There are few stories in jazz sadder than that of Chet Baker. Incredibly talented, both as a player (he's best known for his work on the trumpet, but he played the flugelhorn and piano, too) and a singer, and ruggedly handsome, his career was ultimately hobbled by addiction. People joke about heroin these days, but from his early 20s until the day he died, Baker could not resist its lure.
He was in fights. He was in and out of jail. He lost his looks. He lost his teeth.
It fucked him up.
He would have been 82 were he alive today, but as it stands, it's somewhat amazing he lived to be 58. And even more amazing that right up until his death, he still played beautifully.
Like so much jazz, I was first introduced to Chet Baker's music by British Pop. Elvis Costello featured him on a track from his 1983 album Punch the Clock called "Shipbuilding," and his trumpet solo on that song just haunted me whenever I heard it. Later on, Baker sang Costello's "Almost Blue" in one of the most heartbreaking documentaries I've ever seen, the story of Baker's life, Let's Get Lost. I bought the soundtrack and then worked backwards from there.
So this here is from that documentary. It makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up even still...
And here he is again, performing "You Don't Know What Love Is" with Elvis Costello around the same time...
Posting that photo of Elastica's Justine Frischmann yesterday got me thinking how many great bands were fronted by women during the Britpop boom of the 1990s. Typically, when people think of the Britpop era, it's all about Blur, Oasis, Pulp and Suede, but as much as I liked all of them, I wore out many a CD by Elastica, Sleeper, Echobelly and Lush. Here's a list of my 10 favorites...
1. Echobelly - "Dark Therapy," (ON, 1995)
2. Saint Etienne - "Hobart Paving," (So Tough, 1993)
10. Catatonia - "Dead from the Waist Down," (Equally Cursed and Blessed, 1999)
And I think I've posted just about all of Elastica's videos in the past, as well as a few by Sleeper, but here's a trio of promos some of the other bands, starting off with the Sonya Aurora Madan and Echobelly...
The Manic Street Preachers are taking a break, but before disappearing for a couple years, they held a mighty going away party at London's O2 Arena last night and played all 38 of the tracks on their recent greatest hits collection, National Treasures - The Complete Singles. As recorded music, that's over two and a half hours of music. Live? Well, it was apparently more like three hours and included guest appearances by Nina Persson from the Cardigans (on "Your Love Alone is Not Enough") and Super Furry Animals' Gruff Rhys (handling vocals on "Let Robeson Sing").
There's been some bitching here and there, about both the National Treasures hits collection and the concert, that it's not really all the singles. This is true: There's no "Suicide Alley," no "UK Channel Boredom," no, erm, "Umbrella." I think there's an actually argument to be made for not including everything, though, especially since it's clear the very early singles aren't something the Manics are particularly proud of. There is, I think, something to be said for a little revision. That being said, though, the thing that bugs me is that revisionism didn't include finding a place for even a single song off their 2009 masterpiece, Journal for Plague Lovers.
Journal for Plague Lovers was created from lyrics left behind by missing Manic Richey Edwards and was released to near unanimous praise, but with no singles. It is very much the centerpiece of the Manics' powerful creative resurgence over the last five years, but amid all the celebration of their glorious history – it didn't even get a look in at last night's O2 gig. So no "Peeled Apples" no and no "Jackie Collins Existential Question Time," despite the fact both could have and should have been singles. Far beyond omitting the songs that comprised their sputtering start, overlooking one of their finest albums altogether creates a bloody great gap.
But all the same, I would have loved to be there last night.
Here are a couple clips from the show, plus my own top 10 favorite MSP singles:
1. "Faster," (The Holy Bible, 1994)
2. "The Masses Against the Classes," (single a-side, 2000)
3. "Your Love Alone Is Not Enough," (Send Away the Tigers, 2008)
4. "Motown Junk," (single a-side, 1991)
5. "A Design for Life," (Everything Must Go, 1996)
6. "Some Kind of Nothingness," (Postcards from a Young Man, 2010)
When I was younger and digging through my Dad's records, I remember pulling out his Bob Dylan records and being really taken with the album covers. He didn't have that many of them, but I specifically recall listening to Blonde on Blonde and Nashville Skyline a lot. The latter has always been a favorite of mine, and that probably has something to do with knowing it's the record my Dad listened to when my sister was first born. Today's her birthday, so I'm going to let sentimentality connect the dots and run down my top 10 favorite Bob Dylan tracks...
1. "I Threw It All Away," (Nashville Skyline, 1969)
2. "Positively 4h Street," (single a-side, 1967)
3. "Ballad of a Thin Man," (Highway 61 Revisited, 1965)
4. "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)," (Another Side of Bob Dylan, 1964)
5. "Simple Twist of Fate," (Blood on the Tracks, 1974)
6. "Lay Lady Lay," (Nashville Skyline, 1969)
7. "It Ain't Me Babe," (Another Side of Bob Dylan, 1964)
8. "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again," (Blonde on Blonde, 1966)
9. "If Not for You," (New Morning, 1970)
10. "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go," (Blood on the Tracks, 1974)
Just heard that Joe Simon has passed away, aged 98.
During the late '90s, when I worked for Rob Liefeld, Rob obtained the license for Fighting American and I was fortunate enough to talk to Joe a few times while we were publishing that book. Rob just noted that Joe was in his 80s back then, but the guy was really sharp and a pleasure to work with.
Working with Jack Kirby from the late '30s and into the '50s, Joe Simon created a whole slew of characters and comics including Captain America, Fighting American, Boys Ranch, The Boy Commandos, The Strange World of Your Dreams, Young Romance... That last one was the first romance comic. Because they created whole genres back in those days, at the dawn of comics. What a great time that must have been...
Sometimes things just come up on your iPod and worm their way into your consciousness. Happened to me last night when a track by The The randomly came up. Around the time the album Infected came out, I was completely in the thrall of Matt Johnson's lyrics – they were like entering a whole other world, especially on songs like "Twilight of a Champion" and "Angels of Deception." It's predecessor, Soul Mining, was another brilliant piece of work, and listening to the whole catalogue at work this morning, there's a lot to be loved on Dusk, too. If you're not familiar with Matt Johnson and The The, make with the clicky on the videos below...
Yesterday was jazz pianist McCoy Tyner's birthday, and I meant to post this then, but you know what? It sounds just as good today. It's called "Fly with the Wind," and it's an absolute classic from one of the true jazz legends left among us:
And here he is from much, much earlier in his career, supporting John Coltrane:
This is old news, and I'm not sure why it still bothers me, but around Thanksgiving there was something of a media firestorm over the fact a pornstar named Sasha Grey visited a Compton elementary school and read to children. Parents were outraged: "How dare you allow a pornstar to interact with our children!"
Except she wasn't described as a pornstar, just as an actress. And she was introduced by her real name, not as Sasha Grey.
But somehow, someone, somewhere realized that Marina Hantzis was pornstar Sasha Grey. I didn't know that was her real name, so I'm willing to bet the first and third graders she read to didn't have much of a clue that the pretty lady reading to them was named anything other than "Marina." So one of the parents either understood the connection based on the name alone, or Googled "Marina Hantzis" and discovered who she really was.
It wasn't information that was presented to the children, and Ms. Grey's (former, apparently) profession was in no way relevant to her visit to the school, but parents were outraged nonetheless. "A young woman who used to to be filmed performing sex read to my children!"
Some have pointed out the unlikelihood of the kids even knowing what porn is, only to be lectured that young children know much more than we give them credit for. Maybe that's true, but if they do, that's the parents' fault. When I was in third grade, I didn't know what sex was, let alone porn. It was not something I came in contact with in any way. It wasn't something my parents talked about at home, and it wasn't something kids talked about at school. It certainly wasn't something I saw on television.
I know – that was a long time ago. In the 1970s, our culture had not yet transformed into its current state. While sex appeal was definitely used in advertising, out and out sex was not used as often or as shamelessly as it is now. Sex was not the primary focus of sitcoms. Lingerie lines were not premiered on national television. There was no Internet and there were no cell phones, so the sordid details of actors', sports stars' and politicians' sex lives were not on public display 24/7. And while the casting couch has long been a part of Hollywood lore, there weren't many celebrities crassly fucking their way to fame.
But Keeping Up with the Kardashians is a popular reality show today, and while she hasn't been in the news a lot lately, Paris Hilton is famous. She has no real talent, save that for self-promotion, and neither does Kim Kardashian, and yet I know who both of them are. Everyone knows who they are. They were filmed performing sex, and now they are famous. They are regularly invited into homes all across America, via television, via the Internet, via newspapers and magazines. They are fabulously wealthy – on our dime, because the money they're paid is directly related to the amount of attention we afford them – and it's all because they were filmed performing sex. When actor Rob Lowe was involved in a sex tape scandal in the mid-'80s, it nearly ruined his career. Clearly, times have changed.
So I wonder: If Kim Kardashian was reading to children in Compton, would that be okay?
Would it be okay if Paris Hilton read to school kids?
And what about Lindsey Lohan? Or Snooki or JWoww, from The Jersey Shore?
Or some Victoria's Secret models – I don't know how many of them have been filmed having sex, but they're most definitely selling sex. Would it be okay for a Victoria's Secret model to read to school children? Would parents have breathed a collective sigh of relief if their kids came home that day and said, "Mommy, a Victoria's Secret model read to my class today."?
From what I've read about Sasha Grey, she's done with porn and is focusing on mainstream acting now. She was on HBO's Entourage. She was in a Steven Soderbergh film called The Girlfriend Experience. From what I've read online, she's perceived as actually having talent, is a nice person, and is eager to move forward with her life. She made a name for herself by having sex on camera, and now she wants to do something else.
If I had children, I'd prefer Sasha Grey read to them over Kim Kardashian or Paris Hilton any day.
Back in the 1990s, there was a brief-lived magazine called Overstreet FAN. Designed to compete with the then-hugely popular Wizard magazine, the best part of Overstreet FAN was that it featured a monthly column by Frank Miller. This was the Frank Miller that famously tore up a copy of Wizard during a speech, compared Jim Shooter to Triplicate Girl from the Legion of Super-Heroes and told us comics didn't need Hollywood. He was full of fire, and his column reflected that.
Sometimes Frank formulated his thoughts in drawings, and when I was looking for some other old thing last night, I came across two I'd clipped out to save:
I've been fortunate enough to know Erik for a whole 20 of those years. We first met at a Southern California comic book convention in 1991, where my ex-wife's nephew asked Erik to make sure he signed the cover of Amazing Spider-Man #347 in Spider-Man's eyeball, and I related to Erik that I was interested in writing comics. He asked me what my favorite comic book of all time was, and I told him it was Fantastic Four. He then assured me that if I ever wound up writing Fantastic Four, he wouldn't be drawing it. He was done with writers. In 2001, he and I worked together on a 12-issue miniseries at Marvel called Fantastic Four: The World's Greatest Comics Magazine.
I'd just started reading comics again after a few years and Erik's work on Amazing Spider-Man and then Spider-Man really stood out for me. I liked his art on the latter more, primarily because he was inking himself, and I enjoyed the stories he wrote more, too. I saw elements of a variety of different artists in his work: Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Gil Kane, Frank Miller, John Byrne, Walter Simonson. Nearly everyone I liked, basically. I had no idea he'd only been working professionally for just a few years, only that he was full of creative energy that seemed burn brighter than any number of his contemporaries.
Back then – as is always the case I suppose – there were a handful of monthly comic book artists who "mattered." Erik was one of them, along with Dale Keown, Sam Kieth, Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane, Whilce Portacio and Marc Silvestri. Within months of first meeting Erik, I learned that almost all of them were involved with a new comic book company, Image Comics. And the ones who weren't there at the beginning came along later. Rob Liefeld was going to write and draw a comic book called Youngblood. Todd McFarlane was doing Spawn. Jim Lee had a book called WildC.A.T.s. Erik's contribution was Savage Dragon.
As much as I liked Erik's work, I have to confess, Savage Dragon was not the Image title I had the most enthusiasm for. I think, based mainly on Rob's interviews, I was looking forward to Youngblood the most. In the intervening months, though, I wound up working for Rob, and one day, some artwork started coming over the fax machine. It was from Erik, and it was Savage Dragon #1.
I don't know what I was expecting Savage Dragon to be – it was a book about a green cop with a fin on his head, for cryin' out loud – but reading the first issue made me a believer. It was fun, uncompromising superhero comics that folded everything I liked about Erik's Marvel work into something bold and new. It was violent, it was edgy, it had a sense of humor. The issues piled up and it became one of my favorite comics. Characters were killed off almost as regularly as characters were introduced. There was sex, there was danger, there was this feeling that anything could happen. One issue, God fought the Devil and after kicking the shit out of him, he proclaimed on a full-page spread, "Don't FUCK with God!" Better yet? Erik made a poster of that and offered it for sale.
The better I got to know Erik, the more I realized what a genuinely amazing talent he was, guided almost entirely by purely creative impulses. He would experiment with different styles, do riffs on enduring comic book archetypes, sometimes insert long-running inside jokes, all because his main goal was to do what he wanted to do. There was no editor telling him to put a certain character on the cover to up sales, no one to prevent him from killing off what appeared to be the series' main villain – not once, but over and over again, nobody to tell him that he couldn't age his character in real-time or do over two years worth of stories largely inspired by his unwavering affection for Jack Kirby's Kamandi. For the 125th issue of Savage Dragon, he did a story that featured the hospitalized title character, wrapped in a full-body cast, tormented by a villain trapped in the body of a fly.
If his personal theme song isn't "My Way," then he should strongly consider it.
Erik became Image's Publisher in 2004, and Savage Dragon suffered for it. I think he only put out two issues one year, because he was so driven in his aim to make Image the best it could be. I shared an office with him for much of that time – I'd become Image's Executive Director by then – and working alongside him was an incredible experience. Ideas poured out of him on a daily basis, and his love of comics – and creating comics – was truly a wonder to behold. If he wanted to do something, he acted on it. He spoke his mind and pissed a lot of people off, sometimes even his friends – sometimes even me. It was awesome.
Savage Dragon knocked George W. Bush – or at least an alien impostor posing as the former President – out. He endorsed President Obama, and later on, for a cover gag, Obama showed up to duke it out with Osama Bin Laden. In a couple weeks, Bin Laden is making his first actual appearance in the pages of Savage Dragon, as a giant zombie brought back to life by radiation.
Erik brought Savage Dragon back to life recently, too. He's killed that poor guy over and over the last couple years – he even had his brains sucked out and eaten by a villain named Virus in one issue – and who knows if he's actually back for good this time. He's off in space, trying to help his people find a new home, while his son Malcolm, who is also green-skinned and fin-headed, holds down the fort on Earth. It's all wonderfully bizarre, and I love that 20 years after the first issue, I still don't know what to expect from this comic, or from the guy who writes and draws it.
I do know that Savage Dragon is nothing like any other comic book on the stands, though.
I've heard people say Dragon is "just a Hulk rip-off," and I've always found that confusing. The Hulk is a scientist transformed into a monster after being subjected to gamma rays. The Dragon is an alien emperor left on Earth with his memory wiped after his people determine he was a danger to the rest of them. Along the way, he becomes a cop, a superhero, a government operative, a father, a husband and a celebrity, before regaining his memory and becoming so unspeakably evil, he's willing to kill his children and every other person on Earth. The only actual similarity with the Hulk is that he's green.
Savage Dragon #177 – the one with Bin Laden in – is the next issue out, and it's something of a testament to Erik's sheer bloodymindedness that book keeps on keeping on. Look around: There aren't a lot of comic book creators who stick with anything for any length of time these days. And in a time when comics are routinely re-booted, re-launched and re-numbered, Savage Dragon is one of a handful of independently published titles reach so high an issue. I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong, but I think there's only Cerebus and Spawn ahead of him.
And fittingly enough, Erik's the sole Image founder still writing and drawing the book he began with in 1992, the keeper of the flame.
Marvel has announced that the next big thing from the House of Ideas is a new version of this:
Meanwhile, DC is, by most accounts, gearing up to do multiple new versions of this:
Image Comics is on a supersonic rocket ship to the future, however, and so next year, we're going to be doing this:
Next year is Image's 20th anniversary and instead of polishing the bumper on someone else's old car, the best writers and artists in comics are going to be creating some of the best comics we've ever published. You'll recognize some them – Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, Robert Kirkman, Nick Spencer, Shawn Martinbrough, Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples, Jonathan Hickman, Nick Pitarra – while others will be new to you, but whether it's an old favorite or somebody doing their first ever work in comics, the one thing they all have in common is new ideas.
And the best part is that's just in the first three months, and there's so much more than what I'm showing you here.
Joe Keatinge used to work at Image Comics as our PR & Marketing Coordinator, but after a while, it was apparent that what he really wanted to do was create and write his own comics. He flogged our comics with gusto and he edited our Eisner and Harvey Award winning Popgun anthologies, but marketing other people's comics and editing other people's stories is not quite the same as doing your own thing. Both are rewarding jobs, but nothing beats actually creating something of your own.
So it's kind of awesome to know that come March 2012, Joe will have not one, but two comics to his credit. The first is a revival of the old Extreme title, Glory, that he and Ross Campbell are in the process of making their own, but the second falls very much under the classification of "doing your own thing." Drawn by an amazing young artist named Andre Szymanowicz, it's called Hell Yeah, and if oh boy, are you ever going to want this when it finally hits the stands next year.
Hell Yeah is an idea that's been knocking around in the backseat of Joe's mind for quite a while now, something he used to tell me about back when we'd sit around and discuss the various projects we each wanted to do at some point in the future, discussions that usually resulted in me saying, "Well, what's stopping you? Do it."
I don't know how soon Joe would've gotten around to Hell Yeah if he stayed at Image. No matter how fun it is, working in comics is still work, and I don't think it's breaking news that day jobs can often sap one's creativity. Sometimes it's simply hard to muster the enthusiasm after a full day's work. I mean, there's drinking to do, right? Digressions aside, though, it now seems that everything worked out as it should have, and that Joe's right where he's supposed to be, doing exactly what he wanted to do.
Every single day, I look at the comics we publish here at Image, the writers and artists we work with, and I find their almost single-minded pursuit of their dreams nothing short of inspirational. Too many people fritter their lives away wishing they could do something and then grow old wondering "what if..?" but the Joe Keatinges of the world, the Justin Jordans, the Nick Spencers, the Jonathan Hickmans, the Robert Kirkmans... they're actually doing it.
If you haven't heard of Ulises Farinas yet, well, he's one of the most amazing new artists in comics. He sent this image out to his friends and supporters – it's called "Batman inspects a gift" – and it instantly conjured a smile...