Friday, May 29, 2009

The Hold Steady -- A Positive Rage

PhotobucketSome folks say authenticity and rock 'n' roll have never quite been firm bedfellows, but in the age of karaoke people still have a hankering for something real -- two chords, a guitar and the truth as the saying goes. Brooklyn's The Hold Steady are firm believers in the power of rock 'n' roll to save your soul, no matter how cliched that might sound -- and they're firm heirs to the tradition. Their new live album A Positive Rage showcases them near their peak.

Over a series of literate and fiery albums, the Hold Steady have carved out a niche somewhere between Springsteen, Hüsker Dü and Elvis Costello. Balding, bespectacled frontman Craig Finn heaps on words in his monologue-slash-rant lyrics, with epic, allusive tales of losers and lovers and ne'er-do-wells spilling out so fast he can barely contain them, backed by a persistent power-chord riff crunch. There's a bar-band foundation to the Hold Steady's tunes about seedy characters with names like Holly and Charlemagne, but it's filtered through a straight-edge punk rock sensibility. There's a knife's edge wit to Finn's lyrics, with biting couplets like this from "Barfruit Blues": "She said 'it's good to see you back in a bar band, baby.' / I said 'it's great to see you're still in the bars.'"

Finn – who admits his barking vocals are "just basically me talking at amplified volume" – is perhaps an unlikely rock star, but that's part of what makes him great. He sings for the underdogs and the dumped on, and perhaps most of all, for the fans. This bar band keeps the audience in focus – one of the lyrics from 2008's superb Stay Positive goes, "we couldn't even have done this if it wasn't for you." The band has a tangible joy for their work that's sometimes hard to find in the clench-jawed alternative rock scene these days.

PhotobucketA Positive Rage serves up a heaping helping of Hold Steady righteous rock, their first live CD bundled with an hour-long documentary DVD chronicling their 2006 global tour. The live album captures a Halloween 2007 show in Chicago, and is a high-energy blast, with the band in an engagingly clattering good form, tearing through a set heavy on tunes from their 2006 breakthrough disc Boys and Girls in America. Particular highlights include a barnstorming sing-along take on their skittering hit single "Your Little Hoodrat Friend," and a sweeping 10-minute jam on their show closer "Killer Parties." The documentary DVD gives an endearing glimpse at a bunch of journeymen musicians on the cusp of making it big, playing to growing crowds and taking on their first London shows. There's an interesting subtext that most of the band are in their late 30s yet some of their biggest fans are much younger – perhaps drawn by Finn's honest songs about the confusion and the passion of life. "There's things I think at 35 are funny about being 17 that I didn't think were funny at all when I was 17," he muses at one point. There's truth there.

(*A somewhat longer version of this review first appeared by me over at BlogCritics. Go check 'em out, they've recently designed and are all shiny 'n' stuff.)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

They Still Make Music Videos: Grizzly Bear, "Two Weeks"

I haven't watched MTV in yeeeears, but apparently the bands still make the music videos out there. The art form is a lot less ubiquitous than it once was, which is kind of sad as you miss out on the possibilities of pictures + music together. Here's a particularly strange, gorgeous and captivating music video by Grizzly Bear for the song "Two Weeks" off their brand new and quietly dazzling disc "Veckatimest." Either you likes it or you don't. Be sure to watch to the end. Me, I dig.
Two Weeks

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Return of the Visitors, Jay Bennett and The Hobbit

Winter has clenched its icy fingers around Aotearoa this last week or so and I am cold. Brr.

PhotobucketI had kind of vaguely heard they were remaking the old "V" TV series from the 1980s, but hadn't realised it was actually really happening until I saw this trailer for it. "V" was a great '80s nostalgia kick for me -- I remember being horrified out of my wits by the original miniseries and its sequel, despite the cheesy special effects and some rather dire acting. Still, you had Marc "I Am The Beastmaster" Singer, Michael "I Will Kill You My Pinky Finger" Ironside and Jane Badler, who didn't look half bad in a red Nazi-symbolic jumpsuit. And the metaphors, ham-handed as they were, mean the show holds up decently well today. (The ongoing TV series was less good, but I was hooked on it even as it descended into silliness and makeup so cheap that even a 13-year-old noted it.) Anyway, this new series looks fairly promising, certainly better special effects, although I wonder how much "new" it will bring to the table. Will it just repeat the original or will it be a radical re-invention like "Battlestar Galactica"? I quite like Elizabeth Mitchell from "Lost" and am pleased to see her on the cast. Hopefully we'll see it in New Zealand by 2012 or so.

• Rest in peace, Ex-Wilco member Jay Bennett. Bennett contributed a heck of a lot to the distinctive psychedelic quasi-country sound of the band's "Being There" and "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" albums, and his death at just 45 is pretty shocking. The headstrong Bennett clashed a lot with Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy, as recounted in the excellent documentary "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart," and it sounds like he had a lot of personal issues consuming his life after he left the band in 2001. Wilco has continued to prosper and impress, but I'm sad Bennett never quite broke through as a solo artist.

• Mexican director Guillermo del Toro is going all New Zealand as he gets ready to film 2011's "Hobbit" prequels to "Lord of the Rings." I can't wait for these -- if Peter Jackson couldn't do it, I can imagine no other director than the singularly mysterious del Toro to take his place.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

My Classic Comics ABCs: JLA #14

One of the first comic books I ever read was an issue of "Justice League of America," circa 1980. How could you go wrong with Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and more all on one team? More heroes for your money. The Justice League is the Greek Pantheon of superhero comics -- but it's a shame the potential of the title has rarely been met. For much of its 40+ year existence, the Justice League weren't really all that super. They were a club, rather than an army. Memorable tales were far apart.

PhotobucketUntil writer Grant Morrison got a hold of it, for a run in the late 1990s, and made the "JLA" must reading for several years. He got back to "the big Seven" -- Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman, Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter -- and took the concept utterly straight. Morrison is going for pure, granite-hewed iconic, with his gods-made-flesh watching over the earth (it's no coincidence that their Olympus, the Watchtower, is on the moon). It's by far the most evolutionarily advanced take on the Justice League, which had bounced about in a variety of incarnations from serious to jokes.

Morrison takes a chunk of the "push everything to 11" excess of Warren Ellis' "Authority," with the added resonance of these characters being established legends. Pretty much every foe is massive, every clash threatening to shake the foundations of reality -- which is the perfect way to do the Justice League. If you've got the biggest heroes, go big. Fight Martians, fight Gods, fight the essence of primordial evil itself. I'd rank his run on "JLA" with the best of anything Morrison's done -- I think he tried to recapture the glowering armageddon vibe with the more recent "Final Crisis" but fell short.

By the sixth issue of "JLA", Superman is wrestling with rogue angels. Morrison uses the young Kyle Rayner Green Lantern and Wally West Flash as our "man on the street" heroes, breathless and cocky and amazed to be in the company of legends. "Man, doesn't it ever just hit you how awesome this all is?" Green Lantern says at one point. That's not something you'd catch Superman or Batman saying, but Morrison cleverly uses the younger heroes to give his tales a sense of scale and power.

My favorite sequence of "JLA" issues remains "Rock of Ages," which started in #10. Morrison throws in everything -- an Injustice League led by Luthor, Darkseid, time-travel, gigantic future hero-gods, magical wishing-stones, the end of the world, holographic duplicates and so many "gee-whiz cool" moments that my fanboy brain ached. The convoluted plot avoids some of Morrison's later excesses. Perhaps the sheerest distillation of Morrison's "JLA" run is a sequence in #14 set in a distant ruined future, where second-tier heroes Green Arrow and the Atom face off alone against the greatest evil in the universe -- and in a fist-pumpingly cool fashion, triumph. (My favorite line of the entire series? "Ray? You and me, man - we just killed Darkseid.")

PhotobucketHoward Porter's art on here came up for a lot of flak at the time. His figures are stiff and dense, with fierce black lines and chiseled dynamism. Panels crackle with energy. It's harsh artwork, without smooth edges, and admittedly Porter's anatomy is sometimes a bit rough, but it generally worked well to bring that sense of action movie-times-10 passion to Morrison's impossibly tall tales of heroes and villains. I'd rather look at Porter's art over Jim Lee, myself.

(*Previously in this series: A: Amazing Spider-Man, B: Batman, C: Cerebus, D: Doom Patrol, E: Eightball, F: Flaming Carrot, G: Give Me Liberty, H: Hate, I: Incredible Hulk.)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Wednesday Shuffle: Superman never made any money / saving the world from Solomon Grundy

Shuffling the iPod while waiting for the car to get its Warrant of Fitness....

PhotobucketThe Warrant of Fitness is one of the more annoying revenue grabs in New Zealand. Basically, it requires you to get your car inspected by a mechanic once a year, and they tell you if anything's wrong with it and if it meets Government standards for $50 a pop. More insidious is that if your car is more than 6 years old, like most of us regular folks, you have to get it done every 6 bloody months. $50 just to be told your car works or not. Not even counting any repairs you have to do to pass the Warrant if your car is deemed unsatisfactory. Really, once a year would be enough for any car. The 6 months thing strikes me as a huge money bucket for the Government to feed from.

...Can you tell I just got told I need to spend $400 to fix an oil leak on our slowly crumbling 13-year-old Subaru?


1. Up On Cripple Creek 4:32 The Band
2. Sneaky Feelings 2:12 Elvis Costello
3. Unsatisfied 4:02 The Replacements*
4. Would? 3:29 Alice In Chains**
5. Sweet Illusions 5:02 Ryan Adams & The Cardinals
6. Given To Fly 4:01 Pearl Jam**
7. Humming 6:04 Portishead
8. Hasten Down The Wind 3:00 Warren Zevon
9. Sunflowers 3:48 Everclear
10. Hands All Over 6:02 Soundgarden**
11. I Am Trying To Break Your Heart (Live) 5:22 Wilco
12. Chesley's Little Wrists 1:16 Pavement
13. Superman's Song 4:32 Crash Test Dummies***

* If forced to take one Replacements song and one only on a desert island, I would be hard pressed to choose between this one and "Within Your Reach." But I think "Unsatisfied" would win the day.
** The iPod was in a very grunge mood today.
*** Rather unfairly-deemed 1990s one-hit wonders, the Dummies crafted what I think is one of my all-time favorite songs about a superhero -- brooding, wistful, generously sad and awe-struck at the same time. A real gem.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Random thoughts on Borg, Jedi and Twitti

When you start off a Monday morning with a migraine so bad you think your eyeballs are going to explode, it's never a good sign.

Ah well. Random links and short musings then:
A nice profile appeared in the Sunday Star-Times of my father-in-law Peter Siddell and his ongoing experience with a brain tumour. I'm inclined to bag on my fellow journalists more often than not but other than a few errors this story is pretty good, I think it captures his voice well. And they managed to spell my wife's name correctly, which is always a plus.

Photobucket• I have rediscovered the joy of "Star Trek" thanks to the new movie, and the swell "Fan Collective" series of DVD box sets which are perfect for the non-obsessive fan like me, offering a nice sampler of 20 or so episodes spread amongst the five series and organized by themes such as "Borg," "Time Travel" and "Klingons." I like a lot of "Trek" but freely admit even the best of series had its share of duds and am not interested in mammoth 7-season box sets, so these "Fan Collectives" are an awesome way to get my "Trek" fix without breaking the budget. Heck, I even found an episode of the hugely mediocre "Enterprise" on there that wasn't half-bad!

• ...I am sad to see that it seems like a lot of blogs I like to read have gone dark in favour of Twitter apparently. I don't want to be the grouchy old guy going on about the newfangled technology, but I have to admit I'm just not into Twitter. The forced minimalism doesn't appeal to me. Hell, I can barely keep my blog posts below 1400 words, let alone 140 characters! Anyway, although there's little reward sometimes in this bloggin', I guess I'll keep bloggin' away in the old media for a while... "Follow" me if you will! (And yeah, that's why I'll soon have Google Ads on the site.)

Photobucket• So it was 10 years ago today that "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace" (whew!) opened. Hard to believe, harder still that a movie went from being so hugely anticipated to so hugely maligned in just a decade. I admit it's not a great flick, although curiously 5-year-old Peter digs all the prequels (except "Episode III" which is a little intense for him). We stood in line up at Lake Tahoe to watch it on opening day and according to my journal entry of the time, "fantastic movie." I guess the disappointment took a while to set in, or perhaps it's the nature of fan obsessions to curdle a bit in the light of time. I wonder if part of the failure of the prequels to take is that they were viewed by 20- and 30-somethings who watched the originals as kids and who couldn't get into the same mindset again? But then I remember Jar Jar Binks and Jake Lloyd and pidgin-Asian speaking aliens and think again. It did have Liam Neeson and Darth Maul going for it, though, and 10 years on I still remember the thrill when Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon zip on their lightsabers for the first time. Give Lucas another few years, maybe he'll release a "reimagined" "Phantom Menace" that cuts down on the flaws.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Strange supermen from the Golden Age

Yeah, everyone knows Batman. And Superman. And Captain America. But what about Blue Bolt? Or Marvelo, Monarch of Magicians? How about Sub-Zero or Spacehawk, Superhuman Enemy of Crime?

PhotobucketAfter Superman exploded on the scene, the dawn of the comic book in the late 1930s offered a flood of dazzlingly named, strangely attired do-gooders all trying to compete with the Man of Steel's success. No idea was too strange, no gimmick too outlandish. Seventy years on, most of these early comic book stars are forgotten, mouldering away in landfills. Golden age superheroes always looked intriguing to me, whenever I'd see strange titles like "Silver Streak Comics" and "Amazing Mystery Funnies" in a magazine. Of course, these old back issues were well out of my price range!

"Supermen! The First Wave of Comic Book Heroes 1936-1941"
is the book I've been waiting for – a crazed whirlwind tour through the raw badlands of early superheroes, the best and the weirdest of the early days. Gathering a decent sampling of these stories today, if you could even track down the rare original comics, would cost you thousands, but Fantagraphics Books has assembled 20 of these quirky gems into a nicely designed, affordable full-color paperback. It's like a roadmap of alternative history, where you can imagine that a character like "Stardust the Super Wizard" became a star.

PhotobucketSome of the earliest adventures here are truly rough stuff (such as The Clock, who appears to be a man in a tuxedo wearing a napkin on his face), but given time, the young comics pioneers began to really stretch their wings in stories of sustained invention and oddity. After a few stories that are more of historical value than entertainment, such as a very early effort by "Superman" creators Siegel and Schuster starring "Dr. Mystic," "Supermen!" opens up into a strange and wonderful ride. Giant robots, werewolves, malevolent gorillas – they're all here.

Creators who would go on to more famous work include Jack Kirby, with "Cosmic Carson," Will Eisner with "Yarko The Great" (they really were just picking names out of a hat, weren't they?) and Basil Wolverton with "Spacehawk." None of these stories are quite up to their later creations, but they all have strong hints of what was to come. There's a willingness to try anything in this new genre – such as "The Face," whose entire gimmick seems to be wearing a creepy Halloween mask.

In his enjoyably hipster introduction to "Supermen!", novelist and occasional comics writer Jonathan Lethem lauds these tales for their "defiant disorienting particularity, their blazing strangeness." And yes, there is something kind of creepy and unknown here, some of the imagery nearly as surreal as something out of Salvador Dali (the silent skull-faced primitives battled by "The Flame," or the leering countenance of The Comet's archenemy who goes by the subtle name of "Satan"). Men in capes hadn't quite become cliches then.

PhotobucketOne of my favorite tales is the whacked-out "Daredevil Vs. The Yellow Claw" saga by "Plastic Man" creator Jack Cole, whose vivid, rubbery art leaps off the page. This "Daredevil" isn't the blind superhero of today, but a wisecracking pliable acrobat with a striking red-and-blue costume. The towering, fanged and drooling Oriental villain Yellow Claw is so over-the-top a caricature of "yellow peril" racism it's hard to be offended by it, although some readers might find it a bit rude today. Still, Cole's sheer storytelling energy makes this story as exciting to read now as it was decades ago.

There are two stories by the king of bizarre Fletcher Hanks, whose fever-dream madness almost makes everyone else here look staid and dull by comparison. My only quibble with the inclusion of the Hanks stories is that he's already been the focus of two Fantagraphics books and frankly, it would've been better to give space here to another forgotten creator instead. But you can't top the sheer lunacy of Hanks' stories, such as the one here featuring Stardust battling space vultures that features a startlingly high body count.

"Supermen! The First Wave of Comic Book Heroes" resurrects a forgotten army of well-meaning, bizarrely named heroes and villains. It's one of the best comic collections of the year. Bring on a sequel!

Monday, May 11, 2009

These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise...

PhotobucketIt's funny: I don't think a lot of people would call you a nerd for talking about being a fan of "Star Wars," but bring up "Star Trek" and the geek sensors immediately go off. The new "Star Trek" movie, slick, shiny and genetically engineered to entertain, is trying to wipe off some of that stigma, break the inwardly spiraling loop of fan obsession that turned "Trek" into too much of a niche industry.

Like any mild geek, I've always been interested in "Star Trek." I have to admit, though, I've never been an enormous fan of the "original" series -- I've seen a lot of them, and they were good, cowboys in space fun, but the Trek I first really became a fan of was "Next Generation," which after a shaky couple of early seasons developed into really engaging science-fiction, with the superb Patrick Stewart leading the way in a way hammy William Shatner never managed. I also dug "Deep Space Nine," which tried to do something quite different with the concept, but both the routine "Voyager" and "Enterprise" left me cold, and I gave up on them after a season or two.

However, in what I suspect is a rare sentiment among "Trek" fans, I actually did like most of the "Next Generation" movies – "Generations" with its creaky plot maneuvers probably the worst, but "First Contact" was top-notch and while they're a bit small-in-scale and rough about the edges, "Insurrection" and "Nemesis" were still decent entertainment for me. Yet, I'll admit, both in movies and TV there was a growing conservatism in "Star Trek's" approach that was hurting it. Few chances were taken, too many space-time conundrums and aliens with forehead disfigurements. By "Nemesis," which took a significant moment like Data's death and immediately rendered it moot with a long-lost "twin brother," it became rather unimportant. Irrelevant, as Spock might say.

PhotobucketAll this is a preamble to "Star Trek" version 2009, which is terrific entertainment and a nice re-imagining of the franchise which doesn't completely negate what came before. Chris Pine makes a fine young Kirk, Zachary Quinto is miles better than his cheesy "Heroes" role as Spock, and it's a fast-paced, well-directed thrill ride that's light and passionate summer entertainment, kind of this year's "Iron Man." It isn't terrifically deep, but Quinto and Pine put enough fire in their bellies to make us believe in Kirk and Spock again, to make the possibility of bold new journeys welcome.

Although the time-tangling bits of the plot aren't really necessary, except to make old fans happy and to give us a much-enjoyed appearance by Leonard Nimoy, it's respectful to the legacy. It doesn't utterly reinvent the wheel, but it at least puts a nice new coat of paint on the cart. For the first time in a while, "Star Trek" seems fresh again. Maybe even kind of cool.

Friday, May 8, 2009

NZ film rising: Sleeping Dogs and The Quiet Earth

New Zealand's film industry is a relatively young one. It had a slow gestation and only really came into its own in the '70s. These days you've got Peter Jackson, Lee Tamahori, Jane Campion, Martin Campbell and many more who've made NZ film a real heavyweight, and it's a hugely popular place to film (watching "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" the other day, I was pleasantly pleased to see several locations we just drove through on our South Island holiday). We're everywhere in cinema these days, mate!

But that wasn't always the case. I recently viewed for the first time two classic Kiwi films that helped jump-start the industry. They're both paranoid science-fiction tales, and were hugely influential here, although one of them has held up better than the other – 1977's "Sleeping Dogs" and 1985's "The Quiet Earth."

"Sleeping Dogs"
PhotobucketNew Zealand: fascist state? "Sleeping Dogs" is referred to as the birth of "modern" New Zealand cinema, although I admit this sometimes labored 1970s allegory is a bit dated now. But in some ways this is NZ's "Citizen Kane," the movie that jolted a moribund industry into creative heights. It features the movie debut of Sam Neill, one of our more recognizable actors who's since gone on to "The Piano," "Jurassic Park" and many more. Neill plays Smith, a family man whose domestic turmoil gets tangled up with a political nightmare in New Zealand. Unspecified unrest leads to the Prime Minister declaring martial law, and rather against his will, quiet-living Smith gets made into a leading figure in the Resistance. Neill is great in "Sleeping Dogs", bringing a fierce intensity to the role that elevates the entire movie, making you believe in Smith and root for his struggle -- indeed, "Dogs" is the kind of film that could've been a lot worse with a different actor. (Some of the other actors are just awful, and American Warren Oates saunters on for a very strange brief cameo.) It's directed by Kiwi Roger Donaldson, who's gone on to do a lot of other films (including "The World's Fastest Indian," NZ's highest grossing movie). Donaldson has a fine eye for composition, and the quiet scenes of "Dogs" play best – the action scenes tend to be rather unintentionally funny, I found. I understand that "Sleeping Dogs" rampant paranoia reflects the late '70s zeitgeist, and forecast the tensions that came from the South Africa world rugby tour of NZ. (A very good essay putting "Sleeping Dogs" in context can be found here.) Seen in that light, it kinda works, but from our relatively settled modern perspective, I still kept getting jarred out of the movie by its vision of New Zealand as a neo-Nazi jackbooted fascist state. Beaut scenery, though, which reinforces the ugly brutality of a fascist state surrounded by all this green.

"The Quiet Earth"
Photobucket"The Quiet Earth," on the other hand, still plays very well today I thought, with the exception of some dodgy '80s special effects and a few dated moments. In this one, a scientist, Zac (Bruno Lawrence), wakes up one day to find that he may just be the last man on Earth. All of New Zealand appears to be abandoned, thanks to some mysterious scientific experiment. But when Lawrence finds a few other survivors, mankind starts to get complicated again. "Quiet Earth" does the last-man-on-Earth thing a lot better than movies like "I Am Legend," I thought. How would it go? You'd be confused, horrified, probably briefly exuberant, and then bat-shit crazy. The late Bruno Lawrence does a fantastic job, with his rather un-Hollywood face and a kind of controlled mania that works well. The movie also has a rather refreshingly nuanced view of mankind, one that isn't utterly despairing but rather matter-of-fact. I liked the turns Zac's relationship takes with the few human survivors he finds (although the Maori Api is kind of portrayed in a hokey "noble savage" fashion). "Quiet Earth" being set in New Zealand also gives it added power; in the pre-Internet age, being the last man in New Zealand is even more isolating than it might be somewhere else. Where do you go from there? Swim? The ending twist of "The Quiet Earth" is particularly spectacular and thought-provoking, and sticks with you for days. I'd rate it as one of the better post-apocalypse films I've seen, let alone one of the best New Zealand films.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Feels like the first time, feels like the very first time

Stolen from Samurai Frog, an enjoyable meme I thought:

First Job: Cleaning up outside some apartments behind my old house in Grass Valley, Calif. I think I got paid a few bucks by a family friend.

First Real Job: Six weeks at McDonald's, summer 1988, at the end of which I was rather ignominiously fired for failing to turn up to work because a friend had rented a video camera and I thought that was a more entertaining way of spending my time. Hilariously, for some reason the rumour went around that I showed up at work drunk and hung over and vomited all over the place before being thrown out. Mind you, I didn't even touch a drink till college. But that would've been a much cooler way to be dismissed, I guess.

PhotobucketFirst Favorite Politician: Poor sad doomed hangdog Mike Dukakis, whom I identified with in 1988, the first presidential election I took a real interest in (one year too young to vote though)

First Car: The 1971 Jeep Wagoneer my parents bought in Alaska a few months before I was born. A monstrous green hulk of a machine, the "Avocadomobile" was truly dangerous in the hands of a 17-year-old, proven by the engine throwing a rod and exploding in cataclysmic fashion while I was driving my girlfriend around on a date.

First Record/CD: Men At Work, "Business as Usual". Unhealthy Colin Hay obsession continues to this day.

PhotobucketFirst Concert: Howard Jones, 1988, and he really wasn't very good I thought. His keyboards kept breaking.

First Encounter with a Famous Person: Burgess Meredith sat in front of us at a play when I was a kid; his child was involved in the production apparently.

First Brush With Death: Choked on peppermint as a wee lad; remember my dad hanging me upside down and whacking on me. Still don't much care for peppermints.

First House/Condo Owned:
The house we live in right now -- which we cleverly managed to buy about 6 months before the real estate market crash. Sigh.

First Foreign Country Visited: England, when I was 7.

First Favorite TV Show: "The Brady Bunch."
And I sadly admit to this day that I have most episodes committed to memory. A childhood well spent!

First Favorite Actor: Harrison Ford,
of course.

PhotobucketFirst Favorite Actress: Lea Thompson, circa "Back to the Future" and "Howard The Duck". Yeah, it's more than a little embarrassing I was romantically attracted to anything to do with "Howard The Duck," isn't it?

First Girlfriend/Boyfriend: Cindy and I went roller-skating in 6th grade. It was bliss. That was about as far as things went, too.

First Film Seen: Not sure. I think it had Dick Van Dyke in it.

First Favorite Radio Station:
FM 102, Sacramento. I still remember the chirpy tones of their call sign, long after I stopped listening to the radio -- "FM 102!" And the mysteries of Rick Dees' weekly top 40.

First Book I Remember Reading: Good lord, no idea. Kind of like asking "first water I drank." There are too many thousands of words massed up between then and now. Probably something by Charles M Schulz though.

First Meme You Answered on Your Blog: Apparently this one, which has a really wacky table format. I don't even remember doing it!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Tuesday shuffle: Remember me to one who lives there

Photobucket1. Beat The Clock 3:49 Sparks
2. Girl From The North Country 3:44 Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash*
3. Like A Prayer 5:52 Madonna **
4. Brushed 3:33 Paul Weller
5. I Keep A Close Watch 3:30 John Cale
6. Falling Through Your Clothes 2:54 The New Pornographers
7. Praying Hands 2:48 Devo
8. Jump They Say 3:55 David Bowie ***

* I know it's not considered one of Dylan's "top" efforts but the album this comes from, Nashville Skyline, is probably in my personal top five. Dylan just sounds so warm and comfortable, and it's a casual yet addictive sort of ode to the joys of hearth and home.
** Hey, remember when Madonna was still considered edgy and not some crazy African-baby stealing exercise nut?
*** A sorely underrated Bowie tune, and one of the very few to deal explicitly with his personal life (specifically, his mentally ill half-brother's suicide).

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Hey kids, comics! Free Comic Book Day 2009

PhotobucketOne of the cool things about having a 5-year-old is that they're very pliable still, and like the things you like. Peter doesn't feel the need yet to rebel against everything we hold dear, so if I like comic books, so does he. Anything that has superheroes is nearly as cool as Transformers and Lego in his book.

So of course Free Comic Book Day is a great father-and-son geek bonding kinda thing. FCBD has been going for several years now, and it's always a decent event -- I like it even more in New Zealand as comics here are so much more pricey than in the US. Gotham Comics did an excellent job this year and Peter's Superman (sort of) costume was a hit.

Good freebies this year, too -- the kid-comics included a DC Kids' comics sampler, Transformers (of course), the Bongo comics crew featuring the Simpsons and the like. There's even a "kid-friendly" Wolverine comic (although I have to admit a "kid-friendly" Wolverine seems really bizarre to me) which the boy dug ("How does he keep his knives sharp?").

I haven't been following DC's superheroes at all really lately so the Green Lantern "Blackest Night" freebie did a good job of bringing me up to speed with all the various "new lanterns" mythology they've introduced. (Orange Lanterns? Really?) I'm not hooked enough to buy yet another huge crossover, but it was decent entertainment. Probably my favorite freebies were a surprisingly good old-school Avengers tale by Bendis that had the Dark and Light Avengers facing off, and a kitschy fun Drawn & Quarterly Nancy/Melvin the Monster sampler of '50s comics by John Stanley. FCBD books run from the adult "Love & Rockets" to "Archie," and it's a great way to get yourself and your kids exploring -- it's happening tomorrow in the US, so be sure to check it out if you can.