The Daughter is now a teenager. She’s 5 feet, 9 inches, or 1.75 meters, tall. She is enjoying middle school pretty well after the adjustment period. Among other things, she’s figured out it’s easier Read the rest of this entry »

I saw Elton John in concert on 15 September 1998 with my coworkers Mary and Anne at what was then the Pepsi Arena, ne the Knickerbocker Arena, now the Times Union Center. We had what I had thought were not very good seats, in a balcony, practically stage left. But actually they turned out to be great; we could see him making entrances and exits, and what we couldn’t see, we could catch on nearby monitors.

It was a wonderful show. I don’t specifically remember the set list, though I doubt it was much different than what he played a month later at Madison Square Garden. What I do recall is that, even then, he had others sing the highest parts of what he managed to do on his own a quarter century earlier, which is no big deal.

Some years ago, my online buddy Johnny BacardiDavid Jones put together reviews of the Elton John songs that saw release on the 11 albums between 1969 and 1977, plus select singles. I was a big fan of this project. I’m not similarly motivated to replicate it, but I do notice that most of the songs I picked as my favorites primarily cover the same territory.

The Elton John (EJ) album, which I had thought at the time was his first album, I played a LOT. Tumbleweed Connection (TC), with this Wild West motif, is even more poignant now, since my father died. Madman Across the Water (MATW) was probably my favorite, though Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (GYBR) challenged it.

If memory serves, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy opened on the Billboard charts at #1 in 1975, and it wasn’t my favorite collection. The single, Someone Saved My Life Tonight I did not like. “Sugar bear” reminded me of pre-sweetened cereal. So my prime EJ period may be shorter, though I probably have more tolerance of the later Disney songs that David has.

Elton John made minor news recently when he walked into Vancouver record store and asked for gangster rap.

Here are 20 songs, my favorites roughly last. I could have picked 20 different ones.

Crocodile Rock (GYBR)
Come Down in Time (TC)
Honky Cat (Honky Chateau)
I’m Still Standing (Too Low for Zero)
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (GYBR)

Border Song (EJ) – this, and Your Song, probably suffered from too many covers that wore on me
Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting (GYBR)
Don’t Let the Sun (Caribou)
Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters (HC)
Your Song (EJ)

Where To Now St Peter (TC)
Tiny Dancer (MATW) – undoubtedly enhanced by its appearance in the movie Almost Famous
Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding (GYBR)
Take Me To the Pilot (EJ)
Madman Across the Water (MATW)

Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word (Blue Moves) – this seemed to have risen from a recent listening to his 2004 duet with Ray Charles
My Father’s Gun (TC)
Rocket Man (HC)
Daniel (GYBR)
Levon (MATW)

When I was working at FantaCo, owner Tom Skulan had Bernie Wrightson do the covers for the FantaCon comic conventions in 1980 and 1981. (The artist was going as Berni at the time to distinguish himself from another person.) He was a guest at three shows, at least.

FantaCo also published a comic called Deja Vu in 1982, featuring a front cover by Bernie Wrightson and two 1971 stories, The Last Hunters and King of the Mountain, Man, plus works by others in the artistic pantheon, Michael Wm. Kaluta and Jeff Jones. That was edited by Mitch Cohn, so my dealing with Bernie was usually a hello before passing the phone on to Mitch, who felt as though he were in heaven.

But I’ve been even current comic professionals have expressed the same sensation. As my friend, illustrator Fred Hembeck put it:

“I found myself invited to the already annual Wrightson Halloween party in a nearby town. I’ll admit to being a bit overwhelmed at the prospect of rubbing elbows with Bernie and a passel of his highly accomplished peers–after all, I was just a guy who drew squiggles on character’s knees, and he was, well, he was Bernie Wrightson. But my nerves were soon soothed, as Bernie was such a nice guy that he made me feel totally relaxed, even as he stood holding a butcher’s knife while wearing a blood-spattered apron as we pleasantly chatted (it was a Halloween party, remember).

“Over the next decade or so, there were plenty more Wrightson shindigs, holiday-centric or not, as well as a weekly volleyball game attended by Bernie and a host of other local cartooning notables. After awhile, I almost got used to Bernie just being that nice guy I was trying to set up at the front of the net in hopes of scoring on a Wrightson spike. Almost. But I never quite shook the awe I had–and continue to have–for the work he did that so inspired me during key years when I was ramping up my own attempts to get published.”

EVERYONE I read online, including Elaine Lee and Wendy Pini, spoke about how nice Bernie Wrightson was. Some DID complain about his limited danceable music collection: “A little Blues Brothers can go a long way,” someone wrote, and made him mixed tapes.But even in my limited contact, I always knew him to be a sweet guy.

And generous, famous for encouraging younger talent, both artists and writers. Steve Bissette revealed that when “DC in its benevolence sent Bernie a bonus check out of the blue, Bernie would split that bonus check up and mail checks to Alan Moore, John Totleben, Rick Veitch, and me, and when asked what for, he laughed, saying ‘I didn’t earn this, I know this bonus was because of what you guys did on the character, but don’t tell anyone about this because you don’t want DC to have a reason not to send another check!'”

Unfortunately, the enormously talented artist Bernie Wrightson died March 19 of a brain tumor at the age of 68. Ugh, I had a friend die from that; not pleasant. Here’s the notification.

His artistry on Swamp Thing and the stuff at Warren Publications was legendary. Tom Skulan referred to him as “the greatest horror comic artist ever.” A fellow artist said, “That might be Wrightson’s greatest gift to us: no matter how terrible the image he portrayed, it was always captivatingly beautiful.” That’s why I was happy to do my part to keep Creepshow selling when its publisher had given up on it.
***

Chuck Berry was 90 when he died, and I was filled with all sorts of contradictory feelings. On one hand, he is, to my mind, THE single person who had the greatest impact on creating rock and roll. He took the blues that wasn’t, in his words, blue enough, added some country chops, and voila. He was a charter member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The legendary duck walk, developed when he fell on stage and was getting up, was amazing. His music is literally in space.

He was an obvious influence on scores of artists, such as the Beatles, the Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones, with the former two as subjects of lawsuits by Berry. Here are
20 of his essential songs, and it doesn’t include his only #1 pop hit, 1972’s My Ding-a-Ling.

But he had his demons, which are touched upon in this article. There was the stuff with a 14-year-old girl back in the 1950s, though the use of the Mann Act to prosecute him, usually applied to high profile cases from boxer Jack Johnson to former governor Eliot Spitzer, was troubling. Much later, there were the bathroom cameras.

The article mentions, among other things, the 1987 concert movie about him, Hail! Hail! Rock and Roll, which I saw in the cinema at the time, and I found the musician, to my surprise, rather unlikable. He seemed glib in giving honorifics to almost everyone, he botched Robert Cray’s name, he made Julian Lennon look bad, he practically drooled over Linda Ronstadt.

He was to be kind, complicated.
***
I was living in New York City during the summer of the Son of Sam killings, so of course I was reading Jimmy Breslin, from then and for probably a decade or more. But his most famous piece was much earlier: Digging JFK grave was his honor.

I saw I Am Not Your Negro at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany a couple weeks ago with my wife and a friend. I wrote a decent review, which I have managed to lose. So I’m cobbling together something else.

From Rotten Tomatoes:
“In 1979, James Baldwin wrote a letter to his literary agent describing his next project, Remember This House. The book was to be a revolutionary, personal account of the lives and successive assassinations of three of his close friends- Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. At the time of Baldwin’s death in 1987, he left behind only thirty completed pages of his manuscript. Now, in his incendiary new documentary, master filmmaker Raoul Peck envisions the book James Baldwin never finished. The result is a radical, up-to-the-minute examination of race in America, using Baldwin’s original words and flood of rich archival material.”

I remember watching James Baldwin on the Dick Cavett Show, one of the clips used in this movie. Peck uses the choices of film segments very impressively. It’s not just video from 1965 when Baldwin debated William F. Buckley. It’s bits of old movies, and scenes from Ferguson, Missouri.

As my buddy Ken Screven wrote, “Even though Baldwin died in 1987, and much of his words contained in the movie reach back 50 years, the issues Baldwin talks about are still with us, raw and festering in the minds of many of Trump nation… This is a significant spotlight on an America we thought no longer existed.”

Interestingly, the RT critics’ score is 98% positive, but the viewers’, only 84%. Bill Goodykoontz of the Arizona Republic wrote: “‘I Am Not Your Negro’ is important. And urgent. And almost certainly unlikely to be seen by the people who would benefit from it most.” Rick Bentley of the Fresno Bee: “Whether it’s Baldwin speaking or the readings done by Samuel L. Jackson, ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ pulls no punches. It’s painful for a society that declares itself to be educated to be forced to look at how ignorant it has been and remains.”

The one caveat, I suppose, is that maybe America should all go out and buy it on DVD, because there were more than a few times in the watching when I thought, “I’d like to see that part again.” Here is a trailer of the Oscar-nominated documentary.

A local writer posted about stopping with the no-citations copy and paste stuff on Facebook. “Opinions, OK. Assertions of fact passed along without some source are rumors…Don’t play.”

I replied: “I suppose you’re right, although sometimes I think the info is SO obvious. e.g. someone was complaining about the proposed federal budget cutting EPA, et al, and someone else popped, “Citation, please.” Really? OK, here’s CBS, oh, and here’s WSJ and Common Dreams and… Are there no agreed upon facts anymore?”

Someone else chimed in: “It’s pathetic when Facebook friends have to demand higher standards for reposting than the President of the United States.”

And THAT, I suddenly realized, is one of the reasons it’s been such a tough winter. I wonder if it’s made me literally sick.

My friend Dan Van Riper has been saying for a while now what will bring a country down is “looting by the elites.” The draconian budget that will, among other things, cut medical research 20%, and the awful health plan are going to destroy our country if passed anywhere near their present forms. Why offer such an orgy of unnecessary cruelty?

Yale historian Timothy Snyder warns If We Don’t Act Now, Fascism Will Be on Our Doorstep; comments about fascism always seem to irritate people, but if the regime fits… And who IS running the show?

Most people who have been POTUS have stayed within a fairly wide swath of what one could call “American values.” Not so with this regime, measured by the fact that both GWB and BHO have, uncharacteristically, criticized him. His words before and after the election have inspired a pattern of ugly American behavior.

I won’t even get into his embarrassing behavior with Germany chancellor Angela Merkel or his idiot tweets that required a rare “sort of” apology to the UK’s Theresa May. Some are amused by his behavior, but I’m just horrified.

Last year, I was a believer in the “useful idiot theory”, that they’d dump him as soon as they wreaked the havoc to every agency and gotten their murderous health insurance allocation to the rich passed. But now he’s SO embarrassing on the world stage, and with the “health care” bill in trouble, maybe they need to dump him sooner or later, over some emoluments thing, likely.

(Serious questions that I do not know the answer to: are the tweets on the POTUS accounts buffeted somewhat from libels laws? And is Clarabelle, posting on realClarabelle, more susceptible to libel law?)

In fact, the only thing that makes sense – not “sense” in “that’s a good idea” but some sort of keep himself in power salvo is the Secretary of State’s threat to North Korea. Hey, everybody loves another war, right? Clarabelle will expect the country to rally around their “leader,” and Kim Jung Un is possibly the one head of state even more unhinged.

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