Forty Years Of Power Converters, Jawas, Grand Moffs, And Greedo

Star Wars celebrates 40 years of escapism, influence, and cultural currency today. The founding chapter of this now colossal property was released May 25, 1977, across a pittance of screens. Popularity ignited like a house on fire and before anyone could blink this thing was obliterating contemporaries like A Tale of Two Critters, Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo, and Viva Knievel!. Only Smokey And The Bandit gave Star Wars any kind of run for its money, and there’s still a gap of about $180 million in domestic gross between the two. Burt Reynolds just couldn’t charm his way around Chewbacca.

There’s a documentary feel to the 1977 Star Wars which helps it resonate deeply, a framing where the audience isn’t following narrative but observing environment; the awkward broth of fantasy exposition is dismissed and we’re allow us to ferret out details as we witness events in these alien realms. This is especially true of desert planet scenes where the robots fumble along, get swooped up by the junk dealers, and are unceremoniously dumped into Luke Skywalker’s life. This fly-on-the-wall style counters so many other sci-fi films that desperately want to impress upon you their grandiose, mythical nature. Star Wars just drops you in there and lets many fantastical moments unfold nonchalantly, because these characters see lasers and blue milk every day.

Pivoting on that point, one of the best decisions George Lucas ever made was to insist this beginning Star Wars is actually the fourth installment of a who-knows-how-long saga. That let our imaginations go purple trying to fill in the priors. As incredible as the visuals and characters in Star Wars are, they suggest much more with that context. On the other side of the ewok, one of the dumbest decisions George Lucas ever made was giving in to temptation and actually filming the first three chapters, bluntly extinguishing the dreams we spun for ourselves across several decades.

Star Wars numbers four and five came before one, two, and three; there are probably those who also believe the immediate sequels—1980’s The Empire Strikes Back and 1983’s Return of The Jedi—should have never been made, allowing the 1977 film to remain the purest of entities. Foolish mortals! Star Wars made so much fucking money it was never going to be singular. Let’s just count our blessings over the miracle of The Empire Strikes Back, that rare sequel which bests its founder in pulp, artistry, and thrill. Star Wars 6 and 7 (and Rogue One) are great too, but there’s just something about the dreamy nightmare of Empire that cannot be equaled.

Of course, Star Wars at 40 is more of a conglomerate than ever, absorbed by Disney so they can have Darth Vader roaming the halls of their luxury hotels with minimal overhead. Star Wars belongs to our entire planet but it’s a U.S. invention and there’s nothing more “American” than celebrating a successful business. So rats off to maximizing profits and creating a global brand. And thanks for being so lenient with the fans who have restored and distributed the theatrical versions of the ’77 movie and its two sequels; this must be an admission of guilt or disagreement regarding “the vision” George Lucas suddenly decided he had for the original trilogy in 1997.

What else is there to say? Nanu nanu, put more Greedos in Star Wars 8.

No Recess!: The (Online) (Music) Magazine (Pic Unrelated)

A few very esteemed colleagues and I have started a new publication dedicated to the wonders of melody and measure, recorded and otherwise, called No Recess! (it’s a more concise Nirvana reference than We Hate Ourselves And Want To Die). I’m contributing on the weekly tip. My first three joints:

a thing about ’90s grunge n’ roll band O-Matic

a thing about the scoring of various Dracula films

a thing about Paul Shaffer’s nutso solo albums

Don’t just read my junk, though, read every savory morsel of No Recess! because everyone writing for it is Actually Good™. Thanks for your interest and see you in the “well, they seemed funny when I was six” pages.

Random Photos Of Potential Interest From A.D. 2015-16

Part of a Star Wars display at the Mall of America Lego store in Bloomington, MN. There are some artistic liberties occurring here, which I encourage.

Incredibly sexual centerpiece at the Mall of America Peeps store. Should marshmallow be this arousing?

My best friend John owning it in the style of his birth city (the Bronx).

A very beautiful lake in Stockholm, Wisconsin.

I attended a wedding looking like this (and I wasn’t thrown out!).

Abandoned rubber chicken in the mailbox area of my Orlando apartment complex. Never got the full story on this sensational find.

Main entrance of Florida’s infamous Howey Mansion. I was granted exclusive access when I wrote a story about it for Orlando Weekly.

Angry mid ’90s Rolling Stone reader.

Orlando area toll plaza decorated for Halloween.

Record store regrets.

Street art spotted deep in Mexico.

Some of my roommate’s nonsense.

Some of my own nonsense.

Unsolicited Raktajino On “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”

– before you even ask, raktajino is klingon coffee; lots of beverage humor on “Deep Space Nine” since one of the main characters is a bartender

– this is the “Star Trek” that broke all the rules: instead of hurtling through the cosmos looking for adventure, “DS9’s” heroes boldly loiter on an intergalactic truck stop (one their Federation bosses consider clutch thanks to its proximity to both the universe’s first documented wormhole and a newly autonomous planet called Bajor they hope to fold into their ranks); the action is serialized, unfolding many intricate plots across numerous episodes / seasons; Gene Roddenberry’s commandment of “no interpersonal conflicts” between crew members also goes out the window, so these folks endure more realistic frictions; craziest of all, there’s money in this final frontier, proving even utopia can only spread so far before being priced out

– would you believe it all works, and works gloriously?; “Deep Space Nine” is bleaker and more cynical than the previous entries (call it “Grunge Trek”) but ultimately the characters, whatever their flaws, are being driven by the same hope and optimism that touched Kirk and Spock and Picard and that guy who merged with V’GER; it’s a potent stew that struggles not to engage; that said, in this gorn’s opinion a few bits are dopey, like the holographic lounge singer and the episode with Rumpelstiltskin

– it is strange in the early seasons to see Avery Brooks, who commands this station as Benjamin Sisko, with hair on his head and not on his face; prior to “DS9,” Brooks starred in “Spenser: For Hire” as the bald, goateed detective Hawk, and apparently there was concern audiences would think Brooks was playing Hawk in space; taking one for the team, Brooks changed his look, but had to revert when he felt the change was affecting his performance; Sisko is definitely more commanding with the tight facial scruff and shiny pate

– they could have made Benjamin Sisko’s son Jake a typical brooding teen who resents his father for trapping him on this floating gas station (mom is deceased, killed in a borg attack) but instead he’s refreshingly upbeat and supportive of his old man; he’s also one of the few characters who can pull off the 24th Century fashion of an earth tone vest over a purple jumpsuit

– some of the major antagonists on “DS9” are these grey, neck-heavy aliens called cardassians but there aren’t very many parallels between them and the Kardashians (aside from the basic “ooh these people drive me nuts but I can’t stop paying attention to their exploits!”)

– if anybody knows anything about this show it’s ferengi bartender Quark, who looks like an elephant leprechaun hybrid possessed by the devil; Quark is absolutely possessed by the quest for profit, as are most if not all Ferengis, and he refuses to grant any human the respect of having their species name pronounced correctly (“HEW-mahns,” he insists), but you’d be surprised how often a sense of morality interrupts his naked thirst for money (excuse me—latinum, the official currency of ferengi)

– if anybody knows anything else about this show it’s the episode where our Deep Space Niners go back in time and board the Kirk / Spock Enterprise via the computer technology made famous by Forest Gump; “DS9” should have won a shit ton of awards for special effects on this one because the way they cut these people into the “Trek ’66” episode is so much more seamless than what’s in Gump (it even fooled some people working on the show, they say); furthermore, it isn’t some throwaway entry in the founding “Trek” series they enter but the friggin’ tribble episode—can you imagine if “Deep Space Nine” had screwed the pooch on that one?

– Terry Farrell, who plays a character on “DS9” that is carrying a 300 year old symbiote in her belly that fuses her personality with all the personalities of its previous hosts, left the program after several years to join “Becker”; this is the all-consuming power of Ted Danson, truly the borg of our universe

– “DS9’s” later seasons are consumed by a war that breaks out between the Federation and these brand new aliens from the other side of the wormhole who want to control the universe; a lot of interesting religious stuff comes into play as several other alien races perceive the new aliens to be infallible gods while the bajorans ramp up their faith in Benjamin Sisko, who they believe is an “emissary” sent by their own gods to deliver them from evil; like any other war, this thing’s got espionage, double crossing, triple crossing, breakdowns in the chain of command, and klingons beating the hell out of each other

– also in the later seasons, Jeffrey Combs turns up at this figurehead who is like the nefarious and withering precursor to Rob Lowe on “Parks & Rec”

– since this is “Star Trek” there are of course a few episodes where the crew visit 20th Century Earth and cannot figure out what the hell is going on; as tired as this trope is within “Star Trek” it is never not entertaining

– the “DS9” series finale could be firmer in its second half but once the dust settles one could argue the narrative is open for reprisal (don’t we deserve a feature film where Avery Brooks is givin’ it to some Cardassians for 90 min?)

– yes, Iggy Pop is in one episode playing an alien and he is fuckin’ good

Unsolicited Whammy Barrin’ On The Decline Of Western Civilization II: The Metal Years

– yes, this celebrated 1988 rock-umentary boasts several manufactured scenarios, but so does the first (and ostensibly more authentic) Decline of Western Civilization from 1980; in fact, the breakfast Ozzy “cooks” in this chapter is a callback to the breakfast Darby Crash “cooks” in part one

– no, Guns N’ Roses do not appear in Decline II, and while I’m sure they’d like us to believe they were just trying to set themselves apart and/or avoid chagrin let’s not forget this same year they decided to portray Jim Carrey’s backup band in The Dead Pool; I’d call that a draw

– hard rock figureheads like Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Bret Michaels, and Dave Mustaine have become so calcified in their personas (human zebra, sexy Easter Island statue, sexy Botox disaster, and self-defeating chemtrail truther, respectively) that it is easy to forget they were once real people; how endearing to watch Tyler and Perry, a year or so after Aerosmith’s comeback, aware and appreciative of this second act, expressing genuine humility (Tyler mostly targets himself when cracking corny jokes, all of which are followed by an embarrassed chuckle; when asked if Aerosmith reunited for money, Perry can’t say yes quickly enough); same for Bret Michaels, here oozing the kind of jittery enthusiasm you’d expect from a rookie Scientologist

– on the other side of this grime-laden coin are Alice Cooper and Lemmy from Motörhead, evergreen / even-keeled icons who never underwent any bizarre metamorphoses; this is because, one would assume, their art is so impenetrable and they know it (you’d be confident too if you authored all six thousand of those Motörhead albums); what’s the most embarrassing thing Alice Cooper’s ever done, praise Green Day? Meanwhile, you could fill two museums with every dubious move Dave Mustaine’s made over the years

– Chris Hemsworth could play Chris Holmes in a W.A.S.P. biopic

– Margot Kidder could play the one guitarist in a Faster Pussycat biopic

– the Chris Holmes bits in Decline II aren’t as worrysome as they used to be because Holmes has yet to allow alcoholism or anything else defeat him (at least in terms of being above ground); far more depressing are the endless anonymous interviewees barely in their twenties who are convinced they’re gonna make it as heavy metal stars—where these kids are today, no one knows, but I don’t recognize a single one from even the more obscure articles what’s-his-face tacked up on Metal Sludge

– the scene where Odin singer Randy O. Roberg admits he’ll kill himself if his band isn’t successful is the hardest to watch, mostly because this declaration is made as Roberg luxuriates in a hot tub surrounded by adoring women; the girls’ expressions go sour while the singer remains ardent; I hate to suggest an amateur rocker may have been talkin’ dog shit while several beers deep in a hot tub, but (spoiler alert) Randy O. Roberg is still alive

– speaking of using women as props, Kiss clown Paul Stanley looks like he’s trying extremely hard not to laugh every time they cut to him in bed caught in a triangle of gaga-eyed blondes; at another point, Ozzy refers to Kiss as the ultimate in theater, and though he was talking about their stage show by now we all know Kiss is never really offstage

– the je nois se quoi of punk rock outlined in Decline I is only present here during the Megadeth concert footage where carefree stage divers routinely take flight and bassist David Ellefson uses an instrument decorated with a Dead Kennedys sticker; of course, Megadeth incinerated their punk cred around this time by recording that awful epileptic take on “Anarchy in The U.K.”; thank god Rust in Peace was just around the corner

– Riki Rachtman is in this thing and he is deliciously obnoxious

Big Frost Country: A Pictorial Jog Through A Bit Of Montana

Montana in February? You better believe I did it. Some friends of mine work at a ranch out there. I wanted to investigate this cowboy way and luxuriate in frozen solitude. Here now, pics from that jaunt plus requisite commentary.

About 90 minutes southeast of Missoula, near a place called Philipsburg. A town without pity? A town with dumpsters, at least.

The coziness and aural calm of Missoula International makes it more like a library with a runway. It was difficult to capture the true essence of the items they keep on display (not pictured: a turkey with impressive plumage).

Portion of a “wall of fame” that hangs in an enormous sporting goods store, the kind that offers socks thicker than any winter coat in New York and also those weird camouflage nets that make hunters look like moving shrubbery.

Here I am snowshoeing my way around the base of a mountain. Even with the aid of such equipment and time to adjust to Montana’s altitude I remained no terrain climbing superstar. Still, it was fun.

The sun makes a rare appearance. Temperatures bounced between 17 and 40 fahrenheit, the latter considered “pretty warm” by locals.

Philipsburg is quite small—they have no McDonald’s, they have no Holiday Inn—but they do offer a few modern comforts. Yes, they also have a pizzeria, one that doubles as a laundromat. I didn’t taste any soap on my pie.

Big broc country. The farm-to-table situation in Montana is so intense they’re practically just tossing it from the field onto your plate.

There’s plenty of cool junk to do in the Treasure State, like hike or ski or fish or sit in a cabin and write and hope Kathy Bates doesn’t break your legs, but it’s also neat to just drive around and take in that big sky.

I Finished Brave Punk World

The manuscript for Brave Punk World: The International Rock Underground From Alerta Roja to Z-Off was due in early January. I completed it last week. Two months seems like quite a delay when you’re working on anything, but no one would talk about Chinese Democracy in the tones that they do if it had only been sixty days late.

Three hundred and fifty-ish pages turned in, give or take. Enough pictures to keep things interesting (I hope). Of course I feel relief getting it wrapped up, but those waves are cut with streaks of “I forgot to discuss x or touch on y, and I shoulda expanded upon z.” Similar emotions materialized once my first book, This Music Leaves Stains, was in the can. Par for the course, I guess. Interestingly enough, several aspects of Stains that I view as lacking have yet to come up in critiques. Will the same hold true for this book ass book?

Got me. All I know is I worked my crank off on BPW, it’s pretty close to what I envisioned when I pitched the thing to Rowman & Littlefield, and I can’t wait for everyone to read it when it comes out in OCTOBER OF 2017.

Below, the cover.

In case you’ve been wondering, the book is divided into seven sections by region—Asia, U.S.S.R. & Eastern Bloc, Western Europe, Africa, Central & South America, North America, and Oceania.

More info later. As always, I thank you for your readership and support.