“Space Ghost Coast to Coast” put me in absolute shock the first time I saw it. I couldn’t believe a tv show so fluently spoke to the cultural car crash in my head. A fusion of “Batman ’66” and Letterman and punk rock; a post-modern quasi-cartoon rewriting the rules of kitsch; a reverse Roger Rabbit where our dimension is the tiny portion of a surrealist animated landscape populated by exhausted and agitated characters who couldn’t give a tinker’s dam about what anyone else wants, let alone a human. A show about a retired super hero entering the late night wars with two sidekicks he’s imprisoned in his garish studio on an otherwise barren planet.
No other entertainment makes me laugh as hard as “Space Ghost.” It’s so elastic. Clever and cutting one moment, beautifully stupid and nonsensical the next. Long stretches of nothing, then dense clusters of joke upon joke upon joke, like a swarm of bees. Total reverence for a guest that quickly washes into contempt and sarcastic quips. And the full visual trip of live action celebrities being forced to interact with repurposed ’60s animation—what an addictively weird atmosphere.
An enormous piece of the show’s creative heart was animator and voice actor C. Martin Croker, who passed away last weekend. Croker brought to life the titular host’s enslaved sidekicks, band leader Zorak and producer Moltar, who as the show progresses transform from standoffish super villains into disgruntled everyman employees hilariously nonchalant in their burning hatred for Space Ghost. Zorak and Moltar savor each moment their captor stumbles and find themselves in a quiet pain when he succeeds. Naturally, these two have their own issues: Zorak is a pathological liar and cannibal while Moltar seems to be covering up an unsatisfying marriage.
How could I not be in awe of Croker? He drew this amazing show, voiced incredible foils for the main character, and his name’s stately as hell. This guy’s a legend. Everything I’ve read about him away from his work suggests he was cool, generally willing to share a laugh with admirers or do the Zorak and Moltar voices. It’s devastating that he’s gone at only 54 (cause of death currently undisclosed) but I’ll always be thankful for experiencing his talent. It affected me deeply to see that television as bizarre and lawless as “Space Ghost” could not only exist somewhere but thrive. That’s inspirational.
So thanks, Clay Martin. We’ll miss you.
And so it came to pass; Glenn Danzig and Jerry Only met between a pair of twelve foot jack-o-lanterns to belt out an hour’s worth of Misfits songs for the ultra devoted. No fistfights or lawsuits broke out onstage. Everyone seemed to be having fun, including Glenn, who is allergic to most forms of humor. In fact, at certain intervals, it sounded like this ferocious hound of hell was workshopping his standup material—and the crowd was loving it.
Part of me wants to chastise Riot Fest organizers for not offering a high quality live stream of these Misfits, something for which I and many other fiends would have paid a nominal fee. A greater part of me understands that cacophonous cell phone videos are more in keeping with the live recording legacy of this band. Even through pigeon shit fidelity you can tell the ‘Fits performed well, holding perfect tempo and pressing their fervor into the music (Glenn especially). A few clips have moved me emotionally.
The million dollar questions now: will Chicago receive a concert of similar character or will the bloom be off the skull in a couple weeks? Will there be future gigs in other cities? Will there be an album? How will all this affect eBay sales of Graves era merchandise?
Where ever you have to go next for this book, I’d like to pay. Hurry up and take the money before I die.”
So offered a very kind and arrestingly macabre family member a month ago, one who wished not to trifle with any crowdfunding business. What am I, too good for my goddamn family? I accepted and booked passage to Japan. An eye-opening and fruitful excursion followed, one that enriched not only my forthcoming book but also my friggin’ soul. Please enjoy some captioned snapshots from my journey below.
Thirteen million people live in Tokyo, so it’s a little congested (as you may gather from this morsel of skyline). Many of the city’s streets are unnamed as well, but if you’re good with landmarks you’ll have no problem getting around. And the subway isn’t that difficult to figure out. Even when it is, the staff down there are more than happy to assist the hopelessly confused. The first time I bought an incorrect ticket they knew before I did!
The four hundred fifty yen breakfast deal at Matsuya, one of Tokyo’s most beloved fast food establishments. Perfect for the language impaired tourist—punch your order in on the computer, take the ticket it prints out, sit down, give the server your ticket, BOOM, food. And tasty as all get out.
The Shibuya district at night. I don’t know if you can tell from this image but many of the crosswalks in Tokyo are at odd angles, curving and stretching diagonally as if to anticipate jaywalking patterns. Pretty clever.
Poorly translated bootleg apparel is a cottage industry in Japan and they’re laughing all the way to the bank. Not even the Bortles are safe.
Physical media isn’t dead in every corner of the globe. To wit: the eight story Tower Records in Shibuya, an unreal monument to music and consumerism. Yes, they have the new BabyMetal. They have an entire floor for J-Pop (and one for K-Pop, and one with a book store / restaurant).
A tribute to fallen Megadeth drummer Nick Menza on the Western Rock floor of the eight story Tower Records. I tried to have a moment of quiet reflection but there were approximately five stereos within two feet of this display and they were all playing different things. There’s some noise pollution in Tokyo.
A fresh burger from Freshness Burger. That’s egg and chili on that bad boy (at least that’s what I think it was). No fries, or “potato” as they like to call it. Gotta cut back somewhere. Freshness Burger is reasonably priced but many an item or service in Tokyo is not. New Yorkers will feel at home.
Here’s what happens when you attempt to photograph an exclusive event occurring in / around the Harajuku area’s Tamagotchi store—an employee of the store will give you the big “no” while a cop tries to decide whether or not to yell at you. They were firm but polite. Those folks crowded around the window, they showed up so early—don’t cheapen their experience!
This is the interior of a Disk Union, a record store chain that has twenty or so locations around Tokyo. Every one I visited was crammed with stock just like this. Found lotsa rare greatness here but the favorite record shop I visited is Recofan (which is just one outlet in a mall) only because it has the largest, most varied (and cheapest) used section.
Some concepts are universal, like fishing programs on Saturday morning television. This woman was very excited to have caught her little buddy here. Later that day I watched a dubbed version of The Rocketeer. That film may have been a bigger hit Stateside had they sold it as a Japanese property.
I cannot lie: I ate at KFC in Japan. The chicken is prepared for an Eastern palette. It’s lighter, thinner, less “down home” (in the parlance of U.S. comfort food). Still plenty of grease, though. Yes, this particular location has an actual bar. You need a craft beer with your biscuits and gravy?
I don’t know what this is all about. I guess you can live out all your Nintendo fantasies in Tokyo, even as Captain America and Cookie Monster.
All the excitement of Doritos without the excitement! This is good place to mention if you’re out in Tokyo and you need help or directions, the average Japanese citizen would love to assist you but conversational English skills are rare. Learn to say “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Japanese, do you understand English?” in Japanese and conclude interactions with a bow (luckily some words, like “coffee” and “Barack Obama,” transcend cultural barriers).
The kitchen / office of my sublet in the Shinjuku neighborhood. Figuring out the microwave wasn’t easy but I eventually sorted out how to properly heat a dumpling soup from 7-Eleven (surprisingly high quality). Did I mention the jet lag from the U.S. to Tokyo? It’s Herculean. If there’s a secret to conquering it I still don’t know. Spent many hours standing around this room in a daze.
Last weekend I journeyed to the Tri-State area to knock out some research for my next book, the untitled exploration of punk rock music’s development outside the United States and United Kingdom. I parked myself in Jersey City every night and as such I got to hang out with this baby. I haven’t spent much time around babies so it was a fun learning experience.
Did you know you can set a fussy child at ease by softly repeating the phrase “Butthole Surfers drummer King Coffey?” It’s true. Free advice to all you new parents out there. Also, a baby will watch pretty much anything on YouTube, from unboxing videos to grainy footage of late ’90s hardcore bands.
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?”
Sometimes I doodle. Here are a few examples from the past several years.
Paul Westerberg, ink, 2013.
Sausages, ink, 2014.
Spikeleeosaurus, Mac Paint, 2014.
Tyrannoshaft, Mac Paint, 2014.
Goodlizard, Mac Paint, 2014.
Live On Tape From Hollywood, ink, 2014.
Electric Hoff, ink, 2014.
Thank You For Being A Ninja, ink, 2014.
Val Kilmer Tickles Lou Reed, ink, 2015.
The Miracle of Al Lewis, ink, 2015.
Gary The Squirrel, ink, 2015.
Ain’t never seen a dog chewin’ on a palm frond until I went to Mexico. Actually, I heard it first; the sound of something slowly and methodically tearing through underbrush. I poked my head outside and there he was, some lazy hound gnawin’ on leaf. If my prolonged stare made the dog self conscious he/she didn’t let on. On the whole, the animals of rural southwest Mexico seem unfazed by the human presence. Dogs, cats, chickens, goats, iguanas—even bugs are relaxed, refusing to skitter about like lunatics as they do in the States. America, we’re giving our pets complexes.
What brought me to Troncones, a beachside village slipping out underneath acres of lush jungle, a village so tiny most buildings have no proper address? My friend John and his wife Karen currently work at an area resort, teaching yoga, giving massages, fishing, etc. They invited me, and how could I decline this ostensible paradise? I’m working on a book about punk rock around the globe anyway, thus the extra incentive of potentially uncovering Mexico’s answer to Topper Headon. Don’t snort; screen legend Hedy Lamarr spent her final years in an Orlando suburb five minutes from my current home.
I learned a lot about Mexican culture from these eight days, a handful of which were spent four hours inland amidst terrain and altitudes comparable to America’s southwest. The least important fact: flat screen televisions have come to the quesadilla huts that line the Mexican backroads. Washing down chorizo with a torpedo sized Coke, I caught half an hour of prime afternoon tube during one lunchbreak. There were ads for college, ads for antacid, even ads for Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Just as my mouth began watering for those eleven goddamn herbs and spices, John announced the nearest city, Zihuatanejo, is bereft of the Colonel. No tenemos Harland Sanders.
So that shit happens here too. Commercials for stores that don’t exist.
Before departing the United States I made two purchases at my local dollar store: sunglasses and sandals. The sunglasses continue to work perfectly but the sandals could only handle about forty-eight hours of my oceanside trampling. In their defense, I’ve never been much of a beach person and I’m sure I was walking in them incorrectly. Maybe I’m just making excuses for shitty footwear. It doesn’t matter, I survived.
Will it surprise you to learn I am also not much of a yoga person? The resort where John and Karen work, Present Moment, is very yoga-centric. My brain has never been able to hook into that stuff—even when I was dating a high priestess of yoga who was known to yoga for up to nine hours at a time (I am not joking). This week was no different. I was assured my poor yoga aptitude is because I simply have not done enough yoga yet. So it’s like hard liquor. You must acquire a taste?
Present Moment, by the way, is not any kind of fortress resort keeping guests ensconced away from “the real” Mexico. There is little separation between its expertly landscaped courtyard and the local community of Troncones. In fact, there seems to be a good amount of symbiosis between the two.
It wouldn’t be a trip to Mexico if I didn’t try cacao, the magical base elixir from whence we get chocolate. Taken raw it can be a gateway to mind expansion, to hyper awareness and ultimate clarity, or so they say. I imbibed, sprawled on the ground, and felt…nothing. I mean, nothing aside from the usual weird slurry in my brain. What’s up with Daniel Radcliffe? Am I asleep right now? Are these girls next to me sisters or are they just friends who look alike? Is my t-shirt too tight? Is it too loose?
Driving from Troncones to the mountain area of Zirahuén was very scenic and exciting, the latter in part because we were stopped and searched at one point by men in fatigues with enormous guns. It was unclear who these men were, exactly, but I didn’t ask questions. I just smiled and sipped my bottle of Squirt as non-menacingly as possible. Military checkpoints aside, the rules of the Mexican highway are a bit fast and loose. Anybody can pass anybody else at any given time, and from what I heard DUIs are not considered a major sin. Driving at night can be particular trouble, so we didn’t.
Believe it or not the above photo was not staged—I stumbled upon the bottle just like that in the wild. As I was trying to capture the perfect photographic representation, a nearby construction worker paused from his job to try and figure out what I was obsessing over. Karen told him it was just a Star Wars bottle. The man chuckled but did not emit a full on laugh of recognition until I pointed to myself and said, “Mas loco.”
The million dollar questions about this Mexico excursion are, of course, did I drink the water and if so did the water make me sick? Non-filtered aqua is unavoidable if you’re ordering coffee from a bodega or roadside taco stand, and not everyone is boiling to ensure purification. Sure, I had some; it upset my stomach a little, but I’ve consumed things in New York that have made me far sicker. I haven’t had eggplant since 2011 thanks to some searing Manhattan Super Bowl dip. Ay carumba.
Not much else to say other than it was a fun, relaxing, and educational jaunt. Folks were incredibly kind and accommodating. Thank you, peoples of Mexico. My only regret is not buying the guitar pictured below.