Sunday, February 27, 2011

It's Just A Ride; The Importance Of Bill Hicks

As I start to write this on the evening of February 26, 2011, it has been 17 years to the day since Bill Hicks died. He was such an influential comedian (although that term hardly covers what the man did) that each Feb 26 is #BillHicksDay on Twitter. I cannot possibly overstate the importance of Bill Hicks in my life. His philosophical comedy so closely matches much of my personality and feelings about life that on some level I consider him the older brother I never had. He was able to succinctly and concisely express far better than I ever could my views of the world. He and George Carlin are the only 2 people that I have ever called "heroes".

Although I had been a fan of his work from seeing him on Late Night With David Letterman many times over the years, it wasn't until some time after his death that I really was able to get more into his philosophical musings. In 1997 Rykodisc re-issued the 2 albums Hicks was able to put out while he was alive, Dangerous and Relentless, plus issued Arizona Bay, the album he was working on at the time of his death, and Rant In E-Minor, which comprised much of the newer material he'd done that wasn't going to fit into the concept of Arizona Bay. I bought all 4, and instantly dove into the mind of a kindred spirit. I have yet to emerge, and am incredibly grateful for it.

Speaking of Hicks and Letterman, I missed by ONE FUCKING DAY being at the infamous taping that marked the last time Hicks was to appear on Letterman's show. I was a frequent attendee of Letterman's tapings at NBC, having gone to 4 or 5 from 1990 thru 1993. So I was all primed and ready and had managed to get a couple of tickets to be at a show only a month into his highly touted move over to CBS. I went with my girlfriend at the time on September 30, 1993, and we had a good time. But had the tickets been for one day later, who knows how things could have been. Hicks' set that night was not earth-shattering, but it was good, and contained some interesting ideas. He only had about 5 and a half minutes, so he wasn't going to be able to delve TOO deeply into the philosophies that were vital to his act. But at least I would have been able to say I'd seen him live.

As it turns out, his set was axed from the final broadcast later that night, which led to an enraged and frustrated Hicks firing off a 39 page letter to John Lahr of The New Yorker. Lahr had been working on a profile of Hicks for the magazine anyway, and this just became an even better reason to write about him. Less than 5 months later, Hicks himself was axed from the face of the planet, as the pancreatic cancer he had recently been diagnosed with claimed his life. Thankfully, his work lives on, and continues to grow far beyond the reach he'd ever been able to achieve while alive. More and more people have looked to his work as a source of inspiration, and with the rise of the internet since his death, it's become more accessible, popular, accurate, and important. YouTube is filled with clips from Hicks on topics such as music, drugs, marketing, and the meaning of life...amongst many other topics.

One of the more interesting YouTube clips is from the night that Letterman had Mary Hicks, mother of Bill, on as a guest in late January 2009. For whatever reason, Letterman had decided that it was time to right a MAJOR wrong, and as the 15th anniversary of Hicks' death approached, he finally aired the set that had been cut. I actually have a 3 page hand-written letter I received from Mary Hicks back in 1998, when I expressed my gratitude for her son's work. She thanked me for my interest in his work; "It is heartwarming to receive such letters." I then ordered a couple of the videos that were available from the Arizona Bay Production Company that she ran, and am only now upgrading one of those to DVD (Sane Man, as it was re-released a few years ago with bonus material).

I was even able to talk about Hicks with Henry Rollins when I met him after his recent show in Los Angeles that I attended. Henry was on his short "50" tour marking the occasion of his 50th birthday, and I pointed out to him that there must have been something in the water in this country in late 1960/early 1961, as both he and Hicks were born the same year. Rollins is a great fan of Hicks as well, and even wrote some liner notes for a 2 CD & 2 DVD set called The Essential Collection. What would have been Hicks' 50th birthday will be this December 16...curious as to how that occasion will be marked.

It would be possible for me to spend far too long going on about the importance of Bill Hicks...and it still wouldn't be long enough to completely express the sentiment. I'll leave you with words that Bill often closed his shows with; "You know all that money we spend on nuclear weapons and defense every year? Trillions of dollars. Instead, if we spent that money feeding and clothing the poor of the world, which it would pay for many times over, not one human being excluded...not one...we could as one race explore inner and outer space together in peace, forever."

Blog Post Soundtrack; Metallica (live), Mondo Generator, Monty Python, ZZ Top, Pearl Jam (live), Them Crooked Vultures, The Donnas, Mr. Bungle, George Carlin, The Simpsons (w/Robert Goulet), The Mars Volta, Ike & Tina Turner, The Misfits, The White Stripes (live), Deftones, Blur, Eric Clapton, The Beastie Boys, The Specials, Tricky (covering Public Enemy), David Steinberg, Tampa Bay Lightning at New York Rangers, and, of course, Bill Hicks...

Monday, February 21, 2011

Just Not Enough Time

As the last of my 4 days off winds down, I realize that since I've done so much over these days that I just haven't had any time to write. After having never been to Los Angeles prior to Thanksgiving 2010, I've now been there 3 times in the short span of time since then. I just made the third of those trips this past weekend, as I drove there Friday night to go see Henry Rollins give a speaking performance at the same theater I saw Tim Minchin at a month earlier. And, as with Minchin, I was able to meet and talk with Rollins after the show for a bit, even giving him a business card for Unseen Films, knowing his love of film and unquenchable desire to see more. This was part of the 2 week "50" tour for Rollins, having performed nearly a week in New York City, followed by a show in Washington, D.C. on his 50th birthday (he was born and lived in D.C. until he was 20, when he joined Black Flag and his world changed completely), and then did a week of gigs in LA. And, also as with Minchin, I immediately got in the car after the meeting and drove all the way back home to Las Vegas again, making it in the door at 4AM. Another 600 mile round trip with a stop for a show in under 15 hours. I'll have to do a full story about this trip at some point, as the rainy weather I encountered for much of the drive, as well as meeting Rollins, was rather entertaining.

This was followed by going to see The Black Keys (with Cage The Elephant opening) at The Cosmopolitian here in Las Vegas on Saturday night. A friend of mine that used to work at the Post Office with me introduced me to The Black Keys about a year ago by showing me an incredible performance they gave one night on the Late Show With David Letterman. As with most things, it took me a bit to really get into it, but once I did, I got INTO it. I've since acquired all 6 of their albums, and they really are something terrific to listen to. Perhaps the best thing about them is the fact that with their sudden immense popularity, they've made the blues a trendy and viable art form again. The last time the blues was this popular of a musical genre was in the early 1980's with The Blues Brothers of John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. I've been a fan of that type of music since about then (I must have been 11 or 12 the first time I saw The Blues Brothers movie, and to this day I enjoy it immensely both for the comedy and the music), and I have since become a great fan of artists such as John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Albert King, The Allman Brothers, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and The Doors, just to give a few examples of the many diverse talents that can one way or another be categorized as blues artists.

The fact that The Black Keys have gained the popularity and critical acclaim they have while performing what they wanted to play, and not catering to current trends, is something nice to see. Stick with what you like, don't worry about whether anyone else likes it or not. If it makes someone else happy, wonderful, but play it because you want to first. The friend that I went with to the show shares a lot of my musical taste, but is always looking for new stuff, and she likes The Black Keys so much that she now wants more blues music. The circle of life continues.

I then spent most of Sunday over at my Vegas adopted mom's house, helping her and her husband get their recently acquired iPhones set up with iTunes on their computer, showing them a good way to have multiple iPods and iPhones be able to plug into the same computer and work off of the same iTunes library. Even though I live alone, I have an iPhone and 3 different iPods all working off of the same iTunes library on my desktop computer. Only 1 iPod is capable of handling the entire media library I have, so everything else needs to be customized to make it fit. My iPhone has music only on it; no comedy or speaking of any kind. I leave that for the iPods. Even then, I still had to pick which music for the iPhone, as it's only a 32GB, and my library far exceeds that. So it's got stuff on it that I'm most likely not going to skip over, therefore I can go about my work day without having to worry about tracks coming on that I may not be that interested in hearing.

Over the course of this busy weekend, in addition to not writing, I'd also not been sleeping, so it was nice to go to bed early last night, and other than laundry, not do much else today. Seeing as how I've got to go back to a busy day of work tomorrow, I wanted at least one day of relaxing and not doing much. And I've enjoyed it very much, thank you.

I thought I was going to paste one of my Unseen Films pieces here to fill this out, but I see I've rambled on enough to make that unnecessary now. Maybe next time I don't have anything to say (good luck with that ever happening...).

Blog Post Soundtrack; The White Stripes (live), Jimi Hendrix, Audioslave, Bob Dylan, P.J. Harvey, Del Tha Funky Homosapien, Soulfly, The Datsuns, Judas Priest, At The Drive-In, Medeski Martin & Wood, Bad Radio, Danko Jones, The Doors (live), Glenn Miller, Fear (live)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Perfume & Cigarettes...And Batman, Neal Adams, And My Grandmother

Certain things are massive memory triggers for me. Smells are one of the better ones. I can be walking along somewhere, and catch a whiff of a certain perfume, and instantly be transported back to times when certain females were in my life. And regardless of how those relationships may have ended, the smell always manages to put a smile on my face. There was one particular woman who always had an interesting mix of perfume and cigarettes around her, and the intriguing aroma never failed to make me happy. Being a non-smoker as I am, that may seem odd, but her particular perfume, mixed with her cigarettes, always did a number on me.

But there are other memory stimulants as well, sight being possibly the biggest. I can look at a ticket stub from an event I went to 30 years ago and be instantly transported back to what transpired that evening, and the surrounding events as well. I can look at a book I own, or a poster or piece of artwork on my walls, that has a signature by one of the writers or artists that worked on it, and instantly be thrown back in time to the setting where I got to meet that person, and be able to remember the conversation I got to have with someone whose work I admire.

Much like Pavlov's Dogs, however, there is one specific conditioned reflex I have that happened again earlier this evening. Having gotten out of work around dusk, I was witness to the last remnants of what must have been an amazing sunset, for the few remaining cotton-candy-colored whisps of clouds only hinted at what had just been. Still, there was enough to enjoy for a bit. Driving off to do an errand before heading home, in turning east I was greeted by a very large, bright, and full moon. As wonderful as that was, it got even better when one of the cloud whisps that had been so recently rose-colored now acted as a bit of a shroud, only partially obscuring the view of the glowing ball in the sky. And this is where the conditioned response kicks in every time.

Whenever I see a full moon partially blocked by some clouds, I am instantly reminded of an incredibly iconic image of Batman. It is a full page splash from Batman issue 251, cover dated September, 1973, that features Batman sprinting across a beach at night, in pursuit of his arch-enemy The Joker. It's an issue written by a classic Batman writer, Denny O'Neil, but the artwork is by perhaps one of the greatest artists ever to grace the Dark Knight with his talents, Neal Adams. Adams is a revolutionary, a pioneer, a true visionary in the field of comic books. His work in the late 1960's thru the mid-1970's stands as some of the greatest the field has ever produced, and he was so far ahead of his time that much of that work could be published today, roughly 40 years later, and still look fresh and contemporary. His design work, his layouts, his choice of camera angles, and his flat-out drawing are all superb. In an art form that had been starting to get stagnant, his work was truly innovative, and it aspired to a higher level of quality as it turned the comic book world on its ear, and challenged it by saying "we can be better!" Living legend is NOT hyperbole in this instance.

While not old enough to know any of this at the time, I've apparently been a fan of Adams' work since long before I knew who he was. I would have been just about 2 years old when Batman 251 hit the newsstands, and while I DID start reading at an early age, no, it wasn't THAT early. How I was introduced to Adams' work however, I can remember clear as day. I don't recall the specifics of how or why this particular item was acquired, but I have a very vivid memory of standing in the kitchen of my grandmother's house while her and her daughter (my mom) opened what seemed like a half-scale paint can for me. The can was the container that held 81 pieces of a jigsaw puzzle featuring the Adams-penned image of Batman running along that beach. I had no idea of Neal Adams, or probably even comic books, at that point. I'm not even sure how old I was when they got me this puzzle, but I would venture to guess I was around 5...maybe younger. I'm sure it was bought for me because of watching cartoons with Batman, or maybe re-runs of the TV show that starred Adam West. But that's beside the point.

I do remember standing there in my grandmother's kitchen, with the 5 or 6 inch square brownish tiles with the half-inch or so of grout between each one. Since Grandma lived in the next town over from us, we would go visit her every Sunday. Sometimes Vlad (a nickname I've bestowed upon my father in the last dozen years or so...a story for another blog entry...) would go with us, sometimes not, but Mom and I would make the trip every week without fail. Frequently I would sneak off into said kitchen while the two ladies would talk, and I would open, and leave open, every bright yellow cabinet door and drawer in what can only be described as the crude beginnings of my career as a practical jokester. The image of my grandmother coming in and putting her hands on her hips in what I realize now was mock exaspiration is burned indelibly into my somewhat twisted brain, and it's the joy I derive from reactions like that which continue to inspire my pranksterish behavior today.

I anxiously awaited the conclusion of this "opening ceremony" so I could get my hands on the treasure within. It was in a tin can, and although it had a plastic lid like on a tennis ball can, there was a piece of tin that sealed the can shut underneath. It didn't have a pop-top or pull-tab, so they must have used a manual can opener to unseal the can (this was the mid-1970's, before electric can openers had been invented...apparently...), and they were both concerned that I might cut myself on a slightly jagged edge they had left. After a little bit of masking tape had been carefully applied, I was finally able to get down to the business of assembling this gem. And lo and behold, a gem it was.

Over the years, I must have assembled and disassembled that puzzle dozens of times. The can was always a fixture in my room, and every once in a while I'd pull it off the shelf and piece together the costumed detective, and just stare at the scene, wondering what had transpired to make him be in such a state. I would also analyze the position of the Caped Crusader, as the camera angle chosen featured major foreshortening, making the hand on his forward outstretched arm as big as the thigh of his corresponding rear leg that was powerfully thrusting him ahead.

It would be many years before I learned that Adams was the artist responsible for the drawing that I had put together and taken apart many times. It would be an additional many years before I actually acquired a book that reprinted the issue in question. The final volume in a beautiful 3 volume set entitled Batman Illustrated By Neal Adams didn't come out until 2005. Each hardcover contains nearly 300 pages of, well, Batman, um, illustrated by, uh, Neal Adams. Kinda self-explnatory. Over the course of the 3 books, you see his style and technique improve and evolve. As it turns out, Batman 251 was one of the very last Batman stories Adams would draw. He was probably at the peak of his talents when he produced the issue in question, and in particular, that one single, striking, image.

I have been able to meet Adams numerous times over the years at shows, but it wasn't until into the 2000's that I was REALLY able to appreciate how much of a talented artist he is. I have met him enough times in recent years that all 3 of my Batman hardcovers have been signed by him, but perhaps more importantly, I one time brought a few pieces from that very puzzle to a show that he was at, and while assembling them, told him a very abbreviated version of this story. The puzzle was assembled one final time when I returned home to Las Vegas from that New York trip, framed, and has been hanging on a wall in my home ever since.

My grandmother died in 1995, just several months before I started my career as a mailman. She never got to see me become the reasonably successful and happy person I like to think I've become, but hopefully, somewhere, she knows I think of her whenever I see a partially cloud-covered full moon.

Hi Grandma, and thanks.

Blog Post Soundtrack; Foo Fighters, David Bowie, Motörhead, Sugarcubes, Probot, Eagles Of Death Metal (live), Pearl Jam (live), Leadbelly, Metallica (live), The White Stripes (live), Deftones, The Mars Volta, Kyuss (live), Nuclear Assault, Alice In Chains (live), Public Enemy, Fu Manchu, Guns N' Roses, Tom Lehrer (live), Queens Of The Stone Age (live), The Blues Brothers, Cheryl Wheeler, Lou Reed, John Lennon, Deep Purple (live), Simon & Garfunkel, The Doors (live), The Vandals, MC5, The 5,6,7,8's, Judas Priest, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Mad Season, Tool

Sunday, February 13, 2011

House Cleaning & Baseball Memories

What with working way too much last year, and the Christmas season being nuts for the post office, and then all of my time off recently involving trips somewhere (either short or long), I really have made quite a cluttered mess of my house over the last few months. I have a lot of stuff, so in order to be able to find anything, I have to know exactly where it is. A place for everything, and everything in its place, so to speak. This hasn't been the case lately, and it has bothered me to some degree. I finally have a weekend where I'm not going anywhere; not going to any hockey games, not going to any concerts, nothing involving even leaving the house since getting home from work Saturday afternoon. Aaaaahhhhhh.....

What this means is, I can finally tackle some of the "putting things away" task that I've been sorely neglecting for far too long. For example, in going thru one of many piles of books and papers, I came across all the ticket stubs from my Pacific Northwest vacation that I took with my Mom in March of 2010 (yes, that's nearly a year ago already...I told you it's been far too long since I did this...). Which reminds me, I never wrote THAT trip up on this site...something else to put in the mental rolodex for a future write-up here...

In putting the ticket stubs away in a binder that I have for just such things, I started to look thru the entire binder, which contains ticket stubs from nearly every event I've ever gone to in my life. I'm not talking about movie stubs, but concerts, sporting events, museums, things like that. And all my brain needs is that small piece of paper to trigger a whole series of memories relating to that event. One of the ones that really caught my eye last night was 2 stubs to a New York Mets baseball game from September 18, 1981. It was the second Major League Baseball game I ever went to. I was a couple months past my 10th birthday, and baseball was the biggest thing in my life. That year involved a strike that lasted nearly 2 months, which must have been devastating for me.

The biggest memories those ticket stubs bring up are the weeks of anticipation I had, knowing I was going to an actual game. Even though I lived less than a 10 minute drive from Shea Stadium, going to games just wasn't something my family did. We used to go to my grandmother's house in College Point every Sunday, and on the drive to and from our house in Whitestone, you could see Shea Stadium exactly 2 miles off to the southwest as we drove in the car along 20th Avenue. It seemed like it was an eternity away. I used to wish that Shea Stadium was at the southeast corner of 14th Avenue & 127th Street, because every time we stopped at the light at that 5 corners intersection, it just seemed like the perfect place for the park to be. And then I would be able to experience the sights and smells of the game up close and personal at least once a week. I don't remember exactly when it was official that I would be going to that game in September with my Dad, but I do remember it seemed like FOREVER until that day came...time passes so much more slowly when you're a kid.

The other thing that really struck my mind instantly upon seeing those ticket stubs was the feeling I got when I first walked thru the tunnel out to the field level seating area, and the way I felt when I first was able to lay my eyes on a field of grass that was the greenest green I had ever seen. I'd been watching games on TV for several years at that point already, despite my young age. I was more of a Yankees fan than a Mets fan, but I still rooted for the Mets, and watched every telecast I could. This was back in the days when almost every game would have been on a local non-cable channel (WPIX Channel 11 for the Yankees, and WWOR Channel 9 for the Mets). Those announcers for both teams became like friends for me, seeing as I got to listen to them for endless hours during my childhood years. Phil Rizzuto, Bill White, and Frank Messer for the Yankees, and Ralph Kiner and Bob Murphy for the Mets were voices I heard probably more often than my parents when I was growing up.

However, watching games on TV did nothing to prepare me for actually walking into the seating area and seeing the field laid out before me. I'd been playing little league baseball for a while by this time, and hanging out in local parks playing games, so I was used to dirty and dusty fields, which had grass that seemed fine to me. But it paled in comparison to the vast field of lushness that greeted my eyes. I had been to a Yankee game 3 years earlier (my 7th birthday, matter of fact), but that had been a day game. This game had an 8:05PM start time, so seeing the glow of the artificial lights illuminate the pristine playing surface laid out before me was truly breathtaking. Again, picture this thru the eyes of a baseball-enamored 10 year old boy; I'd pretty much gone to heaven.

I don't really remember anything about the game itself, but that's not the point. The memories I do have from that night and the experience in general are ones that I will treasure forever, and no matter what picture I try to find online of Shea Stadium, nothing will compare with the images on the mental projector that are sparked by those 2 ticket stubs.

Thanks, Dad.

Blog Post Soundtrack; Led Zeppelin, Liz Phair, Black Flag, Traditional Japanese, Refused, AC/DC, The Misfits (live covering Black Flag), Fu Manchu, Pearl Jam (live), Paul Simon, ZZ Top, Nirvana, Monty Python, Deftones, Pantera, The Chenical Brothers, Skeleton Key, Helmet, Desert Sessions, Mr. Bungle, Queens Of The Stone Age (live), Primus (live), Eric Burdon & War

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

My Dinner With Andre...Err, Mike Zeck (Florida January 2011 Part IV)

While continuing with one theme, I'm switching gears on another. We shall continue with the travelogue, but we're going to switch back to Florida from New York. When the Florida trip of January 2011 was last discussed, I had gone with my uncle to Tampa to take in a Lightning game (which means I now have another excuse to post this picture...whoo-hoo!). Picking up from there...

We stayed overnight at a hotel in Lakeland, so we could get up early the next
morning and make our way over to Epcot Center. My uncle and his wife are big fans of Disneyland and all the parks therein, so much so that they have season passes, or annual passes, or whatever they're called. Arriving early enough for opening, after loading up on the way with another terrific breakfast at a Cracker Barrel location, we met up with his wife after making our way in. We then spent several hours wandering thru Epcot, taking in a couple of rides (I particularly enjoyed Soarin', as it simulates a hang-gliding experience thru the beautiful Northern California scenery...I've taken a couple of driving vacations thru Northern California, and truly enjoy the area), several exhibits, and just enjoying the meticulously landscaped grounds. There is a wonderful array of colors surrounding you at all times, not just from the random Disney characters that will appear here and there, but mainly from the beautiful flora and fauna that is seemingly ever-present. You'd be hard-pressed to find an area of the grounds that does not at least afford a view of some colorful flowers somewhere. Many areas are devoted pretty much specifically towards beautiful arrangements of flowers, plants, and trees. Although I love living in the desert, the predominant color is brown, or some shade of it. So it's nice to be able to get to places that want to show off their vibrant colors.

After spending the morning and much of the early afternoon in Epcot, and having a nice large snack/small lunch in the French section of the international area, we headed off in separate directions. My uncle and his wife were heading back to their house, where I would be joining them later that evening. But I had another item on my agenda this day that was going to be rather interesting as well.

I've been a fan of comic books as an art form for over 25 years now. I really enjoy the medium as a form for telling stories, and it's also nice that many of the creators
in the field are accessible at either conventions or, in later years, thru the internet either thru their own personal webistes, or Twitter, or things like that. Over the years, I've been fortunate to make a connection with many of the artists and writers whose work I really admire and enjoy. The walls of my home are covered with prints, posters, original pages, and commissions from many different people whose work has meant something to me on one level or another. In attending many conventions in New York when I was younger, I was able to make such a good connection with a couple of people that I managed to conduct interviews with Paul Chadwick, the creator of Concrete, and Mike Mignola, who would go on to be the creator of Hellboy, which eventually became the subject of 2 terrific films directed by Guillermo Del Toro and starring Ron Perlman as the title character. These interviews were done back in 1991 and 1992, when I would have been all of 19 and 20 years old. Yes, there will eventually be full blogs detailing the events of those days, but let's get back to Florida for now...

In going to those NYC conventions when I was a mere lad, I used to make it a point to see Mike Zeck at every one of them. This was an artist whose work I really enjoyed. Among his many accomplishments at the time, the ones that really stood out were his 3 year run on the monthly Captain America comic, and an incredible 6 issue run on one of the better Spider-Man stories of all time called Fearful Symmetry: Kraven's Last Hunt. Both of those books were done in conjunction with a terrific writer (and fellow blogspot blogger) J. M. DeMatteis, an excellent and prolific writer who I've also been fortunate enough to meet and talk with. The genesis behind the Kraven story is as interesting as the story itself, as DeMatteis detailed in his blog.

Perhaps the character Zeck is most identified with however, was from a mini-series in 1985 starring The Punisher. That series took an almost throw-away character that was used sparingly in guest shots in books here and there and brought him to the forefront of the Marvel Universe. The popularity of the mini-series generated enough interest in the character to grant him his own regular series soon after, which then spawned another regular series, then another, plus numerous gratuitous shots in other big books, specials, one shots, team-ups, etc. The character eventually became so big that 3 Hollywood movies have been based on him (although none have really been able to do it right...). But it basically all started with that mini-series from 1985 that Zeck drew (most of), written by Steven Grant.

These are books that I first read when I was in my late teens, so needless to say, they wound up having a profound effect on me. So it was nice to be able to meet the man at shows in NYC, and talk with him a bit, get some books signed, and even get a sketch. At one show he did a Captain America piece for me that hung on my walls for many years. He was a big Miami Dolphins fan, and I remember him wearing a Dolphins jersey at a show one January, as they were playing the New York Jets in the playoffs that day. This is pre-smartphone days, kids, so I remember him asking "What's the score?" more than once...

For various reasons, the big comic book shows dried up in the New York area by the mid-1990's, and then I moved out to Las Vegas in 2000, and Zeck moved from Connecticut back to Florida in 2003. Also for a variety of reasons, Zeck has been a total non-figure on the convention scene for quite a few years now. But he maintains a website, and also has a presence on the Comic Art Fans website as well. So thru these places, I was able to keep in some sort of contact with him over the years, occasionally buying some pages from him when he had some things up for sale. I bought a certain Batman page from him because of a memory it triggers for me involving my father and I when I was a very young boy. I also bought some pages from him from a book he did called Damned (again with Grant), which was quite an artistic departure for him, stylistically speaking. So due to this occasional contact, I sent him an e-mail a few months before I was going to be in Florida, letting him know of my impending arrival, giving him ample time to make preparations to evacuate. Much to my amazement, he seemed up for a meeting...

...which eventually led to my driving away from Epcot towards Ocoee, Florida, where I wound up having dinner with Zeck at Matthew's Steaks & More. A terrific German steakhouse, it's got a bit of a following among locals, and after eating there, I can understand why. The food was excellent, and the family-run establishment takes as great care of its customers as it takes care of its meals. The steak I had was seasoned with a blend of authentic imported German spices (the family makes a trip back to Germany at least once a year to restock the spice supply) that made for a very unique, and fantastic, flavor on a perfectly done piece of meat. Some fantastic dining, I would highly recommend it to anyone who is in the area.

I had brought along some posters of Zeck's work that adorn the walls of my home for him to sign at dinner (yes, I checked in advance if he was OK with this...), along with a page I'd bought almost a year ago from the Spider-Man Kraven book. The originals from that 6 issue series (which ran thru 2 issues each of the 3 Spider-Man titles that were being published at the time) were sold by Zeck as a unit to a single collector, who hung onto them for a LONG time. Eventually, they were bought by someone else, and then an art dealer bought the pages from that person, although he didn't relinquish the covers (I'm passing along the information I got from Zeck at dinner that evening, which I may not be entirely accurate on...if any corrections need to be made, I'll be e-mailing this blog entry to Zeck). In March 2010 the pages from this book, originally published in 1987, finally surfaced for sale, and were quickly gobbled up by collectors, despite some of the enormous price tags associated with the premium ones. Merely having Peter Parker in costume as Spider-Man on a page from that 6 issue series means a price of around $5,000. Some of the more important splash pages (either a one-panel page, or a page with one panel dominating more than half the page), with either Kraven of Spider-Man on it, were commanding 15 to 30 thousand dollars each...and they seem to all be sold now.

While I enjoy original comic book art, I also enjoy things like eating, and the house I live in, so being able to pay for groceries and the mortgage have a little more importance to me than a piece of artwork. But I knew I couldn't pass up the opportunity to own SOMETHING from this series. So I found a nice page from the second chapter that featured none of the main characters, but still demonstrated the excellent storytelling and drawing abilities of Zeck, in this instance inked by Bob McLeod. And even with shipping, it managed to come in well under $500, which I was fine with. I got it just in time to go to Anaheim last March when I got to meet DeMatteis, where we chatted theology, philosophy, and, oh yeah, comics.

Zeck and I sat and talked comics, family, sports, art, life, and many other subjects over the course of a couple hours. He was gracious enough to sign all of the posters I'd brought, the page, and a couple books, but my reason for that is pretty simple; so that every time I look at one of those pieces, I'll be reminded of the time I got to have dinner with an artist whose work (and work ethic) I greatly admire.

Blog Post Soundtrack; Metallica (live), The Ramones, Queens Of The Stone Age, Ted Nugent, Fu Manchu, Anthony Jeselnik, Pearl Jam (live), Glenn Danzig, System Of A Down, Iron Maiden, Run DMC (covering Aerosmith...gee, I wonder what song THAT could be?!?), Yawning Man, The White Stripes (live), Spike Jones (sort-of covering Johann Strauss...), Them Crooked Vultures, John Lee Hooker, Vance Gilbert, The Chemical Brothers, Tom Lehrer, Corrosion Of Conformity, The Fratellis, The Black Keys, Les Claypool, Rollins Band, The Misfits, Mike Patton, Sex Pistols, White Zombie, Soundgarden, The English Beat, Soulfly, Infectious Grooves (live), Steve Martin, The Doors (live), Faith No More (live), Judas Priest, The Police (live), Red Hot Chili Peppers, Audioslave, P. J. Harvey, Sugarcubes, Morphine, Clutch (live), Mike Watt, Rollins Band (live), Medeski Martin & Wood, Pantera, Bob Dylan, Madness

Saturday, February 5, 2011

New York City October 2010 Part IV

Since I'm going to the MGM Grand tonight to see Drew Carey's Improv-A-Ganza here in Las Vegas, I figured I'd take the day off from work. I spent entirely too much time working last year, and I told myself I was going to take more time off this year to A) avoid burning out and B) get out to more shows, events, and road trips. So tonight I'll be seeing basically the 2011 model of the US version of Whose Line Is It Anyway. In addition to Carey, there will also be Ryan Stiles, Colin Mochrie, Brad Sherwood, Chip Esten, Jeff Davis, and Kathy Kinney. Other performances feature some different performers, including Greg Proops. These performances (several scattered thru late January and early February) are being filmed, and will start airing on the Game Show Network (GSN) here in the United States beginning March 28. Looking forward to it.

Since I have the day off, I also told myself I'd get some writing done today. I've got so many unfinished stories to put up here, as well as many stand-alone ones, but I like the travelogue format that this seems to have turned into, so for now I believe I will stick with that. Recently I've been recounting my mid-January trip to Florida, but I think I'll change things up and switch back to my early October trip to New York City. When last we left our intrepid traveler, he had just made it to The American Museum Of Natural History, accompanied by his New York-dwelling Mom...

We finally made it into the museum at around 10:30AM, and due to Mom's intelligence and library savvy, we managed to avoid waiting in line to get in, and also were able to get in for free, using passes she had borrowed from her local library. If you live near any kind of big museum, look into your local library to see if they have anything like that. The library near my Mom's house in Long Island offers passes to many of the major museums in New York City. There are limits and restrictions of course, but it is definitely worth investigating if you are at all culturally inclined. Libraries aren't just about books, kids...

As I'd mentioned in Part III of this NYC Trip story (yes, I've linked to it twice in this blog...sue me...), I had been to this particular museum many times as a youngster growing up in New York, either on day trips with my Mom, or as part of a field trip for school. I always enjoyed the place, and it was with a mix of nostalgia and appreciation that we wandered the many cavernous exhibit halls contained within the walls of the mammoth building. One of the nice things about the museum is they don't frown on picture taking as most other museums do. Granted, many of the other museums I go to are art based, and having flashes go off in immediate proximity is detrimental to the condition of the paintings, so I understand, but still, it's nice to be able to take pictures of the exhibits.

It isn't just what's on display at the museum, but how it's presented that always appealed to me. I love dioramas, and I really appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into making the pieces. I love all of the little details, and the perspective that you get by being able to take in an entire scene of whatever era and culture you happen to be looking at. This photo illustrates how a group of Native Americans used to hunt buffalo by herding them into an area where they were froced to fall off a cliff, which seemed rather clever and efficient to me. Why waste time and effort, and potentially injure yourself or lose your life trying to kill one buffalo, when you can relatively risk-free knock off a bunch at once, enabling you to clothe and feed an entire tribe or village for a significant amount of time?

Also in the course of wandering the insanely huge museum, we stumbled across a very familiar looking animal, which answered a question that had been lodged somewhere deep in the dark recesses of what passes for my mind for many years, freeing up some valuable space for other useless information. One of the few happy memories of junior high school that I have is an art class I took in either 8th or 9th grade with a fantastic teacher named Mr. Kelly (and I just pulled out my Jr High Yearbook, and no, it doesn't give his first name...I see a Google search in my future..). One of the projects we did was to do a large pastel drawing of an animal of our choice. I found some interesting one somewhere (remember younglings, this is the dinosaur pre-internet days, so no going home and Googling "interesting animals"...), and did what I thought was a decent piece. No, I have no idea whatever happened to the piece, but I was happy with it at the time...which was not something I could often say at that stage of my life. However, I had also long forgotten the name of the animal, until suddenly there it was right in front of me in the museum...the gemsbok (told you it was an interesting one...).

After over 2 hours of exhibit examining and slow walking, plus the 2 hours we'd spent meandering thru NYC going from Madison Square Garden to get up to the museum, we were a little tired and hungry. Fortunately, the museum has a wonderful cafe located in the basement, filled with excellent food and plenty of variety. Thankfully, the variety included a healthy dose of Italian based choices, so I was going to be happy. Nothing better in the world to me than good Italian cuisine, especially pasta with a nice marinara sauce and some meat to go with it. As many of my friends will attest, I'm simple.

After refueling in the crowded cafe, we made our way back outside into the brilliant sunshine beaming down onto New York on this amazing early autumn day. The temperature was in the low 70's, absolutely perfect for walking and enjoying the sights. This picture was taken just outside the front door of the museum, looking north up Central Park West as we emerged into the daylight. Just over 3 hours had passed since we entered the museum, but since we got an early start on the day, we still had plenty of time before we needed to make our way back out to Yentaville. So seeing as how it was a truly beautiful day, and I don't make it back to New York that often (this was my first trip there in 2 & 1/2 years), and I was having a nice relaxing day hanging out and talking with my Mom, we decided to take a leisurely stroll thru Central Park on our way back downtown. Mom doesn't make the trip into the city too much without me, so it's good for her to get to places in New York she doesn't see too often.

Central Park is one of my favorite places in Manhattan. A true oasis from the concrete jungle that is what most people think of when they picture New York City, this sprawling man-made landscape is the perfect respite from the non-stop chaos this is New York City proper. It is possible to get immersed in it enough to actually forget that you are in the middle of the busiest city in the world. There are places you can get to deep inside it that make the constant din of human and automotive traffic almost disappear. What makes it most interesting though is when you can see the dichotomy of the lushness of Central Park against the backdrop of the striking architecture of New York City. On a stunningly wonderful day such as this, the rich greens of the trees and the deep blues of the skies make for a terrific contrast with the sunlit tans and stone greys of the buildings.

There is some wonderful gothic architecture within the confines of Central Park as well. Bow Bridge (and from researching, I've found it's as in bow-tie, not as is in bow-down...I always wondered about that...) is a perfect example of that. Crossing over the mid-section of The Lake (the middle of the 3 main bodies of water in Central Park, with The Pond to the south and The Reservoir to the north), it is an arch bridge that is beautiful in its style and simplicity; a fantastic example of form and function merging perfectly. And it provides some of the most amazing views of the city on a day such as this. Being me, I chose to put a shot up here of the atypical view (facing southeast), because the view in the other direction, while terrific, is too overused for me to want to post it here.

There is much more to this day's wandering to be discussed and photo-illustrated, so I'll pause the telling of it here for now...

Blog Post Soundtrack; Colonel Claypool's Bucket Of Bernie Brains, Public Enemy, Mondo Generator, Bill Hicks, Pearl Jam, Les Claypool's Frog Brigade (live), Dropkick Murphys, Fun Lovin' Criminals, King Missile, The Mars Volta, The English Beat, Deep Purple (live), Bob Dylan, The Ramones, The Buzzcocks, Parliament, Primus (live, covering Rush), Anthrax, Monty Python, Fear, Goldfinger (covering The Misfits), Björk, The Misfits (live), Ted Nugent, Beck, Hungry For What, Cold War Kids, Metallica (live), Jimi Hendrix, Tchaikovsky, Sublime, Black Sabbath (most of Vol 4, most of Sabotage)