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The Artist Formerly Known As

To say anything else may be exceptionally unnecessary. And yet…

It was only a few years ago that I began digging into the Prince catalog. I purposely started with The Black Album, my reasoning being, I know the hits, I know Prince can orchestrate pop perfection, let’s see what it’s like when this guy is stumbling. Prince suppressed Black for nearly a decade because he felt dissatisfaction with it (one rumor suggests a bad ecstasy trip convinced him the album projects too much evil). Yes, I often begin my journey into legendary bodies via a most dubious property. What can I tell you? I’m American, I’m obsessed with failure.

My immediate reaction to The Black Album: if this is Prince at his worst, sign me up. Sections of Black’s malcontent electro funk are misguided, sure, but as with all his work, Prince commits with such totality (even to utter silliness) you can’t deny the sale. You remain absorbed and ultimately feted.

Now The Love Symbol Album and The Gold Experience are go-tos. Bold, decadent, liberating, rich with flavor. I also spend a lot of time getting lost in the grooves and hymnals of Chaos & Disorder. Sign O’ The Times? That thing is a best of / greatest hits unto itself. And of course, the one Prince album I paid close attention to at the time of its release, Batman.

I want to say I understand people who dog the Batman album but I actually don’t. Prince captures the glamor, the restlessness, and the bankruptcy of Gotham City. The music freezes, it bleeds, it works both within and outside the motion picture’s context. I can’t comprehend why “Partyman” and “Trust” aren’t FM radio staples. The balladry avoids being overwrought. What a thrill to have it all culminate in the white knuckle lunacy of “Batdance.”

“Batdance” is on this Warhol level, a gleeful vandalism of Neal Hefti’s 1960s theme, a schizophrenic pastiche of Burton’s film driven by fascist percussion, indiscriminate keyboards, searing guitar, and direct dialogue samples. It’s jarring and insane but again, Prince commits. That’s why the song reached #1; the Artist’s dedication willed this cacophony into something incredible.

It feels strange to comment on all the risks Prince took in his career, if only because he possessed the celestial wizardry to more or less conquer them all. Is there another human being who could have successfully changed their enormously bankable and recognizable name to a singular character of their own invention with no known (or offered) pronunciation? Ricky Shroder has spent decades trying in vain to make people drop the “y.” If he had adopted a symbol we would have sent him to live on the international space station.

Thanks for the fifty-seven years, Prince. You will never be equaled.

Help Make My Next Book Better

Perhaps you know I am currently working on a book that will explore punk rock’s development in Europe, Asia, South America, and other corners of the planet that aren’t the U.S. & U.K. Research can get expensive and obviously I’d like to make the thing as boss as possible so when Rowman & Littlefield put it on shelves in October of 2017 you can look at it and say, “Goddamn! That’s a proper book.” So look deep in your heart and possibly your couch cushions and consider donating to the associated campaign:

International Punk Tome Research Fund

Thank you for your consideration, however fleeting. Here now, apropos of nothing, is a photo of Bruce Willis in a bunny costume.

Notable Remarks Spoken To Or Near Me By Record Store Clerks

“Yeah, well, you’re either on drugs or fuckin’ crazy if you think Hate Your Friends is the best Lemonheads album.”

“You gotta hear this cover of ‘Strutter’ by the Donnas. It’s really respectful to Kiss’s original vision and the guitarist, she just nails Ace’s solo!”

“That’s so disrespectful, man. Helloween’s not hair metal. Hair metal is, like, Vince Neil, Mötley Crüe.”

“Before Wheels of Fire came out I dreamt that Cream would release a double album with a silver cover. And then they did! Can you believe that?”

“Hey, I know you’re into all that Touch & Go shit. You know, whatever, I just wanna know where to start with all that fucking shit.”

“Mudnohey, huh? How do you think they feel about you buying their record?”

Bricks Are Heavy? Pfft, you can have my copy. Let me go home and get it.”

“I know you’re only like ten or eleven but you have to learn what the real world is like. I can’t sell you this Van Halen cassette because you have most of the money. I need all of the money.”

“Oh great, that dog snuck in here and shit near the register again.”

“I’m gonna open this Nashville Pussy CD and put it on the shelf uncensored and I’m gonna blame you so I don’t get fired. Because I don’t like you.”

“This kid just stole a Master P CD and it’s like, I don’t mind except that Master P sucks. If you’re gonna steal something, steal something good.”

On Shandling

Garry Shandling was an innovator who turned a lot of comedy on its ear, but what’s more important to me is the raw, sometimes ugly emotional core of his humor. Fraying anxiety, sizzling jealousy, swampy deposits of depression—all served with flashes of that famous mile-wide grin. We hear Garry could be quite impassioned offstage, in the best and worst senses of that phrase, and that’s no surprise. It’s the nucleus of his work.

I was under ten when “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” was airing, and even though it was difficult to understand what I was watching, I loved tuning in because it was so different. Here’s this quote-unquote sitcom where every plot device and character takes a backseat to Garry’s ongoing conversation with the viewer, a conversation that is basically just, “Wow, look at my show, isn’t it strange?” It’s a minimalist, neurotic “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.” What if your neighbor thought he was on tv all the time but refused to play it up? What if he talked about it like the weather or a bake sale?

Later we got “The Larry Sanders Show,” a transcendent entry, a masterclass of meta comedy streaked with pathos. Garry won an Emmy Award for writing on “Sanders” but he should have received an additional one for acting. When he really wanted to, the guy could get it all into one glance or wordless aside.

Garry pops up in some of the Marvel movies, and that’s deeply satisfying. An entire generation will only know Shandling as the Senator giving Tony Stark what for in Iron Man 2, the same government creep who appears in Captain America 2. I have to admit I was waiting for him to turn to the camera in both films to say, “Can you believe this? Me, a Senator? I know, but listen, there’s some good stuff coming up, so don’t walk out yet.”

I’ll miss the Shand Man. Stormy genius. And funny as hell.

“My dog’s penis tastes bitter. Do you think it’s his diet?”

Unsolicited Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Review

“Why you in my movie now, bro?” “I just am, bro. Deal with it.”

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Starring: Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg
Directed by Zack Snyder
2016

2013’s Man of Steel establishes a Superman who is profoundly uncertain of himself and his place on this alien planet. Is he a savior? Is he a threat? His parents don’t know what to tell him (raising a normal kid is hard enough—imagine if your child is bulletproof and can fly). The defining battle arrives and though he does come out on top there’s no questioning that Superman makes a handful of serious mistakes. This set the stage for a potentially excellent sequel where the Last Son of Krypton could work through his identity issues that are now also issues for the world at large.

Batman v Superman tries to get to the heart of all this, but as the title implies Superman (Henry Cavill) is now sharing the marquee with another financially solvent comic book hero. Shoehorning the Dark Knight into Man of Steel 2 is a cheap move that cripples our favorite Kryptonian’s character development, but this Batman (Ben Affleck) proves an interesting personality contrast in the sense that he is not lacking in confidence. Fearless, undaunted, occasionally brash, Gotham’s rogue has an answer for everything. Unfortunately, he’s also totally fried from twenty years on the prowl and not in good headspace to be entering a “Superman: friend or foe?” debate with the exile himself.

Ben Affleck, by the way, succeeds as Batman because it is easy to believe Ben Affleck would go fucking crazy if he had to be Batman for any amount of time in real life. He’s barely handling the terrible reviews this film is getting, can you imagine if he had to hide the Batmobile every night?

There’s enough to work with when Batman and Superman are investigating one other, the former running back to Alfred (Jeremy Irons) each act break, the latter to Lois Lane (Amy Adams). Alas, once Batman was throw into the fray the filmmakers thought, “Why not everybody else?” So we also have Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), Lex’s cronies, the U.S. Senator trying to stop Lex (Holly Hunter), the U.S. Senator who isn’t trying to stop Lex, Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Wonder Woman’s computer, a little bit of the Flash (Ezra Miller), a little Aquaman (Jason Momoa), a dash of Cyborg (Ray Fisher), one or two characters who died in Man of Steel, and another major villain who probably should have held out for his own years-long franchise.

And yet, as overstuffed as this caped opera gets piling all these people atop one another, Batman v Superman keeps pace and manages to engross. Not everything onscreen is agreeable but nothing catapults you from the universe (not even the Neil deGrasse Tyson cameo). There’s intrigue, suspense, a few iconic visuals, and even a couple great jokes.

Going back to the self-assurance motif, Wonder Woman steals every scene she’s in because she knows exactly who she is, why she’s there, and where and how to draw the line (the thunderous musical sting she’s granted by the score doesn’t hurt either). Gadot’s buoyancy cuts through the visual pallor and makes you hope for Wonder Woman v Anybody. Actually, maybe start with Wonder Woman v Perry White. I want to see Laurence Fishburne—who plays White, boss of Lois Lane—take his delightful grump to the main event.

Similar sentiments can be extended to Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, a mincing prick you love to hate who appears closer to victory than a great deal of his cinematic predecessors. Killer wardrobe, too.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice gets just as grim and heavy as any other Zack Snyder film but the entire premise is grim and heavy: two of our favorite superheroes hatin’ on each other like a couple of goddamn haters. In order to make it anywhere near plausible you have to saddle these guys with handicaps of disquiet, fear, exhaustion, and recurring nightmares. If this isn’t your flavor of choice, don’t worry—depending on the way you count, BvS is the seventh Superman movie and the tenth Batman movie and there’s no way Hollywood won’t make that many more for each dude because they’re some of the most profitable folklore America has to its name.

And if all those stink, there’s always Wonder Woman.

FINAL SCORE: Three grumpy Larry Fishburnes (out of four).

Q: How Is Work Coming Along On Your Next Book?

A: Oh, you mean my book about the development of punk rock in countries outside the U.S. & U.K. that will appear in the physical realm via the Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group come October 2017? It’s going well, thank you. Obviously this is a massive and massively complex subject; I can’t imagine I’ll be sleeping much this Fall as I’m preparing the manuscript. Right now, though, it’s an utter joy to pour all my energy into absorbing music and history I’d probably be attempting to absorb in my free time anyway.

Most of the inspiration / motivation for this project stems from the fact that for years now a lot of my favorite bands have come from different corners of the globe. I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to explore the roots of those bands and countless others across this island Earth. I’m learning so much, uncovering so much fascinating art, and taking in so many great stories. I can’t wait to patch it all together for you.

Sweden’s Fega Påhopp ‎(Cowardly Attacks), who only released one single, 1980’s “Pärlor Åt Svinen” (“Pearls Before Swine”). It’s great, though. Listen.

More details when they’re ready. As always, I thank you for your support and readership. I’m not sure what I am but I wouldn’t be it without you.

The Misfits Almost Settled Their Latest Lawsuit With A Reunion

The other Jersey boys: Glenn & Jerry, 1978. Photo by Ken Caiafa.

If you think the legal skull-banging between Glenn Danzig and Jerry Only ended in August of 2014 when Judge Gary Klausner threw out Danzig’s lawsuit against Only for breach of contract, think again. Danzig amended his complaint and the case over who owns the logos and trademarks pertaining to the Misfits drags on; opening briefs related to Danzig’s most recent appeal of a summary judgment Only won in April 2015 are being filed this month.

And yet, in an incredible shock, this entire affair was nearly settled over the winter holiday of 2014 by having Danzig rejoin the Misfits. That December, Danzig’s attorney suggested his client (who dissolved the group in 1983 after a six year run) and the defendant (who reformed the Misfits without Danzig in 1995) agree to a certain amount of reunion concerts, split the profits, split all future revenue from the disputed trademarks, and consider entering a new licensing agreement together with a major merchandiser. Only was receptive, so negotiations began for the first Misfits shows with Danzig in thirty years.

A proposed 60/40 reunion profit split in Danzig’s favor was leveled to 50/50. A ten date concert tour shrank down to six—but “at least one” reunion album was added. All other participating Misfits, no matter what their stature, were to be treated as “paid employees.” In response to Only’s demand for built-in protections to ensure Danzig would actually follow through with these gigs, Danzig’s attorney wrote, “I really don’t think this will be an issue as Danzig wants to do the reunion shows” (a $250k penalty was put in place should either party fail to complete the reunion obligations).

Initially Danzig envisioned the reunion happening in 2017 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Misfits. Only wanted it “as soon as practicable.” Only also wasn’t fond of billing these performances as “the Original Misfits” (though no alternate name was suggested). The real breakdown, however, was over the same trademark issues that instigated Danzig’s lawsuit in the first place. Confusion as well as contention remained over who owned what and who was entitled to how much of any given piece of Misfits imagery. Specifics failed to be clarified, certain copyrights could not be identified, documents proving anything conclusively could not be produced.

The two sides went back and forth until February 10, 2015, when Danzig’s attorney ended an e-mail by saying, “it appears we are going to try this case.”

Dovetailing with that was some rigamarole over depositions each party was to give that month. Danzig felt he wasn’t given enough time to prepare for his scheduled deposition so he bailed at the last minute; meanwhile, Only and his co-defendant, Misfits manager John Cafiero, refused to commit to any deposition date or agreement. On April 15, the defendants were awarded their summary judgment because Danzig had provided no evidence of the pre-existing business relations that Only is alleged to have sabotaged with his fraudulent ownership and representation of Misfits trademarks. Danzig also could not prove “lost economic advantage” from Only’s activities, nor could he outline “triable facts” concerning Only misrepresenting the famed Misfits skull logo (a.k.a. the Fiend Skull, a.k.a. the Crimson Ghost).

The information above is sourced from a forest of court documents that are available to anyone via Pacer.gov and probably a few other less bullshitty legal repositories (Bortz Law first posted excerpts from said documents on their blog in October 2015; for whatever reason, Bortz’s post didn’t reach fiends until very recently). The case is Glenn Danzig v. Gerald Caiafa et al in the California Central District and at this point it could be a book unto itself. There’s a great subplot that debates whether or not Danzig performing a Misfits song in any context constitutes a performance by the Misfits.

If I hadn’t seen it all in PDF form myself I wouldn’t believe it. The American judicial system almost returned to us the Original Recipe Misfits. Concerts are one thing, but I can’t stop thinking about the reunion album. What in the hell would that be like? What could they call it? Settlement A.D.?

Parties Agree Not To Disparage Each Other Publicly, that would be a good title. It’s my favorite of all the terms they reached for this proposed reunion.

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