Sunday, April 24, 2016

Almost Walked.

I was just listening to Adam Carolla interview Marc Maron, and Aceman opined that "Almost Famous" (which Maron apparently appears in, though I have no recollection of this) is one of those movies that is universally beloved. I disagree, so I was compelled to dig up an old piece I wrote for a long-dead blog...

I used to think it was pretty cool that Cameron Crowe was a writer for Rolling Stone as a teenager. Now, after seeing "Almost Famous," his film documenting this period, I'm not so sure I believe it anymore. Seems to me any random writer, even one who was not even alive in the seventies, could have written this turbid mess. Is there any actual proof Crowe achieved this? Who can corroborate his story, or better yet, refute it? Has anyone looked into Crowe's whereabouts on the night Lester Bangs died?

First of all, there's his self-aggrandizement. All through the film, people are enthusing what a great and special kid Crowe's alter-ego Will is, despite the fact that he says little of interest and never changes the dopey expression on his dull face. He displays the charisma of a fire hydrant (if a fire hydrant could have a 70's kitchen table haircut).

Is it his talent as a writer that distinguishes him? Well, we never actually hear anything that he's written, so I guess it can't be that. There are a scant few moments when the camera pans by small scraps of yellow legal paper which contain sentence fragments. Having looked carefully, I can assure you that nothing scribbled there was remarkable.

He spends days on tour with a third-rate Grand Funk, and somehow still can't come up with an angle for his story. So he contacts Bangs, who rattles off a lame, ridiculously vague one-sentence summary. Will passes it along to Ben Fong-Torres at RS, who is unconvincingly stoked by what he hears. I'm quite certain any self-respecting editor would have rolled his eyes in exasperation and asked "Alright, what else you got?"

By the time Will finally gets his interview with the lead singer, we've been led to believe this enigmatic figure (who's kind of like a Lizard King you can bring home to mom) will have an insight into why music touches us that will have the audience swooning. Instead, the ultimate scene has him settle into a chair and assert, in a way that's somehow both ponderous and terse, that what he loves about music is (are you ready?): "Everything." Wow. Really? Everything? How do you spell that?

Then you have puffy-faced, adenoidal Kate Hudson as Penny, the world's most boring groupie. She doesn't even take her top off! When she and her equally boring groupie friends decide to deflower stone-faced Will, they dance around the room like pre-teen girls re-enacting a Wiccan fertility ritual one of them saw in a movie once.

Aside from a glimpse of "David Bowie," we never get to see anyone who's supposed to be or even resemble rock stars of the day. Instead we get, "Hey, Bob Dylan was just here a minute ago" and "There goes Led Zeppelin, through the hotel lobby!" No shit? Can we get a camera on them for a while? At least they're up in their suite having fun, banging actual hardcore groupies with halibut and whiskey bottles. Can I see that before I fall asleep please?

Add the super-douchey "Tiny Dancer" singalong that nearly caused me to walk, and the stupid plane crash scene (the drummer blurts out that he's GAY! Get it? They're not gonna crash at all! And now they know he's a FAG!), it all left me annoyed, bored, and wanting to investigate the authenticity of "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." I'm starting to believe that "The Wild Life" was Crowe's true defining opus. Besides, it's been six years since "Jerry Maguire" came out, and there are STILL retards out there bleating "Show me the money!" That's enough reason to despise Cameron Crowe, this piss-poor memoir notwithstanding.

[2016 add: Check out Crowe's output since this was written. I rest my case.]

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Taking the Stand.

I was searching this blog for something I had written ages ago, and was surprised to discover it wasn't here--it had only been on my old site, which has been cold in the digital grave for at least eight years. I offer it again now. You're welcome. Oh, and I've sprinkled this story with a few links to other writings of mine, so you can waste even more time before you die. Again, it's my pleasure.

When I was in the fifth or sixth grade, I had an epiphany of sorts, although I can't say for certain that I was aware of it at the time. We all have one at some time or another: the recognition of a truth, of something immense and your role in it, the flea unimaginably imagining the dog, and consequently a gradual dawning. I'm glad I had my first early.

It began with music. Sure, I liked some songs, but they tended toward the novelty side, Father Christmas by the Kinks, some Jonathan Richman tracks my brother Charlie played for me. The albums I enjoyed were usually inherited comedy records of the sixties---Cosby, Newhart, a single of Soupy Sales doing Pie in the Face (b/w Soupy Sez). I hadn't yet discovered new wave, if there was such a label at the time. The kids at school were toting boomboxes and listening to AC/DC, while I knew by heart every song on Allan Sherman's "My Son, the Nut."

Everything changed when I got a cheap, compact AM/FM headphone set from some kind of mail-in offer---actually, it was my mom who sent away for it, with cigarette coupons or something, and she then gave it to me. I remember the Styrofoam halves it came in, and the cardboard sleeve holding them together. There was something exciting about the package, as if I knew I was holding in my hand a portal to a new world.

If mom had foreseen the many hours that I would spend listening to that radio, hours customarily intended for sleeping, she may have ordered an ashtray from the Raleigh catalog in its place. It wouldn't be long before I'd be listening to Elvis Costello and the Clash, but I cut my new teeth on WPIX's soft rock, drifting off to John Denver and Barry Manilow songs.

In no time I became a true night-owl, although I had always enjoyed climbing out of bed to see what the grown-ups were up to, sometimes as late as the wee, wee hours. Often I'd find the folks watching television, and there were things on the TV at those mysterious hours that did not look like the programs I was used to. There were newscasters that seemed as important as the impenetrable stories they gravely told. I remember one team I liked because they reminded me of Washington and Lincoln (if Roger Grimsby had a powdered wig and Bill Beutel grew a fringe of beard around his chin). In the even-later hours, bleary-eyed under the dreamlike fluorescent lights of our blue plywood-paneled TV den, I'd hang with my older brothers and their friends while they sat on the sofa, probably stoned, watching pre-cable television's meager late-night offerings. They seemed to find my eager performances intermittently amusing, but I wasn't there to entertain them, not really. I was there to see the shows they watched, to gather clues to their adult world.

The new radio offered more clues, especially when I began tuning around to other stations. I found WBAB's Joel Martin, an interviewer who had guests of every stripe, and often did shows on the paranormal. Soon I was also regularly partaking of Larry King's hours-long program.

The introduction of the radio into my pre-teen world meant not only late-night listening, but often reading as well. At first I re-discovered my collection of Mad magazines, reading them under the covers with a flashlight night after night. I marvelled at how they were still amusing to even a sophisticated twelve-year-old such as myself. Once I'd tired of those, I began reading the books I took out of the Plainview Library, generally books on UFO's, the Loch Ness monster, Mothman, and every other aspect of unexplained phenomena. Throw in the odd assortment of books about old comic strips, Guinness records, card tricks or horror movies, and you had one cranky kid at the bus stop in the morning.

Through a radio contest (WGBB, naturally), my mom won a paperback copy of "The Stand" by Stephen King. It sat in the dining area for a while, uncracked, until one day I picked it up for examination. I had seen it laying around, the orange eyes peering out from the blue-black cover, but had never really looked. I saw then that the eyes were of two different faces---one of a shadowed male face, the other a raven in profile. I found it creepy and intriguing. I held the book in my hand, pondering its heft. Could I possibly attempt to read such a book? Eight-hundred seventeen pages. In a row. Daunting, to say the least.
I embarked upon this journey of a tome, unwisely, at the middle of the school year. It took a tremendous amount of time away from my studies. It wasn't even as if I could use this for a book report---my teachers would not have allowed it. But after the first few, hard-going chapters, it was too late. I was hooked.

I read through the Long Island winter--back when Long Island had real winters, but I suppose many of us recall harder hardships than we actually endured--on the bus, in the classroom, under the covers, and the book consumed me as I consumed it. I remember taking walks through deserted streets after reading sessions, imagining that I was in the world of the book, where the majority of the population had been decimated by disease. I'd step over piles of wet leaves, pretending they were bloated corpses. If I happened across someone, they'd become a character from the book, usually a villain, and I'd hide from them. Every time I heard some genuinely flu-infected person sniffle or cough, I 'd think to myself he's got it, he's got it and it won't be long before his tongue swells out of his mouth and pus flows from every orifice...

Perhaps thinking I would make a good character in the book, I took to wearing a pair of heavy, oversized brown work gloves instead of regular insulated ones. I wore them day in and day out, even as the weather warmed, and not just outdoors. I remember sitting out recess activities at St. Pius one afternoon. The class was in the gymnasium, probably due to inclement weather, but as the others played pigpile or kickball, I sat on the stage where our pageants were performed, reading The Stand and wearing my "murderer gloves." I can't recall if I had dubbed them that, or if my friends had. (Two years later, during the graduation yearbook tallies, not only would I inexplicably score "most likely to succeed," but I was also elected by a buddy as "most likely to kill people.") The principal, Mrs. Kawecki, strolled by me as I sat at the edge of the stage and made some idle conversation, during which I actually told her what I called my gloves. If I remember correctly, she just laughed. (Imagine some dopey kid saying that today---he'd most likely be forced to take weekly trips to a psychiatrist, if not immediately suspended.)

I had found that it was possible to surrender yourself to a book, to be utterly drawn into it and become part of it (and vice-versa). I finished the final chapter with a mixture of sadness and elation, wishing it would go on. I tried to re-read the book immediately, only to find that the moment could not be recaptured. The book had had its time in my life, and the time was over. Thankfully, there would be many other books to come and briefly claim my imagination, but few that would do it so completely as "The Stand."

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Some More Viskupic!

Not only is this blog regularly found through searches for his work, but I've been getting a bit of feedback on Facebook lately about Gary Viskupic, whose work I've written about here on more than one occasion. The FB page for "Gilbert Gottfried's Colossal Podcast" had been posting about the 70's summer series "A Year at the Top" because that pod has recently hosted its stars, Paul Shaffer and Greg Evigan. I then commented with a pic from an August 1977 Newsday TV Book that Viskupic had drawn, and then they reposted it, as seen here:

As weird as everything was that was associated with the Faustian 1977 Greg Evigan-Paul Shaffer sit-bomb A YEAR AT THE...
Posted by Gilbert Gottfried's Amazing Colossal Podcast on Thursday, July 16, 2015
This made me go back into my pictures folders to see if I had any other Viskupic artwork that I'd never posted. Turns out I have plenty, and here it is, beginning with a few from 1972 (remember, you can click on each pic to enlarge it to terrifying proportions)...

Now a bunch from '73...

Okay, I just looked at how many more pics I have to go, and this is a bigger project than I realized. More to come!

Friday, February 13, 2015

A Comlink to the Past, Episode II: The Phantom Blogpost.

It was a mere eight years ago, in the post linked here, that I pledged to write more about my childhood Star Wars collection. True to my word, here it is...

Since I already listed the toys in that previous post, I'll begin with a recent toy acquisition--the Imperial Troop Transport. I'm not really much of a collector anymore, but I found this with the original box and it was a halfway decent price. I owned it once upon a time, and I have no idea whatever became of it. I was disappointed to find that the sounds don't work, but that's about par for the vintage electronics course. No instructions, but it has the two immobilization thingies. (Click on the photos to enlarge.)

Here are my Burger King glasses, two on the left from the original 1977 series and the others are the four Empire Strikes Back 1980 glasses. (I also have the '77 commercial in my archive of old ads, which you can read a little more about here...)

UPDATE! My wife and I visited the Poconos a few months after I posted these pics, and we hit a few antiques malls and flea markets. One of them had a huge collection of old glasses for sale, and lo and behold, there were the exact two I needed--and in perfect condition! So Luke, Leia, Han and Chewie are now where they belong, and again all is right with the world...

Here we see all the cards I collected, with a General Mills wallet in the foreground, all cards intact (although some genius made the fold-out too short, so two cards can't be displayed). Behind that to the left is a baggie with card wrappers and a bunch of extra stickers (which at some point I had displayed but, speaking of geniuses, I apparently saved the wrong pic). To the right of that are the original cards, and in the baggie is the legendary card that I call "Threepio sporting a nine iron." (The alleged 'bot boner is just a illusion, but it's pretty funny anyway.) In the box to the back left are Empire cards including ten packs or so in wrappers. To the right of that is the box lid holding various other trading cards I had: Creature Features, a few Alien and fewer E.T., and (I think) the whole series of Raiders of the Lost Ark cards.

Some of these magazines I had back then but most were acquired since...

I had all these humor mags as a lad (unfortunately, the Mad SW cover is just that--only a cover, having lost the rest ages ago) except the Sick (?) which I found at a neat place called Land of Oohs and Aahs (in Farmingdale, Long Island) a few years ago. The Read booklet at top left I got recently also. It was a school handout published by Xerox, with this issue coming out about a month before the movie in 1977. I haven't found mention of it anywhere online. The Dynamite mags also came to the collection later.

We're getting into the random here... Clockwise from top left: a SW book and 45; six Presto Magix (all appliances are scratched into them); a bunch of mail-away cereal premium cards, all with thumbtack holes; below those are a bunch of the large Topps cards; a letter from NPR in response to my sister's inquiry about their dramatic SW radio series, with a mini-poster and copies of newspaper articles; along the left, four kiddie activity books, liberally scribbled-in. The best thing here, which I forgot to photograph, is the back of the NPR envelope. It has the familiar handwriting of my mom, left out for me to see when returning home after school some late-seventies day: "Went to A&S."

My fan club booty: newsletters (number one missing, of course), acceptance letter and membership card, and all the photos that came with. In the middle there is the sticker sheet for the carrying case (not the Vader-shaped one, just a regular ol' box), with all the character names. It was just sorta stuck in there.

Posters, calendars (the '78 at the top being in particularly dire shape, having been pulled apart for display in later years), lobby cards (from the Batcave in Plainview, short-lived local comics store of my youth), a Circus magazine Threepio centerfold, and some random newspaper pic at the bottom...

Finally, some poster mags at the front and Marvel comics to the rear (I used to have tons more but sold them years ago--these were doubles), and yet another random magazine cover cut-out.

My lack of progeny (and also knowledge of what this might be worth) could be in your favor if you want any of this stuff--I'd rather see it go to some nerdly fanboy collector than in the bin when I bite it, so drop me a line if you're interested...