Wednesday, September 28, 2016

In The Book Bin

Deadpool Vol.1: Dead Presidents (Deadpool: Marvel Now)Deadpool Vol.1: Dead Presidents by Brian Posehn
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I come to DP via the movie, which I giggled through, but finally thought, "It doesn't matter how meta you get with superhero material -- at the end of the day it's still a superhero story." That isn't necessarily a bad thing -- indeed when the writer and artist possess insight and some capacity to surprise the reader, it makes for a magical experience. Dead Presidents has its moments of amusement, which will strike some readers' funnybones with greater force than others. But insight? Surprise? Nah. DP/DP is just a superhero story.

The Twilight ChildrenThe Twilight Children by Gilbert Hernández
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Man, I wish I was giving this five stars! Story by Gilbert Hernandez and art by the lamentably late Darwyn Cooke -- this is the sort of pairing that can set off fireworks for a reader.

Not so this time, alas. Hernandez' magical realism proceeds with a leaden rote-ness to it, while Cooke's art -- the shiniest eye-candy he produced in his entire life, IMO (kudos also to colorist Dave Stewart) -- is too polished to bring any emotional weight to a narrative that is already threatened by its inherent spritz.

Back when Los Bros Hernandez were the last of the underground masters, they kept sharp and edgy touches in stories and layouts that threatened to slip into Bob Montana/Dan DeCarlo predictability. A little of that edge, or messiness, would have gone a long way in this project.

Not that I regret this purchase or the time spent thereon in any way shape or form. Maybe it didn't work for me, but these guys deserve attention -- particularly Cooke, who made every effort to keep stretching his already formidable capacities as an artist.

Maze of BloodMaze of Blood by Marly Youmans
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Marly Youmans is a lyrical writer -- a sort of Michael Ondaatje of the Deep South, really. Readers who dig the latter should, I would think, dig her.

Conall Weaver, her fictional portrait of pulp master Robert E. Howard, contains multitudes -- many more than most people do. Her compassionate excavation of his tumultuous inner life makes for a surprisingly welcome immersive experience. You've gotta be in the mood for it, though -- were I in another time and place, I'd likely rate this a "five out of five."

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Scott McKenzie's Power Chord is, I think it's fair to say, a boy's book. The guitar heroes he tracks down and yacks with are all fellas who had their highest hay-day before Grunge appeared. Now they shill for guitar companies, form various iterations of the act that made them famous and rock out smaller venues, or give one-on-one guitar lessons at advanced rates.

McKenzie combs the highways and byways for these dudes, to gather wisdom -- not of the "living life" variety (which is just as well -- the one guy who could legitimately offer it, Warren DeMartini from Ratt (married 20 years and counting), resolutely refuses to discuss family life), but of the "What's it take to really play this thing?" variety. This is advice McKenzie heeds well, so that by the end of the book he is, despite a disastrous Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp experience, a proficient player.

The conversational tone to these exchanges is strictly of the "from one guy to another" variety, including McKenzie's tone as a writer. Is that a bad thing? If you're (cough) a midlife guy who's just picked up his first electric guitar . . . not even remotely. I had a gas.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Praying vs. Preying

"Brace yourself..."

Here's a video that's got me cogitating in all sorts of directions. Give it a look if you haven't already seen it -- it's only 2 minutes long -- and I'll get to my thoughts after that.

First direction: might as well get the obvious out of the way and admit -- this is all kinds of freakin' weird. Or, to put it more generously, ironies abound. No need for enumeration, I don't think, but if you need to prime the pump, the man being blessed by these African-American religious leaders recently suggested the best way to de-escalate racial tensions might be to ramp up stop-and-frisk tactics.

Second direction: I kinda dig it. Warmed my weak frightened heart, just a touch. I've participated in this variety of prayer -- "receiving a blessing" "the laying on of hands" what-have-you -- and it really can be a "blessing" to all involved.

In fact, I urge you to give it a go. Hey, we've become so bloody fragmented and isolated that our idea of "communication" is tweeting vitriolic zingers past each others' heads. As a species, we have not "evolved" past what we are seeing in this video -- I would argue quite the opposite.

Having said that . . .

Third direction: this particular activity can be the foulest variety of horseshit. To give just one for instance: it is by now uncontested that pedophilia is an issue within religious institutions. So I will go out on a limb and suggest that there are pedophiles who have received exactly this sort of blessing, which further enabled them to feel blessed to keep on doing everything they were doing. I do not mean to suggest this presidential candidate is guilty of said crime -- but I am saying this particular participatory ritual often blinds all the participants to the very worst of transgressions.

Which leads me to . . .

Fourth direction: when asked about satanic imagery in heavy metal music, born-again Christian Alice Cooper snorted. "The Devil isn't some big scary guy with horns on his head. [silky tones] He's your beeeeest frieeeend! He would neeeeeever hurt yooou!"* Whether you think of the devil as strictly a metaphor embodying our worst impulses, or as an actual ethereal being wreaking havoc on humanity, Furnier's observation has significant insight which I believe is easily ignored to our own peril.

Which lands me on . . .

Final direction: Prayer. I pray (still). And because I am Mennonite, Jesus' "Sermon on the Mount" has pretty much been forged into a nail and, while still white-hot, driven through my forehead. The one bit that will haunt me right into the grave, because it did my grandparents, and theirs before them (etc):
"Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you."

My forebears didn't read that and think, "Right: The Son of God is speaking metaphorically."

They read that as a straightforward, no bullshit command.

And as one squeaky Dissenter pleading with the rest of praying Christendom, I say: Please -- go and do likewise.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Guitars I Dig: Steve Vai's "Evo" and Brad Gillis' "Shovel"

I've been getting a big kick out of reading Thomas Scott McKenzie's Power Chord: One Man's Ear-Splitting Quest To Find His Guitar Heroes (A).

McKenzie's shtick is so brilliant it almost feels obvious, prompting forehead-slapping and "Why didn't I think of that?" lamentation. He begins his account as a collector of cheap knock-off guitars that decorate his apartment -- strictly for veneration, as he can't play more than a few fumbling notes. He enlists in lessons, and discovers that a startling number of "guitar heroes" from the '80s have shifted from stage to music shop studio -- where they are happy to accept your money and impart wisdom and anecdote for the allotted time.

Given where I'm at, McKenzie's book is hitting the readerly sweet-spot rather satisfyingly.

And thanks to this passage, I am now acquainted with two more guitars I dig: Steve Vai's "Evo" . . .
Photo from Vai's website.
. . . and Brad Gillis' (of Night Ranger, Ozzy Osbourne) '62 Strat.

Photo credit.
If you want an axe -- sorry: "shovel" -- like Gillis's, you've probably missed your chance. Vai, on the other hand, is tight with Ibanez, so if you're of the same collecting disposition as Scott McKenzie you, too, can possess your very own Evo -- though you'll have to resort to your own Kleenex stuffing.

Links: meet Thomas Scott McKenzie; purtier pictures of Evo.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

The Fifty-Year Mission: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Trek: The First 25 Years

The Fifty-Year Mission: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Trek: The First 25 YearsThe Fifty-Year Mission: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Trek: The First 25 Years by Edward Gross

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A massive culling of mostly-pertinent sound-bites from interviews gone by. The tone drifts into the catty frequently enough to keep the reader turning pages. No major revelations for inexhaustible Trekkies (though I do owe Joel an apology -- Nicholas Meyer does indeed relate an incident where Kim Cattral arranges a racy photo-shoot on the bridge that Leonard Nimoy puts the kybosh on), but the overall readerly experience remains fun. Speed-reading quotient: 60%.

View all my reviews

Monday, September 05, 2016

Hell Or High Water

Brad Wheeler (staff writer for Toronto's national newspaper (The Gloat & Wail)) dubs Hell Or High Water "the Coen Brothers for squares" -- a summary judgment I can in no way wrap my head around.
"I'm a brother, you're a brother..."
I enjoyed the flick, and apparently so did Wheeler ("maybe the best middle-of-the-seat drama of the summer") so I assume his tongue is somewhat planted in cheek. The reflexive referral to the Coens, however, is baffling.

The plot hinges on acts generated partially by human cunning, and partially by human brute stupidity -- by movie's end sheer dumb luck factors into the success or failure of the chief protagonists. You could say these are characteristics of Coen plots, but these are characteristics of most plots. Set Pride & Prejudice in Texas and cast Jeff Bridges as Mr. Bennett and perhaps this, too, would qualify as "Coen Brothers for squares."*

Still, I'm glad Wheeler made the comparison. There is indeed a familiar quality to the proceedings, and I was puzzling over it for quite some time after the lights had come back up. The movie is heavy on dialogue, and has a patter and rhythm that I associate with another Texan: Larry McMurtry. I'd put the script, by Taylor Sheridan, in league with McMurtry in his late-prime -- post-Lonesome Dove, basically. The only thing missing is an exceedingly strong female lead, to throw the inner narratives of the four male protagonists into utter disarray.

"Middle-of-the-seat drama" is a judgement I will second. Hell Or High Water is entertainment adults can enjoy, and well worth the various impertinences risked when taking a night at the cinema.

*"Coens 4 Squares" -- seems to better fit the first two seasons of Fox's Fargo, no?

Friday, September 02, 2016

Concert Performances: Peter Gabriel

Postings have been light-to-the-point-of-facile lately, I realize -- not a lot of mulling or meditating, or even revising, before I hit "post." We're getting the elder bundled up and out the door for college, so that's just the way it goes. I do appreciate you sticking around, though.

And maybe that's not a bad segue into this next category of keepable DVDs: concert performances.
Just a sampling (sigh)...
Man, I've got stacks of those. In any given night of any given year I'll reach yet again for something I've already seen a half-dozen times. When it comes to rock 'n' roll, there are some performers I prefer to watch in the bloom of their youth. The Ramones, for instance -- I'll take London in '77 over River Plate in '96 any day you give me, thank you.

I'm surprised, though, by just how many performers I enjoy watching as they stay in the game into their twilight years. Led Zeppelin: I love The Song Remains The Same, but to be honest, I've given Celebration Day, their '07 one-off, more viewings. Plant and Page were never ones to jump around the stage, even in their youth -- the musicianship remains the same, you might say.

The crown jewels in this collection belong to Peter Gabriel -- 1994's Secret World Live . . .
. . . and 2003's Growing Up Live.
The setlist doesn't vary much from concert to concert. And watched back-to-back the experience can be a little gloom-inducing -- ten years takes its toll, after all. Peter transforms from a nimble-footed, dark-haired dude in his forties to a fella who's plainly in his fifties. No shame in that, of course -- the shame would be to pretend otherwise.

Perhaps what's most striking in these concerts is the choreography and staging, via iconic Canuckle-head Robert LePage. Beneath his direction the transformation of ten years is conducted movingly with both candor and grace -- a gift to all involved, including not just the accomplished performers assembled, but the audience as well.