30 September 2011

YOU REALLY GOT ME

Earlier in the week, I was talking about how much I love "Autumn Almanac" by The Kinks, and somehow neglected to mention Nick Hasted's great new book about the band, You Really Got Me: The Story of The Kinks. Hasted writes for UK music mag Uncut and actually interviewed Ray and Dave Davies a while back, illuminating the history of a band too often glossed over in the stampede to catalogue the accomplishments of other, often lesser acts. Uncut's a pretty solid read, month-in and month-out, but even so I remember being impressed with his Kinks piece at the time and thinking that he'd do a good job tackling the Davies' troubled story on a larger scale, so you can imagine how pleased I was when You Really Got Me was announced.

I'm not revealing anything new here, but The Kinks are one of those woulda/coulda/shoulda bands. For a brief moment, they had it all, standing alongside The Beatles, The Who and The Rolling Stones as the shining stars of British Pop during the '60s and recording a legendary string of hits from 1964-67. They more or less peaked with "Waterloo Sunset," though, falling badly out of step with everyone else, Ray focusing on his love for an England that was vanishing before his eyes whilst the rest of the world let its hair down and made merry during the Summer of Love.

The Kinks countered the lysergic wonders of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Pink Floyd's The Piper at the Gates of Dawn with Something Else By The Kinks and The Kinks are Village Green Preservation Society. Both albums are regarded as Kinks Klassics today, but back then? The former peaked at #35, the latter didn't chart at all. As the '60s became the '70s, the band was increasingly marginalized, and even though "Lola" was a hit and they found a new audience playing stadium rock in the U.S., they barley troubled the UK charts at all from 1970 until 1983, when "Come Dancing" was released.

Hasted does a wonderful job of explaining the various and sundry reasons behind The Kinks change in fortunes, and while it's not always a happy tale, his thorough reporting and obvious enthusiasm for the band's material guarantees that it's an engaging one. Too often, writers focus almost exclusively on the sibling rivalry between Ray and Dave, or Ray's songwriting genius, but those things are only part of the story, and Hasted drives that point home masterfully. Without a doubt, it's the single best Kinks book I've read to date. If you like The Kinks, or even if you just like British Invasion-era rock, make it a point to get your hands on this one. It's out in the UK now, due out in the States at the beginning of November.

In the mean time, one of the added benefits of a book like this is I'm listening to more Kinks than I have in a long while. Here are my current top 10 favorites, only a few of which were actual hits...

1. "Autumn Almanac," (single a-side, 1967)
2. "Shangri-La," (Arthur or The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, 1968)
3. "Waterloo Sunset," (Something Else by The Kinks, 1967)
4. "Harry Rag," (Something Else by The Kinks, 1967)
5. "The World Keeps Going 'Round," (The Kink Kontroversy, 1966)
6. "Berkeley Mews," (single b-side, "Lola," 1970)
7. "Sunny Afternoon," (Face to Face, 1966)
8. "Big Sky," (The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, 1968)
9. "This Time Tomorrow," (Lola versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, 1970)
10. "Till the End of the Day," (The Kink Kontroversy, 1966)

29 September 2011

P.S.

Here's a quick response to this:

"Complaining about sexism in superhero comics is silly, because what else did you expect, right?"

Well, no, actually. Complaining about sexism in superhero comics is silly if you're just going to continue to buy bad comics that reinforce the negative portrayal of women in comics.

"Superhero comics can be better, and they should be better."

Absolutely, and my point is there are better superhero comics, that reflect your values. Instead of constantly making the same assessment of why the bad comics are bad, it seems like it might be worth pointing out that others are setting higher standards. The two conversations aren't mutually exclusive, but I think the former becomes somewhat cloying when separated from the latter.

"Except—new readers deserve the chance to weigh in on this issue, and they don’t deserve to be scolded for not being into cool comics."

New readers aren't the ones being scolded: It's the tried and true fangirls (and boys) who honestly don't seem at all interested in anything new, just the same things done over and over again and updated to their specific tastes. But even beyond that, in some cases, there are actually better, less offensive versions of these characters in earlier comics. It has nothing to do with "being into cool comics," it has to do with actually following through on your argument and supporting books that reflect your views.

"People are bringing attention to the comics and to the problem at same time, and in the process, finding new allies and enemies."

Except you're rewarding your "enemies," if that's what they truly are, with exactly what they want: attention and sales.

"...like the good little fangirl you are."

And yeah, if you thought that sounded unkind, that was my point. Fangirl, fanboy – no difference. All they want is your allegiance as a fan, and they don't care how they get it. All they want is your attention.

Or as a friend (female) pointed out to me earlier today, in reference to one of the comics being repeatedly lambasted: "What did we accomplish, but to take attention away from the fact that this is just a bad comic?"

STOP

There's been a low-boiling furor over sexism in comics the last couple weeks, stemming from the portrayal of female superheroes in some of DC's New 52 books. When I first saw a link to an article about all this on the Google new homepage, my first instinct was to roll my eyes and shudder.

"This again?" I thought.

And not because I necessarily disagree with the stated opinions, but because I feel the whole practice of reading some of these comics is akin to whacking yourself in the hand with a hammer and then screaming that it hurts.

There is most definitely a sexist element to how certain female superheroes are portrayed in comics, but it's not a secret. You don't look at a character like Power Girl and wonder, "Hmmm, could it be that tawdry costume she's in has a purpose other than drawing attention to her ridiculously enormous tits?" (And in case you do, here's a hint: No.) By and large, the types of comics creating all this uproar practically celebrate what they're doing.

Meaning, it's not at all difficult to ignore them.

And if you're offended by the portrayal of women in these comics, that's the best recourse: Ignore them. Starve them out. Stop supporting them.

There are plenty of other comics to read, by a wide variety of publishers, and a lot of them are even superhero comics. I actually just re-read Joss Whedon's wonderful run on Astonishing X-Men. That work, or indeed the series Joss is best known for, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, stands head and shoulders above the books generating all this vitriol. There's a new Buffy the Vampire Slayer series out right now. Support that instead. iZ0mbie is another one that comes to mind. Or Invincible by Robert Kirkman. And actually, from DC's New 52, there's Batwoman.

I'm not going to sit here and rattle off a whole list. That's boring and dumb and unless you're boring and dumb, too, you get my point. Support the books that do it right. Stop calling attention to all the offensive material, because seriously? What you're really doing is helping the very things you hate find a wider audience. So, stop.

Unless, of course, that's what you want.

If you're just complaining about this stuff to hear yourself complain, with no intention of changing your reading or buying habits, because you somehow need the security blanket of the same ol' superhero comics you've always read, knock yourself out. You will get more of the same, and you can make yourself feel important by denouncing these creepy, cringe-worthy comics whilst continuing to support them like the good little fangirl you are.

Otherwise, really, stop.

28 September 2011

STEVIE'S GROOVE

Belle and Sebastian fans everywhere will be delighted to know that Stevie Jackson's first solo album is finally done and available for download now. If you're like me, you'll want to go for the download plus gatefold vinyl, but either way, it's nice to finally have an album's worth of tracks by the majestic Mr. Jackson. (You know, instead of making up imaginary compilations of his B&S tracks...)

Track list as follow:

Pure of Heart
Just, Just So to the Point
Try me
Richie Now
Dead Man's Fall
Bird's Eye View
Man of God
Kurosawa
Where Do All the Good Girls' Go?
Telephone Song
Press Send
Feel the Morning

And if you're in the UK, lucky you, Stevie's on tour. Click here for dates.

WEDNESDAY GIRL

Ellen Wong

27 September 2011

HEART AND SOUL

Blair Butler is probably best known from G4TV's Attack of the Show, but she's also a writer and a comic. And now a writer of comics. Comic books, that is.

This one, in fact: Heart.

Illustrated by Kevin Mellon, it's a four-issue miniseries that combines Blair's passion for comics, writing and mixed martial arts for one of the most assured debuts by a comic book writer I've ever read. We're publishing it at Image, and every time I see something associated with it, I kind of swell up with satisfaction and pride. We spotlight a lot of new talent at Image, but there's something really cool about hooking up with someone like Blair, or Jonathan Ross who launched his comics writing career at Image with Turf, and giving them the platform to channel his or her lifelong love of comics into actually creating them. If we were just indulging celebrity vanity projects, that would be one thing, but if you know anything about Blair, you know she loves comics. Listening to her speak about Heart, there's no doubting her commitment to her work, and you only have to read it to see that, like Jonathan, she's not just a famous fan, but a talent to be reckoned with.

Heart #1 isn't out until November, but you can go into your local comic book store on new comics day tomorrow and ask them to reserve a copy so you don't miss out when its release date finally rolls around.

25 September 2011

AUTUMN COMES AROUND

Seasons can arrive with uncanny accuracy sometimes.

Here in the Bay Area, we've had temperatures in the high 70s and low 80s lately, but as summer ticked over into fall this past Friday, it cooled off almost immediately. I'd been sleeping with the windows open for weeks, but I had to close them shut when I went to bed that night, and the following morning, I awoke to grey skies. This morning? Light rain. Just days ago, I was grousing about the heat, now I'm looking ahead, past the indian summer that usually peaks around mid-October, and thinking about buying new sweaters.

And of course, the change of the seasons also got me thinking about my top 10 favorite songs about this time of year. The first one, The Kinks' "Autumn Almanac," is actually one of my favorite songs of all time. Definitely, even without pushing and shoving, I would list it as my favorite Kinks track. The undercurrent of melancholy in what I consider to be some of Ray Davies' all-time best lyrics gets me every time, and the middle eight ("This is my street, and I'm never gonna leave it...") can actually cause me to tear up on occasion...

1. The Kinks - "Autumn Almanac," (single a-side, 1967)
2. Small Faces - "The Autumn Stone," (The Autumn Stone, 1969)
3. Lee Hazlewood - "My Autumns Gone," (The Very Special World of Lee Hazlewood, 1966)
4. The Crow - "Your Autumn of Tomorrow," (single a-side, 1975)
5. John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman - "Autumn Serenade," (John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, 1963)
6. Cannonball Adderley - "Autumn Leaves," (Somethin' Else, 1958)
7. Joanna Newsom - "Autumn," (Have One on Me, 2010)
8. Roddy Frame - "Autumn Flower," (The North Star, 1998)
9. Working Week - "Autumn Boy," (Working Nights, 1985)
10. Manic Street Preachers - "Autumnsong," (Send Away the Tigers, 2007)

24 September 2011

THE CHANGINGMAN

Paul Weller's on the front of the latest issue of Q (well, one of the covers – there are 25 of them, to celebrate their 25th anniversary), and I got to thinking about all his different looks over the years. From The Jam to The Style Council to his solo career, he has changed and changed again, and nearly always with style.

I read an interview with Weller in Uncut, probably in 1998 or so, in which the writer asked him to comment on various photos. He declined, gruffly dismissing them as pictures of the same person with different haircuts. But looking at these photos, spanning the 34 years since The Jam made their debut with "In the City" in 1977 and now, it strikes me there's more to it than that. Conventional wisdom says growing up in public is tricky business, but I'd argue that growing older in range of the camera eye is doubly so. Weller has made the journey from angry young teen to elder statesman with a grace that is virtually unmatched.

23 September 2011

SOMETHING ABOUT JOHN COLTRANE

John Coltrane would have been 85 today, and man, do I ever wonder what that would have been like. Who can say what so fearless an innovator might have done, had he not left too soon that summer in 1967?

For many, John Coltrane is jazz. And I say "is" instead of "was," because his music is as alive today as it was when he was recording classic after classic for Impulse! during the '60s. And while there are numerous Coltrane classics for other labels – Blue Train (Blue Note), Giant Steps and My Favorite Things (Atlantic), Lush Life (Prestige) – it's the Impulse! records I like the most. Beautiful, adventurous music peerlessly packaged and presented by a label that more or less owed its success to Coltrane's genius.

If you've never been exposed to Coltrane's music before, I envy you. Getting to know these albums is like falling in love.

21 September 2011

SUPER BAD

Cool poster for a cool as fuck movie.

WEDNESDAY GIRL

Aubrey Plaza

20 September 2011

VOLCANO GIRLS

And speaking of Veruca Salt.

It's funny how a casual reference (to their song "Awesome," in my last post) can unblock a deluge of memories. "Seether" was Veruca Salt's big hit in 1994, but for me, they're a band more or less synonymous with 1997. I listen to their music and I see 1997. Or at least a big chunk of it.

I was working for Rob Liefeld's Extreme Studios back then, and the second Veruca Salt long player, Eight Arms to Hold You, came out right around the time Extreme was transitioning from Image Comics to Awesome Entertainment. Even though both our publishing slate and staff were gradually shrinking, there was still a lot of work to be done and I recall spending hours upon hours in the office with Extreme stalwart Brett Evans, making sure books got out to the printer.

We listened to a lot of music, but Eight Arms to Hold You is the album that stands out the most. And yes, the fact there's a song on there called "Awesome" probably has something to do with that, but it's also just a fun rock album. There was a lot of good music out that year – OK Computer, Blur, Portishead, Brighten the Corners, the second Supergrass album, Gene's Drawn to the Deep End, Elliott Smith's frankly brilliant Either/Or, but Eight Arms to Hold You was the album listened to over and over again without argument, and sometimes, without even a break. Not all of those days were good days, but we somehow managed to have fun and credit where credit due: this album somehow helped.

After mentioning "Awesome" earlier, I put the album on for the first time in at least a decade and I was surprised how much I liked it.

And how eager I was to hear it again.

I left the office with "Volcano Girls" in my head, and "Awesome," and "Benjamin," and "Stoneface." Maybe it's just that the older I get, the more room there is in my heart for nostalgia of all stripes, but honestly? I'll probably wind up listening to this album again tomorrow. And probably more than once.

In the mean time, here are some videos, which strangely enough I had never seen before looking them up just now...

AWESOME

When he's not busy looking like Anderson Cooper's younger brother, Chris Giarrusso draws. And draws and draws and draws. A few years back, he did a swell re-creation of the cover to Fantastic Four #1 for me, changing the dialogue ever so slightly so that it was both funny and true. I thought I was special, but as it turns out, he's done numerous cover re-creations over the years, all of which are, in the exalting words of that timeless Veruca Salt classic, awesome...