8/31/08

Comic Books #4: A Word About the Wonder Twins


Let me say right off the bat that you shouldn't judge a superhero by his or her powers. Batman has no powers whatsoever, yet he is regarded as one the greatest superheroes of all time. That being said, if I had to pick a superhero with the lamest, worst power it would have to be Zan of the Wonder Twins.
Now there may be some comic book aficionados out there that are aware of someone with worse powers, but turning yourself into a bucket of water is pretty damn awful. The question I always had was where'd that bucket come from?

A while back they revamped Aquaman to look like more of a bad ass, I guess. I think he even had a hook for a hand. They tried the same sort of thing with the Wonder Twins, allowing Zan to transform into a frost giant - bye-bye bucket of water, hello demonic whirlpool.

In contrast, I've always thought Jayna's powers were pretty cool. I guess everything from a bacterium to a blue whale is fair game. With the revamped version, she could even take the form of mythical creatures like the hydra. This sort of reminds me of another superhero from the small screen....

You guessed it, Manimal! But if you're going to bring up TV super powers, there's simply no comparison to Samantha Stephens and Jeannie. Their powers are godlike - they can teleport, alter time, create matter from nothing... basically, they could own the universe if they were the type. Yet, Darrin won't even let Sam use her powers to wash the dishes. Sam could take on Martian Manhunter and Firestorm at the same time and not break a sweat... but I digress. This is the sort of thing that you come up with when you have too much time on your hands. But I'd still love to see the unstoppable force of a Manhunter-Stephens team up.


8/27/08

Daughters of Pop Music


In 1962, perhaps the biggest mistake in the history of popular music was made by the record company, Decca Records. They made the decision to go with The Tremeloes (pictured above) instead of another band called The Beatles. Not that The Tremeloes aren't good, but ouch!

“We don’t like their sound, and ‘guitar music’ is on the way out” was the quote from Decca executive Dick Rowe of The Beatles". Certain songs from The Decca Audition are included on The Beatles Anthology.

Brian Poole of the Tremeloes has a daughter who went on to a somewhat successful recording career as half of a duo called Alicia's Attic. I listened to a few of their songs on YouTube and hated it... different strokes for different folks, I guess.

This got me trying to think of other famous daughters with musician fathers. Here's some more I thought of. If you can remember others that I left out, let me know.

Mike d'Abo was the lead singer of Manfred Mann who sang "Mighty Quinn" and composed "Handbags and Gladrags" which became the opening to the BBC series "The Office". His daughter is Olivia d'Abo, who played Karen, the sister of Fred Savage on "The Wonder Years". Damn, I wish they'd stop bickering over song royalties and get this incredible show out on DVD!

Ione Skye (Say Anything..) is the daughter of Scottish musician, Donovan.

Liv Tyler is, of course, the daughter of Steven Tyler (Aerosmith). However, for the majority of her childhood, she thought she was the daughter of Todd Rundtgren.

Jenna Elfman is NOT the daughter of Danny Elfman of Oingo Boingo.

Ami Dolenz, daughter of Micky Dolenz (The Monkees) had a shorlived acting career in such movies as She's Out of Control (pictured below with Matthew Perry), Witchboard, and Mr. Mom.

Here's a picture of Marty Wilde with Julie Andrews. He was a pretty big teen idol in England for awhile along with Cliff Richard. Who was his daughter?

You guessed it, Kim Wilde. Marty actually wrote her hit "Kids in America".

Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks is the daughter of accomplished country musician Lloyd Maines, and Natalie Cole is the daughter of the legendary Nat King Cole.

My favorite daughter of a musician would have to be none other than Nancy Sinatra. See an earlier post I did on "Some Velvet Morning" for more on Frank's little girl. Here she is singing "Sugar Town" after arriving via hot air balloon.





And finally, Shirley Manson. Her mother was a big band singer (Muriel Manson), but not necessarily famous. Her father wasn't a famous musician either, but he is a respected geneticist. Since I also work in the field of genetics, I thought I'd give him a shout out.

(Note: another daughter of a famous scientist is Markie Post; although, he is not in the field of genetics but rather physics).

Again, please comment if you can think of any others - unless your going to remind me of Ozzy's girl or Wilson-Phillips.

8/26/08

2 Songs About Something (#4): Fantasy


"Twas in the darkest depths of Mordor, I met a girl so fair, but gollum, and the Evil One crept up and slipped away with her."

 
These lyrics are, of course, from Led Zeppelin's "Ramble On", one of the best songs inspired by a work of fantasy (The Lord of the Rings).


Another great song in a similar vein is "Cthlu thlu" by Caravan, based on the Cthulhu mythology of H. P. Lovecraft. (I realize my last "2 Songs About..." post also had a Caravan song, so it may appear I'm some sort of die hard Caravan fan. Not at all. In fact, I hereby ban any further mention of Caravan on retrospace.)




In case there's one of you left out there that hasn't seen the incredible "Bilbo Baggins" video by Leonard Nimoy, here's my gift to you. You owe me one.



Hard to believe the guy who composed this song also did the arrangements for Nat King Cole's "Christmas Song". Great fun, extremely campy, but a horrible song all around nonetheless; only a tad better than Pink Floyd's "Gnome".

Moving on to an excellent example of a song based on works of science fiction is "Down in the Park" by Gary Numan (then in Tubeway Army). You probably remember him from his robotic 80's hit "Cars". The song was inspired by the dystopian fiction of Phillip K. Dick and William S. Burroughs, and you won't find a more depressing and disturbing song. It includes a description of a rape machine.... not exactly tailored for Casey Kasem's top forty countdown!



Well, I can't leave you on such a downer. So, let's pep the room up a bit with a song from Finland's Mainostelevisio. It has a sci-fi stage set, but otherwise has nothing to do with fantasy or sci-fi novels. However, it's so insanely bizarre that it may as well be from another planet. Enjoy.




3 observations: (1) the girl looks like Dana Plato, (2) dancing is not one of the strengths of the people of Finland, and (3) the song is mind numbingly bad, yet disturbingly catchy and will be stuck in your head for at least another month.... don't blame me, blame YouTube.


8/24/08

The Rise and Fall of the Mini Skirt


I was interested to learn that many believe that hemlines rise during economic prosperity and fall during economic decline. That prompted me to do a little looking around to get a brief background on the ups and downs of the hemline. To begin with, the miniskirt originated in London, which apparently caused a huge stir in the elite Parisian fashion world, which had previously ruled supreme setting fashion trends. The development of the mini skirt literally had the likes of Parisian fashion gurus like Yves Saint Laurent forced to follow in the footsteps of London's Carnaby Street!

The mini skirt's origins can be traced to London fashion designer Mary Quant (seen above). The mini skirt would maintain popularity until the mid-1970's when pants became more fashionable for women. Why was it such an instant success? Think about the attitude of this new generation - youth was everything, the Who were singing they hoped they'd die before they got old, and the older generation just didn't get it, man. The mini skirt became a symbol of this exalted youth since you basically had to be youthful to get away with wearing it, and it was a bit controversial too.

The mini skirt hemline gradually inched upwards, prompting one critic in 1969 to spout, "Skirts had gone as high as they could architecturally go--any higher, and they would cease to be skirts and become blouses."


So how did a British fad, popular among the mod culture, make it to the states? Well, many Americans got their first glimpse on an ABC television special called "The Mini-Skirt Rebellion" in 1967. It wasn't long before the American Baby Boomers, who were also basking in their youthful splendor, latched on to the trend. Soon they were even wearing them on "The Brady Bunch".

Indeed, the mini skirt enjoyed its greatest popularity in the U.S. in the early 1970's. The picture below is actually from Wikipedia and shows three Freshman college girls between classes in Memphis, Tennessee, 1973 - you can plainly see the hemline was up.... way up.

Correlating hemlines to stock prices may be a stretch, but I think it is safe to say that hemlines are related to the overall cultural mood. In the roaring twenties the hemlines rose (ex. flappers), and went back down during the Great Depression, only to rise again in the swingin' sixties. Not buying it? Well, after the economic depression of the 1970's was over, the U.S. entered the affluent 80's... and guess what?


I think, in a way, you are able to gauge the mindset and sexual attitudes of a culture by their hemline. A mini skirt would have been simply scandalous in the 1950's, yet it would be commonplace a mere decade later with the sexual revolution. Here's the cultural litmus test: Is a woman in a mini skirt liberated or a slut? The popular consensus to that question says a lot about the culture.


In 1972, the consensus was resoundingly positive. So much so that you could have a member of a Christian band wearing a mini skirt, and no one raise an eyebrow.

There are a multitude of factors that you have to consider in tracking the rise and fall of the hemline. For instance, you could have the most free and sexually liberated culture in history, but they reject the mini skirt simply because of its negative association with the 1970's - a time of some pretty severe fashion disasters. Case in point:


Whatever the case, it is interesting to think that the hemline may have a connection to not just economics but also sexual attitudes. There's gotta be a doctoral dissertation out there somewhere that answers the question.... until then, it's just fun to speculate.

My Third Grade Reading List

Some of my fondest memories of childhood include pouring over magazines. Sure, I enjoyed books as much as the next guy, but some of the periodicals in the 1970's were just classic. I've sold so many things at yards sales (it kills me to think of those comic books and records that I parted with for mere pennies), but I managed to retain basically all my childhood magazines. Here's a sampling of gilligan's rainy day reading list - 1970's style.

First, there's Cracked. I know it was direct imitator of MAD with slightly less adult themes, but I didn't care. John Severin was an incredible artist (click here to see a page from his Hawaii 5-0 parody) and you had to love those monster themed issues!

Sometimes I wonder if the reason I know so much about every single TV show and movie that came out in the 1970's is because these magazines spoofed them all. There's no way I went to see Shampoo or One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest as a child, but there it was in MAD magazine.

Don't let the title of this post fool you - I still love to read these magazines, and MAD is the most enjoyable to me as an adult.


MAD had so many talented artists on its staff that each issue was a treasure to behold. All my issues of MAD have a deep crease on the back page due to Al Jaffee's fold page. I also loved Don Martin's stuff. Go here to see a sample of his off the wall works. I also enjoyed Spy v. Spy as well as the works of Sergio Aragones.

And there may be no better time capsule of the period than Dave Berg's "Lighter Side of..." series.


Then there was Crazy magazine published by Marvel Comics. The artists and writers weren't as talented as those at MAD, but it could still be irreverent and a lot of fun to read. I read it when their mascot was that little black sheik (Irving Nebish), but had gotten off the humor magazines by the time they switched to the infamous Obnoxio the Clown.

And finally, there was Dynamite magazine. Most kids got them through their Scholastic Book Club at school. Every cover was basically a stark background with a 70's icon on the cover. I still have a few of these - man are they a blast from the past! I seem to remember a magazine called Bananas that was very similar to Dynamite (help me out on this one - my memory is cloudy).


From Star Wars to "Welcome Back, Kotter" they featured the things that were important to most children of the 1970's. Of course, sometimes they were way off the mark.... egad! Sheilds and Yarnell!

8/22/08

The Top 5 Reasons Why Vinyl Is Better than Digital

The film Boogie Nights documents the changes that took place in the porn industry with the advent of VHS - this new media completely changed the way the public watched porn. No longer restricted to dingy theaters with sticky floors, porn could now be watched in the privacy of your own home... and pornographers either adapted or went belly up.

The same sort of revolution has happened in the music industry, but they don't seem quite as adaptable. Music stores are closing all around the world - even the Tower Records across the street from Rolling Stone Magazine has closed its doors. It seems the industry simply hasn't been able to keep up with the technology - thinking a law suit against Napster would solver their problem was sheer folly.

When you think about it, the LP lifespan wasn't really that long. Most vinyl from the fifties may make great collector's items, but it wasn't until the Beatles took over the world that the album hit its stride. From this point, through the seventies and early eighties vinyl reigned supreme.

The cassette tape was the first sign that the album was about to jump the shark. Sure, there had been reel to reel and the infamous eight track, but cassettes eventually took the place of records in most people's collections. The covers were barely the size of a post-it note and they had a tendency to spew yards of tape (requiring a pencil to spool it back).... but who cares when you can put it in your boom box or Walkman and be on the go! Plus, you could record from the radio or transfer your lame old LPs! What's not to love? Turns out, quite a lot, and the compact disc was quick to replace the tape by the early nineties.

The CD started out strong enough. It looked so much more technological and space-age than the crummy tape (vinyl was a distant memory at this point). The sound of a cassette tape was nothing less than horrible, and digital sound was touted as pure audio ecstasy. Plus, with the slightly larger cover, they seemed like something you might be inclined to collect. But, alas, even the CD would fall prey to the next technology - the digital download.

So far, the music industry had enjoyed, dare I say encouraged, the advent of each new technology. Think about it - with the dawn of each new format, people would repurchase the same albums! Exactly how many suckers bought the Eagles Greatest Hits on vinyl, then bought it on cassette tape, then repurchased it on CD is inestimable. The music industry had it easy with those formats - the digital download, however, was a kick in the nuts that they still have not recovered from.

Currently, the download has a lot, and I mean A LOT of positive qualities for a music lover. It has allowed a massive amount of music to become available to everyone with a computer. Even better, except for those that pay almost a buck a track at iTunes, the music is absolutely free! If I want, I can stick a song right now in this post, and it can be the most obscure impossible to find oddity that you would NEVER find in your local record store or hear on the radio.

So what's the problem? Why am I still bitching about the death of vinyl? Shouldn't I stop whining and just enjoy the digital revolution? Hell no. Here's why.

1. Analog Sounds Better than Digital

Digital is nothing more than a simulation. The theory is that digital can add enough detail that the human ear will not be able to distinguish "fake" audio from real audio. The problem is that the human ear can distinguish the content differences between the original sound and the synthesized sound of typical digital playbacks. The wave shape is simply different, and your ear is not fooled.

Listen to Dark Side of the Moon or Sgt. Peppers on a good stereo with a vinyl record and listen to on CD. The difference is undeniable.... you may not be able to explain exactly why, but it just sounds BETTER. Why does a symphony sound better live than through a speaker? The answer lies in the shape and form of the sound waves - the live symphony bombards you with a wonderful variety of complex and rich waves, whereas the digital wave is missing all those nuances.

Problem is, most people are satisfied with it being "close enough". After all, do we really need to hear Fergie in such rich detail? I won't argue with that - I don't expect everyone to be music connoisseurs or rock snobs. If you want to listen to Hannah Montana on the iPod, that's just fine, but don't tell me it sounds better. The sound is worse. Period.

2. LP Album Art Is Superior

Part of the music experience was the album art. This may be impossible to comprehend to a younger generation, but the artwork was just about as integral to the listening experience as the music itself. And think of all those great covers! The dark and mysterious figure on the Black Sabbath debut album, the complex psychedelic majesty of Sgt. Peppers, the sexy woman in whip cream on the Herb Alpert cover, the list goes on... and the bad ones are just as fun to look at.

Additionally, many albums had extras for the fans: the liner notes, the fold out pictures (like the Runaways album to the right), the zipper on the Rolling Stones cover, the White Album had color photos included, etc.

The CD cover is microscopic by comparison - there's simply no way to have the lush detail of an LP cover. And downloaded file's artwork is, well, nonexistent. The crummy little image that pops up on your iPod doesn't count. And talk about no-frills! - you're lucky to get liner notes with a CD (with which you may need an electron microscope to read the puny lettering).

3. LP's Are Unique and Digital is Worthless

The record companies can't seem to comprehend why they are dropping like flies, yet the answer is very simple: You can't expect people to buy something that is worth nothing. An LP is tangible, it can't be recreated (unless you happen to own a recording studio, a record manufacturing plant, and a printing press). Whereas, digital files are copied with two clicks of a mouse, and thus rendered completely, utterly, one hundred percent worthless.

If you own a vintage Japanese import KISS LP, you really have something special to brag to your friends about. If you have a digital copy of this album, you're just another dork with a KISS album.

Sure, there's a lot of people paying iTunes these days, but something tells me it will change very soon. Already, the people paying money for worthless digital tracks are declining - and sales are nowhere even close to the glory days of the LP.

4. Vinyl Is More Durable than the CD and Download

Okay, you were with me so far, but you're not going to agree to this one, right? Well, think about it. Records that are upwards of forty years old are still in circulation. My childhood record collection can still be played (although, I don't know if I particularly want to hear Stars on 45 again) - you think the same will be said of CDs or downloads? Hell no, they're destroyed by a thumbprint. In contrast, how many of your old LP's have withstood their share of party accidents and still have the distinct odor of spilt beer and bongwater? I've had one too many CDs ruined by an infinitesimal scratch to buy into the myth that they're more durable. Downloaded files may be secured and backed-up, but we both know they're not going to have the longevity of 40 - 50 years simply because they are by their very nature worthless and disposable. Who would ever even want to hold onto something that can just be ripped for free later?

5. Digital Music Is Without Theme or Purpose

We've already established that it sounds better, looks better, and has a tangible value. The last point I'd like to make is a bit complicated to explain in that it relates to the very essence of the LP, but let me give it a whirl. The LP was sort of like a book: it often had an introduction and ending, and a theme running throughout. Dark Side of the Moon had a point to make. David Bowie's Low had a overwhelming "feel" and theme. Albums like Heart's Dreamboat Annie and Zeppelin's fourth album had a pervading tone and purpose.

In contrast, the majority of music is downloaded by individual tracks. Who gives a crap about artsy fartsy concept albums when an album is really nothing more than a conglomeration of tracks. Soon, artists will make the next logical step and stop bothering to combine tracks on albums altogether.

So, all this whining and moaning begs the question - will the album make a comeback and save the music industry? No way in hell. It's too late. The genie is out of the bottle and you can't put him back. Vinyl collecting will continue to be a cooler version of stamp collecting, and the technology will continue to put a beating on the music industry..... that is until something unexpected happens. One day there will be a music format that brings things back again, and people will once again have a product that's worth something. What that will be is anybody's guess.
Take home message: 0101001010001110101101001 = crap

8/20/08

My Favorite Band Logos

Ever since I was scribbling the Led Zeppelin logo on my Trapper Keeper as a kid, I have been interested in rock band logos. Here's a few thoughts on some of them. However, I should mention that my favorites are not necessarily the most recognizable. For example, I think the Rolling Stones lips logo would never have been considered so great if it were the trademark for say, Wild Cherry or Seals & Crofts. If you want to see a good definitive list of great band logos go here. If you just want to see a bunch of personal favorites, read on.


As a general rule, I don't like heavy metal logos. I've certainly adorned my fair share of high school notebooks and lockers with their emblems, but they just seem kind of hokey now (i.e. AC/DC, Iron Maiden, Metallica). They sort of remind me of Spinal Tap's cliche trademark. I knew a guy in high school who got a Ratt tattoo. Man, I bet he's regretting that decision now.

I will make an exception for KISS. For some reason, their logo is just awesome to look at up on stage and really exemplifies the grandeur of the band. You could spell "smurf" in this font and it would look cool.



I really like the logo for The Cramps. It's reminiscent of those EC horror comics like Tales from the Crypt - a really cool look that is often imitated (i.e. The Misfits and the legions of other horror themed bands). One look at a Cramps album cover and you pretty much know what you're in for.







Wearing a Carpenters t-shirt was a sure fire way to get your ass kicked in junior high, but I cannot tell a lie - I dig their logo.


For some reason, one of my favorite quotes of all time is from the 1999 MTV Music Awards when Jim Carey said "Would it kill you to play a little Foghat?" Amen, brother. MTV could use a little Foghat these days. Their logo is awesome too.


Fleetwood Mac's logo looks a lot like Led Zeppelin's (which looks like the Yardbirds), but if I had to choose, I'd pick Zeppelin's as a favorite. This is an example of where the lettering is a bit fancy, but not too much - some bands put so much detail into their name that I can barely read it (like the logo for the Quicksilver Messenger Service). Zep's angel image is pretty cool too, but not as good as The Grateful Dead's skull.

The Commodores have a logo that is just too tricked out - I think simplistic logos like the Nike swoosh are the way to go, not gigantic shiny metallic behemoths. Of course, this was the late seventies.


You have to also consider whether the logo matches the music. If the Captain & Tennille had a font similar to the Commodores (or worse, The Cramps... egad!) it would completely misrepresent the music. Thus, their swirly cursive fits the duo perfectly.

The Monkees logo is kinda cool the way it's shaped like a guitar. A lot better than the Whitesnake logo shaped like a lame looking snake.


And now my favorite... the Pablo Cruise logo is back!

The Mayor of Sunset Strip


See if you can guess who I am:

Debbie Harry said I invented the genre of alternative music.

I have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Robert Plant said that I got more women than he did during the 1970's .

I was almost a Monkee, but Davy Jones got the part. I served as his stand-in instead.

I owned one of the most trendy and successful LA nightclubs of 70's called the English Disco.

Among the musicians that I discovered or exposed to US audiences for the first time who owe their career to me include: Coldplay, The Sex Pistols, Blondie, David Bowie, No Doubt, and Oasis.

Still don't know?

I have been a DJ at the most influential radio stations in the world for about thirty years.

My nickname is the "Mayor of Sunset Strip".

Answer: I am Rodney Bingenheimer!

Well, I'm not actually Rodney. This was just a game of guess-who. But I just wanted to give a shout out to one of the most influential names in music of the past forty years or so, because I don't think ol' Rodney is often given his due.

I can remember the first time I heard of him. When I lived in California, I listened to KROQ continually and Rodney Bingenheimer would come on during the evening. He sounded so unlike any other radio DJs - his voice was soft and stilted, and I wondered how this guy ever landed on this huge radio station in the first place. As I listened, the answer became abundantly clear. He was on a first name basis with the entire music community from Sonny and Cher to The Ramones. He even hung out with John Lennon.

I'll spare you the biography, and leave you with a few photos of my main man Rodney.


Here he is with Cher. Apparently, during the late 1960's, Rodney was rubbing elbows with some of the biggest names in the music scene including Elvis and Mick Jagger. Rodney is extremely shy and soft spoken, so it sort of a mystery why so many high profile figures latched on to him.



Because of his influence in bringing punk bands like The Sex Pistols and Blondie to the fore, most people associate Rodney Bingenheimer with alternative or fringe music. However, he was respected and influential in many mainstream acts in the 1970's and 80's such as Van Halen and Alice Cooper.


Rodney was the subject of a critically acclaimed documentary called Mayor of the Sunset Strip. The depiction of Rodney film is a bit sad in that, despite his connections and accomplishments, he appears rather lonely.

If you can get your hands on it, there's a Rodney on the Rock album out there. Alas, his popularity has waned considerably, and I don't foresee any Rodney Bingenheimer CDs being released any time soon.