Thursday, February 18, 2010

The End of the Eighties, Track 09

“Something I Can Never Have”
Nine Inch Nails
Pretty Hate Machine

I have always listened to all kinds of music, from pop to new wave to hard rock to synthpop to alternative to alt country. But in my mid-high school years, I was deep in classic rock. I loved the Who, Jim Morrison and the Doors, Queen, Boston, the Kinks, the Stones. Also on that list was Pink Floyd. Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, the post-Roger Waters A Momentary Lapse of Reason, and, of course, The Wall all rotated through my various cassette decks. It seems there are very few white, suburban, adolescent boys who don’t fall under the sway of The Wall at one point or another. It’s an album that, despite its rock star narrative, speaks to the isolation of youth. And I was no different.

While maybe not apparent at first glance, Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine was a logical progression for me. Thematically, it represents the tumultuous stretch from teen to young adult that follows. Where The Wall plays to adolescent confusion, Pretty Hate Machine mines the raging hormones of teenage angst.

“Something I Can Never Have” fit perfectly in the headspace of a 19 year-old creative writing major who fancied himself a tortured poet. Every agonizing line of this thing reeks of hyper-romanticized desperation. Lyrically, the fifth track on Pretty Hate Machine is a downward spiral (no pun intended) of adolescent love and loss. The imagery is stark, heart-ripped-out, post-relationship depression, but there is a poetry to the torment that I love. Lines like “My favorite dreams of you still wash ashore / Scraping through my head ‘till I don’t want to sleep anymore” and “This thing is slowly taking me apart / Gray would be the color if I had a heart” were both beautiful and right in the wheelhouse of my own over-wrought conviction.

I subtitled both discs in the original BGSU / Fall 1989-Spring 1990 set with lines pulled from Pretty Hate Machine songs, and “Something I Can Never Have” provided disc one with the perfect encapsulation: “Just a Fading Fucking Reminder of Who I Used to Be”. It’s a good line that works in the song, but taken out of context, I loved how it could be interpreted multiple ways as the title of the disc. Sarcastic bravado or hidden embarrassment of misspent youth? Does it matter?

Musically, the tune borrows heavily from The Wall’s “Goodbye Blue Sky”. The underlying atmospherics ape the song to the point where I have always mentally inserted the “Did-did-did-did-did-did you see the frightened ones?” opening line of the Floyd classic. That’s not a knock on Trent Reznor or “Something I Can Never Have”, I always took it as just another example of the link between what was my old self and my then-new self.

Mix playlists are as much about the song-to-song flow as the song selection. And I love the way the Gothic noir of “The Spy in the Cab” bleeds into the industrial quiet of this particular Nine Inch Nails’ tune. Looking back on the romantic relationships I screwed up in college (and there were plenty), “Something I Can Never Have” perfectly fit the post-destruction sentiment at a time when every emotion was felt on an epic scale. It captured the profound loss of intensely burning love and lust.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Marvel Unbound - Iron Man: Enter the Mandarin

A couple of years ago when the John Favreau/Robert Downey, Jr. Iron Man movie came out, I was surprised to learn that the Golden Avenger is not considered to be a well-known character. I didn’t read a lot of Iron Man in his own title back in the day, but got plenty of him in the pages of Avengers and Marvel Team-Up and Marvel Two-in-One. He might not have been as front-and-center in the ’80s as he was during Marvel’s Civil War/Illuminati/Secret Invasion storylines of the past decade, but I always operated under the impression he was a first-tier super hero in the Marvel U.

Iron Man has always just seemed to be everywhere in the Marvel Universe, so I guess I took my familiarity with him for granted. But, thanks to that 2008 movie, a whole helluva lot more people know who Tony Stark is these days. And that’s a good thing.

Unlike X-Men and Spider-Man, I didn't avoid buying Iron Man: Enter the Mandarin in single issues because I was moving to trade-waiting (this was coming out soon after I was fully re-immersed in comics), but, rather, I hesitated because I was buying so many single issues at the local comic shop at the time something needed to be cut. I did, however, promise myself I'd pick it up in trade at some point. It ended up being one of the 20 or so collected editions I snagged at Wizard World Chicago last year. Final-day-of-the-con bargains meant I paid a whopping $2 for the trade paperback. Money well-spent.

This Joe Casey-written, Eric Canete-drawn story was a lot of fun. It is basically an Iron Man “Year One” story set in modern times (not unlike the Iron Man movie in some respects, I suppose). Based on the events that took place between the Mandarin’s debut in Tales of Suspense #50 (February 1964) and issue #55, just under a year after Iron Man himself was introduced in issue #39, Enter the Mandarin is a retelling of how Iron Man and the Mandarin first crossed paths and what took place. I’m not familiar with that original story, so I can’t say how much of a reimaging this is versus a complete revamp of the history, but I was really entertained by what Casey came up with here.

(It's interesting Casey seems to be staking his claim outside of the First Class franchise for this approach to expanding the all-ages, "between the panels" story of the early Marvel Universe with the five-issue Avengers: The Origin mini scheduled for April 2010.)

My only complaint is with Comicraft, responsible for the lettering in this series. Always present in any current Iron Man story is the data readings from his armor. And in Enter the Mandarin, it’s presented as white letters with a royal blue outlines. Very hard on the eyes. I found myself skipping a lot of the armor info because it was just difficult to read.

Canete’s art is fantastic. His art deco inspired covers are perfectly stylized, and his interiors contain a lot of motion and energy. I loved issue #5’s cover, and its rendering of Iron Man against a Chinese dragon representation of the Mandarin. As expected in a collection like this, the only extras are three pages of Canete cover sketches and inks for issues #2, #4, and #5.

With its obviously current technology and references to email and Wired Magazine, it’s clear the story is set in modern times. But Casey gives the reader a classic Iron Man tale that hits all the right notes: technology versus magic, a playboy Tony Stark alter ego, Pepper Potts and Happy Hogan, and the conclusion is satisfying enough to stand alone, but open-ended enough to leave room for the story to continue.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The End of the Eighties, Off Track - “Silver and Gold”

“Silver and Gold”
Rattle and Hum

There are, of course, tracks that didn’t make it onto The End of the Eighties that should have. They are songs that didn’t fit the flow of the playlist or are by an artist I felt was already/better represented by another track.

When it comes to live tracks off Rattle and Hum with Bono monologues, it’s a tough call between “Bullet the Blue Sky” and “Silver and Gold”. As difficult as it is to tell the difference between ABC News, Hill Street Blues, and a preacher on The Old Time Gospel Hour, and regardless of whether or not your god is short of cash, I went with “Silver and Gold”.

Written, according to Bono, “in a hotel room in New York City,” the song originally saw life on the Sun City album. That version, recorded with Bono, Keith Richards, and Ronnie Wood, was eventually released as a promotional single. A couple of years later, rerecorded by U2 proper, the song showed up on the b-side of the Joshua Tree single “Where the Streets Have No Name”, which eventually gets us to the Joshua Tree Tour and Rattle and Hum.

Here, by way of Bono’s “This song is not a rebel song, this song is ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’” intro on Under a Blood Red Sky, the anti-apartheid speech in the middle of “Silver and Gold” is just too ripe with awesome affectations to be ignored, making it infinitely quotable. To this day, any phrase I come across that begins with “’round about...” is completed in my head with “...the time a friend of ours, Little Steven, was putting together a record of arTists aGainst aPart-Tide!” John and I used to quote both “Bullet the Blue Sky” and “Silver and Gold” incessantly, which has carried over to this day both between us and spread out among the rest of my everyday life. Tracy knows any incarnation of “Am Ah buggin’ you?” will always be followed by “Don’t meant ta bug ya.”

“Silver and Gold” is one of those songs that deserves a place on The End of the Eighties, but there simply wasn’t a place where I felt comfortable inserting it. I never found the right song-to-song flow that worked with it. Even though it’s not a proper track on the playlist, it’s still worthy of the recognition.

“Ok, Edge, play the blues...”