Few cultural experiences have been as mind-blowing, earth-shattering and paradigm-shifting as that which I experienced in northwest Alabama in 1981: watching Wendy O. Williams of the Plasmatics, the nipples of her bare breasts barely hidden by strips of electrical tape, toss a stick of dynamite into a wrecked car while performing on Tom Snyder'sThe Tomorrow Show.
Sure, I watched Johnny Carson, Dick Cavett, David Letterman and all the others, but Snyder epitomized something singular and funny as hell: he was so square he was cool. Like maybe your favorite uncle who pretends to like modern music just so he won't feel so old. Though a firmly entrenched skeptic of the fringe elements of American pop culture, Snyder always tried to understand his motley lineup of guests. He asked probing questions and, more importantly, he listened to the answers.
And he always had the best musical guests.
So it's especially sad to see today's headline: Tom Snyder, dead at 71 of complications from leukemia.
To see Snyder at his best, try either of these twocollections recently released from Shout! His interview with Johnny Rotten alone has a special place in history. I'd love to see a complete set of his numerous interviews with writer Harlan Ellison someday.
Were I attending Comic-Con this weekend, at the top of my to-do list would be snagging a seat at Warren Ellis' talk on Saturday night.
Ellis is a caustic British visionary who's written some damn fine comics, from Transmetropolitan to Global Frequency and, my fave, Planetary. He's just published his first novel, Crooked Little Vein, and you can read the first chapter free right here. If there's one that characterizes his work, it's the angry declaration that 90 percent of our world is complete and utter bullshit, and lurking beneath the corporate facades is a dangerous but richer and fuller reality, if we have the courage to face it.
Ellis is known for chugging Red Bull and whiskey late into the evening, and his lecture/performance will certainly not be safe for children. But it's sure to be one of the funniest, most entertaining rants you can hear this side of Bill Maher or Patton Oswalt.
Reclusive comics writer Alan Moore won't be at Comic-Con this week, but in the field of comics, he casts a shadow large enough to blot out the San Diego sun.
Moore's the comics writer that everybody, and I do mean everybody, watches. His grasp of the medium is unsurpassed and his storytelling visions are fueled by an intellect that can and will send your head spinning in a dozen different directions all at once. If you've only seen movies derived from his works, you don't know what you're missing. It's like licking the wrapper of a McDonald's hamburger and thinking you've somehow tasted filet mignon.
Moore's body of work includes the rollicking Tom Strong (a tongue-in-cheek homage to Superman and Doc Savage), Promethea (a wonderful re-tooling of every female superhero ever created), and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (a rousing swashbuckler that was the victim of an extraordinarily bad movie).
But the work that landed Moore on the map is still his most discussed: The Watchmen. This 12-part saga posits a world in which superheroes actually exist, and how the "real" world might react to them. It's been called the greatest superhero story ever told, and 20 years after its publication, people are stillstudying this dense, exciting and emotional tale.
Here's a great roundtable in which The Watchmen is discussed by writers Damon Lindelof, David Goyer, Ed Brubaker, and Brian K. Vaughan. It's a great chance to eavesdrop on some of today's most talented storytellers as they geek out on what makes this masterpiece work.
The Watchmen is slated for the big screen -- big surprise. Moore's learned his lessons with Hollywood and won't allow his name to appear on any further adaptations (and, because he's cool, he gives his share of the money to the artists on his projects). Don't wait for a movie that's bound to be, at best, a narrow glimpse of his genius. Pick up The Watchmen and see what the fuss is all about.
I'm shocked and sad to learn that writer & filmmaker Theresa Duncan killed herself on July 10. The tragedy was compounded one week later when her boyfriend, artist Jeremy Blake, followed her into the darkness.
Theresa's blog, The Wit on the Staircase, was something I discovered just before moving to LA in 2005. Clarkblog linked to it from Day One. It was well-written, challenging, and sometimes dizzying in its stew of subject matter. It was her writing that reassured me the City of Angels was not a vapid cultural wasteland, but a rich and vibrant landscape full of sexy secrets, mighty magic, and multitudes of interesting, creative people. Theresa wrote eloquently and often movingly about perfume, poetry and politics. And because Theresa obviously found her to personify something funny and freaky and feminine, Kate Moss was a recurring figure.
Earlier this year, Theresa left LA to helm a feature film in NYC.
I knew her only through her words.
And they were beautiful.
UPDATE: Here's an LA Times story on Duncan and Blake. Ron Rosenbaum is investigating from NYC and a more in-depth story by writer and friend Kate Coe will appear soon in the LA Weekly.
Comic-Con hits San Diego this week. I've had fun the last two years there, but I'm actually sorta glad to be sitting this one out. My energy levels only go so high these days. This is the largest comic book convention in the nation and it's one crazy freakshow. Attendance is expected to top 130,000.
Comic Con is, for better or worse, more than just comics. Hollywood descends like a juggernaut to push its geek-oriented genre fare, from movies to TV shows and everything in-between. While it's cool to see the industry reaching out to an obvious yet oft-neglected audience, I often feel bad for the comic book purists who increasingly find themselves pushed to the sidelines. Plenty of talented and dedicated comics creators can often be found sitting in their booths on the showroom floor, helplessly watching hordes of people flock past with nary a glance while they race to the star-studded Speed Racer or Iron Man movie panels.
This week all my posts will point you to cool comics- and fandom-related stuff from and around the con. I'll be checking in at various comic news websites for reports. You'll find a few of them in the links to your left. New on the radar is New Rage Order, which will be bringing daily written and video reports straight from the convention floor. Definitely worth a look if you want to see what Comic-Con is all about.
Writer Johann Hari reports back from this year's National Review cruise, which finds the neo-con contingent getting in touch with its warm inner feelings:
"Just take a couple of these anti-war people off to the gas chamber for treason to show, if you try to bring down America at a time of war, that's what you'll get ... Then things'll change."
That sounds like a joke. It isn't. Read the article, in which Hari uncovers the seething vein of hatred at the true core of the neo-con movement. Hell, even NR founder William F. Buckley, smart enough to realize that things aren't going so great, is dismissed as senile and misguided by these people.
Remember these names: Strauss, Podhoretz, Kristol, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Perle, Steyn. And don't forget the 28 percent of Americans who still support these corrupt, misguided policies. For the last six years, the neo-con movement has led America over a cliff. We've fallen mightily and have finally hit rock bottom: Al Qaeda is stronger than ever, Osama bin Laden is still alive, and American troops are bogged down in a civil war in a country that posed no threat to the U.S., to the tune of $12 billion a month and hundreds of thousands of innocent lives.
Remember how these right-wing extremists are blaming their hand-designed failures on everyone else. Apoplectic with rage, racism, and righteousness, they'd rather stifle dissent than allow for reasoned discussion. Because deep down they know their cause is a lost one.
It's up to true conservatives to drive these hateful people from what's left of their tattered, ruined party. And it's up to all of us to insure this brand of fearful, hate-fueled fascism can never rear its ugly head again.
Kristolectomy(n): surgical procedure in which the lower intestine is re-routed directly into the brain stem, creating a constant flow of fecal matter into the cranial vault. Side effects, always fatal, include refusal to face reality, monarchical wet dreams, and extremely bad breath. Named after neo-conservative shill William Kristol, who, after being proven 100 percent wrong on every prediction he made concerning the Iraq war, penned a desperate, utterly deranged and highly-ridiculed July 15, 2007 Washington Post column titled: "Why Bush Will Be a Winner."
"We thought we were really writing these really funny, smart, special shows that were chock-full of jokes every few seconds. And then someone showed us this study Fox had done: the No. 1 reason why people liked The Simpsons was "all the pretty colors" and they liked it when Homer hit his head. We were writing the show for ourselves -- we always made it funny for ourselves -- but who knows why America likes it." -- Jay Kogen, Simpsons writer-producer, 1989-1993