November 20, 2015

How to Destroy Your Vinyl Records: A Guide for Seniors

Greetings, aging music lover!

Congratulations on living a long life, a life filled with joy and sorrow, pain and triumph, and, of course, wonderful music. Yes, Dear Friend, at every step of your journey, you were surrounded by beautiful melodies created by the world's finest musical artists. Their songs touched your heart. They helped you through the rough patches. They made the good times feel even better. 

Even now, as the icy finger of Death gently tap tap taps on your shoulder, you can not help but smile as you gaze lovingly at your vinyl record collection which you have so diligently curated. Each gleaming scratchless platter is as close to perfection as the day it was manufactured, a testament to your love for and dedication to the recorded arts.

Say, have you stopped to consider what will become of this treasure trove after you have departed this mortal realm? Many people such as yourself have bequeathed their records to a close friend or family member, receiving sincere assurances that said records will be treasured, cared for, and passed down to each succeeding generation. Alas, nothing could be further from the truth. 

The painful reality is, you will scarcely even have begun your eternal slumber before the sweaty and possibly jelly-stained fingers of your son or nephew will begin carelessly rifling through your precious vinyl stockpile. "What's this crap?" he will exclaim. "Who the fuck is Buddy Rich?" 

Your beneficiary, having failed to discern the inestimable cultural value of your collection, will then proceed to recklessly hoist your record crates into the back of his freakishly oversized pickup truck, drop them off orphan-style at the front door of the nearest thrift store and peel away, bobbing his head zombie-like to the rhythm of the latest gangsta rap hit. 

Soon, your prized possessions will be unceremoniously dumped on the floor underneath three shelves that contain hardcover books no one will buy for even a quarter, like Jimmie Walker's autobiography, Dyn-O-Mite!  or any Jackie Collins novel after Hollywood Wives. They will swiftly be procured by an eagle-eyed entrepeneur who talks like a sophisticated music aficionado, but is really only interested in the crinkly tones produced by shuffling big stacks of cash. 

Through his Ebay store, he will sell your cherished records for exorbitant prices and then send them, one by one, to every corner of the globe. Your ghost self will watch helplessly as your Basie goes to Boise, and your Miles goes to Milan. You will then spend the rest of eternity wandering about aimless and confused, trying but endlessly failing to remember the tune of one goddamn song.

Ah, but what if there was a way to foil the plans of this vulturous villain, the vinyl profiteer? Luckily, there is! Although there is no way your records will not wind up in a thrift store, by following the steps in this handy guide, you can make sure your collection will never leave that thrift store in this fiend's possession. In fact, you will get a good ghostly chuckle when you see his reaction to your clever handiwork.

1. Make sure you are dying. Some common signs of dying are difficulty breathing, constant chest pains, and profuse bleeding. To help along the process, avoid all doctors.

2. Take care not to deface or spoil in any way the visible outside jackets of your albums. You want to preserve the element of surprise by making your adversary confident that he has stumbled upon a cache of vinyl gold.

3. Remove vinyl records from the jackets, paper inner sleeve and all. Remove vinyl records from paper inner sleeves. Discard paper inner sleeves. 

4. If you are still allowed to handle sharp eating utensils, procure a salad fork from the kitchen. Carefully make a long deep gouge on one side of each vinyl record, preferably over the best song.

5. If you are no longer allowed to handle sharp eating utensils, or if you just want to be extra thorough, spread your vinyl records out on the living room floor. Release six mice and twelve feral sharp-clawed cats into the living room and quickly retreat to a safer room until the commotion dies down. 

6. Prepare a cleaning solution for your vinyl records. A dark cola is ideal, but coffee or beer will do. Gently grasp each record with one hand, wearing a baseball mitt if desired, and apply the cleaning solution to each record. Next, use your free hand to spread the solution out evenly, taking care to oversaturate the paper label.

7. Put your vinyl records next to a heat source to dry. Fireplaces and radiators work well, but a hair dryer will do in a pinch. Leaving them out in the sun to dry is not recommended, as you may not have that much time left.

8. (Optional) After your vinyl records have all dried, why not take a permanent marker and write your name on some of the record labels? If you are feeling creative, you can write other things as well, like "Kilroy was here" or "Eat shit, Ebay Man!" 

9. Carefully place your vinyl records back into their immaculate record jackets. Do not be overly concerned about matching each vinyl record up with its corresponding jacket. Neatly place your albums back in their crates. Fall down the stairs. Die.

Mission accomplished! Now, all you have to do is float over to the nearest thrift store and wait for the fun to begin. Your soul will be at peace forever knowing that your lifelong passion for record collecting has not been crassly exploited for some shady character's quick financial gain, and you'll likely bust a ghostly gut watching his face slowly turning red with exasperated fury.

As for the music, don't worry. Rest assured that The Afterlife has one hell of a band. When you get there, say "Hi" to Satchmo for me.

November 19, 2015

Heinz Edelmann: Before and After "Yellow Submarine"

Heinz Edelmann (1934-2009) is best remembered for his role as Art Director for the 1968 animated film Yellow Submarine. Here is a gallery of illustrations he did for various other projects.












November 4, 2015

A Range Estrangement or Any Title Will Do

Don't you kind of hate it when, after a blog has been dormant for a while, the blogger returns with all sorts of apologies and explanations for his or her absence? Although the gesture may be full of considerate intentions, I always kind of feel that the blogger may be overinflating the importance of the whole enterprise. I figure about 75% of blogs, including this one, could be erased today and there wouldn't be a wet eye in the global house.

Now, please don't get me wrong. I like the concept of blogging. When done well, a blog can even  rise to the status of essential reading. Mark Evanier's blog has been a daily ritual for many years now. Mr. Evanier has led a storied life and recounts anecdotes from it in a very urbane and articulate manner. He is interested in a variety of subjects (showbiz, politics, comics, creamy tomato soup, etc.) and knows how to make those subjects interesting to the casual reader and to people who already share those interests. He posts so frequently, I often wonder how he finds the time. In short, Mark Evanier's blog makes most other blogs look like a pile of koala droppings.

I haven't led a storied life. North Carolina is a long way from Los Angeles and the colorful characters with whom Mark Evanier has crossed paths. Having Asperger's Syndrome, I rarely socialize with regular folks, let alone celebrities. When I was three, my dad took me to an autograph signing to meet Nascar legend Richard Petty. The big mystery is whatever happened to the glossy photo "King" Richard signed for me that day. My guess is, somewhere down the line my Dad sold or traded it for a case of Schlitz or a tackle box or some other needful thing. Thank heavens I don't care one bit about Nascar racing.

Contrary to popular belief, some North Carolinians are more partial to Kurt Vonnegut novels, Ingmar Bergman films, and the musical output of Frank Zappa than college basketball and Dukes of Hazzard reruns. I wish I could meet them, but they are few and far-between and I don't get out much. North Carolina is a beautiful state filled with friendly salt-of-the-earth people, but it can be lonesome for someone with my cultural sensibilities. And Asperger's.

Actually, my creative pursuits and interests (and the companionship of my most excellent wife, Heather) create a life in which I rarely, if ever, feel lonesome. As Bill Watterson once observed, "the days are just packed." This week, for example, I am writing a classical piece on piano ( just to see if I can), reading the first volume of Fantagraphics' reprinting of Ernie Bushmiller's Nancy comic strip, and watching U-Matic format videos on YouTube. I just purchased an Elvis movie box set and the whole lot of Universal Monster Legacy dvds. I recently wrote a poem and finished the first draft of the first chapter of my coming-of-age novel White Lake Summer 1980. I scored a vinyl copy of The Kinks' Face To Face and I am transferring a great many comic book scans to my external hard drive so I can more easily read them on my television, between sessions of Far Cry 4. Note that none of these activities involve me leaving my cozy apartment.

Here's the poem:

Ghost Town Litany

The ghosts in the ghost town have not forgotten
The balls and the brawls
The foam on the beer
The shiny tin stars
The old engineer
Greenhorns with greenbacks
Ripe for the pickin'
Five Card Stud
Miss Trudy's fried chicken
The boy who got shot
For no reason at all
By the Trumbo Brothers
Two short, one tall
Rattles on snakes
The cry of the wolf
Echoing thunder
The beat of the hoof
Snare drum rain on a pitched tin roof
Sweet girls in bonnets
Wild women in beds
Lasses with notions to put in men's heads
The gleam of the gold
The sting of the lead
The judge and the noose
"Justice," he said
The broken piano that no one could play
It sat in the corner
Out of the way
In a smoke-filled saloon
In a town that's now ghostly
Where ghosts reminisce
About things that they miss
From a time long forgotten

Well, it's not Whitman, but it was fun to write. And it's fun to blog. I'm going to keep doing it, and hopefully do it better and more frequently. I hope that by sharing my own creativity and the creative works that inspire my creativity, you too may feel inspired, or be somewhat entertained. I also hope you will take a minute to comment if you read something you like or take issue with, or if you just want to say hi. I'll respond to any comment, no matter how hard my Aspie brain tells me your comment stands on its own.

Stay attuned...

September 1, 2015

Doug Wildey's Haunted Tank Story!

Today's comic share is a treat for Jonny Quest fans, a war story written by Bob Kanigher and drawn by Quest co-creator Doug Wildey! "The Armored Ark" was published in G.I. Combat #153 (April-May 1972, DC). As you might guess from the the title, the story addresses the subject of animals in war zones, and it shows how soldiers can display great compassion, even in the midst of battle.

August 31, 2015

Goon With the Wind or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Goons

If you are a Monty Python fan, you owe it to yourself to watch this documentary on the Goons, who were very influential in the development of the brand of absurd conceptual humor that the Pythons popularized. In fact, John Cleese and Michael Palin are two of the interviewees featured in this special retrospective.

The Goon Show can perhaps best be described as an audio version of a surreal comic strip, featuring recurring characters (some with recurring catchprases) and innovative sound effects and music. It was broadcast weekly on British radio from 1951 to 1960, and primarily featured the comedic talents of Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, and Harry Secombe. I have been trying to cultivate a greater appreciation of the Goons for a while, and I found this doc most helpful in that regard. 

May 21, 2015

What's Next For You, Dave? Here's My Idea...

Dear Dave,

First of all, please forgive me for not addressing you as "Mr. Letterman." I know that we were always only "tv friends," as you so eloquently put it in your final episode, but to me and millions of others, you will always be just "Dave." You are truly a man of the people!

Dave, I believe in my heart that I have inside of me exactly one Great American Novel. The basis for this literary masterpiece will be the glorious coming-of-age summer I spent in the little resort town of White Lake, North Carolina in 1980, when I was a mere lad of eight. So many memories flood my mind when I think of that magic summer. Almost drowning in the crystal clear waters, barfing up cotton candy when I was flung off the Tilt-A-Whirl, accidently stepping barefoot on hot cigarettes tossed by careless campers. It was the best summer of my life.

One week, my older brother Herbie and I had to stay cooped up in our rented trailer with calamine lotion plastered to our faces. We were the unfortunate victims of a staph infection caused by a rusty shower head. This was the week you came into my life for the first time. My impressionable mind absorbed every minute of your groundbreaking morning show, and although the clumps of dried lotion made laughing uncomfortable, if not impossible, for that one hour every day, my desire to continually scratch my face subsided considerably.

I have been a loyal fan since then (well, at least until you left NBC), and I feel I owe you a great debt. If you and your writers had not "borrowed" so many ideas from legendary entertainers like Ernie Kovacs, Steve Allen, and your mentor, Johnny Carson (who also "borrowed" quite a bit from Ernie Kovacs and Steve Allen) my sense of humor would be woefully underdeveloped today. Why, I might even think Ricky Gervais was funny. The very thought makes me shudder.

I think I know you pretty well, Dave. It is a lovely and noble thought, having more quality time with your enchanting wife Regina and your chain-smoking boy Harry, but if I know you, not being involved in a significant way in the "business of show" would be a surefire death sentence. I can picture you now, sadly barreling down the ol' ski slope for the umpteenth time, teardrops turning to ice on your cheeks, hoping that a tree will just pop up out of nowhere to put you out of your misery. It can't end that way!

There's a better way forward, Dave. I now humbly submit to you the greatest idea ever presented in the history of mankind. Drumroll, please. You, David Letterman, must start your own television network, Network Pants.

Network Pants. Let it roll around in your head for a minute. I'll wait.

Ok, let's get down to brass tacks, whatever that means. What is Network Pants all about? It's about humor, a certain kind of humor. It's smart. It's stupid. It's subversive. It's irreverent. It's "too hip for the room." Network Pants is about you. It's about your influences. It's about folks who have been influenced by you. It's about all the amazing shows that were cancelled before their time because the average American didn't "get it." It's television for enlightened viewers who have been, for too long, disenfranchised, yearning for an awesome network to come and fill the great vacuum that exists between C-Span and Nickelodeon.

I know mere words cannot do this idea justice. I have taken the liberty of writing up a fantasy schedule. No extra charge.

11:30P    The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson
12:30A    Late Night With David Letterman
  1:30A    Kids In The Hall
  2:00A    Mr. Show With Bob and David
  2:30A    It's Garry Shandling's Show
  3:00A    Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman
  3:30A    Fernwood 2-Night
  4:00A    Ernie Kovacs
  4:30A    Bob and Ray
  5:00A    Candid Camera
  5:30A    You Bet Your Life
  6:00A    Clutch Cargo and His Pals ( a morning kid's block featuring Clutch, Gumby, and Gary                  Coleman cartoons, live-hosted by A Guy In A Bear Suit)
  8:00A    Pee-Wee's Playhouse
  8:30A    Ren and Stimpy
  9:00A    Hollywood Squares  ( the good ones, with Paul Lynde)
  9:30A    Match Game  (the good ones, with Gary Burghoff)
10:00A   The Gong Show
10:30A   Let's Make A Deal (Monty Hall episodes)
11:00A   Super Dave (the other Dave)
11:30A   Saturday Night Live
  1:00P   Green Acres
  1:30P   The Monkees
  2:00P   Mork and Mindy
  2:30P   WKRP in Cincinatti
  3:00P   Police Squad
  3:30P   Night Court
  4:00P   Laugh-In
  5:00P   TV's Bloopers and Practical Jokes
  6:00P   Onion Nightly News
  6:30P   Funny or Die Presents
  7:00P   SCTV
  7:30P   The Muppet Show
  8:00P   Mystery Science Theater 3000
10:00P  Three Stooges
10:30P  Monty Python's Flying Circus
11.00P  Benny Hill

That's just for starters, Dave. Imagine weekends on Network Pants. Battle Of The Network Stars marathons. Great movies like Airplane!, UHF, and Kung Pow: Enter The Fist. Other movies, like Cabin Boy. An Andy Kaufman Tribute Weekend. Stupid Pet Trick Weekend. The possibilities are endless.

But, Dave, that's not all. You'd be the chief, the kingpin, the top banana. You could interrupt your network's programming at any time you desired, from the comfort of any of your dozens of palatial homes. Work up a funny monologue about grocery shopping? Press a button, you're on. Just want to rant about ISIS for a few minutes? Push a button, you're on. You could even stay in your pajamas!

I am aware that the end of The Late Show is putting a lot of talented people out of work. Network Pants is the solution. They can do most of the busy work involved in operating a television network, and you can mostly relax as the ad revenue pours in, and trust me, it will. In fact, I'm sure you will have to beat advertisers back with a stick. Or a canned ham. Your choice.

Well, that's my pitch. Network Pants is a sure thing and I can't wait to see it pop up on my cable grid, assuming I ever get cable back. It will be an honor knowing I had some small part in Network Pants' creation, however insignificant, although I wouldn't turn down a small "imagineering" fee. I'm barely hanging on here, Dave. Both my front tires are bald and my kids are tired of playing Super NES games.

If you need any further guidance, call me. Seriously. Or humorously. Your choice.

I have gum.

Your Biggest Fan,
John "Silverman" Taylor

April 7, 2015

What Stan Freberg Meant To Me

It's horrible to learn that Stan Freberg has passed away. If you do not know who Stan Freberg was, I kinda feel sorry for you. You have, up to this point, missed something great and rare, the chance to commune with brilliance and laugh at the same time. On the other hand, I'm also envious, because you have the incredible opportunity to discover and fall in love with his work.

I no longer have this opportunity. I became aware of Stan Freberg as a teen-ager, around 1988, and it became a personal mission to experience as much of his genius as possible. I have many heroes and role models, and Stan is right up there at the top.

How brilliant was he? George S. Kaufman once said "Satire is what closes on Saturday night," meaning that the topical nature of satire almost guarantees diminishing returns as time goes by. I find a lot of the old episodes of Saturday Night Live unwatchable for this very reason. Jimmy Carter jokes, anyone? How about that Leona Helmsley? Who? Exactly.

Stan Freberg pulled off the rare feat of making satire that stands the test of time. He did this by skewering bad ideas that just won't go away. He trashed greed and commercialism. He slayed censorship. He eviscerated war. In this way, he created the most timeless body of satirical work ever produced. One hundred years from now, someone will hear "Elderly Man River" and understand, maybe for the first time, why censorship is rotten. More importantly, that person will laugh while understanding why censorship is rotten.

Stan hated rock'n' roll and parodied it with a vengeance. I love rock'n'roll, and Elvis Presley was one of my first heroes, but the first time I heard Stan's total destruction of "Heartbreak Hotel," I clearly remember the uncontrollable laughter, the tears streaming down my face, the breathless insanity of the moment. Too much echo!

What I really want to say about Stan Freberg is that he came into my life at just the right time. Through his comedy, He helped me understand the power of individuality at a time when I was supposed to be mastering the art of conforming. He showed me the possibility for the coexistence of intelligence and silliness. He also showed me, in his subversive way, how the real world functions, dysfunction and all. Most importantly, he made me laugh when life made me want to cry. He was one of a kind, and he will be missed.

Here are just a few of my favorite Freberg records:

March 13, 2015

The Winter of Our Contentment

Man, what a winter it has been. The finest in a long time. This year, Heather and I stared that behemoth known as Seasonal Affective Disorder in its squiggly green eye and made it clear he was not welcome in our tiny but overpriced Shangri-La.

Keeping busy was the key. If the blog has been mostly dormant, it's because I was rearranging the living room, alphabetizing my records or hanging tin signs above the kitchen cabinets. I spent less time on Facebook, and more time reading real books. I listened to music. I wrote music. Heather found a Keurig in perfect condition at a thrift shop for next to nothing. We are over-caffeinated and happy.

I made a lot of wonderful pop culture discoveries this winter, and I am going to share them with you, one post at a time. Until then...

January 6, 2015

Through A Glass, Darkly

Apropos of nothing, my favorite Norman Rockwell painting

I just finished watching Life Itself, a candid and stirring tribute to movie critic Roger Ebert, film's greatest friend. I give it two thumbs up. Of course, the second thumb is redundant. There is still a hole in my soul where my frequent trips to Roger's blog used to be. I much admired his writing skills. He had a way of conveying very sophisticated and nuanced ideas about movies, and life itself, without ever seeming pretentious. His blog entries always provoked thoughtful feedback from articulate and passionate readers, and Roger frequently replied to many of the comments. He was passionate, intelligent, generous and courageous. People like that I call heroes.

Heroes. I have so many. Hitchcock. Dali. Chaplin. McCartney. Vonnegut. Zappa. Perhaps only Santa has a longer list. My love for the arts can never be properly articulated,. Art and pop culture is my life support system. Aside from love, art is the finest thing that humanity can produce. In a world where humans are defined by their propensity for destruction, art is creation. It is a reminder that a man can pick up a paintbrush instead of a gun. You know a society is in trouble when its art is suppressed. Art is the proverbial canary in society's coalmine.

A few years ago, I realized that I fit all the criteria for Asperger's Syndrome. Obsessive devotion to specialized interests. Check. Social awkwardness and difficulty making eye contact. Check. Repetition of routines and rituals. Check. I don't like phone calls or long-sleeved shirts. Fluorescent lights can be very oppressive. I don't give a damn about football, but I will play pinball on my PS3 until I pass out from exhaustion. I walk a little funny, and my enunciation sometimes leaves a lot to be desired. Emotions? My face may say Spock, but inside I am Kirk.

Is it a burden? A handicap? In other's eyes, maybe, but never to me. It was only a burden to me when I was growing up unaware of my condition and its name, when I thought my classmates' cruelty toward me was a random act. These days I might be misunderstood, but I understand that I'm speaking a different language, and therefore I hold no grudges. If I had been born "normal," I might be glad I did not have Asperger's. Thankfully, I rarely feel persecuted these days.

Like most people with Asperger's, there is the one companion to whom I devote most of my energies. Heather is my wife. She is my confidant. She is my best friend. She is my muse. When time permits, we are happily inseparable. She knows my frustration of being geographically separated from my two amazing daughters. At my lowest point, she helped me regain my footing, and I believe she might literally be an angel.. Seven years, no serious arguments. How many couples can make that boast?

I have put considerable time and effort into studying the art of songwriting. For twenty-five years I've been at it. The first 500 songs I wrote I discarded. It's only been in the last two years that I've been able to synthesize all my influences into what I believe is a unique sound. I have dozens upon dozens of songs to record, and I write an average of one new song a week. I feel my music must be recorded in solitude, so my mission currently is to save money and build a proper home studio. My music is the part of me I can leave behind when my life journey is through. I do not care if my music is popular. I do not care if I make a lot of money. My burning desire is to make recordings that sound as close as possible to the sounds in my head. In this way, I will express myself in a way that I cannot otherwise do. I am grateful that my dream is still alive.

It is clear to me now that this blog is a permanent record of my influences. Only time will tell if that record has value to anyone else but me. However, I am going to post here as often as I can all the things that I feel are valuable and worthy of note. I hope to present exhibits here that will make you want to dig deeper on your own. If you have an open mind, there is endless treasure to discover. I also have a nagging desire to do some creative writing, maybe short fiction. Fair warning.

Comments are always deeply appreciated, unless you live in India and have some money waiting for me. I'm talking to you, Sirjit Chakrabarti!