Armagideon Time

Fire of unknown origin

May 27th, 2015

Attempting a shortcut through the forest pass during a blizzard was a mistake, but there was nothing to do about it now. He had more pressing matters at hand.

The wreck of the Z-28 rested on its roof in a ditch by the side of the road. The front-side passenger wheel had stopped spinning and a thin coat of fresh snow had already begun to coat the exposed undercarriage. Tom managed to crawl away from the rollover with only a couple of scrapes and bruises. He’d have counted himself lucky, if it wasn’t for the gale force winds and rapidly accumulating drifts.

He had no idea how long it would take for someone to notice he was missing and send someone out to find him. Until that happened, he needed warmth and shelter — just enough to keep him alive until help arrived.

Grabbing every old Hardee’s wrapper, parking ticket, and ball of lint he could find in the Z-28. he staggered to a shallow depression beneath a rocky outcrop. It didn’t offer much in terms of protection from the storm, but Tom was in no position to be choosy. He withdrew his right hand into the sleeve of his Member’s Only jacket and cleared the snow away from the ground. Using a few thin twigs snapped from some denuded trees along with his small bundle of improvised tinder, he constructed a small firepit.

He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out his lighter, a Scripto jobber embossed with the Rush’s name and band logo inscribed on the side. He bought it on a whim when he picked up a copy of 2112 at the Strawberries in the mall. Considering how much weed he smoked while listening to the band, it felt like a fitting waste of a fiver.

He flicked it. Once. Twice. Three times. Nothing but a few weak sparks. He checked the flint in the fading light, shook the lighter in his hand and tried again, the tempo of his flicks matching that of his escalating panic.

Terror turned to rage, and he hurled the lighter into the forest. It tumbled end over end before vanishing into the darkness.

Tom covered his face with his hands and wept. His fingers and toes had already gone numb.

“WHY GOD WHY?” he wailed. “PLEASE SOMEONE ANYONE HELP ME! I DON’T WANT TO DIE. please help me.”

And the oaks ignored his pleas.

No experience necessary

May 26th, 2015

Remember when everybody in your school lunchroom was raving about The Innocents and every town had an Innocents day and you couldn’t turn to a Hot 40 station without hearing one of the Innocents’ many huge hits?

No? That’s because history’s dustbin is lined with the husks of hothoused Next Big Things. Despite the mountainous scrap piles of evidence to the contrary, there will always be some promotional Svengali convinced that he or she has hit upon a no-fail formula for capturing the adoration of the ever-fickle masses.

The Innocents were no different, being a bunch of exceedingly clean-cut power pop dweebs used as a gateway to the videogenic New Wave by an unholy alliance between Dick Clark and (the post-Casablanca, soon to be post-mortem) Neil Bogart.

An NBC “making of the band special” and typically fulsome American Bandstand appearance couldn’t hide the fact that the product in question was a pretty typical power pop outfit in an era when the demand for such acts was fading fast. The Vapors and The Knack had come and gone, The Jam crawled up the ass of Paul Weller’s Motown pretentions, and The Romantics had settled on their ready-made for beer commercial laurels.

It also didn’t help that the band’s big single made Air Supply sound like the Circle Jerks by comparison, and was the sort of extruded studio treacle typically handed off to soap opera stars with delusions of pop stardom.

The period between 1989 and 1994 was an unparalleled buyer’s market for used records. Vinyl was out, compact discs were in, and the shops were flooded with the discarded byproducts of consumers’ rush to go digital.

Forty years of pop music recordings, and all but selected imports and legitimate rarities going for less than a fiver. I had the opportunity and means to take advantage of this one-in-a-lifetime set of circumstances…

…too bad I was a dumb punk rocker who gravitated to crap like this greasy pun on a Nazi slogan. (Way to lean into the ugliest aspects of media stereotype, lads.)

Fun Fact: I’ve never been understood why the Oi crowd was so eager to embrace the goofiness of the Toy Dolls, but their inclusion on the compilation was its sole redeeming feature.

Song for Sunday #140

May 24th, 2015


Pretty Girls Make Graves – Speakers Push the Air


(from “There’s Hope in the Sky!” by Joe Gill and Steve Ditko in Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #22, January 1961)

This man, this monster

May 22nd, 2015

I’m certain I’ve written about this before, but I’m still flabbergasted that Stan Lee once defended Marvel’s policy of retaining original artwork by comparing it to those of South African diamond cartels.

He wasn't nicknamed ''The Man'' for nothing, kids!
(from the April 1973 issue of Creem)

The worst part? That comparison wasn’t off-base at all.

Beyond my control

May 21st, 2015

I miss grad school.

Lost all track of time

May 20th, 2015

Like Adam Ant, the Go-Go’s were beneficiaries of the staggered one-two punch in which the “new wave” and MTV briefly rattled the prevailing corporate rock hegemony. While videogenic novelty may have played a significant role in their fleeting runs up the pop charts, the fact that they crafted some incredible tunes should not be dismissed by any stretch.

Adam’s stuff was hit or (mostly) miss, but the Go-Go’s Beauty and the Beat is a perfect album, a collection of melodic pop gems which somehow managed to be simultaneously retro, futurist, and timeless. Nothing else sounded quite like them, either before or after, and any subsequent comparative callbacks to the band merely emphasize the gulf between the imitator and original article. (This also applies to The Clash, for the record.)

The trajectory of the Go-Go’s initial career arc perfectly matches that of the early 1980s pop scene in general, where idiosyncratic charm became mainstream success became Big Pop cliches which embraced the superficiality which new wave artists had been tagged with in serious rock circles.

Or in music video terms, the shift from this:

…to this…

…to this…

…within the space of three years. I love all three songs, but the progression is a time-lapse snapshot of an era ripening then rotting on the vine.

My “1980s” ended in 1984, and I’ve been a man out of time every since.

I’d like to deny owning the 1988 reissue of 1984′s The Oi! of Sex compilation…

…but the historical evidence is what it is. I will admit, however, that the title embarrassed Young Andrew almost as much as it does his middle-aged self.

There were a few nuggets of simulated gold to be found across its odds ‘n’ sods assortment of what my little brother once called “punk rock beer commercial music”…

…along with a lot of rightist-populist chants for the false-consciousness-and-hooliganism set.

It was also my introduction to the painfully fascinating world of “skinhead poetry,” and fact that none of those spoken-word tracks from the album have found their way onto some dodgy YouTube channel is all the commentary on the subject you need.

Fun Fact: It will get a lot worse before it gets better.

I’m not going dish spoilers about the Mad Men series finale. I’m not going to toss my “hot take” about it into the already overstuffed ring of thinkpieces. I’m just going to state that the conclusion of Mad Men was as logical as it was disappointing.

The emotional expectation of audiences notwithstanding, there was something inexorably false in providing multiple simultaneous moments of closure at one of the messiest moments of American history. There’s a reason Baby Boomers habitually enshrine the 1960s as some Arcadian Era while keeping mum about the decade which followed.

The American Studies program at my college during the 1990s offered survey courses covering every decade from the 1920s to the “1980s and beyond” — except for the 1970s. Peter Carroll’s seminal survey of 1970s cultural history (published in 1990) was titled It Seemed Like Nothing Happened. The 1970s was the stuff of lazy retro jokes — lava lamps, disco, polyester, earth tones — a litany of embarrassments sealed from the public record by a rare accord between the Boomers and their Gen X children.

In truth, the Me Decade should be the crux of any worthwhile survey of post WW2 American history — social, cultural, political, economic, or otherwise. It wasn’t that “nothing happened.” It was that too much happened, fracturing what passed as the postwar consensus of the American Century and ultimately resetting it into a meaner, uglier form. The 1960s were the set-up. The 1970s were the punchline.

The economic engines of the American dream sputtered under the weight of surplus labor (due to rising levels of automation and the Baby Boomer entering the workforce), industrial complacency about the rise of cost-competitive imports and the end of cheap fossil fuels. Vietnam revealed the limits of the nation’s military might, exacerbating already restive generational/racial fault lines. Fringe ideologies crept into mainstream discourse, while gods and devils, aliens and crypto-zoological nightmares came out to play in the wake of a widening spiritual crisis.

Any hopes of a post-Bicentennial/Nixon/Vietnam renewal were short-lived. The trends set into motion could not be checked or reversed, nor the rose-tinted vision of the Good Old Days made manifest. Activism turned into atomization, self-realization into narcissism (for those able to afford such a luxury), equanimity into shoulder-shrugging fatalism. Jimmy Carter’s entreaties for more realistic expectations were met with utter scorn, and the decade closed out with a series of events — Three Mile Island, Disco Demolition Night, Nicaragua, Afghanistan, the Iranian revolution — which portended the election of a reactionary “strong man” who would have been viewed as a fringe demagogue ten years prior.

What progressive gains had been made were soon chipped away in favor of an upwards migration of capital and solipsistic resentment of the Other subbing for an egalitarian sense of opportunity. That cycle set between 1964 and 1984 has become the governing principle of American socio-political life ever since, cycling ever tighter (both temporally and in terms of belt adjustment) and wobbling further right with each new loop.

My interest in the era started off as boilerplate childhood nostalgia stuff, but each new discovery I unearthed revealed part of a bigger picture. (And unlike my Boomer professors, I didn’t have any sentimental attachments to cloud my vision or lead me to make weak excuses about the failure of utopian schemes.)

“Rich assholes will find a way” is a fitting note to end Mad Men upon, but not one I really needed ninety-odd episodes to arrive at. Then again, perhaps even a Revisionist 101 take on the reality of the 1970s would still be too much for fans of pseudo-intellectual soap operas to grasp.

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