Rock Gods #28: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

A young musician blew into town last week—very scrawny, easily blown. The proverbial guitar-slinger, with all his possessions in the instrument case. He’d been dropped near town center—whether by a freight train he’d hopped or a ride he’d hitched, we couldn’t ascertain. Unerringly, in the way true artists unerr, he lifted his nose to the wind and swiftly located the nearest Open Mic. It was Monday, and that meant the Finch, of course.

We were at our accustomed table, there to see the sweet Polly and her acoustic wonderments. The mystery interloper took a number and, sitting quietly though not sullenly an elbow’s breadth from our shoulderbag, waited his turn.

It’s hard to know how to behave when a new face finds the Open Mic. There are many new faces each week, of course, but nearly all aren’t new at all. They are types you can ignore: the fresh-faced college kids, the best-friend Goth girls who’ve been practicing in the basement, the bands from a few towns over using the spot as an audition. Such folks come with their stories already told, their social needs already provided for. But when you see someone truly venturing in from beyond, you take note. You feel that pang of maybe-we-should-say-something, make-them-feel-at-ease.

And so we did. Just a nod, a warm smile, a gentle nudge of the basket of peanuts. Buy you a beer? Not now? Hmmm. Unfamiliar with the local currency, yet seems nice enough in a distant sort of way. He has taken the guitar out and is gingerly tuning it during the lulls between sets. His companionship is thus taken care out; a man and his pet sounds. We are superfluous.

Comes the slot. The stranger rises, lifts the guitar to playing position as he rises, and starts strumming and singing while still at the table. He advances to the stage, having drawn attention from his first chords and words, already building on that, adding flourishes—an extra pluck here, a vocal trill there. It comes off amiable, never fancy or pompous. This is the chat he couldn’t have over beer.

I see some of the Open Mic’s old hands nod their heads—that stagy near-smile where their faces are saying “I’m proud of our little scene” while their minds are clearly thinking “I’m jealous.”

An Open Mic slot is 10 minutes, three songs if you’re lucky, and the young master of mystery in our midst doesn’t play a second longer than allowed, even though even the fiercest rule-keepers in the room would’ve let him. In that brief span he has brought forth a ballad, a sing-a-long and a multi-style epic poem which seems to be about himself and his journey. His mouth has sung, yet also popped and rapped and bantered with uniform skill. Whatever it takes to charm, this young man has at his disposal.

Then he’s done, and the ovation for him rings with joy and surprise and that aforementioned tainted pride. He has shown up, and he has shown us up. He is embraced, but who is he?

He is offered a free bowl of chili at the bar, and this time he accepts my offer of a drink—brandy, not beer. This becomes our special bond—the Finch staff keeps a bottle of brandy on hand largely for the benefit of yours (slurry) truly on jazz nights. We sip and chat, about virtually nothing. He won’t reveal exactly where he’s from and where he’s going, and we won’t press him. Somehow we miss his name, if he ever gave it. And then he’s gone—no one sees which street he went down. For all we know, he hitched a ride right there on the threshold of the Finch.

We love our little scene, you know that. Angels bless us from time to time to show us that we’ve built our temples properly, that we fit in the universe, that we haven’t shut ourselves off completely from further-reaching glories. To this angel: Godspeed.

Kindling for the Yule Blog

My Christmastime reading has always been voracious, a trait shared by my parents and siblings. One of us would always bring the new 1000-page Stephen King home for the holidays, and invariably everyone would have read it by the end of the weekend, and a host of other ho-ho-ho lit besides.

Thanks to last year’s Christmas present from Kathleen, a Kindle, my December reading changed drastically this year. Haven’t even purchased that new King short story collection yet (and never took to the Dark Tower series, so won’t be getting that.) Instead I’ve been enthralled with all the Christmas-themed romance novels available for free on Kindle. They range from greeting-card homilies to suspense thrillers and menages a trois, all with cuddly erotic subtexts. A veritable blizzard of trashy reading for under the covers on chilly mornings.

Here’s what I’ve plowed through thus far (with the caveat that, if you go a-Kindling for them now, several of these titles are no longer free). Exchanging horror for erotica as Christmas reading-candy has been an eye-opener.

Flurries—A Zapstone New Voices Anthology

Trying to deflect the conversation in another direction , she asked Kevin’s friends about themselves. “Phil, Kevin said you work in the operating room. Do they really schedule surgery on Christmas Eve?” She cut a dainty bite of prime rib and popped it into her mouth, savoring the succulent morsel.

Christmas Scandal—Not! by Jeanne Savery

“Robin,” said Elf a trifle sternly. “Christmas is nearly upon us. Are you certian your parents don’t wish you with them for the holiday? That if you are not, and if you have simply disappeared so they’ve no knowledge of whether you are are well or perhaps even dead…don’t you care that they will worry?”

Unwrapping Christmas by Lori Copeland

“It’s for the bulletin. Pastor wants little bits of information on Advent’s origin, traditions, how long the season lasts. Then it migth be fun to throw in how many other countries observe the Christmas holiday.” As the ace secretary at Bethlehem Messiah Church, Kay put the merriest slant on the request, and Rose knew by the time she hung up, her calndar would have another starred check mark. The beginnings of a migraine gripped her temples.

Ho, Humbug, Ho by Kate Angell (from the anthology Santa, Honey)

“I’m all about the Christmas spirit.”

“I’d let you jingle my bells.”

“I don’t do horny for the holidays.”

“When do you do horny?,” he asked.

Christmas Stalking by Selena Kitt

“Merry Christmas.”

She felt a delicious shiver run through her at the sound of Nick’s voice, his breath in her ear. She opened her eyes in a slant of morning light, squinting, stretching and yawning. She turned and saw he was lying next to her, fully dressed. At least he wasn’t in uniform.

Snowy Night Seduction by Adrianna Hart [not technically a Christmas tale, but snowy]

I though he was going to fall back in the snow, he was laughing so hard. And if he did, I just might feel enough compassion to bury him up to his chin and let him worry aboust frostbite in his delicate areas. I wanted to simply sit with my hand buried deep in the snow and writhe with the pain. I could almost envision the tips of those digits tearing open and peeling like a boiled tomato. I bet that’s what they looked like too.

My Christmas Wish by Ember Case

He moved his palms in arousing circles against her lower back, stroking her through the thin material of her shirt. Angling his head lower untiul she felt the brush of his lips against the sensitive curve of her ear, he whispered, “Merry Christmas Eve, chére.”

And, looking ahead a week:

New Year’s Revolution by Galen Trapper.

“Uh huh,” he mumbled without opening his eyes. “I remember, at that New Year’s party…”

“Oh, you got me so hot, dancing dirty off in that dark corner!”

“And it looked like your bored—and boring—husband was asleep against the wall, so…” Bill chuckled. “Did you ever find your panties afterwards?”

Make Mine Midnight by Annmarie McKenna

“It’s almost the new year.” Hunter licked delicately at Claire’s ear. “Let us take you home and make it special.”

Rock Gods #27: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

Our Ears Are Burning:

Sonny Blitt of The Blats respectfully requests that  “you stop talking shit about our bass player.”

In a burst of pent-up emotions during an after-hours revelry at the Bullfinch last Thursday, Sonny explained that “Bobby [Stankus, aka Bloody Stink, a founder member of the band] and I have been friends since kindergarten. This is like our fourth band together. He’s easy to get along with. Sometimes I let him help write the songs. We’re buds. Some things are bigger than the music, you know.” No, really? Tell us about it…

Our Ears Are Ringing:

Now it can be tolled! That bell-ringing climax to Namby’s windchilled set on New Worth common last weekend? Completely and complicatedly planned, from the fade-out of the local diva’s song “(I’m Your) Belle” to the brief pause and look skyward to the sudden and overwhelming clanging from the Union Street Church bell tower.

The wintertime Bonita Dimension Festival has a history of surprises–the Terrake Milk reunion, the debut of the Waterfords in a slot originally meant for the band’s earlier incarnation Gorham—but Namby’s singlehambiedly raised the standard sky-high. Can’t wait to see what this girl, whose ambition demands big outdoor stages, has got planned for springtime.

We Can’t Believe Our Ears:

Some of us thought we  protecting the honor of a few local women by not validating that they were the “skankiest groupies” cited by a big-name band in a big-deal magazine last month. Then Sissy Spangler puts out a flier for her band The Conway Scenics boasting that she’s one of the women in question. Thing is, we’re pretty sure she isn’t. The quest for fame takes some strange paths. …

Theater Book of the Week #5

Theater Geek

By Mickey Rapkin. Free Press. 208 pages. $25.

I’m putting off an appreciation of Finishing the Hat for another week. If Sondheim can spend decades scribbling ideas in journals for it, then so can I. Instead, I dip back to a book that came out nearly a year ago, in which Sondheim is the only sacred presence.

I like Mickey Rapkin’s books because in an age of non-fiction which paints our national concerns in very broad strokes—ultraconservative vs. hyperliberal, revisionist biographies which subject historic figures to a narrow checklist of enlightened contemporary values, not to mention all those autobiographies of anyone who ever sang or danced on a TV reality show—Rapkin’s delves into the details, outlining quirky little passions. He refuses to inflate these artistic obsessions into grand statements about The World Today.

By focusing on, and deeply respecting, the ensemble performance proclivities of young adults, he says more about how we relate in a fame-driven culture than a roomful of Humanities professors. And he makes it as entertaining and twisty-turny as a season of Glee.

Rapkin’s first book, Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory, actually beat glee to the punch, examining decades of singing groups like the Beelzebubs at Tufts University, who were transcending the art of a cappella performance even if few outside of those who had to compete against them noticed or cared. ( I am a Tufts alum myself and wrote strenuously about the Beelzebubs for several semesters. I wish it had occurred to me what a fertile ground for a boo (fiction or non) their escapades and cameraderie could be.)

In Theater Geek, Rapkin takes on Stagedoor Manor, the performing arts camp in the Catskills. Again, his non-nonsense reporting on day-to-day operations  is more valuable than any big-picture or high-concept overlays about the camp’s cultural value beyond its rolling lawns.

What’s particularly impressive is that the two elements which would totally distract anyone else writing a book about Stagedoor Manor—that it was the basis for a motion picture and that several future stars of stage and screen went there—don’t seem to interest Rapkin very much. He mentions such stuff, surely, but off-handedly. Which is exactly right. Some of that lauded alums had other legs-up in their quest for stardom (parents in the business, other good schools, lucky breaks), so it would be inaccurate to lay too much credit at Stagedoor’s doors. And that movie, Camp, by former Stagedoor camper Todd Graff, is a fond tribute to the place but also an uneven one thwarted by all its hokey romantic and bromantic subplots. Graff also riffs too heavily on the admittedly funny joke of kids doing adult drama—there’s a closing clip of tykes tackling Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, for instance. That’s another aspect that Theater Geek soft-pedals.

Rapkin certainly finds a lot of questionable artistic decisions to carp about, and a bunch of imperious performers to profile. But he does so on their own terms, within the Stagedoor boundaries. He takes care to explain how rare an environment this is, and how the campers comport themselves so brashly there because they’re pariahs just about everywhere else. The only garish and glittery part of the narrative is the constant praise being sung of Sondheim. But I guess that’s to be expected of starstruck teens.

It’s a thrill to read such an even-handed chronicle of such a sensationalized and odd phenomenon as a Broadway-styled summer camp, which pumps out pint-sized productions of The Wild Party, Avenue Q, Sweeney Todd and Stop the World—I Want to Get Off. A lot of general readers simply find the idea of it strange and delightful, but Rapkin also writes for theater folk who immediately want to peek behind the curtains and ask “Really? How’d they pull that off?”

Rock Gods #26: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

The old god is holding forth, pontificating about how hard it was for him back when he was just a young god, and no local scene had yet sprung up to exalt him. Punk shows were far and few between, original-music shows of any kind rare enough. The idea of any area bar embracing local new music to the extent that the Bullfinch (and to a lesser extent Hamilton’s) has still has the god dumbfounded, he says.

We suspect that he’s building up some of this bafflement to burnish his own myth. After all, there are other legends to consider. Back in those ancient times, the drinking age was lower. More people were drinking, more bars were there to serve them, and many of those bands made a concerted effort to stand out from the houseband pack. If they didn’t all get around to writing new songs, they at least found new arrangements or styles or formats to push the older standards into. We’ve heard dozens of these stories. No lack of originality there.

Not to blow our own horn—in whichever style suits the era—but it’s also true that the alternative press barely existed then, and that there’s precious little record of that scene. We’ve all seen the comp LPs from that time on the shelves of the Scene Touting Area Records (STAR) shop, which suggests a handful of hardy bands. We suspect there were many more, and we’d love to hear about them, even if it diminishes the celestial standing of a couple of gods a little.

Tonight at the Bullfinch, few of those pioneers, depending on when you start calculating the histories: Backus, The Faggin, Tommy Flowers and The Cuthbert Hurd. Hamilton’s has The Butler Lampsons, The Mooers, The Grimsdales and Conny Palm. Yes, it’s home-for-the-holidays reunion time. The only other chance to see most of these acts reunite is in summertime when class reunions are held on the campus up the hill, paid for by nerds who made software bucks and now get to hold the parties which they used to stand in the corner wistfully at. We prefer the winter reunions—looser, livelier, and you don’t have to figure out how to crash them.

We’d comment more on these bands, but they’re before our time, and we only just got the bright idea of starting an oral history project to investigate them further.

Books received

We stopped in Niantic on Sunday afternoon and I had an hour to browse the downtown outposts of the formidable Book Barn there. The main multi-building sprawl of books on the hill was just out of reach this trip, but I made some fun finds at the Book Barn Downtown (where the movie, theater and sci-fi books are at) and Book Barn Midtown (the new repository for mysteries and children’s books, less than a block from Book Barn Downtown, which in turn is less than a mile from the main Book Barn).

The Complete Plays of Ben Jonson (Everyman’s Library, two volumes, 1935 edition): Jonson anthologies are plentiful. But his masques, which were at least as important as his poems and full-length plays in terms of what made him cool in his own time, are often left out. This tidy little set also excludes the masques, but lets in a few plays which don’t make many other anthologies. My favorite is The Staple of News, a satire of the then-brand-new newspaper industry; parts of the play began in Jonson’s royal masque News of the New World Discovered in the Moon. Why regional theaters never deign to do Every Man in His Humor, Bartholomew Fair and undeserved obscurities like The Case is Altered and The Sad Shepherd (or A Tale of Robin Hood)—all contained herein, not to mention free online—is beyond me.

The Bookwoman’s Last Fling by John Dunning (Pocket Books edition, 2006): I am blessed in that I have a faulty memory when it comes to how mystery novels end. I simply forget what happens. I have little patience for plot, but I love atmosphere. John Dunning’s novels, set in the simultaneously scholarly and scurrilous world of antiquarian bookselling, tend to have alarming contrived denouements, but everything leading up to those warped endings is smooth and polished and entrancing—especially to book collectors.

Death Stands By and Menace by John Creasey (Popular Library editions from 1966 and 1971 respectively): I love his Toff and Baron series too, but John Creasey’s Gordon Craigie/Department Z books have aged far better. Each begins with an international crisis—a plague, a political assassination, a new strain of fast-acting poison—which must be solved immediately by the quirky agent and the even quirkier assistants he handpicks to help save the world. Creasey wrote over 600 novels, and many of them are quite thin. But the Department Z books have a natural flow and momentum which hustles you through the plot holes briskly. Lots of suspenseful action scenes and face-offs with villains. This is the kind of book I always have with me in case I need to ride a bus or sit on a bench for a while.

The Glob by John O’Reilly and Walt Kelly (Viking, 1952): This is a short story about evolution which was appeared in slightly different form in the Feb. 18, 1952 issue of Life magazine. It was slated to be the magazine’s cover story but was bumped to inside by the death of King George VI. Both the mag and book versions are worth owning since each has artwork not found in the other, and the artist is the genius creator of the comic strip Pogo.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. #13—The Rainbow Affair by David McDaniel (Ace Book, 1967): I was an U.N.C.L.E. collector from a very young age, and at one point had not only a complete set of the novels based on the TV series but nearly all of the much harder to find Man from U.N.C.L.E. digest magazines, and tons of other board games and paraphernalia besides. That stuff’s all long gone now, but I still pick up U.N.C.L.E. material whenever I can get it cheap. That includes the DVD box set once its price got lowered to $100 or so—I’ve had it two years and have only just finished watching season one, but enjoy it thoroughly. I was also extremely impressed by Robert Vaughan’s recent autobiography. Many of the paperback novels, written by decent adventure novelists of the ‘60s, are based on episodes of the series, often with intriguing changes. In the first book, for instance, based on the series pilot, when Napoleon Solo is strung up on a water pipe and left to die from scalding steam or somesuch, the book has him naked.

An Unnatural Pursuit & Other Pieces by Simon Gray (St. Martin’s Press, 1985): I picked this up in preparation for the impending production of Gray’s The Old Masters at the Long Wharf Theater. This book predates that play by some 20 years, but is a fascinating glimpse into a pivotal moment in Gray’s career. It’s a journal about the creation of The Common Pursuit, his follow-up to the major international hit Quartermaine’s Terms (the U.S. premiere of which was at Long Wharf). The diary, which takes you right through to the play’s opening night, is supplemented with context-setting philosophical essays such as “My Place is Cricket History,” which originally appeared in the October 1979 issue of Wisden Cricket Monthly.

The Groucho Letters—Letters From and To Groucho Marx (Da Capo, 1994 edition): No reason to have gotten another copy of this at all. I have an old hardcover edition (the book was first published in 1964) and at least a couple in paperback, and I don’t even have room for this one on the crammed bedroom shelves dedicated to Marxiana. But there it was, and what if I need to lend it to someone sometime?

Groucho Marx, Private Eye by Ron Goulart (St. Martin’s, 1999): I own several shelves of books on the Marx Brothers (see above), but avoided getting Goulart’s series of Groucho Marx mysteries when they first starting coming because he’s so damned prolific and I just didn’t have the money at the time. So I’m playing catch-up now, and have three of the six. Goulart has a good ear for Marxesque one-liners—better than, say, Peter DeVries in his (non-mystery) novel Madder Music or Stuart Kaminsky in You Bet Your Life or even George Baxt in The Clark Gable and Carole Lombard Murder Case (though Baxt’s Algonquin Round Table-based The Dorothy Parker Murder Case is the gold standard for celebrity-starring mysteries).

More Old Jewish Comedians by Drew Friedman (Blab! Books, 2008). I had the delight of engaging in a brief email exchange with Drew Friedman a couple of years ago, for an article about how cartoonists were dealing with the fact that Barack Obama wasn’t very funny. I was struck by how gentlemanly and professional Mr. Friedman was. I wanted to thank him for all that his work has meant to me, but that would have taken hours—I’ve been a fan of his since his National Lampoon days, not just for his pores-and-all caricatures but for the pop-culture cunning behind them. The two Old Jewish Comedians collections are a kind of culmination of his obsession with a certain school of old-world show business. They’re just portraits. He doesn’t need to dress them up with captions and fantasies and set pieces where these icons rail against the world that made them. He shows dim, sparkling contentment on the faces of cuddly (or in some cased bloodcurdlingly ugly), crotchety old men. Volume one had a triple portrait of Groucho, Chico and Harpo Marx. This one shows Zeppo and Gummo.

Also got a couple of Encyclopedia Browns to share with Mabel and Sally.

Total cost for the above: around $35. An hour well spent.

Rock Gods #25: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

We’re all here for different reasons. Not to mention different times. You may not find yourself at the Finch at one in the afternoon all that often, but we occasionally imbibe—or, rather, do weighty journalistic interviews with local artists— there at lunchtime.

You remember that guy Joey? Fifties, glasses, always at the back booth near the door on New Band Nites? Well, Joey was at the Finch every weekday afternoon, too, same booth. Worked there, you could say.

“Who’s playing tonight?,” you’d hear him ask. “How d’you spell that? Medieval what? Who?” Took an interest. More concerned about how the bands spell their names than the bands were themselves. (Mess’o Pot-amia, we need to talk.)

We knew a guy once who went to all the theater shows in our town, collecting autographs. The actors would be thrilled. Then they’d see him getting an autograph from the box office manager, the custodian, everyone in the audience. Filled an autograph book every night, for no apparent reason.

We feared Joey was one of those random-info hoarders. We mean, did you ever see him take a real interest in a band other than asking who they were? So we followed him one day—less suspensefully put, we just asked if we could walk a ways with him when we saw him on one of the rare times we saw him outside the Finch.

Not unusually for barcrawlers on that end of town, he was making tracks for BetTrack. Why don’t more gamblers don’t drink there, we wondered aloud? Instead, they fan out to all the little joints a few blocks away.

We forget his exact term for it—something colorful and unprintable, even here—but Joey’s basic response was “bad vibes.” He explained to us how he soaked up the atmosphere at the Finch, how it helped him marshall his strength, made him feel lucky.

We jotted some of this romantic spiel down, old-man slurs and all:

“When I sittataFinch, I feel grand! I feel luck’! Ver’ luck! I tell you, ‘s a great place. S’a great place. Who’sat band? Who’sat band? Tuck Lock? They’sh very good to me. Vergoodame.”

Next time I saw Tuck Lock, I gave him (them) the other Joey’s regards? Who?, TL wondered. That guy in the corner?, I coaxed. Never noticed him? No.

Took us a few more reconnaissance missions to figure out what our friend Joey Corner was up to. We peeked while he was scribbling charts and numbers in his little notebooks. We saw him heading to that betting parlor a few more times. When, one another day, we met him at the corner store buying like a dozen lottery tickets, something clicked.

Then we spent a few of the more boring band sets on a Thursday with a pen and pencil ourself, testing our assumptions.

Band Name: MontyMart. The numerological possibilities are massive. Or you can simply assign each letter a numerical value. Turn the two capital Ms into sideways 3s. The lack of a space in the name has untold significance.

We sidled up to Joey at his booth, and told him we knew what he was up to. He seemed shocked—not that we’d found him out, that he’d been exploiting rock monikers for his gambling habit—but that we’d bothered to think about him at all. He could’ve told us all along. Then he proceeded to do just that, filling us in on the filling-in he’d become accustomed to doing.

Mary Attaché = 27 (the accent doubles the value of the “e”). Wet Pack = 15. TPR = 3. The Pullmans = 42; go figure. YKK Zippers? Off the charts. If you’re in a band Joey saw and are feeling used—just a bunch of numbers to him—well, don’t. He’d be back there figuring in how many fans you drew to your gig, how many blondes there were (a major signifier) and even how many times you repeated a word in a chorus, if he could keep up. We let him know authoritatively how many times Hand Leather screamed “Rollaboard” in their song of the same name once, and you know what? Joey slipped us five bucks for the info.

Don’t think we were back there conspiring. Actually, once we figured out his game, Joey and I didn’t have much to talk about. Or too much—it quickly got arcane, and we learned to just nod and smile from across the room.

A friend down the tracks told us Joey blew town last month. Packed his bag and bolted. Won’t be coming back. This is our memorial. If you see us scrawling an idle math theorem when Skid Plate, D-Ring, Ballistic Cloth and Number Ten Zippers—excuse us, that’s #10 Zippers—play the Finch tonight, you’ll know why.

Five coincidences Which, Given What Week It Is, I Prefer to Think of as Christmas Miracles

• I thought I’d thrown out my reading glasses with the trash, then I found them in the sink.

• Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed, which I think is great even though I’m a Pacifist.

• Archie & Friends #150: Return to the Comic Shop—Meteor Madness (A Night in the Comic Shop Part Three) features Jughead’s long-dormant young cousin Souphead.

• All the presents I ordered online have arrived.

• Total lunar eclipse occurs on the Winter Solstice.

Rock Gods#24: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

Short deadlines and lots of wrapping to do, so some random items for now…

If you’re one of those purists who can’t imagine changing a single word in the lyrics of an established song, Wacken Faith would drive you nuts. Wacken (pronounced wah-keen), who also goes under the name Art Books when he plays keyboards and sings backup with the lower-case band custom framing, says he’s written as many as a dozen separate sets of lyrics to the same song. Not verses, mind you, but whole different songs with their own inherent themes and rhymes and meanings.

Granted, many of these songs are roadhouse anthems along the lines of “he/she’s a [adjective] wo/man,” but still a distinction. One which has just been cited by Slambang magazine (often referred to in these parts as “Slam Band”), which deems Wacken Faith to be the “Biggest Self-Plagiarizer” of the year in its annual “Biggest and Bangest” issue. We called Wacken Faith, who had no comment. Then he did have a comment. Then he changed it. Then he told us earnestly that he’s both thrilled and embarrassed, and that’ll have to do. Wacken Faith has a show coming up in a couple weeks at the Bullfinch, when you can give him and his amorphous supersongs the support they deserve…

In other periodical huzzahs, our little scene has been acknowledged in a major national magazine. A Top Ten band that appears to enjoy making Top Ten lists actually remembers stopping here, though the context has caused some concern. Seems that we boast “the skankiest groupies” found on the band’s most recent tour. And everyone in the scene thinks they know who the skanks in question are. I will maintain a shred of dignity by not telling them whether they have guessed correctly. …

No, it’s worse than that: It’s not that we missed last night’s 219 show, it’s that, until now we’ve never missed a 219 show ever. That’s an impressive 34 shows in a row, every one the band ha ever played. Now we’re back to zero. Someone saved us the set list, but you know what? Just not the same…

In the Tweak MAD Winter

The annual MAD magazine “20 Dumbest People, Events and Things” issue is out. To borrow a common sort of MAD logic, its editors are the dumbest thing about it. Not because the list isn’t spot-on and hilarious, as it has been for the half-decade that the annual project  has been around. The editors are dumb because they they repackage MAD material so many different ways now, but they still stick this in the regular magazine and not make this some sort of special edition. My wallet thanks them, but their accountant probably thinks they’re morons.

With “it takes one to know one” savvy, this index of dumbness usually brings design and illustration talent on par with National Lampoon in its prime

MAD’s “20 Dumbest People, Events and Things” section is interrupted in the magazine’s centerfold. Not by an advertisement, though some of us still can’t get over that the once ad-free MAD has accepted paid advertisements for over a decade now. No, it’s a 2-page pull-out “Spy vs. Spy 50th Anniversary 2011 Calendar,” with illustrations not from the feature’s current artists Peter Kuper (the force behind the venerable underground political comics journal World War Three Illustrated) but by its late creator Antonio Prohias.

This reminds of another wintertime cartoon humor mag tradition—the Viz pin-up calendar. Viz began 30 years ago as a savage and salacious lowbrow parody of British comic books. The classic style of comics in which a child rails against his teachers or parents become, in Viz,  bouts of rampant unhinged swearing and violence. The sort of strips where kids have a magic device that fuels countless identical adventures inspired such Viz features as “Felix and His Amazing Underpants” and Tin Ribs, the useless faux-robot who invariably gets used by his clever young owner to lacerate, disembowel or castrate his bad-tempered schoolteacher.

While having no more depth or dimension than the mainstream stuff they mocked, Viz’s snide satires—The Fat Slags, Sid the Sexist, Biffa Bacon—gradually became sustaining features themselves. Other recurring features—the Beckett-like Drunken Bakers—

And some non-comic, text-driven features have taken on a life of their own. Top Tips is a take-off on Hints From Heloise-type housekeeping frugality columns “Save time when counting to 10 by starting at the number four”), several items each issue are are current-events commentary written up in this odd journalistic format, which makes them doubly funny. From the current issue:

“Chilean miners: Take a large range of pornography and crossword puzzles to work with you, just in case.”

“Axl Rose: If turning up at a venue within twop hours of a pre-arranged time is too demanding for you, then why not consider a career with a more generous appointment window, such as a Parcel Force delivery driver or Virgin Media broadband installer?”

In the magazine’s back pages, the “Profanisaurus” of slang sexual phrases presided over by another Viz Comic icon, amoral broadcaster Roger Mellie (“The Man on the Telly”) has been getting added to for years, and is now a huge and hugely useful compendium which I imagine many academics would have been overjoyed to have compiled.

In any case, Viz does a calendar every year. A full dangly one, 24 pages. This year’s, “The Saucy Ladies of Viz,” isn’t very good and I would never hang it on my wall. But they’ve been funny in the past.