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.
– 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
– Children of The Corn is a film about some kids possessed by another kid possessed by a nebulous farm demon; they’ve expunged every adult from their town and any grownup unlucky enough to cross their path winds up crucified on corn stalks; all of this is more plausible than the scene where two tykes break off from the cult to indulge in a game of Monopoly; an entire town at your disposal and you want to play a real estate simulator?
– the protagonists are Burt and Vicky, an adult-ish couple driving through Nebraska on the way to Burt’s medical internship; problems begin when they accidentally run their giant canary colored 1980s car into a child of the corn; Burt must be at the bottom of his class because he moves the kid from the scene of this accident, wrapping him up and tossing him in the trunk; slowly the child of the trunk is forgotten about as Burt and Vicky’s quest for a doctor gets weirder; by the time the end credits roll, the vehicular manslaughter that set all this shit into motion remains unresolved; the lesson: if you run over a child of the corn, just wait until help arrives or else you’ll wind up fending off gaggles of hollow-eyed baby Satanists with just your wits and a pocket knife
– the nebulous farm demon is never really seen or thoroughly explained, which is disappointing; a 1984 movie about otherworldly energy moving through cornfields and possessing children deserves a big crazy stalk monster that spits creamed corn and vaporizes chickens with laser eyes
– one of the production companies credited with bringing Children of The Corn to life is Hal Roach Studios, who of course also delivered us Alfalfa, Spanky, Buckwheat, and the rest of Our Gang; is that ironic or hilarious, and has anyone considered a dark reboot of Our Gang?
– this film is creepy and unsettling and they could have stopped at one but in the grand tradition of any marginally interesting 1980s horror film there have been seven Children of The Corn sequels and a remake
– if John Franklin’s portrayal of malevolent child preacher Isaac becomes too much to bear, calm yourself by remembering that Franklin also plays Cousin Itt in both Addams Family movies
“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.