Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Desperate for Divinyls: "Siren (Never Let You Go)"

Image credit: Tony Mott

This 1984 performance of "Siren (Never Let You Go)" by Divinyls is pure electricity, an audio-visual blast of kinetic energy straight to the heart. Play it loud and I bet it could revive the dead. Chrissy Amphlett is a dynamo here, stalking the stage, dumping a pitcher of water over her head, attacking the mic stand with a wild ferocity, shouting and spitting out the lyrics with frightening intensity. It's cliche to say this, but it fits: she's a force of nature, a tornado ripping across the stage and about to level the entire building. Pure charisma. Raw power.


The studio version of the song is itself enormously powerful, but in a live setting like this, it reaches even greater heights, providing one crescendo after another, until you're completely drained by song's end but loving every bit of that exhaustion. Chrissy and the band have absolutely pummeled you with their supersonic barrage, from the first note to the last.

While Bjarne Ohlin sings the opening verse, Chrissy prowls the stage, seemingly psyching herself up for battle, her power and radiance building to near-explosive levels. Then, after dousing herself, she drops the pitcher and bolts for the mic, tearing into the song, all in one quick burst of fluid motion. She proclaims that she could not forget you—you did it with your voodoo!—and declaring, even threatening, that she's never letting you go. She's dialed up to eleven, her performance never losing any heat or potency as she propels the song forward through sheer force of will.

If you ever find yourself tasked with explaining to someone exactly why Chrissy was such a remarkable talent, truly a once-in-a-lifetime performer, show them this live footage. Let "Siren" educate the uninitiated and usher them into lifelong fandom. There's no doubt that it will do just that; you simply cannot watch and listen to this song and walk away from it anything less than altered for life. It's the power of music, fully unleashed, captured in one electrified, propulsive three-minute blast of frenzied rock fury. And Chrissy is the engine making it all go. She strangles both the mic and the song to within an inch of each's life. She sings of voodoo, of never letting you go, and of never forgetting you. In reality it's her voodoo working its magic on you, and you most certainly will never let go of or forget her. Never. Can't forget her.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Barely Making a Dent: June 2017 Books


In which our narrator tries to read his way through the endless stacks of books that are slowly overtaking both his bookshelves and his life.

If you think it's been a while since the last post in this series, you're correct. During that stretch, I finished Stephen King's It. I'm a longtime King lover, so I'm an easy mark for this one, yet so far I'm not ranking it in my top five King books. I'm fine with the excessive length (1,100 pages) if it's warranted, but at times it felt like needless meandering. Still, a terrific book, at times also terrifying and at others heartbreaking. And, um, that ending? I finished the book several weeks ago and I'm still not sure how to discuss it. You can read about the scene I'm referring to here. To say it yanked me right out of the book is an understatement. I'm no prude, but even I was disturbed by it. It's not only distasteful but also feels like a narrative leap that comes out of nowhere. It's ludicrous and just plain nonsensical, really. I have a feeling that King wouldn't write the scene in the same way if he were to write the book today. All in all, though. It was a solid King story, but a notch below some of his best work, which includes The Shining, 'Salem's Lot, The Stand, and the Dark Tower series. Really glad I finally read it because it's felt like a huge hole in my personal reading list for decades.

Somehow I've managed to read the following while reading It and since reading It.

Recently read

Blondie Unseen 1976-1980, photos by Roberta Bayley. Simply stunning photographs, on stage and off, of Debbie Harry and Blondie at their absolute peak. It proves what I've always known: Harry simply does not take a bad picture, ever. Hoping to write more about this one soon; stay tuned.

South and West, by Joan Didion. After the mammoth It, it was nice to kick back with a small, 120+ page collection of Didion's notes on her home state of California and her travels through the south in 1970. Didion is a personal favorite, so I cherish any chance I find to read her work, even her unfinished notes from four decades ago. They may be raw but they still manage to create an impressively cohesive book. Didion is one of our finest chroniclers of this increasingly strange late-twentieth/early-twenty-first century American experience, and all of the emotional turmoil inherent in that. Here's an example of how she drills right down to the heart of things, finding ways to express feelings so many of us continue to feel today, in 2017:
“It occurred to me almost constantly in the South that had I lived there I would have been an eccentric and full of anger, and I wondered what form the anger would have taken. Would I have taken up causes, or would I have simply knifed somebody?”
The Many Lives of Catwoman, by Tim Hanley. This was a review copy and I'm currently working on an interview with the author for Sequart; stay tuned.


The Caped Crusade, by Glen Weldon. I reviewed this one a few weeks back. I can't gush enough about Weldon's work so I'll just say this: if you're a nerd, buy this book. If you're a Batman nerd, rush right out this instant and buy this book. It's one of the most insightful examinations of nerd culture ever written. Plus Weldon is hilarious, so the book is always a rollicking good time. And with Adam West's recent passing, it also serves as a fine remembrance of what made his particular take on Batman so lasting for fans.
Quintessential Chaykin: guns, femme fatales, and action

Currently reading


A whole lot of Wonder Woman comics. You might have heard there's this little movie out now that's doing gangbusters with critics and fans alike. My daughter is turning into an enormous Wonder Woman fan, which is only ratcheting up my already-strong appreciation for the character. I know this post is about books, but I implore you to go see the movie, and if you're already seen it, see it again. I've seen it twice and my admiration has only grown for what Patty Jenkins, Gal Gadot, and crew did with this film.

Howard Chaykin: Conversations, edited by Brannon Costello. Another review copy, but one that I've had for a while now. Just getting around to it. Chaykin is a fascinating writer/artist whose work has been both innovative and controversial for decades, including a recent example of the latter. He's also an absurdly honest interview subject who doesn't shy away from any subject, especially when offering opinions on fellow artists, writers, editors, and the commercial art/comic book industries as a whole.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

An Appreciation: Heather Langenkamp in Wes Craven's New Nightmare


"There was no movie...there was only...her life."

All Heather wanted was to raise her son in peace and work in television. Instead, she has to confront that sick bastard Freddy. Again. Only this time outside of the safe confines of playing Nancy on a film set, and instead in the all-too vivid Hellscapes of both her dream state and her waking life. Blame it all on Wes Craven. After all, he had to purge those new nightmares—featuring everyone's favorite burnt, razor-gloved serial killer—out on the page. Dude was right though: Heather/Nancy is the key. She's the constant. She's our hero, a fierce mamma bear battling Freddy tooth and nail every step of the way for her little cub's life. Throughout, she's battered, bruised, cut, sliced, repeatedly prank-called, widowed, leered at by a creep limo driver, demeaned by an arrogant doctor, hit by a car, and repeatedly accused of being an unfit mother. Rarely has an actress faced more unrelenting horror than Heather does in Wes Craven's New Nightmare. Nevertheless, she barrels her way through it all to save her boy. A shock of grey hair suddenly appears late in the film, a constant reminder moving forward of the trauma she's endured.

Long Live Heather.


It should go without saying, but I'll say it anyway: no one in horror cinema has better hair than Ms. Langenkamp. It's lush and glorious and positively mesmerizing, practically a character unto itself. And it invites you to gaze upon the exquisite beauty of the face that it frames. She may be stunning, with hair that any Pantene model would kill for, but Heather/Nancy deserves to be celebrated as one of slasher cinema's smartest and most tenacious Final Girls. In fact, she's one of the very best. She's no victim. She's a survivor.

I repeat: Long Live Heather.

Also, when I was a young boy there were certain absolutes in life. One such truth, which I believed in with full certainty, was that Heather would make the perfect Kitty Pryde should Chris Claremont's Uncanny X-Men ever make it to film. They eventually made it to the movies, but that was years later. It's too bad Heather never got the chance to bring Kitty to life. At least we have this kick-butt performance from New Nightmare to revisit whenever we need a reminder of her greatness.

You know the drill by now: Long Live Heather.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Wonder Woman Week

Art by Nicola Scott.
With the new film is in theaters now, the internet has reached peak frenzy concerning all things Wonder Woman. And I kind of love it. I'm as giddy as Gal Gadot here in the GIF of the week.


Sequart has devoted this entire week's coverage to the character, with a series of articles exploring different facets of what makes her such an enduring icon. My contribution ran on Wednesday and can be read here. I tried to put into words why Diana represents hope for a countless number of fans; how she isn't defined by her powers or her skills in battle (although she's no slouch in either department), but instead by her endless capacity for compassion, kindness, empathy, and, ultimately, her ability to offer hope. My thesis was that she's a unique character within the world of superheroes in this regard. Honestly, I can't think of any other that comes close.


It's exciting to see the world celebrate Wonder Woman on the occasion of her first feature film. Please take some time to read all of the articles about her at Sequart this week. They're well worth your time.

Otherwise, go to your local comic book shop this weekend and celebrate the first Wonder Woman Day. Buy some of her comics and graphic novels, go see the movie. My daughter is quickly growing into a big fan, so I'm most excited to take her to the LCS so she can snag a free tiara and some other swag. The look on her face will show me all I need to know about Wonder Woman's impact on her legions of fans. It'll remind me of what I already knew, that Wonder Woman is Hope. She'll help my daughter to dream big and to find the courage to make her dreams a reality. What more could I want for her than that?

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Handle with Care


Sometimes you can't understand a song until you're the right age to really hear it. Grooving to the Traveling Wilburys' "Handle with Care" as a kid, I felt the loneliness, the wistful regret, and the tentative yet powerful sense of hope in its lyrics, but I didn't understand any of it. That would come later.

That's what happens once you live for a while: you get beaten down and battered 'round, you've been uptight and made a mess more often than you care to recall. If you're lucky, you find people you can lean on that will not only accept but also return your love. Most importantly, they'll handle you with care.

The song is such a nakedly honest declaration of loneliness, about feeling like a screw up, while reflecting on the various messes that make up a life. It's universal. Who hasn't been sent up and shot down? That's every day for most of us. We're all yearning for a way out of the loneliness, though: "I still have some love to give," and dammit if you're not adorable.

For a certain kind of delicate and overly thoughtful soul, "Handle with Care" is a manifesto: we're fragile fuck-ups, sure, but we still need love. Appreciating this song probably means you're creeping through your thirties or forties and, for the first time, feeling your own mortality; in other words, a walking cliche. Being aware of this is half the battle; it allows you to accept your connection to the song in an entirely sincere way, without any traces of irony. In doing so, you're accepting yourself, and all of those times you've been fobbed off and fooled, robbed and ridiculed. And if you're fortunate to find someone who'll lean his or her body next to yours and dream on with you, well, then all the better.




*****

Been beat up and battered 'round
Been sent up, and I've been shot down
You're the best thing that I've ever found
Handle me with care

Reputations changeable
Situations tolerable
Baby, you're adorable
Handle me with care

I'm so tired of being lonely
I still have some love to give
Won't you show me that you really care?

Everybody's got somebody to lean on
Put your body next to mine, and dream on

I've been fobbed off, and I've been fooled
I've been robbed and ridiculed
In daycare centers and night schools
Handle me with care

Been stuck in airports, terrorized
Sent to meetings, hypnotized
Overexposed, commercialized
Handle me with care

I'm so tired of being lonely
I still have some love to give
Won't you show me that you really care?

Everybody's got somebody to lean on
Put your body next to mine, and dream on

I've been uptight and made a mess
But I'll clean it up myself, I guess
Oh, the sweet smell of success
Handle me with care

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Writing Roundup: Movie and Music Reviews


I reviewed Christine (2016) recently for The After Movie Diner.

Wow. A few weeks since seeing it and I'm still processing my feelings. Even though I knew what was coming, it was still a gut-punch of epic proportions. That's because everything leading up to Christine's on-air suicide is so thoughtfully portrayed. It's a compassionately crafted film centered around one absolutely transcendent performance by Rebcecca Hall. In nearly every scene of the film, Hall is riveting, unforgettable, and heartbreaking. I haven't seen a better performance in years.

John Carpenter's classic Escape from New York is my latest Cult Classics Review at the Diner, and you can check that out here. Writing that review made me realize there are at least five Carpenter films that could each make my list of all-time top five films: Escape, Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween, The Thing, and Big Trouble in Little China. Very few filmmakers have ever equaled that quality. I sense an essay on Carpenter in my future...

Over the last month or two I also reviewed three albums for Spectrum Culture and wrote turned in my first contribution for DC in the 80s. That one's an origin story of sorts, which seemed appropriate.


The reviews run the gamut: from Imelda May's new album, to Incubus' first record in several years, and finally to a "Revisit/Rediscover" review of a band and an album I love unconditionally, Divinyls' 1983 killer full-length debut, Desperate.

You should drop everything and listen to May's new album, Live Love Flesh Blood. I had to reign in my gushing for the review, but I really wanted to gush. The album's that good. I'd like to write more about the song "Should've Been You" in particular, so look for that in this space someday.

Reading It, Part 3


It's been awhile since I've checked in here about It, but I've made my way to page 870 (less than 300 more to go!). I'd always heard that after a fast start things drag a bit in the second half; so far, that's been partly true. As a King fan, I'm more than happy to read his dialogue or narration and just get lost in his writing, which is always so immediate and forthright, but also at times reveals great depth. Even if things have gotten a bit bogged down in recent chapters—did we really need that many pages to reveal that Eddie's asthma is all in his head?—King is always able to right the ship, usually with an assist by another appearance from the ancient evil, Pennywise, which reminds us exactly how much danger lurks around every corner for these kids.

But it's the emotional beats in the relationships between the kids that's really drawn me in and made me care about them. Taking so many pages to tell their storie allows King to paint extremely rich portraits of Bev, Bill, Eddie, Mike, Ben, Stan, and Richie. They feel real, as if I grew up with them myself. My heart breaks when their innocence is continually shattered, but their resolve in the face of such horror is nothing short of inspiring.

Before I had children, reading King's work always made me both wistful to have my own and also straight-up terrified at the prospect of raising them in in this crazy world. King presents familiar stories that we've all grown up with—dysfunctional families, bullying, and first crushes—in ways that resonate deeply with us as adults. There's a nostalgia at play, but it's also because King simply nails what it's like to be a kid. His stories featuring children aren't usually lumped in with Young Adult novels, but they certainly could be. Few writers have ever gotten inside the minds of children and young adults quite like King. One more reason why the man is a national treasure.