Some Indie Music I’ve Been Listening to Lately

My music taste leans nearly 80% local, but here’s a quick list of non-local things I’ve been enjoying a lot lately.

First, there’s Gender Roles‘ first EP, Planet X-Ray. Gender Roles is far from a local band. They’re not even from this country. Their sound is described as “hazy indie-punk;” I may not be cool enough to know about that, but I dig the way their music meshes Britpop with what 90s Sub Pop used to be known for.

Then there’s Coolsay Too by Coolzey and Soce the Elemental Wizard. Lucky enough to see Coolzey a month or so back at the Milestone (on a fantastic bill — as usual –with D&D Sluggers, Thought Criminals, Luciopro, and Ceschi!), I was drawn to his bold take on a lounge/hip-hop blend. Very postmodern. Check out the song “Tough Guy” for a taste of what I mean.

I was surprised and excited to see that The Colour Thirteen released a full-length album just a couple days ago. I really didn’t think they were doing anything anymore. For all my friends who dig 80s new wave and synthpop, you really ought to give this a listen. The album’s sort of self-titled, TC13, and includes all the songs from their 2011 EP plus 5 more energetic, yet sufficiently moody, tracks.

Simply fun.

What I Didn’t Know About Wildcat’s Origin Story

I’m a comic nerd. Have been all my life. Being a superhero fan, I feel lucky to have been a kid during the 70s and 80s when comics were arguably the best they’ve ever been (go on, argue with me about it). Not only were Marvel and DC producing monumental new books at that time, but both publishers delighted readers (while saving some bucks) by reprinting material from as far back as the 1930s — what’s known as the Golden Age of comics — too. In addition to comics, I’ve always liked history, Old Time Radio, and old pulp action heroes, so this was great for me.

Wildcat was a character from that Golden Age. An old-fashioned kind of vigilante, he didn’t have any true super powers. I thought he had a pretty cool costume, though. Ted Grant, his alter ego, had been a championship boxer, so he was a pretty tough guy. For whatever reason, Grant decided to put on a costume and fight crime. It was a thing some tough guys did in those days. He called himself Wildcat and wore a solid black cat suit, complete with cat mask.

That might sound a little silly to you, but if you can believe it, a similar non-powered fella had turned hero wearing, of all things, a suit that made him look like a bat, and that character’s books sold incredibly well. For 75 years.

Wildcat’s popularity never came close to Batman’s, but DC Comics did bring him into the modern age, along with the rest of the Justice Society of America, in the 1960s. He was featured not only in reprints, but also in new stories. He was even shown to have trained Batman and other crime fighters. DC had a whole multiple earth scenario that explained where the Golden Age heroes came from. If you watch The Flash, you’ve seen a little of that. And if you watch Arrow, you’ve seen Wildcat. A version of him, anyway.

For decades, Wildcat has been portrayed as kind of a lunk. Undoubtedly a hero, full of heart, but more a jock than a thinker. Not simple-minded like Johnny Thunder, a more humorous character, but not as bright as the rest of the Justice Society, being mostly scientists, doctors, and industrialists in their secret identities.

I recently lucked into a copy of The Greatest Golden Age Stories Ever Told at The Last Word which includes Wildcat’s first appearance and origin story. Written by Bill Finger, who happened to also co-create Batman and the original Green Lantern, among others, the story is classic pulp, full of tragedy and heroic determination. As superhero origins go, it’s really good. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing, but was bowled over by a revelation early in the story.

On page two, in only three panels, my perception of this character was totally changed.

Ted Grant not only went to college, he went Ivy League.

So it looks like the ol’ pugilist grew up somewhat privileged, and not only went to college, but Yale of all places. To top it off, he didn’t want to be a professional boxer. HE WANTED TO BE A DOCTOR.

I know this is just a comic book story, and I’m sure it lacks some impact if you haven’t read the treatment of the character for decades, but it got me thinking. Have you ever thought you had someone pegged, then found out something about them that changed your view of them?

Most of us are probably guilty of categorizing acquaintances and coworkers in simple terms. It’s unfortunate that we make assumptions about people based on limited information. We might encounter one side of a person, or deal with them in only one kind of situation. I understand why we make the judgments we do, but it’s kind of a shame we can’t read everyone’s origin story.

You’ve probably heard some version of “everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” I do believe that’s true. In our day to day dealings, we rarely know where folks are coming from or what they’ve been through. I’d like to say it doesn’t matter, but being the social creatures we are, knowledge and understanding do affect our relationships. Even and especially our briefest and most casual.

I happened to be studying marketing recently (I don’t only read comics), and a message I encountered with repetition is that no matter what you’ve done, no matter how good you are or what you’re capable of, if people don’t know about it, you’ll not make as much of a difference as you should. That it’s up to you to “market” yourself so your accomplishments and experience don’t go unnoticed. Well, if we’re wise enough to understand that, can we be wise enough to flip it around and understand that there are folks out there doing incredible things who AREN’T good at marketing themselves? What might we be missing? If I’m smart enough to know I need to put myself out there, I hope I’m smart enough to know to look deeper at who people are, what they’ve been through, and what they’ve done.

You certainly don’t need to know everyone’s background in order to be friendly or have a good relationship. Rapport is built in the present as easily as on similar past experiences. I do hope, though, I’ll be careful to consider there’s more to the people I meet than the impressions I interpret.

 

 

What I Don’t Know About Duckies and Distractions

Productivity is important to me. I think it’s because I know my time is limited, and I want to make some impact while I’m around. So I generally intend to make smart use of my time, get good things accomplished, move forward in one way or another.

I’ve been working to develop better habits to help with my focus, but, you know, sometimes things come up that interrupt my flow. Not that I’ve ever wanted to be all work and no play — far from it! — but I can’t help feeling some personal disappointment when I know I’ve wasted time.

It’s not always easy to be aware of distractions or just how much time they can take up. One nudge off course can lead to lots of twists and turns before you get back on the right path. So being cognizant of what you’ve spent time on is the first step to finding your way back.

For me, one of the worst distractions is social media. Facebook, specifically. I know I’m not alone. I’ll decide to check in, see what’s happening, find out if anyone’s tried to contact me, and if I’m not careful I’ll wind up scrolling and scrolling through my news feed mindlessly, letting precious minutes add up to precious hours. Now, I’m not a Facebook hater. If I was, there’d be no problem. I believe there are benefits to social media, not least of which is being in touch with good people. Most days I see or read something that improves my life in at least a small way. To get to those gold nuggets, though, I do find myself sifting through a lot of silt.

While I’m not always happy that I let myself get detoured so easily, I am happy to know what it is that distracts me. Because I know it’s something totally under my control. I allow things to distract me; I can choose not to let them as well.

I know people have lots of suggestions to solve my particular issue. Delete the Facebook app! Set a timer! Unfollow people and pages that clog up your feed! Just don’t use it at all! At one time or another I’ve either considered all these options or actually done them. What’s worked the best for me, though, is listening to Ernie.

When I was a young dad I was lucky to enjoy a good bit of children’s music. I think a lot of folks are familiar with the Rubber Duckie song from Sesame Street. If you aren’t, it’s been around since 1970 (I just found out it was even nominated for a Grammy in 1971!) and is sung by Ernie to his favorite bathtub toy. In the late 80s a new song debuted on Sesame Street with a pretty good message:

“Put down the duckie” started popping up in my head when I caught myself wasting time on something a couple months ago. I’m not sure exactly what brought it to mind. It may have been because I got sets of rubber duckies for my co-managers for Christmas. What I found, though, is that it helped. Your mileage may vary, as they say, but for me, having a mantra, if you will, silly as it is, that I actually said out loud, got me back on track with a smile.

Social media isn’t the only duckie I have to set aside for a while in order to get things done. With all the good new comic related TV shows, TV has become a real temptation these days. Sometimes I don’t realize something’s a duckie until it takes up a certain amount of time. It’s a challenge, since I’m also working on being more present and giving people more focused attention. Whatever distractions you find impeding your productivity, maybe Hoots the owl’s advice will work for you, too. You don’t have to totally eliminate entertainment or non-productive stuff from your life. Just put it down until you meet whatever goals you have set for yourself.

 

My Recent Geeky Activities

I tried to credit these cosplayers. Anyone know who they are?
I tried to credit these cosplayers. Anyone know who they are?
Here’s an attempt at a quick blog post. One of the reasons I don’t manage to get more stuff on here is I take too long to compose and then edit posts. That is apparently contrary to what the medium expects, but I have believed whatever goes up stays around the webverse forever. I want all my posts to be brilliant, to be a reflection of talent worthy of reading. But then I take so long, I don’t finish articles, so there’s nothing to read, and it doesn’t matter anyway.

So, that was an already long introduction for what I announced as a quick topic.

Lately I’ve been re-embracing my nerdism. Been catching up on Doctor Who after decades of disinterest. Not every episode is great, but that 50th Anniversary thing was terrific. I stayed up til 3 in the morning Christmas Eve watching old Christmas episodes, and I understand this year’s was very good. Planning to watch it in a few hours.

I’ve been reading a lot more comics lately than I have in the last few years too. I had to give up comic collecting years back mainly due to the expense, but I gave myself a Christmas gift of a Marvel Unlimited subscription, so I’m catching up on a lot of things I’ve missed. Thanks to Adam Warrock I’ve been reading Avengers Arena. He tweeted the title was one of the best he’d read recently, and while it has its merits, I’m not sure I’m a fan. I am intrigued, though, and definitely want to see how things end up. Because I wasn’t familiar with all the characters in the book, I went back to check out the different Runaways miniseries, and I am so glad I did. I’m in the middle of the second run now. What an enjoyable surprise! The first miniseries, from 2003, was fun, with likeable characters (and some despicable ones, too) and some nice story twists. While there is danger and darkness to the story, Brian K. Vaughan masterfully balances that with humor and a light tone. It’s really exactly the way I like my comics.

Thanks to Netflix, I also watched most of the Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes second season. Pretty good translations of some of the stories from the printed comics in that season. The kid in me loved seeing all the guest characters and recognizing storylines.

Last to mention, I have somehow become a huge cosplay fan. I am blown away by what people are doing these days, making amazing costumes. From what I can tell, Atlanta is the cosplay capital of the world, but closer to home we have some fantastic artists. If you’re into it at all, you should see what DJ Spider and Contagious Costuming have done. I’m not sure if I’ll ever dive in to dressing up myself, but I have started a list of costume possibilities already. Who knows?

What I Don’t Know About Kevin Hearne

Amidst the regular flow of disappointment that is modern life, some pretty cool stuff happened in 2011.  Ashley and I got to see Gang of Four and Arctic Monkeys; we had a fantastic beach vacation with some of the coolest people in the world; Moogfest gave us an even more amazing lineup than the previous year; and three fun and fast-paced books by new Urban Fantasy author Kevin Hearne appeared on bookshelves.

Hounded, Hexed, and Hammered are the first three books in the Iron Druid Chronicles.  They involve Atticus O’Sullivan, the last living Druid who has survived over two thousand years through his special Druidic abilities and (not always) careful living.  Atticus has an Irish wolfhound, Oberon, with whom he communicates telepathically and playfully.  There’s a new wiki that can explain more, but I recommend you just read the books.  Do it.

From the get-go, people were comparing the Iron Druid Chronicles to Jim Butcher and the Dresden Files.  Because they feature male protagonists who work magic, I guess.  There is some similarity in style, too, but Hearne is more comfortable letting things get a little silly, so there’s more humor in his series.  There was, anyway.  With books four and five, Tricked and Trapped respectively, the tone shifts toward seriousness.  Still plenty of very funny lines, though, and Oberon especially provides terrific comic relief.

Personally, I find the Iron Druid Chronicles to have more in common with Neil Gaiman’s American Gods universe.  With more humor.  And more action.  And a more direct narrative.  So maybe they really are only akin to American Gods because of all the dieties and mythological beings doing things in our contemporary world.  Know what though?  The Iron Druid books are really what I secretly hoped American Gods would have been.

Say what you will about judging books by their covers, but it was seeing the outstanding covers of Hounded, Hexed, and Hammered side by side on display that caught my attention.  They looked like something special.  They certainly were.

Kevin Hearne is pretty much the kind of writer I would like to be.  Not only for his boyish (though bearded) good looks, nor for the impressive brogue he can switch on instantly, but for three particular reasons:  he’s smart, he’s prolific, and he’s a totally nice guy.

He produces completely engaging novels and short stories at an unexpected pace, giving his readers a little something to enjoy every few months.  That’s smart and prolific.  The dialogue in the books is clever.  The mythology is well-researched and thoroughly developed, with enough explained to the reader to make everything believable.  The characters and their relationships are also well-formed and delightful.  Smart, smart, smart.

Mr. Hearne shares A LOT with his fans through his blog and social media.  He posts updates on his writing, inside perspectives on getting published, and simply goofy thoughts and memes.  He actually responds to fans.  Online, his personality is always positive.  I was lucky to have Mr. Hearne include Charlotte on his summer book tour, which he arranged and paid for on his own.  He was exceedingly kind in person.  He patiently answered all sorts of questions and frankly explained the work that went in to writing and publishing his books.  He was funny, quick, grateful, and gracious.  Totally nice.

Me and Kevin Hearne at Park Road Books
That’s me with Kevin Hearne, super-cool author of the Iron Druid Chronicles! I should have held the book up so it showed the cover. Guess I was too excited.

Earlier I made my case preferring his work to others; allow me to balance the scales a little.  The IDC are not as literary as Neil Gaiman’s books.  They sure are entertaining, though.  Don’t let anything here mislead you to believe these are silly stories.  Obviously a lot of care goes into crafting the books and the characters.  Perhaps it is his experience as a teacher, but there is a lot to be learned from his books, too, and not only about the various pantheons and cultures.  I find a moral or two or at least some applicable wisdom in each of the Iron Druid books.  That’s smart, prolific, AND nice.

Truth is, it was while reading the first three Iron Druid books that I decided to get serious and write a novel.  I’d been working on an idea for a couple of years, and the Iron Druid Chronicles proved to me a UF series could successfully have the mix of humor, action, emotion and history I wanted to include.  Kevin Hearne continues to be an inspiration, and I thank him for it.

What I Don’t Know About Unrequited Mongoloid Love

We enthusiastically got tickets for Moogfest two years ago primarily to see DEVO.  Then they cancelled.  We waited in line for 3 hours on Record Store Day to get the exclusive DEVO 1981 live LP, getting the very last copy only because of our good friends Jim

"He's got Mark Mothersbaugh eyes"

and Lisa.  We even suffered through the thoroughly awful Monster Man show last week just for a glimpse of DEVO. This morning, Ashley noticed a post to send in pics with the previously mentioned RSD Devo album in order to win a Holy Spud sticker.  We excitedly rushed upstairs to get the album, shot a quick picture, posted it… and were totally brushed off.  Fourth people to post a pic, and we get nothing.  Other fans, posting LONG after us, some not even with the requisite album, get recognition and stickers.  Us?  Nothing.  It’s like being hit with space junk, only less lucky.

Actually, it’s not as bad as it sounds.  Moogfest turned out to be amazing, and although the whole band couldn’t be there (Bob M. had cut his hand pretty bad), Mark and Gerry did show up and perform a couple of Devo songs with the Octopus Project.  And the Record Store Day experience was still fun, especially since Jim and Lisa were able to secure the double LP for us.  Oh, and the live album is great, of course.  The only thing beyond salvation was the time spent enduring the Monster Man show.
We still love you, DEVO.  Ashley will continue posting video clips from the Square Pegs appearance, and I’ll keep wearing the cool T she got me.  I don’t even know what we would have done with a Holy Spud sticker anyway.

Hexed by Kevin Hearne

Hexed (Iron Druid Chronicles, #2)Hexed by Kevin Hearne
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Even better and more fun than the first Iron Druid book. I like how the author mixes up the action so the story isn’t just following a linear outline from one point to the next. The different episodes could almost be individual short stories, but crafting them together, despite the fantasy setting, make the way things unfold more realistic. Some scenes overlap from the first book, others clearly set things up for future stories, including the next one, obviously. Hearne’s cast of supporting characters is broad and enjoyable, from the old Irish widow to the book store employees to the witches, vampire, werewolves, and gods. I wasn’t sure at first how I felt about Hearne’s including Christian figures like The Virgin as mythical beings, but I believe the point he is making (similar to Neil Gaiman’s) is that it’s the faith of believers that create such beings, and if I as a reader have no issue with a fictional Coyote or Brighid, an educated reader like myself should also appreciate a fictional Virgin or Jesus.

Like others who are speedily discovering this series, I can barely wait to start the next book. I expect it to be fun seeing what Hearne does next with his characters.

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