Unsolicited Whammy Barrin’ On The Decline Of Western Civilization II: The Metal Years

– yes, this celebrated 1988 rock-umentary boasts several manufactured scenarios, but so does the first (and ostensibly more authentic) Decline of Western Civilization from 1981; in fact, the breakfast Ozzy “cooks” in this chapter is a callback to the breakfast Darby Crash “cooks” in part one

– no, Guns N’ Roses do not appear in Decline II, and while I’m sure they’d like us to believe they were just trying to set themselves apart and/or avoid chagrin let’s not forget this same year they decided to portray Jim Carrey’s backup band in The Dead Pool; I’d call that a draw

– hard rock figureheads like Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Bret Michaels, and Dave Mustaine have become so calcified in their personas (human zebra, sexy Easter Island statue, sexy Botox disaster, and self-defeating chemtrail truther, respectively) that it is easy to forget they were once real people; how endearing to watch Tyler and Perry, a year or so after Aerosmith’s comeback, aware and appreciative of this second act, expressing genuine humility (Tyler mostly targets himself when cracking corny jokes, all of which are followed by an embarrassed chuckle; when asked if Aerosmith reunited for money, Perry can’t say yes quickly enough); same for Bret Michaels, here oozing the kind of jittery enthusiasm you’d expect from a rookie Scientologist

– on the other side of this grime-laden coin are Alice Cooper and Lemmy from Motörhead, evergreen / even-keeled icons who never underwent any bizarre metamorphoses; this is because, one would assume, their art is so impenetrable and they know it (you’d be confident too if you authored all six thousand of those Motörhead albums); what’s the most embarrassing thing Alice Cooper’s ever done, praise Green Day? Meanwhile, you could fill two museums with every dubious move Dave Mustaine’s made over the years

– Chris Hemsworth could play Chris Holmes in a W.A.S.P. biopic

– Margot Kidder could play the one guitarist in a Faster Pussycat biopic

– the Chris Holmes bits in Decline II aren’t as worrysome as they used to be because Holmes has yet to allow alcoholism or anything else defeat him (at least in terms of being above ground); far more depressing are the endless anonymous interviewees barely in their twenties who are convinced they’re gonna make it as heavy metal stars—where these kids are today, no one knows, but I don’t recognize a single one from even the more obscure articles what’s-his-face tacked up on Metal Sludge

– the scene where Odin singer Randy O. Roberg admits he’ll kill himself if his band isn’t successful is the hardest to watch, mostly because this declaration is made as Roberg luxuriates in a hot tub surrounded by adoring women; the girls’ expressions go sour while the singer remains ardent; I hate to suggest an amateur rocker may have been talkin’ dog shit while several beers deep in a hot tub, but (spoiler alert) Randy O. Roberg is still alive

– speaking of using women as props, Kiss clown Paul Stanley looks like he’s trying extremely hard not to laugh every time they cut to him in bed caught in a triangle of gaga-eyed blondes; at another point, Ozzy refers to Kiss as the ultimate in theater, and though he was talking about their stage show by now we all know Kiss is never really offstage

– the je nois se quoi of punk rock outlined in Decline I is only present here during the Megadeth concert footage where carefree stage divers routinely take flight and bassist David Ellefson uses an instrument decorated with a Dead Kennedys sticker; of course, Megadeth incinerated their punk cred around this time by recording that awful epileptic take on “Anarchy in The U.K.”; thank god Rust in Peace was just around the corner

– Riki Rachtman is in this thing and he is deliciously obnoxious

Big Frost Country: A Pictorial Jog Through A Bit Of Montana

Montana in February? You better believe I did it. Some friends of mine work at a ranch out there. I wanted to investigate this cowboy way and luxuriate in frozen solitude. Here now, pics from that jaunt plus requisite commentary.

About 90 minutes southeast of Missoula, near a place called Philipsburg. A town without pity? A town with dumpsters, at least.

The coziness and aural calm of Missoula International makes it more like a library with a runway. It was difficult to capture the true essence of the items they keep on display (not pictured: a turkey with impressive plumage).

Portion of a “wall of fame” that hangs in an enormous sporting goods store, the kind that offers socks thicker than any winter coat in New York and also those weird camouflage nets that make hunters look like moving shrubbery.

Here I am snowshoeing my way around the base of a mountain. Even with the aid of such equipment and time to adjust to Montana’s altitude I remained no terrain climbing superstar. Still, it was fun.

The sun makes a rare appearance. Temperatures bounced between 17 and 40 fahrenheit, the latter considered “pretty warm” by locals.

Philipsburg is quite small—they have no McDonald’s, they have no Holiday Inn—but they do offer a few modern comforts. Yes, they also have a pizzeria, one that doubles as a laundromat. I didn’t taste any soap on my pie.

Big broc country. The farm-to-table situation in Montana is so intense they’re practically just tossing it from the field onto your plate.

There’s plenty of cool junk to do in the Treasure State, like hike or ski or fish or sit in a cabin and write and hope Kathy Bates doesn’t break your legs, but it’s also neat to just drive around and take in that big sky.

I Finished Brave Punk World

The manuscript for Brave Punk World: The International Rock Underground From Alerta Roja to Z-Off was due in early January. I completed it last week. Two months seems like quite a delay when you’re working on anything, but no one would talk about Chinese Democracy in the tones that they do if it had only been sixty days late.

Three hundred and fifty-ish pages turned in, give or take. Enough pictures to keep things interesting (I hope). Of course I feel relief getting it wrapped up, but those waves are cut with streaks of “I forgot to discuss x or touch on y, and I shoulda expanded upon z.” Similar emotions materialized once my first book, This Music Leaves Stains, was in the can. Par for the course, I guess. Interestingly enough, several aspects of Stains that I view as lacking have yet to come up in critiques. Will the same hold true for this book ass book?

Got me. All I know is I worked my crank off on BPW, it’s pretty close to what I envisioned when I pitched the thing to Rowman & Littlefield, and I can’t wait for everyone to read it when it comes out in OCTOBER OF 2017.

Below, the cover.

In case you’ve been wondering, the book is divided into seven sections by region—Asia, U.S.S.R. & Eastern Bloc, Western Europe, Africa, Central & South America, North America, and Oceania.

More info later. As always, I thank you for your readership and support.

Unsolicited Cobbin’ On Children Of The Corn

Children of The Corn is a film about some kids possessed by another kid possessed by a nebulous farm demon; they’ve expunged every adult from their town and any grownup unlucky enough to cross their path winds up crucified on corn stalks; all of this is more plausible than the scene where two tykes break off from the cult to indulge in a game of Monopoly; an entire town at your disposal and you want to play a real estate simulator?

– the protagonists are Burt and Vicky, an adult-ish couple driving through Nebraska on the way to Burt’s medical internship; problems begin when they accidentally run their giant canary colored 1980s car into a child of the corn; Burt must be at the bottom of his class because he moves the kid from the scene of this accident, wrapping him up and tossing him in the trunk; slowly the child of the trunk is forgotten about as Burt and Vicky’s quest for a doctor gets weirder; by the time the end credits roll, the vehicular manslaughter that set all this shit into motion remains unresolved; the lesson: if you run over a child of the corn, just wait until help arrives or else you’ll wind up fending off gaggles of hollow-eyed baby Satanists with just your wits and a pocket knife

– the nebulous farm demon is never really seen or thoroughly explained, which is disappointing; a 1984 movie about otherworldly energy moving through cornfields and possessing children deserves a big crazy stalk monster that spits creamed corn and vaporizes chickens with laser eyes

– one of the production companies credited with bringing Children of The Corn to life is Hal Roach Studios, who of course also delivered us Alfalfa, Spanky, Buckwheat, and the rest of Our Gang; is that ironic or hilarious, and has anyone considered a dark reboot of Our Gang?

– this film is creepy and unsettling and they could have stopped at one but in the grand tradition of any marginally interesting 1980s horror film there have been seven Children of The Corn sequels and a remake

– if John Franklin’s portrayal of malevolent child preacher Isaac becomes too much to bear, calm yourself by remembering that Franklin also plays Cousin Itt in both Addams Family movies

Is This The Tiger?

My phone rang tonight with an alien number. I answered, because I love being bothered.

“Hello?”

The ambiance of a large, bustling room filled my ear. You know the kind. It went on until I repeated my greeting.

“Hello, this is [some guy] calling from Caesars Palace! How are you?”

I always think I’m going to be clever with telemarketers. Wow, Caesars Palace? Is this Siegfried or Roy? Is this the tiger? Alas, the following curt, humorless phrase always falls out of my mouth.

“Please don’t call this number again. Thank you.”

Most of the time the call disconnects here, either on my end or theirs, or the person gives a quick heartless apology. Not this time. A beat went by and the telemarketer responded, sotto voce, sounding almost wounded.

“I didn’t call you. The computer did.”

You’re right, telemarketer. I should be mad at the computer. It’s enslaving us both, isn’t it? Look, give me your address and I’ll fly out to Las Vegas right now and liberate you. Yeah, I know it’ll cost twice as much as the vacation plan you’re selling, but can you put a price on humanity’s freedom?

Unsolicited Ga Ga Goo Goo On Look Who’s Talking

– our collective conscious appears to dismiss Look Who’s Talking as “the talking baby picture Travolta made on his way back up” or “the talking baby picture Alley made on her way back down”; what an extreme surprise it was to learn this is an Amy Heckerling film and not [I was going to make a joke here about whoever directed Air Bud but it turns out Air Bud was directed by Charles Martin Smith—am I expecting too much from this world?]

– the central gimmick of Look Who’s Talking, the thing that got people in the door in October of ’89 after a summer of Batman and the Ghostbusters and “Weird Al,” is Bruce Willis providing the Garfield-esque inner monologue of the infant; there are times this is amusing, but more often are wide swaths where the Willis narration is pointless and asinine and makes you wonder if they tried at first to make a normal comedy hanging on Travolta and Alley’s fun chemistry but something was lacking so they decided “talking baby”

– “talking baby” is a misnomer as the baby is only such for the middle part of the movie; before that, Willis is giving voice to a sperm as it swims toward an egg (the special effects are just as mind-boggling as the Beach Boys music cue) and then an in utero fetus (which bears a striking resemblance to the murderous infant from the 1974 classic It’s Alive); toward the end of Look Who’s Talking, Bruce Willis is cracking wise over a toddler who seems old enough to actually form his own words; this is probably why they brought in another baby for the sequel, who is voiced by Roseanne

– George Segal plays the smarmy, shitty, married businessman who keeps Kirstie Alley’s character as his long-suffering mistress until he impregnates her with the Bruce Willis baby; if you’ve ever wanted to see the old fella from “Just Shoot Me” give it to the lady from “Cheers” you’ll get a little pleasure

– Abe Vigoda plays the somewhat out to lunch grandfather of John Travolta’s character; not Vigoda’s finest hour but the “please help my grandpa get into a better nursing home” subplot does pave the way for a few succulent morsels of humanity (not to mention the climatic white knuckle car chase through what we are meant to believe is Manhattan)

– there is a montage in Look Who’s Talking set to the Talking Heads song “And She Was”; I wonder how David Byrne feels about that today

– this talking baby picture is better today than what I remembered of it yesterday; that said, talking baby, talking sperm, talking sperm partying to Beach Boys, talking fetus, George Segal aardvarking, gratuitous Travolta / baby dance sequence set to “Walking on Sunshine,” gratuitous crossover of Travolta’s personal interests (his lunkheaded Jersey cab driver is also a recreational airplane pilot)

– thank god this is not the Look Who’s Talking movie where Travolta and Alley sing a parody of “Fight For Your Right to Party” about toilet training

Newer Hope: Unsolicited Review Of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Rogue One occupies an odd place on the Star Wars timeline; a prequel set just a handful of days before the original 1977 Star Wars, this film follows the exploits of the brave Rebels who capture and curry the Death Star plans to Princess Leia shortly before she slips them into R2-D2. It’s a vital juncture in this decades-long interstellar fantasy, yet it’s also very compartmentalized with no strong connection to the other seven entries. The heroes of Rogue One have never been identified previously. Their harrowing mission is a blip in the distant future during the other three prequels and by the time we meet troubled rural teen Luke Skywalker their exploits are yesterday’s news.

Rogue One is also occurring at a weird moment in our own world—just a year ago we were hit with The Force Awakens, a continuation of the main Star Wars narrative set 30 years after Return of The Jedi. Why walk us back pre-Hamill already? Where’s the ball droid? Where’s Adam Driver? Where the hell are the singing cats?

The arrival of Rogue One may not make a ton of sense, but the movie is so fantastic and gripping it doesn’t matter. Director Gareth Edwards paints with astonishing visuals, using perspective and scale and rich special effects to inject a “wow” factor absent in many of the previous chapters (it is extremely satisfying to watch a space battle that looks like a space battle, not a video game). Rogue One even makes the unthinkable work—the film resurrects Peter Cushing 22 years after his death (digitally, of course) for another turn as Imperial official Grand Moff Tarkin. As other characters interact with the Moff it is difficult to tell they are acting against a cartoon. We must consider the possibility Gareth Edwards is an occult priest who used black magic to literally raise Peter Cushing from his grave.

Tarkin assumes control of the nearly completed Death Star early in the film, which we learn was the brainchild of a morally conflicted architect named Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen). The Empire tears Erso away from his family for the home stretch of this space laser project and that surely motivates his decision to leak compromising intelligence about the Death Star’s reactor to the Rebellion. The Rebellion turns to Erso’s daughter, Jyn (Felicity Jones), who is willing to throw in with this galactic coup malarky if there’s a chance her father can be freed. Along the way Jyn builds herself a posse, including a handsome Rebel dude (Diego Luna), an extremely droll robot (Alan Tudyk), a blind holy man who may or may not be Jedi (Donnie Yen), and this sort of space Rambo (Jiang Wen). The group only grows tighter as the game changes around them.

Rogue One’s heroes may lack the radioactive charm of a Han Solo or a Chewbacca but they are resolved and strong and you root for every single one of them in the enormously satisfying (and somewhat heartbreaking) third act. In an era where Hollywood loves nothing more than to hit you with false endings, this venture gives you but one, an audacious and stimulating one, and sews it pretty well to the start of the founding late ’70s passage we all memorized growing up. Rogue One may have single-handedly saved the fate of the word “prequel.”

Also, somewhere in the middle of this adventure, you get to see Darth Vader’s house. It’s not carpeted.

FINAL SCORE: Four fistfuls of ewok fur (out of four).

Six Hours In Brazil [UPDATED]

Let me tell you about something tremendously stupid I did over the weekend. I flew to São Paulo, Brazil without a tourist visa, a document U.S. citizens are required to have if they wish to traipse around that beautiful country. Why did I do this? I was under the false impression an amnesty was occurring. During the Rio Olympics, Brazil waived tourist visas to encourage more traffic to the games. That was in June. I had no clue the policy had been reinstated in September. I thought it was relaxing until January 2017. It’s been a while since I’ve been this wrong about something so important.

I never blamed anybody but myself for this debacle. My brain just atrophied on confirming in the absolute anything beyond my passport. That said, the Brazilian pal who was picking me up from the airport Sunday morning also hadn’t been aware of or concerned with a potential visa problem. That made me feel better. Furthermore, as I was apologizing for my bold stupidity to the Latam employee who was helping me get back to the States, she countered: “No, it’s our company’s mistake. We should include this information in our booking procedure.” Couldn’t argue there.

So this is what happens when a U.S. citizen arrives in Brazil without a tourist visa: they let you stand around customs while they take your passport into a back room (where I imagine they run the numbers on the off chance you’re a known fugitive); eventually customs officials turn you over to a representative from the airline you flew in on, who makes you sign a document saying you understand why you’re not being allowed into the country; then, after going through security, the rep leads you to one of the gates so you can wait with some other airport official while the airline gets you on the next available return flight; once you’re rebooked, you may roam around the airport, thinking about what you’ve done as you wait for takeoff.

All I got to see of Brazil. Carnaval!

This entire episode stretched over six hours. Everyone I encountered at São Paulo–Guarulhos International Airport was as personable and professional as you’d expect airport folk to be in the sunrise hours of a Sunday morning when suddenly presented with an out of bounds idiot like me. The worst part, aside from the all-consuming embarrassment, was how badly I had to go to the bathroom while they were reviewing my passport in their office. To be honest, there’ve been far more dreadful mornings for me here in Florida.

So what happens now? Well, in the same breath as her apology, the Latam Airlines employee said the company would make up for their error by flying me back to Brazil for free once I obtain a visa. Fantastic, right? Getting this visa, that’s the new problem. Unless you want to pay exorbitant fees for the help of a third party online service, you must apply for and obtain a tourism visa in person at your local Brazilian consulate. Orlando got Disney, Orlando got the Magic, but Orlando ain’t got Brazilian consulate. The nearest one is half a state away in Miami. Good thing I love adventure.

Remember, friends, when planning a jaunt abroad, take a gander at a dot gov website or maybe this Wikipedia page to make sure you’re not about to fuckin’ bone yourself. Also, watching The Blues Brothers with Portuguese subtitles will not give you enough handle on the language to communicate properly with Brazilian customs officials. No one will care that you’re “on a mission from God” or that you “traded the car for a microphone.”

UPDATE: Following a week and a half of truly Grade F customer service, Latam informed me they would not honor their employee’s promise of free passage back to Brazil. The writing was on the wall before that, though—literally, on Latam’s Facebook wall, an endless stream of customer service complaints. Reading through them, I feel lucky. Some people have stuff in writing Latam won’t honor. Some folks have been waiting for hundreds of days for resolution. So, you know, fly with them at your own risk.

Would have dropped this update sooner but it kinda depressed me. Then I momentarily forgot what life was after the presidential election.

Q: Does Your Book On The Way Punk Rock Developed Outside The U.K. & U.S. Have A Title Yet & If So What Is That Title?

A: Yes. The title is Brave Punk World: The International Rock Underground From Alerta Roja to Z-Off. I’m sure I don’t have to remind you this thing will be published by Rowman & Littlefield in October of 2017. I’m sure!

Thank you for your continued interest and support. I’m working very hard to make this volume like really, really, really good. Many more words than my first book, many more pictures, not as many stories involving pro wrestlers from the sport’s second golden age, but don’t worry—donnybrooks and rigamaroles abound. I can’t wait for you to read it.

New Zealand’s Zero Elliot, who was arrested in 1978 for cussin’ during a gig with her band Suburban Reptiles. Photo by Murray Cammick.

Croker

“Space Ghost Coast to Coast” put me in absolute shock the first time I saw it. I couldn’t believe a tv show so fluently spoke to the cultural car crash in my head. A fusion of “Batman ’66” and Letterman and punk rock; a post-modern quasi-cartoon rewriting the rules of kitsch; a reverse Roger Rabbit where our dimension is the tiny portion of a surrealist animated landscape populated by exhausted and agitated characters who couldn’t give a tinker’s dam about what anyone else wants, let alone a human. A show about a retired super hero entering the late night wars with two sidekicks he’s imprisoned in his garish studio on an otherwise barren planet.

No other entertainment makes me laugh as hard as “Space Ghost.” It’s so elastic. Clever and cutting one moment, beautifully stupid and nonsensical the next. Long stretches of nothing, then dense clusters of joke upon joke upon joke, like a swarm of bees. Total reverence for a guest that quickly washes into contempt and sarcastic quips. And the full visual trip of live action celebrities being forced to interact with repurposed ’60s animation—what an addictively weird atmosphere.

An enormous piece of the show’s creative heart was animator and voice actor C. Martin Croker, who passed away last weekend. Croker brought to life the titular host’s enslaved sidekicks, band leader Zorak and producer Moltar, who as the show progresses transform from standoffish super villains into disgruntled everyman employees hilariously nonchalant in their burning hatred for Space Ghost. Zorak and Moltar savor each moment their captor stumbles and find themselves in a quiet pain when he succeeds. Naturally, these two have their own issues: Zorak is a pathological liar and cannibal while Moltar seems to be covering up an unsatisfying marriage.

How could I not be in awe of Croker? He drew this amazing show, voiced incredible foils for the main character, and his name’s stately as hell. This guy’s a legend. Everything I’ve read about him away from his work suggests he was cool, generally willing to share a laugh with admirers or do the Zorak and Moltar voices. It’s devastating that he’s gone at only 54 (cause of death currently undisclosed) but I’ll always be thankful for experiencing his talent. It affected me deeply to see that television as bizarre and lawless as “Space Ghost” could not only exist somewhere but thrive. That’s inspirational.

So thanks, Clay Martin. We’ll miss you.