Friday, November 27, 2015

Gods Of The Hammer: The Teenage Head Story, Geoff Pevere

Gods of the Hammer: The Teenage Head StoryGods of the Hammer: The Teenage Head Story by Geoff Pevere

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There is no shortage of "shoulda been great" stories lining the history of rock 'n' roll, stories of bands who seemed to have all the elements -- musical chops, unmistakable stage presence, killer work ethic, etc. -- but somehow, through a confluence of lamentable timing, bad management, substance abuse and tragic accidents, missed the moment of international super-stardom. Teenage Head qualifies on all these fronts -- anyone who saw them in '79 says they should really be mentioned in the same breath as The Ramones or New York Dolls. Alas, they are a strictly Canadian phenom, which adds some uniquely Canadian impediments into the mix. Geoff Pevere, who was in the audience for most of the whole sordid story, does an entertaining job of fleshing it all out. Best read between spinnings of Teenage Head with Marky Ramone.

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Conversation Starters

If you're my FB friend, you may have seen these links already, so apologies for the dearth of original blog content. I'd like to blame it on the past week -- there's something uninspiring about the lead-up to American Thanksgiving, especially this one. Who wants to talk politics, but how can you not? What do you say to skirt the subject?

Well, here are some alternative conversation starters (or enders, depending):

"I remember pulling up as fast as I can screaming, 'Get in, get in!' and I know that I am a clown and I had a car full of clowns, but these ladies ran and jumped into the back." Doo Doo the Clown, on the art of heroism.

"These are the ten most mentioned songs by the Vietnam vets we interviewed." Some surprises, among the familiar.

A stunningly bold caper took place, not too far from where I live. I was at home at the time, as witnesses will attest.

Trekkies: impervious fashion-sense aside, are we really as scary as all that?

"And to think, while Alan Moore was pitting Han, Leia and Chewie against devout disciples of unthinkable anguish, Star Wars' cinematic creative team was busy developing Return Of The Jedi and its decidedly less barbarous drove of Ewoks..." Ben McCool, on Alan Moore's brilliantly bonkers 1980s Star Wars comics.

Finally, which one of you guys turned me on to Warren Ellis? Joel? Y-man? It's somebody who's tapped into comics and SF. Anyway, I've subscribed to his Orbital Operations newsletter for a couple of years now, and I'm continually amazed by the man's seemingly ceaseless capacity to write interesting stuff -- even as he wrestles with the fella in the brite nightgown. Yeesh, what's my excuse?

If it applies, happy Thanksgiving. And here's a little bonus for you: the first issue of Frankenstein Underground -- just another round of insouciant genius from the sable brush of Mike Mignola.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Amsterdam Must-See Addendum

Actually, I'd add the Amsterdam Public Library ("Bibliotheek Amsterdam") to the "must-see" list.
Even if the spectacle of stacks and stacks of books (and DVDs! and video games!!) in artful "po-mo" display isn't your thing . . .

. . . the cafeteria on the seventh floor serves delish, reasonably-priced grub, with a terrific view of the city.

Amsterdam Must-See

I recently enjoyed a week with my wife in Amsterdam. She'd already been, a number of times, but this was my first exposure. It's an easy visit -- the populace has a fluency in English that could put NYC to shame, and everything worth seeing can be got to via their enviable public transit, or (better yet) bicycle.

The bulk of our time was spent on foot, walking the city. I've got dozens of oddball notes jotted down regarding remarkable places we visited, but nothing by way of an organizing principle. One month later, I still don't have one. I think this relates to the actual locale. People of Dutch descent might have a reputation for being fastidious to a fault, but if there's an organizing principle to contemporary Amsterdam, I failed to locate it. It's an endearingly kooky place.*

I tend to think just about everything in the "not-to-be-missed" category is, in fact, negotiable. But really, the Van Gogh Museum is not to be missed -- especially now, while it is still hosting the Munch : Van Gogh exhibit.

Vincent Van Gogh, eh? What to make of this guy's enduring popularity? When you're standing in line waiting to get in -- on an early, off-season Wednesday morning -- it's a mystery with no small element of vexation involved.

But seeing the actual work, as opposed to photographs of it, goes a great distance to explaining the appeal. For instance, a terrific photo of The Lover (Portrait of Lieutenant Milliet) (source) . . .

. . . can do a great deal to communicate the texture and visual effect of the painting. But seeing the actual painting, framed and sensitively lit, is more akin to facing an incredible piece of sculpture.

Mm . . . "facing" isn't quite the right word. "Being in the presence of," gets closer to the effect you experience.

This sort of pointy-headed musing can put a person off the habit of attending to anyone's paintings, but there is a considerable cache of charm associated with Van Gogh. The work alone is always accessible -- there's no question, ever, regarding exactly what you're looking at. It is also frankly and immediately emotional.

The emotional element really comes out, especially if you view Van Gogh after spending a day with "The Dutch Masters" in the Rijksmuseum. Rembrandt's massive group portraits -- commissioned, of course -- are terrifically impressive. But they are also of a piece with the times, when the recently wealthy princes of commerce were keen to be immortalized in paint. Ditto, the actual rulers and their military commanders. Powerful, opulent prigs, towering above the viewer for as long as paint shall last. In contrast, Van Gogh's pieces are small, punchy and immediate.

"Immediacy" and "punch" are qualities Munch's stuff has as well -- in spades. Though he tends to read a bit cooler, I think. Van Gogh could be guilty of "making a point" in his work, but nowhere near to the degree that Munch did.

Seeing the two side-by-side is quite the experience. If you can manage it, you should, because these cats drew the lines we've been colouring in ever since. On until January 17, 2016.

It's less busy when it's closed, of course.

*So long as you give the Red Light District -- or the entire city center, really -- a wide berth on Friday and Saturday night. Honestly, how is it the Scots and Irish haven't drunk themselves into extinction?

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Oh my, what did I just buy?

Here's a recent impulse purchase I'm trying to make some sense of -- "Rey's Speeder" as rendered in LEGO:

There are some psychological pieces to my purchase that don't quite fit.

First of all, I'm not especially excited about this forthcoming instalment in the saga -- cautious optimism I'll admit to, but not excitement. I'm guessing it'll likely be the third-best movie, after Empire, but nowhere near as mind-blowing as '77, because how could it possibly be?

But why be a Debbie Downer about it? It's entirely possible, even likely, this movie will be at least as much fun as Abrams' first Star Trek flick. Should it hit this high-water mark, I shall take great pleasure in watching my daughters dig it.

So -- not exactly excited, and yet I bought the kit. Was it so freakin' cool-looking I just couldn't resist? Mm . . . nope. I doubt I'm alone in thinking it looks like she's riding a thumb-drive.

Or that it bears a passing resemblance to Luke's Speeder, turned sideways.

Now that was a vehicle that excited me -- as a 12-year-old, of course. Still, the residue of that excitement clung on into adulthood so that, when the first LEGO rendition of it came out, I went ahead and dumped the change for it. My mother must've taken note, because years later she gave me the later rendition -- the Mos Eisley Cantina -- for a Christmas present.

Alright, on to another impulse purchase -- this box of postcards:

They're distillations from these books . . .

"Priced out-of-range, these books are."
. . . and I have to say: they've left quite an impression on me -- particularly the stills from Lucas's lamentable prequels. They're breathtaking.

Had I not already attended these movies and experienced the prolonged irritation of a bad script filled with bad lines being delivered badly, I expect I could be forgiven for beholding these stills and expecting the trippy promise of Jodorowsky's Dune come to glorious fruition.

Jodorowsky's Dune -- I think we're getting somewhere, now.

Back to the latest LEGO speeder: putting these smooth and shiny pieces of plastic together, witnessing its carefully considered aesthetic taking shape beneath my fingertips, then feeling the heft of the completed item -- the LEGO brick is to this suburban brat from the '70s what the Madeleine was to Proust: the key to chambers of recollection and the endless possibilities of a stimulated, youthful imagination.

The new movie doesn't have to be anything. The LEGO is more than enough.
"Wait: X-Wing? Orange? Black?? I ... gurgle."

Friday, November 06, 2015

Books Are Dangerous

I was steered this morning to this Books Are Dangerous piece at Aeon. Reading it I suddenly realized that, in fact, I have some sympathy for these kids who are calling for "trigger warnings" before reading musty texts like The Iliad or The Great Gatsby.

I recall my years in university with pleasure, and frequently joke with my daughters that it's probably time I started attending classes again. But honestly? For those four years I was managing more anxiety than I've had to manage since.

High school was over -- nobody was going to praise me for just showing up, ever again. In fact, praise was going to be a sparse commodity, period. Grandparents were tumbling into the grave, and the parental unit was getting a bit giddy. And to the left and right of me friends' personalities were undergoing inexplicable sea-changes, leaving me to wonder what was (or wasn't) happening to me.

Meanwhile I was working on a degree with zero career prospects at the end of it. General Arts, I was assured, was "flexible enough" to qualify me for an endless variety of entry-level jobs. All well and good -- so long as you've got some idea what you're keen to do, and I hadn't the foggiest.

General Arts, with a major in English Literature. That translates to four years reading one super-depressing book after another. Most of those books had a fucking-goes-to-pieces moment near the end -- which scared me nuts, because I could relate. Hadn't gone to pieces myself, mind you -- not yet. But I seemed perpetually on the verge.

I probably should have been on medication, though that's easy to say now -- back in the '80s psychotropic drugs worked with all the finesse of a rubber mallet. I saw friends coping with them, and the cure seemed as bad as, if not worse than, the condition they were supposed to address.

Anyway, I can recall one morning in my final year when I was taking public transit to my classes. I was in my usual twitchy/jumpy/fear-foggy state, when a unique thought finally occurred to me: "You know, if this is how it's going to be for the rest of your life . . . so what? You've managed it for the last three years. You can manage it from here on out."

At that moment I started calming down. For me, fearing the fear was the worst of it.*

So, yes -- I have a great deal of empathy and even sympathy for kids requesting, at the very least, a word of warning before opening yet another graphic lament of our fragile humanity.

Are trigger warnings in college classes really the best way forward? I doubt it. But some consideration and compassion for the sprats who pay the bills is hardly a bad thing. Hey, Teacher -- leaven the syllabus with some levity, why don't you? Granted, it's a world without happy endings; entropy and death are inevitable. But the species has coped with, and even thrived beneath, these spectres for the length and breadth of our existence. Surely some exploration and celebration of that is what these times, and our kids, are calling for?

"Sure! Whatever! Just no more shitty papers -- please!"
*Another "A-ha!" moment: this novel. I picked it up while everyone else around me was carrying a dog-eared copy of Last Exit To Brooklyn -- "A scream looking for a mouth," to quote Lou Reed (not what I needed at the time, thank you!).

**Advice I would give my younger self -- get and keep a part-time job while you're getting educated. It'll calm you down, about a lot of things.