-GO and totally missing the boat and then coming off like a pale imitation of CRACKED, the pale imitation itself? Who knows at this point (by the way, Charlton actually had their own rip-off of MAD/CRACKED called SICK....it had been published by others initially, and Charlton took it over in the mid-70's near the end of its run. as they did with other series which were running out of gas....they went over to Charlton for that last go-round....an issue of SICK with Archie Bunker on the cover was reviewed here at BTC in July 2013....I picked it up at a junk store in Florida and sent it along to Brad Kohler when I finished it and he sent it along to our fearless BTC leader, Chris....a history of SICK magazine in its various incarnations would be interesting....maybe someone has done that.....until then, the Wikipedia entry will give you the essential dates and details).

As someone who grew up in the lower middle-class, I never had to go without shoes or a birthday present or whatever, but I often was given an odd cheap-jack version of the items that kids from more affluent families had. When I was in 8th or 9th grade, I wanted a 10-speed bike. In Colorado, there are a lot of hills, obviously, and that kind of bike made travel easier. However, those cost nearly a hundred dollars. My father generously offered to get me a 10-speed bike, but he could not afford a Schwinn or one of the established brands, so he got me some forty-dollar ten speed bike made in Korea or the Philippines or some similar place (this was before Chinese imports dominated the low end of the American market, as they do today). The brakes operated in a different way than in most "normal" bikes, and the shifting mechanism also did not seem to make any sense but somehow worked. I guess this was to bikes what Yugos were to automobiles. Also, parts could not be found for this bike, so I had to jerry-rig it once the brakes wore out, tires needed to be replaced, etc.

The knock-off quality in my childhood was not restricted to cheap-ass products. My late mother, God rest her soul, was a very neat and organized person. I think she vacuumed the house every other day (it's a shame I did not inherit THOSE genes from her!). Because of that, I was not allowed to have a dog or a cat as a pet as other kids did (I finally got my own dog when I was in my 40's). Birds were also out because of the feathers shedding. I thought about a goldfish, but they did not seem to have a personality, and I wanted to commune with my pet. Back then, department stores like Woolworth's or K-Mart sold turtles in their pet section. These were small green or black turtles, between one and three inches in size, and they sold little plastic environments (maybe a foot long and six inches wide) for them to live in that had a water section and then an elevated bridge or something where they could go when they wanted to get out of the water. I was given one of those turtle homes by a friend whose turtle died, and I wanted to get my own turtle as a pet. However, I did not have a birthday or Christmas coming up anytime soon then, and I very much desired my own turtle, but I just could not afford the $1.09. I would go to pet stores and Woolworth's and look at the turtles. The turtle has always been my spirit animal. If we are reincarnated as animals in some future incarnation, I'd like to be a turtle. I like the pace of life they lead, I like to pull inside my shell and just tune the world out, and I love to live around water....that all adds up to turtle. Nothing fazes a turtle. If they don't like something, they just turn around and walk away....at their own pace.

After a few weeks of my hanging around looking at the turtles, the pet department clerk asked me if I wanted to buy one or if I was "just looking." I told him that I really did want to buy one, but I did not have $1.09. I remember that I actually asked if I could do some work for them.....sweeping up, taking out trash, etc.....to earn the amount that I did not have. "How much DO you have?" he asked me. I told him I had about 40 cents. He took me aside and lowered his voice, the way people do when they are making a sexual overture or conducting a drug transaction, and told me that there was a "special" turtle who had a few problems, who was in their present shipment, and no one wanted to buy him. He told me that they did not want to throw him out (and he called the turtle "him," so I always afterwards assumed it was a male....I never knew how to tell a turtle's gender, and I wanted to respect the animal's privacy and not be searching around in his/her private parts....and certainly when I did not know what I was even looking for down there!) because he was a living thing, not a can of out-dated cat food. "I can sell you this one turtle for forty cents. Do you have the forty cents with you?" Yes, I did, and I paid him (and even as a nine-year-old, or whatever I was, I noticed he put the forty cents in his pocket, and not in the register). A minute or two later, I was presented with a small black turtle in a plastic bag with breathing holes in it. When I looked at his face, I noticed that he had an eye in the middle of his face where the nose would usually be (like a bullet-nosed Studebaker car from the late 40s or early 50s), he had a small misshapen nose off to the side, and to the side of that was a small slit which was probably where the second eye would have been if he'd had one. I named him Harry.

I was happy to take Harry home. He might have been thrown out had I not come around wanting a pet turtle but without the money to buy one. I always felt very close to Harry Turtle. Like all creatures who are different on the surface, he probably had to take a lot of crap from the more conventional turtles in the pond....and that experience deepened and enriched his character....he was a noble turtle.

I may have had Harry Turtle when this comic book was published. If I had to break down GO-GO into its component parts, I’d say it’s equal parts imitation CRACKED and imitation ARCHIE, with a twist of TIGER BEAT....the latter because there are promo pics (these certainly would have been laying around the Charlton offices as they were the publishers of HIT PARADER) of The Beach Boys, pics that look vintage 1965. Brian is even featured on the cover.

In addition, there’s a parody of The Monkees in an article called “Record Breaker,” not written by someone who appreciated or knew much about The Monkees, but someone who saw some pics of them and maybe a few minutes of their show. They’re also featured prominently on the cover, so the teeny-bopper with 12 cents in her (and in some cases, his) pocket in 1967 would see both the Monkees AND The Beach Boys on the cover and just know this was, as the tagline at the top of the cover says, “teen’s top comic.”

The mag opens with a PEYTON PLACE parody (!!!!) called “Return To Peculiar Place,” which aims at a MAD-level, but lands squarely in CRACKED territory. Then we’re treated to a seven-page story of the exploits of teen superstar “Miss Bikini Luv,” who bears a very strong resemblance to Betty of Archie comics fame, and just in case the reader did not make that connection, her manager looks like a cigar-smoking version of Mr. Weatherbee. The Archie knock-offs continue in a one-page comedy strip called “Rendezvous” about a Russian and an American astronaut who don’t get to get together when they crash-land on the moon----the Russian gal looks like Betty, once again, and the American guy looks like Reggie.

If anyone wondered whether this magazine was aimed at girls or boys, that question is answered in a one-page filler short story called “The First Argument,” about a young married couple, where the guy (who rarely cooks) makes a sub-standard breakfast for the gal, with the eggs made the wrong way from what she likes, and she points that out to him. The message of the story, told to a young lady by one “Aunt Edna,” is that young ladies should praise to the sky whatever he does because he’s actually trying to help, which is a sign of his love for you. Ummm, OK....I guess the most charitable way to interpret this story would be to treat it like a typical sit-com plot, but awkwardly told and without the humor. If Darren made a sub-standard breakfast for Samantha on an episode of Bewitched, would she complain? Well, actually, she’d tweak her nose and make it a gourmet spread magically, but we’ll forget about that right now.

The book’s final story is called “Snow What: A Far-Out Fairy Tale,” which is another lampoon of the pop music world, with Snow being a guitar-slinging teen idol who sings songs like “Whistle While You Jerk” and who plays coffee-houses on the same bill as bands such as “The 7 Dipthongs.” One wonders if this story had been submitted to CRACKED and rejected!

After another Beach Boys pic, which kills another page, we get to the back cover, and here is the perfect summation of the mag.....an ad for one of Charlton’s “sound-alike” song-hits packages, 36 HIT SONGS, also peddled in HIT PARADER. What you’d get here is six 6-track 45 rpm 7” EP’s (6 x 6 = 36, so there’s the 36 hit songs) of sound-alike budget cover versions of hits. According to archivist and vintage popular culture authority Lee Hartsfeld, “these exact same tracks also came out on a host of other cheap labels, including Tops, A.R.C. (Allied Record Co.), Promenade, Hurrah! and Bravo.” I’m sure the folks at Charlton were good at “making deals” as they had so many licensed properties (and in the case of Tarzan, un-licensed) among their offerings, and by the 1960’s, HIT PARADER was paying something for the rights to the song lyrics they printed. It’s actually a weird collection of songs that attempts to cover all the bases....I’ve always loved these rip-off sound-alike records, and I didn’t even know the copycats attempted Dylan’s “Positively 4th Street.”

In a way, that budget sound-alike music is the perfect complement to this magazine....and why not down a store-brand diet soda while you listen to the fake English accent on the knockoff of “Well Respected Man.”

GO-GO copies are not that expensive when you can find them--evidently Beach Boys collectors haven’t been tipped off to the significance of this issue (The Byrds are in one of the others). But then, I can’t imagine an off-center blurry repro of a promo pic the fans would already have a clean copy of would be too appealing....the fans nowadays are probably saving their money for copies of mono LP’s and Stack-O-Tracks.

I hate to break this news to anyone under 35, but most teens were NOT listening to the Chocolate Watchband or participating in political protests in 1967....this magazine, as cut-rate and throwaway as it is, probably captures a lot more of what daily life was like for the 13 year olds from insulated suburbs and small towns than what’s offered by the many other cultural artifacts of that day which have washed up on our 21st Century shores.

Harry Turtle and I advise you to check it out (as Joe Bob Briggs would say)....while munching on dollar-store candy and swigging Shasta root beer.


GL said...

What happened to Harry?

Bill S. said...

We moved to a much higher altitude, and I don't think that agreed with him, because he got soft shell and then passed away. However, we had a few good years together!

GL said...

Good to hear, great story.

diskojoe said...

At least one Beach Boys fan knew about this issue. The front cover was republished in Listen, Look, Vibrate & Smile! Dominic Priorie's compilation of SMiLE-era Beach Boys articles.