Saturday, May 17, 2014

Answers, Part I

Welcome to the first part of the answers to the... Ask Me Anything thing that... hmm. Sentence construction not so good. Let's do this again.

Hi ho, everyone! I'm answering the questions you've asked me as part of Ask Me Anything.

Let's start with Roger, because he got the ball rolling. His first, music-related question: when you did those favorite songs of the decades, how did you keep track of what songs were in which decade? I find so many CDs provide the copyright date of the package, rather than the date of the original album.

For the most part, I just have a head for that kind of thing. It's the pop culture junkie part of me that deeply cares about all of this generally useless information. I don't have a head for science, or math, or when my bills need to get paid, or the birthdays of loved ones, but I do have a great grasp of what year Beach Boys singles came out in. I can recall things like that pretty easily. So much of that info seems to be up there permanently.

It's the same thing with albums, TV shows, movies, etc. In casual conversation, you can ask me when a movie came out and I'll tell you the year. It's a useless talent, but I make a lot of lists, so it comes in handy then.

There's also the way I cling to things from my childhood, because I don't have many happy memories. Part of the mental schema--the one where I believe deeply in the "fact" of my insignificance--is that long-term memories of happiness either get obliterated by my subconscious or just don't form. Remembering the things I liked in terms of numbers somehow helps me keep them in there, which is amazing considering how many times I flunked math (even in college). Movies and music were always the big deals for me; I loved going to the movies with my parents, especially genre movies, so for a lot of the years of my life, I can tell you what year it was by what movies (or songs or video games) were a big deal at the time. I remember 1981 as the year of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Pac-Man and "Kiss On My List." 1982 was the year the Thriller album came out and I was terrified of ET. Etc. through the Eighties.

It's basically useless, except for talking about pop culture, answering trivia questions, and, I guess, keeping the events of my life in a certain order.

That said, if I had a question about it, I generally just looked it up on Wikipedia.

Another interesting musical question from Rog: You know more about music before you were born than anyone I know, so this will be tough, but listening to various years of music, are there periods you feel you know better first hand, from, say hearing it on the radio. I was born in 1953, and Id say 1956-1959, then a drought (when I went to school), then 1963-1975, then 1978-1987, much more spotty (Nirvana, Johnny Cash) after that.

I had young parents (my Mom and Dad were 19 and 21 when I was born), so they liked a lot of the contemporary music of the period. My Mom liked pop music and then drifted into what we called wuss-rock like Air Supply, and my Dad liked rock and R&B and pretty much anything on Motown in the early 80s. When my parents divorced, he was starting to get into rap. But their record collection was anything but contemporary; my Mom had Carpenters and Simon & Garfunkel records, and my Dad had Beatles and Beach Boys 8-tracks. So I listened to a lot of that slightly older music as a kid. (To this day, one of my best memories is spending Saturday mornings with my Dad, listening to his Beach Boys 8-tracks while my sister danced to "Little Deuce Coupe" and we made pancakes.) And my Mom also liked Classical music, and that was sort of the golden age of film scores for me, and MTV started in 1981, and back then you could leave it on all day and just have videos in the background.

That's all a long way of just showing that I had a lot of music influences as a kid.

I feel like I know music better first hand from about 1981 to 1988 or 1989, mainly from the radio or MTV. Around 1988 or 1989 there was a shift in pop music, it seemed, more towards rap and club music and then in 1990 or 1991 everything seemed to become either heavy metal or house music, and I just wasn't into a lot of that then. In that period, my listening habits shifted full on into Classical and film scores, with some classic rock mixed in. I liked some of the newer stuff, but not in the way I had liked, say, Prince or Michael Jackson or Hall & Oates or Billy Joel. I missed a lot of the new music that was coming out then. I missed the grunge explosion entirely. One day, MTV was playing Milli Vanilli and Color Me Badd and "Rico Suave," and suddenly it was Nirvana and Pearl Jam. I had no idea what happened, and to this day I haven't listened to a lot of grunge. Not because I was actively staying away; I just sort of missed that whole thing. I've never listened to Nevermind. I didn't really get back into firsthand contemporary music until maybe 8 or 9 years ago. And I still feel at a loss with some of it, like I missed the bridge. And a lot of that music came on my radar because of my half-sisters (born in 1992 and 1995).

While we're on the subject of music, Nik asks: What are your top 5 desert island albums?

This is a hard question, because as a music junkie, my instinct is to just agonize over this one, trying to find the perfect 5 albums. But let's do it this way: let's say you walk in my door, right now, no warning, and tell me I have to leave and I can only take five albums with me and I have to grab them right now. What do I grab?

Hm, the first things I know I want are albums that I loved when I was a kid. Invisible Touch by Genesis, which is a perfect album. Not a bum tune there. The Labyrinth soundtrack, because you get some of Bowie and Trevor Jones' wonderful electronic score. "Weird Al" Yankovic's Dare to Be Stupid, because it's my favorite of his, I love almost every song, and "Dare to Be Stupid" is my theme song. It's also on the soundtrack to Transformers: The Movie, which would honestly be my fourth pick. It's cheesy, but I still love it. And metal is surprisingly good for when you have to work out or do something montage-worthy, and who knows what I'm going to have to do on a desert island to survive.

And above all, Pet Sounds. That Beach Boys masterpiece is the album I want to die listening to.

I'm sure I'll spend time lamenting the albums I didn't take, but, well...

I'm going to stop there for now. These are self-indulgent enough without making them really long, too. I've got a good amount of questions, but if there's anything you want to ask, or follow-up on, or what have you, you can ask right here in the comments or email me. I'll keep this going as sort of a "whenever" thing, rather than strictly weekly. I've got some good questions, I don't want to leave anyone hanging.

Time in a Bottle

Friday, May 16, 2014

Marvels: Tales to Astonish #48

"The Porcupine!" by Stan Lee, Ernie Hart & Don Heck
(October 1963)

The Porcupine is Ant-Man's first real nemesis. Up until now, he's fought thieves, hijackers, commie spies, and a mystic trumpeter. He's even fought science fiction villains: interdimensional travelers, interdimensional despotsaliens, a giant bug, that guy with the compelling voice, that guy with the aging ray. And there's Egghead, who... well, he just mainly sucks.

But with the Porcupine, Ant-Man starts moving away from that sort of spy-fi thing Ernie & Don have had going on for the last few issues, and starts heading into superhero territory. Which makes sense, what with Ant-Man and the Wasp now on the Avengers; I guess it's time for them to start facing the same kinds of super-threats that Thor or Iron Man might face.

The Porcupine is a step in that direction; he's got potential, but he's really in the tradition of those low-level science villains Johnny Storm's always facing in Strange Tales. The ones who create something marvelous with seemingly endless practical applications, but then decide to just rob banks with it. But he's also like the Crimson Dynamo--the opposite version of Ant-Man, only replacing altruism with greed. (He's even taken inspiration from an animal.)

Alex Gentry is the scientist who creates the Porcupine, a suit which is designed to carry its own weaponry in quill-like tubes. Gentry's plan is that the Porcupine suit can carry a vast array of weapons and devices, while the soldier inside is protected from outside attack. You know the first thing I thought of? Firefighters. Maybe this would be good for firefighters. The first thing Gentry thinks of? Become a super-criminal.

It's amazing, because the transformation from "wow, look at this neat thing I made!" to "fuck this, I'm becoming a criminal" happens over literally three panels. The Department of Defense doesn't even try to take it away. He just figures they will and he's not going to make any money, so why give it to them in the first place? I wonder what his experiences have been like before this that he jumps right to that. Yes, even a man with that magnificent beard can be deeply embittered and wounded on the inside, no matter how many porcupine quills he's got spring-loaded with stun pellets and tear gas.

When the Porcupine robs a new bank that's supposed to be burglar-proof--and does so quite easily, it must be said--Hank takes it personally. Hank was the one who designed the security devices, so he's pretty pissed off that someone made short work of them.

It doesn't take Hank very long to get captured and put in a death trap, though. And the thing about fighting Ant-Man is that everything can be a death trap, because Hank thinks it's somehow useful to be ant-sized. This is a guy who has been sucked up in vacuum cleaners, chased by anteaters, nearly crushed in car engine turbines, almost got stepped on, was trapped in an upside-down fish tank, and was once even dropped inside of a particularly high-sided plant pot. So... I'm just saying, you could defeat this guy with a Barbie car and an M-80.

The Porcupine's nefarious plan for Ant-Man is to catch him, pick him up, use tweezers to pluck off his helmet and belt, and then drop him in a bathtub. And then we'll just wait and see how long it takes for Hank to get exhausted treading water and drown. The only death more humiliating would be to tie him to some toy train tracks and watch a Lionel engine make paste out of him.

The Wasp saves him, though. Eventually. And then, still tiny, they drag around these canisters of liquid cement--because why change back to human size, even for a minute, when you can make a gigantic, time-consuming operation out of it--and use the cement to jam the Porcupine's quills. And the Porcupine... flies away... like a real porcupine would, obviously. (Boy, Iron Man has really popularized a flying-suit craze.)

So, the Porcupine will be back to menace Ant-Man. Except that, well... starting next issue, he won't be Ant-Man anymore.

Stray observations:

:: I'm irritated by Jan's one-track mind. In the opening panel, Ant-Man and the Wasp fly over an Army ordnance plant, causing Hank to remark on the amazing scientific work taking place inside. Jan's contribution to the discussion? "I'd rather think about all the glamorous, eligible males who must be working there!"

She spends most of the issue sidelined by the flu, but gets in shot after shot on Hank; she's annoyed that he won't spend time fussing over her, bank robber in a super suit on the loose or no. She then chides Hank for not being more grateful to see her while she's saving him from drowning and is angry when he gets her antibiotics instead of furs or jewelry. Sheesh.

(Still no call for Hank's big "You can't please a female" rejoinder, though.)

:: Last issue, we were meant to be saddened by the loss of Korr, Ant-Man's heretofore unnamed and unheralded faithful ant steed. Korr's brother Foss is named as his replacement. This issue identifies the ant Hank is riding as Torne. Is this really meant to be some sort of ant-steed dynasty? Is their relationship like a He-Man/Battle Cat sort of thing? Eh, it all becomes irrelevant next issue, anyway.

As silly as the stories can be, I've been really digging what Ernie Hart and Don Heck have created in the pages of Tales to Astonish. Hell, you know that: I've been saying so every issue. Sadly, this is the last story in their all-too-short run on this title. Next issue, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (with Heck inking) will return to retool the series once more, and Ant-Man will become Giant-Man. The spy-fi flavor will be gone, and we'll be firmly in an age of superheroes for Hank and Jan. I don't know when Ant-Man ends up making his return.

Don Heck will still be on Thor's stories for a bit longer, and then I'm not sure where he'll be. We'll watch and find out. However, except for a 1969 issue of Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD, this appears to be Ernie Hart's final story for Marvel. Thanks for the laughs and the excitement, Ernie! These were truly tales to astonish.

Next time: let's jump ahead a little bit and do another Tales to Astonish and introduce Giant-Man to the Marvel Universe.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Weird Al in the Gay Nineties

God, I just need something weird today. Explanation of this here.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Step Right Up and Ask Me Anything

Just a reminder that if anyone has anything they want me to address, you can go ahead and Ask Me Anything. I start answering questions this Saturday!

R Is for Random Chance

One of the things we talk about in therapy is accepting bad luck as just that: bad luck. Not a pattern, not something personally directed at you, not some sort of punishment from the universe. This video is the short story of a man who had an extreme run of bad luck, only to... well, just watch it.

There's something to keep in mind: bad things might happen, but that doesn't mean something amazing might happen as well.

ABC Wednesday

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

PAIN & GAIN (2013)
Three deluded bodybuilders (Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Mackie, Dwayne Johnson) get involved in kidnapping and theft. I know it's weird to say this about a Michael Bay movie, but this is astonishingly good. It's witty, even. It's got a smart script that never plays this sap trio as ridiculous, even as they get breathtakingly more deluded as the film goes on. The actors themselves commit to the roles; they don't deign to play numbskulls, playing them as genuinely as they can; they're constantly surprised that their stupidest moves don't work out they way they're supposed to. It's the right note for the characters. These guys are idiots, but not in a way that's pathetic; that would just make the movie cruel. Instead, it pulls off these audacious trick of making you fascinated by what happens to them even as you just cannot believe the level of ridiculousness they're living on. It's... it's good. It's a Michael Bay movie, but it's good. It helps that there's actually a coherence to the visuals instead of a lot of whipping the camera around and strobe-cutting. And the actors are all good. Especially the Rock. This is Bay's first watchable movie since the 90s. It's clearly the one he was born to make. He... he can stop now. ***1/2

Well, it's better than the first one, but it's still not good. I wouldn't have watched it if Dwayne Johnson weren't in it, really. I like him. Adrianne Palicki's good, too, but the guy playing Flint is just lost in the shuffle. Flint has no personality. Bruce Willis's presence adds nothing. It's giving nothing away to say that Channing Tatum dies in the first 10 minutes, which is too bad, because Tatum and Johnson have good screen chemistry and the film never recovers from losing Tatum. (I know that sounds like a weird thing to say, but Tatum has genuine meathead charisma and seems more committed to his character than people who have 10 times his amount of screen time.) Cobra Commander is played better in this one, and there's one truly good action sequence (the ninja fight on the mountain side that seems like it really has nothing to do with the rest of the movie at all). It's just dull and poorly made enough to be pretty numbing; it doesn't demand your attention and, let's be honest, even if it did, it wouldn't know what to do with it. They're continuing to make the mistake of cutting out all of the goofy weirdness that made G.I. Joe so unique and different, and if you're going to do that, why bother even calling it G.I. Joe? At this point, they're basically poorly made Mission: Impossible flicks. This one wants to be Ghost Protocol so badly that it smacks you in the face with it. Most of the cast don't seem sure what their roles are and get out-acted by Jonathan Pryce going just over the top. **1/2

Two more Mickey Mouse cartoons. I love these. Love them so much. That is all. ****

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

HR Giger 1940-2014

Sad news that HR Giger has died after injuries sustained in a fall at his home. He was 74.

I mainly knew him as "the Alien guy" when I was young and into creatures. I didn't experience any of his other art until I was a bit older, when I started working at bookstores and encountered his big, expensive Necronomicon art books. Becca was really into his art when I first met her, when we were both 18. His work reminds me of the kind of dark, Heavy Metal style science fiction that really didn't make it intact into too many genre movies (Alien being an amazing exception). It also reminds me of progressive rock, which fascinates the same parts of my brain (and, of course, he did the art to the ELP album Brain Salad Surgery, among others).

As a wannabe creature designer, his work has always impressed me. As a fan of fantasy art, I found it fascinating. Sad news.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Song of the Week: "One Note Samba"

Trying (and failing) to stay calm today, so here's a gentle samba that I've always liked. This is my favorite recording of this Jobim composition, from the album Herbie Mann & Joao Gilberto with Antonio Carlos Jobim, from 1965

Happy Mother's Day