Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Goodbye, Roy; Goodbye Steve

Sunday was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day for my burgeoning pantheon of Short Duration Personal Saviors--the Grim Reaper went into overtime and took out Roy Scheider and Steve Gerber in one fell swoop--and I'm very sad. This is one of the suckier things about getting old: your heroes die.


Poor Roy Scheider. The man had an impressive body of work behind him but all the obituaries want to focus on is his role as Sheriff Martin Brody in Jaws (with vague nods to his supporting roles in The French Connection and Marathon Man). Nary a mention of 2010: The Year We Make Contact, which is a damn fine movie, Kubrick purists notwithstanding, or Sorcerer, William Friedkin's remake of The Wages of Fear. which, yeah, was a commercial flop when it was released, but you've got to remember that in 1977 it was running concurrently with freakin' Star Wars. Friedkin and Friedkin devotees now consider it his best film and hey! What's not to like? "{C}lose-ups...of sweaty people working hard and laboring machines; truck engines and huge wheels spinning in soupy mud and frayed fanbelts in Panavision-70. Great stuff!" said none other than Stephen King in Danse Macabre.

Or All That Jazz, which I'm bold enough to say was Scheider's Best. Performance. EVER!

Dear Roy, I'm sorry you died but I sincerely hope your last moments mirrored your character's last moments in All That Jazz--death as a Broadway production number, all singing, all dancing, all your friends and loved ones playing extras and Jessica Lange leading you into the Light.

That final image of the zipping body bag we'll leave on the cutting room floor.

Steve Gerber, in case you didn't know, created and scripted the '70s comic book character Howard the Duck* and turned the whole notion of funny animal cartooning upside-down and inside-out through the simple expedient of satirizing every single comic book convention (especially those in Marvel) he could get away with. Ya want vampire hellcows complete with capes? Howard had 'em. A Dr. Strange wannabe, the Master of Mundane Magic, sending a "rolling radial six-ply death" hurtling towards an increasingly annoyed Howard? It's there. Politics? In 1976 Howard ran for president on the All-Night Party ticket. Over-the-top villains? How about Pro Rata, the aspiring Chief Accountant of the Universe, searching for the jeweled key to his Cosmic Calculator?

"By whatever means necessary I must procure that key by midnight. For at that hour, the stellar balance sheet comes into alignment...the astral audit may be taken...and I...I alone shall collect the COSMIC DIVIDEND!"**--Howard the Duck #1 (and a barely safe for work page scan from earlier in the story)

I discovered Howard the Duck one hot, sticky summer evening when I popped into the local 7-11 for my traditional trash can-sized cola Slurpee and saw an oversized anthology on the magazine rack. A quick glance brought me to a typical superhero comics panel--a stalwart group of underwear fetishists...uh...defenders of Truth, Justice, and the American Way are standing around discussing how to defeat the Supremely Evil Villain when a bewildered Howard happens to stumble upon them. His response? "Naturally. A room full of zanies. My day is complete."

And I was hooked.

There's a nice tribute to Steve over at The Comics Reporter and another at News From Me. His journal/blog, stevegerblog, remains online for the time being.

Interested parties will want to check out Essential Howard the Duck (review here) and the forthcoming Howard the Duck Omnibus.

Goodbye, Roy & Steve, and thanks! The world's a little less entertaining without you.

* Ignore the movie version. It's just... hideous. Not even Lea Thompson parading around in her underwear made it bearable and I speak as one who sat through The Beverly Hillbillies purely for shots of Lea Thompson in her underwear.

** In my college drinking days it was not unusual for me to recite this little monologue at random moments during the evening followed by gratuitous grandiose gestures and maniacal laughter. Yeah, you really wanted to party with me.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Long Time, No Blog

Just some random updates and free-association.

Breaking News
Frequent readers of this blog, all two of you, will have noticed that, for the most part, I lead a pretty dull, uneventful, and boring life. At 52 it's hard not to--I'm way past the Age of Wild, Uninhibited Partying (especially since I no longer partake of mood-altering substances beyond caffeine and nicotine and, really, would rather take a nap) and the idea of a frantic, dope-inspired, meth-fueled, On the Road/Fear and Loathing-style cross-country trip, though wonderful as a fantasy, makes my head and bladder ache. Most of the time I prefer to curl up on the couch with Sid the Cat, a good book, and House reruns playing in the background.

But, you know, every now and then you've just got to say "what the fuck."

Which is a roundabout way of saying, WOO-HOOO! I'm going on a Fake Date this Friday (Feb. 8) with my (24-yr. old) friend, ex-phone sex operator Sarah, to see the Sex Workers' Art Show!
(MySpace page here)

And what, exactly, are we talking about? Well, according to the Gay Community Center of Richmond, "The Sex Workers’ Art Show is an eye-popping evening of visual and performance art created by people who work in the sex industry to dispel the myth that they are anything short of artists, innovators, and geniuses!"

Oh, yeah; this should be a hoot-and-a-half! I just wish Ducky DooLittle and Emily Stern were going to be there!

They Laughed When I Sat Down at the Piano...
The closest I've ever come to learning to play a musical instrument was in 4th grade music class when poor Mrs. Whateverthehellhernamewas tried to teach us simple melodies on that cochlea-crackin' educational device, the Tonette (mine was new and obnoxiously bright yellow; I so envied the people with sibling hand-me-downs in basic black).

I never quite got the hang of it.

Meanwhile, Mom and Dad used to ship me off to my maternal grandparents and their tobacco farm for a week or so every summer (completely unrelated to my lack of expertise with the screechy Tonette) where one of my fondest memories was hanging out with Grandma and singing selections from the Baptist Hymnal while she banged away at the ancient upright piano in the parlor (this pretty much explains why a born-again agnostic knows the lyrics to dozens of obscure hymns and is perfectly willing to prove it at a moment's notice). Naturally, I wanted to try my hand(s) at the keyboard and though I occasionally managed to produce a traditional chord by accident, mostly I was engaged in the independent discovery of atonality. No one ever figured I was a candidate for piano lessons.

In 7th grade I found myself as a tenor in junior high school chorus (even though I probably had no more than a one-octave range) where we were promptly issued these godawful yellowish-beige workbooks on musical theory and notation. I kinda, sorta, vaguely followed what was being discussed ("Hey! That's a staff! And that's a, uh, treble clef! Right?") but was never able to make the cognitive connection between the notes and the sounds they represented. Ever see the movie Drumline? Remember Devon, who couldn't read music but had an uncanny ability to memorize complex rhythms after a single performance? Well, that was me except without the "uncanny" or "single" part, my first experience with any form of illiteracy, but back then I didn't particularly care and so faked my way through two more years secure in the knowledge that what I didn't know would be covered by the people sitting around me.

Still, I was annoyed that I had difficulty grasping concepts many elementary school kids seemed to master in minutes but hey! Chess and microscopes and model rockets and fossil collecting and monster movie making all beckoned and soon all was forgotten.

Fast-forward forty years and as of last week and for reasons which aren't entirely clear to me yet I own a newish Yamaha YPT-210 portable keyboard (check eBay; they're cheap!) and a copy of Piano For Dummies and I'm learning! Slowly, painfully, but I'm learning. There's also the added attraction of the darn thing being just plain fun to noodle with--activate the "sound effects kit" and I'm able to entertain myself for hours overlaying a pre-programmed techno beat with random (but rhythmic) weird-ass sounds. Hell, give me a sufficiently liquored-up, Ecstasy-laden raver crowd and I could keep 'em dancing for a good ten minutes!

Preparedness Notes
I'm always on the lookout for decent sources of Survivalist/Preparedness information and I've recently come across a particularly good online site-- Zombie Squad. Don't be put off by the name--the "Zombie Apocalypse" stuff is merely a semi-humorous metaphor for dealing with natural or man-made disasters (see the Wikipedia entry)... maybe. The discussion forums are particularly interesting, full of solid information and pretty much free of the near-hysterical conspiracy ranting all too typical in similar boards. Well worth bookmarking if you're at all interested in the subject.

Happiness Is A Warm Gun
I hesitate to mention this since so many people have such a viscerally negative reaction to any discussion of firearms and I really, really do not want to come across as a gun nut, but the truth of the matter is I enjoy shooting. Not hunting, mind you, Gawd forbid; shooting. I stalk the wily paper target, have done battle with the evil tin can (though not recently; remind me to tell you the story of the first time I fired a .357 magnum revolver--hilarity ensued), and lived to tell the tale. With the recent massive price increases in larger-caliber ammunition what I haven't had is an inexpensive platform for maintaining my rifle skills (which, at least for me, require frequent practice as in "use 'em or lose 'em")... until now. Now I have a new old school Marlin 981T bolt action, tube-fed .22 rifle which just happens to be very similar to the one I learned on back in the 'Sixties (those were the days when a small gang of 13-yr. olds wandering the local dump with rifles, Coke bottles, and peanut butter sandwiches wasn't a cause for alarm except, maybe, to the rat population). .22 ammunition is ridiculously cheap, which means you can shoot a lot of the stuff without breaking the bank, and the rifle itself was not particularly expensive-- around $100. Sure, I could have bought a fancy-ass, rapid-firing, endlessly customizable, semi-scary semi-automatic weapon, but that would have defeated the purpose-- slow, careful, deliberate perforation of the center of a paper target from 25 yards away and, as an added bonus, this particular model is lightweight enough and unintimidating enough so as to convince attractive women that target shooting can be fun (as opposed to this).

Well, the cat is begging for attention (or food) and I need a bath, so let's wrap things up for now.