Armagideon Time

When death is a blessing

September 3rd, 2015

After reading yesterday’s piece in The Beat about the changing roles of editors in the comics biz, two things sprang to mind.

One was the intrinsic foolishness of using the Image Comics model of publishing as a yardstick for the industry as a whole. There’s no denying that it works and has facilitated the creation of some amazing comics, but the unique circumstances underpinning Image’s creation and subsequent evolution make any general comparisons to the wider scene a matter of apples versus oranges.

The other was being reminded about one of the most infamous examples of funnybook editorial interference — the “death” of Phoenix in Uncanny X-Men #137. Chris Claremont’s original script had a defeated Jean Grey getting psychically lobotomized by agents of the Shi’ar Empire, with a follow-up arc dealing with her mental regression and the subconscious resurgence of her mutant powers. The planned ending of the issue had already been penciled by John Byrne (and would later show up in the second volume of the X-Men Companion and the Phoenix: The Untold Story one-shot) when someone — the specifics vary based on the memories and grudges of the person telling the the tale — in Marvel’s editorial hierarchy decided that it was too lenient a fate for a character who had incinerated several billion sentient creatures on-panel.

The story was re-worked to conclude with Phoenix’s suicide-by-plot-device. As janky and awkward as the end results may have been narratively, they resonated deeply with the fan base and helped propel the X-Men into Marvel’s top tier franchise.

In terms of long term consequences, the effects of that narrative revision have been blunted by three and a half decades of recursive storytelling in which X-continuity (and Jean Grey’s corner of it) has been folded back upon itself innumerable times. Phoenix’s death was a big deal at the time, but so were the X-Men in general and time tends to blunt the peaks of individual epic moments.

The original ending probably wouldn’t have had the same inspirational impact that the final did on generations of aspiring funnybook creators, but there isn’t exactly a shortage of “doom-laden romantic melodrama” permeating the inner lives of geeky-artsy adolescents, either. There are plenty of buses along that route, trust me.

Yet while the impact of Phoenix’s death has been rendered inconsequential, I’m glad it happened. Having grown older and more aware of Claremont’s peculiar writing tics and thematic obsessions, the world was probably better off without an extended arc where a sexy infantilized Jean was led around like a puppy by a broody-doting Cyclops who was in turn unaware of her subconscious dark side.

Just typing that sentence made me glad I keep a vomit pail next to my desk.

The way of all new flesh

September 2nd, 2015

The nature of consumer capitalism requires that all innovative technologies must eventually descend from the heights of luxuriant loftiness to the gutters of vulgar ubiquity. The glamorization of “early adopters” and other obsessive-compulsive enthusiasts stokes the fires of wider demand. They are not simply paying for the privilege of being first, but to serve as an ground team for visions of a technological utopia awaiting the mass end-user buy-in.

The gloss fades fast, however, as efficiencies and refinements result in cheaper wares which, in nearly every case, outstrip the functionality of past-gen models. As the product becomes more commonplace, entire subordinate economies emerge to support and exploit the expanded userbase.

While some foolish, over-invested souls delude themselves that the boom phase of the cycle is eternal, its lifespan is fundamentally circumscribed by the emergence of the Next Big Thing. There will always be new gadgets, new innovations, new formats to tantalize with their oh-so-coveted novelty.

And that, my children, is why “the sounds of Carnegie Hall” will always gave way to a heat-distorted 8-track copy of Foghat’s Fool for the City blasting from the tinny factory install speakers of a GMC van with a half-finished Barbarian Queen airbrushed on its side.

Manifest marketing

September 1st, 2015

What this post supposes is…maybe he did.

In the early days of my relationship with Maura, our dates tended to be a group affair. Being together within a larger cluster of friends was handy way to dodge some of the pressures associated with shy-on-shy, one-on-one interactions. The bunch of us — my pal Leech, my little brother, Maura’s sister, Maura’s friends Dave and Bev — would typically go out for dinner and a movie before eventually decamping to the rumpus room at Maura’s parents’ house where we’d hang out and watch cable TV into the wee hours.

It was during one of those occasions that Leech convinced us to watch an entire Cinemax airing of Hardware, a bit of early 1990s post-apoc cyberjunk “inspired” (read: “plagiarized”) from an old 2000AD “Future Shock” short. I realized this about fifteen minutes into the flick, but my “THIS WAS A BRITISH COMIC BOOK STORY” announcements were lost in the storm of brickbats lobbed at Leech for making us sit through that art-directed bundle of nonsense.

Hardware‘s only saving grace was its selection of licensed music, featuring cuts by Ministry, Motorhead (with Lemmy briefly appearing on-camera as “Taxi Driver”), Iggy Pop and Public Image Ltd…

…represented on this cinematic misfire by the creepy synth-mantra of “The Order of Death.”

It was enough to get me to drop two bucks (at either Second Coming or Looney Tunes) the next day for a used copy of PiL’s 1984 This Is What You Want… This Is What You Get LP that bore a gold “PROMOTIONAL RELEASE: DO NOT SELL” stamp across John Lydon’s forehead.

It’s one of PiL’s better albums, which is to say it features more than one listenable track. In this case, it has an unprecedented four, with “The Order of Death” joined by “1981,” “Bad Life,” and the almost commercial (as far as the band’s material goes) “This Is Not a Love Song.” Even so, my primary reason for pulling it from the record shelf was either to listen to “The Order of Death” or to dub the track as the closer for a mixtape.

(Yes, I realize there are many fans of PiL’s deeper cuts and/or Hardware, and all I can say is that I’m truly deeply sorry for whatever crimes the world has committed against you.)

Fun Fact: One of my manifestations of youthful “wit” was to sing parts of “This Is Not a Love Song” but swap in other “hilarious” random items in place of “love song.”

“This is not a grocery list.”
“This is not a Cobb salad.”
“This is not as funny or clever as Young Andrew thought it was.”


(from “The Plutonian Who Plundered Planets” by Dave Wood and Lee Elias in Mystery in Space #2, December 1965)

Verdant and accounted for

August 27th, 2015

The most significant item in the April 22, 1965 issue of LIFE was not the feature article on the politcal unrest in South Vietnam or the editorial on normalizing relations with Red China or Loudon Wainright’s musings on the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on obscenity.

It was this two-page spread by General Electric…

…heralding a chromatic novelty which would, in a decade’s time, become a ubiquitous aspect of American domestic life and the lynchpin of the Me Decade’s gloriously gaudy color palette.

The retreat to a muted monochrome model was odd in light of the previous season’s push toward baroquely op-art appliances that resembled Chinese pagodas or the fixtures of a Batman baddie’s lair, but it made perfect sense. Avocado was neutral without possessing the blandness traditionally associated with such hues. It went well with the prevailing trend toward earthier tones even as it ably masked workaday grit and grime.

(Too ably, perhaps, which became evident when you dragged one of these babies out to the curb on trash day and noticed the film of greasy filth with has settled into every crack and crevasse.)

Even the name evoked an exoticism associated with SoCal’s ascendancy as the nation’s cultural locus which the more accurate “pea green” or “gooseshit green” lacked. It was a potent fantasy, but could not overcome the tacky reality of the post-industrial malaise to come, lingering well past their fashionable welcome in an age of diminished wages and expectations.

The Time Was Right by The Partisans is the record I most strongly associate with my punk rock period, yet getting my hands on a copy of it was a matter of pure, dumb luck.

It was a 1988 reissue of a 1984 UK-only release by some Welsh teens who rode out the early 1980s Britpunk fad through its embittered end. After hearing a couple of its cuts through various Oi compilations, it shot to the top of my crate digging want list. In those pre-internet times, scoring such rarities was a matter of persistence and blind chance. The bigger stores were in the process of dumping their vinyl inventories and placing a special order through one of the smaller indie shops meant risking a steep “we know how much you want this, kid” mark-up.

So I played my cards close to my tattered cardigan and hoped for a break, meaning week after week of fruitless sifting through every import and used new arrival bin on the Allston-Cambridge-Somerville axis. How many copies of the Pandora’s Stop Pretending did I flip past during that period? How many bongwater stained copies of Pantera’s Power Metal and the Pale Saints’ Half Life and the Passions’ Sanctuary? Enough to memorize the top third of their sleeve art and later kick myself for not nabbing them when I had ample opportunity.

Like all great quests, it concluded anticlimactically. On some weekday afternoon in the February of 1992, I cut class and took the Green Line out to In Your Year in Allston. I went straight to the “P – Misc” section of the “Punk/Hardcore/Metal” crates and there it was — battered and tattered, but going for a quite reasonable six bucks. I handed over a wad of dog-eared dollar bills at the register and made haste for the first bus back to Woburn.

Prolonged anticipation can have a poisonous effect. One’s expectations escalate to a point where they utterly outstrip the inevitably disappointing reality. This has been the case with most long sought after records in my collection, but it was not the case with The Time Was Right. It was everything I’d been hoping for and then some.

As mentioned above, it dropped just as the band and the early 1980s Britpunk scene were on the verge of disintegration, and the album reflects the messiness of that impending collapse. It contains a half-dozen new studio tracks backed with a live set of older material and appended with a title track of the previously released “Blind Ambition” EP. The production quality is muddy in places, thanks to the inclusion of some “wrong” mixes of several tracks, and the live cuts are a bit underwhelming.

The studio side, though, is some of the best mid-tempo melodic punk ever released. The sound takes cues from the Clash and the Buzzcocks without obviously aping them — descending riffs and odd change-ups and a push away from the UK82 formula that wasn’t just a shift into mediocre hard rock nonsense or arena rock pretensions.

It was different. It was ambitious. It was the type punk rock I’d been waiting years to hear.

The subject matter of the studio tracks also reflected the overall vibe of a fading dream, drawing on themes of betrayal, rejection, and disillusionment.

“It’s strange to be nostalgic when you’re only 21.”

It jibed with my own sentiments and anxieties as a diehard punker on the verge of his twentieth birthday and contemplating various endgames. I wasn’t quite ready to hang-up the studded jacket and let the dye wash out of my chopped locks, but I knew the time was coming and I wanted to meet it on my terms (and not like the forty year old dude with the mohawk who used to sell his ‘zine on Red Line platforms). Letting go of the more ludicrous affectations of the subculture wasn’t going to be easy, but it began here…with this album — the studio side, at least — playing non-stop in the background.

(This did not stop me from painting “Anger + Fear” down the front of my punk jacket, however.)

Sip away

August 24th, 2015

I wonder if Richard Hell saw the un-middleschooled version of this ad when he was crafting his immortal riff on Rod McKuen’s “Beat Generation.”

Song for Sunday #149

August 23rd, 2015


Eddy Grant – Electric Avenue


(from “Planetary Error” by Author Unknown and possibly Bill La Cava in Marvel Boy #2, February 1951)

Another one courtesy of the Lil’ Bro.

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