Thursday, February 4, 2010

The End of the Eighties, Track 06

“Sweet Jane”
Cowboy Junkies
The Trinity Session

I’ve been in love with Margo Timmins since I first laid eyes on her and heard her voice. There is a luminescence about her when you mix her beauty with the heartache in her voice. I simply couldn’t get enough of her and the Cowboy Junkies back in the day, and the opportunity to see them live wasn’t something I was going to pass up.

The Phantasy Nightclub and Theater in Cleveland was a great venue. I always imagined it as our very own version of Manchester’s infamous Free Trade Hall. In the same way that there was the Free Trade Hall and the Lesser Free Trade Hall (a smaller venue upstairs), the Phantasy has the theater downstairs for bigger acts and the nightclub upstairs for a more intimate setting. And when the Junkies toured behind The Trinity Session back in ’89, the nightclub was the perfect venue. I attended that show with my girlfriend Pam and a couple other friends. It was an amazing night.

When I reviewed the Cowboy Junkies’ Long Journey Home: Live in Liverpool DVD for PopMatters a few years ago, I opened it with a description of how I remember that long-ago show to provide perspective:

“The audience was scattered throughout the tiny room – sitting cross-legged on the small dance floor and at the tables scattered about the perimeter. When it was time for the Junkies to take the stage (a riser not more that a foot above the dance floor), a side table was brought out, a piece of lace and a vase of roses were placed on it, and a barstool set beside it. Margo Timmins shimmered in the smoky dim light. It was a moody evening – in my mind there were candles on the stage, but I don’t know that even then someone could get away with an open flame in that setting. Someone called out his love for her midway through the set – we were all feeling that way. Obviously uncomfortable, she blushed. I think she gave the guy one of the roses from the stage.”
Along with that experience of seeing them live, I have all sorts of feelings tied up in the Cowboy Junkies and that era...

I remember listening to “Dreaming My Dreams with You” over and over after Pam moved to San Francisco the summer before I headed to Bowling Green. I remember the full-page black-and-white Herb Ritts photo of Margo I ripped out of Rolling Stone and put it up on the wall in my Chapman Hall dorm room. I remember discovering the The Trinity Session wasn’t their first album when I stumbled upon Whites Off Earth Now!! on vinyl at Madhatter Music Co. (another independent music store now gone) in downtown Bowling Green. I remember hearing “Sun Comes Up, It’s Tuesday Morning” for the first time and being blown away by their cover of Neil Young’s “Powderfinger” from the follow-up album, The Caution Horses.

So many great songs off that first album I could have picked here, but I went with the most well-known tune, a cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane”. Even back when The Trinity Session was originally released, I remember the owner of Digital Daze saying he’d read that Lou Reed said it was the best version of the song he’d ever heard. It’s an organic, on-the-verge-of-tears reading that feels genuine and earthy. It’s a lights out, curtains pulled, candles lit, quiet night soundtrack kind of song if ever there was one.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Marvel Unbound - Marvel Divas

Well, this one was interesting. As usual, I walked straight into a story having no idea what to expect. I picked this up because Monica Rambeau is my Captain Marvel. You see, when I was reading the Avengers in the early to mid-’80s, she was on the team. So I was interested in seeing how she has been reimaged over the years, and I saw she was a part of the Marvel Divas miniseries.

It also helped that Felicia Hardy, whose Black Cat I also strongly associate with the same era via the Peter Parke
r, The Spectacular Spider-Man series, was also on the cover. I was familiar with Patsy Walker’s Hellcat from The Defenders (still would like to check out that 2008 miniseries), so that was cool, too. Angelica Jones, Firestar, is the least recognizable of the bunch for me.

For whatever reason, I never watched Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends on Saturday mornings. It’s strange be
cause it aired when I was really getting into comics, and even then I was exclusively a Marvel kid. But when it came time to plop myself down in front of the TV for some mindless wonder on Saturday mornings, I was strictly a Super Friends fan. So I have no real exposure to Firestar, a character created specifically for the Spider-Man cartoon because the legal rights to their first choice, Human Torch, were tied up.

Marvel Divas
isn’t a romp, and it’s not a comic book version of Sex and the City mixed with My Life on the D-List – although that’s how the first 20 pages of the first issue play it. We’re introduced to the four “Marvel Divas” and their relatively fabulous single lifestyle, even if they aren’t A-list s
uperheroes. We get updated on what all the girls have been up to, with the exception of Angelica. Beyond references to her former fiancé Vance Astrovik, Justice, there isn’t much background or current goings on revealed for Firestar in the first issue. Until the last three pages of the first issue.

And in those final pages of issue #1, the book turns on you. That’s where we find out Angelica’s found a lump in her breast.

The remaining three issues have “b” plots for Monica and Felicia. Monica, who spent time cleaning up a post-Katrina New Orleans with
Black Panther, Luke Cage, Blade, and Brother Voodoo, now has to deal with her complicated relationship with the newly renamed Sorcerer Supreme Doctor Voodoo, and Felicia is struggling to finance an upstart detective agency and deal with her relationship with Thomas Fireheart, the Puma. But the main story is Angelica’s fight with cancer and Patsy’s attempts to help her friend deal with it.

It seems Patsy is a writer. She’s written a tell-all autobiography called Like a Cat Outta Hell, and the first issue opens with her book launch party held on the roof of the Baxter Building, the home of the Fantastic Four. And once her friend is diagnosed with cancer, Patsy begins writing about the experience for Redbook.

But Patsy’s ex-husband Daimon Hellstrom keeps popping up. Determined to help her friend, Patsy agrees to sp
end “one night” in Daimon’s realm in exchange for Angelica being 100% cured. Of course, he’s Son of Satan, so what Patsy doesn’t know is that one night in Hell lasts forever. The final issue is the remaining three girls’ battle to bring Patsy back from Hell. Ultimately, all Daimon really wanted was a higher page count in Patsy’s autobiography. In the end, to return from Hell, Patsy makes a new deal with Daimon: Angelica goes back to “playing the odds” (i.e., she’s no longer cured of her breast cancer by supernatural means), and when the paperback edition of Like a Cat Outta Hell is published Patsy will include two new chapters devoted to telling the world she is still in love with Daimon.

So at first glance, Daimon is the only one who really gets what he wants in the story. Really bizarre way to end this thing. Oh, and Felicia is able to open her detective agency with the help of underworld money, and Angelica is cured through modern medicine.

What isn’t clear is that after it’s established that Patsy is
writing a piece for Redbook on the cancer ordeal, parts of the subsequent issues are framed as her on her laptop chronicling events. If that were the case, wouldn’t Daimon be pissed that she revealed that the two chapters that will appear in the paperback book aren’t genuine? I donno. It just seemed a little sloppy.

The cancer plot enables some cool cameos: Night Nurse, Doctor Strange, Hank Pym. Early on we get to see “A-listers” like Emma Frost (White Queen), Ororo Munroe (Storm), Jennifer Walters (She-Hulk), and Sue Storm (Invisible Woman) crash the book party. Late in the series, we’re clued in that Danny Rand (Iron Fist) conducts a Saturday morning “Zen yoga class” for all the hot super heroines in New York City. That means we get Sue and Jennifer again, along with Tigra, the Inhumans’ Crystal, and others.

I enjoyed Croatian artist Tonci Zonjic’s work in this collection. It’s simple, but expressive. The covers, especially Jelena Kevic-Djurdjevic’s for issue #4, are beautiful. Also included in the collected edition is Patrick Zircher’s 1970s Variant for issue #1, and Zonjic’s issue #3 page layouts and character sketchbook. That last item was the most fascinating to me. There are two pages of sketches for each of the four girls, and it was interesting to see the thought put into the character development. Everything from the heights of the girls to how their wardrobes should reflect their personalities to the smallest of details (Felicia Hardy has “Nicole Kidman eyebrows, green eyes”).

I’m still not sure how much I like Marvel Divas. The story felt a little too “easy” at times, especially at the end, but I understand that it’s a limited series and things have to be wrapped up neatly. Regardless, I’m still planning to read Patsy Walker: Hellcat at some point down the road.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The End of the Eighties, Track 05

“Blind Hearts”
Twist of Shadows

Xymox is one of those all over the map bands from the ’80s. Beginning life as Clan of Xymox on the 4AD label after being discovered by Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard of Dead Can Dance, they released two stunning albums (Clan of Xymox and Medusa) and a killer single (“Muscoviet Mosquito”), before dropping the “Clan of” from their name and jumping to Polygram.

Twist of Shadows landed right where it needed to for 1989, falling somewhere between the moody atmosphere of the 4AD formula and the full-on synthesizer dance pop of their subsequent album, Phoenix. It strikes the listener as both weighty and slight all at once. It has alternative cred and feels a bit like a sellout at the same time.

“Blind Hearts” is the first of a handful of tracks that originally appeared on both the BGSU mix and the Thursday’s mix. (Originally duplicated because in my mind the two playlists were for two different audiences, I de-duped the tracklistings when I combined them into one.) It reminds me of the era in general more than anything too specific though. I associate the song with Jeff at college. I remember dancing to it at Thursday’s. I remember Xymox played the Phantasy Theater and Moev opened for them (with the droning refrain of “Why would you crucify me?”).

Regardless, there is something to be said for the albums that are released at the time you’re immersed in them. Nine Inch Nails reached perfection with Pretty Hate Machine, The Cure could never top Disintegration, New Order couldn’t do better than Technique, P.W.E.I. peaked with This is the Day... This is the Hour... This is This!, The The nailed Mind Bomb, etc. And Twist of Shadows is no different for me.