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Music Monday: “Springsteen” – Eric Church

I don’t hate Country music.

I don’t think that I ever did. In fact, I had not consciously formed much of an opinion of it at all given my scant signposts of Patsy Cline, Garth Brooks, and Shania Twain.

However, a thing I’ve learned about being an adult is that sometimes the unconscious – both your own and the collective – decides something on your behalf, and that determination lingers in your mind in the place of an actual decision until you realize you’ve started making other decisions based on it.

Case and point: Country music. I don’t hate it. Yet, from absorbing a “my truck” here and a “my woman” there from songs playing in the background of life, I was passively assuming I hated country music. People at Smash Fantastic shows would request country songs from time to time and I would selectively ignore them. When Ashley gently suggested that it was finally time for us to learn a few country songs for the band, my reflexive response was, “UGH, NOT COUNTRY MUSIC.”

Despite that, I love to please a crowd, so I looked up a few of the artists that had been shouted in our direction. One was Eric Church. I fired up iTunes and YouTube to see what his most popular song was and they came back with a resounding answer of “Springsteen,” from Church’s third album, Chief.

Fast forward six months and “Springsteen” is AKA my favorite cover song to sing and my toddler’s bedtime song and generally just a fucking masterclass in songwriting.

(Advance to :24 to get to the beginning of the song.)

To get to that realization I had to stop hearing the twang in Church’s voice, because it was activating that unconscious bias of “UGH, NOT COUNTRY MUSIC.” Honestly, it’s a tiresome affectation on any singer, especially when it’s obscuring wonderful pop songs or gatekeeping them from the wider consciousness. You just have to hear past it to get to the performance and the lyrics. Singing it yourself aids in that, if you are able.

Somewhere between that setting sun, “I’m On Fire” and “Born to Run”
You looked at me and I was done. We were just getting started.

Beneath the twang and beyond the minimal band arrangement is the wonderful device of singing about how to find a person who doesn’t exist anymore. Not his long lost high school lover – she’s still walking around in the same town, skirting the edges of his life.

No, the person that no longer exists is his long lost high school self, and the only way to find him for a moment is to hear Bruce’s ragged baritone.

When I think about you, I think about seventeen
I think about my old jeep
I think about the stars in the sky
Funny how a melody sounds like a memory
Like the soundtrack to a July Saturday night
Springsteen

There’s no part of this song that says, “So let’s get back together.” That’s not the point. The closest he comes is suggesting “there’d still be a spark.” He’s not seeking an illicit final kiss. He’s looking for the one person who, if they were to lock eyes and hear one of those songs, could travel in time with him back to that prior self and all of the blithe, foolish love and hubris that came along with him.

I bumped into you by happenstance. You probably wouldn’t even know who I am,
But if I whispered your name I bet there’d still be a spark.

Back when I was gasoline and this old tattoo had brand new ink,
And we didn’t care what your momma’d think about your name on my arm.

Baby is it spring or is it summer, the guitar sound or the beat of that drummer
You hear sometimes late at night on your radio

Even though you’re a million miles away, when you hear “Born in the USA”
You relive those glory days so long ago

1024.EricChurch.ms.020113_copyThat second verse is perfection. If it won a hundred pounds of award statues they wouldn’t be enough of a reward for how good it is. Listen as Church methodically unravels the layers – first the physical present day, then the physical past day, then the ephemera of memory, and then just the sound.

I don’t have those memories, but when I am on stage and I sing about the spark, the gasoline, and the tattoo ink I am there. I’m moved to tears thinking about the guitar sound pumped out by a tinny transistor radio sitting on the sill of an open bedroom window in the dead of summer, the guitar riffs from those classic tunes overdriving its inadequate speaker, me glued to the sheets by the sweat from my back, smelling the sour dry grass of unmowed lawns and thinking about her.

Except, now I’m not pining for that girl, I’m pining for me. Youth. Possibility. Imagination. Love. The magic of hearing your favorite song for the first time.

Beneath that I have another, newer layer: how I am now twice as old as his lost self and I am making new memories with this song in the present day, singing it to EV as we splay colorful stars across her ceiling and get ready for bed. Over weeks of singing it together, our version has evolved.

Do you think about me when you go to sleep?
Do you think about last night’s dreams?
Think about the stars in the sky?

[Or, if I am holding her up above the projector: “Think about the stars on your butt?,” which was her contribution to the adaptation process.]

In our version, it’s the song “Springsteen” that makes the memory rather than the man, and I think one day later in life when EV hears it on some subconscious level she will still see the stars on her ceiling and smile wistfully at her own lost girl, never to be found again.

You can find the person, but the melody becomes a memory.

(If I have one critique of the song, it’s that it doesn’t reward the listener with a final chorus. When you’ve got a chorus this good, it’s not enough to play it two-and-a-half times. When we cover it, we deliver a final full chorus after another round of “whoa-oh-ohs” and then end on “Springsteen.”)

RuPaul’s Drag Race Power Rankings, S8E05

Last week Thorgy Thor was consolidating her lead after a minor meltdown from Bob and a strong weak finish from Chi Chi. Did that top three get shaken up this week?

Even after this crash and burn of a dull Snatch Game and repetitive runway there is barely any daylight separating the top and the bottom girls in this week’s power ranking.

It might not have been the tightest Snatch Game in history, but this feels a lot like Seasons Four and Five with a larger, well-rounded cast with many potentially winners. The best few queens have all shown weak spots, and the bottom few are just one or two hot weeks away from snatching the crown.

Also, there was some strange editing contributing to the doughy episode this week. RuPaul was clearly having some weird energy on Snatch Game, and I suspect we lost some very funny answers from the queens to moments Ru simply didn’t want shown. That probably detracted from a few queens who the judges loved, and also didn’t make Acid Betty’s performance out to be quite as bad as it played on stage.

1. Bob the Drag Queen (Average 1; was: 2, 2, 1, 1)

bob-the-drag-queen-03Yes, she’s back in the top spot, showboating and all. Bob’s Snatch Game was magnificent – a solid Uzo Aduba as Crazy Eyes (her poem answer was a scream) plus a Carol Channing that completely erases the memory of Pandora’s strong version.

As for the runway. Bob’s Madonna may not have been as iconic as the rest, but it was FLAWLESS. Sure, we all would have rather seen her rock early-80s punk Madonna, but that’s way too close to her actual look and probably would have gotten read by the judges. She found the right offbeat (and political) outfit from Madge’s oeuvre.

I can imagine several situations where Bob is bested by this confidence and fails to make the top three. We’ve seen her be able to sew a garment, but she’s not the makeup pro that some of the other girls are. That said, I know she’s a strategic player, and I’m willing to bet he’s got a few fashion stunners tucked away for the late game when he’s not so darn safe all the time. Continue reading ›

RuPaul’s Drag Race Power Rankings, S8E04

Last week Bob won the acting challenge but Thorgy walked out with the Power Rankings Emmy for her performance. How will the girls stack up after a live singing challenge? I’ll tell you, it’s my tightest ranking yet – despite being hard on these contestants, I can seriously see all of them reaching the final three.

Let’s get one thing out of the way before we begin that should clarify a lot of my rankings: I think Team NYC crushed the other two teams with their Street Meatz performance, even if “Rectangle Girls” was weirdly the most memorable of the three songs. The NYC girls looks, lyrics, and performance tics were so perfectly of the B-52s era that it’s shocking they weren’t awarded the win – but, more on that below.

1. Thorgy Thor (Average 4, was 1, 6, 7)

thorgy-thor-02Thorgy owns the top spot for a second week in a row. She was on-point in her singing and stage presentation and she was one of the few queens who seriously read as neon, even if some of her styling ruined the impact.

This is a queen whose main weak spot (other than Ru not awarding her a win) is in her ability to edit – but even that has been shown to be within reason and based on a solid taste level. Maybe Snatch Game will change that streak.

2. Bob the Drag Queen (Average 2; was: 2, 1, 1)

Bob was predictably great in this challenge – both in her vocal performance and her onstage presence. As for her runway – eh, I could have lived without its pastel-not-neon-realness. However, the big show tonight was her inability to stop herself from arguing with coach and guest judge Lucian Piane. Yes, his advice was awful, but Bob just kept on arguing with him past the point of no return. You could even see in her eyes how bad an idea she thought it was!

The combination of Bob’s over-the-top, charm-laden performances and this slightly uncontrollable streak represents real risk of missing the top three. She’s still stronger than the rest of the field, but I’m a bit nervous for her.

Continue reading ›

RuPaul’s Drag Race Power Rankings, S8E03

Last week I kept Bob The Drag Queen in the top spot despite Chi Chi taking home dance captain honors. This week Bob strutted her stuff on the Empire parody – so, do I still have her leading the pack? And, where will returning queen Naysha Lopez wind up?

thorgy-thor-011. Thorgy Thor (Average 5, was 6, 7)

The lovable Thorgy hoscotches to the top spot this week with impeccable acting (maybe the best ever on Drag Race?) and a perfectly on-theme and girly runway. She truly should have won the episode over Bob’s ad-libbing spectacle; more on that in a moment.

This lady has all the chops this show requires – including being a classical musician, which means she’ll likely be decently equipped for musical challenges. Aside from the willfully silly streak we saw last week I don’t think she will commit any unforced errors. Also, it seems like the plastic showgirl opening look was an example of how hard she commits to each look rather than a fashion faux pas, which is a good sign for future runways.

Altogether, my initial read of, “She’ll never be the next drag SUPERSTAR” has evaporated completely. She’s quickly becoming the star of the show, and she doesn’t have the confidence gap of Katya.

2. Bob the Drag Queen (Average 1; was: 1, 1)

How did Bob descend in the rankings while winning a challenge? Because this episode exposed just how reliant she is on her charisma and comedy to get her through other, weaker spots. She bested the challenge by constantly going off-script – a lot – which wasn’t really the assignment. Then, on the runway, she was in a busted Halloween costume look with flaking makeup, a bit of a belly, and an inability to roller skate, all of which she sold through comedy.

Bob remains my personal favorite, but I’d like to see a decisive win from her while playing the game, rather than deconstructing it. Right now I feel she’s at risk of that awful top four cut.

Continue reading ›

RuPaul’s Drag Race Power Rankings, S8E02

Last week I had Bob on top of the weekly winner, Kim Chi. Where did they land after an all-dancing challenge? It turns out, the only shake-up came from one of the two of them.

1. Bob the Drag Queen (Avg 1; was: 1)

bob-the-drag-queen-02Bob was safe for a second week in a row, so why does she have the top spot? Because she is pretty great at everything, and when she isn’t she’s doing so with great intent.

I was annoyed by her oddball take on the cha cha dancing challenge, but did she really want to be a team captain a singing or dancing challenge, which is what always happens in this spot? Maybe it was better not to win. Similarly, her runway fashion was unassailable, but not a week-winning standout – but why blow a major closet piece (as Kim Chi did) on an early week when your performance had you near the top of the pack?

Bottom line: she has flaws, but none of them are as troubling as the weak spots of the other queens. Add to that the fact that Untucked is effectively the Bob The Drag Queen Comedy Revue (and for that reason is the best it has recently been) and heading into an acting challenge, and Bob remains the queen to beat.

2. Acid Betty (Average 3, was 3)

On this show, attitude is everything – and for Acid Betty that cuts both ways. This week she slayed in the challenge and in the runway, but her acid test personality took its toll on all the other girls on her team (even if it helped them in the end).

If Betty could balance the Ph of her personality she’d be a surefire winner this season, but right now she’s destined to be stuck as a villain. After seeing the edited episodes and social media reaction, Ru will never crown such a heel. Maybe Betty doesn’t want the win… but if she does, let’s hope she found a kinder, gentler side at some point in the competition.

(Also, just so someone says it: Betty is a dead ringer for Amanda Palmer when she is in drag)

Continue reading ›

RuPaul’s Drag Race Power Rankings, S8E01

Earlier this week, I ranked the Ru Paul’s Drag Race queens based on their brief Meet The Queens interviews. Now we’ve seen a whole hour of them interacting and strutting their stuff. Who came out on top?

BOB-drag-IS1. Bob The Drag Queen

Bob seems to be the queen to beat this season. Everything about her in this episode was perfection.

I think her potential stumbling block is that her fashion might be a little too obvious and off-the-rack based on her Meet The Queens and entrance look. Yet, we saw her construct a stylish garment for the challenge – and, it was one of the most from-a-pattern garments of all the looks. Clearly she has a sense of her fashion and fashion history. Whether that comes across in her suitcase remains to be seen.

There’s also the risk of her sarcastic humor. Bob’s style of comedy does not yet feel like something she can perform all season without ever backtracking or apologizing the way Bianca did.

I don’t think either issue is going to seriously hamstring Bob – she comes off as one of the smartest contestants of all time and I don’t think she would have auditioned without a plan. In the shorter term, I doubt she’s in any danger from next week’s acapella challenge.

2. Kim Chi

Despite my instant obsession with Bob, last year I had Violet in first place largely because she swept the first week of challenges. Who nailed that this year? Kim Chi. She was excellent on everything from entrance look to runway, with some hilarious interviews between.

Kim Chi seems to have the ingredients to make a deep run in this competition except for one thing – her meekness. We saw her be meek in the photo shoot and, to a degree, in some of the runway discussion. She was also a non-factor on Untucked. Wallflowers are not generally winners here, and despite Kim Chi being bomb dot com at everything this week, I have serious concerns about her making it through team challenges or anything theatrical. There’s a certain shyness about her that puts her at risk. We need to see her overcome that ASAP.  Continue reading ›

RuPaul’s Drag Race, S8E01 Recap: Keeping It 100!

Twelve queens makes for a lot of men in wigs to wrangle, so rather than do a straight recap of this episode I’m going to describe the general structure, then break things down queen by queen through the judges comments, and finally handle the lip sync at the end.

The intro of the show counts up the most memorable moments from the first 99 episodes from the premiere of Season 1 right through Violet’s queening “Come Through!” at the end of Season 7. You certainly can’t accuse this show for not knowing its own viral moments.

After the 12 girls enter the room and introduce themselves. They aren’t too demographically unique from prior seasons with the exception that there is not a single big queen – Kim Chi is the curviest one, and she’s tiny!

Ru appears to the girls via a video that hits tons of the major catchphrases of the show, though no one quite catches on to the theme of guest stars from seasons past even when boy Ru comes into the room to say hello.

As for the past champions and their Mathu Anderson photo shoot? Bebe Zahara Benet is in high drag – a full-length purple gown, spectacular glittering make-up that draws attention to her eyes, and massive buns of silver costume jewelry and a big loop of hair atop her head. Tyra Sanchez is in basic Beyonce cosplay of black lace over a leather bikini with a ratty blonde wig, and at this point she really just ought to retroactively cede the crown to Raven. Raja is wearing some sort of Hannibal Lector as a Drag Queen in Space facial mask of jewelry that is perfectly weird over a sedate black ensemble. Sharon Needles is in a high-collared full-length velvet dress with big pairs of buttons, slightly masculine features, and bubble-gum pink bouffant. Chad Michaels is the vision of Cher in her 80s leather phase. Jinkx Monsoon is in peach old-film glamour with a stunning head of firey red-orange hair. Violet Chachki looks perhaps better than she ever did on the show as an all-pink Vegas showgirl with gray-lavender hair (I just had that look!)

Oh, and they brought a circus clown to stand in for Bianca! The ladies don’t do or say much during the shoot, although Sharon – ever the queen of comebacks – answers an “OMG” with, “Not really a god, but… close enough.” Continue reading ›

RuPaul’s Drag Race Power Rankings, Season 8 Meet The Queens

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but that definitely doesn’t apply to drag queens. In anticipation of my new season of Drag Race recaps and power rankings, here are my hot take rankings solely from watching the Meet The Queens intro videos that were served up before tonight’s premiere.

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 11.10.59 PM

Bob The Drag Queen

1. Bob The Drag Queen

Fuck yes. I just love her. All she is 100% IT Factor and nothing else. In this look she has barely transformed her face and yet such handsome, masculine features make for a beautiful drag canvas because of the way she presents herself.

Her humor is on point, but she also seems incredibly smart (“I can’t – I shan’t”). Intelligence (and, past that, introspection) something many girls on the show have been missing in the past yet all of the winners from Raja on have had in spades. (Yes, even Violet. Do not come for my girl.)

I wonder if a lot of her looks are going to be as deglammed as the one in her intro. That could be her weak spot.

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 11.16.33 PM

Cynthia Lee Fontaine

2. Cynthia Lee Fontaine

I am a little obsessed with Cynthia. She has that Ben De La Creme throwback older-lady realness without being just a vintage pastiche. She’s bringing something new to the housewife glamour look, and I do not think for a second she will hesitate with drop-dead modern fashion when it comes to slay the runaway.

I always think it’s important that you pick up what their key words are before they ever say them, and “elegant, sophisticated, and funny” completely tracks to the character she presents. Plus, she’s also got the Puerto Rico Queen uniqueness, which is is always compelling – and, isn’t it time we finally had a PR queen win? Continue reading ›

From The Beginning: David Bowie – The Man Who Sold The World (1970-71)

Essentials of the Era
Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed” – BBC
Width of a Circle
All The Madmen
The Man Who Sold The World
The Supermen

Starting in 1970, David Bowie locked into an album-a-year rhythm he would maintain for nearly the entire decade as he left behind his more folk-influenced sound on Space Oddity and prepped material for The Man Who Sold The World. With this increased pace come necessarily briefer album cycles – Bowie would be on to the next era of material even before the final singles from this LP were released.

The Man Who Sold The World frequently gets lost between retrospective adoration for “Space Oddity” (not so big of a success at the time) and the three-album glam hits-capade that began with “Changes” from Hunky Dory. This marooned album had no terrific singles of its own. Nirvana did more to promote “Man Who Sold” as a song than Bowie did in the period. The period also occupies a peculiar sonic territory, with Bowie’s pre-Spiders band more interested in sounding heavy than glamrous despite Mick Ronson’s membership in both lineups.

The result is that most latter-day Bowie fans don’t know the music from this era especially well. That makes a deep dive into it all the more interesting … and challenging! This took me over a week to digest despite already having a familiarity with the LP.

bowie-1970Before The Man Who Sold The World

This era begins during the last: Bowie made his first appearance with The Man Who Sold band on the BBC on February 5, 1970, as he was still promoting singles from his second self-titled album.

This appearance was a full-length concert, though only about half those tracks are readily available today. Opener “Amsterdam” by Jacques Brel would later be recored on Pin Ups. Here, Bowie attacks it with verve, first singing in a fine theatrical baritone, but gradually growing more frenzied along with the acoustic guitar that drives the track. It’s not as though any of us are at risk of forgetting Bowie was a theatrical nerd (especially with his many alter-egos looming ahead) but it’s fun to think about how surprising this performance may have been to fans of the day. The host certainly seems a bit shocked by it.

“God Knows I’m Good” is less Dylanesque here than on Space Oddity, but its refrain is less indelible. The next sequence is lost – “Buzz The Fuzz,” “Karma Man,” “London Bye Ta Ta” and “An Occasional Dream.” We pick back up with the first of The Man Who tracks, “The Width Of A Circle.” This is a fascinating early glimpse into the track, which would grow to be impenetrable on the album. Stripped to its acoustic trappings it’s much more driving, but Bowie isn’t quite up to the howling vocal here. He warbles and cracks on the higher notes.

We then skip “Janine” and “Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud” for a vicious version of “Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed.” Here, the lower-fi sound of the radio session focuses the track’s fury beneath Bowie’s practiced vocal. Unfortunately, there’s no remaster of “Fill Your Heart” or “The Prettiest Star” – both would be fascinating. We do get a sprawling, eight-minute version of “Cygnet Committee” that’s perhaps a bit slighter than the album cut. Bowie’s highs are not as a clear, and his lows not as resonant. Finally, the show ends with “Memory of a Free Festival,” here just prior to its release as a single. However, this is more like the LP version than the fascinating single mix, with unadorned organ until the “sun machine refrain.” (A final take on “Waiting For The Man” is not collected.)

On the whole this session is unremarkable. Bowie is not in his finest voice, and “Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed” is the only song strong enough to leave a lasting impression. Indeed, it is the band unleashed on “Unwashed” that seems to best presage the heft of the impending LP despite being still months out from its recording.

The band would return a little over a month later, already fused into a more metal stomp. They show it off on a pulsing version of “Waiting For The Man” with nothing of Lou Reed’s strut (which gets a little weary by the close). Mick Ronson, in particular, is in strong form. “Width of a Circle” has grown hugely in the intervening month. Bowie’s vocal is massive and confident, and Visconti and Woodmansey are beginning to lock into the riffing and fills that would appear on the LP without overdoing them. The song had yet to grow its epic tale of gods and demons (more on that below), so this isn’t really a definitive take on it. A plain electric guitar version of “Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud” feels out of place even after the band kicks in after the “really you and really me” refrain.

The Man Who Sold The World – Released November 4, 1970

The original UK cover.

The original UK cover.

This might be a weird statement to make about a David Bowie record, but I find it hard to enjoy The Man Who Sold The World because so much of it feels insincere.

When is David Bowie ever really being sincere? He’s not known for his confessional lyrics, that’s for sure. Yet, I would propose there is an inherent honesty and weight in how he portrays many of his fantastic characters with real emotion. They matter to him, so they matter to us. Here, Bowie’s narrative creations feel like nothing more than window dressing to a squalling live band of Mick Ronson, Tony Visconti, and Mick Woodmansey, with Ralph Mace on synthesizers. Continue reading ›

From The Beginning: David Bowie – David Bowie AKA Space Oddity (1969-70)

Essentials of the Era
“Space Oddity”
“Unwashed and Slightly Dazed”
“Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud”
“Memory of a Free Festival part 1” (single version)
“London, Bye, Ta-Ta” (unreleased)

This is the third in a series of posts following my listen to David Bowie’s entire catalog from beginning to end. Last time, I listened to Bowie’s treacly full-length debut and discovered several gems (that were not on the album).

David Bowie’s 1969 had an auspicious start – while he recorded an ambitious promotional video to try to generate new label interest he simultaneously ended a serious relationship (perhaps during the actual filming). However, it was something that had happened just before those events that would define his year and even his entire career.

That something was his penning a song called “Space Oddity.”

Before Space Oddity – Early 1969

bowie_1969Early demos of “Space Oddity” from spring of 1969 show it had all the fine skeletal structure that makes it an arresting performance even today – the countdown, the layered “ground control” vocals, the drifting out in a tin can, and the extended break. A notable early demo features a live duo performance with Bowie handling the countdown himself. Yet, this tune was admittedly another curio – a gimmick song coinciding with increasing attention on the space race. Just as Bowie’s debut album couldn’t be shaped entirely around the theme of a giddy gnome, “Space Oddity” couldn’t set the theme for the rest of its record alone.

After the recording of the LP but shortly before its release, Bowie appeared on the BBC for a three-song set. Only “Unwashed and Somewhat Dazed” saw radio play at the time, although the session’s other two songs were released on Bowie At The Beeb.

“Unwashed” has a similar feel to “Space Oddity” to start, with major-to-minor guitar strumming and chiming high electric guitars. It transforms into something much heavier as the band enters, thanks to a big, rubbery bass and forceful drumming. There is not an obvious hook, yet it’s more enjoyable than the entirety of his debut. “Let Me Sleep Behind You” is more driven than the original recording, but that beat pushes too quickly past the distinct melodic hooks on the “let your hair hang down / wear the dress your mother wore” refrain. “Janine” has an southern-rock feel to it, with Bowie even effecting an American accent.

The sound of this session is much hipper than Bowie’s previous incarnation. However, the band still had not found any special alchemy together, despite their time in the studio.

“Space Oddity” b/w “Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud” – Released July 11, 1969

Bowie_SpaceOdditySingle“Space Oddity” is a singularly peculiar song. Everything about it is peculiar, from it’s slow fade up and wheezing stylophone, to its measured countdown leading to liftoff, to it’s insistent lack of choruses. David Bowie told many fantastical stories in the songs of his debut LP with Deram, but none so dramatic or immediate as this one. It’s the little touches that make it memorable, like the love to his wife and the oscillating flutes behind the “sitting in a tin can refrain.”

This single had the great fortune to see release less than two weeks before man first set foot on the moon. After a series of failed singles and a flop of an album, David Bowie was finally gaining notice. Yes, it was on another song that could be accused of being a novelty, but this one thankfully did not include laughing gnome. While the song was not a hit in the US, it reached the top five in the UK.

The B-Side is an early acoustic guitar and cello take on the fantastical “Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud.” It is missing its first verse and orchestral accompaniment to truly set up its scope and drama, but this version (which went long unearthed until seeing release in the Sound+Vision box set) is simply an astounding performance. I’d hold up Bowie’s “really you, really me” refrain here as one of his finest vocals of all time, and the cello has many intricate little passes to suggest the motion of the later version.

David Bowie AKA Space Oddity – Released November 4, 1969

For as many people who know “Space Oddity” today, few have heard another song from David Bowie’s redebut, which was later rechristened in name of its one hit – more massive in later years than it had been at the time.

The only other single from the album is the peculiar “Memory of a Free Festival,” which bookends the disc with “Space Oddity.”  It starts dirge-like, thrumming on a lone electric organ, perhaps an elegiac memory of the recent-passed summer of love. Continue reading ›

From The Beginning: David Bowie – The Deram Years (1966-1968)

Essentials of the Era
Sell Me a Coat” – David Bowie
Let Me Sleep Beside You (mono)” – David Bowie (Deluxe)
Silly Boy Blue” – The Lost BBC Tapes (bootleg)
In The Heat of the Morning” – Bowie at the Beeb

This is the second in a series of posts following a listen of David Bowie from beginning to end. Last time, I listened to Bowie’s earliest work, including material from before he christened himself “Bowie.”

After his brief but unremarkable sprint on Pye Records, Bowie signed with Deram Records. That’s not a typo of “dream” as I had assumed for years, they were really called “Deram.” The company was a subsidiary of Decca, who Bowie had auditioned for in previous incarnations.

He issued two singles with Deram prior to releasing his first full-length effort, then added some trailing work before being dropped and signed to Mercury to release another self-titled LP, later renamed to Space Oddity.

As a note, I’m using both Wikipedia and the book The Complete David Bowie to guide my chronological listening.

“Rubber Band” b/w “London Boys”

Promotional bio from the "Rubber Band" single. Click to view on the source site, bowie-singles.com

Promotional bio from the “Rubber Band” single. Click to view on the source site, bowie-singles.com

This was one of the first handful of records released on Deram, a close follow-up to Cat Stevens performing “I Love My Dog”/”Portobello Road” (bet you don’t know those two, either). They can be found on the second disc of David Bowie (Deluxe Edition).

Along with the “Bowie” name and the new record contract, there are a few other signs of future Bowie-ness on this A-Side. The voice is there, the low baritone straight off of “Rock’n’Roll Suicide.” Also, while this is still technically a sappy love song, the shift of focus from the girl to a related group that Bowie directly addresses telegraphs a future style to which he’d return frequently.

Rubber band
In 1910 I was so handsome and so strong
My moustache was stiffly waxed and one foot long
And I loved a girl while you played teatime tunes

Dear Rubber band, you’re playing my tunes out of tune, oh
Rubber band, Won’t you play a haunting theme again to me
While I eat my scones and drink my cup of tea

Granted, this is all accompanied by “oom-pah” brass band accompaniment, maybe connected with Bowie’s frequent covering of “Chim-Chim Cher-ee” from Mary Poppins? Who knows. Yet, focusing on the steely, controlled vocal you can easily imagine this as a much later Bowie cut. Maybe less brass, minor key… can you feel it?

B-Side “London Boys” masquerades as male retread of Petula Clark’s 1965 hit “Downtown,” and yet…

You take the pills too much
You don’t give a damn about that jobs you’ve got
So long as you’re with the London boys

A London boy, oh a London boy
Your flashy clothes are your pride and joy

…there is the subtle genius of this song. It sounds like it could be about a girl being seduced by London Boys, but it’s actually about becoming one of the boys. And, let’s be honest here: the seduction angle is still there. Was Bowie beginning to find ways to thread themes of his bisexuality into his work even at this early point?

“The Laughing Gnome” b/w “The Gospel According to Tony Day”

There’s something to be said for having the low-point of your fifty-year career during your third year in the business. This song is the worst. The literal worst. There is no worse song in Bowie’s entire catalog and, trust me, I know I’m going to be listening to some clunkers here and there. Continue reading ›

From the Beginning: David Bowie – The Early Years (1964-1966)

David Bowie, 1966. Photo by David Wedgbury.

David Bowie, 1966. Photo by David Wedgbury.

David Bowie was born on this day, forty years ago.

Not the person, mind you – his birthday was last week on January 8. No, I mean the name. The moniker that bloomed into a legendary persona and universal star. Indeed, David Bowie was first credited on a single called “Can’t Help Thinking About Me” on January 14, 1966. It was his fourth single, but his first as Bowie.

I’m pretty certain you’ve never heard of that song. I hadn’t even heard of it until this week, and I count myself as a rather large David Bowie fan!

It’s easy to fall under the mistaken belief that David Bowie emerged fully formed from his own forehead. If you’re a Greatest Hits fan, or just someone who has never fell down the Wikipedia hole too deeply, you’d be perfectly reasonable in thinking there was some olden-days EP containing “Space Oddity,” “Man Who Sold The World,” “Changes,” and “Life On Mars” and then Bowie as we all love him exploded into being on Ziggy Stardust.

That’s not the case at all. David Bowie spent eight years as a recording artist before the release of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. He released a pair of glam albums before that. He had an entire folkish pastiche of an eponymous album prior to his more well-known eponymous album in 1969, later rechristened Space Oddity. And, even before that, for three years he issued a string of unremarkable vinyl singles. He began at the tender age of 17.

Thus, that is also where we’ll begin in my epic chronological listen to David Bowie. This post covers his first single in 1964 to material from before his first album in 1967. Continue reading ›

Master of Kung Fu gets collected (or: After 100 years, Fu Manchu is still a villain)

This was the news last night from the Diamond Retailer Summit via Heidi MacDonald, EIC of Comics Beat:

Photo by Heidi MacDonald

Photo of Marvel’s slide from the summit by Heidi MacDonald of ComicsBeat.

This is a series you’ve probably never heard of, yet it’s both historically significant and solidly entrenched in the top 10 most-wished-for Omnibus editions from Marvel’s online collector community.

What’s the story behind the excitement and why does this seemingly obscure series merit four massive volumes? To figure out the answer, we need to travel back in time over 40 years to 1974.

Similar to Marvel 70s horror titles Tomb of Dracula and Werewolf by Night that emerged in 1972, Master of Kung Fu both featured a major non-Marvel character and was built to serve a public craze.

In this case, the craze was the titular Kung Fu. It was blowing up in the summer of 1973 thanks to a culmination of factors including the television show Kung Fu, a number of successful movies imported from China’s booming cinema, and one man: Bruce Lee. To read more background, I suggest starting with a marvelous pair of blog posts from “A Shroud of Thoughts” – parts 1 and 2.

Marvel wanted to license the popular Kung Fu to take advantage of the nationwide interest in martial arts (which also yielded Iron Fist), but they failed to obtain the rights. Instead, they turned to another pre-existing mythology: the story behind villain Fu Manchu, a fictional criminal mastermind who coined the mustache of the same name. He was created by author Sax Rohmer in 1912 in a serialized novel, The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu.

Fu Manchu was popular enough to merit an initial trilogy of serialized books in the 1910s and even more starting in the 1930s, plus a number of film adaptions ranging from 1929 to 1980. The character can be a controversial one – even in the 1930s he was seen as a racist caricature representing the “Yellow Peril” of an East-Asian threat to the wider, whiter world.

MoKFv01 - 0038Enter Marvel Comics. They licensed the Fu Manchu universe from Rohmer’s estate, which was mostly focused on film adaptations in the 60s after Rohmer’s death and final book in 1959. Instead of keeping it isolated in its own continuity they created Shang-Chi as a part of the Marvel Universe and made him the son of Fu Manchu! What used to be Special Marvel Edition introduced Shang-Chi and then quickly made him the headliner of the book, swapping the title to Master of Kung Fu with issue #17.

The Master of Kung Fu series remains well-regarded by fans not only because of its rarity, but due to the pedigree of its creators. It was written almost entirely by Doug Moench (creator of Moon Knight) for 100 issues and includes a 30-issue run of pencils by Mike Zeck (you know him as the artist of original Secret Wars). That places MoKF alongside some of the other most notable single-creator runs of the period (like Uncanny X-Men) when it comes to the strength and coherence of the ongoing plot.

In the same month they launched MoKF, Marvel also launched a magazine called The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu. DHoKF featured martial arts editorial content with B&W backups from a laundry-list of martial arts characters characters like Shang-Chi, Daughters of the Dragon, Iron Fist, and White Tiger (debut in #19).

Unlike Dracula, who has always been in the public domain in the US and who entered that status in the 1960s in Britain, Fu Manchu has remained the intellectual property of the Rohmer estate. While all Dracula stories are fair game to tell, print, and reprint, Fu Manchu requires a licensing agreement to use. At some point after the series ended in 1983, Marvel let their rights to the Fu Manchu universe lapse. While they still retained Shang Chi and brought him back in 1988, they could no longer name his villainous father in print. Further, Marvel could not reproduce or reprint those Fu Manchu stories in print and digital collections.

The announcement of this reprint implies some form of agreement as been reached with the Rohmer estate. Also, characters that belong to Marvel but originated in some of these series could very well be a part of their Netflix plan, since Iron Fist is tied closely to characters like Misty Knight and Colleen Wing. (Incidentally, this may also clear the way for some other core Marvel heroes issues to be reprinted due to Fu Manchu appearances. This is considered to be the hold-up in continuing the Marvel Team-Up Marvel Masterworks line.)

As to what’s going to be included in these four massive tomes, the sure bet is Marvel Special Edition #15-16, MoKF #17-125 and Annual 1, and the later-published anthology story from Marvel Comics Presents #1-8. Weighing in around 115 actual-length issues, that makes for four 28-issue volumes … that’s a bit under Marvel’s typical par, especially when it could easily fit into three volumes and knowing a fourth volume will be a hard sell. (For reference, Marvel has produced some omnis in the >45-issue range.)

What will merit stretching out to the fourth volume? It’s likely the companion book, Deadly Hands of Kung Fu. If Marvel only reprints the original stories, that would add #1-9, 11-18, 29, 31-33 and Special #1. That’s another 20+ issues. Yet, every issue – even the ones that order skips – included original editorial content, like Kung Fu how-tos.

While that material likely isn’t affected by any manner of licensing embargo, this is the best and most sellable chance to reproduce it. It also easily extends this material into the four-volume range, since each issue was 64 pages – that counts for about 70 more standard comics worth of content. Even if Marvel ditches some of the content, that places these books somewhere in the hefty 40ish issue range that would merit stretching out to four volumes.

Regardless of the contents of the collections, the announcement of this release is not only a major win for classic Marvel collections, it’s a terrific example of Marvel’s complex and sometimes thorny licensing relationships.

(Of course, the best example is the biggest licensing game of all – Star Wars! Marvel produced reams of original Star Wars stories in the late 70s and early 80s, but Dark Horse held the licensing rights up for over two decades until this year, when the Disney house brought them back into the fold. [Disney owns both Marvel and LucasFilm.])

 

 

All-New, All-Different Marvel – a book-by-book break-down

ANAD-Marvel-Comics-2It’s upon us! Even though Marvel’s mega-event Secret Wars won’t quite be over until December, they’re pressing ahead with a line-wide All New, All Different Marvel relaunch starting in October with over sixty new books debuting into the spring, and more announced each week. That’s a lot of comics, many of them with completely fresh directions and creative teams – how can you wade through to find the most-interesting titles?

As always, I took care of the sifting for you! Here’s a list of every book Marvel has announced to date, the amount of hype I’m feeling on it, a one-sentence summary of the concept and creative team, and the elevator pitch on why you should care.

Ready? Here we go! Updated November 2!

A-Force
Hype Factor: 3.5 stars
What is it? An all-female team of Marvel heroes
Who’s creating it? Written by G. Willow Wilson (Ms Marvel) with art by Jorge Molina, one of Marvel’s most consistent artists

Why read it? Even for someone like me who lives for the women of Marvel, this assemblage of female heroes seems like a bit of a hodgepodge. At least Marvel Now’s Fearless Defenders had a cleverer central trope, but, it began with a pair of B-list players. Here, Marvel is pulling out all of the stops short of Storm and it’s probably going to pay off. Plus, Wilson was ace on her brief run on X-Men Vol. 4 – she clearly did the homework on the character’s rich histories, and they never sounded so good.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Hype Factor: 2 stars
What is it? Marvel’s comic version of the TV team
Who’s creating it? Original Green Arrow showrunner Marc Guggenheim

Why read it? It’s Agent Colson and friends mashing up with/against Hydra, which should be very palatable to Marvel’s TV fans. However, it’s going to take a lot for this to top both the prior Coulson-starring books, Ales Kot’s Secret Avengers and Mark Waid’s Agents of SHIELD. Plus, Guggenheim was weak on his X-Men arc in Marvel Now – the history was there, but the voices were off. Is that because a TV writer writes for actors and not pictures on a page? Either way, I’ll believe it when I read it.

ANADAvg-promoAll-New, All-Different Avengers
Hype Factor:4.5 stars
What is it? A team of second-generation heroes takes the Avengers mantle (but not the budget)
Who’s creating it? Writer Mark Waid with artists Adam Kubert and Mahmud Asrar

Why read it? Take four of Marvel’s hottest properties of the past few years – Falcon as Captain America, the black and hispanic teen Spider-Man, a female Thor, and the new Afgani-American teen Ms. Marvel. Add a pubescent Nova and cinematic smashes Iron Man and Vision. Oh, and Waid will write it hot off of one of the best (and most playful) Daredevil runs of all time. Yeah: everybody’s going to buy this comic book. I’m slightly less excited by the artists – Kubert is wildly uneven and Marvel has yet to find the right colorist for Asrar. Still, this book will be a smash.

Continue reading ›

10 Skills Every Queen Needs To Be Sickening on RuPaul’s Drag Race (according to data)

jinx-monsoon

Jinx Monsoon is by no means my favorite queen, but when it comes to a dectuple threat on this show she’s as close as we ever got, even if a lot of her fashion wasn’t so great…

Like wishing for snow in the dead of summer, right now we’re about as far from a new season of Drag Race as we can be, even though we know both Season 8 and a new All-Stars Season are already shot and in the can!

In the past year I’ve watched every season of Drag Race except for the storied and hard-to-obtain first, and I’ve noticed some trends. Specifically, 10 skills that are positive indications of a queen’s potential success as supported by the data of every main challenge ever performed on the show.

Will these skills get you surely to safety every week? No – there’s always something that only vaguely relies on these traits, whether that’s a parade float boat to sink you or a magazine concept to tear you down. Yet, if you’re killing it in these 10 categories all season long, you’ll probably survive even turning yourself into a Presidential candidate or Hello Kitty character. Plus, what deadly challenge used every one of these ten skills?

Of course, what do I know? Last time I was in drag as a woman was as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and that was almost 20 years ago.

The Criteria: For the purpose of this post, the seven seasons I evaluated were Season 2-7 and All-Stars. I did not specifically evaluate final runways for the potential of a sewing challenge unless that happened to be the main challenge.  Continue reading ›