Archive for January 2011

That’s no gorilla, that’s my wife!

January 31, 2011

Another January 31 has arrived, which signals yet another observance of my second-favorite holiday…

It's National Gorilla Suit Day!

It’s National Gorilla Suit Day.

For the non-cognoscenti among us, National Gorilla Suit Day was founded by the late, great Don Martin, longtime cartoonist extraordinaire for MAD Magazine. Martin’s bizarre genius made him a beloved figure among humor aficionados and comic art buffs alike, as well as a corrupting influence on two generations of MAD readers.

Martin was inducted into the Will Eisner Award Comic Artists Hall of Fame in 2004, and deservedly so.

Just be careful if you wander past a Wal-Mart, a biker bar, or a trailer park today. Some of the people you think are wearing gorilla suits… might not be.

Of course, I’ve always been more of an orangutan man, myself.

36 Days of Adrenaline: Day 7 — “Word Up!”

January 27, 2011

Artist: Cameo

Why this song is an adrenaline rush: Sometimes, you just gotta rock the funk. “Word Up!” rocks the funk. Plus, how can you not love a dance number that samples spaghetti Western soundtrack music by Ennio Morricone?

Lyric line that’s fun to belt at maximum volume:

If there’s music, we can use it,
We need to dance
We don’t have no time for psychological romance.

Fun factoids:

  • Larry Blackmon originally dubbed his band the New York City Players. To avoid confusion with — and potential legal action from — another already popular funk group, the Ohio Players, he changed the name to Cameo.
  • Steve Carell’s character sings “Word Up!” in The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
  • In what has to be considered one of the weirdest cover choices in the history of popular music, “Word Up!” was covered by the alt-metal band Korn in 2004. And you what? It works.

Other songs by Cameo that I could have chosen instead: “Candy,” “Back and Forth,” “Shake Your Pants.”

[Late to the party? Here’s an explanation of 36 Days of Adrenaline.]

36 Days of Adrenaline: Day 6 — “I Want Candy”

January 25, 2011

Artist: Bow Wow Wow

Why this song is an adrenaline rush: Two words: tribal drums. Two more words: Annabella Lwin.

Lyric line that’s fun to belt at maximum volume:

Candy on the beach, there’s nothing better
But I like Candy when it’s wrapped in a sweater
Some day soon I’ll make you mine…
Then I’ll have Candy all the time!

Fun factoids:

  • Annabella Lwin was 14 when Bow Wow Wow recorded their version of the Strangeloves’ classic 1965 hit. Her mother was reportedly not amused that Annabella appeared nude (albeit artfully posed) on the cover of the single, and the accompanying EP, The Last of the Mohicans. The latter photo was based on Manet’s painting Le déjeuner sur l’herbe (The Luncheon on the Grass).
  • Percussionist Dave Barbarossa developed his signature sound by listening to tribal drummers from Burundi.
  • “I Want Candy” has also been covered by acts ranging from Aaron Carter to Sporty Spice (okay, Melanie C) to Good Charlotte.
  • The Strangeloves, incidentally, didn’t really exist. They were a studio creation, like the Archies.

Other songs by Bow Wow Wow that I could have chosen instead: “Louis Quatorze,” “Aphrodisiac,” “Do You Wanna Hold Me?”

[Late to the party? Here’s an explanation of 36 Days of Adrenaline.]

36 Days of Adrenaline: Day 5 — “Holding Out for a Hero”

January 20, 2011

Artist: Bonnie Tyler

Why this song is an adrenaline rush: I loves me some Jim Steinman. Who’s Jim Steinman, you ask? He’s the songwriter-producer behind the seminal Meat Loaf album, Bat Out of Hell, as well as such hits by other artists as Air Supply’s “Making Love Out of Nothing at All,” Celine Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now,” and “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” Bonnie Tyler’s other major single besides this one. Steinman’s drama-laden, overblown, hyperorchestrated style — his music is often referred to as “Wagnerian” — strikes a chord deep within me.

Lyric line that’s fun to belt at maximum volume:

I need a hero
I’m holding out for a hero ’til the end of the night
He’s gotta be strong
And he’s gotta be fast
And he’s gotta be fresh from the fight
I need a hero
I’m holding out for a hero ’til the morning light
He’s gotta be sure
And it’s gotta be soon
And he’s gotta be larger than life
Larger than life…

Fun factoids:

  • “Holding Out for a Hero” first appeared on the soundtrack for the film Footloose. This means that Jim Steinman has a Bacon number of 1.
  • The song has subsequently graced the soundtracks of numerous other films, including Shrek 2 and Nacho Libre.
  • Steinman turned down the opportunity to cowrite the songs for the musical Phantom of the Opera. I’ll bet he’s kicked himself a time or two over the years for that career move.
  • When Meat Loaf thrashed his voice on the Bat Out of Hell tour in the late 1970s, he was unable to record the songs Steinman had composed for the follow-up album, which would have been called — predictably enough — Bat Out of Hell 2. Steinman recorded the album himself, now retitled Bad for Good, using his own lead vocals. This album proved one immutable truth: Jim Steinman cannot sing.

Other songs written and produced by Jim Steinman that I could have chosen instead: “Bat Out of Hell” or “All Revved Up With No Place to Go” by Meat Loaf; “Tonight is What It Means to Be Young” by Fire Inc. (from the soundtrack of the film Streets of Fire).

[Late to the party? Here’s an explanation of 36 Days of Adrenaline.]

RIP, Donnie the K

January 18, 2011

This will only mean something to you if you were listening to pop-rock music in the 1960s and ’70s, or watched TV programs of similar vintage revolving around said music.

Don Kirshner is gone.

Kirshner — or Donnie the K, as I like to call him — started out as a Tin Pan Alley music publisher, whose stable included numerous legendary songwriting duos, from Goffin and King to Sedaka and Greenfield. But he became a household name in the ’60s as the impresario behind prefabricated-for-television pop groups such as The Monkees and The Archies.

In the ’70s, Kirshner’s eponymous record label signed the progressive-rock band Kansas, unleashing a string of hits including “Carry On Wayward Son” and “Dust in the Wind.”

That same decade, Kirshner began producing and hosting the late-night TV music series, Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert. Donnie the K’s eerily awkward on-camera presence made him the butt of numerous jokes — including an infamous Saturday Night Live sketch starring Paul Shaffer, who later starred in a sitcom produced by Kirshner called A Year at the Top — and proved the venerable maxim that record producers should be neither seen nor heard. Still, the show ran for a decade, and featured pretty much every big-name act in pop music at one time or another.

As a kid who loved the songs of The Monkees and The Archies (“Sugar Sugar” was one of the first mainstream pop records I ever owned), and later as a teenager who was a major-league Kansas fanatic (I celebrated my 19th birthday at a Kansas concert at San Francisco’s Cow Palace), Don Kirshner contributed mightily to the soundtrack of my youth — even though he never sang or played a note. (For which, if his musical talents matched his abilities as a master of ceremonies, the universe should be eternally grateful.)

They also entertain who only sit and write checks.

36 Days of Adrenaline: Day 4 — “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”

January 13, 2011

Artist: Blue Öyster Cult

Why this song is an adrenaline rush: If I could narrow a list of my top five favorite rock songs of all time, “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” would be on it. Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser busts out the perfect synthesis of guitar pyrotechnics, ethereal lyrics, and silky, seductive vocals. Yes… and cowbell.

Lyric line that’s fun to belt at maximum volume:

Came the last night of sadness
And it was clear that she couldn’t go on
Then the door was open and the wind appeared
The candles blew and then disappeared
The curtains flew and then he appeared
(Saying, “Don’t be afraid”)
Come on baby
(And she had no fear)
And she ran to him
(Then they started to fly)
They looked backward and said goodbye
(She had become like they are)
She had taken his hand
(She had become like they are)
Come on baby
Don’t fear the reaper

Fun factoids:

  • From the time “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” debuted in 1976, controversy has raged over the song’s meaning. People have variously argued that it’s about teen suicide, ritual murder, Satanism, and vampires. All of the above theories are, quite frankly, hogwash. “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” is about facing death without fear. I have always imagined that the girl in the song is nearing the end of a long battle with cancer, and is at last able to let go and find peace.
  • During the final hours of KJ’s life, as I sat by her bedside holding her hand, two songs played on endless loop in the iPod of my mind. The first was “Safe in the Arms of Jesus.” The other: “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper.”
  • I was a major Blue Öyster Cult fan back in my misspent youth. I still own a complete set of the BÖC’s first nine LPs, in the original vinyl.
  • I got a fever… and the only prescription… is more cowbell!

Other songs by the same artist that I could have chosen instead: “Cities On Flame With Rock and Roll,” “R.U. Ready 2 Rock?,” “In Thee,” “Burnin’ For You.”

[Late to the party? Here’s an explanation of 36 Days of Adrenaline.]

36 Days of Adrenaline: Day 3 — “White Wedding”

January 10, 2011

Artist: Billy Idol

Why this song is an adrenaline rush: Chalk it up to Steve Stevens’s alternately ringing and driving guitar lines, coupled with Idol’s bitter, sardonic vocals. You have to be packing a ton of sack to dub yourself “Billy Idol,” but the former Generation X front man born William Broad (now there’s irony for you) earns the right. Easily one of the most recognizable rock songs of the early 1980s.

Lyric line that’s fun to belt at maximum volume:

Hey little sister, who’s your superman?
Hey little sister, who’s the one you want?
Hey little sister, shotgun!

Fun factoids:

  • The complete title of this song is actually “White Wedding (Part 1).” The little-heard “White Wedding (Part 2),” which also appears on Idol’s eponymous album, is a mostly electronic reprise — sort of like the alternate version of a hit song that might find its way onto the B-side of a movie soundtrack album. Assuming there were still such things as albums and B-sides. Which there aren’t. Man, I feel old.
  • When my best friend from high school got married, I spent the better part of two days parked in front of a TV set watching MTV while the bride and groom bustled about with prenuptial preparations. The “White Wedding” video — featuring the singer and his then-girlfriend Perri Lister — was then in heavy rotation on the video music channel, and I must have seen it a half-dozen times in the 24 hours before the actual wedding took place.

Other songs by the same artist that I could have chosen instead: “Cradle of Love,” “To Be a Lover.”

[Late to the party? Here’s an explanation of 36 Days of Adrenaline.]

Comic Art Friday: This One prays for Mantis

January 7, 2011

Ah, the 1970s. The Me Decade. The Disco Era. Leisure Suit Paradise.

Those were the days.

In comic book terms, we refer to the ’70s as the Bronze Age, the third major era of superhero comics. (For the non-cognoscenti out there, the Golden Age spans the late 1930s until the first appearance of the Barry Allen version of The Flash in October 1956. The Silver Age starts there and continues — depending upon which endpoint one prefers — until either the end of the 1960s or sometime in the very early 1970s.) Like the decade it encompassed, the Bronze Age was a wild and woolly time in comics, filled with bizarre characters and even more bizarre storylines.

And of course, I loved them all.

Mantis, pencils by comics artist Mitch Foust

The mysterious heroine called Mantis — drawn here by pinup specialist Mitch Foust — typifies everything that was wonderful (and weird) about the Bronze Age. Beginning with her debut in Avengers #112 (June 1973), the nameless (she was never called anything but Mantis), barefoot, Eurasian (she was born to a Vietnamese mother and a German father) martial arts expert:

* Worked as a courtesan in her native Vietnam, where she was discovered by the villain-turned-superhero known as the Swordsman.

* Joined the Marvel Universe’s premier super-team, the Avengers.

* Learned that she is the daughter of the supervillain Libra, a member of the evil Zodiac cabal.

* Battled countless threats to humanity.

* Was revealed as the Celestial Madonna, mother-to-be of the savior of the universe.

* Witnessed the death of her paramour Swordsman.

* Marries a member of a race of animated trees (the Cotati, named after the town right next door to mine).

* Departs into deep space to fulfill her destiny as Celestial Madonna, because if you’re the Celestial Madonna, that’s what you do.

In addition to her peculiar story arc, Mantis was also distinguished by — and is probably best remembered by Bronze Age comics readers for — her distinctive speech pattern, which omitted all personal pronouns. Mantis always referred to herself as “This One” rather than “I” or “me.” You can understand how a steady diet of “This One wants a sandwich” and “This One is going to the movies; would anyone else care to accompany This One?” would wear on the nerves of one’s fellow Avengers after a while, so it’s no surprise that the rest of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes didn’t shed too many tears when Mantis bolted the solar system with the tree man.

Mantis was created by longtime comics writer Steve Englehart, who became so enamored with the character that he reinvented her every time he moved from one comics publisher to another. When Englehart left Marvel for DC, he introduced Willow, a thinly disguised version of Mantis with an identical speech pattern. Later, while writing for Eclipse, Englehart came up with Lorelei, another burgeoning space mom who talked funny. (In writers’ parlance, we refer to a pet character like this — a sort of dream-world avatar for the author him/herself — as a “Mary Sue.”)

Strange (and frankly, kind of silly) though she was, I always liked Mantis. To me, she epitomizes everything that was cool about the Bronze Age, a time when comics still meant fantasy and fun instead of gritty grimness. How can you not love a kung fu hooker with antennae, who wears a costume based on a grass skirt, calls herself “This One,” and has a Madonna complex?

Comics could use a few Mantises today.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

36 Days of Adrenaline: Day 2 — “Larger Than Life”

January 6, 2011

Artist: Backstreet Boys

Why this song is an adrenaline rush: I can hear you screaming already — “A boy band? Seriously?” But in the same way that a busted clock is right twice a day, every once in a great while even a boy band finds a ridiculously catchy hook and rides it home like Ron Turcotte atop Secretariat. This is that kind of song.

It’s that rare number about the ups and downs of rock and roll stardom that succeeds in making me feel like a rock star myself. Larger than life, even.

Lyric line that’s fun to belt at maximum volume:

All you people, can’t you see, can’t you see
How your love’s affecting our reality
Every time we’re down
You can make it right
And that makes you larger than life!

Fun factoids:

  • The video for “Larger Than Life” — the eighth most expensive music video ever produced — features a robot played by Antonio Fargas, better known to people of a certain age as the pimp Huggy Bear on the 1970s cop show Starsky and Hutch.
  • “Larger Than Life” boasted the longest run at #1 on MTV’s Total Request Live. Which pretty much tells you everything you need to know about why MTV switched from music videos to cheesy reality programs like Teen Mom.

Other songs by the same artist that I could have chosen instead: Umm… yeah.

[Late to the party? Here’s an explanation of 36 Days of Adrenaline.]

One Hall step forward, one step back

January 5, 2011

Congratulations to Roberto Alomar, one of the greatest second basemen in the history of the game, on his election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. A 12-time All-Star and 10-time Gold Glove winner, Robbie is well deserving of enshrinement. The only reason he wasn’t chosen in his first year of eligibility was the incident in which Alomar spat in the face of umpire John Hirschbeck. One single moment of stupidity — and it was stupid, no question — in an otherwise exemplary career shouldn’t keep the guy out of the Hall. Now, it won’t.

As for Bert Blyleven, I’m glad he finally made the Hall on his 13th attempt for one reason, and one reason only: We won’t have to listen to him whine anymore about not being elected.

Here’s the bottom line on Blyleven. He played 22 seasons in Major League Baseball, during which time he racked up 287 wins and 3701 strikeouts. But we’re talking about the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Hung Around Forever. If we’re going by longevity, Jim Kaat and Jamie Moyer should be in the Hall (at least, Moyer should be if he ever retires), and no one who knows anything about baseball is going to make either of those arguments.

The fact is that Blyleven was a good pitcher, but nowhere near a great one. He won 20 games only once in 22 seasons, even though he played in an era when 20 wins was the gold standard of excellence for top starting pitchers. Heck, Mike Krukow won 20 for the Giants once — should Kruk be in the Hall? Blyleven only won as many as 19 once. At the same time, he posted seven — count ’em, seven — sub-.500 seasons. That’s seven years in which he lost more games than he won. That’s nearly one-third of his career. Does that sound like a Hall of Famer to you?

No one who ever saw Blyleven pitch — aside from a handful of snow-blinded Minnesotans — thought he was the best pitcher of his time, or even one of the best. He never won a Cy Young Award. He never placed higher than third in the Cy Young voting. He was chosen as an All-Star twice. Twice — in 22 seasons. Again… does that sound like a Hall of Famer to you?

It’s no accident that the most statistically similar pitcher to Bert Blyleven was Don Sutton, another somewhat-better-than-average pitcher who rolled up deceptive numbers simply by virtue of avoiding career-ending injury for more than two decades. The Hall of Fame should not be rewarding players just for being lucky. Don Sutton — who, like Blyleven, won 20 or more games only once, and was never a Cy Young front-runner — doesn’t belong in the Hall, even though the baseball writers saw fit to enshrine him.

Bert Blyleven doesn’t belong in the Hall either.

Roberto Alomar does.