Category Archives: Popular Culture

Everything OLD is NEW again – A return to the venerable COMPACT DISC

stereo

Neither expansive nor exhaustive a review I simply wanted to acknowledge a renewed interest in collecting CDs for my listening pleasure. With a resurgence of vinyl and the now mainstream accessibility of digital downloads the poor old Compact Disk seems destined for the historic trash heap. Nonetheless, the CD medium seems perfectly suited for my own needs.

In the 1980s I first caught the audiophile bug and pushed (as far as my limited budget would allow) for a quality music system, the cornerstone of which were my Boston Acoustic A150 floor speakers.

A divorce at the millennium’s turn and many years later the desire for a return to some quality sound prompted me to purchase a pair of Book Shelf Speakers; the speaker size dependent upon and dictated by a smaller room setting.

I settled upon a pair of ELAC B6 Debut Series 6.5″ Bookshelf Speakers by Andrew Jones. To power them I purchased a Marantz PM6006 amplifier. Finally, in lieu of a dedicated CD player I just hooked up my Sony Blue-Ray player circa 2002. I bought a pair of Sony MDR-RF985 Wireless Stereo Headphones. However, I was a bit underwhelmed by them. Back in the day I owned a pair of Koss HV/1’s that I loved and so searching about the net I stumbled upon Grado’s line of headphones and purchased a pair of SR125e’s.

Check out each of these components as there is lots of information on the net and the reviews are generally quite favorable.

Being an old timey classic rock gal my first new CD purchase was the Beatles CD remasters box set in stereo. Wow! This set represents the crown jewel in my growing music collection. The sound quality is phenomenal and the packaging quality of the overall product irreproachable. Some may question my choice of Stereo over Mono since the Beatles’ catalog was initially released in Mono with the Stereo recordings considered a mere after-thought. But for me the versions of the Albums I am most familiar with are the stereo recordings and so I am eminently satisfied with my purchase. I have never heard the Beatles sound as good as they do in this collection.

beatles-box

After the Beatles I began picking up the 2014 Jimmy Page remasters of the Zeppelin studio releases. Audiophile, Ron Beaudry has panned them mercilessly. Ron is a vinyl guy and has a number of fun and informative reviews of youtube. He is definitely worth checking out. However, I am very satisfied with the 2014 remasters and the sound quality is great. Of course, all of this is subjective so you may find yourself strongly disagreeing with me; No worries, for as the old saying goes “your mileage may vary.”

led-zeppelin-albums

The last CD collection I wanted to mention is YES – The Studio Albums 1969-1987 Remastered & Expanded CD BOX SET. This collection arrived at my door today via Amazon and it prompted me to do a review; initially just about the Yes collection, but then I thought it more useful to discuss CD’s in general and a return to collecting music in this format.

yes-box1

The Yes set presents the Rhino remasters from 2003 and I am “very” happy with the sound quality here. The packaging is “okayyyy” but not great. It comes in a nifty little box that looks good (Roger Dean good) but hampers my access to the CD’s. So I keep the box out and displayed for aesthetic purposes but I have removed the CD’s and have them stored for easy access guaranteeing that they’ll be played more; which undeniably is what it’s all about.

Clearly, digital access to music is the most efficient when it comes to muss and fuss. Most of us can get a quick musical fix by logging onto YouTube and hearing essentially anything we want (Bob Dylan being a notable exception). Vinyl is great and the ultimate nostalgic fix for an aging baby boomer. But in all honesty, I’ve been spoiled by the easy access afforded by the digital age. Admittedly, LP’s are one of the greatest OCD experiences you could possibly hope for — cleaning the record’s surface with a lint free brush or cloth —swinging the tonearm over and gently lowering the stylus to your song of choice really can’t be matched by any other medium.

However, CD’s still afford the collector the ability to hold in his or her hands old familiar Albums (albeit in reduced scale) and see Marc Bolan and David Bowie looking eternally young in top hat and Ziggy Stardust lightning bolt. Compact Discs afford the consumer the reward of physical ownership of a property they can actually call their own — and there is something nicely cathartic in all that.

bowie-marc

 

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Lorne Greene (no, not “that” Lorne Greene) and the birth of British Rock n’ Roll

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Lorne Greene at my sister’s place in Port Alberni, August 30 2016

This past summer I had the opportunity to visit with my bio-mom and siblings up at Port Alberni. For those that don’t know, I was adopted at 2 weeks old and through a combination of DNA and good old fashioned detective work I was able to find both my birth mother (still living) and learn the identity of my biological father, Louis Joseph Lee 1926-2004. For those interested in all that feel free to check out my Genealogy blog at: Williams – Thomas – Doran : A Genealogy Page.

But I digress, (as I often do). While there, I was introduced to Lorne Greene (born December 24, 1938 in Port Alberni), a family friend and a man with a very interesting musical pedigree. Lorne had the good fortune to find himself in London, England just as the English Rock n’ Roll scene was taking off in the early 1960s.

don-reynolds

Lorne at left as one of Donn Reynolds’ “Boys” 1958

He is, by his own admission, first and foremost — a country music lover-player. Above, closer to his roots, Lorne toured with fellow Canadian and country music star Donn Reynolds in 1958. However, his chosen instrument of guitar made him a highly sought after commodity in London’s  burgeoning  1960s pop and rock music scene. He soon found himself in the company of a number of soon to be famous rock legends.

the-dukes

Lorne at left pulling duties as guitarist for “The Dukes” in 1958

Lorne played with a number of folks that were well known in the UK but much less so in North America. I found a very brief mention of Lorne on a page dedicated to early English Rockabilly artist, Terry Wayne:

terry

Terry Wayne circa 1960, Source: http://www.rockabillyhall.com/terrywayne.html

In 1959, Terry appeared twice on the popular BBC Light Program radio show, “Saturday Club” with his band, the Dukes, featuring a whole host of rock and roll favourites including “She’s Mine”, “Mighty Mighty Man”, “Boppin’ the Blues” and “Just Because”. These live recordings can be heard on the aforementioned Rollercoaster CD “The Terrific Terry Wayne” (RCCD 3030) available from Rollercoaster Records, Rock House, St. Mary’s, Chalford, Gloucestershire, England, GL6 8PU or visit the website http://www.RollercoasterRecords.com. Terry also recorded some private sessions for Bernie Andrews, the show’s engineer. Bernie was taken with Terry’s guitarist Lorne Green[e] when he realised they had a mutual interest in Chet Atkins. [emphasis mine] These recordings can also be heard on the Rollercoaster CD. The bass player with the Dukes was Lennie Harrison whom Terry met on the “Jerry Lee” tour. Lennie was playing with Chas McDevitt at the time but joined Terry later in 1959. At last, Terry had an authentic sound with Lennie’s upright bass and Lorne’s appreciation of Chet Atkins shining through on guitar. 

Reference: The “Terrific” Terry Wayne (Terry was best man at Lorne and Ina’s wedding)

chet-atkins

Chet Atkins at the Devonshire Hotel, London 1962 (Trying out Lorne’s Gretsch)

Chet Atkins remains Lorne’s favourite guitarist and like so many of his contemporaries, Lorne made it a mission to obtain a Gretsch guitar. Lorne recalls that during a recording session at the BBC studios in 1962 one of his band mates told him that some guys had entered the studio and had cracked open his precious Gretsch guitar case. Alarmed, Lorne arrived to see his Gretsch in the hands of four young men who were admiring it. As you might have guessed, these “four young men”turned out to be the Beatles! Like Lorne, George Harrison was also enamoured of  Chet Atkins and so the lure of Lorne’s Gretsch must have proved too much for the young Beatle.

beatles62

The Beatles -pre mop-top but as they must have looked when Lorne caught them admiring his Gretsch guitar

Lorne also found work with the legendary, Billy Fury. He appears on one of the early promotional posters for the 1962 film, “Play it Cool” with black Gretsch in hand. The period from 1961 to 1962 was a particularly productive time for Lorne as he also played and recorded with the Outlaws, and Carter-Lewis and the Southerners.

eddie-calvert

Lorne 2nd from left performing with Eddie Calvert (1922-1978) in 1963

In a recent phone conversation I had with Lorne he states that he played first with Carter Lewis and the Southerners prior to his stint with the Outlaws. He also spent time with an outfit called the “Night-Riders” featuring fellow guitarist, Ken Allen. Other performers Lorne lent his guitar skills to included notable horn player, Eddie Calvert as well as Johnny Duncan, and Terry Kennedy.

nightriders

The Night-Riders in Hamburg 1962 (Lorne at far right)

One quirky fact regarding Lorne’s career is that following his departure from the Outlaws he was replaced by Ritchie Blackmore and after leaving Carter-Lewis and the Southerners he was replaced by Jimmy Page! Both artists are hailed as being amongst the very best of their generation.

page-blackmore

Left- Ritchie Blackmore legendary guitarist for Deep Purple and Rainbow, and at Right, rock-god, Jimmy Page co-founder of Led Zeppelin

At some point during 1963, Lorne had grown homesick for his native Canada. He and his newlywed Scottish bride, Ina, made their way to Canada where the couple raised their family.

outlaws1962

The Outlaws 1962 (Lorne at far right)

Lorne is a quiet and humble guy. His obvious talent (he still plays guitar) would have carried him far had he remained in the UK. However, he has no regrets. His profile might have been raised somewhat had not fellow Canadian and television-recording star Lorne Greene eclipsed him so completely by virtue of their shared name.

helen1963

Helen Shapiro showing some decent “Footie” form as Lorne (rear left) looks on approvingly.  Photo taken at Great Yarmouth 1963

And so I  created this brief biographical entry on this Lorne Greene- a Canadian guitarist present at and an active participant in the birth of British Rock n Roll. I feel strongly that Lorne’s contributions should not be forgotten.

lorne-john-wayne

L-R John Williams, Lorne and Wayne Price August 30 2016

Above, Lorne indulged my son (also a Chet Atkins fan) with a turn on Lorne’s White Falcon Gretsch. Lorne’s frequent musical partner, Wayne Price, has a great voice and is a fair guitarist in his own right.

I’d also like to express my sincere appreciation to Lorne and Ina for sharing some of these amazing photos from their private collection with me. They are published here with their express permission.

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The Welcome Death of Marvel Comics

 

Red_Skull

The Red Skull providing a politically conservative take on the “Refugee Crisis”

It’s a comfort to know that comic books no longer hold the mass appeal that they did in an earlier age. For the most-part, you need to travel to a specialist shop as they are no longer available off the rack at the local drug store. Sales are dropping and I think the reasons are pretty obvious.

Trite plot-lines and themes taken out of a politically left agenda tend to alienate the majority of readers. My love for Marvel’s universe stemmed from first rate characterization and originality that birthed and denoted what we now call the Silver-age of comics. All that has taken a backseat to gimmicky, paper-thin, politically driven pap that fails to inspire and ignite the imagination.

None of this is new of course. On some level, Marvel and its chief rival Brand Echhh … er., DC Comics have always addressed some measure of social justice and related causes… drug addiction, racism, and alienation were tackled as long ago as 1963 when the Fantastic Four defeated “The Hate Monger” an evil despot who turned out to be Adolf Hitler! Oops! forgot to add in the spoiler alert 😉 Later in the decade it was Peter Parker’s pal, Harry Osborn getting hooked on pills and the Green Arrow’s side-kick, “Speedy” getting hooked on heroin.

In an effort to bow before the twin idols of tolerance and diversity Marvel has been tweaking and reinventing familiar characters. Basically the formula has been to highlight a character’s sexual orientation or identity, change their sex (more often than not symbolically rather than literally i.e., have a female don the costume and mantle) and to change their ethnicity so that they are no longer Caucasian but a visible minority of one stripe or the other. All this is rather predictable as the movie representations merge with their comic book counterparts.

One particularly egregious example stems from a new series called  “Captain America: Steve Rogers”. In the first issue  Cap’s longtime enemy the WW2 Nazi super criminal Red Skull appears reciting the standard politically conservative opposition to unchecked immigration.

The problems with the above depiction are numerous to say the least. Simply put, it is erroneous to equate legitimate concerns Westerners have with regards to large-scale Muslim immigration and the Nazis of WW2.

As a conservative minded Westerner it’s a bit disconcerting to have the Red Skull become Marvel’s representative for people like myself. It’s beyond twisted of course but that’s the result when Marvel hires a former politician to pen a comic book. Nick Spencer is the mind behind this disposable trash and yes you can “Google” him.

By the way, and this is a spoiler…..

ALERT

ALERT

ALERT

ALERT

ALERT

ALERT

ALERT

ALERT

ALERT

oh what the hell….

It turns out Steve Rogers has been a servant of Hydra for years and that he has internalized conservative values i.e., Nazi values. So I guess I can take some solace in the fact that the personification of America’s fighting spirit is as guilty and fundamentally evil as I am.

I honestly debated even writing this article. I mean what’s the point… it’s pretty much pissing into the wind. But it’s a slow moving Friday….

I am obviously not alone in my criticism of Marvel’s PC branding. Here’s a few choice quotes from other industry observers:

bigbang

On the sorry state of the industry

From Comic Book creator, Matt Battaglia:

Back in the desert, a group of presumably illegal immigrants are crossing the border, and the Sons of the Serpent arrive [ a 1960s created Avengers villain organization fueled by racist ideology] .

Some lines from the Serpents: “By invading this sovereign land, you defy the laws of God, nature, and the United States Constitution… until the mighty wall is built, you come here for employment that is rightfully ours! And if denied it, you seek welfare paid for by our tax dollars! … look who it is, y’all! Captain Socialism … apologizing for our country’s greatness that you have time to come down here and flout still more of our laws…”

Seriously, this is what the villains are espousing. It’s a lot of conservative buzzwords given a murderous edge, and that’s that. Together with the overall tone and narration of the issue, conservatives have every right to be angry.

Going back to Captain America’s earlier observation that “this country is a divided as it’s ever been,” we agree. Mainly because one side of the argument unilaterally paints the other side as racist, murderous monsters who are “spouting intolerance and fear” and “drowning out common sense.” 

See: http://thefederalist.com/2015/10/21/its-true-captain-america-is-now-captain-leftist/

And the headline says it all from an article by Douglas Ernst of the Washington Times:

‘Captain America’ comic likens critics of Syrian refugee programs to Nazis

See: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/may/23/captain-america-comic-likens-critics-of-syrian-ref/

And finally the aptly titled: “Why Comic Books Suck” blog (love the title)

See: http://whycomicbookssuck.blogspot.ca/

It’s comforting to know that the sinking ship called Marvel Comics may finally go the way of the dinosaur. The fact that both DC and Marvel have tried to reboot their anemic franchises every few years is tacit admission that their relevance is lost and they are culturally moribund.

My advice? Collect Marvel Masterworks… the company’s brilliant Silver-age output and remember what was.

 

 

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Jane Foster… You’ve Come a Long Way Baby!

Thor Issue #8

Thor Issue #8

It’s really no secret at this point since anyone with any real interest in all this will know by now that Jane Foster has been revealed as the new Thor. However, I thought it would be worth commenting on and providing some personal insight into the latest goings ons in the world of Thor and Marvel Entertainment in general.

On some level I’m quite comfortable with Jane assuming the mantle of Thor. Admittedly, the execution of it all is lacking somewhat, for as other’s have pointed out, Thor is the given name of the Odinson and so Jane’s incarnation should have been handled along the lines of Walt Simsonson’s Beta Ray Bill… The power, the mantle is his but not the name.

Interestingly enough, Marvel had Jane assume the Thor identity back in 1978 when she appeared as the goddess of thunder in one of the “What If?” titles, (issue #10 to be exact).

What If Jane Foster Had Found the Hammer of Thor

In this “imaginary” story Jane decided to call herself Thordis and performed admirably as a female incarnation of the Mighty Thor. Since, the story was clearly a fantasy and not meant to be seen as part of the Thor canon no one seemed to take umbrage over this representation of Thor (And no, the irony of it being an imaginary tale within an imaginary universe is not lost on me).

However, old timer’s like myself will hearken back a decade earlier still when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby finally resolved the Thor-Jane Foster relationship by granting her the powers of an Asgardian goddess! Yet, within the very pages of that memorable issue, they had her fail so miserably so, irrevocably, that poor Jane was forcibly removed from the cast of Thor’s main supporting characters and immediately replaced with the goddess Sif.

The Mighty Thor #136

The Mighty Thor #136

The transition was awkward and abrupt and not even Kirby’s amazing pencils or Stan’s eloquence could blunt the jolting impact of such a major change in the direction of their golden haired protagonist. It was definitely heavy handed, but fortunately, Sif proved an interesting character in her own right, and her courage, fearlessness, and innate character as a goddess born stood in stark contrast to the timid, gentle, and decidedly human, Jane Foster.

Not Cut-out for God Duty

Not Cut-out for God Duty

But like the old Virginia Slims cigarette ads once noted… “You’ve come a long way baby!” The current Jane Foster not only has become The Goddess of Thunder but in her human form is currently battling breast cancer. Either way, this Jane Foster is a definite bad-ass and possessed of an indomitable spirit.

In many ways the character of Jane Foster is symptomatic of the wider Marvel push for diversity. Canon iterations  (whether as part of the Cinematic or Comic Book Universe) of an Afro-American, Captain America, Nick Fury, and Human Torch among others have become the status-quo. Expect to see further steps in this direction. Certainly, GBLTQ characters are gaining more press and it won’t be long before we see one or more 1st tier characters coming out as gay or representing some other sexual minority.

Thor writer, Jason Aaron may had some creative fun at his critics’ expense when he had Jane/Thor go up against old school villain, Crusher Creel AKA The Absorbing Man is issue #5. The choice of villain was deliberate. Creel is overtly male, bestial, guttural, and to no one’s surprise, misogynistic in the extreme. In facing our female protagonist for the first time he screams out at her:

“Thor? Are you kidding me? I’m supposed to call you Thor? Damn feminists are ruining everything,” he says. “You wanna be a chick superhero? Fine. Who the hell cares? But get your own identity. Thor’s a dude. One of the last manly dudes still left. What’d you do, send him to sensitivity training so he’d stop calling Earth girls ‘wenches’?”

Thor retaliates by breaking his jaw.

“That’s for saying ‘feminist’ like it’s a four-letter word, creep,”

Creel’s scathing contempt echoes many of the sentiments felt by critics of the new Thor and I’m sure Jason Aaron was smiling to himself as he put together this artful and clearly symbolic contest between himself and his critics 🙂

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Captain America #107 A Look Back at a Silver Age Favourite

Captain America # 107

Captain America #107 is undoubtedly a high-water mark both for Captain America as a title and for Marvel comics as a brand. Published in the year 1968,  issue 107 is a fast paced psychological thriller focusing on Cap’s guilt over the death of his young side-kick, Bucky Barnes.  Nothing world shaking here; no earth devouring menace on the order of Galactus or universe threatening crisis courtesy of the Beyonder or Thanos; rather the book centers on Steve Rogers’ struggle to cope with a rapidly changing world and the challenge of finding his place in it, all whilst wrestling with demons of his personal past.

Stan Lee’s gift for generating  catchy titles is showcased here with the memorable “If The Past Be Not Dead” whilst Jack Kirby’s unsurpassed pencils drive home the point courtesy of a splash page depicting Cap flying into action against a backdrop of helmeted shadowy figures and a suitably nightmarish gaping mouthed Adolph Hitler.

Captain America is a man of supreme integrity possessing a will to fight on against impossible odds; itself a trait that personifies the American spirit. To understand Captain America is to see him as the living embodiment of the United States of America. Yet co-existing with this living symbol of American power is the man Steve Rogers, and Rogers is a deeply troubled individual.

Lee’s dialogue and Kirby’s pencils unite to illustrate a tortured man under relentless pressure.

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Lee employs a clever, albeit deceptively simple writing device to emphasize the intense psychological pressure assaulting his protagonist, that of repetition. On page 2  we note the words “again! again! again!” and on the following page Bucky’s ringing accusation of “Why? Why? Why?”. The “why” is of course “Why did you let me die?” Why didn’t you save  me?”

Cap’s main antagonist in this tale is Dr. Faustus. No, not the Dr. Faustus of Marlowe’s famous play. However, Lee may have used the name to illustrate the common element of deception and trickery that appears thematically in both works. Certainly, deception is at the root of Faustus’ attack on Steve Rogers.

Somehow the use of hallucinogenics got past the censors at the Comics Code Authority. Perhaps it’s because Steve consumes them unwittingly?  At any rate, the drugs leave Steve susceptible to Faustus’ manipulations and a series of encounters arranged by the nasty doctor are strung together to undermine our hero’s confidence, to make him question his very sanity.

Again, Lee uses repetition to up the intensity level and the blurring of past and present is again perfectly illustrated by Jack Kirby as seen in the panel below:

The Nazi’s are in fact actors/henchmen hired by Faustus to facilitate Cap’s decent into madness—to utterly break him, psychologically. But as is often the case with fictional villains, Faustus overplays his cards and unbeknownst to Faustus (or the reader at this point) Cap has the prescription he’s been taking sent to S.H.I.E.L.D for analysis.

Steve then sets Faustus up for his comeuppance courtesy of some play-acting of his own. It’s a good thing he did too because, Faustus had slipped Cap an aging pill to break him in body as well as mind. Just when it looks like Cap is down and out he rallies like the super soldier he is and puts the hurt to Faustus’ hired goons.

Lee and Kirby save the best for last and I’ll let the closing panels speak for themselves:

Cap107-20

Cap’s revitalization and return to form following a book length adventure where he increasingly doubts his abilities and is at his most vulnerable is welcomed to say the least. Cap’s flying fist sans sound effect graphic is completely satisfying— a one punch knock-out blow redressing the psychological pounding Cap took throughout this tale. The sight of an unconscious Faustus and the haunting ethereal visage of Bucky over a weary Captain America is visual poetry and a suitable ending to this well crafted tale.

Anyone wishing to understand the character of Captain America is encouraged to obtain a copy of this issue. I think it rates as one of Marvel’s finest and is certainly amongst the very best that I ever read.

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Supergirl 101: A Primer On DC Comics’ Oft Overlooked Heroine

Various incarnations of Supergirl from 1959 to the present

Various incarnations of Supergirl from 1959 to the near-present 1. Supergirl 1950s- early 60s. 2. Supergirl late 1960s and early 70s. 3. Supergirl mid-late 1970s. 4. Supergirl early 2000s. 5. Supergirl animated version from the 1990s. 6. Power Girl an alternate universe version of Supergirl and 7. Supergirl as she appeared in the 1980s.

Given that comic books and their various multi-media spinoffs— cartoons, movies, graphic novels, etc… have traditionally been seen as the near exclusive purview of adolescent and preadolescent males, it shouldn’t be all that surprising that Superman’s cousin, Supergirl, is almost unknown to most females in today’s culture. So, being a longtime fan of the character I thought I’d attempt to spotlight her and encourage my female friends to look into Supergirl in hopes of generating a few more fans for her.

ORIGINS

Supergirl debuted in issue #252 (May 1959) as Superman’s cousin, Kara Zor-El, from the planet Krypton, and more specifically from the doomed city of Argo. The city miraculously survived the immediate destruction of Krypton by being blown intact out into space. The city had a protective dome that ultimately failed to withstand a meteor shower composed of kryptonite. However, just as Kal-El’s (Superman’s)  father had saved his infant son from destruction by launching him earthward in a rocket so also was teen-aged Kara able to avoid death.

Supergirl's first appearance in Action Comics issue #252 May, 1959

Supergirl’s first appearance in Action Comics issue #252 May, 1959

Initially, Supergirl was cringe-worthy as an independent hero. In fact, she was decidedly submissive to the will of her older yet paradoxically younger cousin, Superman (a manifestation of “Relativity” within the space-time continuum as she was a teen back on Krypton while Superman was an infant). Supergirl’s early adventures represent little more than an interesting reminder of how women and specifically girls, were viewed by society at the time.

From Action Comics #258

Superman created a secret identity for Supergirl similar to the one he possessed as mild-mannered reporter, Clark Kent. Kara’s secret identity was that of an orphaned girl named Linda Lee. Her early adventures witnessed the introduction of her pet cat, “Streaky” and later, the rather interesting, “Super Horse”. Romance, pets, independence, and alienation were common themes in Supergirl comics during the first few decades of her existence.

An homage to "romance comics" from Supergirl issue #3 Vol. 1 February 1973

An homage to “romance comics” from Supergirl issue #3 Vol. 1 February 1973

Supergirl’s initial run at DC (Detective Comics)  reached an end albeit on a high note in “Crisis on Infinite Earths”. The brain trust at DC decided after years of various Kryptonian survivors Superman, Supergirl, Kandor (the bottled city) etc… it was time to simplify things and reduce Krypton’s survivors down to one–Superman. So in 1985, a 12-part series was released to facilitate the simplification of all things DC culminating in the death of Kara Zor-El in issue #7.

Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 October 1973. The death of Supergirl

Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 October 1985. The death of Supergirl

Following Kara’s death various other characters took on the identity of Supergirl but for old-timers like myself, Kara remains the one true incarnation of Supergirl. Fortunately, others have felt as I do in that regard and Kara Zor-El as Supergirl was reintroduced to DC continuity in 2004 by the talented team of Jeph Loeb (writer) and the late Michael Turner (artist).

REBIRTH

Superman-Batman witnessed a new millennial take on the classic “World’s Finest” team up of DC’s two most iconic characters. In issues numbers 8 through 13 Supergirl was re-introduced with basically the same origins story as she had in 1957. However, gone was the submissive “good-girl” we knew from 1957 and in her place stood a passionate, strong-willed, stubborn, and assertive personality embodied in the form of a scantily clad sex-bomb as only Michael Turner could envisage. While I am not a fan of seeing Kara overly sexualized— I definitely liked the take on her re-defined personality.

Supergirl's re-birth in issue #8 of Superman-Batman 2004

Supergirl’s re-birth in issue #8 of Superman-Batman 2004

Since then, Kara as Supergirl has appeared in a number of series bearing her eponymous title. Thankfully, the overt sexualization has been toned down since 2004 as well. Sales for Supergirl have been respectable for the month of April, 2013 she ranked 72nd out of 300 titles that include both Marvel and DC releases. Significantly, she even out sold some of the secondary X-Men and Batman titles.

See: http://www.icv2.com/articles/news/25659.html

The Loeb-Turner new origins story is a favorite of mine and I highly recommend it as first-rate story telling. You can purchase volumes 8-13  of Superman-Batman in a DC collections edition:

http://www.amazon.com/Superman-Batman-Vol-2-Supergirl/dp/1401202500

Recently, I purchased a copy of the Blu-ray animated adaptation of “Superman Unbound”. Much like Superman-Batman Apocalypse (Blu-ray version of the Loeb-Turner Supergirl story arc) which also relegated Supergirl to near invisible status in its marketing, this release also features Supergirl in an important albeit unheralded co-starring role. As Scott Mendelson noted in an excellent article he provided for Forbes online:

The other one was a Wonder Woman film, which is the best of the bunch and yet its “disappointing” sales figures caused the cancellation of any future female-centric DVD movies, to the point where the 2010 Supergirl feature was titled Superman/Batman: Apocalypse and barely mentioned Supergirl in the marketing.  If you happen to be a fan of the DC universe, you can probably see the problem that I’m getting at.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/scottmendelson/2013/05/06/reviewessay-superman-unbound-and-the-future-of-the-dc-animated-universe/

I think Supergirl when handled properly can be a valuable and empowering symbol for females just as Superman can be for males. She is not simply a female version of Superman as some of her critics have claimed. Kara has her own personality and her own demons to face–unique to herself. DC’s animation marketing arm may shy away from mentioning her directly or showcasing female superheroes at all but I argue that’s all the more reason for girls and women to claim these characters as their own. Just as Gloria Steinem did years ago in claiming Wonder Woman as a feminist icon; so much so that Wonder Woman graced the very first cover of Ms. Magazine back in 1972; so also, I urge other females to embrace Supergirl. Women are still under-represented in the comic book industry. It would be wonderful to see more creative and inventive women enter that field.

Below: An interesting promotional piece for Supergirl’s return in Superman-Batman Apocalypse

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John Lennon: Still an Iconic Genius

lennon

I am not a fan of revisionism and it may seem strange that I feel somehow compelled to jump to the defence of the legendary John Lennon. Nonetheless, there have been a few echoings, a few pointed barbs that have called into question the measure of John Lennon’s musical legacy. Unheard of while he was alive, enough time has passed since the artist’s assassination in 1980 that some have felt emboldened to denigrate Lennon’s musical legacy.

Admittedly, much of the criticism is clouded by moralistic concerns over his absentee fathering of son Julian, his anti-Christianity stance, his self-destructive tendencies, and his own efforts to de-mystify the over-shadowing accomplishments of The Beatles. Certainly, none of the former Beatles are as controversial or divisive as John Lennon when it comes to public opinion.  I get all that. However, to undermine, to criticize Lennon’s musical legacy is simply a disservice not only to the historicity of the Beatles’ and his own solo contributions but to the plain truth of the matter.

So, putting aside moralistic concerns let us turn our attention to the criticisms of the critics.

Geoff Emerick (Engineer on the Beatles Abbey Road album, Sgt Pepper, Revolver and more):

Emerick has been outspoken about his favoritism towards Paul McCartney as being the Beatles’ “true” musician. He says as much during an interview available on youtube:

However, once one reads Emerick’s autobiographical “Here, There, and Everywhere” it becomes clear that the Beatles’ erstwhile Engineer has some demons of his own to exercise. As Publisher’s Weekly reported in its review of the book:

He [Emerick] concedes the group never really fraternized with him—and he seems to have taken it personally. The gregarious McCartney is recalled fondly, while Lennon is “caustic,” Ringo “bland” and Harrison “sarcastic” and “furtive.”

http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-59240-179-6

It should be noted that McCartney was Emerick’s best-man at his wedding and admits further that fellow “Apple” staffers saw him as McCartney’s man during the tension filled Apple Corps years of the late 1960s. So, take what you read regarding Lennon’s role in the Beatles with a large grain of salt when reading Emerick’s account of those days.

Other criticisms of Lennon cite a lack of originality and a musically derivative output. Check out listerverse’s
Top 10 Unpleasant Facts About John Lennon by Edward Benjamin for examples of this kind of thinking.

http://listverse.com/2012/05/12/top-10-unpleasant-facts-about-john-lennon/

To be sure songs such as Come Together have readily apparent connections to earlier works by other artists. In fact, Lennon settled out of court with publisher Moris Levy whose company owned the rights to “You Can’t Catch Me” the admitted influence behind the well-known Beatles hit. However, as Lennon himself said:

Come Together is me, writing obscurely around an old Chuck Berry thing. I left the line in, ‘Here comes old flat-top’. It is nothing like the Chuck Berry song, but they took me to court because I admitted the influence once years ago. I could have changed it to ‘Here comes old iron face,’ but the song remains independent of Chuck Berry or anybody else on Earth.

http://www.beatlesbible.com/people/john-lennon/songs/you-cant-catch-me/

This was nothing new for Lennon who said of his earlier hit” You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away”:

“That’s me in my Dylan period,…I am like a chameleon, influenced by whatever is going on. If Elvis can do it, I can do it. If the Everly Brothers can do it, me and Paul can. Same with Dylan.”

http://www.rollingstone.com/music/lists/100-greatest-beatles-songs-20110919/youve-got-to-hide-your-love-away-19691231

Lennon remained decidedly unapologetic about incorporating sounds and ideas from other musicians. He is not alone in doing so, McCartney, himself, has said about his song, “Back in the USSR”:

I wrote that as a kind of Beach Boys parody. And “Back in the USA” was a Chuck Berry song, so it kinda took off from there. I just liked the idea of Georgia girls and talking about places like the Ukraine as if they were California, you know?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Back_in_the_U.S.S.R.

The Beatles influence on other artists is undeniable. The English rock group Queen has been quoted a number of times citing the Beatles and specifically John Lennon as being a major influence.  Does that then relegate Queen to the status of Beatles wannabes? And God help Oasis– as the joke goes:

Noel Gallagher: “I feel like giving it all up and forming a Beatles’ cover band”
Rejoinder: “I thought Oasis was a Beatles cover band!”

From a musical perspective Lennon is regarded by most musicians as a capable but not a brilliant guitar/piano player. Lennon himself made no claims to technical brilliance a la’ Jimi Hendrix:

 I’m really very embarrassed about my guitar playing, in one way, because it’s very poor; I can never move, but I can make a guitar speak. I think there’s a guy called Ritchie Valens, no, Richie Havens. Does he play very strange guitar? He’s a black guy that was in a concert and sang “Strawberry Fields” or something. He plays, like, one chord all the time. He plays a pretty funky guitar. But he doesn’t seem to be able to play in the real terms at all. I’m like that. Yoko has made me feel cocky about my guitar. You see, one part of me says, “Yes, of course I can play,” because I can make a rock move, you know? But the other part of me says, “Well, I wish I could just do like B.B. King.” If you would put me with B.B. King, I would feel real silly. I’m an artist, and if you give me a tuba, I’ll bring you something out of it.

The Rolling Stone Interview
http://taz4158.tripod.com/johnint.html

And that’s part of the answer. Obviously, musical taste is to a very large extent an exercise in subjectivity. Nonetheless, the fact that Lennon influenced so many others, including Paul McCartney speaks to something bigger than mere subjective impressions. In Rolling Stone Magazine’s List of 100 Greatest Singers John Lennon landed at number 5. No less a personage than Jackson Browne wrote passionately of Lennon saying:

There was a tremendous intimacy in everything John Lennon did, combined with a formidable intellect…it was a stunning thing — he always told the truth. He felt he had the right to talk about this stuff, and that gives his voice a singular identity. It’s not the chops of a heralded singer — no one goes on about his actual technique. He went right to what he felt, what he had to say.

http://www.rollingstone.com/music/lists/100-greatest-singers-of-all-time-19691231/john-lennon-20101202

Jackson Browne gets it! Ironically, the very same quality of raw, unpolished, brutally honest musical communication is what Geoffry Emerick is critical of. However, that is the essence of Lennon’s appeal for those of us that continue to enjoy the genius of his musical gift.

Many of Lennon’s hits stand the test of time despite a conscious effort to write about what he liked, what he was interested in and not what his listening public necessarily wanted him to sing about. Lennon’s poignant meeting with a “fan” in 1988’s “Imagine” reveals Lennon’s own take on his music:

Fan: You weren’t thinking of anyone in particular when you were singing all that?
JL: How could I be? How could I be thinking of you man?
Fan: Well, I don’t know maybe I don’t care me but it’s all it’s all somebody you know
JL:  I’m thinking about me, or at best Yoko, if it’s a love song, but that’s it. I’m basically singing about me I’m saying you know I had a good shit today and ah this is what I thought this morning and ah you know I love you Yoko whatever— I’m singing about me and my life you know and if it’s relevant for other people’s lives that’s all right.

Fortunately, for the rest of us Lennon’s music was and remains relevant for our own lives. Below are a few Lennonism’s I keep handy as they reflect truth for me and I find them coming to my consciousness when encountering certain people and situations relevant to myself:

One thing you can’t hide is when you’re crippled inside—
John Lennon “Crippled Inside” from Imagine

I use this as a reminder for myself that my dysfunction shines through and is easily seen by discerning folks around me. It also comes to mind when I notice another person swimming in their own dysfunction.

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.—
John Lennon “Beautiful Boy” from Double Fantasy

A reminder to expect the unexpected— to be humble as you never know what unexpected changes may come your way.

Woman is the slave of the slaves—
John Lennon “Woman is the Nigger of the World” from Sometime in New York City

A profound song that reminds us all of the ongoing plight of women throughout the world. Every woman is either someones daughter, mother, sister, daughter, aunt, or grandmother.  How can such violence and discrimination be shown to the sisters of the woman you care about. It makes me weep.

And Finally my top ten John Lennon songs list— some because of their lyrical content, some for the creative artistry expressed therein and some simply because “it’s got a good beat, Dick and I can dance to it.”

1. Strawberry Fields Forever
My proverbial “you’re on a desert island and can only take 5 singles with you” scenario. This would be my number 1 choice.

2. I Should Have Known Better
Features jangling Rickenbackers— one of my favorite Beatles tunes— ear candy 🙂

3. Revolution
The rocking B side to Hey Jude version. Pure Rock n’ Roll

4. A Day in the Life
A Lennon and McCartney composition but the main song structure is Lennon’s

5. Working Class Hero
One I identify strongly with— alienation from the “system”

6. Mind Games
Brilliant melody and features the steel guitar wizardry of the late “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow

7.  Give Peace a Chance
A simple chord structure but powerfully anthemic

8. In My Life
Sentimental and nostalgic. I love it!

9. Girl
Cleverly nuanced with multiple meanings. Lennon said it’s in part a knock at Christianity

10. Starting Over
Not so much for the song, itself, but the song capsulized the hope and promise of a freshly energized John Lennon ready to take on the newly born decade of the 1980s. I remember being so excited when I heard this on the radio for the first time. I couldn’t believe I was hearing a new Lennon tune following the singer’s lengthy self-imposed exile from the music business.

JOHN LENNON
“‘How long are you gonna last?’ Well, you can’t say, you know. You can be big-headed and say, ‘Yeah, we’re gonna last ten years.’ But as soon as you’ve said that you think, ‘We’re lucky if we last three months,’ you know.”

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