Pop Culture Gadabout
Sunday, November 07, 2004
      ( 11/07/2004 08:20:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"COME AS YOU ARE, AS YOU WERE, AS I WANT YOU TO BE" – No, I don't have a gun, but I do have a fresh round of weekend bullet points:
  • Whenever I feel too disheartened by the "moral issues" aspect of this year's election, I try to remind myself that, hey, Alan (Gay Abortionists = Hitler) Keyes was soundly trounced in my state. Post-election, and Keyes is still spreading his message of positive cultural values, refusing, for instance, to make a congratulatory concession call to Barack Obama because he considers the democrat's victory so immoral. (None of that pussy "agree to disagree" stuff for Alan!) In my darker moments, I think that Keyes – the Illinois Republican Party's "mainstream" candidate for U.S. Senate – bluntly speaks the values many core conservatives know best to couch. But then I remind myself that for Obama to win so decisively, some self-described Republicans must've temporarily switched over. . .

  • So I read that Dr. Vegas has already bitten the bitten the dust. Don't look for this 'un to show up on Trio's "Brilliant But Cancelled" series soon. . .

  • Caught a rerun of Desperate Housewives last night on ABC: the show has a nice quirky tone (sort of a kinder, campier American Beauty) with a great ensemble of teevee actresses. I can see this becoming an addictive pleasure, but I'm personally gonna try and resist, because I'm already feeling beholden to too many teleseries as it is. I am, however, anticipating the return of the Fox Sunday lineup.

  • As the "Lyrics of the Week" on the right has hinted for several days, I've been spending a lot of time this week listening to Le Tigre's new dance-punk disc, Pleasure Island. Bought it after reading a description of what the grrl band sounds like at The Waiting Room, a local college record store that puts small blurbs about its new releases alongside the discs: a good strategy when so much of your stock is devoted to indy rock. (Why don't comic stores do this?) The disc itself starts off on a fairly hard-edged punk note ("Don't Drink Poison" could've come off a Yeah Yeah Yeahs album), but settles into a dance-rock groove with "After Dark" and pretty much stays there until a sharp Vibrators-ish finish. An enjoyably chintzy drum machine, enthusiastically snarly/sweet femme vocals, and pissed off boho political lyrics add to the stew (too bad the shouted anti-war track, "New Kicks," has already become somewhat dated). Personal faves: the crisply articulated culture clash song, "Viz" (which I don't see showin' up on Alan Keyes' personal mix tape any time soon); stadium anthem "TKO," which has a chorus that wouldn't be out of place on a Donnas album; and the surprisingly wispy "Sixteen" (I personally prefer it when the Tigresses favor Deb Harry over Poly Styrene). Let's hear it for small store selling techniques . . .

    Correction: The abovewritten paragraph originally described Le Tigre as comprised of "two grrls & a boy," but Tim O'Neil (who knows way more about rock moderne than me) tells me that the band is all grrl. Back in the day, I once got Mo Tucker's sex wrong, too. . .

  • All the smart superhero fans gave up on it issues ago, but I've still been following Jeph Loeb & Michael Turner's Superman/Batman up to its story arc ending thirteenth issue. (Welcome back, whichever the hell Supergirl you're supposed to be.) But while telling me in issue #13 that the Man of Steel's powers didn't start to show up until he was a teen may be consistent with teleseries Smallville's take on the character, I still can't wrap my head around it in the comic book. One of the defining images of Siegel & Shuster's origin, after all, is that panel of a big-headed baby Clark holding a chest of drawers up high before a startled orphanage attendant. Just because Jeph Loeb or Mark Waid or whoever wanna tell me that it didn't happen doesn't keep the image from my head because it's a cool comic book image.
Enough for now. I've still got deadlines hanging over head.

(Background Music for This Round of Bullet Points: None; I'm trying to keep from disturbing my still-sleeping wife.)
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Friday, November 05, 2004
      ( 11/05/2004 10:15:00 AM ) Bill S.  

DEADLININ' – Took the day off from work to spend time on outside writing projects, so blogging will be limited today – and perhaps over the weekend – to short pissy postings like the one below. (Assuming that Blogger even lets me in – as it was loath to do early this a.m.) See ya later!
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      ( 11/05/2004 10:12:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"WOULD YOU LIKE FRIES WITH THAT?" – Feeling a trace less down about the state of the country this a.m.: I keep reminding myself that we got through two terms (well, one-and-a-half) terms of Richard Nixon and two of Ronald Reagan. I turn off the radio every time I hear Bush or one of his conservative spokesfolk talk about the "mandate" they've received from their majority vote, though, because I know it essentially means that at some point in the next four years I'm gonna lose my job in the social service field . . .
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Thursday, November 04, 2004
      ( 11/04/2004 02:52:00 PM ) Bill S.  

COVER ME – Hey, let's get back to some frivolous pop stuff, mmmkay?

I'm a week late on this 'un, but the Dullard Gazette recently did a fun post, listing good and bad rock covers. (I'd heartily disagree with his placing Joe Cocker's "Little Help from My Friends" in the Bad Covers column, though; I love that great bellowing shriek that Cocker gives near the end of that song.) Encouraged by this piece, I thought I'd quickly pull five of my favorite covers out of the air. I'm all about the positive right now, so I'm just gonna focus on the Good Stuff:
  • The Bangles, "Hazy Shade of Winter" (soundtrack cover of a forgotten Simon & Garfunkle album track that cuts the original to grass roots shreds – even if they do inexplicably skip the vodka and lime line; love the electric guitar on this 'un, though I couldn't tell ya which of the group's three axewomen are responsible for it);

  • The Cramps, "Surfing Bird" (in which a barely competent group of gothic punkers at the start of their long and enviable career assail the Trashman's classic garager and descend into a thoroughly atonal riffing freak-out that just refuses to stop – I've had friends scream at me to unplug the stereo in the midst of this song; sometimes I even honor their request);

  • Dave Edmunds, "Crawling from the Wreckage" (our favorite Rockpiler takes a too-quickly recorded Graham Parker track from an early album and gives it every bit of rockabilly oomph this ode-to-self-destruction requires; Parker would redo this song years later as a hard country rocker and still not match Edmunds' rollicking version!);

  • The Pretenders, "Thin Line Between Love and Hate" (a lesson in the way that shifting gender can totally alter the tone of a song: what in its original male-sung Persuaders original is a cautionary tale becomes a mournful, yet somewhat satisfied tale of comeuppance in Chrissie Hynde's voice; I like both angles);

  • Beach Boys and The Ramones, "Do You Wanna Dance?" (two great versions of one of the quintessential dumb rock 'n' roll songs: the Boys' version is Spectorish and grand; the Ramones are, well, the Ramones – which is all they need to be; I used to think Bette Midler's slow moaning take on this classic was cool, but it hasn't held up for me).
Which is where I'm gonna stop for now. Once I got started, a whole lot more of these rascals started coming to mind (Roxy Music's version of John Lennon's "Jealous Guy," say, or David Bowie's cover of "Pablo Picasso" or Devo's "Satisfaction" or the Clash's "Brand New Cadillac" or Le Tigre's surprisingly effective remake of "I'm So Excited" or Kirsty Macoll & the Pogues' "Miss Otis Regrets" or . . .), but maybe I'll gather a few and carry 'em over to Frank San Fillipo's comments section instead.
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      ( 11/04/2004 09:08:00 AM ) Bill S.  

ANOTHER DEPRESSED POST-ELECTION PIECE – (Caution: squishy liberal breast-beating ahead.)

Okay, I'll admit I'm none too thrilled with the results of this year's election. It's not so much the war in Iraq (which I personally took my sweet time deciding was being woefully mismanaged) as it is the domestic stuff – and not the ones most liberals have taken as the Big Issues either. As offensive as an anti-gay marriage amendment is to me, I think it's essentially a sop to the culture bigots. Having lived through the abortive attempt to get the Equal Rights Amendment passed, I don't believe we'll be seeing a national amendment on this hot button any time soon, particularly when the Republicans can get so much good fear mileage from it.

For me, the biggest concerns are in the realms where I've devoted most of my working life: the field of social services and child welfare, in particular. This was an area that neither candidate really addressed during their campaigns (as sometimes comic writer Andrew Vachs has noted, the subject of child protection was conspicuously absent from the public discourse – Iraqi war supporters may've had plenty to say about murdered children in the Middle East but are oblivious to the daily deaths and mistreatment of kids on our own shores). But, in terms of public policy, the Bush presidency has been worse than blind over the past four years. As more and more government funding has gotten diverted from state coffers to shore up the war on terror, the mechanisms for domestic child protection have grown progressively weaker.

My own liberal belief is that one of government's primary responsibilities is the protection of its weaker citizens. Over the years, I've worked with a lot of kids who've been physically and sexually abused, prostituted by their parents, been subjected to the kind of prolonged family mistreatment that makes V.C. Andrews look tame, experienced near daily street violence – there's a substantial population of kids in this country who've had to be removed from their homes for their own safety. And the resources for these kids are steadily shrinking.

My own admittedly biased experiences with for-profit and faith-based groups are rather jaundiced, but even if you accept them as a viable resource, the money to keep these institutions working needs to come from somewhere. One of the entirely foreseen side effects of the Bush administration tax cuts has been a growing disincentive to donate money to charitable causes. As a result, the funding pool for kid protection is shrinking in the charitable sector, too.

I know, as someone who has worked in child welfare all these years, I can be accused of having a selfish interested in this field. But what drew me to it and has kept me in it all this time is the deep belief that it's a good place to be, that when all is said and done it's a decent way to spend my work life. My fear – and it's a profound one – is that as our current regime goes through its stated agenda over the next four years, the diminished resources for this vote-less population will grow even slimmer. And every unprotected child who might've otherwise been saved will be a hidden victim of the War on Terror. . .
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Wednesday, November 03, 2004
      ( 11/03/2004 07:57:00 AM ) Bill S.  

WHAT TH -? – Forget the election, here's some disturbing news: yesterday, after sending an email to Checker Publishing indicating that I’d posted a review of the Achewood collection, I received the following email from Constance Taylor:
As of November 1st, 2004, Checker has cancelled publication for all three volumes of Achewood. Thank you for taking the time to read the galley copy and write reviews.
As of this writing the first volume is still being advertised on Checker's website, so I have no idea what the story is. If anyone can fill me in, I'd appreciate it.

UPDATE: Per an email from Cap'n Spaulding, The Comics Reporter posted the news of Achewood and Checker's parting yesterday, but I managed to miss it.
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Tuesday, November 02, 2004
      ( 11/02/2004 10:15:00 AM ) Bill S.  

GOT ME AN "I VOTED" STICKER ON MY WINDBREAKER NOW – So forgive me my momentary flush of self-satisfied civic pride. . .

ADDENDUM: I should add for the record that we actually didn't use punch cards in our county, but those big ballots with large oval holes that you're expected to fill in with ink. They're not as much fun to use as the punchcards: I kept having negative flashbacks to the standardized school tests of my youth, which my nearsighted self usually managed to screw up as a kid. (I'd always get one of the lines messed up and have to go back and find where, for instance, I'd filled two answers on the same line.) Curse you, Florida, for taking away my punchcard stylus!
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      ( 11/02/2004 06:11:00 AM ) Bill S.  

THE QUASI-OBLIGATORY POLI-POSTING – Received an email from one of my in-laws this weekend, one of those anecdotal mailings comprised of a series of narratives describing ordinary dolts saying and doing stoopid things, and capped with the tagline, "But he/she's going to vote."

I'm more than a little peeved by these kinds of missives, in part because I'm fairly certain that on the wrong day and with the right degree of spaciness, I could say or do something equally dumb, but also because these messages contain the implicit theme: you know all these dolts are gonna vote for the Other Guy. In my experience, there's idiocy to spare on all sides of the political field: voters who habitually choose "their party" regardless of the candidate's identity, for instance. It's my belief that there's sufficient dumbness all around to balance things out; anyone who thinks there's an uneven distribution of stupidity either isn't paying attention or might want to consider adding a little paragraph about themselves to a future emailing.

I like the act of voting: been doing it for over thirty years now and I still get a charge out of stepping into that curtained booth. I like the act of punching through that card with that stylus: perhaps I'm being a guy on this, but there was something satisfying about hearing that little chck! each time you penetrate the punchcard. I also like the feeling of adultness that I momentarily experience striding out of the booth and handing my card over to the polling attendant. To me, voting isn't a civic duty, it's a treat, and I always get offended whenever I read about attempts in this country to keep folks from doing it.

I'm not gonna "endorse" any candidates in this space (regular readers most likely already know which ones I favor, anyway); it seems kind of silly for a blog that spends more time talking about comics, cheesy horrorflix and pop tunes to act as if declaring my voting allegiances will sway anybody. Last Sunday, the Keyes campaign included a flyer and a rear window sticker in our Sunday paper. Beneath the latter was the statement, "This sign in your window will influence others to vote for your candidate." So I'm thinking, What, somebody who doesn't know me from Adam is gonna vote for Keyes just because they see a window sticker on my PT Cruiser? Maybe these guys do actively court the dumb-ass vote.

But I wanna encourage all of you occasionally-stupid people (like me) out there to go out and vote. I want My Guy to win, of course, but something I'd like almost as much is to see enough unexpected voters go out there with their unexpected votes and screw up that map of the red state/blue state U.S.A. Let's give the pundits something truly moronic to natter about over the next six months, shall we?
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Monday, November 01, 2004
      ( 11/01/2004 05:40:00 PM ) Bill S.  

MORE UNCORRECTED PERSONALITY TRAITS – S'been a frantic (as opposed to manic) Monday, and yours truly hasn't had much time today to even remotely contemplate pop matters. I did want to briefly brag on my big CD winning last night: won a copy of Robyn Hitchcock's newest release, the aptly named Spooked, by being able to identify the guy's old band ("He was in the Soft Boys! . . . No, wait, he was in the Egyptians!. . . No, hold on, he was in the Soft Boys!") for a local public radio Halloween contest giveaway. Look to see a review of this disc once I've played it to the point where my wife is sick of it. . .
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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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