MCall for Order

Got an email that last week that Bruce McCall was in the “Artist Spotlight” at the online New Yorker Store, which sells quality reprints of the magazine’s covers and cartoons. I’ve been a McCall fan since he helped define the National Lampoon style of detailed parodies which were conscious of the style and importance of every element of the thing being lampooned.

McCall didn’t draw funny luxury cars, he drew them in the context of car catalogues and the hopes and dreams of bygone days. His contribution to the full-bodied National Lampoon Sunday Newspaper Parody was that most essential of taken-for-granted elements, the supermarket advertising circular. McCall’s gags were extreme—the market was named SwillMart, it sold “rubber meat”—but contained within realistic trappings. He was parodying not just stupid culture stuff but the brochures, magazines, and ads which delivered them.

Now he uses New Yorker covers to spoof magazine covers. He works in traditional styles common when there were a zillion other lit/culture mags on the newsstand. You often have to study a McCall cover to get the joke—it’s not an automatic or clear realization, the way nearly all magazine covers are meant to be.

He seems to be good for four or five New Yorker covers a year. I miss his prose writing, having enjoyed his elaborate multi-page works for the Lampoon and his sensitive yet sarcastic memoir of his Canadian upbringing Thin Ice. He still writes, but is lucky to get the New Yorker’s Shouts & Murmurs slot even two or three times a year.

I know he’s older, and I see from the internet that he’s working on a children’s book and other things. But I wish the “Artist’s Spotlight” was a little broader.

In any case, the light’s shifted. This week’s “Spotlight Artist” at the New Yorker store in Charles Barsotti, a talking-dog and “little king” cartoonist without a satirical or parodic bone in his body. All hail Bruce McCall!

The Archie Type: Clever Titles

…from Jughead With Archie Comics Digest Magazine #69, July 1985.


Noise Annoys

Fair Despair

Eat Treat

Keen Scene

The Injured Party

Nap Flap

Breath Taking

View from the Pop

Wide Birth

Help Un-Wanted

Top Secret

Trap Flap

Bowl Goal

Dense Sense

Guess What’s for Lunch?

Dream Scene

Cycle Saga


Anything to Help

Anything She Wants

Hark Bark

Trash Flash

That Fabulous Face

Follow the Girls

Watched Watchers

In Good Hands

Well Read

Pet Parade

Food Monster

Clock Yock—or Are You Tense, Tired, All Wound Up?

Droppin’ In

Scheme Scream

No Horse Sense

All Washed Up


Birds of a Feather

Easy Does It

Ham on Wry

Cool Rule

…and Eerie Ear


“View From the Pop” is a word puzzle contained within an image of Archie’s father’s head.

If you’re curious what the mystery is in the Li’l Jinx story “Guess What’s for Lunch?,” it’s that a puppy dog has been stashed in Charley Hawes’ picnic basket.

Rock Gods #269: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

That new dollar store on Main Street, The Buck Stops Here, is good for more than chocolate covered peanut cravings. When rockabilly dfrummer Jimmy Joe Bob Buck of the Hair Straighteners had a transportation mishap—his mom drove his drums to the wrong town—he improvised by rushing to said cheap-goods emporium and loading up on flower pots, metal cans, snow saucers and anything else that would hold a beat.

His sticks were giant novelty pencils, tassels still attached.

Considering how many proper drum kits JJBB has already trashed in his short, meteoric (more like typhoonic) career, it’s amazing that most of this one survived the furious set.

When a pot could not suffice, Jimmy simply pounded the floors and walls. A soundman’s nightmare, but a rock fan’s demented dream. (Being juiced on high-chemical dollar-store soda pop definitely helped.)

Plans have already been hatched to deliberately send Mrs. Bob Buck on more wild goose chases whenever her son is gigging near a dollar store.


At the Bullfinch: Singer/songwriter Kera Premium, who will later sing along with mammoth college choral ensemble Sleek Luxurious… Four Bottles at Hamilton’s, which is what you’ll need to imbibe before they sound good. Kidding, guys. Three’s plenty… D’ollaries has The Formal DeHydes, garage insanity from France (or so they c’est). Best booking there in ages; a pity it’s such an anachronism for the club…

Thirteen Best “Day Tripper” Covers

1. Cheap Trick. I heard the band do this in a concert at the Orpheum in Boston well before a different  live version was released on their Found All the Parts EP in 1980. It blew my mind. Cheap Trick often did covers, but to actually do a Beatles song at the time was significant. This was the apotheosis of the  Power Pop movement, and it was considered far cooler to do fairly obscure covers of British bands or ‘60s garage acts than actually acknowledge the band to which every single Power Pop band owed its largest debt. It’s also a riff that fit Rick Nielsen’s wild-yet-precise live playing style perfectly. (Cheap Trick, of course, went on to work with John Lennon in 1980 and, in 2010, cover Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in its entirely with orchestral backing.)

2. Nancy Sinatra. Instead of guitars, the riff is handled first by a brass section, then by a chorus of go-go dancers. And she growls it like “Boots.”

3. Otis Redding. He uses horns too. And seems genuinely perturbed to have “found out.”

4. The Fleshtones. Soaring instrumental rave-up, one of many uncanny Fleshtones recreations of a ‘60s Northwest frat party soundtrack.

5. Jimi Hendrix. On the BBC Sessions. Strips it down to garage essentials: “Can you hear me now?

6. Ramsey Lewis. The pianist attacks it in a manner similar to his biggest pop hit, “The In Crowd.”

7. Yellow Magic Orchestra. Messes with the Beatles timeline and does it in a psychedelic “Strawberry Fields” style.

8. Capital Gain. A consummate try-something-a-little-new local band cover for the largely extraordinary Boston Does the Beatles double-album in 1988.

9. Mongo Santamaria. The horns take the riff again, with a cha cha beat and an active dialogue among keyboards, saxophone and trumpets.

10. Daniel Ash. The riff and beat becomes the Goth undercurrent of a downbeat confessional.

11. Mae West. She acts it to the hilt, actually becoming the Day Tripper herself: “I’m a big teaser/I took him half the way there.” Produced by the great tin pan alley scholar and ukulele popsmith Ian Whitcomb.

12. Booker T and the M.G.s. Unending delights. The guitar part comes out from under the riff and plays a transformative blues solo. The rest of the band vamps on the basic melody, as a unit.

Tied for 13: Sham 69 and Bad Brains. Inventive live versions that nonetheless share a “guess you had to be there” vibe.

Five Worst: James Taylor, Anne Murray, Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66, Lulu, Type O Negative.

The Archie Essays

The wave of “Are You a Betty or a Veronica?” merchandise was rather shortlived. The characters have retuned to somewhat less arch (to coin a phrase) postures. I still have several of the greeting cards (which have Betty proclaiming :”It’s so hard being the SMART one” while Veronica inquires “Who doesn’t LOVE to shop?”).

In older times, Betty and Veronica were celebrated for their similarities, not their differences. The best stories, in their Betty & Veronica title, had them adventuring together and enduring each others personality extremes. Apart, they became one-note jokes: Betty the salivating puppydog who chases after Archie but is too insecure or inexperienced to win him; Veronica the spoiled, worldly flirt who takes Archie, and the rest of her devoted friends, for granted.

It’s not their  rivalry that makes these characters work; it’s their complementary qualities. How they have distinct yet equally worthwhile reactions to the same teen situations. How they prioritize differently. How they respect each other, reassure each other and validate each other.

Ginger vs. Mary Ann? That’s a random poll of comely castaways from disparate cultures. Betty & Veronica, on the other hand, are lifelong friends coping with the turmoils and triumphs of being teenagers in Riverdale together. That’s the attraction.

Rock Gods #268: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

Thicker Fuller’s a fun band. Good songs, short and sweet too.
But the magic act has got to go.

Not that we mind card tricks, and yes,we understand that this band had its origins between the lines of a young adult novel, and incorporates several thematic elements into its stage act. But certain gimmicks just don’t wash with the sensitively scabrous Bullfinch crowd.

For one thing, a card trick can take up the space of entire freaking song. For another, only those down front can see the cards. Play it, don’t shuffle it!

Hair in Weeks at the Bullfinch next, with Out of the Clinic & Into Your Home (is that one band or two?)… New All Natural at Hamilton’s, covering the hippie hits alongside the much more contemporary Healthier Smile… D’ollaire’s is dark. Why?…