Here is a book 40 years in the making. The Dino De Laurentiis production of “Flash Gordon” was released on December 8, 1980 in North America. It’s first weekend at the box office was on par with then recent blockbuster “The Empire Strikes Back” which was the first sequel in the Star Wars saga.
The Alex Raymond comic strip was a different cinematic animal. Flash Gordon’s universe had existed since the 1930’s. The makers of this film decided the project would be an update of the look and nature of a 1930’s comic hero into one that fit 1980. An approach that allowed shades of camp and fun to weave the fabric the production would build itself upon.
What makes this book special is that the love audiences have for it has increased over the decades. Among cult films this one stands pretty tall. For me this is my Rocky Horror or Escape From New York.
Bob Lindenmayer is a private collector of Flash Gordon props and memorabilia. His collection is considered the largest in the world. He contributed images of every prop weapon used in filming. The secrets of how to achieve on screen dimensions from the flat but colorful pages of illustrations is truly amazing to see unfold here.
Because Flash Gordon is a product of both English and Italian production teams the book delves into the process of casting, costuming, set design, storyboarding, construction, scoring, writing, editing, and directing such a challenging work.
You will learn a lot of names associated with the film who made crucial contributions to why it has endured for 40 years in the hearts of millions of film lovers around the world.
Lawrence Noble is the American sculptor who created the Flash Gordon logo that adorned Richard Amsel’s theatrical poster and the cover of Queen’s soundtrack album. We discover other notable work he did for film including the poster for “Time After Time”, a time travel fantasy about H.G. Wells attempt to capture Jack The Ripper. He also created the 10th Anniversary release poster for “The Empire Strikes Back”.
The memorable opening titles of the film set the mood, tone, and style for what was to come. Richard and Bob Greenberg created the animation for this sequence and the dazzling energy curtain that drapes Mingo City at the film’s climax. R/Greenberg associates based in New York had provided such animation mainly to commercials. The Flash Gordon team loved their work so much they were asked to work on Flash.
Filled with elements that were never used in the film you can enjoy the struggle of making such an epic scale film as a fan of the work. This book makes it possible. You get a close look at everything that went wrong as well as the fast pace of production. Time is money. Sets were built that went unused. There is a great section showing storyboarded scenes that were too costly to shoot.
Frank Van der Veer had worked on the DeLaurentiis production of “King Kong” so he was quite experienced as a special effects master. For Flash Gordon Van der Veer and his team had nine months to create 600 composite social effects shots ahead of their Christmas release date!
The book has many wonderful moments to share. The last one I will detail here involves the choice of Queen to score the film. Originally, Pink Floyd were chosen by Dino De Laurentiis. On the day Queen visited the set the music playing was Pink Floyd.
After seeing rough dailies of the film each member of the group decided what they wanted to compose. Guitarist/Vocalist/Songwriter Brian May was adamant about writing the films opening theme. And so it went with each member of Queen coming in separately to do their portion of the soundtrack. Their music was a total of 45 minutes of screen time. The rest would be composed by Howard Blake who had to come up with orchestrations in a period of just weeks.
The efforts and sacrifice of every artisan involved with this film has been embraced by millions of fans over the past 40 years. Cheers to Titan Books for publishing it.
You will indeed have as much fun reading through this book and taking in all of the eye-popping imagery as you did with the film itself. Flash, A-ahhh! Such a good time.
Taschen is an art book publisher founded in 1980 by Benedikt Taschen in Cologne, Germany. As of January 2017, Taschen is co-managed by Benedikt and his eldest daughter, Marlene Taschen.
This year the world renowned publisher celebrates 40 years of printing a library’s worth of art collections that span popular culture.
In The Star Wars book the original trilogy of films is deftly explored. Anything you ever wanted to know regarding the conception and production of these now classic titles are here. Despite the hefty page count the size is quite portable.
Within each section there are well over a hundred color and b&w photos. Storyboards, models, miniatures, sets, blueprints, and artists are exhibited.
This volume is like holding the best Star Wars museum in your hands. George Lucas tells his story from modest beginnings to become the creator of one of the most treasured brands in the world.
So this partnership with Taschen matches two of the great brands with spectacular results.
Turning each glossy page you get so much fascinating insights into the process of making films at the highest level.
I will reveal just a single bit I loved discovering here for the first time. The rest you can find for yourself.
The cost of Episode V The Empire Strikes Back was so great that if it had failed there would be no future for Lucasfilm nor the special effects company Industrial Light & Magic! Every dime from the first film went into making.
The details of this book are impressive. Casting decisions, the construction of sets on location and sound stages, conceptual art, and costume designs are examined.
You will come away with a complete understanding of the level of expertise required to make feature films. I think even lay people will appreciate perhaps for the first time that our greatest achievements do not just happen.
There are a vast group of dedicated artisans that make a potential audience think the results are effortless. In the case of Star Wars they made us all feel like we really did travel to a galaxy far, far, away in a time long ago.
Congratulations to the artisans at Taschen for producing such fine works. Here’s to your next 40 years!
Without Buck Rogers there would be no Flash Gordon. First appearing in 1928, the character of Anthony “Buck” Rogers was the first to feature space exploration! As it paralleled the latest advances in technology of the early twentieth century, the space hero would take to alien worlds to defend Earth from certain peril.
The strip made its first newspaper appearance on January 7, 1929.
Later adaptations included radio in 1932, a film serial, a television series (in which his first name was changed from “Anthony” to “William”), and other formats.
Buck Rogers was the inspiration for other comic strips:
The adventures of Buck Rogers in comic strips, movies, radio and television became an important part of American popular culture. It was on January 22, 1930, that Buck Rogers first ventured into space aboard a rocket ship in his fifth newspaper comic story Tiger Men From Mars.
The Buck Rogers strip was popular enough to inspire other newspaper syndicates to launch their own science fiction strips. The most famous of these imitators was Flash Gordon (King Features Syndicate, 1934-2003).
I did not discover this about these 2 serials until I created this entry for Evan’s Gate!
In the 1980’s NBC-TV premiered “Buck Rogers In The 25th Century” based upon the feature film of the same name that appeared in theaters. Starring Gil Gerard as Buck and Co-starring in the series were Erin Gray as crack Starfighter pilot Colonel Wilma Deering, and Tim O’Connor as Dr. Elias Huer, head of Earth Defense Directorate, and a former starpilot himself.
Buck Rogers will getits own entry in this blog at a future date. You just cannot celebrate a Flash Gordon Anniversary without providing this necessary background.
The television series lasted two seasons. The actors strike of 1980 disrupted production. When it returned the show was revamped with new characters and format. The 1980-81 Season was to be its last.
Fun fact: Larry “Buster” Crabbe” made a cameo appearance on the Buck Rogers TV series!
Serial Start For Flash Gordon
Serial adventures were a staple of the American cinema from the 1930’s through the 1950’s. Each week a chapter would appear in theaters. The ending was usually a cliffhanger. Our hero would be caught in some sort of death spiral that left viewers wondering how they would manage their escape.
These serialized adventures were provided as an added attraction at theaters. They did a lot with small budgets.
Based upon various comic strip characters of the day, those serials produced one character in particular that has stayed around for over 70 years—Flash Gordon. A comic strip created by Alex Raymond in the 1930’s influenced the adventures of Batman, Superman, Captain Kirk, and Luke Skywalker.
I saw the original movie serials on Channel Thirteen, a Public Television station here in New York during the 1970’s. The re-runs coincided with the release of Star Wars in 1977.
Later on I discovered that Star Wars creator George Lucas was a fan of Flash Gordon. He inquired about the rights with King Features but found out the expense was beyond his means. Movie fans got a space fantasy filled with characters inspired by Flash Gordon.
I had been enthralled by science fiction and fantasy since the re-runs of Star Trek. Then Flash Gordon appeared and then Star Wars. I could not see the direct lineage of these series until much later.
Summer of 1977 marked movie history being made. George Lucas’ Star Wars changed the popular culture. Becoming at the time the highest grossing movie of all time, its success would lead to the first Star Trek movie in 1979 and Alien in that same year! In fact Alien won the Visual Effects Oscar over Star Trek. And of course launched another franchise.
Then came a big budget European feature film of Flash Gordon announced in the pages of American fan magazine, Starlog. Italian Producer Dino DeLaurentis with Director Mike Hodges created a unique vision of the comic book hero.
The Italian film legend Federico Fellini turned down an offer to direct Flash Gordon.
Putting together an all-star European cast with two unknown Americans as Flash and Dale was an unusual contrast not unlike Star Wars. There were many European stars wearing masks in both pictures.
For example British TV/Film actor and Bodybuilder David Prowse wore the Darth Vader costume for Star Wars; British TV star Peter Wyngarde (Department S, Jason King) wore a mask as General Klytus in Flash Gordon. Mr. Wyngarde’s voice is heard while Mr. Prowse gets dubbed by James Earl Jones.
But I digress. Back to our main focus. The cast of Flash Gordon—
Max Von Sydow (“The Seventh Seal”, “The Exorcist”) was Emperor Ming The Merciless; Timothy Dalton (James bond) was Prince Barin; Brian Blessed (Black Adder) was Vultan; Ornella Muti was Aura; Mariangela Melato was Kala; Peter Wyngarde (Jason King) was Klytus; Richard O’ Brien (Rocky Horror) was Fico; Topol was Dr. Hans Zarkov; Melody Anderson was Dale Arden; Sam J. Jones (“10”) was Flash Gordon.
Coming Of Age
As a gay kid in the 1980’s there were a lot of stimulating images in film. What I mean is that there were lots of films featuring shirtless guys on their posters. “Beastmaster” is a good example.
“Flash Gordon” was a singular phenomena. There are no sequels. At the time it cost $70 million which would probably be over $200 million today.
At the time of release the picture had a PG rating. There are scenes with graphic violence and sexual connotations but nonetheless there was no PG–13 back then in 1980. The blood shown on screen was blue and green.
I loved this film for its tremendous effort to capture the spirit of the original serial. Now seen in rich color of every shade and hue. The skies of Mongo were a awash in red, blue and orange.
It was important for the film to keep to the universe Alex Raymond created in the 1930s. The only update was making Flash a football player for the NY Jets, Dr. Zarkov was a NASA scientist, and Dale is now a travel agent.
As a kid I was ignorant of this paradigm. It’s important to note the exoticism worked both ways in the film. Princess Aura seduces the blonde/ blue-eyed Flash Gordon as her object of exotic desire.
This was strong stuff for a pre-teen gay kid! Then you had Sam J. Jones shirtless in the execution and resurrection scenes, wearing nothing but a pair of PVC briefs!
A ton of art was created for the film and some of it just for promotional purposes. Unknown to me at the time how many posters exist is incredible. Released globally there were images used in various countries to target specific audiences based on region.
Lobby Poster Art
All I knew then was the poster for American release was brilliant. Then I found a small copy of the art in a full page ad in Playbill magazine. I cut it out and put it on my wall. The name AMSEL was signed on Ming’s cloak.
The film’s Tagline, all in caps, PATHETIC EARTHLINGS…WHO CAN SAVE YOU NOW?
Who was underlined to stress that Flash is the hero.
The lightning bolt logo with planet Mongo at its center was an American market image. The font with its Red/Yellow/Orange coloring was brilliant. In Europe as well as in the opening titles the name is stylized in the mode Alex Raymond had used. You see it in the Italian promo posters we saw earlier in this entry.
Also note how Ming is so large like Darth Vader was for the Star Wars posters with Flash and Dale in a similar pose like Luke and Leia!
Instead of a fleet of X-Wing fighters you get a fleet of Hawkmen swooping down in an almost 3-D effect with Vultan’s cloud kingdom seen in the background on the right side of the frame.
All of his works are signed AMSEL with floating periods on either side of his name.
Richard Amsel was a prolific artist who attended the oldest school of Art in Philadelphia. After graduating he went on to create the poster art for films like “The Sting” and “Chinatown”. Following “Flash Gordon” he designed the art for “Raiders of the Lost Ark”!
He also designed album covers including Bette Midler’s Divine Ms. M.
He had an association with TV Guide for 13 years producing over 40 covers. A portrait he did of Lily Tomlin hangs in The Smithsonian. His final movie poster was for “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome”.
The collage seen below is just a small sample of Amsel’s TV Guide covers. His first was an image of Lucille Ball upon her retirement from TV and show business.
I put up two of my favourites: All In The Family, Alice, and Richard Chamberlain in Shogun, a mini-series that aired for a week on NBC.
Notice the placement of the cast of Alice and All In The Family is similar to his placement of characters in his film poster work for Flash Gordon.
Richard Amsel died of AIDS in 1985 at the age of 37. I mourn him today. I had no idea he was one of the many awful casualties of that pandemic. His work is amazing.
Critical Reaction To Flash Gordon
The film found appreciation with some film critics, such as The New Yorker ‘s Pauline Kael. Kael described Flash Gordon as having “some of the knowing, pleasurable giddiness of the fast-moving Bonds…The director, Mike Hodges, gets right into comic-strip sensibility and pacing“.
She also stated the movie was “Like a fairy tale set in a discotheque in the clouds.”
On their syndicated TV program Siskel and Ebert were giving films a Yes or No at that time before their now iconic thumbs up or down.
Gene Siskel of The Chicago Tribune did not care for it. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave it a borderline Yes vote citing the fun comic book nature of the movie.
In homage to the serial chapters of the 1930’s the film version was produced in strong primary colors and utilized Chroma Key effects.
Chroma key compositing, or chroma keying, is a visual-effects and post-production technique for compositing (layering) two images or video streams together based on colour hues (chroma range). The technique has been used in many fields to remove a background from the subject of a photo or video – particularly the newscasting, motion picture, and video game industries.
All of the space craft were done this way. Flash Gordon riding a Hawkman rocket cycle was also accomplished with this method as seen below. War Rocket Ajax, Vultan’s Cloud City and Flash with the Hawkmen approaching Mingo City are all Chroma Key images.
The lavishly produced feature included giant set pieces adapted directly from the pages of Alex Raymond’s work partly as homage and because the formula worked!
I love the film as much as Rocky Horror loyalists. I can quote dialogue from any scene. This section brings us to my favourite parts of the film. A bit tricky because I really do enjoy all of it. Here goes…
In The Court Of Ming The Merciless at the point in which are trio from Earth first encounter all the ‘breeds’ of Mongo. This set is enormous. Ming’s throne looks like the inspiration for the Iron Throne on a certain HBO series.
Each ‘breed’ of Mongo gets introduced. Gathering in Court to present their tributes to the Emperor we see rivalries between Hawkmen and Treemen as the two groups argue over who stole their tribute!
The image seen above is a fish-eye view of the court. Unknown to me as a kid but later appreciated as a film student that Flash Gordon utilized the Todd–AO camera system. At the time of filming in 1979 this was the state of the art widescreen format. Everything about the film is grand scale for a timeless adventure.
The Palace of Prince Vultan and his Hawkmen.
Initiation on Arboria where Prince Barin rules his treemen there is a rite of passage that all youth must experience. Within a warren of hollow tree stumps lives a beast in which the initiate must reach all the way in full arms length. If you choose the wrong path the beast will bite injecting the victim with deadly venom. The result is pain so awful the victim begs for death. Barin forces Flash to take this test in order to live.
Above in this gallery a view of Arboria against the colorful skies of Mongo, at the left bottom a birds eye view of Flash and Barin as they begin their duel, and on the right the beast that resides within the stump.
Lorenzo Semple Jr.
The dialogue in Flash Gordon was purposefully done in a tone of high corn. Movie fans always call it camp.
Having written King Kong for Dino DeLaurentiis, Lorenzo Semple Jr. was then asked to write the Flash Gordon script.
The Batman TV series of 1966 was also written by him. The camp humour of that show was revived in Flash Gordon.
To this day every fan of this movie can quote dialogue. The language is comic book affectation in my opinion.
Lines like, “We only have 14 hours to save the Earth” could only make sense in an over the top fantasy.
Original Soundtrack Music By QUEEN
Flash Gordon is the ninth studio album and first soundtrack album by the British rock band Queen, released on 8 December 1980 by EMI Records in the UK and in February 1981 by Elektra Records in the US. It was one of two film soundtracks that they produced along with Highlander. It is the soundtrack to the science fiction film Flash Gordon and features lyrics on only two tracks.
Following the success Queen had with Flash Gordon two other notable rock groups contributed to movie soundtrack albums: Toto’s music was featured in “Dune” and AC/DC’s music was heard in “Maximum Overdrive”.
This was unusual at the time. Rock groups were not generally commissioned to score films.
I walked out of the cinema with the Queen music in my head. Following a trip to a furniture store I went to a local record shop to pick up the album. Dropping the needle onto this record was such a joyful moment for me.
Then to find they had included the dialogue from the film throughout the record was such a bonus. And the package for this record was so different from all of Queen’s previous efforts. It included an insert with a full colour image of Ming on one side and the lyrics for Flash and The Hero plus album credits on the other in red and yellow.
Seen above are the inner sleeve of the soundtrack featuring images of Queen on on side and the international cast on the other with a die cut in the center that lines up with the custom label featuring the logo.
For whatever reason the American version of this record did not have the die cut hole. The center was left intact so you lost the custom label peaking out effect.
Years later DJ Vanguard released a special re-mix of the single Flash.
On what turned out to be Queen’s final American Tour with Freddie & John in the Summer of 1982 Flash opened their shows followed by a performance of The Hero at the top of their setlist.
Flash Gordon Memorabilia
From the original 1930’s film serials to the 1980 feature to today the Flash Gordon franchise has produced a large array of collectibles.
In the 1930’s there were tin wind–up toys of spaceships from Flash Gordon and miniature figures in tins.
In the decades that followed numerous Sunday comic strips were published weekly. Comic Books, Toys, Figures, Posters, Trading Cards, Candy, Mugs, T-Shirts, Keychains, Magnets, and on and on and on.
Above are images of collectibles relating to the Flash Gordon franchise. On the Top Left are Flash and Ming figures with fold out Vultan’s Cloud Palace backdrop from Biff!Bang!Pow!
On the Top Right an early Pop-Up Book.
On the bottom Left a Lionman figure from Mattel based upon the Filmation animated series in 1979 on NBC.
Middle Right is a Viewmaster pack with 21 stereoscopic images also from the cartoon. And the bottom Right is a volume collecting Sunday comic strips of Flash Gordon now published by Titan books. There are 4 volumes in this series.
Flash Gordon books and magazines have been published over the past 70 years. In this gallery seen above notice the Mad Magazine clone Crazy with its parody of the movie!
The 1980 movie spawned several comic book adaptations, a novelization, poster books, and recently a graphic novel from Dynamite press called Zeitgeist.
Both DC & Marvel have published Flash Gordon comics at some point.
Archie Meets Flash Gordon in New Crossover One-Shot. Archie Comics has announced a new crossover one-shot with Flash Gordon, that was to hit comic shops back in June of this year.
Pulp Fiction is a term used to describe a huge amount of creative writing available to the American public in the early nineteen-hundreds. Termed “pulp magazines” because of the low quality paper used between the covers, these publications proliferated in the nineteen-thirties and nineteen-forties and beyond.
Flash Gordon was the subject of several pulp series sold in drugstores and book shops. The gallery seen below features some of the covers published. There were even Flash Gordon Flip-books! There the small sized books that you flipped pages fast to create the illusion of motion! Checker books’ collections of Alex Raymond strips in full color featured The Ice Worlds of Mongo.
Toys + More Collectibles above and below
A pinball machine showed up in game arcades which I got to play several times. It had Queen’s music! The Atari Game Cartridge was less exciting somehow, Mattel sold a toy rocket ship for kids.
Titan Books published a 4 volume set collecting Flash Gordon comics from Alex Raymond to the present day.
There was even a Flash Gordon Colorforms Set! Along with Silly Putty and Yo-Yos Colorforms were a 1970s staple kids toy.
The 1979 NBC Saturday morning series was licensed to comics, figures, and lunchbox/thermos sets.
There was also a program sold at select theaters for the film. I found it years later at a Horror/SciFi Convention.
40th Anniversary of Mike Hodges’ Flash Gordon Movie featuring the music of QUEEN
STUDIOCANAL is excited to announce the new 4k, Ultra High Definition restoration of Mike Hodge’s cult classic FLASH GORDON (1980), in honour of the film’s 40th anniversary.
Flash Gordon was scanned from the original 35mm negative to produce 4K files. Over 500 hours of manual restoration repaired serious damage that included image instability, scratches, and intermittent flicker.
The sound was scanned from the original track negative and underwent restoration to improve issues ranging from audio drop-outs throughout the feature and during reel changes, digital clicks and optical distortion.
The film was colour graded for theatrical, home entertainment and 4K HDR release, using previous digital releases and 35mm prints as a reference. In line with the Director’s vision and the original 35mm cinema release, VFX work was applied to remove the strings in all scenes where visible. This restoration was approved by Director Mike Hodges in May 2020 and will include the first 4K HDR Dolby Vision master of Flash Gordon.
This Fall a new coffee table book will be published called Flash Gordon The Official Story by John Walsh.
Originally there were to be 3 Flash Gordon movies to form a trilogy. Sam J. Jones had a falling out with the movie’s producers. The box office in North America was disappointing. At a cost of $70 million (a huge amount in 1979/80) and a paltry $20 million take in America no sequels were made.
While the irony is not lost on me that Flash Gordon up until this movie had multiple chapters including the short lived NBC cartoon, I think the movie is even more appealing because it is the only one of its kind.
A short-lived live action series appeared on the SyFy Channel. Dispensing with the former image of Ming as a caricature of Asian villainy he appeared as a bland modern CEO in an alternate dimension.
Another animated series also appeared on Cable television with less than encouraging results. Flash Gordon went into dormancy again.
The chroma key special effects. The model space ships. The glitzy costume design. Queen’s trademark sense of corn/camp are all part of the 1980 film’s lasting appeal.
This movie has become a true cult classic. Appealing to sci-fi/ fantasy geeks around the globe many of whom dress up as their favourite characters for ComicCon and Halloween.
I have seen the film at least 100 times. It’s my favourite cult film.
Seth Macfarlane, creator of the animated series Family Guy is a fan. His comedies, Ted & Ted2 featured Sam J. Jones and Flash Gordon. Comic book artist Alex Ross loves the movie and also proclaims Queen as a favourite band.
Family Guy episode with the Hawkmen. The Ted movies were packaged with Flash Gordon.
Alex Ross art above for the Blu-Ray of Flash Gordon; The Ming Wants You art came with the disc.
There is talk in recent years of a Flash Gordon reboot with CGI effects but time will tell if this becomes reality.
All I know is that this work combined two of my favourite things: Flash Gordon and QUEEN.
This Fall boss Fight Studio is releasing figures of Flash and Ming to celebrate the 40th Anniversary; Movie posters for the 40th Anniversary Edition.
There is a new documentary called Life After Flash now streaming on Amazon Prime. It tells the story of actor Sam J. Jones’ sudden stardom followed by years outside show business. It will be one of the many extras on the upcoming blu-ray sets.
Thank You Dear Readers! And Thanks Flash!
“Keep your feet on the ground, put your hand on your heart, lift your head to the skies, and the world’s for your taking. Yes, you’re a Hero!”
I was just thinking how we were told back in January to write out the full 2-0-2-0 when dating important docs. Who knew that it would be almost exclusively applied to receiving unemployment benefits.
My Dear Readers: Updates from New York City. July ends. USA continues to deny the impact of Covid—19 despite the largest recorded drop in its economy in history!
If you reside outside of North America you may have heard about how poor our safety net is here. This is showing up now during this unprecedented crisis.
I only glance at the headlines each morning. It takes until late in the day to realize how much more our country has slid in the eyes of the world.
New York City has sport once again with its expensive corporate stadiums empty. Overpaid athletes are playing with piped in crowd noise.
Several athletes in baseball are now sick. Games are getting postponed. I think baseball should cancel the season.
No Broadway/ Off—Broadway theater. No museums. No movie theaters. Broadway and Hollywood had both reached their commercial summit. I do not believe this will happen again.
If we have cinemas the interior of those spaces will have to be reinvented along with Broadway and Off—Broadway theaters.
Personally, my fear is that America will be vunerable like never before to a new authoritarian reality. Already the President floated the proto-fascist notion of delaying the Fall Election. This never happened in America before this con man took office.
People are waking to see how much damage has been inflicted upon regular people over decades of blindly adding police to streets. This has resulted in the brutality seen in recent days.
The people were empowered to fend off the awful notions of power hungry office holders. Our struggle for greater Democracy will continue.
With such heavy issues hovering over us I refuse to conform to the reactionary nature of certain friends and family. I just read “Twilight Of Democracy” by the historian Anne Applegate, seen below in the picture, argues strongly for Democratic ideals. She is hopeful Americans will reject the anti—democratic platform of Donald Trump.
My photography is an outlet to express what I see daily to counter the ugly forces at play in today’s world.
Despite it all I am having a lovely Summer. What else can I do? November will be chilly. And by then our biggest Election will be upon us.
5th Avenue from E. 86th Street to E. 103rd is called Museum Mile. There are several along this route on the East Side. The Museum of the City of New York, The MET, The Guggenheim and The Jewish Museum are my favourites. I took pictures of their facades over the past three months. Devoid of crowds. A silence. Mourning? Will they come back as strong as before the shutdown?
The Museum of the City of New York, The Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum, and The Jewsih Museum are seen below:
Another component of taking images on walks are the people you see in moments. So distracted are these strangers that I could not resist capturing them in time. What follows are the first results of my observations.
August Arrives Tomorrow
Major League Baseball attempted to start a shortened season but finds itself in a bind now that the Miami Marlins team is ill with Covid—19. Then the Phillies were struck then the St. Louis Cardinals.
All of the hot spot states are only beginning to require masks and think about shutting down again.
The Republican party is making this crisis a partisan issue; their leader floats proto—fascist ideas daily.
Here in New York City while we have settled into our Phase 4 lives a new month starts tomorrow!
American Elegy—Our Nobel Laureate Publishes Another Masterpiece
In a career now spanning six decades Bob Dylan has been through numerous phases in a life that has itself become the stuff of living legend.
Now revealed that this song is the third side on his upcoming, Rough and Rowdy Ways, he continues to inspire and write brilliantly about history.
His ability to connect our ‘modern times’ with the ancient culture that brought it about, specifically the Romans, enabled his new life as a Nobel Prize recipient.
Murder Most Foul is Mr. Dylan’s longest song. if you take the time to listen to this track you will learn a lot about this wonderful country and its brutal past and present.
You will also discover an underlying feeling of hope in the soft accompaniment with its piano, light timpani, and strings.
Dylanologists are going to have another great track to explore for many years to come. There are a ton of deliberate references to all kinds of cultural arcana in this track. Too many in fact for a single blog entry.
But herein I will discuss some of my takes on this peerless work. The closest thing to a spoken word song or a revival of the beat poet in the vast Dylan catalog.
It was a dark day in Dallas, November ’63 A day that will live on in infamy President Kennedy was a-ridin’ high Good day to be livin’ and a good day to die Being led to the slaughter like a sacrificial lamb He said, “Wait a minute, boys, you know who I am?” “Of course we do, we know who you are!” Then they blew off his head while he was still in the car Shot down like a dog in broad daylight Was a matter of timing and the timing was right You got unpaid debts, we’ve come to collect We’re gonna kill you with hatred, without any respect We’ll mock you and shock you and we’ll put it in your face We’ve already got someone here to take your place The day they blew out the brains of the king Thousands were watching, no one saw a thing It happened so quickly, so quick, by surprise Right there in front of everyone’s eyes Greatest magic trick ever under the sun Perfectly executed, skillfully done Wolfman, oh Wolfman, oh Wolfman, howl Rub-a-dub-dub, it’s a murder most foul
Here in the beginning of the poem we are explicitly told how Mr. Dylan feels about the day President John F. Kennedy was murdered.
Using a phrase as his title, he frames the dreadful event as a Murder Most Foul. As the track continues there will be an evolution or rather a de-volution through the following decades as America’s culture and politics slowly decays.
The great hope of a young, handsome, and brilliant leader is cruelly blown off the face of the Earth. The promise of a new frontier delayed by his killing.
Mr. Dylan further frames the President’s murder as that of a lynching. Mr. Kennedy was white on the surface, but he was also the nation’s first Catholic elected to the Presidency. In Bob Dylan’s view he was ‘led like a lamb to the sacrificial slaughter’.
The first verses also make clear how this crime was such an American scene. Committed in broad daylight in front of the world; ‘greatest magic trick ever under the sun’.
The Second Section
Hush, little children, you’ll understand The Beatles are comin’, they’re gonna hold your hand Slide down the banister, go get your coat Ferry ‘cross the Mersey and go for the throat There’s three bums comin’ all dressed in rags Pick up the pieces and lower the flags I’m goin’ to Woodstock, it’s the Aquarian Age Then I’ll go over to Altamont and sit near the stage Put your head out the window, let the good times roll There’s a party going on behind the Grassy Knoll Stack up the bricks, pour the cement Don’t say Dallas don’t love you, Mr. President Put your foot in the tank and then step on the gas Try to make it to the triple underpass Blackface singer, whiteface clown Better not show your faces after the sun goes down Up in the red light district, they’ve got cop on the beat Living in a nightmare on Elm Street When you’re down on Deep Ellum, put your money in your shoe Don’t ask what your country can do for you Cash on the barrelhead, money to burn Dealey Plaza, make a left-hand turn I’m going down to the crossroads, gonna flag a ride The place where faith, hope, and charity died Shoot him while he runs, boy, shoot him while you can See if you can shoot the invisible man Goodbye, Charlie! Goodbye, Uncle Sam Frankly, Miss Scarlett, I don’t give a damn What is the truth, and where did it go? Ask Oswald and Ruby, they oughta know “Shut your mouth,” said a wise old owl Business is business, and it’s a murder most foul
The last lines of these first 2 sections of verse connect to reinforce this crime as foul cold-blooded murder. ‘Rub-a-dub-dub, it’s murder most foul; Business is business, and it’s a murder most foul’.
The actual neighborhood near the crime scene of Kennedy’s death is referenced following the pop culture explosion of The Beatles who became a salve for the real pain young people felt at the time. Deep Ellum, the arts and entertainment hub of Dallas, TX had a rise in crime too.
Referenced in the song’s second section above: ‘When you’re down on Deep Ellum, put your money on your shoe’.
‘Don’t ask what your country can do for you’, the famous Kennedy line to demand public service of youth is juxtaposed to remind people now trapped in poor communities not to expect any government assistance. The social contract was murdered too.
Explicitly calling out Woodstock and Altamont and the Age of Aquarius with the mythology of free love and the violence of Altamont. America has always created myths to soothe the wounds of very real crimes.
The reality of the made up summer of love is the real slaughter of men, women, and children in Vietnam. The daily death toll were surely murders most foul.
Mr. Dylan performs a conjuring trick as well raising the original sin of race hatred in a line that also references his hit “Hurricane”. Blackface singer, whiteface clown Better not show your faces after the sun goes down Up in the red light district, they’ve got cop on the beat Living in a nightmare on Elm Street
Also quite cleverly references a Wes Craven horror film released in the decade that followed his hit song about boxer Ruben ‘Hurricane’ Carter.
The name covers Dallas’ real murder of a President and the fictional murders of teenagers in a genre called the slasher film. The cruelty on display in Dallas would continue to resonate for the decades that followed.
The Third Section
Tommy, can you hear me? I’m the Acid Queen I’m riding in a long, black Lincoln limousine Ridin’ in the back seat next to my wife Headed straight on in to the afterlife I’m leaning to the left, I got my head in her lap Hold on, I’ve been led into some kind of a trap Where we ask no quarter, and no quarter do we give We’re right down the street, from the street where you live They mutilated his body and they took out his brain What more could they do? They piled on the pain But his soul was not there where it was supposed to be at For the last fifty years they’ve been searchin’ for that Freedom, oh freedom, freedom over me I hate to tell you, mister, but only dead men are free Send me some lovin’, then tell me no lie Throw the gun in the gutter and walk on by Wake up, little Susie, let’s go for a drive Cross the Trinity River, let’s keep hope alive Turn the radio on, don’t touch the dials Parkland Hospital, only six more miles You got me dizzy, Miss Lizzy, you filled me with lead That magic bullet of yours has gone to my head I’m just a patsy like Patsy Cline Never shot anyone from in front or behind I’ve blood in my eye, got blood in my ear I’m never gonna make it to the new frontier Zapruder’s film I seen night before Seen it thirty-three times, maybe more It’s vile and deceitful, it’s cruel and it’s mean Ugliest thing that you ever have seen They killed him once and they killed him twice Killed him like a human sacrifice The day that they killed him, someone said to me, “Son The age of the Antichrist has just only begun” Air Force One comin’ in through the gate Johnson sworn in at 2:38 Let me know when you decide to throw in the towel It is what it is, and it’s murder most foul
I set the third section above in big bold type since at this point forward the song becomes full and explicit. Brimming with anger at President Kennedy’s demise, whom Mr. Dylan likens to a King as the Kennedy White House became Camelot, then in a blink ‘his eyes, nose, and ears were filled with blood.’
The Zapruder film in some way becomes America’s first slasher film, only it’s real.
Mr Dylan describes the piece which he claims to have seen over 30 times, as ‘vile and deceitful’.
That first piece of social media created an infinity of conspiracy theories. I see it as a reflection on his own youth. In his youth the repetition is easily performed. Now, at 79 Mr. Dylan only needs a single reading.
Freedom, oh freedom, freedom over me I hate to tell you, mister, but only dead men are free
This is my favorite line in the poem/song. Using Whitmanesque phrasing to connect Lincoln with Kennedy. Both men were after all the great hope of a wounded nation. Slavery in Lincoln’s era and Vietnam/Racism in Kennedy’s time. Both men were victims of murder most foul.
Mr. Dylan has undergone phases of life where he composed Christian influenced records. He has deep personal beliefs that crop up nicely here.
Declaring, ‘the Age of the Antichrist’ has just begun following the Kennedy assassination the nation saw a steep rise in cult activity, the crimes of Charles Manson, and satanic music also came into being in American culture.
Echoing the conventional wisdom that the nation had lost its soul are Mr. Dylan’s lyrics describing the Kennedy post mortem: ‘No soul was found where it should be.’
The Fourth Section
What’s new, pussycat? What’d I say? I said the soul of a nation been torn away And it’s beginning to go into a slow decay And that it’s thirty-six hours past Judgment Day Wolfman Jack, he’s speaking in tongues He’s going on and on at the top of his lungs Play me a song, Mr. Wolfman Jack Play it for me in my long Cadillac Play me that “Only the Good Die Young” Take me to the place Tom Dooley was hung Play “St. James Infirmary” and the Court of King James If you want to remember, you better write down the names Play Etta James, too, play “I’d Rather Go Blind” Play it for the man with the telepathic mind Play John Lee Hooker, play “Scratch My Back” Play it for that strip club owner named Jack Guitar Slim going down slow Play it for me and for Marilyn Monroe
It’s Mr. Wolfman Jack to you. Bob Dylan has reached a point in his career that he can compose a poem that includes 1970’s icon Wolfman Jack.
This is a reference to the alter—ego creation that he underwent in the 1960’s, Robert Zimmerman became Bob Dylan; Robert Weston Smith became Wolfman Jack.
Also in the new age of the antichrist men were literally becoming beasts. It’s in this section that Mr. Dylan begins to recommend recordings using the word ‘play’ as a command.
It references his 2 years as a D.J. himself on satellite radio. Using famous titles/lyrics from the era’s violent refelctions include “Only The Good Die Young”, published in 1977, the year of the Son of Sam killings in New York.
Bob Dylan makes his listeners do a lot of history homework. I strongly believe this is why his work ranks so high.
Playing up the description of President Kennedy’s car of choice, ‘a long black Cadillac’, itself a coffin on wheels.
Take me to the place Tom Dooley was hung Play “St. James Infirmary” and the Court of King James If you want to remember, you better write down the names
For my take these 3 lines set up why Bob Dylan has become such a master at connecting seemingly disparate ideas.
You see the ‘place where Tom Dooley was hung’ is in North Carolina, where the Wolfman took his last breath.
Being white, Wolfman Jack died of a heart attack not a lynching. Tom Dooley became the subject of many folk songs, a genre that gave artistic birth to Bob Dylan.
Tom Dooley is part of a sad American tradition known as Appalachian Murder Ballads. A murder most foul.
St. James Infirmary references blues music. An alternate title for the song was “The Young Man Cut Down in His Prime”) about a soldier who uses his money on prostitutes and then dies of venereal disease. The theme ties in with Kennedy’s death.
Then closing the section with a simple notation of why the name checking will continue unabated for the rest of the piece—to remember with clarity write down the names.
Only an artist of Bob Dylan’s caliber tells the listener his intent in writing this or any other song/poem is to preserve it for the ages to come beyond his mortal years.
The Fifth Section (Conclusion)
Play “Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” Play it for the First Lady, she ain’t feeling any good Play Don Henley, play Glenn Frey Take it to the limit and let it go by Play it for Carl Wilson, too Looking far, far away down Gower Avenue Play “Tragedy”, play “Twilight Time” Take me back to Tulsa to the scene of the crime Play another one and “Another One Bites the Dust” Play “The Old Rugged Cross” and “In God We Trust” Ride the pink horse down that long, lonesome road Stand there and wait for his head to explode Play “Mystery Train” for Mr. Mystery The man who fell down dead like a rootless tree Play it for the reverend, play it for the pastor Play it for the dog that got no master Play Oscar Peterson, play Stan Getz Play “Blue Sky,” play Dickey Betts Play Art Pepper, Thelonious Monk Charlie Parker and all that junk All that junk and “All That Jazz” Play something for the Birdman of Alcatraz Play Buster Keaton, play Harold Lloyd Play Bugsy Siegel, play Pretty Boy Floyd Play the numbers, play the odds Play “Cry Me a River” for the Lord of the gods Play Number nine, play Number six Play it for Lindsey and Stevie Nicks Play Nat King Cole, play “Nature Boy” Play “Down in the Boondocks” for Terry Malloy Play “It Happened One Night” and “One Night of Sin” There’s twelve million souls that are listening in Play “Merchant of Venice”, play “Merchants of Death” Play “Stella by Starlight” for Lady Macbeth Don’t worry, Mr. President, help’s on the way Your brothers are comin’, there’ll be hell to pay Brothers? What brothers? What’s this about hell? Tell them, “We’re waiting, keep coming,” we’ll get them as well Love Field is where his plane touched down But it never did get back up off the ground Was a hard act to follow, second to none They killed him on the altar of the rising sun Play “Misty” for me and “That Old Devil Moon” Play “Anything Goes” and “Memphis in June” Play “Lonely at the Top” and “Lonely Are the Brave” Play it for Houdini spinning around in his grave Play Jelly Roll Morton, play “Lucille” Play “Deep in a Dream”, and play “Driving Wheel” Play “Moonlight Sonata” in F-sharp And “A Key to the Highway” for the king on the harp Play “Marching Through Georgia” and “Dumbarton’s Drums” Play darkness and death will come when it comes Play “Love Me or Leave Me” by the great Bud Powell Play “The Blood-Stained Banner”, play “Murder Most Foul”
In this final section of this elegiac piece Mr. Dylan reminds us of the worst scene of racial violence in the nation’s history.
The Tulsa race massacre (also called the Tulsa race riot, the Greenwood Massacre, or the Black Wall Street Massacre) of 1921 took place on May 31 and June 1, 1921, when mobs of white residents attacked black residents and businesses of the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
It has been called “the single worst incident of racial violence in American history.” The attack, carried out on the ground and from private aircraft, destroyed more than 35 square blocks of the district—at that time the wealthiest black community in the United States, known as “Black Wall Street”.
This awful history was dramatized on the Premiere of HBO’s ‘Watchmen’. Here the line takes us back to the scene of the original crime.
He connects it to the currents of hate/racism that from 1921 became a tsunami that killed another American President.
Then swirling through the American history of Jazz music and its iconic progenitors he adds crime figures like Bugsy Siegel who builds Las Vegas and on and on in a dizzying meter of names that arrives at “Love Me or Leave Me” by Bud Powell.
This is Dylan’s response to the hateful crowds that state, America love it or leave it.
The final line is perhaps the most stinging reminder of how far America needs to go to overcome its bloody past and present: Play The Blood Stained Banner , Play Murder Most Foul.
‘The Blood Stained Banner’ was a Confederate anthem and a version of the Confederate Flag presented in 1865. Bob Dylan is telling the nation to never forget this happened.
And to kindly play the song just ended, his American Elegy, Murder Most Foul.
I stay at home because the most effective method of staying healthy is to enjoy a quiet place.
Our studio apartment is too small for two people. The size allows for easy cleaning. You learn how to share space.
My husband is so dedicated to my happiness. I always feel lucky to be with him. We share in the tasks of keeping our household together.
I have access to music of all kinds, books of all subjects, and movies/series of all genres.
As I evolved from arguing with people not equipped with a similar skill set I do not attempt the feat. People with set opinions never change. This is a life killing attitude.
I listen. Being quiet does not mean your mind is off. You are inside mostly. You tend to judge those around you. Winding up with a hard to tolerate level of noise is the price you sometimes pay.
All of the pointless uninformed opinions swirl like an infinite mass of absurd jokes.
Social media became a tool for the haves to show up the have nots daily. Now travel is seen as a risk one should not take lightly.
Crises exposes those with defaults on idiocy. The noisy vane overachievers have the largest burden. They must produce at all costs.
Constant pressure to reach for the brass ring results in stresses that can be deadly. The very few who must ride a nearly deserted transit system are risking all so that we may have a chance at survival.
I am loving my quiet place. I had just begun to work again before the stay at home order arrived. After completing the 5 day assignment the world changed.
Hey, I gave it my best shot. Now, I will stay happy at home. Making my husband happy makes me happy.
I know I must return to work someday. After nearly 2 months the solution is not clear. I think there must be a reform of society.
A stronger safety net should be created by cutting the military budget in half; going after corporations who have not invested in our way life.
The cosmos laughs at those who plan. Chaos has always reigned. We were just too busy taking selfies.
Rich nations need to have rainy day funds. Poorer nations need our help. If they suffer their hardships will spread until more fortunate lands feel the pain.
My coping skills are being tested. Each day I start with music. I have finally been able to grow into a lover of Jazz, Classical, and Opera.
Yes, dear readers, you are correct, I am done with Rock/ Pop. These times have made me take a hard look at myself. I am much more fulfilled with more mature art forms.
The small select group of artists I kept around include The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Iron Maiden, Styx, Queen, The Eagles, Elton John, David Bowie, Frank Zappa and Grateful Dead.
Bob Dylan has become my top favorite. His lyrics are peerless. All of these musicians are timeless in their messaging. We need to really listen closely.
Closing my decades long rock period does not mean I cannot appreciate the positive impact it’s lyrics/melodies have had on me. It just means I needed to make room for other music.
I have learned for myself that I change every ten years. Taste moves forward. Letting go of past distractions is quite liberating.
My afternoons are spent with a book. Currently I am finishing a Star Trek novel, “The Lost Years”, about the years following the end of the Enterprise’s five year mission.
I read non fiction too. A history of France and bio of President Grant are on my nightstand.
In the evenings my husband and I watch Jeopardy!, The Price Is Right, General Hospital and Friends and/or The Big Bang Theory. Movies on Amazon Prime and Netflix. Comedy specials on Netflix.
My husband cooks. I clean. We make a great team. Thankfully we have no kids. No pets. We have each other. In our quiet place.
I hope you are coping during this unprecedented pause in our go-go culture. Just remember that for most people around the world this struggle is a daily norm.
Thank you dear readers for stopping by Evan’s Gate. Please follow me if you like what I write about each week.
Stay safe. Keep informed. We shall be together again.
A wayfarin’ hitch-hiker takes a journey back out to big sky country to reflect on a life gone past. Along the way we learn he was a B-movie Stuntman whose proudest moment was a scene with screen icon John Wayne.
Painting a deceptively simple picture of creeping isolation, lost love, and futile attempts to outrun a road that has to end, Mr. Springsteen has composed a romantic yet melancholy tribute to the American ideals of the West.
Remembering good times at a local cafe where the work is left behind; ‘Monday is a million miles away’. Forgetting the mounting sadness of lost opportunity because the western stars are out tonight.
The thematic thread woven through are light and dark; sunrise and sundown; the sun and the moon.
Evoking this vision are understated orchestrations that support the vocals in even tempo. At times the sweeping beauty of the notes will fill you with longing.
This is because our western star is waiting for his lost love to return. He knows this is a fool’s errand. “Tuscon Train”, “Stones”, and “There Goes My Miracle” are songs of tortured romance literally gone south.
The album’s centerpiece track, “Drive Fast” (The Stuntman), shows a physically broken man whose wounds are his only companion. The steel rod in his leg walks him home each night.
The last song on the album is “Moonlight Motel”. A memory of lost lovers enjoying an afternoon delight in a derelict place. The physical structures have gone to seed while their love blossoms. A place once made for nighttime pleasures becomes the sight of a self-made Eden.
Quite a beautiful album that is able to relate this tale of loss and loneliness without making its listener feel too sad. The melodies are uplifting; the vocals are empathetic.
In the daylight chasing wild horses, running for countless miles is enough to outrun the impending gloom. There is a deep abiding respect for this rugged place by the man at the center of it all—The Boss.
In lieu of a tour for this record, Bruce Springsteen makes his directorial debut on October 25, 2019 with “Western Stars”.
The film is a performance of the album with orchestra before an audience. An album, “Western Stars” Film Version will be released. It’s the same track list as the studio LP except for the addition of “Rhinestone Cowboy” by Glen Campbell.
“Sundown” is the first single released from the film version album. The new versions seem to have even more developed orchestration.
E Street Stardom/Solo Magic
For decades now Bruce Springsteen has piece by piece constructed a music career that continues to inspire longtime listeners and attract newcomers.
He has enjoyed commercial success but did not count only on selling his music but by creating a persona that was larger than his self but true to who he is offstage.
After listening to “Western Stars” over and over digitally I found my own take. His E Street albums are the rockstar track built with hits like “The River”, “Born To Run”, and “Born In The USA”.
The solo albums have been allowed by an audience that deeply appreciates his hard work in not just entertaining them but making them think too. This is the internal track of non rock Lp’s that delve into Americana, Folk, and Protest music.
His catalog is like a puzzle with thousands of pieces. For years I was distracted enough not to see what he was doing. Building his following slowly in bars/clubs on the Jersey Shore then reaching a zenith with sold out stadiums. He never relies on just hit singles. He becomes by word of mouth a legendary presence. His audience bestows the nickname, The Boss, to signify to them what he represents in the music world.
The solo work allows Bruce to work on music that he knows will not sell stadiums nor spend weeks at the top of the chart. It’s material he hopes will alternately take listeners down musical byways that cannot fit into the mainstream rock frame of the E Street Band.
I feel there are few solo artists doing such consistently fine work as Mr. Springsteen. Bob Dylan comes to mind. The Boss seeks long term attachment with his audience. He gets it because of the trust built upon decades of great work both rocking and reflective.
I hope the puzzle is not near completion.
Bruce Springsteen is performing at The Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden on November 5th. A benefit for Stand-Up For Heroes.
Each new decade begins with a clearing out of the sounds that animated it. Following the 1980’s metal stampede record labels embraced Grunge. This was the early 1990’s.
Then bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Alice In Chains were on top. Following their short-lived reign came a sight & sound nobody saw coming.
Industrial. Heavy. Nuanced. Not really traditional metal nor hard rock—alternative metal?
TOOL. The name was mono-syllabic. The logo was cool. The sound was enigmatic to its core. Songs were long. The vocals did not come in for two minutes! Their videos used animation of the stop-motion kind; thematically dark.
The first four albums have amassed three Grammy awards; sold millions of copies; topped the US chart twice. Then for unknown reasons the band disappeared from the music scene entirely.
13 Years later since their last record something truly amazing happened—TOOL’s social media page lit up with a post announcing a new record. The music listening public did not forget this band. The response has been quite large.
Legal problems and label disputes aside, the band’s music appeared on digital streaming services for the first time.
“Fear Inoculum” carries the band forward nicely. The running time on the digital format is 1 hour, 26 minutes.
The 10 tracks are formatted with 6 epic songs and 4 instrumental passages that form a type of connective tissue that support the lengthier songs.
This is an expertly crafted record. The band’s consistent sound serves the listener well.
Going underneath the surface of human physiology to dig deep into unanswerable questions of spirit and mind are TOOL’s strength as musicians.
I have the digital album on Amazon Music Unlimited. The vinyl version of this record is to be released this Fall. The CD had innovative packaging.
A 4X4 screen built into the three panel cardboard sleeve contains exclusive video images. It comes with a speaker and a cord for recharging the screen. The price for the CD was $30. Amazon sold out in minutes.
This is a review of all the tracks on the digital streaming format.
inoculum – a substance (a virus or toxin or immune serum) that is introduced into the body to produce or increase immunity to a particular disease.
“Fear Inoculum” opens with Buddhist chimes. Opening with this title track is an explicit mission statement. Fear is a disease/malady that will be reduced.
Maynard James Keenan’s laconic style of vocals have lost nothing to the years. His delivery makes you listen closely. The lyrics are among the best this band has ever delivered.
The music throughout is hypnotic. The length of each track will not matter if you allow yourself to tune into the depth of meaning here.
“Pneuma” literally means breath. In theology, the soul or vital spirit. The lyrics exemplify what it means to live. We must become our best selves over a lifetime.
At 11:53, it’s one of the longest tracks here.
At the 7:30 mark comes a theramin driven instrumental passage that is quite beautiful.
“Litanie contre la Peur” is the first of the four short instrumentals that act as connective tissue/support for the six epic tracks contained on the album.
It translates “Litany of Fear”. A relaxing depth takes hold by this point that will not let go until the end.
“Invincible” (12:44) opens with the sounds of tapping on an empty water jug. The guitars have a nice timber here. Evoking the mythical search for everlasting youth with the “chasing of Ponce De Leon’s phantom”.
A warrior’s lament. Reflecting on the epic of battles fought. Trying in vain to remain relevant as a soldier in our new age. “Tales told of battles won, things we’ve done, Caligula would grin.” Now time is bearing down on the pawns (tools?) of war.
“Legion Inoculant” (3:06) is a phase shifting instrumental that drifts into and out of distant sounding voices that struggle to be heard.
“Descending” (13:30). Opens the second half of the record with sounds of waves crashing on a beach. This invocation that we can rouse ourselves from a self inflicted sleep before it’s too late.
The lyric repeats”Falling is not flying”. Each of these six epic tracks have instrumental passages that are sweeping and understated.
The drone of guitars snarl into spiral patterns of harmonic riffs. A wake-up to our “wanton slumber” to “mitigate our ruin”.
“Culling Voices” (10:05). This track describes being in a state of psychopathy— a personality disorder characterized by persistent antisocial behavior, impaired empathy and remorse, and bold, disinhibited, and egotistical traits.
A melancholic track with great pathos into the psyche of “imaginal interplay”. The voices in our head are misleading. The repeated refrain of “don’t you dare point that thing at me” allows its listener to fill in their own blanks.
“Chocolate Chip Trip” (4:48). A connective instrumental. Out of left field is TOOL’s default position. A quirky buzz of beats and repetitive keys.
Those culled voices are being scrambled up into something else. The percussion and keys are quite hypnotic.
Realigning the synapses perhaps in its dive towards the final epic contained here.
“7Empest” (15:43). The band is obsessed with the number 7. It appears in some way on each of their 5 albums. The music reflects the lyrical meaning. Starting off slow with those Buddhist chimes mixed into the riffing it builds into the promised fury.
An examination of the mind gone off its hinges. A tempest in a teapot. TOOL takes the most cliche of metal ideas bending it toward the meaning needed to fit this inoculation of fear. “We know your nature…Calm before the torrent comes.” The ‘We’ is authoratative.
At 4:30 we get the most furious sounding riffs on the album. This rage up is the most straight-forward of all the tracks. It harkens back to “Sober” on their debut record, “Undertow”.
After eight minutes it churns and wends around you with guitars blazing. Like the abstract serpent on the cover art it twists and turns beautifully. You never see it’s eye. But the musical storm is omnipresent. It cannot be controlled.
The album closer is the final instrumental. A gentle outro to the proceedings of the past 90 minutes! “Mockingbeat” (2:05).
The final pitch from left field. Artifice or real bird sounds, voices, constant chirps all culminate in a soundscape you are not prepared for based on the previous 9 tracks. But this is what TOOL are all about. After the final chirp it’s over.
TOOL fans will love this record. For the new listener it may take awhile to get into this epic. After 4 listens, I love it.
TOOL is on tour this October & November in the US with Killing Joke opening. For all dates and ticket info go to http://www.ticketmaster.com
Tue • Nov 19 • 7:30 PM Barclays Center, Brooklyn, NY
The summer of 1939 was a milestone in American entertainment.
The Wizard of Oz and Gone With The Wind premiered in movie theaters.
Superman made his first appearance in Action Comics.
In the first story told by creators Joe Schuster & Jerry Siegel our hero could not fly! He could jump a building in a single bound and lift cars over his head.
Over the next 7 decades there would be many creative teams assigned to Superman. In recent times DC comics restarted their comics at issue #1. So many changes over time. I will relate what Superman meant to me as a kid and now.
Television, Movies, Comic Books, and collectibles are the focus of this entry. Just some memories of how this character impacted my life.
In my early childhood television showed reruns of series broadcast in the 1950s and 1960s. There were sitcoms like “I Love Lucy”, “Father Knows Best”, “Dennis The Menace”, and “Bewitched”, sci-fi like “Star Trek” and “Lost In Space”, and then there was a comic book based series—-“The Adventures of Superman”.
I remember watching this series in black and white. George Reeves played Clark Kent/Superman and Noel Neill played Lois Lane. The opening titles were great. A voice over coupled with images described his powers as “faster than a speeding bullet, strength like a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, it’s a bird, no..it’s a plane..no..it’s Superman!
Watching all episodes of the series made me want to read the comic magazines from DC. The impact this made on me as a child was greater than the mark made when Jor-El, Son of Krypton, crash lands on the Kent farm in Smallville.
Described as mild mannered Clark Kent, he would report for the Daily Planet newspaper. His change into Superman was Clark dashing into a storage room at the newspaper or using a phone booth. He would loosen his tie and remove his eye glasses to cue the audience.
The narrative importance was lost on me back then but today has great meaning. The creators were Jewish kids from Ohio who used the ultimate immigrant story, Jesus or Moses, as their source material.
Like Moses placed in a basket, the baby Jor-El is placed in a space capsule. He is launched into space to escape the destruction of the planet by their sun. The baby lands on earth. Raised on a farm by the Kents, his secret is kept by them.
When Clark matures he is sent to the big city to begin a mission to “fight for truth, justice, and the American way” as Superman. The costume is made by his surrogate mother. The ‘S’ on the Chevron is a Kryptonian letter meaning hope. The comic books were crucial in discovering all of the details in this narrative.
You can see why these ideas would sail over the head of a child. The adventure was good enough for my imagination. The effects of flying were all done by green screen on TV. Superman flew at steep angles due to this limitation in effects. The sound mix was cool. Right before he flew Superman would take a few running steps then a sound effect would cue us sitting at home. It sounded like a lid being released from a power vacuum.
Through animation Superman became the hero you saw in print.
The Max Fleischer series was captivating. In the 1970s the Saturday morning series, “Superfriends” added Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman to the mix. As a kid I loved the cartoon, but later appreciated the animated series to be quite superior in quality.
In 1978 Warner Brothers brought Superman to the silver screen. Christopher Reeve, a mild mannered star of stage, became a movie star. Margot Kidder was Lois Lane. Gene Hackman played Lex Luthor. Ned Beatty as Otis, the dimwitted sidekick. Jackie Cooper as Perry White, Editor of the Daily Planet. And perhaps the greatest feat of casting at the time—Marlon Brando as Superman’s father.
The movie featured a score by John Williams (Jaws, Close Encounters, E.T., Indiana Jones, and many more classics) that was groundbreaking. His “Superman March” would stay as the theme of the series to come. There were 3 sequel episodes.
In the debut feature the arch villain Lex Luthor plans to blow up the San Andreas fault in Southern California to trigger a devastating earthquake. Lois meets Clark. Lois interviews Superman. The Fortress of Solitude is introduced.
Superman II brought back the entire principal cast. It focused on the three Kryptonian villains sentenced to eternity in the Phantom Zone at the start of the previous film.
Superman saves the Earth from a hydrogen bomb at the Eiffel Tower. He hurls the device into deep space. The ripples of the shock wave caused by detonation shatter the Phantom Zone barrier. Ursa, Non, and General Zod are set free with the same powers as Superman.
Terence Stamp (Billy Budd, Priscilla Queen of the Desert) is imprinted in my memory forever as Zod. Commanding all of humanity to “kneel before Zod” as he takes control of Washington, DC is quite a scene.
Despite Superman III being quite comic with Richard Pryor the story lacks in compelling elements. And Superman IV—The Quest For Peace is just dull. The franchise went dormant after this series. The next feature, “Superman Returns” featured newcomer, Brandon Routh. Then more recently, Henry Cavill starred in “Man Of Steel”.
There were crossover features like “Superman v. Batman: Dawn of Justice” and “Justice League” that failed to catch the public imagination. The future of this character is more certain in the weeklies published. The movies are demanding. In my opinion, the impression made by Christopher Reeve was indelible.
In my young adulthood the man of steel returned to the small screen. ABC TV ran “Lois & Clark” Starring Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher. Comic book artist John Byrne’s modern retelling of Superman’s origin where Clark is the dominant personality was the series’ inspiration.
John Shea played Lex Luthor as a business tycoon with unethical methods. Lane Smith was Editor Perry White. The role of Jimmy Olsen changed hands from Michael Landes to Justin Whalin after season one. The show would run from September 1993 thru June 1997.
Since his first appearance on a comic book page 80 years ago Superman has become an iconic presence. Thousands of books, magazines, toys, games, trading cards, playing cards, clothing, and any matter of object imprinted with his image/logo are now a billion dollar industry.
Mego toys produced Superman action figures. Ben Cooper provided Halloween costumes. Our imaginations took care of the rest.
Super Books. The panels in a comic book provide more detail than any screenplay. I did not consider the artists when I was a kid. That is a focus you do not get until you are much older.
Curt Swan drew Superman in the 1970s. This portrait of the character became the standard for modern renderings of Superman. The Mego figure was based on this look. The costume in the first 4 films were also this design.
These stories were tales of adventure no movie could ever match. The Fortress of Solitude was my favorite. Although the rendering on film was quite beautiful I prefer the detail of the page.
Bob Kane and Bill Finger introduced the world to their crimefighter 80 years ago. This blog entry are just my thoughts about the character. Caped Crusader, Dark Knight, or World’s Greatest Detective are all fitting monikers used over the years.
38 years on there would be the television debut of the Batman character in a primetime series that would air twice a week. Several episodes would be two parts long featuring a cliff-hanger ending in part 1 and concluded the next night. ABC aired the show for 3 seasons. This was my first memory of Batman. My generation saw the reruns on New York’s local stations WPIX 11 and WNEW 5 during the 1970s.
After school the reruns of Batman were always fun to watch despite not seeing the program in color as intended until the 1980s! We had a black and white set even after the networks were broadcasting in color. As a kid I did not care because the show was great. Several of the episodes were based directly on Batman comics published during the 1940s–1950s.
The episodes “Hi Diddle Riddle” and “Smack in the Middle” were adaptations of “Remarkable Ruse of the Riddler” from Batman #171 (May 1965), written by Gardner Fox; in it, the Riddler, jealous of the attention Batman is giving the Mole Hill Mob, arranges a trap so Batman will apprehend the gang and give the Riddler the Caped Crusader’s undivided attention.
The episodes “Instant Freeze” and “Rats Like Cheese” were inspired by “The Ice Crimes of Mr. Zero” from Batman #121 (February 1959) by Dave Wood and Sheldon Moldoff.
The series was so popular that a movie was produced for theatrical release. This would air during Superhero Week on ABC-TV’s 4:30 movie in New York. I watched it many times in my childhood.
Adam West’s Batman was funny, living pop art, and corny. For a kid it was perfect. I think the 1966 series is the most enjoyable of all the screen incarnations of the character.
The fight scenes between Batman & Robin and their nemesis plus henchmen were filmed at an oblique angle (aka Dutch) to literally show they were crooked! The animated comic balloons appeared on screen to spell out the sounds like in the comic books—Biff!, Pow!, and Splat!
The Greenway Productions team captured what comic books look like on the page. Never taking itself too seriously was the key to unlocking the imagination of its viewers. A line-up of movie stars all played the villains that to this day are hard to match. The later features on film in the 1990s attempted to place big stars as Batman and as various villains to mixed results.
When the dynamic duo climbed up building walls there would be a cameo by a star or a fictional character looking out their window. They would have some chit chat that was quite funny. On YouTube their listed as “Window Cameos”.
Nelson Riddle provided a jazzy music score to accompany the action in Batman. Unfortunately the attempt to spin-off a Batgirl series failed.
However Green Hornet and Kato did get a full season of episodes. And the only characters billed as guest heroes! Yvonne Craig as Batgirl was the first time on television that a female superhero was featured in an ongoing role. Today, “Supergirl” is a prime-time series.
I always thought that Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s creation had the best rogues gallery. The Joker (Cesar Romero) , The Riddler (Frank Gorshin), The Penguin (Burgess Meredith), and Catwoman (Julie Newmar) were the tops for me.
Many of the villains were taken directly from Batman comic books. There were also original characters featured since many celebrities of that time wanted to appear on the show. Milton Berle (TV’s first star) as Louie The Lilac, Carolyn Jones as Marsha Queen of Diamonds, and Victor Buono as King Tut are just a few of the many colorful villains added to the rogues gallery of Gotham.
Because of the series I then followed animated series that featured Batman. Bob Kane created the animated series “Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse” as a comedic series based upon his Batman characters.
Superfriends was a weekly show featured on Saturday mornings in the 1970s. I also began reading the comics. Reading the Batman comics from the 1950’s, 1960’s, and 1970s I saw the evolution of the characters.
I found out the series’ first season made most of the episode titles rhyme, “Hi Diddle Riddle, Smack In The Middle” was the premiere. It was a 2 parter that featured Frank Gorshin as The Riddler.
Later, in the 1990s, Warners produced Batman The Animated Series featuring the voice of Mark Hamill (Star Wars) as The Joker. This show captured the noir look of the 1940s Batman.
During the 80 years of Batman comic books different creative teams were entrusted with the growing legacy of Batman. When it began there was no Robin. The Batmobile looked different than it does now. Renderings of villains changed as well from era to era. Gadgets were added like the Bat-arang, Bat-rope, and everything else that you can think that fits his crimefighting techniques.
In the printed issues of DC comics Batman was known as The World’s Greatest Detective. Take that Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, and Miss Marple! Then I discovered how much better the actual stories could be when produced in serial form week after week. In fact, Batman was the only prime-time show to air twice a week in its first 2 seasons other than the Soap Opera, “Peyton Place”.
The Bat-Copter, Bat-Boat, and Bat-Cycle were added over time. The series featured them when the series’ ratings began to fall in Season 3.
My first encounters with Batman on the page was in the 1970s. Neal Adams was drawing him. I was shocked how dark the stories were compared with the bright TV show. I think there are many interpretations I like but my first sight of it was that splendid TV series. The serialized format of the show evoked the movie serial of Batman appearing in theaters in the 1940s.
Grant Morrison was the most recent series I read in the last few years. I loved this updated version. There was even a run of comics called “Batman Incorporated” in which every nation got their own Batman to fight crime.
Over the last 80 years Batman has refelected our deepest fears of a world too chaotic to tame. Every generation has their Batman. For me it is the late Adam West. Then screen actor Michael Keaton starred in the feature film directed by Tim Burton in 1989. Following a sequel, “Batman Returns”, Val Kilmer (“Batman Forever”), George Clooney (“Batman & Robin”), Christian Bale (“Batman Begins”, “The Dark Knight”, and “The Dark Knight Rises”), and Ben Affleck (“Batman vs Superman”, “Justice League”) have played Batman in the movies.
The look Warner Bros. created with Tim Burton’s dark vision of the world of Batman stood in deep contrast with the TV series. This more serious treatment would be favored in the 1990s and 2000s.
Imagination is a powerful tool that develops in childhood. I had Batman toys in the 1970s. Played out adventures with friends in the park. The reason it’s important to read at least some of the stories on the page is simply because there are thousands to choose from each decade. You can see what each passing era was like for the characters and each creative team that was used to animate the adventures.
Every time Batman celebrates a milestone anniversary the comic book shops have compilations of the best Batman stories from each decade. There have been numerous comic book series devoted to the characters featured in Batman stories. Even Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne’s butler and surrogate father had his own series of comics.
The Batman character has appeared in TV, radio and movie serials, feature films, video games and animation. When he debuted in 1939 all of the new forms he would take only happened because audiences have been attracted to the stories. The people that got Batman on the air in 1966 were fans of the character.
“Where does he get those wonderful toys?” is a line from the movie “Batman” in 1989, spoken by The Joker, played by Jack Nicholson. This line is probably the most memorable in the script. It evokes the countless number of toys based on the characters in Batman produced over 8 decades. There are Billions of dollars worth of toys every year dedicated to this enduring legend.
The past 5 years, “Gotham” has aired on Fox as the latest TV version of Batman. For the first time the Batman character is not shown until the final episode which just aired a few weeks ago.
Focusing on the anarchy of a city wracked by serial crime and a crimefighter named James Gordon. The origins of the classic villains are depicted. Penguin, Riddler, and Selena Kyle (Catwoman) are present during the entire series. The origins of The Joker, Mad Hatter, Mr. Freeze, and Bane are depicted.
The noir series was so dark I had to watch with the lights off to see it! There was a viewer discretion bumper at the beginning of every episode. The stylized violence was still the most graphic I have ever seen on a network show. The times did indeed change a lot.
No matter how the fortunes have changed for this enduring character in recent times there will most certainly be many more adventures written and performed in the next 80 years.
Warner Bros. announced a new feature film, “The Batman”, to premiere in 2021. Robert Pattinson (Twilight) will become the youngest actor to play the Dark Knight.