Armagideon Time

Before we begin, you should probably read this for some historical context, as it covers the span of time between the previous installment and this week’s one.

In hindsight, it was fairly obvious my relationship with the art major was doomed from the start. Once we started to get past the initial flush of googoo-eyed infatuation, a cluster of irreconcilable differences began to manifest themselves. She was a city girl, the self-consciously cutesy product of the insular Boston Latin (or Latin Academy, to be specific) scene. I was (and still am) a child of Boston’s northwestern suburbs who despised those faux bohemian affectations with a passion.

Even worse, I was a poorly socialized little shit prone to indulging in some pretty shitty behaviors, the bulk of which ended up getting directed her way. I was a nasty little piece of work, and it was only a matter of time before the art major realized that she needn’t — and shouldn’t — have to put up with my passive-aggressive mindgames and steady stream of insults.

I wasn’t completely oblivious about this problem. After the Voice of the Beehive incident (mentioned in the above link), I realized that our relationship was spiraling beyond any hope of salvaging and decided to do something about it.

Being a moody nineteen year old manchild meant any attempt at self-improvement was off the table, so I instead opted for a Grand (Guignol) Gesture.

The place I picked up my copy of Joy Division’s Closer had a double record set of the original 1979 stage recording of Sweeney Todd on the wall. The art major loved the musical but lacked both the cash to buy the album and a turntable to play it upon. Sensing an opportunity to win my way back into her good graces, I went back to the shop on the Saturday before Thanksgiving 1991 and bought the records along with some 90 minute tapes to dub them onto.

I stuffed the whole shebang into a plastic grocery bag and brought it with me to school the following Monday. Visions of her unbounded gratitude danced in my head during the long commute to Dorchester.

When I finally arrived, she was nowhere to be seen. None of the other Sci-Fi Club members had seen her and she wasn’t in any of her regular haunts. I eventually found her having coffee with some artist friends in the Wit’s End CafĂ©.

“I have something I have to say to you,” she said without shifting from her chair. “You aren’t going to like it. Meet me after my class.”

Dazed and in a state of existential freefall, I wandered into a stairwell and began punching the cinderblock wall. My knuckles still have faint traces of the scars.

The meeting was an act of anti-climax. “It’s not you, it’s me” and “hope to still be friends” and all the other gentle let downs. For my part, I just begged and pleaded for the “one more chance” I didn’t deserve to get.

When we parted, I handed her the bag with the Sweeny Todd album and tapes. She didn’t want them, but I insisted. “Just fucking take them. I don’t want to see the damn things ever again.”

Afterwards I wandered around Chinatown for a while, then bought a bunch of issue of Baker Streets at a comic shop in Harvard Square before going home and crawling under the covers for two days. My pal Leech had somehow fallen off the grid, so it was up to some home-for-the-holiday break high school pals to experience my self-indulgent, self-imposed misery.

In the end, it took a three-day long play session NES port of Pirates to restore me to a semblance of functionality.

There’s no sample track for this one, because I still can’t stand anything to do with that fucking musical.

Fun Fact: It was around this time that Maura shook herself out of the anger over my gross betrayal and contemplated dating a dude from one of her Japanese classes. She reconsidered after the club member who’d introduced me to the art major told her that it looked like I’d soon be single again.

Song for Sunday #136

April 19th, 2015

The Primitives – Thru the Flowers

My second favorite of the trio of late 1980s “blondwave” acts, behind the Darling Buds and ahead of Transvision Vamp.

(from “Gone…But Not Forgotten?” by Writer Unknown and John Forte in Journey into Mystery #23, March 1955)

I want everything

April 17th, 2015

Billboard‘s recommended record picks for the week of August 22, 1981 might not been the feature’s most monumental installment…

….but it certainly was one of its most interesting ones.

Elsewhere in the issue, radio executives and programmers were pronouncing the death of “new wave” as a viable format, unaware of the MTV-driven mass market resurrection (out of necessity, if not choice) to come.

DC’s “Bloodlines” event is rightfully infamous for turning the publisher’s 1993 crop of annuals into a fetid incubator for some of the worst new characters the Chromium Era had to offer. Forgotten in the recollections of those traumatic times, however, is the fact that Marvel ran a nearly identical initiative through its own annuals that summer — minus the overarching crossover nonsense and with even lesser success.

At least, DC got Hitman and a handful of other short-lived series out its attempt. The same could not be said of Marvel’s crop of new bloods which included such non-starter non-entities as Bloodwraith, Nocturne….

…and Hitmaker, who was the dubious slice of value added thrown into Wonder Man Annual #2.

Technically, “Hitmaker was a 1993 Wonder Man villain” would be justification enough for Nobody’s Favorite status, but since I’ve got time to kill, let’s get into the grotty details of the character.

The child of a mixed-race couple, Orlando Sinclair yearned to rise above his impoverished upbringing by entering the ranks of the entertainment industry’s elite as a singer/actor/dancer — a “hitmaker,” in his own words. (Which is a bit weird, as the term is usually used to describe the production and marketing folks who transmute talent into sellable product. I guess “Triple Threat” lacked the zing Marvel editorial was looking for in a new IP.)

As Orlando struggled to make a name for himself as an entertainer, his brother sought to make a name for himself by become a major player in the criminal underworld. The siblings’ career trajectories crossed when a rival gang emptied a clip in Orlando’s spine during a drive-by, paralyzing the young wannabe from the neck down.

Feeling slightly responsible for this turn of events, Orlando’s brother called in some supervillainous contacts and set up him up with an extremely 1990s exoskeletal body armor, with the stipulation that Orlando would pay it off by becoming a mob assassin and thus — wait for it — a MAKER OF HITS.

Orlando was not so keen on the deal, however, and immediately abandoned his brother’s plans in favor of parlaying his new gimmick into a multimedia Hollywood deal as a hip new hero for the 1990s — one whose parachute pants, giant monogrammed shoulderpads, and a stripe of yellow face paint would combine the restrained design aesthetics of Cable with the peerless street cred of Hammerman.

To sell the public on Hitmaker’s virtues, Orlando and his entourage decided to pull a James O’Keefe on Wonder Man, using engineered scenarios and doctored footage to defame the D-List Avenger while building up Hitmaker’s own rep. In practice, this involved multiple overlong and inconclusive fight sequences, a really weird scene where Wondy throws his unarmed quadriplegic rival out of a hospital bed, and a grudging truce between the two adversaries as they teamed up to take on Orlando’s brother’s gang.

The plot — which echoed the Vanquisher arcs in Blue Devil and the OMAC back-up tales in Warlord, the fake-out return of Nomad in Captain America, and scores of other stories — was superhero scripting at its most Mad Libs-ian.

Hitmaker’s entry on The Appendix to the Handbook to the Marvel Universe site suggests that his role was intended to be filled by another Wonder Man foe, but was swapped out due to editorial mandate for that year’s set of annuals. If this was the case, then the Poochian gibberish about timeliness and “street cred” and audience demographics could very well have been writer Gerard Jones striving to achieve a level of meta-commentary capable of making even Grant Morrison’s shapely head explode.

I certainly hope it was, because the alternative is too depressing to contemplate.

Any which way but

April 14th, 2015

Speculative consumer capitalism functions as a pyramid scheme. As such, it depends upon a spirit of exuberant optimism — both real and cynical — to sustain the influx of capital which keeps the bubble from collapsing. It is a realm where prophecies become self-fulfilling, and in the best interests of the principal players to keep the streak going well past the point of soft-correcting returns.

This is why hawkers of geek kipple tout their wares “collectibility” (i.e. its hype-inflated “value”) even as the supporting trend gutters out and dies. It’s also why the Bush Administration’s economic charlatans maintained the fiction that the housing bubble represented a new status quo and not a potentially catastrophic and obviously transitory aberration. To publicly claim as much would invite the situation they’d so long hoped to forestall (at least until the well-connected power players managed to cash out and stick the schmoes with the bill).

The creation and maintenance of these bubbles is a function of marketing, using directly contracted propaganda or by semi-captive media outlets to mold singular hits into longer term streaks. Relative quantities become rendered into concrete pronouncements regarding utility and value.

If you’re not hording Beanie Babies/buying multiple copies of Turok #1/using dodgy-sounding ARMs to flip houses for profit, you find yourself cast on the wrong side of economic history. So let your envy of the successful and contempt for the failed drive you, for you are far more deserving and savvy than they are.

So seize control of your rightful destiny and leap aboard that gold-plated gravy train!*

*The final stop is a landfill, for the record.

I didn’t buy many records during the my romance with the art major. The greater part of out short relationship unfolded during the weeks before the bursar’s office issued the semester’s excess checks, which meant money was exceedingly tight. The few music purchases I did make were almost entirely on cassettes, the better for playing during my ninety-minute bus/subway commute from Woburn to UMass Boston and back again.

And what I did buy serves as a good indicator of why the relationship turned out to be short-lived — Black Flag’s My War, Ministry’s The Land of Rape and Honey and The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste — the sad soundtrack for clueless manchildren who think that women really dig the wounded, aggro-broody type. (Some apparently do, but rarely outside the the controlled environment of fiction, and even that tends to die fast after encountering a real-life practitioner of the gloom-mope lifestyle.)

So committed was I to the part that my one record purchase during that period borders on an act of self-parody…

…Joy Division’s Closer, the posthumous epitaph to Ian Curtis’s troubled life.

I wasn’t even that big a Joy Division fan at the time, and was more than content with a used tape copy of the Substance compilation and a cut-out copy of Unknown Pleasures which rarely got any spins.

Yet there I was, in a cluttered used record store in Allston with a lady I was desperate to impress. The was a chill in the late October air and the sky was gray, overcast, and threatening. If that wasn’t the time to drop six bucks I really couldn’t afford on one of the most suffocating clots of gloom pressed to vinyl, then what possibly could have been?

I don’t know if my calculated Act of Coolness had the desired effect. We did do a lot of kissy-face stuff on the Green Line train back to Downtown Crossing, but that was pretty standard for that phase of our relationship.

I listened to the record once upon bringing it home, and then a couple additional times a few years later when I got onto a serious gothic/postpunk kick. Still not a favorite of mine, mainly because Ian Curtis sounds way too much like a dad singing Leonard Cohen songs in the shower.

Don’t give me that look. You know I’m right.

Fun Fact: There was a prog/alt rock enthusiast in the Sci-Fi Club who, whenever Joy Division was mentioned, would reflexively quip “They called the album Closer because every time you listen to it, you get closer to killing yourself” followed by a titter of nervous laughter.

I bet he still does it twenty-five years later.

Song for Sunday #135

April 12th, 2015

My Bloody Valentine – Only Shallow

(from “The Egg!” by Writer Unknown, Morris Marcus and Frank R. Siemienski in Strange Tales #2, August 1951)

Too much is never enough

April 10th, 2015





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