Superman is 80

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!

Super TV

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.

Super Animation

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.

Super Movies

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.

The late Christopher Reeve is my Superman.

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.

UNITED STATES – SEPTEMBER 12: LOIS & CLARK: THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN – Pilot – 9/12/93, The “Superman” story, focusing primarily on the relationship between Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent and his alter ego Superman/The Man of Steel (Dean Cain), and his fellow reporter Lois Lane (Teri Hatcher), continued in this 1993-97 ABC series. In the two-part pilot, the reporters worked on a story about the space program being hijacked., (Photo by Bob D’Amico/ABC via Getty Images)

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.

Super Culture

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.

Thanks for Reading!

Zappa The…

strange or extraordinary character ODDFANTASTIC

synonyms for weird

Synonyms: Adjective

bizarrebizarrocrankycrazycuriouseccentricerraticfar-outfunkyfunnykinky, kooky (also kookie), oddoff-kilter,  offbeat, , outlandish, outrépeculiarquaintqueerqueerishquirkyremarkablescrewyspaced-outstrangewacky , way-outweirdowild.

The above comes from the Merriam—Webster dictionary definition of Weird. For myself this was the word that always popped into my head when I thought about Frank Zappa. Not surprising that a single word could then be translated in many colorful ways. Much like the sonic experiments Mr. Zappa created, his listeners would receive a bounty that would never get exhausted.

This entry is happening now because on Friday May 31, 2019 for the first time on vinyl since 1976 comes a re-issue of “Zappa In New York” on 3 Lps. Recorded during a 4 show stint at The Palladium in New York City. Originally a double LP, the third record is a bonus!

Before I delve into my thoughts about the work, how did it come to be?

In 1964 Frank Zappa took over leadership of the American band The Soul Giants. He renamed the band The Mothers, referring to the jazz compliment of mother for a great musician. However, their record company, Verve Records , objected to the insinuation (i.e., “motherfuckers”) and by necessity Zappa had to change the name, creating (and defining) The Mothers Of Invention.

Necessity is the mother of invention” is an English-language proverb. It means, roughly, that the primary driving force for most new inventions is a need.

Mr. Zappa’s need drove him to create music that would provide new pathways for musicians and listeners.

As a music lover I am relieved that my appreciation of his work comes after my obsessions with mainstream groups. Music is exploratory by nature. As a listener I need to be challenged. Following the former years of passive media consumption I want to be more actively engaged. Music does this for me. But like many of my fellow countrymen I listened to what was put before me, not what I actually made an effort to get. In an age where over produced pop is drowning us in simplicity I need complexity.

Now, in this age of information, the legacy of his vast body of work can be understood as a rigorous expression of subjects Mr. Zappa cared deeply about. Nothing to do with easy access or top 40 popularity. This music is label free. Fusion is the word used to describe what is the core of his output. He puts styles together to form a new sound.

Remaining outside the mainstream culture of mass consumer popularity Mr. Zappa is being reached for the first time by people like myself who remained in a fractured mindset. Applying self-made restrictions on what to hear or think about prevented finding this revolutionary sound.

Tellingly, Mr. Zappa spoke openly about the damaging effects of television that enable a crippling passivity. People become narrow and confused, bogged down in just one form of expression. Taught to consume without much thought. Creativity becomes necessity in such a culture. In his lifetime he released 60 albums of original work. The Zappa Family Trust, since his death in 1993, has put out 62 more works.

For a complete list of the 112 studio albums and 40 tribute albums use this link:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Zappa_discography

Even back in the late 1960s the idea of free thought was constrained by profit. His albums beginning with the debut, “Freak Out!”, sought to obliterate this filter. Without a filter he put out a record titled, “We’re Only In It For The Money”, with cover art that mocked the lionized “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”. The rock era is filled to overflowing with artists that sought nothing more than commercial acceptance. Nothing wrong with it. There is more to art than just profit.

I admit that my first impression of him was typical of a kid too young to understand anything more than top 40 drivel. Here was a guy with looks I found peculiar playing music that had sounds I could not readily decipher or pigeonhole. My prejudices were taught. Today there are more people with Zappa’s looks of otherness. I think this is encouraging. He brought humor into forms considered serious like jazz and blues.

Way-out experiments are not the commercial fruit bearing endeavors record companies want from their talent. Frank Zappa did it because there was within him a strong need to invent sounds that could not exist otherwise. He sought out musicians that could play this no boundaries music.

On YouTube there are several hours worth of interviews from different countries and years. His opinions were direct, smart, and well thought out. Knowing full well that America’s self-deception was the thing hurting the nation from era to era, Zappa spoke about our deep backwardness regarding sexuality and free expression.

“The American dream is to always be young, always be rich, and always be cute”— Frank Zappa

Sexuality was the pressing issue. He felt strongly that sex is as natural a function as going to the bathroom. In American culture many are taught to repress sexual expression. Look at what the result of this has been. Zappa did not believe in pornography or dirty words. Filters like religion and television have done damage in dictating that there is something wrong with sex. Notice how absent most expressions of sexuality are from our media. He recognized most license holders in television are right-wing.

I admire his tenacity when expressing these things. I agree with a lot of it. To fix the economy he stated that churches should be taxed. Then legalize prostitution and drugs. Both should be highly taxed and regulated. Make sure our politicians get what they need, especially sex.

Everyone in the country would have better jobs because America would be manufacturing goods. The economy would then be quite strong. And stop overfunding the military. I think this is why so many wanted him to run for President during the 1980s. Boldly put, do you really want sexually repressed people in places of power?

Speaking of power nobody was more aware of television’s deliberate consumer mission: to sell products. His 1978 appearance on Saturday Night Live was my first exposure to his music and personality. “Dancin’ Fool” was the catchy number I remember most. Re-watching it I discovered how relevant the other two pieces were in presenting his ideas. Click here to see it: https://youtu.be/PGWE7t3qO1I

Actually, after seeing it again now as an adult I think of Frank Zappa on the simple level of a George Carlin type with musical talent. Intellectual, probing, and skeptical of what we as a society think culture should be.

Mr. Zappa was a champion of First Amendment rights. In the 1980s when the Parent’s Music Resource Center, a group made up of politician’s wifes including Tipper Gore tried to censor rock music, Mr. Zappa testified before Congress. He defended the rights of all. He knew an attack on any form of music was an attack on him as well.

I think he would find the current state of things typical. We are still fighting over race, sexuality, gender, censorship, and inequality. The continuing legalization of marijuana would be progress, slow, but a forward step he might have been happy to see. Just imagine the Zappa response to ‘reality’ TV and ‘social’ media that do the opposite of what they pretend to be. Zappa was quite real and social. A real mother.

Searing instrumentals.
“Hot Rats” is a must listen. The second solo album.
Don Van Viliet (Captain Beefheart) featured on the only vocal track, “Willie The Pimp”.
The 112th release in the ever expanding Zappa Catalog.

Details of the 40th Anniversary release of Zappa In New York set (seen above) are here:

https://www.zappa.com/news/frank-zappas-beloved-live-double-album-zappa-new-york-celebrated-suite-40th-anniversary

In April a new concert experience played 9 sold out dates in America. A hologram of Frank Zappa performs alongside 6 musicians. The European dates are coming up.

According to Mr. Zappa’s family he hoped there would be a hologram tour after his life.

Getting back to how I started this entry. Can we define Zappa? I think we cannot. Fluidity is the main thing in art. Zappa the musician. That’s enough for me.

I have started listening from the beginning with the first 4 albums by The Mothers Of Invention. The first two solo albums were added too.

There may be more entries about Frank Zappa in the future. Although I still need to write about the albums and artists that were at the core of my love of music, the boundaries are ever expanding. The gate is always open.

June is Pride Month.

Coming Up: Stonewall At 50.

Thakn you for reading and following Evan’s Gate!

Evan’s Gate/For The Misfits

A picture of yours truly at the TimeWarner Center in New York. 
An exhibit of Maurice Sendak’s art for auction at Southeby’s.

Introducing my blog.

Following 13 entries I decided to create this formal welcome.  For everyone who has ever felt like a misfit.  Perhaps you are living in a part of the country that puts you in the political minority;  you dress differently than what is proscribed; you love music that hardly ever touches the mainstream;  you read a lot;  history is not your story.

I was born in Manhattan in the 1960’s.  My parents are college educated lifelong New Yorkers.  They are still married.  All four of their children including myself were never left wanting.  We are all adults now.  We were middle class.  Our parents were never out of work.  We never went hungry.  Each kid was made to feel loved every day.  I have 2 older brothers and one younger sister.  Raised in The Bronx.  The neighborhood was quite suburban as it was the northernmost part of the city bordered by one of the largest parks. 

We had our struggles.  Politics, music, books, art, and history were all a part of life.  This was not an elite way of life.  A big city has many more resources at its disposal to educate people.  Of course when you are a kid you cannot fully appreciate what it all means.  Then you grow up.  Every day you have more joy than sorrow because you have critical thinking skills that will see you through.

Today we have technology.  If you can write and think critically about a variety of topics and ideas you can blog.

My education was not easy.  Kindergarten through grade 12 in public schools that became increasingly too crowded did not help.  Early exposure to college was great.  I moved away from home for the first time. I was eighteen when I entered college.  My graduation did not happen until decades later.  The politics of the times was not to my liking so I dropped out.  When I did graduate college I was an adult.  My degree was in media studies.  This is my credential for writing about topics ranging from our current media age problems to our political turmoil.  My undying passion for heavy music stems from my dislike of the system.

I am a misfit.  Being gay does not put you into the mainstream.  Things are way better today.  But multitudes of people sacrificed a lot to make it happen.  People who do not fit neatly into the schemes of others are championed here.

Heavy metal music, LGBTQ life, mutlicultural politics, banned books, art, and critiques of our all too powerful media companies are all a  part of this blog.  I love discussing these things.  This is my outlet for protest and greater understanding.  

I hope you will enjoy reading and responding here!  We may be misfits to the outside but here we all fit together.