Saturday, March 13, 2010


Of course I know it's spelled "library", but y'see, I'm trying to convey a youthful exuberance similar to that of a six-year-old being exposed to a whole buncha new and exciting reads that are usually associated with his first trip to the biblioteca of his choice. Naturally the kid's supposed to be reading the stuff in the kiddie section, but sooner or later you know that the little grunt's gonna trek on over to the big people books to take a gander at some anatomy, art collection or volume just filled with topless island lovelies! Now that's what I call the joys of learning! You know what I'm talking about, something very similar to that feeling you had when you first entered one of those outta-the-way record shops and saw bins fulla imports and bootlegs or who knows, maybe even the first time you entered one of those "private booths" with a fist fulla quarters and just started plunkin' away! And when you're young these feelings sure have a lot more potency than they do when you're my age and have been around the world a few times ifyaknowaddamean... I know you get the drift. Anyhoo, here are just a few reads that have graced my eyeballs as of this past week that I know you'll be able to osmose some pertinent and perhaps life-force reaffirming information outta which only goes to show you just how vapid your life is, not mine!

SWIFT PREMIUM COMICS (Bantam Books, 1971)

...'n boy I ain't lyin' t'ya when I say that this 'un sure brings back some hefty comic book collecting memories. I remember back inna early seventies when I first chanced upon this in the comic book section of the Valley View department store in Brookfield Ohio, then a popular stopover for the family whether it be during the afterschool hours or perhaps a Friday evening or Saturday afternoon of shopping fun and games. I was always buying my comics there which were proudly on display right beneath the rock mags which is where I first saw an issue of CREEM 'round the same time (twas the ish with Spiderman on the cover making me think that the estimable Motor City publication was in fact devoted to comic books and related esoterica!), and one day, amidst the various ARCHIEs and Marvels that occupied my buying time, I saw this strange paperback snuggled between a few moldy old issues of MONSTERS ON THE PROWL. Sure seemed strange, and surprisingly enough that book remained in the comic section for quite some time even to the point where you could see some smartass kids had been manhandling it by jabbing the alienoid character on the left between the legs (where I remembered a spigot 'stead of the "male" end of an electrical plug!) with some sharp object. I always figured some hippie must have sneaked this book into the store and left it there as a prank, and oddly enough one time when my mother just happened to be nearby I pointed this thing out to her in a "how'd this get here???" sorta fashion and surprisingly enough she offered to BUY it for me! I still don't know what possessed her to want to do that, but I have the sneaking suspicion that she didn't see the rows of teats on the obviously female monster in the middle.

Anyway, now that almost four decades have gone by I figure that it's now safe to latch onto this one, a book oddly enough consisting of underground cartoonists making their early trek into the mainstream and at a time when I don't think that anyone but the most rabid comix fan would have been ready for this stuff. And yeah, it's a pseudo-representative enough book with its highs and many lows I'll admit, and one that like COMIX BOOK and ARCADE later on hadda make "concessions" to get this major distribution (meaning no pornography or extreme gore/blasphemy). Unlike those two, SWIFT PREMIUM COMICS couldn't make up for whatever was lost even with the snat writing to counterbalance whatever it was that had teenagers worldwide tuning into these books in the first place.

Kim Deitch's contribution, "The Sad Case of the Fructified Flower Kid" features the old Sunshine Girl character who seemed to fizz out along with Deitch's other old-timey creations once the flower sixties morphed into the decadent seventies. I wonder if Left End's "Sunshine Girl"'s about her but anyway although this is one of Deitch's less effervescent efforts I can still marvel at the good artwork and I guess engaging-enough plot twists here, using whatever plot there may be in this whacked out story about the blobbed-out mute who winds up going the CANDIDE route after her mentor od's on heroin.

I never really cared for Art Spiegelman that much (he only showed a few moments of flash during his ARCADE days and ever since he was propelled to the forefront of chic Amerigan artistic value via MAUS he's only become more of the cosmo uber-liberal I've always suspected him to be. Sheesh, he deserves to have had to (and perhaps continue to) endure his father's and children's anti-negro rants, the latter which he responded to with an old Lenny Bruce line regarding Lena Horne and Kate Smith fercryinoutloud! His "Thumbwhere Over The Rainbow" does little to further the comix cause especially with the art that looks more like it should be on a hip greeting card. Next.

...which is Trina Robbins, Kim Deitch's eventual ex and a cartoonist in her own right. I could say pretty much what I've said about her that I said about Spiegelman, only I must admit not having read very much of her work to make a valid judgment. But I won't let that stop me, and her "June Mooney Head Agent" just seems like more underground radical hijinx only drawn with a feminine touch and with a hint of OUR LOVE STORY romance on the moon girly stuff. The thought about an aged Nixon about to re-take Ameriga from the hippies in the not-to-distant past (1998) does bring a chuckle to this weary figure, although considering what was going on back then perhaps it would have been a welcome concept.

Finally on the boards is Allan Shenker's "Doom in the City", a halfway-there detective noir thingie which does try, and maybe one of these days I'll be able to tell you if it succeeded or not! Featuring "Miracle Milton", this story takes you through Spain-like urban decay and manages to portray Blacks, Hispanics, Jews and Italians in a less-than-favorable light which I know will bring ire to the more precious amongst us but least Shenker knew enough to insult the right people...mainly the limousine liberal clientele who tuned into the underground/radical culture because it was the hip thing to do!

I guess it would take awhile before the underground became firmly implanted into the legit swing of things. At least before the seventies clocked out you were seeing the undergrounders all over the place in NATIONAL LAMPOON and PLAYBOY and by the '90s even Deitch was working for NICKELODEON, but back in '71 well, a book like this might have been an adventurous, and maybe even profitable venture. Who knew that a chance appearance of this in the comic book section of a now-defunct department store would reverberate this far down the line?
COMIC CRUSADER #7 (fanzine edited by Marty Greim, 1969 I think...)

As you know, when I can't get my fix on old rock music fanzines I have to search elsewhere, and most often comic book fanzines fill the bill just as well as their musical brethren do. Here's one I think came out in late '69 if only because this 'un covers a July comics convention from that very year but whatever the release date be it's a pretty good encapsulation of just where comic book fandom stood at the time. In a field of many, COMIC CRUSADER stuck out like a sore hemorrhoid along with such titles as GUTS and SENSE OF WONDER, and although it wasn't quite of the upper-echelon of the field as, say, ALTER EGO it sure served its purpose a lot more than many of the crudzines that were infiltrating the field at the time, nothing personal against those cheapie crank-outs mind you since I used to PUBLISH one myself!

Nice cover by future Jack Kirby "successor" at Marvel Rich Buckler which, in typical comic fanzine fashion had NOTHING to do with the contents inside (I was hoping that the conflict presented beneath the drawing of the Vision would have been worked into some halfway-decent story dealing with the racial situation of the day, but worse cover come-ons have happened.) The innards do the mag well though, with not only the report on "Con-69" in En Why See but a bit on then-hotshot Neil Adams as well as the last half of a Ditko MR. A. saga. Most of this issue is taken up by the convention though with some interesting bits and pieces here/there (like didja know that Trina Robbins of the above review fame actually dictated to Frank Frazetta via telephone how to design Vampirilla's costume?), and if you're a serious enough follower of the late-silver/early-bronze comic book days like I was then this will bring back more than a few hard-edged memories. Nice artwork too, some of it by editor Greim, but others like the pic of the new and hipper Green Arrow are by Adams himself! Steranko also did a thing or two as well...real fanzine oneupmanship goin' on here!

As for the MR. A. story well, actually it's the same one that was eventually reprinted in this first issue of the character's own title a few years later, only for some strange reason editor Greim felt it prudent to HACK THE STORY IN HALF with the first part of the saga turning up in the previous issue. At least Greim got Ditko fan and fanzine artist in his own right Bob Fujitake to give us a rundown on what went on earlier, but sheesh I find it a breach of artistic integrity for CC to truncate this story which was intended to be a one-parter. No wonder Ditko felt that he had troubles dealing with the comic fanzine medium with editorial judgments like this!

In all, a nice slice of late-sixties comic fandom. A lot of this stuff I can not get excited over like I might have if these mags had hit my abode when I was twelve, but I still like their home made look and the fact that there were no big editorial decisions being made that would inhibit the writers in any way. Kinda like a rock music fanzine of the same strata come to think of it, not to mention a good self-produced single before amerindieism turned it all into mush. And you don't have to be Fred Wertham to appreciate the entire DIY factor one bit either!
CREEM Vol. 3 #3, June 1971 (newsstand rag)

Believe it or not but this is the earliest issue of CREEM that I've ever gotten my mitts on! In fact, it's so old that it sports the mag's original pre-toothpaste logo which had me thinking that this was gonna be one of their early tabloid issues from the days when they, PHONOGRAPH RECORD MAGAZINE and FUSION were utilizing the same format that ROLLING STONE did perhaps in an effort to fool stoned teenagers into picking up their wares 'stead of the real hippie artifact! Well, thankfully this one's a standard magazine which is great because, unlike a tabloid I CAN READ THIS ONE ON THE TOILET leading to not only reading but evacuation pleasure as my stool peacefully slides outta my chute and into the serenity of my toilet bowl!

Nice looks fact if I didn't know what CREEM was I woulda sworn this was some long-forgotten early-seventies rock fanzine, only an early-seventies rock fanzine wouldn't have any major label advertising nor would they be spending an inordinate amount of time covering some of the schlubs that do end up in this ish. A certain air of early-seventies teenage "relevancy" also permeates, though thankfully CREEM would be one of the mags to lead the charge away from all of that BILLY JACK hokum and into serious punkitude. And you know it could have been worse...worse like ROLLING STONE making all of those hah-hah titter comments regarding everything from Nixon (if God did not create Nixon, Abbie Hoffman would have had to) to such spurious rumors regarding Buckwheat joining the Black Panthers and George Washington dying after having a tryst with a local prostitute. Or worse like those early-seventies sociology textbooks which helped warp an entire generation of numbskulls into thinking that it was somehow neat to know that the workers cheerfully volunteer to cut the sugar cane during harvest time in Cuba!

And next to Jon Landau suckering seemingly everyone into thinking that James Taylor and his sibs were "The First Family of Rock" in the pages of STONE you know that CREEM was definitely on the right track. Not that they had brushed off any of the early-seventies hippie folkdom in favor of a total punk assault (witness Ed Ward's review of sister Kate and brother Alex's own albums, and positively at that), but they sure were trying. After all, this is the issue that featured Lester Bangs' infamous mock history of Count Five and their phony followup albums which some souls for years on end actually believed existed, with even me having been told that CARBURETOR DUNG might in possibility be an actual release back when this story first got reprinted in the CREEM 15th anniversary special! And who could forget Greg Shaw doing the first of many rock music fanzine histories, and at a time when that particular genre had just been sprouting up and was a few years away from being in full bloom. Beautiful stuff, as one would figure out when this is indeed compared with some of the dross that has cluttered up the rock press passing as new and adventurous during that exact same nanosecond.

Of course I ignored the Greil Marcus "Rock-A-Hula Clarified" piece like I would be wont to do, and as you know Dave Marsh is strictly verboten here at BTC headquarters. But there still is much to read, and not only the bountiful Stooges info to be found in the "Rock & Roll News" segment. Loads of reviews, some which are interesting and other which should be but ain't, and it's always fun to give Lester Bangs an eyeballing even if he's writing about Barbra Streisand. Plus that Grateful Dead article by one Robert Christgau...sheesh I thought MELTZER wrote that one which really stymies me to no end! (It's also nice to read not one but two of Richard Pinkston IV's reviews, he being one of the many overlooked rock writers of the early CREEM days who unfortunately skeedaddled pretty soon into the game, only to end up being mentioned in Bangs' racism in punk piece before vanishing off for good. If you happen to read this Richard...COME BACK!!!)

It's unfortunate that the CREEM-style of rock publishing did not prevail and the post-hippie laid-back ROLLING STONE one is what got the kids of my generation all hopped up much to my disgust. Too bad, because if anything spoke to the true heart of disaffected youth it was CREEM, at least the hot Bangs-period issues, while STONE was never anything but the worst aspects of Amerigan youth reshaped and rechanneled for the BIG BUCKS with little soul or verve to sustain it. As if Amerigan youth ever had soul or verve (at least outside the Velvet Underground/Stooges album buying minority) in the first place but I digress, it sure was neat getting hold of this issue and I wouldn't mind seeing more even though for all my money I'd rather read the entire run of HYPERION before I'd tackle these early issues I'll betcha!
OK, I feel it 's my civic doody to at least slip in one rekkid review which I know you'll be sorry for!:


As I'm sure you may have noticed from last week's New York punk blowout I am a fan and follower of what you might call the early going ons at clubs such as CBGB as well as Max's Kansas City, not forgetting such wannabes as the 82 Club and even that old standby Mothers. So when I discover some long-forgotten recordings by some of the bands that used to play those old haunts back before THE VILLAGE VOICE had sleek collegiates heading toward these dives my antennae usually perk up like Uncle Martin's, being on the hunt for particularly interesting sounds like I tend to be. Some of these obscure early CBGB-era groups did put out interesting albums (I still play Musica Orbis on introverted occasions and find David Patrick Kelly quite pleasant in fact) while others were nothing like what I would have expected. The Movies were a disappointment and while City Lights had the potential their album left much to be desired perhaps due to the production and choice of material rather than the performance itself.

All of that only makes me wonder about this Johnny's Dance Band group, an act from Philadelphia that performed at CBGB in the mid-seventies even playing at the infamous CBGB Summer Festival where Talking Heads, Blondie, Television and a few more first got their national exposure to the delight of many a rocker looking for more than just another progressive rock hook.

I had my doubts. First off, Johnny was supposed to be a former member of Brooce Springsteins' E-Street bunch but got canned when he told the guy where to get off. It's good that he had the balls to mouth off to his "boss" true, but joining up with the guy in the first place shows a certain lack of mental capacity if you ask me. Second, from all reports (mostly Fred Kirby's review) Johnny's Dance Band were supposed to be one of those white r&b groups which I guess we've had a little too many of ever since the Paul Butterfield Band helped break the color barrier. Oh don't get me wrong, many of 'em are very good, but more than a few white blues groups I've heard seem to filter their Muddy Waters through Jerry Garcia if you ask me. Thirdly, these guys were signed to John Denver's Windsong which doesn't really say much about what one could expect with this disc if it somehow passed the test of ending up on that infamous eunuch's custom label.

Naturally all of my bad feelings paid off well, because JOHNNY'S DANCE BAND ain't the kinda punky r&b that I would have expected from a group rubbing shoulders with the Ramones and Television but a slick commercial late-seventies pop slop act that's so squeaky clean and well-scrubbed that any taint of a New York Rock Scene is immediately washed away. Irritating to say the least, like the kinda thing that woulda popped up on some muggy Sunday evening prime-time "entertainment" program in 1977, that dross which weaned me from modern television for thirty-plus years running. The kids from those Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney movies of the thirties pushed forward forty years making sweet dulcet music that's supposed to be an antidote to Elton John and his horrid rock stylings. A bad omen for popular music in general, and these guys even got to make a followup can you believe it????

Well, thank me for being adventurous enough to give this a try so you don't have to. One final note, former BTC fanatic Chris Price told me long ago that his dad worked with Johnny in the construction biz so I guess he eventually gave up music and ended up doing something more "constructive", if you get the drift. Well, I'm sure he was much better donning a hardhat than he was a guitar because, well he just hadda've been better no matter what, y'know?


Anonymous said...

great comics coverage, as always.
as for Johnny's Dance Band, well at least now I finally know what they are like. Thanks for continuing to cover what no one else dares to...and/or what few others know enough about to cover!!


Anonymous said...

That issue of Creem had a big impact on Hamilton, ON. lppk at the ad on the back cover...Gord Lewis SAW that LP title before actually hearing the band advertised