Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Lots of people remember Weaver for his role as Chester on Gunsmoke, but I never particularly cared for Gunsmoke, so I barely remember him in that role--in fact, I remember those who did exaggerated imitations of Chester much better than I remember the character. It wasn't until McCloud came along in the early 1970's that I became a fan of Weaver's work; his portrayal of McCloud laid the groundwork for such famous contemporary "Southwestern lawman" writers as Tony Hillerman, I always thought. The show was different from the average cop/detective show of the era, and it worked because Weaver was so believable in the role. He played the everyman character remarkably well--and that's what made his role in Duel so memorable. (I watched that film several times and enjoyed it well enough, but my nephew Cole could never get too much of that film; my parents had it on videotape and Cole would watch it again and again and again when he was a child, 'til he knew ever scene.)
With the passing of each of these celebrities, another chapter of my childhood is closed. Makes me glad that so much of the work of Knotts, McGavin, and Weaver are still available on video...
Sunday, February 26, 2006
Though this is a comment to an older entry on your page (June of 2005 to be exact) I wanted to post here to make sure you saw it... My Great grandfather was at one point the owner of Liberty Hatworks and news stand on Broad St. in Rome, Ga. I was doing a search for his shop to see if i could find anything on it and it brought me to your page; it's nice to know that his shop is still so remembered. He passed before I was born so I never got to see his shop as he owned it so I find it fascinating to find any info about his store :) -- meaganAh, Meagan, what a wonderful store it was that your great-grandfather gave us! For those of us who lived in a small town, there were never newsstands like those that we saw on television--you know, the New York or LA sidewalk-shack newsstands that stood near bus stops or busy street corners. Instead, our newsstand in Rome was Liberty Hatworks, a business that grew from a hat cleaning-and-blocking shop to a source of diverse reading material, a store distinctive from any other I've ever been in.
Liberty Hatworks was a "shotgun store"--that is, it was a long, narrow store no more than fifteen feet wide, but as deep as a city block. The wood floors had seen almost a century's wear by the time I first discovered the store in the early 1960's (I have no idea what business was there prior to Liberty, alas); they creaked loudly with each and every step, alerting the sales clerk to the approach of a customer long before anyone made the trek from one end of the store to the front counter. The store was heated in the winter by an enormous ceiling-hanging furnace that heated it to about 80° on even the coldest day; in the summer, the air conditioning was less efficient, but it kept the store comfortable. Inside, it frequently smelled of cigar or cigarette smoke; this was a time where smoking indoors was perfectly acceptable, so many of the store's patrons did just that, filling the front of the store with a tobacco pungence that could almost choke those of us who disliked the smell of smoke... but what was in the store was so wonderful that it was worth the discomfort.
Up front were newspapers on the left as you walked in, and the sales counter replete with candy, gum, and tobacco products was on the right. Beyond on the left were three comic book spinners (an enormous number in a town where no other business except for Conn's Grocery ever had more than one--and even Conn's had only two), and after there were wooden racks filled with magazines. News magazines were in the first set of racks, along with general interest magazines; women's magazines came after that; technical magazines (photography, etc.) followed that; next came men's magazines of the sensationalistic "men's-sweat-adventure" sort (by the time you reached them, you were deep in the environs of the store); then there was a partial wall that held a support beam for the store; after that were the real men's magazines and a small selection of adult books. Beyond that was an old Coke machine that usually had Coca-Cola, Sprite, and Tab, and rarely anything else.
On the right, after the sales counter, rows after rows of paperback books lined the wall. General fiction first, followed by romance, followed by non-fiction, followed by western, followed by science fiction and fantasy (by the time the reader had reached that section of racks, he was surrounded by SF on one side, "men's-sweat-adventure" mags on the other), followed by war. Oddly enough, this arrangement never fluctuated significantly in all the years I knew the store. On the flat shelf just an inch or two above the floor were various digest-sized fiction magazines; I don't remember what all filled the spaces below the other genres, but the space below the SF and fantasy was well stocked with Amazing, Analog, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Galaxy, and If, among others. It was here that I first discovered the allure of the monthly SF magazine, with its serialized novels and its selection of illustrated short stories.
Creepy, Eerie, and Famous Monsters of Filmland--three magazines I always bought--were filed with the "men's-sweat-mags," so I soon became accustomed to flipping past the soldier-of-fortune type stories to find the comics and horror-film must-haves. In retrospect, this was probably quite the savvy move--I remember that these magazines sold far more copies than the average comic, and their location was probably the reason why.
In the back of the store was the "hatworks" section of the shop; I paid no attention to that, since kids didn't wear hats that needed working on--but I knew what was there, because the counter where hats were taken in for working was also the place where the new comics and books were processed each week. Rome News Co., the distributor, would bring boxes of new releases, each marked with a color band across the top in a rotating cycle; if this week's books had a red band, you were supposed to pull the old red-band books and magazines from the racks to replace them with these new books. I know, because that's the system I learned very quickly--and then I was able to convince the folks at Liberty to hold the books until I got out of school and had a chance to pull my selections, at which point I'd process out the comics and paperbacks for free.
I spent many hours in Liberty during my childhood and teenage years; I came to think of it as the bookstore/newsstand equivalent of the bar in Cheers, since everyone there knew my name and treated me very amiably. Heck, they even let Gary Steele buy Playboy and Penthouse long before he was really old enough to do so (for some reason, Gary always had more spending money than me--must be due to the fact that he was an only child--so I could never afford to buy these magazines and to buy the comics and paperbacks and magazines I really wanted).
A wonderful place it was, Meagan; I tip a symbolic hat in the direction of your great-grandfather, who created a store the likes of which we'll never know again.
The count is on. Personally, I hope that it's a bust... I'd much rather prove truisms wrong than lose another celebrity whose work I've enjoyed. (Oh, yeah, that's the other unscientific requirement: it has to be someone that I perceive as a significant celebrity. So if, say, M&M or Whitney Houston or Dan Rather pass away, it's sad but meaningless for this survey, since they've given me not one iota's worth of enjoyment during their careers...)
McGavin is also well known for his role as the father in the Turner Broadcasting film fave A Christmas Story. Here's a personal secret related to that film: as much as I like Christmas and Christmas-themed films and songs, I've never been incredibly fond of that film. It has moments of brilliance, but the role that McGavin must play in that film is so over-the-top and so unpleasant that it has made me appreciate the film more in small parts than as a cinematic whole. So while others may remember him for that film, I'll always think of him as Kolchak, searcher for the truth.
So long, Mr. McG, and thanks--hope you've found all that you're looking for!
Saturday, February 25, 2006
(1) Barney Fife (like I said, Knott's death got me started on this...)
(2) Ilya Kuryakin (always liked him better than Napoleon Solo)
(3) Captain James T. Kirk (I was much more a Kirk guy than a Spock guy)
(4) Rob Petrie (I wanted to grow up to be Rob Petrie...)
(5) Lt. Columbo (most irritating detective ever)
(6) Hawkeye Pierce (the hero of punsters everywhere)
(7) John Steed (I lusted after Emma Peel, but I wanted to be John Steed)
(8) Georgia Lass (it was her curmudgeonly charm that made Dead Like Me such a remarkable viewing experience)
(9) Lex Luthor (his complex personality is crucial to Smallville's success)
(10) Carl Hutchins (if you thought comic books had a lock on all the great villains, you never saw this guy in action on Another World)
Like I said, this could change as I remember great characters I've forgotten (I know that Hoss from Bonanza almost made the cut right off the bat, along with Briscoe County Jr.). But I'll stick with this list for the time being...
I hate to see him go; even though he hadn't done anything for television or movies in a while, I liked knowing that he was around--and I was glad that he lived to see his work on The Andy Griffith Show get the attention it deserved as the series was made available on DVD at long last. The show lost a lot of its appeal after Knotts left; it was still enjoyable, of course, but the truly distinctive humor built on the chemistry between the easygoing Andy Taylor and the highstrung Barney Fife was the foundation of much of the series' best episodes, and the addition of Goober could do nothing to balance Knotts' departure from the series.
I didn't particularly care for Three's Company, but I watched the show now and then simply because Knotts was in the cast in the show's later years. I also kept an eye out for Knotts' various film appearances, and was always amused at how much Knotts could resemble Mick Jagger--a comparison I'm not sure that Mick would appreciate, but it's true nonetheless.
More than a decade ago, Knotts reunited with Andy Griffith and other members of the old cast for a reunion special; while the plot was a bit labored, it was good to see the two together once again.
I sometimes wonder if it's rewarding or frustrating for an actor to be best remembered and most beloved for a role he created early in his career; is he, like Orson Welles, always overshadowed by the grandeur of his early self? Maybe, maybe not--but there's no doubt that Don Knotts will always be Barney Fife to those of us who grew up in the 1960's...
Friday, February 24, 2006
So have I played with it yet? Of course not--I hope to get a chance to do that this weekend. It just arrived today, and I knew that if I got distracted with it, I'd never get back to work on Comic Shop News, and I'm right in the middle of reworking the data for the CSN checklist. Soon, though!...
"I usually shop at the store owned by the people who publish that," he told the shop owner.
"No, they don't publish it, they just buy it like I do and put it out," the shop owner explained.
"No, they're really the people who publish it!" He opened it up and showed them my name on the colophon and said, "I know him!"
The shop owner smiled that patronizing smile of an adult talking to a deluded simpleton and nodded.
And for the next six weeks, this conversation was repeated in one form or another, he said.
Before he left, he got an e-mail address for the shop. We're going to take a picture and e-mail it to him, along with a note telling him what will be in Comic Shop News two weeks from now (we work two weeks ahead, due to print lead time).
"I may not be there to see his face, but at least I know that he'll finally believe me," the customer explained...
Ahh... he who laughs last is probably the Joker...
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
(1) Batman (The Adam West/Burt Ward series)
(2) Honey West (Anne Francis does the detective thing)
(3) T.H.E. Cat (Robert Loggia plays cat-burglar-turned-detective Thomas Hewett Edward Cat)
(4) Captain Nice (hey, I really like Wally Cox)
(5) I'm Dickens, He's Fenster (I have great memories of this from my childhood, although I can't recall the actual plot of a single episode)
(6) Space Angel (if we can get a heaping helping of Clutch Cargo, why can't we get this Alex Toth-designed series with fakey human mouths taking the place of animation?)
(7) Hercules ("hero of song and story.... winner of ancient glory...")
(8) Man From U.N.C.L.E. (the absence of this show from American DVD libraries, when collections have been offered in other countries, is an entertainment crime)
(9) Shazam! (This live-action Captain Marvel series had a distinctive charm)
(10) Less Than Perfect (this comedy shouldn't have worked, but it did, largely due to the comedic skills of Andrea Parker, whose sensuous beauty first attracted my attention when she played Ms. Parker on The Pretender--who's have thought she could do The Funny as well? Match her up with Patrick Warburton and you have the world's most charmingly dysfunctional couple)
Honorable Mention: Birds of Prey (a much better series than it had any right to be, since it never managed to play up its Batman links)
I would have added Star Trek: The Animated Series to the list, but I hear that it's slated for release later this year. Hoorah!
In looking for a solution, I've run across iPhoto Library Manager. It looks like it will allow me to merge all these iPhoto libraries from various computers onto my iMac G5 (it has the largest hard drive, so it's the lucky winner of the store-all-the-photos contest!). If anyone has any words of advice on this, let me know; I'm going to play around with it a little bit before I do anything (and of course, I'm going to back up all those various photo libraries, just to play it safe).
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
Paul Simon is perhaps the best--or should that be worst?--example of this adult-onset melody deficiency syndrome. Through his days with Art Garfunkel, his unerring sense of melody was central to every song he wrote. For the first fifteen or so years of his solo career, his ear for a strong tune was still evident in his songwriting. Then, beginning about the time of his work on the disastrous Capeman, he seemed to throw all sense of melody out the window. His lyrics rambled pointlessly, his songs seemed to be musically pointless. Listening to his last solo album was virtually painful.
Another Paul--Macca himself--seems to have developed the same affliction. His post-9/11 song "Freedom" was cacaphonous, almost embarrassingly so; the 2001 album that accompanied it, Driving Rain, seemed rambling and tuneless. Even his much-acclaimed Chaos & Creation in the Back Yard, for all its energy, lacks the infectious sense of melody that typified McCartney's previous works. If you listen to the songs, all the pieces seem to be there, but they never pull together into a catchy song.
The same problem ruined Jane Siberry's career back in the 1990's, and has rendered Tori Amos pointless and irrelevant. Both were intensely melodious on their early efforts, and then lost all focus as time went along. Stevie Nicks, Joe Jackson, Billy Joel, the Rolling Stones--all of them have shown symptoms of this musical malady as well...
It's no wonder that advertisers pick the same dozen or so songs, secure the rights, and overplay them as background music for their commercials until all the musical life is vampirically sucked from each song. With so few strong melodies out there, you gotta grab what you can while you can! Heck, if it weren't for commercials and those "meaningful montages" that typify almost every WB television show, one might think that tunes had been totally abandoned!...
(Take this all with a grain of salt, however: I am one of those few who owns Jerry Lewis's Greatest Hits on CD. No, not Jerry Lee Lewis--Jerry Lewis, of Martin & Lewis and MD telethon fame. No fooling...)
Saturday, February 18, 2006
Sent from somewhere to my soul
How they linger ever near me
And the sacred past unfold
I tend to think of myself as metropolitan, educated, sophisticated, and eclectic--but the truth is, I'm not so far removed from the rural Georgia roots that are a part of my heritage, my lineage, and my life. I barely remember my great grandmother, my last link to the 19th Century; she was old when I was young, but she tied me to an earlier time, to a different way of life.
Precious Memories, how they linger
How they ever flood my soul
In the stillness of the midnight
Precious sacred scenes unfold
I remember my other grandfather less well; he died when I was very young. I am told that I am like him in many ways. He was an avid reader, and I inherited a few of his books after he died in an auto accident on the backroads between Rockmart and Cartersville as he and a group of co-workers were travelling to their jobs at Lockheed in Marietta. He gave me socks as a gift once; I remember the socks, and I remember him giving them to me, although I don't know why the gift of socks should have stuck in a four-year-old's mind so indelibly.I sometimes stayed with Aunt 'Dessa and Uncle Earl, who lived far in the country outside of Cedartown (which is in itself very rural, a small town that peaked in the early 1920's and went into slow decline by the 1950's). There was no indoor plumbing at their home, only a well and an outhouse; I adjusted to that life within hours and it never seemed inferior to our suburban way of life. I loved staying with them, although I couldn't tell you exactly what I did during those country summer days.
Precious father, loving mother
Fly across the lonely years
And old home scenes of my childhood
In fond memory appear
From my early childhood, country and gospel music were a part of my life. My parents weren't country or gospel fans, but their parents were, and its plain sounds resonated through my childhood. My cousins and I would sometimes mock the soaring, wide harmonies of Southern gospel, but we did so in a way that children inevitably mock the music that is not their own. What I didn't realize, though, was that in a way, it was my own. It had found a place in me, whether I consciously enjoyed it or not.
As I travel on life's pathway
Know not what the years may hold
As I ponder, hope grows fonder
Precious memories flood my soul
"Precious Memories" was an gospel song that, for reasons unkown to me, my mother held dear. She had remarked once that it was the song she wanted to have played at her funeral. At the time she said that, her funeral seemed epochs away; epochs turned out to be three decades, and when the time came, the song played softly in the background as we gathered to mourn and mark Mom's passage to the other side.
Precious Memories, how they linger
How they ever flood my soul
In the stillness of the midnight
Precious sacred scenes unfold
I heard it a thousand times in my childhood, but I never really listened to its lyrics until recently. It ended up on my iPod, and as I was walking Willie Nelson's version of the song began playing. I listened to the lyrics, found comfort in a familiar melody, and found myself rediscovering scores of my own precious memories.Later that night, I picked up my somewhat battered Martin guitar and began picking out chords, discarding those that didn't work. At first I tried to make it too complicated, to add unnecessary changes. It's a simple song, comprised of simple chords with minimal, deliberate changes; I gradually realized that and found the song again in a trio of chords--C, G, and D--that were the first three chords I ever learned. And as I became more confidently convinced that these were the chords, I found the song's essence, its plain country beauty filled with joy and sorrow and wistfulness and love and loss and hope and gratitude.
I wish I had learned the song long, long ago. I'm very self-conscious when it comes to playing guitar and in particular when it comes to singing--I was once told that I have one of the most non-musical voices ever possessed by a human being--but I wish I had played that song for my mother... while she was a live and as she passed over.
Now, when I sit on the sunroom at midnight, the moon obscured by low clouds, playing the chords and softly singing the song, I sing it for Mom. It's never too late...
In the still of the midnight
Echoes from the past I hear
Old time singing, gladness bringing
From that lovely land somewhere
The story focuses on a trio of aliens on the trail of a destructive entity/construct known as Unit Prime. There are many Unit Primes--purportedly, one for each galaxy--and they exist solely to destroy life wherever they find it. The trio of aliens are survivors of earlier Unit Prime attacks; their ranks are increased when they find a boy, the lone survivor of another planet wiped out by the Unit Prime. In this boy, the surviving aliens find a new purpose--but will the four of them possess the skills and abilities to prevent the Unit Prime from carrying out its mission on other planets, or are they attempting to confront the most irresistible of all forces?
Unit Primes, like much SF, is ultimately a story of humanity in an inhuman situation. The story is at its strongest when it focuses on its most emotional elements, and Dreier seems to be well aware of that. He devotes much of the novel to an exploration of the relationship between the young boy L-Bee and the maternal alien Yiralo, juxtaposing their empathic relationship with the harsh and seemingly insenstive Alo's stern attitude towards the young newcomer. The story is at its weakest, though, when it turns into a planet-rescuing adventure; those pages seem to distract both the reader and the creators.
Artistically, Unit Primes is most successful in its portrayal of relationships and emotional intimacies, and at its weakest when it attempts to present epic action. This means that those planet-saving segments are the least effective in both story and art; as a result, there's a lengthy segment near the end that breaks the intensity of the story, but Dreier, Paplham, and Zumel manage to recover for the final segments of the story.
Zumel's front cover art benefits so much from color that it's a shame the budget didn't allow for color throughout; even in black and white, though, the book's emotional storytelling makes for memorable reading.
Unit Primes #1
(Afterburn Comics $11.95)
Grade - B
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
This could be very good, if Miller is playing his A game. If it's done in the style of All Star Batman and Robin, then...
Well, this could be very good, if Miller is playing his A game.
However, a story that pits Batman against Osama Bin Laden underscore the problem of having a comic book hero deal with a real-world villain who, as of now, remains at large. How does Batman defeat him in the comic if he is still a menace in our world? And if he is caught or killed before the book comes out, how does the book retain any dramatic tension?
I presume from the story description that Miller intends to pit Batman against Osama, not against some roman a clef villain with Osama-esque features. I'll admit, my curiosity is piqued; I'll be there to check this one out once it sees print, for sure!
Meanwhile, I still have hopes that Miller will return to his Jesus! project that Dark Horse announced several years ago; Miller was putting in a great deal of research time in preparation for a complex comic book biography of Jesus that would be both reverent and historical. I hope he hasn't given up on that idea; seeing him tackle something this powerful would be fascinating indeed.
That's a real shame. Gilmore Girls should be essential viewing for any writer who (a) wants to get a better understanding of how to construct character-driven relationship-focused stories, and (b) admires and would like to create clever, witty dialogue that avoids crossing over into pure glibness.
The article refers to some wandering plotlines that have left some viewers dissatisfied--and while I can understand the concerns they mention, I never thought of those plotlines as being out of character. Contradiction is an inherent part of human nature, and the contradictions between the core relationship between mother and daughter and the diverging path that relationship took this season was, for me, fascinating. It creates a generational mirror in which the relationship between Lorelei & Rory reflects the relationship between Lorelei and Emily, her mother--and while the two relationships seemed exactly the opposite, the twists of this season have created disturbing parallels that reveal just how the Emily-Lorelei relationship might have gone awry.
Most of all, though, it's the strong writing that makes this series a delight to watch. Back in the day when Moonlighting was popular, one of the writer commented that the series demanded that writers create about 25% more script than usual, because the rapid-fire delivery and the overlapping dialogue meant that the cast burned through script pages in record time. I suspect that the very same thing is true here; Gilmore Girls burns through dialogue at an incredible pace, using words like staccato notes to create a delightful verbal symphony.
And while there could never be a town as personable, as quirky, and as interconnected as Stars Hollow, this is probably the most appealing fictional milieu since Mayberry went away. In reality, we'd probably never want to live in a town like Stars Hollow--but within the framework of this series, it seems like a modern Grover's Corners, a town where the Gibbs and the Webbs could live their Wilderesque lives in modern dress.
If you've never watched Gilmore Girls before, try an episode. It doesn't matter that you don't know what's going on plot-wise--let the words resonate, let the characters captivate, and prepare to enjoy an hour (or 44 minutes without commercials) of truly engaging television.
Saturday, February 11, 2006
(1) Dialogue that reads just great on the comic book page sounds embarrassingly hokey when delivered by an actor on the screen (reinforcing the inherent problem with most film noir dialogue);
(2) Artistic attempts to convey blood as pure white on the screen instead gives the impression that there are large flocks of birds pooping on people after they've been injured;
(3) The tougher you are, the more likely you are to bounce around like a Looney Tunes character when you get hit by a car, slammed in the head with a hammer, etc.;
(4) Clichéd noir bad guys end up sounding a lot like Three Stooges characters;
(5) Mickey Rourke playing the Frankenstein Monster seems absurdly out of place place in a noir film; and
(5) Some films can be improved tremendously with judicious use of the "mute" button.
Visually, Sin City was a fascinating film. I'm not sure that it was a good film, because in its slavish efforts to bring the printed page to the screen, it sacrificed some of film's visual strength. And ultimately, it's not a panel-to-film transformation because the film still has the full gray tonal scale that Miller's graphic novel doesn't have; thus, things that work acceptably on the stark black-and-white page (such as the aforementioned white areas for blood) look strangely out-of-place on the screen, where the white not only contrasts with the black, but also seems jarringly artificial when juxtaposed against the gray tonalities of the scene.
Apparently I'm one of the few who wasn't wowed by the film. I think I prefer my noir crime dramas on the printed page, where the artificiality and starkness can be justified as literary style. Even though I saw the film as incredibly flawed and overdone, there were still moments that I thought were very effective. Ultimately, it's a movie worth watching; the experiment deserves attention, even if it doesn't deserve praise.
When January passed without a single temperature lower than 25°, I was convinced that this would be the year without a winter. While it's still a fairly mild winter (remind me to tell you about the three worst winters I remember--1960, 1973, and 1982-3), it's a winter, at least.
I see that the New York area is bracing for a virtual blizzard; makes me realize how lucky we are weather-wise...
One of the real advantages of Mac OSX 10.4.4 and the new Airport Express firmware update is the ability to stream music to up to three different sets of speakers/Express combinations. That means that, for the first time, I've been able to stream the same music to amplifiers on the main floor, the upstairs floor, and the basement, allowing me to listen to the same song wherever I go in the house. This new feature is only about a month old, but I've become addicted to it. When I'm in the mood for music, I want my music to follow me wherever I go... and thanks to this upgrade, it could do just that.
Called Apple's tech support and we verified that it was the base station. The tech asked me to try resetting the base station and see if that would correct things; I didn't have time then, so I told him I'd do it when I got home and call back if it didn't work. I did, it didn't, and I called, but I was ten minutes too late (forgot that Apple Tech Support closes at 6pm PST).
I'll call back again tomorrow and see what Apple can do. I'm hoping they can just trade out the Express unit for one that does what it's supposed to.
It's funny how MP3s and computers and streaming music have changed the way I listen to things. In the 60s and 70s, when I bought a new album, I'd play it over and over again until I had memorized every nuance of the music. I knew as one song ended what song would follow it; the album was an organic unit broken into subset songs.
In the 80s, I began to use my cassette deck to make customized mix tapes, and I began to organize some songs and artists into favorites. Even then, the focus tended to be fairly tight; a cassette only gave you 90 minutes or so, and you carefully planned song pacing and placement for maximum effect.
In the 90s, CDs became the dominant musical form for me, and I had six-disc (or more) changers that enabled me to load multiple discs and hit "random." I chose a method of listening to music that contained an aspect of surprise: I no longer knew what song would be coming up next. I could make the mix even more unpredictable by using a CD recorder to burn songs from other CDs onto a single disc, then adding that to the six-disc mix.
Now I use an iPod. My current iTunes library contains, as of tonight, 13877 songs, and that's nowhere near my complete music collection; I suspect that, if I actually burned to MP3 everything I own, it would pass the 60,000 song mark for sure, not including transfers from vinyl that I've never acquired on CD. While my iPod is broken down into various listening subgroups, I'm generally inclined to turn the iPod on, hit random play, and be surprised. I rarely hear entire albums any more; heck, I rarely hear two songs by the same artist in any one listening session unless I opt to listen to one artist's catalog.
It's like a vast radio station that plays only music that I like. I discover gems from my collection that I had forgotten about; I'm likely to hear a jazz standard followed by a Vaughan Williams symphonic piece followed by Flatt & Scruggs followed by the Beatles followed by James Bond soundtrack cut followed by Jerry Lewis (not Jerry Lee Lewis, mind you, but Jerry Lewis the funny guy--yes, I do own Jerry Lewis' Greatest Hits on CD).
In some ways, I think this is not good for the musician; the gestalt effect of the album has been all but abandoned, at least for me as a listener. But it's making me rediscover a pleasant unpredictability of music, listen to songs that I might otherwise skip over, and I am sometimes pleasantly surprised--and at other times bewildered--by my own musical tastes.
Hopefully the Express Base Station will be up and running again soon. In the meantime, I listen to music upstairs and in the basement (where I work out twice a day), while the first floor remains the musical wasteland. Well, except for the iPod and the XM Radio that are both available to me on that floor, of course...
Thursday, February 09, 2006
" In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Bush administration officials said they had been caught by surprise when they were told on Tuesday, Aug. 30, that a levee had broken, allowing floodwaters to engulf New Orleans.
"But Congressional investigators have now learned that an eyewitness account of the flooding from a federal emergency official reached the Homeland Security Department's headquarters starting at 9:27 p.m. the day before, and the White House itself at midnight."
Apparently Eric Lipton has forgotten that the next day begins at midnight, which is (as we all know) 12:00 A.M. Therefore, if the White House was told at midnight, then they were told on Tuesday, August 30th.
I've dropped a note to Lipton pointing this out; I'm sure we'll see his correction tomorrow...
The fact that DC is even attempting something this bold, this far-reaching, and this complex deserves nothing but kudos. They're not just attempting it, though--they're making it work, and they're doing it in such a way that anyone who tries one of these "cliffhanger" DC books should be adding 52 (the book that will fill in the missing year, explaining how we get "from here to there eventually"). This is perhaps the biggest continuity event ever attempted in comics, and DC is pulling out all the stops to ensure that it happens--and that it happens on time.
If you haven't been reading the core DCU series prior to this event, now's the time to start. There are no comics on the stands with more suspense, more twists, and more excitement!
Monday, February 06, 2006
Not much of a snowfall to celebrate, but we take what we can get.
For the first time, the vast majority of the commercials were also broadcast in high definition. This is a real landmark as far as I'm concerned; even though much of the networks' prime-time schedule is in high-def, the commercials are almost always in standard definition. (If you don't have an HD set, you may not know how to tell the difference. Here's a simplified method of determining HD or SD: if, when the HD program goes to commercial, two black columns suddenly appear on the left and right of the picture, the commercial is SD. If the commercial fills the entire widescreen image without making people seem squatty and fat, then it's an HD commercial.)
High definition commercials are a Big Deal, because they indicate an awareness by advertisers that (a) a significant portion of the viewing public is watching in high-def, and (b) the demographics for that HD-viewing audience are particularly desirable. There's no doubt that the commercials look significantly better; in fact, the HD commercials often look so good that I find myself actually watching the commercials rather than fast-forwarding through them!
I'm old enough to remember the black-and-white to all-color transition of the 1960s. My parents bought a 13" color television in the mid-1960s, but there were still a significant portion of the programs that were broadcast in black and white. More significant for this topic, though, the commercials were almost always in black and white. Color commercials seemed to lag behind color programming; I can recall seeing B&W commercials even after most of the programming had made the color transition.
But the shift to majority-HD commercials--even in a targeted program like the SuperBowl, where people who don't normally watch HD are likely to see it in HD in a public venue of some sorts or at a friend's house--says a lot about the market penetration of HD. Furthermore, if companies are making HD commercials for the SuperBowl, then they have those commercials on file for non-SuperBowl use as well, and that may mean that we'll begin to see more HD advertising during prime time hours.
Incidentally, one local station--WXIA, Channel 11 in Atlanta--has begun broadcasting its local news broadcasts in HD as well. The HD takeover is underway; I'm curious to see how long we'll have to wait before most syndicated non-rerun programming is also HD, as well as soaps, talk shows, reality programming, and network news...
Sunday, February 05, 2006
Last night, though, the dream took a turn towards the lucid. As I saw the plane about to hit the ground, I remember remarking to the others, "I'm having that dream again." And while I couldn't alter what was happening, I was lucid enough to realize that in my dream, I was able to slow everything down in order to take in even more details, to see even more minutia. I could almost recognize the faces of some of the passengers in the window. The intricacy of the details amazed me.
When I do wake up, by the way, I'm not disturbed or frightened or agitated; it's not as if I'm awakening from a nightmare. Now I'm almost curious; will I have the dream again, with even more detail? And why am I having this dream over and over? It's an unusual experience, and it intrigues me...
(Yeah, I walk a lot. I usually do a couple of miles in the morning before breakfast; another couple of miles in the afternoon; and a short walk of a half-mile to a mile between 11pm and 1am. The night walks are my favorites; I really enjoy the solitude and the darkness and the almost palpable privacy that accompanies a midnight walk. It's a time for reminiscing. As a child, I used to love to play outdoors at night during the summers and on weekends; when I walk, I'm flooded with memories of those many happy nights.
I also use the solitude to talk to Mom, catching her up on what's happening with me and Susan and Kim and Dad down here. I still miss her terribly, and I don't envision ever moving past that; I guess we have to just learn to deal with it. I miss hearing her voice; while we have many photos of Mom, we have almost nothing with her voice on it, and I regret that. But late at night, when I talk to her, I can hear her voice in my mind, and I hear her laugh, and it's a soothing way to bring the day to a close.
Aside: One of the local commercials that ran at about 11:50 or so was a disquieting Dairy Queen commercial for their fried popcorn shrimp. It's an animated bit that features a mom-and-pop shrimp couple snacking on this great popcorn that dad has picked up... and while we know right away what this "popcorn" is, the shrimp family doesn't come to their cannibalistic moment of realization until the end of the commercial. Never thought I'd see EC-style plotting being used to sell shrimp...
Saturday, February 04, 2006
Basically, there are only a few hero archetypes: the hero born, the hero made, the elder hero, the trickster/rogue hero, and the reluctant hero. Some might even argue that the reluctant hero is only another derivation of the hero made. In both Casablanca and Under Siege, viewers find primarily the hero made--a character who has not previously been particularly heroic in his deeds, but whose heroism is brought about by his experiences in the past and his challenges in the presence. In effect, the world at the time of the story is the kiln in which this hero is fired. In that regard, I see the similarities.
One of the things that made Star Wars work so well is that we had basically every hero type in one story. Obi-Wan Kenobi, the elder hero; Luke Skywalker, the hero born; Leia, the hero made; Han Solo, the reluctant hero; Lando Calrissian, the trickster/rogue hero. Each has heroic qualities, but each comes to them from a different set of experiences. Westerns, war stories, historical adventures, science fiction, fantasy--all of them can draw from these hero archetypes. And the differences between the different hero types creates a chemistry and a tension that makes for grand storytelling under the direction of a capable writer.
I think that we, as a culture, are most attracted to the reluctant hero and the hero made. We admire the trickster hero, but we're wary of him at the same time; he concerns us because we're uncomfortable with the division between the two identities. The hero born is more foreign to us because we perceive him as being above us in some ways. The elder hero is separated from us by both experience and age; he has been a hero for so long that we can't envision a time when he wasn't heroic. That's why I think many of us found the fourth, fifth, and sixth Star Wars films (in order made, not in fictional chronology) dissatisfying; our elder hero became something different... and, in some ways, something less.
The lines can blur, of course. Superman is both the hero born and, in some ways, the elder hero; he comes across as an "old soul" regardless of his purported age in the story, and he simply has been a hero forever. Batman is the hero made who also, at times, displays aspects of the trickster hero as well.
Epic heroes are, by and large, heroes born; don't know why that is, but it seems to be true in almost every culture. Contemporary heroes are primarily heroes made or reluctant heroes. We imbue elder heroes with mystical qualities. Trickster heroes almost always need a foil to balance their trickster natures.
If you want to have fun with familiar classics, recast some of your favorite tales with a different sort of hero. Put a trickster hero in Casablanca and you get a story of heroism, but one that probably has virtually no emotional appeal. Put a hero born into Under Siege and you lose much of the drama because you know the outcome from the moment he enters the story. Imagine the story of Moses with a trickster hero instead of an elder hero; and you don't have to imagine the story of Jesus with a reluctant hero, because Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice did it for you in Jesus Christ Superstar.
And of course, the best hero mixes involve disparate characters. Batman and Superman work well together, as do Green Lantern and Green Arrow; Superman and Green Lantern less so, because they have too much in common.
Enough hero contemplation; it's late, and I still want to walk before the rain gets here....
Friday, February 03, 2006
Okay, maybe not. But I do think that the more people think about this, the more they're going to be Very Concerned. I don't think most people have thought about the effects this will have on their everyday lives.
This means that, in 2009, any standard-definition television tuner currently in use will become effectively non-functional. Right now, people can connect an antenna or cable TV to the antenna input of their analog television, and they will receive signals. Some may be strong, some may be weak, but they will see television. That will not be the case in 2009. Those tuners are set to frequencies that will no longer carry television signals at that time. Unless viewers acquire a separate standalone digital tuner to accompany every analog tv, they will have to acquire a cable decoder for each set.
Currently, one monthly cable charge allows a household to hook up a large number of televisions at no additional cost. That won't be the case in 2009; each unit will most likely require a cable card or a cable box, and you can rest assured that the cable companies aren't going to give that away. The best we can hope for is that the government will require the cable companies to adopt an open standard before then that will allow viewers to buy a digital-to-analog converter.
And it's not just your televisions that aren't going to function in 3 years. Think about all those VCR's you have, and those DVD recorders, and those over-the-air Tivo units. They all have analog tuners, and there'll be nothing for them to tune into in 2009. Sure, the VCRs and DVD recorders will play back--and they can record signals that are input through their composite or component inputs--but they won't record over-the-air or cable broadcasts through their antenna inputs.
If you bought a high-def teevee, you're safe, though, right? Not really. If you were an early adopter, you most likely got a set that doesn't have HDCP, a form of copy protection that will be ubiquitous by 2009. And very likely, sets that don't have HDCP will blank out when a digital HDCP signal is input...
Congress is talking about a household credit for a digital-to-analog converter for households that need them--but considering Congress's affinity for income redistribution, you can rest assured this will become a needs-based plan targeting only lower income viewers, leaving the vast majority of households to fend for themselves.
The next year or three may be a great time to invest in electronics companies; there's going to be a boom market for new televisions, digital-tuner recording devices, etc.--most of which don't even exist yet.
And of course, you could just get satellite service from Dish or DirecTV, right? Well, yes--but bear in mind that the bulk of the units out there right now are not MPEG4 compatible, and the satellite providers are in the proces of moving all their high-def broadcasts (and most likely, the bulk of all the new channels they add) to MPEG4 only. So the millions of people who thought that signing up with a satellite service made them "bullet proof" to these changes are about to discover, sadly, that their equipment is now outmoded also. DirecTV implied initially that they would upgrade customers for free... but the ugly truth is, they're charging at least $99 per box for most customers to trade up, and they don't even have a digital MPEG4 Tivo-like unit right now, so you have no way of recording these new channels. (Not that you'd particularly want to--reports from those who have the early MPEG4 units indicate that the signal is crude, defect-laden, and quite unsatisfying... and that's in comparison to regular satellite high-def service, which already looks pretty lousy compared to cable high-def because the satellite companies are saving money by compressing signals and squeezing more channels onto each satellite.)
Yep, it's about to be a turbulent time for home video entertainment. And it's going to get a lot moreso as people really learn how these changes are going to affect them.
Thursday, February 02, 2006
Wednesday, February 01, 2006
One of the primary reasons I find Ultimates and Ultimates 2 so unsatisfying is that Marvel has allowed Mark Millar to abandon the qualities that typify these three heroes, reinterpreting them as amoral, unethical, and unlikeable human beings. When the Ultimate line of books was initially touted, readers were told that these titles were going to maintain the essential nature of the core characters while updating the settings and plotlines, stripping away decades of complex and sometimes flawed continuity and making the books fresh and accessible for new readers.
We got just that in Ultimate Spider-Man, a superlative book that should remain a model for the Ultimate imprint. Ultimate X-Men was more problematic; within a few issues, murky continuity and cumbersome storytelling was creeping into the new series. But the concept was totally abandoned in Ultimates, a reinvention of the Avengers that actually owes more to The Authority, which Millar wrote rather disappointingly before moving over to Marvel and reworking the concept even further with characters who carry the same names as some of Marvel's superheroes.
These are not heroes, though; Captain America is brutal, intolerant, and unethical; the noble savage Hulk is now a depraved rapist and a Hyde-like deviant; and Giant-Man/Goliath is now a spousal abuser. If Mark Millar had wanted to tell the story of reprehensible humans cast into the public spotlight, he should have done so with his own characters rather than by demeaning one of Marvel's most ethical figures, Captain America. And if Marvel had truly respected what made these characters successful, they would never have given Millar carte blanche to adulterate these heroes.
Millar's current storyline in Ultimates 2 underscores what I suspected from the beginning: Millar has made Captain America unlikeable because, to Millar, America is unlikeable. He has made Captain America symbolize what he sees as the essence of the United States--a nation he apparently does not care for. And because the comic book, with its over-the-top brutality and amorality, sells well, Marvel is willing to "sell out" its characters' integrity by giving Millar a soapbox to present his iconoclastic corruptions of Marvel's characters.
True, the book sells well--but if Marvel published a book in which Spider-Man carried out Punisher-esque acts of mayhem on his enemies, it too would sell to the "bread-and-circuses" audiences that enjoy shock value over anything else. That wouldn't make it good. And by fouling the ethical waters of Marvel's characters, Millar and other revisionists do long-range damage to Marvel's greatest asset: the public's respect and admiration of its heroes.