Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Bond at 50

I have a lot of fond memories associated with the James Bond movies. As a kid, Mark was the first friend I had that got a VCR. His family had one long before anyone else I knew did. And whenever I’d spend the night at his house, we’d have his mom or dad or one of his older brothers take us to the video rental store. We’d often get three or four or sometimes even five movies out at a time and have marathon sessions watching them in his family’s finished basement. Although we were preteens and teenagers during this time, I remember us renting the Death Wish movies, and renting Kentucky Fried Movie along with Used Cars and Moving Violations. But most prominently, I remember renting James Bond movies and staying up all night watching them. (I also remember Mark and I seeing A View to A Kill at the old Gold Circle Cinema in North Canton – the same place he and I saw Ladyhawke and WarGames.)

I have seen all 22 Bond movies along with Casino Royale and Never Say Never Again many, many times in my life (and read all of the original books), but it turns out that prior to a few weeks ago, my wife had only ever seen a handful of the Pierce Brosnan Bonds, and our kiddo hadn’t seen any of them. The trailers for Skyfall caught Jack’s eye, and although he’s not going to get to see any of the Daniel Craig Bonds any time soon, I have been educating Tracy and Jack on vintage Bond… one movie at a time.

We’re not watching the movies in any particular order, we’ve skipped around, hitting Bonds from every era. We’ve made it through a dozen of them so far, and Jack’s favorite by a wide margin is Goldfinger. I guess there is no denying a classic.

I have come to realize, however, as we go through this exercise, that as a child of the ’80s, I kind of got gypped as far as Bond goes. I mean, by the time Mark and I were renting the videos in the early ’80s, Sean Connery had originated the role 20 years earlier, so he wasn’t “our” Bond. And by that time, Roger Moore was old (and looked it) and driven the character far into the jokey, hokey world of one-liners and over-the-top gadgets. When we finally got a new Bond, it ended up being our generation’s George Lazenby: Timothy Dalton. After a nice turn in The Living Daylights, the franchise produced License to Kill, which was simply an action movie with a main character who happened to be named “James Bond.” (Seriously, change Bond’s name to “Riggs” and you’ve got a passable script for Lethal Weapon 2.) The series dumped Dalton after that, and then we got Old Remington Steele as Roger Moore’s Bond. Like I said. We got screwed.

That is why I’m relishing the Daniel Craig Bond. Despite the dip in quality with Quantum of Solace, he’s still my favorite Bond at this point. Nostalgia for For Your Eyes Only or A View to a Kill will only get you so far. And though You Only Live Twice, then Thunderball were my favorite Bond movies for years, the Casino Royale reboot tops it in every way for me.

I have to say, though, revisiting the previous 22 movies has been a lot of fun. I find that it’s been very easy for me to overlook their problem spots (Live and Let Die’s J.W. Pepper, Diamonds Are Forever’s Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, along with Bambi and Thumper, etc.) and just roll with the good stuff and enjoy the movies and the girls and the cars and the gadgets and the quips, and revel in the rest of my family’s first-time viewing joy.

Parting Thought: If I ever had an audience with anyone even remotely responsible for the Bond movies, I would relentlessly push for a Daniel Craig reboot of Moonraker. That movie is ripe for updating, à la Casino Royale. Someone get on that, please!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Akron Comicon Report

Almost two years ago, the first meeting of POP! The Comics Culture Club met in Parma. As that gathering of people grew, I met Michael Savene. Michael is a man with a vision of big things in Akron with regards to comics. It’s not my place to reveal all of the good stuff he wants to do for the medium we love in the town we call home, but so far he has impressed me every step of the way as he executes his plans.

First, Michael successfully established the Akron Chapter of POP!, then along with his partner Robert Jenkins, he put on the first Akron Comicon at the University of Akron Student Union.

Michael has very graciously included me in his plans, allowing me the flexibility to be as involved as my schedule permits. My role in these activities is minuscule, but I’m proud to even be associated with these successes. And, while I can’t speak to the financials, the Akron Comicon appears to have been a success.

John and I had a table at the con, selling copies of our books. As a creator, I had a really good show. There was steady traffic for our table up until really the final hour or so. Sales and conversation was also lively for us. While I saw a lot of people I recognize from the local comics scene on hand, there were plenty of new faces coming by who were interested in what we had to offer.

Another high point of the show was the quality and number of cosplayers in attendance. (Check out my Instagram account for pictures.) They were on-hand for the entire day, too, sticking around to participate in the contest at the end of the eight-hour show.

I did not hear a single negative thing about the show from fellow creators or from any of the fans in attendance. If nothing else, it certainly feels like Michael has proven that Akron can sustain a comic convention. And I’m looking forward to next year’s event... November 09, 2013. Mark your calendars!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Today’s Tom Sawyer

28 October 2012: Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, Ohio

In the foreword to my book, Marvel legend Tom DeFalco defines the Golden Age of Comics as whatever point at which the reader first discovered comic books. I couldn’t agree more and have been known to expand that same theory to musical discovery. Because he's a drummer and a fan of sci-fi/fantasy/all things geeky, I introduced Jack to Rush’s music a few of years ago, but it wasn’t until this year’s Clockwork Angels album and accompanying steampunk novel came out, that Jack fully claimed the band as his own.

My original intent was to take Jack to the Time Machine Tour last year, but travel plans forced me delay his live experience. As is often the case, hindsight proved that things turned out for the best. I’ve seen and heard the DVD/CD from that Cleveland tour stop and was disappointed with lead singer Geddy Lee’s vocals and, beyond the Moving Pictures set, the song selection didn’t do much for me. Any fears I may have had about either Lee’s voice or setlist decisions going into this show were quickly erased.

Jack and I have been excited about this show for months. With our anticipation peaking, we headed out early, and arrived downtown around 6:30 for the 7:30 curtain. The garage I had intended to park in (attached to The Q) was already full and only accepting pre-purchased passes, but I had a backup plan and hit the garage directly across from the main entrance and box office of the arena. Leaving our jackets in the car, we dashed across the street and between the raindrops to get to the show. After a bite at Clevelander Michael Symon’s signature restaurant in The Q, we decided to scope out our seats.

On the way, we heard a voice call out Jack’s name. It was his drum instructor there with his son! We chatted with them for a bit (including his instructor telling him they’d break down drummer Neil Peart’s bells performance in their next lesson!) before heading off to check out the concert swag. The vendors only had adult small sized shirts in two designs, but thankfully one of them was one Jack really wanted. Decked out in his new shirt and clutching a newly purchased pin set, we headed to our seats to settle in for the show.

Walking into our row, a first-generation fan jokingly quizzed Jack as he passed, asking “When did Rush release their first album?” In a moment of introversion, the kiddo didn’t answer, but after we got into our seats, Jack turned to me and said, “It was 1974, wasn’t it, Dad?”

I’ve heard complaints about this tour’s setlist choices, but as far as Jack and I were concerned, it was pretty damn perfect. Focusing almost exclusively on their ‘80s output and the new album, this felt tailor made for both of us. The three-hour show was divided into two acts: The first leaning heavily on Power Windows; The second consisting of three-fourths of the Clockwork Angels album, along with a string of classics to close out the main set and encore.

Thematically, the song selection just works. The philosophies behind the Kevin J. Anderson/Neil Peart Clockwork Angels novel mesh with the ideas in “Grand Designs” and “Middletown Dreams” and “Territories” off of 1985’s Power Windows. Cuts like Snakes & Arrows’ “Far Cry” (the lone song from the early 2000s in the set) and Roll the Bones’ “Dreamline” also fit perfectly in the setlist by bookending the new material.

The first set highlights included the show-opening “Subdivisions” and “Territories”, along with the Roll the Bones’ instrumental, “Where’s My Thing?” – providing the kiddo his first exposure to a Peart solo! Jack was truly transfixed by The Professor. He was completely in tune with what the rhythmist was doing, clearly studying his every move when projected on the big screen. Jack thrilled with every rotation of the drum riser and every flip of the stick. On the drive home, Jack asked if I noticed how Peart wasn’t tossing his sticks in the air or twirling them just for show, but that he was using that as an opportunity to change up his grip on the sticks. (I hadn’t noticed that.) Two additional, shorter drum solos followed in the second set, but that first one cemented Jack’s appreciation of the master.

The band’s use of moving pictures (pun intended) – projecting both live images from the stage and canned videos – was great. I don’t know if the footage accompanying “Territories” was a holdover from an ’80s tour or something new for this one, but we both enjoyed it and the footage for “Far Cry”. And I had to laugh in surprise when the kiddo nudged me and exclaimed “The Three Stooges!” during “Big Money”. I had no idea he even knew who they were. But it was the videos for the Clockwork Angels material in the second set that really stood out.

When the band took the stage after a short intermission, the Clockwork Angels String Ensemble joined them. It was this set of songs that has endeared the band to Jack, and reignited my love of Rush. “Caravan” is Jack’s favorite Rush song, and it delivered live – bombast, pyrotechnics, everything an 11-year-old could ask for! While I dig that song, I was thrilled when the band ripped into “Wish Them Well” (one of the few Clockwork Angels songs they’ve been rotating in and out of the setlist), my favorite of the new stuff. The surprise for us, though, was “The Wreckers”. A powerful song with an accompanying video that ended up a live favorite of Jack’s and mine among the second set.

Jack commented a couple of times that the strings seemed a little lost in the mix on certain songs, but they shone during a number of Clockwork Angels cuts and “YYZ”.

I was surprised to see the entire upper bowl curtained off, but I don’t know that it was necessarily a bad thing. The band can still say they’re playing arenas, the fans get a more intimate show and better seating options, and everyone’s happy.

The myth that Rush doesn’t have any female fans is just that, a myth. The arena was easily split 50/50 between the sexes. And the new material and amount of kids there with their families dispel the idea that Rush is nothing more than a dinosaur band with an aging catalog and matching fan base. We saw everyone from preteens to pensioners. The air drumming cliché, however, holds true. I think if you’re a Rush fan of a certain age (myself included), it’s simply impossible to not air drum to the likes of “YYZ”, “The Spirit of Radio”, or “Tom Sawyer”. And from the vantage point of our seats, it was actually very cool to see the entire floor section air drumming along with Peart during those classic songs.

Clearly a Rush concert amateur, Jack informed me at the intermission that his legs were going to be bruised for days because of the hand drumming he was doing on his thighs as he drummed along.

My musical tastes and my dad’s have never really intersected – certainly not while I was growing up! It’s been such a cool experience over the last few years to be doing things like this with my kid. And when I hear Jack explaining to Tracy the day after the show how “we got them to do an encore!” I realize that even though I’m working without a blueprint, I might be doing something right. I have seen Rush twice previously: once in the ’80s, and again in the ’90s. But this time will always be special because it was Jack’s first Rush concert. A perfect storm of music, youthful enthusiasm, bonding, air drumming, and joy: Emotional feedback on timeless wavelength.

(All photos by Adam Besenyodi.)

Monday, October 15, 2012


The Jesus and Mary Chain
21 September 2012: House of Blues, Cleveland, Ohio

I approach the possibility of seeing alternative acts from the ’80s cautiously. I initially get excited about concert announcements, then often have to do a bit of research on the touring band to see how much of the lineup is original and how much is hired guns. With a band like the Jesus and Mary Chain, though, so long as Jim and William Reid are present, I suppose that’s all that matters.

Jeff and I have had some highs and lows in our retro-concert-going experiences over the years, but with the Jesus and Mary Chain we got exactly what we expected. I was a little nervous when lead singer Jim opened the show with an advanced apology for his sore throat. That’s a move that leads to one of two outcomes: Either the band rises above it and exceeds expectations, or the band uses it as an excuse to mail it in and shit on the fans. Overcoming my feeling of dread, the band delivered, but that’s not to say there wasn’t some of the expected clichéd sourness from the brothers.

Much like the Ryan Adams show I saw at the beginning of this year, there was an edginess to the proceedings that bordered on chaos. The Reid brothers have a reputation for being a bit cantankerous, and it bled through everything they did on stage. The boys bitched about amps and some “technical differences,” and lead singer Jim abused the mic stand so much that it fell apart at one point. But it all seemed to be part of the show, part of the image that has accompanied these tetchy brothers since the ’80s.

The setlist was pretty much everything you’d want from a JAMC show – in fact, the only song missing that both Jeff and I would have liked to have heard was “Her Way of Praying” off of Automatic. But the boys opened with “Snakedriver” and burned through “Head On”, “Blues from a Gun”, “Sidewalking”, “Some Candy Talking”, “Happy When It Rains”, and “Halfway to Crazy” among others before winding down with a seemingly abbreviated version of “Just Like Honey”. But their Wall of Sound reverb wailed on the main set closing “Reverence”. The three-song encore was respectable, but didn’t stand up to the cuts off of Automatic, which sounded surprisingly good live almost a quarter century later.

I don’t actually remember a lot about the first time I saw the Jesus and Mary Chain perform live. On August 22, 1992, I worked 24+ hours straight at the Disney Inn Resort (now called Shades of Green and owned by the US military) where I was an assistant front desk manager on disaster recovery duty as Hurricane Andrew blew through the state. The next day, on no sleep, my girlfriend and I went to the Orange County Fairgrounds to see the JAMC headline the second Lollapalozza tour alongside the Chili Peppers, Ministry, Ice Cube, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam. Sleep depravation during the show and 20 years of life gone by have left me with only snippets of memories from that festival, so the opportunity to see the JAMC again was extremely appealing.

With the hindsight of the Jesus and Mary Chain’s guitar distortion-filled, neo-psychedelic, shoe-gazing influence on bands like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, my appreciation for the feisty brothers’ work is deeper than it has ever been. And it was good to have an excuse to hang out with Jeff and cross another band off our list.

(All photos by Adam Besenyodi.)