Saturday, January 23, 2010

"Live at Budokan" takes me back to the past...

I listened to Cheap Trick’s “Live at Budokan” for the first time and it hit me like a religious experience.

I don’t mean that in a literal sense; I’m not praying to Robin Zander or anything. I mean it figuratively, “Live at Budokan” is just an album (not even a well mixed one), but it metaphorically transported me back in time.

I apologize to those of you hoping for a detailed analysis of the “Live at Budokan” album itself, but my post is primarily about the thoughts in back of my mind that the Budokan album rushed, raised or percolated to the surface. Some information about the album itself and some of my frustrations with it appear at the bottom of the post.

In the seminal music movie “Almost Famous,” The protagonist’s (William Miller) older sister leaves him all of her records when she escapes their mother’s conservative household at the age of 18 (I believe it was supposed to be the Summer of 69’!). Her copy of the Who’s “Tommy” has a note inside of it that said, “Listen to Tommy with a candle burning and you will see your entire future.” For me, great Rock music has the opposite effect, it washes over me like a wave and I see visions of my past in Technicolor, surround sound, and Smell-O-Vision.

This particular CD reminded me of being a high school freshman. Momma Grayshaw’s baby boy was short, rail thin, with big glasses, wearing the Kurt Cobain grunge look of band shirts and flannels over them; a style that even at the time was probably outdated, but I thought I was the coolest. At the time, the epitome of cool was defined by being rebellious, anti-establishment, and generally aimless. Because of this I even made friends with the “gang” that hung out on the far side of the park outside of my high school. I thought they were a gang because they were a group of long-haired, long coat wearing, loud music playing dudes. Looking back, they were probably just a couple of guys that cut last period together.

I remember during gym class when I was a freshman, rather than play basketball or volleyball, I’d often talk to two older boys; they were probably seniors. We’d talk mostly about music, especially Pink Floyd. One of them gave me a tape with the “Animals” on one side and maybe part of “Wish You Were Here” on the other. It was on of those tapes that sounded like a copy of a copy; maybe he only had a bootleg copy himself. Incidentally, the sound quality of the “Live at Budokan” CD is roughly that of a third generation bootleg tape. Anyway, these gym discussions took place in the days before Digital Music on the Internet, before Napster, and for me, before paychecks, so the gift of music was always welcome.

Around the same time, when music was still King in my world, I discovered that MTV only played some of their Alternative music videos late at night during “Alternative Nation,” and “120 Minutes.” To me, this could only be because parents and generally everyone over 30 was summarily programmed by the establishment to go to bed after the 11 o’clock news. So I, of course, made it my mission to stay up as late as I could. Also, I had to tape these shows because, I had to not only own every album by bands like Nirvana, Green Day and Smashing Pumpkins; I had to own every video too.

I also experienced less focused memories like my Junior High School friend Mikey Deluca that had a drum set in his second floor bedroom and he would sit with a recording of Metallica or something like that, and listen to 30 seconds at a time and figure out and imitate every drum sound. Or, my guitar playing friends Steve and Tommy who freshman year of High School paid for “practice space” to jam in; it was basically a large closet in some rundown building. But hey, what else are you gonna do if you’ve got nowhere else to play?

I hope you enjoyed some of my memories, feel free to share some of your own.

Trick’s “Live at Budokan was released in 1979. Previously the band had done 3 studio albums, but had not had any substantial hits in America. Ironically their albums were big hits in Japan. So in 1978, they did a tour there and afterwards released “Live at Budokan,” originally thinking it would only be sold in Japan. However, it was released in America and to everyone’s surprise it was a huge hit. Bear in mind all the hits from “Budokan” were songs featured on their previous albums. I guess they’re one of those bands that’s just better live.

Now the version I got was the “Complete Concert” released in 98. It included more songs than the original record and in theory was digitally remastered. It’s a CD, it has to have better sound, right? Well I don’t know about that, I thoughts the levels were really poorly mixed. I heard the instrumentals fine, but the voice track was pretty garbled. I can’t help but wonder if the record is a better recording.

My other main problem with the CD is that they put all sorts of CD extra on it. I put the CD in my computer and a program comes up and it says I can install CD extras or play music. I click play music and nothing happens. I click install extras and it wants to install a 10-year-old version of Adobe Acrobat. This thing was designed to run on Windows 95 or Windows 98. I think I’d need a Windows 98 emulator to play this on the computer. Luckily the thing plays fine in my CD player and DVD player. I’m happy that the whole CD extras trend seems to have largely died off with the 90s.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Of Time Travel and Time Loops

At the end of “the Stainless Steel Rat Save the World,” by Harry Harrison, our hero Slippery Jim is in the year 20,000. He has for a third time failed to kill his time traveling enemy “He” before He can make an escape to a time unknown.

Since Jim destroyed the time-helix in an attempt to stop He, Jim is stuck, but out of nowhere pops another time-helix machine with a recording from Coypu, Jim’s scientist friend in the year 30,000 or so. Coypu gives Jim the code to postpone the launch of some nuclear weapons and Jim and his wife Angelina return to the year 30,000 something.

However they arrive before Coypu sends them the time-helix, in fact Jim dictates the instructions on the disarming of the weapons to the scientist who them makes the recording and sends the device back.

Jim learned the disarmament sequence in the past and gave it to Coypu in the present, who in turn gave it to himself in the past, but where did this knowledge originally come from?

The answer according to the logic of the novel is nowhere; Slippery Jim had found himself in a time loop.

And so it follows that if an idea can appear in a time loop out of nothingness why not a person…

At the start of the novel, Jim is in the office of Special Corps, the secret police of the galaxy, when everyone around him begins to disappear. Scientists rush up to him and explain that they have been attacked and are in a Time War. Someone is changing time and erasing Special Corp’s very existence.

Jim travels back to the 1970s as the lone hope for his future. He defeats his enemy a mad creature called He, a cyborg in a red android body. However, He escapes to 1805 where he joins forces with Napoleon and conquers England; Jim again thwarts his plans. However, just as He is about to escape into the time helix Jim alters the controls so that He ends up in the year 20,000 something, instead of where he had intended.

Then just as the alternate 1805 was collapsing all around him, Angelina traveled back from a restored year 30,000 to rescue her husband. Together they traveled to 20,000 something to defeat He once and for all.

For whatever reason they arrived 200 years after He. In the meanwhile He had armed all the nuclear weapons on the planet. Jim defeats He again, but once again He escapes and as I said earlier Jim escapes back to his present with the help of a time loop containing the knowledge to postpone the termination of the nuclear weapons.

But the point of all of this is Jim wants to follow He again, but Coypu tells him not to. You see from the year 20,000 something, He traveled to the 1970s where he launched an attack on Special Corps, that Jim had already defeated as evidenced by everyone in Special Corps being alive.

You see He was locked inside a time loop himself, eternally fighting Jim in 1970s, 1805, and the 20,000s .

“Where did he originally come from?” Jim asked.
“Nowhere,” was Coypu’s reply.

At first after reading this I was skeptical after all how can a person come from nowhere and exist only in a loop of time. But I can’t deny the simple example of the disarming codes existing out of nothingness, so why not an evil cyborg too?

My only question is how He doesn’t realize he is stuck in a loop? Does He experience some sort of amnesia when Jim alters the controls at the last second in 1805, so that when He arrives in 20,000 something he only remembers his hatred of Special Corps. That would explain things.

Here is a crude visual aid. He’s time loop is in black ink while Jim’s trip is in blue. Disregard my notes for this article at the sides of the chart.


What do you think, is a time loop possible or is that not how you think time travel works? I’d love to hear any opinions.


Sunday, January 3, 2010

Spectacular Spider-Man 61-68 and Annual 3

Annual 3 "Dark Side of the Moon"

After the total disaster of Annual 2, I was frightened to read Annual 3. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was actually a good issue.

This was the final Man-Wolf issue since John Jameson was cured at the end of the issue. Just like Curt Conners gets cured at the end of every Lizard saga. However all kidding aside it does seem like this cure takes, at least for the rest of the Bronze Age.

Since this issue alluded to past adventures, I looked up Man-Wolf’s history and was surprised to find he starred in his own set of comics Creatures on the Loose 30-37, and Marvel Premiere 45-46. So in the end, it’s kind of sad that Man-Wolf was gone.

Issue 61 "By the Light of the Silvery Moonstone!"

I love the tagline on the cover of this issue “The Moonstone is a Harsh Mistress,” because it’s a play on the title of my favorite Heinlein book.

Anyway, this story begins with a neat little PSA. A kid is climbing down his apartment building on tied together bed sheets. This is his attempt to be like Spider-Man. But Spidey tells him the equivalent of “Don’t try this at home!” It sounds corny, but the real dialogue works.

Spider-Man then swings over to ESU where he gets into a fight with Moonstone. She gets away with one of Dr. Connor’s gizmos and hurts Marcy Kane on her way out. Peter decides the unconscious Kane needs CPR and when Marcy wakes up, suddenly she really kind of digs Petey.

I’d never read Moonstone’s origin before, she was a hooker for criminal Mastermind Dr. Faustus until she stole the original Moonstone’s power. Hooker to super villain, for some reason I see a Julia Roberts movie in there somewhere.

It’s always a nice sort of oddity to see Spidey go up against a woman. I wish his Rogues Gallery had more female opponents.

Issue 62 "Gold Fever"

This issue makes no sense. Peter Parker wrote an article about “The radiation absorption of precious metals” Parker’s mentor Dr. Sloan says, numerous financial institutions and even the government expressed an interest in the article because they wanted to know what would happen to gold in the event of a nuclear attack.

Okay, so far I can suspend my disbelief. Then these financial institutions, or maybe the Government, let Parker and ESU borrow an entire pallet of gold bars! And Peter proceeds to irradiate them.

Any experiment could have been done with merely an ounce of gold. There is no need for a pallet of gold except that the villain, Gold Bug wouldn’t be very cool if he stole an once of gold.

On his way out of the lab, Gold Bug sprays two security guards and Deb Whitman with gold dust which makes them statues, but Parker mixes an acid solution that “melts through gold, but won’t burn the skin underneath.” I think it’s the same formula as Coca Cola.

But Gold Bug as it turns out isn’t much of a reader, when he learned about the gold from a newspaper article he missed that whole irradiating the gold part. So he is unprepared when his gold starts poisoning people and then he’s “killed.”- The End.

Issue 63 "A Firebug"

The next issue is kind of sad. Spidey suspects that the Molten Man is back even though he seemed to have dead at the end of ASM 173. So Spidey tries to track down Harry Osborn and Liz Allen, now Liz Osborn. But he doesn’t have the right phone number so he calls Flash Thompson. Now, Flash was in practically every early issue of Spectacular, so it was sad to see him get only a few panels in this one. Then it was even sadder to hear that Harry and Liz got married off-screen, or I guess off-panel; even Flash didn’t go to the wedding.

It’s funny, Liz’s last Silver Age appearance was ASM 30 and Harry’s first was ASM 31, so the two didn’t know each other. So, it’s kind of unexpected them getting together, kind of like if Sue Richards married Foggy Nelson, or if Storm married the Black Panther (wait a minute…), but I digress.

Liz and Harry live in a cute little neighborhood in NJ, the kind of town you hear exists in NJ, but have never actually seen. They have a darling little house that is completely destroyed by the Molten Man and Spider-Man’s fight, but it’s okay because it brings unity to the little suburban neighborhood. As they work together dousing the Molten Man with water from their garden hoses they learn the true meaning of community.

This issue reminds me of that Tom Hanks movie “The Burbs.” What a great flick, rent it if you haven’t seen it.

Issue 64 “Cloak and Dagger”

This, the origin story of Cloak and Dagger, is dark and gritty, like great film noir. The B+W Essential actually enhanced this issue. Cloak and Dagger were two of several runaway children the mob found in the gutters of Manhattan. Cloak and Dagger were born from the ashes of a mob drug experiment, gone wrong. Cloak and Dagger exist for one purpose, revenge!

Spider-Man of course takes the view that the mobsters have to answer for their crimes through the legal system and that vigilantism makes Cloak and Dagger criminals themselves. But he is unable to convince them and unable to stop them.

By the Early 90s when I first started reading Spider-Man, Cloak and Dagger where just superhero buddies of Spidey and their darker nature had been toned way down.

Personally, I don’t see how Spider-Man could work with “heroes” of this ilk; the Punisher springs to mind. By working with them he is legitimizing them and lowering his own moral standards. If he believes it is wrong to act as judge, jury and executioner, then he cannot work with somebody who does. It’s a simple case of guilt by association. Hasn’t he ever heard the phrase “in order for evil to win all good has to do is nothing?” Surely, no on understands this better than Spider-Man who has been haunted for years by the fact that his inaction lead to his Uncle’s death.

In the past, though they have challenged him physically, Spider-Man has judged many people to be innocent of any crimes, the Prowler for an example. By that same token, Spider-Man has fought many true villains such as Doctor Octopus, but he has never tried to kill them. If he can make these moral distinctions, why doesn’t he realize that he must capture Cloak and Dagger or die trying, and must never assist them?

Issue 65 "the Heart is a Lonely Hunter"

Kraven is that rare Super-Villain that though tweaked in the head follows his own moral code that is not necessarily completely villainous.

Kraven perfected his mind and body so that he could subdue, without killing, even the most fearsome of beasts. However, he became bored when no creature that lived caused him any challenge. Then he heard about Spider-Man and instantly became obsessed with conquering this new foe. He might have had a shorter career if he’d become obsessed with the Thing or the Hulk.
Kraven is insane because he never seems to understand that Spider-Man is a human being, not an animal, (though someone from PETA would argue there is no difference).

He doesn’t understand that Spider-Man has a life outside of swinging around the streets of Manhattan on a webline. He’s an actual thinking and reasoning person that should enjoy the rights of any other man, but as far as Kraven is concerned Spider-Man is a lion or a gazelle that exists only to be subdued by the self-appointed, “World’s Greatest Hunter.”

But Kraven has a sense of honor and fair play. He wants to win against Spider-Man fair and square, so while he is willing to block Spidey’s spider-sense with loud drumming, he flies off the handle when his lover secretly shoots a psychotropic drug into Spidey’s foot.

To Kraven, this caused the hunt to be compromised and he’d have no honor from defeating Spider-Man this way, so he ends up helping Spider-Man, so that he’d have the opportunity for a proper fight another day.

I love the trippy drug induced view of the world from Spider-man’s drug-fueled perspective.

Issue 66 "Electro Will be Free"

(Another example of the word “Epic” appears as a neon light on this issue’s cover)

Electro has found a way to use his power to instantly draw power from any metal object. This issue really ramps up his power to a ridiculous level. I mean if Electro was able to absorb as much power as he seems to in this issue, Spider-Man wouldn’t have just been “shocked senseless” when he was hit by one of Electro’s blasts, Spider-Man would have been liquefied.

It’s a pretty decent issue; I can’t really fault it except that it fails to break any new ground.

Issue 67 "Boomerang the Killer who Keeps Coming Back!"

From page 1, you can tell that this issue is going to be a little different. Edward Hannigan’s layout is at times unique. I love the shot of Boomerang on the Daily Bugle’s roof.

Boomerang is another in this series of villains that Spider-Man just doesn’t take seriously. From the start he relentlessly slams Boomerang with jokes about his failed major league pitching career, while also pounding him with various punches and kicks.

After Spider-Man beats the tar out of him and disarms him of all his boomerangs, Kingpin’s goons corner him in an alley and point their Tommy guns at him. At this point, you actually feel pretty sorry for him and are happy that Spidey throws him a ‘rang at the last second, so he can easily disarm the goons.

You don’t feel bad that Boomerang gets arrested, but you’re glad he wasn’t killed.

Issue 68 "Hell Hath no Fury like a Robot Scorned"

At the start of this tale, a man named Danvers runs frantically to a phone and when he picks up the receiver he is killed by the mysterious Robot Master. Then the narration says, “Tiny electronic bores emerge from the dead man’s ears….and following a cold mechanical voice, take the shortest route back to their master.” Then the little screws fly into the telephone. I hate this old cliché. No machine, no matter how tiny could travel via phone lines!

I really like the splash page of Peter and Aunt May visiting Uncle Ben’s grave. Though he died in the first issue, Uncle Ben is never forgotten.

I also enjoyed that Spidey’s origin is retold in 4 panels. I mean, the guys that did 15 minute Hamlet would be impressed with that amount of brevity.

It’s also worth mentioning that May’s new boyfriend Nathan comes to the graveyard with May and Peter, but stays a respectful distance behind as the two mourners visit the grave. I felt like that was extremely respectful. He understood that while it was important for him to be there for her, it was also important for her to not feel like she was in some way showing Ben his replacement.

So anyway, on his way out of the graveyard Peter runs into the middle of a scuffle outside of a mausoleum. Though still in his street clothes Peter springs into action. Peter is stopped by the would be grave robbers who turn out to be with the FBI

The mausoleum is Professor Mendel Stromm’s. Whom Spider-Man faced off with way back in ASM 37. Stromm’s brother, who Peter just assisted, goes to report the incident to the police before Peter can question him.

So Peter goes back to ESU reminiscing about Professor Stromm and ends up getting into a scuffle with Deb Whitman’s boyfriend Biff. Peter slaps him, but then thinks to himself that if he’s used even the smallest amount of Spider-power, he could have killed him. Finally, the increasingly impulsive Parker, passes Deb in the hallway and then runs up to the roof, changes into Spider-Man and webs off. Deb follows him sees Spider-Man webbing away and concludes that Parker must be Spider-Man.

Spider-Man tracks down the FBI agents he’d fought in the Graveyard and after fighting a robot together, they tell him that it appears someone is up to Stromm’s old tricks. So they all return to the mausoleum. There Spider-Man meets Stromm’s brother again only he’s really a robot with Stromm’s memories. He looked human when Spidey met him in the graveyard, but in the privacy of his hideout he wears an ocular over one eye, purpose unknown, but doesn’t it look robotic? It makes me think of that line from the Princess Bride about masks, “They’re just terribly comfortable, I think in the future everyone will be wearing them.”

Spider-Man defeats the robot and writes in webbing on the mausoleum wall that Professor Stromm “died again”