Armagideon Time

Been that kind of year

March 13th, 2019

The man responsible for shaping me into the person I am, for good and ill, was found dead in his apartment yesterday.

I hadn’t spoken with him in about a month. Despite a lot of talk about being a better person, he’d slipped into his manipulative ways. I called him out on it, after which his multiple phone calls per day abruptly ceased. He was the person who taught me not to back down when “in the right,” so I let it play out assuming that he’d have to blink for his annual tradition of calling me on the exact-to-the-minute anniversary of my birth. He ended up missing it by about thirty-six hours.

There’s a lot I could say about the man and the complicated relationship we had, especially now that I’m free to speak frankly about some of the shit he put me through as a child. It will be a while before that happens, because I’m still processing pretty much everything surrounding his passing.

Infernal ensemble

March 11th, 2019

I turned in earlier than usual last night in hopes of better acclimating myself to the effects of Daylight Savings Time. That did not happen, but I did get a chance to catch an episode of Night Gallery on MeTV before nodding off.

The plot centered around a mental asylum for rich folks (somewhere in the vicinity of Hazzard County, Walnut Grove, and the 4077th MASH camp) and a mysterious family living in farmhouse on the grounds — a farmhouse that burned down decades ago. David Carradine played one of the patients and David McCallum played the psychologist running the facility. I didn’t really care about the story or the cast, though.

I watched it because of the style.

There is something well and truly fucked about the fashion aesthetics of the early Seventies. Sure, all fashions seem quaint to some degree when viewed in hindsight, but the material culture from 1970 to 1974 is the stuff of eldritch horror.

It’s difficult to imagine anyone, ever, gazing upon it and thinking “this looks sharp as hell.”

Unpacking the whys and hows of it could fill a book in itself. Transitional periods always tend to be a bit disjointed, as various trends vie for dominance. The early Seventies were even moreso, as the multi-front flameouts which marked the end of the previous decade left quite a debris field and still generated a decent amount of heat.

As every other aspect of the socio-cultural sphere disintegrated or fractalized, material culture unspooled to fill the space. All bets were off, polyester and velour were in vogue, and the more baroque, the better.

A resurgence of nostalgia befitting an uncertain future wrestled with the remnants of Space Age optimism. They’ve also proven incredibly resistant to ironic or nostalgic appropriation. Even at the height of the Seventies retro revival, the hep set steered clear of the look. Even today, you’d have a better chance finding someone sporting a 19th Century courtier’s costume than a person rocking a Mary Richards ensemble.

I’m fascinated by it because it’s singularly surreal and a product of the era that produced, well, me.

And I don’t think its a coincidence that my graduate class was the smallest in my high school’s history.

Nonsense and stuff

March 7th, 2019

Sorry for the dry spell, but Monday’s snowstorm and Wednesday’s dentist appointment have thrown off my stride. The plague of distractions does not look like it will be easing until sometime next week, so expect the low content mode to linger a while longer.

Please accept this 1982 trade publication ad as a consolation prize.

According to Wikipedia, the now defunct Kid Stuff Records was co-founded by a “Bob McAllister.” It did not specify whether or not it was the same Bob McAllister who served as the hair-helmeted host of Wonderama and Kids Are People Too

…but I’d wager it was, based on the number of releases Bob had on the label.

I’m not sure why Kid Stuff felt obligated to hype its licensed material, considering the “Kid Stuff Repertory Company” had such strong offerings as Mother Goose Disco, Nursery Rhyme Disco, A Child’s Introduction To Disco, and this immortal classic.

Go figure

March 1st, 2019

In the eternal quest to re-acquire significant artifacts of my childhood, I’m not adverse towards opting for a later upgrade of the original object. For example, when it came to picking up replacements for the two most beloved figures in my old assortment of Star Wars figures…

…I went with the improved sculpts and articulation of their modern day counterparts.

Forget Luke or Vader or Han or any of the beloved alien creatures — I was ride or die for the Biker Scout and Cloud Car Pilot. Or I was, until G.I. Joe supplanted Star Wars as the gold standard for action figures.

There was something about the faceless, rank-and-file figures that appealed to my younger self. It most likely came from a pre-Star Wars childhood spent surrounded by scores upon scores of plastic army men. They weren’t prominent personas with canonical story arcs, just working stiffs who offered a blank canvas with which my imagination could run wild.

Why did I settle my affections on these two out of the score of similar figures in that class?

The Biker Scout was one of the first examples of the franchise adopting a more “Eighties” aesthetic. It was how I wanted Stormtroopers to look, instead of the Mister Toad helmets and skinny ankles the figure was saddled with. I picked up my original figure at a department store in Wilkes-Barre during a road trip with my grandparents, which added an extra dash of exotic allure to it. He was cool enough that I actually sprung for a speeder bike for him to ride, even though I almost never blew my hard-earned money on vehicles unless they came with a figure (another leg up G.I. Joe had on Star Wars).

With the Cloud Car Pilot, it came down to the hypnotically mellow color scheme. His mix of bright orange, lemon, and white made him look like a sci-fi mascot for Creamsicles, and is why he’s the only Star Wars figure who evokes lucid taste memories when I gaze upon him. The original figure also had an unusual sculpt where his left arm was turned toward his chest so that he could hold what appeared to be the controller for an RC dune buggy. He was weird and different, which made it stand out on his peg in the toy aisle and get a toehold in my imagination.

The pair of them saw quite a bit of play, though neither were granted a name beyond their roles. No matter what melodramatic adventures they got up to, they remained “Biker Scout” and “Cloud Car Pilot.” Eventually both succumbed to wear and tear and the general griminess white plastic playthings succumb to in the hands of a kid — which is another reason I went with remakes over the vintage figures.

Now the pair have been reunited at long last, and occupying a place with a greatly reduced chance of getting minced by a lawnmower, eaten by a wayward canine, or smooshed beneath the rear wheel of a 1979 Chrysler Cordoba.

I hope.

Trade-in: Maximum metal

February 27th, 2019

Though my pile of trade paperbacks has ramped up its rate of growth in the past couple of months, my slow drift back into reading comics for — GASP — fun started a couple of summers ago.

Maura and I had to have our fingerprints taken as part of the pre-adoption process, and the nearest place to do it happened to be a couple blocks away from a comic shop we both frequented in our teens. We decided to pay a visit since we were already in the neighborhood.

I didn’t really anticipate buying anything, because I couldn’t think of anything worth buying. After ten minutes of poking around the shelves, I ended up plunking down the cash for a couple of “Year’s Best Comics” DC Digests from the early Eighties and a full set of Xenon: Heavy Metal Warrior paperback collections.

I’ve written about Xenon a couple of times before, so forgive any auto-plagiarism that might occur. The Masaomi Kanzaki series was one of the earliest offerings of the translated manga boom of the late Eighties, localized by Viz and published in bi-weekly installments by Eclipse. While I picked up stray issues of that partnership’s previous trio of offerings, Xenon was the one that truly grabbed my attention by virtue of its ultra-violent mash-up of mecha, melodrama, and superheroics.

The story was a fairly straightforward jobber that bordered on cliche — a surly teen with sensitive side disappears in a plane crash, only to turn up as an amnesiac super-cyborg a few months later, with the sinister arms dealers responsible for the transformation hot on his heels. Limbs are severed, hearts are torn out, and panties are flashed across multiple arcs where Xenon and his ragtag band of assistants take on the arms dealers’ other enhanced agents, from super serial killers to bionic apes. The action culminated in a high stakes battle aboard a runaway freighter and one of the most abrupt and disappointing endings I’ve ever encountered in a fictional work.

I purchased the original issues as they come out in 1988, lost most of them in the wake of my mom’s death, and picked up replacements during the Great Back Issue Buying Spree of the mid-Nineties. While I still have those copies, finding a complete like-new set of the collected editions for ten bucks a pop was too good a deal to pass up.

Xenon was foundational for Teen Andrew in numerous ways, most of them either so embarrassing that I’ve blocked them from memory or so subtle that I forgot their origin. It was the first genuine manga I followed, as opposed to Comico’s domestically produced Robotech comics or other local attempts to bite the aesthetic. If you were a fan of Japanese comics or animation in those distant times, you had to settle for whatever slim fare drifted into the American marketplace — most of it badly dubbed, imperfectly localized, or edited for the kiddie crowd.

Xenon was the first manga series that appealed to me beyond the aesthetic novelty. The character’s cybered-up look echoed the slick designs of the imported mecha toys I coveted while the narrative channeled the edgy superhero stories I embraced as a sign of “maturity” and “sophistication.” Revisiting it now, I can see why my younger self fell so hard for it…and how problematic it was on several levels.

The dialogue is of the shouty-ludicrous school, frequently defaulting to “WHY WON’T YOU DIE” and “HAHAHAHA” in moments of crisis. The protagonist is a complete prick, even by the standards of the archetype, and prone to spouting off sexist rants. There’s a heavy edgelord vibe to the violence coupled with some truly dire moments of fan service, both of which have only grown more cringeworthy over time. It was the perfect manga series for a surly adolescent male who was really into Punisher and Watchmen, and — God help me — I was such a creature.

I spent hours in my room trying to copy Kanzaki’s style and adapt characters from the comic into my Champions campaign. When the supermarket I worked at went out of business, I blew part of my last paycheck on some black dye for my shaggy mane and beamed when my friend said the results make me look like Xenon. I read and re-read the prose pages used as filler for a few of the issues, covering topics like contemporary tends in manga and the significance of robots in Japanese pop culture. It was a (thankfully) short-lived phase, but it left an indelible mark.

It also makes Xenon a difficult thing to revisit, the words and images triggering flashbacks of unsettling intimacy. It’s not shame or embarrassment, really, but confronting ghosts that should’ve been exorcised three decades ago. There’s a significant piece of my adolescence trapped between those pages, and nothing will ever shake it loose.

Back to Wax #45: The rail deal

February 25th, 2019

I have spent the past week and a half in the grip of La Grippe. The worst bits of it have subsided, but several unpleasant after effects have lingered on. It’s nothing too serious, but does call for some lighter fare until I’m able to steady myself again.

Fortunately, I have just the pop confection in my singles crate…

Jesus Couldn’t Drum was a two-piece outfit active during the latter half of the 1980s. While not technically a “C86″ act, they shared the lo-fi aesthetics, proto-twee whimsy, and fondness for idiosyncratic band names associated with that subset of UK indie pop.

“I’m a Train” presents a slight divergence from that script. The a-side of their third and final single is a bouncy yet melancholic slice of synthpop akin to a DIY Depeche Mode or Bronski Beat dance jam. I can’t tell whether it was intended as a sincere bid for a chart placement or a good-natured piss take, as that entire scene operated under a pop version of Poe’s Law.

It really doesn’t matter, though, because the song is such a potent artifact of a specific moment. I didn’t come across it until about fifteen ago, yet it induces lucid flashbacks to my junior high days.

“I’m a Train” might not be the best in its particular class, but it is platonically perfect. It was also surprisingly affordable to acquire, even with overseas shipping.

Wash down

February 20th, 2019

From the deepest, blandest corner of suburbia, a cry of despair issues forth…

The mighty forces of postwar consumerism immediately spring into action, bringing rigid gender roles…

…overhyped technological improvements…

…and more avocado tones than a single person could process in a dozen lifetimes!

Together, they have the power to reshape domestic reality. Forget last year’s model —

– the truly prosperous American family prefers dining to the triumphant cacophony of a full laundry cycle, the looming threat of being crushed beneath a few hundred pounds of domestically made machinery adding an extra touch of gusto to the meal.

No, I shanty

February 15th, 2019

Harbor master steps out and says “the elephant seals left town”
Dolphins jump and jive, but the clownfish stuck around
Nat Geo and Cousteau, there’s seagulls in the sky
Mermaids, nymphs, silkies ask where, for and why
Gill yells, “we’re outta here, ” Shelly says, “right on”
We’re making waves and starting raves before they knew we were gone
Jumped into the launch and gripped the helm real tight
Wanna know the rest, hey, buy the rights

Prow bizarre
Prow bizarre, prow bizarre

Ooh, matey, ooh, matey
It’s making me crazy, it’s making me crazy
Every time I boat around
Every time I boat around
Every time I boat around
It’s in my wake
It’s in my wake

Trade-in: Prologue

February 13th, 2019

My grandmother’s passing last year forced me to confront a situation I’d been kicking down the road for two decades. During the years I lived under her roof, I’d treated the attic as a catchbasin for whatever overflow needed to be shifted from my room — boxes upon boxes of paperback potboilers and old textbooks, obsolete tech-junk, unpainted Warhammer 40K models, role-playing game materials, and the lion’s share of my funnybook collection.

Anything of genuine value had been already cherry-picked and carted off, leaving behind a disorganized mess I was too lazy to inventory but too sentimental to trash…until circumstances finally put an end to my procrastination.

Dealing with the comics was a particular ordeal. It involved digging through a dozen longboxes in the sweltering heat, trying to sort the wheat from the chaff while Lil Bro stood over my shoulder to make sure I didn’t try to skate out of the job. Over the course of the afternoon, I went from conscientious deliberation over each individual issue to tossing handfuls into the discard pile sight-unseen. A full third of my collection was purged, sold off to a local shop for forty bucks in credit (which I passed on to Maura).

The experience got me to thinking about the part of my collection that didn’t get purged, and the long odds that I’d ever revisit any of it. In olden times, I was meticulous about organizing my comics archives and could tell you the exact contents of each longbox. That system fell by the wayside after I settled into the House on the Hillside and would pull favored runs out for casual reading. Our shared storage areas were still in flux, so the comics would go back into any accessible longbox with available space. Some didn’t even make it that far, and got piled up next a stack of records or old gaming consoles by the eaves.

Eventually things got to a point where even getting to the boxes was more trouble than it was worth. I love Atari Force, but not enough to spend an hour shifting a bunch of storage crates around to access them. Or deal with them sliding off the coffee table and getting used as a chew toy by the Rock Stupid Puppy. Later prized finds — such as Date With Debbi or Aquagirl’s debut or signed copies of childhood favorites — coalesced into an entirely separate thing unto itself, stored within easy reach on a living room shelf.

And on top of all of that, I was feeling pretty burnt out when it came to funnybooks. I’d spent the better part of a decade reading, writing, and conversing about comics. A few rare exceptions aside, they didn’t bring the excitement I used to feel. The whole industry drifted away from my tastes, for better or for worse. There wasn’t any point in pissing and moaning about it, so I took it as a sign that it was time to move on.

It was similar to what happened after I turned away from music blogging, when I needed some time to refocus and drastically scale back the amount of mental real estate the subject had actively occupied for a significant length of time. When I did eventually re-engage, it was on my own terms and within specific vinyl-based parameters.

So it happened with comics. After a significant break from the infuriating din, my thoughts started turning back towards certain cherished runs and the urge to revisit them. Collected editions seemed like the way to go about it, especially most of these old (and not-so-old) objects of affection can be acquired inexpensively though discount and secondhand vendors, look better on the shelf, and I already spend too much time staring at computer screens.

The total number of these occasional and perennial favorites wasn’t that large, though it has turned out to be larger than originally expected. I’ve been able to fend off any urges toward “mission creep” thus far, though I have indulged in a few newer releases of previously unavailable material.

Now that role-playing feature has been put to bed, I figured I’d turn my meandering commentary to that ever-growing stack. It might not be as entertaining as Nobody’s Favorites, but it ought to be better than nothing.

I hope.

After we get home from work in the evening, there’s a time frame of roughly an hour where Maura and I are both downstairs feeding the animals and taking care of other immediate concerns. It’s also an ideal window for spinning some records.

The downstairs of our home has an semi-open floorplan. What is spun in the living room is clearly audible in the kitchen, which means that the selections played tend to my mutual favorites or queued up on a “one of hers, one of mine” basis. Our musical tastes aren’t that divergent overall, but where the do diverge the gulf is nigh insurmountable. When I’m browsing for new singles to add to the library, I try to keep an eye out for any of Maura’s favorites we’re currently lacking.

Her influence has particularly shaped the contours of the “oldies” and disco sections of my record collection. For the most part, it’s an unspoken thing based off mental notes taken over the course of twenty-seven years.

And then there are the times when she’ll flat out say “you should find a copy of…,” which was the case with the “Makin’ It” 7-inch single.

The late-phase disco jam was the theme to a short-lived ABC sticom of the same name, a Garden State take on Saturday Night Fever with David Naughton playing a working class stiff with disco dreams. The show only lasted two months (which, despite claims to the contrary, had less to do with the backlash against disco music than with the realities of being a mediocre mid-season replacement) but Naughton’s recording of the theme song managed to become a Top 10 hit.

I’ll always associate the song with a pair of memories separated by two decades. During a round of high school drama club reversals, a friend whispered “I’ve got looks, I’ve got brains, and I’m breaking these chains” to me while some wanna-be thespian haplessly hammed his way through a line read onstage. I broke out into a eye-watering giggle fit which made the drama teacher livid with rage.

The other time was when I was home recovering from a brutal root canal procedure, watching Meatballs on cable for the first time in ages, and realizing that “Makin’ It” had somehow made it onto the soundtrack. (You’ll have to trust me when I say it felt much more profound through a haze of painkillers and two days without sleep.)

Despite (or because of) those memories, I hadn’t considered picking up the 45 until Maura suggested it.

The shipping cost ten times what the (near mint!) single itself set me back…and it was sent out via USPS Media Mail.

Jokes aside, it was a good call on Maura’s part. It’s a fun bit of dance-floor fluff which marries the upbeat schmaltz of a Seventies sitcom theme with the disco chops of the songwriting team behind “I Will Survive” and “Shake Your Groove Thing,” and sung by a dude better known for lycanthropic tourism and carbonation-based cult recruiting.

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