Archies Comics Publications likes to publish letters from its young readers. The letters section in Archie & Friends (one of dozens of different titles chronicling the adventures of Riverdale teens) is called “Pep Talks,” presumably in honor of the now long-defunct Pep Comics, which in its 22nd issue (released in December, 1941) hosted the very first appearance of Archie Andrews, Betty Cooper and Jughead Jones. (Those stories can be savored in a new hardcover collection, Archie Firsts, from Dark Horse Comics.)

Reggie Mantle, Veronica Lodge, Moose Mason and others came along soon afterwards. The first regular black characters in the Archie gang—Chuck Clayton and his dad the school sports coach—were on board by the early ‘70s.

Anyway, the letter:

Dear Pep Talks!,

I heard that you be adding a new character that is gay. You are making a huge mistake!

Archie and his friends are good kids and wouldn’t hang out with a gay person. Please don’t do this!

N. Withheld,



The editor’s response (written in the voice of Archie Andrews himself):

Well, gosh…sorry to hear you feel that way, Mr. Withheld. Kevin’s a classy guy and I think I’ve got great taste in friends (Reggie excluded). But I think you’ve forgotten the nicest and bestest trait about Riverdale: we’re all pals and gals here! No matter what your skin color, orientation, religion, or even if you’re a teenage witch—everyone’s welcome, loved and respected in our town!

“Reggie here. ‘Bestest’ isn’t a word, you thimblewitted, carrot-headed gherkin.”

Well…some of us are respected, anyway…*sigh*.
I once went through a similar editorial moment at the New Haven Advocate, publishing a homophobic letter to the editor, fully aware of the tumult it might cause, and ultimately gratified by the positive debate it inspired. Archie Comics knows its market extremely well, and has been ramping up the diversity of Riverdale for years now. This was a well-tuned and useful response.

The gay character, Kevin Keller, by the way, has been granted his own four-issue miniseries as part of the comic named for his best friend, Veronica.

Rock Gods #107: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

The Illegal Briefs got signed! It helps if you have a lawyer (Flint Gennessee) as bandleader/saxophonist, though only when it comes to assuring the deal’s for real and not one of those screw-the-newbie specials. We’ve seen the IBs three times now (beyond overhearing several rehearsals at Gennessee’s offices in the old Modern Practice Building, where bandmates Connie Nash and Hoff Eukis also work), and can think of few local bands more deserving of a snatch at the wider-appeal gold ring. In fact, The Illegal Briefs play with another of our personal faves, The Rock Pirates (who are not really called The Rock Pirates), Thursday at Hamilton’s. Sure to be a packed house. If you get jostled, call a lawyer—there’ll be plenty in the house—unless the lawyers are the ones doing the jostling.

Still dark days: cold rain, few signs of spring. Hence: Among the living, Colt Comrades ad Crack in the World making you feel ever colder and creepier at the Bullfinch… The Air Raid Wardens, Bar 20 and Beware of Ladies helping taking the chill off at Hamilton’s… The beguiled, The Big Cats, The Beloved Bachelors and Three Big Show-offs (what’s with all the Bs? And both those Bigs) in another world altogether. A B-movie world, perhaps…

Getting Ugly

A new issue of Ugly Things is a beautiful thing. Number 31 of Mike Stax’s encyclopedic garage-rock periodical is just out, 200 pages of gut-churning historical curiosities and fanatical opinions.

Never cared much for Hendrix (for me, what punks were really fighting against were long guitar solos), but even I can’t resist an article (by Tim Earnshaw) entitled “Dead Hendrix and the Last of the Hipster Mohicans—The Jimi Hendrix Albums They Don’t Want You to Hear.”

It’s actually unusual to see a story about such a well-documented rock star as Hendrix in Ugly Things. This is a magazine that hides in the dark corners, discovering shortlived bands,  tangential projects of the later-famous, and bands which were so hugely derivative of the trends of their time that they alchemized into originality. Ugly Things readers know where to get their Beatles stories; they want stories about bands they’ve never heard of. (Even the most intent student of ‘60s music will be stymied by many of the references in a typical issue of Ugly Things.) The mag does have some mainstream heroes—The Pretty Things, for starters, which gave the publications its name and aim; Iggy & The Stooges also pop up with regularity (in this issue it’s “Now I Want to Be Your  Dogumentarian—An Interview with Robert Matheu”), as do Them. But the lesser-knowns are the real show: The Coba Seas, The Sentinals, The Missing Lynx.

Why write about the Rolling Stones when you can exclusively interview Stones hanger-on Prince Stash Klossowski de Rola? Remember Suzi Quatro/ Well, Ugly Things interviews her sister Patti, about the tough girl they both were in, The Pleasure Seekers. Ugly Things singlehandedly rescues unsung bands from needless obscurity. The Masters Apprentices were a popular Australian band of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s. UT concludes a three-part, eight-chapter, dozens-of-pages series on the group in this issue. Another beneficiary of a multi-issue profile is Ollie Halsall, who ghosted Eric Idle’s bass lines in The Rutles. Still-active Stiff Records icon Wreckless Eric, misconstrued by many as a one-hit wonder, earns a comprehensive overview of his entire recorded canon.

Unlike a lot of scenes, Ugly Things  shows respect for other obsessives doing similar work. In this issue, there’s a celebration of 25th anniversary of the garage-digging label Norton Records, which has reissued scads of  ‘60s relics. Their review section tips hats to scores of avid reissuers, publishers and rock historians.

The Ugly Things empire includes a website, a monthly radio show (broadcast on, then retained as a podcast) and a lively blog forum, but that thick thumping magazine is the centerpiece. It’s only published once or twice a year tops, but I keep each issue at the bedside until the next one comes along, and it takes that long for me to really feel I’ve absorbed all that wondrous garage noise.

Rock Gods #105: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

By Artie Capshaw

Sonny of the New Blats Blits Blots, or whatever they’re calling themselves these days, blasted into a new song Tuesday at the Bull. A bunch of us drank about it later, and we all had seriously different takes on the tortured tune.

Bonnie of the Bonny Joes (you’ll be hearing about them another time) thought it was dumb.

James of Felix Phooey thought it was self-indulgent.

Yoost thought it would never sell.

Janie of the Pippa Pipkins thought it wasn’t about anything.

Millie of the Model Marvels thought it was about everything.

And W.G. Harvest thought it was making fun of Mexican-Americans.

As for your humble reporter, we don’t suspect that Barry has the skill or consciousness to do something that provokes so subtly and yet so broadly. We could easily have elicited his opinion, but we like our quorum better.


The offensive and/or indulgent and/or worthless and/or all-encompassing lyrics?

“I.” Just the one letter. Repeated ad nauseam. But with a rhythm, thus:


(Or would that last line be “IV”?)

Sing it to yourself. Make up your own melody. Consider the groupings. “I” alone sounds ego-driven. “I-I” sounds like something a sailor would say. “I-I-I” sounds like a worried cartoon character. “I-I-I-I” sounds like that sombrero dance that party bands play in between the dirty jokes.

The evil “I” will get you if you let it stare too long. We could write a book about this song. We can’t wait to hear it again. And that’s the first time we’ve ever said that about a Blats songs.

Pow-earth Pop

My favorite Earth Day anthem by far is What Are We Gonna Do by the power pop band Dramarama. The song hasn’t had much  staying power as a rallying cry for environmentalism, partly because it appears to get the date of Earth Day wrong, singing “It’s April 21st and everybody knows today is Earth Day,” when everybody knows Earth Day has always been on April 22.

I’ve suspected that lyric to be ironic rather than ignorant—the song’s narrator seems only remotely interested in the subject, and lately launches into an extraterrestrial doomsday theory. But the chorus “What are we doing here? And what are doing to Earth?” seems straightforward enough. Oh, except it’s not precisely clear whether John Easdale’s singing “earth” or “her” there.

Anyhow, Happy Earth Day. Or Her Day.  The rest of my family’s spending it at Sturbridge Village, while I’ll be celebrating by buying shrinkwrapped organic produce at the new Stop & Shop down the block.

Rock Gods #104: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

By Artie Capshaw

The band played on.

They kept playing. In the rain. And dozens of people were egging them on. In the rain. Not so much so that they could all keep dancing. Probably more because, somewhere way back in their feverish hippie heads, they wanted to see what it was like to see someone being electrocuted.

Drinking was involved, plus less fluid things. You might think this happened in front of a drippy barn on a swath of countryside a few towns away from here. No, this was one of the sidewalk celebrations on the main drag gone awry. A college jam band which had never been offered a gig like this (for money, that is) strummed and tootled, having abandoned all semblance of sanity before they’d even shown up.

Yes, we were there, but we were one of just two disapprovers. The other was the poor guy which the Parks & Rec Department had put in charge of setting up the stage. We were chatting, ignoring the music, when he began to notice the shape of the band’s equipment—frayed wires sticking out of the amps, a used mic that a big-band crooner might have thrown away in 1937, pedals in puddles—and wondered aloud if he should bring the show to a close.

It was a drenching rain by now. The shops had pulled in their card tables and T-shirt bins. The band was its own event, no longer a draw for passersby but playing only for the delight of their dorm buddies. Bottles and flasks were passed around. The Park & Rec ranger made his decision and formed a plan. At the end of this song, he’d pull the plug. Moments later, a clear wind-down from the longwinded jam began, and the ranger began to make his move, advancing to the stage.

Then, in a sudden, unexpected sonic segue which flew in the face of everything in the rock improvisation rulebook, a switch-up the most devious psychedelic axeman could never have consciously devised, I at once recognized the opening notes of the opening riff of what we all know to be the longest, most endless, most disorienting and debilitating rock song of the 20th century.

“Stand back!” I yelled to the righteous ranger, who’d been abruptly caught in the line of fire. “They’re gonna blow!”


Pogo to your heart’s content; there’s punk pop at every club junction tonight: Gentlemen of the Fourth Escape, Mice of You and Four Flushing at the Bullfinch (where flushing the men’s room toilet continues to be an advanced art form), Old Eggs in a New Basket, Upon Atom and Every Day Has Its Dog at Hamilton’s (the commercial, college-friendly, preening variety of punk, but good in a pinch)… Ten Foot Poll tax, Bemildred and Merry Crispness at D’ollaires (gotta admire their staying power)…