Armagideon Time

Can’t escape our fate

November 26th, 2015

Today is Thanksgiving, and that means two things here at Armagideon Time HQ.

1. We watch this oddity that only gets odder with each passing year:

2. We meditate on this ode to ambivalent gratitude:

My favorite holiday, indeed.

No jive

November 25th, 2015






I’m very sorry.

I’m sure your family members are very nice people.

What you call hell

November 24th, 2015

While hip-hop music faced an uphill struggle to make inroads into white mainstream culture, there was one part of the unhip hegemony that embraced “street music” with unbridled, mercenary passion — comedic hacks looking some of that sweet novelty record dough.

It was the tire fire of 1980s mimetic trends, with a far-ranging stink and a steady burn that stubbornly refused to gutter out. Every morning zoo, every episode of Dr. Demento, every cheapjack commercial for a local muffler repair service was lousy with rapping grannies, rapping Ronnies, or other slices of untoasted Wonder Bread announcing their names and that they’d arrived to make a declaration.

In keeping with the tradition of neutering by appropriation, most of these spoofs bore little resemblance to the source material. What passed for “flow” amounted to little more than a monologue laid over canned sound effects and the familiar handiwork of a Casio keyboard’s demo button. It was trite and banal and reductive, but managed to successfully sustain itself on the brackish currents of novelty and topicality…

…and none moreso than “Hambo,” the Rapping Rambo.

It was the year that gave us King of Rock, Space Is the Place and UTFO’s first LP, but Hambo is the one got the coveted paid cover placement in Billboard.

Hambo: the Stallone parody that couldn’t even manage to clear the exceedingly low bar for Stallone parodies in 1985.

Seriously, the kid at my junior high lunch table who wore the same Survivor t-shirt to school every day had a funnier Stallone impression…and it entirely consisted of him slurring “duuuuh” in a Rocky Balboa voice. (Looking back on it, what the rest of my tablemates assumed was a Stallone impression may have been the unfortunate side effects of huffing paint thinner with a dank weed chaser.)

We’re an American brand

November 20th, 2015

Rock ‘n roll is on display,
With a ton of shit to buy.
It was meant to end that way,
though some folks will deny.
I don’t care what people tell,
rock ‘n roll is here to sell.

Rock ‘n roll will always be
our ticket to the gold.
It will make marketing history,
Cross-promotion, bought and sold.
The culture of youth will always be
Co-opted by the Powers That Be.

The enemy of the good

November 19th, 2015

There were the “Eighties” that gave the world bleak post-punk minimalism and coldly romantic synthpop ballads under the any-second-now promise of thermonuclear annihilation….and then there were the “Eighties” which gave us this:

Perfect was a 1985 attempt to parlay a 1970s Rolling Stone feature about the health club scene (hence the title font) into a cinematic feature aimed at cashing in on the Fonda-fueled fitness boom. It died an ignoble death at the box office, leaving a crater so deep that neither myself nor my wife could remember anything about it but the title and leads. (It was also the subject of a recent episode of the How Did This Get Made podcast, which I only discovered this morning after doing a little internet research about the film.)

The film isn’t really relevant for my purposes as much as the soundtrack is. The selection of killer (as in “they will brutally take away your will to live”) cuts was heavily promoted in Billboard as the next big thing in soundtracks, seen as a growth market following the success of Beverly Hills Cop and Breakfast Club LPs. No lie, this was a moment in time where retailers were sincerely encouraged to go long on copies of this crime against vinyl.

It’s impossible to pin down the exact moment when the seedy, apocalyptic transitional phase of the “Low 1980s” passed into the plastic, pastel effervescence of the “High 80s,” because cultural history is a tangled mass of overlapping trends which defy any effort to establish arbitrary boundary lines. Even the most conscientious attempts to do rely on comparative hindsight.

“This was, and no longer is. This was not, and now is.”

That said, the Perfect soundtrack does prove that whenever the “Big 80s” might have began, they were in full swing by the middle of 1985. The tracklist reads like testimonial to the power of demographic data points, each selection chosen with mathematical precision for maximum returns. There’s a lesser Jackson (fronting the “breakout single” no one remembers) solo and paired with a new pap-pop sensation, a wannabe Jackson, and some danceable R&B noteworthies thrown in for good measure.

To keep things integrated in the most profitable manner, you’ve got the MOR tailings of a once-promising new wave act and the saccharine poster children for Big Pop’s most unforgivable sins. They even managed to reel Lou Reed in, buying some authentic rock cred at the expense of whatever remained of Lou’s.

“Masquerade” is a pretty great song but even Berlin would succumb to the toxic zeitgeist before long, abandoning the Metro for a ride on the most conspicuous symbol of power projected triumphalism.

Aside for that bittersweet note, the only positive thing I can say about the Perfect soundtrack is that it does not include any material by Howard Jones.

That counts for a lot more than you’d think, actually.

A feast for the ages

November 17th, 2015

I spent part of my morning watching some Twitter pals argue about the “correct” ways to dress a hamburger. It’s the latest front in the eternal FoodWars (which I could have tagged with a “#,” but I’m that far gone yet), and once again it demonstrates how far removed my blue collar suburban palate is from the mainstream.

My preferred form of hamburger is a hand-molded lump of ground beef sprinkled with store-brand season salt and cooked up on an electric griddle with a slice of government cheese. Once done, it should be smooshed between two slices of Wonder Bread with a dollop of catsup. The end result should be a greasy, messy white trash approximation of a steamed meat bun.

It is important — nay, crucial — that the burger be served with some cheap-ass plain potato chips and a paper cup full of Kool-Aid fruit punch and leisurely eaten out on the patio during a warm summer evening.

If you correctly follow these steps, I guarantee you will experience a nostalgic vision quest of frightening lucidity. (Though you may need someone to talk you down when you start frantically searching and screaming for your lost Bespin Han Solo figure.)

The Prince caught it in the back down on Bourbon Street.

Donny was a pacifist, now he’s cold meat.

Tula gulped a lungful of toxic waste.

Kid Psycho was squashed into a fine paste.
Psycho, I miss you more than all the others
and I salute you, brother.
Those are c-listers who died, died
They were all poor saps, and they died.

The preceding comes courtesy of Crisis on Infinite Earths and this slice of dark novelty.

(Originally posted 1/31/2008)

Song for Sunday #153 &154

November 15th, 2015

I got into the Buzzcocks in the autumn of 1991, after a punk rock pal in college duped me a cassette copy of (the then hard-to-find) Singles Going Steady.

This was also around the time of the doomed six-week relationship with an art major, and the following two tracks from the compilation became the audio alpha and omega for that weird chapter of my life.

Buzzcocks – Love You More

Buzzcocks – What Do I Get?

King Missile — enough act I was listening to heavily at the time — did a pretty great cover of “Love You More” on 1990′s Mystical Shit LP.

In a age where comics creators regularly embarrass themselves on social media platforms, we would do well to ponder the counter example set by the Steve Ditko. Here was a man who stood shoulder to shoulder with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in trailblazing the Marvel Age of Comics, yet never courted the self-promotional spotlight or sought to become a semi-celebrity personality. Even when creative and personal clashes forced him into the fringes of an scene he helped lay the groundwork for, he continued to eschew convention appearances and contact with the wider body of fandom in favor of letting of his work — and the guiding principles behind it — speak for itself.

Unfortunately, that body of work included such incomprehensible oddities as Static the Armed Man

…with the guiding principles being the equally incomprehensible and odd tenets of Randian Objectivism.

Static first debuted in Eclipse Monthly, but editorial disagreements led Ditko to take the feature to a place better suited to his creative vision — namely, the rapidly fading remnant of Charlton Comics’ once mighty adequate publishing empire. The character was the apotheosis of Ditko philosophy of superheroics, combining an athletically lean agent of absolutist justice with the hardcore ideological evangelism of his creator’s earlier Objectivist edutainment tracts. It’s about as fun as it sounds, packed to the brim with bizarre character names and densely written discourses on “rational self-interest” passing for snappy dialogue.

Static’s real name was “Stac Rem,” whose job was to bring an element of virile masculinity in contrast to the inventive genius of his employer, the elderly egghead “Dr. Serch.” Stac also had a little thing going on with Serch’s oddly-coiffed daughter “Fera,” who also served as the third participant during the frequent philosophical debates which punctuated the passages of superheroic boilerplate.

While Stac is testing out a spiffy new suit of power armor under carefully controlled conditions, a gang of scenery chewing rival scientists break into Serch’s lab in order to abscond with one of his more profitable discoveries. The baddies cosh Serch during the heist, causing the scientist to fall on his control board and inadventently expose Stac’s suit to a barrage of strange energies. When it’s over and done with, Stac — rebranded “Static” — find himself possessed of great (if somewhat intermittent) powers and a greater sense of responsibility to bring the evildoers to justice –

– once things get past a densely written flashback about the scientific underpinnings of Objectivist thought, of course.

By the time Stac gets around to strutting his superpowered stuff, the thieving technocrats have fallen out among themselves, leaving only the dreaded Dr. Rale (rocking a set of cybernetic arms and a look borrowed from a circa 1978 insurance adjuster) to contend with. It’s a tough battle, but Stac mananges to overcome Rale’s permed permutation of irrational evil and return the stolen device to a chronically fretting Fera.

Stac’s second adventure doubled down on the philosophic pontification, in which the murder and funeral of one of Dr. Serch’s closest colleagues leads to a no-holds-barred, bare knuckle debate about the true meaning of the law, justice, and direct personal action…

I’m starting to think that “Static” referred to the narrative and not Stac’s set of superpowers.

Beneath those clotted masses of Objectivist jargon, Ditko was raising some interesting points about the nature of costumed vigilantism. Unfortunately, the exploration of those themese would be left to other creators who had the self-awareness to realize that a shitty superhero comic makes for a poor soapbox. While there are certain parallels in the course of Steve Ditko’s and Jack Kirby’s post-Marvel careers (stints at DC, depressing work for hire jobs, et cetera), the significant difference is that Kirby explored themes while Ditko fixated on a message. The former can be expanded across a wide array of concepts, but the latter is intrinsically narrow in its polemic focus. Ditko’s style may have been dated in comparison to the new crop of Bronze Age artistic superstars, but there are plenty of (isolated) moments in the Static stories where the old magic shows through — the balletic action and melodramatic angst which defined his seminal work on Spider-Man (and by extension, the entire concept of the character itself).

Yet there’s no getting around the fact that Static comes across as an Objectivist tract fitfully posing as a superhero comic — which is really bizarre considering that “altruism” and “compulsion by force” are as intrinsic to the superhero genre as they are anathema to the Randian faithful. Ditko’s attempts to reconcile these diametrically opposed positions comes of as a — GASP — compromise which only muddies the end results even further. Questions about whether there is moral justification for Stac’s behavior spawn protracted ethical debates with a foregone conclusion.

Of course he’s going to put on his super-suit and beat the shit out of bad guys. That’s why the punters dropped their stacks of dimes on a superhero comic instead of putting them towards a paperback copy of The Fountainhead. No matter how strong Ditko’s convictions were, they were circumscribed by the harsh reality of genre conventions and audience expectations.

“A equals A,” indeed.

As muddled and incomprehensible as Static the Armed man might have been, it was still less embarrassing to behold than witnessing a past-his-prime comics pro having a public meltdown because massive media conglomerate wouldn’t allow him to draw a T&A Slave Leia variant cover on an all-ages funnybook.

There’s being “nobody’s favorite” and then there’s being just plain pathetic.

Hell bent for Leather City

November 11th, 2015

When rumors began circulating that Fallout 4 would be set in the post-nuclear ruins of 23rd Century Greater Boston, I wondered if my hometown of Woburn would be making its AAA videogame debut. When the rumors were confirmed by the developers and more details began to trickle out about some of the in-game locations, it became clear that at least the space occupied by the city would be.

That didn’t mean that there would necessarily be a defined “Woburn” location on the map. Past entries in the Fallout series have had to necessarily compress their “real world” geography into something more manageable for the sake of narrative and technical efficiency.

Yet knowing that Woburn was “there” in a sub-nominal sense provided motivation enough see what was there — even if it amounted to a few boulders and denuded trees filling out an empty space between populated zones. Seeking it out would be my first priority when I booted up the game.

I fast-forwarded through the preliminary tutorial, in which I created a character who sported a rough approximation of my features and “Tanner Pride” as a name. (“Tanners” is the name Woburn’s high school sports teams go by, associating civic identity with an industry that befouled the city’s environment and caused multiple childhood cancer deaths.)

The game starts the player off on the northwestern exurban fringe of Greater Boston, somewhere in the vicinity of Concord, Carlisle, and Acton.

I dated a girl from that area during my senior year of high school. She resembled Lady Miss Kier’s deathrocker cousin, and being around her and her equally well heeled friends gave my teen self a crash course in class consciousness.

“Daddy took a hit in the stock market, so we may have to sell one of our vacation homes,” they’d say and my mind would boggle at how utterly alien their concerns were to my welfare-assisted ass.

The place should’ve been nuked back in 1990.

It took a while for me to get my bearings, as Fallout 4‘s landscape lacks several of the region’s significant landmarks. There’s no I-93 or I-95, and Route 2 and I-90 have been merged into a single roadway. Locating Woburn was going to be a matter of triangulation between recognizable in-game locations.

I knew I was on the right path when I stumbled across “Bedford Station” — significant because Bedford is two towns over from Woburn.

I continued to push eastward past packs of feral dogs and mutant insects. There were a number of close brushes with death, but eventually made it to Medford Memorial Hospital.

It meant I overshot the mark by a good ways, but Maura was fascinated to see the place of her birth (real name: “Lawrence Memorial Hospital”) and her own childhood stomping grounds in a state of apocalyptic ruin.

Turning northward, I came across what I assumed to be the irradiated remnant of Stoneham’s Spot Pond before arriving at Lake Quannapowitt.

The latter was looking quite different from the last time I was in Wakefield. Gone were the residential developments surrounding its domesticated shores, replaced by mutant crab monsters that came within a hair’s breadth of doing poor Tanner in.

The comic shop I used to visit on Sundays (before it changed owners and lost its focus) is located a block up from the lake, across the street from the where this horrific event took place. The real world has far worse monsters than mutant crabs to contend with.

Another short hike southwestward, and I found what I’d been seeking.

My house.

Obviously, it’s not really my actual home rendered into Fallout 4‘s world, but it has a similar architectural structure and roughly sits on the same location. There’s even some railroad tracks nearby, just like the real thing.

As much as I wanted it to be occupied by a colony of super-intelligent tuxedo cats, I knew that wasn’t going to be the case. The current tenant turned out to be a enraged super mutant with an equally enraged mutant hound who ended Tanner’s odyssey on a poignant and abrupt note.

Moral: You can go home again, but it’s proabably better if you don’t. Especially if you are only level 2 and used up all your pistol rounds fighting mutant crabs.

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