Tuesday, January 31, 2017

COMIC BOOK REVIEW BY BILL SHUTE! FIGHTIN' MARINES #117 (Charlton Comics, June 1974)


Live cheaply--live well. That was my motto during my six years in Oklahoma, where I moved after leaving Colorado in 1979. I managed to find cheap places to live, basic food was cheap, and I did not have a car for the first year or two. I had a work-study job at the college where I was attending part-time, and I worked four nights a week at a local restaurant/bar/club, so I could easily pay my cheap rent and utilities--also, as an “employee” at the college, my tuition was very cheap and some semesters I paid next to nothing. That left a good amount for record purchases!

Moving from Denver, a town with an active and hip music scene--and also the amazing Wax Trax Records (Jim Nash, wherever you are in the afterlife, thank you for being such a friend to underground music and to those of us devoted to it in Denver--I can remember him fronting me the latest Industrial Records release or some Kim Fowley rarity or a Sun Ra album on Italian “Horo”, knowing how much I needed it, and telling me “just pay me when you get your next paycheck” and not even writing it down. And we all did pay him.) and multiple used record stores--to Northern Oklahoma was a bit of a change, but I’d kind of reached a dead end in Colorado and needed to re-invent myself, like a snake shedding his skin, and re-build the new me from the ground up, piece by piece, gesture by gesture.

Being a college town, Stillwater was a place that wanted to be connected to what was happening, and there was an excellent used record store run by an ex-hippie (in the GOOD sense of that term--sharing, laid-back, stress-free, open-minded, etc.) named Ken (he and I later co-hosted a radio show one Sunday night a month on the 50,000-watt FM station in town, which could be picked up after sundown in Kansas, Arkansas, North Texas, etc.), and that place was also a hangout for the punk-and-underground-inclined people in town. There I met a number of people who became music-friends. We’d hang out at each other’s places, listening to obscure records we’d each bring over, and also listening repeatedly to new releases from, say, PIL, Wire, Throbbing Gristle, etc.

Beer was cheap....you could get a six-pack of Pearl Cream Ale for $1.09 (which I often paid for in change), Little Kings (which sometimes tasted vaguely of soap) was also cheap (if I crossed over through the college dorm parking lots to get to the other side of town on a Sunday morning, I’d see pools of vomit and empty bottles of Little Kings here and there, mementos of someone’s Saturday night binge-drinking), and of course, all the lousy beers with Milwaukee in the title were super-cheap, so we’d always have plentiful beer and non-filtered cigarettes such as Camel, Pall Mall, and Chesterfield, as we spent long afternoons and evenings and overnight sessions playing the second and third LP’s of the Clash’s SANDINISTA over and over and over. I still had all the BYG-Actuel and ESP-Disk free-jazz albums I’d bought as a teenager, and also the Terry Riley and La Monte Young albums on Shandar, the Derek Bailey and Steve Lacy and John Cage albums on Italian “Cramps” etc., and the Emanem LP releases, so those were opening the minds of my local friends who were maybe 2-3 years younger than I. Although I never sought out such a role, I think I was something of a mentor to them. They would borrow my books by William Burroughs or Gertrude Stein or Jean-Paul Sartre or Henry Miller or the then-lesser-known works of Kerouac such as TRISTESSA or DESOLATION ANGELS or VISIONS OF CODY, and I would tell them about this history of the avant-garde, my dealings with people such as Cecil Taylor and Allen Ginsberg and the like. I’ve never understood the selfish, elitist attitudes that you find on the internet about specialized fields in the arts. I’ve always had the attitude that if you love something, you should want to share it, to turn people on to it----that’s certainly always been the BTC philosophy! It’s an almost missionary zeal. In the early days of the internet, when I joined discussion groups related to areas I am fanatical about--Duke Ellington, blues music, Elvis bootlegs, etc.--I found that there was an incredible insecurity and territorialism, with people wanting to create little fiefdoms and to become the big cheese with others sucking up to them. Fuck that!

There was also a kind of rite-of-passage aspect to sharing something with someone, almost like some kind of initiation into another plane of existence. If you really GOT what Albert Ayler or Gertrude Stein or Derek Bailey or Warhol or Andy Milligan or Frank Wright or Captain Beefheart or La Monte Young or Ted Berrigan or Henry Miller were doing, you had doors open up, and once you went down those halls into new and unknown areas, you could never go back again. You were transformed. You saw everything from a new angle. It was exciting but at the same time it was calming because whatever shit was coming down in everyday life, you understood the bigger and deeper picture, and you knew, this too shall pass away.

That spirit is still alive today among young people, and even though I am a grandfather now, I still see a modern version of the same thing--though of course, nowadays EVERYTHING is available at the click of a mouse or on your smart phone. The experience of waiting FOR YEARS to find a particular record or book, and then still not finding it--maybe getting a muddy, fifth-generation cassette dub of the album or a Xerox of part of the book--is something alien to those coming up now. I’d be a fool to say that we had it better in those days--that would be like the old “going hungry makes you stronger” argument. However, on some level, I think we APPRECIATED something more back in those days because we did not have an infinite number of cultural phenomena at our fingertips. I remember scoring a copy of Sunny Murray’s BYG album SUNSHINE for six or seven dollars circa 1980 at Starship Records in Tulsa, bringing it back to Stillwater, and for weeks afterwards, the crew and I would get together after our various work-shifts were over, and we’d partake of those long free-jazz blowout jams, elevated by the pulsating foundation of Sunny’s crashing and blurred polyrhythmic drum-and-cymbal flow, as if they were some kind of sacrament. We TREASURED every note on that album, and we played it enough times that we knew every note, every pause, every scrape of the bass, every screech and guttural blast from tenor saxophonist Kenneth Terroade, someone we knew next to nothing about, constructing worlds of associations from his playing and a blurry b&w photograph of him hidden behind dark sunglasses. There was a celebratory communal-festival vibe about those spiritual free-jazz fire-music blowing sessions done quickly and cheaply in Paris 1969 by musicians finally freed from their moorings--starving and unpaid-by-the-label, but free...and we were able to tap into that vibe and somehow reside in the sacred space created by those musicians. We did it in Stillwater, Oklahoma....and our brothers and sisters, separated yet unknowingly-united around the globe, also did it. It was a great time, and we all came together for a handful of years, shared and grew and communed, and then went on our own ways to different towns, different states, different situations, different realities. But we all grew from that same soil, and wherever we were eventually transplanted, it influenced what we later became.


One of the members of this varying group of 15-17 people was named Travis. He was from one of the small towns north of Stillwater up near the Kansas border....although even at the time I was not sure which one. He had some kind of run-in with the law as a high-school kid, and he wound up dropping out. He was thin and had the build of someone who had been an athlete and had gone to seed, but still had a look that would be considered intimidating to the average person. He dressed in white t-shirts and pegged jeans with either steel-toed work boots or cowboy boots. He had an angular face and close-cropped hair in the military recruit style. He was a quiet person until you knew him, and he had a hunger for the arts....he would stay up all night reading, for example, a copy of Kerouac’s THE SUBTERRANEANS or John Dos Passos’s MANHATTAN TRANSFER which I loaned him, and then come back a few days later with many fascinating thoughts and observations about the CONSTRUCTION of those works, as though he were an architect looking at someone else’s sketches and then analyzing the functionality of the design and why the architect made the choice that he did. He was also a talented artist. My job at the college gave me access to a lot of used paper--used on one side, that is--which was going to be thrown out, but which they’d allow me to take (this was before recycling came in). I would give him stacks of this paper for him to do his artworks on. However, as a poor, working-class kid from a small town who’d dropped out of high school (he was NOT a college student--about half of our group had at least one foot in the college, even if they were not going there now, but the other half had no interest in it or were dropouts and thus could not attend even if they’d wanted to), no one in the general community would ever view him as having any arts potential, so he worked in private, showed his drawings and paintings (all done on that used paper from the college) to friends, and that was it. I would check out art books from the library for my own pleasure and enlightenment, and he would always devour them----works of Braque, Twombly, Renoir----and he would also deconstruct those, tell me about the logic behind their CONSTRUCTION, and I’d see those ideas then become integrated into his own work. Once when I got access to a 14” x 17” piece of construction paper, he did a beautiful pen-and-ink portrait of Johnny Burnette (of the Rock And Roll Trio, and later solo artist for Liberty Records) for me, which I displayed on my wall. I later sold it for $50 when I got married, and my wife and I needed money to move to Virginia where we’d been promised work. I hope whoever presently owns that has it displayed on his or her wall. It somehow captured the depth and complexity and richness found in Johnny Burnette’s music, but at the same time shined with the glow of a man who truly wanted to make people happy with popular and accessible songs that could be heard and enjoyed by anyone from 5 to 75. A man who died in a boating accident when he was just hitting his stride as an adult and had become a master of the recording studio. A man who’d written hundreds of songs, the one who with his fellow-songwriting-brother Dorsey, waited in Rick Nelson’s driveway to catch him when Rick came home and to surround him with their excellent songs which they knew were just right for Rick and his persona, which Rick recognized too....and then a great partnership was born--Johnny and Dorsey writing them, Rick interpreting and recording them....Waitin’ In School, Believe What You Say, It’s Late, Just A Little Too Much, etc. Each one the perfect two-minute rock-and-roll record. Having Johnny Burnette on my wall kept me honest...and kept me inspired.

Travis had a job at a plumbing supply depot, the kind of place where plumbers and plumbing companies would pick up whatever they needed for a particular job, so they would not have to keep an infinite number of parts in stock at their own places of business, parts they would rarely need. He worked 20-30 hours a week there, few enough so they did not have to pay him any benefits, but enough for him to have a furnished room somewhere (while our floating listening parties went from house to house, from apartment to apartment, we NEVER went to his place, and I don’t remember him ever inviting anyone over) and keep him in cigarettes and give him some pocket money. He rarely pitched in for beer or brought any over, unless you called him on it, but he was a great person to have around, and if our collective of like-minded souls was a salad, he would be the radishes--yes, you could get by without him, but you did not WANT to get by without him.

A year or two after I met him, he lost that plumbing job somehow. He had a few stories he’d told different people about why he’d lost it, so I figured none of them were true. My guess is that he’d stayed up all night painting or reading or whatever one too many times and missed his 8 a.m. work-shift more than once and was given the boot. Laid-back guy that he was, he did not seem to fret about not having a job. I knew him well enough to know that he did not have any other source of income....and also that he was estranged from his family. Evidently, he had a religious-fundamentalist mother who disowned him when he moved in with his girlfriend a few years before we met, when he was 16 or so. So we friends of his wondered what he was up to, as he had rent to pay, etc.

Evidently, he did nothing about the situation....because one night, when friends were leaving my place at about 4 a.m. after a long night of listening to a few albums of John Cage prepared piano music over and over and over, and getting off to the chiming, percussive glow of the pieces, which radiated like a miniature gamelan orchestra, he stayed around after the last person left, and explained that he’d been evicted from his room and had no place whatsoever to go and could he crash on my living room couch for a few days until he could get work. Since I was in no mood to analyze the situation or negotiate as I was crashing right before sun-up, I of course told him yes. He had two small boxes of clothing and possessions which he’d been able to put temporarily in the store-room at a Mexican restaurant where a friend of his worked, and he said he’d get some changes of clothes there.

My couch was not very comfortable or very large. The place was half a one-floor duplex, kind of like the proverbial shotgun-shack. A sitting room out front (where the couch was), straight back to the kitchen and dining table, straight back to the bedroom and bathroom, straight back to the rear door and steps to the small backyard where there was a clothesline. I would wash my clothes in the kitchen sink and hang them out to dry in the backyard. I still have not forgotten that I had a beautiful bullseye-logo THE WHO--MAXIMUM R&B t-shirt, as well as a t-shirt with Andy Warhol’s portrait of Dennis Hopper, stolen off the clothesline. For years I looked for someone wearing them, but alas, whoever stole them must have then taken them out of town.

The couch had a wooden-frame (I guess it would be called a “love-seat” and not a couch, as it had only two sections, not three) and black plastic cushions that would not absorb sweat. With my two jobs and school (I tended to study at the library as there were fewer distractions there than at home), I was not home a lot, so having Travis living there was not a problem in the early weeks. However, he would put no effort into finding a job.

He would stay up all night (when I’d gone to bed after I came in late from my shift at the club) drawing or painting or reading and would go to bed at sunrise. He produced a lot of interesting work, but in a way, I was becoming his patron, which was something I did not want to be doing.

The weeks became months, and I did not enjoy having to become a father-like figure to him, pushing him to go out and get a job, and lecturing him on responsibility. I kept as little food as possible in the kitchen, to try to push him out that way, but whatever was there--onions, out-dated bologna, mayonnaise, diluted Kool Aid--he’d manage to live on, and when I let even that run out, he would just not eat, or mix ketchup with hot water to make a drink the way you would read about depression-era people who could not afford a meal doing. Also, earlier, he’d asked if I minded him re-rolling the tobacco in my cigarette butts (and there is ALWAYS good and usable tobacco in the end of a non-filter cigarette--I’d used the leftovers to re-roll new cigarettes myself during some of my lean periods) I’d leave in the ashtrays, and I said that was fine, so he kept some rolling papers handy, and he’d smoke as many as he could roll from what I’d left behind. I tried to not leave matches or a lighter around to perhaps discourage him from staying, but as he could light them on the kitchen stove, that was not much of a motivation.

Finally, after about six months of his not working and his crashing on my couch and my having to stay away from my own place if I wanted any privacy, I told him he needed to be out by a certain date if he did not have a job, and if he did not, then I would put his box of clothes on the front porch and keep the door locked (he did not have a key--this was a small-town and we did not worry about locking doors that much). He stayed until the last hour on the last day....I got up to go for work at 7 a.m. on a Friday, he was still sleeping, and when I got back he and his box of possessions had gone. But he did leave me a new six-pack of Rolling Rock beer (my then-favorite) and a pack of Camel straights and a new lighter, with a note that had a sketch of something that looked like the monster in a Mexican horror film imported by K. Gordon Murray and said THANKS, MY FRIEND.

None of us ever heard from him again. He could not join the military because of his problems with the law--he would have taken that route out of small-town life if he could--but we did hear vague rumors of his hooking up with some girl who’d support him, somewhere in Southern Kansas, south of Wichita. Evidently he’d gotten her pregnant, and he wound up staying there and working at McDonald’s to support them. Like a drop of water that falls back into the stream and then can never again be isolated and found and examined, he’d fallen back into the great anonymous crazy-quilt of Midwestern smalltown life. Or did he? With a child to support (and evidently he’d bonded with the girl’s dad, who would take him hunting and work on cars with him), he probably did not flee to Oklahoma City or Austin or Lawrence, Kansas, or some place where he could follow his art muse. He’d cast down his bucket, he’d taken root there, wherever there was, and he’d re-invented himself. As we in Stillwater moved on and scattered, no one heard anything of his whereabouts, but whatever he wound up doing, those nights of reading Kerouac and listening to Sunny Murray and John Cage no doubt provided him with some kind of internal gyroscope, and wherever he may be today, even if it is the great beyond, I wish him well.

One thing Travis always enjoyed reading--and with my small place, what was mine was his--was my military comic books--FIGHTIN' ARMY, FIGHTIN' MARINES, ATTACK, BATTLEFIELD ACTION, etc. He probably would have joined the military if he did not have that mysterious criminal blot on his record. I know that for periods of time when recruitment is down, the military’s requirement for a high school diploma or a clean record gets waived, but evidently in that time period, recruitment must have been above the quota because they would not take him. After reading my war comics, he would sometimes do sketches of mutants and robotic-looking people in military situations. I’d see my copy of BATTLEFIELD ACTION laying on the living room floor next to these sketches, and I’d have to step over them, as if stepping through a minefield, to get out to work and school in the morning, as Travis was spread out asleep on my uncomfortable couch. I’m not a psychologist, but I’d love to hear what one would have to say about the nature of these mutant and robotic soldiers in the artwork...

War comics became popular after World War II, and their golden age was probably the 1950’s, up through the Vietnam War period. I doubt most of these war comics had much to do with actual war....about as much as crime comics had to do with actual police work or romance comics had to do with actual relationships. They seemed rooted in B-movie war stereotypes. On occasion they might reflect the qualities of camaraderie, teamwork, sacrifice, and total devotion to the mission--becoming more than you thought you were ever capable of while in a life-and-death situation--associated with fighting a war, or they might deal with the different perspectives of officers and enlisted troops, but the motive of most of them was entertainment....violent, hero-oriented entertainment that moved fast, like a WWII movie with us Yanks taking down evil Japanese or Germans, played like the most over-the-top serial villain. Everyone needs a good, red-blooded B-war movie from time to time, and war comics filled that void. The war comics genre began to die in the 1970’s, and just as with western comics, the geniuses at DC comics helped destroy the genre with their “Weird War”-style comics in the waning days of war comics.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s, new comics emerged which attempted to provide an accurate and realistic view of the Vietnam War through the eyes of writers who’d fought in that conflict. This began with THE ‘NAM, published by Marvel, and then smaller publishers began to bring out realistic works that veered more toward the graphic novel style. These are admirable, and it’s great that veterans were able to tell their stories through those, but they are not really in the same universe as the pulpy, simplistic, and sensationalized war comics from the golden age.....anymore than a film like THE BOYS IN COMPANY C or PLATOON should be compared with a WWII serial with an evil Ming The Merciless-style Japanese villain, played by some Anglo actor--my favorite film of that type is the 1943 MASKED MARVEL serial, where the Japanese villain is played by former Little Rascals “adult” actor Johnny Arthur, who had his own silent comedy shorts and also a kind of Franklin Pangborn-esque vibe about him. That’s the world a quality old-school war comic book echoes, and boy, does this issue of FIGHTIN’ MARINES serve that up piping hot.

Look at that Nazi on the cover, with the monocle, looking like someone who escaped from the set of a Hammer horror film but first stopped off at the wardrobe department and borrowed the “evil Nazi” costume. Yes, that’s the way I want my war comics....over the top and comic-booky, in the best sense of that word. The first story in this issue, FOLLOW ME....AND DIE, probably resonated especially well with one particular group of readers: the recent recruits, those E1 servicemen right out of boot camp with whom I shared many a long bus ride across the Midwest, as they were going back home to see their girlfriend or wife after Basic Training....or the even newer recruits who were on the way to Basic Training. I can remember those young men on the bus reading war comics to kill time as we were going though places like Guymon, Oklahoma, or La Junta, Colorado. In this story, a corporal runs rings around his commanding officer, doubts the officer’s decisions and is proven right, and then finally gets an instant promotion to become an officer himself (!!!)...winning the respect of the original officer. There’s a fantasy fulfilled! The next story A KILLER IN TOWN has a rag-tag group on under-supplied and under-supported Marines taking on the Chinese communists in the Korean War. Finally, our monocled gothic Nazi is featured in NAZI HIT MAN, and it ends with one of my favorite B-action film clichés: the wacko, loose-cannon cop (in this case, Marine) who has explosives strapped to himself and threatens to blow BOTH of them up, and he’s so crazy (or, actually, he’s gotten others to believe he is), the bad guy buys it....and surrenders. I’m sure that scene is still being trotted out today in straight-to-video action and war and anti-terrorist movies.

You know, when comic books started taking themselves too seriously for their own good, it’s kind of like when rock and roll evolved into “rock”....or when punk was watered down to new wave--the baby was thrown out with the bath water. Thankfully,

FIGHTIN’ MARINES still delivers a Marine-like punch, even 40+ years after its publication. I can only imagine what kind of exciting dreams Travis had, sprawled out on my uncomfortable two-cushion couch, still under the woozy influence of those concentrated tobacco resin-drenched roll-your-own cigarettes made from my Camel and Chesterfield butts, as the sun was rising on Northern Oklahoma.....sleeping soundly, when he should have been out looking for work!

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Sheesh, I really must be turning into a real blobba somethingorother given these rather inactive, short winter days. Y'know, I really should join a gym or maybe do some walking around the neighborhood  in order to shed somma those pounds, but whenever I do get the impulse to activate myself thankfully I come to my senses and just veg out like any true son of the suburb should. Otherwise I seem to be doing fairly well health-wise if I and my doc do say so myself, though for some strange reason I just hope I don't start lactatin' all over the place which could add up to a whole buncha major embarrassing problems on my part, y'know???

Trudge on I must no matter how many times people yell at me to "get a bra!" whenever I do wobble down the street. In udder news, one way I wiled away the hours this week (besides waffling down bags of kettle cooked potato chips) was creepy crawling through the GOLDEN AGE REPRINTS site hoping to scam some MUCH NEEDED comic strip and book reprints dating from the fifties and even further back. And boy, did their new wares look good from a whole slew of FRECKLES comic books to a collection of DIXIE DUGAN (hubba!) strips not to mention some Dell FRITZI RITZes that just might have zoned me back to that late-fifties suburban slob upbringing I sure wish I was old enough to have lived through! Sad to say, after about clocking in over $200 of intended ware I figured out that in no way could I afford any of this, so I just let the order wither away into oblivion until my financial straits are a lot more...er...secure than they may be at this very minute.
***
From GRIFFITH OBSERVATORY #1
Hey, MARY TYLER MOORE died. Turn your perky meters down to half mast.
***
N-E-whey, I hope you like this batch of reviews I decided to whip up for you out of the goodness of my heart. Actually, I don't care if you like 'em or not...here they are for your own value judgement, which I know will be lopsided against me. Once again there's nothing here that I actually purchased with the sweat of my toil or some such other old tyme cliche that I most certainly go for, but then again is there anything out there that I exactly feel like parting my hard-begged with these sad 'n sorry days? Once again thanks to the BIG THREE (Bill Shute, P.D. Fadensonnen and Paul McGarry) for their offerings....naturally I'll be getting to more of their wares next week unless something DRASTIC happens before that (like a major release featuring the legendary ? and the Mysterians/Stooges jam session) which I most sincerely doubt, but we can hope now, can't we???



Crash Street Kids-TRANSATLANTIC SUICIDE CD-r burn (originally on Not Lame Records)

Well whaddaya know! A recent (in this case late oh-ohs) group that not only pays homage to the hard pop scene of the mid-seventies, but sounds good enough that it could have been passed off as the Real McDeal! As you probably woulda expected, these Crash Kids do have a whole lot of Mott the Hoopleisms worked into their sound, but you can also figure in the likes of the Move and maybe even some early Todd Rundgren into their makeup and the resultants are what you wish more local bands in your burgh sounded like way back when 'stead of them copping the latest Chicago riffs. So great not only in mid-seventies attempt but pure execution that even the orchestration doesn't stick out like a sore thumb. Perfect for those of you who have fond memories of scouring not only the import bins but the cutout racks and flea markets trying to grab onto as much rock 'n roll energy as your pennies would take you.
***
The Electric Firebirds-DANCE PARTY TIME CD-r burn (originally on Crown Records)

If Aunt Flabby was wont to get you alla those budget rack folkie and Beatle knock-off albums for Christmas between the years 1963 and 1966, I get the impression she wouldn't be coughing up the ninety-nine cents to get you this album for the 1969 season. Not with the pic of the gal flashing some suckem on the cover. Too bad, because this particular spinner, despite having a song titled "Woodstock Hour" innit which I'm sure conjures up such fear and hatred in you, ain't so bad. It's mostly early/mid-sixties styled cheezo instrumental music which has none of the overbearing aspects of hippiedom to pollute its purity, and as far as snappy cheap instrumental albums go something like this would satisfy ya just about as much as a---say---more expensive Dave Allan and the Arrows album on Tower. Frankly, I think you would have preferred this 'un over the Charlie Brown Bubble Bath that Aunt Flabby ultimately did get ya because I know I would!
***
Jpt Scare Band-ACID ACETATE EXCURSION CD-r burn

Dunno who these guys really are or from whence they came, but if you're fond of those hard-rock trios of the sixties (and even seventies!) who used to blare out Hendrix/Cream-inspired rock rants from their outhouse you'll probably like these guys. Nothing offensive or "hey-look-at-me!" about this performance either which sounds like it was recorded at the local cheap studio and paid for in bottle pop money. Gets into its own groove which really does envelop ya into its own guttural world...if you were the kinda kid who used to listen to these type of strains that weird band down the street cranked out back '69 way well you know what to do now, if you can only latch onto this thing that is (try scouring the web for a download).
***
Virginia Genta, David Vanzan, Dag Stiberg, Jon Wesseltort-DET KRITISKE PUNKT CD-r burn (originally on Feeding Tube Records)

I should be surprised, but I'm not. Really, these avant improv recordings are getting better and better, and frankly this one is no exception. Made up of a buncha Norwegian and Eyetalian free players, DET KRITISKE PUNKT screams on like those early Peter Brotzmann albums did mixed in with a little AACM small-instrument style and a lotta Last Exit overdrive to keep you satisfied, and I'm sure there's even a whole load of references that a not-that-up-on-it guy such as I am not aware of! The resulting sound sure dredges up a whole lot more memories other'n yer dad ripping this thing offa the turntable. If you are still weepy over the demise of the NMDS you might want to hear this 'un if only to perk your ears up just a tad bit.
***
Various Artists-HILLSIDE '66 COMPILATION LP, COLUMBUS OHIO CD-r burn (originally on Hillside)

Like just about every sorta/kinda big city in the mid-sixties, Columbus Ohio had its share of local rock groups aping the sounds of the big names with varying results. Thankfully the Hillside record company was there to document a whole load of these groups and soon enough for us some of 'em were collected on this neat-o compilation platter that has been pressed to disque for my personal dancing and dining pleasure. Nothing but covers here true, but the results are rather striking from honest depictions of the Byrds (the Possums) to close enough for jazz (the Eggs' rendition of "My Little Red Book") and like a good portion of these under-the-counter sixties bands these do stand on their own suburban slob ranch house appeal. Pick of the litter---Terry Davidson and the Barracudas' "Hooray For Hazel" sung by a kid so young you would have thought he was the president of the local chapter of the Gary and the Hornets fan club!
***
Slim Gaillard-MISH MASH CD-r burn (originally on Clef)

Bill Shute has always had more...uh...universal tastes than horse-blindered me ever did, and that's (once again) the reason he sent me a burn of this big ten inch. He knows I'm such a dumbass regarding these kinds of definitely non high-energy rock styled musings. If I were one of those typical historical nerd kinda rock critic guys who all got fired from their big city newspaper jobs about ten years back I'd be waxing eloquent about how it was this kinda music that obviously led to the rock 'n roll these guys pretend to pay eternal homage to (especially that early-seventies laid back stuff!) but I won't. I mean, what else can be said other'n this is the real tuff mid-twentieth century hard-edged bluesy jazz complete with a nice tribute to Gaillard's own Cuban upbringing tossed in here and there...without coming off total felch that is.
***
TV '67 CD-r burn (originally on Wyncote Records)

The '67 tee-vee season really must've been a turdburger considering that I can't remember any of the theme songs presented on this budget platter...'cept for DRAGNET and I SPY that is. Still good enough to prove to alla your "enlightened" friends that the world wasn't all hippydippy love and peace during those days when  most of the populace was smart enough to look down upon those smelly savages. The music from these shows still had a '63 sense of urgency about 'em (as I supposed the programs they accompanied did), and it sure does warm the cockles of my heart to know that the hip 'n new styled entertainment that I remember throughout the seventies (for all of the good that it may have been, once ya got used to it) wasn't evident on the boob tube at this time. Sure nothing here 'cept Jack Webb's creation really captured the fun tee-vee zeitgeist but then again it was sure better'n HILL STREET BLUES as far as deliverin' on the action, eh?
***
Various Artists-PAGAN LIMIT KANDELL VISION CD-r burn (Bill Shute)

Dunno what the Walk Disney "Alice" comedy shorts have to do with this disque (did I ever tell you about the time I saw one of these on OLD MOVIES, THE GOLDEN ERA and host Stu Levin was less than enthusiastic not only about the animation but the music on the thirties-vintage reissued soundtrack?), but with a selection like this who cares! Lotsa good punk rock of both the sixties and seventies variety including the Pagans (one of many sixties groups with that moniker and not the seventies Cleveland aggregation), the Herd, the Kandells and the Friedles doing some good next door neighbor kinda mid-sixties workouts that you probably wish you were around to hear if only so they could pay you to quit bothering 'em.

If your tastes tend to veer yet another way the Limit and Visions do some of the late-seventies local rock workout stuff sounding pretty hard powerpop punk-ish, and though I'm not exactly the #1 rah-raher over these sounds I can still appreciate the energy and hard work of this for what its worth (which is more than these guys'll ever get)! Also included are an early Bing Crosby radio broadcast, an episode of ADVENTURE IS YOUR HERITAGE dealing with the invention of radar, and two-count-'em-two Ellery Queen minute mysteries that'll have you twangin' your brain tryin' to solve the case (though the first one dealing with barbed wire was sorta easy if I do say so myself!).

Thursday, January 26, 2017

BOOK REVIEW! WALT KELLY'S OUR GANG Volume 2 (Fantagraphics, 2007)

I gotta admit that, like many of the old LITTLE RASCALS tee-vee viewers I've known throughout the years, I never really cozied up to the post-Roach OUR GANG comedies that were being done at MGM from 1938 until 1944. They were just too prissy and "well made" for a guy like me who thought those early talkies with Wheezer stumbling through his lines and the crackle of the transposed sound discs added a certain real-life mesmerizing quality to the films that only a four-year-old or autistic could really appreciate.

And while I'm at it I must 'fess up to the fact that I never was a fan of Walt Kelly or POGO for that matter. And I'm sure much to your surprise this was long before I knew about the whole "Simple J. Malarkey" brouhaha that earned Kelly a whole load of upper-crust brownie points that sure look swell in all of those comic strip history books. While the art seemed good enough the stories were so contrived and brainy that a NANCY fan like myself just couldn't make any sense outta 'em. To me, reading some POGO collection that I had copped outta the library was akin to reading MRS. WIGGS and that's only because I thought that's what the folks wanted me to read, not because I actually wanted to read it myself.

Mucho hosannas have been draped upon Kelly's OUR GANG series for Dell Comics o'er the years but I never really felt any real urge (well...maybe a few piddling ones)  to pick any of 'em up. Well, thanks to Bill Shute and his 2016 Christmas package I FINALLY get to read these infamous comics and y'know what? Just 'bout everything that I thought would be too staid, sober, strict and just tantamount to suburban slob treason can be found in this collection. Well, maybe it ain't that bad but reading these age twelve on a hot summer's day would not be as all-enveloping as perusing an ish of ARCHIE with a bikini-clad Betty and Veronica delineated by Dan De Carlo onna cover.

Placing the Our Gang-sters in a number of typically comic book-ish adventure stories ain't really a bad idea, but sheesh are these stories flimsy and lacking a whole lotta the verve and vigor that other kid gang comics of the day (like say "The Newsboy Legion" or "Boy Commandos") had goin' for 'em. Far from the kind of sagas that the series was encountering at the mooms (and far from the universal kiddie mayhem that was goin' on during the Roach days) the gang, which by this time featured Robert Blake, Froggy and the perennial Buckwheat (who sure hasn't grown the way he did in real life in these pages!) get shipwrecked, fight Japanese invaders, and match wits against a rival gang who naturally become pals after all is said and done. Good clean wholesome kid stuff true, but given just what a genius Kelly has been painted at all these years I sure woulda expected something more bang-slam, y'know???

Maybe the final story where Froggy invents a rejuvenation pill which he believes actually worked when his guinea pig's son is found walking around in pop's suit jacket and hat has some old vim to it, but it sure ain't a "Robot Rex" (which was perhaps one of the better late-period OUR GANG shorts) or any of those post-Roach GANGs that just happened to get 'cha even though they weren't just quite the same.

Oh yeah, while I'm at it THANK ME for sparing you a report on the heaping gobs o' white guilt goo regarding not only Buckwheat but the Japanese soldiers that is presented for your soul searching in the introduction. Seems that a good chunk of these new comics collections have some sort of mandatory disclaimer about the contents reflecting those horrid old attitudes which I'm sure gives some neophytes the impression that anything before the hippydip era was one massive roil of racial animosity. It may seem all noble and honest prima-facie-like, but in the long run it really ain't nothing but a whole load of self-back patting by a buncha people who are so keen on letting us know just how enlightened they are. Kinda makes me wonder if future presentations of current works will contain pious warnings regarding the stereotyped portrayals of the various targets of today's politically precocious set as they are presented in the current media, but somehow I am not holding your breath.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

COMIC BOOK REVIEW BY BILL SHUTE! SMILIN' ED'S BUSTER BROWN COMICS #13 (Fall 1948)

When you consider that there are still children’s clothes and shoes being sold under the BUSTER BROWN brand-name, that gives the character a life of 115 years so far, and for the first 60 or so of that, he was a major figure in popular culture.

BUSTER BROWN first appeared in a newspaper comic strip in 1902, created by Richard F. Outcault, best known for THE YELLOW KID, and was adopted as advertising mascot by the Brown Shoe Company in 1904. Whatever vague memories most people have of the character today can be attributed to the Buster Brown Shoes.

The Buster Brown character was an urban boy whose parents dressed him in somewhat foppish clothes (not unlike Little Lord Fauntleroy), which caused him to get into scraps with other boys of the neighborhood. He was a savvy boy, a kind of trickster, able to outsmart adults, and the moral lesson sometimes presented at the end of an adventure had an ironic ring to it, as if everyone was in on the joke that the “lesson” was tacked-on and not really relevant. Buster was accompanied by his friend Mary Jane and his dog Tige (short for Tiger....pronounced like Tide, but with a hard-G instead of a D). There were two versions of the Brown comic strip, which ran in newspapers for about 15-20 years. In the late 1920’s, the character had his own silent comedy shorts at Universal--and on You Tube, I found a few primitive Edison-produced Brown shorts from 1904! However, he was still best known as spokesperson for Buster Brown Shoes.

In the 1940’s, the Brown Shoe Company spun the character off into a comic book, which was given away at shoe stores. In 1943, a Buster Brown radio show began broadcast, hosted by SMILIN’ ED MCCONNELL, a man who’d paid his dues in radio since 1922 (!!!) and had the ability to adapt his persona to his audience, finding success with heartland audiences in shows with a religious or an agricultural theme. His warm, neighborly persona was perfectly suited for children’s programming, and in 1944 he began the show SMILIN’ ED’S BUSTER BROWN GANG, sponsored by Buster Brown Shoes, and featuring such McConnell character creations as Froggy the Gremlin. You can listen to a number of episodes of the show in the old time radio collection at Archive.org.

The show was a huge success, and the comic book under review today was a tie-in to the show. It was a giveaway comic, available at stores which sold Buster Brown Shoes and/or sponsored the radio program. The left bottom of the comic was left blank so that the name and address of the local sponsor could be printed. This copy came from the Fort Worth area and also highlights the radio stations on which the show could be heard. Smilin’ Ed’s jovial presence is seen at the right bottom of the cover.

Smilin’ Ed’s success on radio was such that he moved into TV in 1950, where he was also a success. He passed away in 1954, when he was replaced on the show by Andy Devine, fresh off the fame of being comic sidekick to GUY MADISON in the WILD BILL HICKOK TV show. The show then became ANDY’S GANG, which ran from 1955-1960. Andy Devine was a larger-than-life character, who had worked a lot in radio (he was on a number of Jack Benny programs), television, and films, and once you hear his uniquely screechy voice, it is not soon forgotten. ANDY’S GANG is considered a classic, and various episodes are in circulation. However I’d bet that many fans of that show were unaware of its roots in Smilin’ Ed.

While the 1948 comic book reviewed here features full-page Buster Brown shoe ads with Buster and his related characters, and Smilin’ Ed gets a full-page to promote shoe sales, the actual comic book stories here----written and drawn by Hobart Donovan----are, alas, not that interesting and do not feature any of Buster or Smilin’ Ed’s “gang.” SEAN AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE, THE BIGGEST SNAKE IN THE WORLD, and SHARK DRUM are all competently done children’s comics with an “adventure” theme and setting--at best, they resemble an earlier version of JONNY QUEST; at worst, they seem like something which could be used as filler in a religious children’s show.

I owned one pair of Buster Brown shoes as a boy. I generally was given cheap shoes, as most kids were, but when I was assessed as having fallen arches, it was suggested I get a better-made pair of shoes with better arch support, so my parents took me to the Buster Brown shoe store and bought me a pair. I don’t remember if comic books were still given out at that time. I never did get another pair of Buster Brown shoes after that--it was back to whatever K-Mart was selling.

Although this comic book is nothing special, it does reflect a special phenomenon, one which lasted for decades. If you have time to kill, take a listen to one of Smilin’ Ed’s broadcasts and return to a world that was a fantasy even while it was being produced.....the world of Ma and Pa Kettle and of Andy Hardy....of county fairs and caramel apples and grandmothers who baked pies and wore flour-stained aprons, while slipping you a quarter and a cookie behind your mother’s back....a world where, just like today, children’s programming is full of ads for products which the average working family cannot afford!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Well, here're the reviews of records etc. that I thought were just too obvious to appear in my everyday 2016 posts yet I thought should have a yellout of sorts because I did listen to 'em. Somehow I get the inklin' that you reglar readers want to know what I think about EVERYTHING out there inna world, right?, and that's why I'm presenting this special edition of BLOG TO COMM for your very inquisitive nature! Unfortunately it wasn't like I had the opportunity to run down into the basement and crack into my vinyl collection when I had the time and opportunity to (mainly because I didn't have as much free time to spare this solar rotation as I usually have) but what I could give a listen to I did. Also threw in some old cassettes and Bill burns that were lyin' around, and I know you would have too if you were only lucky enough to be me.


The Droogs-KINGDOM DAY cassette (PVC)

This particular platter (or in my case freebee cassette) was motivational enough to the point where the Droogs actually earned the front cover spot on the twelfth issue of my infamous (and that's just about it!) crudzine. But does KINGDOM DAY hold up a good twenny-nine years after this soiled and sad fact??? To be honest and up-front about it this particular Droogathom doesn't quite excite me the way it used to, but it's still a deep 'n down soul-killer with a couple of bonafeed knockouts like "Webster Field" and "Collector's Item" (which were collected on a handy-dandy single at the time) as well as the title track. The rest of this will be suitable enough for those of you who find psychedelic AGENTS OF FORTUNE styled Stalk-Forrestisms more to your bent, and I most certainly do even if the overall professionalism now seems to detract a tad. Definitely one of the better platters (or in this case tapes) to come out during those dark ages of rock 'n roll we knew as the eighties.
***
Frank Zappa-LUMPY GRAVY CD-r burn (originally on Verve)

Haven't spun this 'un in quite some time (or at least since I did my Zappapiece in issue #18 of my esteemed fanzine) so thanks be to Bill Shute for skeedaddlin' a dub my way. A weirditie for sure that was available only as an import back during my Zappafanatic days, LUMPY GRAVY doesn't sound as disjointed or as nerve-scraping as it first did, but then again years of Nurse With Wound and related stylizations had altered my listening parameters quite a bit. The orchestral sections sound typical late-sixties poppish while the "musique concrete" passages ain't as frightening to my current state o' brain as they where when I was sixteen, and overall I gotta admit that the thing sure brings back a whole lotta funzy memories of prowling through record shops and flea markets trying to cram a good fifteen or so years of hardassed rockist history into such a short span of time. Now where's my copy of George Harrison's ELECTRONIC SOUND?
***
Savage Rose-TRAVELIN'/YOUR DAILY GIFT; REFUGEE/DODENS TRIUMF CDs (both on Pelin)

I've heard the YOUR DAILY GIFT and REFUGEE platters quite awhile back. In fact so long back that I don't remember what I wrote of those long-cut out Amerigan releases of 'em, and it ain't like I'm gonna comb through thirtysome years of scribbles to refresh my memory. But I did get hold of these twofas of the aforementioned along with the previous heard, digested and loved TRAVELIN' as well as the ne'er before spun by myself DODENS TRIUMF. Yeah, these platters do reinforce my belief that Savage Rose were a hefty good mainland European late-sixties/early-seventies rock 'n roll act up there with such other mindcrankers as Can, the Amon Duuls and even Magma, a batch who I (if not you) gotta admit weren't as tippy-top in their earliest Chicago-influenced stage as Savage Rose were by even their eponymous debut, but I guess they were good enough that A&M did release at least one of their albums stateside.


TRAVELIN' is, at least for me, the last great Savage Rose spinner what with it documenting the last of the classic three-keyboard lineup and a downright get-inside-you popper with smart asides to jazz and folk themes that for once don't make you wanna puke. Annisette's voice might take a tad to get used to but so did Ethel Merman's, and the musical portion of the program really does rate up there with a whole slew of contemporary classics from Fairport Convention and other late-sixties against-the-tide aggregations what with its sophisticado pop that even had stodgy music professors tuning in. Contains perhaps the best of many stellar Savage Rose tracks, namely the controversial "My Family Was Gay" which hints at a whole lot more skeletons in the closet than mere "love that dare not say its name" hoo-hah.

YOUR DAILY GIFT doesn't quite zing me in the same fashion the first three Savage Rose platters had, perhaps because of the loss of Maria Koppel on harpsichord coupled with musical arrangements that don't quite suit the material at hand. Still this 'un has enough material to classify as near-top notch what with such tear-jerkers as "The Poorest Man on Earth" and the title track. Not one to pass up, at least after hearing the first three.

REFUGEE starts off total eruption with the gospel-y "Revival Day" and keeps going strong even when the mood gets bloozy on "Granny's Grave" and the title track. Still there seems to be a lack (though not too much) of the original oomph that made the first few such on-target albums which as you can tell seems to have been some sorta sore spot with regards to the entire Savage Rose oeuvre (though the late Imants Krumins told me that the group's output eventually became so rancid that even a longtime admirer such as himself could't hack 'em). Like on YOUR DAILY GIFT you do have to wade quite a bit between the good and the eh, but what a wade it is! If you snatched up the Amerigan release on Gregor along with GIFT back during the great Radio Shack LP and cassette cutout market saturation of late 1976 consider yourself lucky.

Haven't heard DODENS TRIUMF until these sorry days, and frankly I'm glad I didn't hear it way back when my impressionable self would have been cryin' boo-hoos over losing even more hard-begged to such a duffer as that. This particular concept album really doesn't zing me nor sound anything like the Savage Rose of previous platters. In fact Annisette doesn't even make an appearance until the end and the music sounds like treacly accordion-laden progressive rock (with a europop bent) that won't make any hardcore rock 'n roller a fan. Maybe it's a thing only the Danish can understand. Still I am not giving up on Savage Rose...in face I am looking forward to listening to their BABYLON album with various jazzbos including Ben Webster if only because it was because of Webster's association with Savage Rose than I first read about the group while reading an issue of DOWN BEAT in the waiting room of my orthodontist back 1972 way!
***
Deep Purple-IN ROCK cassette (Harvest England)

After reading John "Inzane" Olson's punkified appreciation of this early-seventies heavy metal definer I figured I better give this 'un another pre-beddy bye go instead of spinning PARADIESWARTS DUUL for the umpteenth time this week. And lo and behold, but IN ROCK does hold up in early-seventies doof-addled hard rock glory even more than I would have expected. Surprisingly enough, this platter (or in my case cassette) does have plenty in common with other early-seventies punk rock efforts (such as Ainigma and Siloah, thanks to Jon Lord's addled neo-prog organ playing) to qualify as being a hefty part of that entire overlooked movement and I ain't foolin'! So good that I don't even have to mention various MC5/Detroit high energy reference points (or early Metal Mike Saunders paens of praise) in order to get you indifferent types to latch onto a flea market copy yourself. Oops, I just did, and here I was trying to avoid tugging at your overworked rock psyche. Sorry!
***
The Velvet Underground-POP GIANTS VOL. 9 LP (Brunswick "Silber-Serie", Germany)

Most Velvet Underground compilations tend to be totally useless and poorly packaged to boot, but those from the early-to-mid-seventies sure had that dark mystique that undoubtedly equaled the occult vibrations the band emitted like crazy during their up 'n about days! This German effort circa.1973 is no diff...far from being a "greatest hits" collection POP GIANTS VOL. 9 features NO tracks from THE VELVET UNDERGROUND AND NICO,  two from WHITE LIGHT/WHITE HEAT, three from the third album proper and the rest from Nico's CHELSEA GIRL! The selections used from "The Murder Mystery" and "The Gift" to "Lady Godiva's Operation" and "I'm Set Free" cover a spectrum of jarring stylistic extremes that really give this that ol' dimensional feel while the Nico numbers (including the John Cale-penned "Winter Song", "Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams" and the platter topper "Elegy to Legny [sic!] Bruce") fit in snugly as well giving an even more striking additional "balance" to the rock tracks proper. Up there with the Pride "Swan" cover edition as well as the double set lip-sucking comp that was an omnipresent stable of the mid-seventies import bins. Once again a huge tip of the sombrero to John "Inzane" Olson for pointing this sleeper out to me.
***
Deep Purple-FIREBALL cassette (Harvest Australia)

That IN ROCK tape had me scurrying deep into my cassette collection for this particular offering which I believe was Purple's followup achievement. Again the same hallowed names in ROCK SCRIBEDOM (not criticism) had been hyping this 'un up as yet another crowning achievement of early seventies metaldom, and while FIREBALL seems to have less of a oomph than its predecessor it still packs a mighty somethingorother.

I really thought that the way Jon Lord's organ was modulated and toned and all that to sound like a viola not only on "The Mule" but "No One Came" was pretty smart esp. for a buncha guys thought of as lunkheads and heck, even the goof track "Anyone's Daughter" has a good gallop to it that you wouldn't be hearing from most heavy metal acts in the years to come. Makes me long to dig out that 1981 CREEM special heavy metal issue which was perhaps the last place in the mainstream rock press where the term heavy metal was still being used in its early-seventies adjectival state right before the advent of the hair mob a very short time later.
***
The Rock-A-Teens-WOO HOO CD (Sparkletone)

Sheesh, I gotta admit that I believe these fifties garage bands were way better'n the sixties ones! Maybe it's because these local rockatrashers were (most definitely!) operating under the influence of boffo cheapo Amerigan kultur that really resonates with the suburban slob that will continue to live in me as long as they have ranch houses! And who could deny that there's the same sorta pre-snoot rock impulses working within the psyches of acts like the Rock-A-Teens, Fendermen, Wailers and heck even Johnny and the Hurricanes that was the aural equivalent of those cheap plastic toy tanks you used to find at the local five and dime. At this point in time I'll even take the Rock-A-Teens over many of the famous rockabilly rousers of the era just because they have the same sorta chintziness that I've loved my whole life whether it be via UHF tee-vee reruns or bargain store toilet paper. On this CD reissue you get the entire album in stereo and mono as well as a buncha outtakes and studio banter featuring a rather irritated engineer!
***
Germ-TERRY RILEY-KEYBOARD STUDIES/P. MARIETAN-INITIATIVE (+ SYSTEMES) CD (Spalax, France)

One of those BYG/Aktual albums people don't like talking about. The conglomeration Germ (or at least members Gerard Fremy and Martine Josie) tinkle ivories on an obscure Terry Riley composition and frankly it doesn't sound like his more familiar work at tall. Featuring shimmering sounds akin to an old Philip Glass album being played at 78, it's probably something that will stymie fans who've only heard of Riley through CHURCH OF ANTHRAX and IN C. I found it nice in a non-dilettantish avant garde kinda way. The other track's Germ proper (a nine-piece ensemble of a chamber variety) who perform member Pierre Marietan's "Initiative" which sounds like many of these 12-tone kinda post-Webern kinda compositions whose listening audience seemed to be made up of the entire cast from the movie LOT IN SODOM. Well it's better avant garde'n watching some money grubbing dilettante shoving yams up her butthole.
***
Paul Revere and the Raiders featuring Mark Lindsay-HARD N' HEAVY WITH MARSHMALLOW CD-r burn (originally on Sundazed)

By the time the Raiders were starting to wind down on the AM charts I wasn't exactly front and center for any of their material even though I was a big fan of WHERE THE ACTION IS during the latter part of my turdler years. But dang if HARD N' HEAVY don't sound pretty great as far as the pop rock late-sixties hitmakers go. Sure it's straight ahead transistor radio sounds custom made for the mammary-sprouting early-teen gals who had posters with rainbows and unicorns in their bedrooms (this being before the homos appropriated alla them girly things as symbols of their struggle against not being able to peckerhole anything male under the age of fifteen), but hey even the grittier amongst us suburban slob guys coulda gone for this without looking too goony. It is "Hard 'n Heavy" and there ain't that much marshmallow to it either! Bonus tracks even got the infamous Pontiac "Judge" commercial for all you motorheads out there! Next stop COLLAGE with the infamous heavy metal trip "Just Seventeen"? One can only hope so!
***
The Fendermen-MULE SKINNER BLUES CD (Dee Jay, Germany)

Who woulda thought that this 50s/60s cusp group with only one major biggie onna charts woulda made that much of a mark on the listening public of the day? Well, maybe not, but it is quite obvious that the Fendermen were the precursors of the likes of the Trashmen and a whole slew of early-sixties local rockers who might have gotten somewhere in life if the Beatles and their mop-topped ilk just never happened. From the title hit to the slew of originals and cover material (even including a pretty ritzy take on Duke Ellington's "Caravan"), this one straddles the late-fifties original rock 'n roll thrust and the upcoming generation the way a tightrope walker'd cross the Grand Canyon, and if anything really exemplified the very-early sixties rock 'n roll mindset it would be acts like the Fendermen, the Rock-A-Teens and alla those other no-count aggregations that somehow get passed over in the rock "history" rush from Elvis getting drafted to the Beatles.
***
The Seventh Sons-RAGA CD (ZYX/ESP-disk, Germany)

An old fave dug up during a major Cee-Dee exhumation project. AKA FOUR AM AT FRANK'S, this legendary band cooks up some pretty good Indian-styled drone music that you can really wrap your psyche around in whether you're doing the laundry or just cooling your heels reading some old comic strip collection. Kinda beatnik yet pointing the way towards late-sixties excess, RAGA seems to predate a whole lotta things to come that unfortunately didn't sound so hotcha when its time eventually came. Gotta say one thing...if these guys were so popular in the New York rock scene what with appearances at the Fillmore and all, howcum this is their only recorded output? True they were turning down offers left and right (or so the liner notes say), but you think there woulda been someone else who woulds recorded these guys and got it out to us hungry rock 'n rollers, right???
***
David Toop/Max Eastley-NEW AND REDISCOVERED INSTRUMENTS LP (Obscure)

Part of the original line of Obscure releases that made up more'n a few paragraphs in the rock magazine of your choice, somehow this 'un never did get the same huzzahs as Eno's effort or DECAY MUSIC for that matter did. Nevertheless this is a pretty on-target example of what English experimental music was all about back in the sixties and seventies, with Max Eastley providing a number of recordings created by sound sculptures (or something like that) that were activated by natural or artificial movement while Toop performs his compositions of free sound clatter/clutter along with some falsetto vocals and the assistance of who else but Brian Eno himself. The results are everything from mesmerizing (especially the self-producing soundworks) to eyebrow raising. This was not the over-the-hills-screaming-all-the-way effort that a negative review I read back in them days had me thinking it was gonna be, but I think I have been wrong premonitions about prospective album purchases before.
***
Hasil Adkins-WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING ABOUT YOU CD-r burn

As far as I can tell this has most if not all of the Norton material and a few new things mixed up and about for all of those who missed out on the Big Hasil Adkins revival of the late-eighties. Sure you've heard 'em all before way back when but sometimes it's really nice to give a listen to these great one-man hunchers in the present when frankly we could sure use a whole lot more Hasil Adkins and a whole less...well, whatever there is that's big out there in Tinselland not that I'm payin' any attention. But when all's said and done it was fun stuff like this that got a certain nth rate rock scribe (not "critic") into thinking of broadenin' his horizons and doing his own self-published screed an'...well, don't wanna pat myself onna back any more than I should now, eh???
***
ALL IN THE FAMILY LP (Atlantic)

I guess the show was such hot property back inna seventies that just about any product related to the show would get whatcha'd call the big push! And, as Paul McGarry can tell you, ALL IN THE FAMILY was one show that really reaped in the merchandise bucks what with games, attire, political badges, books and in this case record albums being pushed onya like nothing since Davy Crockett. Like the various Archie Bunker-related books that were cluttering up the paperback racks of the day, this album consists of nothing but juicy clips from the series featuring some of the best mots, bon or not, from the likes of that lovable ol' Archie. And considering those were the pre-VCR/DVD days a rec like this sure came in handy just like those Beatle boots featuring the entire soundtracks to their various features most certainly did! As for myself the mere tee-vee series was just enough, though if someone had come up with the idea of a LEAVE IT TO BEAVER album I just might have been saving up the coinage to purchase that!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

BOOK REVIEW! OUT OUR WAY 1925 DAILIES (Jan.-June) by J. R. Williams (Ecomics Space, 2016)

I dunno why Ecomics Space split the year of '25 into two volumes but why argue if they're givin' us the goods we've been deserving for a longer time'n any of us (or at least me) can imagine! And with the mid-twenties rollin' on you can tell that OUT OUR WAY is beginning to shape up into the comic that a few of us certainly remember it being, a nice li'l cornucopian slice of mid-Amerigan fun and jamz the way it was before home computers and personal vibrators became the haute-de-hot accessories for standard suburban lifestyles.

The crossing guard and Wash Funk are still to be found even though you can just sense that their time in the comic is waning, while the group of young boys who were trying to make it to the North Pole by sled have now begun playing soldier after the Dog Catcher got hold of their propulsion. The cowboy saga is beginning to take up a whole passel o' time and, with the addition of bookkeeper Wes who's also trying to write that Great Amerigan Cowboy Novel, is given an even newer dimension what with all the practical jokes being played on this rather gullible and unaware soul. However, you can sure bet that OUR OUR WAY creator J. R. Williams made Wes out to be the ultimate hands down funny sissy of all time in these early appearances---a total washup embarrassment to himself and everyone around him for that matter! Sure the bespectacled one was always outta place next to the rough 'n tumblers who were workin' at the ranch, but in these early appearances he comes off so fey and fragile that even Harold Lloyd (who bears a not-that-striking resemblance, but close enough) looks he-man in comparison!

My faves (as usual) are the ones that flash us back to the older-than-olden times which would eventually be subtitled "Born Thirty Years Too Soon", the ones where Williams and his readers get a chance to reminisce about the days when they were young 'un's which I guess were quite different to the mid-twenties in many a way. 's funny, but at times Williams seems to be mocking those perhaps more halcyon than you'll ever admit days (such as in the panel where a bunch of turn of the century denizens yuk it up over the 1860s styles to be found in a photo album while these modern day smartasses are wearing clothes that even the Katzenjammer Kids woulda tossed inna trash) yet most of the time he laments their passing in the same way Curly the cowboy ruminates about the era of the Wild West and cowpunching coming to a sad end. Kinda makes me wanna do a little snifflin' myself, only over the end of the small-type record shops and the music that went along with 'em before the brave new days of rock video washed away just about everything in its path.

And between the cowboy series, the "Why Mothers Get Gray" fambly sitcom situations and the other fly onna wall aspects of life a good ninetysome years back, it's no wonder that OUT OUR WAY was the most clipped comic of its day. Don't have any scrapbooks with these gems myself (even though I've come across a few in my various antique shop travels) but with this non-biased, straight ahead look at an Ameriga long gone I can see just why families spent time pastin' away back in those tough yet tender sorta times
***
Since writing the above review I've chanced upon even more OUT OUR WAY collections (including the rest of '25) taking the series well into the mid-thirties with hopefully more to come. In case you aren't aware all of these books are highly recommended, not only for the aficionado comic fan types out there (all THREE of ya!) but everyday suburban slobs like myself who loved the comic pages at least until the old strips started dropping off and the new ones just weren't delivering on the yuks like they shoulda.  And if you can't get your fill of those it seems that clippings of both the daily and weekend strip can be found not only on line but at various antique malls scattered about, and considering just how under-the-radar this comic seems to be these days you might just get your fill of these comics for a mere song if lucky! Keep your peeps open for a future HIGH SIX when I will delve into the OUT OUR WAY mystique a little further.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

COMIC BOOK REVIEW BY BILL SHUTE! RAWHIDE KID #100 (Marvel Comics, June 1972)


Long before anyone ever made a drug or sex overture to me, and years before I was taken into “the back room” at Independent Records on West Colfax and offered bootleg LP’s for sale, I was first taken “behind the veil” as a comic book-buying elementary school student. Although I bought comic books at a drug store and at other places in the neighborhood, my main comic source was Convenient Food Mart, which had one of those tall circular wire-racks where the comics were on display. The comic section was in the corner of the front of the store, on the opposite end from the entrance, behind an ice-cream freezer and a soda machine. At my present advanced age, I don’t remember now what day of the week the new comic shipment appeared, and I did not have enough money to buy a comic a week anyway, but whenever I did get a quarter from my grandmother or some change from someone else for doing a chore or whatever, I would take it down to Convenient and check out the comic section. You could not “read” the comics without buying them, but you could look them over pretty closely, and I did. It was kind of like looking at 20 coming attractions for different films before deciding which one you would pay to see. It also allowed me to keep up on comics I did not actively buy as you could skim them fairly quickly. I would also stop there on the way home from elementary school and check out comics I could not afford.

I must have been going there for a few years a few times a week to look at comics when the overture was made: “Hi, Son. You come in here a lot--you’re a good customer. I’ve got some special comics in the back room that are cheaper than these ones out front. Only thing is they are missing the cover, or part of the cover. Want to take a look. You will keep this to yourself, right? Also, there’s no sales tax on these.” I was a bit taken aback, but there was the sweet taste of something unknown in his invitation, so I was ready.

What the backroom held was a few boxes of comic books with the top halves of the front cover ripped off....and some with no front cover at all. They were about 1/3 the cost of a proper comic. I don’t remember the specifics of pricing, but let’s say that instead of getting two new comic books for thirty cents, I could get something like six or seven of these “stripped” ones (as they are called in the trade).

Needless to say, I was hooked. I would make a point of stopping by when this particular guy was working, and he’d take me back again and let me thumb through the new offerings. Eventually, he let me go back myself (if there were no customers in the store), put my comics in a bag, and leave the money on the table. When I did it this way, I had to write down which ones I took, and he would check later.

I suppose on some level this practice was similar to cut-out records or remaindered books, but the big difference is that those are legit practices, and comic book stripping is not. The covers were sent back to the distributor so the store would get a credit for unsold copies. It would cost too much to ship all the unsold books back. If you look at the official notarized publication statements in comics of the era with the print runs and the sales and the returns, you see that often 50% of the magazines and comic books were returned unsold. This stripping procedure saved a lot of money on returns, and magazine and comic publishers factored the throwaway copies into the cost of doing business. Sale of stripped copies was an under-the-table practice....although I know that employees at stores which sell such publications often get access to free stripped magazines and newspapers if they want them, before they are discarded. I also remember seeing them at flea markets and junk stores as a child. That’s why you often see some kind of statement on the masthead of a magazine or comic or on the copyright page of a mass-market paperback that “it is a crime to sell this book in a mutilated form” or something similar--letting retailers know this practice is illegal and constitutes theft.

Other than the sale of stripped comic books, Convenient Food Mart seemed like a relatively honest convenience store. Independent convenience stores sometimes are a bit shady in some ways....here in Texas, you have the ones which have “8-liner” gambling machines in the back room, but you also have the ones which sell drug paraphernalia, synthetic marijuana, the combination energy drinks-with-alcohol, etc. The sleazier ones are sometimes known to offer known customers so many cents on the dollar in cash for food stamps or other government benefits. Then in some rural areas you have the phenomenon of stores selling used magazines, home-made food items, and other things you would not find in a chain-affiliated convenience store. These kind of stores are an American institution and we rely on them in so many ways, but they are rarely commented on or analyzed, except sometimes on the business page in the newspaper when there is a merger or a change in affiliation. Having worked in a convenience store myself, I can tell you that the employees REALLY know the regular customers. Even the ones who don’t talk about themselves are known to the employees through what they buy and when they buy it--and since we employees have active minds we need to fill with something, we construct scenarios about the customers. Their sex lives, their spending habits, their religious habits, the relative success of their marriages, the family dynamic (who wears the pants, etc.), who’s an alcoholic or potsmoker, who’s a habitual spender even though broke, etc.--all of these can be inferred from their purchases....but that’s a story for another article.

Of what value is a 40+ year old western comic book with a stripped cover to anyone today? It’s not as if the western genre of comic book was ever the most popular. Super-hero fans always looked down their nose at it, and it kind of died out by the 1970’s, although lame attempts were made to revive it by creating the half-baked “weird western” sub-genre. However, those never really took off except among comic-nerds. I assume that the kind of people who read western comics as children graduated to western fiction as adults--although I am an exception to that rule. I grew up on B-Western films and also western comics, but western fiction never really appealed to me. However, it has always been a niche market and continues to be, as anyone who has ever worked at a bookstore (particularly a used bookstore) knows, particularly in the west, the Midwest, and the South.

Holding this 1972 coverless Marvel western comic in my hands, I wonder....who in the world actually cares about something like this. Since it’s coverless, comic collectors would not touch it with a ten-foot pole. Superhero fans and those into comic-nerd culture (the latter being a big market segment nowadays) would not want anything to do with this as it’s a western. Those who follow comic art and comic artists might find it interesting from that angle. Stan Lee had an active hand in Marvel’s western line (and continued to into the 70’s); however, I’m guessing he does not get many questions about that in his comic-con appearances, from the people who pay two-hundred dollars for a 60-second audience with Stan, if they can even get one. Marvel tried at least twice to revive the Rawhide Kid character--through time-travel, he worked with The Avengers, and then later he was revived and made gay--and I vaguely remember each of those when it happened, but each was to me a ridiculous failure. Checking an online Marvel database, I see that the Rawhide Kid has never been killed off, so Marvel no doubt sees at least the possibility of some future marketability in the character (hey, even killing him off would have no market value nowadays!).

However, Marvel is now a huge entertainment conglomerate. The human element--the days when Marvel readers thought of themselves as a family or when you could send a note to Stan Lee and possibly even get a short answer--that’s long gone. Marvel’s unique “bullpen” provided a sense of identity and camaraderie among readers, and any comics fan of the era remembers fondly the messages from Stan Lee and later Jim Shooter about the product line and the enthusiasm about upcoming projects and story arcs. The enthusiasm shown in the old Bullpens created an enthusiasm in the readers. However, I doubt that much of Marvel’s income today comes from comic books themselves. Merchandizing and movie development deals bring in the money. The comics themselves appeal to a small and insular group. Independent publishers, who come and go, have tried since the 1980’s to create the kind of “family” atmosphere one found in pre-1985 comics, but their publications have never caught fire outside of the hardcore comics community and usually cannot be found outside specialized comic shops, places that normal people would never set foot in.

It’s possible that a 10-year old today in a section of the country where rodeos and “western culture” are still part of what’s everyday and taken for granted could stumble across this and, if he already has a taste for comics, might find it interesting and sense a kinship with it.....the way a youngster today who vaguely associates him/herself with “punk” can have a revelatory experience upon finding a Link Wray 45 on Swan or a Little Richard 45 on Specialty. Frankly, though, even in this issue, it seems as though the series was starting to be running on fumes. The main outlaw in the main story, GUNFIGHT FURY FALLS!, seems more like an over-the-top mutant than a real outlaw, and the story EL SOMBRO--MEXICO’S GHOST OF CHAPEL HILL does actually feature an otherworldly gunfighter. These are signs that the comic’s creators realize that a standard-issue western story can no longer create much interest. Jonah Hex and the full-fledged “weird westerns” were waiting just down the road a-piece--in fact, Jonah Hex made his first appearance around the time this Rawhide Kid comic was originally issued.

I was still relatively young as I watched the western comics genre distort itself while in its death throes and then die off entirely. Different comics industry Dr. Frankensteins have tried to revive the corpse here and there over the years, and some self-conscious and ironic revisionist western comics may well exist now under my radar, but the genre should be allowed to die a natural death and be left undisturbed. Some kid in Wyoming or western Kansas who grows up around horses and the mystique of the Old West may stumble across a MIGHTY MARVEL WESTERN in the basement of an old house or at a flea market, and he may get excited about western comics....otherwise, the fair has moved on, 40 years ago, and the Rawhide Kid is fated to spend his final days in a stack of old magazines, in a dusty rack below a broken table at a junk store on a state highway, miles away from the interstate, stuck between old high school yearbooks and old copies of People Magazine featuring cover photos of long-forgotten celebrities. The rare person who wanders into the back section of the junk store is far more likely to notice old empty cans of beer from brands no longer brewed. As for the Rawhide Kid....Nobody knows, nobody sees, nobody cares.