Friday, March 31, 2006

"What Was I Thinking?" The Top Five Hall of Shame Songlist - Number 1: Christian Rock

Darko proposes another three-way exchange of lists, and Pattie seems game: this time, five of the most shameful musical pleasures you indulged in as a youth, but can't stand hearing now. I hesitate to walk down this path of sorrows, but after careful consideration I think the honorable and most healing thing to do is to commit.

Two years ago, a friend of mine was trying to persuade me to give Dave Matthews a listen. This was over an exceedingly long but pleasant dinner in Old Montreal, and although the spirits were generous, I was having a difficult time giving his proposal due consideration. I finally stopped him in mid-pitch and said, "If you want to know the truth, it's become physically impossible for me to listen to anyone of intelligence. I can't do it. The only stuff I'm capable of listening to anymore is mullet-head rock and roll with stoopid, stoopid lyrics. Led Zep, Acca Dacca ... that's pretty much it, really. I've become a lamentable rock & roll casualty."

My friend is a lovable mutt, so he came right out and said the magic words: "You know what your problem is?" (Do tell.) "Your problem is, when you were a horny adolescent you listened to Daniel Amos. And they ruined you. They ruined you for music."

He and I grew up in the same environment -- an Evangelical church with a Youth Group and a Youth Minister. His words (and the whisky) got me grinning, and he stayed on the offensive. "I had friends who listened to Daniel Amos. They wanted me to listen to Daniel Amos. They all seemed smarter than me, and Daniel Amos seemed smarter than them. And I tried to listen to Daniel Amos, but I just couldn't do it. You, though -- you didn't just listen to Daniel Amos, you liked it."

Guilty as charged. Daniel Amos hooked me because the band's leader, Terry Taylor, wrote lyrics that ought to have been heavily annotated. Hell, the band's name should have been annotated (two of Taylor's favourite biblical prophets). So DA fed my zeal with an ideal product: rather than pore over all the (dubiously) Satanic references that "secular" rock bands garnished their lyrics and album covers with, I pored over all the biblical, Christian and literary references that Taylor very consciously chose. Taylor started small, with Ron "Rich Christians In An Age Of Hunger" Sider, but quickly moved on to T.S. Eliot, Czeslaw Milosz and Frederick Buechner (the latter clearly becoming a big, big favourite of his).

I don't want to get hung up on DA, though, because the truth is their music never caused me much embarrassment. The milieu I discovered them in, however, is quite the opposite. And this is the most shameful secret I must admit to: in my earnest youth I devoted significant energy, passion and money to the burgeoning field of Christian Rock.

Actually, in the 80s, it was a rare Evangelical who could muster the chops, nevermind the attitude, for genuine rock and roll: the industry chose to dub itself "Contemporary Christian Music", and the product was about as much fun to listen to as the moniker suggests. I was intent on doing the right thing by my Saviour, though, so I spent unconscionable sums of money (CCM records were typically twice the cost of better-sounding "secular" records) on this fledgling genre. Which is to say I blew a lot of dough on, and listened to, an awful lot of crap.

I'll leave the list of suspects and their supposed crimes for another time. Again, occasionally hearing them played doesn't grate on my ears, because I'm still rather fond of the guy I was at the time. The acts I followed were (I believed) mirror images of who I was: a sincere pup intent on doing the right thing, who didn't want to hurt other people or inflict much damage on myself. You end up doing both, of course -- and you always hurt to the ones you love. The music you listen to can't change any of that. But thanks to DA, I grew increasingly impatient with any "Christian" product that didn't employ at least a little intelligence. Consequently, it wasn't long before I ditched CCM altogether.

There was one defining moment in my tender evolution of consciousness that came courtesy of one particular band and one particular album: Soldiers Under Command by Stryper. Disillusionment had already set in and simmered at a low boil when I brought this album home and lowered the stylus. When I heard the first few cuts off the album, I thought, "I'm giving up Van Halen, AC/DC and Judas Priest for this?! Who am I kidding?"

The end of an era; the beginning of a great adventure!


Hall of Shame Song #2.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Toronto Deserves Its Leafs

With the play-off hopes of the Toronto Maple Leafs all but dashed, it is indeed starting to look like spring for this embittered, fair-weather hockey fan. The Maple Leafs inspire all manner of absurd behavior and opinion. To my mind, they embody everything that's screwed-up in Toronto: as a sports franchise, they're the goose that will never stop laying the golden eggs, no matter how sick it gets. Back in the day, the Maple Leaf Gardens was a sold-out venue for every single game. Team owner Harold Ballard did his utmost to infuriate his players and his paying fans, and still the venue remained full.

When he finally died, Leaf fans held out hope their team could finally pull it together and win a Stanley Cup. HA!! It seems ownership remains bent on testing fan loyalty -- and why not? The Air Canada Centre has almost twice the capacity of the Gardens, is even more uncomfortable to sit in, and is filled to capacity every single game.

Toronto sports fans deserve the Maple Leafs, they really do. Meanwhile, home-grown CFL football star "Pinball" Mike Clemons coaches the Toronto Argonauts to Gray Cup victory and ... has to shop around for a stadium to play in?! "Pinball" is an absolute mensch -- a community-minded family man who insists education ought to be the chief sell of each and every professional athlete. Toronto doesn't deserve him. They deserve hot-headed louts like Leaf coach Pat Quinn and GM John Ferguson -- who aren't speaking to each other. They deserve a goalie my age(!), just to raise the team's median age to over-35. A forty-year-old goalie! And Quinn needs Ferguson to tell him the goalie's out for the season with a back sprain?! I could have told him that in November, when I strained my back raking leaves.

Yeah, that's right: "leaves", not "leafs". Toronto deserves its Leafs.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Stanislaw Lem, 1921-2006


"He reserved his praise only for iconic sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick" -- this according to the CBC, a sentiment that is only partially accurate. Lem was indeed keen to place Dick in a status above his western contemporaries, but also conceded that Dick's singular "trick" -- an unfathomable paranoia -- was a conceit that didn't quite have the legs to deliver a fully satisfying narrative. It's all in Microworlds, which, like Solaris is well worth the read. Special bonus for English readers: Microworlds was translated directly from Lem's Polish, as opposed to Solaris which comes to us translated from the French translation of the Polish. But better that than nothing. I'm sad to see him go.

P.S. - The Times OnLine has a better, less ameri-centric obituary, here. Link from ALD.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

"Breaking Hearts" Goes On Air!

Back in the day when music did not exceed speeds of 33 1/3 RPM, it was my dream to become a Disc Jockey. A dream, but not a passion -- so this particular dream has been deferred whilst I follow me bliss down other avenues. However, the youthful dream still retains enough of its charm to get me misty-eyed and nostalgic. So it gives me great pleasure to be a contributor to this Sunday's songlist of passionate wax-man Darko V. As if that weren't enough, I find my choices surrounded by incredible company: DV himself, and Cowtown Pattie. Let's hear it for the musical ménage à trois! (Oh, you just know hearts are gonna break, this Sunday -- here, from 9:00 to 12:00 EST!)

Friday, March 24, 2006

Notes on Transcendance

My wife is, at this moment, in Malawi faithfully doing good deeds. The three of us who remain behind consider ourselves honored to be a part of it -- or rather, we do when we make the effort to be mindful of our circumstances. We are terrifically proud of her. But we are also not a little lonely. The two urchins get regular doses of their grandparents (my gratitude to all four of you -- thank you very much). As for me, I get regular calls from Blue Sky, Bright Son who is steadily working his way through Don DeLillo's Underworld.

It's probably been six or seven years since I last read that book, but when my friend calls it never takes long for my memory to warm up into a welcome glow that is able to resuscitate so many of my favourite passages. He and I consider aspects of the overall narrative, suss out connections and dismiss our personal agendas, and for a long stretch of time after I've hung up the phone, my existence is comforted by the presence of An Other.

Today, while perusing Terry Teachout's blog, I stumbled across this quote from C.S. Lewis's An Experiment in Criticism:

Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality. There are mass emotions which heal the wound; but they destroy the privilege. In them our separate selves are pooled and we sink back into sub-individuality. But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like a night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.


My God, that's exactly right! Thank you Terry Teachout, and Clive Staples. And thank you Bright Son for the transcendance.

Ah, spring: when the man in mid-life turns from thoughts of...

...well, actually his thoughts don't turn at all; they just stay fixated on mid-lifey things. How nice for me that Donald Fagen has developed the habit of updating the mid-life man's soundtrack this time of year! Fagen approaches our mortal condition with his signature cheerful perversity. And the groove he's laid down for the title track is altogether infectious. Fans like us who watch the skies / We know it's Morph the Cat!



"This is my death album," Donald Fagen said in his office on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. "It's about the death of culture, the death of politics, the beginning of the end of my life." Then he mock-sobbed, "Boo hoo hoo." More on Morph here and (thank you DV) here.

Also: john r. williamson did me the honour of reading (and commenting on) my musings on T Bone Burnett. Now, I've got a number of musician friends. I know these people all put their pants on one leg at a time. But I still believe the ones who have a passion for what they do slip into a plain where they serve the music. And this cat definitely serves the music. Be good to yourself, and check his music out here.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

What sort of "pacifist" am I?

I am a confused, or muddled pacifist. But before (sigh) FOX does it on behalf of people like me, I will come out on record and say that I appreciate and even enjoy the irony of the Christian Peacemakers being rescued by a military operation. I also enjoy the irony that (so far as we know) no shots were fired and no harm was inflicted on someone else in aid of rescuing these guys -- but I'd be asking for trouble were I to make a bigger deal of that fact than it merits. For those of my readers who aren't pacifist, the fact remains: your guys rescued our guys. It sounds to me like our team is, indeed, genuinely grateful for your services -- quite properly, I would say. Thank you very much.

You may now commence with your crowing, while I splash about in some shallow soul-searching.

I won't bother trying to defend pacifism: better people than I have done a better job than I could ever hope to. I was raised in a Mennonite family in a Mennonite community, and my internalizing of certain values -- including pacifism and a host of other issues I've attempted to refute -- is too deep to try to root out and remove. Annotated Prajer Paraphrasal: Dietrich Bonnhoeffer -- people who hear Jesus' Sermon on the Mount either take it (and him) seriously, or start with the "yes, buts" that effectively write him off as a well-intentioned loon. Gandhi -- don't bother with pacifism unless you've completely given up on violent means.

On with the muddle: while I appreciate the spirit that informs the actions of the Christian Peacemakers Teams, I continue to feel conflicted when I consider their wisdom. Either side of this debate can throw a bundle of Bible verses at me -- please don't, because I've heard and read them all. Chances are I've also given your particular interpretive lenses some careful consideration. But like just about any other issue you care to name, the Bible does not provide irrefutable clarity on this. That's just one reason why I'm muddled.

Invading Iraq: I was against it. I still think it was a terrible mistake, born not out of pragmatic consideration but of either immeasurable hubris or a stunningly blinkered optimism, and I hope and pray it doesn't mount to a globally catastrophic mistake. I don't think my reasoning on this issue is particularly unique or unheard, so I'll move directly on to...

The Occupation of Iraq: hmm -- I'm muddled again. Bearing top of mind that I am not the one experiencing occupation, I can't help but wonder if this occupation, as incredibly fucked-up as it is, isn't a smidge better than yanking out altogether and leaving the natives to their own devices. If I am granted that (and that is a huge "if"), the question is, "What changes need to be made to make this a better occupation?" Ask a question like that, and you have to consider the parameters of...

Exporting Democracy: Way back in the early 1980s, a friend of mine went to East Berlin on a project (the organization will remain nameless) that placed him with dissident student groups hoping to plant the seeds of democracy in East Germany. Every couple of months I'd get one of those group-letters that spoke of the "enjoyable challenges", the "exciting opportunities", the "difficult, but immensely rewarding struggles" he partook in. He returned a year or two after the Wall came down. When I finally got the chance to ask him about his experiences, he said, "I doubt I'll ever again face anything in my life so frustrating as that. Everyone says they want democracy, but they change their mind when they see the work involved." As we talked, he hesitantly confessed he wasn't at all confident that humanity was "wired" for democracy. Churchill: it's the worst form of government there is, except for all the others.

Work, work, work. I've got no answers for you, just a proposal: either join me in the Assholes on Parade, or shut off the computer, step outside, and talk to your neighbor. Hmm. Maybe the parade can wait...

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Broccoli: Good for Bond, Too


Eef - talk about the madness of crowds: what's so awful about bringing in Daniel Craig as the new James Bond? And what, exactly, was so great about Pierce Brosnan's Bond? Watching Brosnan, I could never quite shake the feeling that he was still searching for the right note to play. I remember enjoying Goldeneye, chiefly because the final fight sequence had a measured weight to it, unlike so many of the other cartoony sequences the franchise resorts to. After that, the Brosnan-Bonds blur together. I've seen them all, and yet when I'm told the total number of Brosnan-Bond films is four, I'm surprised: I would have said three. I guess dozing off during the last 30 minutes of Die Another Day must have erased the film from memory.

It's not that I think Brosnan is a bad actor. Far from it: his Andy Osnard in The Tailor of Panama is the pitch-perfect Brosnan vehicle. He plays off his eternally good looks, has charm, demonstrates ruthlessness, but oozes with an outright sleaziness that says this man should in no way be trusted. And while I've not yet seen it, I'm guessing his turn in The Matador is similarly excellent.

But his Bond didn't seem quite capable of taking anything personally, even torture at the hands of North Korea and (gasp! no, anything but this!) a theme-song by Madonna. His Bond is the video-game Bond, who manages to outrun machine-gun fire and deliver Bugs Bunny one-liners with a badly-animated wink.

As for Craig, I couldn't make heads or tails out of L4YER CAKE, but when he finally made up his mind to do something nasty, I believed it. Now we're being told this Bond is an "art haus" Bond. I'm all for it. In fact, for the first time since I was old enough to go to movies by myself, I'm actually excited at the prospect of a new Bond.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Centerfolds & Life

Whither the centerfold?


And why should I care? Chalk it down to the perturbed musings of Pete Townshend and T-Bone Burnett. Or to a bizarre glitch in kismet that seems to land Hugh Hefner in the papers every second month -- the most recent example being Joan Acocella's critical gaze at Playboy. Reviewing Taschen's The Playmate Book: Six Decades of Centerfolds for The New Yorker, she can muster little more than a disdainful sniff for the enterprise. When I first read it, I thought, "Well, give a brainy woman a book of centerfolds and ask her what she thinks, and this is what you'll get." I also thought she was right.

Playboy was never much of a habit for me -- I was enough of a moralist to make it a habit not to make it a habit, a practise that generally kept me out of trouble until I considered myself old enough to manage it. To borrow a phrase from Raising Arizona, I released myself on my own recognizance after a summer of industrial delivery. The wallpaper on most delivery bays was courtesy of Hef and his co-conspirators: the overall effect was less than arousing, and the stray issues I obtained amounted to a flat experience. The last issue I bought was over 15 years ago. I don't recall the cover, the pictorial spreads or the centerfold, but I do recall the literary content: an extended travelogue of India, by Spalding Grey. It would be disingenuous of me to say I bought it for the article, but that's finally what I took away from it.

In contrast, I have no trouble recollecting the first centerfold I was exposed to. But then, I was a callow lad prone to the sort of typical callow lad obsessions that John Irving has plumbed with such depth of perception. A 12-year-old boy looks at those faintly orange pictures and finds it hard to believe the day will ever arrive when he is given license to explore the undiscovered country.

As erotica, I think prepubescent inexperience is the only condition in which Playboy works. Experience pretty much overwhelms and kills it, which leads me to wonder when might be the last time Hef found his own product arousing. More likely, Hef reached a saturation point where arousal was no longer the intention. In his waning years, Hef has devoted a great deal of energy to selling himself as the final product. Playboy, like Martha Stewart, is finally an extended brochure promoting one person's very particular lifestyle -- in this case, Hugh Hefner's. You'd be a fool to think your own lifestyle could ever approach that of Hef's (it's a zero-sum game, and Hef got there first), but maybe if you subscribe for a year or two, a little Playboy (or InStyle, or Muscle & Fitness) pixie-dust will float your way.

I'm reluctant to concede such points. I dislike being the square, the moralistic killjoy. Were I pressed to express an official line on the subject of centerfolds, it would be akin to my friend's sentiments: "I like looking over a beautiful girl as much as the next straight guy. But, you gotta know ... that's all kidstuff,"

Indeed. It would be nice if such insular pleasures as considering the erotic plane would inspire the viewer to step outside and properly engage, but the human inclination seems to be quite the opposite. From my lofty perspective outside Hef's glass mansion, I can't help thinking the man's life is a tad impoverished. My father-in-law, four years Hef's junior and in many ways the embodiment of Hef's darkest nightmares, has led twice the life. He's married people, buried people, witnessed life come into the world and leave it. He's got a million hilarious stories, quite a few of them related to funerals, and at least one involving a cross-eyed undertaker who accidentally tumbled into his customer's grave. He's been around the world and led numerous choirs, some of them too glorious for words, others too disastrous to be believed. A lusty, gusty man, he's never made a secret of his appetites -- he's just made a point of indulging them within the confines and security of his marriage.

For better or worse, he's often like a big kid. But better that, I suppose, than an old, embittered grump. To one degree or another it's all kidstuff. And if you can keep the kid alive in something as grown-up as marriage, then I think you've got something worth calling a lifestyle.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Rock Island Line by David Rhodes - A Quick Book-Blurb

This post will not do this wonderful and hard-to-find book justice, because my physical condition (a consciousness spread thin by strep-infection, antibiotics and pain killers) made for a less than ideal reading environment. But such are the vagaries imposed on a person subject to inter-library loans and a rare spate of poor health.

A marvelous book. Using a fantastic-realist style not dissimilar to Marquez's in The General In His Labyrinth, Rhodes gives us a lush history of an Iowa family, in a timeline that extends from the turn of the last Century to the late-60s. Rhodes' characters engage their lives to the absolute limit, exerting their will in and against a world that is both recognizable and fabulous. I'm tempted to compare Rhodes' powers of observation to those of Philip Roth in his senior years -- the same recognition of the daily environment and its enchanting effect on the people who live there (think of Roth's intimate and loving evocation of the glove industry(!) in American Pastoral). That Rhodes, still alive and writing, can have such a chimerical and inviting ability with words yet slip into near obscurity seems incredibly tragic.

More anon, when my own copy of this book arrives.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

L'étagère scandaleuse de livre

WP's Tenets of Parenting, subheading: The Scandalous Bookshelf. If you, as a parent, don't have a bookshelf devoted to titles that will surely mortify your teenage children, you aren't doing your job.

I think on this score I may perhaps be a bit overzealous. There are at least a dozen religious books that spring to mind -- if you cleared the words from the covers, the graphics alone would be cringe-inducing. Then there's daddy's sci-fi shelf. And Batman comics? What's that all about? Oooh, look: Lou Reed's Collected Lyrics & Verse -- "Hey, I'm still, like, edgy -- y'know?"

I can't resist. The urge to collect and display books that will embarrass my kids -- if not now, then later -- is just too strong. It was this very principle that explicity informed my recent purchase of Michel Houllebecq's Elementary Particles (well, that and its remaindered price of $2.99). It's right there on The Scandalous Bookshelf, just waiting for the day when one or the other child will say, "Eww -- what's this doing here?" And if I don't hear those words by the time the youngest turns 15, it disappears.

(Re: Houllebecq, when all is said and done and read, I have to admit I agree with this guy -- link from ALD. And if you want more photographs like the one above, go to the source: Diane Asséo Griliches. Link from BookLust.)

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

T-Bone Burnett


Here's a guy I miss: T-Bone Burnett. This guy once made music that was as spastically charming as the freaky-looking dude himself. His most recent disc, The Criminal Under My Own Hat still gets airplay in my house. So does Truth Decay, and T-Bone Burnett. If I had Trap Door and Behind The Trap Door, those would receive regular spins, too. Although it can be a bit spotty, there's undeniable fun and pathos to be had on Proof Through The Night, as well. And say what you will about Talking Animals, it's still ... well, okay, it's a misfire. But I bought it anyway -- and I played it. Because I'm just plain fond of the big galoot.

These days he seems content to give his listening public his version of mixed tapes: the critically lauded soundtrack. That is, when he's not releasing his second ex-wife from her spousely ties, and producing the best record of her career. Supposedly, he's got a vault of over 50 original songs which he's considering releasing to the public. That could amount to roughly five Truth Decays (or five Talking Animals. Either way, I'm buyin').

I get the impression that the most unsuspecting people get a real charge out of working with him. Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon were reportedly hesitant to put their voices to tape for the recent Johnny Cash biopic -- until they spent some time with T-Bone. What does he do? Does he sit the artist down and say, "Look, you signed on to this picture: there's gotta be something in you that suspects you've got the chops. Let's bring it out, and give it a spin!" Does he say, "Hey, what's the craziest idea you've ever had? The one you never want people to see? If you've got it, why not lay it down? Just for kicks! Get it out and over with, then we move on to the fun."

I'm guessing he's a little like that. The only interview I've heard with him was over 20 years ago, when he was slated to play a club close to the Bible college I was attending. The DJ of the local Christian Rock Hour called up T-Bone and asked him about this, that and the other thing (Burnett has publically admitted he's Christian, and borne the sort of burden that comes with being simultaneously suspicious of the Evangelical kulture-juggernaut). Burnett's response was friendly, and weirdly opportunistic. "Hey, it's great you called me -- I just finished writing this poem. Let me read it to you..." There followed a long and rambling meditation on flowers, laughter, his wife's painted toenails (or were they his wife's?), mushrooms, mushroom clouds, nuclear thermal inversion ... I lost track of what all else, but the befuddled interviewer was completely in the dark ("Huh. Well, that's great, brother. I mean ... I guess I gotta think about that. Uh, let's talk about Jesus for second...").

He looks like he's having the most fun when he's in on the joke -- his brief cameo appearance on Larry Sanders being a prime example. He looks like he's having the least fun when he's walking the red carpet -- which he's doing a lot these days. Well, alimony is expensive. And what he's doing now, he's doing very well. But I do hope he pulls together a few of his own punchlines, and tries them out on the rest of us. Sometime soon would be good.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

ReImagineering



Oog -- thanks to the natural wonders of antibiotics, I've almost recovered enough health to start feeling nostalgic again. Strep can sure take it out of a person.

In the meantime, I've been enjoying the Re-Imagineers' exploration of Disney-consumer nostalgia. I find myself usually nodding in agreement, occasionally shaking my head at just how seriously they take this business, and sometimes disagreeing with the premises put forward. In the final category is their universal slagging of Disneyland: California, a near theme-less park I enjoyed very much for two reasons: 1) they serve a good cup of coffee, and 2) compared to The Magic Kingdom, the place is deserted. Clearly the second condition poses a problem for the suits, so too bad for me.

I also had longer and better conversations with staff members in the California park than I did with the "cast" of The Magic Kingdom -- real people who told me real information. One gent was a retired meat broker and a grandparent. While his manager tried to puzzle out a solution to a problem I had, he and I talked at length about the changes in his former industry (he couldn't offer much reassurance on that issue, I'm afraid) and the challenges that came with being a long-distance grandparent. A terrific exchange with genuine content, as opposed to the cheerful aloofness just one park over.

Another example: a young woman working near the Bug's Life scene admitted she enjoyed this side of the park more than the other. "Just because it's less crowded?" I asked. "Oh, certainly that," she said. "But the guests on this side just don't seem to get quite as ... touchy as they sometimes get on the other side." Now, there's an Imagineering challenge! Hey, ReImagineers -- how's about ReImagineering the guests?

In this family, the adults and the children preferred the Disneyland: California environment to The Magic Kingdom for the same reason: you can enjoy the place at your own chosen speed, because you don't have to negotiate with desperate crowds of people. However, when we asked the girls about their favourite rides, they served the standard answer: Pirates of the Carribean, and The Haunted Mansion. Why is it that the best two rides in the entire place are both over 40 years old? The ReImagineers wrestle with this question, too -- again, with mixed results. (My take: three act plays will pull you in again and again if they dish out a wealth of exotic detail.)

Link from Boing Boing.

Friday, March 10, 2006

The USS Enterprise -- In The Sky! With Diamonds!!!

Our house is still recovering from germs of several varieties, so I remain mired in a nostalgic mood. Today I'll visit Star Trek -- or my perception of it as a child.

I was a Trekkie two years before I saw a single episode. When I was nine, a friend asked me if I'd ever seen Star Trek, "The coolest show in the world," by his estimation. Nope. Hadn't even heard of it. My friend told me about this spaceship that flew around the universe and visited weird places and did weird stuff. His older brother -- the coolest, toughest dude on the face of the planet (Earth, that is) -- had seen the entire series, and said the last episode was the very best of the bunch: they came back to earth, landed and died from an interstellar poison gas that blanketed the planet (and just how cool was that?)

A show that ends with everyone dying? Talk about edgy! I was all for it, and kept my eyes peeled for anything in magazines or newspapers about this bizarre and amazing show. The first picture I saw was of the Enterprise -- visually, it was a startling departure from the bomb-shaped rockets I saw in the old Robert Heinlein books I borrowed from the library. If these people travelled in a ship like this, my friend's analysis was right on the money.

One year later there was some talk about an animated series. Our town was not connected to Cable, so I went out and bought the ViewMaster discs. Book stores in Winnipeg carried a number of Star Trek titles, most of them written by Alan Dean Foster. I bought one such book -- the first adventure involved an evil god-like being taking possession of the Enterprise. Kirk rids his ship of this demon by charting a slingshot course around a medium-sized star. He has to do this manually, literally grabbing hold of the control panel and steering the ship toward the star. The panel erupts in flames -- Kirk's hands get burned so badly, his palms peel away when he's removed from the panel. Edgy!


The only other Star Trek material available to me was the line of Gold Key comics, sold at a local drug store. I'm not going to bother with any plot summaries: this cover pretty much says it all. Any connection the comics had with the actual series was practically unintentional.

It's funny to consider just what a big deal continuity is to today's Trekkers (even I get snippy about it - over here!). Continuity was a completely (ahem) alien concept to the franchise when I was first introduced to it. A glance back at my introduction to the Star Trek universe reveals a patchwork, dodgy, near-occultic (and, if my friend was to be believed, downright nihilistic) narrative. Which was just what the doctor ordered -- had I been exposed to anything as predictable as the actual television series, my interest would probably have peaked and waned as quickly as it did over The Six Million Dollar Man. So here's to the acid casualty who hooked me on Star Trek.

This guy devotes an entire site to the Gold Key Star Trek Comics -- all 61 of 'em. That number seems small to me, but when I looked over the covers I was surprised to recognize a mere dozen. Talk about influential! Here is a site devoted solely to the animated series. I read several of the Foster books, but only saw one episode. What I saw didn't do much for me, but it's a surprise to register a profound nostalgic tug when I glance over the flat-looking animation cels. Where an adult from another (more reasonable) dimension might see "Crappy production values", I still see, "Tremendous potential for the weird!"

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Sorry To See The Winter Go

It's been raining all day, making everything cold, gray and brown. But that's spring for you. Have I mentioned how sorry I am to see the winter go?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Today's Posting Brought To You By...



Sooner or later, just about every kid gets told by their parents that such-and-such a toy will not be allowed into the house for ideological reasons. We've informed the girls that they can forget about building up their Bratz collection because this particular line seems (to our parental eyes) especially fixated on that odious commercial intersection of Childhood & Sexy!

My parents had this conversation with me when I was in Grade 2. I put in a request for a G.I. Joe, and was told there was no way a toy soldier would ever be welcome in my Mennonite toy box. It was a confusing edict, particularly given the era: 1972. The zeitgeist in North America did not blow favourably for military toys in general, so G.I. Joe received a distinctly non-military makeover: he was a member of The Action Team, not the Army. He no longer shot at people: he rescued archaeolgoical artifacts from poisonous snakes. My observations and arguments fell on deaf ears, however, and I was denied all access to Joe Fuzzhead and his sidearm.

It's never too late to have a happy childhood, of course. But although I indulge my inner child on other fronts, I'm not at all tempted when it comes to "action figures". For one thing, I honestly find the current incarnation of G.I. Joe rather disturbing. Also, my childhood was happy enough as it is, and whatever I lacked in the G.I. Joe department is something this guy's adulthood makes up for -- with a vengeance.

Still, I hope the Hasbro flack who cooked-up "Kung Fu Grip" was rewarded for his genius with untold wealth and a long and happy life. Kung Fu Grip -- even though we mocked it in the schoolyard, we wanted it. It was just too cool to resist.

Separated at Birth?


Of course, the inspiration to Paul Pope's Batman 100 could simply be Disney's Lilo & Stitch.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Whatcha takin' to the curb, there, Prajer?

It has been, by any standard, a wonderful winter for our family -- sunny, healthy, brisk, with an ever-present blanket of snow hiding all the garbage on the lawn. And now with spring in the air, it's all coming to an end. The youngest got stomach flu on Friday, the oldest caught the same bug on Sunday -- along with a touch of strep, methinks. The grown-ups are dealing with something stomachy, too, so we're all going to bed early, and making a point of talking nicely to each other, when we'd rather be whinging and sniping, instead. As for the garbage, well...

Since I can't quite pull my thoughts together for the usual entertainment, I figured I'd just snoop through the contents of my hard-drive's recycling box. Lessee, here...



Not bad! This is one of the first pics I pulled from Google Images. Haven't read the comic in question, but I like how Supe's eyes mimic the Batmobile's headlights. Reproduced here entirely without permission, of course. Run to your local 7-11 and buy a DC comic to make up for my lack of scruples, please.

What else have we? Still on the DC track...

The frame to your right is from Batman Year 100, art and story by Paul Pope. Haven't read it (the one comic book store I straggled into delivered the "I'm sorry sir, but we sold our last copy just minutes ago!" line. Oh, really? Any chance this bag of breakfast churros might change your tune just a bit? (Ah, but you know you're doomed when Comic Book Guy calls you "sir"!)), but I believe the concept is Batman lives to fight crime at the age of 100 or so. Very surreal. I don't hold out much hope for the plot being especially innovative, but the graphics are nice -- they put me in mind of Bill Sienkiewicz's angular Batman with long, swooping ears (to your left, from the cover of Batman 400, 1986. Click to enlarge) -- and any time you tweak a brand-name with a mixture of reverence and nerve, you usually cook up some zesty goulash.

Hmm. There's another picture I'm tempted to pull up from the bin, but I think I'll save it for tomorrow, after the recycling truck has left the vicinity.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Oh, would you look at the time...

See that little "time" posted at the bottom? That indicates when I finally had my fill of the 78th Academy Awards. Didn't take long -- and I like Jon Stewart. Maybe what this Academy needs is Stephen Colbert...

Friday, March 03, 2006

My Easter Difficulties

I have difficulties with Easter. Ash Wednesday hits, and the Lenten weeks leading up to Good Friday and Easter are a torment: mood swings (rage, happiness, sorrow), vivid dreams, headaches and overall gloominess. Stigmata of the psyche, if you will.

I cannot greet Spring with much enthusiasm -- Spring has traditionally been a season of funerals for me. So, yes: the physicality of "Good" Friday is all too real. No-one's life ends happily, not even Jesus's.

Worse still, I find the resurrection problematic beyond belief. It doesn't matter if I approach it metaphorically, spiritually, or blood-and-kidneys physically -- resurrection is so removed from my existence as to be alien to me.

Not so judgement. I notice the Lectionary readings for this week include passages from Amos. If Amos and all the other biblical prophets have a central concern, it seems to be this: if you really want to piss G_D off, make a show of calling yourself G_D's people, then torture and humiliate the people you conquer in war. That's all there is to it. Even gay cowboys don't rate a mention after that.

"When they said 'repent'/I wonder what they meant" -- thank you, Leonard. Our North American democracies have elected two evangelical Christians to their highest offices. They say they read and believe the Bible. What are the odds we'll see something resembling "repentance"? (I refer, of course, to something more substantial than a muttered, "Sorry 'bout that, Jesus," before you roll over and go to sleep).

I can't find comfort in any of this. G_D's crosshairs are notoriously imprecise. Besides, I don't want a blood-and-judgement G_D; I want a resurrection G_D. I just don't know what that looks like.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Sex Pistols: Filthier and Furiouser

Is it possible to be a 40-year-old white anglo-male and not love The Sex Pistols? I think not. (Thank-you, Andrew)

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Blast From The Past

Looks like someone's posted a vintage Jason & The Scorchers video on YouTube. Nice!

"The bizarre tale of how sober, conservative Toronto of the 60s allowed the hippie high-rise of Rochdale College into its midst."

"One thing's for certain: there'll be plenty of people who'll tell us we got it wrong."

So says Bob Nasmith, in this bit from The Toronto Star, regarding The Dream Tower. Life in Rochdale College as performance art 35 years after the fact? I have my doubts, but I'm happy to see any sort of Rochdale spin-off still in play, just because that really was such a strange and emblematic chapter of Trudeau-era Canadian history.

In the meatime, newcomers to Rochdale are advised to seek out Ron Mann's doc by the same title. My own modest (and properly confused) metaphoric summary: if you run Haight Street through Woodstock and Altamont, it will stretch north and end in a cul-de-sac at Rochdale.